Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Antepenult: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Shalt thou give me some kind of reward to bring back to my own world with me?
United States
Independently developed; published as shareware
Released 1989 for Amiga
Date Started: 18 February 2023
Date Ended: 18 March 2023
Total Hours: 33
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 36
Ranking at Time of Posting: 385/508 (76%)

Antepenult is a superior Ultima clone that uses themes, mechanics, and graphics from Ultimas I-V to tell an original story. The unnamed character must explore five worlds and piece together clues necessary to stop a demonic invasion. Names and themes are mostly drawn from Greek and Christian mythology as well as real place names and history in the eastern Mediterranean. The game makes the most of iconographic exploration and keyword-prompted dialogue, although RPG mechanics and role-playing elements are somewhat limited. It is nonetheless a commercial-quality game and a bargain at its shareware asking price.
Antepenult ultimately comprises five continents: Havilah, Tartarus, Atlantis, Aetheria, and Gehenna. When I last blogged, I had mostly finished with the first three and had just found my way, via the Mark of Air, to Aetheria.
Aetheria consisted of half a dozen cloud "islands" interconnected by moongates. Finding my way from one island to another was a bit of a puzzle, as each moongate stays active for three phases, and each phase takes you to a different destination. If you just stand in the moongate's square, waiting for it to take you when it arrives, you end up just bouncing back and forth between two destinations.
The world of Aetheria, from an observatory.
The continent was clearly meant to be the most elevated of the group, not just in literal altitude. There were only a few enemies, all in a maze on one island, and almost all the NPCs were positive and helpful. They were mostly artists and philosophers. Many spoke as if I had already defeated the evil daemon, and they talked about the songs they intended to compose, honoring my victory.
I appreciate your confidence.
The continent had a castle (Hierosolyma) and four cities: Mycenae, Memphis, Corinth, and Persepolis. Various notes and revelations from my explorations:
  • Aetheria is ruled by King Pericles. He didn't have much to offer.
  • One questline started with an NPC asking me if I knew the Latin word for "old man." I looked it up--SENEX--and got it right. It ultimately led me to an old man who deciphered my four runes and told me a password (KHAMPO) that I needed to enter Gehenna. I wonder what 1989 players did.
Maybe if I said "no," he'd just tell me.
  • An observatory in Mycenae gave me overhead views of each of the continents. The view of Gehenna was mirrored, for some reason, but it otherwise turned out to be vital.
I can't say I'm looking forward to this.
  • I learned of three new writs: Open, Kill, and Unstone. All three questlines took me to Persepolis, described below.
The game missed an opportunity by not naming the horse "Sideras."
  • Corinth had the game's best weapons (two-handed sword and crossbow) and armor (plate mail) available.
  • A throwaway comment from a druid told me the name of the daemon: "[Your] gravestone will read 'Here lies the Bane of Screwtape, who delivered the land of Havilah from the evil presence!" The name comes from two C. S. Lewis stories. I've heard of them but never read them.
The first appearance of the daemon's name.
  • In the library of Memphis, I was able to read a book that told me more about Screwtape and prepared me for some of the challenges I'd face in his domain. 
Doesn't sound much like a "daemon."
  • An NPC named Ahasuerus had leads on all the keys. He told me I wouldn't be able to get the Key of Fire until I was already in Gehenna. I should ask for it in the city of Aedin. More on the Key of Air in a bit. I had Water and Earth already, though only because I searched a couple of places prematurely. Ahasuerus's hints would have led me to them.
  • An NPC named Philemon is storming mad about a letter he just got from Paul. "He shall be hearing from my attorney!" he rages. You don't get a lot of biblical jokes in RPGs.
"See, it's funny because Paul has abetted Philemon's runaway slave, Onesimus, who has run away with some of Philemon's money." -- words never before written anywhere.
Persepolis was the most challenging of the two cities. It had two different areas, each with its own puzzles. The easier of the two was a "haunted house." It was a maze of teleporter pads, full of non-hostile ghosts. Killing them turned the guards on me, so I just had to avoid them, but they were often in my way. 

The haunted house had two important NPCs. One of them sold me the Writ of Unstone (I'd learned about him from a talking horse named Balam). The second gave me the crucial clue I needed to find Theseus and the Minotaur in Cnossos: say the word AXIOMEN to Ariadne. The latter NPC made me "prove I'm worthy" by giving her the name of her cleric friend in Chryse (CYRIL). Thankfully, I'd written all the names of key NPCs down.
The harder part of the city was a "mirror maze." It wasn't large, but it was difficult to navigate until I realized what was going on. I was simultaneously annoyed and impressed at the programming. The maze mimics what would happen if every wall was a mirror. When you're standing next to a mirror, you see a copy of yourself in that direction. If there are mirrors on both sides, you see infinite copies of yourself in both directions. Valid lines of travel are presented as completely open. You have to keep an eye on the center of the screen, as the PC always occupies the exact center. 
In the mirror. I'm in the center. There's a mirror to my west; hence, the duplicate image. The paladin is in a nook to the north with a mirror behind him, which is why you can see both of us mirrored. The way to the east is open. So is the south, but I can only move one square in that direction.
I ended up mapping it to be sure I'd found everything. It wasn't very big. When I was done, I had a lead on the Mark of Fire and I'd purchased the Writ of Kill after promising never to use it on a human being. 
The extent of the maze.
I hit dead ends on a couple of questlines. In Corinth, Ahasuerus told me to ask another NPC named Mephibosheth of the Key of Air. Mephibosheth didn't respond to any prompts and I couldn't progress. I later learned from the author, Paul Falstad, that the prompt I was supposed to use was SEGMENT. I think someone did give me that prompt and I forgot about it. In any event, I found the Key of Air by simply searching every square of a maze on one of Aetheria's islands. There was nothing else in the maze, and I figured it must exist for some reason.
In the same manner, I solved the puzzle of the silver coin that I needed to pay Charon to cross the River Styx. I never found the NPC (Hippocoön) who was supposed to tell me its location, but there was this ship graveyard in the southeast corner of Atlantis that otherwise seemed to have no purpose. When I was done with Aetheria, I returned and searched every ship until I found it.
It seemed like an obvious place.
I had learned in Aetheria that the Writ of Open would be found with a stoned beggar (that is, turned to stone) on the top floor of Castle Pergamum. Now that I had a Writ of Unstone, it was time to visit again. There's quite a bit more to the ruined castle than I discovered on the first visit including a hidden treasure chamber in which half of the chests are mimics. Numerous NPCs thank you if you unstone them, although they have no other dialogue, and leaving the floor and returning simply sees them turned to stone again. I unstoned a lot of guards and then regretted it when they attacked me for looting the treasure chamber.
Getting to the stoned beggar on the "top floor" was more work than I anticipated. First, I had to walk through fire (now possible with the Mark of Fire) to find a ladder downward in the kitchen. That led to the dungeon, which I had to fully explore before finding another ladder up in the southeast. This led to a tower that went up about six stories before depositing me on the top. I met a daemon named Ba'asha who boasted that he ruled the castle now--just before I killed him.
Good luck with that.
The beggar was in a cell south of the daemon, and soon I had the final writ.
Apparently, beggars can be choosers.
That left the Golden Dagger, which I knew I'd find with Theseus and the Minotaur. I returned to Tartarus and the island of Cnossos and spoke to Ariadne. I fed her the keyword, and she agreed to lead me to Theseus. For about ten minutes, I had to follow her through the labyrinth that I had mapped last time. I don't know how hard it is to program such a thing, but there's nowhere else in the game where you have to follow an NPC, so I was impressed that Falstad took any time to do that for this one quest. I was dying to see where I'd "missed" a secret door. It turns out that it was on the east wall of what I had assumed was the eastern boundary of the maze, and thus hadn't tested any of the wall squares. If you read my last entry, you'll get the irony: I started the post by talking about how some mazes can take unexpected turns, and how you can never smugly assume you've found the outer edges.
All that mapping was for nothing. One point for you, Falstad.
The Minotaur was roaming an open area while Theseus hid behind a door. Whatever some NPC in Imperium had told me about the castle's daggers being magical was nonsense. None of my weapons, including the daggers, could even touch the Minotaur. He tore me apart in about four rounds. I ultimately killed him with the Writ of Kill (the only time I used it), but I'm not sure it's even necessary to kill him. The Golden Dagger is in a nearby nook, and you could take a route that reaches it without encountering the beast.
At last, I had all of the items necessary to descend into Gehenna: the four writs, the four marks, the four runes, the password, the Silver Coin, and the Golden Dagger. I had long since guessed that the route to Gehenna would be through the mountain next to Pergamum, where there was a dungeon called Skotos. Both Skotos and the last dungeon of the game, Bathos, were harder than the others, with numerous dead ends as you go from Level 1 to Level 8, back up to Level 1, and so forth. Still, I never found it necessary to map. I wrote down notes when I hit a place with multiple options; for instance, "Level 5: Arrive in SW corner. Ladder up to N; ladder down to E." I'd just keep track of each note until I hit a dead end, then backtrack.
Making my way to hell.
Skotos dumped me into a lake of fire, poison, and sleep fields. I searched the center and found a portal. I was asked for, and gave, the password: KHAMPO.
I arrived in the southwestern corner of Gehenna. A path east brought me to the shores of the River Styx, which was swarming with ghosts. A ship made a back-and-forth journey, so I waited and boarded, giving the silver coin to the "dark oarsman." I'm not sure if it's possible to return to Havilah after this point. I didn't try.
The (non-hostile) ghosts on the river were a nice touch.
The rest of Gehenna was a large world full of fire and lava, swarming with demons, devils, balrons, xorns, phantoms, liches, and other nasties. The Mark of Fire let me walk through fire without taking damage, but I still took heavy damage from lava . . . which wasn't a concern because the Writ of Heal restores half your lost points every time you use it and never runs out. Combat was a trivial annoyance for this entire last session, as I could just use the writ whenever I got low. 
Making my way through Gehenna.
Long, twisty mazes sprouted off the main routes on all sides, most leading nowhere. The map I'd gotten from the observatory in Mycenae showed me the location of the two cities: Aedin and Xenophon.
Aedin was a weird town modeled after a high school. The NPCs were hall monitors, cheerleaders, jocks, and teachers. They didn't respond to dialogue prompts but just read lines appropriate to their stereotypes. Falstad was a high-school student when he wrote the game, and "Aedin" is an anagram for his hometown, Edina (Minnesota). I asked him whether equating high school with hell was just teenaged angst or whether he had a uniquely hellish experience, and he said it was the former. "It's actually a great school and I had a good experience there in retrospect."
35 years later, this joke still works.

A high-school gym teacher.
But what could have been a silly joke actually has an in-game plot twist: the NPCs aren't really people. They're demons acting like people. A jester boiling in a lake of lava told me that if I killed all of them, the way would be open to me. I did so and got access to a hidden corridor at the south end of the city.
The game had been mercifully empty of Monty Python references, so I suppose it was time. In the southern corridor, my way was blocked by a "Black Knight." Again, what could have been a dumb joke was rendered slightly more interesting in that Falstad took the time to graphically depict the consequences of my chopping off his limbs one by one as he protested that it was "only a flesh wound."
This was written by a teenager in the late 1980s. I suppose this was inevitable.
The final NPC told me that I'd find the Key of Fire in the other city, Xenophon. He also told me how to find a secret door that would keep me safe from monsters.
Xenophon, at the other end of the map, was presented as a resort town with a hotel and golf course. A large corridor ran through the center of the city and was chock full of enemies, including guards, which were still a slight threat despite the Writ of Heal. The NPCs instructions took me to a place where I could shoot them safely through a window.
I had to rent a room at the hotel lobby, in the north end of the city, to get automatically teleported to the guest rooms in the south end. This took me a while to figure out because I kept accidentally killing the desk agent while shooting all of the other monsters in the area. My hotel room led me to the golf course, where I found the Key of Fire in the middle of a rough.
Sniping guards through a window.
At this point, I was stuck. I knew the entrance to Screwtape's castle was "hidden," but I didn't know where, and I wasn't about to bang into every mountain range and search every square of lava to find it. I did search every square in the large central lake, to no avail. I eventually ran out of food and began to starve, but again, there's no real consequence to that when you have the Writ of Heal.
I had to ask Falstad for a hint. It turned out that I had forgotten the demons on the top floor of Castle Chryse. They had each given me a part of a hint as to where I'd find the dungeon Bathos, in the northwest corner of the map. With their instructions, I was able to find it and descend. Although they all promised they'd meet me there and kill me, I never saw the demons themselves.
The dungeon entrance doesn't reveal itself until you're in the adjacent square.
Bathos was 13 floors instead of the usual 9, but it wasn't any harder to navigate than the others, just longer. It spit me out in the prison called Phylaxis, where an NPC had told me that Lord Sylvan was being held "where I would never suspect." The prison was full of what looked like dead bodies. Some of them were alive, but all they would say was, "Help me." I circled the entire prison before discovering that the way to Sylvan was through a secret door two steps south of the entry ladder.
The dying Sylvan told me where to find Screwtape's castle before suddenly disappearing. "I shall watch thy progress from above!" were his last words.
I'm not sure how to interpret that.
I trudged back up the corridors of Bathos to Gehenna and made my way to Screwtape's castle, resisting the urge to just reload from Gehenna now that I knew where the castle was.
Entering the castle brought me to the perimeter of a castle-shaped building surrounded by a poisonous moat. There was no obvious way to enter, but the Writ of Open cleared a path. Even then, it looked like there was a wall blocking me to the north, but it turned out that those wall squares were living creatures which attacked when I approached. Shades of the floor tiles in Ultima III!
The five wall tiles at the top of the screen are about to attack me.
An NPC prepared me for the fact that the castle, Pandaemonium, had another mirror maze, this one much larger than the one in Persepolis. But I had also learned from the book that Screwtape would be at the center of the maze, so I didn't have to map the whole thing. Demons and other monsters attacked as I explored, but they were trivial. After mapping the contours of the castle, I found the exit from the maze in the north-center area.
As much as I mapped of the castle. Everything up to the room in the north-center is a "mirror maze."
I then ran up against a wall with four keyholes. One by one, I used the Keys of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The wall disappeared and opened up a set of corridors that led me to Screwtape.
It took me a while to realize those were keyholes.
As the book had promised, Screwtape was a large, black orb that shot lightning and sucked the life force of anyone in the area. My hit points dropped dramatically as I approached. But I was able to get up next to him and use the Gold Dagger. (I tried talking to him first, but he had nothing to say.)
The Pupil of Sauron.
Lines of color shot from the daemon's center, and he disappeared. He must have been a "load-bearing boss," because the castle started crumbling. Patches of fire and darkness appeared on the floor as I raced for the exit. After a few steps, darkness closed around and everything went black.
What comes out of a daemon.
I awoke in a restored Castle Pergamum. (I suspect if I had gone directly to Screwtape without freeing Sylvan, I would have died in Pandaemonium.) As I walked down the corridors, I passed cells of imprisoned demons, devils, and dragons.
I just realized I have 94 food here. Where did I get the food?
NPCs from throughout the game came up to congratulate me. "I told thee thou wouldst do it!" "Thank you for saving my castle!"
I passed King Minos flanked by a couple of burly guards. Apparently, the Resistance deposed him and ransacked his treasury.
Somebody solved a side quest without me!
One NPC set up a potential sequel: "Thank you for saving me from that detestable witch-queen Celaeno . . . She has fled Gehenna and is probably plotting some evil against Havilah! Perhaps thou wilt again be required someday to deal with her!" The problem is, I don't think I ever encountered this questline. My notes don't say anything about a Celaeno.
This was a bit confusing.
Both King Hypnos and Lord Sylvan were waiting in the throne room. Sylvan explained that after I rescued him, Hypnos had been able to pull him out of Gehenna. I guess he also pulled me out, though he didn't say it explicitly. Both thanked me profusely and said if I was ready to go back to my own world, I could exit through the south. This is the first time the game has mentioned that the PC was from another world in the first place.
The door led to a small yard with a moongate. I entered, then watched as a figure approached from the south, turned into a demon, and followed me through. Game over.
This is ominous, but on the other hand, it looks like one of those generic demons that I slaughtered in droves.
This final session was long, but I had a great time. With set pieces like the mazes of mirrors, the two towns in Gehenna, the trails of NPC clues, and the overall superior level design, Antepenult equaled or transcended its primary source (Ultima III) in many mechanics, if not always in RPG elements. It repeatedly offered that delicious experience of running me up against a wall (sometimes literally) and letting me find the solution just when I was on the brink of despair. (I would have figured out the location of Bathos eventually; I wrote to Falstad prematurely.) The final hours recalled the best moments of RPG playing as a kid, when you understand that you're in the final chapter and you're up until the wee hours, nails bitten ragged, hoping there isn't some unsolvable final riddle, then suddenly realizing--holy #$@&!--you're going to win!
This is a long entry already, but I don't have enough material for a separate "summary and rating," so let's just do the GIMLET now:
  • 4 points for the game world. I like the use of Greek and biblical themes and the emerging storyline. But there is an extent to which the game world feels like a bunch of clever references rather than a cohesive world of its own, and I would have appreciated a bit more backstory. Back on the positive side, the game deserves credit for its creative depiction of its environments within the limits if iconographic tiles.
Discovering Pandaemonium via a secret pass in the mountains.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There's no character creation. Development is fast, but I never felt a lot stronger since enemies increased in difficulty and enemy stacks increased in number as I leveled up.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. I'm a sucker for keyword-based dialogue, but like the backstory, the NPCs felt more like references than people with personalities and goals. I still enjoyed the process of tracking them down and finding them in hidden locations. I also liked that monsters could sometimes be NPCs, so you had to be careful not to just swing away.
Talking with the ruler of Aetheria.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. There's nothing terribly special about the monsters in the game, which are all drawn from Ultima and essentially require the Ultima manual to understand their descriptions. The points in this category all go to the variety of non-combat encounters and puzzles. The labyrinth, the mirror maze, and other such "set pieces" will stick with me for a while.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Your options boil down to ranged or melee combat. The lack of a real magic system hurt this category significantly.
  • 3 points for equipment. The ordinal scale of weapons and armor is nothing to sing about, but I'll toss in an extra point for the marks and writs.
The last weapon shop.
  • 4 points for a surprisingly strong economy. With health, food, weapons, armor, and transportation to purchase and continually refresh, only in the last few hours did collecting gold become unnecessary.
  • 3 points for quests. I usually just give 2 points for a game that has a clear main quest, saving the rest for alternate endings, role-playing options, and side quests. I'll add an extra point here because the steps on the main quest are "tiered" well, and there might be an alternate ending if you kill Screwtape without rescuing Sylvan first. The game only offers one save slot, and I didn't make backups.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are plagiarized, but still good, and the author even improved upon Ultima in some areas with smoothed edges and transitions between areas, and he used the tiles in innovative ways. I always appreciate a one-letter-per-command keyboard interface. Only a lack of compelling sound really hurt this category.
  • 5 points for gameplay. The game gets credit for nonlinearity and medium difficulty. It unfortunately doesn't get any for replayability, and it edges towards being just a bit too long for its content.
That gives us a final score of 36, which I confess is a little lower than I was imagining when I started the process. I was hoping it would come closer to the 40 that I gave Deathlord (1987). Antepenult suffers on my scale for not having strong character development and combat, and yet I found it far more "playable" than Deathlord. Nonetheless, looking at the individual categories, I can't argue with the result. A score of 36 still puts it above most other Ultima clones, into "recommended" territory, and certainly above the average shareware game of the period.
I told Falstad that I was surprised that he never tried for a commercial release. He said he felt that the quite literal copying of the tilesets disqualified it for commercial publication. I suspect any good publisher would have hooked him up with a graphic artist who could have redesigned the tiles in no time.
This was Falstad's only game but not his only program. After attending Princeton University, he made a living as an independent software engineer. His programs include a popular circuit simulator.
I can only imagine that Antepenult's relative obscurity lies in the fact that it was offered as shareware on the platform whose users would be least likely to appreciate its approach. I'm proud to have been the first person to give a full account of it online.


  1. Congrats on the first proper account of this game. It was a really neat find!

  2. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 21, 2023 at 2:31 PM

    Hurrah: Ambermoon up next.

    Congrats on getting through Antepenult. The whole series of entries have been quite entertaining (perhaps because the plot, such as it is, seems much easier to keep track of than in Serpent Isle). And stoned beggars, forsooth... that (and "beggars can be choosers") both had me laughing out loud.

  3. Thanks for covering this game indeed. I had to check if it bet U3 and sadly it did not (U3 had 51 points). Someone you should have one fat page with all games ranked by order of their gimlet, but with so many games you would need a script to do it :).

    It also led to read the Ultima III article again. I chuckled at "As far as I know, no one has blogged Wizardry, so I still have a corner on part of this market." when I feel like I have read maybe 3 or 4 (posterior) AAR of Wizardry. Your style 10 years ago was also quite different.

    1. Re GIMLET rankings: In desktop view you can find a link on the right-hand border of the blog page: "See a Google spreadsheet with all game rankings so far." These can be sorted e.g. by 'Ranking' which I understand is their respective GIMLET score.

  4. This has been a FANTASTIC series; probably my favorite ever CRPGAddict series. What a find!

    I wish it got a +2 GIMLET boost for being a solo, uncompensated effort and surely one of the best Amiga-only RPGs of the era? A true labor of love.

    I'm reminded of a comment discussion a several months ago wherein I advocated chopping the 80s shareware dreck to get to the good stuff. Those wiser than me said the whole point is finding the hidden gems. If this thread doesn't definitively prove that, I don't know what does.

    1. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. The whole point of this blog is to play every CRPG ever made. All of them. It's an addiction. He couldn't stop if he wanted to.

      "to get to the good stuff."

      Yep, there it is again. The cohort of readers who only want to read about games they've already played. I used to wonder why sequels were so hot and few bother with original works any more, and this is why.

      This is the good stuff. The obscure games that nobody has talked about. If anyone wants to read about HOMM3 or Skyrim or Baldur's Gate (II, of course, not I!) there are thousands of hours of material already out there. I don't get why any more needs to be produced, other than to read about the same topic again. On the other hand, the content that does need to be produced is original, that's never been done before. That's what's crying out to be written.

      Did the author ever say how many shareware registrations he received? Given the rampant copying of software on the Amiga, I'm betting it was zero. It's hard to say who was the Amiga's worst enemy, the user base or Commodore.

    2. If critical analysis were simply description, then you’d be right. We wouldn’t need more coverage of popular games, as they would have already been described elsewhere.

      Criticism is not simply description; it brings a particular perspective to bear on the work. The joy of reading Chet’s articles on popular games is seeing his perspective - informed by all the games he has already played, and (often) the critical perspective of the community at large.

      With that said, reading analyses of “discovered” games is also great! Both are enjoyable, because the writing and analysis are so strong.

    3. Exactly, Matthew.

      Speaking for myself, I like Chet's coverage of 'important' games the most. By important, I mean they've progressed the genre somehow - games that have brought something new to the table (whether or not it succeeded). I think Chet, aided by the community, is able to acknowledge that progression in a way other writers cant.

    4. Yes, I love the perspective he brings from having played and thought through so many.

      And I look forward to the "big game" GIMLETs the most. It has become my universal CRPG yardstick.

    5. Speaking for myself, I like Chet's coverage of 'important' games the most.

      From now on, I'm going to call the cohort of users who want to read about the same old games they already know backwards and forwards the "Tristan Gall clan".

    6. I agree with Tristan - take Eye of the Beholder for instance. The usual take is that it’s wildly popular dungeon crawler that’s incredibly flashy. However Chet’s take is more nuanced - he’s played the other dungeon crawlers and realised that it’s actually not a great game. Sure it looks nice but it’s so incredibly limited compared to the rest of that subgenre, let alone things like Might and Magic. Takes like this are missing on mainstream games, no matter how covered they are.

    7. "Takes like this are missing on mainstream games, no matter how covered they are."

      Agreed. That's why everything is equally important in a way. The addict's coverage of the big games tends to show them in a new and more historically accurate light, which makes it much more valuable and important than the majority of the "thousands of hours of content out there". But without his exploration of the smaller games, this would not be the case.

    8. The asymmetry here is important to note: there are plenty of people who want the Addict to skip the "unimportant" games, but I've never seen anyone tell him to skip the "important" games. So if the people standing up for the "unimportant" games get a bit grumpy, it's worth remembering that theirs is the more inclusive vision (independent of what that takes out of Chet...).

    9. Chet, please skip over games I don't care about. Love, dumpo

    10. Still his blog so the discussion is redundant.

    11. Eye of the Beholder was to Dungeon Master a bit like Hearthstone was to Magic. Simplified, polished, and attached to strong IP.

    12. The historical lens is important. Every game, whether popular or obscure, adds to the blog as a whole and to how the next game in line is is viewed. Dismissing a game because it's been discussed plenty elsewhere is unfair towards Chet and towards what this blog sets out to do.

    13. This subthread can be pointed to if anyone asks for the reason for the "no anonymous commenting" rule.

  5. Congratulations - both to Mr Falstad for creating this game on his own (even taking into account he used Ultima tiles) and for your playing through, winning and documenting it.

    To me the NW cloud of Aetheria looks a bit like the outline of NCC-1701 - which would fit the air element. Though since there seems to be no other SF reference in the game, it's probably just my imagination.

  6. "One questline started with an NPC asking me if I knew the Latin word for "old man." I looked it up--SENEX--and got it right. ... I wonder what 1989 players did."

    I was curious if there were circles (eg. Bible scholars) where that Latin word was in regular use and would be expected to be known. I can't see it popping up too much in the standard Latin strongholds of doctors and lawyers, but it is used by Carl Jung as the name of one of his archetypes, which makes it quite a bit wider known than other random Latin nouns.

    1. It is not uncommon in Europe to have Latin in high school, so that is one such circle. Also, any library worth its salt would have a Latin dictionary available.

    2. Agreed. I was in High School (in Canada) at the same time as the author of this game, and Latin was offered as an option in Grade 10. It was not a popular option, but it was available.

    3. The player would have had to go to the library, or do some original research outside the game. Shocking, eh? Games like this used to include bibliographies, and players could go and check the books out and read them. And some, amazingly, did!

    4. I don't know. You know I'm all for making maps and taking notes, but I think I draw the line at an RPG element that forces a player to leave his house to answer it. I think it more likely that you get a little Latin lesson if you answer "no" to the question of whether you speak Latin. I hadn't saved in a while, so I didn't want to test it.

    5. Solid 'Back-in-my-day' there, Harl!

      Main quests definitely shouldn't be gated by that sort of specific knowledge (or any other impediment we'd tend to classify as 'unfair'), but I think writers have more leeway when it comes to side quests.

    6. Wizardry IV wouldn't have been winnable without the player having outside knowledge of the Kabbalah, and that game got glowing comments for how creative and original it was.

      I actually went in search of a few of the books in the Civilization 1 bibliography back in the day.

    7. Out of curiosity I searched the vulgate (the Latin Bible) and "senex" is found 29 times, describing old man figures like Nicodemus and Abraham. Interestingly, it is found in Philemon, where the imprisoned Paul describes himself as a "senex" (Greek "presbyter," elder, the source of the name of the Presbyterian denomination.) John 3:4 and the Genesis uses of the term are widely read stories so it's not implausible that somebody learning Biblical Latin would have learned the word, and of course our author knows Philemon from its reference in the game.

    8. You guys didn't know senex? Not surprising -- RPG players rarely bother to study anythinng seriously except tolkien. I've never taken a Latin class in my life and I knew senex; it's a common archetype in old theater. The teenaged author had basic knowledge you all lacked. Or maybe you knew it once and forgot - a common consequence of senescence! ;)

    9. The Kabbalah stuff in Wiz 4 is only needed for the secret Grandmaster ending, and most of it is guessable. Having to know "TREE OF LIFE" is side-by-side less fair than having to know "SENEX", though (the latter is easier to look up).

    10. Dear anonymous, I had Latin in high school and my BA is in theater and I didnt know the answer was Senex. I studied classical Latin not biblical Latin and this was 20 years ago so I may have forgotten it but no need to be rude nor so bold in assuming the literary interests and the functioning lexicon of the average RPG player.

    11. To me there are two layers here of an element of game design:
      1. Does the player require knowledge outside of the game (world)?
      2. If so, how "general" is that knowledge or does it involve a more limited group-specific background (e.g. cultural / geographic, technical, ...)?

      In a broad sense, probably most, if not all, games build on some kind of pre-existing extraneous groundwork like a basic understanding of how gravity or acceleration works, what things you can usually eat or in which way certain human interactions typically unfold. That's the common basis for (most) games in general to function and be playable, even though it sometimes may already be difficult to draw the line where this area ends and becomes a more limited space of 'not general basic knowledge in every society / of almost every potential player'.

      One factor here is whom the designer(s) had in mind as possible target group when creating the game in the first place. Something a teenager in the US put together in the 80s primarily intended for a circle of friends and the occasional likeminded person beyond that group - or sent to a publication or distribution company with limited reach - will obviously be different from the considerations that go into creating a AAA title in 2023 which is geared towards a potentially global public composed of people with vastly different backgrounds, ages and environments.

      Of course, all of this is not new. On this blog we have seen examples of rather specific outside knowledge being necessary or at least helpful to advance in games, from single elements like this here or Wiz IV up to entire lists of blatant pub/pop quizzing e.g. in 'The Standing Stones'.

      Probably even more often than with regard to CRPGs this subject has come up and has been discussed in the context of adventure games / interactive fiction, for example as one element of Graham Nelson's "Player's Bill of Rights" of 1993 ("Not to need to be American to understand hints") and its more recent evolutions. You'll find plenty of instances e.g. at Jimmy Maher's 'Digital Antiquarian' blog, including the infamous 'diamond' maze in 'Zork II'.

      My tendency would be along the lines Tristan Gall mentions above: you should not require specific limited outside knowledge as only way to advance in the / a main quest, but it could be one of several alternate paths and/or an element for certain side quests or special endings. In the end it boils down to how 'exclusive' you want to make something while at the same time risking to frustrate and alienate players who do not have such knowledge and also not either the means or the will to acquire it for the game.

  7. >Writ of Unstone
    I guess this would be pretty useful for some in our world, too...

    On a more serious note thanks again for finding and covering this, it has been very a pleasent read. Especially since it was unexpected to find something like this among the remaining and newly discovered 80's CRPG.

    1. I know that a Writ of Sobriety would have come in handy at several times in my past.

  8. a talking horse named Balam

    Maybe it was actually a donkey?

    1. It is specifically referred to as a horse in-game, alas.

  9. Pretty interesting to see a game employing Christian themes that isn't hampered by the intention to provide moral instruction. Heck, it seems less preachy than Ultima IV. I suppose the Arthurian games you've played would also count, although I feel like the Christian aspects of Arthurian legend get pretty aggressively sandblasted away in most adaptations.

    It's also interesting that in Gehenna you need to simulate some pretty horrible, even terroristic acts in order to progress. I wonder if that was intentional.

    I've used that circuit simulator before when I was trying to learn a little more about electronics. It's pretty neat!

    1. Falstad's applets are legendary! Amazing its the same person. What a surprise!

  10. Not sure if you know this already, but "Hierosolyma" is just a medieval Latin rendering of "Jerusalem".

    Congratulations on finishing the game! It sounds like a real hidden gem.

    1. I didn't know that already. I didn't really study the word as I was typing it, or it might have occurred to me.

      But that raises an etymological question. hiero means "holy" in Greek, but I don't think jeru or its etymological source has that meaning. Thus, did hiero come to mean "holy" specifically because it was part of "Jerusalem" or was it just a happy coincidence?

    2. "did hiero come to mean "holy" specifically because it was part of "Jerusalem""

      How would that make any sense? Jerusalem wasn't considered "holy" by anyone until the Crusades, when it was coined as an excuse to go there and kill lots of people; then it was convenient that the city's Greek name happened to start with a word with that meaning.

      In any case, the etymologies are quite different; the Greek "hieros" can be traced back to an Indo-European root that is also attested in Sanskrit, while the Hebrew "Yerushalayim" comes from Semitic roots "uru" (town) and "salim" (peace).

    3. Despite zxcvb's fedoralord-ism, he's right. Ancient Greeks wouldn't have interacted with Hebrews at an early enough stage for that kind of major word to be related. They probably just wrote it that way because that's how it would sound in their way of speaking, similar to how we might write out a Russian or Chinese city name.

    4. The ancient greek rendering of "Jerusalem" is Ἱεροσόλυμα. ' means the Iota at the beginning is aspirated, which we would transliterate as an H. There is no J sound in Greek. I think of "ἱερός" (hieros) as a noun meaning "temple", and in the Septuagint when it's used as an adjective it describes things related to the Temple like priests. In the NT ἅγιος (hagios, like in Hagia Sophia) is the word usually used as an adjective to mean "holy."

    5. Jerusalem was certainly holy to many prior to the Crusaders' arrival. The 'city of peace ' interpretation is more modern, but the earliest mentioning of the name is from the Cnaanite culture, relating to the god of sunset (Shalem). Yeru has does mean city in ancient smite, but also 'to see' or 'to witness' in Hebrew, and 'foundation', ie founded by Shalem. Jerusalem was believed to have been a place of worship to Shalem. There is no definite interpretation, though.

  11. Skipped this one when it came out after being irritated by some text in the executable. No mention was made, so I assume that the content was not in the game proper. I will definitely be giving it a try now. Thanks for covering it, Addicted One.

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 22, 2023 at 9:44 AM

      Care to elaborate?

    2. shambat, are you referring to some of the monster names in the exe?

    3. The Greek word ἱερός (hieros) comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *eis. The American Heritage Dictionary's Indo-European Roots Appendix has the following entry:
      In words denoting passion. Oldest form *h1eis‑ or possibly *h1eish2‑.

      Suffixed form *eis-ā‑. irascible, irate, ire, from Latin īra, anger.
      Suffixed zero-grade form *is-(ə)ro‑, powerful, holy. hieratic, hiero-; hierarch, hierarchy, hierodule, hieroglyphic, hierophant, from Greek hieros, "filled with the divine," holy.
      iron, from Old English īse(r)n, īren, iron;
      gisarme, spiegeleisen, from Old High German īsarn, īsan, iron. Both a and b from Germanic *īsarno‑, "holy metal" (possibly from Celtic).
      Suffixed o-grade form *ois-tro‑, madness. estrus; estrogen, estrone, from Greek oistros, gadfly, goad, anything causing madness.
      Suffixed form *eis-mo. Asmodeus, from Avestan aēšma‑, anger.


      The city name Jerusalem is unrelated (means roughly "Foundation of peace" in Hebrew), but the Latin words in "Hiero-" were influenced by the Greek word.

    4. I am indeed referring to the last few monster names in the list. They veer off into political territory and caused me to dismiss the game as the work of a crank. It seems that I did the author a disservice.

    5. Are those name added by somebody else or where they in the original file?

    6. They're original to the game. They include such entries as "Liberal," "ACLU Member," and "Gay Rights Activist." I asked Falstad about this, and he said he thought there was a small random chance those names would appear in place of the regular monster's name in combat. I never noticed this happening. We did not explore the subject further.

  12. Congratulations on another successful RPGological excavation.
    The game sounds interesting, but I haven't read in detail all of your posts in order to avoid spoilers.
    Sp can you say more about the combat system, or more specifically the encounter design? How is it compared to Ultima IV, for example? The crude and slow combat system combined with far too many random encounters makes U4 one of those games I would have liked to replay (and finally complete) if it wasn't for that aspect.

    1. Combat is somewhere between U2 and U3. Without magic and with only one party member, you have a lot fewer tactical options than even U3, let alone U4, but the targeting system and the dropped treasure chests make it slightly more advanced than U1 or U2.

  13. Congratulation on another win!

    The Minotaur, it seems, is a puzzle boss. Maybe you needed to make Theseus kill it somehow? Talking to him and giving him a dagger, perhaps.

    1. I'm not sure I didn't do it the intended way. The Writ of Kill doesn't really have a specific purpose otherwise.

  14. Definitely a goodie then. Thanks for playing it Chet. What a shame no sequel was put out.

  15. Great to have your coverage of this hidden gem. Indeed there is / was apparently not much to find about it online so far.

    The earliest ad / PD catalogue containing it I see is from December 1989 in the US 'Amiga World'. Afterwards, it seems to show up mostly in UK magazines ('The One for Amiga Games' March '91, 'CU Amiga' July '91, 'Amiga Action' Feb '93, 'Amiga Format' Feb '93, 'CU Amiga' June '93 and Buyers Guide for '94). Some just refer to it as "Role-Playing Game" or "Adventure", though others mention its similarity to (the earlier) Ultima(s).

    According to YT footage it still seems to have been included in a 1995 compilation. More recently, the German magazine 'Amiga Future' appears to have both the game itself and a review in its March 2008 issue. And a French Amiga site mentions a cheat for additional / 'infinite' gold (selling non-existant inventory items for high prices).

  16. I'm sure you probably already know it, but Gehenna is the Jewish name for Hell. (can't help but be reminded of Vampire - The Masquerade every time I hear it though) Skotos is Greek for darkness, seems fitting.

    Incidentally, something funny is going on with your blog. The usual, "have to manually select your account in the username before posting otherwise you'll end up as anonymous", glitch has gotten weird. Before doing that, the formatting of the website screws up, shooting the sidebar to the bottom of the screen. Worse yet, you seem to get options that should only be available if you're the blog owner, delete is shown next to every comment and there's a button to edit the post. No idea what the issue is, but its unique to here.

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 23, 2023 at 10:03 AM

      For whatever it's worth, I've never seen such a glitch while running Firefox on my desktop computer.

    2. Anybody who sees this glitch in the future, try deleting this comment and report back what happens.

  17. Grants on another win! I feel this earns double not merely being a diamond in the rough, but being so enjoyable amidst a slew of poor Ultima clones.

    As no one has mentioned, senex is the root of senator. Was that the only requirement for the job back then?

    The mirror maze is a delightful use of the game's engine. I appreciate such mechanics. I also like games being self aware nough to throw those curve balls line corridors off the edge of the map

    Since you've noted on it before, if you were to speed run this, what's the route like? It seems that many key items can be found with foreknowledge

  18. I enjoyed reading about this game a lot. Might even check it out myself! This looks to be miles above your average Ultima clone. Exactly the kind of obscure gem I'm always looking for.

    This is why playing every RPG is worth it. You will find the hidden gems nobody else played, and it will feel like a genuine discovery.

    It's why I love game archaeology! And I see this blog as mostly a game archeology blog, hah

  19. Wow, this brings back some memories... I was a fanatic Amiga user until the early 2000s and used to replay this game on regular basis. I often substituted the lack of background music by listening to classical music CDs while playing (I distinctly remember playing "Veris Leta Facies" from "Carmina Burana" whenever visiting Aetheria).

    The story on how I originally stumbled upon this game is pretty funny too. Back in the 90s, it was very common in my country to see pirated games being openly sold via classified advertisements. As a huge CRPG nerd, I desperately wanted to play Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, so I ordered it via one of such ads. After a few days, I received the floppy disk by mail and much to my surprise it didn't actually have Ultima V on it. Instead, it had Antepenult with a fake Ultima V loading screen slapped on :D

    Fun fact: This game has an infinite money glitch that you can exploit if you don't feel like killing monsters or robbing chests. When selling items at a weapon or armor shop, the game expects you type a letter. If you instead type a number between 1 and 5, you sell a non-existing item and you can keep doing this over and over until you have enough gold.

    Every time you exploit this glitch, the graphics on the screen will become more and more corrupted, but this can be fixed by restarting the game. The corruption also has a beneficial side-effect of making secret door tiles visually distinct from regular wall tiles which makes life much easier in certain parts of the game.


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