Thursday, November 19, 2020

Secrets of Bharas: Windows on the World

An angry peasant approaches as I discover the town of Vashi.
I haven't done much since the first entry except loop around the land of Surya about 500 times, slowly leveling up, making money, and purchasing better equipment. I have only just got to the point that I can survive maybe one battle in any of the dungeons, so I still have some grinding to go.
It hasn't been a completely unpleasant experience. There's something satisfying about the process of steady, incremental improvement. I basically established the coastal city of Vashi as my home base. It has a full set of basic services: healing, food, weapons, armor. It doesn't have a reagent shop, but it was a long time before I was ready to explore magic anyway. My routine was to follow the coast out of Vashi and keep hugging the coast all the way around the land and its various peninsulas, fighting random combats as they came along. Usually by the time I reached Vashi again, maybe 15 minutes later, I had amassed enough gold to purchase the next level of weapons and armor.
Buying armor.
Once I had 300 gold (minus what I had to spend to restock food), I could buy everyone small shields. Another 300, and everyone had cloth armor. Another 240, I could replace their starting daggers with maces, and at 480, their maces with flails. You get the picture. As I write this, everyone has large shields, short swords or great swords (only warriors can wield the latter), chainmail, leather gauntlets, and leather helmets. I'm still waiting for enough for bronze helmets (2,700), crossbows (3,000), copper gauntlets (3,300), and plate mail (3,750). That's the limit to what you can purchase. There are magic items to be found in the dungeons.
Equipping an armor upgrade.
My characters have reached about Level 6. Each level increase is accompanied by a boost in maximum hit points and an increase in random attributes. Spellcasters occasionally get access to a new spell. As my character levels have increased, so has the difficulty of random combats, but not in a 1:1 manner. Bharas, rather, does what I like: it increases the maximum difficulty rather than the average or minimum. When I first started playing, a wilderness encounter might consist of one warrior or two thieves. Nowadays, there are giant tarantulas and "porcine demons" wandering around, but I still occasionally face one warrior or two thieves. 
I got luck on this one.
Forty gold pieces to the healer restores all of your hit points. I've been trying to save money by occasionally camping instead, but a night's rest only restores about 40-60 hit points, and my characters have upwards of 800. The day/night cycle is about as annoying here as in Ultima VI. The cycle is far too frequent. Each move passes about 10 minutes on grass, 30 in mountains. It's hard to get any significant exploration done before night closes in around you, making it impossible to see anything.
The camping menu is one of many interesting interfaces in the game.
In my first session, I found the cities of Varnas and Kota. As I mentioned above, this one began with my discovery of Vashi, a much larger city. Some key intelligence from NPCs in that city included:
  • George the Righteous (one of three brothers named George) told me that an evil being is rising on the continent of Jalamuki. He seeks to rule the world.
  • A cleric named Bobby said that a priest named Keviv in Dharthi (Voltgloss called it!) knows a miraculous healing spell.
  • A dwarf named Sajat related that travelers need a special amulet to enter the palace of Dharthi and speak to the king. He suggested I get one from Dave the Short at the palace.
I get to use the "Ask Object" system for the first time.
This was the second or third time I heard about the Suryan palace, but in multiple trips around the continent, I never encountered it. I started to assume that it, along with some mines, might be on some of the islands that I would need to reach with a boat. Later, however, after I had circled the perimeter of the land dozens of times, I explored a section of the interior that I'd missed and found both the palace and some kind of triangular temple. It wants to know what god I worship; I haven't heard the names of any gods yet. 
Stumbling upon a carefully-hidden castle.
The palace also had a full set of services and plenty of NPCs. Dave the Short gave me his amulet. I heard more rumors about an evil being emerging from some kind of chasm in Jalamuki. Most important, an NPC named Xera told me that Andreas in Varnas has a set of the "tassels" that one needs to speak to the sage Yajiv.
As with the developers' previous 2088, the proper names used in Bharas are an odd mix of origins. As I looked through my notes, however, I saw a couple of themes. Elves from Hawa tend to have German-sounding names, such as Gunther and Klaus. Dwarves from Dharthi often have French-sounding names, like Jean-Claude from Toulon. Suryans are a mix of English names and Indian names. (A lot of characters in the palace have Arthurian names, including Gawain, Arthur, and Merlin.) This might be selective observation, though. If not, it's an early example of a trend taken to an extreme in Dragon Age, where the various peoples of Thedas are clearly modeled on European nations, languages, and customs.
Someone's been reading The Once and Future King.
A visit to King Narayan put us on the path of the main quest. He complained that the peace he had spent so long engineering was now in danger because of these rumors of a rising evil. He told us that as our first step, we'd need to consult with the sage Yajiv the Big-Nosed in Varnas. We already knew this, of course, but it was nice to have it confirmed. 
We returned to Varnas, got the tassels from Andreas, and were able to speak with Yajiv. Unfortunately, all he had for me is that we should continue to travel around the land talking to people knowledgeable about the seas, then return to Yajiv when we'd purchased a boat. That's going to involve some more grinding.
The oracle offers nothing . . . yet.
The combat system works pretty well. I've mostly been letting the computer fight--as we discussed last time, the calibration of autocombat is superb--but I'll probably take over more often now that I'm getting a handle on spells. Mages and healers both have unique spellbooks. Each gets nine spells, all named in pseudo-Latin. Mages get a balls, cones, and walls of both fire and frost, plus tremor, death, and summon demon. These latter three must be learned from teachers. Healers get several levels of healing, create food, protection, sleep, resurrection, and a couple of buffing spells.
The party mixes it up with some "lifesaps."
Each spell requires a mixture of reagents, sold at shops throughout the land. They also require a number of magic points, which replenish as you walk around. I'll report more on spells later.
The game continues to impress me with its interface. Everything from combat settings to equipping weapons and armor has an easy-to-use series of checkboxes and buttons. (I usually prefer keyboard commands for such things, but I realize that's not going to be possible as mechanics for inventory and combat become more and more complex.) Not only are the interface elements easy to understand, but the developers offer multiple ways to get the same information. For instance, if I want to know how the party is doing, I can choose "Quick Player Summaries" to get a rundown of hit points in the message window, or I can choose "Stats (Player Summaries)" to get a pop-up window with each character, his class, his hit points, his magic points, and his armor class. Or I can select the player and choose "Stats (Players)" to get the full character sheet.
A clever combat option lets you see what spoils and experience await you at the end of combat, to help you determine whether to continue.
Sorry for the short entry, but this has been a crazy week, and it's a wonder I'm getting any gaming done at all. Stick with me, and I'll pick up the pace after the Thanksgiving break.
Time so far: 7 hours


  1. Among what I'm sure are many other examples, Final Fantasy XIV also uses the "different races have different real-world naming schemes", with the Elezen (elves) having French names, the Padjal using names derived from the Ainu, while Roegadyn don't necessarily conform to the real world but consistently use Scandinavian pronunciations...

    1. Dragon Quest 3 also did something similar with towns, and since Dragon Quest 8 the localizations at least have tried to give every town a distinct personality, although I'm not sure if the Japanese version did that

  2. Apple games from this era seem to handle interfaces better than their PC contemporaries. Though I've never played it, Cythera looks like it presents information more clearly than U7 (which it seems to imitate). Emulating these games sounds like a real pain however. Perhaps they were inspired by the macventure series?

    1. From what I've seen, it is a "look and feel like using MacOS" approach. This leads to a very, very similar style to other games using the same approach, and the focus on clear visual presentation will quite naturally give good information unless the designer is utterly incompetent.

  3. How come you started magic candle 3 a year ago but never returned to it?

    1. Because every time someone mentions it, he knocks it another space down the list.

      (He'll get back to it)

    2. I don't even remember why I didn't continue with it at the time. I'll finish it before the end of 1992, probably just before Might and Magic IV.

  4. Hey, I guess we don't comment much because I suppose no one knows the game but it really looks like a decent game so it is quite interesting to read about.

    1. Although an exceptionally competent one, this game seems like just another Ultima clone so far. Not much to comment about it. Even the Indian influences don't seem to go much farther than cribbing names.

    2. The game seems playable. I really like the interface (if not the artwork) and it sounds like it scratches the progression itch pretty well.

      I'm not sure game devs of Indian heritage with Sanskrit names themselves are 'cribbing' anything :p

    3. I wouldn't call it a "clone." The game is clearly inspired by Ultima, but with enough graphical and interface improvements that the developers deserve some credit for originality. I reserve "clone" to those that literally use K)limb and Z)tats.

  5. This is exactly the kind of game I'm most interested in seeing, and why I've kept up with your blog for years; obscure passion projects made by small dev team on systems I've never used. Who cares to hear another opinion on Might & Magic or Morrowind? I want the learn about the hidden gems, as wells as the ugly terrible games probably better forgotten. There's a feeling of novelty the popular, well-read games lack.


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