Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Ambermoon: Summary and Rating

As if we needed more fodder for our harp/lyre nitpicking: The instrument in this image has the strings in the wrong direction.
Thalion Software (developer and publisher) 
Released 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 28 March 2023
Date Ended: 1 November 2023
Total Hours: 82
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 51
Ranking at Time of Posting: 477/508 (94%)
A quality sequel to a quality game, Ambermoon takes place on the same world as Amberstar after a cataclysm has shattered the planet. As society rebuilds, a new threat emerges. At first, it seems to involve the same demon/wizard whose imminent return drove the plot of the first game, but the party eventually determines that the true threat is lizard-like alien invaders intent on stealing the world's water. Their quest to stop the invaders takes them to the planet's two moons and beyond. The party begins with a single character--the Amberstar hero's grandchild--but expands to six as the party encounters PCs willing to join.
Like its predecessor, Ambermoon combines top-down locations with first-person locations, with influences from Ultima and Dungeon Master. Combat is turn-based and takes place on a quasi-tactical grid, but with players and enemies limited to their respective sides, and I suspect the original inspiration was either Phantasie or the Phantasie-inspired Legend of Faerghail. The RPG mechanics, including character development, NPC interaction, inventory, are all solid, and there are a number of satisfying puzzles. The world is open by geography, if not by plot. The only major negatives are the lack of sound effects and a continuously-scrolling interface that is technically innovative but also slow and cumbersome. Overall, Ambermoon is one of the few games of the 1990s that feels like it has all of the key elements of a modern CRPG. If none of those elements are the best that the era offers, neither are any of them very bad.
It would be irresponsible to wrap up my coverage without covering some of the content that I missed by taking my shortcut through the Thalion offices. (That's a "first," right? We've had developer Easter eggs in games before, but an entire dungeon based on the developers' offices? Can anyone think of any antecedents?) I didn't re-play any of it, but from what I understand from both your comments and videos that I watched:
  • I only explored three of the palaces belonging to members of Morag's ruling council: S'Riel (the one who tried to help me), S'Orel (the one I killed on Lyramion), and S'Arin. The others belong to S'Endar, S'Trog, S'Kat, and S'Lorwin, and the owners are home in all the other palaces and must be defeated to get their keys.
This screenshot suggests I killed S'Arin, but I don't remember the math puzzle in S'Arin's palace, so I'm not sure what happened.
  • S'Arin's palace features some math puzzles based on eight crystal balls that you find behind secret doors, each with a number on its surface. There are two magic mouths with riddles based on the balls. One of them asks  "What is all together?", looking for the sum of the numbers. The other asks, "What is all together when there are balls below a line and columns after a cross?" You somehow have to interpret this as: (The sum of the numbers on the balls) / (the count of the number of balls) * (the number of columns on the map). I agree with commenter Buck that the language is ridiculous. I'm almost sorry that I cheated you out of the rant it would have provoked.
  • S'Trog's palace has a bunch of traps that must be deactivated with levers. S'Endar's palace has a bunch of traps, some of which are illusory, and you have to apparently rely on luck or reloading to figure out which ones are safe to walk through.
  • S'Lorwin's palace is surrounded by a moat. You find plans for a sandboat in S'Kat's palace and have to take them back to S'Goldar in S'Angrila to build one.
  • Somewhere on Morag's surface is a shop that sells riding lizards, making overland navigation faster.
  • There's a random tower on Morag's surface in which you find a dying Moranian named S'Krel. If you give him the ¤6,000 water bottle from the shop in S'Angrila, he rewards you with a yellow orb and enough experience points to boost characters to their maximum levels. This would have made me mad, too. I'm glad I didn't find him.
  • The yellow orb is what Valdyn needs to go home. He'll refuse to abandon the party if you try to take him back to the world teleporter, but the endgame text changes from what I experienced to reflect that he's able to use the yellow orb instead of waiting for scholars to manufacture one for him.
The text that a "completionist" got.
  • There was an aspect to the interface that I completely missed until I read about it in Wikipedia: the 3D perspective changes slightly based on the height of the active character. This isn't really worth much beyond a "huh!," though.
My Thalion shortcut is, incidentally, the key to a speedrun for the game. This player did it in 10 minutes: Grab the staff from grandfather's house, run to the Thalion offices in Spannenberg, get all the Level 50 employees to join you, pick up every mandatory item that you need (principally the whistle that summons the giant eagle and the harp), fly to the temple, play the harp, run past the magic guardians and Morag dragons, and defeat the machine.     
I ignored this message.
There's a delightful exchange between Ambermoon author Karsten Köper and frequent CRPG Addict commenter sucinum on the Dungeon Master forum website. It's over 22 years old, and sucinum comes across as the 13-year-old fanboy he must have been. From his perspective, Ambermoon has "the best ending you can imagine for a computer game." When Köper responds, sucinum gushes that he has a script for a third game, Ambersun, already prepared. Köper says that he planned to call the third game Amberworlds before (apparently) ghosting sucinum. Perhaps sucinum will let us know what the plot to Ambersun would have been.
As for the plot to Amberworlds, I haven't found anything that offers any detail, but it almost certainly would have involved the world-teleporting technology revealed in the last act of Ambermoon, perhaps connecting the worlds of Ambermoon, Dragon Flight, and Lionheart in a way that goes beyond the simple Easter eggs of this game. It might have somehow involved the book in an unknown language that we found in the mines of Dol Kiredon. I suspect it would have revealed some previous advanced civilization that occupied all of the planets.
But it must be said that Ambermoon, unlike its predecessor, does not demand a sequel. There are some mysteries by the end of the two games, but no major dangling threads. In fact, Amberstar and Ambermoon together feel something like a trilogy already, since Ambermoon has an obvious break point. (The fact that I took a long break at precisely that point enhances the feeling for me.) A better-paced series might have ended Ambermoon with the invasion of the Temple of the Brotherhood and the discovery of the nature of the true threat; the third game would have involved voyaging to other worlds, with perhaps a bit more content than in the existing game.
That said, Ambermoon is a solid game. That I wanted to skip a bit of the end doesn't change that fact. It turns out I didn't skip very much, and honestly when I did it, I was only momentarily annoyed with how long the game was taking, not absolutely bone-weary to the point of hostility the way I was with Serpent Isle. It has good mechanics for character development, combat, equipment, magic, NPCs, and just about everything else I love about RPGs. "Good" is hardly a superlative, I realize, and I chose it carefully. Almost nowhere does the game achieve, or even stray towards, brilliance. But it is almost uniformly not bad. The one asterisk is in the interface: There wasn't a moment of gameplay in which I didn't wish that the authors had stuck with tiled movement. Other than that, it mirrors its predecessor--and exceeds just about every other game of the era--in getting essentially nothing wrong. I expect 4s, 5s, and 6s across the board in the GIMLET. For 1993, that's a superlative in itself.
I award the game:
  • 6 points for the game world. It has a nice backstory, a heap of lore, and a few interesting plot twists that put it above the typical CRPG. It makes good use of its predecessor while telling its own original story. The connections with other Thalion games were fun. I just wish the game responded more to the characters' actions, particularly in respect to some NPCs.
I still think the authors must have been influenced by V.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. It's good but uneven. The biggest negative is having little creation at all and forcing the main character to play a fixed class. I don't see how it would have required much tweaking to give that choice to the player. While character leveling is consistently rewarding, skill development is extremely front-loaded, and characters earn far more training points than they can spend. Spell learning points continue to remain valuable.
The main character at the end of the game.
  • 6 points for NPCs. Those that can't join have a healthy amount of keyword-based dialogue. A satisfying number can join, and a replay might someday be fun with different class choices. I don't think I gave the original much credit for offering the ability to prompt dialogue by showing or giving an inventory item.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. Like its predecessor, it comes with an original monster list. They have a generally satisfying number of strengths and weaknesses, though not quite as extensive as any D&D game. The better "encounters" were the many puzzles that were both fair (exception above) and well-integrated with the plot. Still no role-playing choices, alas. 
  • 5 points for magic and combat. The Phantasie-inspired combat works pretty well. Not as well as it would have worked on an open tactical grid, but well. I would have liked to see a few more options for melee characters, but the variety of spells is excellent, as is the mechanism for using items in combat. I would have liked to see a way to speed up combat. The "fast combat" option should have disabled enemy animations at the very least. 
I never got sick of this spell.
  • 7 points for equipment, an excellent category that would have been boosted only with item descriptions and more randomization. Everything else is positive: the number of slots, the clarity of the datasheets, the uses of "Identify," and the variety and utility of items. I love the way that items become part of the interface. I suppose there's one other minor negative: the copious number of scrolls. I never came close to using them all.
Just when I'd reduced my scrolls to a manageable number.
  • 4 points for the economy. There are useful things to buy, but the rewards are a bit too generous, and the economy is thus hopelessly broken about a third of the way into the game. Some services (repair) are under-utilized, and anyone who actually buys a potion (except attribute-boosting potions) or scroll is a fool.
  • 4 points for quests. I would love to see a game in this engine with actual side quests. Here, there's at best a few side-areas. There are no choices or alternate endings except for the text changes involving Valdyn.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound and interface. The graphics are improved from Amberstar, but I don't know how you seriously field a game in 1993 without any sound effects. The interface could have benefited from simple keyboard commands rather than the cumbersome use of the mouse and numberpad, and the 3D movement was never anything but infuriating. The developers there were clearly enchanted by a technology "advancement" that needed more time in the womb.
  • 6 points for gameplay. Positive qualities are a relatively open world, a modest difficulty (tending slightly too easy), and a small amount of replayability. It's too long, but only at the end did I get to the point where I stopped looking forward to a session.
The final score of 50 is exactly what I gave Amberstar. I didn't engineer that, but I agree they're about even in quality--which is another point to the series, since sequels so rarely equal the originals. The categories aren't all even between the two games, but they vary only by a couple of points. [Ed. I was persuaded after this initially published that I was too harsh on graphics, sound, and interface, and thus increased the final score to 51.]
The company was a little too modest with this ad. They probably could have removed at least one of those qualifiers.
Given the lack of an official English release (I've been playing an unreleased version), it's no surprise that American magazines skipped Ambermoon. British magazines received preview versions in English, which explains this insulting, enraging review by Rich Pelley, who thinks all top-down interfaces owe their lineage to Zelda, all first-person interfaces are copying Eye of the Beholder, and "consoley" is a compliment. He rates it a 30% after only 4 hours, complaining about the simplicity of early-game combat. The review is full of idiotic jokes and non-sequiturs that any good editor should have hacked out. Any Brits who supported this magazine have a lot to answer for.
Fortunately, other European Amiga magazines were more discerning, with reviews ranging from a low of 79% (Amiga Format) to 93% (Play Time). Reviews were almost unanimous in praising the graphics (including the monster animation), music, story, and size of the game, but lamenting mostly the absence of sound effects. The continuously-scrolling 3D seems to have been received well by contemporary reviewers, which I understand. I think many of them would agree with me 30 years later that it hasn't aged well.
The reception was not enough to save Thalion from dissolution in 1994. Many of its employees made their way to Blue Byte Software, another German developer. These employees include producer Erik Simon, programmer Michael Bittner, composer Matthias Steinwachs, and graphic artist Thorsten Mutschall. Blue Byte's Albion (1995) clearly draws a lot from the Ambermoon interface and engine, and Mutschall's graphics would be noticeable anywhere despite the shift to a science fiction setting. The inventory system, character development system, and automap seem almost identical. I look forward to it, but it alas seems to be Blue Byte's only RPG.
A screen shot from Albion (1995) shows advancements in the interface but a similar art style.
Karsten Köper, the creator of the series, did not follow his colleagues to Blue Byte. Interviews with Thalion's former employees suggest that he was on the way out the door even before Ambermoon was finished, suggesting that there may not have been a third game even if Thalion had remained intact. (I listened to a podcast interview with Erik Simon and Jurie Horneman in which they indicate they were sick of high fantasy tropes and wouldn't have pursued a fantasy game on their own.) I'm not sure exactly what happened to Köper after that. He appears in the quality assurance credits of a few German games in the late 1990s and early 2000s (including one from Blue Byte), but it doesn't sound like full-time employment. As far as I can tell, he's never been interviewed in English. I'd love to fill that gap, but I'm afraid he might have been soured in the CRPG Addict during his one brief appearance.
In 2022, retro game designer Pyrdacor announced both Ambermoon Advanced and My understanding is that the former is an ongoing expansion to the original game and the latter is a full rewrite, but I'm confused as to whether .net includes the Advanced material or whether they're separate projects. Both releases seem to offer interface improvements, including keyboard shortcuts and the ability to increase combat speed, but I'm curious to hear what else they offer--particularly in terms of new content--from anyone who has tried them. A trailer for Advanced promises new areas to explore, new monsters, new items, and new quests.
My rating of 50 puts Ambermoon at about the 93% mark on the ratings sheet. It is a rare game to achieve that position almost entirely on the strength of individual ratings of 6 or below. But as I'm often reminded with my students, co-workers, and employees, simple competence in everything almost always outranks genius in just one thing.


  1. Here is an interview conducted in German with Karsten Köper, Jurie Horneman and Erik Simon:

    1. Maybe someone who speaks German could give us the highlights.

    2. I don't have time to manually make an english abstract, but maybe this AI summary will help a bit:

    3. That AI summary is interesting from a technical perspective but not too great. It uses Youtube's automatic transcription (which has a lot of errors in this case) and the summary (by GPT-3 or GPT-4) is a bit error-prone and too generic.

      As I'm working with these tools anyway, I've used OpenAI's speech-to-text API 'Whisper' to get a better transcription than Youtube's automatic transcription, and GPT-4 to help extract statements for interesting topics and anecdotes. This still required some manual guidance and rearrangements. The following should be mostly true to the original, as far as I can tell from comparing by listening, but a few errors or hallucinations may have crept in. I'll add more comments later on.


      The team and the data-driven programming approach:

      Dragonflight was a game developed prior to Ambermoon and was the brainchild of Erik and his friend Udo Fischer. It was a role-playing game with dungeons that were hard-coded, and it played a part in Erik's decision to pursue video game development professionally because their hobbyist approach didn't work out.

      Thalion, including Erik, learned of Karsten through his previous game, Mythos, and his RPG game editor for Atari ST, which impressed the Thalion team. ("I even made a new software after that, a successor to Mythos, Mythos 2, which was also completely finished but never released.")

      "We got in touch and got to know Karsten as the one who made Mythos on an 8-bit system and had produced a role-playing game editor on the Atari ST, which allowed for a data-driven game, which is still an ideal that is sought after and not achieved by many games today. Back then, we had no idea what data-driven design was, but we were quite impressed with the editor." "Now all we needed was a great frontend that looked a little better than GFA-Basic."

      Jurie was responsible for coding the frontend user interface which used the data that was created with Karsten's editors. This data-driven design was years ahead of the usual approach back then, which usually consisted of hard-coding everything. Jurie Horneman was part of the Atari ST demo scene and brought with him expertise in low-level assembly programming. His connection to Erik, a known figure in the demo scene, was a factor in Jurie joining Thalion.

      Karsten, Jurie and Erik used the same editors in both Amberstar and Ambermoon, and the editors were later emulated on PC and even used by Blue Byte for the development of Albion, a spiritual successor to Amberstar and Ambermoon.

    4. Development:

      Several Thalion team members, including Erik, actually lived and slept in the Thalion office, which was a former dental clinic or similar, during the early months of the company. "We slept in the office and since it was an ENT practice, there was no shower, so we marched to the swimming pool to shower."

      The team at Thalion did not really experience crunching as something negative. "I worked until I was tired, then continued the next morning. I didn't really experience it as a crunch. I enjoyed it." "I'm glad I no longer work for Ubisoft. I wouldn't have been allowed to talk about crunch. No joke."

      Knowing that the platforms were in decline and the company was running out of money, the team at Thalion poured all their efforts into the development of Ambermoon and Lionheart as a last endeavor, understanding that it was a high-risk situation. "We knew the platforms were declining. We knew we were running out of money. We just tried to achieve an outstanding quality for that time, which I think we did with both games."

      While developing Ambermoon, they played a wide variety of games, including titles from Japan. "I played everything, including Japanese stuff. I didn't think about it. I just went through with my thing."

      Ambermoon had development time left over for polishing and adding personal touches, leading to the inclusion of Easter eggs. For instance, the Thalion office was recreated within the game as an Easter egg, and taking a certain mushroom caused the mouse cursor to wobble and colors to shift, an effect that was kept secret until release.

      "Sure, there were still bugs and so on. I can still remember, when we were in the cinema for the first Jurassic Park. There was a scene where they had a bug list, we have 293 bugs still in the system, and the whole row was laughing, all of Thalion was there. And our list of bugs was much longer."
      "These are the things that have stayed with me. People looked at us in amazement, wondering why we suddenly burst into laughter, collectively, simultaneously, at that line in the film."
      "Exactly. «Haha, amateurs!»"

    5. After looking at that AI summary linked by Sir Brennan above I thought if that's the current status of AI, I'm not too worried Skynet and the T-800s will take over tomorrow... .

      I had listened to most if not all of the interview. Will wait for bitmap to conclude his AI transcription summary to see if I recall anything else potentially worth mentioning.

    6. 3D technology:

      Michael Bittner developed an innovative 3D routine for the dungeons in Ambermoon. This technical feat was achieved before the release of Ultima Underworld. Bittner's 3D routine was ahead of its time, utilizing real 3D transformations rather than the raycasting approach which was common in contemporary games like Wolfenstein 3D. His ability to draw pixels with efficient machine instructions on the Atari ST created an effect that made the technology feasible for the system's capabilities.

      Interviewer Christian Schmidt: "At the time Ambermoon was created, you guys also gave interviews in trade magazines and in one of them, Erik, you mentioned what Jurie had already hinted at, namely that this 3D engine had been lying around with you for two years, more or less, or had been in development, before it was even used in Ambermoon. How should I imagine that?

      Erik: "Well, so, as Jurie said, it's almost impossible on at least 16-bit what we did there. But because of this demoscene passion and this passion for breaking boundaries, Michael wrote that routine. I had a bit of a share in it because, although God knows, I'm not even a good programmer, I'm not a programmer at all, but I have a strong fascination with technology and I usually know exactly what works. And he came up with a routine that did a bit of texture mapping without perspective correction. But that distorted it quite recognizably, like with the PS1, which had the same problem in hardware. That the textures, as they got closer, had this terrible distortion. And then we thought about it and I thought, yes, but if you do that and combine it with this and then we calculate it before and then we can convert the whole thing into a byte-per-pixel format and then convert it back so we don't have all the bit operations and blah blah blah. And it's always the same. When I talk to the programmer and he says, «Oh no, that's too much work and it can't be done.» «But it would be possible! And if you do that, it should work.» «Oh, yeah, no, but that's so much work.» «But it would be possible!» And playing this tennis ball back and forth, I do that to this day."

      "No, I have to correct the story. It sounds like such a friendly process where people talk and find a consensus. Erik was heavier back then and used his mass and his strength as an argument and was able to exert a lot of pressure, literally, on other programmers."

      "That's how I also remember from the stories."

      "Just because I sat on Jochen, the sound programmer, once, because he wouldn't do what I told him. Come on."

      "But you did that when everyone could see. And that was the effect you wanted to achieve."

      "Precisely. I always wanted to write a book, Project Management by Physical Intimidation. It worked well back then. Well, anyway, we had this routine. And what would have been smart, or what would have been very risky, is to drop everything we were doing and focus immediately on this technology and do something like Doom. We had the stuff running before Doom came out. Although Doom did it a whole lot cleverer than we did."

      "Was it not more about this Underworld thing? Ultima Underworld? We were there before they were."

      "Exactly, right. You're right. It wasn't Doom, it was Underworld."

      "Exactly. But we had heard that something was coming. That's why we went to the press with this 3D stuff, to at least have the bragging rights and proof that we had the stuff earlier."

    7. 3D technology, continued:

      Erik: "The fact is that it took so long to come out with these routines because we still had to finish a whole lot of other projects first, plain and simple. What would have become of Thalion if we had had the courage to do that, of course, the business people would have had to support it. That's why I hardly believe it would have happened if we had tried to force it. But if we had had the courage to say, okay, this is such a cool thing, let's drop everything, we're not going to do anything else, we're going to make a completely new game that focuses on this technology, maybe things would have looked different for Thalion. Maybe it would have gone broke even faster, that's possible, too. But short question, long answer, that's the reason why it took so long, that we actually found a use case with these routines, and in this case, it was the 3D dungeon of Ambermoon."

      Interviewer: "I'd like to understand how the engine works. Wolfenstein 3D is a raycaster engine. Basically, you just look along each pixel column to see where a wall starts and then draw a line up and that's it. Does your engine work that way too, or is it technically different?"

      Erik: "You could almost say a raycaster engine is not actually a 3D engine. That's why I said what Carmack did was super tricky. Hats off. It was more sophisticated than our stuff, because it was simply the cleverer approach. Our stuff was already running in optimized 3D. These were real transformations. They were simple geometries, which were then further optimized for the few shapes that could be displayed. But it was real 3D, just highly optimized."

      Jurie: "There had already been some polygon graphics for Atari ST in the demo scene, in games. I mean, there were even some for ZX Spectrum. What I thought was ingenious and the approach of Michael was that the problem is, you have to draw a certain amount of pixels and perform a certain number of operations. To draw a pixel, normally for Atari ST, you have to touch eight bytes. You have to change eight bytes. That's slower; you need two operations instead of one. The counterintuitive thing from Michael was that he set up a screen buffer that had a different structure and allowed him to write a pixel with a 32-bit operation. After that, he found a really quick method to convert it back to what the ST could display. He used an obscure machine instruction for that. I was familiar with it, I knew all the commands. There weren't that many. If you have really obscure external hardware, you need this command. It takes bytes and spreads them apart. Nobody uses that. He used it to ensure that he could do all these things faster. The actual drawing then went faster. The cost to convert it once wasn't so bad. That was the genius of the approach for me."


      That's all from me.

    8. A few additional bits I've taken away from the interview:

      - On the titles of the games: KK liked the word creation 'Amberstar'. It had to be in English because that was 'in'/cool/mandatory at that time and he wanted the name to begin with 'A' in order to appear high on alphabetical game lists (the others confirmed the latter also was a reason for 'Albion').

      - Who holds the rights today? Still unclear, though JH said according to what he currently knows they're owned by some big company for whom this is so insignificant, it's not worth bothering to even set up a contract. He would like to obtain them to make the game files open source so fans who currently have to reverse engineer can use them. The interview then apparently motivated him to do the latter.

      - The easter eggs mentioned included carrying a specific mushroom in your inventory which avoids (most of?) the monster attacks on the forest moon.

      - Why no sound effects? In an older interview it had been said they decided to concentrate more on implementing atmospheric tunes. Now they added that no one in testing in-house or outside complained about lack of sound, they all and (most of) the public/fans liked (it with just) the music. File size was a consideration, too. Nine discs was already pushing the limits when it came to the associated cost.

      - They were asked about the third part/game. According to KK there were no (written) details, just ideas in his head, he did not elaborate (or not remember).

  2. AlphabeticalAnonymousNovember 8, 2023 at 1:29 PM

    So glad to see that you had an overall positive experience with the game. I'm pleasantly surprised that you ranked the game four points higher than my own estimate:
    6/5/6/5/5/7/4/4/2/6 = 50
    5/4/4/6/4/6/6/3/3/5 = 46 (my score).

    I don't disagree with any of your numbers, of course. I only gave higher rankings for Interface (because I used the modern version, which was much smoother) and for Economy (because I somehow never gorged on scrolls, so I never felt that money was completely pointless).

    The Ambermoon Advanced version has several completely new areas that I found very impressive. For example, in a nice callback to the original Amberstar: bar pna bapr ntnva fnvy vagb gur juveycbby naq rkcyber gur qbznva naq rzcgl pnfgyr bs Znalrlrf. Ohg vf gur pnfgyr ernyyl rzcgl...? I found the overall quality quite good.

  3. I seem to recall "Amiga Format" being a very critical magazine: any score near 80 was really good. I think only the Sensible Software games (Cannon Fodder, Sensible Soccer, etc) scored 90 for the Amiga. A score of 79 for a "boring RPG" seems really good. (I might be mistaken though: I think it was Amiga Power that was very critical...not sure, need to check on my attic collection).

    1. Format and Power were both published by the same office, but differed in scope.

      Format was the general Amiga enthusiast magazine, so covered technical bits like programming and hardware as well as games. As an Amiga cheerleader, their reviews tended towards the high, but not suspiciously so, scores. You could probably knock 5% to 10% off their scores to get a "realistic" assessment.

      Power I cover in more detail below, but they only covered games, and tended to be more critical, sometimes overly so. Although they were not often wrong when they said a game was bad, you could probably add 5% to their scores.

  4. An entire dungeon based on the developers' offices? Can anyone think of any antecedents? - Heaven in Vampyr?
    (discounting the fact of the whole Ultima series being one big developer self-insert)

    Mutschall's graphics would be noticeable anywhere despite the shift to a science fiction setting - Albion only starts out sci-fi, most of the game has about the same proportion of fantasy and sci-fi as Might and Magic.

    1. Albion seems to be Avatar meets Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Mists of Avalon apparently being a direct influence, Avatar obviously came later. I've never seen Avatar so I can't judge how big the similarities really are.

      At least from images, I think both owe a bit to Roger Dean.

    2. Not a whole dungeon, but Naughty Dog in Keef the Thief...

    3. @Buck, interesting! From what I remember from both Albion and Mists of Avalon, I can't think of a single common thread.

    4. I'm mostly going by what Jurie Horneman wrote on his blog regarding the comparisons between Avatar and Albion:

      Though he doesn't go into much detail except for Harriet (I hardly remembered her) having similarities to Morgaine and some connection with the Celts.

    5. Zombies Ate My Neighbors on Genesis/SNES (which is no RPG but a top-down run-&-gun, feel free to ban me forever afterwards ^^).

    6. Sentinel Worlds has the EA offices.

    7. Much much later, but every single Pokemon game has a bit where you can meet the developers and in some cases even fight against them.

    8. Never thought of the Zimmer Bradley comparison myself but it makes sense. On the other hand the 70s fantasy/scifi hybrids are mostly very similar, and one thing I give it to Avatar is that James Cameron adapted really well the language, the narrative, the point of view of those specific Hugo and Nebula winners.

  5. AlphabeticalAnonymousNovember 8, 2023 at 1:45 PM

    Speaking of art, let's talk more about Dieter Rottermund's cover art (you can find higher-resolution versions online). That's clearly the rescued Sylph, Selena; perhaps also Gryban and another fighter (the one from Spannenberg?). But if that's the main character holding the harp, then they're a (nearly) no-magic party. They seem to already be on the desert moon... Like the Amberstar cover art, I find it quite an attractive piece that's much more true to the game than the art found on most game boxes.

    1. I agree: the cover does a good job. We're only seeing 4 party members, though. Perhaps there are two more off-screen.

    2. Agreed, it's a lovely cover that manages to be more accurate to its product than many from that era were.

    3. I came to say exactly this, and that it's a great loss online distribution got mostly rid off the box cover art. A commissioned painting like Rottermund's would cost a middling 4-figure sum even back in the early 90s. Great composition and execution, very well done indeed.

  6. "...he rewards you with a yellow orb and enough experience points to boost characters to their maximum levels"

    If that's based on my input, I may have worded that poorly. It's an XP bomb similar to the picture delivery, it will add a few levels, and if you cleared most areas in the game it will likely be enough so that the main character will reach the maximum level. The NPCs will still have levels quite a bit lower.

    "but it alas seems to be Blue Byte's only RPG"

    Incubation is at least on your master list. More of a tactical squad strategy game with RPG elements as far as I know. I'd love to give it a try but even the GOG version won't run out of the box.

  7. > I'm not sure exactly what happened to Köper after that.

    After Thalion, Karsten Köper worked at Koronasoft, a German games shop. He then became self-employed with a PC, home cinema and telecommunication service under the name "Capricorn Service" in Hannover, Germany.

    1. In the late 90s / early 2000s he (also?) was QA manager at Blue Byte (mentioned by Erik Simon in a 1999 interview) and project manager at Similis Software (as per an old file). No idea if that was part-time (in parallel to the apparently still existing 'Capricorn Service') as suspected by Chet.

    2. According to his facebook page, he started with Capricorn in 2003.

  8. I played Incubation back in the day. It’s definitely a tactical squad game, not an RPG.

    I really enjoyed it but I was an XCOM (or UFO: Enemy Unknown) addict who was desperate to get more of that action point fun, wherever I could find it. I have a feeling it was a bit cheesy and also rather short.

  9. 2 points for 'graphics, sound, and interface' seem too harsh. Considering the maximum score of 10, each category should be worth a maximum of 3 points: 3 for graphics, 3 for interface, and 3 for sound. In this scoring system, 1 point would indicate poor quality, 2 points would be average, and 3 points would represent good quality. Since Ambermoon lacks sound effects and music isn't factored into the score, it automatically loses 3 points for not having any sound effects. Therefore, if the game received 2 points for graphics and interface, it would imply that both aspects are of poor quality, 1 point each. Is this the case here, or you use a different method?

    1. It doesn't divide quite that evenly because there are more things I care about related to sound, so having no sound effects is a loss of 4 points. However, you are right that I was too harsh for the rests. Graphics alone are worth 2 points, and while I had trouble with the interface, it's not a 0. I don't know why I didn't give it a 3.

    2. I see, but you think that sound effects and interface are equally important? Personally, I think allocating 5 points for interface, 3 points for sound, and 2 points for graphics would make more sense and ends with the 10 maximum points perfectly. Having a good interface is far more important than both sound and graphics, but this is just my opinion. Anyway, thanks you for your response.

    3. It's always been the most fallible of the GIMLET subscores simply because most people would rate graphics and sound as far more important to their gaming experience than Chet does for his. That's fine, any reviewing system is going to have some subjective elements. I just mentally add bonus GIMLET points if the visuals and/or sound seemed to merit it.

  10. The ".net" in "" is a reference to the fact that it was programmed in C# / Mono / .NET ("dot net"). It's a single project that contains both the faithful rewrite and the developer-expanded "Advanced" version; you get to pick which one you want to play at startup.

    I started playing alongside your playthrough, and I will say that the combat speed function is really handy; it's very similar to using DOSBOX's turbo function, but only applies during combat (and is configurable).

    The other major contribution is some tweaking to both the mouse controls (makes 3D motion easier to use) and the keyboard: more info on the GitHub readme -> also adds a bunch more save slots (32 instead of 16? I might be remembering wrong).

    I never played the original Amiga version, so I might be missing some changes in, and I also didn't try Ambermoon Advanced, so I don't know what else was added.

  11. > We've had developer Easter eggs in games before, but an entire dungeon based on the developers' offices? Can anyone think of any antecedents?

    Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic comes to mind....

  12. Might and Magic III (1991) has a fully functional developer room, except you can only get there by hex-editing a saved game --

    The two earliest examples I can think of are adventure game King's Quest IV (1988) and console RPG Final Fantasy 4 (1991).

  13. Not an RPG, but Zombies Ate My Neighbours has a secret level where you can visit the game's developers in their offices:

    (Similarly, the end of Space Quest 3, sort of.)

    1. Wizardry I of course culminates in Werdna's office, though I don't know if Andrew Greenberg's work area bore any particular relation to its layout.

    2. Hey, Mr. Greenberg could have been living with a harem of vampires and I'm pretty sure 90% of the other RPG developers in the decade to come would have killed for that.

  14. I could have sworn one of the Might & Magic games had a New World Computing office, and not the one above that cannot be reached through ordinary gameplay.

    1. It was either Mandate of Heaven or For Blood and Honor, I can't remember which. But those came out years after this.

    2. It was Mandate of Heaven.

  15. Oh yeah... please share the story you had written for Ambersun, sucinum! This is an interesting thing to see because, due to the aforementioned lack of sequel hooks, I'm sure the planned plot varied wildly from Amberworlds since there wasn't an obvious theme for the sequel to expand upon.

    1. My comment in that forum was about Amberstar and before I even played Ambermoon. That's surely the reason why my quite short summary of an Ambersun story was rejected, I kinda missed some relevant events in the story - like the destruction of Lyramion.

      I prefer Amberstar to this day, because for me, the faux 3D of Ambermoon doesn't add anything but clunkyness to an already quite slow interface. I have completed Amberstar like 20 times, but Ambermoon only once.

      Also, I wish I was really 13 back then instead of 20 ;-)

    2. If this were split as Chet suggested, Amberworlds as a title somewhat suits, even if the travel was mere "moons", not worlds

  16. "the 3D perspective changes slightly based on the height of the active character"

    Enchanted cabinets scolding you when you try to open them, being able to speak to animals (shades of Smith the horse, but without the running joke), all the different transportation options increasing in scope, ... from reading your entries I had the feeling the game does have quite a few nice little touches. Don't know if any of it had any effect on your rating, but irrespective of that it sounds neat.

  17. "continuously-scrolling interface that is technically innovative but also slow and cumbersome."

    " The developers there were clearly enchanted by a technology "advancement" that needed more time in the womb. "

    The substance of this complaint, though not necessarily the details, kind of nails my feeling on a lot of games of this era.

    1. Which is fair as according to the reviews, this tech was lauded at the time. Aging badly is hardly it's fault.

  18. It's probably only rpg-adjacent but Novagen's 1990 game Damocles allows you to visit the Novagen offices and loot them. Key items include an office chair that functions as one of the best starships in the game, and the developer's computer that allows you to mess around with the physics of the world, as well as spawn and destroy items.

    Damocles was released on Amiga and Atari ST and I imagine the Ambermoon developers were aware of it, even if they took no particular influence from it for their own "cheat".

  19. Any Brits who supported this magazine have a lot to answer for
    In fairness, Amiga Power had sort of forged a reputation as being as much an irreverent humour magazine as it was a games magazine. The jokes were almost the point.

    They also had a reputation for harsh/fair (depending on your perspective) scoring. There was a tendency among some UK Amiga magazines to inflate scores and AP reacted against that. I think sometimes they probably erred in the opposite direction, as much for effect as anything, but it did make them stand out.

    None of which is to defend or excuse AP, but to provide context for why their reviews seem like such outliers.

    1. Also they were very, very biased for action games and generally was a computer game version of the lads mags that were starting to appear around that time.

      Though generally the UK didn’t get RPGs at all with the exception of Dungeon Master and its children. My guessing is that because we didn’t do the classic 8 bit RPGs due to lack of disk drives, the public viewed the more complex 16 bit ones that drew on the classics as slow and obtuse. A real pity!

    2. I don't think you need to excuse Amiga Power - they were a great mag - innovative, bold and incredibly funny - but they had blind spots, like any publication. I think they just didn't have many people on staff who liked RPGs, especially at that point in the mag's lifespan when the Amiga was commercially on life support and the magazine was made by a skeleton staff. If you love RPGs then it was never going to be your favourite Amiga mag, but that aside it was brilliantly vibrant and irreverent.

    3. I enjoyed AP for the most part, and it's been influential on my own writing style (that's not what you suggested earlier - Ed) but I know humour is subjective, and humour from mid-90s Britain probably even more so.

      I remember they did a whole review in the style of a late night movie on ITV with all the swearing badly dubbed, which was funny if you are familiar with the context, but someone looking at that in 2023 is going to be baffled.

    4. There is a point on these kind of magazines that instead of blind spots you feel authentic meanness, like pure phobias, and that is the bitter taste it leaves in my mouth. Like if you are not a real man you should like this.

    5. Another aspect is that that AP review is dated mid 1995, not 1993, so I can certainly picture a scenario where Ambermoon played on a real Amiga makes a series of terrible, slow first impressions and looks like yesterday's news compared to games with pace (in any genre). Rich Pelley knew what an RPG was and how to play one and what he was getting into, since he wrote about Might and Magic 3 three years earlier.

    6. That's a good point. The PlayStation had arrived in 1995 and hard disks were rare among UK Amiga users, so to play Ambermoon must have been a plodding and unimpressive experience at the time, in comparison to what else was going on in computer games.

    7. and another personal take: I really dislike the usually dumb video game writing but I hate with passion the very British supposedly smart, very alpha, budget new journalism from [redacted examples] et al - just because they are better they write as if they are ineffable and hell they still do.

    8. I never myself had an Amiga bearing a hard drive growing up in England. I did hear about the Amber series at the time but moreover, I believe they required an A1200, where I had an A500 only.

      On the magazinee, I agree with there being an element of British humour involved, almost certainly aging badly. I can recall the magazine names, but not their styles.

  20. Overall a delightful read, Addict, thank you! I hope to get to the game myself in the future. I covered the game for long enough, after all


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