Monday, July 5, 2021

Perihelion: There Must Be Some Kind Of Way Outta Here

The game continues to offer innovative artwork. This really looks like a demon.
I have another dungeon and six more combats to my credit, and I think I "get" this game now. Its mechanics aren't quite as good as its atmosphere, but neither are they bad. I don't much care for the linearity, but the combat system is tactical and challenging, with an interesting approach to character development.
I had just entered the WatchTower colony (the game is extremely fond of smashing two words together with InterCaps) when I last wrote. Although the in-game text described it as 16 levels, the part we could explore was at most five levels, the largest of them small enough that I didn't really need to map. the dungeon was graphically uninteresting--nothing but stone walls--but numerous flavor messages scrolled on the bottom to convey what we were seeing: a ragged, exhausted populace clinging desperately to life. Many of them had come to the colony for refuge, only to find conditions worse than where they came from. An explosion had recently rocked the center of the colony, and monsters were roaming the lower levels.
I love atmospheric messages like this; I just wish they didn't scroll.
As we arrived, we were greeted by Commander Algethi, who knew from the emperor about our search for Mirach, the survivor of a previous attempt by a demonic entity to breach his way into Perihelion. Algethi said that we could search the central computer for records about Mirach, but the explosion had cut off access to the colony's core. We would need to get one of the teleporters working to find our way there. He gave us a passcard to get through some of the doors.
A few steps after we left Algethi, a security guard ran up and warned us that many of the evacuated areas of the colony had been seeded with deadly traps to delay the monsters pouring in there. He gave us a device that would supposedly warn us about the traps, but I never saw that it did any good. Maybe I had to be holding it.
Commander Algethi. A lot of NPCs in this game are named after stars, including Mirach, Algethi, and later Algol.
The main level of the WatchTower ended in a broken teleporter, which we had to fix. There were five ladders going to sections of other levels. One of the ladders led to a trap that killed us instantly when we tried to take it. The other four brought us to various small areas where we found the three pieces of machinery necessary to repair the teleporter.
One of those pieces was behind a locked door that Algethi's keycard wouldn't open. The keycard that would open it was in the hands of some corrupt security guards looting supplies. When we surprised them, they turned hostile, leading to the game's second combat. It wasn't a lot easier than the first. As confirmed by my commenters, there's no way to resurrect or replace slain characters, so you want to make sure no one dies. But if enemies concentrate their fire on one character, he can easily be killed before the rest of the party even has a chance to bandage him or cast a healing spell. Fortunately, you can reload from within combat if things go poorly. After combat, you can restore everyone fully with one rest, so difficulty in this game is all about individual combats.
I blast some corrupt colony guards with a spell.
I experimented a lot more with the magic system after the last entry. I was relieved to see that when you mix spells, you're not just mixing one "use" of that spell. Instead, it remains in your spellbook perpetually, the number of specific castings limited by your mental power. I got a lot of mileage out of "storm" spells that affect a 3 x 3 area, in particular "Storm of Glowing Plasma," which decreases strength, perception, and vitality, and "Storm of Septic Thorns," which affects vitality, stamina, and dexterity. I also mixed some "Storm of Lifeforce Drain" spells in case I wanted to concentrate everything on their health.
These take a lot of power, though, and each character could only cast one or two per combat. I got a lot more regular use out of "Blast of Alpha Catharsis," which restores vitality, stamina, and intelligence for one character.
My characters started to run out of ammunition during this battle, and I had to switch some of them to melee weapons. This worked out well because you get a lot more attacks per round with melee weapons. Eventually, I settled into a pattern in which the three spellcasters launched offensive spells in the first round but then switched to "Alpha Catharsis" to heal the three melee characters in subsequent rounds.
I like the combat system overall. It's tactical and nerve-racking, and it has most of the strengths of the Gold Box series. It's not quite as good as the Gold Box, though. It's slow, for one thing, and like the rest of the game, it doesn't have enough keyboard backup. You can't even move with the keyboard; you have to click on that little GTFO panel. I would have liked a bit more variety to the spells, or maybe the ability to cast some of them before combat. I still don't quite understand how the initiative order works. Overall, though, it's better than another Bard's Tale derivative.
A character gains attributes in the middle of combat.
After winning this combat, I was able to find the three pieces of machinery, as well as some additional weapons and armor pieces. The only indication you have that there's any equipment in a room is your locater unit in the bottom-left corner of the interface. It starts blinking when something is close and turns to a solid color when you're on top of it. That's your cue to switch to the inventory screen and pick up the items one at a time. Trying to evaluate weapons and armor against your existing inventory is a pain. I like that the game is so transparent about its statistics, but not that to see those statistics, you have to put the inventory item in the "up in the air" slot, then switch to the network interface and wait for it to load, then type ANALYSE and wait for that to load, then return to the inventory screen and repeat with the second item. Again, keyboard backups like "I" for inventory and "N" for network would be very nice.
One of three pages of statistics for a helmet.
A diagram I'd found on a terminal in the last session showed me the order to assemble the machinery and get the teleporter working. Once it was up and running, I took it to the core of the colony. I had to pass through a grid of security corridors for which one wrong move meant instant death. One of the documents I recovered last time was supposed to guide me through the area, but it was either bugged or I misinterpreted it. I did a lot of reloading here.
Fixing the teleporter with a piece that looks like a pair of binoculars.
The exit put me in combat with vampires--the first of two such combats before I left the level. The vampires were weak themselves--one or two castings of my offensive spells killed them instantly--but they were capable of powerful life-draining magic. Still, I only had two reloads in the first battle and none in the second.
Hitting the vampires with "Septic Thorns."
I love the way that your attributes increase as you use associated actions in combat. For instance, ranged combat improves your dexterity and perception, melee combat your strength and vitality. Even walking or defending carries the chance of conferring some improvements. It seems like a lot of growth for minimal effort, but I suppose that's necessary when the game features so few combats.
We eventually made our way to a network interface and accessed the MIRROR network (Commander Algethi gave us the netcode). There were three documents, two of them inaccessible for security reasons. I wonder if these documents ever become accessible, or if they're all just red herrings. The one that I could read indicated that Mirach had been expelled from the colony. He was last seen heading towards the SoulTomb Uranium Mines, to the west, with a group of other emigrants.
The "SoulTomb Mines": The concept of "marketing" has not yet reached this world.
As we returned to the main level, we were attacked by a demon summoned by the Unborn from the Plane of Distortion. I'll take this moment to complain about another aspect of the game: the long text messages that appear as scrolling text at the bottom of the screen. Unless I want to transcribe the text, which involves several uses of the "Look" button because it scrolls too fast for me to type, I have to content myself with just getting the highlights. It would be so much better if the text appeared on separate screens in full paragraphs.
The demon attacked me alone, the first combat in the game against a single foe. It took me three tries to beat him, again only because I had to keep everyone alive. He was fond of identifying one character and targeting him three blasts in a row with "Globe of Glowing Plasma." I needed at least one of them to fail for my character to survive long enough to get him healed.   
Healing one of my characters in battle against a demon.
When the battle was over, Commander Algethi thanked us for saving the WatchTower and gave us a new ranged weapon. I may continue to favor melee, though.
We made our way out of the WatchTower and back to the overland map. The SoulTomb mines were a couple of clicks to the west. Shortly after we entered, we were attacked by a group of "renegade mutants." It was the easiest battle we've fought so far; they died quickly from both physical and magical attacks.
It's always fun when enemies group together.
After the battle, though, we were attacked again, and this time the game had a scripted outcome: they paralyzed us and hauled us to another location. We were awakened by a woman named PearlBlood who told us that Mirach was her father. She said we could meet him, but we'd have to speak to their leader, someone named Corall, first.
Technically, I don't think pearls have . . . you know what? It's fine.
Corall was a freaky-looking character who, the game told us, was addicted to a narcotic called HeavenSeeker. Apparently, he leads a society of mutants who don't want to live under the empire's controls of mutants. He said he'd let us meet Mirach if we would upload a message to the emperor demanding amnesty and an end to mutant controls. I did as he asked and got an acknowledgement of my message but not an answer. That seemed to be enough for Corall, though, and he had PearlBlood escort us to the lower levels near Mirach's chambers.
Why are we the "Scourges of the Empire"? We're trying to save the empire!
On the way to Mirach's quarters, we passed a network station with the word MUTANT scrawled on the walls. This turned out to be a netcode that got us a few more documents. One was a set of instructions for explosives marked COBOLD. Another discussed patrol strategies in response to increasing attacks from lycanthropes.
This is probably what we call "foreshadowing."
Sure enough, when we opened the door to Mirach's room, we found him being attacked by some wolves. Before we could react, one of them grabbed his grandson and ran off with him. We were thrust into battle with a half dozen lycanthropes.
Something amusing.
The lycanthropes weren't that hard, but they were capable of a "horrible, deadly howl" that damaged multiple characters in a radius. They seemed to be able to use it about six times per round, so my spellcasters were kept busy with healing spells while my fighters chipped away at their health. We won in a single try.
These icons don't much look like the beast in the picture.
When the battle was over, Mirach said that he'd been perfectly willing to tell us everything we wanted to know about the Guardian, but now that his grandson, Algol, was missing, probably dead, he'd rather just see the world burn. He gave us an hour to rescue his grandson (the boy needs shots every couple of hours or something) or he'd tell us nothing. He gave us a passcard to the lower levels (which I forgot to pick up on my first pass, necessitating a reload) and sent us off. A few steps later, the teary PearlBlood also begged us to rescue her son and gave us an "ancient crystal" that might be helpful.
"Algol" is the Demon Star. I wonder if this is a bit of foreshadowing.
I wrap this up on the levels below, hopelessly mired in a series of interconnected puzzles that involve using the right items in the right locations to get a series of keys. I can't seem to progress. I don't know whether I missed an item or I'm just not using the ones I have properly. With this game, it's sometimes hard to tell when a bit of text is an "atmospheric" message and when it's alerting you that you need to perform some kind of action there. Some kind of mining action is clearly going to be required coming up, as we've found a mining drill and explosives. We also found some grenades, but the game won't let me equip them as weapons, so I'm not entirely sure how they're used.
I'm not sure what to do in this room.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • In one room, I found a "credit card" with 3,000 credits on it. Picking it up added them directly to my total. This is the first time I've earned any money in the game. The only thing I've found to spend money on is network services.
With a designated limit, I think this is more like a "gift card."
  • I didn't have room to put the vampire headshot before. This needs to be seen.
The funny thing is that the total area I've covered is about the size of two dungeon levels in a game like Wizardry or The Bard's Tale, but the game is so thick with verbose encounters, inventory puzzles, and long combats that it seems like a lot more. The cumbersome controls also slow things down a bit, making progress feel a bit like wading through molasses. Such a slow pace is probably necessary to appreciate the aesthetics, but it also discourages long sessions.
Time so far: 16 hours


  1. "Scourge of the Empire" is likely calling you The Scourge which is owned by The Empire, not saying you are a Scourge ON the Empire. At least, that's how I would have read that line. He's basically calling you the dogs of the emperor for doing their bidding.

    1. Indeed, just like Attila or Genghis Khan were called the "Scourges of God".

    2. Fair enough. But we just got out of hibernation and have visited exactly one place before this, where all we did was beat up some street thugs. I think it's a bit too early to call us the "scourge" of anything.

    3. I like that he's mad at the probability manipulation that is keeping The Unborn from seeing you properly but causes the werewolves to attack him at the time that benefits you.

  2. Something amusing = "A lycanthrope having a hissy-fit."

    1. I have to come up with a better system for annotating things I'm saving for later. I usually forget them.

    2. Ha. I spent a minute or two looking at the picture figuring that I was missing an obvious joke.

  3. Getting a real Alien xenomorph vibe fromvthat demon icon.

    1. Definitely a xenomorph version of Metroid's Chozo statues.

  4. It's funny that Mirach has a scar over one eye, but a patch over the other eye, which has no surrounding wounds. So I guess the slash over his good eye missed his actual eye, but the bad eye got poked straight-on.

  5. PearlBlood could mean pearl coloured blood, but as a Hungarian I think it is a literal translation of an actual Hungarian name Gyöngyvér (Pearl + Blood). Vér is blood, but can mean bloodline (vér + vonal). Additionally, sibling in Hungarian is testvér (body + blood). According to the Hungarian Wiki, Gyöngyvér has a XIX. century origin: it is combination from the older name Gyöngy and the word sibling. Any strange sentence structures might come from the fact that the Hungarian language allows to place words almost in any order in a sentence. Even after years of speaking English daily I struggle with this.

    1. That's a really cool insight that only someone who speaks Hungarian would have had. I wonder if it explains some of the other awkward InterCaps names found in the game. See my next entry for more.

  6. "It would be so much better if the text appeared on separate screens in full paragraphs."

    Would it though? Or just for the purpose of this blog, where you'd want to document the story for us?

    I'd argue this newsticker-style of information feeding is quite an ingenious feat to heighten immersion and keeping the player engaged, while a separate (or overlayed) text screen would take you out of the action every single time. Have we seen this 'newsticker information', integrated into the GUI, anywhere before? Because I call that innovation...

    1. If it was only a couple of sentences, and it was all just flavor, I'd agree with you. But we're talking sometimes 200 words of scrolling text, and with no ability to control the speed or go back and re-read something you might have misinterpreted, it gets frustrating fast. More important, sometimes vital information is imparted in this text, meaning you have to dive for a paper and pen while the unstoppable text is still scrolling.

      The fact that I have to document the text for the blog certainly heightens the frustration, but I don't think I'd like this method of text delivery in any circumstance.

    2. I'd say it's pretty crap if you can miss information just because you happened to be focusing elsewhere on the screen.

    3. Having to watch only the bottom of the screen instead of everything else would certainly take ME out of the action.

      The earliest RPG I can think of that does it is the 1987 Faxanadu. Scrolling text is slightly more common outside RPGs, but frankly it's annoying and distracting even in action games. There's a reason why most games don't do that.

    4. I hear you, but think of a simple feature like certain bold keywords (or such) in the scrolling text getting transcribed into a journal to review at your convenience. Boom, main problem solved :)

    5. "Boom, main problem solved"


    6. Well, would you mind to elaborate, Bret, because the 'main problem' being pointed out is missing out on vital information, while an automatic transcription would certainly take care of that.


    7. Can't you tap the screenshot button a few times as the text is moving and look at it later instead of trying to keep up with it?

    8. I am not 100% sure (I tried to play this game some time ago, but I didn't went too far), but I think you can change the scrolling text velocity with some keys, or maybe clicking on the text itself.

    9. I mean, as a general design principle, games should always let users receive information at their own pace. If you've got voice acting, it should be accompanied by an option for subtitles, and an option to skip forward when the player has read the subtitle, even if the voice playback isn't finished.

      It's the same principle here, except worse, because scrolling text is simultaneously too fast AND too slow, especially if the general context of the game means the player's attention is frequently on other parts of the interface. Most games that do something similar today tend to have a log of messages that you can scroll back through, at minimum.

    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    11. Even when it is impossible to miss it, receiving all your information v e r y s l o w l y is incredibly irritating. If you can miss text, it is borderline game-breaking.

      I've been having a similar issue recently with a much more modern game - Parasite Eve 2. Firmly in the survival horror genre, you find abandoned diaries and other documents scattered throughout the game.

      These files often contain just as much text as you would find in a Silent Hill or Resident Evil example, but most force you to read it two sentences at a time instead of just popping up in a full-screen reader like other games. Oh, and you can only read it once - if you accidentally skip past something, the only way to go back and read it is to die.

    12. The obvious answer is to end each conversation with (randomly picked) "Did you understand that?" or "Do you want me to repeat everything?"

    13. Ok, I tried it again. You can definitely change the velocity of the scrolling text with the "+" and "-" keys. However the minimum velocity is still too fast if you want to transcribe the text... The only way is to pause the emulation, I think.

    14. Some of the Simcity games have a newsticker that works pretty well, mostly because it's effectively an actual newsticker for your city, anything actually important is in more detail elsewhere, and everything on it is fairly short so that even if you miss something you don't have to wait long for it to display again. Having a newsticker style thing in a game where you actually have to pay attention to it at all times or risk missing out on vital info sounds terrible.

  7. Also, the monster portraits are looking A Plus.

  8. All the character portraits and most of the NPCs seem to have similar, sunken cheeks.

    Corall looks familiar, but maybe he just reminds me of Peter Gabriel during his Genesis days.

  9. That's some nice pixel art for the NPCs and I even like the way the UI looks. Pretty good job, I think. And hello- still watching and reading tho commenting oh so rarely :)

  10. This is an inauspicious day for playing Perihelion; July 5th is actually the aphelion.

    1. I had this conversation with Irene yesterday:

      IRENE: "Today is the aphelion, when we're furthest from the sun."

      ME: "Ironically, I'm playing a game called Perihelion right now."

      IRENE: "Is it set during a perihelion?"

      ME: "No, it takes place on a world called 'Perihelion,' where the emperor's name is 'Rex Helion.'"

      IRENE: ". . . That sounds stupid."

      ME: "It's better than it sounds."

    2. Is there any in-game explanation for the name? I might have missed it. I keep thinking the color palate evokes an eclipse or maybe a sunset with its washed out oranges, whites, and blacks. Something to do with the sun, anyway. I really like it.

  11. Cobol (as in Cobold) and Algol are both ancient computer languages--I wonder if that means anything?

    1. Cobol is ancient but suprisingly much infrastructure, especially in banking and government sector still running on it

    2. My association: Great lords of Kobol, hear my prayer!

    3. Is this a BSG reference? I haven't seen it since a decade...

    4. COBOL the language predates the original Battlestar Galactica.

  12. In the previous entry you were worried about the size and I considered posting "Don´t worry, it´s not even half of seventeen!" (game text says 17, not 16), but dropped it - after Abandoned Places 2, somehow I think you enjoyed the not-that-big surprise :)

    The 'slow scrolling atmospheric text' was a way of keeping the player immersed while the game loaded - Amiga load times from floppies were quite long, so scrolling text instead of a simple loading screen certainly did a much better job of keeping the player interested, particulary if the writing was good. It is somewhat of a Psygnosis trademark: it was used - likely pioneered - in Shadow of the Beast (much shorter texts tho), the game that showcased the then amazing graphics/sound capabilities of the Amiga. Maybe the developers themselves went on purpose for this 'SotB-style' text since they sent Perihelion to Psygnosis? Not unlikely, since Edvard Toth writes in his site that Psygnosis wrote "This is the best-presented submission we have ever received” regarding the prototype.

    The section you stopped at requires a bit of puzzle solving indeed, but nothing extraordinary. Walk around and, as text descriptions show up, double check your inventory.

  13. The encounter with vampires is IMHO one the most creepy moment of the game - nightmarish appearance + alien, evil music.

  14. Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix or U2? Jimi all the way, IMO!

    1. Jimi is nearly always the correct answer. This is no different.

  15. I don't want to ruin anyone's fun, but for those interested, I'd like to link some of the original pictures I found that inspired some of the art in the game (I found the book ref on another blog long ago, I actually have that book, and Mirach's face is from that one also. Maybe others as well. I find the vampire looking quite familiar too).

    1. Would you care to scan the pages containing Mirach and other characters from the game?

    2. It's back at my mom's place, so it might take a couple of weeks, but I'll take a note not to forget it.


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