Wednesday, May 31, 2023

By the Light of the Ambery Moon

The game's first "boss" battle.
If you're a regular reader of the blog, you heard my excuse for hardly posting at all in the second half of April and first half of May: I was sick, then buried in work that accumulated while I was sick. I managed to come back for two entries before my laptop broke on a business trip. Honestly, I've been very disappointed in this Alienware laptop. It has no numberpad--which is admittedly on me; I just assumed a gaming laptop would have one. When I bought it, it had an overly loud fan that I had to get fixed. The ports are all in the back, making them inconvenient to reach. Even worse, there's needless cosmetic lighting on the back panel, which makes it hard to see the ports in even a modestly-dark room.
If I leave it alone for a couple of hours, it's a crapshoot whether it wakes up from "sleep" mode, although I recognize this might be a Windows 11 issue rather than a hardware issue. A few weeks ago, it started doing this thing where even when it did wake up, the keyboard wouldn't work, so I had to restart before I could log in. Finally, last week, the keyboard stopped working entirely. I tried restarting, popping out the battery, booting in safe mode, and so forth, and I couldn't get anything to work. I shut it down and packed it away, came home on Saturday, plugged in an external keyboard, logged on, updated some drivers, but still couldn't get it to work. I left it alone the rest of the weekend but turned it on this morning in preparation for taking it to someone who knows what he's doing--and it was suddenly working again. Aargh.
This shot occurs a little before the one above.
That said, I can't blame the last week entirely on the computer. While I was out of town without local transportation and busy during the days, I could have taken a Lyft to an office supply store and bought an external keyboard. My problem was thus partly technological and partly . . . well, Ambermoon. I am really having trouble getting a foothold in this game, and I cannot articulate exactly why. I liked Amberstar, and so far the sequel isn't that different. When I start it up, though, I immediately feel my energy drain, and I have trouble playing it for more than a couple of hours. I don't at all have the same problem with Serpent Isle, so it's not ennui with gaming in general that has me in its grip.
Anxious to get my blog back on track, I told myself that I'd just publish whatever I had accomplished in a few hours, even if it was just what I'd already written above. Giving myself permission to post a very short entry has given me the necessary momentum in the past, and it got me over the hump here.
If you say "no," he just attacks again. I don't see the point.
When I last wrote, I had catalogued all of the quests and quest leads I had found in the city of Spannenberg. I had been stymied by combat difficulty in a couple of directions, which bothered me because I thought the city's combats were fixed, as almost all of them were in Amberstar. Commenter Fincki alerted me to try exploring the streets at night, when I had been sleeping. He was right. There seem to be an endless number of combats at night. They're based on timing rather than geography; you encounter them even if you stand still.
I spend some time grinding against bandits, who pose little risk after you've leveled up even once. Almost all their attacks miss or do no damage. They always attack in pairs and have the same equipment and gold. Leveling is slower since experience is shared between two characters, plus warriors seem to require more experience to level than adventurers. I loot what armor I can carry and sell it at the shop during the day, using the proceeds to buy a little training and better equipment.
I wish there were modern stores in which you could sell anything for at least something.
When Egil (warrior) hits Level 2 and Qamara (adventurer) hits Level 6, I decide to try my luck in the cemetery again. It features combats with zombies, which are also endless if you hang around at night. They start each battle with short bows. After they run out of arrows, they switch to short swords. In between, they occasionally cast "Poison" spells. They're quite hard to hit. Nonetheless, with my improved characters, I am able to defeat several packs without any serious mishaps except the depletion of my "Cure Poison" potions.
The highest level so far.
The graveyard has a front area and a back area. The front area has a statue to Bala, goddess of death, "may you guard the peace of the dead forever." In response to that, someone named "Gordon" has scrawled in runic, "NOT FOR MUCH LONGER, AS I AM THE GOD OF DEATH."
Gordon, the caretaker, is found in the "older part of the graveyard," raising more zombies. He attacks as we enter. The battle is with a skeleton, a zombie, and Gordon, labeled the "zombie master," and it's a little annoying for reasons that get into combat positioning. If I have this right--and it's entirely possible I'm missing something--the enemies get the first three rows of the combat grid and the party gets the last two. Characters and enemies cannot cross the line between Row 3 and Row 4. If Rows 2 or 3 are blank, the party can advance across the entire battlefield and close the distance, but this just means that in the next round, the enemies are one row closer to the characters, who (again) always stay in the last two rows.
From a later battle, note that the character can't move into the third row.
The problem is that if there isn't a blank row, the characters have to deal with whoever is in Row 3 before they can advance to attack any more enemies in melee range. This battle starts with one enemy in each row, and the Row 3 enemy is far to the right. The party has to waste a couple of rounds sidling into position, kill the zombie, advance, and then waste a couple rounds sidling back to the left. If I had spells or missile weapons, I'd be able to target the rear ranks, but I haven't figured out spells yet, and while I have some missile weapons from previous battles, I don't have any ammo.
I thus have to win this one the long way, giving Gordon plenty of time to cast spells like "Magic Missile," "Mudsling," and "Irritate." He manages to kill Egil on my first attempt, and I have to reload and try again. (I'm not exactly sure how to resurrect characters yet.) On a second try, I get luckier rolls and manage to close the distance and kill him.
The left character can't do anything until the right character finishes killing that skeleton.
Two other quick notes on combat:
  • Weapons and armor can break. This seems to happen randomly rather than based on any kind of hidden health meter. I bought a chainmail shirt and it broke in the first combat after I purchased it. Enemy items can break, too.
  • Enemies sometimes lose morale and try to flee. I spent a few combats trying to chase them down, but it appears that you get the experience rewards from enemies who flee. I don't think you get their equipment, though.
No point chasing him unless I want his armor.
Gordon drops a brooch, a watch, a robe, a necromancer's dagger, a mushroom, and several spell scrolls. When I use the watch, it embeds a permanent clock in the interface.
With the brooch in hand, I return to the Limping Rogue tavern, where a thief named Aman was looking for the item in exchange for the password to the Thieves' Guild. He gives it as SILK, the name of the guild's founder. Silk was the first NPC who joined my party in Amberstar, a long-haired mustachioed man.
Good to know he had a meaningful life.
We enter the Limping Rogue's basement, where the interface changes to a first-person view. The ensuing dungeon is mostly a waste of time. The only thing to find is the magic mouth that leads to the Thieves' Guild and two combats with some trivially-easy spiders. As with previous dungeons, there are some items that look like they ought to be interactive, but if they are, I can't figure out what to do with them. Honestly, the first-person interface is too janky to force the player to use it for no reason.
A large map for no reason.
On the other side of the magic mouth, a generic thief welcomes us and invites us to use the guild's shop and training. A nearby door leads to the "Test of Thieves," where a sign says: "Solve the puzzle of the doors and the reward will be a real joy for any thief!" I didn't enter since I don't have any thieves in my party yet.
For some reason, I was expecting a rhyme.
A second generic thief asks if we've been to the House of Healers, where on his last visit, he "found a wonderful book of fables in a bookcase." I did in fact find this book, although I forgot to report on it last time. The book tells a fable of a Bird of Paradise, "half dead from thirst," who finds a well but is unable to reach the water within it. A wart-hog comes along and offers to tell the bird how to get the water in exchange for the bird's feathers. The desperate bird plucks them out and gives them to the wart-hog, who tells the bird to drop stones into the well until the water level rises high enough to reach it. The moral is: "Beauty is nice in life, but with intelligence, you live longer!" The story echoes the Aesop Fable of The Crow and the Pitcher, although in the fable, the crow is facing a relatively small pitcher and figures out the solution on his own. I'm not sure how a bird would drop enough stones into a well to raise the water level before he perished.
Elsewhere, we find trainers for "Find Traps," "Disarm Traps," and "Lockpick," as well as a shop--open only in the wee hours--that sells adventuring utilities like lockpicks and torches. I begin to think that the entire episode has been a waste without a thief (I could spend Qamara's points on thief skills, but I'm not sure that's wise) when I notice a compass for sale in the shop. It costs 2,000 gold--about two-thirds of what I have--but it's worth it when I get a permanent compass in the interface. I really liked this aspect of Amberstar--having to earn your interface tools--and I like it here, too.
He looks really eager to make the sale.
I buy a couple of lockpicks, a flint and steel (I don't know what it's for, but it's cheap), a few lanterns and torches, a crowbar, and a second rope. I return to the surface, again thanking the developers for introducing the fast travel system to balance the cumbersome first-person navigation.
We spend the rest of the night at the House of Healers. In the morning, we visit the healer, Sandra, because while looking up information on Silk in my Amberstar entries, I encountered the name of her grandmother's cat, FELIX. When I fed her the keyword, she touched our foreheads and gave us the ability to understand the language of animals. I assume that will come in handy.
The wonderful, wonderful cat!
The next thing would seem to be to head north into the desert and try to find the bandit camp. It's already late in the day at this point, so we spend 20:00-midnight grinding (random encounters seem to start at 20:00). Egil reaches Level 3. We sleep for 8 hours intending to sell looted goods to the shop in the morning, but the lazy-ass shopkeeper doesn't open until 10:00.
Flush with our success from the cemetery, we marched out into the desert. Almost immediately, we were attacked by desert lizards. They defeated us in a long and frustrating combat. They rarely did any damage, but when they did, they did a lot of damage. From our end, about 80% of our attacks either missed or did no damage, and the ones that did any damage only did 1 or 2 points.
It took us a long time to die.
At this point in the game, I still have two major questions:
1. Is the main character an "adventurer" for the entire game? I assumed I'd have a chance to pick a permanent class at some point, but I've been to one guild and one place that's sort-of like a guild, and there haven't been any such options.

2. How in the world does magic work? My character has a "mana" bar, but if I try to use scrolls, the game says, "Qamara is the wrong class to use that item!" As with the guilds, none of the scroll-selling places seem to offer a different way to acquire magic spells.
So I didn't get very far, but at least I got something out. We'll have a Serpent Isle entry next, which practically writes itself, and then coverage of some miscellaneous game before we head back to Lyramion. I hope that then I can make some more substantial progress.
Time so far: 10 hours


  1. "I wish there were modern stores in which you could sell anything for at least something."

    Imagine the queues in Aldi if everyone had a sack of junk to sell before paying for their groceries!

  2. I'll leave it to the tech-nerds to give you all the best gaming laptop advice you can stomach.

    P.S: You'll excuse that I've dropped out of this play-along early, don't you?

    1. Why did you drop out, though? Like I said, I'm having a hard time putting into words why I'm struggling so much with the game. Maybe your experience will help.

    2. I can pin-point that, it's the infuriating 3D-movement controls, when I bounced into a corner below the bandit hide-out six times in a row, I felt like having an electronic wheelchair malfunction.

      I'm also knee-deep into a new project which is keeping me up at nights in a good way, leaving little time left for gaming anyway.

      I'm sure glad I can discard games like this on a whim, good luck though!

  3. Your main character can only use alchemist spells, if I remember correctly; your class won't change. You can permanently learn spells from scrolls, but it costs spell learning points (SLPs) to do so. You will not get enough SLPs to learn every possible spell---not even with pure spellcasters---so choose wisely. Also, you can fail to learn a spell when attempting to learn it, and it still costs you your SLPs (as well as the scroll). (I don't know how purist you are about save-scumming that sort of thing, but it's something to consider.) Consider as well just casting spells directly from scrolls for the more rarely used spells, and just learning the spells you plan to use extensively in combat.

    There is a spell that can repair broken stuff, by the way.

  4. "The crow is facing a relatively small pitcher" gave me visions of a crow at the plate, facing up to SF Giants 5'11" Tim Lincecum

  5. AlphabeticalAnonymousMay 31, 2023 at 10:01 PM

    > My problem was thus partly technological and
    > partly . . . well, Ambermoon.

    For what it's worth, I'm so sorry. I feel at least partly responsible, since you playing Ambermoon was my 'prize' for guessing the BloodNet GIMLET. I never meant for it to be a punishment. In the unlikely event you want it, any time you need to throw in the towel I'm happy to send you my GIMLET with a brief writeup. (Maybe I could use GPT-style tools to craft it 'in the style of the Addict.')

    > I wish there were modern stores in which you could sell
    > anything for at least something.


    > If I have this right.... [combat]

    You do have it right. It's a curiously cumbersome approach to combat, one that (in my opinion) prevents combat from becoming more enjoyingly tactical. Though there are a few options down the road that give some characters more mobility and flexibility in combat.

    You're right that you don't get equipment from enemies who flee.

    > 1. Is the main character an "adventurer" for the entire game?

    Yes. This is a major difference from Amberstar: characters do not change classes.

    > 2. How in the world does magic work?

    Certain spells are only available to certain character classes. Quoting from the English translation of the manual I have on hand, "Although adventurers and rangers can use magic spells, they will never possess such extensive skills as members of the truly magic classes, i.e. healers, alchemists, mystics and magicians." Unfortunately I don't recall which of those classes of magic are available to Adventurers, but quick trial and error should help here. (@George Grady above answered this more completely, though).

    Good luck beating this ennui. And again: welcome back!

    1. You couldn't change classes in Amberstar, either, but several joinable NPCs were classless at first and could get one in a guild.

      Adventurers can learn Alchemist spells, which IIRC are the green ones. SLP requirements for green spells go from as low as 2 (light) to 25 for the most powerful spells. The success rate of learning spells is determined by a skill and if you fail the scroll gets lost (some of them are quite rare) - I didn't remember the additional SLP loss. One of my least favourite mechanics in the game, it makes it best to leave all but the least powerful spells to the specialists - or to reload on failure.

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 1, 2023 at 8:30 AM

      > You couldn't change classes in Amberstar, either,
      > but several joinable NPCs were classless at first
      > and could get one in a guild.

      Fair enough -- I was considering the switch from classless to X to be a change of character class.

    3. Alas, the last time I tried to sell a partial rat skeleton in a pawnshop, the proprietor told me I was a nutcase.

    4. And I swear I said comment as Google Account, not Anonymous.

      The Anonymous right before this is me.

    5. "Are you having me on? That's only 1/10 Partial Rat Skeletons."

    6. Pawn shops won't buy things that they don't think will sell quickly. What we really need is the modern equivalent of the rag-and-bone merchant that Dickens was always writing about.

      Thanks for your other clarifications, AA. I'm a little disappointed that Qamara won't get to choose a more interesting occupation.

  6. For the Numpad - you do get USB plugin ones for anything from $8-$25. Not as good as having it on the keyboard because it does move around but an alternative nonetheless.

    1. Yeah, I have one. But you're right about its weaknesses. There's never any good place to put it; it doesn't stay in place; and it just feels awkward to use.

    2. I'd argue a separate numpad/macropad is better because you can put it wherever you want. Not unusual to see people having them to the left of their keyboards so their right hand can be on the mouse

      Something like a winry315 from AliExpress, 15 keys and 3 knobs which can be programmed for everything like volume up/down, page up/down, next/previous track etc

    3. That's a good point. I haven't experimented much with moving it to the left, but I'll see if it works for me.

  7. You can run away from combats in the first person view, although it's hard when you're not skilled navigating it. IIRC when you select "No" you have a short moment where the opponent doesn't move and you can run away. Though I might be misremembering and that is only when all characters have fled from a combat.

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 1, 2023 at 8:29 AM

      I had the impression that the ability to avoid combat also depended on agility (perhaps, the agility of the currently active character?). But it sounds like the original first-person interface is so rough to use that this "opportunity" hardly makes a difference. :(

  8. Welcome back. So true, Windows is still letting us down substantially. Bit surprised your Alienware laptop had so many problems...

    1. I was really disappointed by Windows 11, too. Lots of keyboard shortcuts I was used to are gone (all the "Alt"-based ones), thus slowing me down substantially. I reverted to Windows 10 in the blink of an eye.

    2. VK (who can't log in for some reason)June 2, 2023 at 5:24 AM

      There's an unwritten law that every other version of Windows must be terrible: 2000, Vista, 8 and now 11. So I'm staying with 10 until they release 12 (or whatever it's gonna be called).

    3. Windows 11 was so bad performance wise on my laptop, I dumped it and put Linux on it. Works 1000 times better now and also no more privacy issues with newer Microsoft policies tracking everything you do. I'm pleasantly surprised at how many Windows based games work on Linux these days as well.

    4. Thought I logged in with my previous comment on Windows 11. Wanted to mention that Valve has put a lot of effort getting Windows games working on Linux because of their Steam Deck

    5. Again.. previous two comments were mine. Couldn't log in for some reason.

    6. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 2, 2023 at 10:16 AM

      As both a fellow Anonymous as well as a long-time Linux user, I heartily endorse most of the above thread.

      Though, @VK: I thought it was Windows ME that was bad, while Win2k was notably more stable than average...?

    7. @AA, yes, you're right, I mixed them up (it was over 20 years ago after all). But since 2000 was professional-only and ME was home-only, they kinda count as one version, so the law still stands.

    8. I generally don't mind Windows 11 at all. I believe the "multiple desktops" concept is new to the OS, which I use all the time to switch between my gaming and work without having to close any windows. In most ways, it seems to me that it's basically Windows 10.

      The one exception is starting up and shutting down. I cannot get the "sleep" option to work in any meaningful way, which means that if I want to close my laptop and take it somewhere and ensure that it's not running hot the entire time, I have to shut it down. Then there's the keyboard issue after it goes into screen lock and sits for a couple of hours. I don't know if Windows 11 is to blame for all of this or if it's some interaction with software and hardware.

    9. Sleep has been a problem for Windows for years - there's too many devices that have the ability to wake it, and trying to get them all disabled is a colossal pain.

      In this case, it almost certainly is a hardware interaction that's causing the problems.

    10. Good heavens, I've been doing multiple desktops in Linux for well over a decade.

    11. Multiple desktops are available in Windows 10 too. 11 added the option of having different backgrounds for each desktop.

      This isn't intended to be combative -- there are valid reasons for each operating system --, but whenever I had something to do with Windows 10/11, I really felt harassed by the start menu ads, the frequent updates with forced restarts, the promotion of the Edge browser, the imposition of a Microsoft account, the telemetry, and other nuisances that are pushed upon the user. I'm so glad that I was able to leave Windows completely behind and can play almost all games on Linux, thanks to the compatibility tools Wine/Proton. Not a big fan of Linux itself - I use macOS for work - but it's fine and doesn't deliberately nag the user.

      Interestingly, quite a few people report that getting old Windows 95/98 games to run is often easier with Wine/Proton than with modern Windows. The application makes this even easier. That's a great advantage.

      Some Windows 95/98 games will be a problem once the CRPG Addict enters the years 1995 - 200x. I assume that sometimes the only way to get a really fiddly Windows game to run might be with a PC emulator such as VirtualBox, 86Box, etc. Takes some work, but there will be readers who'll help.

    12. I´ve had endless issues with Windows 11. Funnily though I´m stuck with it at least workwise because linux is forbidden, which is weird, but another story. I think windows is a comfort thing for many people, especially the less IT inclined but it´s like politicians...we live with what we´ve got, we know they´re rubbish but we just go with the flow anyway.

    13. Multiple desktops were old hat when I first encountered them on Solaris CDE in 2000.

    14. My recollection is that Windows had multiple desktops all the way back to NT, but the feature was disabled by default and in some versions, you needed to install an add-on to enable them. The fact that they weren't considered a mainstream feature did lead to some compatibility issues when using them though.

      And Valve really has done an amazing job at pushing windows compatibility in Linux through Photon in order to sell the Steam Deck. I've used Linux exclusively for close to 20 years now and it's finally getting to a place where I don't feel consigned exclusively to retrogaming via emulation.

    15. @AlphabeticalAnonymous: Windows 2k was when Microsoft migrated the home desktop line from the 95/98 kernel to the Windows NT kernel. It was a technically superior operating system but because of the radical change under the hood, it was a compatibility nightmare for their existing user base. Windows ME was a failed attempt to smooth the transition by releasing another OS based on the 95/98 kernel that basically failed on every front. XP's great success came from discarding ME and augmenting 2K with a compatibility layer that kept legacy software working properly.

  9. "He gives it as SILK, the name of the guild's founder. Silk was the first NPC who joined my party in Amberstar, a long-haired mustachioed man."

    An unbidden memory of many hours wasted consuming literary comfort food rushed back into my mind: if the game's lore rests on a celebrated thief named Silk, there's a very good chance it's a reference to (or inspired by) a character in David Eddings' Belgariad series of fantasy novels.

    1. I believe that came up in the Amberstar postings, too. I read somewhere that other elements were drawn from Eddings, but I don't know what specifically.

  10. Honey moon keep a writin in June
    Your silvery lines will keep things fine
    We'll be finishing soon
    The Ambery moon

  11. Enter obligatory statement by system builder with unprintable "Garbageware" epithets.

    " I spend some time grinding against bandits" ease the tension caused by said laptop? *Eyebrow waggle*


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