Ambrosia Times & Cythera



  • Old Cythera screenshots

    I was browsing the Ambrosia Times the other day (they still have the library online much to my surprise!), and I came across some interesting old stuff from Cythera. It's probably been discussed before, but I figured we might as well have another topic and some renewed discussion. I poured through most of the issues by hand to see if I was missing anything by just checking their index, but they seem to have listed pretty much everything pertaining to Cythera that's interesting to us (except the few screenshots and release announcement in 1999).

    Just going through some of the material from the index, you can see that the first article is a small piece about Delver's status. In January of 97, Gandreas says the engine is basically done. This one's not too interesting except for reinforcing that it was too bad the game didn't get released until September of 99. Gandreas mentions in a couple places that the Diablo engine is a lot more advanced, but Delver-based RPGs would have been more popular since it was among the best in its early days. I think this may be true since Diablo wasn't released for the Mac until mid-98, although it was available for Windows in early 97. Cythera probably could have met with a little more success from the Mac community if it had been released a year or two before Diablo, which no doubt made competing in the RPG market pretty tough for a while. This isn't to say that all of Cythera's problems belong at Diablo's doorstep; they are different in that one is more of a slasher game while the other is more plot-driven among other things. But still, one can see how when Gandreas was developing Delver, before the much larger and wealthier Blizzard released Diablo, he felt the engine had a lot of promise because of its technologies.

    This article also mentions an old game called Manse, which I hadn't heard of before. It apparently never made it to release, but they have several articles about it in the Times. You should check it out in the index. Looks like it was going to be some sort of first-person horror game where you're wandering around an abandoned mansion or something. I didn't read the description too closely, but the pictures looked fun and different from a lot of the other stuff Ambrosia has released.

    The second article in the index is much more discussion-worthy. It's a full article discussing a bit about what Delver can do and how Cythera works. Those screenshots are really different! For starters, it looks like the main character originally did wear a t-shirt and blue jeans. To me this would have made a lot more sense for a person supposedly living in the modern world being pulled to this foreign land. I think playing with a character looking like that would have really served as a constant reminder that you are a stranger in this world, and that Earth is your home. As it is, I often forget that my character isn't a Cytheran native since apparently he runs around in skirts all day.

    Tables, potions, trees, bushes, beds, fountains, everything looks just a little different, although a lot of the layout is the exact same. Clearly, they wanted to redo most of the graphics, but I'm not sure they've changed the feel of the game all that much. The dialogue window was radically different. Apparently, character responses used to appear in little speech bubbles, and there wasn't a formal background to the dialogue. I think the redesign is good in this case since it puts the dialogue front-and-center. Also, I find it funny that the typo "The Kind is Alaric and Alaric is The King" has been in the game from the very beginning, and that it was apparently the first screenshot of the game's dialogue ever shared!

    This was in March of 97, which is part of the reason I'm shocked Cythera took until late 99 to get released. it looks basically done! I do not think it benefitted that much from the extra development time very much at all.

    The next item is a short interview with Gandreas that we've probably all seen at some time or another. It reveals his deep love of puzzles (no surprise there), that the first line of code for Delver was written on Labor Day of 1995, and that he already had the Cythera sequel planned at this point in 97 but he wanted a fully-3D engine for the game. It also shows how reluctant Gandreas is to share pictures online since he chose to use Magpie's portrait instead of an image of himself. He's a secretive man, that's for sure!

    The "What's New" part of the Nov 97 issue is tiny, but they do have a full piece on Cythera's interface. By this time, it's starting to look a lot like the game we all know and love. Indeed, the hero has already gotten rid of his jeans. Drawers and scrolls and some other small things look different, but the game looks virtually ready to go.

    I encourage you to take a look at the March and May content for Cythera in the 1998 issues, but they're nothing we haven't seen before. The screenshots from July of 98 are not too special, but I did enjoy seeing how different Ferazel's Wand looked back then! Now that game really did benefit from entirely redesigned graphics; the final version still looks pretty good today in my opinion. Not to derail the conversation and get too much into Ferazel, but you can look at some of the development screenshots and interviews about it in the Times as well. One of the most notable differences you can see in the screenshots from above is that weapons and standard items used to be separated from magical spells. If more of the spells had been completed and implemented in the game, I think that would have made sense to keep... Anyways, Ferazel's history is interesting as well. As is Harry the Handsome's. Manse is on that page as well. You should just browse around through the Times a bit yourself to get a better appreciation of the history of some of these games. It really is pretty fascinating to look at.

    For your convenience, the Cythera pages I found not listed in the index are Sep 98, Nov 98, Jan 99, Mar 99, May 99, Jul 99, and Sep 99. Those are all direct links to the relevant pages. I know it looks like a lot, but they're all screenshot pages except the release announcement in the September issue. Really nothing much at all can be learned from these screenshots except that the water used to be a bit more of a purple-like color. The "Zippy the Wonder Boy" one is pretty funny from the May issue of 99.

    This topic is kind of a mishmash of all the material in the Ambrosia Times pertaining to Cythera, but I didn't find the later stuff that interesting. The most fascinating pages to me were the very early ones that showed Cythera back in 1997. The other major takeaway for me was about the release time. They initially planned to release Cythera in fall of 1997, and I think it's a pity they weren't able to. It's just weird looking at all those screenshots for two years of a game that barely changed visibly. I'm shocked that there was so much development left when it looked basically ready for release at the end of 1997. It makes one wonder if it would have had a larger following if it had been released earlier. Or would its following have waned more quickly? Would we all be here on this forum if it had been two years older? Hard to say.

    There's a lot of other fun stuff to look at in the Times. Many of the games have revealing early development shots, and they tried to do interviews with a lot of the developers. You ought to take a look! Hopefully, Ambrosia won't decide to take the old Times page down any time soon.

    P.S. As an example of one of the things you can learn browsing through these pages and a reminder of how small a world it is, I see from Matt Burch's interview that he too received a Computer Engineering degree from KU but about 20 years before me! I wonder if any of my teachers remember him... undoubtedly some of them are the same.

    This post has been edited by The Wizard : 08 July 2015 - 02:13 AM


  • Global Moderator

    The strangest part about the two year delay you mention is the number of bugs still in the game. Evidently, these were either low on the list of things to fix or they just weren't noticed. It may be that there were some internal issues with the engine or that some other project distracted gandreas.

    @the-wizard_bot, on 08 July 2015 - 01:58 AM, said in Ambrosia Times & Cythera:

    P.S. As an example of one of the things you can learn browsing through these pages and a reminder of how small a world it is, I see from Matt Burch's interview that he too received a Computer Engineering degree from KU but about 20 years before me! I wonder if any of my teachers remember him... undoubtedly some of them are the same.

    I seem to recall having mentioned this to you before (more than once actually).



  • Whoa, thanks for all these links, Wizzy! I didn't realize such a thing existed, or that it had old pre-release Cythera screenshots! ^ ___^ Those were fun to look at!

    The Wizard said:

    For starters, it looks like the main character originally did wear a t-shirt and blue jeans. To me this would have made a lot more sense for a person supposedly living in the modern world being pulled to this foreign land. I think playing with a character looking like that would have really served as a constant reminder that you are a stranger in this world, and that Earth is your home. As it is, I often forget that my character isn't a Cytheran native since apparently he runs around in skirts all day.

    I've never seen that sprite before! I wonder why he decided to change it to the more heroic-looking versions we have now. I think I like the current versions better (I'm assuming that behind-the-scenes, Bellerophon changed into some Cytheran clothes upon arriving at LKH), but there's something to be said for the reminder that you're a stranger in this land. I'm guessing that the sprite was replaced by the current player sprites, and that's why I've never come across it before, but is it possible the old sprite might still be hiding in some dusty corner of the data? I'm mostly wondering if we could hack ourselves into the original blue-jeans sprite.
    Edit: Bryce confirmed that the T-shirt & jeans sprite isn't in the data : __( Thanks for checking, Bryce!

    The Wizard said:

    Tables, potions, trees, bushes, beds, fountains, everything looks just a little different, although a lot of the layout is the exact same. Clearly, they wanted to redo most of the graphics, but I'm not sure they've changed the feel of the game all that much.

    Yes, I think overall everything looks nicer in the final version, though I'm not sure about the potions. I think the old potions look more like potions than the weird circle things we have in the final version. Also, I totally want one of those green-blanket beds for my house in Cademia!

    The Wizard said:

    The dialogue window was radically different. Apparently, character responses used to appear in little speech bubbles, and there wasn't a formal background to the dialogue. I think the redesign is good in this case since it puts the dialogue front-and-center.

    Yeah, that old dialogue format looks hard to see and confusing!

    One other thing that stands out to me is the lack of a path from LKH. The caption even reads, "Here you see the player having left the mountain stronghold of the LandKing and getting ready to brave the trackless forest between there and civilization." I wonder if the beta testers had trouble finding their way around, so he added a path from LKH to Odemia?

    Gandreas said:

    I try to cover as many bases as possible - obviously I can't cover everything, but I try to cover most of the interesting ones (or the more common, though dull, ones). In general, though, except for a handleful of key plot points, I try to avoid the "one right answer" approach. My rule of thumb is "at least two right answers". For example, if there is some important information, at least two people usually to know it. If you don't have the key for a door, you can break it down. Things like that. The "you crash on an alien world, and unless you have a screwdriver that you needed to pick up at the very beginning of the game you can't open the door to get out" type of puzzle is right out. Instead, if you had the screwdriver, fine, you can open the door, but if you don't, well you can take a crowbar to the window and break it open, or fire a disintegration ray at the door, etc... Again, take some simple behavior of simple things, and allow complex interaction to build "naturally" from them.

    I really appreciate this philosophy for completing quests in Cythera ^ ___^ It's especially important that he makes sure there's more than one solution for each problem, because often one of the solutions doesn't work :x

    The Wizard said:

    The screenshots from July of 98 are not too special, but I did enjoy seeing how different Ferazel's Wand looked back then! Now that game really did benefit from entirely redesigned graphics; the final version still looks pretty good today in my opinion.

    I guess I'm just not as familiar with Ferazel as I am with Cythera, but those screenshots don't look all that different from the final version to me :x

    The Wizard said:

    Anyways, Ferazel's history is interesting as well. As is Harry the Handsome's. Manse is on that page as well. You should just browse around through the Times a bit yourself to get a better appreciation of the history of some of these games. It really is pretty fascinating to look at.

    I might do this, it does sound fun ^_ __^

    The Wizard said:

    The other major takeaway for me was about the release time. They initially planned to release Cythera in fall of 1997, and I think it's a pity they weren't able to. It's just weird looking at all those screenshots for two years of a game that barely changed visibly. I'm shocked that there was so much development left when it looked basically ready for release at the end of 1997. It makes one wonder if it would have had a larger following if it had been released earlier. Or would its following have waned more quickly? Would we all be here on this forum if it had been two years older? Hard to say.

    I wonder about those two years too : __( Was Gandreas just being a perfectionist and trying to make everything as pretty and tidy as he could? Or did he really need that time to finish the scenario and core functionality of the game? If it was possible to release the game two years earlier, I think they would have been better off doing that. As you mentioned, Diablo and other RPGs were released during those two years (I don't really know what Diablo is, but whatever), which maybe made Cythera (which was designed to run on 68k macintoshes) look old-school by comparison.

    As for me personally, I probably would've gotten into Cythera at more-or-less the same time whether it was released in 1997 or in 1999. It's a shame that it wasn't more popular, considering it's the greatest computer game ever, but in a way, I like that the Cythera community isn't huge and intimidating ^_ __^

    This post has been edited by BreadWorldMercy453 : 15 July 2015 - 01:23 PM