Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Amberstar: Words of Mouths

I always want to "talk" to magic mouths instead of "looking" at them. You have to "look" to actually activate them; "talk," which frankly makes more sense, gets you a mocking message.
         
I made a major push to finish Amberstar last week and fell short. The game will almost certainly top 50 hours, which I consider the upper threshold of decency even for a game that keeps things varied and interesting, as Amberstar does. My ideas about an ideal length are influenced, of course, by the fact that I have 1,000 of them waiting to play. But even in 1992, I probably would have found 40 hours to be just about right. To play a game to the end is to commit to a series of sessions of uninterrupted time. They don't have to be daily, but neither can you go too long without playing before you feel like you "stopped" at some point. The longer the game, the greater risk that you have to take a break that goes on too long.
    
But as I indicated, Amberstar is a bit better than some of the indecently-long titles that preceded it (e.g., Knights of Legend, Deathlord, Fate: Gates of Dawn). It does this mostly by avoiding the problem that I worried about at the beginning my Amberstar journey: being too predictable. When I learned that the Amberstar was split into 13 pieces, I inwardly groaned, assuming that I was in for 13 dungeons of 10 levels with the Amberstar piece in some chest on the last level, probably after a mini-boss. But Thalion did it right. They did it like Ultima VI. Some pieces are after a long dungeon crawl. Others are buried out back in the garden. Almost always, you find them while in the midst of some other quest. That said, 13 is perhaps still too many.
    
I began these sessions with a series of dead ends:
    
  • I sailed to the Riddlemaster's island and attempted his tower, but it was full of creatures that caused status effects I couldn't cure. Until I was capable of countering the swamp rats' poison and the slimes' stunning, there was no point in continuing.
        
There's simply no way the entire party isn't getting poisoned here.
        
  • I went to the Gral swamp but had the same problem with the rats' poison. I guess I should have assumed there would be poison effects in a swamp. At this point, my paladines were still having trouble reading "Neutralize Poison," and I couldn't afford stacks of potions.
  • I went to the Dragon Keep, but to enter you need to answer a riddle that requires knowledge of translating runes, and commenter Vince alerted me that I wasn't supposed to know how to do that yet.
         
I know, but I have to pretend not to.
       
  • I tried to sail to Sansri's Insel, but the island has a ring of mountains on the interior that I couldn't pass.
      
I finally found a way forward in the southeast desert. I had been told that the pharaoh's tomb might hold a special transportation disk, much like a flying carpet. The desert itself was the only place (other than bridges) where I encountered random battles with any frequency. They were all with skeletons, which offer modest experience, some valuable items to sell, and no status effects to worry about healing. This would be a good place to grind if someone wanted to do it.
         
Finding the entrance to the pharaoh's tomb.
         
The entrance to the pharaoh's tomb was in a mountain range at the north end of the desert. I had to give the pharaoh's name, RELANUKH, to enter, but I had gotten that from Jonathan's laboratory. Shortly after I entered, a stone block lowered behind me, sealing me in the tomb.
     
I killed a skeleton and got a key necessary to move forward. As I explored the passages, there were signs (e.g., bodies impaled by spears) that previous adventurers had set off the tomb's traps, including one long hallway that had such a gruesome scene just about every step. The episode had a strong Indiana Jones quality.
            
It was nice of these guys to precede me.
        
The main part of the tomb featured an area full of dead ends in which a voice asked me to "show the present" from a specific god. There were six gods in total: Gala, Harachte, Nut, Geb, Bala, and Sobek. I've heard some of them reference in other parts of the game's lore, although I don't know whether they gave their "presents" to mark the pharaoh's death or earlier in his life.
        
I'm not sure I want to know what Nut is the god of.
        
Elsewhere on the level were six teleporters leading to six sub-dungeons, each of which culminated in the finding of one of the six treasures. It was almost like what I feared the main game would be, just a bit shorter. Each area was crawling with skeletons. Collectively, they wore me down, but I had plenty of food for rest stops. Skeletons are otherwise probably the least objectionable enemy in the game: decent experience, decent treasure, no status effects. You can just plow through them by rote if you're too bored to strategize, which is good because there did come a threshold after which there were simply too many combats, I don't care how much experience my characters were earning.
    
Occasionally, there were a couple of mummies. Mummies can cause disease, which needs to be cured swiftly or you risk a loss of attributes. (Later, I got "Cure Sickness," but I didn't have it yet.) One of the more annoying parts about this game is that status effects that are clearly based on the creature's physical features are couched as "spells." Thus, rats don't poison you because they bite you and infect your flesh. They "cast a spell" that causes the poison effect. The problem is that, unlike most fantasy games, the creatures do not therefore first have to make a successful attack before inflicting their effects. They can just "cast," and since hardly anyone has any resistance from spells (and the Gray Wizard's "Anti-Magic" doesn't seem to help much), they're almost always successful. 
  
Mitigating this somewhat is that enemies rarely use their "spells" every round. They usually don't start until the second round, then will often occupy themselves with three rounds of physical attacks between the second and fifth rounds.
          
Setting the default combat formation. Leaving the two central squares blank enables the quickest movement from any other part of the board.
         
I'll thus use the mummy battle to illustrate the combat system as a whole. It starts with the characters positioned in their default positions. I keep my strongest fighters on the insides of the edges. I leave the middle two squares in the front rank blank because it's easiest to move people there. The weaker spellcasters start in the rear where enemies can't touch them with melee attacks. One of them has a ranged weapon and never needs to move anyway; I occasionally bring the other up into melee range against weaker enemies.
   
The enemy's front rank is all skeletons. The two mummies are in the second rank and will use their first round to move into the front rank. My characters are mostly healthy and the skeletons aren't very dangerous. I use the first round to spread out attacks on all four of the skeletons. I won't kill any during the first round, but the second round I intend to have Trasric use a group damage spell, so there's a chance that I can wipe them all out then if I soften each of them with some melee damage first.
        
The initial setup.
           
Satine casts "Anti-Magic 2" the first round. It doesn't do much good, but it's the only protection I can offer against the mummies' disease.
    
The first round executes. The skeletons do a little melee damage against the first rank; I do a little against them; the mummies advance; Satine's spell casts successfully. You get a lot of potential saves against melee damage. First, the enemies can miss. If they hit, you might successfully parry. If you don't parry, your armor might protect you from any damage.
              
The second round is the crucial point. The mummies are a bit slow, slower than everyone but Drobanir, so if I'm lucky with both melee attacks and spells, I can perhaps kill one or both of them before they have a chance to disease anyone, which they will 100% try to do in the second round. I shift all my melee attacks to the mummies; fortunately, because of the starting arrangement, they're in positions reachable by my four melee characters. Satine casts "Weapons Power 2" to give their attacks some extra punch, although it probably won't take effect until the third round. Trasric casts his most damaging "group" damage spell (a "group" in this game is a row), which is "Tornado," doing 32-64 damage per enemy.
      
Choosing a spell. The numbers are how many more I can cast with existing spell power.
           
The mummies go earlier in the round than I expected, unfortunately, and Gryban is made ill. Note that there's no symbol indicating this. For some status effects, like poison and illness, the symbol doesn't appear next to their names until after the combat. You have to watch the messages carefully instead. Drobanir resists the second mummy's attempt. After that, Trasric's spell goes off and kills one mummy and one skeleton.
       
Sometimes, I think I play RPGs solely to experience group-damage spells.
           
At this point, I'm sure I'll be able to kill the second mummy before Round 5, when disease becomes a danger again, so I'm not worried. What I have to decide is whether to continue combat or kill the emulator and reload. I have four "Cure Disease" potions, but who knows how many mummies I'm going to face in an Egyptian-style tomb. There may be later combats with 10 of them, where disease is absolutely guaranteed. I'm not sure I can afford to waste the potions on a combat where the dice could have gone the other way. This is a calculation I have to make a lot in this game.
    
While it's not as important a consideration since I have plenty of rations, wasting that "Tornado" spell is also a bit irksome if it wasn't going to do its job. Trasric can only cast three of those before his spell power is wiped. If the mummies were going to get a free "disease" round, I could have killed them by melee alone before Round 5. The spell was thus mostly wasted. I might need those points for a row of six mummies instead of just two.
    
There's only one skeleton left on the right side of the board, and Drobanir (my strongest fighter) kills it in Round 3, meaning the right side has nothing to do. I could just let the left side mop up the rest, which I often do when I'm just sick of things, or I can do what I do here, which is move Drobanir over one so he can attack that right-most skeleton. The paladines finally get the mummy in Round 4, and the skeletons fall swiftly after that.
        
I order Drobanir one square to the left.
      
The battle gives me 46 experience, 66 gold, and no food. The skeletons all drop chain mail and short swords, and the mummies drop flails. Those flails are worth over 1,000 gold pieces each and thus worth picking up even though they weigh a lot. The short swords are worth about 200 each and are also worth picking up if I have the room. Throughout this dungeon, I will leave hundreds of short swords behind. In later dungeons, my characters will get so over-encumbered by gold alone that I have to start leaving that behind, too. Piles and piles of it.
       
I definitely want those two flails. I'll take the short swords only if I have room.
         
Eventually, I found the seven gifts. Using them in their appropriate places opened seven sections of a wall, giving me access to a teleporter to the final area. I ran into a problem. One of the items is the Brooch of Gala, which improves the wearer's armor class. I had a character put it on. When it came time to "use" it to open the wall, I realized I couldn't take it off because it was cursed. After trying a bunch of things to no avail--the last backup of my save was outside the pyramid and before I'd killed about 500 skeletons--I reluctantly resorted to hex editing. The game has four save files, but after some experimentation, I found the right file, figured out where it stored the coordinates, and figured out how to interpret them. I moved the party through the wall to the teleporter and continued playing, but the issue wasted a couple of hours. Later, I discovered that I was an idiot and the entire thing had been unnecessary. I had mixed up my brooches. The cursed "gold brooch" is the one you can't remove. I had given the Brooch of Gala to a different character and it was entirely removable and usable.
         
Several of the gifts were quite useful aside from their puzzle-solving utility.
         
The pyramid culminated in a fight with risen Relanukh, which I either forgot to screenshot or he just looks like a regular mummy. I don't remember anything unique happening, so he must not have been that hard. Nearby, in a chest, I found a piece of the Amberstar and the Magic Disk.
           
I did not, apparently, feel his anger.
          
The Magic Disk isn't nearly as cool as I hoped. It's basically like having a skiff in your pocket so you don't have to swim when you get to rivers and calm ocean. It doesn't work over choppy ocean, mountains, or even trees, so there are times on land when it's worse than walking. It doesn't protect you from poison gasses in the swamp. I thought that maybe I could use it to reach the Tower of the Black Wizards without bringing my ship around, but it turns out that part of the continent has choppy ocean directly off the coast; there's no calm aureole the way there is elsewhere.
          
Sailing across the desert on my new disk.
         
Before I could exit the pyramid, I had to solve a puzzle. The exit was presented as three doors, two of which would lead to "certain death" (rooms from which there is no escape). I could just test them and reload, but what's the fun in that? The hallway with the doors had two magic mouths, and answering their respective riddles closed the two "wrong" doors. Anyway, I couldn't get one of the two riddles, and I can't remember which one it was. These are the riddles:
    
  • "What does everyone want to become but no one want to be?"
  • "Hole by hole, but still it holds."
      
          
I remember my best guesses to the two riddles (OLD and SPONGE), but I know I got one wrong and couldn't figure out the right answer. I just don't know which it was. Either way, I had to guess between two doors and luckily got it right.
   
We escaped. I spent a lot of time going around to the guilds and leveling up. I had so much money that I could buy enough scrolls that I could attempt to memorize them numerous times. I did this and eventually got both paladines trained in "Neutralize Poison," "Heal Stun," and "Heal Sickness." (Aside: a good name for an air freshener for RPG players would be "Neutralize Poisson.") I got some cool "damage everyone in all groups" spells for my black wizard, including "Hail Storm" and "Fire Cascade." Even then, I had time for a trip to Gemstone for some mithril mail and a few potions. I also bought some herbs and figured out what they do; they basically replicate spells and potions by healing status effects. I could have used them a lot earlier. Note that the potions and herbs are still pretty useful; although Viola and Gryban successfully memorized the spells above, they fail when casting them more than half the time.
         
This gets old fast.
       
My next trip was to the twin islands of the Riddlemaster. He lives in a house on one island but has a tower on the other. We visited him in his house and learn that we could have Kelvin's harp if we solved the riddles in the tower.
   
The tower was about six levels, with different annoying enemies on each level, including swamp rats (harder than just giant rats; capable of poison), purpleslimes (capable of stunning), and many more skeletons. The more interesting part were the riddles, most of which I had never heard before in any form:
   
  • "It flew featherless into a tree leafless. But who ate it?" I spent way too much time trying to think of a tree, real or metaphorical, with no leaves. If I had been thinking more about when a tree doesn't have leaves, the answer to what "few featherless" (SNOW) would have come faster, as would the answer to what "ate" it (SUN).
  • "What has no body but is still visible?" A lot of things came to mind (GAS, LIGHT, SPACE, SHADOW); the last was correct.
  • "Neither air nor wind are as fast as I. I travel through worlds never seen by a human eye. I am here and there in seconds." I tried (LIGHT) and (THOUGHT) and got it with the second.
  • "Once white as snow, then green as clover, then red as blood--you know me well." I had to get Irene's help with this one. I was so sure the answer was (STRAWBERRY)  and thinking I was getting it wrong because the translators hadn't properly translated the term, as in the final one below. I can't remember if Irene said that I was wrong because strawberries are never white or because they're never green, but either way, she suggested something else, which worked, but I don't remember what it was. (I apologize for the poor record-keeping, but I did most of this playing more than two weeks ago.) I don't think it's fair that players have to have horticultural experience to pass this part of the game.
  • "It is the most beautiful bridge. No man has crossed it. It is a wonderful sight because the waters hang over it." The only one I thought was very easy (RAINBOW).
    
Getting all of these correct got us into an iconographic part of the tower, where we found a chest with Kelvin's harp. We returned to the Riddlemaster, and he offered us some magic items if we could get one final riddle:
   
  • "You do it all the time. It is nothing but it is everything. It is the greatest riddle of all in this universe." Without the final sentence, I would have thought the answer was (BREATHE). With the final sentence, I guessed it was (LIVE). And I was right--except the game said I wasn't. I was in the midst of trying alternatives when I realized that a verb works best for the first two sentences but a noun works best for the third. In English, these are usually different, but I realized that my original guess, translated back into German (LEBEN), is both the verb and noun form. In translating it, the translators could only pick one, and they picked the noun (LIFE) even though it doesn't go well with the first two sentences. This must have stumped a lot of other English players. It was worth it because one of the reward items was a "Sickle of Returning," which works like a boomerang and anyone can use.
          
Surely, a true "Riddlemaster" would realize he's switching from a literal definition of "riddle" to a metaphorical one.
        
The harp is an interesting artifact. When used, it allows you to pick from 19 songs composed for the game, most or all of which appear in various terrain or other circumstances. They include "Citywalk," "High Seas," "Gwen's Lament," and "Funky Dungeon." Two are labeled "Censored"; I don't know if they were censored in the original German. Not caring much about music, I returned the harp to Kelvin and got the next bit of the Amberstar.
             
German readers: if you know what the "censored" ones were in German, please share!
           
We wrapped up this session by returning to the Gral Swampstation, a very large, one-level dungeon full of swamp rats. Early on, we found the rune table that finally allows me to "officially" use the piece of paper that came with the game. We also found a scroll that immediately requires those runes and says things like "topaz -- blue circle" and "diamond -- white circle."
       
It would have been nicer if the game had just started translating runic automatically.
              
It eventually transpired that the dungeon had eight holes in the walls of different colors. I had to put the correct stone in each hole, which opened the way to a crank, which when turned opened the way to yet a deeper part of the dungeon. The problem was that not all of the necessary stones and crystals were found in the swampstation. Fortunately, I had a lot of them (e.g., diamond, topaz, ruby) from previous locations. I had been planning to cash them in but never needed the money. One of them, the "mountain crystal," which the scroll confusingly had as "quartz crystal," was found only in Jonathan's laboratory.
       
"Uh . . . Silk . . . I'm pretty sure it wants us to insert a stone."
        
Another, the amber stone (which the game left untranslated as bernstein), could only be purchased at the store in Twinlake. Fortunately, I had noticed it there while looking for things to spend money on. At first, I thought it was a piece of the Amberstar. I had to leave the swampstation to go back and buy it. On the way, I got to wondering why Bernstein is such a popular Germanic last name. I did some Googling and discovered that it belongs to a class of "ornamental" last names, including Morgenstern ("morning star") and Rosenthal ("rose valley") popular in German and Austria because in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Ashkenazi Jews were forced to adopt last names for the first time. Yet another thing CRPG playing as taught me about.
           
Anyone remember the Bernstein Bears?
           
I had hoped that the swampstation would have another Amberstar piece, but its only purpose was to allow me to find the corpse of the former foreman, around whose neck I found Jonathan's location device. Once used, a new part of the interface now shows my x and y coordinates.
         
Note the new interface component.
        
After leveling up, I took the ship to sea, visited the 0,0 location (the number of people to do that in real life must be a small club), and confirmed that the maximum coordinate is 400 x 400. Even though the map looks a little longer east-west than north-south, I think it depicts more blank ocean than actually exists
          
Miscellaneous notes:
    
  • One of the benefits of the eagle is that I never have to see the screenshot below again. It happens when I board a ship but then forget to switch the button panel back to "navigation" mode and thus hit "Listen" when I think I'm hitting "forward."
          
If Amberstar were a AAA game from the 2010s, this screenshot would be a meme with the caption: "Every. #@#$*ing. Time."
         
  • There is no way to tell the names of your enemies in combat until they attack and you see the "Whatever hits Viola for 5 hit points" message. This puts you at a disadvantage in the first round because a lot of enemies share the same icon and you don't know how tough these ones are.
  • It would also be nice if there was an "attack closest" or similar option to speed up combat. 
  • All the riddle answers persist, annoyingly, as keywords in later conversations. 
  • I want to call attention again to the large and interesting amount of "flavor text" the game provides as you explore dungeons. I always like when games do this to compensate for repetitive textures.
          
I will like it more when graphics and sound make this unnecessary, of course.
         
This post is already pretty long, and yet it doesn't even depict half of what happened in the 15 hours since my last entry. I'll have to cover the rest next time. For the next entry, we'll have something different to break the monotony of Black Gate and Amberstar coverage.
   
Time so far: 30 hours

83 comments:

  1. I think you included your first miscellaneous note a bit too early.

    I never tried using the harp so I'm not sure about the songs in the German version, but the soundtrack with titles can be found here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9I8_GW4ags) and it has "Irish Spring" and "Bard Dance" in place of the censored songs. Both were played repeatedly during the game.

    "Misty Orc Hop" is certainly a Led Zeppelin reference ("Misty Mountain Hop").

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    1. Shoot. I wrote that early in the entry. I guess I thought I'd get to the eagle by the time I was done.

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    2. I wonder why in the world they felt they had to censor "Irish Spring" and "Bard Dance."

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    3. Maybe you havn't heard These Songs in the Game yet.

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    4. At least for Irish Spring copyright issues seem a rather obvious reason:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_70Oj551pQ

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    5. Did you mean "Bard Dance"? That's an Enya composition, too.

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    6. I guess Enya's lawyers just didn't speak German.

      Thanks to Buck for linking the soundtrack to this game, which is full of absolute bangers (plagiarism notwithstanding.) I never would have looked it up on my own, since music doesn't come up much in these posts.

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    7. Now I'm confused--is it just the titles that are the same as the Enya compositions, or the tunes, too? I didn't think one could copyright titles.

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    8. Can you copyright song titles? There's lots of songs by different artists with the same title.

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    9. "Irish Spring" is a retitled version of "Epona", linked further up in the thread. With "Bard Dance" they didn't even bother to change the name. Both songs are nearly identical to the Enya versions.

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    10. Yes, you can copyright some titles. The song "Morning Train" was called "9 to 5" in England (I think) but ran afoul of Dolly Partons song "9 to 5".

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    11. Reading Wikipedia's summary, it seems like that was more to avoid confusion than to avoid running afoul of copyright. The history of songdom shows plenty of examples of multiple songs using the same title.

      Anonymous seems to have answered the question: the "censoring" was done because the game copied the melodies and not just the titles.

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    12. Interesting, I always wondered about the censored songs. Wonder how that happened, the musician Jochen Hippel was quite famous in his time.

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    13. Jochen Hippel got inspiration from film/music in other tracks, too:

      - "City Walk" (Amberstar) => "The days long gone" (Joe Hisaishi)
      - "Theme" (Wings of Death) => "The slightest touch" (Five Star)
      - "Resetscreen" (Cuddly Demos) => "The Chosen One" (Robbie Buchanans)
      - "Highscore Tune" (A Prehistoric Tale) => "Icarus' Dream Suite Op. 4" (Yngwie J. Malmsteen) => "Adagio in G Minor" (Remo Giazotto) => Tomaso Albinoni

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  2. I don't think I've heard those riddles before either and I agree that they're pretty good. I've never really considered if different languages or cultures have different riddles, although it makes sense. Maybe they're somewhat more common in Germany?

    Regarding these riddles:
    "Hole by hole, but still it holds." - perhaps CHAIN?
    "Once white as snow, then green as clover, then red as blood--you know me well." - was it either PEPPER or TOMATO? I wouldn't have come up with those unless you mentioned strawberries first.

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    2. I'll ROT13 the riddle answers.

      The second answer is PUNVA: I got that and not BYQ, which sounds correct.

      The White/Green/Red riddle answer is PUREEL, which I didn't get even close. I had no trouble with the last riddles.

      I also had to look up the first riddle, and I found out that definitely has some history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Featherless_bird-riddle
      I blame German for not being able to solve it, as "Sonne" is a female noun, while it is a male noun in Italian and Spanish, the languages I'm more familiar with (I'm not sure what would be considered in English) :)

      It has definitely a very poetic quality, very nice riddle.

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    3. Thanks for sharing that. I had no idea the riddle was so well-known it had its own Wikipedia page. Some of those early versions are quite poetic, although it never would have occurred tome to equate the sun with a "maiden."

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    4. PUREEL was my first thought: white blossoms, green (unripe) fruit, then the ripe deep red ones. Fits nicely.

      The "hole by hole and yet it holds" actually rhymes in German: "Loch an Loch und hält doch". The more common answer to this well-known German riddle would actually be ARG, not PUNVA.

      (funny rot13 there! :-)

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    5. My apologies for not ROT13'ing my suggestions! It didn't occur to me that those could be viewed as spoliers.

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    6. I don't consider them spoilers. I've already passed through the area.

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    7. I used ROT13 in the first place in the same spirit that Chet shades his guesses/answers in the post, so that other readers can attempt to solve them if they fancy.

      But I admit that doing that in the comment section is kind of an overkill.

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    8. That was considerate. There was no right or wrong on this one. Best to err on the side of using ROT-13 if you're not sure.

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  3. "German readers: if you know what the "censored" ones were in German, please share!"

    It takes some doing for an instrumental track to require censorship! I can't recall a precedent since Frank Zappa's "Jazz from Hell" instrumental album was given an explicit lyrics sticker despite containing no words, on the basis of its name alone. (And perhaps his bad blood with Tipper Gore.)

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    1. I mean, I assume the titles rather than the content are censored, although I admit I didn't try to play them.

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  4. My guess at 'hole by hole' was NET, but Vonotar's CHAIN is a pretty good answer too. (I also came up with OLD for the first riddle.)

    Does the Riddlemaster know that the world (including his tower) is full of animated skeletons? They may not have solved the riddle of life yet, but clearly some necromancers are working hard on it!

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    1. Yeah, I think I tried NET, too, but I agree that Vonotar got it.

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    2. Yes, I think the sequence of links in a chain fits the 'hole by hole, it holds' line better than the adjacent holes in a net.

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    3. And it is in a sense the holes that are holding. A net holds fish, but the holes are just letting the water out.

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    4. I thought BELT. It has holes, and it holds your pants up. And as most middle aged men know, those holes keep advancing.

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    5. I think CUFFS is a better choice on the notion that there are only two holes involved.

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    6. I suppose PERENIUM would work, too.

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    8. Careful Addict... you may have to self moderate yourself with that last one ;) I had to laugh at that!

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    9. That's probably the dirtiest joke I've ever told. I was red-faced even typing it. But it occurred to me, and I felt it was too good not to share.

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    10. A couple off-colour jokes in the post as well. You’re on fire.

      Can’t say there wasn’t a solid laugh along with the eye-roll at the Nut caption though.

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  5. "popular in German and Austria because in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Ashkenazi Jews were forced to adopt last names for the first time."

    Weird, it's internet serendipity. I just a few hours ago read this Mark Twain essay published in Harper's magazine, written at the exact same time, 1898, "Concerning The Jews".

    "Speaking of concentration, Dr. Herzl has a clear insight into the value of that. Have you heard of his plan? He wishes to gather the Jews of the world together in Palestine, with a government of their own - under the suzerainty of the Sultan, I suppose. At the Convention of Berne, last year, there were delegates from everywhere, and the proposal was received with decided favor.

    I am not the Sultan, and I am not objecting; but if that concentration of the cunningest brains in the world were going to be made in a free country (bar Scotland), I think it would be politic to stop it. It will not be well to let the race find out its strength. If the horses knew theirs, we should not ride any more."

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    1. I can't decide if that's anti-Semitic or Semitiphilic.

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    2. Twain was a satirist with a razor-sharp pen and tongue. Taking anything he writes at face value would be incredibly naive. In this case I suspect that Twain was inveighing against the notion of "the word Jew as if it stood for both religion and race".

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    3. It's certainly an ethnicity, as it's required to immigrate to Israel. We can check their own immigration law page, which clearly states that immigrants shall not be any but the "child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew the spouse of a child and grandchild of a Jew". Also if you convert your religion you can't immigrate. So, it sounds like it's both.

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    4. Twain is generally considered to be one of the more philosemetic writers of the time, so I think it's safe to say it was meant as satire to mock antisemites.

      As for the race/religion debate in Judaism, that's a loaded topic, but the plurality opinion at the moment (as far as I know) is that the Jewish people are an Ethno-religious group, most easily analogized to groups like the Kurds or the Romani. Many, many people disagree with that argument, though, so I certainly wouldn't repeat it as gospel.

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  6. "Neither air nor wind are as fast as I. I travel through worlds never seen by a human eye. I am here and there in seconds."

    That was easy. The speed of thought was a common theme in my childhood fairy tales, so it immediately clicked.

    ""Once white as snow, then green as clover, then red as blood--you know me well."

    Perhaps an APPLE?

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    1. I would have guessed GRAPE or WINE for white/green/red.

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  7. I finished it last weekend: 50 hours sounds about right, maybe something more depending on how throrough you are with the dungeons. I confess looking up where to find the last two pieces, and how to solve Sansri's temple.

    Luckily, I didn't find any new deadends, (aside from opening a chest with an Amberstar piece inside and not taking it, which technically can happen several times). The one mentioned in older posts was exiting the inner sanctum of the Pharaoh's tomb without checking the chest, as it is impossible to get back in there.

    I think the game overstays its welcome towards the end; as varied the enviroments and quests are (I think it is particularly good at rewarding the player with new equipment until the very end), its mechanics and lore are not enough to sustain 50/60 hours, IMHO. Of course, as Chet says, I probably would not have minded in '92.

    I'm not sure why length has become such a defining characteristics of RPGs.

    I appreciate a lot the first Fallout for being a relatively compact game, so you can try differnt character builds and different choices without a huge time investment; as much as I liked Fallout:New Vegas, man, that game seems to never end, I was never tempted to replay it, after finishing it.

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    1. The biggest issue I have with length is that these days, the expectation of a long and epic quest leads to loads of unengaging filler content. Samey encounters copypasted over and over, simple fetch quests that pad out the game time with walking. Sure, those design mistakes always existed, but some games include them on purpose just so they can write a bigger number of hours on the box.

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    2. I think length was more of a defining concept back in the 90's than today.

      In those days you didn't have a plethora of games available to download on the internet. You wanted value out of your purchase. That said, it wasn't obligatory to promise 100 hours play. Many games like Dungeon Master were a nice size, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

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    3. Long length certainly is unwarranted for a lot of RPGs. I've certainly gotten more annoyed by long games than I used to, but it is also easier for me to get a new game than it was in the 90's as a kid. I had more free time then and often had my one new game or two I'd buy every few months, so length was a benefit then. These days with GOG and Steam sales I can buy lots of new games for almost nothing any time I want if I don't like what I'm playing. Not that all older RPGs are super long, I really enjoyed replaying both Fallout 1 and Diablo 1 recently, neither are games that overstay their welcome.

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    4. Fallout 1 and Diablo are modern by this blog's standards :D

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  8. PetrusOctavianusJuly 21, 2020 at 3:33 PM

    "Anyone remember the Bernstein Bears?"

    No, but I remember Ronny Rosenthal.

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    1. I do remember Bernstein Bears... although apparently it was Bernstain Bears and pretty much everyone got the name wrong.

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    2. I have very clear memories of the "Too Much Junk Food" book. All the junk food looked delicious. For kid's books, they had very nice illustrations.

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    3. It's actually the Berenstain Bears. A name so hard even the corrections need correcting.

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    4. I was making a deliberate joke about the Mandela Effect, but I guess it was a bit obscure.

      I remember reading about it for the first time on a Reddit thread a few years ago. It was pretty crazy--people asserting that they were "refugees from an alternate universe" just because they remembered things slightly different. This is how my reading went:

      ME: "Ha! What a bunch of lunatics, thinking that there are alternate universes just because they misremembered that it's spelled 'Berenstain.'"

      THREAD: "Some people also point to the belief that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s."

      ME: "Fools! Mandela got out of prison and became president of South Africa. Morgan Freeman played him in that soccer movie. Everyone knows that."

      THREAD: "Another common example is the false memory of Sinbad playing the title character in a 1990s movie called 'Shazzam!'"

      ME: "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? SINBAD ABSOLUTELY DID STAR IN SHAZZAM."

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    5. I would accuse you of besmirching rugby, or soccer, if I didn't like them both.

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    6. Avgn did an Episode of the Berenstein Bears
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LB3CybXl8rs

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  9. Back when I played Amberstar first, I already knew all of those riddles. Either they are German folklore or the game designer and I happened to have read the same source.

    I know the combats can wear you down. One method to reduce enemy attacks is to have a lure character, who ist faster than the monsters and keeps moving left and right. They will waste their attacks. Boldin is good at that.

    I wonder of you have found all possible party members by now. And if you ever identified your magic loot. Not only the holy sword has additional tricks. And I hope you kept all mushrooms, they make things easier and faster.

    There are several ways to get on Sansri's island, you have found already two and are set. The third one is complicated...

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  10. The face of the magic mouths reminds me of Thomas the Tank Engine.

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  11. I'm sure you were (half-)joking but I am not finding the entries on Ultima 7 or Amberstar at all monotonous.

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    1. I appreciate that, but I am feeling that way. I don’t like to go this long without changing one of my two primary titles. Makes me feel like I’m stuck in a rut.

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    2. yeah but on the other you are discussing two milestone crpgs and covering topics that almost no one did before, because of your awesome writing, critical analysis, and awesome comment section. It's like having a movie blog covering Hitchcock and John Ford again, but escaping the "We are today's covering the well known masterpiece that is..." awful review tropes. It's awesome, really.

      Sorry for the optimism and excess of love. I just moved to work from Spain for a couple of weeks and disconnecting from my noisy street at Acton has done marvels to my mood.

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    3. Alternating long, detailed and insightful posts between U7 and Amberstar is perhaps the best stretch of reading I've ever seen on your blog.

      Not that the rest is in any way, shape or form not excellent. :-)

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    4. They feel very different from the reader end, although I sympathize with how it feels on the writer end. Maybe toss in another one
      shot from the early 80s you have lying around?

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    5. Well, thanks. I'm glad you all feel that way.

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    6. Considering both games followed U6, the contrast is quite stark. Maybe the gameplay is more similar than the articles, since you cut out repetetive tasks like selling loot, getting quest rewards, restocking and levelling up (is there a term for that?).

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    7. In pen&paper it's called "downtime".

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  12. Not related to this game, but can someone point out some good CRPGs covered here that featured a fixed protagonist (on the same way as The Witcher does)?

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    1. Prior to the influence of console RPGs on computer RPGs, I would say there aren't a lot.

      Quest for Glory follows a set character, but there isn't much that much emphasis on the characterisation of the hero, and there's even less so in the Ultima games.

      I think the first game you'll see on this blog that qualifies as both 'good' and features a set protagonist with a meaningful story arc may be if/when Chet decides to play Final Fantasy 4 or 6.

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    2. Keef the Thief, Challenge of the Five Realms, Faery Tale Adventure, Ishar, Wizardry 4, two Lord of the Rings games all had pre-defined protagonists with different amount of personality. LotR is probably closest to JRPGs in its treatment of protagonists, and the first game was rated quite highly IIRC.
      The best Western RPG with pre-defined protagonists is probably Betrayal at Krondor which will come up in some near future.

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    3. @VK - out of curiosity, what points cause you to consider Krondor (which i also really enjoyed) as a W rather than J RPG? it's an interesting case for me, as it seems to sit near the half-way point for my own judgement...

      JRPGness: predefined characters, story in "chapters" that may bar where (and definitely who) you can travel with, sorta rigid character "classes" (Owen will never swing a sword, or Gorath learn a spell, but both could become good at the lute or lockpicking), more heavy on "plot based" than emergent gameplay narrative (a.k.a. the game makes the story more than you do)

      WRPG: a lot of free-roaming gameplay, multiple solutions to problems, most of the content is optional, no long cutscenes/animations

      J/WRPG is kinda an odd convention anyways, some of the the "most" WRPG-rpgs for me are the "oldschool style" turn-based wizardry style, which Japan seems to have loved more and proliferates even today, and oddly the western versions (Bradley era) pushed the game much more towards the JRPG side, to my judgement

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    4. Frankly, I wrote Western in a literal sense - as in, developed in the West.
      The problem with JRPG moniker is that it can be used to mean several different things. It might mean a particular type of game - linear, pre-defined protagonists, Wizardry-style combat, no control over character development, cutscenes etc. Or it might mean any RPG with anime art style developed primarily for consoles. Or any RPG developed in Japan (although Dark Souls would beg to differ). And WRPG is just defined apophatically, as "not JRPG" - which means it can refer to an even larger number of different things.

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    5. Thanks for the answers so far.

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    6. Summoner, Gothic 1-3, Risen 1 and 2, and Horizon: Zero Dawn (coming to PC in August)

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  13. PetrusOctavianusJuly 22, 2020 at 7:23 PM

    I liked Evil Islands: Curse of the Lost Soul.

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  14. For what it's worth, I mildly prefer shorter posts, more often. I don't require posts to be "substantive", and I'm amused by posts that may only be a couple of paragraphs with a thought on some small aspect of gameplay.

    My general window for reading these posts is a *little* shorter than the length of the last couple of posts, often causing me to skim a little to finish before I start work. That's fine if either the post itself or the game have a strong narrative throughline (as with Ultima VII) but less appetising when it's more just "a bunch of things that happened" as with Amberstar.

    That's all by way of slight preference. I enjoy all posts.

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  15. I see The Summoning coming up. A word of advice, if it's not too late: do not read the short story in the manual before you finish the game, it may spoil you some aspects of the ending. On the other hand, you might want to freshen up on DarkSpyre lore since it's a sort of a sequel.

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  16. Regarding the risk of a tide of boredom slowing and inadvertently stopping one's trip through a game, I discovered in my twenties that I had a capacity to carry on with "2.5" games at any given time. Best visualized as a sliding frame two and a half games wide, once I felt compelled to seek out a third game while playing two the earliest would begin to slip and end up quit.

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  17. Jochen Hippel got inspiration from film/music in other tracks, too:

    - "City Walk" (Amberstar) => "The days long gone" (Joe Hisaishi)
    - "Theme" (Wings of Death) => "The slightest touch" (Five Star)
    - "Resetscreen" (Cuddly Demos) => "The Chosen One" (Robbie Buchanans)
    - "Highscore Tune" (A Prehistoric Tale) => "Icarus' Dream Suite Op. 4" (Yngwie J. Malmsteen) => "Adagio in G Minor" (Remo Giazotto) => Tomaso Albinoni

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  18. Most of those gods' names (I don't know about "Gala" and "Bala") are actual Egyptian deities. Nut was the sky goddess.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_(goddess)

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    Replies
    1. That's funny. I started Googling early in the game but didn't find anything, so eventually I stopped.

      The game mentions 9 gods: Mork, Nut, Geb, Harachte, Sobek, Sansri, Gala, Bala, and Talmit. It looks like Nut, Geb, Harachte, and Sobek are all drawn from authentic mythology. Knowing that would have helped a bit with the endgame, as you'll soon see.

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    2. I found Quirkz comment on the first entry about better not mixing up Bala and Gala rather funny. I guess by now you know why.

      The Tomb of the Pharaoh gives you most of the information you need (the rest is found elsewhere in the game), but I assume most players wouldn't bother to write it down.

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    3. I was going to challenge you on the Tomb of the Pharaoh, because I remembered that the gods' names were mentioned, but not elaborated upon. But you're right. As you enter each section of the dungeon, the magic mouth says, "If you can overcome the guards, you shall receive the gift of the [god/goddess] of [whatever]!" My mistake was not writing down or screen-capturing all these associations.

      Ah, well. It didn't take that long to reload.

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  19. Mork is one of the gods of the Orcs in the Warhammer universe.

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