Sunday, April 10, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: UUS and DES

 
Jumping across moving platforms. Jumping with my sword in my hand is probably not the safest thing.
       
In the comments for my first entry, Bitmap offered a timely reminder that I was a bit disappointed in the ease of combat in Ultima Underworld and wished I'd played as a spellcaster. Since I wasn't too far into the sequel, I decided to create a new character and try the game as a mage. I figured while I was at it, I might as well make the character a woman. I named her "Ravata" because she always moves at a trot, and ravata is "trot" in Finnish.
 
I'm not sure how much the initial character choice matters, anyway. There are no item restrictions in the game, and anyone can cast spells. It seems to me that your skill selections probably matter more than your starting class. If I really want to play a mage, I need to channel points in to "Mana" and seek magical solutions to problems. That's not my normal nature, but I'll see if I can manage.
        
Creating a new mage.
     
I started the game as last time and talked to every NPC a second time. This time, I also checked out the items in their chambers, taking everything that didn't explicitly belong to them. I figured I'd establish a central location for excess items later. There were locked chests in Lord British's and Nystul's chambers that I couldn't open. I otherwise found a lot of food, water, candles, and potions, plus a full outfit of leather (armor, helmet, boots, gloves) and a hand axe.
   
I still couldn't find the entrance to the sewers. Looking at the auto-map, I saw some hints of secret doors in a few areas, including one off the entry hall and one each at the ends of the central east-west corridor. All of them did turn out to be secret doors, but all were locked and resisted bashing.
   
Nystul's secret lab had runes, which I picked up despite having no rune bag. He had a variety of books on the walls of his room, none of which had any detailed text (unless there's a way to read them that I'm not seeing). Most of them were real-world books. The titles were:

  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. I tried to read it about 10 years ago and didn't get it. Maybe I should try again.
  • 101 Avatar Jokes by Chuckles the Jester. 
  • On the Properties of Runestones by Nystul.
  • Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber. I've never read any Fritz Leiber.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson, which was of course the subject of its own 1988 Interplay game.
  • At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is also on my long list of authors to try.
  • Something Under the Bed is Drooling by Bill Watterson. I've never understood the appeal of Calvin and Hobbes.
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
  • Collected Historical Plays by Raymundo of Britain. Raymundo, the avatar of Raymond Benson, ran the theater in Britain in Ultima VII
  • Mysteries of the Abyss, "being a chronicle of the hubris of Tyball and of his defeat by the Avatar in the Great Stygian Abyss." This might be the only reference to the events of Ultima Underworld in any of the other games.
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Great movie. Overquoted.
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I have this theory that "Sam-I-am" is a play on Sam Iamb, as the book is written in iambic tetrameter.
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. His real first name was "Lyman." I'd go with "Frank," too.
  • Keys to the Black Gate by Anton of New Magincia. Anton was the assistant that Alagner sent to Buccaneer's Den to spy on the Fellowship. He was caught and put in a cell, but I freed him. I'm glad to hear he survived to write a book. I wonder what it's about.
   
Moving on, Nystul's lab contained a bag with three runestones: UUS, DES, and POR. A note with them said that there is "no practical application found" for the spell. UUS DES POR would mean something like "up-down movement," which might mean something like "Levitate."
    
I forgot to try this spell after I found the runes. Next time.
     
A button in Nystul's lab opened a secret door. This led down a hallway to a T-junction. Both corridors led to portcullises which had creatures behind them: a giant rat to the right and two slugs to the left. I opened both and killed the creatures. Neither injured me for even one hit point.
  
Combat is the same as the previous game. You activate combat mode, which causes your hand and your active weapon to come into view. You right-click on various parts of the screen to perform various attacks--top for an overhead bash, the middle for a slash, and the bottom for a thrust. You hold the mouse button to pull back the weapon and swing. The longer you hold it, the more damage it does. You can supposedly tell how healthy the enemy is by the gargoyle's eye color at the top of the screen, but you can imagine how well that works for me.
       
First combat!
     
Neither of the two chambers led anywhere else, and as I was heading back to Nystul's rooms, I saw a sign (missed earlier) that said: "Experiments in progress." So I guess I just killed a bunch of lab animals.

Returning to the map, I noted the same hint of a secret door on the north wall of the Avatar's chambers. I went back and found the door, which opened without any trouble. It led to a small room containing a backpack with a dagger, torches, food, water, a lockpick, and a bedroll, plus a rune bag and several runes. Clearly, I was supposed to know about this chamber. I took a look in the manual, and sure enough, it mentions it in the tutorial section.
      
Trying and failing to punch open a secret door.
     
The authors of the game didn't even try to hand-wave the use of runic magic in the sequel. In Underworld, we were told that magic just works different in the underworld. Apparently, it also works different if the castle just happens to be encased in blackrock, and the Avatar anticipated this event by bringing his rune bag from the first game--although he shouldn't have had it unless it accompanied his body back to Earth through the "dream portal." 

Of the spells listed for a Level 1 caster, I have the runes for BET OR IN ("Luck"), ORT JUX ("Magic Arrow"), IN MANY YLEM ("Create Food"), and BET IN SANCT ("Resist Blows"). I lined up "Luck" on the rune shelf.
   
By the end of this session, I was less enthusiastic about playing a mage. The spell interface could have used a lot more work. I specifically would have liked to see three changes:

  • Shorten the message window and put two additional rune shelves there.
  • Pause the rest of the game when the rune bag is opened.
  • Map the letter keys on the keyboard to the 24 runes, which conveniently each begin with a different letter of the alphabet (there is no X or Z).
 
As it is, if you last cast IN LOR ("Light") and then encounter a creature and want to cast ORT JUX ("Magic Arrow"), you've got to open the rune bag, remember what symbol stands for what letter, and start clicking with your mouse while you're simultaneously trying to dodge or flee the creature with your left hand. The existing interface certainly doesn't encourage the use of a variety of spells. 
         
These secret perimeter passages will make accessing the rest of the castle much faster.
      
The secret area opened into a series of perimeter hallways that encircle the first level of the castle. These exist in Ultima VII, too. I ran through them, hitting switches to open the secret doors. I found a ladder behind a door in the northwest (which opened with Dupre's key) and another in the southeast.
   
The northwest ladder took me down to Level 3. (Level 2 had the cellars and armory beneath the kitchen, plus Nystul's secret lab.) I started encountering hostile rotworms and bats. My torch ran out and I had to light a candle, which offers much less light. I admire how the authors programmed different levels of darkness, but I wouldn't mind if the game were just a bit brighter. Fortunately, I soon found the LOR rune needed for IN LOR ("Light"), so I don't imagine I'll be navigating by candlelight again.
       
Swinging at a bat. You can also see the rune bag interface here. I have "Luck" on the rune shelf.
     
The LOR rune was in a chamber occupied by a thief named Fissif. He admitted he had come through the underworld from Buccaneer's Den to burgle the castle during the festivities. All he managed to get was my pocketwatch and the key to the armory, but he lost the latter in a fight with a reaper. "Oo art thou to be putting on airs?" he asked. "Anyone'd think yer the bleedin' Avatah 'r sumthin'." He was cowed by my response, and I got my pocketwatch back. I had options to take him to jail or let him go. I chose the latter, but then he attacked me when I started rooting through his stuff. After a few blows from my axe, he surrendered and wandered off to submit himself to the castle guards.
         
Only someone as deontological as the Avatar would attempt to arrest someone with all that's going on.
     
A room next to Fissif's held a headless, which Fissif had warned about, and here I suffered my first death. I beat at him with my axe for a few rounds, but he knocked away my hit points with a few blows. I backed off and tried retreating while shooting "Magic Arrow," which worked until I ran out of mana. I could have fled, but I wanted to see what the death screen looked like. It hasn't changed from the first Underworld.
         
There you go.
       
On a reload, I noticed that the headless didn't seem to be very hostile in the first place, so I just went past him. There was a giant rat in his chambers that didn't share his docility. I found a buckler, a pair of leather leggings, chain boots, 7 coins, some cheese, and a short sword that turned out to be magical. A second headless stopped me from fully exploring one of the chambers, but I don't think there was anything there but trash. I saved the headless for later, annotated them on the map, and moved on.
      
Success! I decapitated him! Wait . . .
       
I soon came to a ladder to Level 4, shrugged, and took it. It brought me to the side of a large chamber full of water. A lurker was, well, lurking in the water. I stabbed at him with my short sword until he backed off, then finished him off with some "Magic Arrows." I reached Level 2, which among other things got me the IN BET MANI ("Lesser Heal") spell.
 
I try to stab a lurker.
     
Despite a miserable "Swimming" skill, I jumped into the water and followed it around the chamber to a drain, which took me to another chamber. The bones of some previous adventurer rested on a ledge here, along with a magic wand. There was no way out of this area, so I returned to the previous chamber and then back up. I thought I would be exploring Level 4 prematurely, but instead I learned a useful lesson: explore new ladders when you find them; otherwise, you might miss secret areas unconnected to the rest of their levels.
  
Resuming my explorations on the previous level, I reached a locked portcullis, on which I broke two picks and beat at it with a dagger until the dagger broke. Just north of that was an area in which floor squares kept appearing and disappearing. I ran across this area and found another portcullis that was unlocked; it opened into the same area as the first one, which opened from a chain on the wall.
   
Moving on, I killed a couple of rotworms, a giant spider, and a couple of bats. For some reason, bats immolate when they die, perhaps because it was too hard to make an animation that showed their corpses dropping to the floor. Much of the level from here consisted of raised walkways with water on both sides. Occasional gaps in the walkways had platforms that rose and fell. I could wait for these or just jump the gaps. In a side chamber (I had to pick a lock, which surprisingly worked), I found a letter that explained these platforms. They're some kind of "moving platform system" maintained by two guys named "Sabo" and "Harry." Apparently, one of the elevator platforms is jammed. 
      
A note from Harry to Sabo. I think they're both dead.
        
I soon reached Level 3 by clearing out a room full of rotworms. They seem to have been attracted by some rotten meat. After that, I cleared a hallway full of slugs and bats.
     
This is disgusting.
      
The corridors ended at a metal door that I couldn't pick (I broke my last pick trying) or bash. On the way back, I missed a jump and fell into the water. Instead of reloading, I rolled with it (partly grateful for the opportunity to map the walls of the water-filled chambers). My poor "Swimming" skill swiftly knocked back my hit points, though, and by the time I crawled onto a platform, I was almost out. I unrolled my sleeping bag and rested for a while, then took a ladder down to Level 4 and a chamber full of giant rats. I followed a series of corridors into a swamp, where I met a reaper. I couldn't defeat him with any of my resources, including all the castings from two wands and all the "Magic Arrows" my mana could conjure.
 
Just before I died.
  
Back on Level 3, I continued mapping the contours of the water-filled area. A corridor brought me to the other side of the locked metal door, which was a room full of slugs. Even after I killed four or five, emptying a barrel full of cheese caused three or four more to appear. The remains of Harry or Sabo were in the corner; he had apparently been overcome by the vermin.
   
Another southern "massive" door failed to yield to my blows. Continuing my swim, I found another alcove with bones, a backpack, and a lurker. The backpack had basic adventuring gear (torches, a dagger) and a yellow potion. I had a lot more trouble with this lurker than with the first one. I couldn't seem to hit it no matter how I oriented myself. I had to take it out with "Magic Arrow."
    
I emerged from the water on the north end of the level. I followed some corridors there, killing a giant spider and a rotworm, before coming to a hallway strewn with numerous bones and skulls. Ignoring such an obvious warning, I pressed forward, entered a room with two gazers, and was killed immediately by a blast from the eye of one of them.
      
This was a bad sign.
     
Miscellaneous notes:
   
  • I couldn't remember if there were weapon and armor restrictions on mage characters. While I was leafing through the manual to check, I noticed its description of the shepherd class: "A fiercely independent tribesman." What a weird way to describe a shepherd.
  • The hallways aren't wide enough for you and an NPC. I end up "driving" a lot of NPCs in front of me to the nearest open chamber.
  • Two orbs in Nystul's chambers are locked on to the throne room and the dining hall. The creators managed to put a stained glass window in the throne room but not a throne. 
         
This is what the throne room looks like in full light.
      
  • It didn't occur to me until this game that there are no two-handed weapons in the Underworld series, probably because the creators couldn't make it work graphically. 
  • If your computer sucked and you had to turn the "Detail" setting to "Low," this is what you got. Ironically, you can pick out objects on the floor better on this setting.
         
Less immersive but, at times, less confusing.
      
  • Health and mana regenerate very slowly. You need to rest or use potions for any serious regeneration.
  • I failed to notice exactly where or when, but I repeatedly gained some experience from non-combat actions. Not as much as for combat, but some.
  • It's annoying how you can pick items up from their default locations but then the game tells you there's not enough room when you try to put them back down. You have to hurl them across the room.
    
As I contemplate reloading and returning to the castle, my mind is on what skills to prioritize for training. There are 20 skills in the game, grouped into four rough categories:
   
  • Combat: "Attack," "Axe," "Barehand," "Defense," "Mace," "Missile," "Sword."
  • Magic: "Casting," "Mana," "Lore."
  • Stealth and Movement: "Acrobat," "Picklock," "Search," "Stealth," "Swimming," "Track," "Traps."
  • Other: "Appraise," "Charisma," "Repair."
    
I suspect "Track" (lets you know when creatures are near) is relatively worthless. "Swimming" only seems to be necessary if you're going to be doing it for a while and you mind healing the long way. I'm not sure "Stealth" really helps unless you don't want to fight at all, but you need to fight to gain experience. I never noticed any problem finding secret doors in the last game despite a low "Search" ability, and I'm not sure how often I'll need to disarm "Traps." "Appraise" and "Charisma" are only useful if the bartering mechanic becomes important; maybe it will in other worlds. The individual weapon skills are useful, but since weapons break, you can't always be sure which you'll need. I suspect the generic "Attack" and "Defense" are better options along with "Mana." "Casting" just prevents you from having to click the runes multiple times (there's no penalty for trying and failing). "Lore" supposedly helps identify items. In short, my suspicions are that:

  • "Attack," "Defense," and "Mana" are vital.
  • "Lore," "Charisma," "Appraise," and "Repair" may be useful. The individual weapon skills may also be useful to the extent I settle in with a single type of weapon.
  • The rest of the skills have dubious utility.
   
I'll take ROT-13 hints on whether I'm right or wrong on any of the above.
      
Where I stand with Level 3.
     
That Calvin and Hobbes bit was just a joke, by the way. Like everyone else, I think Watterson's work is moving and fantastic. I just like to imagine readers sputtering.
 
Time so far: 4 hours

104 comments:

  1. Amusingly, "Mysteries of the Abyss" is also the title of the official hint book published by Origin for Ultima Underworld I; "Keys to the Black Gate" is the Ultima 7 hint book. So it's a bit of a meta joke.

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  2. > I've never read any Fritz Leiber.

    Definitely recommend it, and I think you're in for a treat if you do. Leiber coined the term "sword and sorcery" and the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories (of which Swords against Death contains the first several) pointed the way for RPG character archetypes and plots for decades after.

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    1. Seconded, if you have the slightest affinity for swashbuckling sword and sorcery, street level adventures with a sense of humor, you should absolutely check out the entire 'Swords' series by Fritz Leiber.

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    2. Lanhkmar has always struck me as somewhere that would be an amazing setting for a video game

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    3. “Swords against Lanhkmar” is the only novel length story and it’s my favorite. It’s both an adventure but also extremely ironic and written by someone with a deep appreciation of Shakespeare.

      Also you got me with the Calvin and Hobbes joke!

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    4. “Swords against Lanhkmar” is the only novel length story and it’s my favorite. It’s both an adventure but also extremely ironic and written by someone with a deep appreciation of Shakespeare.

      Also you got me with the Calvin and Hobbes joke!

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    5. Adding my name to the list of people who was sputtering about Calvin and Hobbes.

      Even in "The Swords of Lankhmar" it's pretty easy to tell which part was first published as a standalone novella. Fun though. One of a few classic fantasy authors that I first encountered in the D&D Deities and Demigods sourcebook (along with Lovecraft and Moorcock, who I still haven't read any of).

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    6. Fritz Leiber and his fantasy stories are definitely worth reading. He's more or less responsible for the the "transient adventurer" archetype in fantasy RPG's, because he himself wandered around during the Great Depression looking for any kind of work he could find.

      His writing style is also very unique, rich and colorful with a lot of description and atmosphere. Highly recommended.

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    7. Leiber is also mentioned directly as a pretty big influence on early DnD.

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    8. ...to the point where Lankhmar itself is one of the official campaign settings for second edition D&D.

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    9. Lankhmar is a wonderful setting, some of the licensed AD&D material for it is really well done too.

      But I want to emphasize that Leiber is very funny, in subtle and non-subtle ways. He's just a fantastic writer.

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  3. It may possibly be a chance that some of the skills are covered by NPCs you meet who sell their services.

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  4. I always thought of the Avatar as an exemplar of virtue theory, not deontology.

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    1. People who have studied ethics more seriously than I have may disagree, but I've always seen virtue ethics as a fundamentally deontological system. Deontology is about doing your "duty," after all, and virtue ethics just informs that concept of "duty" with your own virtues. It's still about what you DO--Is this action honest? Is it just? Is it compassionate?--rather than the effect it has.

      But sure, if you had to pick one, virtue ethics would win out.

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    2. Pfft, what MY Avatar does is clearly dictated by the amount of virtue points he gets for doing it!

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    3. One can take virtues consequentialistically or deontologically (and also aesthetically, as arguably Nietzsche and the early Confucian tradition might hold, which likely cross-cuts here). How that difference plays out in the Ultima games I have no idea, having not played enough of them (sigh) to tell.

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    4. I think virtue ethics stands apart from deontology, because deontology is about what's universal in ethics ("do only that which you would will all people do"), while virtue is entirely about you as an individual. But it's also not consequentialist, since it's about who you are, not the effects of what you do. The three systems (deontology, consequentialism, and virtue) cover three aspects of ethics: the part that's universal, the part that's situational, and the part that's personal.

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  5. Hey, you got ME sputtering by that 'Calvin and Hobbes' bit.

    Nice anecdote: It is estimated that Bill Watterson misses out on a cool four billion (with a b) dollars by not licensing any merchandise for his creation. One has to admire that self-restraint, and if you think about it, you've never seen 'Calvin and Hobbes' on a lunchbox.

    In conclusion, not understanding its appeal would put you clearly in the minority.

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    1. I'm kind of like Bill Watterson. I miss out on a cool $100 per year by not having ads on my site.

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    2. You also have to respect the fact that when Bill said he was done with Calvin Hobbes... he was done. He said he had nothing else to add. No milking the series for all it was worth until it became empty and meaningless. Although as big fan of his (along with my whole family), we still miss the duo.

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    3. I have all the books and have re-read them several times, and I agree with Bill's decision to retire.

      Unlike Peanuts, where Schultz would just create a new character or focus on different ones as time went on, C&H never changed the core characters. I'm honestly surprised he got 10 years out of it.

      Plus towards the end of the series, I started to get slightly uncomfortable with Calvin. Having an imaginary friend is one thing, but in other ways he was starting to show sociopath tendencies. (No one else is really "real")

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    4. In the many months I've read (and overwhelmingly enjoyed) your blog, this is the first time I've wanted to kneecap you, Chester.

      Do better.

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  6. Uus Por and Des Por are the spells that teleport you up and down a dungeon level, back in Ultima 5. However, Nystul doesn't appear until Ultima 6. Levitate is Uus Por Hur or Uus Por Ylem, depending on the game.

    Also, Britannian magic traditionally has Xen (creature) and Zu (sleep) runes; although Xen is mostly used for summoning spells, and I am not surprised they didn't implement those in UU.

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  7. Oh man, Pale Fire is great. It does take some effort to figure out how to read - what worked for me was to read the poem through first, then go back and reread it while referencing the notes, though there are probably other approaches that work better for other folks. Once you get into it it’s a twisty, puzzley labyrinth to navigate, as well as lyrical and heartfelt. I’m guessing it’s just included because it was someone’s favorite book rather than because it has any particular resonance to the plot - I haven’t played UU2 though so maybe there is a trip to a mid century American college town somewhere in there!

    Back on topic, is there a reason the dungeons below the castle are so deep and dangerous? I don’t remember anything like that in previous Ultimas though it’s been a while.

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    1. Yes, Britannia has a history of dangerous dungeons beneath it. U4 had Hythloth, and U6 had a sprawling set of caverns that connected to Buccaneer's Den. This game is clearly following the U6 tradition, particularly with the water and bridges.

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    2. Ah right, I dimly remember that bit of Ultima 6 now - thanks!

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    3. Pale Fire is one of my favorite books. It prefigures both hypertext and adventure games - you can famously follow a chain from the very first footnote and get to the book's biggest secret in only a few links, and it's as much about solving its puzzles as it is about an aesthetic experience, which isn't to discount its emotional power. When I first read it, I thought the poem was intentionally bad, but now I find it moving and sweet. I still prefer to mostly read the notes and re-read the poem as a whole after I've finished the book.

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    4. Pale Fire can be read on many levels, some of which might even appeal to you, including as a critique of eccentric academics at a liberal arts university in a rural college town (Nabokov was speaking from experience).

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  8. Never read Leiber nor Lovecraft? That kinda surprises me, both are classics of the fantasy genre.

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    1. Plus he lives in Maine, Lovecraft Country as it's otherwise known ;)

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    2. I thought Lovecraft country was where I USED to live, on the north shore of Boston. Maine is Stephen King country.

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    3. Yeah, definitely Massachusetts is the main area - Innsmouth is supposed to be near Ipswich, Kingsport is basically Marblehead, and Arkham is also supposed to be in the neighborhood as Innsmouth though it’s based on Salem. Lovecraft country extends a bit further, though: Dunwich is in the sticks to the west, maybe around Springfield or Worcester, and a couple of stories are set in Providence. I can’t offhand think of any of his in Maine, though Stephen King predictably did set his great Lovecraft pastiche Jerusalem’s Lot up there.

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    4. At the Mountains of Madness would be a good single read of Lovecraft even if you didn't read more of his stories.

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    5. I read a few Lovecraft works as a teen and found them interesting but a bit heavy (in terms of prose, not content), probably I would need to revisit them as an adult.

      I loved Shadow over Innsmouth though, probably because it is one of the more action-packed stories.

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    6. Ahem, Lovecraft Country is meant to be the entirety New England, which technically encompasses Maine as well. But this was a throwaway joke to begin with.

      Regarding his literature, if it hasn't attracted you in any way up to now, I'd say don't bother...

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    7. Lovecraft's imagination is great, but his prose is deliberately antiquated. I prefer Clark Ashton Smith who uses the same style but is better at it.

      While Lovecraft is mostly known for his cosmic horror, I'm going to recommend his often overlooked dream cycle of Unknown Kadath. Very underrated fantasy.

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    8. Clark Ashton Smith was definitely a better and more prolific writer than Lovecraft. Mainly because Smith wrote stories so he could support his parents. He didn't have a problem making editorial changes to sell something.

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    9. The big thing to know about Lovecraft is that he really wanted to be Poe, and so a lot of his stuff is trying to write in a similar style - there’s even some similar set ups. Of course, Poe is the much superior writer, but Lovecraft has some really interesting ideas and has a really good sense of world building. Insinuate there’s something greater but without giving too much detail that makes it seem silly. Something which Stephen Kind would then later build upon.

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    10. If there's a single person Lovecraft wanted to be I think Lord Dunsany is closer to the mark. His Dream Cycle stories are obvious Dunsany pastiches, while his Cthulhu stuff is inspired by all or most of the "weird" writers that came before him, from Poe to Arthur Machen. Anyway, there's no escaping the influence of Poe, since he's like the cornerstone of SF, Weird and Horror (and maybe Crime too), and some of HPL's stories are obvious Poe pastiches.

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    11. Oh, and I agree with JarlFrank about Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. I found it much more enjoyable and interesting than the overrated Mountains of Madness. Of the Cthulhu stuff I found The Shadow over Innsmouth the superior story.

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    12. I agree about Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath being one of the best Lovecraft stories. The first time I read Mountains of Madness it was a slog due to the large amount of descriptive narrative bogging down the plot. I enjoyed it the second time because I already knew the end and could enjoy the scenery. The Shadow over Innsmouth is an absolute potboiler, that's unusual for Lovecraft!

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    13. I more meant by writing style, as Poe was sometimes want to use some purple prose. The difference was that Poe was able to do this without it sounding pretentious, whilst Lovecraft very much wanted to use archaic language in a slightly elitist way. Of corse, he was also inspired heavily by other weird authors. But from reading his stuff, it’s very obvious to me that he wanted to be a modern Poe.

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    14. There's a famous quote from a letter by Lovecraft:

      "There are my 'Poe' pieces & my 'Dunsany' pieces—but alas—where are my Lovecraft pieces?"

      It took him a while to find his own voice.

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  9. I remember when you made your Ultima Underworld character, you picked the black guy as your avatar because of the hairstyle. Hairstyle is your most important cosmetic feature of a character, IIRC.

    How do you pick the appearance of a female character though? Do you also look at the hairstyle there? Skin color? Facial features? Or do you just go with whatever, not caring as much about individual aspects of appearance like you do with male characters.

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    1. I don't play female characters often enough to really have a system. This time, I'm not even sure I looked at all of them. The first one was acceptable, so I went with her.

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    2. My female characters tended to look like my first proper girlfriend - despite a less than amicable breakup and having well and truly moved on.

      Twelve years later she contacted me out of nowhere and as of last month we're married.

      She was a bit smug that I played her in video games all that time.

      Can't blame her.

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    3. "[...] having well and truly moved on."

      Congratulations!

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    4. @Tristan Gall Nice story and congrats to you both!!

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    5. You're never really over someone if you play as them in videogames.

      I can't quit you Mario!

      And congratulations

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    6. That was a wholesome story, Tristan.

      I could have sworn you once got on my case for saying something that you perceived as anti-gay and you said you had been bullied all your life for being gay. I've had that in my mind for years now, and I guess I must have been thinking of some other commenter.

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  10. I better ROT13 this: lbh tbg zr fchggrevat jvgu gung 'Pnyiva naq Uboorf' wbxr, gnax lbh.
    Hope it helps.

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  11. There is a penalty for trying and failing to cast a spell, every so often it will backfire and hurt you quite significantly, so i would also place Casting as a key stat to level up if you are going down the magic route.

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    Replies
    1. Seconded.

      Pnfgvat fubhyq or whfg nf vzcbegnag nf "Znan" sbe nal fcryypnfgvat punenpgre. V vzntvar gur pbafrdhraprf bs n snvyrq purpx ner jbefr/zber rivqrag vs lbh nggrzcg uvtu yriry fcryyf ng n ybj fxvyy yriry.

      About the other skills:

      VZUB, Nggnpx, Qrsrafr, lbhe jrncba bs pubvpr fxvyy, Znan naq Pnfgvat ner birejuryzvatyl zber vzcbegnag guna gur erfg.

      Yber vf tbbq va gurbel, ohg rira ng uvtu yriry gurer ner n ybg bg vgrzf lbh jba'g or noyr gb vqragvsl.

      Ba gur bgure unaq, vs lbh zvaznk lbhe ohvyq jvgu whfg gur tbbq fxvyyf, gur tnzr (be ng yrnfg pbzong) jvyy orpbzr irel rnfl, irel dhvpxyl.

      N srj fxvyyf unir n qverpg fcryy rdhvinyrag (Jngre Jnyx, Bcra) naq znxrf zber frafr gb vairfg va gur trareny fcryypnfgvat fxvyyf engure guna gur fcrpvsvp barf.

      Delete
    2. I think you can also just do a minor backfire that wastes mana, so I'd concur Casting is important if you plan to actually cast other in ways you could theoretically save scum around.

      Delete
  12. If you plan on writing lots of notes on the automap, you might want to use the wide right margin for them, the same way the first level was pre-annotated. The actual map area doesn't extend all the way to the right. I didn't realize this when I played the first UU a couple of years ago, and my maps were very messy.

    Also, do you still have a save file for the first paladin character? Would be interesting to know if he got the same rune set as your mage. Apparently the starter pack is somewhat randomized, some runes being rarer or not appearing at all for some classes. In the starter pack, that is.

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  13. Yep, you got me with the Calvin and Hobbes line. We have (or had, before we moved) several of the books.

    Lori and I both think that The Princess Bride in book form is even better than the film, but the film is great. William Goldman also wrote a couple of interesting books on screenwriting and the film industry - I think the titles are "Adventures In the Screen Trade" and "Which Lie Did I Tell?" Goldman did the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among others.

    I liked the original Ultima Underworld - which blew me away! - better than UUW2. I kept coming up against Uncanny Valley syndrome with the second game; the less realistic and less canon first game worked better for me. The castle didn't feel right, and the personalities of the Ultima paragons (Iolo, Dupre, etc.) didn't feel right compared to their roles in Ultima.

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    Replies
    1. Was it the whole thing of Iolo swinging his sword at the Avatar if you took an apple from his room? :D

      Delete
  14. Some ROT13 skill stuff:

    You're going to want at least some in

    gur fxvyy bs npebong, orpnhfr gur snyy qnzntr trgf naablvat

    and you should _definitely_ re-evaluate your stance on

    gur fxvyy bs pnfgvat, orpnhfr uvture-yriry fcryyf unir jbefr guvatf unccra

    ReplyDelete
  15. "What a weird way to describe a shepherd."

    You should meet more shepherds. Also, do yourself a favor and read the story, "Ill Met in Lankhmar" by Leiber.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My favorite Lankhmar story is "Lean Times in Lankhmar". It still makes me laugh every time I read it.

      Delete
    2. Oh yeah that one is great! Modern fantasy is all grim dark these days. It’s good to be reminded that the author who practically invented the genre and created a truly dark setting in Lanhkmar still had a sense of humor.

      Delete
  16. Rarely have I been so relieved on this site as when I read the last paragraph. Sputtering confirmed.

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  17. Skill spoilers (ROT-13):

    Vaqvivqhny jrncba fxvyyf nqq gb nggnpx NAQ qrsrafr juvyr hfvat gung jrncba, fb gurl ner zber rssvpvrag ng svefg ... ohg lbh unir gb or hfvat gung jrncba.

    V nyfb oryvrir vaqvivqhny jrncba fxvyyf ner zhpu zber rssvpvrag guna nqqvat qverpgyl gb nggnpx/qrsrafr. Lbh fubhyq vqragvsl n pynff bs jrncba naq genva gung rneyl.

    Svanyyl, pnfgvat vf arprffnel gb qb gur uvtu-yriry fcryyf eryvnoyl jvgubhg uhegvat lbhefrys. Qba'g vtaber vg. Naq Yber vf irel pbairavrag.


    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh man, that reaper. I learned the hard way that exploring a complete level of the sewers and finding every secret is a sure way to die. It will be a while before you can safely take on that one, at least it was for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Having your ass kicked by a strong monster when you are way underleveled very early in the game is a mechanic used a lot in Fromsoftware/Souls games... of course because of the satisfaction of coming back later and kick HIS ass.

      Delete
  19. One of the few things I can remember about the UU games is how nice it was to find a blackrock weapon. Finally, something that didn't break constantly.

    Repair gets a lot of use. Especially if you wanted to focus on a weapon type.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I don't think this counts as a spoiler but: you don't need to kill the reaper but it's nice to get that key that Fissif mentioned. Easiest method is to lure him out, run in, grab key from floor, run out again.

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  21. It's funny how The Summoning has a whole spell memorization system, even governed by one of the character stats, but renders it completely pointless by having the game pause while in the casting screen - while UW2 does the complete opposite of that and neither of the systems work too well.

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  22. I didn't even register the joke. If someone asked me what Calvin and Hobbes was, I'd say "It's kinda like Snoopy, right?"

    Neuromancer is fun.

    I don't find Lovecraft particularly readable.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The headless you died to is one of the things I remember most from the game, because that was where Spoony's review of the game ended. He kept on trying to kill it, and when that wasn't working out he decided to just abandon the game. At the same time, that also made this the only Ultima game I didn't get heavily spoiled years before playing. Did still lead to a bit of a false impression where I thought the game would be brutal, although that went away as soon as I realized the headless is very easy to avoid.

    I'd imagine the bats combust on death because it's an easy way to unload the sprite while giving a reason for there not being a body, although they probably made it fire specifically because they thought it looked cool.

    As someone with way too big of a soft spot for 90s 3D, I love how the low detail looks.

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure they did it that way with the bats because of the issue with the last game where originally if too many items (or sprites I think?) would cause items to start disappearing. Especially nasty because it could happen even on the first floor and it would start with your inventory. They fixed it here, but they probably overcompensated so it wouldn't be a problem at all.

      Delete
  24. It's interesting, your entry here encompasses most of the distance that Noah Antwier (The Spoony Experiment) reached with UW2.

    He pretty much rants the whole video about the headless being impossible to kill, the secret room holding your rune bag being ridiculous (apparently he didn't read the manual either) and after finally slaying the headless being one-shot killed by the gazers. A rat did him in too.

    Probably my favorite comment was how the Avatar "Apparently showed up to the party out of shape and wearing burlap."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, I've heard of Spoony but never watched him. I take it he's the kind of "reviewer" that just insults and swears at every game because it's funny that way, regardless of the actual game content?

      Delete
    2. I've only seen his Ultima stuff, but the impression I got is he's still a bit on the caustic critic side, but the sort that saves that for stuff he actually doesn't like instead of just because it got views.

      I felt like the big issue with Spoony's Ultima reviews in general is that the whole thing was basically made just to make it clear how much Ultima 9 screwed up. They're entertaining, but from what I remember as reviews they weren't very good. Personally at least, I felt like they made the games out to be more than they actually were, and that led to disappointment when I actually played the games and they didn't live up to what I expected.

      Delete
    3. Spoony did some good takes on "sacred" games like the FF7 and IMHO will in his better reviews he often has a point but exaggerate it (too much maybe). The UU2 isn't one of his worst.
      But tbh I did watch him since some years now and everything I heard since them I went downhill pretty much

      Delete
    4. The UU2 is one of his worst off cause

      Delete
    5. Spoony also had some pretty profound mental health problems come up during the time he was an internet reviewer, which colored his work considerably

      Delete
    6. Spoony's videos are well known because he was one of the early Youtubers to make these kind of comedic retro games reviews, in a similar vein to AVGN, before your neighbor's grandma and her dog started making Youtube videos and Twitch became a thing.

      They really should be considered for what they are, nostalgia-fueled comedy videos, rather than serious takes on the series.

      When I watched them the first time, ages ago, they inspired me to replay the whole series back-to-back, in a way they push similar nostalgia buttons as this blog (although in a very different way).

      Delete
    7. Failure to RTFM is a big problem among "angry retro game reviewers". I've seen many a video where simply reading the manual would solve many confusion issues. ET and Legend of Zelda are particularly bad cases because reading the manual and other pack-in items lay the game's workings bare. Referring to them would strip the reviewer of most of their material.

      Delete
    8. I know AVGN is particularly arrogant about that, insisting that "no one ever read the manuals" and that it was unreasonable for a game to require it.

      Man, did he never have to ride back home from the mall in traffic? Every single game I bought as a child, the manual had been read cover-to-cover by the time we got home from the mall, because I was eager to engage with this new gaming totem and you couldn't play until you got home.

      And I bought *civilization* at the mall.

      Delete
    9. The thing about AVGN is that's a character, not what the guy's actually like. Besides, the games he reviews are generally from back when rentals were far more common, so not reading the manual's far more likely than you'd think.

      Delete
    10. He has a point though. The reason RTFM is such a common phrase is precisely because most people don't read manuals, ever.

      And Civilization is a great example of a game that can be played without opening the manual.

      Delete
    11. I didn't even know what an NES manual looked like until the early 00s. Had a ton of NES games, but all were second hand and could only play them by trial and error.

      Computer games were a bit different - there wasn't as much of a rental market (though my local library used to carry PC games!), and the practice of storing manuals as PDF on the disc started pretty early.

      That said, if most of your computer games were uh, "acquired", you probably didn't have the manuals either. That was a popular assumption for the people who didn't want you to "acquire" the games.

      Delete
    12. There are definitely people who legitimately think you should never have to read a word of the manual to play a game, and that any game (or even genre) that requires such things is automatically bad.

      Not coincidentally, people who express that opinion often display some combination of a weak level of functional literacy, and a chip on their shoulder about being made to feel stupid (which often goes hand in hand with thinking they themselves are smarter than the "sheep", i.e. other people).

      Delete
    13. Whoa, dude. Passive aggressive much?

      Delete
    14. From what I remember, Spoony’s Ultima reviews weren’t that bad in general, but they are taken from the point of view of someone who grew up with them. The thing with Ultima is that the various materials they come with are what sells the world and makes the experience feel bigger than the game can. Especially on the 8bit ones.

      The big issue is that being an entertainment gaming channel, the reviews are a little shallow, but really they’re as good as can be expected.

      I agree that the concept of not reading the manual always confused me. Manuals are awesome! Both in letting you know what to do and to give a bigger sense of the game world. It’s really disappointing that they’ve now vanished.

      Delete
    15. While AVGN is a character to a certain extent he is exaggerating his own distaste of the games he plays. Generally speaking the only time he tends to think things out, even when the game obviously requires it, is when the game is obviously popular. This applies to AVGN as much as the other show he did, where he played games out of character. I specifically remember he trashed one of the Dizzy games despite treating it like any other platformer.
      (which is of course, a problem with all more entertainment focused reviewers of the video variety, and probably why blogs such as these are better despite being mostly much smaller)

      Delete
    16. While I wouldn't go anywhere near saying requiring a manual makes something bad, I will say you should never need one. I can think of plenty of times I've struggled with something that the manual would have helped with, except at the time I didn't have access to it because it was lost, or it was used and didn't come with one, or it was being emulated, and either no one's scanned the manual or it's not in English.

      Delete
    17. My 2 cents on the manual / no manual discussion:

      There was a time (covered by this blog) when game developers could not include in-game tutorials due to lack of memory space or technical reasons (or maybe at some stage were reluctant to put in the extra work to do so). Physical manuals also served as copy protection back when scanners and the internet did not exist as ressources easily available to the average gamer.

      Once these were no longer the reasons, it's also a difference whether you refer to backstory & lore or the actual "workings" of the game like the interface, basic functions etc. As far as I recall, our host likes manuals for the former, but prefers in-game tutorials or help functions for the latter.

      As for me, I like manuals, even and especially the physical form, as well as other game-related materials. Call me hopelessly nostalgic, but I don 't see any electronical in-game mechanism actually creating the same feeling as when you physically turn the wheels in POR's code wheel (http://dave-kennedy.github.io/por-code-wheel/) to translate some runes you found scribbled somewhere. And I enjoy reading the fake journal entries in the gold box games, too. Of course that might have to do with me being more familiar with games of that period than modern CRPGs.

      While I wouldn't go as far as PK Thunder, I do believe gamers nowadays are more reluctant (call it lazy if you want) to read anything before starting to play. Might also depend on the type of game. If you play a complex strategy game, it's more probable you'll need to - but you might also be more willing to - familiarize yourself with some background & mechanics than, say, when firing up some jump'n'run or Tetris.

      Ideally, both would be contained and optional for you to choose. In the end, it's up to the developers & publishers to consider what the potential buyers of their product will want/prefer.

      Delete
    18. I am so sad that none of my Nintendo Switch games come with manuals.

      Delete
    19. I think the manual being a physical object matters a lot. I like reading manuals, but with the PDFs that come with digital distribution, I almost always prefer ingame help and tutorials.

      Delete
    20. I remember seeing someone selling manuals for Switch games, so that you can both have a manual and have something to put in the clips in the case

      Delete
    21. "The reason RTFM is such a common phrase is precisely because most people don't read manuals, ever." I think that it's a common phrase because people who know a piece of software inside and out, whether it's from experience or R-ing the FM multiple times, like to lord it over people who have R'ed the FM but didn't memorize the goddamned thing.

      Delete
    22. While I wouldn't go as far as PK Thunder, I do believe gamers nowadays are more reluctant (call it lazy if you want) to read anything before starting to play. Might also depend on the type of game. If you play a complex strategy game

      Well, exactly. To be crystal clear, I have no problem with someone who says they're not personally interested in playing games that require reading the manuals, or genres of games. Everyone has their tastes, after all.

      But there are people who genuinely, unironically think that the need to read the manual at all, at any time is a sign of an objectively bad game, or a genre or time period of gaming that's objectively valueless and deserving of mockery. Similarly, there are people who take even a slight learning curve as a personal attack. I can't say I haven't noticed some association between those opinions, and the kind of person that expresses them.

      @CRPG Addict: I know the feeling you describe and I don't enjoy it. But isn't it sort of like the George Carlin joke that everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac and everyone who drives slower is an idiot?

      A pretty big percentage of humanity thinks if you don't know something they know, you're an ignorant idiot, whereas if you know something they don't, you're either a condescending jerk who wants to use it to make them feel bad about themselves, or a weirdo elitist whose knowledge is irrelevant. (And if you know something they know, it's obvious and any fool knows that. Either way, they're always in the right.)

      Some days we're the person being told to RTFM and hating it; some days we're the person telling others the equivalent of RTFM, and lamenting their laziness and ignorance. If we're neither, that might be a good day.

      Delete
    23. Also, needing the manual to play a game is a strong incentive to buy it new, which from a publisher's point of view is a feature, not a bug!

      Don't get me wrong, most of my Atari 2600 and NES games came secondhand and often without their manuals, but I guess I didn't expect those publishers to accommodate me and ensure their games would be accessible to someone who didn't pay for them (obviously the original buyer can also lose the manual). In the case of NES games a lot of that was obviated by strategy guides and Nintendo Power but, ultimately, if I couldn't make headway in a game for want of its manual, I didn't really see that as the game's fault.

      (And that's without throwing software piracy into the mix, which really incentivizes requiring the manual or other pack-ins to progress in the game.)

      Delete
    24. Unexpectedly profound and true. While I don't think I've literally told anyone to RTFM, I often have trouble regarding displays of ignorance as "teaching moments." The other day, one of my students mentioned that while she's heard references to it all her life, she didn't actually know what happened on 9/11. My reaction . . . did not become a professional educator.

      Delete
  25. The sword protected bye the tree is a great weapon.

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  26. I mean, do we really know that the Avatar isn't juggling physical runes in a bag as part of the spellcasting process in the more abstract games? Maybe runestones are just so freely available in most Britannian towns that it doesn't make sense to keep track of them in game unless you're cut off from the normal Britannian economy somehow (i.e., by being trapped in a dungeon, or under a giant dome of blackrock).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Any other series, I would agree with you, but the manuals of U3-U6 give such detailed descriptions of the casting process that, yeah, we know there aren't runes involved. Plus, the manual for UU specifically says that magic works different in the underworld, necessitating the runes.

      Delete
  27. The Avatar looks like Daryl Hannah.

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  28. Regarding skills once more, gurer ner fcryyf gung qb gur fnzr guvat nf gur yber, ercnve, cvpxybpx, naq fjvz fxvyyf, znxvat gurfr cbvagyrff.
    Fvapr gurer'f fb zhpu zbarl ylvat nebhaq, gur nccenvfr naq punevfzn (v.r. unttyvat) fxvyy ner haarprffnel.
    Gur frnepu, genpx, naq genc fxvyyf qba'g qb nalguvat hfrshy, naq fgrnygu qbrfa'g jbex fvapr lbh arrq gb pneel n yvtug fbhepr.

    So your assessment of skills is pretty good, rkprcg gung npebong vf npghnyyl qrprag, naq cvpxvat n jrncba fxvyy vf orggre guna gur nggnpx fxvyy. Naq hasbeghangryl guvf zrnaf gung gur fxvyy flfgrz birenyy vf abg irel tbbq, nf gur znwbevgl bs fxvyyf ner haarprffnel.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Regarding skills once more, gurer ner fcryyf gung qb gur fnzr guvat nf gur yber, ercnve, cvpxybpx, naq fjvz fxvyyf, znxvat gurfr cbvagyrff.
    Fvapr gurer'f fb zhpu zbarl ylvat nebhaq, gur nccenvfr naq punevfzn (v.r. unttyvat) fxvyy ner haarprffnel.
    Gur frnepu, genpx, naq genc fxvyyf qba'g qb nalguvat hfrshy, naq fgrnygu qbrfa'g jbex fvapr lbh arrq gb pneel n yvtug fbhepr.

    So that means your assessment of skills is pretty good, rkprcg gung npebong vf npghnyyl qrprag, naq cvpxvat n jrncba fxvyy vf orggre guna gur nggnpx fxvyy. Naq hasbeghangryl guvf zrnaf gung gur fxvyy flfgrz birenyy vf abg irel tbbq, nf gur znwbevgl bs fxvyyf ner haarprffnel.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

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