Friday, March 18, 2022

BRIEF: Odyssee (1985)

It is not a role-playing game despite the title screen.
          
Odyssee
Germany
Independently developed; published in the February 1985 issue of 64'er Sonderheft
Released in 1985 for Commodore 64
     
Odyssee is a German Ultima clone written by a Jan Geißelmann and published as type-in code in the February 1985 issue of 64'er Sonderheft magazine. If you subscribed to the disk version, you also got it on disk and saved yourself from having to do all the typing. Someone in West Germany named John Sinclair did not get it on disk, and thus we have him to thank for typing in the version currently available online, although he confused things by putting 1989 as the copyright date. Some sites say that this 1989 version is an "English translation," but in fact the original game was completely in English except for the title. The title given in the magazine includes the subtitle Kampf der Bruderschaft ("Battle of the Brotherhood"), but it does not appear in the game itself.
       
Odyssee is less about role-playing than about having the right item at the right time.
      
Odyssee revels in its clone nature. The game explicitly takes place in Sosaria (Ultima III), which has been taken over by Saruman. An organization called the Brotherhood sends their best agent to deal with the wizard. The interface uses Ultima commands like (Z)tats, (T)ransact, and (B)oard ship, and some of the artifacts that you need to find include blue tassels (to board ships, a la Ultima II) and a Mark of Fire (Ultima III).
 
Character creation has you set values for strength, stamina, intelligence, and wisdom from a pool of 100 points, then give yourself a name. After that, the creator program runs for a while and at least partly randomizes the landscape. You start with 50 food, 350 gold, 300 "power," and, for some reason one-fifth of the strength and stamina that you specified during character creation.
       
I don't know what intelligence or wisdom do for you in this game.
   
Enemies and NPCs are scattered across the land. There's one type of enemy--a guy pointing a sword--and one type of NPC--a mage with a staff. They're visible but they don't move. Combat occurs when you sidle up to an enemy, at which point he attacks mercilessly. There's no turn-by-turn here; the enemy will take advantage of any pause to get in an attack. You have to pound the "A" key yourself to interrupt him, but you have to be careful because after you hit it, you have to specify a direction, and if you hit it twice it cancels the attack. It may make sense to play this one at 50% speed, at least for combat.
     
The opening map. You can't go off this screen to the north or south, only to the west.
    
As you walk, the land scrolls east to west but not north to south; your "game world" is thus extremely long and thin, and the game is resultingly linear. It cannot be saved, so it's also meant to be quick.
   
The game's principal dynamic involves overcoming environmental challenges with items that you acquire. When you first start, you're just east of a maze. NPCs block pathways in the maze until you find a password to get past them. Further along is a river that you need a boat or a swim vest to cross (and the boat requires that you've found a blue tassel), a bridge that takes a 100-gold piece toll, a lake that you need the vest to cross, and a key NPC surrounded by hedges that you need a special pair of boots to walk through. The boots are diabolical because they only last for two turns in the hedge, and you're tempted to use them in the maze since (as below) the passwords don't work. Speaking of "diabolical," one early NPC steals all of your gold, which is an irrecoverable situation and thus requires you to start completely over if you're unlucky enough to run into him.
    
He couldn't even stoles my gold using proper English!
      
Towns and cities are sprinkled at regular intervals, and you need to make sure you buy enough food to last between places you can buy food. There are four classes of weapon (dagger, axe, bow, gun) and four classes of armor (cloth, leather, chain, shield), and you want enough money to afford the highest items plus to buy food and pay the toll mentioned above. This involves killing the enemies (otherwise, there would be no reason not to walk past them), but you have to be careful because there's nothing (at least that I found) to replenish your initial pool of power.
    
Towns are fully menu towns.
   
Unfortunately, either the game code was bugged from the beginning or Mr. Sinclair mis-typed something. Either way, in the version you can find online, you can't get past a couple of key encounters because of errors. One has to do with the passwords you need in the maze. Near the maze, one NPC tells you that he's giving you a password, but he doesn't. This means you can't get past the NPC who requires one, and thus get to the NPC who gives you the swim vest. If you use the boots to get to the swim vest NPC, you're out of luck when you need them later. (There is also a quantity of "passwords" that you can get in towns, but these don't work in the maze and I'm not sure what they're for.) There's also an NPC who tells you that he's giving you a key, which I assume is an important item, but he gives you a "Magic Missile" spell instead. Magic Missile is a one-use spell that wipes out all the enemies on screen.
    
If you don't have a swim vest at this point, you're in trouble.
    
There are probably hex-editing ways that I could overcome these issues, or maybe I could find the flaw in the original program, but there's no point since the game fails my definitions of an RPG. You don't get any stronger as the game goes along; in fact, you get weaker and weaker. It's an interesting homage anyway.
    

29 comments:

  1. It's curious that the creator's name is given as "Geiszelmann" in the title screen, apparently put this way by himself in the type-in code.

    Even though the name of the letter "ß" is pronounced "esszett" in German, i.e. like the names of the letters "s" and "z" put together, usually it is transcribed as "ss" if not available, e.g. in international contexts like the machine-readable part of passports. AFAIK, using "sz" instead is limited to those instances were a double "s" could actually mean a different word (e.g. "in Maßen" / "in Massen"). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9F

    More on topic, after these last type-in games, I fear I have some doubts regarding Harland's hope that any of them might turn out to be "hidden gems - or at least shiny rocks".

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    1. Originally the ß was a ligature of long s (ſ) and z. ſz -> ß. The resemblance is noticeable I think. So transcribing it as sz makes some sense, even though it's uncommon nowadays.

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  2. Edit: speaking of spelling... "were" should have been "where" (a double "s"...) in my post above.

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  3. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 18, 2022 at 2:07 PM

    Before I saw that the game was written by a German, I half-hoped from the title that it would some sort of Robert Clardy clone (compleat with mispellings).

    > four classes of weapon (dagger, axe, bow gun)

    The bow gun sounds exciting enough already; the weapon class after that one must really be something! (j/k)

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  4. I'm not sure if the typist really went by the name of John Sinclair or if it wasn't rather a pseudonym: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sinclair_(German_fiction)

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  5. Nitpick: "Sonderheft" means "special issue". The magazine's name was just "64'er".

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  6. You are really slumming lately!

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  7. You can also find the "original" 1984/85 game online. Not sure if I can post the link here (even though I doubt he'd complain), but it's on archive.org. Just search for "Jan Geiszelmann" (with "sz"). Didn't test far enough to see if the same problems are in that version, though.

    JG has published at least three more games, each of a different genre, according to
    http://www.gamebase64.com/search.php?a=5&f=3&id=312.

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    1. I checked it out. It has the same problems--no password, no key--suggesting they're part of the original code.

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    2. I'm impressed you actually tested this by replaying it to this point, even though this isn't an RPG by your definition! You really have a lot of patience and perseverance. As you need to have, I guess, for what you are doing with this blog.

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  8. With the 4 weapon and armour classes, does a player employ chain and a shield, or does shield simply supercede the former?

    Likewise, is there ranged and melee combat, or is it again simply an improved weapon class?

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  9. Say what you will about the quality of the games lately, but within the year its very likely that you can indeed say you've played every RPG released on a western computer in the '80s. There might be an odd "new" game, but those are getting rarer and rarer and their RPG credentials slimmer and slimmer.

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    1. There's still a bunch of Macintosh games I told him about a while ago but he hasn't played yet! Some of them are from the late 80s :p

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    2. Ooh! Loving these 80s gems as they was my time.

      Maybe gems isn’t right… but love the old stuff.

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    3. It's pretty interesting what we considered a playable game back in the day.

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  10. I actually owned this Sonderheft back in the day, but I didn't buy it because of the games. It had an article about creating your own adventure games in BASIC which was pretty good.

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    1. IMO the 64'er magazine was awesome, though back then I was too young to really appreciate it.

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    2. Yes, same with me. I even got 100 DM for a little game I sent in to 64'er, not an RPG alas.

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    3. Which game did you send, if I may ask? My dad had subscribed to the mag, we got them all and all the "Sonderhefte".

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  11. Thank you so much for looking into my suggestions, Chester. Bummer, that the first one you tried is actually not only not a CRPG but also a bugged dud. Sorry for that.

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  12. I just saw that you've populated the upcoming game list and the first one is Ultima Underworld 2. Thank goodness, a real RPG and a gem, to boot. (One of the few non-roguelike RPGs that passes the ultimate test for me: is it worth playing twice?)

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    1. Yeah, I'm incredibly excited about that one too! In fact the whole upcoming list looks like a very interesting batch one way or another.

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    2. AND Lands of Lore, AND EOB3, AND Ultimuh :)

      Wow, I'm looking forward to those! The latter two... well you've probably heard they aren't great games, but reading your views on them will be great nevertheless!

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    3. There's still going to be a flurry of one-offs on early 1980s games before I get to those, probably around the start of April.

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  13. Wow, that's a stark departure from seeing a major title every 20 or so others.

    I assume it has to to with your plan of reviewing how you tackle the master list, rather than some "lucky" random rolls.

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    1. No, they were lucky random rolls.

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    2. You won the lottery, then. :)

      Or at the very least there is a good chance you will enjoy them more than the last batch.

      BTW, thanks for updating the list.

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    3. Wow, I thought it was somewhat intentional. I went and looked at the master game list after the reset and UU2 and Lands of Lore are likely both in the top 5 of "most anticipated games of 1993". (Two others being Serpent Isle and Betrayal at Krondor.) Hopefully this doesn't lead to a long stretch of bad RPGs later, though.

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  14. "The opening map. You can't go off this screen to the north or south, only to the west."

    Since nobody else seized the occasion… GO WEST YOUNG MAN !

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