Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Shadow Keep: Splish Splash

The Shadow Keep overworld.
If my wife ever needs evidence necessary to secure an involuntary psychiatric commitment, she probably won't have to go much further than the map I made of Shadow Keep's game world. I did it over about four hours, by taking individual screenshots of the small map window and assembling them together. (I did the same thing, although less extensively, for Skariten.) For anyone trying to do this yourself, don't try to make the edges line up. That's a recipe for madness. Instead, find physical feature like trees that you can put at the edge of each new screenshot, carefully positioning it to overlap the same features on previous shots. Even then, you have to allow that the map will get out-of-whack. Individual mis-aligned pixels add up fast.

There's no need for this kind of precision, and yet I chafe at the inaccuracies inherent in trying to do a rough sketch by hand. It's a source of constant anxiety whenever I play a top-down game with no automap. Even the roughest paper map in the game documentation is like a balm on that angst, but Shadow Keep didn't supply one.

The exercise was ultimately worth it. Not only did I find all the key locations in the game world, the combats I fought during the experience brought my martial skill to Level 9 and provided me enough gold to buy the best available equipment.
One guess why it's called "Sea of Serpents."
The Shadow Keep game world is a large portrait-oriented rectangle with the titular Shadow Keep in the far northwest. A river and lake system winds through the map's center. The largest lake is called the Sea of Serpents, and an island in the middle holds a cave that's probably the final dungeon of the game; the Evil Overlord is rumored to be in there.

A small village southwest of Shadow Keep has a general store. There's a second village, populated by gnomes, in the upper-middle of the map, just to the west of a river. It has an inn, an arms and armor shop, and a hidden entrance to the Labyrinth.
It's -5F here in Maine right now. This inn looks cozy.
East of the Sea of Serpents is a potion shop. Fortunately, vials of antidote for scorpion and giant spider venom cost just about as much as those creatures drop, so even though I had to return multiple times to stock up, it wasn't a large net blow to my finances.
Finding the magic shop was a god-send.
The southwest corner has a cemetery with an entrance to the Catacombs. There's an unnamed cave (that no one has mentioned in dialogue) amid a small cluster of mountains south of the Sea of Serpents. In a western mountain range is a weird valley with four bird totems, but I can't find anything happening there. 
An inset from the map showing the mysterious "totem valley."
There are Temples of Life (from which the Ankh was stolen, precipitating the current quest) and Strength to the southeast and northeast, respectively. I feel like there ought to be a third temple, a Temple of Magic, somewhere, but the only possible location is in the middle of an eastern lake. So far, I haven't been able to snag a boat to see if there's anything in there.
I get a spell for donating at the temple.
Combats were frequent during my journeys. Giant octopuses swarmed the ocean edges of the map as well as the lakes and rivers, and giant serpents were rife in the inland waterways. I decided early on not to waste my health and resources on combats that didn't deliver any gold, if I could avoid them. Land-based combats, which are harder to avoid, include giant vultures, goblins, tree creatures, cyclopes, giant scorpions, and giant spiders. The latter two inevitably result in poison.

Pirate ships are a useful enemy. Defeating them not only carries a large gold reward but also gives you the ship. Unfortunately, unlike the Ultima variety, these ships don't have cannons. They also have a way of disappearing when you stray too far away. They're necessary to explore islands and at least one mountain-ringed area accessible only by water. So far, I haven't seen any in the exterior ocean, nor in the small eastern lake.
I acquire a ride.
Enemies are frequent but not overwhelming, so mostly I was able to wait and heal when my health got too low. The gold from my victories enabled me to upgrade to a full long sword, a plate helmet, and plate mail, plus keep me stocked with health potions and antidotes. The heavier armor depletes my "strength" bar faster, but even an empty bar doesn't stop you from fighting. You just do less damage and miss more often.

You have to be careful not to attack everyone, because you do meet wandering NPCs in the wild.
A helpful elf gives me a key clue.
It wasn't until late in the session that I realized I'd been neglecting the game's magic system. Every time I found a scroll, I figured it was a one-use item and kept it in reserve. It turns out that possession of a scroll allows you to cast it as many times as you want, up to the limit of your magic bar (which, like health, slowly recharges). Once I realized what an idiot I'd been, I started making liberal use of "Heal" and "Nourish." Spells I've bought or found but haven't used include "Lightning Bolt," "Freeze," "Turn Undead," and "True Sight."

When I was done mapping the outdoors, I bought a bunch of potions and headed for the dungeon beneath the castle. I didn't bother to map it, but it consists of perhaps a 10 x 10 grid of large rooms swarming with beholders (which drain magic), giant bats, giant spiders, and giant scorpions. At first, I tried to kill them all, but I soon realized that they were respawning as fast as I was slaying. Ultimately, you end up running past a lot of enemies, only fighting when they're literally blocking you.
In the midst of the dungeon, among the rewards of two slain enemies. I have to be careful not to walk on those poison bottles.
The developer made the dungeon rooms all the same size, with exits in every direction, but blocked off a lot of the exits with poison bombs. As far as I know, there's no way to "clear" those. Ultimately, I emerged from the dungeon with the Sacred Bone, which I need to pass a "guardian" somewhere. I later realized that I never found an NPC named "John," but to do so I need the "True Sight" spell. I suppose I'll have to make another visit.

Among the NPCs in the villages, I learned that the Black Sword is hidden in the Valley of the Unicorn, in the northeast region of Far Land. To get to Far Land, I'll need to traverse the catacombs, but I need a magic amulet before I do that. I'm not sure where that is, but the Catacombs or the random cave is a good bet.

Meanwhile, I'm told that mermaids know how to defeat the Evil Overlord. There's a mermaid in the north sea bobbing about, but she never comes close enough to land that I can talk to her. I need to find out how to reach her.
Hey! Come ashore!
Depending on how large the other dungeons are, the game is shaping up to be just about the right length. Combat is too boring and character development too minimal to sustain a very long RPG, but if the developer manages to wrap it up before the 15-hour mark, it will be a satisfying little diversion.

Time so far: 7 hours


  1. Award for least heroic looking player avatar?

    When he wears a helmet he looks like the 1950s conception of a robot.

    1. That is clearly a robot Halloween costume that also has a sword for some reason.

    2. Is somebody cosplaying as Titanius Anglesmith, fancy man of Cornwood.

  2. I feel like between the lake that never has any ships and the mermaid who won't come ashore, I'd be hunting for scrolls or boots of water-walking. I'm curious to see how that resolves.

  3. I like how they're all smiling, instead of looking grim as everybody in RPGs usually does.

  4. I was doing the kind of mapping you did here for Demon's Winter and Warriors of Legend. I really hated myself for the Demon's Winter one since I kept making mistakes which led to huge amounts of corrections. In the end, for sections like the kudzu expanse to the west with less landmarks, I decided to take a screenshot every step so I had perfect overlay. Which was a waste since I quit Demon's Winter in the end anyway as I didn't get much enjoyment out of continuing. You're pretty tough for doing it in this game.

  5. As a map addict myself, I approve. However nothing beats your Fate world map insanity... ;)

  6. I bet there is something buried at the centre of those bird totems, or something you have to do there!

  7. Bob's dragon hunt is going to be tough to play right after coming from ultima underworld
    BTW, I'm trying to play and win UU for the first time before the addict gets there, but he's methodically fast and is catching up!
    I hope eotb 2 and a couple of year summaries give me some needed extra time

    1. I was thinking about the same. I would like to play this game, but somehow I never had time for it. This could be good motivation :-)

    2. If you do it, be sure to apply the inventory patch. I just lost a savegame

    3. I would play GoG version. So I think it´s patched. What version do you have and what is the problem with inventory?

    4. I have no idea. I bought the gog version but I had the game in my computer from before that, probably downloaded form some abandonware site.
      In my case, the problem that I got into happened after saving one game: some of the items that I have had in my inventory now were inexplicably floating over my character in the 3D view and I couldn't pick them back again.
      You can easily find the 1993 UU inventory patch with a simple search on google. I haven't had any problem since applying it

    5. Ok, thank you for your warning.

  8. I wish there were rpgs where the point is cartography and not killing orcs. Where the game recognizes this as a desire and gives you tool to achieve it and then rates the accuracy of your map, which is going to be used for the betterment of civilization, trade routes and the like.

    1. That would be pretty cool. Not just cartography, but successful navigation in general. Make the player count paces, figure out directions from environmental cues, and use features on the horizon to shoot a back azimuth.

    2. Love it. Imagine how intimately you'd learn this imaginary atlas if you had to do that stuff. You might later dream (if the graphics were good) of locations on that world and if you replayed it 10 years later you'd get all nostalgic 'ah, this is that three-fault chasm that I got lost trying to navigate around for months and almost died because I ran out of supplies. Luckily, there is a hidden cave with magical cave fruit... right there!'.

    3. Isn't this what Uncharted Waters 2 did? You gain fame and... I think XP as well(?) for mapping out your nautical charts and discovering natural wonders, exotic fauna & settlements.

  9. "Every time I found a scroll, I figured it was a one-use item and kept it in reserve."

    Amazing how expectations get programmed. So far as I know, the "scrolls are a one-shot spell" mechanic is almost exclusively found in D&D and D&D imitators, but D&D influence is so prevalent in Western CRPGs that it bears heavy influence.

  10. I'm guessing the bird totems have something to do with John the bird-master and the extinct race of giant birds. Maybe the game will conclude with a grand battle between the knights of Shadow Keep fighting atop a newly restored cohort of giant birds and the foul creatures of the Evil Overlord.

    1. Oddly, the totems never played any role that I could see. It's possible I missed something that would have given me an item or spell.

    2. ROT13 spoiler: Gurer'f n pbeerfcbaqvat frg bs gbgrzf va gur Sne Ynaq, naq gurer'f n srngure gung lbh trg fbzrjurer (V guvax va gur Sne Ynaq) gung yrgf lbh geniry vafgnagyl orgjrra gur gjb frgf bs gbgrzf.

    3. ROT13: Gurer'f n pbeerfcbaqvat frg bs gbgrzf va gur Sne Ynaq, naq gurer'f n srngure gung lbh trg fbzrjurer (V guvax va gur Sne Ynaq) gung yrgf lbh geniry vafgnagyl orgjrra gur gjb frgf bs gbgrzf.

    4. Thanks for solving the mystery! In the future, you don't need to ROT-13 tips for games I've already won.

  11. Can you use the freeze spell on water tiles?

  12. I'm really waiting for a clever game to put in some of the dungeon mapping tricks I've read about in tabletop games and see how you respond. (Escher-esq systems, the use of hypercubes and such, elevators that take you to a random level each time, but with very similar layouts for the bit around the elevator...)

  13. You wrote: "For anyone trying to do this yourself, don't try to make the edges line up. That's a recipe for madness. [...] Even then, you have to allow that the map will get out-of-whack. Individual mis-aligned pixels add up fast."

    That made me smile. I gather you never visited vgmaps.com : it hosts thousands of video game maps, and all the screenshot maps are pixel-perfect. I am probably one of the craziest contributors there: I fully mapped Ultima 2! But there are even crazier guys who made beautiful screenshot maps of three-dimensional games...

  14. I loved this game as a kid but couldn't remember the title so it's taken me literally years to find it again, now I'm addictively playing through it (never beat it as a wee one). I've searched high and low and haven't found the turn undead spell! Can you (or anyone) give me a general idea where it is? Seems like it'll be super useful in the catacombs beneath the cemetery.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

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