Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Chopper Command

Name:Chopper Command
Number:114
Year:1982
Publisher:Activision
Developer:Robert A. Whitehead
Genre:Side-Scroller
Difficulty:3/5
Time:30 minutes

The last Atari 2600 game of 1982. Its not that we're near the end of the year or anything, we're not even halfway through, its that there aren't any exclusives left. This owes to a couple of factors, my own biases, if possible I'm going to chose a different platform, most of the games on the system are either not shooters or the kind of shooters I reject outright (remember, I don't care for moving left and right) and the 2600 doesn't get a deluge of crap until next year.

Anyway, this title is Activision's founder and future Accolade founder's only shooter title. He did sports games for the period he actually worked on games. Its not hard to see that as a bad thing. This is Defender in a modern setting. You don't get a bomb and instead of protecting humans, you're protecting a truck convoy. Its less smooth controlling, but its easier to play. Its hard to talk about a game that every thing I could say about it is a comparison to Defender.
There are four groups of convoys and enemies each wave. Each contains three vehicles. Enemies vary between planes and other helicopters, but this doesn't seem to have much practical difference. Enemies, at least as far as I got, just circled back and forth over the convoy, dropping a bomb whenever they thought they had a shot. Frequently, they missed. Its all about dodging them. Everything else is constantly moving from left to right, so with each flyby the enemy aircraft get closer and closer to you, and they move quickly when they head left. Once you take out a wave you use the radar below to find the next group.
The gun is a bit interesting, because you hold down the fire button and while it sounds like a machine gun, the length of the shots are much bigger than you usually see. Practically like a laser gun. It'd be very effective, if it weren't for the weird way the game controlled for me. I couldn't go in any diagonal directions. Perhaps this was just a quirk of emulation, but it ruined what was a very smoothly scrolling game.
But ultimately, this reduced complexity and reduced control quality makes the game very bland and without any of the intensity that Defender. This is why I tend to outright reject any clones of classic arcade titles, because what's the point now, when I can play the original machine on my computer? In 1982 it might be an acceptable use of time, but today even I feel like I'm wasting my time.

Weapons:
Nice, if generic machine gun. 1/10

Enemies:
A generic host of enemies who barely acknowledge the player. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
I guess they're entities, but they don't feel like much. 1/10

Levels:
None.

Player Agency:
It works. 2/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
None.

Graphics:
They try, but there's just not anything you can do here with the 2600's color palette. 1/10

Story:
None.

Sound/Music:
Whenever you fire the machine gun, it has a habit of drowning out anything else. Otherwise typical Atari. 0/10

That's 6. Disappointing, but better than Plumbous.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Crypts of Plumbous

Name:The Crypts of Plumbous
Number:113
Year:1982
Publisher:Cosmi
Developer:James Jengo
Genre:Side-Scroller
Difficulty:3/5
Time:30 minutes

Didn't quite have as much time this week as I had hoped, so let's see one of the titles from Cosmi's debut year. I may rag on them, but its genuinely impressive that a company started in one of the worst years to start a gaming company has existed for at least 3 decades, possibly more, with seemingly no noticeable impact on the overall gaming world.

So, The Crypts of Plumbous by James Jengo. I did have to check to see if that's an actual name and not just one chosen out of a hat. It has been used as a name and it is a real word, meaning building. That doesn't mean that the author is not using a pseudonym, however, since it is the only game released by the author, and Plumbous is just a fancy Latin way of saying lead. The game itself is unremarkable at first glance, sounding like Defender with atomic waste. The manual even says it like its a generic kind of game.
The game, my guy in the upper right, enemy ship on the left
The story, such as it is, is that aliens are raiding a planet and exposing all the atomic waste buried underground. Not even to steal it, they're just unburying it. There's no reason for this, they're just being dicks. Did the author just like the general concept? Because I can't see this being a too effective anti-nuclear message. Seems to me like a more interesting way of handling this would be to have the aliens dumping their atomic waste on the planet, but then you couldn't have the weird title.

Taking out one of many

After starting the game up, some confusion resulted from figuring out where the emulated computer's start and select buttons, I am greeted to a simple screen. A ship slowly moves towards me, my movement is simple. I move, and shoot at the ship. A noise rings out. My ear drums, despite accustomed to years of heavy metal music, scream out in pain. I have successfully destroyed the ship. Another one arrives. I shoot that one. Another noise rings out, though I do not notice because the neighbor's dogs have started howling in terror.

Another part of the level
Exaggerations aside, this is a bad game, and I do mean BAD game. The noise is one part, but this is the complete package. For a while I just thought I would be shooting at one enemy that constantly respawns. For a while before that I thought I was missing something in the other parts of the map, but no, its really small and all that's on-screen is really all there is. This is hardly fit to be called an asteroid. You don't even get a good scrolling speed, you scroll slowly whenever you're practically at the edge of the screen.
The crypts have been breached
The difficulty selection changes how many lives you have, how much fuel you have (?) and how fast the game goes. Curiously, everything increases as the settings go up. From a cakewalk on the medium difficulty to difficult on the hardest difficulty. I suspect I could get a pretty good kill count on the highest if I wanted to, but I don't and I wish to be elsewhere for now.

Weapons:
A simple blaster. 1/10

Enemies:
Generic enemies that conveniently know to stay away from your blaster. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
I've never crashed against a wall in a Defender-style game before. 0/10

Player Agency:
It generally works, but there are issues. It controls a bit stiffly and you can't reach the top of the screen. Further, there is that issue with scrolling and it just doesn't feel smooth. 2/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
None.

Graphics:
On one hand, while I don't care for moving around it, I liked the look of the level. On the other, the enemies and the ship are the most generic single color things I have ever seen. 1/10

Story:
None in-game.

Sound/Music:
I know I usually gloss over sounds from this era, but this is truly ear rendering. 0/10

Let's subtract a point for the whole Plumbous experience, finishing with a total of 4.

Normally I don't feel negatively against an early game like this, but this is a special case. Don't play this, just don't. Its not even as a case study. This is truly awful.

There will not be an Ultima Underworld post this week because I'm trying to tie up some loose ends in that game and its taking longer than I thought. Instead there will be three 1982 titles, including this one.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Bestial Warrior

Looks suspiciously like Duke Nukem, I wonder if that's because its a generic design or if there's something to this
Name:Bestial Warrior
Number:112
Year:1989
Publisher:Dinamic Software
Developer:Zeus Software
Genre:Side-Scroller
Difficulty:5/5
Time:40 minutes

I feel like its time to try something out of chronology. Bestial Warrior is one of many games from Spanish publishing house Dinamic Software, and one of many action games from Spanish developers Zeus Software, who had a few games published by Dinamic, but not exclusively so. I admittedly don't know much about the Spanish market, but I can spot a title of theirs a mile off, they're the only western market with a significant number of MSX games. In this rough time period, you have the MSX, the Amstrad CPC, and the ZX Spectrum. I think at some point in the 93-95 period they switched to Amigas, but not enough for a considerable market, at least to my knowledge

This is indeed how I played the entire game, I don't know the mechanic workings of the CPC, but I suspect this has something to do with its hi-res mode
Also, finally playing something on the Amstrad CPC. Its a miracle! Its smooth, its better looking than EGA, and sound is okay. Its a per-screen platformer rather than the more standard smooth-scrolling one. Otherwise fairly standard, move with the arrow keys, or whatever you define them as in-game, an gun with infinite ammo to shoot. Works well. Reasonable speed, responsive. Slight issues with jumping, but I'm going to chalk that up to the short length I played the game.
Where the game fails, is of course as soon as enemies are on-screen. Infinitely respawning hordes of enemies that charge you as soon as possible. Doesn't help that my emulator doesn't pause whenever I'm doing something in the menus, and of course the screenshot button is some convoluted process. There's a reason why I rebind my DOSbox screenshot key to home and other emulators whenever possible, its less obnoxious that way.
Note the life on the left
But yes, its one of those games. Where the goal isn't to deal with enemies by killing them. Its just about surviving. Identify which enemies are the ones that will kill you first, and hope that you have enough health to get past the others til the end of the stage. There are weapon powerups scattered throughout the level. These increase the amount of shots you can have on-screen by one. Each time you die, it lowers by one. Other power-ups are lives, level exit keys and something that causes everything on-screen to disappear.
A typical screen after the first three
My big issue is that despite having the outward appearance of an interesting game, this is awful. You shoot one enemy and it will respawn. Shoot an enemy at its spawn point, and you might as well not have shot it. There is an enemy limit, so the gameplay is all about prioritizing which enemies to shoot so that ones behind you will spawn. And you have to figure this out while advancing. Basically, a game that's been padded out by making the whole thing obscenely difficult. No saving, do it all in one go with however many lives you can find.
This worked reasonably on the first level, but the second level tries to open things up, and this is where things go south. Having to fight to survive is workable if I'm not really working too hard on the overall surroundings of the game. Not only do I have to figure out the layout of the level now, I also have to deal with sections that are partially underwater. You can't shoot underwater and the enemies introduced in this section are the very deadly kind. The only way this would be worth playing through is if you only had this to play through.
Hordes of flying drones trying to impede my progress
The exact moment I lost all motivation to play this game

Weapons:
The weapon mechanic of getting on more on-screen shot per power is interesting. It would be nice to see it used in a better game. 2/10

Enemies:
A lot of varied and sometimes well-animated, they basically all follow you and then drain your health by a certain amount. 2/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
Attempts were made at making it look interesting, but it doesn't really help the game in any way. 0/10

Player Agency:
Very smooth, no complaints whatsoever for a simple shooter without aiming. 4/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
None.

Graphics:
Despite looking nice, everything is small, and I can barely read the font. Doesn't help that the text is in Spanish too. 2/10

Story:
You are a super soldier, something needs killing, kill it. No in-game story. 0/10

Sound/Music:
Your standard blips and bloops. 1/10
 

That's 11. There's some mildly dark humor in playing a game from a later year than usual and it ending up being the exact same thing as usual.

It doesn't seem like it made much of an impact back in the day. Outside of Spain all the systems it was released on were winding down or not released at all, so those still stuck with either system were probably just grateful it came around at all.


Monday, March 21, 2022

Ultima Underworld: Paragon of Virtue

South turned out to be in the main office, which was west of the entrance. Joining up with the knight order is tricky, because its a dialog puzzle. Say the wrong thing and you'll have to get someone to sponsor you into the knight order. Most of these are obvious, some are not. For this I am asked to find the writ of Lorne.
I also ask him about the Talismans and he tells me what all 8 are. A book, a bottle of wine, a shield and sword, a taper, a standard, a cup and a ring. The taper being a candle and the standard is a military flag. Each one is imbued with a virtue, and one achieves that virtue in both the seeking and the finding. Now where do I go?
Trying to open a chest with a little percussive lockpicking, didn't work

Without any other real options, I try jumping up some of those waterfalls. I succeed, despite taking damage, and all I see up here is just a chest and a few new monsters. Guess all that's here really is two camps and a banquet hall. Well, since the only places I can explore are the knight camp and the troll camp, downstairs it is. Something tells me the trolls aren't going to be to friendly to me now.

Ultima Underworld is just the kind of game where you have to check before stabbing something

There's seemingly even less to do on the 5th floor than there was on the 4th. From the stairs there are two paths, one leading to a camp, and a long winding corridor leading to a dead end. Ah, guess that inspired a few Wolfenstein 3D levels. And what is in the camp but ghouls? Not like Fallout where they're using a standard term to describe something that isn't quite the standard. Ghouls, if you don't know, are Arabic mythological undead who eat corpses. You know, what we today would call a zombie. Quite the collection of friendlies we've started picking up here today, fellas. What's next, my friend the necromancer? And this ghoul's a tailor too.

This does remind me of a mediocre band I once listened to, can't even remember anything about it beyond being funk and relating to bad brain (but not the band Bad Brains)
Exploring around some more, and I end up meeting the leader of the ghouls. She'll tell me where the big troll took the baron's daughter if I help her with a ghoul who ate bad brains. Not beating around that bush. Sure am glad to be helping out my fellow sentients. There's definitely a reasonable point to be made that moralizing traditionally fodder monsters doesn't really work out that well. I mean, I already know that they eat other sentients' brains. These may be humans who degenerated into cannibals, but the point still stands.

Since they can and presumably do still talk to each other, shouldn't their language skills not have degenerated this much
Anyway, I tell the ghoul leader to make a trap so she can find the ghoul who gave out the bad brains. The troll went down to the wizard. Didn't I already know this? Eh. Exploring more, since I have yet to find the path down, I talk to another ghoul. Who tells me their backstory. It seems that once they were normal humans who turned to cannibalism after the abyss was sealed. Slightly less questionable than before. He also tells me that he used to be a flutist and that he can teach me how to play Cabirus's favorite tune should I find a flute. And another ghoul who for ten fish will tell me the combination to the mine dispatch chamber. I don't even know what the hell the point of it is, but I'm sure its important.
I feel like there's very little effort needed to make a ghost scary-looking, and yet most people fail at doing that, this is not one of those cases

After that, I seem to find my way out of the camp. This floor is on the mazy side, and by the time I realize I'm out of the area I'm already fighting a hostile ghoul. Yeah, figures. Then a hostile ghost. Who I can somehow stab with my sword. On one hand, I shouldn't complain, on the other, what's the point of a ghost then?

Its here somewhere
It doesn't take before I end up fighting another ghoul, and he's joined by a black ghost. Its awfully weird how many enemies this shares with Pathways into Darkness. Awfully weird, not that you can really copyright a black ghost or a ghoul. The beauty of this encounter is almost destroyed by my health getting dangerously low. So I retreat, once again back up to the 2nd floor. Clearly, this is just going to get more and more tedious, so I decide to try finding anything else on the 3rd floor. There's gotta be another fountain, right?
I feel like a lot of screenshots in this entry are becoming, spot what's wrong here?
There were a lot of potential locations for the hidden fountain, but it seemed to me that the most likely locations were in the northwest or southeast. No dice. After the southeast location I found myself near the friendly bandits. Hey, maybe there's a hidden door here. Because the developers were probably banking on a player acting like the Avatar and not gutting them. I do try being friendly with them, but they get ticked off regardless and afterward I can search the whole place. It isn't until I'm checking the map afterwards that I notice this secret door. Guess they're getting better at hiding them.
Still, all this is just a treasure room. The only thing I got out of this was a few more swords and some XP. And no closer to uncovering more of this floor. You know, I didn't know how annoying this engine makes it to search for secret doors. Wall distortion at the edges of the screen means you have to look directly at each wall in order to check, and hoping that you can walk through a wall is worse. I don't know if I mentioned it before specifically, but you walking against walls here is weird, like Highlander - Last of the MacLeods*. If you walk dead into a wall, you stop, but if you go at an angle, you turn until you no longer face the wall. It was a nice thought, but it doesn't work well.
*Why, yes, I went there. Funny how vast the comparisons one could make of this game are. From RPGs, to TPSes to FPSes to survival horror games. Truly, anyone can find something out of this game.
Its out of place too, clearly its some kind of secret
A couple of times through the level, and I notice something in the southeast. A wall that doesn't cause a "You can't use this" message. I can't move through it, or open it or even damage it. I think I'll fireball it but I don't have the runes for that. How do I not have the runes for one of the most basic spells in any game? Well, I don't know what else I could possibly do here, so I guess I'll come back when I have that. I guess instead I'll try to find a fountain on the 4th floor, and I begin by searching the knight camp.
One of the knights talking about the olden days
At first, all I find here is more info. I'm the first new person down here in a while, as in, down on the 4th floor. There are also a lot of notes for a maze, that doesn't seem to be on this floor. But there's also a backdoor out. Where does this lead? Why, to a knight who tried to take out the chaos knight and is currently resting. As per the rules of our order, we can't all attack at once, so one was sent. The chaos knight snuck up on him and as a result he was lucky to escape with his life. Who's going to help him out? Why, the new blood...assuming his level is high enough.
Not sure what's so chaos about living in harmony with wildlife, even if it is vermin
The chaos knight turns out to actually be in the northernmost part of the map, you can't reach it at all without going through a camp in the south. He's surrounded by mellow wildlife, except for some worms that are hostile. He takes a trip to the fountain midway, but he's beatable. He drops a jeweled sword and a key. Hang on, a fancy sword? Didn't this guy go mad? I wonder if its cursed? I think I'll leave it for now.
Can you spot what's wrong here?

Rather than go back to the wounded knight, I decide to examine some secret doors behind the guy. Yeah, two of them, and as you can see we're actually getting into secret territory. I was tipped off in this case because of my map. More effective than any points in detect secret. What's amusing is that this is a secret door, into a locked door, and inside this area is another secret door. Possibly containing the cup of virtue, I don't really have a reason to get such things yet.

On the other side is a sign that says "Great Staircase" that leads nowhere and another passage with two levers and two buttons leading to a lake. Hmm, you know, I think this game is limited exclusively to lever puzzles. I would guess that this is supposed to lower a platform on the other side, but nothing seems to do anything. I can come back later anyway.

Though maybe they could have called them headless trolls
The banquet hall also leads into the troll area. I say troll area and it starts off pretty empty. I open up a door and suddenly headless start pouring out. Why do trolls have the undead here? Oh, wait a minute, headless trolls! I get it. Two interesting things happen here. Firstly, I get to level 12, which took as about as long as the previous levels combined, and somehow despite having a good chunk of life left, I got killed. It was a while since I last saved, so I just rolled with it.
The descriptions of enemies, despite being useful, borders on absurdly obvious at times
After walking back, and taking out the last headless, I head to the next room. Luckily I don't walk straight through after opening it, because its a drop onto pavement. Gotta love that ol' gag. Seems like the troll's half of this area is mostly divided into areas with the hostile kind. I find a "feral" troll in the southwestern door, he's easier than the last bunch. Another troll and I find some more magic items. You know, I'm finding these things quite useless. There are just enough potions and plenty enough fountains that its not really worth holding onto, and I'm finding magic useless enough that the complex quasi-Dungeon Master system feels pointless.
I would think it wouldn't matter if I had a recipe or not, but what do I know?

Finally, a friendly troll. Ah, worm stew, guess that's come back to actually matter. I thought I would need it to make peace, no, I just need it to please a random troll. This is just another thing I'm going to come back to later, since I don't know how important this is. Meanwhile, the quest for the writ goes well, I just needed to give the one guy who doesn't remember my name a red gem and I can enter a shrine. This, along with having slain the chaos knight, gets me some sweet stuff from the head knight, and grants me full knighthood.
At this point, it occurs to me that maybe the levers and buttons I don't know the use of are related to the door that drops down into the room. No dice, but since its the only place left I start to explore it. And after killing some skeletons, I find a secret door to a path where I just was. Guess there really is nothing else I can do here now.

Ah, yes, how romantic, staring into lava
Downstairs, I find myself fighting a bunch of poisonous spiders. Gotten pretty good at dodging their attacks. The section down from the banquet hall consists mostly of areas with vermin to clear out. Well, vermin and spiders. Lots of vast and long hallways that look impressive because you have a sight range of around 10 feet. The south eventually breaks into the lava river that the ghouls live near, and with it, a strange woman in a robe. Incidentally, the lava river looks kind of crap in this engine, since every square a certain distance away warps in, since it isn't always there.
Judy...wait, that random wall scribbling isn't related to a bandit and actually effects something? Huh, I would have thought this would be like Ween: The Prophecy and it was something that happened a long time ago. Well, one member of the romantic pair is dead, and the living one wants me to find the photograph of her dead loved one. Wait...photograph? Are you kidding me?
I end this session by finding myself talking to another mage. This one wants to be able to mine a rare material found in this section of the abyss. The only issue is that I need to convince the mining ghoul to tell us how to operate the machine. I guess I did need that spare fishing pole. Guess I'm off to finish the first fishing mini-game sidequest. Now there's something I never wanted to say.

This Session: 2 hours 30 minutes

Total Time: 8 hours 15 minutes

Friday, March 18, 2022

Marauder

Name:Marauder
Number:111
Year:1982
Publisher:Sierra
Developer:Rorke Weigandt
Genre:Side-Scroller
Difficulty:2/5
Time:30 minutes

Here's something unusual, an action game from one of the guys who would program Time Zone, AKA the biggest and most expensive text adventure ever released. Those, alas, are his only two credits. Both in the same year, so something tells me burnout was a part of it. According to Mobygames, three, but the Atari 2600 version of this game is in a different entry. There's apparently something missing from that. I shall be playing the Atari 8-bit version. The plot, such as it is, is that the player is infiltrating an alien base, destroying their power plant, and then everything repeats.

I'm the thing in the upper left
At least that's how its described. How it plays out in the Atari Computer version is that you can select one of two games. The first is a sort of reverse Missile Command, destroying a shield, weapons and then flying into a base. Its actually kind of fun. There's some laser beam cannons, homing attacks, and the exact sort of missiles they use in Missile Command. There's two problems, the first is that pressing keys on the numpad pauses the game, and I'm using the numpad instead of a joystick; Secondly, each game just loops.

Its the sort of thing that would have been amazing in the arcades, but here controls kind of badly. You don't really move well, or fast. After about the fourth loop, I found it too difficult to continue at about this point. Too many enemy attacks for me to dodge with what I have. There wasn't really anything more that could be done with the concept. By the second loop the shield was rotating, and since the game doesn't add any enemies, the only way more is for more attacks to be thrown at the player.

An enemy could be in any of the areas I don't have a visible range for

Game two is basically your standard single stick shooter at this point. You get one shot on-screen at a time. What's interesting is that enemies are invisible if you don't have a direct line of sight. They only move, however, if they've spotted you, so long as you avoid that you can avoid looking at them, you can safely bypass them. Enemy shots can be shot and can also hit and kill their allies. Navigate through the maze to find the core, shoot that, and everything starts over again. The layout doesn't change so you can go straight there pretty quickly.
The core, pre-destruction
Its fun for what it is, but I saw everything both games had to offer quickly. Even for the era this game feels lacking. I think the flaw, oddly enough, is that there's an end objective rather than a true endless loop. The accomplishment feels hollow. The games don't even loop into each other, just the same one endlessly. Neither of the two games are really best at what they could do, either. I would feel like I didn't get much value for money if I bought this at period prices.

Weapons:
Generic laser. 1/10

Enemies:
A set of generic enemies. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
A couple of clever chances in the first game, generic maze in the second. 2/10

Player Agency:
It works well, but not particularly well. 4/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
None.

Graphics:
Simple B&W, no complaints or compliments. 2/10

Story:
None.

Sound/Music:
Generic blips and bloops. 1/10

That's 11. About average for 1982 at this point. Its main claim to fame is the visibility thing in game 2. Its so widespread these days I forgot that it was actually an accomplishment once upon a time. I don't think its the first game to do such a thing though.

I don't know why I'm still worried about 1982. I might have found more games for the year, but I'm cutting quite a few. So far its really hitting the Tandy CoCo and Apple II games.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Ultima Underworld: Cultural Differences

Why this place, as opposed to all the people who presumably haven't bathed for a while?
Floor 3 is much like floor 2 starting off, a corridor outside the stairs up. One way leads area with more poison worms. Of all the enemies to become reoccurring, its these. They were guarding, for a lack of a better word, a body of water, with another octopus in it. The room started off by giving me a message of a funny smell, so I guess that's related to all the items near the octopus. He doesn't really want to fight me, running away like a coward, so I take what I want of those items.

The clouds are a nice touch
The other way leads to a scroll on the ground, I try to look at it only to get a magic sight spell activated. Huh. Then I see a grey flying imp, or a mongbat. Some abomination or another. Funny, its blood is grey, must be a statue or something. Continuing to explore the area I find a river that very strongly reminds me of one of the later levels in Shadowcaster. I'm probably going to be the only person on the planet to make that comparison. Take out a few gray octopus and continue exploring. Something goes by my head. Its another gazer. Yep, he's as hard as the last one. Except he's gray...wait, that spell must change the color of things to gray. Oh, well, I die and reload.

Considering I didn't die after pulling the lever, this is terrible environmental design
On my second attempt through, I realize the mongbat is a flying monkey. The only thing here that isn't in danger of that gazer is a lever that does...something and a teleporter. So I guess I have to take out that octopus on the other side. That place turns out to be very fruitful, because a little ways down is some very nice armor and killing a second octopus gets me to level 9. This does provoke an interesting question as to when I should return to floor 2 to remove those remaining few high level enemies. Since I had to restore my health anyway, I try it, only to once again get practically slaughtered. Good, just what I need.

As I learn later, Bica is a general purpose greeting/goodbye, which some real language I forgot does
I continue exploring the river. Its pretty handy taking out those octopi now left and right. Seems like my only effective method of gaining experience. Speaking of that, I'm at 906 now, so does that mean that when I get to 1000 I get level 10? Well, there's only one way to find out. After I talk to this mellow lizardman. And I screw it up. I figured from the way he was talking was, "hello, human yes", then "Are you with the green lizardmen?" (Hey, its how its worked out so far) Only that offended him. Reload.

To be fair this is every RPG with wandering NPCs
From what I can tell, there seems to be a pretty big interior to this river. Only, all the doors leading here are seemingly locked. I finally find one that isn't locked, and it contains an upset lizardman. And close. There's a bridge across the water here. What's on the other side? A woman who won't let me click on her. LET ME CLICK. Oh, she's an upset bandit. Well, at least I can talk to her. Or him, he's very effeminate.  He tells me to shove off after I ask him about the baron's daughter and I do so. Not much point in trying anything further.
Mumbling Wizard would be a good band name

A little more ways down the river, seems like the thing surrounds a central isle here, I find a gray lizardman. He's also mellow, and better yet, he speaks English...or common or whatever it is I'm supposed to be speaking in-universe. He can't tell me anything about his language, apparently his order is forbidden to do that, but he does tell me about other things. Apparently there's a wizard around here trying to fix the talisman sword, and he'll tell me more about it if I find his leader, who is lost. Guess a magic sword is one of the 8 talismans.

In a nice touch, he uses the same kind of attacks I do

But being still at level 9, I don't have complete freedom here. And I was wrong, maybe I need 1100 for level 10? I just continue down the river, mopping up whatever I can kill, staying away from the lizardmen so I don't end up offending them. I encounter a hostile bandit at one point, too strong for me. There's a puzzle involving buttons, and the puzzle is really just looking in the opposite corner for the sequence to press. That takes me behind the bandit that didn't automatically want to kill me. I find the stairs down here, so I circle back. Only, to find another set of stairs up, this set leading behind the dwarf king. Needed a key to unlock this door. All right, back in business...uh, now what?
See, while I have explored more, I've also found a lot more areas where I need another level before fully exploring. I guess I still have more river, but you can't fight off those octopi without being on ground. Don't really have another option though.

How long has it been?
This turns out to be the right way to go. I find some items on the ground next to a poison rat. There's a book mentioning that the sword hilt is somewhere in the southeast...and a scroll with a message to the lizardman leader. Uh-oh. I return to the named gray lizardman. He didn't even make it that far from their place. The guy is sad about it, and tells me that the wizard the next floor down has the other half.
In a twist of irony, I actually got the right path the first time, without understanding anything. Go figure
No, not 1100 either. One time I really need a level up and I'm not getting it. But I do hit upon something very important, a human who can translate for me. Sure, he's mute and has to communicate non-verbally, and also wrongly accused of stealing food and killing one of the lizardman. Now, admittedly, instead of doing the right thing and writing everything down myself, I'm instead going to be using a guide to the lizardman language online. After giving the lizardman 5 pieces of food, he lets the human go, and all I get for it really is a fuzzy feeling inside. Because I'm the Avatar, a paragon of virtue. Meh.
The map of this level, the I maze reach later is in the upper half of the "island"

This newfound knowledge doesn't really seem to be helping me much. I don't really care for trading and it seems that the lizardman jailer is one of the few named lizardmen around. I have been getting more spell runes, but so far I don't see much reason to experiment with them. The attack spell I could use at the beginning was not really worth the effort and my mana pool is better directed towards light, and should the need arise, food. I also find the second stairs down, not too far from the area I assume is a kind of lizardman village.

Jackpot
Without any real idea of how to proceed, I decide to return to a fountain. I mistake where the stairs up were and instead go down. This turns out to have been a good move, because down on floor 4 are skeletons and I can take out skeletons. They drop swords too, so any equipment woes for me are long gone. Lots of bags on the floor here, including one containing a note to a troll I imagine kidnapped the baron's daughter. Well, let's just try to avoid those guys for now.

The friendly NPCs of the Ultima series, trolls
Ah, the banner, must be a town. Hmm, something threw bones at me, that's new. Is it a trap? Its a very bad one if it is. Oh...trolls...uh-oh. Well, they're mellow. I talk to one. I can say what I'm doing here is "Looking for trolls to kill". Not sure on the details of Ultima's religion, but I'm pretty sure the Avatar committing suicide by troll isn't part of the virtues. I just say I'm exploring and decide to get out of here for now. Anyway, the point is mostly moot, after a little more exploring I reach 1200 XP and level 10.

My grieves are getting a beating despite my level

I take this opportunity to get some skills at a shrine, this time taking mantras off an internet guide. Seriously, screw this skill system. I am indeed now capable of taking out the headless...however, they're a bit of a chore to take out. One thing of note in combat, the different attacks, that is, high, middle low, each definitely have different changes of dealing damage, because I can only really hurt these headless with low attacks.

I was starting to think they weren't real
Clearing all those things out, I notice there's still something I can't reach in this part of the dungeon. Aha, this must be where the blueprints are. So I get up high, quaff the levitation potion, and see inside. There's some other stuff, like a rock hammer, I put mine down to upgrade my armor earlier, but mostly just the blueprints. I go back, give the dwarf his blueprints, and all I get is the knowledge I did a good deed and another levitation potion. So basically no real point.

Its nice finally being able to take some of these guys out
The gazer too, falls to my blade. I return to the mountain king and once again get the knowledge of a deed well done. And call him a dwarf, which offends him. Wasn't expecting the more verbose option to be an insult, nice touch. I get a password and an amulet from him. The password is to enter the Mountainman treasure vault. Not really sure if I should, since it seems very unavatar-like to do so.

Who are Tom and Judy, anyway?
Bandits are now vulnerable to me, but they're actually still a worthy challenge. A rewarding one too, the first one I killed dropped a longsword. This opens up another maze. Lots of stuff I don't have a use for right now, but I do find a key and a note that the thieves hideout is in a storage room. I also find a fighter named Zak who collects light sources and is afraid of the dark. Got a lot of XP now, close to 1600, guess that superfast level advancement has tapered off.
An unusual screen when looking at a "window"

Over the course of the level I've picked up two new keys. Which seems to fit the theme going on in the game so far, each floor there are two keys. These two keys aren't unlocking a lot of doors, mostly just what seem to be lizardmen personal rooms. I do get another quest, one wants a flawless ruby. Guess there is a reason to be on the lookout for those gems. Curiously, I seem to be fighting skeletons here in places I've already cleared out. Other than finding the bandit leader and barely avoiding annoying him, there doesn't seem to be anything else to do here.

Time for floor 4 properly. Hmm, it looks like there was quite a bit of fighting here. Outside of the seemingly numerous towns I'm avoiding for now, I meet a fisherman, who offers me his spare fishing rod. Nothing seemingly in exchange, but then, I didn't really want it. It starts off seemingly like there isn't much of value here, and I very quickly find a path down.

Its much nicer compared to the...ahem..."feral" goblins on the higher floors
But then I meet another outcast, this one definitely guilty of his crime, but I sweet talk him into giving some information. The trolls and the knights here hate each other, dating back to the days when Sir Cabirus was alive. While there's an uneasy peace now, it could be destroyed with little effort on my part. There's also a rogue knight north. I figure that's where I should go next...and what north The only place north of here leads to a bunch of lizardmen or is the stairs down. The paths continuing forward are limited to the stairs, two paths I need a potion for, or the villages.
Clearly, they knew these fellows were unhelpful
Picking the troll village, the trolls, shockingly, are not very helpful. The first one I can ask about any topic, but trying to ask him about the baron's daughter is an exercise in futility. Another wants to call me Rodriguez. The game is trolling me, it seems, but whether that's intentional or a happy accident I do not know. He'll open some kind of door for me, but he wants a bribe. Great.
I'll just tunnel through the wall, don't worry, won't take me but a hundred years
The knight village is better from a certain point of view. The first person I talk to asks me if I'm a fighter, I say sometimes, and she gets me to join their order. She tells me to meet their leader, south of their encampment. Hmm, south, I think, checking my map. I'm at the southern most part of the map. I can't get any more south. This is as good a time to stop as any, considering that the game is now actively screwing with me.

Combat and indeed exploration has turned into a relatively simple task. Just walk around, if a non-hostile NPC is in the way, let him walk through. They do take their sweet time though. Whenever a fight happens, just hammer the dude, if my weapon is consistently getting damaged, reload, otherwise keep hammering. Repeat this until health is around 20 points, then retreat to the nearest fountain. Magic seems like it would require a ton of resting and thus food. (though this is a self-solving problem) Ranged combat is pointless and with the weight limit, impossible without dropping most of my non-combat gear. This isn't a dungeon crawler you play for the combat...or puzzles...I'm not really sure what it is that makes it fun, but it is fun.

This Session: 2 hours 35 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours 45 minutes