Saturday, March 4, 2023

Antepenult: More than a Clone

I don't know what's more unjust: that jesters in this kingdom are subjected to torture, or that Chuckles somehow isn't in here.
It became clear during this session that Antepenult is going to take a little while, but I'm fine with that. The game is almost entirely undocumented online, and I like when I have the opportunity to contribute something new. As much as I'm enjoying Serpent Isle, I could probably just gesture to Nakar's famous LP and offer a GIMLET, and the world would be none the poorer.
This session proceeded in several broad phases. In Phase I, I mapped the outlines and road network of the world of Havilah. I didn't save during this process; every time I died from monsters or hunger, I just set out in a new direction. The continent occupies coordinates of around 100 x 100, though much of the western side of the land is unexplorable because it's blocked by a mountain range. More on that later. I didn't map all the forests and such, but I think I thoroughly explored them. In addition to Castle Chryse, I found three named towns--Larissa, Laodicea, and Megara--plus two unnamed villages. Deep at the end of the valley, I found a dungeon called Psychos.
The game world so far.
Some notes from this phase:
  • A lot of the roads terminate on "docks" sticking out in the water. I've yet to find any ships in the overworld (just in towns), but I know they exist.
  • In the middle of the northern forest is a lake with a whirlpool in the center. If the game is true to its Ultima roots, that whirlpool takes you somewhere. I'm not sure how to get in here, though, as the lake is landlocked.
Maybe it's an exit rather than an entrance.
  • There are swamp squares that poison you. 
  • It's possible to accidentally target and kill your horse. It gives only 1 experience point and doesn't drop a chest.
  • There's at least one moongate in a patch of clear ground in the middle of the eastern forest. It takes you to a new world called Aethereia. I'm not sure if it's a completely new map or a new continent on the same map. In any event, the destination square is surrounded by impassable ice. I assume I need to find some kind of tool or transportation to get over this.
The author should have gone all-in and had the moongate take you to Britannia.
Phase II involved a re-exploration of the castles, cities, and towns to make sure I'd talked to all the NPCs. Findings:
  • In the healer's office in Chryse, I tried to talk to each of the wounded figures lined up at the bottom of the screen. Most of them had nothing to say, but one of them introduced himself as Saul. Last time, someone had told me to ask Saul about the second secret society that opposes the daemon. Saul told me to go through a secret door to his left. It didn't look any different than any other wall, but I was able to walk right through it. The door led to a hallway with a large meeting room at the end. I met three new NPCs. More on them in a minute. 
I only spoke to the first one last time. When it didn't work, I figured they were all unresponsive.
  • I mentioned last time that when you try to walk into a wall normally, the game beeps and pauses for a few seconds. I don't think the pause is necessary. It doesn't happen when you walk into NPCs, for instance. I think the author was trying to disincentivize searching randomly for secret doors. He wanted players to find them by talking to NPCs, as I did.
  • There's a continent called Atlantis, apparently accessible by sailing off the edge of the world. I got this from Athanasius in Laodicea, but Theophillus in Chryse told me that if I want to survive sailing over the edge of the world, I'll need the wheel from HMS. Cape (getting the wheel from a ship of the same name was a plot point in Ultima IV, and Atlantis sounds like Ambrosia from Ultima III), which I should ask about in village pubs. Sailors in both villages indicated that a jester named Bosheth should know where the wheel is; he's supposed to be in Chryse, but I hadn't found him. Both jesters I met are named "Chuckles" and have nothing to offer about the wheel.
The author should have called it the Argo to go with the theme.
  • Irenaeus in Chryse told me about Aetheria and said he'd tell me how to get there if I could tell him the name of the air daemon on the upper floor. The air daemon is the one that I can't get to because of a wall of ice.
  • Epaphroditus in Chryse told me about another world called Tartarus. He'll tell me how to get there if I can visit Atlantis, talk to Epaphroditus's brother, and return with his name. As we'll see, I figured out how to get to Tartarus on my own.
  • An angry merchant in the unnamed northwestern town had a shipment hijacked by pirates. He said they like to hang around a marshy area on the north coast. I found the area, but no pirates yet.
  • The town of Megara has been seized by an evil presence that makes NPCs randomly attack you. It's also been so thickly choked by forest that it's hard to find your way through it.
In Phase III, I decided to grind a while for gold so I could afford a decent supply of food, healing, and ultimately leather armor. Food sells for 1 gold a ration, which depletes every few steps. Healing costs 200 gold for 600 hit points. For a while, it was hard to keep ahead of the curve, especially since Lord Hypnos, unlike Lord British, doesn't heal you. Every cent I made just went to replenish food and health. But I slowly started to make progress. I found the easiest way to generate enemies was to let them come to me. I parked myself in the depths of the eastern forest and hit the "pass" key until one showed up. Grinding is a little faster in this game than in Ultima IV because there's no separate combat screen. 
Dragons! It feels early for dragons.
As I gained levels, the maximum enemy difficulty started to get harder. Eventually, I encountered the entire Ultima IV bestiary, including orcs, headless, trolls, cyclopes, ettins, and dragons. Around Level 7, the game started to spawn sea creatures capable of missile attacks, including naiads and sea serpents. I had been ignoring sea creatures because they don't drop treasure, but I couldn't ignore these. Fortunately, I invested in a sling and noticed that my range with missile attacks is greater than theirs. From far enough away, I can kill them with impunity. From then on, sea creatures just became a source of free experience.
You bastard!
Once I had enough gold for a modest supply of food, I began thinking about the next phase. My ability to fully explore the towns was hampered by a lack of keys--almost every town had locked doors--and to a lesser extent by a lack of gems. Antepenult includes a "peer at gem" command like Ultima IV's. If you have a gem, it shows you an overhead map of your area. This is useful for finding hidden NPCs and secret areas. I figured I'd find a guild that sold these items, and the only city I hadn't fully explored (because of the dense forest) was Megara.
My instincts were right, and I soon found a guild, though a burly guard blocked access, asking for a password. It turns out that you can just kill him, but I didn't know it at the time, so I searched around town until I found a thief named Abantes who told me the password was "eiselthon."
That locked door to my north ended all my problems.
I didn't have much gold when I found the guild, but it turned out that I only needed one key. The guild has a locked door. Behind it is a corridor full of enemies who attack if you go through it, but they weren't terribly hard at my level. The corridor leads to a room behind the guild counter, which has a couple dozen chests. There are no guards in Megara to wallop you if you kill and steal, which makes the entire town a great place for grinding, particularly since (like Ultima III) both chests and NPCs respawn when you leave a city and return. I could have spared myself all that forest grinding if I'd known about this place.
Megara also has a healer, a weapon shop selling the best weapon in this part of the game (an axe), and an armor shop selling the best armor in this part of the game (chainmail). Suffice to say, I spent quite a while making multiple trips to Megara. When I was done, I was Level 11 and I had plenty of food, gold, keys, torches, and gems, as well as the axe and chainmail.
Stats are looking good after a few guild raids.
With my supply of torches, I decided to explore the one dungeon I'd found, Psychos. As I suspected, the author didn't replicate the first-person dungeon exploration of the Ultima series. Each dungeon level is quite small, has multiple ladders up and down, and is weirdly devoid of enemies. It didn't take me long to get to the bottom level, where I encountered a bunch of force fields. I could walk through the poison, fire, and sleep fields but not the energy fields. I don't know if there's any way in this game to dispel them. But at the end of a corridor that had just the energy fields I could pass, I found a portal to Tartarus.
I don't think I'm ready for this.
Not quite ready to visit the new land, I reloaded from outside the dungeon and decided to hit the towns again with my gems and keys. It was during this process that I started to gain some real affection for Antepenult. Some of the best moments of Ultima and similar titles is when you discover brand new areas in familiar places--hidden rooms, secret corridors, ladders behind illusory walls. Suddenly, the little iconographic maps seem full of possibilities. It's even better when the authors use the tilesets to create little graphical vignettes. I still remember when I was 13 and I found the little shrine hidden in the mountains in Ultima IV. I gasped. I had a similar experience during my last session with Serpent Isle.
The gem shows me new areas of the castle to explore.
In Castle Chryse, the gems showed me large areas of the first floor that I hadn't explored. I was able to find a hidden door to a treasure chamber with its own guard (non-hostile as long as I didn't steal anything). Yet another secret door on the other side of the treasure chamber led to a macabre site: a "torture chamber" in which several guards supervised figures imprisoned in stone and energy fields. All the figures were jesters; I guess it's a rough job trying to amuse Lord Hypnos.
The torture can't be that bad if he's able to carry on a normal conversation.
I couldn't reach some of the jesters imprisoned in walls or energy fields, but a secret door opened just to the south of one of them. This turned out to be the elusive Bosheth. He said that the wheel of HMS Cape is in Great Bay in the southwest part of the continent.
An exit from the torture chamber led around the perimeter of the level and took me to a druid in a forgotten corner. He was the brother of Nabal, the prisoner I'd been told to ask about a sextant. He directed me through an illusory wall to a secret ladder leading down to the dungeons.
Moments later: BONK! "I said west!"
The dungeon area was large and twisty, with numerous locked doors that ate most of my keys. Most of the denizens attacked me, though there were some beggars that asked for gold. Finally, in one room, I found a thief willing to part with a sextant for 150 gold. 
Giving a guy 150 gold right in front of a beggar seems cruel.
Another passage leading from the torture chamber led up to a secret area on the second floor, where I found a fourth demon threatening to destroy me in the "Gehennan Bathos." This one called himself Bdelygma, and he was surrounded by fire.  
I've now got three demons threatening to kill me in the Gehennan Bathos. If I hadn't already made a d'Artagnan joke recently, this would be the place for it.
By now, I was loving all of these secret areas, and I continued by unlocking some doors in the town of Larissa. I found four druids standing around a table. One introduced the group as the "keepers of the runes," and each of the others had something to say about one of four runes: copper, silver, gold, and platinum. Each offered clues as to where to find more information about them.
The rune quests each led me on long treasure hunts from city to city. Person A would say, "Ask Person B!" Person B referred me to Person C, and so forth, for around 6-8 iterations per rune. The trail of clues for three separate runes went through NPCs in the dungeon beneath Chryse. I ultimately found the platinum rune in the thieves' guild in Megara. The silver rune was in the dragon's cage in the zoo on the top level of Chryse. It took me a while to find the string of secret doors necessary to get there.
You'd think I would have noticed it while looting this place the previous dozen times.
The trail of the copper rune also led to the zoo; I was told to ask the reaper. Before he attacked me, the reaper said that I'd find it with Anchises of Delos, who I haven't met yet. Similarly, the trail to the gold rune has led to an Axylos the Beggar, whom I also haven't met. Either I've missed them somewhere or they're found on other continents. 
Unfortunately for you, I'm like the wind, the sun, and the rain.
Conversation continues to be a little bit odd. I noted last time that keywords only seem to work in certain positions of the conversation. Not only did I find many more examples of this during this session, it turns out that sometimes the same keyword produces different replies depending on where in the conversation you use it. This has me paranoid that I'm missing some key bits of lore. 

The jail in Leodicia had a bunch of thieves who attacked me, beggars who wanted money, and a mage named Dulchion who said he was paying for his crimes but wouldn't tell me anything about them. A secret door at the back of his cell led me into the treasure room of the "mayor," Festus, who just griped about the "stinking town." His treasure room had more chests than the guild in Megara, but opening them attracted the wrath of the guards, whose attacks I couldn't even begin to survive.
So . . . tempting.
On the surface, I tried out the sextant. Antepenult uses the same type of coordinate system as Britannia: two letters in succession, one representing degrees and the other minutes. The "minute" letters only go up to P.

If the game adapts that from Ultima IV, I can't imagine that it didn't also adapt the size of the map: 256 x 256 tiles going from A'A" to P'P" on both axes (I'm going to dispense with the degree/minute symbols from now on). The extreme coordinates of the continent as I've mapped it are (CM,CJ) to (IG,IG), leaving plenty of room for other continents, which makes me suspect that both Aetheria and Tartarus are on the same overworld map as Havilah. If that's the case, the portals to the other lands would be superfluous unless the game won't let me find a ship until I reach the other continents through the portals first. That would suggest that my next move should be to return to Psycho and find the portal again.
Antepenult is a solid, entertaining game, well worth the shareware fee that Paul Falstad asked for it. As to that fee, Falstad asked me to direct it to Doctors Without Borders, so I've made the organization my "Charity of the Month." If you're not already a Patreon subscriber, please consider donating directly to the charity at the link on the main page.
Time so far: 10 hours


  1. Always nice to see when an unknown game delivers more than one might have expected at the start. And I never stop to be impressed by the frequency with which you usually manage to produce new posts, taking into account their quality and the fact you have a job and life.

    I was waiting for your next entry on this game to see if the 'monster zoo' had any function besides flair, maybe as testing ground against different potential enemies, to work out their strength(s and weaknesses). Don't recall having seen something like it so far. It now seems some of its inhabitants even serve as kind of NPCs / information providers, neat.

  2. Wow it really seems an amazing clone of Ultima. I give it a thumbs up, based on what Chet´s discovering so far.

  3. This game sounds like the best indy U4 clone so far. Finds like these are among the highlights of this blog for me.

  4. Does the game actually call it a moongate? And if yes, could perchance the destination change depending on the phases of the moons?

    1. No, it doesn't actually use that term. But it only shows up when both moons are full. For other phases, it's not even there.

  5. I like these entries that are pure plot, it reads like the chapter of a fantasy novel.

  6. This game keeps me intrigued and I am looking forward to see more entries.

  7. Where did you find this game? I attempted to search it on Google using the game's title and the author's name, but the only results I got were... your posts, along with Paul Falstad's website where he has a bunch of educational apps that he wrote (I'm assuming it's the same person).

    1. My first thought was to look for it on Aminet (a huge repository of Amiga software), and it is there:

      To play it you'll need an Amiga emulator, on Windows you can use WinUAE. It's not easy to set up without knowing a decent amount about Amigas, though.

    2. Yeah, I had the same problem originally. Search for "Antep" rather than "Antepenult" along with "Amiga" and "Download," and that should get you there.

    3. Chet wrote on his "Missing and Mysteries" page that the Aminet download is corrupted, so you might want to try another one.

      If you use UAE, the comments in this thread might also be useful (search for 'Antep'):

    4. It's equally possible that I don't know what I'm talking about.

    5. The Aminet version doesn't obviously look corrupted, I can certainly start it and play for a bit. Where did the other version come from? Searching for "Antep Amiga Download" and looking at the resulting pages, the first one that doesn't just link to Aminet is The executable is different, but then it calls itself 1.0, while the Aminet version is 1.1. The data files are identical between the two.

    6. @D.K.: Normally I wouldn't put direct download links here, but since this is shareware / the unregistered version was distributed as PD (and the author even suggested what to do with the shareware fee), here goes (v1.1):

      There is also an alternate link for the Aminet Set 1 files on

      @Chet: The latter has a different readme file which contains a hint regarding the pirates and a ship (ROT13'd): "jnvg njuvyr sbe gur cvengrf, gurl qba'g pbzr bhg vzzrqvngryl. (Lbh'yy arrq n fuvc gb rkcyber ng yrnfg bar bs gur pbagvaragf.)"

    7. Thanks for the link: comparing that against the Aminet version, the executables are identical, but the data files are different. That's not surprising, though, as the game modifies the data file as you play. Given that the Aminet executable matches your link, and the data file matches the earlier 1.0 release, I don't think there's any problem with the Aminet version. It is packed in an older (in Amiga terms) lzh format archive, which may have been the cause of Chet's problems.

    8. I didn't understand how lha files worked, I guess. I still don't, really. For instance, I'd love some instructions on how to get this up and running:

    9. I haven't seen an LZH or LHA file in years... old compression format from the 80s... ARC and then many others... then the ZIP of today!

    10. For these old archives, I use "The Unarchiver" to extract them. It has both Windows (command line) and Mac versions.

      For HackLite II
      This one was certainly less than "easy" in my optinion. First you have the "HackLite2_1.lha".
      Inside that is a readme and another .LHA > HackLite2.lha
      "HackLite2.lha" appears to be a floppy backup.
      The floppy volume name needs to be "Hack_Install".
      It has to be installed to a hard drive. You can't play from the floppy.
      I created an ADF floppy that works for hard drive installation. (will send Chet details)
      So all you need is a hard drive. Hopefully you have created one in WinUAE at some point that can be utilized.

    11. Yeah, LHA support should still be included in modern archive software. I just checked and GNU Lha for Windows was able to decompress HackLite. Of course, in true Amiga fashion there are several other LZH files nested in it.

      If I'm not mistaken I played this exact game on a friend's Amiga back in the day, and it was my introduction to the entire Roguelike genre. I was entranced...I couldn't get enough of it. I didn't quite get permadeath though. I would save my file and make a copy, so that when after I got killed I could just rename it and get my game back. But this was bad because I kept saving unwinnable positions, with strong monsters on the loose or when I was low on food. It would have been better if someone had explained that you were supposed to die a lot and gain experience that way. My friend was annoyed when I talked about getting my save game back: "No, you can't because the damn game deletes it." Then I showed him the trick and he slapped his forehead and said, "Yes, I did not do that because I am stupid."

      Larn was better though. That game taught me the value of just forging ahead with what you've got. Plus not having to play for years and years just to win once.

    12. With a bit of work I got HackLite2 going, but it was definitely a pain. LanHawk has beaten me to it, but anyway, if you can't get that to work say something on the blog, I've been able to create ADF disk images to play it from.

  8. I have been lurking on this blog for a few years. The coverage of this game is fantastic, and I absolutely love the ancient Greek here or there. The password, meaning "enter" literally made me lol. Great kudos owed to the game author for the efforts on the language part. Addict you have definitely made the internet better for me with your coverage of this game.

    Ps. I am not an ancient Greek expert so I can't vouch for the correctness of spelling and grammar, but most things so far look ok to my amateur eyes.

  9. Here's a question for Chester. The past few days I've been seeing people on social media substantiating what I'd read about in magazines from 40 years ago, basically total conversions of early Ultima games (not clones, but entirely new valid game data run through Origin's executables) that would allow people to play through "alternate scenarios" -- fan maps made with level editors. They are super niche, but are they worth investigating on this blog?

    1. Yes, potentially, particularly if they were marketed and sold. I just need to take the time to review the multiple comments and generate some kind of list.

    2. @R.L.: There is a recent comment thread on the 'Ultima III: Won' post about the subject which I understand Chet is referring to (see the last comments on that page).

    3. Really? What's changed? Because I remember asking you the same question about Ultimore a while back and you gave a pretty harsh no.

    4. Apparently the same cottage industry also existed for extending Wizardry with fanmade scenarios:

    5. I'm not sure I realized at the time that Ultimore was actually marketed and sold. But over the last year, I've come to regard my list a bit differently from how I regarded it back then. I don't really expect that i'll ever "clear" any particular era. I'll just keep selecting randomly from the games that turn up in my backpath. With that outlook, I can be more generous about what I add to the potential list.

    6. I'm very glad to hear that, Addict (sincerely!). Among other things it seems like more fun, and less pressure, than the alternative viewpoint.

  10. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 4, 2023 at 2:28 PM

    Which would you say is more satisfying to play: this, or Serpent Isle? Obviously the latter has more production value, but (as someone who has played neither) I have to say that this one is more enjoyable to read about. Perhaps Antepenult has a more open world than S.I. ?

    On another note, your previous post posed the puzzle, 'I wonder what title Falstad thinks deserves the designation of "penultimate." ' Perhaps that would be Akalabeth?

    1. Serpent Isle, but it's not as far in the lead as I would have expected.

  11. This is exactly the type of game I never even heard of, that keeps me coming to this adventure of a blog for about ten years so far.

    Chet, how would you rate this Ultima clone compared to all the others? Just by reading your entries, it seems like a very interesting discovery and a pretty solid game for a shareware game overall.

    1. Top 20%. It could have done some more with original world-building instead of creating a mismash of mythological themes, but the mechanics are solid.

    2. Harland clan represent!

  12. Are you sure those “ice” squares actually represent ice? In a place named “Aethereia” I might assume they’re clouds.

    1. You know . . . I honestly don't know where I got that idea. I suppose it's possible that they're clouds or something else.

  13. "The town of Megara has been seized by an evil presence that makes NPCs randomly attack you."

    It really makes me wonder if Falstad knew the 'Captain Future' episode arc I referred to in a comment on the previous 'Antepenult' post (in which a baddie creates a disease that causes inhabitants of the planet Megara to devolve into ape-like beings which attack other people). Or maybe there is something in classic Greek mythology which is at the origin of both?

    1. I thought that Captain Future was pretty obscure outside of Europe, despite being based on an American pulp series.

    2. Yes, that's why maybe a common origin is more probable. The closest I can find is that according to Greek mythology, Megara was Herakles's wife and, struck with madness by Hera, he killed their children (and depending on sources also her).

    3. All the three cities are actual cities in Greece (well, Laodicea is in modern Turkey), so it's unlikely to be a reference to something modern. Although the word Megara does bear a similarity to Megaera, the goddess of jealous rage.

    4. "The town of Megara has been seized by an evil presence that makes NPCs randomly attack you."

      Isn't that what happens in Ultima V when one of the Shadowlords visits one of the cities?

    5. Yeah, good call. Something about that tickled a memory, but I didn't quite make the connection.

    6. Another commonality between this and Ultima IV - a small percentage of "corpses" in a healer are able to talk and have clues, as you mentioned in one of your captions. This is not immediately obvious.

      The secret door pause does make design sense - a lot of U4 secret doors were trivialized by having the secret doors be distinguishable and easy to test.

      Feels like if someone were to write up detailed and clear instructions for modern machines to run this game, a lot of old nostalgic Ultima fans like myself would want to play this as an alternate world/time capsule version of the U4 engine running a U3 style plot. Awesome!


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