Where I Attain the Opportunity to Demonstrate Immoderate Verbosity (Bookworm Adventures Deluxe)

This was the game that sat on my shoulder like a devilish imp, prompting me to finally pick up the entire Popcap bundle during a seasonal sale, despite already having played Plants Vs Zombies, the main popular anchor of a pack stuffed with a lot of other cheaper, cheesier, mainstream-y casual games.

After playing the demo, I just couldn’t get over how goddamn FUN it was.

And how much I wanted to keep playing until I completed the game.

In Bookworm Adventures Deluxe, you guide the main protagonist Lex the Bookworm on his epic quest to save the day and rescue the girl.

If you can get over the cartoony graphics and initial cheesiness, you’ll find that they hide a pretty exciting hybrid between an RPG and Boggle.

Yes, all game mechanics become more fun when we put an RPG wrapper around it. (We can talk about Puzzle Quest (bejeweled+RPG) and Defenders Quest (tower defence+RPG) another time, cos I have those games too.)

It’s crazy, but it works. You make words out of the letters on the grid given to you, and the longer your word, the more damage your excessive grandiloquence does to your opponent.

Given how fond I am of playing with vocabulary, this is a match made in heaven.

And the game is anything but easy.

It starts off simple, and you can get away with making three or four letter words to swiftly beat up the initial opponents, who clock in at about 3-4 hearts. In the earlier chapters, your amusement may derive more from seeing what non-kid-like words the game’s dictionary will let you get away with.

No, the F word doesn’t work. Oh well. Sex does!

Or how long a word you can spell.

Or how ironically appropriate the word is.

Then the complexity ramps up. You win treasures that act as weapons and armor, each with their own altering mechanic. The Bow of Zyx above gives bonus damage to words using the letters X, Y and Z. A Hammer of Hephaestus obtained in a much later chapter ramps up your damage, especially if you spell metal-related words, such as iron, bronze, melt, etc.

Some equipment offers you partial or full protection from special attacks that the more advanced monsters do, such as stunning you for a turn or three while they get free attacks on you, or adding poison or debuffing your strength and so on.

(Really, we’re spelling words here, what is this talk about debuffs and status effects! That’s the RPG component at work…)

You’re limited to bringing only three treasures with you, so choose wisely for what you’ll face. Helpfully, the game will tell you beforehand what special attacks the next chapter’s enemies are fond of using, so it does involve strategy, rather than boiling down to a trial-and-error guessing game.

And yes, there are Boss Battles at the end of every chapter.

Before long, the amount of hearts the enemies have is… staggering, to say the least.

Though it doesn’t stop me from… see above.

Some monsters have the ability to destroy tiles for several turns, making them useless in terms of contributing damage. You can choose to use them up quickly and cycle in new tiles, or just leave them be and work around them. Later, enemies may even Infect certain tiles, and those can spread to adjacent tiles, encouraging the strategy of using them up as quickly as possible.

And then you get the Gem Tiles. By spelling longer words of five letters or more, you get bonus gemmed letter tiles that, when used, give -your- attacks special status effects, such as freezing the enemy for a turn, or adding poison, or debuffing the amount of damage the enemy does (very important!), in addition to buffing your total damage.

Adding to the increased sophistication is the special three-letter word immunity certain bosses sport. Yep, those simple words don’t work no more. No more “Yes” “Sit” Bat” and so on. Four or more letters to do damage, and frankly, if you stick to four letters, you’ll probably get very beat up and use lots of healing potions in the process.

Death is not excessively punishing. You lose all your accumulated potions. If you want more, then you play a few minigames that may win you some bonus potions. And you continue from where you left off.

The setting for the first book was well-chosen, the trials of Ancient Greece, so you face fairly recognizable enemies and tropes (like venturing to the Underworld, a seven-headed hydra, etc.) Being a wordy sort of game, you may also stumbled across sly puns and a easter egg or two.

*cough* *cough* If you can’t recognize the reference, we must really talk about Interactive Fiction in subsequent posts in the future. (Prolixity on purpose.)

The final boss at the end of chapter 10 is no pushover. She was the cause of my first death, and the amount of hearts she has… well, it SCROLLS down as you go through the rows and rows.

I wanted to ask if she was “jilted” but I lacked an E. Close enough. She didn’t take kindly to the inquiry.

All the previously mentioned mechanics are in full play here. You can see the status effects on both of us. The first green tile is a gem that heals me for two hearts when used. The second is an infected tile I was getting rid of as soon as possible. Using the letter Y boosts my damage, thanks to the bow I’m carrying. Look at the amount of specials she has, sheesh.

Challenge level: Not exactly a kid’s game. A smart, brainy one, maybe.

Lemme tell you, any kid who plays this game, I will have tremendous respect for. It is fiendish in how hard it pushes your vocabulary to the limit.

The ten chapters took me a Herculean three hours of rewardingly fun mental effort in a marathon sitting, and I was all ready to claim the girl as my prize after whomping Medusa.

… And then they tell me, you’re only -just- done with Book 1.

There is a Book 2. (No, no, not the sequel Bookworm Adventures Deluxe 2, though there is one. But as in, in this singular game, Bookworm Adventures Deluxe, there is not just ten chapters of Book 1, there is also a Book 2, and presumably ten more chapters?!)

And I checked the main title screen and sure enough, some other feature only unlocks after you’ve completed Book 3.

TWO MORE BOOKS in this one game? Are you telling me it gets EVEN harder from here on up? And that I have another SIX hours to go?

I decidedly to mercifully end the marathon before my back killed me, but wow, I was impressed. It’s going to last me some time yet.

Book 2: Arabian Nights, here we come.

CoH: Why I Love This Summer Blockbuster Event

And now for something I do like from City of Heroes, lest you think I am a sour grapes and am just using the poor aging game as a whipping boy.

I know it seems that way. I’m honestly not happy with my sudden ennui and frustration. I joined it in the end of 2004, and my loyalty didn’t waver until last year’s track record shook it badly. (It was obvious the company culture and certain devs had changed hands.)

I have the equivalent of 84 months – 7 years – of veteran rewards. I don’t want it selling out to become the worse of F2P (slippery slide down the slope of lottery and gambling for big profits) and the worse of WoW (slippery slide up the repetitive grind shiny gear-chasing ladder).

It still does do -some- things right. Though sometimes I’m convinced they were happy accidents of fate.

The Summer Blockbuster Event neatly encapsulates a lot of the good things I do like. I don’t know how much of it is purposeful design and how much is just bonus, but there’s a lot to describe and break down.

It’s an event designed for a group of 4 players. It is begun by queuing using the LFG turnstile system and you have a choice of PUGing it (a pickup group) or forming your own premade group of 4 to start.

You begin in a Theatre Lobby, which builds in some breathing space for slow zoning players, getting to know your new group and discuss strategy and tactics or teach anyone if they’re new. The Lobby also sports helpful inspiration vendors, masquerading as steampunk popcorn vendors, and acts as the hospital for defeated players.

Theatre Lobby
The all-important surprisingly non-overpriced refreshments

It also has a nice immersion easter egg, winning player-created movie poster designs for folks to admire. (I believe the vendor is also a winning player costume design.)

From left to right: Magical Dream Unicorns The Movie, Brass Monday (it’s all a Nemesis Plot), Ascension (impossible just got easier), IT Came From Beneath The City
From left to right: The Guard (not all heroes need powers), My User Dave (ever get the feeling you’re being watched?) Hero One (one mission, one chance, one way), DFB (Death From Bologna)

The event comes in two parts, representing the movies Time Gladiator and Casino Heist. Whichever part starts first is random, which brings a small but nice touch of variation to the party. They are covered in detail in two separate posts as linked.

A loadscreen sets up the two movies, aka minigame-like missions

There are so many reasons why I love these Summer Blockbusters.

1) A New Innovative System

This used to be what City of Heroes stood for. Each Issue, they’d experiment with something new, something not seen before, something that pushed the envelope of what they could do with their aging MMO engine. That’s why I kept up a subscription year after year, even if I took a break for several months, because I wanted to see the devs continually surprise us with good stuff.

These Summer Blockbusters are an intricate complex arrangement of mission mechanics that were probably first built for the Incarnate Trials, and all I can say is, it’s about fucking time that they brought some of it down to the small group level.

2) Flexible Paths to Success

There’s one perfect ideal path. The path that gets you all the ten badges in one run in the shortest amount of time possible. When it happens, it is a really good feeling that all the players are in sync with each other, perfect score, awesome team, very nice job, all that congratulatory business. But you know what?

You still get the shiny IO reward at the end as long as you can complete the entire thing, even if people take alternate routes, even if people screw up, even if you don’t get a perfect badge run. And that is as it should be. That rewards persistence, not giving up, forgiveness of mistakes (your own or other people’s). No big loss, it’s just a badge you can get at another time, assuming you didn’t already have it.

Even if people inadvertently disconnect and drop out of the team, the event is completable with less people. I’ve done it with three (from scratch, a dark def, a dark corruptor and a scrapper), and even two (that was halfway through that folks crashed, so it was the casino heist left. The biggest problem was Sylvia’s regeneration rate that my lone stalker couldn’t beat. A scrapper joined up by chance using the LFG queue and that extra damage was sufficient to overcome her and ultimately leave us both walking home with the Universal Damage IO reward.)

The only issue is that the casino story doesn’t quite line up properly and you’d have to wait for the phases to time out and forgo the chance of perfect badge scoring on that part.

3) Small Group Dynamics

The only thing I do kinda wish is if they managed to scale it down to soloability, just to be inclusive, but I’ll seriously take four-person teams over 24-man Incarnate trial raids ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

It’s small enough to be aware of the role of each person and allows for chances for group synergy (who’s tanking, who’s doing damage, who’s supporting, and hybrid versions thereof.) It’s not so chaotically messy.

I rather like that they chose to exemplar us down to lvl 29. Too high a level is a little exclusionary for those who don’t have higher leveled characters. And those of us with higher leveled characters, well, when we exemplar down to a mid-range,  most of us lose all the gap filling powers and set bonuses that allow people to run around heedless of archetype soloing things tankmage style, and have to fall back a little more on the fun group dynamics of City of Heroes.

As a guy on the forums mentioned, his support characters actually felt valuable, like they could shine in true support, rather than be overshadowed by the thousandth and one uber-Incarnate scrapper. Scrappers and even brutes are squishier at lvl 29. Good support helps them shine. In turn, squishy classes ARE squishy at lvl 29. Proper tanking and holding aggro really makes life easier.

I also really appreciated the lack of purple triangles on many of the AVs and bosses. Control classes have a good chance of stacking enough control to make a visible, noticeable difference. This stuff matters. This stuff lets players feel their characters are effective.

I took my support characters out of the deep freeze (270 days and counting) to play the event and it felt good to make a noticeable difference, something I simply wasn’t feeling in Incarnate trials.

4) It Encourages Alting

There’s a 20-hour limit on one character to earn the desirable IO shiny via the event. I think this was meant more to limit the rate at which the shiny is earned, but it is a happy accident that this encourages the digging up of alts to run multiple playthroughs.

I’ve been unearthing more and more alts to run them through the event and it feels like meeting old friends again. This nostalgic fondness for characters long forgotten, but still up to performing well as muscle memory kicks in.

And with different alts, comes different playstyles. This is the true essence of CoH. People can run the same mission repetitively because they’re playing with different powersets and playstyles, and with different people – which makes you adapt and change to fit what the group needs at that point in time.

I’ve had picture perfect optimum role runs where everyone fell naturally into CoH’s hybrid version of the holy trinity (with extra buff/debuff and cc love!)

I’ve had runs where a secondary class can fill in roles in a pinch, with others’ support (my scrapper was tanking with the leadership buffs from a Soldier of Arachnos), or the more nonstandard but still good combinations (the controller used phantom army to tank)

I’ve even had the eyebrow-raising “ooh er, this is tricky” runs. Namely, one run with all squishies, two controllers who didn’t have invulnerable pets, a dom and a blaster. We all got tossed around and three-shotted over-and-over by the first AV in the arena as we established none of us had true tanking capability as is. At which point, I rolled my eyes, bought a bunch of purple Lucks from the popcorn vendor and acted as volunteer tank by virtue of stacking three of them at once for effective defence and just unloading on the damage till I drew aggro. Things stabilized from there, and yes, we got the shiny at the end.

Or the run with my ancient low-damage stone tank, two lowbie brutes who also seemed not that well-slotted on damage, and an illusion controller. I went in expecting to be all tanky, and then I realized that everyone was survivable, the controller’s phantom army was tanking half the time and one of the brutes the other, and the total amount of damage everyone was outputting was scarily miserable since the three melee types were sucking wind on endurance issues. So three quarters of the time, I ran around toggle-less in order to save endurance and do normal (for a tanker) levels of damage to contribute and everyone stopped for lots of blue candies at the inspiration vendor later. We managed, pretty painfully, but managed.

5) Short and Sweet, Fast and Furious

On the whole, excepting the rare cases above, each event is exactly that, short, sweet instances of fast furious fun and action where you get to beat up some AVs in a small group. It’s like the Imperious Task Force (everyone’s all-time favorite TF) in miniature.

6) LFG Tool is Actually Working For Once

Wait time is minimal. I presume this is because critical mass of 4 people is much easier to achieve than presuming 16-24 people have the patience (or lack of sense) to stand around queueing hoping that an Incarnate trial will start, utterly leaderless and still succeed.

And success is easier to come by and the mechanics easier to learn and more forgiving, which yields positive feedback into the loop and encourages more players to keep queuing because hey, these random groups of people can still  succeed and they’re fast and convenient to get into, and no one needs to lead. Everyone just needs to do their part.

ATITD: The Bijou (and Gem-Cutting)

Before I played this game, I had no idea such a word existed. And to be honest, I only looked up the definition when writing this post.

bi·jou [bee-zhoo, bee-zhoo]

noun, plural bi·joux

1. a jewel.

2. something small, delicate, and exquisitely wrought.

Etymology: 1660s, from Fr. bijou, from Breton bizou “(jeweled) ring,” from bez “finger” (cf. Cornish bisou “finger-ring,” 13c.)

Welp, learn something new every day.

Despite my ignorance of many things French, the Test of the Bijou produces one of my favorite minigame puzzles to play in A Tale in the Desert.

You are presented with a target gem cut to achieve (top left, on the sticks.) A cuboidal gem sits on the Scholar’s Gem Cutting Table. Your job? Cut the gem to match the target gem cut.

Essentially, bijous (the player-created puzzles) are like training wheels for the skill of gem-cutting.

Similar to blacksmithing in ATITD, which involves actually hammering polygons towards a target shape and allows for true player skill development (unlike typical wussy progress-bar increment blacksmithing in most MMOs – I’ll cover blacksmithing in a future post, in the meantime, you can check out Van Hemlock’s old old post about it which first got me involved with the game), gem-cutting involves cutting (or subtracting) away at polygons until you reach the desired shape.

I find gem-cutting slightly easier than blacksmithing, in the sense that the cuts are more predictable and less pixel-finicky.

What’s less fun is that mistakes cannot be taken back. If you cut wrongly, that’s it, you’ve screwed up, and you’re one cuttable gem down.

Cuttable gems are obtained by waiting around for a water mine to spit one up every ~4-20 minutes (definitely on the longer side most of the time) and there are seven types (that the mine appears to rolls randomly from) so waiting for the exact type you want can be an exercise in significant patience and time.

Gem cutting is also reliant somewhat on luck. The cuttable gem you start out with has a defined set of flaws, and certain gem cuts must have flaws in some pattern to achieve. If the gem you placed on the table didn’t have those flaws, tough luck, you can’t cut that gem, go look for another best possible gem cut to make with the existing gem and try again with the next gem.

Bijous shortcut all that. You’re guaranteed that the gem it presents you with is one that you can achieve the solution at the end. And you don’t need a cuttable gem to start a bijou puzzle, nor do you get any product from it. All you get is some satisfaction and a little better at gem-cutting.

The best guide to gem-cutting that I’ve found so far is on the Tale 3 wiki page here. (This may not be obvious to many new players, but the later wikis Tale 4-6 sometimes take shortcuts with explanations because the veterans are already quite familiar. I find browsing back to the Tale 2 and 3 wikis can sometimes provide a clearer explanation to newbies just gettingthe  hang of things.) There was even a school in Tale 3 that set up a bunch of bijou tables to teach gem-cutting to people, which makes me wish I was clued into ATITD a lot sooner.

But well, we do the best with what we have. Some day, I’ll work through that immense list of gem cuts. For now, I’ve just about progressed to the point of being halfway competent at basic cuts and able to solve bijous like these.

First off, orientation. People normally stand facing Disc 1 like so. There are three discs. Disc 1 does a complete horizontal or vertical slice in the same plane as the saw disc showing.

Disc 2 does a kind of diagonal slice. And disc 3 does the other kind of “angled” diagonal slice.

(The technical wiki explanation for those who find it more helpful: Each disc will remove all the outermost vertices along a plane. Disc 1 removes the left side of the gem. Disc 2 removes the diagonal plane touching on the upper and front sides of the gem. Disc 3 removes the diagonal plane touching on the upper, front, and right sides of the gem. )

Me, I just got turned around by the wiki after a while. You have to try it to get the feel of it.

Rotating the gem is also a “by feel” thing for me. The J and K keys rotate the gem left and right. Technically, this is “rotating the gem along the Z axis” as pictured by my cruddy diagramming above.

U and I rotate the gem up and down, or ahem, “rotating the gem along the Y axis.”

The last set of keys O and L rotate the gem left and right along the unseen faces in the picture above (or “along the X axis” for those more comfortable with 3d modelling terminology.)

Now that we can move the gem around, we can get to cutting:

Step 1 – Find the flaw that matches the target gem cut

The target gem cut as pictured above has that particular shaped flaw. Rotate the cube about looking for it.

Here I’ve already sped things along by showing it in the picture… except it doesn’t quite match up. There’s some other ugly flaws in the way.

This calls for a straight slice from Disc 1.

Tada! That looks a lot more like it. Just um, upside down.

We can fix that. Rotate rotate.

Step 2 – Cut away excess layers to approach the target shape

We don’t need the other stuff in the way, so disc 1 to the rescue again, keep rotating the gem to face unwanted planes to the saw and trim it down to the appropriate size.

Wheeee! Done?

No, I lied. I didn’t show you the other camera angle yet.

This target gem cut actually has 4 symmetrical “angled diagonal” faces behind.

Step 3 – Choose the correct blade and trim the other faces to match.

This always throws me off, I’m just about getting better at it, choosing between disc 2 and disc 3. In this case, I made a guess that disc 3 would be the appropriate one and did a hail mary cut.

Phew. It was the right blade. Now that face matches.

From here, it was a matter of rotating and using the same blade to clean up the other three sides.

In similar vein to the other thought tests, I won’t show the final steps, but it’s quite easy from here. I’ve also gone into a bit more detail with showing you all this bijou ‘solution’ because frankly, it’s a lot easier described than done. A good part of the challenge is in the gem manipulation, managing camera angles,  and the not accidentally over-cutting 🙂

Here’s a peek at another bijou:

See the flaws and the shape of where the target gem cut should lie?

Trust me, it’s easier when I show the correct face to you here, rotating to look for it from six possible faces is a bit less easy. 🙂

What disc(s) should be used to chop it to its super duper thinness?

Disc 1 was the correct answer, getting rid of all the stuff behind it essentially. Now which other disc to clear the remaining junk?

That would be last disc we haven’t used in this post as yet.

And soon after that… done.

One more recognized bijou, and one more level.

ATITD: Some Suggested Strategies For Solving Pathmakers

Pathmakers are one of the true minigame puzzles of Egypt. They are reminiscent of all the pipe games you’ll be able to find in various Flash-type incarnations about the web.

Ostensibly, the lore is that the pathmakers represent “aqueduct paths” in Egypt, and each dot is a “aqueduct tower” and the black lines are the “aqueduct pipes.” Whatever. It’s better as an abstraction.

The objective is simple, getting there less so. Basically, form one enclosed loop that includes all of the dots.

To quote from the ATITD wiki, the rules are as follows:

A Pathmaker puzzle is played on a two-dimensional grid. Initially, each square either contains a red tower, blue tower, or is empty.

You may place pipe segments on a square, including squares containing a tower, by clicking on the square. Clicking on a square again cycles through the possible pipe options for that square:

  • Straight pipe, top-to-bottom.
  • Straight pipe, left-to-right.
  • Pipe with a 90 degree bend (4 possible orientations).

The object of the puzzle is to join all towers into a single closed loop, while obeying these rules:

  • All pipes must connect up correctly to adjacent squares
  • You may only have one pipe segment per square, i.e. you cannot have a “cross” pipe.
  • Pipes on a square with a blue tower must be straight.
  • Pipes on a square with a red tower must be a 90 degree bend.
  • One of the pipes connected immediately adjacent to a blue tower must be a 90 degree bend. (Note: the rules only require one of the two to be a bend, but both can be bends if you like).
  • The two pipes connected immediately adjacent to a red tower must be straight.

The Pathmaker will not let you place pipes that violate these rules.

If that just made your eyes glaze over, worry not, let’s try it with a visual example.

When first starting out, I recommend finding a symmetrical puzzle. Like so, where the dots are a mirror image of each other.

This assures you that if you just solve one half of the puzzle, you can copy the solution to the other half, and it should be easier to achieve a closed loop.

In general, the best places to start a Pathmaker are from the edges (assuming there are dots there), and from areas with clumped up dots (in this example, the center has a big clump.)

The clumps of dots and edges restrict the number of viable solutions, so you have a better chance of getting it right. Remember, the pathmaker will not allow you to place an invalid pipe.

So, starting from the edges, we see a red dot at all four corners.

Red dots MUST have a 90-degree elbow bend on them. So click on the red dot, and the only viable orientation is the one that faces inward to the puzzle.

Red dots MUST also have a straight pipe leading out both ways from the bend. So click on the adjacent two squares and extend the bend.

Right, that defines the edges of the puzzle already. (Two pipes are left out on purpose in the above picture, it’s a guide, not a walkthrough.)

The are two other red dots we are interested in, very close to our established corners. There is only one logical orientation for the other two red dots to follow. Look at the picture below.

The straight pipes extending from the red dot in the corner prevent the middle dot from taking on any other orientation but the one following the corner. Ditto the subsequent red dot.  (See the top right of the puzzle.)

Even if you were to fool around with the third red dot and rotate it in another configuration, extending its bend with the straight lines will show you that you’ve now trapped the middle red dot. There’s no valid path and the pathmaker will refuse to let you place any black line there. (Top left of the puzzle.)

So logically, all four corners have the same curved-in pattern, which you can proceed to fill in.

The blue dots nearby help to confirm this. Blue dots MUST have a straight pipe passing through them.

Blue dots also MUST have at least one 90 degree elbow bend next to their straight pipe, but we’ll worry about that part later.

The other place that is good to work on here is the middle clump of dots. Four red dots in the center, frankly, only one configuration to go. Can you tell the above picture has a flaw in the bottom right red dot?

It can’t be in that orientation,  a straight pipe must connect to the bend, and you can’t put a straight pipe through a red dot.

Keep clicking to rotate the pipe, to look more like this:

Now we can start adding the compulsory bends that need to be adjacent to the blue dots.

This starts to be more a matter of intuition and trial-and-error as there are more possibilities, but a good rule of thumb, or guideline, rather, is to try and close the loop and join the dots with the least amount of space/pipes.

Creators tend to fill up the entire grid or nearly so with a pipe pattern, so conserving space for other pipes to fit will give more room to maneuver.

From here come the small tweaks, adding and changing the pipes with no dots in them, and getting them to connect up to form a continuous enclosed loop.

Sorry, no solution picture included, wouldn’t be fair for the creator or the philosophy behind the thought tests. The idea is that it should involve -some- thought, after all. 🙂

For tougher puzzles, if a conflict occurs and the dots forbid the pipes joining up, then it’s time to backtrack a little and remove some pipes and see if the dots can be joined in another configuration.

Asymmetrical puzzles like these may take some persistence to connect.

The good news is there’s a lot of “white space” in between the dots for this one, so there’s more freedom of paths that can connect up.

This one was hell. It took a lot of “not giving up” and plugging away at it to finally achieve a solution.

There can be more than one solution to any pathmaker, as long as the dots don’t force it into one configuration. So don’t worry and just focus on making sure all the dots are linked up, and that an enclosed path forms from the linked up dots.

When you see an enclosed path, right clicking on the Pathmaker will show you the “Claim a Win” option which you can proudly use to get the game to check your solution. If it conforms to all the rules above, badabing, success! And it will let you judge and rate the puzzle.

A short trip around Egypt later to visit three ‘recognized’ Pathmakers and plugging away at them, yielded three wins and one shiny Pathmaker principles level. Relatively easy.

ATITD: Next Goal, Four “Easy” Levels

Since Tale 3, A Tale in the Desert also sports a leveling system. Apparently the structure and guided objectives lent a sense of progress and retained players for far longer than they stuck around for a level-less system, so that was that, one more deathblow to a no-levels paradise some people may dream of.

One of the disadvantages of levels is also present in ATITD. You have to earn enough levels to “unlock” certain things (skills, machinery or activities) that you may want to use.

While there’s the social alternative as a s solution for some of it (there have been a few itinerant blacksmiths wandering around as level 0 peasants, they simply borrow/use someone else’s already constructed anvil and tools – which they would not be able to build), ultimately, it’s not terribly practical.

The good news is that though there are 70 maximum levels, past level 42, there is no more in-game significance (skills or technology or tests unlocked) to them. It’s sort of like Guild Wars’ Hall of Monuments – you can reach 50 points, but only 30 give you only any tangible benefit besides a cool title.

Furthermore, when you check the levels and skills pages of the wiki, levels which give any real practical benefit are the lower levels and top off around 29-32. At level 29, is the last level of Cooking (assuming you had any interest in that activity) and at level 32, Detonation, a technology which uses explosives to make gravel quickly in a detonation pit – but one can always make gravel without the risk of blowing oneself up by hitting stones with a sledgehammer.

Further extra stuff is nice to have, but not mission critical. (In Tale 4, I targeted level 28 for Silkworm Farming, but I note in Tale 5 and Tale 6, they have cut the requirement down to level 19, even easier to achieve.)

In a way, this is also good, because higher levels are also exponentially harder to achieve in ATITD. I believe only one person has ever reached the maximum level before a Telling ended.

Levels are gained as follows:

  • 1 for Citizenship
  • 1 for each of the seven Principles of the disciplines. (7)
  • 1 for each Test principle (49)
  • 1 for each Title prefix change (7) (Student of… through Oracle of…). Note that this does not mean one level per test passed.
  • 1 for each extra Oracleship you receive (6)

That’s essentially from easiest to hardest. Citizenship is the ATITD tutorial, basically. The first seven initiations (or principles of the disciplines – Architecture, Art & Music, Body, Harmony, Leadership, Thought and Worship) start out easy and get a little bit trickier.

Test Principles range in difficulty, but are the primary way to get levels. Doing Principles simply mean fulfilling a list of tasks that introduce you to the Test, and are usually a partial demonstration of what the Test is about. This qualifies you for a level.

For more challenged-inclined folks, they can aim to pass the Test itself. This usually involves significantly more effort, competition with others, and possibly long-term time investment. If they do pass the Test, and if the Test gives them a change of prefix title, then they get a level. If not, they just get the prestige and satisfaction of having passed it.

Title prefixes are changed by passing 1-7 Tests in a particular discipline. Passing all seven in one discipline means you become an Oracle of that discipline. Naturally, not easy.

And if you have an extra Oracleship, comes the final bonus levels. (I don’t even want to consider how much effort that would be.)

Fortunately, I have much lower aspirations. I will quite happily settle for around the lvl 29-32 mark eventually. Since I took a couple months off, my characters were lvl 16 and 18 respectively, and that’s still slightly too low to unlock several skills and techs and tests and I want.

Amidst the horde of panels indicating “yet-to-do” Principles, each of which is worth one level if I can conceivably complete them (and some are distinctly not easy to), I noted a few that were.

The Thought Principles of the Venery, the Pathmaker, and the Bijou (whose principles I had yet to get from the University in the screenshot below), along with the Harmony Principle of Reason.

The Discipline of Thought is all about minigame puzzles. Minigame puzzles that involve Thought (naturally) and that are player-created, player-solved and rated.

Like all good sandboxes, ATITD offers a number of different ways to get the same principle done. After all, what is the point of shoddy puzzles built by people who just want the level, and aren’t interested in making a good puzzle to pass the Test with?

So you can:

1) Build the puzzle, following the suggested principles list

and then a) Have 7 people do the puzzle and judge it, ie. give it a rating

or b) If you cannot wait or attract 7 people to have any interest in it, you could also tear it down

Naturally, tearing it down wastes the materials, and means you cannot pass the Test since you don’t have a puzzle any more, but if you’re looking for just the level off the Principles, it is an option – essentially “spending” or “paying” the materials cost without the aggravation of waiting for people’s judgments.

Or you can 2) Play and solve 3 recent winning puzzles.

These are Test passing puzzles that win weekly based on the best aggregated player rating. These are guaranteed to be at least somewhat good or hard puzzles, representative of what Egypt thinks is a “good” puzzle for that particular Test.

That second option is what I’m aiming for.

Because spending the time and materials to build these things is not particularly what I want to do, nor do I have present plans to pass any Thought Tests (I would have to build them later if I did). Take the Venery as an example:


for the minimum size Venery with 7 lockboxes. Not as bad as a Raeli Oven, but still, quite a lot of gems to cut, and costly when you consider I’ll have to do it twice for my two characters. I’ll do it for a Test pass, but not for a level. And a level is what we’re aiming for here.

So a quick check of the ATITD System log for the last 28 days or so of Test Passes, a quick ctrl+F “Find” of the keywords Venery, Pathmaker and Bijou, and I had my target locations to trek to for the most recent winning puzzles.