Monday, November 4, 2019

Game 345: Challenge of the Five Realms: Spellbound in the World of Nhagardia (1992)

If you count the subtitle, I think this is the longest title so far.
        
Challenge of the Five Realms: Spellbound in the World of Nhagardia
United States
MicroProse (developer and publisher, under its Microplay label) 
Released 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 2 November 2019

I've been looking forward to Challenge of the Five Realms for a couple of years. The team behind it, working at Paragon Software, had been responsible for the 1990-1991 spate of licensed Games Designers' Workshop (GDW) disasters, including the two MegaTraveller games, Space 1889, and Twilight: 2000. Each of the games had its qualities, but in general, the sense was that Paragon had taken on too much too fast. The games' poor reviews and sales led to the collapse of Paragon and its purchase by MicroProse in 1992. Now, the team, working for more competent managers, was free to develop a game without any GDW restrictions. Would it be better or worse? I've been anxious to find out.

It takes a while to get into Challenge. It begins with a long, unintentionally hilarious, animated opening sequence with fully-voiced dialogue, the second 1992 game to do so (after Ultima Underworld). It accompanies a long backstory in the game manual. The two don't fully jibe with each other, but I'll do my best to summarize below. First, we get a female voice on a black screen welcoming us to the kingdom of Alonia, one of the titular five realms, "where folklore and myth are a way of life."
            
I know this isn't the only flat world we're going to see this year.
           
We have a brief glimpse of Nhagardia, a flat, oval world. Because it's flat and does not rotate, the parts that support life have always known eternal sun. This revelation sent me off on a bit of Googling. I have a basic understanding of why planets are naturally spheres due to the way they're formed by aggregating rotating collections of matter. I also understand how gravity favors orbs and thus works over time to turn any shape into a roughly-spherical one. What I wondered--and still wonder, since I couldn't find enough discussion on the topic to satisfy me--was whether the slow process of gravity pulling a large amalgamation of matter into a sphere necessarily outpaced the same processes that give the same body an atmosphere and the conditions necessary for life. That is, if some weird freak of accident did result in a flat-ish "planet" (I realize the definition of "planet" presupposes a sphere, but you know what I mean) in stable orbit around a sun, would it be possible for such an object to trap an atmosphere and create complex life before the natural tendencies of gravity made a sphere out of it? How would gravity even work on such an object? Could an atmosphere truly exist? 

Discussion welcome, but back to the game. We move from planet level to Castle Ballytogue, which must be based on Ballyutogue from Leon Uris's Trinity. It is the year 1000 "A.S." The pompous King Clesodor is haranguing his advisors for not allocating enough funds to the New Year's celebration. "I want this to be the greatest celebration in Alonia's history," he demands. The manual doesn't have any credits for the voice actors, but I'd swear that Clesodor is voiced by Maurice LaMarche, testing out a precursor to "The Brain" voice that he'd bring to Animaniacs the following year.
             
Clesodor meets with his advisors.
            
Clesodor takes some time out from his party planning to yell at his son, the Prince, for idly reading a book. "I swear, the boy is just like his mother. Witches and seers and myths. What kind of king will you make if all you care about are mindless stories? A king is a ruler, not a dreamer!" The first bit about the mother is all the more harsh if you've read the backstory and learned that Clesodor's wife, Queen Feya, is in fact dead, killed in a tragic accident at "the cliffs of Mahor."

(I had to take a break from the game at this point to call Patrick, the British friend that I've talked about before. Back in 2007, we were traveling along the west coast of Ireland. He happened to mention that the last time he was there, a few years prior, he'd heard on the news that a British tourist had been killed while falling from the Cliffs of Moher. The same night, we got into Galway, checked into a hotel, turned on the TV, and immediately caught the opening headline from the local newswoman: "Tragedy in County Clare today as a young man fell to his death from the Cliffs of Moher." Ever since then, we have this ongoing joke that every Irish television news broadcast begins with a report of yet another death at the Cliffs of Moher. Maybe you had to be there.)
              
The idle prince idles.
         
The perspective now shifts to the Prince, a complete milquetoast, who is reading a picture book that should be far below his age. It's called The Legend of Nhagardia. Recently, the Prince, worried for his father's health, had followed from the castle a mysterious stranger who had met with his father in private. The stranger turned out to be an ex-sorcerer named Shiliko who had been summoned to help stop the king's recurring nightmares. Unable to do anything, Shiliko had cast a placebo spell. When confronted by the Prince, Shiliko gave the boy the book.

The book tells the story of an ancient emperor named Shamar who, seeing that the end of his life was near, set off on a quest to extend it. Before disappearing, he divided his crown and power among his five territories. Alonia, the terrestrial realm, was given to King Adama. The elf Sandro took over Fraywood, the forest realm. Oberus ascended to rule the skies in Aerius. Lorelei, the (curiously male) king of Thalassy, took over the ocean. And inside the depths of the world, the gnome Hyke became the ruler of Alveola. Over time, the portals between realms closed and the rulers lost contact with each other. Clesodor is presumably a descendant of Adama.
           
The original must have been huge.
              
Suddenly, there's a disturbance by the window and a fearsome apparition appears. The cloaked, scaly, black-skinned creature introduces himself as Grimnoth. "Though I come to you now as a mere apparition, heed my warning," he says. "I will return to your world on New Year's Day and claim power over your kingdom. You will surrender your crown to me on that day." He continues by warning Clesodor that even in his "astral form," he can destroy him.
          
The kingdom is menaced by Xusia.
          
Clesodor of course mouths off to Grimnoth, so Grimnoth extends his hand and vaporizes Clesodor and his advisors with a ray of light.
           
Grimnoth's spell destroys two courtesans before it reaches the king.
        
"Nooooooooooooo," the Prince shouts.
            
"Do not want!"
           
Addressing the Prince, Grimnoth says that he's put a plague of darkness on the world, and if the Prince brings the crown to him at Castle Thiris on New Year's Day, he'll lift the darkness. This seems a little unfair. Before he killed Clesodor, Grimnoth was prepared to return to the castle to collect the crown. Now he's making the Prince trek hundreds of miles to bring it to him. Thiris is in the center of the world, the seat of the former Emperor Shamar, now abandoned and monster-ridden.

The Prince vows to avenge his father and begins by ransacking his mother's belongings, finding among them a reference to a witch named Cagliostra, who Clesodor had banished. "Father, I know you thought I was a dreamer, but I'll avenge your death. I'll make you proud!" the Prince declares, just before a hand appears from off-screen, and someone clocks the Prince over the head with a mace, knocking him unconscious.
         
This just isn't his day.
          
Paragon's titles had all featured a MegaTraveller-inspired character creation process by which each character went through a career in a military branch or profession (or both) which shaped his or her skills and abilities. Since the protagonist of Challenge--the Prince--has more of a fixed background, I didn't expect the character creation process to be quite the same. It isn't. Instead, the game feeds you a number of situational questions and asks how you'd react to them.
             
One of many, many questions in character generation.
           
This is often described as Ultima IV-style character creation, but it's not. Ultima IV's scenarios were about pitting one virtue against another to help determine what virtue primarily guided your moral compass. Challenge's questions are more about pitting various skills and abilities against each other, ultimately determining if you're more of a fighter, mage, diplomat, or thief--or a balance among them. I lost track of how many questions the game asks--I think it is in the ballpark of one hundred thousand--but it later struck me that the "quick" option, which just rolls random numbers for your attributes and abilities, performs just as well.

There aren't that many skills, making me hope that unlike the GDW games, this one actually uses all of them. "Stealth," "Crime," and "Fly" were all set to 0 when I started (the lowest score I got was otherwise 20), so perhaps it doesn't use those.
         
The game's attributes and skills. The Prince takes a level in badass in his portrait.
         
The game finally begins when the Prince wakes up in his mother's bedchamber, head throbbing, bereft of equipment or supplies, including the crown that he's supposed to bring to Grimnoth. He soon runs into Hastings, the dead king's seneschal, in the next room. Hastings explains that when the king was killed, his knights looted the castle and fled with its riches to Duke Gormond of Vinazia, who despises me. Rumors are already spreading that the Prince killed his father. Hastings recommends that I forget about Cagliostra, but if I'm determined to seek her out, her old friend Sir Oldcastle hangs around the Boar's Head Tavern. Hastings stays to guard the castle after giving the Prince a key to a chest.
                      
Encountering my first NPC.
          
Challenge's interface is axonometric with continuous movement and real-time events. A row of icons offers party options, disk options, navigation options, spell options, combat options, and speech options. Of the developers' previous titles, it most recalls Space 1889, but with some elements tossed in from other games. For instance, if you're trying to speak to a moving NPC, you can use the "Hail" option to get him to stop; this is from MegaTraveller 2. Most commands have redundant keyboard backups except (annoyingly) movement, which has to be done with the mouse. One key I'm using a lot is (P)ause, every time I stop to blog or something, because commenters have warned me that the game has a time limit. "Ridiculously short" is how one described it.

I naturally started exploring the castle. As Hastings said, most of the court had fled. Sir Feldoth and Sir Elault still guarded the ramparts. Imrid the Manservant was wandering the lower halls and begged me to just give Gormond the crown. A couple more servants, Horric and Horville, were in the basement. Horric told me that a thief carried off a chest with the queen's insignia on the lid. Dialogue so far has been entirely scripted, with the Prince (or I guess, King) responding to questions on his own.
          
"I do not know, but you will die for your failure!" is an option a really good RPG would have given me.
             
Finally, in one room, I found a broadsword, axe, long bow, rapier, and arrows. You basically have to hover your mouse over all objects that you think you might be able to pick up. As far as I can tell, chests and wardrobes and such are just decorations, as there is no command to open them and (F)ind never seems to do anything.
        
Finding some weapons at last.
          
In the kitchens, Wilagon Blacklost gave me the Holy Book of Equus, which has a spell called "Truth." I tried to learn it, but the game told me that I wasted half a day and failed. I tried again, and it told me that I destroyed the book. I reloaded and figured I'd save that for later. The kitchens also had a variety of spell components and food.

Outside the castle, some flowers and other objects joined my list of spell components. A rough character at the end of the drawbridge offered to give me a hint for 100 gold pieces. Since I started with 1,000, I paid him. He said that there are a couple of loudmouths at the local tavern who claim to have stolen the queen's treasure chest.

I continued exploring the castle outskirts. In one shop, a man offered to sell me spells for small fees. Almost every one I chose required components that neither he nor I had, except for "Warding Spell," "Open Lock," "Lightning Bolt," "Inner Noise," and "Slow." Paying the man didn't actually get me the spells--just books that give me a chance of learning them.
            
Some of the spell shop selections.
       
Elsewhere, I found a  healer, a pawn shop, a weapon shop, a food store, an armor shop, and a tavern. At the tavern, I bought some chainmail and equipped it. The inventory system seems needlessly complex. From your character screen, you can go to "inventory" (which never seems to have anything) and separate buttons for your pouch inventory, your backpack inventory, and your chest inventory (you start with no chest). But you can also go to "garb," a screen with a paperdoll of the character, which also has links to inventory, pouch inventory, backpack inventory, and chest inventory. Spell components seem to show up in none of those places.
           
Part of the confusing inventory system.
         
In the tavern, I met Sir John Oldcastle and several of his friends. Oldcastle had been a skilled swordsman, but he was banished by King Clesodor for drunkenness. He is clearly based on Shakespeare's Falstaff, although a bit more competent. I tried to enlist him into my cause, but he mocked me by calling me "Miss P." and said that he doubted I'd be able to stand up to Duke Gormond. He agreed to join me and help me find Cagliostra if I would bring him the Widow Frazetti's fabled jeweled brooch.
            
The tavern from the outside is a nice looking building.
         
As I explored, it became clear that several houses had been looted in the chaos following the king's death, including Frazetti's. I ultimately tracked down the bandits, the Hammerhand brothers, to a bar in the western part of the map. They were drunk, which made the subsequent combat a little easier.
            
An NPC shows a shocking lack of respect for the king and his neighbors.
          
Combat appears to take place in several phases and draws heavily from the MegaTraveller system. In the first phase you place your party members on the combat map, which is the same as the regular map without the surrounding command interface. Once combat begins, you issue orders for each character--target a particular enemy, cast a spell, defend an area, or move--and then unpause the game. Characters act on their own until you pause again and issue new orders.
           
The game has me fight the second Hammerhand brother as the first lies dead above me.
          
In short order, I killed the brothers and looted their bodies for my mother's chest, the Frazetti brooch, and a bracelet that they pillaged from another NPC. I returned the brooch to Oldcastle, who joined me, but it occurred to me that I should have tried returning it to the Frazettis first.

I also found the house of the wizard Shiliko. He had hung himself. A note nearby indicated that he blamed himself for the appearance of Grimnoth and all the chaos that followed, but it didn't explain his reasoning.
             
Shiliko's hut, with Shiliko hanging in the upper-left.
      
At this point, I think I've exhausted exploring the castle. Judging by the world map, there are a couple of other cities in Alonia to visit, and then the other realms. Oldcastle said that we'd find clues for Cagliostra in the city of Farinor, so I suppose that's where I'll go next.
            
Oldcastle insultingly joins the party.
        
It's been a relatively promising start. Although aspects of the animated sequence were a little goofy, the backstory is strong. The interface is a little clunky but not overly so. I like that we're already seeing side-quests--one of the few things that Paragon did well in its previous titles. Dialogue is verbose enough to actually give characterizations to the NPCs, but I wish there were more options from the PC's side. Overall, I look forward to my next session and seeing how the game develops.

Time so far: 3 hours

129 comments:

  1. 'And inside the depths of the world, the gnome Kyke became the ruler of Alveola.' Holy smokes nobody tell Heike about this.

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    1. It’s actually “Hyke.” That was an unfortunate typo. Also, Grimnoth kills two COURTIERS, not courtesans.

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    2. Courtesans would make for an interesting tragic element, the king is so distraught that he spends all his time in the arms of courtesans. His son grows distance because the only time he ever sees his father he has a woman on each arm that are only with him because he's the king.

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    3. Yeah, between this and Chester's open invitation to Flat Earthers I was expecting a hell of a comments section for this post.

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  2. John Oldcastle was an actual person, and the partial basis for Falstaff. How odd to have a historical figure in this fantasy setting.

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  3. Augh, I hate this fake-perspective art style! I'm not even trying to play and it's giving me eyestrain. It looks like everybody's doing the Michael Jackson move where he'd swivel around on his ankles.

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  4. Could a flat planet keep an atmosphere?

    Hoo boy, you could begin a long trip into madness with YouTube flat Earth videos or you could take this bit of what I remember from astronomy 101 taken over 20 years ago.

    A planet's mass is what creates its gravitational field. More mass=more gravity. Earth and Venus are great at holding their atmosphere precisely because of their size. Mercury and bodies smaller than it are too small to keep an atmosphere. Mars has lost much of its atmosphere because its magnetosphere went kaput a long time ago so it lost its protection from the solar winds. There is a whole formula for estimating the density of an atmosphere on a given body of a given mass.
    Thing is, with a flat planet gravity works in really strange ways. For example, if gravity were strongest at the center then walking to the edge would be near impossible. You'd eventually "fall" back to the north pole. And that's only one bit of crazy theory! If you're up for it you could check out flat Earth debunking videos. They can be anything from genuinely interesting and educational to downright hilarious, biting sarcasm.
    A few popular flat Earth assertions are that the earth is forever moving "up" so we are feeling 1G of acceleration at all times. Another says that the atmosphere rests on the surface because of its density. Things like balloons float because they are less dense. Water is more sense so it falls to earth. There's always the firmament as well, a giant dome keeping the air in.

    Flat planets are really, really weird.

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    1. Say what, now? The gravity isn't "strongest" anywhere. If a planet is flat (in the shape of a huge stone slab) then gravity would point towards the center of mass. Because that's how gravity works.

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    2. We're talking flat Earth theories, they say some wild stuff.

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    3. That would make gravity "strongest" at the center. It falls off with the square of distance from the center of mass. If you're at the center of the slab you're significantly closer to the center of mass. Walking to the edge of the slab would be like climbing up through our atmosphere - your weight would decrease.

      As you walked to the edge of the slab, the pull to the center would decrease (since you're farther away), but it would become substantially more angled, so it would be like climbing up an ever steeper slope (at the very edge the pull would be practically horizontal)

      No idea about atmosphere though.

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    4. I have trouble that anyone truly believes Flat Earth theories. I think the ones that say they do are a combination of trolls and mentally ill. If you truly believed it, you would have to believe in a conspiracy of such epic proportions, involving so many people, that it would make you question the very nature of your reality. Certainly, you wouldn't make serious YouTube videos explaining how a flat earth could work using the laws of physics, because if you believed that many scientists were lying to you, why would you trust the laws of physics? Why would you believe literally anything that you couldn't see or touch yourself? For that matter, why would you challenge the official narrative--I'm sure as hell not going to mess with a government so effective that it's managed to fake a round earth for millennia. To be a serious Flat Earther would mean having no sense of the implications of your own theory.

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    5. Flat Earth had to be one of social media's greatest trolls ever. The amount of money flat earthers and flat earth debunkers made was a terrifying testament to the power of tribalism and gullibility. Right up there with the raid on Area 51.

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    6. The Area 51 raid just struck me as a dumb joke that went too far, and thankfully didn't end with anybody getting shot.

      But as for flat earth, and the growing power of pseudoscience in general: it's just confirmed my long-held suspicion that an overwhelming majority of people are incapable of any amount of introspection or critical thinking.

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    7. Flat Earth theories mostly just show up the increasing prevalence of humourless authoritarians who rage at anyone who challenges prevailing scientific and social consensus, and demand that every work of entertainment have a moral spelled out in words of one syllable.

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    8. Before the last few years, I was always under the impression that flat earth theorists were perpetrating an elaborate intellectual joke.

      I have no idea why people started taking them seriously and then getting REALLY angry. It has to be some kind of other frustration in these peoples' lives, some kind of fulfillment they're not getting, and it's coming out this way.

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    9. I am 99% sure that virtually all (not all, of course--some people truly are mentally ill) flat earthers are trolling people because it makes people SO DANG MAD for some reason. I never would have imagined that a stranger being wrong about something that doesn't matter would get people so riled up--but then along came the internet.

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    10. I know someone that is a Flat Earther, or at least they purport to be. And yes they believe in any number of other conspiracy theories as well (9/11 Inside Job, Gov controls the weather, etc). As near as I can tell, because he seems to believe that science as agreed upon is mostly real, that most of these conspiracy types are simply railing against authority and intellectuals with no functional end goal in sight.

      Amusingly he will tear into Reptilian theorists with no since of irony.

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  5. Gee, this king keally seemed kind of a douche, wasting kingdom's money on celebrations, and unable to command any kind of loyalty, since his knights rob him and flee with his body not even cold.

    This Grimnoth guy seems like someone with initiative and drive, maybe the change of leadership is not going to be a bad thing? /s

    (BTW, if you want to give your game a memorable title, do not make it 11 words long.)

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  6. >>> Could a flat planet keep an atmosphere?

    I think I can answer this: I have degree and master in physics (I am not bragging, I am just saying I think my opinion could be reliable on this topic).

    If (and only IF) the universal law of gravity still holds, a flat planet would still have a roughly spherical atmosphere around its center. The world's edges would be perceived as high mountains that pierce the atmosphere.

    Simulations showed that fast-spinning planets could be flat or "round-pillow-shaped", or even "donut-shaped". I think that the atmosphere around them would still be spherical around its center, or just oval.

    Would the creatures on the flat planet feel the centrifugal pull? I doubt it, as much as we Earthlings are unable to feel the spinning of the Earth.

    All this, if the universal law of gravity still holds. Replace it with a "fantasy law of gravity", and you can get anything else.

    On the other hand, physics would disagree with the "eternal sun" idea. (think of Uranus). Anyway, mixing up real-world science with fictional "magic & co." usually gives contradictory answers.

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    1. The experience of gravity on a flat planet would be pretty strange. Walking in any direction from the center would feel more and more like you were walking uphill.

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    2. Would be enteral sun possible if the disk is tidal locked tho sun and the "etarnal sun" spot is the side facing it.

      Would be very hot I guess..

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    3. If the atmosphere was rotating as fast as the planet, it would would be a flat spheroid too.

      If it wasn't, it would be... windy.

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    4. Tristan Gall and Gerry Quinn, I agree with you.

      Marc St, I have to disagree (but just for fun: it is crazy to apply real-world physics to fantasy worlds). In order to be a flat disk, the planet should spin very fast, therefore the resulting rotation axis would be too much stable to be tidally locked to the sun. Unless maybe... if it was extremely close to the sun (planet barbecue?), but how hot would that be?

      For anyone who enjoys French language (remember Chet's "sword on fire" and the "2-men sword"?), I recommend the book by René Cuillerier "Et si la Terre était plate? 36 questions de science pas si absurdes que ça" ("What if Earth Was Flat? 36 Science Questions less Absurd than You Might Think").

      I am trying to remember where I put that book, but... maybe a flat planet that spins around its diameter (like a flipped coin) would be possible? In order to show always the same face to the sun (1 day = 1 year) and at the same time follow Kepler's laws, once again it would be a "barbecue planet", super-close to its sun. Discarded.

      Back to the first option: tidally-locked axis. If we need a cooler sun, it should be a red super-giant star, that is a dying star (just "few" millions years of agony) that anyway lived short enough. The spinning flat planet should have formed when the red super-giant was a normal, very young (non-supergiant) giant star. The planet must have a rotation axis flat on its orbit (like Uranus), and it must be far enough from its sun. When the giant sun-star runs out of "main fuel" and inflates to a red super-giant star, the new proximity of its surface to the spinning planet could lock tidally the axis of the planet, but only if the star density remains high enough (otherwise the sun's gravity field gets too weak).

      Hey, we did it! We can theoretically have a flat planet with an eternal sun, although huge and red (as in Mystara Hollow World) and with lots of "if". Anyone volunteers to verify with accurate calculations? Not me :D

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  7. Speaking of holy books, "Equus" means "Horse". Yep, that's the Holy Book of Horse. I'm surprised it doesn't offer travel spells.

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  8. GRAVITY = FAKE NEWSNovember 5, 2019 at 5:51 AM

    MAKE NHAGARDIA FLAT AGAIN!

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  9. More than the planet being flat, I'm wondering about the forever-shining sun without night. That would create a pretty arid desert climate, wouldn't it? I've read some articles about life on other planets, and there were also speculations about whether a planet or a moon that always had the same side towards the sun would be able to develop life. Scientists speculate that life could develop in the twilight zone between the dark and light side, but the light side would be way too hot for Earth-style life to develop.

    So this fantasy planet's environments should look more like Dune than Middle Earth.

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    1. Isn't Mercury like that? IIRC it's tidally locked to the sun so one side faces it and the other is always away. Its blazing hot on the sunny side but freezing in the shadows of craters and on the dark side.

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    2. Mr. Pavone, Mercury is as close as possible for a known planet, but no. A year on Mercury lasts 3 Earth months, but it rotates around its axis in 2 Earth months, resulting in a sunset every 6 Earth months (for more digits, see Wikipedia). Instead, most moons (including Earth's Moon) behave as you described: they are tidally locked to their planet.

      If you lived on the Moon and resist the urge for traveling, the Earth would be always at the same coordinates in the sky. You would experience "Earth phases", because the Sun would still slowly move in your sky (1 Moon day = 28 Earth days).

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    3. I recall reading a book which spoke about a colony on Mercury which moved on rails around the planet, staying in constant twilight or something. I think it was Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312. An interesting premise and even more interesting the materials they would need to make the rails of, to withstand the sun's heat.

      Having said that, in a tidally locked planet, there could possibly be life and civilisation on the terminator, where only a sliver of the sun could be seen over the horizon. This twilight zone could be temperate enough to have liquid water and allow for crops to grow. Then, the closer you got to the equator, the hotter it would be. One would also need a hell of a radiation shield. Creatures in such a planet would be very interesting indeed.

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    4. Astronomers used to think that Mercury was tidally locked, and there's a few older sci-fi stories that use that "fact" heavily.

      So it is an idea you'll run into from time to time.

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  10. If you wanted magic for you main character, you should have doubled down on magic-based answers in the character creation. That way you can start the game with your magic skills in the 100s, making you into quite a juggernaut. I don't think the game is hard enough to punish your jack-of-all trades build though, and you'll get a wizard party member soon enough.
    All the dialog are completely scripted, but they supposedly play out differently depending on your party's dialog skills (for all the non-combat non-magic skillchecks the game automatically selects the character with the highest skill rating - which is another reason why it's kinda pointless to specialize your PC in non-combat skills).
    I had a weird experience with this game - I quite liked it on my first playthrough, but when I attempted to replay it a few years later, all the shortcomings just started jumping at me and making me wonder how I was able to enjoy it the first time around.

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  11. Any large rocky object will collapse into a roughly spherical shape under gravity. The biggest non-spherical asteroid is 511 Davida, which is about 300 km in diameter, and even that looks more like an isacohedral die than a poker chip. Anything much larger (including about half a dozen asteroids) will be a roughly spherical object, now designated 'dwarf planets'.

    The speed of collapse will depend on the size, but for anything much larger than the limiting size will be pretty rapid. An irregular object the size of the Moon, say, would collapse to a sphere almost instantly, releasing huge amounts of heat.

    The force of gravity on a 300 km object the same density as the Earth would be 1/20 of Earth gravity at the surface, and would fall off 20 times faster with height. It would be very difficult for it to retain any sort of atmosphere in a solar system like environment. As with the much larger Moon, the solar wind would blow it away.

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    1. I am still flabbergasted that nobody has run with the concept of "Dwarf Planets" and created an RPG based on a solar system consisting solely of small planets populated solely by bearded dwarfs.

      Sorry. I should have prefacedthis with a "DAD JOKE INCOMING" disclaimer.

      -Alex from The Adventure Gamer

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    2. Wow, really? I figured the sphericalization of large objects had more to do with very slow, incremental processes. I guess that answers my key questions, then.

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    3. @Alex... Dwarf Fortress II: Dwarf Planet!

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    4. Rock just doesn't have the strength to stand up against the compressive stresses involved. A 'needle' (i.e. a spire of constant cross section) of the purest strongest rock would collapse on Earth at a height of the order of 10 km. To get higher you would have to make a spire that gets wider at the base, so the pressure from the rock above gets spread. Having to widen the base (basically, that's how mountains work) is the first step in the process that ends up with a sphere.

      Of course a small astronomical object has much less gravity than the Earth, so the pressures are less for a needle of the same height. On the other hand, you won't have a single big rock.

      Anyway, if your object is so geometrically anomalous that compressive stress will cause collapse, it will collapse with a bang.

      Rocks deep inside the Earth are essentially in a 'fluid' state. They don't collapse under compression because the 'hydrostatic' pressure on their sides is equal to the vertical pressure from the rocks above.

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    5. @Anonymous

      I mean, why not?

      -Alex from The Adventure Gamer

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    6. @Gerry That's all pretty cool. It makes me wonder why more sci-fi large spaceships aren't spheres. The Death Star was a sphere, sure, and some stories had spherical spacecraft but all those big ships with artificial gravity. Wouldn't theyc into spheres as well?

      Unless, space magic science happens?

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    7. Depends how big and dense they are. If they are going to have air-filled spaces inside them, they can't be too near the point where self-gravitation is important.

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    8. Standard 'hard' scifi space station/ship is a torus-like object because that gets a lot of '1g' surface area. More than a sphere.

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    9. When science lets you down, call for a VARN.

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  12. Make sure to visit Alonia's Society of Spherical Five Realms. I hear those Spherical Realmers are crazy with all kinds of nutty theories. They may be behind Grimnoth's plot.

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  13. A "land of eternal sun" sounds very much like "we don't know how to do day/night cycles and this point we're afraid to ask". I admire the effort to provide a curious in-universe reason for perma-daylight though.

    The premise of this setting, with its elemental-themed realms long since isolated from one another, reminds me a lot of Hickman/Weiss's Death Gate Cycle series of novels, which began in 1990. Could be there's an even earlier precedent though. I'm just hoping this game's story is anything like the great adventure game Legend created from that license.

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    1. The funny thing is that despite Grimnoth's claim that he's cast a pall of darkness over the world, everything seems normal.

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    2. The "pall of darkness" is slowly rising from south to north, that's how the time limit works in the game. So he did cast it, it just takes some sweet time to complete.

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    3. @Mento - Death Gate, huh? Yes, that was fantastic. One of the veeery few point/click adventures I liked. We'll see, but save the premise of the five splinter worlds, I don't think this game comes any close.

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    4. I like the Death Gate books and I love Legend games, but I hate Death Gate the game. It cuts out everything interesting about the game, leaving massive plot holes, character motivations that change at random and a confusing ending. Most of the characterization and world building is gone, and the conflict is a completely one dimensional fight between good and evil because all of the revelations about both sides are removed. Most of the good parts of the game are taken from the book, showing little creativity.

      I admit that it has been a long time since I read the books and they will probably not hold up as well now as when I was young and naive, but the game is just awful.

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    5. Death gate cycle is dreadfully slow. I've only made it past book 3 once I think.

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    6. I think you will start to notice the pall of darkness very soon Chet, and i'm intrigues as to your thoughts on it as a mechanic.

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  14. I never heard of this game before, and for some reason I thought it had to do with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, now I'm not sure why I thought this. As to the flat planet and eternal sun, I have little to add but that they don't seem possible without just saying 'Magic'.

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  15. You should definitely take the warning about the time limit to heart. I have two recollections from playing this game - that opening movie (it is rather... unforgettable), and being locked out of victory because I dawdled too much at the start.

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    1. I don't actually think it's that bad that you have to pause the game in the adventuring window. It's just resting and travelling around the world map that you should be mindful of. And it's mostly a matter of always going where the main quest tells you and not getting distracted by invitingly looking areas along the way.
      Given that technically you can enter the "lost" locations and see some monsters in there, I think they probably originally planned to have two versions of every area: regular and dark, with each offering different way of completing your quest. But apparently they had to cut the "dark" parts.

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    3. There's a general consensus online (I did some reading, will avoid spoilers) that the time limit is manageable - as long as you know what you're doing and avoid faffing about.

      I would, however, like to posit that faffing about accounts for much of the fun in CRPGs. It certainly does for me. I like taking my time to explore, slowly growing more powerful, seeing everything the game has to offer... Basically, I prefer my CRPGs to be a sedate experience.

      I know that avoiding time limits often makes for a weaker, less believable story ("Quick! We must stop that *some-sort-of-earth-shuttering-disaster*!" "Yes, right after I recover the doll some random child dropped in a well") - but in my experience, it also makes for a far more enjoyable game.

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    4. I completely agree. Some "soft" time limits could be fun to work around though. Like, for example, in Exile 3: the game never becomes unwinnable, but cities become overrun by monsters, so you lose access to some services if you dally too long.

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    5. Time limits can be okay if they're generous enough. Fallout's is long enough that you can explore and do side quests without having to worry much. The recent Disco Elysium also has a time limit but I completed every quest I found and still had a day left.

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    6. Funny, I was thinking about Exile/Avernum 3 as well. IIRC the time limit there, apart from being "soft", was also quite generous. Great series. It'll be a while before Chet gets to play it though - the first game was released in 1995.

      I may be mistaken, but I believe CRPG time limits (generous or otherwise) seem to have fallen out of favor sometimes during the 90's. They still appear once in a while, but the only two recent examples that come to mind are Disco Elysium and Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Happy to learn it's possible to finish a completionist play of the former without running out of time.

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    7. @Jarl, but if it's so generous, what's the point of having a time limit in the first place?

      Another example of a time limit done right that I can think of is the RPG/Adventure The Council. It doesn't have a global time limit, but many events play out in real time and have different plot consequences depending on whether you made it on time or not. Like, for example, at one point if you talk with one NPC for two long you may be too late to prevent the death of another major NPC.

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    8. The time limit in Fallout adds a sense of urgency and you can reach it if you just wander around aimlessly (therefore encouraging you to find information from NPCs or old computers rather than just randomly walking across the world map). In Disco Elysium the day structure of the game was really great and immersive, and it makes sense that taking too long to solve a murder while a political crisis is brewing will escalate things.

      You can realistically reach the limit in both games, but you're not under so much pressure that a little exploration and side questing is going to lock you into a bad ending.

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    9. What bothers me about the time limit in the first Fallout is that even though you are told about the limit in the first half of the game, no one tells you about the limit in the last half of the game: You have 500 days in the last half, 400 if you solve the first half in the wrong way. I was half an hour away from the end when the time ran out and everyone died, and I had to look up the reason I failed and get a patch to extend the time limit.

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    10. This reminds me of the story of the scientist who had managed to increase the life length of fruit flies by feeding them royal jelly. When telling it to the old SF writer David H. Keller, Keller replied "What do they do with all that extra time?".

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    12. When considering whether to implement a time limit, developers should ask themselves "What's the ACTUAL effect this will have on both gameplay and the players' experience". Emphasis on "actual", because the intended result and the real one can differ wildly.

      Let's say you decide to put a time limit in your CRPG in order to make things feel more urgent and immersive. On the face of it, this should work; players would avoid wasting time on frivolous side-questing and focus on the main goal. In practice, as far as impressiveness goes, you'll probably achieve the opposite effect; you've just encouraged your players to save time by, say, mapping those dungeon levels meticulously then reloading, their characters now "presciently" knowing where to go. Or worse - they'll simply open a walkthrough.

      And why shouldn't they? They paid for your game in order to play the content you've put in. You've gone to the trouble of creating that interesting bandit cave or haunted village, only to say "Yeah, you can go explore these, but then you might lose"? Talk about mixed signals.

      That's not to say time limits can't be useful. For example, they can be very effective at steering gamers away from scummy, ultimately boring playing styles. The "food clock" in many Roguelikes is a good example: Without the threat of starvation to push them forward, many players would be content to safely farm weak enemies on early dungeon levels for hours on end, only venturing deeper when vastly overpowered. Pathfinder: Kingmaker has its whole first act on a time limit, and it's put to good use: You can't just throw everything you've got at the enemies each combat, then rest for a couple of days to recover health and spells. You're encouraged to fight more tactically. To ration your strength. Be more willing to use consumables. By the point that time limit lifts, you've got some good playing habits instilled.

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    13. Fallout could have had an interesting time limit, whereby there was an expanding zone of mutant-controlled area on the map and you could help towns push it back.

      As it happens the implementation of the time-sensitive ending is completely broken anyway. Pity.

      Bethesda needs to redux that game.

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    14. Bethesda reduxing Fallout 1? Seriously? I wouldn't even trust them to redux their own games, let alone the first two Fallout games. Their business isn't improving upon the classic formulas, it's dumbing down games for the mainstream and trying to see how many features they can remove before people start complaining.

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    15. Heck, if you pay attention to the news these days, their business is really more about having their pants fall down and tripping on their face constantly. They've become a company that produces nothing but blunders. Seriously, they're so shockingly inept they can't even put out a simple port of Doom without controversy. What a bunch of clowns. I can't believe anyone would actually WANT 2019 Bethesda to put their hands on anything.

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    16. I want a new Elder Scrolls game and no one else has the rights.

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    17. I think Disco Elysium - arguably the best RPG in the last 20 years - nailed the way the time-limit worked : time only passed during conversation and other similar actions, not when moving around, so you did not feel like exploring would make you run out of time, but on the other end every secondary quest you picked, every time you gauged your options by talking to different characters to solve the same issue, each time you asked a question you already had the answer for, you lost a tiny amount of time - and it really incentivized you to "pick your battles"... but at the same time you could catch back a bit on time by sleeping less.
      Also, you have no regret about not taking all the secondary quests, because due to the way "skill" works and the same pressure of time, you know that every walkthrough you are missing 70% of the content anyway, the game is constructed not to allow a completionnist - so if you want the experience of the investigation you will play once and if you want to explore all options you will play I-don't-know-how-many-times.

      It also allowed the "political events" to pass over time and made for a realistic settings : the political forces in play are not waiting for some secondary investigation to progress to move their pieces, some of these "unblocking" you if you were stuck.

      Together, it really felt like investigating in an explosive environment, while NOT having to rush the game either.


      BTW : Will the Addict have a look at Disco Elysium ? It would be interesting.

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    18. Actually I managed to be pretty completionist on my first Disco Elysium playthrough. Finished most of the side quests and managed to find out all the investigation details. Took me until day 5. If you're very efficient, you can probably finish the investigation at day 3, but that would be rushing it.

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    19. Addict, play Fallout 76, Wolfenstein Youngblood and The Elder Scrolls: Blades and try to convince yourself that Bethesda should make anything.

      Bloodnet has a memorable time limit: The character is slowly turning into a vampire and has to drink blood to usrvive, but every time he drinks he loses a bit of his soul. It really provides constant tension and challenge and ensures that you cannot just grind.

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    20. I didn't have any particular expectations of those games. One is a smartphone game, for Christ's sake. You think I judge developers based on smartphone games?

      For open-world RPGs, Bethesda has consistently given me what I want. They are practically the only developer giving me what I want. So I'll keep betting on them until something better comes along or they screw up the games that I care about.

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  16. There's a 50s sci-fi novel by Hal Clement called Mission of Gravity that's set on an oblate wold with much higher gravity at the poles than at the equator. While I'm sure the science doesn't stand up to examination these days, it's a well executed story and there's a real sense of alien-ness about the world. I recommend it.

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    1. Great book, that. Loved it as a child. I just looked it up and discovered it has a sequel ("Star Light") I never knew about. Time to start hunting...

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  17. The 20 questions character creation was used to good effect in Daggerfall, the second Elder Scrolls game. Maybe in Arena as well, but I can't remember. You could still make your totally customized character if you wanted, but as a kid I thought the questions were neat.

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    1. I like the idea of choosing something at the beginning of the game via a series of questions, but I feel like it's too gamey; people who want to play a warrior will pick warrior-like options, and so on. Unless you're really REALLY into that style of role-playing, it ends up being a tedious class selection menu.

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    2. I always just go for custom character creation in Daggerfall rather than going with what the questions suggest.

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    3. The only game I know that does this really well is Jagged Alliance 2. The questions are fun and written in the slightly sarcastic tone of the rest of the game. Unless you really know the game well, it's not immediately clear which effect each answer has. And the questions just determine your personality and some special skills, you still determine attributes and skills of your character yourself.

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    4. I always answer honestly to see what a game thinks I'll be. The trouble is it's always a chaotic good rogue because that's pacifist, atheist paladins for you.

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  18. So, the first ruler of men was named ADAMa... hm... Was his queen named EVEa?

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  19. I feel like games with overly long badly voiced intros are going to start being a lot more common from here on out. By this point, CD drives have become common enough for it to make sense to release games on it, but not common enough for floppy versions to be obsolete. I'd imagine that in order to make the CD version look better in a way that wouldn't make it impossible for a floppy release, the devs would add some relatively minor things like CD audio or voice acting, and because it's probably being done on the cheap it probably just involves getting some random people around the office instead of actual voice actors to do it

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    1. More like voice actors were rare and concentrated in one area, and you couldn't just email them a script and they email you back an MP3. You'd have to fly one in and rent a recording studio. Besides, it's amazing enough that it HAS voice, nobody really cared who the 'voice talent' was.

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  20. I've always felt there was something a bit... off.. with the few RPG titles Microprose released in the early 90's. Thinking of this game, Bloodnet, and Legacy.

    It's not that they were bad. They weren't even created by the same group of people. But they all share this weird vibe of not exactly fitting with the rest of the CRPGs developed at the time.

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    1. I think Legacy is a very different case from the other two - it consciously warps and bends some RPG conventions to make them fit horror genre. Bloodnet and Challenge, on the other hand, are just not very well thought out or unfinished.
      It's quite surprising for me that Bloodnet and Challenge were designed by two completely different teams though - I even hand to check it on Mobygames - as they are extremely similar in some aspects. They have almost identical character systems (adjusted for setting), and the system where the game automatically picks someone with the highest skill for the task. And both have unnecessarily complicated inventories.

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    2. I remembered Bloodnet and Challenge being similar, but I admit I did not recall the details and the extent of that similarity. I rechecked, and it seems your original idea was the correct one - The development teams DO share some key members. I initially missed it (assume the same happened to you) because Mobygames credits completely different groups of people as game designers. Look further, however, and you'll see a lot of the same names appearing under art, programming, and writing.

      I agree that Bloodnet had a rather janky feeling to it, but I liked it a great deal better than Challenge.

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    3. That character screen, fonts, dialogue system and inventory looked waaay too close to Bloodnet to be just a coincidence.

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  21. Any progress on Magic Candle 3?

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    1. Chet said in another comment he's moved it to the back of the list because he hasn't been feeling it whenever he's tried to play.

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  22. If you return the brooch to the Frazettis you can't recruit Sir Oldfield, which is a really bad outcome this early in the game despite on face value being the more "Lawful Good" choice.

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    1. Screw it. I'm reloading and doing it that way.

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    2. Frazetti? Sir Oldfield? Did they just name as many NOCs after their favorite artists as possible?

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    3. @Chet, I'm not sure Cagliostra will even talk to you without Oldfield, so you'll probably become a walking dead that way.

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  23. The prince's "badass" portrait looks strangely familiar, like it was traced or copied from another source. I can't place it, though.

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  24. I believe in Flat Earth. I am not troll or mentally ill.

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  25. Chet, listen to this while you play.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WAWWrTAgTo

    Best Flat Earth Documentary by Eric Dubay YouTube 360p

    It is long but it fully explains Flat earth.

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    1. Six hours? I don't think so. I gave it 15 minutes or so. It keeps repeating the thesis that a round Earth is contrary to simple observation and common sense. I think the opposite is true. A round Earth logically explains everything that I see, including the way sunrises and sunsets move during the year, the lengthening and shortening of days, and climate patterns as I travel north to south. If I was the only human on Earth, I'm pretty sure my natural tendency would be to believe that the Earth is round.

      The "documentary" makes a number of really silly mistakes, like confusing speed with acceleration. Of course we don't notice how fast we're traveling through space--we don't notice ANY speed. Unless you look out the window of a jumbo jet, you don't notice that you're flying 500mph relative to the ground, either. You only notice the acceleration that it takes to get you there.

      I'm not sure people who really believe in a Flat Earth (and I'm not prepared to believe that you do, despite what you say) understand the implications. Almost everyone would have to be lying to you. Not just the government and NASA. Just about any scientist would have to be lying. Any jet pilot or member of a jet crew. Any person working on any ship that travels a distance greater than a harbor. Anyone involved in international communications or international shipping. Every historian. Anyone involved in anything to do with geographic coordinates. They'd all have to be lying. And yet somehow this vast conspiracy allows multi-hour YouTube videos debunking their most successful con.

      (And incidentally I love how the video takes the existence of Copernicus and Galileo at face value. I mean, if I believed in a conspiracy so vast that it managed to fool most of humanity about the true shape of the Earth, I can't imagine I'd believe in any official history, either.)

      Here's all I want any Flat Earther to do: Go to maps.google.com and tell me where it's wrong. Tell me exactly where I can head east or west from a particular location and NOT find the thing that the map shows me on the other side.

      Plenty of people have driven west across the United States, so it shouldn't be hard to verify the U.S. map. A smaller but nontrivial number have flown west from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Hawaii, and there they meet Japanese and Chinese people who claim to have flown east from their countries. Talk to someone from China, and he'll insist that India and Pakistan lie east of his country, and those people will be able to turn and point you to Iran and Turkey. A Turk will happily tell you that Greece lies to his west, and the Greek will be able to guide you to his Italian friend. Bit by bit you'll make your way to Portugal, where numerous ships' captains will tell you about having sailed to the Azores, and any captain or pilot there will tell you that North America lies to the west. With a little work, you'd be able to verify all these things for yourself. So please tell me who's lying. What country anywhere in the world will actually encounter a wall, edge, or empty void if they head in any direction, instead of doing what every globe in the last 400 years predicts, which is wrap them around the spherical Earth and deposit them at the next appropriate land mass?

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    2. Lest anyone gets confused, I obviously meant that India and Pakistan are WEST of China. And yes, I realize I'm doing what the trolls want me to do by writing multi-paragraph responses to their inanities.

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    3. this only prof a cylindrical world and that is the true form of our planet

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    4. i wonder hw gravity on a cylindrical world would work?

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    5. @stmp Are you inside or outside the cylinder? Is it spinning with you inside it? On which axix is it spinning? How much mass does it have and where is its center?
      You need to ask yourself these questions.

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    6. All one has to do to proof that earth is spherical is to sit in a airplane and look out of the window while flying, it's easy to see the rounding of earth.
      Besides this if earth would be flat, it would have way less mass (and therefore gravity) than it actually has.
      Flat earth is just conspiracy crap!

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    7. Another problem with those conspiracists is that they never look at contradictions for their theories.

      If one claims that EVERY odd number is a prime, and I'm showing that 9 is not a prime, the claim is wrong.

      It doesn't matter that one can show me infinite odd numbers which are actually prime.

      The one contradiction with 9 not being prime is enough to show that the claim is wrong.

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    8. I believe in a donut shaped earth.

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    9. A cylindrical world fits very good together with a donut shaped earth

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    10. I'm pretty sure Earth is a Klein bottle.

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    11. I think a Donut shaped world is by accident the most often portrayed world in video games.

      It's the case when you have a rectangular world map that connects the north edge with the south one and the east with the west one.

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    12. We've bee through this before. A torus still doesn't work in such games because there's no way to make one in which the "girth" is the same as the circumference. In fact, the moment they ARE the same, the torus has collapsed into a sphere. Plus, no one ever notes that at a certain point as you go south, you see the underside of another part of the world up in the sky.

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    13. Chet - A flat earther can explain that by saying that the cardinal directions are curved, not straight. That way if you head east or west, you end up back where you started.

      North gets you to the arctic circle, South gets you to the ice field of antarctica, which rings the circular surface of the planet.

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    14. (east and west are curved anyway, not north or south)

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    15. So going east or west means 'moving almost laterally with respect to north while maintaining your distance from the arctic'

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    16. If that were true, different parts of the world at the same latitude would perceive the sunrise in different cardinal directions.

      Flat Earth doesn't work with the entire concept of "sunrise" anyway. On a flat plane, the sunrise would hit the entire world at the same time. All it should take is a phone call with a friend in California who says, "Yep, it's still dark" to reject the theory.

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    17. "Day and night cycles are easily explained on a flat earth. The sun moves in circles around the North Pole. When it is over your head, it's day. When it's not, it's night. The light of the sun is confined to a limited area and its light acts like a spotlight upon the earth."

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    18. How do they explain the sun literally rising up from below the horizon? By this explanation, it would get brighter as it approached and dimmer as you circled away from it, it would never sink below the horizon and rise on the other side.

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    19. Not sure, but in my experience conspiracy theories usually have plausible-sounding explanations for the obvious questions. There's a big ol' rabbit hole of 'information'.

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    20. I like to compare conspiracy theories to a house supported on a bed of toothpicks. Each individual support is incredibly flimsy and easily snapped, but there are so many of them that losing them doesn't compromise the overall structure, and putting in new ones is incredibly easy.

      Meanwhile things like round earth or evolution are closer to houses supported by thick wooden beams. Taking out even one support would collapse the entire structure because the whole thing is based on a relatively small set of conclusions, but each set is so well-supported and constructed that attacking them is effectively impossible.

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    21. Perspective makes the sun appear to go towards the horizon. All things far away enough converge at a vanishing point.
      The explanations are hilarious.

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    22. Take someone with a desire to possess 'special knowledge' and a deep mistrust of authority of any variety, and hey presto, you have a perfect candidate for a conspiratorial thinker.

      And there are a heck of a lot of em out there.

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    23. "He was very pleased with his discovery and he concealed it; and he used it to find out secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses."

      And: "It would be cool and shady under those mountains. The Sun could not watch me there. The roots of those mountains must be roots indeed; there must be great secrets buried there which have not been discovered since the beginning.”

      But: "All the 'great secrets' under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering."

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  26. Chet why did you take MC3 off your list of games currently playing? I know it can be played to completion. So what gives?

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    1. I didn't feel like playing it, so I punted it for later.

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  27. About world shapes, well we can get all math trippy and speak of the torus, genus-2 torus, dupin cyclide, cone or whatever else...but clearly to me a sphere is about the most perfect shape in 3d. Everything else is waxing lyrical without a gain. Variously games have run on flat worlds because it´s just damn easier and if the player can´t enjoy that, they´re welcome to go to all the useless trouble of programming something different in some higher dimensional madness

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  28. I just have to admire that while all this flat earth stuff is going on, Forgotten Realms has stuff like that as CANON.

    One-sided earth? Yup.

    The moon's grey rockiness is an illusion? Yup.

    A place of torment where atheists go after dying? Yup.

    Lemme guess, a tin helm allows protection against mind-reading, doesn't it...

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    1. I'm not sure what your source is, but according to the Forgotten Realms wiki Forgotten Realms is a spherical planet, and the moon is covered by illusion to hide the space docks that are found there.

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    2. D&D generally suggested that a thin sheet of lead is protection against divination, rather than tin, but I think there's been vaguely canonical "tinfoil hat" jokes based on that before.

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  29. I've never been able to articulate it before, but why do people in 90's CRPGs always look like they're in a high school play? It's like the colors, facial expressions and (often) bad voice acting add up to make everything look really silly and fake.

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