Shortly after I began this blog, it took a turn that I didn't expect, and didn't even really notice at the time: I began playing a lot of independent CRPGs. About one-third of the games in my blog (if you count the "backtracking" postings from last July) were developed as what we would now call "shareware."
Independent games tend to lack the bells and whistles of commercially-developed CRPGs, but they often have more intriguing gameplay, as we find with NetHack, and certainly a much greater challenge. But here's the essential "problem" with them, coming from the perspective of someone who has in front of him a task to play thousands of games and is only at Game 56: commercial game publishers have to worry about the market, and so they tend to avoid releasing games that are @#!@%&ing impossible. With independent games, on the other hand, you are often at the mercy of a single soulless, basement-dwelling sociopath. I'm not saying that Laurence Brothers is such a person, but I'm frankly beginning to suspect that he at least was.
[Later edit: the day after this was published, Rampant Coyote did a great job turning my snarky comment into a thoughtful posting on his blog.]
There's so much great stuff in this game that it deserves multiple postings on this blog, but I'm never going to get to them because I can't live long enough. Omega would be pretty bloody hard without permanent death. With it...it's untenable for me to keep playing without cheating.
"Cheating" in this context--in any context, really--is when you subvert the intentions of the game designer in order to reduce the intended difficulty of the game. I can say it's not fair, but Mr. Brothers intended this game to be very hard; if he hadn't, he wouldn't have written the game to delete the save file after you load it.
So: I'm going to keep playing, but I'm going to allow myself to backup the save game file once per map (dungeon level, town, etc.). I can only restore and reload if I die, not if I just don't like the outcome of equipping a particular item or drinking a particular potion. With this limited cheating in place, I hope I can get further in the game and uncover some of its mysteries.
Sitting in a class today, I idly wrote a series of Excel formulas to automatically generate a random sequence of letters for my character name (I don't know any actual programming). The result is "Kibfizma." Kibfizma is going to tend towards the side of chaos. The first thing I had her do, after arriving in town, was break into a house. It turned out to be occupied by a ghost who...well, you need to see it:
Yep. It's the ghost of my most recent adventurer. The ghost and a separate haunt attacked me, and the game said I was too terrified to fight, so I went screaming back out onto the street.
Seeking to redeem my inauspicious start, I bashed down the door to a mansion across the street, set off an alarm, was taken to jail, and got probation.
Okay. Something new. Next door to the jail was the arena, so I signed up as a gladiator and got a wooden sword and shield and a 5000 gold piece credit at the gym. I entered a match, killed Ebeneezer the Goblin, and won 100 gold.
The paladins called me a "minion of chaos" and told me to get lost, and the castle said I wasn't famous enough to visit the duke. At the casino, I lost two rounds and won one, leaving with about 100 gold more than I started with. Found a pawn shop but couldn't really afford anything good. Found a place that sells and rents apartments for when I have more money. Bought 20 buckets of fried lizard for the road.
I tried to join the mercenary guild, but it appears that they don't want me since I'm a gladiator. This confirms my previous experience that membership in certain guilds bars you from others. Damn. I didn't want to be a gladiator that badly, but I'll play it out and see where it goes. It looks like the Circle of Sorcerers might have me, but I need to raise 1,800 gold first. Similarly, the Collegium Magii wants 1,000 gold for enrollment.
I wandered into a temple and became a "lay devotee" after praying at a statue of the Lords of Destiny. Bought some ring mail at Julie's. The town is so big that it would be hard to remember where the various stores are, but there's a neat (M)ove command that allows you to return to any facility that you've visited.
Near the temple, I tried a closed door and discovered the Thieves' Guild! That's more like it. I waited a couple of hours until nightfall, when they were open, but didn't have enough gold to join. I went back to the arena, won two more battles, and then joined the guild, for which I got a lockpick and the spell Object Detection.
By this time, I had gained enough levels to visit the palace and get the quest to kill the Goblin King from the duke. I'm being chased around town by a ghost that I picked up in the cemetery. Every time I get close to it, it "terrorizes" me and renders me incapable of attacking until I flee for a few squares. Leaving town and coming back doesn't help. I tried to avoid him to get to the Oracle (who again suggested that I visit the Archdruid) but I found the ghost blocking the path back. I had to cut my way through a hedge to evade him, which poisoned me. The poison nearly killed me, but it wore off just as I was on my last hit point.
I left town and I'm now attempting the goblin caves again. I've risen to Level 4, which is a "peregrinator." I figured this had something to do with a falcon, but I looked up the word, and it turns out "peregrinate" is simply a synonym for "migrate" or "wander." A "peregrine falcon" is named because it migrates over a wide territory. So chalk up another one to "what have you learned?"
All right. Sorry to go into such detail about the town, but it's a good illustration of how much variety is in this game. Here are a few miscellaneous points and questions:
- What the heck is "grot"? I keep finding it, but if I use it it doesn't seem to do anything.
- The game has a "(T)unnel" command that lets you carve holes in dungeon walls. Sometimes you do this to avoid something blocking a passage, sometimes to get to some treasure, and sometimes just to make a shortcut. Tunneling creates rubble, and there's a chance you'll get injured or stuck for a few turns when you try to cross it.
- Among the many commands I've yet to try in the game: cast a spell, pick someone's pocket, "vault over a few intervening spaces," rename an item, set a combat "action sequence," or hunt for food. This game is very NetHackian in the complexity of its uses of commands and uses of objects with each other.
- You can eat corpses in the game--I just ate a goblin--but it doesn't seem to have much of an effect. It didn't even cure my hunger. The next time I found a corpse, I picked it up and try to throw it at my next enemy, but the game said that the goblin "didn't accept my gift"--I guess if you hurl a non-weapon at a foe, the game treats it like you're trying to give him something. Interesting. I wonder what uses it has.
The game is full of references to other media, half of which I'm probably not getting. Here's one that I do know, even though I dislike this show for purely irrational reasons that I'll discuss when I get to BattleTech (there's a connection):
Now, here's some exciting news: One of my readers, Eugene, gave me the current e-mail address for Laurence Brothers, and Mr. Brothers has been kind enough to share some of his recollections about the development process. (He didn't know I was about to refer to him as a "basement-dwelling sociopath.") I've never interviewed a CRPG developer before, so I'm probably asking all the wrong questions, but assuming he's okay with my publishing his quotes to the world, I'll have some more information for you tomorrow.