22 February 2005

[geek_life] I Have Ularn! I Have Ularn!

As of a couple of days ago, a long time dream of mine came true. Up until then it was partially true, and that is a good thing.

I have the game of Ularn now, not just on my Palm m130, but also on my PowerMac G4.

Ularn is a game that, maybe, requires a bit of explaining for almost anyone born before, say, 1978 or so.

Netosaurs remember games such as 'rogue', 'hack', or 'angband'. These are early adventure game programs. The aren't the old Infocom "Zork" text kind, though. These were as graphical as the day allowed; that is, they ran on character-based terminals using ANSI escapes to move the cursor around. The game displays tended to use characters such as the octothorp (the "pound" sign..."#") for walls and moving initials for monsters, such as 'K' for Kobold. You were typically a flashing block cursor.

Movement was by the keys h (west), j (north), k (south), l (east), y (NW), i (NE), b (SW), n (SE). Combat was performed by moving into your opponent, making sure you were wielding the right weapon and wearing armor. Spells were cast by typing a command key, entering the abbreviation for the spell, and then indicating the direction of cast (last step omitted for area-effect spells).

There were goals and things to collect. You moved your cursor over something to pick it up. Winning conditions went from simple to absolutely baroque.

Evolution happened in the games because they had a large fanbase of hackers (the old fashioned kind, that made useful things, not the misnomered system crackers) who would gleefully change the sources (usually programmed in c) and recompile. 'Hack' became 'nethack', 'angband' became 'Zangband' (which I have on my home machine).

In 1985 Noah Morgan, perhaps inspired by both 'hacklike' games and similar games produced for such home machines such as the Commodore 64, created 'larn'. Larn had the hacklike feel but gameplay was much simpler and I found it more intuitive.

Here, as they say, is the 'sitch': You have a critically ill daughter. She is afflicted with a malady called 'dianthoritis'. She will die in 400 'mobuls' (game turns) unless you venture into the caverns of Larn, where it is said that the magician Poliinaeus (no, I don't know where they get these names) created a potion that will cure her. Your quest is to venture into the caverns and find it.

Like other hacklike games, there is a town level. Larn's was very simple. There are widely spaced locations comprising: your home, the store, the trading post, the bank, the LRS (Larn Revenue Service) office, the dungeon entry, and the volcano's entry. First stop is the dungeons. You go in and out of that, gathering treasure and artifacts to cash in at the bank and sell at the store, until you have enough to buy the most powerful weapon, which you then take into the volcano, retreive the potion of dianthoritis (guarded by the most evil and meanest demon prince known), take it back to home, and give it to your daughter. If you aren't too late, she's cured and you win.

Some artifacts you use, of course. Potions can be quaffed or saved for later identification, scrolls can be used or saved for ID later as well. The ultimate artifact in the dungeon levels is the Eye of Larn, which allows the bearer to see the demon princes and gods and, if they can't be conqurered, at least they can be avoided. They will end your game.

That's Larn in a rather large nutshell. Evenually, by the hand of Phil Cordier, larn evolved into Ularn (Ultra Larn), taking dungeon levels from ten to fifiteen, and volcano levels from three to five. And that's the form I found the game in.

I've had it on systems from time to time, even to the point of compiling my own version of Ularn on an IBM PC some years back. I never did understand the Borland C compiler, only learnt as much as I needed to know to get the sources to compile. I did multiple versions depending on my mood and humor level, changing monster names as appropriate.

Now, I said that I had my dream realized, didn't I? I stumbled onton Nathan Tenney's variant Ularn page, which is home to his port of Ularn to OS X. Before that, I had found the Ularn legacy site, Ularn.org, which had a link to 'rougelike games for Palm OS' which is where I found the delightful "iLarn", which is Ularn for Palm OS.

The title page of the desktop version proclaims "The Addiction of Ularn". It's true. The source code has a line of comment up at the top of main.c proclaiming "This game is bad for you. It is evil. It will rot your brain." And that is true too. Why, the time I've spent over the years playing larn and ularn could have been spent on my plan to Dominate The World.

So, you better thank God that there's such a thing as Ularn, otherwise, I'd be your emperor now. And I am a jealous, capricious, and arbritary ruler. Oh, yes.

For now, it's "Game on".

1 comment:

Gunner said...

My wife and I wasted so much time playing it on old 286 computers at the university lab. I just also refound ULarn and it works on XP. So for the last month and a half I have been alone in this world.

It is addictive.