Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sleeping Gods Lie (1989)

Name:Sleeping Gods Lie
Publisher:Empire Software
Developer:Oxford Digital Enterprises
Time:11 hours 40 minutes
Won:No (48W/50L)

Sleeping Gods Lie was an interesting experience. Very buggy, easily broken, but interesting. I'm starting to suspect Oxford Digital Enterprises are just one of those companies with a buggy output. The game's Amiga version glitched out on me, the ST refused to run, and the DOS eventually glitched out too. All together, not too surprising a title.

There's a complicated backstory, in how 7000 years ago the gods created the world, and then left humans to their own devices. Kingdoms rise and fall, but for the past 4000 or so years the world has been under the control of a great empire. Its current emperor under the sway of a corrupt priest called The Archmage, while its subjects fall into decay, banditry and plague. Frequently, you get notices saying the author is going to free the people, attempts that obviously fail. One night you hear a thump at your door, its a kobbold, a creature that once brought forth trade between kingdoms. The dying kobbold tells you with its last breath to awake the sleeping god, N'Gnir, with some mysterious artifact.
The game puts a large amount of storytime towards the backstory, the detailed in-game calendar, and the design of the world. Here's the thing, none of it is really important. Even if I made it to the end of the game, I couldn't possibly get past the second month. Further, all fictional calendars ever seem to do is confuse me. Is it spring? Summer? Winter? Surely you would save a bit of memory if you just kept a clock instead of a calendar. Its unnecessarily work on the developer's part.
Like the look of this? Don't get used to it, its from the Amiga version, I had to play the DOS version
Both game and manual put great effort towards describing the 8 kingdoms that make up the world. The 8 kingdoms are really just the 8 levels of the game, further divided into sub-levels or landscapes. The game gets a little more out of itself because of this. Maybe, the game advertises that it has some 70+ levels which isn't too far from what people were already doing. There's less effort put into the levels, since there isn't that much going on in them. I imagine that even back in the day it didn't take too long to design a level.

You start off in your home. Its somewhere between Wolf-clone and Ultima Underworld in terms of controls. You get three options for controlling the game, keyboard, mouse and joystick, but they all work the same way. You can aim over a certain amount of the screen, and moving the cursor to certain places moves you. Its not as bad as a lot of the games I've played. I might be biased because of that, in saying that while awkward, its perfectly serviceable and that's been rare for a while. Its a bit slow, but that's not really because of the controls themselves.
Otherwise you get the ability to switch weapons (but not ammo), sleep, speed up/slow down time and saving and loading. Its a very basic interface, and despite all the items you can pick up over the course of the game, you don't really get to do anything with them.

Birds, once again the most annoying enemy in a game
The back of the box makes a big deal out of the game's flight sim technology, but there aren't any hills or noticeable Z-axis for the most part. A few enemies take advantage of the Z-axis and you can definitely miss an enemy by throwing too high. The only thing special about it, is that its about four years before Wolfenstein 3D and manages to run smoothly. Finally, the technology is here, now it just needs to be refined.

I'd wager the big appeal of this game these days is due to the strangeness of seeing an old-style 3D world. That oddly charming nature of the old-school 3D and a lack of people around. Well, not as much as even a crappy title from a few years from now, but its still there. Flat endless plain isn't really the appeal of that. Each kingdom tends to have one friendly NPC, and then a lot of respawning enemies. There's just something about these kinds of games that I enjoy seeing.

This is really cool, I just wish there was more of it

That said, the game squanders a lot of its early goodwill. There's a building in the early part of the game, as in, an actual 3D building you can see and enter, and that's it for until at least the 7th kingdom. Every other interior is a sprite you approach, and yes, there absolutely is an issue with what the size of everything is supposed to be. You know how RPGs always feel much smaller than they should be, and the further back you go, the more reasonable it is? Yeah, this feels smaller than the space actually in the game.

The first kind of enemy

...and the first NPC
Despite the big backstory, most of the game is spent wandering around. You just have to get smaller objectives to keep the game going. Sometimes the game is forthcoming with this, in the first area, you meet with a beggar who wants you to return his map. Then you have several kingdoms who have vague objectives, or you can't tell what you were supposed to do until after. Basically just wandering around for a few hours hoping you do the right series of events.
This leads into the game's puzzles. They're not great. The whole implementation of them is questionable. Basically, you have no method of interacting with the environment, as I mentioned. So that means solving a puzzle consists of walking up to the right object when you have the right item in your inventory. This sometimes borders on illogical, but the game at least tries to tell you what you have to do. Either way its not fun.

Note that the ground color is the same here, from a video online I know it changes on each kingdom

Combat is the meat of the game. Most weapons you get and use are projectile weapons. Each has its own little quirks. Starting out, you have your hands and various slings. You can deal pretty good damage with these, but it can be tricky aiming it, since you have to aim very high. Then you get proper weapons, bows, crossbows, these have flatter arcs and hit much harder. It feels like you have real progression in this game, but its clearly the RPG style of weapon progression. There's little reason to switch weapons in combat, and little reason to switch back to weapons. In the end I found myself with a hitscan weapon, which while it had a low ammo supply, also regenerated itself, making little reason to swtich to an earlier weapon except in large combats.
Ammo is a big factor, but you don't get a lot of control over it. Every weapon gets a base ammo, and some have fancy ammos. Only...you don't get to pick which ammo you use, so if you have fancy ammo, you'll be using fancy ammo. This sounds like a silly complaint, but I found myself in quite a few situations where I would be in better shape if I could have saved up those fancy shots. For instance, while a lot of weapons don't regenerate their ammo, you do find items that give them that ability. You can switch back to an earlier weapon, but I found that past the first couple of areas this started becoming more and more useless and annoying, as enemies started attacking further and further away.
I erroneously said that the game allows you to shoot pebbles with the crossbow and other weapons, apparently it kept the picture of a crossbow on-screen, it just had you throwing the stones with your bare hands.

Fighting against villagers, because I'm a hero
Like the weapons, enemies increase in strength over the game. Roughly, each enemy does more damage over the course of the game, and everything keeps in rough pace with each other. Instead what makes each enemy different is that some take more damage, and some move faster. This isn't entirely logical from a gameplay perspective. You start off fighting bandits, but their leader isn't anything special. Nor are the guards and magicians you fight later. Instead the most troublesome from my perspective were the demons. You can tell this version was done badly because they have transparency in the middle of their body.
I hate these guys
The demons are faster than you, so you can't easily chase after them, they're hard to kill, and they barely drop any ammo. In short, an exercise in tedium. But they appeared in the 3rd and 4th kingdoms, which is fairly early on. Meanwhile, afterwards you fight guards and magicians, who tend to drop pretty quickly and don't run faster than you.
Even though individual enemies don't have much going for them, I liked the game's AI. It felt like they were playing on the exact same ruleset as the player. Not moving around and shooting, making understandable misses, and retreating quite a lot. After attacking or when they're in bad shape. While it wasn't always great chasing after them, they didn't feel like mindless killing machines like so many other FPS enemies, especially at this time.
I didn't get a really good look at these guys until now...wow...
You get XP for damaging enemies. What's the purpose of XP? You get increased health and magic power. What's magic power? The game says that it increases your presence to demons or something like that. In practice, I'm not quite sure, it increased to around 3/4ths full when I finished, but if that did anything, its subtle enough that I never noticed it. If it did increase the range that enemies became alert to me, it hardly matters when you get new enemies every kingdom. What I did notice is that it was always damaged, like my health becomes, and never fully recovered, even after resting.
Resting is supposedly necessary to continue the game, as there's some penalty for not doing so. I don't know if that's true, because I never went more than a day without sleep. In some places I suspect this could really screw you over, because the game doesn't have a lot of safe places for you to rest. Healing is also done by picking up various foodstuffs you find on the ground.
The game makes an awful lot of assumptions about my character between the start and now...
As you've seen from the screenshots and my own implications, the level design of this game isn't great. Early on they tried something clever, but eventually it all degenerated into endless green landscapes dotted with various objects and enemies. A hide-and-seek kind of game. Another loss in the DOS version, because I know the ground color changes in the Amiga version. Just walk around this place hoping to find someone or something that'll advance the plot. It gets really bad as time goes on, because you can get completely screwed if you don't figure out where one object is in on small section of an area.
I just think this all is missing a lot more polish. The first kingdom is nice. You have to find ways to open up sections, there are optional puzzles, and the game actually feels like thought and effort was put into it. And after that...its just kind of gone. You do get the option on whether or not to return a crown to a prince, but all it changes is whether or not you get gold to pay for some ferries later. Yeah, that's what the big important part of the HUD is for, paying ferries. Could have solved this with a ferry pass.
If only all games were this polite

This game is just so very buggy. I suspect this is a consequence of the game being a FPS at a time when having a stable framerate was an impressive thing. The Amiga version broke on me at the end of the first kingdom/level, whereas the DOS version merely complained that it ran out of memory, and allowed me to save. Not being an expert in coding, I suspect there's a memory leak somewhere. Eventually I ended up quite a ways into the game, with the triggers for the game's next events simply not happening.

I've seen RPG and adventure thrown at this game quite a bit. I would have to say that while I don't think the game is a full-blown RPG, it leans towards that more than it leans towards adventure. As I said during the playthrough, adventure games require proper interaction, not just walking into anything that looks slightly interesting. The game at least has the bare minimum of what makes a RPG a RPG.

While the game does a RPG-style progression of weapons, as in there's rarely any point to using older weapons, at least until the part I quit on, I did like the progression. Going from lobbing shots high in the sky to being able to actually point at a foe felt nice. 3/10

Curiously, the enemies don't quite follow the RPG progression, some are obviously stronger than earlier areas, but others get weaker. I did like how some of the important enemies taunt you before combat, though you do have to go slightly out of your way to hear it. I did like how the AI in this game functioned, as it seemed very human, having the same limitations and making the same mistakes I did. 4/10

None of the NPCs ever really anything to help me beyond giving me what amounted to a key. Some followed me, but this was annoying, so much so that even the developers knew this. 1/10

From a gameplay standpoint, I disliked most of the levels, basically only existing as a featureless green void. They try to be clever with this by adding features sometimes, or interior areas, but its still obvious this is the bare minimum, and all they could do. 1/10

Player Agency:
The controls in this game felt considerably more tolerable than most. Having the aiming reticle and movement controlled by the same method at the same time is less than ideal, but it could have been a lot worse. I didn't feel like the controls were too unbarable, but I did dislike the function keys having everything not controlled by the mouse. 4/10

None, just walk into anything. 0/10

I can't say this is quite the impression the game went for, but I thought it did a good job of creating a fantasy world in deep decade, despite obviously being worse than the Amiga version. Lonely, open terrain, saving the odd person left alive amidst hordes of demons and bandits. This feels like a predecessor to all those Myst-clone adventure games, just with slightly more people. 4/10

There are flashes of brilliance here and there, like the skyboxes and enemy sprites, but mostly it just looks like what it is, a featureless green void. 2/10

That was a lot of backstory that didn't really come up at all. I do like the in-game characters, though their triggers seem to be broken at times. Far too much of this is effectively pointless. 3/10

Your usual PC speaker sounds. 1/10

That's 23.

Now, I just rated this based on the DOS settings, for a very good reason. The Amiga and ST versions are clearly superior in every way, so its not fair to those to combine these ratings together. The DOS version does have the advantage of being more stable, but I still ultimately couldn't beat it. If I managed to get that version to continue playing, I suspect this game would get to 29, couple points each in atmosphere, graphics and sound. As such, I would only suggest that version.

The next we'll see these guys is far in the future, with their tank simulations, starting with Team Yankee, which is based off some comic book I've never heard of. Or a book, as I was only told about the comic book. Why do they keep making games based off books? Why do they keep licensing titles? I think this is the only original title, and everything else is really weird.

All in all, a rather disquieting end to the '80s for FPS titles. Seems fitting considering more often than not, the decade has been full of disappointment. Still, I am happy that the decade is over, because the future is bright and interesting.

1 comment:

  1. I had this game for my Amiga and damn was it boring. Those endless open wastelands wore me down and I never finished it. Just give me something to do in them! (Other than shoot enemies without any cover)