Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Dark Stone Ritual: Too Xoon

The Game Master gives me one of the main quests of the game.
At this point, I've explored five towns, three caves, and as much of the outdoor area as I can. The outdoor map is structured so you can't get very far without the skills necessary to navigate through swamps, forests, and mountains (and, I suppose, swimming), but the trainers for everything except "Forestry" must be on the other side of the island. Eventually, you get to a point where the only possible way to progress is a bridge, where a woman wants a password. 
Everything funnels the player to this bridge.
The outdoor about 64 squares vertical, ocean to ocean. If it's also 64 squares east-to-west, there's still a lot of the game for me to uncover, as I've only gone a maximum of 17 squares horizontal. On the other hand, this game does not seem to be interested in predictable square maps. The dungeon maps have all been much longer east-west than north-south--sometimes absurdly so--so perhaps the continent is stretched in the other direction.
The town of Pelingore is 37 x 15.
The outdoor map is sprinkled with towns, caves, fountains that raise attributes, and random treasure chests. Every town has a hut nearby where a gnome tells you how many parties of wandering monsters you still have to kill to clear the town. Once you kill them all and return to him, he gives you gold and experience. Each town has an armory, a tavern, a temple, a training hall, and its own variety of special encounters and side quests. Some of them have guild shops that sell magic spells. Each town so far has also featured at least one mysterious square in which a question mark indicates some kind of encounter, but stepping on it produces nothing.

My characters are all Level 11, and combats haven't been very hard since the first few hours of the game, when I didn't know how to properly equip items. I've purchased some offensive spells, but I have yet to find anything that affects the entire enemy party. Meanwhile, single-enemy offensive spells like "Cold Ray" and "Fire Ray" do less damage than a melee attack, so there's rarely any reason to use them. My healer is kept busy with "Cure Wounds," but my sorcerer doesn't often have any sorcerer-specific things to do, except when I need her for "Townportal" or something. Since I'm never really in any danger during combats, battles have become rather tedious and boring.
This battle with 8 enemies is merely long, not hard.
The process of sorting through all the "found" equipment is about as cumbersome as Might and Magic, and to simplify things I've adopted the expedient of using the sale price of the piece of equipment as the primary measure of quality. Even then, I have to go through about a half hour of shuffling and sorting after each dungeon.
A lucrative expedition loaded me up with much better equipment than I already had.
None of the mysteries I mentioned last time have been solved except perhaps for the skill system. Midway through this session, I found a hut where a trainer will increase your score with each skill--but only if someone else has already taught you the skill. So I was able to take "Forestry" and "Healer" to 100% for the characters who had them, but I wasn't able to do anything with skills like "Burglary" and "Swimming" because no one had acquired them yet. The long list of skills for which I have found no trainers is a counter-argument to the "small, narrow continent" hypothesis. I suppose there's going to have to be much more territory if I have to find huts for all these other skills.
All of the game's skills can be trained here, point by point.
I'm acquiring a lot more sub-quests than I'm solving. In Umure, a woman wants me to find a ring that she lost near a cave. In Brelock, a man wants me to rescue his daughter from "Zappo." In Barura, Baran der Allwissende wants me to find his spellbook. And so forth. I've been assuming that these things are all on the other side of the continent, but late in this session, I realized I was mistaken as to the rules of secret doors. The nature of my mistake would be long and complicated to explain, but the end result is that they can appear in far more places than I assumed. I thus feel that I need to go back through the towns and caves I've already explored and test more of the walls. There are also a lot of locked doors that I've left for later, presumably when I have the "Burglary" skill.

The third cave I explored was called "Glorys," which introduced a new navigation obstacle: pits and teleporters for which I needed the "Jump" spell to pass and continue exploring the dungeon on the other side. It wasn't hard to figure out. There was also a switch that lowered a nearby wall, but in general the game has featured nothing of the complexity of puzzles that we see in games of the Dungeon Master style.
Casting "Jump" to cross a pit.
Glorys gave me a series of messages related to someone called "Xoon," which seems to be a play on Might and Magic IV's "Xeen." As Might and Magic IV came out the same year as Dark Stone Ritual, the latter's developers must have been remarkably quick, or else everyone's wrong about Ritual's proper year.

Anyway, the Xoon messages are a little odd in that each one features what I think is the German word nur, meaning "only" or "just," as in nur ein wenig ("just a little") or nur ein gigolo ("merely a gigolo"), only for some reason the letters in the word are spaced out. I don't know how I'm to regard that odd spacing in a word that you wouldn't normally emphasize, and I hope some of my German readers might help. Here's an example:
The messages, with what I get for translations, are:
  • Xoon: mordet n u r aus verzweiflung: "Xoon: murders only in despair."
  • Xoon: schlägt n u r die die ihm wiedersprechen: "Xoon: strikes only those who talk back to him."
  • Xoon: liebt blutige getränke n u r wenn sie noch warm sind: "Xoon: loves bloody drinks only when they're still warm."
  • Xoon: liebt gebackene leber n u r wenn sie menschlichen ursprungs ist: "Xooon: loves baked liver only when it's of human origin."
There was a fifth message for which I didn't screenshot the German, suggesting that Xoon eats only very small children. The dungeon culminated in an encounter with the "Game Master," who said that if we defeat Xoon and bring the Game Master his head, "the power of the Dark Stone sect is finally broken and you will have passed your first test!"

I next need to find the password to cross that bridge. I may already have it. Two of the towns featured encounters with a "morgogilde." One told me that "the first two are MO" and the other said that "the second two are ND." Unless there are more morgogildes that I missed behind secret doors, that gives me a password to try: MOND.
Here, have a napkin.
Ritual remains some fun, but I'm starting to worry that it will wear out its welcome long before it decides to wrap up. It has Might and Magic's admirable variety, although not assembled quite as artfully as its inspiration. Still, it's been a major step forward for the Motelsoft brand.


  1. You put the blank spaces into a word to highlight / emphazise it. You could write N U R just as well as NUR. It is simply another way to use a bold lettering, just while using r e g u l a r letters, if you u n d e r s t a n d what i mean.

    1. That's understood. The question was why this particular word was emphasized in this way. Seems to me it's just an odd stylistic choice.

    2. The font/game engine/programming language/game itself might not be able to display bolded or italic text, leaving them few options to emphasize words.

    3. It doesn't strike me as very odd that this word is emphasized. It fits in with the overall weird humor of the game. Sentences like "Xoon likes grilled liver *only* when it's of human origin" become a bit funnier if the only is emphasized, no?

    4. To be honest, I think it's equally amusing - or not!

    5. Imagine a sentence where "ONLY" would be an important information. Imagine further some kind of humor where it is importat to emphasis this.
      It is similar with adding a "not" to a sentence (I had a great day. N O T.). So using the nur or NUR or N U R is adding a humoristic or sarcastic or ironic tone to these sentences.
      If the writer only uses the word nur shows simply that he liked to use this tool, maybe a bit too much if he used it only with a single word. That is more or less all.

    6. I appreciate the replies. In English, it is not at all common to emphasize a word with extra spaces. I have seen extra spaces used to give some extra prominence, as in a title, but not to suggest emphasis or intensity when reading the text. We would use italics, bolding, or upper case for that.

    7. In German typography this is called Sperrsatz and was mainly used for emphasizing with blackletter fonts since they don't have bold or italic. It was also commonly used with typewriters for the same reason.

    8. In English we capitalize it and put asterisks between the letters, e.g. W*E*R*D*N*A

  2. The messages about Xoon seem awfully likely to be hints for an Ultima IV-style final puzzle. Although if you have to actually go through with the instructions, which seem to involve aiding and abetting Hannibal Lecter, that would be an extremely dark twist.

  3. Do you use Steem? There's a green fast-forward button on the top left which you can push down by double clicking. You can go through combats pretty quickly with that. Just make sure that you switch it off before combat is over. I found that combats happened every step when I left it on.

    The "manual" hints at a second part (which was apparently never made) so maybe that's why there are so many skills.

    1. Thanks! I thought that button was for cassettes. Instead, it's the equivalent of "warp" in other emulators. That does make things a bit faster.

  4. Where is your post about the book???

  5. Two answers to the questions from your previous post:
    - Attributes go up with your level, but you have to sleep before the "aktuell" value changes. The odd thing is that sleeping at a tavern doesn't do the trick. You have to rest in a dungeon or on the map.
    - The ~ symbol, as well as * behind some items, indicates special properties (like increasing hit points) which you can check by identifying the item at a shop.

    I only reached the level of your characters quite a bit later in the game, but combat has still mostly been easy (just more frequent trips to the temple). There was one combat where I needed the strategic mode, because it was too hard in quick combat.

    Hope you finish this, since I'm stuck at what I think is at least 3/4th of the game.

    1. Never mind, I wasn't so far from the end after all. I got stuck at a number lock for which I couldn't find a hint anywhere in the game, and searching the game files didn't produce any hint I missed either. I finally found it only by taking a memory snapshot and analyzing it.

      Maybe you'll find something, but in case you run into the same problem, here's the combination: Svir uhaqerq gvzrf gjb cyhf bar

    2. Hey, Buck. Maybe you can help me. I'm stuck, but in a different way:

      I've mapped the entire land (and have all the skills necessary to explore all squares). I have explored the entire outdoors and every dungeon and city as fully as possible. I have the Dark Stone but don't know what to do with it. I never found two of the four steinplatten nor Mormo's diamond. Never found the "burglary" skill, so I have a lot of locked doors. Any hints as to what I missed?

    3. Ah, never mind. I missed there were some additional areas to swim to.

    4. I think the burglary skill is just for disarming traps. The "manual" explicitly mentions that there are either locks or hidden buttons nearby, otherwise the doors cannot be opened. If you have the dark stone, I don't think there's any door you still need to open.

      The stone plates are important, I think I found them all by stepping on overland squares. Are you sure you stepped on all of them? Were you able to swim to other islands (all characters need the swimming skill)? Have you visited the island with the gate that requires a password, and the island with the four tents arranged in a square?

      Light spoiler regarding Mormo's diamond: Vg'f abg vzcbegnag gb svavfu gur tnzr, gur erjneq vf "Uryyfvpug" sbe nyy punenpgref.

    5. Ah, fine, good luck with finishing the game then. You shouldn't be far from the end :)

    6. Still stuck, dammit. I got the four stone plates and thus the four stones and the four passwords. But the only place I haven't been is in a small compound on a northern island (the island with all the powerful fountains). They're asking for a password, and none of the ones I have seem to do anything. Any hint appreciated.

    7. A password isn't neccessarily a single word. When you got the passwords, it said: "The first word is...", "The second word is...", "The third...".

      Also, you must have missed a hut in the very far east, which requires a "very special stone".

    8. No, I had five--I just mis-counted. Thanks for the help. I'm glad that it wasn't something that I missed, but I disagree that a "passWORD" isn't just a word. Five words strung together is a pass PHRASE.

    9. To phrase it better, when the game asks you for a password, it doesn't neccessarily necessarily mean a single word. It's definitely confusing. I can't think of a good German translation for "passphrase", though. Maybe "Parole", but I think that implies a meaningful sentence.

  6. What I find a shame is that many games, like this, didn´t think of the possibility of ease to translate. If for example the dialogs all pointed back to a simple text file, then a wider audience could play the game, once translated, into their own language. No disrespect to programmers intended, but I´ve seen how often programs of all sorts are simply rushed to the table and so many tweaks and extensible things haven´t been thought through.

    1. Companies use proprietary file formats to protect files containing valuable proprietary assets, such as models, textures, sound, music, data, etc. Those assets are costly, since they require time, tools, and expertise to make (unless the assets are licensed, in which case they cost money to acquire and their copyrights are owned by a third party), thus those assets are valuable and game companies don't want unauthorized third parties piggybacking on their investments.

      In the early days, disk space and memory were also at a premium, so developers often came up with clever ideas to save a byte here and there, which usually doesn't lend itself to easily readable formats.

      That being said, Dark Stone Ritual does store some of its data in a readable format. Items are stored in two plain text files, one line each. Part of the dialog is kept in a simple ROT-5 obfuscated file, and maps are plain ASCII drawings.

      See here (spoilers of course):!AjMV8dgvxHDblLkO724XpVtGi3gH7g

    2. Making a game translatable isn't hard (especially nowadays), but it does require some effort. These guys had regular jobs and wrote games in their free time, I'm not surprised they never considered making the game translatable. They probably wouldn't have thought that this game would ever be played outside of Germany.

  7. Development times did the to be a lot shorter back then; Wolfenstein 3D was only 4 months.

  8. "Baran der Allwissende wants me to find his spellbook" -> For someone whose name is "the all-knowing" it's a bit embarassing not even to know where your own spellbook is... .


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