Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Tygus Horx: Ulandar's Big Trap

Despite the message, I'd say the dungeon consisted of a series of small traps rather than one big one.
I had hoped to wrap up Horx in one more entry, but the game seems determined to linger a bit longer than its content warrants. In this session, I explored the three levels of the Temple of Ulandar, but it appears that I'll need to explore at least two more dungeons before the end.
Like the game's first dungeon, the Temple of Ulandar consisted of three 15 x 15 levels. Their geography is slightly more interesting than the three maze levels (which, to be fair, were explicitly called "mazes"). Upon entry on Level 1, a message warns: "This is the Temple of Ulandar. His big trap lies before you. Evil creatures guard the shrine. Be careful!" Early on, the first level splits into two paths. The rightmost one takes you along the south wall and up the east wall to a large room.
Ulandar's domain, Level 1.
To get into the room, you have to answer a riddle posed by an "old person" standing in the hallway. I don't know what keeps us from just pushing past him. The riddle is: "It is colourful, and the half of a circle. You can see it, but if you wanna take it, you can't reach it." It takes some analysis of the awkward English, but the answer is (RAINBOW) (repeated at the bottom of the entry for those on a mobile browser). The author is fond of "wanna" and "gonna." My iPhone is always transcribing my "want to" and "going to" to those variants, which drives me crazy. I have never said "wanna" or "gonna" in my life.
MOON kind of works, at least some days.
Beyond the old person is a room full of traps--the kind that drain health or magic points or both with every step and turn that you make. The developer is fond of these traps, too, perhaps to add more of an element of danger since you can avoid almost all combats. In the corner of the room is a "Rainbow Star." I'm not sure what it did for me--perhaps I needed it at some crucial point later in the dungeon, and the game just didn't call attention to it.
The other path through the first level leads through a long series of 2 x 2 rooms and a series of switchback corridors to the stairs down. The rest of the dungeon has you explore most of Level 2, then go down to half of Level 3, then back up to the rest of Level 2, then back down to the rest of Level 3.
Level 2.
Level 2 introduces dark squares for the first time. In most Bard's Tale variants, dark squares aren't that hard to navigate. You just follow one wall. Here, they're a bit tougher because there's always a delay of a few seconds when the game decides it's time for combat. Since dark squares give you no feedback unless you bonk into a wall, it's thus hard to tell when the game is a) allowing you to pass through an open dark area, or b) paused while it's loading combat. I'd think I'd walked for three squares only to find I never left the original square. I had to use TEPL ("Tell Place") often to figure out where I was.
I'm either moving forward or the game is loading a combat.
Level 2 has a series of 3 x 3 rooms with a one-square room in the middle of them. Each offers a clue:
  • The first is ABLE
  • The second is FRESH
  • The third is FAR
  • The fourth is IGNOBLE
  • The fifth is RUNAWAY
It was a somewhat tough puzzle until I realized that you want to substitute in for is, at which point it becomes clear that the answer is (ARROW). I'm guessing that's an intentional obfuscation rather than a bad translation, as making those words in from the outset would make the puzzle too easy. Then again, this is the game that clued FIRE with "It is hot" and "It is red and yellow."
This password gets you through the final door in a series of concentric squares, all of which have health-sucking traps on both sides of the doors. The first half of Level 3 takes you through some random rooms and corridors to the stairway in the southwest corner. Along the way, you learn that "Illusions are made of nothing" from a random message. The remainder of Level 2 has another dark area and a square where you see a message in a blue light: "You can find me in Xe-Tje's domain."
Level 3 of Ulandar's domain.
The second half of Level 3 is almost all dark squares. A long maze through them ends in a small room in which you meet an "old man." I'm not sure if he's the same "old person" from earlier or not. "Leave this room mortals," cries the old man. "You passed my problems, but you are not able to solve my last question: To kill me!" The old man is apparently the god Ulandar. He summons 18 headhunters, 16 slaughters (not "slaughterers"), and 14 gravediggers to fight alongside him.
Killing you isn't really a "question."
The first time I reached this area, I was far too weak to even come close to defeating him. The problem is that the near-100% success of fleeing from combats means that you're encouraged to flee from all of them while you map dungeons. Otherwise, you'll just weaken yourself for no reason. But it also means you don't build up the necessary experience for the rare fixed combat. I probably erred too much on the side of avoiding combat during exploration; a player who fought occasionally-but-not-always would set himself up for less grinding later.
I reloaded from outside the dungeon and began to grind. Grinding is so mindless in this game that I began to wonder how I could write a macro to do it for me. Normally, I wouldn't countenance such a thing, but this is a somewhat minor game and I thought the puzzle posed by writing a macro was more interesting than sticking to my usual rules. I don't have macro software sophisticated enough that it can read what's on the screen--I'm not sure that even exists--so I had to find a combination of keystrokes that would: 1) produce a favorable outcome in combat no matter what enemy party composition; 2) ensure that each combat would be followed by another one; and 3) not cause anything to interrupt or otherwise screw up the sequence of combats while the party was not currently in combat.
Achieving the highest spell level.
This wouldn't be possible for some games. Imagine that inside combat, "D" defends but outside combat it opens the "Disk" menu. Using the software I have, which wouldn't be able to distinguish whether I'm in or out of combat, I wouldn't be able to use the "D" key in the macro, because once combat ended, it would just open the "Disk" menu and get stuck there (or, more likely, wreak some havoc involving the rest of the keys). Fortunately, this game didn't have any commands that posed quite that problem. With some trial and error, I discovered this sequence worked:
  • "F": If the game is on the initial encounter screen, which gives you the option to (F)ight or (R)un, this key causes you to fight. Outside of combat, or once combat is engaged, it does nothing.
  • Eight "A" keys in a row. Once combat begins, this has the first four characters (A)ttack, and then choose to attack the monsters in group A. Elsewhere, it does nothing.
  • "S" followed by "D" twice. This was a tricky one. In combat, after the first four characters have chosen to attack, I needed to cause the last two to (D)efend, since it's their only option except to cast a spell, which you can't do forever while leaving the macro running. But outside of combat, "D" loads a saved game. Thus, I had to make sure to hit "S" to save the game first (which does nothing while in combat).
  • "Y": In combat, it acknowledges your previously-selected actions and executes the combat round. Elsewhere, it does nothing.
  • <SPACE>: At the end of combat, it acknowledges the experience/gold reward screen. Elsewhere, it does nothing.
With this sequence of keys on an indefinite loop, the game automatically fought when an enemy appeared but otherwise just threw away unused keypresses when it didn't. It mostly worked. The problem is that even in the city, where enemies are weak, they get a lucky hit often enough that you still have to monitor your health. In the dungeons, you have to stop and heal often enough that it's hardly worth running the macro. Experience rewards from city combats are so low that it takes functionally hours between levels, even with the emulator and macro speed cranked. So if I wanted to get any use out of it, I had to keep it running for hours, but in a way that I could still keep half of my attention on the computer to stop characters from dying. I've been trying to spend more time on the treadmill this fall, so I had some success setting the macro running on a table next to the treadmill, but I still had to spend most of my grinding time manually grinding in dungeons.
With Level 6 in all spellcasting levels and 20 in all attributes, this character has gone as high as he can go. This screenshot is actually from a few hours after the end of this session.
Once my conjurer and magician got to Level 15, which gave them Level 6 spells, I switched them both to the other class. They rose rapidly through the first few levels of their new classes, soon significantly outclassing the rest of the characters in hit points and attributes. If you wanted to create an ultra-powerful party in this game, you'd go with all spellcasters, even though it would make the initial game difficult.

Eventually, they got to Level 15 in their new classes, at which point I rolled them over to the wizard class, which you can only do after the characters have been both conjurers and magicians. Once I had them high enough as wizards that they got Level 4 spells, I decided to try Ulandar again.
Let me pause to note that the spell list isn't terribly useful in this game. Each class only gets 11 (wizard) or 13 (conjurer and magician) spells, and a lot of them are just more powerful versions of early ones. For instance, the conjurer's 13 spells include three levels of "magic compass," three levels of "magic torch," and three levels of healing a single character. Most of the rest are simply group damage spells of varying power. Thus, once you get the highest level of spell as a conjurer, you only ever cast MATO ("Magic Torch"), MACO ("Magic Compass") and EVPO ("Evil Power"). There's supposed to be a Level 6 conjurer spell called MEAL that fully heals a character, but it doesn't work. I assume it's a typo, and the real spell is a different selection of letters, but I haven't figured it out.
The wizard's selection of 11 spells includes the game's sole resurrection spell (BALI) but is otherwise solely damage spells. The highest is MAHA ("Malu-Krli's Hammer"), which does 40-65 points of damage to a group. There are no spells that damage all opponents in all groups, unlike The Bard's Tale.
Ulandar's party. Notice I have a compass, a shield, and a torch activated.
Ulander's group still slaughtered me the first time I faced them after grinding. I had to try a few times before I realized that I needed to concentrate damage spells on one group at a time until they were gone, and that one of my two spellcasters would have to cast HEAL (heals all characters) every round. Even then, I couldn't save two of my characters. 
Worst last words ever.
At the end of the battle, the old man shouted: "Here is the second key, you fools! But you never can use it!" and died. The game then made me suffer the indignity of turning around and retracing my steps all the way back to the surface. Once there, I resurrected my dead characters, healed everyone else, restored my spell points, and sold my excess goods (even though I have millions of gold pieces now and will never run out). I then made my way to the southwest corner of the city and, in defiance of the god's dying words, used his key to go through an ornate door and gain access to a new dungeon: Xe-Tje's Domain. I assume that there I'll find another key that lets me through the door in the southeast corner of the city, where I hope I'll face the final dungeon.
Time so far: 15 hours



  1. Maybe it's just me, but I don't quite understand why treadmills exist. What keeps you guys from going outside and climbing a hill?

    (I assume you can half-read or watch something while exercising, but so you can listen to an audio-book or other content on mobile devices. Of course, I say this in jest, but am still curious about your answers...)

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousSeptember 21, 2022 at 1:29 PM

      Some of us live in regions so flat that there's no hill worthy of the name within an easy drive. It's a serious problem for me here. Maybe it isn't in Maine, but there one presumably has a lot more inclement weather to deal with. I nearly moved to a university in Brunswick, Maine in late 2019 -- I'm not sure I would have survived winter lockdowns in the far northeast, though!

    2. In my case, (1) I don't live anywhere near hills, and (2) I want to be able to exercise during heavy rainfall.

    3. Treadmills are useful to offset weather, terrain, time constraints, etc. I prefer to be outside, but when it's 95 degrees and 80% humidity, that isn't a healthy run environment. And I can drive 10 mins to a track, run for 20 mins, and then drive 10 mins back, or I can run on a treadmill for 40 minutes. It's also a good time to catch up on streaming shows. :)

    4. I started walking 5000 steps a day in May. I added 500 a week all summer and am up to 10,500 steps now. I like walking outside, but when you're on a "program" like this, you don't want your progress screwed up by rain, snow, humidity, mosquitos, and the ability to only walk at certain times of day.

      I'm going to stop adding steps at 12,000 and slowly start converting those to running. The cushioning of the treadmill offers a much better running experience for me than pavement. I get shin splints easily.

      And, yeah, there's the entertainment aspect. I have a TV on the wall in front of my treadmill. I like to watch "Wondrium" courses on it. But when I get an Xbox Series X later this fall, I'm going to hook up my old Xbox One to it. Try doing that outside.

      So there are lots of reasons.

    5. Ah, aren't you an adorable bunch of basement dwellers ;)

      Call me privileged, but I have two larger hills (they even call them 'berg' but that's overstating it) within a 20 minute tram-ride (Europe, you see), and have to walk my dog for about three hours a day anyway, regardless of the weather.

      (And yes, I occasionally come home soaking wet, having to change everything down to my underwear, so much about privilege...)

    6. There's something appropriate about grinding a game while on a treadmill...

    7. I guess what I'm trying to say is, by venturing outside, I always either meet someone, or observe something, smell the season, acknowledge changes in the environment, get a better sense of time passing, encounter wildlife, and have that feeling that anything could happen around the next corner...
      Basic Ranger Skills, I know ;)

      Try doing that inside.

    8. Going outside is lovely and I've had times in my life where I often went on long hikes or could walk to work every day. I've foraged food in the wild, stumbled upon places where no one else had been for ages, and so forth.

      But you have to understand that, in the States, many of us live where it's either intolerably cold or intolerably hot for a large portion of the year, public transportation and infrastructure maintenance are nonexistent, and green spaces are far away or (in the case of public parks) have crime issues.

      Where I live now, if I go on long walks in winter, I'm liable to run into patches of unsalted ice and break something; in other places I've lived, temperatures of 32°C and higher are the norm for almost every day in the summer, and often with dangerous humidity. Many of us literally can't spend time outside safely for big stretches of the year.

      The US is a car-centric society, partly by necessity, and partly because large portions of our population hate each other. Hectoring us about that won't solve anything; it'll just annoy some of us while, for others, it'll confirm their negative, uninformed stereotypes about Europeans. In other words, such posts only make matters worse; perhaps your intent was to inspire, but the effect is the opposite.

      P.S. Looking forward to Power Stones of Ard soon, though I expect "barely-disguised loathing" will be the theme of the entry!

    9. AlphabeticalAnonymous

    10. Plenty of people in this world live in areas where outdoor pollution is a serious problem, and breathing deeply is the worst thing you can do while outside. An indoor treadmill where PM25 is cleaned out of the air is the solution. Privilege, indeed.

    11. "...perhaps your intent was to inspire, but the effect is the opposite."

      Yeah, that basically was my intent, sorry if that one backfired.

    12. I find it theraputic to go for long walks, but most of the year, childcare requires I do this around 10 PM, which kinda limits where it is safe to walk. Further, for the past three months, more than half the days have been dangerously hot to take a long walk, sometimes even at night.

    13. Mountain biking is my game here in the southeast US... but with daytime temps hovering 95-100 all summer... it wasn't safe for a good long ride much of the time.

    14. Can't speak for other people but where I live it's 100 degrees outside. Exercising indoors is the only way I'd ever have the motivation.

    15. If you enjoy going outside, you are not addicted enough to role-playing games. :)

      (I would enjoy going outside, but my current job is freaking time-consuming.)

    16. These posts make me appreciate living in Bergen, Norway, despite it raining 300 days a year...
      But as we say here, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes".

    17. Don't get me wrong, but I'm slightly amused how everyone goes out of their way to point out that the US of A has become such an inescapable hellscape that you can't walk any distance from home without risking literal death. Bravo!

    18. Now there's the sneering ridicule of the European! Well done, it wasn't quite clear enough before. But you've gone and made it crystal clear. I believe someone up the thread was saying this condescending stereotype was uniformed? Don't you get it? They are entitled to our unceasing protection and we are entitled to their scorn.

    19. That's not the whole US. It's certain areas, and certain times of the year. There's plenty of Europe that's far too hot in the summer for comfortable outdoor exercise, or far too cold in the winter; there are just...more Americans here, so when you say "ewww, why don't you exercise *outside*?" it's American climate you'll get reports on for why not.

      And yes, sure, "bravo" us for being affected negatively by climate change. That's totally something we're *fully collectively responsible* for, and had total agency in letting get to this point.

    20. Having used a treadmill set up in front of my Xbox - I recommend turn-based games like many of your CRPGs over action-y ones.
      The impulse to move left/right while standing up playing some action games has _almost_ caused me to fall over on the treadmill.
      Slower-paced games worked fine though.
      And yeah, it's not nearly as nice as walking outside, but it let me play games _and_ get exercise at the same time.
      The quality on both was lower, but I preferred the sum over splitting my time.

    21. I used to enjoy going outside until the military made me spend 2+ years living in a tent getting mortared in the middle of the desert. Pardon me if I equate the outside with literal death

    22. PK, if you have any insight into Ard, I'd appreciate an email. I explored the outer world a few weeks ago but couldn't figure out how to do anything else. There IS something else, right?

      As for the rest of this thread . . . in case anyone cares, it's stuff like this that makes me occasionally consider calling an end to this whole thing. Not your comment, Harwin. That was solid advice.

    23. I have an ankle condition that makes weight-bearing exercise painful, along with a related knee problem that makes biking difficult, so I run on an elliptical machine for half an hour a day. I am young to have my joint problems, but I'm not that unusual.

      I can't use a mouse or controller and run as intensely as I'd like to, but I will sometimes play turn-based games with a lot of downtime like Hearthstone battlegrounds while working out.

    24. Hate to contribute to a mostly OT thread, but anyone who believes large portions of the US hate each other needs to get off of social media (particularly Twitter), go outside, and experience life.

      My 20+ year career as a social worker has me interacting with people of all types and backgrounds. 99.999% are good people and don't "hate" anyone. It's just parts of both political parties pushing that nonsense for their gain.

      This blog has the best comment section BY FAR vs. every other corner of the internet that I visit regularly. Let's please keep it on topic and not make it like social media.

  2. AlphabeticalAnonymousSeptember 21, 2022 at 1:26 PM

    Creating a robotic CRPGAddict -- an interesting challenge! If we loaded all the posts on this website into a machine-learning algorithm, I wonder what kind of sessions reports it would generate for us...

    What did you use to create/use your Grinding Macro?

    Sorry to hear that this game is such a pain; fingers crossed that you'll be through with it before too long.

    1. I used Macro Recorder from Jitbit Software. I don't know where I even came across it, but it works quite well.

    2. A machine-learning algorithm to create blog posts ? The results could be hilarious.

      After all, we already read about a computer role-playing games that was made by robots: "Alien Fires 2199 A.D." ( )

    3. (Sorry for the typos, I was writing too fast.)

  3. Solve The Soup Cans makes its way into RPG land!

    That is, a trope mostly found in adventure games, where it is not explained in-universe why a puzzle is blocking your passage in the first place. This is probably not the first RPG to have soup cans, either.

    1. ...Whose archetypal example (from which the name comes) was in The 7th Guest, where you walk into a kitchen, open a cabinet door, and find a bunch of soup cans with letters on them. (With "Y" as the only vowel.)

      Once you have resolved them into the intended sentence (with the only indication that they're supposed to be one being the irregular gaps between sets of cans, indicating separate words), as *anyone* would *naturally* expect, unlocks the basement door to one side. (The 7th Guest is actually chock full of these puzzles that unlock progress in totally inexplicable ways.)

    2. I just played that puzzle fairly recently in my 7th Guest playthrough over on the Adventure Gamer blog! The puzzle itself was pretty doable, but yes, the effects on the game world were rather disconnected. Typical of the game, really, but egregiously so even for 7th Guest.

    3. I've never understood why people get bent out of shape over a game involving some kind of magic requiring you to solve a nearby puzzle to advance.

    4. I don't mind it if the point of the game is solving puzzles, it's nice to have a plot to follow while doing so. It doesn't have to make sense if it doesn't make sense consistently. Here I think the problem may be that they worked hard to make an immersive world and the puzzle just doesn't fit in it.

    5. @Morpheus that is easy enough: many players like magic to be CONSISTENT, as opposed to "magic can do anything at all without any explanation".

    6. I am reminded of the game Final Fantasy X-2, whose geography is almost entirely a direct copy of Final Fantasy X, but in one area, there's a new region of the world map which becomes accessible purely because in X-2, the player can jump, and thus can get over a knee-high ridge that marked a section of the edge of the overworld map in X.

    7. In the case of the soup cans, I think it is less that the concept of "Doors are supernaturally locked until an arbitrary nearby puzzle is solved because this whole experience was curated by a supernatural being with a puzzle fetish" is being called out, and more that most of the puzzles the player has encountered at that point are very clear and deliberate in their nature as puzzles. They've been things like a chess board or a sliding tile puzzle or a maze or a mechanical device with an obvious "win" state. The soup cans are... Just soup cans in a pantry. That there is no causal relationship between solving the puzzle and what it does is a small oddity of the genre, and that the particular puzzle is especially obtuse is an annoyance, but that a pantry full of soup cans is *even a puzzle at all* is what makes them into the risible genre trope. You drop me in a weird spooky mansion and there's a place where the floor tiles can slide around and there are bits of a picture on them, I will probably intuit that I'm expected to arrange them properly. But if I open a pantry door and find soup cans, I am probably not going to think that I should arrange them to make a sentence. The soup cans are a puzzle only because the UI says they are, not because there is anything inherently puzzleish about a shelf of cans.

    8. More to the point, The 7th Guest doesn't suggest that the door is locked at all. The notion that it might be magically locked (despite the fact that no other door in the game is) is purely a fan theory, because the game itself doesn't give any reason why you can't just walk past those soup cans.

      And yes, "you can't climb over the knee-high ridge" is a sister trope about implausible barriers; the soup can trope is about metafictional barriers.

    9. In high school I played in a d&d game where this exact type of puzzle was presented, with just a phrase on a piece of paper. Not even clues that said something about using a letter from each thing! We were supposed to somehow know that we could take the first letter of the first line, second letter of the second, etc. and make a new phrase that was the puzzle solution (and not a clear or good solution either). I was pretty mad when the DM gave up on us being able to solve it and revealed the answer. He never did understand what he did wrong either.

    10. It isn't? Maybe I don't go to the same grocery stores you go to, but I've never seen a soup can that had just one letter on its front. I doubt that there are very many brands that do that anyway, and even if they did someone went out of their way to get enough for however many it was. So someone specifically made/got these for a reason. Since 7th Guest's puzzle is set up so that you always know how many words and letters in each word there are, its not unreasonable for it to be a sentence. Couldn't it? After all Y is a vowel.
      Of course people use solve the soup cans to mean games where the puzzle should be easily bypassed. Well, TVtropes tries to anyway. I'm not so sure they aren't using how everyone else means it, a puzzle they find too silly to solve. It doesn't seem to me like that's so true of the soup cans. Its not the first puzzle you solve that opens a locked door or area, but at least in this case it opens a door in the same room. Moving around the mansion is pretty weird already, since you can go through several places you shouldn't be able to. Or that the game doesn't tell you a door is locked as if that doesn't mean the door is locked. The game's logic is pretty clear, you advance by beating puzzles. It seems to me that people were sleeping through the first part of the game, then when they get to a hard puzzle, make up all sorts of excuses for why they aren't at fault.

  4. When creating a macro is more fun than the game loop, says a lot about it

  5. I'm not sure I get the second riddle. While some of the keywords make sense with the answer, I don't get how the in for is substitution is supposed to work.

    1. Took me a minute as well, but:

      'The second is fresh' makes little sense


      'The second in fresh' is the letter 'R'.

    2. Ah, I get it now. I was assuming they were supposed to point to the final word.

  6. Blue Prism can create screen-reading automations, but it's not cheap.

  7. Have you played any CRPGs released more recently than 1993? Are you ever tempted to? There have been several extremely good CRPGs released in the last decade.

    1. Our host quite routinely plays newer games, and they sometimes get mentioned in his writing, although his hottest take is probably about Fallout 4:

    2. I play newer CONSOLE games. Since I started this blog, I haven't fully played a computer game that wasn't FOR this blog. But yeah: the Dragon Age series, the Fallout series, the Mass Effect series, the Elder Scrolls series, the two Knights of the Old Republic games. I tried Dark Souls and a couple of clones but didn't like them. I also enjoy action-adventures on the console: Far Cry, Red Dead Redemption, Assassin's Creed. Even Grand Theft Auto V intrigued me for a while.

  8. "He snaps one's fingers"

    He snaps the narrators fingers? Ouch.

  9. The conjunction of Rainbow and Arrow at the end there is giving me flashbacks to AI The Somnium Files.


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