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Saturday, 27 April 2019

Larn Volcano Lottery and Becoming Creator


Spoiler alert! For a 30 year old obscure game!

What's the Larn Volcano Lottery?

Well, it's already described more than a decade ago here. My take is more about winning the easy level fast, whereas the advice on that blog post might be more generally useful for different difficulty levels.

The usefulness of this strategy and the values/costs of items may vary depending on the version of Larn. I tend to play only the online version at larn.org, which has been tweaked a bit, there the LVL works really well only on the easy level.

In short, the aim is to get to the Volcano and grab books and chests, as these sell for amazing prizes. After getting near to 100000, the money can be put into bank. Go through all the classes in the College of Larn and behold, you have enough money for the Lance of Death without having to go deeper than L1 in the dungeon.

It's not really about cheating or circumventing the game, the fun thing about the "lottery" is it is almost like another game inside the game of Larn.

Normally, you would get killed almost instantly in the Volcano, but the Scroll of Stealth prevents that from happening, as the monsters simply won't notice you. However, that scroll alone isn't so useful, as you probably can't find the exit before the scroll effect wears out. So, instead of crawling the dungeons, it becomes a more intense game of route-finding, invention, cleverness, business sense and luck.

The approach also gives a good shot at becoming a Creator, which I'll discuss further below.


Getting the initial funds

So you need to buy these three objects:

  • Scroll of Stealth, because handily the monsters won't move or attack you at all.
  • Scroll of Magic Mapping, because this gives the level map and you can plan your way in and out.
  • Scroll of Pulverization, because a wall or a monster may block your way.

You need roughly 13000 gold to get this holy trinity. Clear the first dungeon level and bring back any scrolls and potions you might come across, never reading or drinking them. Chests and books are always sold, never opened or read, because they can be sold for money.

Don't do anything that might Aggravate Monsters or risk teleportation etc. Trying to get effects from random potions and scrolls is not a good idea with this strategy.

There's nearly always a book and a chest on the first dungeon level, or something that is equally valuable. After selling them you can buy the book from the DND store. This can be sold for good money. After that, buy the chest from the DND store and sell it. You should have above 13000.

If you find a really rare artefact, such as a Device of Theft Prevention, you are in luck as these often sell for more than 10000 and you can stop scavenging instantly. These are rarely very useful in itself.

The scrolls and potions are not brought home for money, as unidentified objects can't be sold. But there is a very rare chance that one of the scrolls turn out to be duplicates of the Three, which increases your chances in the Volcano. You'll identify the scroll types after buying them. Gems are also sold and this is necessary if you don't find anything else of value.

If you have enough surplus money for the Scroll of Identity, you can make sense of your scrolls and potions and perhaps sell them for more than the scroll was worth (fat chance). Not many of them are that useful in the Volcano Lottery anyway.

The Scroll of Hold Monsters is one that can be useful. Expanded Awareness, Enlightement, Object Detection and Treasure Finding might work as poor substitutes for the mapping spell should you need to explore further volcano levels.

Should you try to clear more than the first dungeon level? It takes a bit more time, there's a bigger chance of getting teleport-trapped further down, you might drop into a room full of monsters, and you may encounter monsters that sap your strength, and so on and on. So if you have enough gold, why risk it?


Inside the Volcano

The Scroll of Stealth should be read just before you enter the Volcano, otherwise it won't have any effect there. Immediately after entering, you should read the Scroll of Magic Mapping. Now, take a deep breath and look around for the V sign, which is the exit, and take note of any books (B) and chests (C) you might spot on the way.

My Volcano level V1
In this case, I've been fairly lucky: The volcano exit is near, the staircase to second level is near, and there's a statue (&) at the bottom. (These can be pulverized for the book inside)

I pulverized the Dragon guarding the book at the top, got the book from bottom, and returned, all well within the lifespan of the stealth scroll. I also came up with 10 levels of experience and 50000 gold, not too bad. The books on V1 are not especially valuable, though.

When moving you should take care, as monsters still appear from nowhere on your way and might block a passageway you thought was empty. This is one reason not to linger too long inside the volcano.

With the 50000 I could easily again buy stealth and magic mapping, and a Scroll of Hold Monsters. Greedy, I went to volcano level 2, and was rewarded. I saw a chest and a book for taking, and I didn't need to resort to teleporting at all.

My Volcano level V2
I accidentally hit a gnome king the way back, but luckily this turned out to be not fatal (My character was at level 11 after all) and I could flee. With the chest and book from V2 I became truly rich.

If there's no exit route at all, and the scroll of Pulverization is not enough to clear the way, you can kill a monster with the Pulverization just as in the example above. Make sure it's something that takes you immediately past level 10, as then you can use teleportation with shift+Z. After this it really becomes down to luck, as the teleport can easily take you to any of the three volcano levels, but hopefully it will take you near the exit.

Teleporting, you may find yourself stuck inside a rock and that's it, game over. Additional scrolls of stealth and magic mapping become more valuable here, as you can scan the levels below too.

You can also tickle the monsters with the magic missile spell you already have from the start. This will take the one monster out of the stealth status, and it will start chasing you. If you are clever and the floorplan permits it, you can get around a monster this way.

If the exit (V) can't be seen at all, it could be hidden under an array of monsters. This is nearly always a fatal outcome, but not all is totally lost. Pulverize a monster to get the character past level 10 for the teleport skill. Wait for the stealth effect to dissipate, the monsters begin to move and you might spot the exit and have a snowball's chance in hell of finding your way there. A scroll of Hold Monsters can be a lifesaver. Reading the Books might give you an useful spell, too.


Shopping

Even after getting a couple of books or chests out of the Volcano, you are rarely filthy rich. The money has to be invested.

The College of Larn does absolutely nothing to your stats, it is only for spending time so your money grows in the bank. I only recently understood that this is a satirical joke, probably tied to a very specific time, social class and locality in the history of US. Well, anyway, take all courses, and keep all the other money in the bank.

If even after the courses have run out you still don't have quite enough funds for the Lance of Death, you can walk around the surface to spend some more time. Walking 100 squares takes one mobul, the time unit in Larn. Each mobul spent increases your funds 1/250th. 125000 in the bank, and your funds increase by 500 each mobul. Note that running around with shift-key, won't spend mobuls faster, but will wear out your spells faster. (Larn's time is weird like that)

After you get the Lance of Death, if you can still buy another Scroll of Stealth you can return to the Volcano with a vengeance and simply kill everyone you meet without them knowing you hit them. If you didn't have money for the Stainless Steel Armor the first time, this stealthy rampage will ensure you'll get the funds.


How to become level 100, The Creator

This is something I bothered to do only very recently.

A combination of Stealth and Lance of Death is helpful to up your levels in the volcano. With the Lance, go through the dungeon levels. The only intent is to get your spellbook filled (shoot those statues) and any rings of protection & scrolls of Enchant Armor and Weapon.

If you wield your shield as a weapon, it can be improved with Enchant Weapon. When your AC is 40-50, the volcano monsters cease to pose a threat.

Ramp up your armor and keep any rings of protection and regeneration for the cumulative effect, eventually throwing away other types of rings if necessary. After a certain point energy rings will no longer be useful as your spell count never diminishes.

If you encounter the genocide (gen) spell early enough, it might be handy to wipe out all Spirit nagas (n) as they can still be missed and may produce some nasty random effect.

The end game: You can use Vaporize (vpr) to tease out a Demon Prince out of the altars, each time, preparing each kill with a Hold Monster (hld) or Stealth. But this route is stressful and slow as you have to take care not to step on the altar square.

There's so much junk and trinkets the larn.org reality begins to crack.
When you find a Permanence (per) spell, you can make your stealth and other effects permanent. Combined with Create Monster (cre) spell, you can generate masses of non-moving Demon Lords and Demon Princes at the bottom of the volcano, and then kill them for xp.

After creating 9 monsters around you, you can move down and across to destroy the whole bunch. With Wall-Walk (wtw) you can move inside a solid wall and create the demons alongside the wall as you move slowly within it. Then you come out of the wall, hold the move key to kill a whole row of demons, which I believe is the most time-effective way of gaining xp at this point.

After a mind-numbing repetition and time (watch those mobuls), you'll eventually climb up to level 100. The experience limits do not raise exponentially after a certain level which makes this more bearable.

To me there was no apparent advantage of being The Creator, it seems to be just a title. After all you need to "create" a bunch of stuff to achieve this level, so it's apt. Ha, ha. I did not check if there are any special commands for that status, though.

The character is quite un-killable around level 25 anyway, and especially after the permanence spell almost nothing can threaten you anymore. Funnily enough you as The Creator can still get hit by traps, you can slip when exiting the volcano, fall into the infinite pit, your spells can still fail etc.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

ZX Spectrum ULAplus mode, Multipaint etc.

I was asked to do ULAplus extended ZX Spectrum graphics mode support for the Multipaint painting software.

I was initially reluctant. Multipaint supports only the most established and "culturally recognized" modes, and I've not bothered to make C64 FLI/AFLI modes either, and they don't even require new hardware.

But I then saw that some images might actually come out of it, and seeing as I already own hardware that can display the mode (ZX Evolution) my curiosity grew. It's a challenging mode to work with, and Multipaint might help here.

I suppose a fairly huge proportion of currently active ZX Spectrum enthusiasts would be at least aware of the ULAplus mode. Although there are many modded and patched games and converted images that use the palette, the lack of editors and paint programs means Multipaint could even fill a niche here.

I'd usually prefer to release things before discussing them, but here I'll make an exception as there's a bit more to digest than usual.


ULAplus hardware?

In addition to the already mentioned ZX Evolution, I know about a ZX-UNO computer that has it. Then there is the SLAM drop-in ULA replacement which works on 128k or a +2.

A HDMI video board called the TK-Pie appears to promise these modes too.


Emulators also support the mode. I couldn't get my Linux Fuse patched to support it, but I have the mode working on ZX-UNO emulation within the ZEsarUX emulator. There I have to switch the mode on in the Display segment of the settings menu.



ULAplus and ZX Evolution

I had to update the firmware of my ZX Evolution to make this mode work. The firmware you get from one of the nedopc pages is not recent enough, so I went to GitHub and downloaded the latest zxevo_fw.bin and zxevo.rom. (Go look for the ROM at pentevo/rom/bin/)

I cannot guarantee this is the best option for your ZX Evolution, but at least I have my ULAplus mode working on a hardware speccy.

Upgrading the firmware was easy as I have my Evo inside a mini-ITX case. Wired correctly, I can then copy the zxevo_fw.bin to the SD card, and simply hold down the "soft" power button while plugging the cable in. The power LED flashes a bit and the firmware has been upgraded. These days the ZXevo ROM can be updated from within the baseconf service and it is a good practice to have both the ROM and the firmware updated at the same time.

ZX Evolution does not have a full ULAplus mode, it omits the difference between 6th and 7th level of the Red and Green components. So it might be something to consider when making graphics on the ULAplus.




ULAplus mode in Multipaint

Here I focus on how ULAplus works in practice and what it might mean for someone using Multipaint, although it's not yet definite how it will work.

ULAplus is clever in that it does not make the Specrum incompatible, it simply changes what is done with the memory bits that make up the display file. So, I'm only talking about the most standard mode, which has the same old resolution of 256 x 192 and the 32 x 24 attribute resolution with 256 colours to choose from.

The attribute "clash" is not removed, there are still two colours inside an 8x8 area, and much like with the ZX Spectrum there are rules to how these colours can be chosen.

But as there are more colours and they can be combined in more flexible ways, the look of the graphics can be changed quite radically. I'd go as far as to say the ULAplus experience proves the colour clash wasn't such a huge problem with the original ZX Spectrum, the limited colour palette was.

Here's a diagram that may be more confusing than helpful, but let's try it out:

From Multipaint painter's perspective:

-There is an index of 64 colours.
-These 64 colours can be adjusted with RGB sliders from a total of 256 colours. It is a kind of semi-9-bits RGB palette.
-The 64 colours are really four sets of 16 colours. No colours from two different 16-colour sets can be mixed inside the 8 x 8 area.
-Each of the 16-colour sets are further split into two subsets of 8 colours. The colours inside the 8x8 must be from a different subset. ("INK" and "PAPER")

Just as in the normal ZX Spectrum mode, Multipaint does not care which colour is INK or which is PAPER. This is why I have described the mode in a bit idiosyncratic way.

The internal workings can be partly forgotten by the artist, but still ULAplus is more complex than the ZX Spectrum limitations and it would be better if the artist understood these rules.

My starting point for the ULAplus Multipaint engine was to first prevent any pixel drawing operations that cannot be done, and then attempt to fill in the gaps with some helpful intelligence, without going overboard with this "helpfulness".

An early test of the TAP export, shown on the screen of a ZX Evolution computer.
The 16-colour set is technically called a Colour Look-Up Table (CLUT) and I will now follow that terminology here.

So, if the pen colour is from another 16-colour set (CLUT) than the colours underneath, then Multipaint likely won't allow you to draw on it.

If there is no diversifying pixel information at all within the 8x8 cell (it is filled with 64 pixels of the same colour) and it is not legal to draw with the current pen colour, it will be "primed" by Multipaint with the chosen colour. The area will also belong from that point onwards to that CLUT.

However, if the pen colour is legal the pixels will be added on that square and from that point on it will have two colours in it.

So, two different halves of a CLUT combine to make the colours on the same 8x8 area. It doesn't matter which colours or bits are there internally, just as long as you use the same pen colours that already exist on the area, it will work.

Multipaint allows a small detour here: If there is a way to resolve the drawing operation by using different colours from the same CLUT, this will be attempted. If this won't work, a possible combination will be sought from another CLUT.

For example you might have the colour black (0,0,0) in both sides of the same CLUT, this would facilitate drawing black easily on any colours that belongs to that CLUT without having to pick the correct colour everytime.

If the colour black is present at all sides of all four CLUTs, you can freely draw with the colour black over any portion of the picture, the 2-colour rule of course applies.

Also, if you want to breathe freely and have 8 colours that behave like the Spectrum with no CLUT nonsense, define the colours 8-15 same as the colours 0-7, and draw away!

Powerdrome pitstop from Atari ST/Amiga. An adaptation, not a conversion.
Importantly, the palette will be visually separated to show the 16-colour sets as rows. The artist ought to internalize the idea that the colours within an 8x8 area have to be from within the same CLUT, and from different "sides".