Saturday, May 22, 2021

Orb Quest, Part 1: The Search for Seven Wards: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

  
In CRPGs, whoever succeeds at one task always gets the burden of the next task.
        
Orb Quest, Part I: The Search for Seven Wards
United States
QWare (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for Macintosh
Date Started: 9 May 2021
Date Ended: 14 May 2021
Total Hours: 19 (including about 10 hours of probably-unnecessary mapping)
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 24
Ranking at Time of Posting: 171/417 (41%)          
      
Summary:
The first Macintosh-native RPG has an Ultima basis in its top-down open-world exploration, its interchangeable towns, and its fairly basic approach to combat. But it also has a few surprises during its "Disassembulet of Yendor" questline that make it worth playing.
     
**** 
     
In the first entry, I had explored the land and found the first of the seven wards. The seven wards were all found within pyramids, but at the beginning of the game, you can only find one. It locks the rest of the pyramids after you find it, with the message that you have to be judged on the Island of the Mystics. The first trick was getting to the island, because there aren't any boats in this game.
   
It turns out that while every weapon, armor, and spell store has the same inventory, the towns’ magic stores each sells a different list. Because the economy in the game is so tight, I was never able to experiment and find out exactly what they all do. You can only have five or six magic items in your inventory at once. Some of them are "always on" and serve as supplemental armor, like the magic helm, magic shield, and steel gauntlets. Some seemed to duplicate the game's spells, like "Staff of Curing" and "Wand of Missiles." There are various potions and items that boost attributes, including restoring attributes lost to various creatures (more below). A "Change Potion" changes your sex, along with the related attributes.
         
Only Three Rivers sells these items.
       
But there are also a lot of mysteries. I purchased a "Black Box," but it was empty. A "Book of Lists" just seems to repeat the words "Book of Lists" repeatedly. I can't imagine what an "Amulet of Truth" does. An "Endure Fire Potion" seems like a good idea until you realize there's no fire in the game—except for that caused by the "Matchbook," which simply burned me.
        
Well, that was useful.
    
Three Rivers sells a "Ring of Water," a limited-duration item that lets you cross water. Unfortunately, every second you spend on the waves carries a chance of causing the ring to rust. This gives you about eight squares' warning to find dry land. The duration that the ring lasts seems to shorten as the game goes by. I spent a lot of time just exploring with my first one, but my last one barely got me to the Island of Mystics. I used the first one to confirm that the world does wrap, but I had already mapped all but a couple of islands.
          
The Orb's "World View" ability later confirmed the geography.
            
The Island of the Mystics was one of these. After I reached and mapped it, I entered the fortress on it. To prove myself "worthy," I had to pass a challenge. It turned out that I needed to do this six times. That is, after every ward found, I had to buy a Ring of Water, return to the Island of the Mystics, and pass a new challenge before I could get in to the next pyramid. The challenges added a fun dimension to what would have otherwise been a standard "Disassembulet of Yendor" quest. In order, they were:
 
1. Solve a logic puzzle to determine which door a throne is behind.
  
2. Play a little mini-game in which monster icons flashed randomly and quickly on the screen. You have to click on the same icon that's highlighted in the row at the bottom without clicking on a bouncing orb. This game was a bit unfair. I think it was designed for a much slower Mac. I had to cheat it a bit by clicking out of the emulator window, freezing the action, so I could study the pattern of icons and click in the right place.
     
It doesn't look hard, but each icon is up for less than a second.
       
3. Navigate a black maze. This one is solved with a clue that tells you the exact path to take. All those clues were not otherwise very helpful. You might be able to solve it just by mapping.
     
This is not a box with four lines sticking out, as I originally thought.
      
4. A crazy game in which you had to try to score points by clicking buttons under certain conditions. I read the instructions multiple times, and I'm still not sure what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately, it had the same problem as #2, even worse. The symbols came and went so fast there was absolutely no way to follow the instructions. I couldn't earn a single point no matter what I did. Fortunately, LanHawk had the same experience and sent me instructions for hex-editing my way past this obstacle. [Edit: Thanks to Mark's comment below, we now know that there was no speed issue; the entire point of the test is for the conditions to make no sense. Hitting "cancel" on the subsequent screen instead of starting the test leads to your designation as "worthy" and advances the plot, no hex editing necessary.]
         
I think I need a drink.
        
5. Answer three trivia questions related to monsters and items in the game.
       
Luckily, I'd been attacked by enough of them.
        
6. Solve a logic puzzle in which I indicated which of four towers held the orb. This one took me two tries. I didn't quite understand what some of the clues meant. Other than the fact that the Prison Tower has no windows (which makes anything else you say about it moot), why wouldn't you be able to see any of the towers from any of the others?
     
If you can get it in one, you did better than I did.
      
After solving each of these puzzles, I could go to a new pyramid and get another ward. Obtaining the wards, in contrast to the puzzles, was remarkably similar each time. There was a brief maze, then a 5 x 5 grid of squares with the ward in the center. Each square teleports to another square, and I just had to find the right pattern to end up next to the ward. A couple of the mazes had tricks like secret doors, or squares that did damage to the character, but nothing to get worked up about.
       
Finding the last piece.
       
Finding each ward piece increased my "Orb" statistic and provided a new orb power to use. In order, these were "Remove Curse," "Blessing," "World View," "Disintegrate," "Dispel Evil," "Flame Strike," and "Teleport." I only ever used the last one, plus a couple of "World Views."
    
Monsters were both annoying and negligible. They continued to scale with each "level" I made and with each new class of weapon or armor that I bought, so I'm not sure there was much point in doing either. At high levels, they started to get seriously bothersome in their special effects. Brain parasites sap intelligence permanently; IRS agents steal your gold; locust plagues decimate your food stores; and disenchanters drain spell points. (Beholders, oddly, often increased my hit points. I have no idea how that happened.) At the same time, you can just outrun a lot of them and reload when bad things happen. Combat was a constant part of the game and yet not a significant part of the game. I rarely felt my life was in danger, and yet at the same time, I don't think I ever reached my maximum hit points or spell points; monsters and "Cure Wounds" ate them up about as fast as they regenerated.
     
When I got the final ward, I got a message: "Congratulations!! The Seven are now one. The Orb is restored. Hustle ye now to the castle and place the Orb upon the Throne of the Ancient Kings." The castle is enclosed by mountains, but the Orb's final power, "Teleport," gets you there.
        
I enter a vast, empty castle that has no purpose except for the endgame message.
   
I expected a final battle, but there was nothing. The castle had some inert guards and was curiously large considering nothing actually happens there except the endgame. I walked up to the throne, dropped the Orb, and got the endgame message:
    
The Orb opens a gateway to the realm of Trigoth, the source of all the evil that invades your land. As restorer of the Orb, you must now travel to the Dark side to destroy the Black Monarch and banish Evil for all time . . . The quest will be fraught with peril and will lead into deep caverns guarded by vile creatures. Be brave and be sure to catch this next adventure coming soon to a store near you!
      
Alas, it did not come soon to a store near anyone. As far as I can tell, Qware (do you supposed they pronounced it "cue-ware" or "kware"?) of Richardson, Texas, never produced another game, and neither did the two authors, Edward Schultz and Michael Mayer. I tried to track them down, but messages had not been returned at the time of this entry.
   
On a GIMLET, I give the game:
   
  • 1 point for a bare-bones game world.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. You have a few options for advancement, but as I mentioned, it doesn't really matter.
  • 1 point for no NPCs, but I'll give it a point for the lore bits that serve as a kind of placeholder for NPCs. They'd be worth more if the hints were useful. I only understood about half of them, and all but one of those were unnecessary.
         
I assume this is because if you fail the tests, you get kicked back to the mainland with only 5 hit points.
       
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. I'm giving most of that to the puzzles that surround collecting the ward pieces. Monsters themselves were unmemorable except in bad ways.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Perhaps the other classes have a different experience, but for me it was just attack and heal.
  • 3 points for equipment. There's some potentially interesting stuff in the list, and I'm going to be charitable and assume that some if it is useful.
  • 4 points for the economy. It was very tight. I never felt that I had enough money. I had to really think about what to buy, when to splurge on an upgrade. Only a lack of complexity keeps it from scoring any higher.
  • 3 points for a main quest of seven stages. There were no side-quests or role-playing options, but there were some interesting steps and interludes.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. The icons are functional, but the sound is horribly annoying and you can't even turn it off. Requiring a mouse for movement is simply inexcusable, and this is compounded by requiring the player to hit the special Mac "command" button along with every key. Honestly, why is "A" itself not good enough for "Attack"?
      
Only on a Mac would a gelatinous cube have a face.
       
  • 4 points for gameplay. It's open-world geographically but not narratively. It's only a bit too easy and lasts only a bit too long (even if you cut out the mapping).
    
That gives us a final score of 24--certainly not epic, not even "recommended," but better than a lot of the other Ultima clones during the period. At least this one had me looking forward to each new puzzle. If I'd had a Mac during the period, I would have found it an acceptable diversion for a few hours.

63 comments:

  1. >This game was a bit unfair. I think it was designed for a much slower Mac

    If you're using an emulator, you should be able to change the CPU speed or enable throttling. For example, in MAME, you can choose to run the CPU at 50% speed.

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    1. Mini vMac defaults to 8x speed. You can open a menu to change this with CTRL+S.

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    2. Yes, but the lowest in Min vMac is 1x, and that was still too fast for the game. Basilisk, the other Mac emulator I use, doesn't seem to allow changes to speed at all.

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    3. I should mention that I played the game at 1x. The default 8x would have been far too fast for all the clicking involved.

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    4. If it defaulted to 8x then you were probably emulating a Mac Plus, which AFAIK runs at the same speed as the original Macintosh. The Mac II builds default to 4x, unless you're using a custom build.

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    5. It's a shame that Chet hates MAME so much, because the drivers for most of the Macintosh models that he would need were recently improved enough to be considered fit for general use. Still some issues on the sound side, but knowing Chet, that won't be an issue.

      Unlike Mini vMac and Basilisk II, MAME attempts to emulate specific Macintosh models at hardware-accurate speeds, so the Addict wouldn't have had any issues with things running at the wrong speed. Here's a page with extensive documentation for anyone that does want to try it out:

      https://wiki.mamedev.org/index.php/Driver:Mac_68K

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    6. To be fair, I do like the Broadway musical quite a bit.

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    7. Put the blame on MAME, boys.

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    8. Well, mystery solved. It wasn't anything to do with the emulation speed. The entire test was meant to be impossible. See Mark's comment below.

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  2. I see Perihelion coming soon in the queue. Be warned that in some way it's an archetypal Amiga game, with excess of style over substance.

    Also, be careful when creating a new party.

    Lbh jvyy arrq ng yrnfg bar svtugvat punenpgre (Xavtug, Zrepranel be Nffnffva) orpnhfr fbzr pehpvny dhrfg vgrzf pna or hfrq bayl ol svtugre pynffrf. Nyfb, vs V erpnyy pbeerpgyl, ng bar cbvag lbh jvyy arrq punenpgref va lbhe cnegl jvgu Fgeratgu, Qrkgrevgl naq Vagryyvtrapr nobir 85 be fb (pna or 3 qvfgvapg punenpgref).

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    1. It may be style over substance, but boy does it have style!

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    2. I appreciate the warnings. I look forward to it.

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    3. Also, I suggest some restraint when creating spells.

      Fbzr bs gur fcryyf ner irel haonynaprq. Va cnegvphyne, V'q nqivfr ntnvafg hfvat"Yvsrsbepr Qenva" ng nyy, nf vg znxrf 80% bs pbzongf onany.

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  3. Re: the towers puzzle, the towers are sticking out of the sides of a central keep that is taller than they are. So they can only see the towers to the left and right of them, not the one diametrically opposite.

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    1. Ergo the east tower should hold the orb.

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    2. There are still some things unclear. Is the North Tower a named tower or is it just a position? E.g. is the North Tower the tower to the north which could be, e.g. the Kings's tower. Or is it called the North Tower, and if so, is it in the north?

      Assuming the North Tower is in the north, might not be separate from Kings/Prison tower, and the castle gate lies between two towers and can only be seen from a tower adjacent to it (clue no. 2 makes no sense otherwise), I still arrive at two solutions.

      Ab 1. Fvapr gur cevfba gbjre unf ab jvaqbjf, guvf whfg zrnaf gur cevfba gbjre vf abg va gur abegu (Cevfba J F R)
      Ab 2. Pnfgyr tngr zhfg or FJ FR
      Ab 3. Xvatf gbjre zhfg or A J F
      Ab 4. Cevfba gbjre pna'g or F, zhfg or J R
      Ab 5. Xvatf gbjre pna'g or A, zhfg or J F

      Vs gur xvatf gbjre vf va gur jrfg, gur pnfgyr tngr vf FJ naq gur cevfba gbjre (ubyqvat gur beo) va gur rnfg. Vs gur xvatf gbjre vf va gur fbhgu, pnfgyr tngr jbhyq or FJ/FR naq cevfba R/J, jvgu gur abegu gbjre ubyqvat gur beo.

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    3. Greg, that's how I interpreted it while I was playing. I assumed the "North Tower" was simply in the north, not a tower name, but I also interpreted "castle gate" as a tower rather than a line in between the towers, which of course makes more sense. Where I differed from Buck is that I assumed the Orb Tower was it's own tower and couldn't be one of the other named towers. I also arrived at two potential solutions, but for different reasons than Buck.

      If you assume that the north tower is a position rather than a name, the Orb Tower is its own tower, and the castle gate is a line between the towers, then there's only one potential outcome:

      Orb
      Prison Unnamed
      King's gate

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    4. Well, blogger screwed up the spacing I put into that, but I hope you get the idea.

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    5. If the Orb tower is a separate named tower, then it must be in the north (was that the correct answer?). There's a second solution with the prison in the east and the unnamed tower + gate to the west/southwest, but it doesn't affect the position of the orb.

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    6. I assumed the castle gate is in one of the towers, not between them. I also assumed that's a courtyard in the middle, i.e. an empty space, so you can see everything from any tower, except from the prison tower since it has no windows.

      Castle gate can't be seen from North Tower, so it's IN the North Tower. Prison tower is south (not next to gate), King's Tower is west (next to gate and not facing the rising sun) and so the orb is in the unnamed east tower.

      But then I read the solutions above and they make just as much sense to me. The rules of the puzzle leave too much room for interpretation.

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    7. Wait, was the correct answer that the north tower = the orb tower? The post doesn't say. I could see the orb being in the north (king's is south and prison is west or east depending on if the gate is SE or SW) or east (only if the orb and prison can both be east).

      At any rate, saying the north tower can't be seen from the prison tower is just a red herring if the prison tower having no windows means it can't see any of them. I initially thought the prison tower had to be south until I got to the other statements, but really it could be either tower that doesn't touch the gate.

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    8. Yes, the Orb Tower is the north tower.

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    9. My interpretation goes like this:

      c = castle gate; k = King's tower; o = orb tower; p = prison

      Initial possibilities:
      N(ckop) E(ckop) S(ckop) W(ckop)

      1. N cannot be seen from p; thus, N != p
      N(cko) E(ckop) S(ckop) W(ckop)

      2. c cannot be seen from N; thus, c != N
      N(ko) E(ckop) S(ckop) W(ckop)

      3. k does not face rising sun; thus, k != E
      N(ko) E(cop) S(ckop) W(ckop)

      4. c is not next to p; thus, c != S and p != S, because their neither can be N; also, since c and p must be E and W, k and o can't be those
      N(ko) E(cp) S(ko) W(cp)

      5. Tells us nothing
      6. Tells us nothing
      7. Tells us nothing

      So the designer screwed it up, and it's a coin toss between N and S.

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    10. That was exactly how I originally did it, which is why I had to try it twice. But if you assume the castle gate is a line between towers, it makes more sense:

      c = castle gate; k = king's tower; o = orb tower; p = prison; t = other tower

      Initial possibilities:
      c(NE SE NW SW) k(NESW) o(NESW) p(NESW) t(NESW)

      1. N cannot be seen from P; thus N != P

      c(NE SE NW SW) k(NESW) o(NESW) p(ESW) t(NESW)

      2. c cannot be seen from N; thus c != NE or NW

      c(SE SW) k(NESW) o(NESW) p(ESW) t(NESW)

      3. 3. k does not face rising sun; thus, k != E

      c(SE SW) k(NSW) o(NESW) p(ESW) t(NESW)

      4. c is not next to p; thus p != S

      c(SE SW) k(NSW) o(NESW) p(EW) t(NESW)

      5. Tells us nothing unless we had rejected S for p back in step 1.

      6. The castle gate is next to the king's tower, so k != N.

      c(SE SW) k(SW) o(NESW) p(EW) t(NESW)

      7. The king's tower is opposite the orbs, so o != S or W

      c(SE SW) k(SW) o(NE) p(EW) t(NESW)

      Now, if the orb was E, the king's tower would have to be W, but that gives no place for the prison tower to go, so the o = N. From there, it follows that p = W, k = S, t = E, and c = SE.



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    11. I tried working it out before reading these comments and I got the same answer, except that I'm not sure why you ruled out p = E, t = W, and c = SW? It seems to me that also fits the conditions. Of course, the Orb Tower is still north regardless, so that doesn't affect the answer.

      (Yes, I did assume that the castle gate was between two towers, but I guess I just got lucky with that assumption; I agree the wording of the riddle doesn't really make that clear.)

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    12. I guess you're right. I don't know what my thinking was, but I can't see any reason the alternate arrangement wouldn't work out.

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  4. Another Ultima clone bites the dust. I wonder how long they'll be a recurring feature? There has to be some bottom to this barrel.

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    1. Avernum and Geneforge just started laughing heartily. Geneforge is supposed to be getting another game this year.

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    2. I love both of the Avernum and Geneforge series, but I'd hardly call them Ultima clones, esp. Geneforge. Avernum does share some mechanics with the Ultima games, but I'd say they differ greatly in almost everything else, most notably in how they "feel".

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    3. Ultima "inspired", I suppose. Jeff Vogel's first Exile game is probably closer to a clone, it does borrow from Ultima 6 pretty closely.

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    4. I can confirm that Geneforge Mutagen does give me the "Ultima feelings," even though it's not a clone at all. IMO Vogel really picked up where Garriot left off.

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    5. I would have picked up the new Geneforge already, but it looked like a pure remake of the original. Is it different enough to be worth a go?

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    6. I mean, anything that's an Ultima 6 clone is very welcome. Or an Ultima 5 clone. Or Ultima 7. Or Ultima Underworld.

      But most of the time when we encounter Ultima clones, they're cloning the first trilogy, and you can only play so many of those until they grow stale.

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    7. I think Ultima clones will be a feature for a while. There were just so many shareware authors making them. Its to the point where someone playing one of the originals could be like "Oh, its just like Vampyr, how lame."

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    8. @Gerry Quinn,

      Its mostly similar in writing and story, expanded and different in spirit in mechanics. The combat+magic system is overhauled along with the character sheet, and shaping in particular has been made much deeper.

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    9. JarlFrank makes a good point. The problem with most "Ultima clones" is that they only clone the first couple of games. You rarely see a clone with the dialogue options of U4 or the interactivity of U5-U7, or even the tactical combat of U4 onward.

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    10. Re: Jarlfrank

      This! Whenever someone talks about Ultima clones, I always want to ask: which Ultima? Unfortunately, never the good Ultimas. In that sense, even Dragon Quest is an Ultima clone.

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    11. And of course, at some point (in about ten years maybe), our Addict is going to start hitting the retro clones that are being released nowadays, so it will probably never end. ;)

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    12. Avernum does share some mechanics with the Ultima games, but I'd say they differ greatly in almost everything else, most notably in how they "feel".

      I haven't played the Avernum games yet, but the original Exile games of which the (first few games of the) Avernum series are remakes "feel" very much like Ultima to me. Maybe Avernum changes things enough to distance it more from Ultima, but I'd say at least for the original Exile series their Ultima inspiration is very evident. (Though, contra Raifeld's comment, I'd say Exile is much closer to Ultima IV and V than to Ultima VI.)

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    13. I've played the original Ultimas, and the Avernum remakes, and I wouldn't have drawn any connection between them, so I guess the vibe changed in the remake from the originals.

      The Avernums felt more like they were drawing from Gold Box games and the original Fallout.

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    14. Hm... it's possible Avernum really is that different from Exile, but it occurs to me that there's another possible explanation. Maybe we're just focusing on different aspects of the game.

      (I'll refer to Exile below because that's what I'm familiar with, but for the sake of this analysis I'll assume for now that Avernum shares most of these features with Exile.)

      The exploration aspect of Exile is closely patterned after Ultima. You have the huge overworld, and then the towns at a different scale but using the same tiles. I guess technically the Gold Box games have overworlds at different scales too, but the Gold Box overworlds are much smaller and a less prominent part of the game than in the Ultima series, and they look entirely different graphically from the town areas. You don't have the whole vast world to wander and explore. Exile is much closer to Ultima than to the Gold Box games in that regard.

      And then even more markedly, there's the NPC interaction. NPC interaction in Exile is straight out of the middle Ultima games, complete with the same "NAME" and "JOB" keywords. There's no resemblance to the Gold Box games there.

      On the other hand, the combat in Exile is very similar to the Gold Box games. The same tactical movement, use of abilities, moving one character at a time but getting multiple action points, etc. Exile clearly took a lot of inspiration from the Gold Box games here.

      The inventory system in Exile is a lot closer to the Gold Box games than to Ultima, too. Each character has a separate inventory list; you can trade items between characters; and of course the overall variety of items is much larger than in Ultima and more comparable to a Gold Box game.

      (There are other similarities, of course, the special events in Exile are very similar to those in the Gold Box games, for instance. But there are other similarities to Ultima, too, like the poisonous swamps and the city guards.)

      The thing is, though, when I play a CRPG, I don't really care much about the combat. It's there; it's something to get through; but it's not the aspect of the game I really enjoy. I don't care much about having a lot of different items to find, either, or about detailed inventory management. To me, it's the exploration and the NPC interaction that really make up the core of the game, so it's those aspects that define the game's feel. And it's precisely in those areas that Exile is most similar to games like Ultima IV.

      On the other hand, for someone who really enjoys tactical combat, and who likes finding and using a variety of different inventory items, then yes, I can see how Exile would look more like the Gold Box games. If combat is a big part of the RPG experience for you, then yeah, the combat in Exile is very similar to the combat in the Gold Box games, so if that's what defines the feel of the game to you, then Exile is going to feel more like the Gold Box games.

      So maybe it's not that Avernum is that different from Exile... maybe we just have different feelings about what characteristics most define the "feel" of a CRPG.

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  5. "Hustle ye now to the castle" amused me a lot, almost like something you could expect from an Ultima, halfway between modern English and the "old fashioned" stuff of Britannia.

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    1. Verily, ye must hustle back to Castle Britannia Home Boy in time for the shindig, else ye be a square.

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    2. Thou must be yon pelvic joint, lest thou beest thy geometric shape of three-and-one corneres.

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    3. Reminds me of this XKCD:

      https://xkcd.com/771/

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  6. A "Book of Lists" just seems to repeat the words "Book of Lists" repeatedly

    That's the chef's kiss of trolling right there. I mean, you got exactly what you paid for.

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    1. I have to admit, I do love the Book of Lists.

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  7. I wonder if the castle was much bigger than it needed to be because it makes sense for a castle to be big, or if there were plans to have more in it, either here or because it was supposed to be reused in the planned sequel

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  8. That's an quiet interesting RPG I must say :)

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  9. > Requiring a mouse for movement is simply inexcusable, and this is compounded by requiring the player to hit the special Mac "command" button along with every key. Honestly, why is "A" itself not good enough for "Attack"?

    My bet is that the game is coded using the standard Mac UI framework of the time. Actions in a typical application, such as cut/paste, would use Command+C / Command+V keyboard shortcuts; and actions in this game are implemented through menu commands -- likely they are listed in the top toolbar menu.

    I further suspect the use of the Mac UI framework also led to the use of other standard UI elements (radio buttons, etc.), and perhaps its limitations also forced the developer to resort to relying on the mouse for movement, instead of keyboard presses.

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    1. I don't buy that. Other Mac games have no problem using the keyboard (or mouse) without requiring the command key. To suggest that somehow, an operating system only allows movement by mouse, not keyboard, shows only lazy programming.

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    2. I didn't read krys's comment as saying that programming actions to a single keystroke was impossible, just that using the command key was the default for the development environment.

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    3. Sure, but just using the default is still lazy programming.

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    4. Conforming to the OS-default is not a bad move, particularly when you're targeting a struggling platform that is currently more common as a business workstation than it is a home computer.

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  10. HAHAHAHA is that gelatinous cube a "Sad Mac"?

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  11. Re. the crazy puzzle you had to hexedit your way past. It looks suspiciously like one from Heinlein's 1948 novel Space Cadet. The protagonist, Matt, is undergoing elimination tests at a futuristic version of Annapolis:
    "After the test starts," he read, "a score of 1 will result each time you press the lefthand button except as otherwise provided here below. Press the lefthand button whenever the red light appears provided the green light is not lighted as well except that no button should be pressed when the righthand gate is open unless all lights are out. If the right-hand gate is open and the lefthand gate is closed, no score will result from pressing any button, but the lefthand button must nevertheless be pressed under these circumstances if all other conditions permit a button to be pressed before any score may be made in succeeding phases of the test. To put out the green light, press the righthand button. If the lefthand gate is not closed, no button may be pressed. If the lefthand gate is closed while the red light is lighted, do not press the lefthand button if the green light is out unless the righthand gate is open."
    Now, the point of the whole test is that under these rules it is in fact impossible to make any kind of score, and when Matt goes to complain to the supervisor, the latter notes down the time it took for him to figure it out and that is his "real" score. But it seems this game doesn't give you that kind of option.

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    1. Wow, what a great contribution. The author must have been familiar with that novel. Perhaps there's no timing issue at all, then. Unfortunately, I didn't take a shot of the actual screen where the button-pushing is done, and I can't remember if maybe there was some alternate way out of the puzzle. I'm almost intrigued enough to play through to that point again and see.

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    2. Mark, you solved it! LanHawk had a save just before that test, and we verified. The winning move is to hit "cancel" and refuse to engage in the absurd test in the first place. I'll append an edit above.

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    3. Hats off to anyone that gets that legitimately. Now maybe if I was playing on a real Mac back in the day, just maybe I would have eventually tried that when no other way seemed possible. Even then, I am not sure how long it would have taken. Far too long. But I let the emulation factor creep into my mind and I was toast.

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  12. (Part I:) I finished my play-through of Orbquest just before Chet’s first post on it. I played it on my iMac, using the Mini vMac emulator. I wanted to play an early Macintosh game, as they have been my primary computers for much of my computing life and I did not get many chances to experience role-playing adventures on a Mac in my early days. Most of the game was quite playable or even preferable with Mini vMac’s default 8x speed. However, the pyramid teleport puzzles were only solvable for me by slowing down the emulator. Otherwise, my single mouse clicks were sometimes multiplied.

    I made a point of tipping back quite a few drink/hints at the “Drinking Shoppes” (Which I found to be a funny name - though consistent with the other stores) early in the game because I could not locate the Isle of the Mystics. There are 2 or 3 hints that were very helpful in directing me to the “Ring of Water Walking” (Which I had only experienced as “Ring of Water” in the limited title space at the Magic Shoppe - making this item a lot less appealing…) I can confirm that my first Ring lasted a long time, enough to do a lot of overworld mapping. Mapping a CRPG square by square never seems to get old or boring to me, even when done alone. Subsequent Rings lasted much shorter times over water. I even drowned one time on the way to the Isle when I detoured across some rivers.

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  13. (Part II:) I did buy a few magic items that turned out to be probable joke items. One was the Amulet of Truth (when you use it, it gives something like “Grasshopper, we are all searching for truth, but you won’t find it here…”) Also, the [SomethingOrOther] of Justice (“Justice rings out” or the like to let you know you’ve been had…) I guess I fell for: “If it sounds too good to be true or too weird for a CRPG…”

    I thought the Djinn monsters were very creative: they seem to give you a magic item but I believe they also may take one away. Perhaps this only happens if you are maxed out on magic items. I believe the Djinns get a chance to invade your inventory every combat round. Never quite seen this before in a CRPG. One Djinn did give me a Ring of Water Walking when I lacked such, so that actually helped.

    I played the spell-casting wizard class, but found the spells overall way underpowered. The Cure Wounds spell was the most useful. Magic Missile did less damage than a melee attack by the time I bought it (and this was pretty early). Knock was occasionally helpful and I managed to steal Mind Killer early (Yes, you can steal spells and sell them back for profit!) from a shoppe that wasn’t even selling it (yet?). But that spell was mostly ineffective, along with sleep. If I had been willing to die more often, it did seem like certain spells might work for certain enemies. There were a lot of monster types (I think the manual or box says 60) so anyone willing to experiment more might find the spells more useful. However, melee attacks by my wizard were competent enough to suffice for many encounters. I didn’t want to grind to afford spell #8: Heal when it became available late in the game.

    The one Orb power that was very useful for me was “Disintegrate”: every time I used it it reduced one full group of monsters to a satisfying pile of dust, somehow preserving precious gold. I found it more useful than the later-acquired “Flame Strike”, although I did not test the fiery ability very much. I used the Orb’s “Remove Curse” power early-on when monsters were around that cursed me. It seems to me from comparing the progression of Chet’s Orb power-acquiring to mine, that the powers are given out in the same sequence, regardless of in which order you solve the pyramids.

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  14. (Part III:) I was able to make it past the Test at the Isle of the Mystics for which Chet used hex editing in a different manner. I just read the most recent posts about this test and so I will not ROT13 my experience, but will describe it thus:

    There is one test at the Isle of the Mystics that involves waiting and clicking the mouse during certain conditions, like when certain circles or boxes are filled. The instructions were very convoluted, but I thought I worked out some diagrams that indicated under what conditions a certain button ought to be pressed. I felt like I was back in high school at a California Math League test for extra math class credit. This level of obfuscation made me realize that maybe my instincts were correct. For you see I had noticed a “previous score” of 56 already there when the test screen first appeared. The game gives instructions to clear the previous score first and then play the game. If you, however, hit the “Cancel” button right away before resetting the score, the “previous score” of 56 counts for you (according to my interpretation) and the king congratulates you on passing the test. I assume this is a valid solution, as I can see no reason why my newly created character could take advantage of a previous human player’s score. I guess my thunder got stolen a bit, but that’s what I get for working on this post over several days…

    I found the economy quite well done. With my wizard choice, I had to make careful choices of what to upgrade, between armor, weapons, and spells (I imagine my experience was different from Chet’s as I had all spells open to me.) With monsters scaling to more difficult, I needed to make wise upgrades, to remain a viable attacker and defender, especially in those situations when facing multiple enemies in tough terrain. Even as a wizard, I could use all armor, and probably every weapon, although I never acquired the top prize annihilator: the Magic Wand.

    Overall for me a fun retro-Mac light CRPG experience.

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    1. Thank you so much for offering such a thorough set of comments from your experiences. I felt that my own coverage lacked the wizard's experience in particular, so I'm glad you were able to comment on what that was like.

      So your interpretation was that by canceling out of the test, you were claiming the previous score as your own? That makes more sense in-game than "it was a test to see if you could recognize the absurdity of the instructions and give up."

      Since you're Mac-Centric, you should probably give Mission: Thunderbolt a shot if you haven't already.

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