Thursday, June 11, 2020

Game 369: Mythos (1985)

Maybe "Axis" isn't a great name for a German game company? I'm just putting it out there.
Independently developed; published by Axis Komputerkunst
Released 1985 for Commodore 64 and Atari 800
Date Started: 7 June 2020
Date Ended: 8 June 2020
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 17
Ranking at time of posting: 77/379 (20%)
I wonder if Richard Garriott ever truly understood the number of copycats and clones that spawned from Ultima. We've all heard about how he got upset at Deathlord (1987), but did he know about Gates of Delirium, Hera, and Skariten, all released the same year? He required SSI to license the "look and feel" of Ultima for Questron (1984), but did he realize that plenty of other titles were copying not only the look and feel but also the precise keyboard commands? Did he know that the United Kingdom's first RPG, 1982's The Ring of Darkness, had everything including its plot points plagiarized from Ultima? This is my 369th game. Of them, twelve have been actual Ultimas, about 28 of them have been so close that I'd call them "clones," and another four dozen took direct inspiration from the series for one or more of their elements. I know Lord British hasn't exactly been overlooked in the history books, but as well-known as he is, he may still get too little credit.
The influence of the series was particularly felt in Germany. The U.K. had The Ring of Darkness but mostly went their own way after that; France went its own way from pretty much the beginning, derivatives like 1984's Tyrann aside. Germany would get there, but at the outset they always seemed to be cloning something, whether Ultima, The Bard's Tale, or Dungeon Master. Nippon (1988), Seven Horror's (1988), Die Dunkle Dimension (1989), Kayden Garth (1989), Dragonflight (1990), and The Ormus Saga (1991) all owed something to Ultima, and now we find that the country's first RPG (unless something else surfaces) is a direct clone.
The game is noted for full-screen graphics during key encounters and transitions between areas.
To what extent is Mythos a clone? To the extent of using mostly the same races, classes, attributes, and spells. To the extent of having you purchase hit points from the king. To the extent of needing to find a key to free someone from the king's jail so that you can travel through space. But it also strips away a lot of what makes Ultima tolerable. You can't talk to guards and random NPCs, for instance. There are only four levels of weapons and armor (three of which you will probably never possess), only three spells, and only half a dozen keyboard commands.

But Mythos does add a couple of features, the most prominent of which is a number of full-screen illustrations to accompany key encounters and transitions between areas. I wouldn't say they're beautiful, even accounting for the graphical limitations of the era, but they're clearly made with a lot of care, and they liven what would otherwise be a terribly fast, easy clone. There are also a couple of other twists that I'll cover anon.
Approaching the endgame castle.
The backstory sets the game in the world of Vandor, once peaceful, plunged into chaos when the Isle of Evil emerged from the depths of the sea of Pasmes. King Aphnaton disappeared from his castle, Talamith, and the land is now ruled by his sister, Zenobia, and her husband Alexander. The light of the sun has dimmed, monsters roam the land, formerly lush valleys are now barren, cities deserted, forests full of perils. You've heard it before. A prophecy tells of a hero who will set things right.
Character creation.
You create this hero by allocating 60 points to strength, speed, intelligence, and wisdom and then selecting a class (warrior, thief, magician, monk) and race (man, elf, dwarf, hobbit). Just like Ultima, these selections have no effect on the game at all except by modifying your attributes. Any character can wield any weapon and cast any spell (with one exception). The game doesn't give you the option to name your character.
The game begins at the southern end of the land.
Gameplay begins at the southern end of a continent that turns out to be shaped something like a cross, or maybe a bird with its wings expanded. It consists of maybe 10 game screens with a castle, five cities, and a few other special locations. A castle and a city are waiting for the player at the beginning of the game. Before you can enter either, you'll probably be attacked by an orc, giant, dragon, zombie, or some other evil denizen. If you're not surprised, you'll have options to fight or flee. If you fight, your only options each round are to attack or cast a spell.
The game world, from an in-game map.
Like many early RPGs, success in the game comes down to simple math. You start with 300 hit points and can purchase more from the king at a rate of 100 hit points for 50 gold pieces. You also need food to keep from starving, which can be bought at the same 2:1 rate. You need about 4,000 food and 3,000 hit points to last the game, which together cost 3,500 gold pieces. You maybe need another 2,500 gold for purchases, so that's 6,000 gold total. At a rate of about 50 gold pieces per combat, you need about 120 random combats throughout the game. You encounter far more than that in the course of exploring the world, so there's not much need to grind except at the very beginning, when you want to build up your hit point reserve so you can comfortably explore away from the castle.
Combat options in the middle of the map.
Ultima made things harder by offering fewer gold pieces and making enemies do more damage. Here, even dragons and giants, fighting against characters with fists and no armor, do damage in the single digits. Your opening pool of 300 hit points goes a long way by itself. There's no reason to use the S)teal command (unlike, say, Ultima II) unless you're just incredibly impatient.
An early game "stat sheet" for the character.
There's not much to do in the castle. There are signs saying, "weapons," "armor," and "food," but there isn't actually anything there, and you can't even open the doors to get into the locations. All you can do is visit the king, who sells hit points, and the queen, who tells you to seek her brother for his magic ring. You can also mark the location of one guy locked behind a door, as you'll need to free him later.
The five cities are all set up the same. Weapon shops sell maces, machetes, battle axes, and swords. Armor shops sell four levels of armor. In both cases, the gap in price between the first level and second is so extreme that you're unlikely to even buy the second level (let alone the third or fourth) before you find the magic sword and magic armor as part of the quest. I'm not sure they'd even help; enemies barely scratch you when you're unarmed and naked.
The four types of weapons for sale.
There are three spells, each treated like inventory items that you purchase and equip. "Sanctu" heals a few hit points but is a far worse deal than just spending what it costs on extra hit points in the first place. "Exitus" lets you flee combat, but never in the game should you be in a position where you have to flee to survive. I have no idea what "Goldazium" does; every time I try to cast it, the game says "you need more intelligence or wisdom" despite my trying it with characters with scores of 35 or higher in both. There's no way to increase attributes after creation.
Each city also has an oracle, which gives you hints, and a pub where you can often buy special items. One of these is a map of the land. Another is a special key, of which you ultimately need two.
The oracle gives me the coordinates to the old king.
Winning the game means visiting each location and piecing together the various oracle hints. It starts by purchasing the key in one of the northern cities. You use it to free a mage from the small room in the castle. As a reward, he opens a "space gate" in the northwestern "arm" of the land.
At least I don't have to kill a bunch of guards.
To use the space gate, you need the coordinates of the planet where King Aphnaton fled. You get those from one of the oracles. The Master of Space accepts your coordinates and flings you to a one-screen planet where the only thing to do is enter a tomb. There, you encounter the ghost of King Aphnaton, who had exiled himself and was then killed by the same evil being who took over Vandor.
The master of the space gate.

This other planet looks a lot like the one i just came from.

The former king poses a riddle.
Aphnaton poses a riddle, which for me was the hardest part of the game. In German, it was:

Wie der orbis ist seine form
Und das ist seine norm
Er ist klein
Aber fein
Und gross wird dir sein nutzen sein

I translated this as:
Its shape is like the globe
And this is its norm
It is small but fine
And will be of great benefit to you

The answer was RING, which should have been obvious if I'd remembered why I needed to see the old king in the first place. But by the time I encountered him, I had forgotten that I was supposed to get a ring from him, so I was stumped on the riddle. I tried things like "egg" and "seed" before it dawned on me. The key word is orbis, which most dictionaries don't even have as a German word. I guess maybe they were going more for "orbit" than "globe"? I have plenty of German readers, and I'm sure someone will comment. Anyway, when I finally got it right, the ghost gave me the ring and sent me back to Vandor. 

The second key is needed to enter the ice caves of Madra, a relatively unusual puzzle in which you have to find your way through a series of rooms, arranged in a 5 x 5 grid, in 24 turns or you freeze to death. It's presented in first-person wireframe form like early Ultima dungeons, although there are no monsters and otherwise nothing to do but figure out the right order through trial and error.
Navigating the ice caves.
Getting through the ice caves dumps you into a hidden valley where there's a hidden town. In the town, the only thing to do is grab the magic sword and armor.
Don't be fooled by the signs--the city is abandoned.
Once you have these items, you go to the far north of the map and summon the ferryman, who requires the ring and his name (CHARON), the latter also provided by an oracle. Charon ferries you to the Isle of Evil, where you enter the one-screen castle of the game's antagonist, Irata, who helpfully has a sign in her castle announcing her intention to be evil and rule Vandor.
I think I might have been able to guess CHARON even without the oracle.
Irata's castle. She's in the upper-left.

So few evil enchantresses announce their intentions in contractual language.
Although there are things in the castle that look like enemies or NPCs, you can't interact with them. You are, however, attacked by random monsters as you walk through, as if it were an outdoor map. When you reach Irata, you don't even have to attack. The moment you approach her square, the game tells you that she catches fire and burns with a single blow from the magic sword.
That was easy!
After that, you get a final congratulations screen that says the king makes you a baron and the land is restored to peace, at least until Mythos II.
Some online rumors suggest that Köper finished Mythos II but never released it.
Other than its claim as the first German CRPG, Mythos's legacy rests on its creator, Karsten Köper. Just 17 when he wrote Mythos, Köper would soon begin work on a more ambitious project, Amberstar, which he brought to Thalion Software in 1991 and saw published in 1992. Thalion had previously issued Dragonflight (1990) without Köper's influence, although that game also had a lot of references to Ultima, including a statue paying tribute to Lord British.

Who do you suppose that is?
Mythos is generally called Mythos 1 online. I guess that's what appeared on the package. But the in-game title screen omits the number even though Köper reportedly intended the game as a trilogy. A Thalion fan site has a page dedicated to Mythos. They've collected a number of contemporary reviews. German magazines seemed delighted to finally have a CRPG in German and thus tended to be complimentary. One of them claimed to have spent 11 hours on it and suggested that "beginners will have fun for weeks." What a time. As for me, I don't need to spend a lot of time criticizing a teenager's first game. I gave it a 17 on the GIMLET--mostly 1s and 2s, although I gave at a 3 for graphics, sound, and interface, recognizing the attention to full-screen graphics and the ease of the keyboard shortcuts.
Given that depiction of a cave entrance, I might have been too generous on the graphics.
I want to thank commenter Jan for alerting me to this title's pedigree before I started Amberstar, which will be soon. But I'm pretty confident that after another visit to The Legacy, we can finally pick up Ultima VII where we left off.



  1. I guess the author really didn't like Atari (Irata)

    1. Eh, irata is also Latin for the enraged one, which fits an evil witch. I doubt it's Atari backwards.

    2. Don't forget, the Addict played the C64 version. In the Atari 800 version she might be called Erodommoc.

    3. Irata was also the name of the planet in M.U.L.E.

  2. Monsters being completely nerfed so that all the combat is trivial sounds like the kind of thing a lazy hacker might do to make the game a lot easier. How sure are you that this is an original unaltered version?

    1. I guess I don't know that for sure about any of the games I play. I have to assume. What else can I do?

    2. A lazy hacker would presumably add his name in big letters to the title and/or the loading screen. It would hardly be the first game where the designers, for whatever reason, made combat very easy.

  3. Or he was a big M.U.L.E. fan... that name has been used before.

  4. Can confirm that "Orbis" is not used in contemporary German. It would sound like some kind of (pseudo-) old timey German or maybe Latin word.

    However I thought of "Ring" immediately when I read the riddle, probably by connecting it to "Orbit", which has the same meaning in German and English.

    1. That's correct. It is not a German word but indeed Latin.

  5. If Axis isn't a great name for a German game company, the world map looking a bit like an eagle with wings extended (i.e. the Reichsadler) probably doesn't help the impression either.

    1. That map is definitely a man in a bird suit with his arms extended.

    2. Bruce might be on to something and yet I hope he’s not.

    3. I hope not as well. And honestly, I just pointed it out as an interesting coincidence following from Chet's humorous caption. Of course it could also be an entirely unconscious choice, the angular eagle shape language being something a German developer would perhaps be more likely than most to land on without any nefarious purpose. We're imprinted with more of this sort of thing that we realize.

      Regardless, coming at this as an artist and map designer myself, I would say it's a rather artificial and ungainly landform shape. The other landform shown looks much more natural by comparison.

    4. The heraldic German eagle is at least as old as the Holy Roman Empire, not everything German is linked to the Nazis.

    5. it's actually even older. The eagle is derived from Roman tradition (as in, the eagles legionaries used as banners). That's why so many places have eagles as heraldic instruments.

  6. One thing I'd like to learn more about is what influence Ultima had on Japanese games. I know that the influence of Wizardry was immense, to the point where something like 20-25 original Wizardry games have come out for Japanese systems, with the most recent one in 2017.

    Ultima III came out for the Famicom (NES) in 1988, the same year as Dragon Quest II. I had once thought that Ultima III influenced Dragon Quest, but that now seems unlikely. I think DQ comes from the Tower of Druaga/Dragon Slayer/Bokosuka Wars line instead. Also Wizardry 1 had come out for the Famicom in 1987 so this was not the first opportunity for console players to experience a more complex western-style computer RPG.

    So I think given just that info the influence of Ultima is probably small -- I can't find any evidence that earlier Ultima games ever came out for Japanese computers (which couldn't run US software for the most part), so it seems like the "top down overworld map RPGs" may have developed independently in Japan and the West.

    1. The combat of early JRPGs, with each character queuing their actions and then executing in initiative order, is much more reminiscent of Wizardry or The Bard's Tale than any Ultima game.

    2. Yuji Horii, the creator of Dragon Quest, has explicitly stated that both Wizardry and Ultima were key inspirations - Wizardry for the combat, Ultima for the top-down exploration perspective.

    3. From my recollection, the creator of Dragon Quest specifically named Ultima as one of the inspirations

    4. Yeah I see that now on the JP Wikipedia -- I also found a different listing of the Ultima games that does show U2 and U3 came out for Japanese computers before Dragon Quest.

    5. Dragon Quest 3 in particular has party creation with different character classes and spell lists, probably again derived from Wizardry's popularity at the time.

    6. At least one source suggests Ultima also influenced the PC side of Japanese gaming. Look at Dungeon (1983) and the first two Mugen no Shinzou games and tell me the they don't bear a striking resemblance to Ultima.

    7. Yuji Horii was familiar with the computer versions of Ultima and Wizardry, and you can see some influence of early Ultima in the simplified stats and single character. However, how much of that is a real influence of Ultima versus a desire to streamline gameplay in questionable. The game’s lineage really points to starting out with Wizardry as a base and then simplifying, and the overhead perspective during exploration is the only unquestionably Ultima derived element.

      Horii’s earlier adventure game The Portopia Serial Murder Case included a first person dungeon crawling portion which even calls out Wizardry in a little Easter egg. However, I think it was deemed unworkable to make an entire game due to technical limitations at the time. The advent of memory mappers did allow for better dungeon crawlers later on which can be seen in the evolution of the spartan and honestly fairly ugly Megami Tensei compared to its much better looking sequel.

      Regardless, there isn’t much long term influence of Ultima compared to Wizardry which was very likely significantly more popular in Japan than it ever was in the West. There are still games being released under the Wizardry name! They’re basically just riding on the name at this point, but dungeon crawlers are also a substantially less niche genre in general.

    8. Thanks for that detailed account -- before Megami Tensei there was Deep Dungeon, with a single character in one eight floor dungeon. Deep Dungeon II followed pretty soon after, also with a single character in two four floor dungeons.

      But it is interesting that the first 3 Wizardry games eventually did come out for the Famicom, but only Might and Magic I did -- II and III had to wait for the Super Famicom. And MM1 didn't come out on Famicom until 1990 (the cart is double the size of the Wizardry games).

  7. Small correction, Legends for the TI-99/4a was a Phantasie (SSI) clone, not an Ultima clone.

    1. Yes, you're right. I even said as much in my reviews. Bad memory, I guess.

  8. The witch's intentions don't seem that evil to me. She's merely announcing that she's going to kill everyone who wants to stop her and tries to annihilate her... so basically a proclamation of self defense.

  9. Not only is the company called Axis, but the island is shaped like the Nazi eagle insignia...

    1. The key distinguishing factor of both the Reichsadler and the Parteiadler used in the Third Reich era is the razor-straight upper wings. That's the only factor that is not used in any other heraldic eagle.

      The island shape quite clearly lacks this in an age where adding it by accident would be extremely easy. I'm inclined to put this down to coincidence.

    2. I know I (jokingly) brought it up, but I agree the shape of the world is a coincidence, plus I don't thin it looks much like the eagle in the first place.

      Remember, "Axis" was an American coinage. I'm curious if it even has the same WWII associations to Germans.

    3. Ha. Moments after I wrote that, I just educated myself that Mussolini coined the term. I must have been thinking of the later "Axis of Evil."

    4. Regardless, I think it one of your best opening captions!

    5. It doesn't have the same connotation. In German, the Axis are called Die Achsenmächte (the axis powers). The word axis on its own (outside of the WW2 context) is Achse.

    6. Since the game is an Ultima clone, I related the name "axis" to the name "origin". In fact, the 1980s logo of Origin Systems clearly refers to the origin (x=0, y=0) of the Cartesian axis system. This is just maths and computer programming.

    7. Very clever Abacos! That sounds right.

    8. JarlFrank's was the response I was looking for (and expected when I made the joke in the first place), but Abacos's was an unexpected bonus. I somehow never put two and two together despite having seen ORIGIN's logo a thousand times.

    9. This is an interesting exercise in how, if you prime people to see something by providing a nudge, they'll start seeing it everywhere. Advertisers and propagandists use this technique all the time.

    10. Axis Komputerkunst seems to have been more of a support network for young developers than a traditional publisher. I didn't find anything on the company name. Their games were packaged similar to LPs, so maybe they were just Jimi Hendrix fans. As already mentioned, it's not a word you'd immediately associate with WW2 in Germany.

      The German word for Axis (Achse) appears in one of the screenshots, referring to the X and Y coordinates. But I doubt the game was developed specifically for Axis, so this and the Origin connection is very likely a coincidence, too.

    11. @Harland: You're so right! I imagine that I can see two different maps of North America:

      1) titled "The game begins at the southern end of the land" where I fancy I can see Florida, Baha, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Ithsmus; and

      2) "This other planet looks a lot like the one i just came from" which I imagine as only modestly distorted by the dragging of Maine and Florida to extremes.

      And, of course, where else might you turn for a crucial tool that will help defeat this local, but spreading, evil?


    12. To be clear, in my original comment I wasn't meaning to imply that the shape was deliberate and that the company are secret fascists. I was just noting that it was an amusing and unfortunate coincidence, that others may also be amused by.

    13. Hi GregT, i had to answer on this one.

      I never intended anything related to WWII or the Nazis in my games. The shape of the island was relay just a cross. And i never thought the name of the company i sold my game to was related to WWII ether. They started the company as "Abraxas Computerkunst" but they had to change the name because of copyright problems. Karsten Köper

    14. Karsten, it's great to have you comment, but I'm sorry your attention was drawn to this rather silly thread instead of some of the more important things about Mythos. Tell us: did you ever finish the second game? Also, I hope you noted that I've started looking at Amberstar and am enjoying it.

  10. Axis Komputerkunst was a publisher, founded by former members of the Atari German subsidary. Karsten Köper, the developer of this game, can't be blamed for this name.

    Here you can find an article with some background informations about the publisher:
    There are also pictures of their game packaging, which looked like twelve-inch singles.

    1. I don't think there was anywhere that I blamed the developer for the publisher's name.

  11. No, not you, that was an answer to the comments from Bruce Brenneise and GregT, who both seen an Reichsadler or Parteiadler in the map.

    1. Oh, I see what you're saying. Koper designed the map before he knew that he was publishing it through "Axis" so there probably isn't any connection. I agree.

  12. The "Master of Space" sounds and looks exactly like a prog rock album cover, or a painting on the side of a van. It's exactly the kind of earnestly hokey nonsense you only get in older amateur games like this. I approve.

    1. Side 4 of Enter the Portal by Master of Space is just 28 minutes of an organ playing random scales, and it ROCKS.

  13. If that clone shows anything then how *starved* the german community was for new crpg food.
    I for one can say that I learned much of my english from trying to play (and understand)such games, and a *german* rpg would have been a nice change, had I even known that something like this exists (I didn't. Never heard of this one).
    Luckily, this is not a problem anymore, but every now and then I still switch my games to english for old times' sake :-)

    1. I always play my games in English (unless it was written in German and has really good writing in the original, like the Gothic games). I learned more English from games in the early 00s than from school. A pal from Romania would bring lots of pirated CDs from his home country after the summer holidays, and they were of course in English. Playing RPGs in German feels really weird to me since most of the RPGs I played when growing up were in English. Not to mention that translations often feel a bit awkward compared to the original.

  14. Coming from about the same time period as the developer, I would say the normal young german would not even think of calling its company Axis and adding a swastika as a game feature. These topics were mostly handled with care and respect, even shy. I've always been astonished at he way it was done in the US.
    On the other hand, feeling back in time, I have to admit that Ultima made a big impression. As with many things, Europe and Germany was some years behind the US. I and my friends, being in the nerd group of role gaming players and computer geeks, were just starting to dabble with AD&D when suddenly Ultima II and III appeared. I was amazed. I have to admit, sadly in retrospect, not many thoughts were given on how to improve on Ultima when creating our own games, it was more to show we could also do it.
    The language was a factor, too. Most of the games we got were in English, and we started to learn the language in school from the age of 11-12. There was not much to learn from besides school, different from today, were we have the web. So the general level of understanding English was a bit low.
    I remember having a complete version of our game ready in English. But we felt uncomfortable with our language skills and there was no easy translation help to get those days. So we did it in German instead.
    I'm still amused at games like Mythos, where when you take the German language and try to express an 'old age' feeling, it immediately gets funny, unnatural sounding.
    On the technical side, the mostly direct German translation of our game was at least one third bigger memory wise than the English one, adding to the memory constraints.

    1. Does your game still exist in any way?

    2. German translations are still a problem. Not space in memory as much, but in space on the screen. VisD produces small, cute buttons, and then the translations change all the assumptions of layout. When you translate into 10s of languages, you can't always check every app state in every language...

      (Not to single German out too, too much — it can be true for any language that isn't the one originally designed for.)

      There was a middle German, was there not? Couldn't they use that?

  15. One comment about Orbis: as already mentioned this is no German word, but Latin - it maybe hinting to the king's orb:

  16. There were still be more games that admit to being influenced/inspired by Ultima. What is the breakdown for which ultimas have influenced the most(or outright been cloned into) other rpgs?

  17. New stüff to read please and do it in your time and leasure so that we don't have to read any rushed updates, Take your time but never say No to the urge of rpgs... And No stress

  18. Completely unimportant, but "Messer" means "knife", not "mace".

  19. Thanks for featuring this game, what a pleasant surprise :-).

  20. "Who do you suppose that is?"

    Karl Marx


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