Sunday, July 18, 2021

Perihelion: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

The girl on the box is entirely unexplained by the game's end.
     
Perihelion
Hungary
Morbid Visions (developer); Psygnosis (publisher)
Released in 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 20 June 2021
Date Ended: 11 July 2021
Total Hours: 27
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 41
Ranking at Time of Posting: 365/428 (85%)
  
Summary:
   
Set on a dying, post-apocalyptic planet, Perihelion offers a highly-original, moody, cyberpunk aesthetic, reinforced with grotesque graphics and a superb score. Six genetically-engineered heroes race against time to stop an invasion from an inter-dimensional entity called the Unborn. The game contrasts first-person exploration with top-down, Gold Box-style combat. Unfortunately, a completely linear story, a fixed number of combats, and a terrible mouse-only control scheme dampen the fun.
  
******
    
As I played the final acts of Perihelion, all the references and bits of lore made me think of the epigraph that accompanies Robert Howard's first Conan tale:
   
Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars--Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen- eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.
    
To me, this is one of the most effective, efficient uses of world-building in the history of English literature. Enormously lush and evocative, it draws you immediately into the setting and makes you want to know more about this world, all while raising far more questions than it answers. Howard and later authors would make use of these proper names, but I often wonder if Howard had any idea what they were when he wrote his first short story, or whether he was just riffing. Did he already have a Hyborian Encyclopedia to draw from? Or were these just words? Is it better not to know?
    
I wonder the same thing as I read the scrolling text in Perihelion. When the game tells me that Lord Daleth is not only a crime lord but also a high priest of Carnivore, "an insanely evil entity from the Twilight Continuum," did the authors have any idea who Carnivore really was and what the Twilight Continuum really was, or were they just pulling names from novels and comics? Again, perhaps it's better not to know. I love the idea that there are more stories to be told about Perihelion--that the urgency of our quest doesn't leave us a lot of time to get into the details of history and culture, but that if we did have time, those details would exist
      
The Guardian is never well-explained.
    
Daleth was the ruler of NightFall, a one-level fortress that seemed bigger than it was because all of the backtracking required. We were there to get hold of the Guardian--the mysterious force or object that had banished an extra-planar entity in the past. As we entered, we immediately fell into combat with Daleth's elite insectoid guards from the "Eastern Wastelands, far over the borders of the Allied Territories." The battle wasn't hard (no combat for the rest of the game was really hard), but it was a bit annoying because enemies appeared on the map after combat had already begun. I don't think this happened in any other battle. Fortunately, the enemies were all-physical, and grouped together nicely for mass-damage spells.
   
Getting through NightFall meant finding a series of keys and marching back and forth between the doors that they opened. There was some light puzzle-solving necessary, but nothing like what was required in SoulTomb. We got some equipment upgrades in various storerooms. There was another battle with insectoids at a guard post, and a tougher one with three "witchmasters of Carnivore," trained in the "southern caverns," where they go blind, deaf, and mute, but develop extraordinary extrasensory perception to compensate. That ESP apparently doesn't allow them to become aware of the presence of their own companions, because each of them cast spells that caught the other two in their radiuses. Two of them died that way. It wasn't hard to swarm and kill the one remaining.
    
Targeting a witchmaster.
       
One corridor had the fortress's netcode--MURDER--spelled out in individual letters. In addition to the security code for a later door, the files on the net station told us more about the mysterious Guardian. Daleth's own analysis revealed that the object had the energy capacity of a "class M2" star, the psychic energy signature of a "E1 Entity," and "divine level" intelligence. Daleth was planning to sell it to the mediators in the Tower of Neon for 2 million credits. I'm still not sure why we're interrupting this transaction, since the mediators are planning to use it to banish the Unborn just like we are.
   
The Guardian was locked behind a door that required both the passcode (more specifically, a key encoded with the passcode) and a sample of Daleth's DNA. To get the latter, we had to find our way into Daleth's meditation chamber and kill him. The game did its best to build him up ("mighty, dark physical energies begin to fill the chamber around you"), but ultimately he was just one guy. He had some powerful spells, including an electrical attack, but I had plenty of characters to keep up with healing while the others shot and stabbed him. He left a wicked-looking broadsword that served my lead character until the end of the game.
   
I forgot to get a picture of the sword, but here's the DNA sampler.
      
We used a "DNA Sampler Unit," found elsewhere, to collect his genetic material. As we left his chambers, the game had a surprise:
     
Your blood instantly freezes as Lord Daleth--or better say something what once was Lord Daleth--suddenly bobs up in front of you, despite that you have killed him with your own hands and you've seen him die not even an hour ago . . . when an awful, unholy howl escapes from inside the undead creature as it begins to speak on a scornful, evil voice: "FOOLS . . . DID YOU THINK YOU CAN KILL A MEDIATOR OF LORD CARNIVORE WITHOUT PUNISHMENT? NOW YOU CAN SEE FOR YOURSELF THAT EVIL--AS YOU CALL IT--NEVER DIES, IT ONLY CHANGES FORM . . . ETERNALLY!
    
Despite all the build-up, the second battle against Lord Daleth might have been easier than the first. He had a lot of attacks per round, but there was one of him and six of us. I think the battle only took two rounds.
   
Also, despite all the talk of "changing forms," he looks pretty much exactly like the first time I met him, except now he drools more.
      
With Daleth eliminated--or just changing form, or whatever--we were able to get into the vault and retrieve the Guardian. The game described it as a "small, round-shaped thing" that glows and radiates "eternal wisdom and love." It noted that in its chamber, the party for the first time did not feel the oppressive touch of the Unborn.
    
Back out in the world, the only place we could go was the Tower of Neon, so called not because it glows brightly but because it is ruled by Lord Neon, "the most influential Entity of this world." The game noted that Lord Neon, a genius, has long shaped the world with his ideas and inventions, including bionecromancy. However, Neon is also to blame for the inter-dimensional experimentation that brought the Unborn into the world.
       
I wish the game had more time to explore how a mortal emperor manages to rule a land of living gods.
    
I enjoyed the psychedelic textures as we explored the lobby. Our way was blocked by various doors, but eventually a weird, scarred woman showed up, greeted us on behalf of Archon Monterey, and escorted us to "our quarters." She told us to wait there until the Archon was ready to receive us, and not to venture out of the quarters. We waited for a while, but when nothing happened, we wandered outside, where a couple of temple guards sent us back. This happened three times before they got fed up and attacked us. Part of me wonders if there wasn't a Far Cry 4-like alternate solution to this place where if we'd waited long enough, the Archon would have come to receive us peacefully.
   
After we killed eight guards--again, the battle wasn't hard--we began exploring the rest of the "quarters." We soon found an imprisoned Archon Darley, who admitted that he had been in charge of the "Entity Project" that brought the Unborn to Perihelion: "We were searching for new cosmic energy channels in the outer space when the Unborn detected the discontinuity in our dimension." With the breach came an "astral storm" that killed almost everyone in the tower. Archons Darley and Monterey survived as a demonic "winged beast . . . an ancient creature from the Plane of Infinitum" took the throne of the tower for himself. Monterey has recently gone to try to establish contact with Neon in the Inner Sanctum.
   
To get there ourselves, we had to find Darley's "palmprint disc" so we could bring it back to him and he could encode it to allow us passage. On the way there, we had to kill our hostess, revealed as "Chamelea, one of the deadliest assassins from the period of Interregnum," executed forty years ago. The Unborn apparently has the ability to resurrect the dead. She attacked with several guards, and we fought another long combat. As usual, a combination of offensive spells in the first round, physical attacks, and healing carried the day. I'm glossing over a lot of the battles just because there isn't much to say about them that I didn't say in previous entries. I don't mean to suggest that they aren't enjoyable, or that tactics don't matter, just that I have no new information to report.
      
A network document shows how the discs work.
       
Ultimately, we made our way to the Inner Sanctum and fought the demon there. Both its portrait and its icon looked pretty cool. For the first time in a while, I had to reload a couple of times in combat, because it was capable of killing some of my weaker characters in one round. I largely ignored offensive spells (mostly because I was too lazy to mix up one-enemy versions of the "storm" spells I'd been using up to this point) and just pummeled him with physical attacks while healing the characters he targeted. 
      
I thought this was the final battle.
       
I had gotten mixed up with the story, and I thought this demon was the Unborn, so I was surprised when the game didn't end with our victory. Instead, the dying Archon Monterey told us he had been unable to commune with Neon, as "the astral channels are totally deformed." Monterey knew where the Unborn was coming into the world: a cave in the western side of Mount Torch.
  
Back on the overland map, we marched to the mountain and entered. The Guardian did something that warped us to another plane ("this cosmic pool of tears wept by countless civilizations before their vanishing into nothingness"), where we saw the Fortress of Steel from the prophecy. I thought the Fortress would be a large dungeon with a lot of combats, so I was surprised when we were brought right to the endgame. The Unborn tried to hypnotize us into serving him, but the Guardian forced it back and made it take mortal form. 
      
Reaching the Steel Fortress at last.
      
The final battle was disappointingly easy, but it had some nice visuals. The battle canvas was a face with glowing eyes, and the Unborn itself was a winged demon. It cast a variety of spells, but nothing immediately fatal. All my characters had melee weapons going at this point, and we just surrounded him and hacked away.
           
Is that the Guardian in the background?
       
Eventually, the Unborn "died" and was resurrected in the form of a literal fetus, with the game labeled "the CHAOSEMBRYO." Attacking it felt a little messed up, but it was capable of all its previous incarnation's magical and physical attacks, so we had no choice. I was prepared to lose a character or two in the final battle, but I didn't have to worry.
      
From 2001's alternate ending.
   
When it was dead, the final cut scene appeared. Against a backdrop of the sun-scorched Perihelion, our SandGlider sailed away from the final battle. The scrolling text read:
   
After reaching the outside world again, you immediately ignitiate [sic, but what a great word!] an emergency launch sequence on your SandGlider ship's computer to get the Guardian out of the critical zone before the dying Unborn attempts to destroy it with a final, desperate strike. Checking your sensor readings, you realize that you cannot put enough distance between you and the collapsing Steel Fortress to save your own lives as well. The background radiation level is so high that no living organism--including you--will remain alive within more than 200 miles of radius. The world will survive. You won't. But it doesn't really matter now . . . you're just standing proudly, silently, watching the rear sight, watching as a second sun is rising on the horizon . . . 
   
A somewhat triumphant, somewhat bittersweet composition plays over the ending graphic. Presumably, the Guardian will be recovered from the wreck of our glider once the radiation subsides.
      
The party zooms away, although apparently not fast enough.
        
I end the game still feeling positively about it, and I expect it to GIMLET relatively high, but it does have a few problems. Names and allusions aren't the same things as a well-drawn backstory, and it's going to be hard for me to give a very high rating for the game world despite the rich atmosphere. Second, the game didn't last long enough to justify its complex approach to magic. There are between 20 and 25 combats, far fewer than the 40 spells the game supports. The extremely linear nature and lack of replayability will also cost points. Nothing is more annoying than the all-mouse interface, however. Having to click a bunch of buttons needlessly prolongs combat (which would otherwise get high marks) and makes mechanics like mixing spells, trading inventory, and analyzing weapons and armor tedious and cumbersome. 
   
I give it:
   
  • 5 points for the game world. If I told you in a vacuum that the game is set on a world called Perihelion, ruled by Emperor Rex Helion, with gods named Toxic Waste and Carnivore, you'd probably roll your eyes. The atmosphere established by the cinematics, graphics, and music almost makes it all work, but at some level you're still entering the SoulTomb Mines to talk to PearlBlood.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. I like the originality of the classes and attributes and the way attributes develop through use. It is a little bit uneven. My fighters made great strides in all physical attributes except constitution, which nothing ever seemed to increase. The same goes for my mental characters and "6th sense."
       
The final stats for my party leader.
     
  • 3 points for NPCs. This is one of many games in which I can't give a high score to NPCs because they don't actually exist in the game's environment until you step into their squares; they're thus more "encounters" than NPCs. You learn a lot from them, but the game really undervalued its ASK command; hardly any NPCs respond to keywords.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. Perihelion has an original selection of enemies with a variety of special attacks. I give some credit for the varied "encounters," including the net stations and the inventory puzzles. Where the game fails is any sense of role-playing or choice in those encounters.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. I want to give it more, as the system is based on the tactical, turn-based Gold Box model, but the magic system is more complicated than it needs to be--too complicated for the number of battles you actually fight--and the controls are tedious.
      
Aldhabi looks over his mixed spells.
      
  • 4 points for equipment. You get a variety of weapon and armor upgrades, a lot of which I missed or didn't care about because I never got the sense that it made a big difference. I ended the game never having used any of the dozen or so grenades I found. I like that the game offers you an ANALYSE option to get specific statistics about your items; I hate that it takes so much time and clicking.
  • 1 point for the economy. You start with a lot of credits. You slowly deplete them through net services. Even spending them liberally, you're never in danger of running out. You only gain more once, from a single credit card. There are no shops. 
  • 2 points for a main quest with no choices, no options, no alternate endings, no side-quests or even side areas.
  • 5 points for graphics, sound, interface. It gets all of that for graphics, sound effects, and music, which are all just perfect for this era and scope of game. It gets nothing for the cumbersome interface.
       
I love the psychedelic textures of the Tower of Neon.
     
  • 6 points for gameplay. Extremely linear and not very replayable, but also pitched at the right challenge level and length. 
     
That gives us a final score of 41. I was thinking that if I rated the game on an ABCDF scale, it would deserve a solid B--extremely promising but too flawed to be excellent. A rating of 41 puts it at the 85th percentile, which is right in the middle of "B" territory.
    
For once, my rating is perfectly in line with contemporary reviews, which were almost universally in the 80s, whether from ASM (83%), Score (83%), Amiga Games (83%), Play Time (82%), or Joystick (80%). There were some in the 70s or lower, though, including from the one English review that I could find, in the June 1994 Amiga Computing (60%). The rating is a bit mysterious. The author, Simon Clays, has nothing but praise for the complementary graphics, sound, and music, but still rates them at 68% (graphics) and 70% (sound). He doesn't like the combat system--specifically, the breaking of immersion necessary to take the player to a separate, third-person combat system. I guess real-time Dungeon Master clones are the only combat styles that Amiga Computing likes. Overall, the rating is far too positive to end at a score of 60.
   
Perihelion was written by Gyula Szentirmay (programming), Edvard Toth (graphics, story, and dialogue), and Zoltán Végh (music and sound) while they were still in high school. Toth has some recollections about game development on his site, including the John Harris painting that inspired the tone of the world. (Note that nowhere does he refer to the game as Perihelion: The Prophecy.) I wrote to Toth hoping he'd answer some questions--I particularly wanted to know if he'd played the Gold Box games or Sentinel Worlds--but I never heard back. [Ed. I corresponded with Toth after this entry first posted. The material between asterisks below is new information based on that conversation.]
    
****

Toth said that he had never heard of Sentinel Worlds: Future Magic (which was a long-shot; I thought there were similarities between the Guardian and the Key of Thor), but he had absolutely played some of the Gold Box games, which serve as a base model for Perihelion's combat. "Those games usually looked like crap and were quite terrible from a technical point of view, but they had fantastic combat design and team-based strategy." He was also an admirer of other games from Psygnosis and Cinemaware, particularly It Came from the Desert (1989/1992), an atmospheric action game.
   
He confirmed that the names and places dropped throughout Perihelion were not just words; he had extensive lore, sketches, and short stories for the game's various creatures, locations, people, and factions. Carnivore's avatar was a "vile, bloated, cadaverous baby with razor-sharp teeth," for instance, and he had written a short story about "a procession of Carnivore priests moving through a city slum, their life-draining auras inadvertently affecting the residents, setting off a series of crazy events." He mentions trying to write in the nature of Robert E. Howard, which was ironic given that I used a quote from Howard in my coverage.
  
Toth had planned to set several sequels in the world of Perihelion, perhaps with a unique focus on psychic powers and the toll they take (which was a minor feature of Perihelion's backstory):
    
I'm . . . quite obsessed with the premise of emotion-based psi powers and the dramatic (often tragic) potential in [them]. The sacrifices that practitioners have to make, the traumas they have to endure, and the discipline they have to develop to experience, recall, and sustain sequences of emotional states is very powerful material. I have the 'metaphysics' worked out, along with several pretty impactful personal stores. Maybe one day . . .
      
Toth doesn't see much hope of a direct sequel at this late date, though. He sees the original Perihelion as "too simplistic, stale, and one-dimensional." He noted that one of the "hooks" of the original game was "the very high production values, execution, and atmosphere," something that requires a lot more investment of time, labor, and money today, after 30 years of development in graphics and sound.
   
Nonetheless, he thinks about it, and he has some models in mind:
     
I'm a huge fan of George Miller's Fury Road [the 2015 Mad Max film], an unbelievable achievement that conjures up a lush and intricately detailed universe utilizing minimal dialog and exposition. Another great piece of poetic world-building is China Miéville's Perdido Street Station [a 2001 novel]. A new Perihelion would certainly be more along the lines of these sensibilities.
         
Part of me wants to disagree that a "modern" game would require anything more than the graphics, sound, and music of the original, but I guess I'm a rare player. And even I admit that the idea of exploring a world like Perihelion's in a contemporary first-person interface is thrilling.
 
****
   
It's too bad we never saw a sequel in the setting. It ended up being Morbid Visions' only game, although all three developers went on to work for Philos Laboratories, where they worked on Theocracy (2000), a strategy game set during the height of the Aztec Empire. Toth moved to California in the late 1990s and has worked for a variety of game studios, though he never got back into RPGs except to do "additional graphics" on Cleveland Blakemore's Grimoire (2017). Szentirmay has also remained in the business, most recently doing programming for the Mafia games by Hangar 13. Végh, judging by his IMDB page, seems to have gone into music and editing in the Hungarian film industry.
       
I was curious what game would come next from Hungary, and it turns out to be a Commodore 64 title called Newcomer (1994), a seven-disk epic that, according to the C64 wiki, "pushes the C64 to its limits." It sounds like it has a bizarre, Prisoner-like plot. I'm enjoying the backstories from these Hungarian games. That coupled with the fact that I'm currently in love with a Hungarian jazz band called the Hot Club du Nax has made me more eager than ever to visit the country.

 

92 comments:

  1. love the idea that there are more stories to be told about Perihelion--that the urgency of our quest doesn't leave us a lot of time to get into the details of history and culture, but that if we did have time, those details would exist.

    All evidence points to "they pulled it out of their ass". In vain I have scoured this blog, watching game after game get played to its sometimes painful conclusion, and again and again there's no "there" there. Time and time again the developers show they had no idea what they were doing and threw things in at random, never to mention them anon.

    "Wow, that sure sounds intriuging. I sure would like to find that dwarf and go on the quest with him to find his hidden city in the Atlas mountains" but despite being given a backstory he's never mentioned again in the game. This has happened so many times by now I can only conclude it's meant to be - either deliberately or by lack of professionalism.

    the game really undervalued its ASK command; hardly any NPCs respond to keywords.

    See?

    Nothing is more annoying than the all-mouse interface, however.

    Same explanation as always: high Openness people love new things. They are obsessed with novelty and easily bored. The mouse was new; ergo the thing to do is make a game that uses this new input device exclusively. The keyboard? Eww, old! You're experiencing our exquisitely crafted new product, not entering Lotus spreadsheets on your father's IBM PC/XT!

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    1. Yeah and I would add that at the time there was not yet a super standard way of controlling and even learning and getting used to the interface was considered part of the game.

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    2. I find the mouse only interfaces to be more comfortable than keyboard only interfaces with dozens of keys to remember.

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    3. "The mouse was new", I doubt that explanation holds true; Amiga and Atari St were released in 1985, I assume both had mouse input from the start. If not, they certainly had by 1989. Perihelion was released in 1993, by that time the mouse was no longer new. There has to be another reason why developers ignored keyboard input. I'd love to hear a developer from that period explain why they implemented a mouse only interface. Hardware constraints? Not enough development time? Even if they favoured the mouse as more modern, they could have added keyboard shortcuts.

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    4. Amiga definitely had a mouse-driven GUI from the start.

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    5. Amiga and Mac both have primarily mouse-driven GUIs from the get-go and both also have primarily mouse-controlled games (even to the point where Macintosh ports of games that originated in DOS tend to have worse keyboard controls than the originals!)

      I don't think it's especially a coincidence.

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    6. stepped pyramidsJuly 18, 2021 at 9:32 PM

      Nobody was asking them for keyboard input; there wasn't any established convention that keyboard input should always be present; any kind of keyboard control scheme would have to be coded, tested, and documented; games of this era were very likely to only be playtested in depth by people who were actually working on the game. There was certainly a strain of thought that keyboard commands were an unnecessary legacy of older computing interfaces, but I don't think it's possible or necessary to extrapolate people's Big Five scores from that fact any more than from the fact that most computers don't come with builtin optical drives anymore.

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    7. My memory of playing on my friend's Amiga was that we had a strong preference for games that only required the mouse or the joystick - but I can't remember why.

      I certainly wasn't averse to keyboards, and they were the preferred input on my (other) friend's Commodore 64, for example.

      But on the Amiga, needing the keyboard felt... wrong.

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    8. "but I don't think it's possible or necessary to extrapolate people's Big Five scores from that fact any more than from the fact that most computers don't come with builtin optical drives anymore."

      You said it! Insecure internet people can't help but play armchair psychologist on everyone under the sun and it's frankly ridiculous.

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    9. It is, though. People obsessed with novelty are very likely to be high in Openness. They get bored easily and think because it's old, it must suck. It's a major driver of flavor-of-the-week programming. And yeah, mice were still new back then. I didn't have a mouse until 1992, and even then I only bought one because of how much easier it was to play Civilization with one. I could certainly play a whole game with the keyboard, and did, but until then there was no real reason to get a mouse. After watching me play, my friend, a fellow keyboard-only enthusiast, bought a mouse too.

      Insecure internet people can't help but play armchair psychologist

      LOL isn't this doing the same as those you accuse? There's a name for that, too.

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    10. This is an Amiga game. There was a mouse bundled with the very first Amiga sold in 1985. Anybody using an Amiga would be intimately familiar with a mouse, and would consider it no more novel than a keyboard.

      The fact that you didn't have one until 7 years later is irrelevant, as is your constant attempts to shove a highly controversial psychological theory into the matter.

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  2. While "completeness" is something I enjoy, finding unique, memorable titles like this is the gold that makes your project compelling. Thanks again for your writing (and playing).

    On the topic of mouse interfaces - and I assume you agree with this, and are just using a kind of shorthand - there's nothing wrong with an all-mouse interface, inherently. What it feels like you're complaining about here is that it's a *clunky* all-mouse interface, designed in such a way that much of it would work better with keypresses.

    I note that many games today deliberately design to allow the entire game to be controlled one-handed with a mouse. (I've heard it said this is partly to market games in Asia, where there's often a culture of playing with mouse in one hand and a cigarette in the other, but am not in a position to say if that's a real thing.)

    Ideally, though, all functions would have a mouse binding AND a keyboard binding, for reasons of accessibility for disabled gamers, if nothing else.

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    1. Yes, when I say "all-mouse is bad," I mean with no other options. The Infinity Engine games COULD be controlled entirely with the mouse, but there were keyboard backups to everything, and the player could decide how to use them in combination for the best comfort and efficiency. That's what I like to see.

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    2. I'm firmly situated in Western Europe, and let me assure you that I choose my games exclusively on the condition that I can smoke (cigarettes sure... uhm, only cigarettes) at the same time.

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  3. Ultimately, whether or not the details of Perihelion's universe have any backing to them is irrelevant because the developers themselves never used them.

    Something I always ask whenever a piece of media has "lore" is: why does it matter to the story? Too often the answer is "it doesn't, really." I feel that throwing out random proper nouns is the peak of this meaningless-detail approach to world building. What is the Twilight Continuum? Who is Carnivore? Why is there a religion around Toxic Waste? It doesn't matter; it's just set dressing, greebles, filler. You might as well try to find a purpose for all the buttons on the Death Star control panel.

    It baffles me that a large contingent of gamers lately seem to think that "lore" automatically results in a better story.

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    1. Worldbuilding and story are two different things, especially in games. And I would say that for video games specifically the former is a lot more important. Having some worldbuilding beyond the immediate story adds to the sense of agency and immersion - that there exists something beyond your immediate quest.
      I agree though that none of it seems to apply to Perihelion, and the lore here is completely cosmetic.

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    2. Well, count me into that contingent, cause as Chet also explains I feel it helps build an atmosphere and world.

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    3. I want to add, I think it's the same reason why people play text adventures or read a certain kind of (fiction) stories and those that don't. If you don't like to fantasize about things only hinted at or read stories that haven't every detail spelled out for you, or if you are the more logical and analytical type you will probably not enjoy these much.

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    4. Actually, I find Perihelion's approach to story building commendable, even if can be accused of being amateurish. There are just enough details and names to make it tantalizing and **fire up the imagination**; the developers avoided the modern compulsive need to "dumb it down" and make the lore complete and accessible. For me, it's clear that the guys had a lot of sheer fun, e.g. coming up with cool names, and I like when a work of art lets you connect to this playful energy (the same with e.g. listening to CDs that might not be fun to listen to, but clearly were a lot of fun to record - you always subconsciously pick up such vibes).

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    5. PetrusOctavianusJuly 18, 2021 at 7:41 AM

      Sounds like the designers of this game did it right, providing enough tantalizing glimpses so that your own imagination can fill in the blanks.
      While lousy designers will force feed the player with walls and walls of lore with fan fiction level writing.
      After all, brevity is the soul of wit. And that applies especially to computer games, I think.

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    7. I think there's a lot of middle ground between "force-feeding the player walls of lore" and just throwing random names at the wall without explanation hoping that something sticks. Best wouldbuilding happens when you are not required to engage with the lore in-depth, but have the option to do that if you want so. Books in TES games are a good example - you don't have to read any of them to play the game, but if you want to learn more about some aspects of Tamriel, they're there, fleshing out the world more.

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    8. Indeed, I think the atmosphere created seems to be pretty good. It's another world in the Dying Earth vein, demon-ridden, built of layers of blood and corruption a million years old. That's what they are trying to convey, not Carnivore's backstory.

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    9. "so that your own imagination can fill in the blanks."

      Huh? So that I can make up my own story? Why bother with a game, then?

      If you're going to put something into a story, have a reason for it. If it doesn't contribute to advancing the plot, then why is it there? Remove it.

      Delete
    10. Why bother with a game if it's a story you want? Read a book.
      My point is that just like your imagination can fill in the blanks in games with primitive graphics (and on the other end of the scale blank out the filler in modern games) so you can fill in the blanks in sketchy world building. Why do we need to know everything about a game world? Leave something to imagination or to be a mystery, and don't let excessive lore and story telling get in the way of the game.
      And just like real history it gets more interesting when there are things to discuss and speculate about, instead of it all being written in stone.

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    11. My opinion is identical to VK's.

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    12. I think Chet's introduction from R.E.Howard is completely valid:

      As a writer, you want your world to appear rich from the get-go and give yourself a playground for future endeavours. Some strands might materialize, while others might not, but the reader won't feel robbed of anything promised to him.

      This is much easier to pull off in a series of inter-connected short stories than one large novel (or computer game to come full circle).

      Delete
    13. I love good worldbuilding and lore, but it should have a connection to what I'm doing in the game. When something really cool is being teased in the writing, I wanna see it in-game and do something with it. That's why I love Morrowind's lore so much: most of it is about places and factions and people you actually get to interact with. (Yes, Morrowind does have a problem with NPCs being too static, but that's a different issue - the important people from the lore may be static and just sit in one place, but they're *there*)

      When Dragon Age Origins was released, I remember it prided itself on its extensive lore. Most of that lore was delivered to you in a lore codex, and it all felt a bit artificial and a bit disconnected. Lots of information about places you'll never visit. You hear the name of a place, and you get a lengthy explanation of its history and how its politics work. But it's an off-map country that you'll never visit.

      The same is true in Pillars of Eternity. That game has a lot of lore, massive walls of text, but at least 50% of it (if not more) is stuff you never get to see in the game.

      Morrowind's lore is so engaging to me because 99% of it is *right there*. It's delivered through in-game books and NPC dialogue, there is no abstract "lore codex", it's all organic information told to you from the perspective of the people living in the world. Some in-game books even disagree on the details of historical events based on their own perspective or agenda. The most detailed lore is all about things within the province of Morrowind, and more specifically on the island of Vvardenfell where the game takes place. You never learn that much about the other provinces of the Empire. Those are left for other games in the franchise to explore. Nobody dumps paragraphs of lore about the Imperial City on you, because it's in a different province and you'll never get to visit it anyway. Instead, the lore is focused on the local... there's even a book that describes a local legend and can help you find a very cool dungeon with an ancient Nord ship burial in it.

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    14. stepped pyramidsJuly 18, 2021 at 9:52 PM

      From what I've seen of the process of successful storytellers, it's useful to have some idea of what the "far away land of Foo" might be if you're going to reference it, but you neither need nor really want to have a book's worth of lore on its history and culture. Similarly, if you're painting a landscape, it might be worth visualizing in your mind what that mountain range in the distance looks like, but you don't need to know that this misty triangle is named Mt. Whatever and is about 8000 feet tall and is home to the scraggly-bearded white-spotted mountain goat. Extraneous detail is a bad thing for stories, but offhand references are not "detail", and the existence of a world outside the narrative is not "extraneous".

      Most of what comes off the worst about this game may be explained, in part, by the fact that it was written in English by people who are not native English speakers and do not necessarily have a firm grasp on what sounds realistic and cool and what sounds like something made up by an 8-year-old with a cardboard box on his head. Much can also be accounted for by understanding that many people are already thinking about sequels halfway through their first game, but very few of them actually get to make those sequels. (I wonder how many single-entry "The Foo Chronicles" or "Legends of Foo" series will end up on CRPGAddict over the years?)

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    15. To me, there are few things in a story that are more annoying than "we only told you about the things that matter".

      In games, it is even worse because of the heavy implication that what you are told about is all that exists in the first place. Not only does it expose the inherent artificiality of the world, but it greatly limits the scope for expansion.

      Do deep lore well, and you'll have plenty of room for the next story, because you've already been teasing the audience about it.

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    16. I know JarlFrank and I disagree on this, but I have the exact opposite feeling about Dragon Age and Morrowind. Morrowind has tons of lore - all delivered in poorly-written books and interchangeable NPCs, and almost none of it *matters*. You'll never turn to the lore to solve a puzzle, or have it add depth to your interaction with a key character (inasmuch as Morrowind even *has* key characters), or have it add emotional weight to a big moment.

      Whereas the majority of lore in Dragon Age is delivered through named characters who have their own particular view and perspective on that lore, and paying attention to the lore allows you to understand your companions and the world better, helps you to navigate complex political situations, gives you a better idea what the consequences of your choices are going to be, and gives the answers to questions you were genuinely interested in having answered.

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    17. Stepped Pyramid: 'From what I've seen of the process of successful storytellers, it's useful to have some idea of what the "far away land of Foo" might be if you're going to reference it, but you neither need nor really want to have a book's worth of lore on its history and culture. Similarly, if you're painting a landscape, it might be worth visualizing in your mind what that mountain range in the distance looks like, but you don't need to know that this misty triangle is named Mt. Whatever and is about 8000 feet tall and is home to the scraggly-bearded white-spotted mountain goat. Extraneous detail is a bad thing for stories, but offhand references are not "detail", and the existence of a world outside the narrative is not "extraneous".'

      Curiously I think that the comparison of the word building/lore with a painting is apt in this specific context since the main person responsible for the story and dialog, Edvard Toth, is also the same person who drew the graphics of the game. It’s an interesting approach probably generated from the visual oriented mind of the author. Visual aspects work through evocation. Often broad evocative strokes in a painting are perfect to immerse you in a strange mysterious fantasy land, to give you the feeling that the world is real and living, and that there is more to be discovered beyond the horizon. I find this “visual”/“evocative” approach of Perihelion also very similar to the “hermetic” approach used in the French comics a là Moebius.

      Also written text can work in the same way. The existence of a bigger, mysterious and interesting world could be communicated through evocation, without being a literal description of the precise details of the history and geography of the fantasy world (that, after the exposition, will inevitably be not so mysterious any more, and hence more trivial and uninspiring).

      Some time ago, I watched a lecture on youtube (sorry don’t remember the name of the lecturer) giving advice for the implementation of lore and world building in novels and books (mainly fantasy and sci-fi) in order to be effective and interesting. The lecturer said that the lore and word building have to be like an iceberg. Only the tip is what you need to explicitly describe in the text, while the most interesting and bigger part is what you don’t describe, but only evoke, the submerged part.

      I would like to remark that this approach embodied in Perihelion, while more common in the past, also due to the technical limitations of the game medium, is a breath of fresh air in the modern gaming landscape. Today everyone expects a huge amount of literal “lore” and “world building” to be present in a game. This is particularly egregious in the new wave of CRPGs, already filled to the brim of unnecessary logorrheic expositions. Even games that don’t need any of this, like the new Dooms, have now included in the game huge encyclopedias detailing the history, politics and other factoids. This is the fetishism of the “lore”. An issue that belongs to the more general problem of modern games: the games are now filled to the brim with uninspired and unnecessary things put there only to fulfill the check-list of “what gamers expect”/”what sells now”.

      In this context, I find the minimalistic and “visual”/“evocative” approach of Perihelion very refreshing.

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    18. Very well said! This is one of the reasons why many fantasy worlds (in games, but also books and movies) don't feel particularly "supernatural" at all. Even though the content is magical, the stories are narrated in a "mechanistic" fashion, completely at odds with "magical" thinking that was the main paradigm in the pre-industrial era. Evocativeness and mystery vs presenting the world in a logical fashion, as a kind of coherent entity that _in principle" could be fully explored and understood. Perihelion's style of narration lies firmly on the magical/evocative said - and rightly so.

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    19. PetrusOctavianusJuly 19, 2021 at 1:51 PM

      My opinion is identical to Nifft Batuff's.

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    20. These questions about lore--how much breadth and depth is necessary, how it is best delivered--are important ones. I don't have all the answers, and I wouldn't condemn any game for trying and getting the balance wrong. To me, the encylopedias and codexes of modern games are mostly optional, so I think if you like your lore delivered more organically, you can just ignore them.

      I also think you have to consider the perspective of the character. If he comes from the world in question, he should presumably know a lot of its history and culture. In such cases, I don't mind if that information is dumped on the player a bit, whether it's in old-school manual format or new-school "codex" format. If the character is a stranger to the world, then his and the player's knowledge are more aligned, and it makes sense if they're both confused a lot of the time. In-game encyclopedias are less defensible in such situations because the character wouldn't have them.

      Anyway, it's a credit to Perihelion that it makes us think about such things. I think it's still going to be a few years at least before we can really analyze these issues in terms of current games on my blog.

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    21. The best lore I've seen has been in Disco Elysium, which takes place in a district. But that district is in a city, in a continent, in a world, and the game takes place in a particular year. And you feel this sense of space and history throughout the game. I think it's largely because the author has been creating this whole world for some time - its a collaborative homebrew tabletop setting he and his artist friends have been using for their D&D campaigns for over a decade, and was also the setting for his first novel.

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    22. And Disco Elysium doesn't push it on you either: many places just exist somewhere but you don't learn much about them. The things you do learn tend to be important to either your character or the NPCs you are conversing with.

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    23. Tristan: That's great to hear about Disco Elysium being built on a campaign because I have a real love of stories like that - the Expanse, for example, is similar and the world there feels lived in and real and the characters really feel individual.

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    24. I agree that that’s part of what makes The Expanse really good.

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  5. It may have been mentioned before, but I find the game's approach to magic and stats very intriguing. The idea of manipulating stats directly, instead of having discrete damage/debuff spells could lead to some very interesing tactical scenarios in a more combat oriented game.

    Perhaps you could even have a game without any specific HP stat and have combat be all about manipulating various stats of a unit until it is unable to fight for some reason or another. After all, being slashed in the sword arm would not only harm you, but cause you to be lesss able to fight back,no?

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    1. It's surprising to me that HP systems are so popular because they do seem silly if taken literally: characters are taking turns hacking each other over and over until someone dies? Or you take it abstractly, which seems like a missed opportunity. But I guess it's easy and accessible.

      As a kid I tried to design my own RPG system without HPs, and I think that approach has the potential to make combat more tactical with better story telling. You don't want to take any hits because no matter your class or level you are still a human and sword in the stomach is bad.

      So the system was more about manipulating positioning, awareness, and ultimately fatigue to create an opportunity to score a hit on the enemies before they did the same for you.

      It seems more interesting than the slug-it-out arms race of massive HP numbers vs rising damage output.

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    2. "Perhaps you could even have a game without any specific HP stat and have combat be all about manipulating various stats of a unit until it is unable to fight for some reason or another."

      It's called Dwarf Fortress, though fights aren't won by "manipulating various stats" unless you count "remaining vital fluid" and "remaining vital organs" as stats :)

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    3. A system that bridges HP-as-numbers and one-hit-and-you-die is from the 1979 Avalon Hill board game Magic Realm.

      Characters in this game have ability counters for attacking and defending (and magic, but never mind that). If you play the more powerful counters, you have to remove a counter from play for fatigue. If you get hit, you have to remove a counter from play as a wound, and powerful hits kill you outright. Armor can turn a killing blow into a wound, or stop wounds completely, but a heavy enough blow will damage or destroy your armor.

      It has a nice dynamic where combat can wear you down gradually but also taking a heavy axe blow on your unprotected body *will* kill you.

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    4. A lot of attempts at anatomical combat in RPGs end up being just as absurd and unrealistic as HP unless you introduce mechanics that a lot of people don't find very fun to play, like bleeding and shock. (Mechanics where bad rolls make later rolls harder are paradoxical in that they're usually more accurate than the alternative but also result in unsatisfying gameplay; the slow financial bleed-out of a game of Monopoly is the classic example.)

      I think the interrelated history of wargaming and tabletop roleplaying has resulted in a dynamic where the relatively small percentage of RPG players who are interested in slow, detailed tactical combat eventually travel the straight path into the West (uh) to wargaming, where they are a well-catered-to majority, not a dwindling minority.

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    5. I was definitely hoping for something that isn't slow and detailed in implementation, and maybe that's difficult. But compare some combination of character skill, equipment, awareness, and lack of fatigue to their opponent. If they are in the same ballpark the most likely outcome is just lost of fatigue as they fend each other off. But if you get in a situation where one or more of these is wildly different then you're probably rolling on the hit table which is generally going to be pretty bad.

      And yeah, if you survive that injury you're in a bad place going forward, but probably quickly rather than Monopoly-slow. But the ideal would be to encourage players to change the terms of the engagement instead of continuing to slug it out. (I also think magic in this system should be less direct damage dealing and more supportive.)

      I guess a lot of this could be captured in an HP system by just making the penalties for flanking and blindness and critical hits more lethal. Four heroes surrounding a high-HP enemy shouldn't resemble chopping down a tree.

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    6. Didn't Fallout do this with VATS? (and probably other games as well). Do enough damage to a specific body part and the opponent can't fight back, or move, or see, or whatever.

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    7. Yeah the Fallout games do it varying degrees, I think another example is the Mechwarrior/Battletech system which assigns hp to locations explicitly. One of the more fun things about the games to be honest, if you can take out a mech with minimal structural damage you’re more likely to be able to salvage it.

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    8. I don't mind HP when you have shields and lasers or other fantastical scenarios. However, when you have humans in melee I would like to see a system where rookies could roughly handle 1 on 1 fights, and high level heroes could survive for a bit in 4 on 1 fights. Anything above the threshold would pretty much be instant casualty. This would make combat be about positioning, which I always want.

      Additionally shields, equipment and formations could act as modifiers, and everything would cost stamina/fatigue, with practically certain defeat when you'd run out.

      This is very vague, and sort of just dressing HP in different clothes, but I would simply prefer combat not being about soaking sword wounds.

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  6. >From 2001's alternate ending.
    Audible chuckle was produced, I had to think about that the second you mentioned that he transforms into some kind of galactical fetus.

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  7. About locations in this game. I checked the OST and it has music for: "Village", "City", "Colony", "Farm", "Mine" and "Tower" locations. If I'm not mistaken, you never visited anything like "Village" or "Farm". These locations were planned but not implemented in the game? Or it is possible to miss them entirely somehow?

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    1. I visited every location on the map. I don't know what "Village" or "Farm" would be, but the list you give doesn't have any obvious music for the NightFall Fortress or the mountain, both of which have music, so those must have been labeled "Village" and "Farm" for some reason.

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  8. You've got "Newcomer" pegged as a 1994 game? Interesting. There are several revisions of the game - which one are you going to play?

    Newcomer has a somewhat legendary status among hardcore C64 fans, particularly those who have never given up on the platform even to this day.

    I guess technically 1994 is correct when you consider the original release date of the very first release, which spent over four years in development and then was only released in Hungary. Even then it turned a lot of heads, especially in terms of graphics, but since the breadbox was already considered a dead platform everywhere else, this version never officially left its home country.

    However, the C64 has a surprisingly dedicated fan base even to this day. The English version that is usually circulating these days is actually an enhanced version that started development in 1997 and wasn't officially released until 2001. It came on seven disks (14 disk sides), so already there is a certain rift among fans between those who insist that the game has to be played on original hardware, loading times be damned (although this game supposedly has a very sophisticated fastloader), and those that say that this version is already meant to be played on an emulator to begin with. That's the version I'm familiar with; not a bad game, and it certainly looks impressive for a game made for a basically obsolete 8-bit platform.

    In 2012, yet another version of the game - still exclusively for the C64 platform - called "Ultimate newcomer" was announced to be released "soon" through retro label Protovision, offering an expanded plot, a bigger game world and even more enhanced graphics. That version has been announced for ages now, but after several announcements the project has fallen silent. There were a few claims that a few copies went out on a donationware basis, but I don't think it ever really got out.

    Playing the 1994 original version might be quite a challenge with the language barrier. I guess the 2001 enhanced edition might still be close enough to the 1994 original (which is only available in Hungarian) that you could play it in place of the original release, especially since it never escaped the original platform. Ultimate Newcomer though... if it exists at all, will probably have to be counted as its own game, considering the amount of additional content that was announced.

    (Had to delete my earlier comment, since I got a few facts wrong).

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    1. Oh, almost forgot - Newcomer is nice, but you have to be wary of a few potentially game breaking bugs, so you know... Keep several save states ready! (Ultimate was supposed to fix those, but that project is basically vaporware I reckon).

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    2. Interesting... I just recently received one of the C64 retro clones... might have to look for this.

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    3. Well, the developers have made Rev2 of the enhanced edition publicly available for free at https://csdb.dk/release/?id=3431 . The manual can be easily googled. So you know... Enjoy. :)

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  9. I'm surprised it scored so well on the GIMLET. Knowing Chet's preferences, I expected that ultra-linear gameplay and rather weak mechanics (or "gameplay loop") would make it sink.

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    1. Well, I did dock it for those things, but on the whole it was an interesting game.

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  10. "Morbid Visions" was a 1986 metal album by Sepultura, I wonder if the studio was named after it

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    1. Since the game was inspired quite a bit by Nocturnus's debut album, I'd wager they were. I know Chet said it was probably a coincidence, but I keep seeing names that could be related to metal bands. Like WatchTower, Carnivore, and probably others I'm missing. (its been a while since I listened to most '80s metal) Guardian could be a reference to Blind Guardian. (not that its unique to that) And Unborn feels like it could come from the Mercyful Fate song, Night of the Unborn.

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    2. I don't remember saying that it was a coincidence. I don't know anything about heavy metal, but if there are that many associations, I think it's a pretty solid theory.

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  11. That quote from Conan is very similar to H.P. Lovecraft's writing style—unsurprisingly, since I believe Lovecraft and Howard were big fans of each other's work and borrowed ideas liberally from one another. And Lovecraft used a very similar strategy of dropping random names made up of even more random letters (Nyarlathotep! Y'ha-nthlei! K'n-yan!) whenever he needed to evoke a sense of background lore in his stories. He also tended to reuse names from one story to another, which even more effectively created the sense that there was a shared mythology in the background of the actual stories. My guess is he probably didn't really think too hard about that lore, though, since his focus was really on the impact of encountering that lore on the psychology of his human characters, rather than the lore itself. The one exception I'm aware of is that he did write up a short "official" history of the Necronomicon to make sure he didn't contradict himself on it, and noted in there that he didn't usually like doing such things.

    Star Trek's "technobabble" strategy worked kind of similarly, I think. They had a pool of pseudoscientific terms that they reused to make it feel like future-science was more cohesive and logical than it really was.

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    1. While you're not technically wrong, I have to take a stance for my man HPL here, because equating his Mythos with 'technobabble' simply isn't justified.

      The entity of Nyarlathotep alone is a central figure of several different stories charcterized through several different facets, while other names/gods/places are indeed meant to spark the reader's imagination instead of getting further explored...

      The man died too young, let's call it a draw, shall we?

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    2. Another great writer from the same era is Clark Ashton Smith. He was the third "big" fantasy author writing for Weird Tales alongside Howard and Lovecraft. IIRC he also exchanged letters with the two, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

      He constructed several fantasy worlds of his own, my favorite of them is Zothique. It has the same kind of vague lore that's never fully explained, but it definitely has a coherent sense of place to it. In the several short stories set in that world, different areas and societies of Zothique are explored, and you hear the same names mentioned again and again.

      Smith was the first fantasy author to use the term "lich" for an undead creature, btw.

      Howard and Lovecraft were great wordsmiths, but Smith surpassed the both of them with his command of language and broad vocabulary. Best fantasy of the era, imo.

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    3. Dude, I've got a ZOTHIQUE pen'n'paper roleplaying game in the works, and I wonder why nobody had this idea ever before. CAS surpasses both of the other musketeers in the discipline of world-building, and few people have ever recognized that.

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    4. Is there something about Smith I missed? I read some of his short stories and I found them to be rather mediocre considering the era. There was some story, I forget if it was him or Derleth, involving a wooden statue that just felt like a half-baked high school writing project. If he improved over that I'd like to be proven wrong.

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    5. Ambrose Bierce has a claim on the first use of "lich" as an undead creature in his fake epigraph for "The Death of Halpin Frayser."

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    6. Some Smith stories I would recommend are: The Empire of the Necromancers, The Charnel God, The Dark Eidolon.

      They can all be read for free here: http://www.eldritchdark.com/

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    7. @MorpheusKitami

      Yes, he has some duds which he wrote for the money or as an assignment, and I personally think his science-fiction stories mostly fall flat by today's standards.

      But as Jarl mentioned, he has several cycles of stories taking place in the same setting, from which Zothique is the largest and most interesting one. I'm enamored with his Averoigne cycle (gothic France, Werewolves and Vampires) as well, but that comes down to personal taste...

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  12. I tell you, some of the really wonderful gifts you’ve developed as CRPGAddict remain fallow in that role. Your more recent writing has become insightful and evocative and really talented. I wonder if you’ve begun to form any world in your own mind – something that, perhaps later in life, you can develop and release, one book at a time?

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    1. Thanks, but I'm not good at writing fiction. I did have this idea once for a fantasy setting in which some previous god had tried to stop violence by changing the physics of the world so that when one person attacked another, he would receive an equivalent wound in return. The setting was going to be about all the creative ways people found to commit violence anyway, with factions devoted to training vicious animals, setting elaborate traps, and so forth. I still have vague plans to get to it, but I'm hoping Irene (who writes fiction very well) does something with it instead.

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    2. Great premise for either author :) It'd be interesting to develop both edge cases and day to day use cases. "That remark really hurt!" How would reciprocity apply to emotional damage? And so much of it might even be unintentional. Yup, this definitely sounds like a lot of fun!

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  13. "I largely ignored offensive spells (mostly because I was too lazy to mix up one-enemy versions of the "storm" spells I'd been using up to this point)"

    This spot-on observation supports my previous point that the "magic" or "psionic" system of this game is a missed opportunity. Rather than discover, savoring, and hoarding each spell like the treasure it should be, we are tossed 40 spells that must be instantiated for each character in different forms (sphere, cone, tunnel, etc.). Too many. What if the format could have been chosen at the time of casting, changing it from a chore to a tactic? What if the mystery of rune discovery had been extended across the game, skillfully managed to enable increasingly powerful capabilities?

    Sadly repeating myself :), this was truly a missed opportunity.

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  14. As tempting as it is to make an Earthbound joke with the "killing a fetus" thing, I really don't like that theory, so instead I'll say that another thing I don't like is games killing off the main characters at the end, especially when it feels like it's only so that it has a bittersweet ending and doesn't have any actual foreshadowing or anything.

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    1. It would have really added depth to leave it to the characters to make such a grave commitment, in order to save the world. Think of the gravitas of that decision point in Fallout 3.

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    2. I wager you don't like the movie Das Boot, then :p

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    3. Or the Great Escape... Oof.

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    4. As someone who runs tabletop roleplaying games:
      - Telling the players their characters died at the end = unhappy players (usually).
      - Giving players the *choice* to sacrifice their characters at the end = very powerful.

      It's a little trickier in videogames though because the "choice to sacrifice" only works if the story acknowledges the *reasons* they made that choice, and what it means for the player (and other players at the table). Often what should be powerful moments for players in videogames are ruined by writing that completely misunderstands their motivations. (I'm particularly thinking of the end of Pillars of Eternity 2 here, but Bioware games have some strong examples of it, particularly some options in the ending of Dragon Age: Origins.)

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    5. While I haven't seen Das Boot, I can't say I had that big of an issue with Great Escape's ending considering it's a war movie and pointless deaths are kinda expected. What I tend to have an issue with are cases like this game where it effectively goes "Oh by the way the characters you've been following are dead now", with nothing really building up to it and it not really accomplishing anything besides making sure the ending isn't too happy. It just ends up feeling like an attempt to add cheap drama for it's own sake, without any actual reason for it to be there

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    6. The ending of Das Boot is pretty firmly in the "done to make the point stick" camp.

      Gur fho znxrf vg gb cbeg, gvrf hc, naq gur pncgnva vf gur svefg bss gb unaqyr gur ebhgvar. Ng guvf cbvag, na Nyyvrq svtugre-obzore fpernzf va, qebcf n obzo ba gur fho, naq fvaxf vg jvgu ab fheivibef. Rirelbar lbh'ir fcrag gur zbivr sbyybjvat vf qrnq rkprcg gur pncgnva.

      Much of the point of the film is the futility of the war and how hopeless the German fight was.

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    7. The ending would have bothered me more if I'd felt any real connection to the characters. The game doesn't give you a lot of insight into who they are or what they think. They're genetically-engineered and "activated" at the beginning, but are they sentient? Had they enjoyed any real "life" at their citadel? Do they believe in their mission, or are they just following programming? I think I always pictured them as somewhat emotionless automatons while I was playing.

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    8. Honestly, part of my mindset is probably from having been binging Atop the Fourth Wall lately and that putting me in a "character deaths should mean something and not just be for cheap drama" mindset, and killing them off at the end usually falls under the cheap drama category because at that point the story's over, and their deaths can't really affect the plot in any way because there isn't any plot left. It's why I have less of an issue if there's something to it, either to prove a point or if it's been foreshadowed or something like that, because then it doesn't just feel like it got pulled out of nowhere to deny a happy ending.

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  15. I wonder if Chester would be tempted to play a Hungarian FMV adventure set (and made to boost their tourism) in the town of Eger. The game is called Yoomurjak's ring, it's available on Steam in Hungarian with English subtitles. I've only played the game and didn't visit the town so far, but I would like to. I've been to Budapest, though...

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  16. "From 2001's alternate ending."

    That caption literally cracked me up, congrats on another win and truly entertaining summary.

    You've got me in a corner to deliver on that post-apocalyptic banner now ;)

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  17. Kudos for avoiding a "Perihelion flew a little too close to the sun" line regarding its ambitious worldbuilding. I don't know if I would've been able to resist, but then I am a hack after all.

    Looks like Liberation is the next sorta big 1993 game on the docket. And another cyberpunk game with way too much text, so that'll be fun.

    (I'm sure it's come up before, but Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a modern Hungarian RPG and it's pretty good. I played it on the hardest setting and it really forced me to consider party and character builds, which you can fortunately respec any time.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got Liberation going yesterday, and . . . wow. I'm exhausted just looking at it.

      I had not heard of Operencia. Sounds like it could be a sequel to, if not the solution to, Perihelion.

      Delete
    2. Out of curiosity, I looked up Liberation and stumbled on some old Amiga mag reviews. According to Amiga Power, the game's publisher claimed it will take you a lifetime to complete. Amiga Format recommends playing the game with a mouse.

      Euhm... Good luck, I suppose?

      Delete
    3. Liberation is like the first game. It will procedurally-generate thousands of missions. I think you can consider it "won" after you've finished the first of them. My bigger issue is that they've eliminated experience, levels, and skills, so it doesn't really meet my definition of an RPG.

      Delete
    4. Indeed you can consider Liberation won after beating mission 1: game will simply generate another mission WITHOUT taking away the data crystal from your inventory, so you instantly find out where the next captive is being held.

      Mission 1 takes hours, any other takes minutes. Gamebreaking overlook !

      (IMO, further missions wouldn´t be worth playing even if that was fixed tho, but let´s leave it for the actual Liberation post)

      Delete
    5. Thanks for clarifying that. From the little I read about Liberation, I thought the game world was designed by hand, not procedurally generated. Good job by the marketeers then, and not so good job by the reviewers.

      Delete
  18. I think, for once, Amiga Power gave an RPG a proper review!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I know I am late and the party is already over but let me add that one piece... killing the fetus at the end could be a reference to Dying Fetus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dying_Fetus), a quite well known Death Metal band founded in 1991.

    ReplyDelete

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