Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Game 490: Ambermoon (1993)

Thalion Software (developer and publisher) 
Released 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 28 March 2023
Amberstar ended with the victorious party defeating the evil wizards and preventing the return of the demon/wizard Tarbos. But as the heroes celebrated their victory, they wondered: "Why does Lyramion's third moon glow evilly, with a blood red light?"
Could they not have made it glow with an amber light?
The backstory to this sequel, along with the introductory cinematic, answer the question: Tarbos had done something to mess with the moon, nudging it out of its orbit. It took 40 years, but eventually the satellite came crashing down to the surface, obliterating most of the cities. In the cinematic, the camera follows a chunk of the moon approaching Lyramion as a tune reminiscent of the Jaws theme plays in the background. The player is then treated to the sight of meteors laying waste to each of the major cities from Amberstar. That's a grim way to begin a game.
By now, the backstory informs us, the hero of Amberstar had retired, fathered a daughter, and enjoyed the birth of his first grandchild. (The hero of Amberstar could be either sex, but apparently was canonically male.) The family lived in Twinlake (the starting city in Amberstar), and in the rubble following its destruction, the hero found his grandchild but not his daughter. He raised the child on his own as civilization slowly rebuilt itself. As the game begins, the original hero is 80 and has sent his grandchild--the player character--on a mission to "find out what is happening on the Island of Lyramion and what risks there are to you and life on Lyramion." It's hard to imagine there are risks any worse than the entire planet being destroyed by meteors, but I guess we'll see.
Glad I spent all that time solving side quests here.
The intro is a bit confused, I should note. It starts "20 years after the events of Amberstar," depicts the broken pieces of the moon laying waste to the cities, and then says "70 years later . . ." to introduce the game. But the backstory makes it clear that the hero didn't even settle down until 20 years after Amberstar, then had a daughter who grew to adulthood, got married, and had her own child before the meteors fell. It also makes it clear that the original hero is 80 as this game begins. Thus, the title cards in the cinematic should read more like "40 years after the events of Amberstar" and "20 years later" for the period after the destruction. To make matters worse, the PC's age in the character sheet is given as 17, which doesn't fit any of the timelines provided. She should be 20 or, I suppose, 70.
You've got to assign someone on the team to continuity.
The only choices you have for character creation are sex and portrait. There are a few notable things here. The first is that the developers were a bit lazy: most of the portraits are very slight modifications of each other. I suppose it makes sense if they're all supposed to be children of the same parents. Second, in an era that often lacked racial inclusion, it's notable here that all of the female portraits could be construed as Black. Third, one of the male portraits depicts a person clearly quite older than the rest.
At least one of these people is not 17.
The game begins with the PC's grandfather on his deathbed. He summons the PC over and reveals that he was the hero who saved Lyramion however many years ago; apparently, the PC has heard this story but didn't know her grandfather's role. Grandpa says that Shandra (the wizard from Twinlake in Amberstar) appeared in his dreams and told him that a new evil was arising and that the PC would need to fight it. This is particularly odd because Shandra died during the meteor attack on Twinlake, having exhausted himself teleporting townsfolk to safety. Grandpa suggests going to Newlake (apparently the replacement for the destroyed Twinlake) to try to commune with Shandra's spirit. He gives a password (WINE) to a secret cave accessible through the basement of his house, encouraging the PC to "use everything you find there" but asking her to bring him a small piece of amber. Admonishing the PC to hurry, as he will soon "enter the realms of Bala," he collapses back on his bed.
A cut scene starts the dialogue . . .
. . . which continues in the dialogue window.
The main interface hasn't changed notably since the first game. The layout is identical. Party members' portraits line the top row. An exploration screen is on the left. It alters between an axonometric view (angled slightly on one axis, so it looks as if you're looking at an angle from the south) and a first-person view depending on what you're exploring. The right third of the screen has a message window at the top and an icon panel at the bottom; a right-click of the mouse alters between a movement panel and an action panel, with options to look, touch, talk, board transportation, use magic, camp, view the map, change battle positions, and view the game options (including saving and loading). I had hoped that the authors would have mapped these options to sensible keyboard commands (e.g., "T" for "Talk"), but alas the letters on the keyboard don't seem to do anything at all. You can activate the icons with the numberpad, though. Ever since I bought my new Alienware laptop, I've been grousing that it doesn't have a numberpad, so I had to buy an external one. For the first time, I'm grateful for an external pad over a built-in pad, as I can move it to where my left hand can use it, leaving my right hand on the mouse. If that gets annoying, I'll map the icons to the keys I want in the emulator settings.
Sent on a vital mission, the dying man's granddaughter instead bonks her head by walking into a fireplace. The old man shakes his head sadly.
The graphics are somewhat improved from Amberstar, though mostly because they're larger and thus show more detail. The icon for the PC is maybe four times the size as in the original game; furnishings are maybe twice as big. Somehow, the authors manage to achieve the larger icons without changing the number of visible tiles (9 x 9), partly by removing what in the first game was an excess of floor space in most of the interior areas. Most other changes, at least so far, are minor and cosmetic.
I spend some time exploring the house and familiarizing myself with the commands. The interface is partly inspired by Ultima V in the way that the character icon changes when you, for instance, move over a chair or bed. The world isn't quite as interactive, but there are some fun if pointless touches. Clicking on barrels of water next to fireplaces, for instance, causes you to douse the fires, after which you can walk into the fireplace, one of which hides a secret stairway. Generally speaking, though, there are only a few interactive objects out of many that look like they might be interactive. I was hoping the eye icon would reveal more descriptions, like in a Quest for Glory game, but I was disappointed.
Heading downstairs.
The PC starts naked as a Level 1 human "Adventurer," aged 17, with 10 hit points and 8 spell points. Attributes are out of 50: strength (33), intelligence (27), dexterity (34), speed (21), stamina (48), charisma (41), luck (16), and anti-magic (0). Her skills are attack (42/80), parry (19/75), swimming (1/95), critical hits (0/0), find traps (0/25), disarm traps (0/25), pick locks (0/25), search (0/25), read magic (23/50), and use magic (27/50). I verified that all these statistics are the same for a male character.
A chest in my room reveals 37 gold coins, two lockpicks, and a rope. My dresser has a hat, clothes, and sandals. A hutch in the dining room yields some silver cutlery. A cabinet in the kitchen has two knives, a dagger, and 15 rations. There are more rations, plus 5 torches, in barrels in the pantry. I equip the equippable items using the paperdoll inventory screen, noting that the "view item" command gives you a full set of statistics associated with each object. You don't need to view these statistics to see the immediate effects of equipped items on attack and defense power, which are offered under the character portrait.
The inventory screen.
This weapon statistics screen gives me a preview of the classes that the game will offer: adventurer, warrior, paladin, thief, ranger, healer, alchemist, mystic, and mage. You may recall that the character in Amberstar starts as nothing and has to choose his class when he finds the appropriate guild. Here, where the character explicitly starts as an "adventurer," I'm not sure if I'll have the same options to change. Gone are the classes of monk, white wizard, grey wizard, and black wizard, but I assume the four new classes here are rough analogs.
Thus equipped, I head down to the basement. A title card transitions the scene, noting that I hear squeaking as I enter. The basement is present in a first-person interface, and almost immediately I notice an interface change that swiftly becomes unwelcome. Perhaps inspired by Ultima Underworld or Legends of Valour (both from 1992), the developers chose to ditch tiled movement and crisp 90-degree turns for continuous movement and turning. There's nothing inherently wrong with this except that it's excruciatingly slow and, so far, not terribly necessary, since unlike Underworld, the dungeon doesn't offer a level of interactivity that requires such refined movement. The textures are nice, though. 
The well room with no floor and ceiling textures.
There are options to turn on textures for the floor and ceiling, but this just makes movement that was already maddeningly slow completely unplayable. I played with WinUAE's CPU speed options but couldn't find anything that made it faster except to kick it into "warp" mode, which is too fast, causes torches to blink out in an instant, and causes the character to tire quickly. Suggestions are appreciated because this is going to be a real problem. I'm emulating an A1200 with a 68040 CPU, AGA chipset, 2 MB RAM, JIT enabled. CPU emulation speed set to "fastest possible."
The same room with floor and ceiling textures.
(Unlike its predecessor, Ambermoon was released only for the Amiga; Thalion went out of business while planned DOS and Atari ST versions were still in development. My understanding is that it was only officially released in German, so I'm not entirely sure what the provenance is of the English translation I'm playing, but I'll try to research that for a later entry.)
The last time I went house shopping, I viewed some old houses with wells in basements. They always scared the hell out of me.
There are spiders crawling along the ceilings and floors, but they seem to be decorative, as they don't attack. I come to a well. I look into it and a pond lizard comes leaping out, sending me into the first combat of the game. Not much seems to have changed from Amberstar--you still face enemies on a 6 x 5 grid--but let me cover combat in a later entry after I've had some more experience. There's a "fast combat" option that I need to explore, as regular combat is unnecessarily bogged down with animations that take a long time. The lizard and I miss each other for about five rounds before I finally kill it, having taken five points of damage. I get 10 experience points and 2 rations.
The top half of the screen is just for aesthetics. I wish the "quick combat" option stripped the interface down to the grid and the messages.
There are some round items in the corner of the well room, but I can't figure out any way to pick them up. The "touch" and "look" interface options don't seem to do anything.
What are these all about?
A couple of rooms later, I'm killed by a giant spider.
I hope grandpa dies before he realizes he's sent me to my own death.
Unfortunately, that's about all I have time for right now, but when I reload back in grandpa's house, I think I'll try the secret area before going down into the cellar. I'm looking forward to the game and seeing where the plot goes, but I'm at the tail end of a crazy week and it was tough to even get this much done for tonight.
Time so far: 1 hour


  1. Yeah, Ambermoon. For movement you may have get used to the mouse. Using the mouse makes moving around especially in the 3D environments much better. You hold the mouse to move and the more the cursor is away from the center the faster you move. For 90 degree turns press the right mouse button. Movement should be fast using this control scheme, even with an original 1200er config (68020).

    Press the right mouse button in the 2D world for an interactive cursor.

    I see you are playing the fan translation. I kinda hoped you would play the German original, was always good for some discussions...

    btw, the game will tell you when you are allowed to use the map or the rune alphabet.

    An interesting and nice detail of this game was the really big workbench icon, which is a meteroid that changes into a bursting meteroid when you click it. (I could mail you screenshots when you can't see it.)

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 4, 2023 at 11:38 AM

      I still remember playing the original, Amberstar, and using basic 'cryptography' to decode the runes. I was surprised later in the game when I was finally told I was "allowed" to use the rune translation sheet.

    2. It appears indeed also from comments elsewhere that movement through keyboard is, for whatever reason, unfortunately much slower in this game than when using the mouse, at least in emulation.

    3. I'll give the mouse a try when I fire it up again, but I could swear I started using the mouse and it was just as slow.

  2. So I checked my config in WinUAE:
    24 bit adressing
    CPU Emulation: Approx. A1200 or cycle exact
    FPU none

    Chipset AGA
    Cycle-exact (DMA/Memory)
    Keyboard connected
    Wait for blitter

    Adv. Chipset
    Compatible Settings

    And RAM I did set a little bit higher, but 2 MB Chip should be enough, that is what the original A1200 had. I have set it to 2 MB Chip 1.5 MB Slow and 8 MB Z2 Fast.

    It's running fine with these settings, even with the floor textures. Higher speed setting will let you run to fast in the 2d environments. I tested it with the HD installed German version.

    1. I don't know what it was--I may step through it at some point to find out--but something in your configuration made a big difference. Thanks. I don't know what half those settings mean.

    2. I might be able to chip in a bit. The 68020 was the A1200's original CPU, so the game might run a bit more natural with it. Expansion cards were very expensive* so not too common, but the most common CPU on those was the 68030, with 8 to 16Mb, so you might want to try those settings. Pretty sure 68040 CPUs were rare or even unheard of in an Amiga expansion card when Ambermoon was released.

      *still are nowadays. An used working A1200 nowadays sells for at least 250 Eur, expansion cards for at least as much

  3. And the English version is no fan translation as I said above:
    > An English version has emerged. I think this is excellent. It is not a hack/translation but an official product that was never published due to the demise of ThalionTM.

    On this site you can also find the map and the rune alphabet. (The original paper map was made parchment like, high quality. The manual and the box were also high quality.)

    1. There should be multiple English versions floating around. V1.07 is the one that was developed by Thalion and never released.

      Over the last years, fans of the game picked it up and released new versions with bug fixes and improvements, in addition to making a modern PC port, and even expansions; latest fan version of the original is v. 1.17.


      For the reason above, there is no real English manual, a text transcript can be round easily by googling, but the scans I was able to find are also in German (I found the manual surprisingly unhelpful, either way).

      A map (which on the other hand is very useful) was included in the German boxed release, it can be found here:


    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 4, 2023 at 12:32 PM

      I think I've mentioned before that I can highly recommend Pyrdacor's modern remake of Ambermoon over the original Amiga version. The interface still isn't ideal but it's far more playable than a 30-year-old game running on old, emulated hardware. He also has his own custom expansion & variant of Ambermoon, but that changes many aspects of the game in much more substantive ways.

    3. Pretty sure the English Amiga version has unpatched bugs too. The modern re-code might technically be a remake but it's identical to the original.

    4. There are patched versions are also available for Amiga, not only for the PC port.

      In any case, there is a forum thread where the guy that made the English version available states that all the bugs in that version are not game-breaking (mostly text untranslated from German, some visual glitch and some crash in very remote locations).

    5. when i saw this come up [i'm not at all current as of this comment], i wanted to swing by and suggest that the addict pick up the "pc-ized" version of this game. would make it MUCH easier to run.

      [but not easier to play, alas. i tried it and that odd keyboard setup for the interface. good lord. :)]

    6. I'm glad it's not a fan translation. There's too much text for me to want to play the German original.

    7. lostwolfe, I appreciate the recommendation. I'm not saying it's true in this case, but there has literally never been a case in which someone assured me that "the remake doesn't change anything important from the original" that turned out to be true. I'm afraid I don't even bother to consider it anymore.

    8. "I found the manual surprisingly unhelpful." Yeah. For instance, it doesn't even mention combat.

    9. The biggest differences are ease of installation and speed - the remake runs very smooth and fast. There are also some convenience options like altering the resolution or automatically translating runes which would alter the experience a bit if you used them.

      For the speed reason alone I'd say it's best to go with the original, now that you've set it up successfully and have it running at a reasonable speed.

    10. I agree that in general, fan remakes almost always have some little differences. Unless the creators have access to the source code, it's very hard to reverse-engineer every little detail of the original game. This makes them not a good choice from a historian's perspective.

      In any case, Pyrdacor's project seems to be going great, and it's interesting to read about their reverse-engineering efforts.

      About the project's motivation:

      A very long thread with detailed research:

  4. Getting texture mapped 3D dungeons to run on the Amiga was technically impressive (Legends of Valour did it, too, a year earlier, though Ambermoon's engine ran faster and smoother for me). And I can see how in 1993 this was the way to go. My initial impression was the same as yours, though, I missed the fast first person navigation of Amberstar. On the plus side, I got used to it eventually, and it's nice to see the enemies in the environment instead of having combats popping up when stepping in a square.

    The graphics ran reasonably fast for me with all textures even on a slow laptop. Only when turning near a wall it slowed down a bit. I used a preconfigured package with the FS-UAE emulator, as far as I can see it used a A3000 model with 2048 chip memory, 8192 fast memory and AGA chipset. One reason why the game seems slow to you might be the keyboard nagivation. Maybe I missed something but I found it pretty much unusable.

    Best interface improvement compared to Amberstar that is a bit easy to miss: you can place things into chests now.

  5. As others have said, the standard A1200 model of the day had 2mb ram and an 020 processor, so the 040 you're emulating should be more than good enough. The slowness is probably down to some other reason.

    1. More likely because the 68040 is not really a natural CPU the game was programmed for. Even expansion cards had 68030 CPUs at best

    2. Yeah, the 030 and 040 were standard in the Amiga 4000, but those weren't common, and I doubt many games were programmed with them in mind.

    3. Exactly. And while the 030 is a somewhat simplified 020 (less commands, higher speed, better memory management), thhe 040 was a somewhat different beast altogether with a strange embedded FPU. Really wouldn't be surprised if there were more generic incompatibilities with it

  6. Ah, I almost forgot these games were made by the same team (if not company) behind Albion, one of my old '90s CRPG favorites. The connection is unmistakable just from the visuals alone. Looking forward to more entries once you have the free time to absorb it more.

  7. I've been looking forward to your playthrough of Ambermoon for a long time and I'm excited about your gaming experience. I hope you find the gameplay rewarding.

  8. In an attempt to play along without having to emulate an Amiga, I've downloaded Pyrdacor's Windows port mentioned above, and it seems to work right out of the box.

  9. The game's attention to cosmetics is remarkable, although I find it a ted over the top. Good compositions need a place for the eyes to 'rest', an undetailed area away from the intricacy.

    Most of the male and female portraits seem to use the exact same palette for skin tones. I suppose it's the females' features that lend them one look or another.

    The dungeon looks better to me with the ceiling and floor textures turned off. The contrast between how stretched they are and how crisp the front-plane textures are makes them feel out-of-place.

    1. I agree with you, that in an aesthetic sense, more isn't always better.

    2. This is how I feel about the aesthetics of a lot of Amiga and VGA-era DOS games. Designers seemed to feel that now that they had access to 256 colors and more pixels they'd better make use of every one of 'em. Lots of games are slightly harder to play than they need to be because the UI has a marble texture on it or whatever.

      This game doesn't seem too over the top to me, though.

    3. Also agree on the dungeon. Even now that I have it running faster, I'll leave the floor and ceiling textures off.

    4. Oh gosh yes. I'm an Amiga fan but some of the games that "took advantage" of the "16 million colours" of the AGA chipset were best unseen.

      The platform and shoot-em-up games were the worst, as the developers tended to just take the Amiga 500 version and stick a rotating kaleidoscopic background behind it. Eurgh.

    5. I think the problem with the portraits is, if you look closely at them, you'll notice that everyone's facial features tend to look the same. Almost everyone has the same nose, they have the same jaw and chin structure, and the same eyes. Dude could color in his works very well, but something tells me his drawing leaves something to be desired. The dude with the brown hair and mustache is the only one who feels unique.

  10. The Amiga has a programmable custom chipset which works a bit like a modern GPU. If the game uses the chipset features (eg: the blitter for the floors) then the CPU clock won't matter. This was a great thing in 1985, but arguably by 1990 it became the bane of the Amiga as the PCs got more and more powerful CPUs.

    1. The big problem with the graphics is that it uses a planar memory system. That is, the display is broken up in memory based on bitplanes, which means to change a single pixel you need to write to several places in memory. This has advantages when doing 2D games with scrolling etc, but massively slows things down when doing 3D. PCs, on the other hand, have a bitmapped display which is great for doing 3D.

      The more powerful CPU shoes obviously do help as well, but willing this period in time it’s mainly due to the Amiga have an old fashioned way to handle graphics in memory.

    2. Basically all of the non-PC systems made the same kind of design decision: have a complicated system for doing graphics which isn't amenable to being treated as a raster, but gives you tremendous acceleration when doing 2D sprite-based graphics. This let them do amazing things graphically with miniscule amounts of memory and CPUs that were in no way shape or form up to the task. PCs, having the much more straightforward model of "Just treat the entire screen as a matrix of contiguous memory" lagged way behind for years, but Moore's law pretty much meant that eventually "Just make the CPU faster" was going to win out.

    3. Well from a technical point of view, eventually what PCs did was to delegate those graphical jobs to a separate chip. Nowadays, nVidia and AMD. Back then, Agnus and Alice :)

  11. It's been a but since I've fiddled too much with Amiga, but chip vs. fast vs. slow memory can make a big difference when running intensive applications.

  12. Will you try the "remake" made by Pyrdacor?

    1. I may give it a go for a little while once I'm finished with the game, for the final entry.

  13. Sorry..i'm the Anonymous up there

  14. About the 3D engine: when Ultima Underworld was tested in the German Powerplay magazine, they had a paragraph about Thalion being the first to have a 3D engine demo for "Amberstar 2" on the Atari ST! Here is the article ("Noch mal 3D"): https://www.kultboy.com/index.php?site=t&id=346

    Also anecdotally ID Software built their first 3D engine after seeing an early prototype of Ultima Underworld and they published Catacomb 3D and Wolfenstein 3D before Ultima Underworld was released in 1992.

    1. Ultima Underworld preceded Wolfenstein 3d by a couple of months.

    2. iD Software didn't build their 3d engine after, but rather before seeing UUW, they did Hovertank 3D, it was texture mapping they added after seeing UUW.

      That said, if that article claims that Amberstar 2 is anywhere close to the first 3D engine, it's a laughable piece of journalism.

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 8, 2023 at 12:51 PM

      > if that article claims that Amberstar 2 is anywhere close to the first 3D engine, it's a laughable piece of journalism

      Jan's comment above said "first to have a 3D engine demo ... on the Atari ST," not first of any kind in the world.

    4. It doesn't seem to be implying to me that it's the first on ST (not that that would be an accurate claim either) but just that it was first and on the ST.

    5. They mention it being the "first appealing 3D-bitmap system for dungeons" (I assume that means texture mapping). It's not a claim the magazine makes, but one that was supposedly made by the developers. All I've ever read directly from the developers in this regard is that they had a fast texture mapping implementation on the ST back in 1991 and regretted not giving priority to putting it into a game.

      The main point of the info box is compating the 3D engines of the Amberstar 2 demo and Ultima Underworld, saying that Amberstar 2 runs faster but lacks features such as real 3D movement and item physics. Amberstar 2/Ambermoon never got released on the ST and, as far as I can tell from the tiny picture, that demo looks very unlike Ambermoon.

  15. This is a somewhat intangible thing, but when looking at Ambermoon's screenshots, box cover and included map, I get a strong impression of 'fantasy' and 'adventure'. It seems like a game with an expansive horizon.

  16. You don't need to emulate, since last year is a port available. 😊

  17. One of the devs uploaded the source code to GitHub. https://github.com/jhorneman/ambermoon


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