Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Ambermoon: Everything is Illuminated

That's one hot flame.
My last session ended with the discovery that some demon named Luminor had kidnapped the inhabitants of Burnville and taken them to his tower. As this session began, the party set out in search of this tower. Almost immediately, we wandered into a swamp and got poisoned. I had to reload. The swamp on the other island didn't poison us, but maybe that's because we were mounted. We couldn't bring our horses with us to this island.
I eventually found a dungeon entrance (Bollgar Tunnel) southeast of Burnville, which led me into a dungeon guarded by a couple of fire giants. They were reasonably hard. Although they responded to "Lame" and stopped moving, I guess that "Lame" only affects physical attacks. They were still able to cast spells. Each of them could cast two "Fireballs" before their spell points ran out, so I had to weather those two attacks and rest and heal afterwards. I ran out of food around this time. Rather than go back, I had Qamara memorize the "Create Food" scroll and simply cast it every night before sleeping.
This is a fire giant.
The tunnel deposited us in a valley surrounded by mountains. Rivers crisscrossed the area, and it was tough to get around without taking damage from the water--until I discovered that you can walk across riffles undamaged. 
I forgot what game I was playing and thought I was about to wake up a god.
The only thing to find in this area was a large, single-room house. The building had an altar in the middle of the center room. As we approached it, Nelvin said: "That must be the altar which my master Trasric described. All we need is to use the Sphere of Opening on the altar and that will open the path to the tower." Until now, I had forgotten that Nelvin had said he wanted to find the old Tower of Black Magicians. I looked over my old entries, and I remembered that we'd had to use the same Sphere of Opening to visit the tower in Amberstar. In both games it removes a mountain that otherwise blocks access.
With the way open, we reached the tower and entered. For a long time, I couldn't figure out how to move past the antechamber on the first Level. There were no doors, secret doors, or buttons that I could find. I had to look up a spoiler. The secret was to find an unlit torch and use the flint-and-iron on it, which opened a secret passage to the north. I have two excuses for not figuring it out. The first is my usual one: for me, the unlit torch almost completely blends with the wall behind it. I can see the base of the sconce okay, though, so it's only a partial excuse. The rest of it is that I wasn't looking out for that kind of puzzle. All previous puzzles in the game have been simpler (find a switch) or have been presaged with hints. I'll know better in the future. 
I can kind of see the torch, now that I know to look for it.
There were a couple of fire dragons in the chamber beyond. They attacked individually and were about as difficult as the fire giants. They could cast "Firestorm" a couple of times but were vulnerable to "Lame," preventing their physical attacks after that. I had to reload from a particularly damaging "Firestorm," but otherwise I was able to get past them.
Might and Magic would have us just walk right into them.
The level had two exits, up and down, both blocked by swinging, bladed pendulums. Their off switches were behind secret doors. I went down first. In the basement, the game switched to a top-down view. The level consisted of one large room with torture instruments and a bubbling pool of lava. The people of Burnville were locked in a cage, calling feebly for help, and the healer Sabine was frantically trying to pick the lock. She told us that Luminor personally held the key to the cells and offered to join the party, which I accepted. She's a human healer, and at the time she joined, she was Level 6.
"Doesn't she have the same face as everyone else in the game?" "No, look: she's facing a different direction." "Wow, good job."
Up on the second floor, we met more enemies, including a fire giant and fire dragon attacking together and two fire dragons attacking together. Each battle took me multiple reloads. I suspect the key to making it easier lay in one of the scrolls I had left in my bureau at home. As when I fought them individually, "Lame" only did so much. Each pair had at least four mass-damage spells, so I had to hope that they chose not to use them or hope that the damage rolls were favorable. I managed to survive both battles by having Sabine cast healing spells and Selena use healing potions in between rounds.
Those fire dragons are jacked.
The second floor had a large central chamber scattered with pools of lava. These killed some of my characters outright if I walked into them, so I had to carefully step around them. In the middle of the chamber was a large fire. As I approached, a voice said: "I AM HIS POWER AND HIS MIGHT. THE HIGHER I BURN, THE STRONGER HE IS. HE WILL NEVER DIE AS LONG AS I LIVE." If we walked into the flame, we were "instantly turned to ashes."
A stone grotesque on a north wall had a round hole in its mouth. Sabine noted that "it looks as if it is very thirsty."
On the next level, we found a glowing necklace hovering in the air. When I touched it, there was a loud explosion, and some kind of portal between worlds opened in front of us. There were "two shadowy figures" on the other side. One of them was hit by lightning, after which the gate closed and the room got dark. We heard growling. Lighting another lantern, we found a half-human, half-cat standing in front of us. 
If I was about to complete my main quest and save my girlfriend and this happened, I'd be a lot angrier than Valdyn was.
The being introduced himself as Valdyn, a Felinic male ranger. He said he had found the necklace in his world and had hoped to use it to remove a curse on his girlfriend, who had been turned to stone by a powerful magician. "You, too, can experience the adventures of Valdyn," the game said. "Play Lionheart today!" Lionheart is a 1992 or 1993 side-scrolling action platformer from the same development team (Thalion). The plot concerns Valdyn trying to recover a stolen holy relic, the Lionheart, for the King of the Cat People. Valdyn's beloved, Ilene, was turned to stone during the theft. According to Wikipedia: "The game epilogue has Valdyn returning the Lionheart to the temple, still grieving for Ilene. However, in the optimal ending, if the player has found the amulet in the earlier hidden level, Valdyn is able to heal Ilene." I guess I just interrupted that little ceremony. Whoops. Valdyn joined the party at Level 8 , reasoning that "perhaps we will find a way for me to return." 
That gave me a full complement of six characters. It was a rare combat in which I could use them all effectively; owing to the rigid battle lines the game enforces (for the party, anyway), no more than three characters can ever be within melee range of a single enemy. I'll have to invest in ranged weapons for a few of them. Valdyn can learn mystic spells, meaning I have a full complement of potential spellcasting power.
Trying to work out a sensible arrangement.
The next two levels were full of traps, including a passageway blocked by "huge iron bars" that came shooting out of the ground--instantly fatal to a few characters. The traps were deactivated by switches behind secret doors. Also behind secret doors were a number of trapped and locked chests containing vials of "ice cold water." When dumped into the mouth on Level 2 that "looked thirsty," they caused the flame in that room to diminish. I guess they weakened Luminor for the final battle.
I'm not sure how a stone face looks thirsty, but whatever gives me the hint.
I found four of these vials, the last of them in a large room full of flames that moved around in random patterns. If they intersected the party, they would explode and kill a few of us. Getting through this room took at least four reloads. I said I wouldn't complain about the interface anymore after I dissected it a few entries ago, but honestly, movement in this game is not precise, responsive, or quick enough for this kind of puzzle.
Threading through these flames was my least favorite part of this session.
Four is a weird number; in the end, the flame was only diminished, not extinguished; and Luminor was still plenty difficult in battle. All of this makes me suspect there was a fifth vial to find, but I never found it.
Luminor--a large, beastlike demon--was on the top floor. He attacked when we entered his room. He was a tough customer--immune to "Lame" and "Sleep" and capable of mass-damage spells like "Firestorm" every round. Fortunately, he wasn't immune to fire-based magic himself. After a couple of reloads, I defeated him in two rounds by having my Qamara and Egil use the special "Fireball" attacks from their Flameblades, having Nelvin cast a powerful spell called "Windhowler" that I'd learned at some point earlier in the session, and having Selena cast a damage spell from a scroll. Valdyn attacked in melee range and Sabine healed Egil, who had been damaged in the first round.
Fighting fire with fire.
Luminor had the key to the cage on his body. A chest nearby had several attribute potions, another Windpearl, a couple of wishing coins, a Ring of Anti-Magic, a Target Bow and some magic arrows, a second Ring of Sobek, and a third Throwing Sickle. I gave the sickle to Sabine and the Target Bow to Valdyn, giving me three melee characters and three ranged characters.
I've been struggling on the attribute potions. My policy has been to give them to Qamara if she needs the potion (i.e., if she isn't maxed out in that attribute) and to the person who needs it most otherwise. My reasoning is that I don't know for sure which party members will be with me until the end and which will be replaced. I assume there are more potential party members; I still haven't encountered a paladin, alchemist, or mystic.
We returned to the basement and freed the prisoners, who thanked us profusely. "Most of them are badly injured," the game noted, "and you help them to carry the weakest. Everyone stutters their thanks and many of their eyes are full of tears." One of them introduced himself as Captain Torle, owner of the boatyard in Spannenberg. "Please visit me there," he said. "I would like to show my gratitude to you for releasing me."
I guess we were too late for at least two of them.
We headed back through the mountain pass to Burnville. Back in the city, all the buildings were now open and occupied. Our first stop was the House of Art, where we met several people. Theresa was a jeweler who had several items for sale, including gems, magic rings, and a Windpearl. She said that she'd fix any broken jewelry that we had. I tried to give her the Windpearl Necklace, but she didn't have any reaction to that.
Maybe change the town's name while you're at it.
A human mystic named Milzor asked if we knew anything about magic words. He noted that two of them, SCHNISM and TEMPUS FUGIT, had some power in the past. These are apparently references to cheat codes that were possible in Amberstar, as outlined in this comment by Fincki. They were apparently activated by the HELP key, which does nothing in this game. I'm not sure how else you'd use "magic words," since you can't just speak random words at any time. I assume Milzor is just making an insider reference rather than imparting anything I can actually use. Milzor also had a shop selling mystic scrolls. I bought "Identification" so I could save 250 gold at the sage--only to find that Valdyn doesn't have enough spell points to cast it.
In the same building, a cartographer named Michael gave us a hot-off-the-press map of Lyramion, which allows me to finally use the map that came with the game. An artist named Dieter Rottermund gave me an oil painting that he'd just completed on commission for the Baron of Newlake. He asked me to bring it to him. The painting is called Ambermoon. These are all further in-jokes. Dieter Rottermund is a real person, credited with the cover artwork, and Michael Bittner is credited with the game map.
A developer's avatar gives me a quest.
Looking at the map, I realized I've been a bit of an idiot. From the backstory, I obviously knew that the former continent of Lyramion had been split into the "Lyramonic Isles" thanks to the moon striking the planet. I somehow didn't realize the degree of correspondence between the map features, however. Probably Ultima's insistence that "earthquakes and tsunamis" are capable of changing the size, shape, and composition of entire landmasses led me to not question it. With the maps side-by-side, I can see that the correspondence in these two titles is quite faithful. Ambermoon starts in what was the Hoimon Desert in Amberstar. Alkem's Tower was the Tower of the Grey Wizards in the previous game. The caves where I encountered the fairies and orcs were the Dwarf Mines of Amberstar. The Bollar Mountains are in the same place, forming the same ring around the Tower of the Black Wizards/Luminor's Tower. I'll note other parallel features as I visit those islands. 
The two game maps, in comparison.
Elsewhere in Burnville, the general store sold nothing I really needed, but they had a mysterious, non-magical scimitar for sale for an incredible 25,000 gold pieces. The House of Healing had healing scrolls for sale, as well as some wounded people retrieved from Luminor's dungeon. One of them, an old woman, was suffering from some heartbreaking PTSD, having hallucinations that she was still being tortured. There was a guy training the "Swimming" skill, but I didn't bother for now. The owner of the Cactus Inn let us stay for a reduced price of one gold piece each. Wandering about town, an NPC told me that the elves of Illien "desperately need people to help them" in some kind of struggle against Sansri, the goddess of snakes. Another told us that the Master of the Forest on the island to the east was looking for a new apprentice. He also said that the island has rare Xenobil Trees; "their wood is so valuable that even a single stick is worth more than even the whole town of Burnville."
Perhaps most important, a blacksmith shop on the west side of town offered to repair broken items. I spent thousands of gold to repair the Magic Disc, Crystal Ball, and Locater Device found in my grandfather's stash. The Locater Device added a permanent element to the interface showing our coordinates (which don't seem to line up with the coordinates in Amberstar). The Magic Disc allows us to skim across both water and land, although we still can't go over deep water. I'm not sure what the Crystal Ball does, as it's "out of charges."
The disc makes it look like I'm floating in an inner tube.
Finally, we returned to Spannenberg, visited my house, sorted through our equipment, got some training (Valdyn can learn "Critical Hits"), and spent some money on attribute potions at Alchem's Tower.
The party heads out on new adventures!
We capped the session with a visit to Captain Torle who, true to his word, left a ship for us at the end of the dock outside the city. With this ship and the game map, it looks like the world is open to us! The next obvious stop is Newlake, but I don't know--I think I might try to take advantage of one of the few open-world games of the era. It's likely that enemy difficulty or various keys and other plot elements will channel me along a particular path, but I'm of a mind to at least see.

Time so far: 38 hours


  1. "for me, the unlit torch almost completely blends with the wall behind it."

    In this case that actually happens to be true for everyone; for some reason all the rocks in the upper parts of the walls in this dungeon are brown instead of the more usual grey, which really makes the torch not stand out from the background.

    1. I had to enlarge the posted image and really examine it closely to find the torch -- and I *knew* it was there. It was very well hidden.

    2. Glad to hear it wasn't just me this time.

    3. Viewing the image after your comment, I'm not sure I'd have seen it if I wasn't already looking for it. Moreover, i's more club like than torch like

  2. I also had the doubt abot the existence of a fifth vial, and I remember spending a nontrivial amount of time canvassing the dungeon looking for it, but also according to the walkthrough there are only 4.

    Something that might have helped you in the tower...
    Unir lbh vqragvsvrq gur evat bs fborx?

    Glad that the game finally opened up. Constraining players to a limited initial area so that they can get accustomed to the game mechanics, without being overwhelmed by the choice of where to go next, is an element of game design also present in many modern open world games (the last couple of Assassin's Creed and RDR2 do that, for example), but 38 hours is probably a bit of an overkill...

    1. In addition to what Vince said might have helped in the tower - for the Fire Dragons, qvq lbh gel gb hfr Fyrrc?

      In case you have been reloading for single party members having been killed - unir lbh purpxrq gur cevpr sbe erfheerpgvba va gur erivgnyvmrq Oheaivyyr?

    2. Quite a time to open up. I mean, it's no cavetrain, but..

  3. Always looking forward to another Ambermoon entry. If I remember correctly Luminor had a short appearance already in Amberstar. He was trapped in the tower of the black mages as some kind of museums peace, but it was a long time ago since I played Amberstar so I might misremember some things.

    When I played Ambermoon I also thought that the first linear part was far too long and at that point I was also very happy to finally have an open world.

    1. Thanks. I didn't remember that.

    2. You are right, this is the same Luminor as in Amberstar, who had referred to himself as the "ghost of fire." If interested, he shows up in one of my videos at the :45 second mark:

    3. Thanks. Even with Johnny's reminder, I was having trouble placing him. Sounds like the seeds of his later megalomania were already present in the first game.

  4. Not too long ago in Serpent Isle you also had the ads/easter eggs referring to other Origin titles. Was this a thing at the time? I'm trying to remember if there have been other such in-game ads (i.e. as part of the gameplay, not just in the opening or closing parts like the classical plug for a sequel) earlier in games covered on the blog (or elsewhere)?

    Regarding your reference to The Magic Candle, given the number of games you played and the time that has passed, it's often surprising to me how many details you recall.

    "Maybe change the town's name while you're at it." -> to "Burnedville".

    "They were apparently activated by the HELP key, which does nothing in this game."
    You probably checked this - it seems it's mapped to different keys depending on the emulator used. One of them is 'page down' on the numpad and I recall you saying you had to get an external one since your new laptop doesn't have it - not sure if that has any impact.

    "our coordinates (which don't seem to line up with the coordinates in Amberstar)."
    Based on the effect of the impact and looking at the maps, I would assume they don't for the most part as the different parts of the erstwhile united continent have been driven apart and there are now "additional" bodies of water between them in places where once there was land.
    A bit like the coordinates of places on Pangaea would not correspond to most of the current continents (though obviously less extreme).

    1. In Might&Magic VII you can clip through a wall in an endgame zone to enter the New World Computing offices and slaughter everyone there, including Jon van Caneghem to get some high level gear.

      That's a famous example of programmers including their own staff into the game, albeit from '99.

    2. Different genre, but the original Monkey Island had a character whose entire purpose was to advertise Loom

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 5, 2023 at 8:51 AM

      @BESTIE: Like MM7, Ambermoon also has a 'cheat room' in a far corner of Spannenberg. (Or was that only in the remake?)

      @Twibat: I remember that LOOM guy -- he was really annoying.

    4. No, it was in Ambermoon. You need a specific Item to enter the Thalion Studio and get everything that is available in the game.

    5. "Regarding your reference to The Magic Candle, given the number of games you played and the time that has passed, it's often surprising to me how many details you recall."

      Well, you did get the reference too and I'm sure many regular readers did as well... it's not that surprising :)

      I recently played the upcoming Bloodstone, and a lot of the mechanics felt familiar even if I had never played any The Magic Candle game, just from Chet's past coverage of those games.

    6. Different genre again, but the awesome shoot 'em up Tyrian had plot developments that referenced the platformer Jazz Jackrabbit and beat 'em up One Must Fall.

    7. Different genre AGAIN, King's Quest II contains an animated advertisement for Space Quest, and conversely Space Quest contains a full scene from King's Quest I.

      In brief, yes, this was very much a thing at the time :D

    8. There's easter eggs and there's actually getting a main character of another game to join you. This reminds me of Ultima VI where Seggallion of Knights of Legend can join your quest (and he's pretty good).

    9. I manually mapped HELP to one of the F-keys, and it did nothing. I just don't think it has a function in this game.

      I'm sure it didn't happen this way, but I want to believe that Greg Paul Malone left Origin in snit after Lord British refused to let Moebius the Windwalker make an appearance in any of the Ultima games. "What?! He let them put Seggallion in there? What did Todd Porter ever do for him that I didn't?!" Overturns desk and storms out.

    10. Tyrian. What a game. It's even an RPG under the 'Is there grinding?' metric.

      I think One Must Fall qualifies under that definition as well - neither are actually RPGs of course.

      The upgrading in both games was very satisfying for teenage me.

    11. >It's often surprising to me how many details you recall.

      It's quite random. I forget a LOT. There are games that I played this year, even, that I have no memory of. I'm looking at my January entries, and I'd swear they were written by someone else. I played all the way through an NES game called Zombie Hunter? I'm going to need more proof.

      But waking up the gods in the MC series was done in three games in a row, so I guess that makes it stick.

    12. The "New World Computing" office was actually in MM6 not MM7. You could get some eq/gold (limited) out of it but wasn't really a cheat room, just a small head start.

      MM7 otoh had a corpse looting reload system that would let you get out of starting island rich and with virtually no problems for the rest of the game.

    13. I feel I recall this in particular from Amiga games of this period. I distinctly recall the Loom example mentioned above, for instance.

  5. The inhabitants of Burnville were kidnapped by a fire demon? Sounds like they were asking for it tbh.

  6. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 5, 2023 at 8:49 AM

    Congratulations, you've now found the full, default 'starter party' that most players finish the game with. If you want a less typical playthrough, or to challenge convention, you'll pick up a few of the later-game NPCs that you meet.

    I can't even say how many times I tried to walk between those swinging blades. There's a roll against some character attribute, so very occasionally one character would survive and make it through ... but they never survived two trips through.

    Did Luminor's Tower also have a puzzle with moving 'holes' that one would fall through, down to the floor below? Or was that something brand-new inserted into the '' remake?

    As for that $25,000 scimitar: don't knock it until you've tried it!

    1. If there was any such puzzle, I didn't encounter it.

      I think this party is reasonably well-balanced. I wonder if a paladin wouldn't be a better choice for Egil's position, but it seems cruel to kick him out just because he can't heal people.

    2. >Congratulations, you've now found the full, default 'starter party' that most players finish the game with.

      *raises hand*

      >Did Luminor's Tower also have a puzzle with moving 'holes' that one would fall through, down to the floor below?

      That's in Lebab's Tower. Quite frustrating. (I hope that's not considered a spoiler.)

  7. As a certified Amiga nerd, I'm amazed I never knew about this shared universe stuff. Outstanding! I love, -love-, that he has the amulet and it has the corresponding effect.

  8. This game does have some adventure game aspects with the items. There are certain things you'll need. Sometimes a spell can achieve the same effect, but you might not have it available. I always carried around multiple pickaxes, shovels (or were they spades? I forget), ropes and other things. Some items go poof after you use them once, and you don't want to be hours into a dungeon just to realize you need this one thing to continue.

    Valdyn does have a small quest you can do for him. If you do it, it's acknowledged at the end of the game.

    There are more characters to come, but after putting so much into the ones I had, I didn't want to start over with weapons, skill points, etc.

    I know you mentioned the music, but I can't remember if you had left it on or not. If you get back to the artists' house, turn it on for a minute. The music there starts off with this chill bass riff, and is soon accompanied by strange synth sounds. I remember stopping in my playthrough to listen to it, saying, "Wow, that's different," something like that. On the other hand, the song in Illien is an annoying, "It's a pirate's life for me," kind of melody that has the same 30 seconds repeating over and over. Avoid!

    My final note is that eventually, I had Selena hardly attack at all in battles, since her damage with any ranged weapon was not so good. She became the administer of potions. Since she's the fastest, she could always heal someone with a potion before the enemy could attack. She turned from rogue to doctor.

  9. Curiously, while I was fully aware that Ambermoon and Lionheart were the final two games by Thalion, I also was never aware of the shared universe connection. What I DO remember though was a very snippy interview by the Thalion developers published around the time of Lionheart's release, where they lamented in quite a prissy fashion that all the software pirates were to blame for the death of the Amiga and that at least ten times more people were playing their games than they actually sold copies. Lionheart was published, according to that interview, without any significant copy protection to more or less 'give Amiga lovers a chance to show how much they actually value the hard work of developers ' (or something along those lines). And I mean yeah, the Amiga scene was pretty rampant with piracy no doubt, but I guess the biggest issue was that a) while usually very nice to look at, the gameplay of Thalion games usually lacked the necessary polish to make them truly memorable and b) by sticking primarily to the Amiga the devs simply kept backing a dead horse and they missed the opportune moment to jump ship and switch to primarily DOS-based development.

    1. While I had an Amiga back then, I was too young to have owned it myself. Almost all the stuff I was inheriting was pirated. All of the legit games were out of my pocket money.

      I am following your Amber series with great interest. I only had an A500 back in the day and I don't think either Amber game ran on it, and it's still an unplayed game for me. Like reading this blog, I read lot about the game at the time and coveted it.

      I should really give it a modern go, huh

  10. I don't think anyone else has commented on the title yet. You butchered a zoo. Whatsoever power supplanted the Duke's castle here, didn't expect the typical party of murder hobos killing off the other exhibits...


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