Friday, May 31, 2024

Loremaster: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Alas, "lm2" was never produced.
United States
Creative Software (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 14 May 2024
Date Ended: 28 May 2024
Total Hours: 13
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)   
An adventure/RPG hybrid in the manner of the early Quest for Glory games, although likely influenced by MUDs, Loremaster puts you in the role of a prince (who can be a fighter, thief, mage, cleric, sage, or merchant) seeking to save the empire from the evil sorcerer who killed your father. The titular Loremaster is what you become during your journey, as you assemble the items necessary to defeat the sorcerer and his minions. The game world consists of 126 overworld screens arranged in a 21 x 6 formation, wrapping, and about as many underworld screens in a similar configuration. Much of the game involves assembling clues by talking to NPCs like Emperor Yelraf and his wife, Queen Tei, the cleric Francis, and the oracle Iseult, but there is a mechanism for some RPG-style combat and character development, although it has questionable utility. Screens are not static; you move around them like a Sierra adventure, using both cursor options (cycled with the right mouse button) and a simple text parser. It's not horrible, but many elements of the game are broken and frustrating, and it could have benefited from more playtesting and balance.
As with any adventure game, winning Loremaster involves a series of steps that take you a while to figure out but really don't take that long once you have the template. This is particularly true of this game, where the extremely powerful TELEPORT spell can take you to any NPC (including unique enemies), and the equally powerful SUMMON spell can bring those people to you.
The steps are basically this:
Talk to the NPCs around the town to get the backstory, quest, and training.
Together, they fill in the story: the empire of seven kingdoms, led by Yelraf and his wife Tei, is being attacked by an evil sorcerer named Gaiasbane. A recent battle has decimated the kingdom, and only a few people are left. You're the son of the slain king of Peace and Tranquility, whose northern lands have been seized by Gaiasbane and ruined by acid rain. Francis, the cleric, recently had his holy grail stolen by an earth elemental. Iseult, the Oracle, pines for her lost lover Tristan. Iseult will train you in magic, the king's servant Gerald in fighting, and Francis in cleric abilities, although I frankly don't know what they are.
King Yelraf gives me some background on the Runesword and the Loremaster.
These NPCs all expect that a Loremaster will save them, but they're inconsistent as to whether the Loremaster is someone coming from somewhere else, or whether anyone (you) can become the Loremaster. In any event, you learn that Gaiasbane can only be killed with an ancient weapon called the Runesword.
Spend some time on character development (optional).
To survive your explorations of the outer world and underworld, you want to get to a level between 50 and 100. The default character, Myth, starts at this level. Other created characters will need to fight random enemies, collect treasure, and buy weapons and armor from Butterman at the general store. Leveling up is relatively quick; almost every kill raises you one or more levels. Your attributes are exercised by combat and magic. If you die, you get knocked back down a couple of levels. This also happens if you cast spells more powerful than you're ready to cast.
It's nice to be able to do this to them for a change.
Enemies in the area of the town are non-hostile, and you lose karma for killing them. (Karma is necessary for successful resurrections.) Those in the wilderness are hostile. Some enemies like wraiths can't be damaged by physical weapons, so fighters and thieves want to avoid them entirely. Spiders are good for grinding, since they die in one hit. You can stand next to their corpses and if they get resurrected, you can just hit them again. Be aware that combat drains stamina and strength fast, so you have to REST quite often to restore it.
Enemies either get resurrected or turn into ghosts who threaten you.
Enemies generally kill unarmored characters in one hit, so it's best for melee characters to find or buy some armor as soon as they can. Even then, enemy attacks will destroy the armor pretty fast. It's best to avoid them entirely. Magic characters can cast spells from a short distance away and thus should be able to avoid ever getting into melee range. Whether you're fighting with spells or weapons, it's better to use the cursor to target enemies than to have to type things like CAST SPIDER or ATTACK BEASTIE, unless you're a faster and more accurate typist than I am.
Solve Francis's quest and get his holy book (HOLYBOOK).
Francis wants his grail recovered; he says it was probably stolen by the fire elemental (FIREELEMENTA). She lives in the underworld in a lake of fire. To survive the lake of fire, you have to get your "Piety" score up above 200 or so. You can do this by just repeatedly typing PRAY. If you do this next to Francis, he prays with you.
You then have to explore the underworld until you find the fire elemental--or you can just INCANT TELEPORT and CAST FIREELEMENTA to zip right there. This doesn't work for all characters, though, unless they've spent time developing their skills--or if you start with Myth. 
The fire elemental asks you a riddle and then happily gives you the grail if you're standing close enough. If not, it says to come closer, but it doesn't give you the grail when you do, and as far as I can tell, there's no way to recover from this situation. So make sure you're close enough when you ask.
The fire elemental is the most philosophical character in the game.
The fire elemental also tells a reasonably funny joke that I hadn't heard before:
Once, there was a man who looked into his mirror and saw God looking out at him. He went and told other men that he saw God in his mirror. The other men looked at the man and said, "You're crazy." The man said, "You think I'm crazy, you should have seen what God looked like!"
Returning the grail to Francis gets you the holy book, but I also found that he'll happily give it to you, without requiring you to solve the grail quest, if your piety is high enough.
A few extra uses of PRAY cut out a big chunk of the game.
Get the bell (OLDBELL) from Samwise
Samwise is the farmer whose farm, north of the town and in the blighted lands, is doing mysteriously well despite the acid rain. If you talk with him long enough, and answer a riddle or two, he'll finally suggest that he wants items of gold. I found that I had to give him two items--in my case, a gold ring and ancient coins--before he'll give you the magic bell.
A leprechaun pretending to be a dwarf. What a stretch.
In giving it to you, he reveals his true form: a leprechaun. Something about his magic luck is responsible for the success of his farm.
Samwise in his changed form.
A word about riddles: A lot of NPCs in the game give you a riddle suddenly in the middle of conversation. Most of them ask you to continue a number sequence. The first time, some NPC will say: "One, four, nine...," indicating that the pattern involves adding incrementally increasing odd numbers. The first time this comes around, the answer is SIXTEEN. Later, some NPC will say, "Four, nine, sixteen..." and you have to answer TWENTYFIVE. The next one is THIRTYSIX. You might imagine that the one after that is FORTYNINE, but it doesn't work. That's because the author of the game wasn't about to win any spelling bees. I correctly guessed the way that he would spell the word: FOURTYNINE.
Rescue Tristan and get the candle (MAGICCANDLE).
If you explore the underworld long enough (or just TELEPORT directly to him), you'll find Tristan in the clutches of an earth elemental (EARTHELEMEN). The earth elemental thinks that Tristan stole his jeweled stalagmite because Gaiasbane (who the earth elemental thinks is good and wise) told him so. The fire elemental and wind elemental both comment on how the earth elemental has been tricked.

The real thief of the jeweled stalagmite is a troll named Crude. The wind elemental tells you this if you find her, but otherwise you might just find it by encountering Crude and killing him. Return the jeweled stalagmite to the earth elemental and Tristan is released.
The earth elemental comes to his senses.
If you then visit Iseult back on the surface, Tristan is with her, and Iseult gratefully gives you the magic candle.
That's not quite how I ever imagined Tristan.
Banish Banesthrall.
Banesthrall is a minion of Gaiasbane. He lives in the Caverns of Carthos, a special part of the underworld. Being incorporeal, he can't be harmed by regular weapons or even spells. The only way to kill him is to hold the bell and RING BELL.
Entering the Caverns of Carthos.
As he dies, he screams, "ARRRRRRGGHHhh . . . you fool! Where did you get that accursed bell! That absurd leprechaun and you shall pay for this one day!" As he dies, he leaves a scroll (OLDSCROLL) behind. The scroll has quite a bit of text:
I write this for fear that the knowledge I have uncovered has placed  my life in grave danger. I have discovered the fatal flaw in the dark sorcerer's evil magic. 'Tis a thing called the RUNESWORD, a mystical weapon forged by the immortals eons before this age. This sword exists in all planes at all times. Even GAIASBANE cannot elude its cutting blade, which is why he has placed it in the tail of the DAEMONKOSHI . . . a truly hideous and dangerous creature. This awful being dwells within the darkest depths of the caverns south and slightly east of the chamber of the dark wraith, BANESTHRALL. I fear this dark wraith now hunts me, the price I pay for the powerful secrets written here. I have drawn a crude map on this page . . . may good guard you . . .
The character's magic ability increases by 6 after reading the scroll. There is indeed a crude map that you can bring up with the INSPECT command.
A cool map that corresponds with nothing that I see in the dungeon.
Kill Daemonkoshi and get the Runesword.
I tried to find Daemonkoshi with the map but eventually gave up and just TELEPORTed to him. He is guarded by Cerebrus [sic, but I'm always misspelling it this way, too]. The demon causes both paralyzing fear and complete darkness. It took me about 10 reloads to figure out the right sequence to deal with him.
You first have to HOLD HOLYBOOK and READ HOLYBOOK to overcome your fear. Yes, you can somehow do this in the pitch darkness. You then KEEP HOLYBOOK (to stow it) and HOLD MAGICCANDLE to dispel the darkness and make both Daemonkoshi and Cerebrus afraid of you. You have to do all of this while they're attacking you, so it might be a good idea to SUMMON some powerful NPC from the rest of the game to occupy them.
Daemonkoshi is one odd-looking duck.
If you hit Daemonkoshi with the candle, it kills him and he drops the Runesword--but it also turns the candle into just a regular candle, which means Cerebrus is no longer afraid of it. You have to pick up the sword and get out of there or kill Cerebrus through conventional means.
Kill Gaiasbane.
The last step is to go to Gaiasbane's tower, or SUMMON him to you, and attack him with the Runesword. He dies in one hit. 
That was for dad.
Unfortunately, none of the NPCs in the game acknowledge your deed. After you kill Gaiasbane, you just have to walk a couple of screens. The game then takes over, shows you the winning screen (above) and dumps you to DOS.
This all seems fairly straightforward. Loremaster is much larger and more elaborate than is required for this relatively short main plot, which led to a lot of my (and Morpehus Kitami's) initial confusion. There are also a lot of bugs, pitfalls, walking dead scenarios, points of confusion, and game elements that are just broken. 
The two worst elements of the game are combat and traps. I can't tell you how incredibly frustrating it is to get killed 10 times in a row by the same enemy on the same screen. Enemies kill you in one hit and then stand by your corpse. As soon as it's resurrected, they hit you again. You have to hold down a movement key and hope that the game registers your attempts to flee before it registers the enemy's attack. 
Traps and pits are everywhere, and even if the detection system worked (it doesn't, although I didn't try it with a thief character), it would be too onerous to detect traps on every inch of every screen. Instead, you just have to suck it up as you get blasted with fire, ice, and sleep or unceremoniously dumped into the underworld.
There are, in fact, traps everywhere on this screen.
I tried to roll with the punches with all these deaths and traps, but the game saves continually, so there's no way to reload without reinstalling the entire game. I eventually started backing up the data files so I could restore when I lost 10 levels in a row to the same enemy.
Many miscellaneous notes:
  • I never found any way to open chests. I also never found any use for a key that I found. Maybe the key is supposed to open the chests, but I couldn't find any keyword that did it.
  • Queen Tei seems to have a quest involving a missing cloak, but I never found it and I don't know what the reward would have been if I had.
  • A decent percentage of the time when you ask an NPC something (e.g., ASK YELRAF SORCERER), the game just ignores you as if you typed nothing. You have to do it again. Other times, the NPC says, "Make your point" and requires you to retype your question.
  • Several NPCs ask, "Why are you here?" and seem to expect an answer. I never figured out how to successfully answer them. 
  • The level cap seems to be 101.
  • Sometimes, you have to look really hard for treasure on the ground.
That little bit poking above the wall is the only sign.
  • One enormously helpful spell is ETHEREAL, which makes you temporarily impervious to damage and lets you walk through walls. You can use it to very quickly explore the maps, although you can't pick anything up until it wears off. This is particularly useful in the underground, since navigation there really sucks. 
  • The INSPECT command shows you a full portrait of the game's NPCs and many of the objects that you find. It's pretty cool.
Yes, delightful.
  • I found a couple of wands but was never able to get them to do anything.
  • In any event, you need both hands free to cast spells, so spellcasters shouldn't even bother to get weapons. Armor also interferes with spellcasting. The mage is still worth it.
  • There's food but no EAT command.
  • After you rescue Tristan, Iseult gives you a magic candle every time you see her if you don't already have one. You can keep selling them to Butterman for infinite gold. Not that gold is really worth anything.
I'm finally out of hock to Butterman.
  • Sound is limited to quick tunes and bloops as you change screens. When you start up the game, it plays a couple of bars from "It's a Small World." I didn't experience it for most of the game, as you have to proactively type SOUND ON. 
  • HELP HISTORY gives you a quick backstory of the game. 
I wish I'd known this at the beginning.
  • Commands for which I never found any use: OPEN (it doesn't work on chests), DISPELL, PUSH, SPEAK, SMILE, SNEER. 
  • Spells for which I never found any use (admittedly, I didn't explore them as thoroughly as I should have): AGE, AURA, DISARM, FEAR, GIFT, HARM, INVISIBLE, RESURRECT, SHACKLES, SHIELD, SLOW, TRAP, WEAK.
As I've mentioned, the default character, Myth, is overpowered, particularly since TELEPORT, SUMMON, and ETHEREAL obviate much of the game, and he can cast those spells (albeit not without losing a level from the strain) from the outset. It's possible that he wasn't originally that powerful, and that the only version of the game found online has a Myth who's already been heavily developed. In any event, it would be a much more challenging game to play as a fighter or thief. I'm not sure if they ever develop magic ability enough to cast those spells. I played for a while as a cleric and managed to get from Level 20 to around Level 50 by whacking enemies with a mace. But it ultimately was too frustrating, and I ended up winning with Myth. I have no idea what kind of game a sage or merchant experiences.
An up-close shot of Queen Tei.
In the end, I think it's a better game than it first appears. Perhaps more importantly, it's a better engine than it is a game. With a little more balance, some additional puzzles, more extensive equipment, and a few other features, it could have evoked some of the spirit of Quest for Glory.  
I still don't understand what the purpose is of having multiple characters able to exist in the universe without interacting with each other. It appears there's only one copy of the game's major artifacts exists, so a second character can't get another grail, bell, or Runesword. It's pointless.

Finally, I should mention that Twitch streamer Chuboh, whose 2019 streams are responsible for briefly-resurged interest in the game, found a way to win in 90 seconds. Once you know that someone named Daemonkoshi has the Runesword, you can just SUMMON him to a screen where Yelraf or another invincible character can kill him without the need for you to find the holy book or magic candle. You then calmly pick up the Runesword from his corpse, SUMMON Gaiasbane, and kill him.
In a GIMLET, I give the game:
  • 4 points for the gameworld, with a reasonably competent backstory and a relatively clear quest.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. It's an admittedly original approach to have the character yo-yo up and down levels instead of always shooting upward, but otherwise development doesn't feel rewarding or consistent enough. It's unclear what the "mage levels" and "cleric levels" do, since those statistics are hidden. I will say that different classes face very different experiences.
  • 5 points for NPCs. They exist; they tell you about their world; they give you quests; you can SUMMON them to your aid. A strong category.
You don't strictly need her, but the wind elemental is the biggest gossip in the game, with something to say about everything.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The game has about 10 enemies, and some of them do have unique attacks and defenses. The puzzles were mostly based on inventory and the right parser commands. Nothing exciting.
  • 3 points for magic and combat, and it gets all of that for a somewhat innovative magic system. I don't recall any other game that let me teleport to any named NPC or, even better, summon that NPC to me.
Killing a "basalisk" with a FIRE spell.
  • 1 point for equipment. One weapon, one suit of extremely fragile armor.
INSPECTing the Runesword.
  • 1 point for the economy. Once you've bought that weapon and suit of fragile armor, there's no point to gold.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no side-quests or other options.
But there are some sub-quests.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets that point for the occasionally-decent graphics. Sound is too sparse to be worth anything, and the interface was nothing but a nightmare, requiring the player to type too frantically with too many elements not working.
  • 5 points for gameplay. It's mildly nonlinear, mildly replayable, just a little bit too hard, and not too long.
That gives us a final score of 29. I'm tempted to subtract a point or two for all the things that didn't work, but I guess I already punished it enough by giving no points to the interface.
We've covered the critical reviews, which were mostly negative, in previous entries. As I wind up this short series, I feel better about the game at the end than I did at the beginning, which is rare. I would have liked to see what author Glenn Francis Farley could have done with Loremaster II. We now know that Farley died in 2001, leaving a widow named Harriet, the obvious source of inspiration for Queen "Tei." Creative Software does appear to be Farley's company, the odd legal paperwork found by Busca notwithstanding, and it does not seem to have produced another game.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Centauri Alliance: Black and Blue

The party finds a transporter. I guess that's a big deal in this universe.
To combat an insurrection or invasion, the agents of the Centauri Alliance have assembled the remnants of an ancient weapon called the Fractyr Fist (thus keeping it out of enemy hands), plus a suit of armor and a helmet. An Alliance officer sent us next to Tau Eridani for unknown reasons.
We got off the transport ship and entered the Alliance Headquarters on the planet. "Search the city for information or clues," the officer said, "and then travel to Veladron II and do the same. Enemy interest in that system has provoked great speculation."
I guess I'll start kicking down doors.
The spaceport itself was the typical 16 x 16 map with occasional battles. We left once to return to Lunabase for leveling. Other than the spaceport, the Alliance Headquarters, a medical bay, and an armory, there was nothing to find except an entrance to the Knave's Club [sic, probably], where my entry option was to S)eek Training.
What followed were the two best levels of the game so far. They were authentic fun, and I was glad I had pressed forward in a relatively (until now) blah game to experience them. The moment we entered, we got the instructions: We had to reach the end of the maze within a time limit, which turned out to be about eight minutes at 100%. If we failed, it said, we'd be returned to the entrance unharmed, but a character could only try 3 times and still receive the prize.
I took a save state at the beginning of the first level and returned to it every time the game timed out while mapping. It didn't occur to me at the time that I was cheating, but since I timed out way more than three times, I suppose I technically should have lost. This would have been very tough when the game was new. The first level requires you to navigate through a maze of teleporters and one-way walls to reach a specific teleporter. I don't know how you accomplish this without carefully mapping, but I timed out at least four times in this area alone.
The first level of the Knave's Club test, with a path through the teleporters.
Once you reach the correct teleporter, you find yourself in a long hallway with rooms off to the side. Entering any of these rooms triggers a riddle. This is the first one I got:
There are 3 ways of traveling between Lunabase and Kevner's World. By Passenger Carrier the trip takes 20 hours and costs 750 credits. A charter flight takes 10 hours and costs 1,000 credits plus 10 credits per passenger. Alliance starships are free but take 30 hours to get from Lunabase to Chronum, and 15 more hours to get from there to Kevner's World. If you are in a hurry to get to Chronum, your best bet is to begin your trip on:

1) Passenger Carrier
2) Charter flight
3) Alliance starship
I didn't really understand this riddle. The talk about credits must have been to confuse the player into thinking that the answer involved any variable other than time, but someone in "a hurry" just cares about time. Still, the game doesn't tell us how long it takes to get to Chronum by the first two options. I answered "Charter flight" assuming that if it's the fastest option to Kevner's World, it's probably the fastest option to Chronum. It also works if you have to travel using the methods listed here: the passenger carrier would be 20 hours to Kevner's World, then 15 from Kevner's World to Chronum, assuming the reverse trip is the same. The charter flight is only 10 + 15, which beats the 30 hours that it takes to go direct from Lunabase to Chronum on the Alliance starship.
A correct answer dumps you into an adjacent hallway, where you have to find another teleporter and then a stairway down to Level 2.
I have no idea what "turn at the third" meant.
Level 2 starts with a long corridor that spills out to an area with alcoves, each with part of a poem. A message as you enter tells you to "give the ancient his numeric request." The poem reads:

Beyond the one
Of venture's gate
Respect the lie
And doubt the straight

What's past is done
Like sudden hate
You'd best be off
Before you're late!

The hand of death
And sudden fate
Upon your head
Rests like a weight
The "ancient" is a grumpy old man sitting in the final alcove who wants the "terminal rhyme." I tried the ends of all the stanzas and got it wrong before I realized that the initial message had said to give him a numeric response. All the stanzas rhyme with eight, which was the correct answer.
The answer opened a door to a huge maze of 1 x 1 rooms, most with one-way doors. Again, I timed out maybe 5 times trying to map it all, but I don't know how you find your way without doing that. You have to make your way to a teleporter in the middle of the maze to reach one towards the end.
After that, a few more long corridors lead you to your reward: a couple thousand experience points and the opportunity for one character to learn one of three skills: alien biology, battle logic, or starship piloting. I thought that was an awfully mean thing to make me choose without any knowledge of what they do or how they'd be useful, but it turned out I could repeat the maze and get all three. I gave "Battle Logic" to Morella, "Starship Piloting" to Vir, and "Alien Biology" to Turhan.
I feel like all of these would take a long time.
I faced different riddles on the second two tries. Both required me to interpret a set of syllogisms, and they were relatively easy, but like the first one, they had a lot of unnecessary details. For instance, the first one read:
All agents who pass the Test carry lasers. None of the agents in the Alliance carries a laser or works for Daynab. If Renfrew passed the test, Jack works for Daynab. If these things are true, which one of the following MUST also be true?
I didn't have to get past the first option ("None of the Alliance agents have passed the test"). The parts about Renfrew and Jack were unnecessary.
The potential answers.
There were no battles in the Knave's Club, so after getting my rewards, I moved on to Veladron II. The Alliance officer there had nothing for me but a welcome, so I started exploring. The port had no armory, so when I ran low on ammunition, I had to go to other planets.
The only special encounter in Veladron II was a shuttle bay.  A sign read: "Alliance Shipyards. CAUTION: Wear vacuum suits at all times." I didn't have any vacuum suits, so I had to again leave to go buy some. When I came back to take a shuttle, I had three choices: Old Human Freighter, Manstrak Troop Carrier, and Arcturian Space Ship. I tried them all in order.
Why do I want to visit any of them?
Each option took me to a separate map shaped like a ship, with a large rear engine section tapering to a nose cone and, ultimately, a cockpit. The human and Manstrak ships both had ruined engines, as messages conveyed. I tried using my Manstrak's technical abilities to repair them, but that didn't seem to be an option. The aft sections were also highly radioactive and killed my characters in a few steps if I insisted on staying within them. Neither ship could be started up. I didn't know that my goal was to try to start a derelict ship. I wasn't even sure why I was exploring derelict ships.
This is the first time in the game so far that the map wasn't exactly 16 x 16.
Both ships had lots of battles with rats, for which I was grateful because I needed the experience. As we've previously discussed, combat is almost identical to The Bard's Tale II or Wasteland except that it takes place on a map of hexes. There are several maps, but they don't have anything to do with the actual terrain.
About 50% of battles start with at least one enemy party in melee range, which I prefer, because my melee character is terrifying. My back 4 characters do maybe 5-7 points of damage per single shot with their weapons. (I still have them armed with Berettas because they're the only ranged weapon I've found that will hit up to four hexes away.) My human, skilled in sidearms, does about 15-20 points to a group with his Uzi (but only from 2 hexes away or less). But my Donsai warrior does about 60-80 points of damage with her Keenedge Sword. It's mostly wasted; no single enemy has that many hit points. I really wish melee attacks worked on a group. The few "boss" enemies who have had nearly that many points start so far away that you'll kill your party trying to get into melee range.
Why couldn't I have hit two creatures once each?
Moving in general is extremely unbalanced. If you decide to move your party closer to the enemy, that's the only action you can take that round. The enemy gets a free salvo of shots, and if there are more than a few of them with ranged attacks, that's instant death. Meanwhile, if an enemy decides to move in combat, and he goes before any of your characters, all subsequent attacks are wasted because when you attack, you attack a hex, not a specific enemy. Why don't enemies have that problem?
Oddly, what I just said isn't true about NPC monsters who join the party. They even get to attack after the party moves. Early in this session, a Braktalian joined the party and proved curiously long-lived despite having only 10 hit points. He pops off a group damage ranged attack at the end of every round, and more than once, it made the difference. Even better, very late in this session, a "Fractyr Mech" joined me. He gets to attack multiple groups of enemies each round. They're worth the experience points they take from the rest of the party.
I had mentioned at the end of the last session that combat was getting harder. It started to get easier again as my two psionics acquired spells that targeted groups of enemies rather than just single enemies. I also had enough money that I could buy multiple shield belts in between missions and pump everyone's "Shield" value up. That kept me alive until late in this session, when enemies took a huge leap forward.
Andra softens up the rats for the rest of the party.
So the Human Freighter and Manstrak Troop Carrier were good only for that rat-based experience, but the Arcturian Space Ship--the smallest of them--had working engines. When I reached the helm, the game asked who I wanted to try to pilot it; I chose Vir, to whom I had given the piloting skills at the end of the Knave's Club test.
We started to move, but then Vir announced that there were no maneuvering thrusters. So all we did was move forward a bit, then crash land on Veladron's moon. 

Good thing we got those vacuum suits.
We exited the ship and poked around the moon until we found an entrance to "the airlock of what appears to be a room of ancient construction." We took an elevator down.
What if we hadn't ineptly crash-landed on this moon? That was a bit of serendipity.
The resulting four-level dungeon was easily the hardest in the game so far. The first level wasn't so bad. It just had a few teleporters. But starting on the second level, our psionic abilities didn't work. That meant no healing, no light (after the most recently-cast spell wore off), and no use of SPSEN to identify our location. 
The game knows damned well that it's not going to work later, either.
It wasn't long before I was mapping in the dark. Level 2 had a bunch of corridors in concentric rings that spilled out into a long north-south corridor with multiple squares that sapped psionics, then stunned the character if psionics got below 0. Even if I cast light spells just before going downstairs from Level 1 to Level 2, they ran out while I waited for my psionic points to regenerate in between those traps. Those traps have to be the worst aspect of the game.
To make it worse, enemies starting on this level were much harder than anything I faced so far. They were capable of as much melee damage as my own melee character, and they often killed my characters in a single round. I had to reload so many times it was shameful. The only good news is that the few battles that I won were worth a lot of experience.
I pushed forward on Level 3, mapping by sound alone (the game makes different tones when you move forward, go through a door, or run into a wall). There were a couple of squares on this level that auto-healed, which was nice. I reached a stairway down before I'd mapped more than 25% of the level, so I forced myself to finish it, which turned out to be a good thing. In the north-central area was a single square with a switch. It opened a door to a central area, ringed by psi-draining squares, in which I found "strange globes of power" hovering over " a table of seamless black metal."
Any character had an option to put all his items on the table. Most of them had all the items melt before their eyes. For some of them, "some of the items glow with a dull blue light, but nothing seems to happen." Those characters had pieces of the Fractyr Fist. I reloaded and moved all the pieces to Morealla, then had her use them on the table. It told me that "the fingers and palm are knit together in a fantastic interplay of pyrotechnic energy." When it cleared, only a Fractyr Fist remained.
I assume the fingers aren't knit together, or this is a Fractyr Mitten.
Eager to try it in combat, I gave it to Morella. Do you know what it turns out to be? A melee weapon. That's it. It still targets only one enemy, not at range, but now doing 120-130 points of damage, which is about 100 more than any enemy requires. It has no special abilities that I can find. This has caused an intergalactic war? A particularly powerful set of brass knuckles?
I went downstairs to Level 4, where my psi powers were still infuriatingly blocked. I did my best to feel out a map, but the level had teleporters, and without any way to determine where I'd ended up, I soon lost patience, broke down, and looked at a map in Shay Addams's Quest for Clues III. Somehow, looking at a hint in an era-specific hint guide feels less like cheating than using a modern one. It got me through the level, minus about a million reloads for battles that didn't go my way.
Eventually, I reached a holographic message from a long-dead alien race. They looked human but either wore blue racoon masking around their eyes and on the pates of their skulls or their skin had that natural color.
Long forgotten, our civilization has only left the barest traces of a once mighty people. Focused inward upon ourselves, we have learned that any true power must come from without. So we have left these places, in search of a Greater Being than ourselves. Our legacy to lesser civilizations is such outposts as this, and the knowledge that a greater truth does, in fact, exist. Oh, by the way, you are now given an item to facilitate your exit from this place. Well done, friends and fellow seekers.
I think your legacy is going to be that gimp mask you're wearing.
The item was a "Mattermit Pass."  The face popped up again later in the level:
Our greatest technology of all has been the ability to immediately transmit matter across vast distances of space. Using a special loophole in relativity theory, we have developed a method of instantaneous travel with little energy expenditure. While much of this technology has been stripped from this place, our mattermission facilities remain. Use them wisely, and one day, such technology will bring you to a great appreciation for the vastness of the created cosmos.
I'd do anything to get out of this darkness.
We had a chance to use the pass when we came upon an elevated platform and had options for blue, red, and yellow. I chose blue, and we found ourselves in an unfamiliar starport. The game also mentioned we had received experience bonuses. We explored nearly the entire starport map--which had no Alliance HQ, no armor, and no medical bay--before we found the starport and received indication that we were on Keppa Var, the forbidden planet. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything to do there. The only special encounters were 1) an ancient shrine, where the only thing to do was to read the message, "You have apparently entered an ancient shrine"; and 2) a hatch in the floor that wanted a password I don't have.
I blasted off, took the shortest route back to Lunabase, leveled up, and refreshed my gear. At the Alliance HQ, I got an "INVASION ALERT!" and was ordered to go to Epsilon Indi, so I guess that's next.
At least I can punch whoever's invading!
Aside from mapping in the dark, I enjoyed this session. The game kicked it up a notch in quality and distinguished itself from its Bard's Tale roots with cool levels and memorable puzzles. I feel bad about calling it "sad" last time. It's an honest effort that succeeds more than it fails, and if it looks and feels a little old . . . well, when has that ever been a problem on this blog?
Time so far: 18 hours
Playing out of: Duty giving way to enjoyment.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Loremaster: Death is Cheap

A typical day with Loremaster.
I bumbled around a bit more with my fighter character and got nowhere except to lose a bunch of levels from dying in combat. I fiddled around with Myth (the default character) for a while, trying some things that I'll talk about a bit later. 
I created a new mage character called Chester, who starts at Level 20 (compared to the default character, Myth, at Level 57). I began by going to Butterman, the general store owner, and buying some leather armor. Mages cannot cast spells with anything in their hands, so there's no point arming one with a weapon. I exhausted Butterman's dialogue options like last time.
A new character begins.
I then returned to the castle and exhausted dialogue options with King Yelraf (or Emperor Yelraf; the game is inconsistent) and Queen Tei. I discovered that there's more to the castle than the entrance where Yelraf and Tei stand. But "more" doesn't mean "worthwhile": one door takes you to a Daliesque nightmare that includes piles of food you can't pick up for some reason; the other takes you to a garden that has at least three "Sleep" traps, which put you to sleep for literal minutes real-time. There are traps all over this game. As far as I can tell, they're undetectable and unavoidable, and they make little sense. Who puts a fire trap in the middle of a field?
The game let me wake up after about four minutes.
I headed for Francis and Gerald, passing by a number of monsters on the way. Almost every screen in this game that doesn't have an NPC has a monster--beasties, basilisks, slimes, spiders, wraiths, manticores, dragons. They seem to be curiously non-hostile at the beginning of the game, or at least around the castle area.  
I also found a screen with a bunch of chests. An illusory wall let me in. I tried OPEN CHEST a number of times, but the game just kept saying, "You are talking to yourself!" I assumed it thought I was using CHEST as an abbreviation for "Chester," so I switched to Myth to get him to open the chest and just drop the items on the ground. But the game said the same thing when he tried to open the chest. 
I tried a few other options, but nothing worked. I figured I could at least take the item on the ground that the game identified as a GOLDRING. (I've learned through practice that the game doesn't recognize spaces in item names or other keywords.) But even when I was standing right on top of it, the game insisted that it "could not be taken!" 
What. The. Hell.
Moving on, I re-converse with Francis. To recap, his major pieces of intelligence are that to defeat Gaiasbane, I'll need a special weapon from the caverns below, guarded by a banshee called Banesthrall. Francis has also recently lost his Grail; he suspects it was stolen by a fire elemental who also lives in the caverns. He thinks that the Loremaster will have to go through three trials, one of which will earn him a holy book (HOLYBOOK). Francis trains me 4 points in cleric abilities. 
NPCs keep giving me these number sequence puzzles.
I then visit Gerald, the king's guardsman again, and had him train me 1 point in fighting ability, then exhausted my combat options with him.
At this point, I was caught up on everything that I'd done already. It was time to do something new. I pointed myself west, looking for the Oracle, Iseult. On the way, I talk to the dragon I spoke to before, and I realized that not only are all the monsters near the castle non-hostile; they'll all talk to the character (although many have nothing useful to say).
At least he's not attacking me.
I find the first hostile creature--a spider--a few screens west of the castle, in the middle of what looks like an impenetrable ring of stone walls. He shows me he's hostile by hitting me, which completely destroys the leather armor that I put myself in debt to buy. I save (which requires backing up all the game files, since it saves automatically) and reload a few times so I can get some experience with combat. To cast spells you have to first INCANT them. So casting a "Fire" spell at a spider means typing INCANT FIRE and then CAST SPIDER. You have to be relatively close when you cast. Fortunately, once the spell is incanted, you can use the mouse to cast it, so you don't fumble the spelling while in the middle of combat.
I blast the spider, kill it, and go up to Level 31. I cross the walled area, setting off a trap on the way, and before I make it to the other side, a bolt of lightning comes down and resurrects the spider. I later determine that this happens a lot. When it doesn't happen, the enemy is immediately replaced by another enemy. The game will not let you "clear" a screen. 
This world's god has an exasperating sense of humor.
While trying to find the oracle, I fall down into a cave. A spider immediately kills me. Most enemies kill me in just one hit. I reload and flee from the spider, finding Banesthrall in the cavern to the west. I already know I can't defeat him (more below), so I just quit and reload.
I feel like I'm here prematurely.
Moving around in this game is a nightmare. You get hung up on everything. Screens that look like they have open exits in some direction turn out to have none because there's no path free of boulders, tree roots, and so forth. Other screens that have hard stone walls at the edges turn out to have illusory doors. There are a lot of holes to the underworld hidden behind walls or stones, so you're constantly falling down there and having to find a way out.
I don't believe I can cross this screen to engage this oddly-articulate slime.
Further attempts to get to the Oracle keep resulting in my deaths at the fangs of spiders or the spells of wraiths. Finally, in frustration, I just INCANT TELEPORT and CAST ISEULT to go directly to her. I expect it to reduce my levels to almost 0, because it always reduced Myth's level when I cast it, but instead it rockets me to Level 57. This game makes no sense.
Iseult is spectacularly unhelpful. Despite other NPCs telling otherwise, she has nothing to say about my parents or their kingdom ("Speak to the emperor if your interest lies in political matters"). When I ask her about MAGIC, she gives me the old sphinx riddle. I answer MAN, and she increases my magic ability by 2. She otherwise just repeats stuff that I already know about needing to get a weapon from the caverns below. Then she turns inexplicably hostile in the middle of our conversation and kills me, forcing me to reload. 
Iseult gives me the world's oldest riddle.
At this point, I'll break from Chester's adventure to relate a little screwing around that I did with Myth before restoring the game from a backup. Knowing that I can TELEPORT to any NPC whose name I know, I tried teleporting first to Samwise the farmer. I otherwise have no idea how to reach his farm. He attributes his ability to keep his farm going despite the acid rain to his luck and the patronage of the Green Lady. 
Well, I wouldn't know, Sam.
I then warped myself to Tristan, Iseult's lost lover. It turns out he's trapped in a cave, turned into a statue by an earth elemental (EARTHELEMENT) who thinks Tristan stole his jeweled stalagmite. Tristan protests that he didn't steal it, but the earth elemental trusts the "great, good, and wise" sage who told him of the theft: Gaiasbane. I otherwise can't do anything to free Tristan, but between the elemental and the other NPCs, that's three sub-quests I need to solve: find Tei's missing cloak, find Francis's grail, and find the earth elemental's jeweled stalagmite.
The earth elemental refuses to release Tristan.
I already know where Banesthrall is, so there's no point teleporting to him, but I do try (with SUMMON) teleporting him to the castle with Yelraf and Tei. I know that the king and queen can kill almost anything. Unfortunately, they can't even hit Banesthrall, who exists in some kind of ethereal form. There must be some spell or weapon specific to him.
I guess we're at a standstill.
Teleporting myself to Gaiasbane shows that he exists in a ring of stone somewhere. He kills me immediately and re-kills me every time I'm resurrected, before I can take any action at all. Teleporting him to Yelraf and Tei is no more successful than teleporting Banesthrall to them, as Gaiasbane only dies to that special weapon.
For the second game in a row, I'm able to reach the endgame boss but not defeat him.
Now, there is a way to cheese the SUMMON spell to kill Gaiasbane and end the game prematurely. I've done it, which means I've technically won. But I've only done it because I watched a YouTube video in which someone did it as part of a speedrun. It's a bit annoying that the only video that exists for this game is a speedrun. The author clearly must have known the game well to hit upon this particular solution, which means he probably has the manual, but he has not responded to a message I left. However, with only a little bit more intelligence from an NPC, it's plausible that I could have figured out this solution on my own. More on that for the final entry. I wanted a "win" in my pocket, even a cheating one, in case Morpheus Kitami and I jointly decide that the game simply isn't playable. Make sure you check out his coverage at The Adventurers' Guild, by the way. 
In case I can't win some other way.
Let's talk a little about what we've discovered about the game's origins. I had done some sleuthing and found another company using the same P.O. box in San Francisco that Creative Software was using at the same time. I assumed the owner of that company must be the author. But after my first entry, P-Tux7 pointed out that the author was probably named "Farley," and pdw confirmed that it was Glenn Farley based on information in a Computer Game Review and CD-ROM Entertainment issue from December 1992.
Busca got some more information about Glenn Farley, showing he was born in 1953, making him 39 at the time of the game's release, which I am persuaded was in 1992, not 1991 as originally reported. The same source shows him as president of Creative Software, but later there's a record of a lawsuit between him and Creative Software, so either he wasn't the owner (the owner may be the person I originally identified) or some other weird legal thing was happening there. Either way, emails to potential candidates have not been returned.
It's premature to look at reviews, but let's do so anyway. The aforementioned Computer Game Review gave it 56 percent--the average of scores ranging from 45 to 65. I'm glad to see that one of the reviewer's experience mirrors mine: "Combat is virtually unplayable, since any monster that attacks you kills you instantly." They had other comments about the poor interface and graphics and gave their highest scores to the manual, of all things. Boy, it would sure be nice to have it.
Busca also turned up a 53% review from the July 1993 Videogame & Computer World, an Italian magazine. I didn't translate the entire thing, but the opening paragraph calls it an "impeccable atrocity" and the concluding line is: "If you love RPGs, don't be enchanted by the title and avoid the purchase!"
I believe this is a complete map of the surface world. Click to enlarge.
Back to the game. Unsatisfied with my progress this session, I returned to the map and managed to map the entirety of the topworld (I think). It's an odd 21 x 5. The right half is mostly the town, although I did find Samwise's farm outside the north walls of the town. I was also able to find the Oracle's place and even the tower in which Gaiasbane is waiting (it only looks like a stone circle on the inside).
Gaiasbane's tower.
A few notes:
  • There are some places in the corners where you can leave the map onto an endless sea of blank screens in which you can only move east-west. Inevitably, you get blocked by an enemy and have to turn back.
This beastie stops me from exploring endlessly eastward. Even if I kill him, his bones will stop me.
  • There are so many holes going to the underworld that I stopped trying to annotate them.
  • I started naming the screens after the monsters I found there, but it turns out that they're not fixed.
  • Although a lot of the screens have interesting patterns of walls, boulders, trees, or flowers, I couldn't find anything to do on most of them. There's one odd screen in the southwest in which you get chastised for walking over flowers, as if someone's speaking to you, but I couldn't find anything out.
Who is talking here?
I'll keep going and explore the underworld, hoping to make the connection necessary to win legitimately. All I need is for someone to tell which NPC carries the weapon that will kill Gaiasbane. I suspect I'll win this purely as an adventure game, though, meaning that I won't really be trying to build my character, find money, and buy more stuff (not that there's anything else for a wizard to buy). The RPG parts of the game are just too weird: you start at a high level, you gain and lose levels unpredictably, and enemies just kill you in one hit no matter how powerful you are. What a weird game.
Time so far: 8 hours
Playing out of: Bemusement.