Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Sleeping Gods Lie: Introduction

1989 finishes off with a game from a source of personal infamy, Oxford Digital Enterprises, who you might remember were responsible for The Hunt for Red October, a submarine game that I managed to completely break. It was presumably a source of infamy for the developer too, since they didn't get paid for it. That's not to say they didn't do anything of value, but for this blog? Nothing. I can see they did an adaptation of Macbeth that looks interesting, along with an adaptation of Yes, Minister, back when political sims weren't a dime a dozen.
As such I'm not actually missing anything from their catalog chronologically. The only other titles of theirs I'll be covering will be later tank sims. The question is, will this be better than the last game? Like I said, that was a very easy game to break. And it seems like the staff responsible for making that game are here. Its kind of hard to tell, since no one is credited for actually programming/designing that game, just making it for various computers. Perhaps even they knew they had a game that would only survive by its license.
Sleeping Gods Lie comes to us quite unusually, no one seems to agree on what it is. It is an action title, that much is agreed upon, mostly. It is a 3D game, a primitive untextured one. But is it a RPG or an adventure game in addition? It seems compared to other awkward early FPS Galactic Empire, people have actually played Sleeping Gods Lie. A Russian source that is right 99% of the time says that its a RPG, but I'm going to not hold judgement on this aspect til the end of the game.
The quite extensive backstory is mentioned at the back of the box, the in-game intro and the manual, but I'm going to summarize the lot of them.
Long ago in the beginning, about 7,000 years ago, there were 17 old gods. We know this, for every religion has that number, though they disagree on the specifics, even the religions long since eliminated by previous rulers. They were the ones who created the world, Tessera, a strange place consisting of 8 kingdoms further divided into several smaller sections in a cuboid shape. (The game has 94 landscapes, but that's probably just abstraction) They remained here for 2,000 years. Humanity thrived, for a time, before the kingdoms fell apart. Eventually, a Rome-like empire was formed, by the great imperator Toran I. He does a great many things for the kingdoms, including taking credit for the time system.
This works mostly decent for nearly 3000 years. Political in-fighting abounds, all that fun stuff, but the kingdoms hold. Until today, with the reign of Sartor II. For a reason the backstory doesn't explain, he is not in control as much as an engimatic figure called the Archmage. He and his henchmen have ruined an already plague-infested countryside with his vicious rule. So much so that the player character regularly receives leaflets proclaiming the author's intent to take out the Archmage, and when he hears a thumping at his door, he assumes the henchmen of the Archmage are after him.
But they're not. Its a Kobbold, one of the old creatures who were once fundamental to the trade of Tessera, who lies dying outside the player's door. It seems they have been seeking to awaken the sleeper, N'Gnir, another old god, and they needed a device to do it. It seems demons killed him, and the three other of his race who went to get it. He places a bangle, inlaid with jade, in the player's hands. When the player asks where the sleeper is, he says "Hermit..." and dies. So begins Sleeping Gods Lie.

I should note the game has its own invented time system. The number of old gods is actually important, because 17 is how many days in a month, and months in a year. Each day consists of 12 hours, 3 night, 9 day. This is in addition to all the usual renamed months you'd expect out of a fantasy game. What's curious is that the names of the old gods are the names of months, so the game might very well change it on me suddenly. It might be annoying as hell, but its also a cool bit of world-building. The worlds also have some weird cuboid shape that you can only switch between faces if you're walking through a gate. Probably all just some way to cheap out on the time keeping half, but still kind of cool. I am curious if there's some part of the in-game world where N'Gnir is one of the months, but we'll see.
The game also makes sure to point out that there are always just 17 old gods in every religion, while also not including N'Gnir in the main pantheon. Toran I is credited for the calender, but the game points out that the old gods created time, and that such a calender was used 200 years before he was credited for it. He is credited for the year system, which is a simple BC/AD kind of system, with the old gods creating the world at 4200 AI, and the present day being 2963 PI. Ante and Post Imperium.
For some reason, I must admit I'm intrigued by the story. It seems cliche, but something about it seems more interesting than the usual stuff.
I feel like I should get a choice in whether or not I pick up tiny stones
The in-game intro takes the form of a book which knows all events, which I have already summarized, and then the game begins. There's no sign of the bangle, and no sign of the Kobbold. My house is very empty, containing some pebbles, shurikens and an empty bowl. Scenery objects are a chair and a...uh, engraved painting that I'm sure there's some word for. I'd show you that, but its a highly artistic piece, if you know what I mean. My house contains two doors, one south, which is locked, because I lost the key, and one north.
The control scheme is a cross between the later standard FPS controls and the more complex RPG-style mouse controls. Whatever you use, be it the mouse, the keyboard or the joystick, moves a cursor around the screen. Hitting the edges of the screen causes you to move or turn in that direction. I don't think you can turn and move at the same time, or at the very least doing so is awkward. I used the mouse. Shooting is done by pressing the left mouse button. You can cycle through weapons, with F2, but it is worth noting that you can't cycle through ammo, whichever is the strongest, that's what you're using.
This is no adventure game, I should point out. I feel like if that is to be true of a game it has to have some way of interacting with things beyond bumping into things. A use function at the very least. No idea if shooting things is an option yet, but this isn't like the Freescape engine games where the weapon is really just an extension of a use button. You'll see a couple of puzzles soon enough, but items are all picked up by walking over them. The player has to sleep, and can do so with F1. There are supposed to be dialog options, but I didn't encounter that yet.
The starting area is Calia, your typical green-filled starting area. Outside is a simple, flat-planed square world that's mostly one color, with lines indicating roads, and a skybox. Nice skybox! Everything consists of sprites, well-animated ones. Even doors to other areas consist of sprites. And one thing becomes quickly apparent, this game is slightly slow. My character is not a fast one. Its not a bad little control scheme, just lacking compared to later ones.
I know art doesn't pay the bills, but this is ridiculous
Pretty soon I meet my first enemy, the kind that seem to be all over this area. Bandits, so shown by their seemingly renaissance-style clothing and blonde hair. Enemies are clever for 1989, he does the expected running back and forth as he approaches me, while throwing his stones, but if he reaches me or if I damage him enough, he'll start retreating. If I'm not mistaken, that's actually the first time the later aspect has appeared in a FPS, though sometimes RPGs have that. Oh, yeah, you get experience for killing enemies, which seems to be gradually increasing the amount of stamina I have, a cross-between health and stamina, because attacking and getting hit drain it. I also have magic power, which is a mystery as of now.
Items aren't too plentiful, but enemies drop more pebbles, so pretty soon I'm doing fine in that regard. Occasionally I find food, which is only useful for restoring stamina. Sound consists of combat sounds. The only music was in the intro, otherwise its pretty silent. That's one of two issues I have so far, the other is that the flatness of the world feels like it ruins the mystique of the game somewhat. Basically making the game just walking around hoping to find something on the ground, as anything of actual interest is fairly obvious. On the other hand, there's no real difficulty...yet.

After doing this a bit, I find a hermit, Arun. He's willing to help me in an unspecified way if I find his map. I wonder if I can do anything with that, but probably not. The game implies I should be mapping, but the game area seems simple enough and time doesn't seem to be limited.

A not very intelligent-looking dog thing
So to travel to other areas, one has to walk into the edges of the map that have sprites on them. Sometimes these are guarded, other times there's a sign where a door should be. Walking on the edge of the map always causes the screen to slowly light up. At the start, I have the way back home, a strange dog thing guarding one, and one unguarded one. This leads to a swamp that looks suspiciously the same as the area around my home.
Its here that I find the key to my back door...which is done in a somewhat obtuse way. The game says its in a molehill, but implies I didn't get it out, especially by having a little voice laugh in the description. But I did get it out. My exploration of this area gets me a sling, dropped by a renaissance painter/bandit, and a pouch of renewal, which I guess healed me.
I can tell my magic power is slowly regenerating, but it doesn't really seem to be rising in general

Returning home just gives me the option to go through southern Calia. I decide to do this later and instead take out the dog thing I noticed earlier. Success! It takes a few pebbles, but he goes down. He drops a circlet of supreme concentration. Bit early for supreme items, but it doesn't seem like its done anything. There's surprisingly a bit to the combat in this game, in that if you know what it is you're looking at, you can take them out at a much longer distance than they can. The dog-thing doesn't really move around much, so I can quite easily remove him as a problem from a distance. As of yet the only differences between weapons seems to be damage and range, they're all single shot weapons you wait to reload.

This leads me to another area, this one with a building. Here bandits start dropping lead shot, which deals more damage and more shurikens, which my original 4 have long since been used. Not considerably more, as they still take 2-3 shots to take out, but its a slight increase. I also can't remember where I picked it up, but one dropped a sling staff. Which at first I think is just resulting in a flat damage increase, but turns out to slowly increase the number of pebbles I have.
You can tell its important because its actually in my inventory

The big structure here is the bandit camp, which has bread, a leather tunic, and most importantly, moldy cheese. Though that's not obvious right away. What next? Well, I can return home to rest, but its actually earlier than I think, as the night hours are the last 3. Further exploration of the area then. All food items seem to just be used upon acquiring it, be it something I find in a bandit cave or taken off a tree or something. They restore stamina, which also restores on its own, while magic power, the one on the right, seems to be doing everything it decides on its own.

So I find a strange red thing in the distance. Feeling successful after having killed the dog thing earlier, I saunter over to it...only to discover I have accidentally solved a puzzle. In a text box, I throw the moldy cheese, and the giant rodent eats it. Its a giant red mouse. Okay, I guess I'll walk in then. This puts into question the adventure game claims, because its entirely possible that you wouldn't notice that this is a puzzle. Perhaps the dog thing was a puzzle too. Nevertheless, this leads to the southern Calia area, the place my back door leads to.

More bandits and walking around. I'm still enjoying it. Nothing much interesting here, except what appears to be a lake and...I have a bowl full of water. No, this isn't an adventure game, I would have to use the bowl on the water in order for that to be true. There's no real interactivity, you just walk into things and suddenly good things happen. I still have a little time to kill, so let's go further south. Another mouse there, but he doesn't attack me either.

This leads to Taira, where enemies now drop pellets, and the mouse on the way back to Calia is attacking me. Despite this important change, there's nothing much different going on. I continue exploring, kill enemies, not really getting much in the more powerful ammo. A lot of enemies drop slings/sling staffs and its not really doing me that much good. Every time you get a new weapon it switches to that, so I have to switch back to the sling staff. I don't even think I get ammo out of it.
I end this session in a building, which seems safe, about to sleep. Sleeping just advances time more quickly, you can get out at any time. The game says you need to sleep, but it must be some hidden equation or something, because nothing obvious leaps out at me. Still, this game has been a nice surprise, a lot better than I was expecting, but doesn't quite live up to some of the points people have attributed to it.

Couple of notes, while the game tells me that crossing between kingdoms is one-way, Calia and Taira are part of the same kingdom, so I assume I can return home if need be. I doubt it. Secondly, I have gold, well, I can have gold. I don't have any yet. Curious when that's going to come into play. A real RPG would have some by now.

This session: 1 hour 10 minutes

As an aside, I should note that MAME is not cooperating for the time being. As I don't particularly want to delay anything because of this, I'll be playing through some 1983 games while I wait for it to start working again.

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