Monday, October 24, 2016

A Brief Update

Hoo boy, it's been a while. As those of you who listen to Spam Spam Spam Humbug may be aware, a few months ago I landed a new job. While it's been great in a lot of respects, it often takes me a long time to adjust to big changes in my life (even good ones!) and as a result some other things tend to slide in the shuffle.

Like this blog, for instance.

Rest assured, however, that I'm still kickin' and I'm still plugging away at Ultima. I've got another session of Savage Empire all played out, just need to find the time to write the update - which hopefully will be soon. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Savage Empire: Forging Alliances

As if to prove my newfound zeal for the game like I mentioned last post, I spent most of a Saturday evening tearing through the Valley of Eodon - buckle up, don the pith helmets and break out the machetes, we've got a lot of ground to cover this time!

I began the day's adventures just outside the cave Aiela had been held captive in. Though I had fulfilled both her father's request and the demands of my own sense of honor (it is a virtue, after all), I still had business in this part of the valley. Darden had not just disrupted the Kurak way of life, but his own tribe's as well, and the brute's demise brought the Urali no closer to having their idol Fabozz back. I would need all the help I could get to push back against the Myrmidex - I would get a proper sense of that before too much longer - and misfits that the Urali were, antagonistic as they had been under Darden, theirs was still aid I was certain I could use.

At least Fabozz has some nice crystal gardens to tend here.
Wamap had told me Darden had hidden Fabozz away in a cave to the north, so I turned my sights in that direction, Aiela in tow, more than willing to lend a hand in our further exploits. The Urali tribesmen continued to attack us on sight as we pushed back through the village and onward to find Fabozz - I suspect they were either unaware of Darden's demise or else just upset that he perished before he could be convinced (or forced) to bring Fabozz back. Whatever it was they blamed me for, I yet had a duty to do, and while discretion may have been the better part of valor, I did what had to be done, hoping all the while that I wasn't slashing the tribe's numbers down too horrifically. Eventually I made my way to the cavern in the north, which was small but well guarded by Darden's lackeys, who had lost none of their zeal for having lost their leader (if they were even aware of that fact). We fought hard - or rather, Triolo, Jimmy and I did, the other three got stuck around a corner - and found Fabozz stowed away in the rear of the cavern. There was, of course, the question of how to move the statue, but Fabozz provided a clue, uttering only a single word - "Light." Jimmy's camera provided a quick burst of such, and however it happened, it did the trick. Fabozz vanished, and his voice declared us friends of the Urali, allowing us safe passage through their lands. We confirmed his presence back in the village, exchanged a few words with Wamap to solidify the alliance, and went on our way.

We shuffled some weaponry around to account for our new party member, then decided to make a pit stop at the Kurak village, both to take some much needed rest at Intanya's hut and to give Aiela a chance to assure the tribe of her safety. Along the way, she had a chance to reunite with her friend Sahree, and to pass the time, she told us of the gem she carried with her. Apparently Darden had stolen it from the Nahuatla and presented it to her as some sort of token of his love, thinking he could get in her good graces that way. It hadn't worked, of course, but she had kept the gem anyway.

Oh, now you've just piqued my curiosity.
Rested, renewed, and ready for further travels, we navigated the teleportation pads once more to arrive in the southeast of the valley, where the Jukari and Haakur tribes lived. They were the only two tribes I had yet to meet, and so I figured it was high time I did so. The Jukari were closest to the teleporter, so I began with them. It seemed we had come in the middle of something of a shift in leadership - the tribesmen told us their chieftain had recently died as the result of a lava flow. His son Jumu was now acting chief, and speaking with him revealed that the lava flow had caused more trouble than just the death of his father. It had also killed their shaman, and blocked off access to their sacred cave to the east. Inside the cave was a hide that detailed their tribe's history, and retrieving said hide was Jumu's request from us before he would agree to joining an alliance of tribes. To sweeten the deal, he told us of the diamonds and emeralds within the cave, and told us we were welcome to help ourselves to them as reward, if only we would bring the hide back to him. A difficult position for a young man to be in, but Jumu seemed to be handling it as best he could. After assuring Jumu we would do our best to make sure the record of his tribe's history made it back to them - Rafkin seemed to have an idea how to find our way over the lava flow - we departed.

Easy there, Dokray...
We found the Haakur a little further on, and they had little to tell us, on account of most of them barely even being capable of proper speech. They were the most primitive of the tribes we had met in the valley, "Neanderthal" being a rather unflattering but apparently accurate descriptor for them. A few of the tribe were able to hold a decent enough conversation with us, however, most notably their chief Grugorr. In contrast to Jumu, Grugorr was a father who had recently lost his son Krukk, who had gone spider-slaying in a nearby cavern to the south and never came back. If we could do what he could not, kill the spiders and burn their webs, and return with Krukk's shield, Haakur agreed to join the alliance against the Myrmidex. On our way out, Dokray bumped into an old rival of his named Ugyuk, and neither of the two had any love for each other. It nearly broke out into a fight right then and there, but Dokray refrained after I told him this was not the time for it. The two glared daggers at each other as we departed, though.

Having spoken to all of the tribes now, Jimmy and I bent our heads over his notebook and refreshed our memories as to what they all required of us, so we could best form our plan of action. Four of the tribes had already thrown their lot in with the forming alliance - the Kurak for rescuing Aiela, the Urali for defeating Darden and retrieving Fabozz, the Disquiqui for belling the cat-I-mean-T-Rex, and the Pindiro simply because it was the wise thing to do. That left seven still to sway, and two of them could be convinced via feats in the caves in this part of the valley. So after gathering some branches, dunking some cloth strips in tar, and making some makeshift torches, we ventured into the spider caves to find the shield of Grugorr's son Krukk.

Well that looked like it was messy...
The cave was expansive and difficult to traverse due to the webs spun over nearly everything. Both spiders and Myrmidex assaulted us from nearly every turn, and I left most of the fighting to my companions as I occupied myself with burning the webs in the cave, both to make exploration easier and to do a bit of damage to the spiders that way. Beneath them were all sorts of things - we found many, many corpses of villagers, several dead Myrmidex, and even what seemed to be a more modern man, judging from the camera and rifle we found on his body. We found Krukk's shield in a corner, but even more interesting was a hole that we found in another part of the cave, surrounded by dead Myrmidex and dead tribesmen. It seemed a rather good-sized battle had been fought here, which suggested it would be wise to avoid the hole itself. The warriors had all been wielding obsidian swords, so we collected them for later delivery to the Yolaru and returned to the Haakur to give him his son's shield. Satisfied, he thanked us and agreed to the alliance.

Our next task was to find a way over the lava to get to the sacred cave of the Jukari, and at Rafkin's suggestion I made use of the fire extinguisher from the remains of his lab to do so. For some reason or another it worked, and from there it was a fairly simple matter to navigate our way to the cave and find the hide. It was a much smaller cavern and considerably less... occupied... so it wasn't long before we were presenting Jumu with the recorded history of his people, and received in exchange his promise to join the alliance of tribes. (As an aside, yes, it's incredibly silly that the fire extinguisher works to cool lava, but at least despite its nonsensicality the game provides ways of pointing you toward it, whether it's the letter to the editor in the manual or Rafkin in the game itself. Considerably less adventure-game-logic that way, which is always a good thing.)

Obligatory "I can't believe that actually worked" goes here.
With the tribes in the southeast of the valley firmly on the side of a valley-wide alliance, I turned my attentions in the complete opposite direction and turned my sights to the northwest and the Barako. The trek there introduced us to a few new enemies, including a serpent woman and a tiger, but we defended ourselves with alacrity, and before long we'd returned to the ledge where we'd seen the silver backed gorilla that we suspected kidnapped the chieftain's daughter. The question was how to get up there. Some exploration revealed a cave behind a waterfall, but the falls itself was too forceful to allow us to get by it easily. The solution - a makeshift grenade, made by stuffing a few handfuls of gunpowder in a clay pot and sealing it with a tar-soaked strip of cloth. Lighting the fuse and lobbing it at a large boulder atop the cliff shifted the boulder and blocked off the waterfall, making passage easy. A quick jaunt through the cavern brought us to the very ledge the gorilla called home, and a brief fight later, we stepped past the beast and found a girl who introduced herself as Halisa. Grateful for rescue and relieved that the gorilla had been taken care of, she thanked us heartily and gave us a head start for a race back to the village - which she still managed to win, somehow. We had a victory nonetheless, though, as her safe return ensured her mother's support in the forming alliance.

My kingdom for some pruning shears!
After a quick pit stop to heal up once more - and another skirmish with Myrmidex on the teleport hub, which brought about both more complaints about public transit security and a level for Aric (his first since the beginning of the game!) - we directed our attentions toward the plights of the tribes in the southwest. Atop the Great Mesa was supposed to be the plant that the Barrab chieftain wanted in order to heal his son, but here too there was a navigational problem. There was a gap atop the mesa that we had no way of crossing. No way, at least, until we took note of a large tree, and a solid smack with a fire axe soon gave us a way over. Some more wandering later (and even more Myrmidex!), we came across the plant in question. What we hadn't realized was that the gigantic orchid was, in fact, carnivorous. A fierce battle ensued, in which many vines were chopped and many wishes for some weed killer were made, but we eventually came out victorious, and after scooping up the now motionless remains of the Little Shop of Horrors reject, we took it back to Balakai and his son Nakai, who perked up immediately. We rested for a while (Jimmy had gained enough experience for another level), chatting with the pair, and discovered that Topuru wasn't the first Balakai had pulled the mind-in-a-stone trick with. Apparently the Disquiqui Tuomaxx on Drum Hill had been a victim of the stunt as well - although in stark contrast, he'd actually thanked Balakai for doing so! It seemed the whole family had ways of getting the better of others - Nakai told me his sister had done so with Nawl, who'd I'd bumped into just outside the village, and when I asked him about it, he just got scared and scurried off.

"Now begone, before someone drops a house - I mean boulder -
on you, too!"
Then it was back into the area surrounding the Great Mesa to find Thunderer and the fruit trees he was stalking about, and taking care of him was a rather simple matter. We found him prowling about a cliffside with another boulder tilting precariously just on the edge of it. Another makeshift grenade, and *blam* - down it came right on Thunderer's head, and that was another problem solved. Truth be told, the Myrmidex swarm that assaulted us on the way back to the Sakkhra was more of a problem than Thunderer had proved to be. (I ran into a LOT of Myrmidex during this particular session - my notes mark my encounters with increasingly numerous intesifiers, culminating in all caps by about this point - although this last one got Aiela a level, too!) After informing the lizardfolk of the liberation of their little grove from its reptilian tyrant, I called it a good day's work. A full nine of the tribes had pledged their allegiance to an alliance of tribes, leaving just the Yolaru and the Nahuatla. The former wanted swords, the latter wanted their city back, and the one would lead to the other. But it could wait until next time.


Details are what make or break immersion. I can write a scene about a man's last moments, but it's a lot more difficult to connect with it if I don't take the time to show you his feeble, fumbling attempts to get the picture of his family out of his wallet so he can ensure it's the last thing he sees despite through increasingly unfocused eyes. I can write a proposal, but if you don't see the bride-to-be's quivering lip as she makes several attempts to speak before all the breath rushes out of her in one exultant affirmation, something's going to be lost. It's the old show-don't-tell adage - the tiny, concrete details are what make the illusion of story that much more tangible, more real.

How'd you get here?
That's as true for any form of storytelling, games included, and it was a subject I found on my mind a good deal during this particular foray into Savage Empire, because the game's full of examples of both how effective details can be and how a lack of them can make things fall flat. The bodies strewn about the spider caves added a lot to my perception of the caves themselves - they weren't solely of tribesmen, there were several Myrmidex and even a modern man among them, suggesting that these spiders were, indeed, a serious threat if even the better equipped and stronger foes found themselves entangled within the webs. The sacred cave of the Jukari felt all the more important when I found the totems used in shamanic magic on a table near the hide I'd been sent to retrieve, a reminder that this was a place the shaman came to often, a place that meant something. I even noticed for the first time that the background in the conversation portraits change depending on where (and in some cases when!) the conversation occurs, be it cave or village, day or night or sunset.

Perhaps most stark were the details when it came to the tribes themselves, though. All of them have their own unique aesthetic, and while granted, some of the portraits do feel a bit caricatured at times, the tribes all feel like distinct entities. The Sakkhra caves are full of crystal gardens in contrast to the sparse Haakur caves, which again stand distinct from the stepped mesa the Barrab call home, which feels different from the Jukari by the lava, and so on and so forth. The way the villages are laid out, the fact that each tribe seems to have their preferred weaponry based on what can be found in their huts, even the manner of speech of some tribes (I particularly enjoyed seeing the importance placed on names when it came to the Haakur and Urali, the former only being bestowed upon those who've earned recognition and the latter guarding theirs to avoid another having power over them, which is why it's a big deal when Wamap gives the player his) - there's some real steps taken through the detail work to make each tribe feel like they stand out just a little from the rest, and serves to emphasize the running theme of bringing together a bunch of different tribes together to form a single alliance.

Those totems in the corner there were a nice touch.
Which, on the flip side, only makes the moments where the game falls short in terms of details all the more glaring. While each tribe has a distinct aesthetic, the unique-ness of each falls a bit flat once you realize that most of the tribesmen all have the same dialogue tree. There's a very small handful that actually have anything unique to tell you, and beyond that there isn't much. There's a lot spoken of the inter-tribe rivalries among the valley, but there's little evidence of them beyond words. I've seen complaints of that when it comes to Ultima VI and the threat of the Gargoyles, but at least there, you saw (and potentially fought) them at the shrines and could see the aftermath of one such skirmish via the recovering soldiers in Cove. Here in Savage Empire, there's... not really anything, besides Dokray and Ugyuk's spat, and even that's more of a personal thing than any representation of tension between entire tribes. Consequently, it feels a bit closer to checking things off a list than the game's overarching goal of attempting to unite eleven very disparate tribes who can't stand each other at first.

Not to mention Aiela's father, as far as I could tell, didn't have much to say about the rescue of his daughter, despite the fact Sahree did have some different dialogue with Aiela in the party.

Which hasn't made the game any less enjoyable to play, when it comes down to it, it's just something my sense of narrative has picked up on. And to be fair, I'd probably be paying less attention to the lack of detail in some places if it didn't stand in such contrast to the parts of the game where it is rather effective. That's the give and take you deal with, I suppose.

In any case, time to head into Tichticatl proper, finally! Been looking forward to this.

There are some days where I might feel the same.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Savage Empire: All Over the Map

Y'know, it's been an interesting venture attempting to balance actual play sessions with finding the time to scribble my musings about them. I've had a lot of days lately where I've found myself wanting to have myself a good long session of Savage Empire while simultaneously feeling hesitant to do so because I haven't written up the last one. In fact, this particular post technically covers two sessions, partly because I didn't get much done in the first one and partly because of the aforementioned "but I want to plaaaaay" urge winning out over self-imposed blogging obligations.

Which probably says something about how much I'm enjoying myself when it comes to Savage Empire, but I'll get to that later.

I'll just take a bit of that...
When last I left off, I'd come one step closer to finding out where the Urali tribe made their home, so I could finally rescue Aiela. And by "one step closer," I mean "getting the whole story about how Topuru lost his mind but not really and how I could potentially convince him he got it back so he'll tell me what I need to know." It amuses me how particularly convoluted getting one simple task done can be in RPGs sometimes.

At least this particular step in the venture didn't necessitate gallivanting all over the valley, as the Barrab chieftain had told me I just needed any old blue stone, which I could procure by chipping off a piece of the stones near the Sakkhra caves. Said caves were just a quick jaunt away (relatively speaking), and it wasn't long before I caught sight of one of the big blue rocks atop a cliff. Of course, finding my way up the cliff was another matter entirely, but after some walking about to find a decent ascent, I pulled out a hammer that I'd brought with me from Rafkin's lab and chipped off a piece. I'd bring it to Topuru the next time I was in the neighborhood, but I figured since I was already here, I might as well chat up the tribe and see what they had to say, and what their particular thoughts on an alliance of tribes might be.

Succinctly put.
The Sakkhra turned out to be a tribe of lizardfolk (wasn't that the name of the lizard race in Master of Orion, too? I never actually played it, more of a Civilization guy, so I'm not 100% sure on that), and I managed to get some interesting information about the valley's history from their chief Sysskarr. According to him, the Sakkhra were descendants of the Kotl, the original occupants of the valley who lived in an underground city. They ruled over humans and kept them as pets, and protected themselves with a powerful glow - the same that now protected Zipactriotl, I was told. I imagined I'd find out more about them later. The tribesfolk had made mention of Thunderer, a large lizard that prowled about near a grove of trees that bore medicinal fruit, and Sysskarr confirmed what I suspected - that I would have to do something about him before the Sakkhra would agree to an alliance. Sysskarr also informed me I would need to construct a drum to call the tribes together. That's something I'll have to investigate further the next time I'm in the vicinity of Drum Hill, near the Nahuatla city.

A warrior named Kysstaa (good grief, the names in this game are a bear to keep straight) offered his services to our little group, but we politely turned him down and went on our way. I was in a bit of a hurry to investigate the oddly colored platform near the entrance to the caves, and wound up spending a fair amount of time figuring out the teleportation system I'd stumbled across.

It was, quite frankly, the most fun I'd had in the game yet.

Transit Central needs better exterminators.
I found a certain thrill from plunging into the unknown via a teleporter, having Triolo use a view spell to get an idea of my surroundings, and then comparing that tiny glimpse of nearby geographical features to the official map to pinpoint where I was likely to be. I'm considerably less familiar with Eodon than I am Britannia, which means that I've been consulting the map fairly regularly, but being able to use it in a manner like this was a real treat for a map nerd like me (seriously, I've got a pretty sizable collection of globes, both old and new). And it also had the side-effect of highlighting just how excellently done the Savage Empire map is. The cliffs, rivers, forests and such are all mirrored on the map just as I'd expect them to be, and the location of each teleporter is surrounded by a distinct enough set of features that careful scrutiny of the map is all you need to figure out where you are - stumbling into a patch of lava near a teleporter was enough to tell me I was in the southeast of the valley, near the Jukari, even though I'd never visited them before, because it's the only place on the map where lava shows up. A bend in the river here, a particular series of cliffs there - it's a fabulous "puzzle" of sorts that isn't strictly necessary, but immensely enjoyable all the same, and brought up fond memories of sitting in the backseat with the map during family road trips, serving as my dad's navigator. I felt like an honest-to-goodness adventurer, armed with little more than my wits and a map, trying to get my bearings based on nothing more than what I could see. It was gloriously exhilarating, and I wish it was a moment I was better able to replicate in more modern games.

Jimmy also managed to gain another level during these particular explorations, thanks to another ambush from the Myrmidex (right on the main teleporter hub, no less, Eodon really needs to increase its transit security), and I of course gave him another point in strength. I need all the carrying capacity I can get in this game.

Yeah, that's about what I thought.
One of the teleporters led to a spot near the Barako tribe, which meant an immensely useful shortcut when it came to getting back to Topuru. I hurried back to the island where the mindless man wandered, and upon telling him we'd brought his mind back to him, he practically mauled poor Professor Rafkin to extract the blue stone from the good doctor's pack (which Topuru then proceeded to swallow whole). Convinced that his mind had returned - we were considerably less convinced, but that didn't particularly matter much - Topuru offered some turtle food in gratitude. This was not quite what I was hoping for, though after some prompting Topuru also offered the directions we were looking for. He told us to go northeast of the Nahuatla city where there were caves in the cliffs, and we could find the Urali through the second cave from the north.

That's a lot of dead dinosaurs.
So it was off for some more exploration, meandering along the eastern side of the valley to count the caves and discern which one was the cave we were looking for. We stumbled across a number of dead dinosaurs in a large field of tar pits in the process, which I made a mental note of in case the tar that Jimmy was still carrying proved not to be enough. Boldly we strode into the depths of the caverns that lined the cliffs of Eodon, and promptly blundered into several bears. They proved to be formidable foes as we battled our way through the cavern, and I was rather relieved to step out again on the other side, blinking in the sunlight again. I followed the path laid out, hoping that it would take me to where the Urali called home, only to discover the road blocked by a Tyrannosaurus. Not especially wanting to take one of those head-on, I sought an alternate route.

In doing so, I stumbled across a wisp, which, in its odd manner, explained a bit more about the situation in the valley, or more accurately, the reason why it remained hidden - a strong power source distorting space-time around the valley, a modified moonstone, if I managed to understand the wisp correctly (which is always a task). Further, I was warned that if left unchecked this source could cause permanent distortion and even destruction in the valley. Something for me to be mindful of moving forward.

Flashbacks to my physics classes...
The turtle bait Topuru had given me was bringing a bunch of giant turtles onto the riverbanks, and it occurred to me that perhaps I could use them to get around the dangerous dino blocking my path. Sure enough, the waterways proved fruitful, and we soon found ourselves at the entrance to the Urali village. Their shaman Wamap was there to greet us, telling us of Darden and how he had taken over the tribe by holding Fabozz, the tribe's deity of sorts, captive. He told me that if I killed Darden and rescued Fabozz, he would see to it that the Urali joined the alliance of tribes when the time came.

Fabozz was being held in a cave to the north, but I was here for another purpose as well, and wanted to see that through first. According to the tribesmen (or more accurately, tribeswomen, as they were the only ones to actually talk to me and not attack on sight), she was being held in Darden's stronghold to the south, and apparently disliked him enough to direct me toward a less guarded path to his cave by following the waterfront. The poisoned darts the Urali I fought led me to believe this alternate route might be the wiser choice, so I took the women's advice and soon found myself at Darden's cave.

I love how much the game wants to emphasize how much of
a galoot Darden is. Even the GAME calls him a neanderthal.
There I found a makeshift cage, and Aiela herself within - but it was not left unguarded. With a shout, we pressed forward into the fray, and found her guard... well... wanting. The most difficult part about the fight, frankly, was not accidentally hitting Dokray instead, as his sprite was the same used for the guards! With them taken care of, we broke Aiela out of her prison (and boy did she take that well, considering how long it took me to get here - come to think of it, she's presented as quite the capable warrior in her own right, I'm frankly surprised she didn't just break herself out by this point), only to come face-to-face once more with Darden himself. We were prepared this time, though, and after trading both words and blows, he realized just how unwise it was to face the Avatar head-on. (Okay, so maybe I'm letting humility slide a bit there. Quest of the Avatar is forever and all that.)

With Darden defeated and Aiela now a part of our little band, we stepped out once more, feeling much accomplished in finally achieving a long anticipated task.


Nyah nyah, can't catch meeeeee!!
I made the assertion way back in Ultima II that every Ultima, and indeed every RPG, has a moment where the game truly opens up and engages, a turning point where what was once a struggle now becomes less of the hassle it once was. I declared the turning point of Ultima II to be the moment where one obtains a ship, but the more complex a game gets, the more difficult it becomes to point to a single, definitive moment where this particular shift happens.

I'm still not entirely sure what caused it, but I felt that shift during this particular session of Savage Empire. Something about the game finally clicked for me, and I'm not certain why. My best guess is that I'm making it past the more talky portions of the game, which is less engaging than other Ultimas out of the fact that most of the tribe NPCs are just cookie-cutter versions of each other without much to add past a general brief 'state of the tribe' speech. Or maybe it was the aforementioned teleporter exploration that did it. Whatever it was, though, I was bound and determined to see Aiela's rescue through to the end before I called this particular session, and not just out of a sense of narrative. I truly enjoyed this bit, and spent far longer on it than I expected to simply because I was having too much fun. The wisp, the turtles, trying to skirt the T-Rex that guarded the village... my inner explorer was on cloud nine. Had a rip-roaring good time and I'm eager to get back into the game to see what more Eodon holds for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Savage Empire: Shufflin' Around

I don't feel like I really accomplished much in this particular session (corroborated by the fact there's fewer screenshots from this session than normal), but hey, it's been a while since I last posted anything and I'm still finding myself with Things to Say, so hey, why not. Further up and further in!

My first order of business was, once again, to remind myself what the heck I was doing in the game - I really need to stop going so long between sessions. Thankfully, the notes I keep are sufficiently detailed enough to make for a decent refresher course, so between them and Jimmy's records in his notebook, I was able to make something of a coherent plan for my next few steps. I'd been meaning to find what remained of Rafkin's lab for what felt like forever, so that would be my first step. The good doctor had been waiting so patiently for me to meander my way over there, and I figured that he deserved some satisfaction. Not to mention that I was fairly sure there would be some useful equipment waiting for me there as well, best to get my hands on it as soon as possible. I'd need to be well prepared if I was to rescue Aiela, after all. That was my first priority, and making sure I had everything I might need for the attempt was just a stepping stone toward that goal.

Done in by a professor's boomerang.
Of course, it took me some wandering about to get my bearings properly. I don't know Eodon anywhere near as well as I do Britannia, so it was very easy to get myself lost while trying to figure out what part of the valley I was in, and more to the point, how to get where I needed to go. I did, however, stumble across some interesting sights in the process, including a fight with a gorilla (surprisingly easier than I expected it to be), a rather elaborate fountain tucked away in a secluded part of the jungles, a placid triceratops plodding by, and yet another Myrmidex ambush. After dealing with that last, in which Jimmy proved his mettle rather well, I finally stumbled my way back to the Kurak village and familiar territory. Intanya did his shamanistic healer thing, and the five of us geared up to do some bushwhacking in search of Rafkin's lab - it was supposed to be somewhere to the southeast of the village.

I was a little nervous as to my prospects for getting lost yet again, but then I remembered that I had plenty of "reagents" for Savage Empire's equivalent of a View spell. I - or rather, Triolo - made use of it every now and again to help get my bearings, and though it wasn't quite as much of a help as I'd hoped it would be, it did at least serve to make sure I at least had a more solid idea of where on the map I was. I was somewhat surprised that it took me this long to remember that I had that option, when I used magic so profusely in Ultima VI, but then again, it's less prevalent to begin with here in Savage Empire. I had a whole spellbook's worth of possibilities in Ultima VI, and the fact I kept making use of certain spells meant that I was constantly reminded of the presence and possible use of the others as well. Here in Savage Empire, there's only nine, and their use is limited to one character and one character only - which isn't even the main character. Consequently, I find myself not even remembering its presence, more often than not. I suppose that's not really a problem, as it's not meant to be as large a part of the setting as it is in Ultima VI, but still, I think I'd like to see it used just a little bit more.

Seems logical to me.
Anyway, we blundered around in the wilderness for a while, leaving the placid wildlife alone and fighting for our survival against the less placid sorts - the strangest encounter being a particularly vicious allosaurus that RAFKIN of all people managed to fell, which I found both shocking and utterly hilarious all at the same time - until I caught sight of something unusual via Triolo's View spells and headed toward it. Said something was the floor of the lab contrasting starkly with the grass around it, and I proceeded to rummage around the place, while Rafkin and I chatted about some of his ideas and what might prove useful. He talked about making makeshift grenades and rifles out of clay pots and bamboo, and the components of gunpowder and where I might be able to find them. All three components were right there in the lab, so I took advantage of what was close at hand and mixed myself up some gunpowder, sure to be useful later. Modern conveniences in general were sure to be a boon in the valley, so I took everything that might possibly prove handy - an axe, a fire extinguisher, a pair of scissors, a rifle and ammunition. I also picked up a screen that Rafkin said would be useful when it came to finding more sulfur for gunpowder, and a bucket to collect the tar I would need to make a 'fuse' for my makeshift grenades from the tar pits I remembered passing on the way to the lab.

The bear, of course. Kinda NEED strength.
And it was here that I did most of the 'shuffling' of the session - shuffling things around in my inventory. Weight issues were rearing their heads something awful this time around, and I think they're contributing to why I don't find myself enjoying the game quite as much as Ultima VI. While certainly a factor I had to keep in mind in the latter, it felt balanced enough that it wasn't an annoyance. Sure, I had to shuffle things around every now and again, but between my entire party I had a decent enough carrying capacity, and the cumulative weight of everything I figured I might need (not necessarily DID need, mind) felt manageable as a result. Here in Savage Empire, my party size is considerably more limited, not many party members have the sizeable strength to serve as decent 'pack mules,' and it's nowhere near as simple a matter to boost strength - Jimmy was the first of my party to gain a level, and it took until this session for it to happen. And even then, I was only able to boost his strength by one point, which didn't increase his carrying capacity very much. All those factors combine to mean that I have considerably less wiggle room when it comes to carting things around, and things in Savage Empire can get very heavy very quickly (although that may just be a perception thing). The atl-atl doesn't feel like a very viable weapon for my ranged characters, because spears, their necessary ammunition, get very bulky very quickly, and that's weight I need for other things. I remember the immense relief I felt when I found a boomerang for Rafkin to use, because I could barely keep two or three throwing axes on him and I certainly wasn't going to send him onto the FRONT lines to fight. It's crossing the line a bit from annoyance to frustration, and I suspect my next session is going to involve a re-evaluation of what all in my inventory that I strictly need. (I'm going to have to get over inventory problems eventually, after all. They're present in some form or another from here on out in the series.)

Suuuure you don't...
That minor ordeal settled, I headed back to the Kurak village, stopping by the tar pits on the way, to get back to the main roads and from there head toward the Barrab tribe, so I could take steps toward reuniting Topuru's mind with Topuru himself and hopefully convince him to tell me where I could find the Urali that had taken Aiela captive. It was a rather uneventful trip to the southwest portion of the valley, where the Barrab called home, and upon arrival I started chatting with the locals to see what I could find out. I learned that this tribe, too, had a long-standing rivalry with one of the other tribes in the valley, this time with the Sakkhra, a lizardlike race that lived in the caves to the west of the Barrab village. I met a man named Nawl, who was not allowed within the village himself, likely due to his full-of-himself attitude getting him into trouble. (I was not particularly sorry to say goodbye to him.) It was Chief Balakai who gave me the most relevant information, though, telling me that his trick with Topuru was just that - a trick. The long and short of it was that with some help, he had simply convinced Topuru that his mind was in a blue stone, and that giving him any old blue stone he would likewise be convinced his mind had been returned. He suggested taking a hammer to a large blue stone within the Sakkhra caves, and I made a note of it. The chief also talked of his sick son, Nakai, and that he would join the forming alliance of tribes if a cure could be found. He suspected a giant flower with pale petals would cure Nakai, last seen on a great mesa to the northwest of the village. The only problem would be getting there - there used to be a natural span to the south of the mesa, but it had crumbled. I made a note of this, too.

And there was where I called it for the day, with yet another task for the tribes of Eodon and one step closer to finding out where Aiela might be. I think it's time to make nice with the lizard people and see what they have to say, now.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Savage Empire: Team Efforts

Welcome to 2016, folks! Let's kick things off with a little Savage Empire, shall we?

Neither, actually...
Last time, I'd reunited our little ragtag group from Earth after finding Jimmy Rafkin among the Disquiqui. But it occurred to me that I hadn't quite managed to bring the entire troop back together just yet. Triolo's presence was a reminder of that. Though he claimed not to know the name of Iolo, he did admit that it struck a chord somewhere within him nonetheless, and he bore more than a striking resemblance to the bowyer from Britannia. Shamino's name seemed vaguely familiar to him as well, though he insisted it was instead Shamuru, the name of a warrior with the Barako tribe, to the north of the Kurak village. I had seen to the safety of the two I had inadvertently brought with me from Earth, but if Iolo had a counterpart of sorts here in Eodon, it only seemed fitting to see if other friends of mine in Britannia did as well.

So it was off to the northern reaches of the valley that I set my sights, intending to stop by the Yolaru tribe on the way in order to figure out what their chieftain might require of me in order to join the alliance of tribes against the Myrmidex. Along the way, I took some time to play around with the system a little more. I remembered being able to get meat from killed animals with my knife, and further experimentation along the road revealed that I was able to get feathers from parrots in much the same way. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but I'm liking the ways that Savage Empire has ramped up the interactivity and its uses within the Ultima VI engine. Being able to actually find what you would expect off the remains of the fauna of Eodon is a nice touch.

I should probably stop trying to explore at night.
...and speaking of the fauna, I had a brush on the way back from the Disquiqui village that could have ended rather better. While chasing after parrots, I bumped into a serpent woman, who promptly attacked. It wasn't long before I realized I was in a bit over my head, but by that point I wasn't in much of a position to beat a hasty retreat, and once again Eodon's creatures got the better of me. Once again I found myself coming to in Intanya's hut, and that... well, turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. Sure, it was a blow to the pride (and a few other things), but at least it meant I was closer to the Yolaru, saving me the walk. Which brings up something I don't think I got around to mentioning when it came to Ultima VI - death penalties. I'll admit it's a bit more frustrating to experience a 'party wipe' when the Avatar is struck down in combat, regardless of how many of his companions are still up and kicking when it happens, than it was in Ultimas IV and V. But then again, the punishment isn't particularly debilitating, either. It's a quick transition to revival, the penalties aren't excessively dire past some experience points (at least as far as I've noticed), and then off you go once more. It's nice that the game doesn't necessitate a reload when such a circumstance arises. Granted, I often do anyway, but in this case, it presented what I considered a reasonable tradeoff - it wasn't the ideal way for me to get back to this part of the valley, but it happened, albeit at a bit of a cost, and so I took it for what it was. It's less of an interruption to the flow of gameplay, and makes for a couple interesting choices here and there.

Anyway, I thanked Intanya once more for his aid, and went on my way, following the trails in the valley back to the Yolaru tribe. It didn't take long for me to track down Apaton once more to discuss the idea of uniting the tribes, and he told me that what he sought in exchange for an alliance was weaponry. More specifically, ten of the swords that the Nahuatla made - their last weaponsmith perished in a Myrmidex attack, and the Nahuatla were known as makers of fine swords. Bringing him ten of their finest craftsmanship would both demonstrate a service to the Yolaru and better arm them for when the time came to march against the Myrmidex. I was already a tenth of the way there, too. I figured that when I made my attempts to oust the usurper in the Nahuatla city, I was likely to pick up a fair few weapons in the process, so I agreed, bid Apaton farewell, and turned my attentions to the north.

Like a certain other companion of mine...
The trek to the Barako tribe was a long one, across high and unstable bridges and past the territory of a particularly grumpy sabertooth. We managed to strike it down, but I was beginning to feel the very strong need for some proper team-building exercises. Neither Rafkin nor Jimmy seemed much suited for the heat of battle, though Jimmy probably could be with time and experience, and Triolo was more inclined toward the bow than any other sort of weaponry. This meant Aric was the only one on the front lines, and with only a shield for protection, fights could take turns for the dire pretty quickly. I was glad I'd made tracking down Shamuru a priority - we needed all the help that we could get.

He wasn't too difficult to find, either, hanging out just outside the Barako village. He told me a similar story to Triolo's, waking up in the valley without memories of his life before it, and taken in by one of the native tribes of Eodon. He quite eagerly joined our little troop of adventurers, and after taking note of the bow he carried, meaning yet another member who'd keep his distance in a fight, he was more than willing to pass his leather armor, a rarity as far as my adventures thus far had turned up, to the sole front line fighter of the group.

I see you up there.
We then spent some time chatting with the rest of the tribe. They spoke of other strangers in the vicinity, an older man named Topuru who always spoke of rocks and kept himself in seclusion on an island to the west, and a young man in the northeast of the valley who they said called himself 'Frit-azz.' They also remarked he was dressed in attire suggesting that he too was from outside the valley. We also learned of their rivalry with the Pindiro tribe to the east, and suggested that there were problems concerning Halisa, the daughter of Halawa, their chieftain, though nobody was willing to expound further on the matter, instead directing me to speak with the chieftain herself. Halawa was indeed distracted, and revealed that her daughter, future chieftain of their tribe, had been captured by a large ape, who carried her off to a high ledge near the river to the north of the village. As imagined, rescuing her was the deed she wanted done before she would consent to an alliance with the other tribes of the valley, though it was a deed that would need doing regardless of what reward came from it. I spent some time seeking out the ape in question and did indeed find him on a high ledge to the west of the source of the river near the tribe, but there was no visible way to reach him from where I was standing. I would need to consider my approach and hope that Halisa would be able to manage in the meantime - Halawa was worried that the ape would dash her daughter to pieces on the rocks below, and I saw no evidence of such yet, so that was, at least, promising.

While I was in the area, I paid a visit to the Barako's rivals, the Pindiro. And there I saw yet another rather familiar face, in the form of the warrior Dokray, more than a little reminiscent of the paladin Dupre back in Britannia. He too wanted to see the tribes of Eodon united against the Myrmidex, and here I had a decision to make - whether to bring him along or not.

You see, I'd run into the party limit.

I should hope so, all things considered.
This was the first time I'd run up against the party limit that I hadn't already planned around a bit during my playthrough of the series - I did some party juggling in Ultima V, but that was something I was already prepared for. I'd thought the party limit in Savage Empire was six, not including those who automatically joined, and Dokray's refusal to join my group on account of already having enough came as a surprise. And also left me with a bit of a dilemma - who to leave behind? I've chosen my party members (at least since the first game that allowed me to do so, Ultima V) based more on story and thematic reasons than solely for function in the party, and the fact that I can without seriously crippling myself is one of the things I like about the series - even Katrina in Ultima IV can turn out to be quite the powerhouse, she just takes a while and a bit more work to get there. I've made mention of the fact I don't feel right not taking along Iolo, Shamino, and Dupre if I can help it, and the same goes for their analogues in Savage Empire, but it didn't feel right leaving either Rafkin or Jimmy behind either - I had brought them with me, after all. Ultimately, it was with reluctance that I told Shamuru to catch up with us later so we could bring Dokray along. I couldn't leave behind my companions from Earth, we were a team, we'd come here together and we'd stick together until we found a way back home. Triolo was the only shaman among us and thereby the only practitioner of the valley's form of magic, and all three of them were more well suited to fighting from a distance than flinging themselves into a melee. Dokray was a heavy hitter, though, at least moreso than Shamuru the hunter, so I decided to give Aric some support on the front lines and take Dupre's doppelganger along with us.

My thoughts exactly, Jimmy-ol'-pal.
There wasn't a whole lot to learn from the other Pindiro. They mentioned getting the paddles for their rafts from the Disquiqui, and that we should make sure to have at least four steering when making use of one. Kunawo, the tribe shaman, took a moment to heal us up, then offered to exchange one of each of the offerings necessary for Triolo's shamanic magic for five flax fibers, which we hadn't yet obtained any of, but it was something worth noting if Triolo ever started running low. The Pindiro chieftain Inara talked of a stranger in a cave to the west along the cliff face, who fought only with his fists. More to the point, she saw the wisdom of uniting the tribes and appeared tired of the squabbles between tribes, agreeing to an alliance immediately upon bringing the possibility up. Encouraged by her willingness, we bid her farewell and went on our way - back to the Barako tribe, because I suddenly remembered something about what we'd been told there.

Because I kind of need it.
I'd been so focused on getting my bearings in the valley, getting a solid group together and finding supplies, that I'd nearly forgotten that I still had to figure out exactly where the Urali tribe were located, and by extension, Aiela. What use was preparing myself to rescue her if I had no idea where to find her, after all? And her tribemates had made mention of one who might know where to find them, none other than this Topuru that the Barako had mentioned. They'd said he had sequestered himself on an island to the west, and so after finding a raft and four paddles on the lake's shores, we paddled over the water, passing by a rather large (and thankfully friendly) plant-eating dinosaur, and found Topuru himself, who was... a little odd in the head, to put it mildly. We caught him just as he drifting off for a nap, and so had to wait for him to wake up before we could talk to him. And when we did, it was... confusing, to say the least. We did, however, manage to get his story out of him after a little conversation. He was the Urali's former shaman, banished from the tribe when he lost his mind - literally, apparently. He told us the tale of how it happened, his hunger for knowledge and the challenges he issued to other shamans to gain it. During a challenge with Balakai, shaman of the Barrab, Topuru apparently had his mind magically removed and placed into a stone, which was still in Balakai's possession. If I could reclaim Topuru's mind, he would tell me where the Urali was.

An odd tale, to be sure, but the only lead I had. I resolved to pay a visit to the Barrab - and perhaps hunt for the remains of Rafkin's lab, as I'd likely have to pass by the area to find them.


I don't have a whole lot more to say beyond my further progress, save that I'm appreciating the differences in the design for the various tribes. Not so much as far as locale goes, and not quite to the extent of the cities of Britannia, but each tribe does have a unique sort of aesthetic to their character portraits, from the abundance of flowers and feathers the Disquiqui display to the clothing of the Barako (if memory serves, they're also the only tribe where the men have beards that I've met thus far). It does a lot toward ensuring that each tribe does feel distinct, and thus making the potential hardships in uniting them all against a common foe that much more believable. There's some nice touches there.

I've poked around the north and the central area of the valley - now it's time to head south and see what I can find there, before following up on all the loose threads I'm gathering. Onward!