Saturday, July 22, 2023

Serpent Isle: Toil and Trouble

A long-awaited reunion doesn't go as I'd hoped.
Cleaning up some loose ends from last time (thanks to Radiant), I start by returning to the Abandoned Outpost. The place is oddly devoid of enemies, even in places where they respawned before, as if the game has a way of marking a dungeon "cleared."
To get past the rubble that I tried to blow up with a powder keg, apparently I just need to attack it with my weapon. I don't think this is a fair solution unless it's clued somewhere that I missed. I don't believe there's any place in the main game at which debris can be destroyed this way. You can't just introduce a new mechanic and not tell the player. In any event, after clearing the rubble, I take the stairs down to a small room where I find a corpse with a rope. The people in Serpent's Fang don't have any rope? Is it that rare an object in this world?
What kind of fortress wouldn't have a bunch of this in a storage closet?
I worked around the "Fulmination" puzzle by simply casting "Dispel Field" on the force fields. Apparently, the game wanted me to sacrifice a lightning whip (found on a nearby corpse) on the altar. That one's on me. One meaning of "fulminate" is "to flash like lightning." I should have used a dictionary.
The rope takes me down the well. The game has me stop in an intermediate area, and when I double-click on the well again, I have to specify up or down. I'm curious exactly how the author thought that "wells" work. The only way this configuration makes sense is if the "real" well is on the bottom floor and the two floors above it have holes in the floor with well-like facades around them. I suppose that would be a way for people on upper floors to get water without having to march down a couple of flights of stairs, but either you'd have to have a separate bucket and rope on each floor, or there would have to be some kind of multi-floor pulley system. Does anyone know if anything like this has existed in the annals of architecture?
The Avatar is starting to lose it.
The bottom floor branches out to a slightly larger dungeon. To get past a magical barrier (that wouldn't fall to "Dispel"), I have to read a scroll found on a body in the torture room. The scroll references a key, and I complained last time that there was no key with the body, but apparently the scroll itself is the key. Simply opening it up causes the barrier to fall. Half and half on this one. A clever player might interpret the scroll correctly, but again, we're throwing in new mechanics that don't make a lot of sense.
(Speaking of which, apparently the proper way to exit the Maze is by walking through an illusory wall--after the game has set up hard rules for when the various walls open and close. That's another unfair solution, in my book.) 
I feel like a Belt of Speed and Gauntlets of Strength would make more sense.
I fought my way through four ice trolls to a room with a couple of treasure chests and a Belt of Strength. It raises my strength to 30, but to wear it, I can't wear my belt pouch. I've been keeping all my frequently-used stuff in that. Now I either have to go rooting around my backpack every time I want something or I have to hold the pouch in my left hand and thus put away my shield. I suppose the belt is worth it, but just barely.
The chests have stacks of gold. Having long ago decided that I'll never need gold in this game again, I leave it behind.
What could I possibly need this for?
Back in the castle, I'm just about to complete the quest when I realize that I've reached Level 9. I somehow thought Level 8 was the cap. I have 5 training points, and because of the items I've found in this adventure, intelligence is suddenly my lowest statistic. Fortunately, Elissa, the mage in the basement, will train you in intelligence and magic ability. Guess what she wants?
Son of a . . .
I return to the Abandoned Outpost for, oh, the fiftieth time and grab the gold. Weirdly, even though Elissa only requires 1 training point per session, when I still have one training point left, she insists that I'm not "ready to learn."
The end of the Silver Seed requires you to find a hidden button by moving a candelabra. Last time, I said that this game had conditioned me to move everything. I should have qualified that by adding "that looks like it might have something under it." I was not in the practice of moving things that might have something behind them. Again, not exactly a fair puzzle unless I missed a verbal clue.
It wouldn't have fooled the Avatar, either, since he doesn't see things from this angle.
The button opens a stairway behind the ale keg in Elissa's room. I head downstairs, cross a metal drawbridge spanning a bottomless chasm, and enter a stone room with a locked door and three pedestals. I can see the Silver Seed behind the locked door. The pedestals are clearly meant to hold the four orbs. If there's a way to suss out the order logically, I don't know what it is. But putting the wrong orb on a pedestal causes it to fizzle and putting the right one in place causes it to sparkle (and, mysteriously, darken), so it's easy to figure out. 
I didn't mean to kill them.
The door opens when I have all four in place. I enter the room and go to grab the Silver Seed. Suddenly, the portrait of the ugly witch who gave me a hint outside the Maze (Drusilla) appears. "Not so fast, deary," she cackles. "Ye don't think that ye kin just dance outta here with that little seed so easily, now do ye." The Avatar responds, "And who will stop me, hag? Thou?" That just makes me cringe. If the game is going to insist on putting words in my PC's mouth, could they not be so stupid?
First of all, it's "dearie." Second, isn't anyone in this setting capable of saying the word "you"?
Some woman I've never seen appears--I guess they're showing up south of me, off-screen--and intimates that the witches should turn me into a candlestick. Then the woman who gave me hints about Aram-Dol's lair (Solaria, apparently) appears and drops that they all serve the Guardian--who Drusilla previously referred to as "the Guide." The unnamed woman hisses at her: "Solaria! Thou shouldst not speak of the Guide to outsiders! Now thou hast sealed his fate!" As if I didn't know about the Guardian, and as if they weren't planning to kill me anyway.
"Pawn of prophecy," on the other hand . . . yeah, that's a fair hit. That pretty well describes my entire life.
They try something. I can't see what because I'm still off-screen. Whatever it is makes Drusilla say, "Blast! The Amulet seems to be protecting him! This shall not be as easy as we were led to believe!" They resolve to work together to kill me. The unnamed woman says that "once this pathetic pawn is dead, we can cross into the new world, and let this decaying husk die as it was meant to!" I wonder what world the Guardian promised them.
For all that setup, the denouement is anti-climactic. I wander out of the room and swing my axe three times, and there are three witch bodies on the floor. I don't even need to pull out Magebane. Oh, one of them gets off a spell that summons a specter before she dies, but it doesn't last any longer than they do.
The final battle of the expansion.
The witches trouble me:
  • Where did they come from?
  • Why haven't I met one before? I look her up. Apparently, her name is Rieya and she was supposed to pop up outside the Abandoned Outpost and help me with a puzzle that I didn't need help with. I don't know why her encounter didn't trigger when I visited.
I never met this one.
  • As far as I can tell, the clues these women give are accurate and helpful. If they're trying to impede my progress, why do that? I killed them with the artifacts they helped me acquire!
  • What time are these women from? Was the Guardian interfering with Serpent Isle hundreds of years ago? Did he have a hand in the wars? Or are they from my time, sent back like me? If so, how? It's not like any of them have an Amulet of Balance.
Suspecting I won't get any answers to these questions, I search their bodies and find three keys. The first opens the door to the chamber adjacent to the Silver Seed, the second two open doors at the top of the stairway. That's convenient. Where did they get these keys?
The stairway leads up to a dirt cavern. I walk between two serpent statues and exit in a little glen surrounded by mountains. A waterfall creates a pool of water on the north side of the glade. Karnax suddenly appears and instructs me to plant the Silver Seed in the ground before the waterfall. He says that when the Forest Master first appeared, the monks thought that he was the Hero from Another World, but his seed was somehow "warped by his passage through the Void." 
How did you even get here?
I plant the seed where he instructs. A little sapling appears. It gets struck by lightning a couple of times, and suddenly it's a huge tree. You'd think lightning would do the opposite. Even Karnax is surprised. "I had not expected anything this momentous." He goes on to say that the roots of the tree will begin healing the land. "Once thou hast restored Balance to our world," he says, "who knows what miracles may occur? I have even heard it said that the souls of the dead shall be returned to life once Balance is restored." Didn't I just restore Balance? I thought that was the point of all of this.
That would be more impressive if you weren't capable of restoring the souls of the dead any time you feel like it.
I head back to Serpent's Fang. The denizens have a little new dialogue to recognize the fact that I was successful in the quest, but most of their speech doesn't change. Isstanar, for instance, still expresses doubt that I'm really the Champion of Balance. Amusingly, the keyword that triggers his new dialogue and grudging admittance is "apologize."
I'm not sure I've been here a week, but the Amulet gives me no grief when I use it on the Serpent Gate, and there's no flashy fanfare this time. I just appear back in Moonshade as if I'd never left. Maybe it was all a dream.
Back in the present.
It's time to get back on track for the main quest. While I'm trying to figure out how best to do that, I realize that I have some teeth whose destinations I never explored. I teleport to the Serpent Gate hub, check the map, choose an unlabeled destination, and end up in . . . the Inn of the Sleeping Bull. I'm confused. I already had that one. I must have forgotten to label it.
For reasons I don't remember, instead of just jumping right back to the hub, I exit the inn, go south, and end up screwing around in Furnace for a while. This requires casting the "Chill" spell to avoid taking damage from the heat even though I never had to do that when entering from this direction before. I check out the locked door with the Serpent Staff behind it, and I definitely don't have that key. Where was I supposed to get it? I spend some time looking around the area, moving objects, and so forth, to no avail. 
By the way, hitting this debris with your weapon does #$@%-all.
I unlock some magically-locked doors but don't have the keys to some metal doors at the north end of the complex. I do find an Everlasting Goblet on a table, which apparently removes the need to keep food. That wasn't much of a problem with the "Create Food" spell anyway, but this is still handy. 
Gastronomically boring, but economical.
While I'm fiddling with keys, I remember the Key of Fire and Key of Ice that I found in Furnace, and how they wouldn't go on the key ring. I suspect this is because they need to be merged into a single key, but I don't know how I know that. Either someone told me in an earlier entry--I've been playing this game so long that I'm forgetting parts of it in real time--or I'm remembering something from decades ago. Either way, I have this idea that the solution is to put the two keys on an altar. I try it with altars in front of two pillars to fire and ice, but that doesn't work. Later, I find an altar in a single complex, and that does the trick. It makes a Blackrock Key--which doesn't open any of the doors that I find, so the whole exercise was really a waste of time. I can't even find my way to the Serpent Gate that I know is in here somewhere. I finally exit by going through the tunnels back to Moonshade.
Back to the gate hub. I try another new direction and end up at a temple somewhere in the frozen north. I open a door, and who's there but Mortegro, wandering around a little island in the middle of a building. He wants me to free him by finding some way to lower a drawbridge, but it looks to me like he could just jump over the water. It's inside a building, after all. He's not in a lake.
How about your limbs?
It takes me a little while to figure it out. The drawbridge is lowered by a winch, which is behind a locked door. A key in a nearby room doesn't open the locked door. There are stairs down to the basement, where a number of creatures are locked inside cells, including a wildman, a naga, a rat-man, and a follower of Chaos named Sethys. Keep in mind that this place has been abandoned for hundreds of years, so what in the world has kept these people alive?
This guy is going to have a lonely rest of his life.
Sethys doesn't even seem to know that he's been here for centuries. He thinks that I follow Order and refuses to give me the key--until I ask him about KEY, at which point he completely changes his tune and thinks that the Chaos Hierophant sent me. He relates that some rat stole the key and ran off through a rat hole. I can see a little rat maze to the west of his cell, too small for a human to fit.
Fortunately, I picked up the solution in a previous room: the "Serpent Bond" spell turns you into a little snake. I accidentally cast it from the scroll and had to reload so I could use "Transcribe" to put it into my spellbook. So transformed, I'm able to enter the little maze, kill a couple of rats with my fangs, and exit into a treasure room. Oddly, the game doesn't stop me from accessing my inventory as a snake.
As snakes go, I'm pretty deadly.
The room is full of gold, nuggets, and gold bars. I don't bother to take any of them, figuring that if I need them later, I know where they are. There's so many of them, though, that this room can't serve any purpose except to taunt the player with the fact that money no longer has any value. I grab the key and use the lever to open the door.
I make the mistake of trying to go upstairs in snake form. The game completely glitches and I have to reload and do the whole thing for a third time. I'm trying to think of previous points in the game in which turning into a snake might have been helpful. I'll have to watch for little holes.
What do you suppose happened here?
The winch room has another new scroll, "Invoke Snow Serpent," which I memorize. I lower the drawbridge and go to meet Mortegro. In gratitude, he gives me the "Summon Shade" spell, which will let me talk to the undead, and he offers to teach me spells at half-price. This is great because Mortegro is the only mage whose spells I never learned; he disappeared on my original trip to Moonshade, before I could pay for them. Then he tells me that he'll only accept guilders, and of course I don't have any. I can't imagine where I could even get any at this point. Then he has the gall to ask to accompany me out of here, to which I reluctantly say yes. No sooner are we out of the temple than he's struck by lightning and teleports away again. That guy just has the worst luck. Maybe I'll find him again in Moonshade.
I can't catch a break.
Also in this temple is a magical shimmering wall. It acts like a crystal ball. When I double-click on it,  I get visions of Dupre, Shamino, and Iolo in some kind of castle hall. They're delivering exposition to each other. I wouldn't have any idea where they were except Shamino says something like, "He'll never think to look for us in the Castle of the White Dragon!" They announce to each other their plans to destroy me as the vision fades.
There's quite a lot of this.
The last new tooth takes me to yet another temple. From the scrolls I find, I suspect this one is the Temple of Ethicality. I realize something that all of you probably knew. I had assumed that the temples in which the Banes were trapped were the little antechambers in the city of Order. Now I think that all these far-flung ruins that I've been exploring are the actual, capital-T Temples and those little rooms were just minor temples for people who wanted to meditate or whatever without trekking all the way to the main ones. That makes more sense.
Iolo is still a poet.
I figure there's no reason not to grab the Gwani Horn and see what I can do about Gwenno. I take the Serpent Gate to the city of Order in Skullcrusher and find myself in a little room with a double metal door on the north wall. I apparently don't have the key, and I can't find any way out of the room. I thus take the gate back to the hub, take the gate to the North Forest, and make my way back to the city the long way, through the dungeon full of traps and goblins. The Avatar grouses a little about the cold but never takes damage the way he did before, so I never end up changing back into my fur boots and hat. I wonder why.
Once back in Vasculio's house--his body still lies on the floor--I cast "Dispel Field" on the field containing the horn, then grab the horn. The Great Earth Serpent appears and tells me to "free Gwenno . . . free her from the ice!" This game is really big on providing hints when you don't need any and none when you do.
I still think it's hilarious that the Gwani "horn" is a brass instrument with valves.
On the way back to wherever the hell I left the ice floe--what I wouldn't give for Ambermoon's broom or my old magic carpet right now--I visit the Gwani. They're no better off than the townsfolk. Only three of them are still alive. They were killed by the Trapper, though, not the Banes. The Gwani don't seem as upset about it as they should be.
I find the floe and take it to the Gwani burial grounds. The Gwani Horn destroys the ice walls that block the chambers as well as the ice pillars that contain bodies. After flinging a bunch of hapless dead Gwani from their final rests, I find the chamber with the pillar containing Gwenno. Her body comes tumbling out. I activate my Hourglass of Fate and Thoxa appears. Seeing Gwenno's body, she immediately performs a resurrection, raising the question of why the monks won't resurrect every dead NPC that I find in the game. Clearly it's not a "recency" issue; Gwenno has been dead for months.
But everyone else dead all across the island isn't a problem?
Gwenno pops back to life and Thoxa gates out. Then the Great Earth Serpent appears again. "Bane of Chaos . . . Chaos Bane . . . twisted her soul." This explains why instead of joining me, Gwenno is running around the cavern shouting, "Blood! Blood everywhere!" and "I must sate mine hunger!" (Then again, that latter message is no worse than I got from the other party members every day.) Where have I seen that before? Cantra! So Gwenno was possessed by a bane, too. That explains why she massacred all those trappers, although when I originally heard that story, I assumed it was just regular Gwenno expressing moral outrage.
Now I don't know what to do. I need to figure out how to heal her, but I don't want  to leave her here in the meantime. I particularly don't want to deal with that ice floe again. Thus, I reluctantly raise my axe and bury it in her torso, then heft her body over my shoulder and carry it back to civilization.
This is going to be a fun trip.
Once I get back to the mainland, I figure I might as well deal with the Trapper while I'm here. I tuck Gwenno's corpse in a niche in the mountains and then head for the Trapper's caves. This time, his door is unlocked. It leads to a disgusting cavern full of dead, skinned Gwani and various pelts. Hazard the Trapper shows up while I'm retching and tries to justify his slaughter by saying that the Gwani are "merely animals." He also says they're so guileless and innocent that it isn't even hard to hunt and kill them. I suggest that he stop anyway, and he says, "No one tells me what to do" and attacks.
I want an origin story for Hazard in which we find out what the Gwani did to him.
I use the opportunity to try out "Paralyze," which (as below) just bounces off him. He has a magic throwing axe, but it's not much of a danger to my overly-buffed Avatar. I whack him with the axe a few times, and he's gone. 

He has a key which opens a chest, where I find my glass sword--the last missing object unless those torches are still sitting in a pumpkin patch somewhere. He also has a Gwani amulet. I head back to the leader of the Gwani, who rewards me with another tooth--I'm only missing one now.
I ditch the pinecone and, thus, the last of the mystery objects.
I return to Skullcrusher to find a way into the Serpent Gate room. On the way, I happen into a building where there are three bodies that look a lot like Iolo, Shamino, and Dupre. Is this where the game stashes their regular bodies while the Banes inhabit the duplicates? Or is it just a coincidence?
It's possible that these are just three guys I killed 40 hours ago and forgot about.
I find the Serpent Gate room, and the solution to entering is . . . to open a curtain. That's it. When I was "stuck" in the room earlier, I must have regarded the curtain as a tapestry. I think I'm losing my grip on this game a bit.
I warp to Monk Isle and speak to the monks about Gwenno. They resurrect her again and confirm that she's suffering damage from her possession by a Bane of Chaos. Karnax says that to understand the condition, he'll need the Scroll of the Serpent from Fedabiblio in Moonshade. I'm way ahead of you, Karnax. He studies the scroll and figures out why Gwenno and Cantra (and presumably some third fool out there) are suffering. He reminds me of the Ophidian virtue system by which the three Order virtues are balanced by the three Chaos virtues. An imbalance leads to an expression of "anti-virtue." For instance, if Enthusiasm is not balanced by Discipline, it leads to Wantonness. To cure them, if I understand him correctly, I'll need to instill them with the virtue that they lack. Cantra seems to be suffering from Wantonness, so she'll need a dose of Discipline. I assume that Gwenno is suffering Insanity (unbound Emotion) and thus needs some Logic. Karnax says the way to instill these virtues is to fetch water from their associated temples. At least I have a fast way to get there.
Karnax writes it all out for me.
I assume that I'll have to then go to the Castle of the White Dragon, kill my three friends, resurrect them, and give them the waters they need, too, but we'll see. Please let this game be over soon.
Time so far: 89 hours
Comments on Level 3 Spells
Chill. One of the many "puzzle solving" spells in the game, this one keeps you from dying of the heat in Furnace. I don't believe it has any other uses.

Curse. "Hampers subjects' abilities in combat," the manual promises. I played with it against goblins, ice trolls, and Hazard, and I didn't really notice any different. Combat doesn't last long enough for debuffing spells to be a priority.
I just cast "Curse" on the lead ice troll. Not that you can tell--making this a somewhat worthless screenshot.
Enchant Missiles. The magic bow is a reasonably powerful weapon. I haven't been prioritizing it, but perhaps that's to my detriment. If you did have a magic bow, this would be an extremely useful spell, especially coupled with the sixth-level spell "Create Missiles." On the other hand, you do find a lot of already-enchanted missiles in this game.
Columna's Intuition. This one is named after a mage in Moonshade, and according to the manual, it "identifies sources of possible danger by imbuing the source with radiant luminescence." It suggests that it's more effective "away from populated areas." I've never cast it before experimenting with it this session. It's theoretically somewhat useful, and it may have helped me with a couple of puzzles if I'd tried it earlier. "Source of possible danger" is not quite what it seems to identify, though. It makes certain features on the map sparkle, including some of the interactive altars and floor traps, but also random doorways and stairways. It makes the iron maiden with the hidden staircase sparkle in the Abandoned Outpost, for instance, and it outlines the hallway full of traps (with the parallel secret passage) in Skullcrusher. In Serpent's Fang, it lights up the ale keg that the secret button moves but not the secret button itself. I'll try to get in the habit of casting it in every room from now on. 
"Columna's Intuition" alerts me that there's something to find in the iron maiden.
Protect All. Casts the second-level "Protection" on the whole party. I may use it more often when I have a party again. Now that I don't have to worry about reagents, it can't really hurt.

Paralyze. I tried it three times this session, and it did nothing every single time. Maybe it only works on lesser foes. 
But who's lesser than a goblin?
Sleep. Puts a foe to sleep. Seems to work on everyone, so it's theoretically useful if you're fighting multiple enemies and you want to take one or more out of the equation. Blue potions and sleeping powder do the same thing, though, so I generally use those.

Translation. Another puzzle-solving spell, and a damned essential one unless you want to decipher 26 varieties of the letter "S" one-by-one when reading Ophidian scrolls. 
Enjoy deciphering that with the code key in the book.
Incidentally, how does spell point regeneration work in this game? I started looking into it for the first time, and I can't figure it out. I cast a spell that uses 6 points of mana, bringing me down to 17. I wait 30 seconds, look at my stat sheet expecting to see 18 or 19, but it's still 17. Another 30 seconds, still 17. Another 30 seconds--completely restored back to 23.


  1. Welcome to Legend of Zelda: Avatar's Funtime with the Serpents! Where you pull levers and press against walls in hopes of seeing something happen!

    You are now in the part where the length of the game depends on how stuck you are with the puzzles. The solution might as well be something as an unopened curtain.

    You are now at Circle 3 with Spells. There are 9 Circles. If it's any consolation, I don't think you have 6 more entries of this game left, even in worst possible stuck at puzzles scenarios.

    This following suggestion might ruin the game a bit for you, but could also save you some frustration.

    Cantra pna bayl or urycrq va gur Exult Serpent Isle Fix irefvba. Fbzr zvffvat fpevcgf va gur bevtvany tnzr, ohg lrf, gur vagragvba jnf gurer. Guvf fubhyq unir jbexrq.

    V jbhyqa'g obgure trggvat jngre sbe ure. Ng yrnfg abg va gur bevtvany irefvba. Be lbh pna naq whfg cergraq vg jbexrq. Pnhfr vg jnf fhccbfrq gb jbex.

    Now might also be a good time to clean your inventory. Decide what you really need.

    1. >You are now at Circle 3 with Spells. There are 9 Circles. If it's any consolation, I don't think you have 6 more entries of this game left, even in worst possible stuck at puzzles scenarios.

      Yeah, I was just thinking that I'd better step it up if I'm going to cover all of them.

  2. I think Elissa expects you to have 2 training points available as she generally increases int and magic one point each, which costs 2 points.

    But the Avatar starts with 25 int and 29 magic, so after training once you are at the magic cap of 30. At that point you only get charged one point.

    Magic regeneration definitely happens in big chunks, but I don't know the details.

    1. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for clarifying.

  3. Drusilla seems less like an ugly woman than a normal woman hamming up an ugly face. Rather, a picture of a woman making a face that has been digitally painted over to look like a portrait.

    1. Out of the three witches, I think Rieya is still fairly attractive.

    2. Drusilla to me looks uncannily like Miriam Margolyes.
      Only I'm not sure Margolyes was big enough in the US in the 1990s to serve as prototype.

    3. Rieya looks like an evil version of this cocktail waitress/bartender that I knew in New Orleans. It actually messed with me a bit.

    4. Miriam Margolyes was in the Black Adder series which aired during the 80's, so very possible they used her likeness.

  4. I was joking during the last session that this rpg had become an adventure game...

    ...but following up with this entry, it seems that combat and economy have indeed become trivial and meaningless by this point.

    1. It reminds me of The Return of Werdna in that way. I find it funny how that game has the reputation of being the hardest RPG ever. I mean, it IS hard... but I don't think praying that you get the first hit off to instakill the enemy party before they do the same to you is the strategically-rich gameplay that makes RPGs actually... mentally-challenging. Though I will admit that the Dink instakilling Hawkwind is very satisfying in that you get to see all the damage it does to him - something that wouldn't be possible in a normal adventure game!

  5. I think the belt of strength trope (i can remember finding some in various D&D games) comes from Thor, at least in the Edda. I must admit I never saw one of rhe marvel films, idk, if it's there too

    1. They completely ignore the belt and the glove

    2. The explicitly Thor-inspired gear from AD&D 1stEd must be one of the earliest 'item sets' in RPGs. When the Hammer of Thunderbolts (Mjölnir) is combined with the Belt of Giant Strength (Megingjörð) and Gauntlets of Ogre Power (Járngreipr) it becomes very powerful.

      Baldur's Gate II implemented that item set in it's own way - IIRC the items get combined into a singular hammer.

    3. Marvel mentions 'Megingjörd' in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' and even jokes about it being unpronounceable.

  6. So were they so short on time that they couldn’t even do real evil portraits for the three companions? Iolo gets half-assed red eyes and kerraazy teeth, Shamino just gets a glow around him and it really looks like they just repurposed a snake head from something else for Dupre. This game really paid the price for being massively overscoped…

    1. Iolo looks more like he's been hitting the pipeweed. Though his normal portrait does adapt remarkably well due to already looking rather unhinged.

  7. "Prejudice, apathy, and ruthlessness" is a pretty good description of what you find in each of the New Sosarian cities, too, isn't it? Monitor is prejudiced against non-knights, Fawn the unlovely, Moonshade the mundane. Almost nobody seems to be interested in defeating the Goblins or figuring out the teleport storms (although that level of apathy is also called "being an NPC in a roleplaying game"). And all three cities are governed by heartless backstabbers.

    1. That's an interesting thought. I guess the idea is that when Order "won," they left the continent imbalanced in a way that favors Order. It should also be noted that every city has a very rigid social structure, but in a way that allowed for corruption at the top.

  8. I had found it kind of refreshing that the woman with the witchy face was helpful, and I find the twist where she turns out to be evil for no particular reason... not refreshing. I guess according to the Codex of Ultima Wisdom, they're kind of jerks even when they're being helpful.

    This game sure seems like it starts off promising but drags on and starts to kind of fall off at the end, maybe partly due to shipping prematurely (especially the part in Joshua's rot13ed comment at the top of the thread). Chester, kudos for conveying that effectively.

    1. If you want to know more, there's an interview with the leading designer here -

      Chet should probably leave the interview for later.

      SI was made by a rookie team, that was very ambitious, but behind the scenes (EA buying Origin) issues forced them to cut corners.

    2. Thanks!

      Sure sounds like a lot of the issues are due to the team having a lot of time to design and not enough time to code, with the fixes that were necessary there. In particular, when the coding time ran over and Armintrout wanted to implement the fix he and Graner had designed, of splitting the game at Batlin's death, but the company had them make those drastic changes to the second part instead... and from Chester's account it sounds like they got an overlong game with the second half kind of botched.

      The story about the Great Earth Serpent makes Garriott's management style sound kind of like Chester's take on Lord British.

    3. "Splitting the game" means splitting the latter half of Ultima VII Part 2 into another sequel, which would have been Ultima VII Part 3, right? I think that's a bad suggestion and it's obvious why it was not approved.

      "Now when Sheri and I had designed the original main plot, we had a back-up plan for this contingency. Our idea was that if we fell behind schedule, the game could be divided into two parts, and Serpent Isle would end with the death of Batlin. (There would then be a follow-on game concerning the released Banes.)"

      A back-up plan is supposed to be a safe solution that can definitely be done, not something like this...

    4. I agree that splitting the game wouldn't have been practical (and what a time to pull it out as a suggestion!), but it really seems to underline that they had to do the second half in haste, despite (or because of) all their extra design time.

  9. I agree with your sentiment here. I have loved all your Ultima coverages this far, even U2 back in the early days of the blog, but somehow SI/FoV has managed to lose my interest, and by the way you describe it , you are fed up with it as well. Not only your closing phrase, but your whole tone throughout the post felt exhausted, like you are done with it.

    1. The game indeed sounds exhausting but I very much continue to enjoy Chet’s coverage.

    2. "Please let this game be over soon.

      Time so far: 89 hours

      Oh come on, when did you become such a wuss? That's not even a third of Fate ... .

      (I jest, of course. This really sounds drawn out and rushed at the same time.)

    3. I agree about being drawn out _and_ rushed. I’m certainly getting less sympathetic to the idea that they didn’t get enough time to finish a good game. There’s way more here than was needed, it’s more like it is just very unevenly distributed.

    4. The last entry was one of the best Ultima entries ever though.

    5. As far as I can tell, the problem with Serpent Isle is that the inexperienced team didn't realize that they had designed a game substantially more complex than Black Gate until development had already started, and their plan B (split the game in two) was (correctly, IMO) rejected by management. The right call would have been to toss out the second half entirely and redesign it from scratch, but I'm sure they had all these maps and puzzle designs and the like that they were loath to throw away. And the thing about maps and puzzles is that you can farm them out to a bunch of people in parallel (this is why pretty much any open world game ends up with areas that are pointless filler).

      Warren Spector later would make a point of saying that the Deus Ex team threw out something like half of their original design document in order to deliver a game that was actually fun to play, including some very substantial changes and cuts late in development. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought of Serpent Isle as a cautionary tale in that regard.

    6. I'm glad the game is still providing entertaining blog entries, at least.

  10. I love the captions you wrote for this edition!

  11. "I return to the Abandoned Outpost for, oh, the fiftieth time and grab the gold. Weirdly, even though Elissa only requires 1 training point per session, when I still have one training point left, she insists that I'm not "ready to learn.""

    Sounds like an issue where the logic was meant to be "If training points >= 1, allow training" but it was typed in as "If training points > 1, allow training."

    1. Good thought, but I think Erik solved it above.

  12. Thank you, Chet, for taking the bullet on this one. It always looked appealing to me, but it would have driven me nuts. You have amazing patience. :) Appreciate you and the work you put into this for all us.

  13. Love of the halflings' leaf has slowed Iolo's wits.

    I've been really enjoying the SI coverage so far, though I've not counted myself as an Ultima fan before.

    Someone said before (in jest?) that post-Wall was half way. I don't feel I yet believe that, but this stage of the game has felt long for sure! (Albeit, still enjoyable to read)

  14. In a early preview and interview with garriott the spell list off serpent isle was based in snake themed sorcery, very interesting

  15. "That would be more impressive if you weren't capable of restoring the souls of the dead any time you feel like it."

    I'd argue that Karnax restores the *bodies* of the dead rather than the souls, and perhaps that's also the reason they can't restore every NPC to life whenever they choose.

  16. IIRC you will never be able to meet Mortegro again. The only way to save him, ironically is to murder him first, leave the temple with his body, and later resurrect him.

    1. Well, that's too bad. I'm still missing a bunch of spells.

    2. Mortegro sells:
      1) Telekinesis
      2) Cold Blast
      3) Curse, Paralyze
      4) Blink, Mass Curse
      5) Erstam's Surprise
      6) Cause Fear
      7) Mass Might
      8) Invoke Serpent, Mind Blast, Serpent Bond
      9) Imbalance, Death Vortex, Mass Death

      Mortegro gives:
      6) Summon Shade

    3. It's not that bad, then. The only thing I'm missing from that list is "Imbalance." I'm also missing another Level 9 spell, a Level 8 spell, and a Level 4 spell. So "a bunch" was overstating it. Maybe I'll find scrolls.

    4. I don't recall how to enable cheat codes in SI, but if you do, you can always visit Cat's Claw isle and grab a full spellbook there, were you wanting to be thorough and try every spell.

    5. The other way to save Mortegro is to hfr gur frecrag obaq fcryy, nf vg olcnffrf rirag gevttref fhpu nf gur bar gung trgf zbegrteb fgehpx ol yvtugavat. Guvf vf n tyvgpu va gur tnzr.

  17. Say whatever you want about wargames, at least you usually know how long they will last when you start playing them, and even if you don't you quickly have a general idea given the pace of the game - it it took you 4 hours to go from 1939 to 1941 there is a good chance that the game ends within 12 hours :).

  18. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 23, 2023 at 12:41 PM

    Agreed with many of the previous commenters. I had always heard that Ultima VIII was where things really went downhill, but it sounds like the writing was already on the wall with VII. The rage and frustration are really coming through in these latest entries. I'll be interested to hear in the final analysis whether that's due to the length (though: much shorter than e.g. Fate!), gameplay (barely a CRPG by the end), illogical solutions and bugs, or something else entirely.

  19. As far as I can tell, the clues these women give are accurate and helpful.

    I wonder if you checked around the web. Any webpage that mentions the three witches says that two of them lie (but they are wrong). Exception: , where two years ago I wrote how to interpret the hints.

    I believe I am the first person since 1993 who explained on the web how all the three witches give truthful hints (the Silver Seed expansion is absent from the official spoiler book). Anyway, trial-and-error-and-reload is faster and easier than interpret such cryptic hints.

    1. I've also always assumed that the witches lie. It's just a natural thing to think, if you go by their vibe.

      Are you one of those old-school Ultima fans (Dragons they call them?)

    2. Accurately or not, Origin did publish material indicating that 2 of the witches lie. My copy of "The Complete Ultima VII" came with a booklet called "The Silver Seed Play Guide", which has the following on page 4:

      "Don't trust everything the Dark Monks tell you. The three Dark Monks are powerful sorceresses and believe that they must destroy you after your arrival. They will give you hints at the entrances of the dungeons. You can only trust Drusilla. You must kill the Dark Monks in the final scene."

      (Uh, spoilers? Hint book or no, you didn't need to say that last bit at the *beginning* of the walkthrough. It's also found on page 11 where it actually belongs.)

    3. Oh, and further down on page 4: "You can trust Drusilla and her information. She is the only Dark Monk who doesn't lie to you."

    4. Well, let's take a look again (I had to look up what TK said):

      DRUSILLA: "All right, heed me well then... Iffin ye find yerself trapped, do not despair lest madness overtake ye. Know that death is the only way any of us will ever win free o' this 'ere world. Keep careful track of yer turnin's, fer ye may pass through a room more than once. An' sometimes ye'll have ta turn back on yer heels afore ye can find yer way. Yer third, an' final, hint is that once ye have found yer path, that section of the maze shall remain clear ta ye forever more. Do not be distracted from yer path." All of these things are true. You pass through some rooms multiple times, and there are times you have to turn back and leave a room after it's opened. And yes, once you find the exit (for the first three levels, anyway), all doors open and you can explore at will.

      RIEYA: "Beyond this gate lies a room that will block thy progress and try to kill thee. In this room thou shalt find three buttons. Press first the middle button, and then the top button. Press the south button last and thou shalt be free." I didn't get this hint but some how got lucky in my choice of the order, I guess. Anyway, I watched someone in a video, and whether she's telling the truth or lying depends on how you interpret "top" and "middle." Two of the buttons are on the same west wall, and clearly one is the "south" one. I would have interpreted "top" as the one on the north wall and the "middle" the top one on the west wall, but the authors may have just been playing loose with the terms. If it's a lie, it's a pretty stupid one. It still clues you that there's a necessary order to the buttons, and it's easy to figure out through trial and error if you get it wrong the first time. A truly diabolical lie would have been "don't press the buttons at all; you'll die" or "walk straight through the center of the room and ignore the flames; they're illusory."

      SOLARIA: "Yes. I have been charged with the task of aiding thee, Steve. Beyond this gate lies a threat to thee. It is I who must give thee the key to escaping its snare. Not a physical key, but a hint... if thou wilt. Thou shalt come to a room in which thy passage is blocked. To win thy freedom, thou shalt have to know which of the many levers must be moved. Pull every other lever down to break free of the trap." In a previous comment thread, I had been persuaded by Abacos's suggestion that she actually says "every SECOND lever," which makes sense since all the solutions involve Lever #2. But I just re-checked and he's wrong.

      Thus, I think maybe the conventional wisdom is correct that only one of the witches is truthful. On the other hand, analyzing the situation depends on interpreting the positions of levers and buttons in particular ways, and it's still possible that their hints were INTENDED to be helpful. Even if technically wrong, they start you down the right paths.

    5. It would've been a fun twist if the Guardian and his servants were just straight-up helpful and continued helping through the end of the expansion instead of trying to kill you. The Serpent Isle cosmic imbalance is implied to be a threat to the multiverse, so the game could've easily taken the angle, "The Guardian temporarily calls off his goons until you save the multiverse so he can get back to conquering it." It would add some depth to Batlin's betrayal, too.

    6. @Joshua: No, I am not an Ultima Dragon. I fell in love with the series just in 2009.

      @JWL: I am learning right now from you that an official Silver Seed spoiler book existed.

      @Chester: I apologize, I misremembered.

    7. Note that in Ultima 7, both the guardian himself and his two chief minions E&A spend most of the game helping you, too. I don't have a good headcanon for WHY, and wish the game would explain somewhere what the reason is for these omnicidal psychopaths to kindly help you out at random times.

  20. Just a note (explore spoiler) on the Serpent Staff since I haven't seen anyone mention it. If I remember correctly, gur xrl gb gur ebbz jvgu gur frecrag fgnss fubhyq unir orra ba gur obql bs bar bs gur gebyyf (V guvax ur unq n gjb unaqrq fjbeq?)

    1. That was me. For some reason Google signed me out.

    2. Well, hell. I killed the first troll ages and ages ago. It's clearly not on their bodies now.

    3. I'm pretty sure you need the staff. If you can't find the key, you might consider hack moving the door or something.

    4. I wouldn't worry about the staff, until a certain person specifically tells you to find it.

      And if after that.... V qvq fbzr ernqvat naq vg'f cbffvoyr lbh fghzoyrq ba n znwbe cybgfgbccre oht. Ubjrire sebz jung V ernq, vg'f cbffvoyr gb fbyir vg. Fbzrubj va gur pbqvat, gur Frecrag Fgnss vf pbaarpgrq jvgu Kraxn gryyvat lbh nobhg fnpevsvpr, juvpu yrnqf gb n znwbe Hygvzn pnaba rirag. Lbh cebonoyl arrq gb hfr qroht zrah gb bognva gur fgnss naq gura nyfb frg gur synt 505 ("unf cvpxrq hc Frecrag Fgnss"), fb Kraxn'f pbairefngvba jbhyq gevttre.

      I wouldn't recommend reading the rot13 until a certain person tells you to find these items.

      Gnxr n qrrc oerngu. Rirelguvat jvyy or bxnl.

  21. >>I wonder what world the Guardian promised them
    Probably the Kingdom of Scotland, 10th century. There's a perfect role for 3 weird sisters there, and we've seen in U7 that the Guardian likes theater.

  22. Maybe I can finish my Skyrim anniversary edition playthrough before you finish this one, or Starfield...
    Strangely, it doesn't seem like the game runs out of plot, at least it doesnt read this way. But there doesn't seem to be any sense of urgency, it's like a "plot soup" that just makes you go through the motions.
    It's quite fitting though that this game, the final classic of one of the CRPG's original franchises ends at the point of being too big for the classic structure.

    1. Ah, Starfield. My readers might have to prepare for a bit of a dry spell after the first week of September, and not (this time) because of classes.

    2. Actually, it might start sooner than that. I'm going to New Orleans the third week of August, and classes start the next week. I really need to wrap up both Serpent Isle and Ambermoon before then.

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 24, 2023 at 10:35 PM

      Sounds like wrapping up Serpent Isle soon may be feasible. Finishing Ambermoon will require more of a concentrated effort.

      I for one would certainly be interested in hearing your initial impressions of Starfield.

    4. For what it's worth, you've probably got 2-3 posts worth of material left. Maybe less if you power through on a long play.

    5. No love for Baldur's Gate 3? It should finally come out from Early Access next week.

      (Sorry for the comment above)

  23. I played SI back when it was released. Can't recall offhand if I finished it back then or not. But these posts are fantastic. Kind of makes me want to go replay it, even if is is long and not really finished.

  24. Note the similarity between turning into a snake and using Sherry the mouse back in Ultima 6, both to get a plot-required item.

    Other places where turning into a snake is helpful are abjurer va gur tnzr ng nyy; bhgfvqr bs tyvgpurf, guvf grzcyr vf yvgrenyyl gur bayl cynpr jurer vg qbrf nalguvat.

    1. And as I just discovered: Telekinesis will actually lower the drawbridge, thus making the whole Serpent Bond puzzle redundant. The player can even get the spell scroll with the Fetch spell. There's no reason to go downstairs at all.

  25. Just did the first visit to Furnace.

    You probably remembered a book in the library, which talks about the two keys and the altar (there are only two readable books in the library, via translation spell).

    The door to the Teleport Gate was just at the back room, 2nd floor of the same building where the altar is. On the other hand, nothing stops you unlocking it from the other side, via Serpent Gate.

    Unless you haven't picked up the Furnace serpent tooth... it is in Rotoluncia's house.

  26. Dammit... there are only three readable books, three*


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