Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Black Gate: Clearing Out

The king without a throne! The land without a king!
          
Owing to circumstances, this will be a brief entry, but I wanted to at least talk about some of the things that occurred to me as I continued my explorations of the Dungeon Despise. Despise is the dungeon that, to its shame, the game accidentally calls Shame. It is wrong. Not the dungeon Wrong--that's further north. Or maybe the confusion is part of the Guardian's attempt at deceit. Not the dungeon Deceit--that's north of Verity Isle. I wish I could go on like this but "destard" isn't even a word. They must have been going for "dastard."
        
Despise turned out to be a large, twisting labyrinth that made full use of the mountain ranges to the north and east of Castle Britannia. There's no plot reason to be here, so I'm not sure if I ever even checked it out in previous sessions with the game. I enjoyed it a lot, and until I discovered the fatal bug, it was serving its purpose of loading me up with gold and other goodies.
       
Just what I was hoping to find.
         
There were numerous combats with trolls, skeletons, slimes, headless, gazers, gremlins, rats, and probably a few other creatures that I didn't note. Because of the game's approach to respawning, you can fight them essentially endlessly. You have to make peace with the fact that you're never going to "clear" the dungeon.
     
As I noted last time, combat in Ultima VII is perhaps a little bit better than a lot of reviewers would have you think. It can be graphically confusing at times, but it's never mechanically confusing. Characters generally perform their programmed action with their equipped weapon, and success comes down to attributes (strength and dexterity) and weapon and armor quality. Even with multiple enemies, combat is over relatively fast, so at least if everyone's going to die, you don't find out after 45 minutes of investment. When characters do something that seems contradictory, it's usually for a good reason. When their hit points get down, they naturally flee. If you've equipped them with a weapon that requires strength or dexterity they don't have, they drop it and find another one. 
           
The skeletons had something weird going on.
          
But there are admittedly a few things they could have done better. One would be getting rid of "friendly fire" damage unless you deliberately do something stupid, like cast "Explosion" in the midst of a melee that includes allies. There are entire weapons that you can't possibly use unless you're playing a single character because otherwise the whole party gets slaughtered. Chief among these are the Firedoom Staff, the Triple Crossbow, and "burst arrows" for a regular bow. I discovered some of the latter in Despise, gave them unthinkingly to Shamino, and watched as the next combat dissolved into a horror show. 
       
One of the best things about any multi-character game is the satisfaction of incrementally improving weapons and armor. Despise hooked me up with a lightning whip, a magic axe, some magic gauntlets, some leather helms (some of my party members had no headgear), and lots of spell reagents. One issue that I'd forgotten is that characters can wear gauntlets or rings but not both.

The dungeon was tough to navigate. There were lots of locked doors, at least half a dozen keys, and plenty of traps. I don't like how traps work in this game, where you can't detect them. They just go off when you walk on their pixels. One particularly nasty one teleported me to a small section of corridor where a wall continually spewed fireballs. 
        
Yow.
        
Another corridor had a more benign teleport trap that just sent me back to the beginning of the corridor. I had to get around this by finding a secret wall. That's something else I don't really like in this game. There's no way to detect them, visually or magically. You just have to bump in the wall and note that the characters sink into it.
         
This game's method of "secret doors" looks a lot like a bug.
        
There was a bit of a mystery when my characters opened a door and all of them started to scream, "Oh, no!" Then they doubled over and vomited. I didn't see or find anything on the other side of the door that would have accounted for this reaction. Later, they were put to sleep by some flora surrounding a pool, but that made more sense. 
            
Those plants look like trouble.
            
In one room, we found an insane mage named Garok who said he was hiding from the Britannian Tax Council and had gotten lost. He had gone mad from the same malaise afflicting other mages, and his crystal ball showed him the source of the problem was in a dungeon, so he randomly chose Despise to explore. Now lost, he needed help with directions out. When we gave him directions, he returned the favor with reagents and then teleported away. I wonder if he went somewhere else in the game. 
           
I can sympathize.
           
Elsewhere, we found a staircase going up, which was confusing. The staircase took us out of the dungeon, across a bridge, and back down into another part of the dungeon in a different mountain range. That was kind of cool. 
           
This is trippy. I just don't remember seeing this structure from the "outside."
      
The dungeon has a lot of magically-locked doors. We eventually found enough reagents to deal with all of them, but early in my explorations, I ran out. Thus, after finding a few gold bars in a barrel, I took my party out of the dungeon and had us sail south across the mountains to Lord British's castle. We traded in the gold bars at the Mint, and here I saw the first evidence of what would be a fatal bug: the Mint had no doors and no furniture, and Claudia was standing in an empty room. It was like one of you sociopaths had somehow invaded my game and performed your customary Mint robbery.

Casting "Unlock Magic."


I went north to Lord British's castle and found that the drawbridge was gone. At first, I thought it was just "up," but it turns out that it had disappeared completely--along with the winch that controls it. Exploring the castle (I had to take the magic carpet in), I found all furniture missing--beds, tables, endtables, even Lord British's throne.

This is a bit ominous.
            
At first, I was just amused, and I bought some reagents from Nystul and kept exploring Despise. Then, I slowly started to realize that it might be more of a problem than I thought. A quick trip with the Orb of Moons confirmed that every city is affected.
 
I can just hear you. "This kind of thing has happened often enough that surely you've developed a comprehensive, foolproof backup system by now!" The answer is yes, I have--but I bought Ultima VII through GOG, which defaults to its own directory if you fail to change it, and I didn't have my backup system set to include that directory. I alternated among multiple saves, but I don't have one from before the problem except one that I made many hours ago upon my arrival in Paws.

There's no way I'm not going to finish Ultima VII, but I hate doing things twice and I can't see myself doing it immediately. I'll probably take a week off, alternate a couple other games, and then try again. I just wish I knew what triggered it. Maybe using the Orb of Moons while I was in the dungeon?
      
Either way, this is a short entry so we'll have the next one in a day or so.

Time so far: 22 hours



54 comments:

  1. You can detect secret passages. If you click on any object, its name will appear; for a regular wall it ways "wall", but for a secret passage it will say "Wall". Subtle, and it basically represents your character tapping the walls to see what he can find.

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    1. Reminds me of the openable objects in Might and Magic 6. Most rocks that you hover your mouse over are called "rock", but if you can open it, it's "Rock".

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    2. Huh, I never knew that. That's neat. I think that I would always just grind diagonal against the walls, which might be a bit faster.

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  2. Did the "vomit room" contain anything that looked like a rock slide? If so, I believe your party was throwing up at some unfortunate souls that had been crushed, and can barely be seen poking out from some of the moveable debris.

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    1. I don't think so, but I'll check again when I replay.

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  3. Who can truly know the name of a dungeon, when the hylotheistic and nihilistic outlook of the Fellowship makes transcendent Truth an epistemological impossibility? Not Hylothe[ism]; that's on the Isle of the Avatar, and only in the Apple ][ version of Ultima IV.

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  4. Ultima 7's internal workings mandate that each NPC has to always exist physically on the map, so Garok definitely teleported to somewhere concrete, although your guess is as good as mine regarding where.

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    1. Well one of the cheat options is "teleport to NPC" so that could work. That said, according to the transcripts he doesn't have dialogue for visiting him at the mountains, so you probably can't find him again without cheating.

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    2. Since your answer is transcript-based you may want to edit that into a rot13 spoiler if you can though.

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    3. If the code forces characters to always exist somewhere on the map, they likely have a secret inaccessible room somewhere so that characters who play no further part in the story can be effectively disposed of.

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    4. They do, and you can get there by teleporting with cheats. There's a rug and it's kind of creepy.

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    5. Yes, one of the funniest metaphysical things is that in Ultima 7 the answer to "where do people go when they die" is "a small crappy room in the mountains". At least in Serpent Isle the room is a little bigger.

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  5. "It is wrong. Not the dungeon Wrong--that's further north. Or maybe the confusion is part of the Guardian's attempt at deceit. Not the dungeon Deceit--that's north of Verity Isle."

    Abbott and Costello go to Britannia!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. "I just wish I knew what triggered it. Maybe using the Orb of Moons while I was in the dungeon?"

    Nope.

    People used the Orb to exit dungeons all the time, it's what the thing is most useful for, really.

    Objects disappearing like that is a memory management issue. The game started running out of memory so it started eating up memory it had already allocated to the disappeared objects. My guesses would be something like:

    You're killing the infinitely respawning monsters "too fast" or "too much".

    or

    You're putting "too many" items into your characters' containers, exposing a memory leak issue with them.

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    1. I think it's just bad luck. If it were that easy to do by accident then nobody would have ever beaten this game, especially with GOG making every install nice and standard.

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    2. I rather hope what Alex says is the case. I won't do the Lock Lake trash pick-up event again, just in case, but I'm not interested in altering anything else about how I play.

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    3. I had similar problems with Ultima V and VI in my latest Let's-Play-playthroughs. Never had anything like it before; the biggest change in my setup was my switching to Win10. I, too, suspected some memory issue, but didn't find anything on forums etc. Maybe Win10 handles some things slightly different (wild speculation). And maybe the number of people who play U5-7 for long enough to notice those issues is just too small to generate some findable bug report.

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    4. I suspect there is some element of bad luck. It might not be just the raw number of items but the wrong items at the wrong place and time. Or maybe some conversational or internal flag glitch caused a mass spawning of items somewhere.

      I vaguely remember this happening to me once, but I also played through several times where I would acquire or steal every remotely valuable item in the entire game and hoard them in sorted and stacked crates on my flying carpet, and not have any issues.

      The best bet is to just make sure your backup save system is in place and do your best to check that things look good before you start each session.

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    5. I'd definitely ask on the Exult forums. If anyone can give you solid advice on how to avoid this bug, it's them.

      The only thing I can offer is that I used to do my own Lock Lake cleanup back in the day, and never ran into this bug. If it's tied to containers, it might have helped that I used to stuff all the trash into whichever corpses were nearby, rather than bring a barrel.

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    6. Well, at least save into a new slot every time... even back in the day, you should be able to have pages of saves.

      I always take the GOG binaries and copy them into my custom-configured DOSBox drive. I try to get the aspect ratio correct, which means non-square pixels, and DOSBox is a pain to configure.

      Then, once I figured out the graphics settings, I created a few configurations that map to a typical machine for a given year. Well, I have a 1985 and a 1993 config that map to a 286 in '85 and a 486 in '93. Happy to share my configuration files if anyone wants them.

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    7. Klaus, he's not using Exult. This is pure original U7 fatal bug. Mind you, Exult had it's own disappearing item bug as well...

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    8. It has to be unrelated to whatever is happening in U5 and U6, because those are completely different game engines.

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    9. Also all of these are DOS games, which means you're running them in DOSBox (assuming you're not playing other versions). This totally isolates the OS from the game since you're basically emulating an old PC. So the OS wouldn't have any effect.

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    10. Is that bug fixed in Exult now Adamantyr?

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    11. "So the OS wouldn't have any effect."

      The correct wording is "shouldn't". But then again, this kind of behavior shouldn't happen in the game, right? So there's one bug (anywhere, for all we know), and there can be more bugs in other places. Chances are, there are.

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    12. No it’s a wouldn’t. Windows 10 doesn’t run dosbox any differently to Windows 8 or 7. The only issues you could run into are display or audio drivers being buggy in windows 10 which could then affect dosbox (but also every other game you play). Nothing will affect the memory or saves since this is entirely abstracted in the emulator.

      However, there are quite probably bugs in these games. That they happened whilst running Dosbox in Win10 however is irrelevant - they would also happen in other windows versions, Macs and Linux.

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  7. The cleaning of the beach like Somebody Said before

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  8. Did you choose "Mythos 1" for the upcoming list randomly or on purpose? Because it's placed perfectly next to Amberstar.

    This might also be a good place to mention that Amberstar has only one save game slot, and there are at least two places where you can get stuck. To be fair, one of them is immediatelly obvious, and with the other one you find out that you're stuck pretty soon. But using an emulator with save states like FS-UAE might still be a good idea.

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    1. A nice reader wrote and suggested that I play Mythos 1 first, so I found room for it.

      It sounds like the ability to use save states would be a major "pro" towards playing the Amiga version rather than the DOS version. Any other pros and cons to the two versions that I should be aware of?

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    2. The Amiga version has better graphics and sound (meaning: music), but that's probably not relevant for you. I haven't tried the DOS version, but it is very likely much easier to set up.

      Porting the game to DOS apparently took a lot of time, but I don't know if that resulted in a higher rate of bugs. I only had a very minor automap bug in the Amiga version.

      The game has an oddity: character creation happens once during installation, so you'll miss out on that with a ready-to-play package.

      One of the Amiga cracks here could probably set you up with an easy to use package. Worst case, I could try to set something up. I did get it to run after two hours of trial and error.

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    3. Considering the game was made for Amiga and only afterwards ported to DOS, the Amiga version would be the more "definitive" one. It also looks and sounds better, as Buck already mentioned.

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    4. Also, Amberstar's sequel Ambermoon is Amiga exclusive so it would make sense to play Amberstar on that system, too.

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    5. See? People are just trying to help you, Addict. No reason to be sarcastic.

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    6. Use the pc version. The opl2 music is as good as the tracker based on Amiga (I still cannot understand why a 4 instrument tracker with an extremely low nitrate is still considered the better music of the era) and you will save a lot of time on loading screens. Moreover, VGA graphics were better than the ones in Amiga.

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    7. As far as I know, the Amiga and ST version are identical, while the PC version has a bug where you can wear only 1 ring. Could be wrong there.

      There is another bug (overland map damage) on a PC version from some CD bundle, but that has a bug fix.

      The dead ends are both avoidable, save states aren't really required.

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    8. Sorry, Risingson, hard disagree on that one. The harsh sounding FM soundtrack is WAAAY behind the much more athmosperic original Hippel tunes. (And while even the relatively basic FM synthesis of the OPL2 certainly profits from the lack of low sample rate issues in certain musical styles, its inflexibility really shows in this specific case.)

      Oh, and the graphics are pretty much identical. In fact, one of the DOS version criticisms was that it didn't make use of extended capabilities of VGA...:)

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  9. Well, that definitely can be caused by low memory (it also happens if you get too much money). If you're running this in dosbox maybe just consider increasing the RAM in the configuration? That might help reduce the chance of this occurring.

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    1. I already asked about that, GOG's DOSBox default set-up is 16mb for expanded RAM, which is crazy good for the 1991-1992 era. The game should have NO hardware memory limit problems.

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    2. It's not the computer (or emulated computer, i.e. DOSbox) running out of memory; because of what Adamantyr said, and because games usually crash entirely when running out of actual memory. There's probably some internal table that's not dynamically resizing, and that's full.

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    3. The word "Should" must never be used when talking about the Ultima VII memory manager... It's something which has always been incredibly buggy.

      The main problem here is that it seems to have a memory leak, and when it overflows instead of crashing the game, it just removes objects in the world. Which is a terrible failure state as it's just so subtle until it's too late. As it stays when you restart/reload, that means it's probably clobbered the save file - which I guess must list the positions of every object in the world (including furniture). If some attributes are set to a wrong number (like 0 or 0xFF) then boom - they vanish.

      In theory, if you know the structure of the save file then you could find the region which deals with the furniture and merge in the right bytes from an uncorrupted save. However, that doesn't resolve the problem as you'll need to sort out the bit which figures out where the next 'free' object in memory is.

      It's really a thing where if Ultima VII isn't as good as it is (and as unique for its time) then these bugs would have caused it to be quickly forgotten in the mists of time.

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    4. DOS memory management and especially for Ultima 7 was a hassle back then. It wanted as much of the conventional memory (the first 640kb) for itself as possible, not much caring if you had 4Mb or 24MB of expanded/extended RAM.

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    5. Ultima VII uses a DOS extender. Conventional memory doesn't really apply to it, because it can access all the RAM.

      The reason it is so infamously difficult to run is that it uses a very unusual form of extender that is incompatible with almost everything.

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    6. The Voodoo Memory Management was aptly named...

      The joys of getting your DOS memory management worked out in the early 90s!

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    7. I had a lot of faith in memmaker.exe, most of it undeserved. But for folks that knew nothing of autoexec.bat or config.sys the program was nothing short of magical.

      The true answer was usually a boot disk, but those floppies weren't cheap back then...or so I was told at the time. Maybe it was a subtle hint that I should've been playing outside.

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    8. I remember how happy I was when one of the DOS versions (6?) added a boot menu to the autoexec.bat so that you could use just one file.

      For those who weren't around or don't remember, many games had very finicky and peculiar requirements for memory allocation to run. So you would need either multiple boot disks, or you would have to save files like "aeultima7.bat" which you then rename to "autoexec.bat" when you want to play Ultima 7.

      I think the boot disk I was using eventually had 5 or 6 options in the menu.

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    9. The funny thing is that most other games that used an extender were almost painless to run, and the rise of DOS 4/GW pretty much brought the memory battles to an end (IIRC, you still needed a decent amount of conventional memory to start the extender, but it didn't require the same amount of min-maxing, and was the same for all games). There's a reason that only Ultima VII ever tried to use "unreal" memory despite it being faster.

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    10. Why does the game run at ZX Spectrum-like speeds and scrolling if it can use all the memory it wants?

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  10. What a weird bug, but I sort of appreciate its surreal nature. In another notoriously buggy game, Quest for Glory IV, you just either get booted back to the DOS prompt, or certain key events don't happen. This . . . this is almost beautiful in just how bizarre it is.

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  11. Regarding the Firedoom Staff, it might work to have the Avatar equip it and you can manually use it to start a fight with one blast before everyone else closes in, then switch to something else. But yeah, it's too bad this aspect wasn't very well designed.

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  12. I wonder if you can avoid these issues if you use Exult? I am guessing you have decided not to use it on purpose, but perhaps reconsider?

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    1. I successfully played U7 (for the first time) a few years ago using the GoG version of the game without any noticeable glitches. So anecdotally its possible to play the game as is.

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  13. About the vomit: You ate bad food

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  14. Yeah, sadly this game is still a bugfest. I tried using the GOG version a few years back and I kept getting a main quest halting bug in Minoc.

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