Wake up service from the past – Sleeping Gods Lie

And SSI thought they had a monopoly on awesome ads. This one for Sleeping Gods Lie in the UK (and apparently, only in the UK and Europe) boldly proclaimed that this was a fantasy epic. Even without screenshots, it's a great illustration.

And SSI thought they had a monopoly on awesome ads. This one for Sleeping Gods Lie in the UK (and apparently, only in the UK and Europe) boldly proclaimed that this was a fantasy epic. Even without screenshots, it’s a great illustration.

Sleeping Gods Lie was released in 1989 by Empire, a large software company in the UK that would go on to be a prolific developer and publisher of PC games in the following years.

This one has an interesting setup. In short, the gods created the world that you’ll be adventuring on. But afterwards, they left it to its own devices with the last god apparently going to sleep. In their absence, a powerful empire arose to control the world and the Archmage, a powerful member of the Imperial court, became the proverbial power behind the throne.

As for you, you’ve awakened to another day when you hear a crash at your door. Worried that it might be Imperial agents come to take someone else away for imagined crimes against the state, you hesitate to open it, only doing so when you find your back door key missing limiting your options. But it wasn’t an Imperial agent that comes through the door. It’s the beaten body of a Kobbold.

Kobbolds (the game’s spelling, not mine) were the masters of trade on your world, linking together the many lands until their strange disappearance years ago. This one, however, was barely alive and dying. Despite your offer to help, his dying breath relates to you the story of his people…that they disappeared looking for the Sleeping God, N’Gnir, hoping that with his power the Archmage could be toppled freeing the land. He gives you a small, strange bracelet, begs you to find the Hermit and fulfill their quest, and then dies.

And as the chosen one to fulfill this destiny, that’s what you set out to do.

Sleeping Gods Lie started off with a multi-page book that went into all sorts of detail about the land of Tessera.

Sleeping Gods Lie started off with a multi-page book that went into all sorts of detail about the land of Tessera.

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It even broke down how the calendar worked with names for each of the months to descriptions of the land's geography. A lot of this information was neat fluff, but had little bearing on the mechanics of the game. The changing days didn't really mean much -- there no special holidays or phases of the moon to worry about.

It even broke down how the calendar worked with names for each of the months to descriptions of the land’s geography. A lot of this information was neat fluff, but had little bearing on the mechanics of the game. The changing days didn’t really mean much — there no special holidays or phases of the moon to worry about.

Sleeping Gods Lie presents its world with a first-person perspective and a simple, mouse-driven control scheme. Though it’s labeled as a role-playing game, it doesn’t share some of the genre’s crunchier trappings popularized in the biggest titles of the day from Might & Magic to Wizardry. You don’t roll up a character, balance out stats, or grind for levels. It comes off as more of an action adventure game with a few light RPG elements, though you do play the role of the land’s secret savior.

There was a short story in the manual setting up the quest with a fancy, old English font to boot.

There was a short story in the manual setting up the quest with a fancy, old English font to boot.

Its first-person world is a mix of 3D polygons and 2D sprites which comprise a majority of the game’s look. The house you start in is inside a 3D box with plain walls, floor, and ceiling — typically low-detailed 3D poly environments back in the day. Exiting your house brings you into the wilderness, a vast open space with a green floor, blue ceiling, and lines making up roads with 2D bandits coming at you. The 3D effect is largely handled by scaling tricks with the sprites and props in the landscape.

You start off in your one room house which has pebbles to throw at bad guys, a bowl, and not much else.

(Amiga screen) You start off in your one room house which has pebbles to throw at bad guys, a bowl, and not much else. The upper left thingamabob is your compass. The thing below that is your stamina (or health) gauge which slowly, ever so slowly, recovers over time and increases the more quest milestones you accomplish from what I can guess. The empty hand shows what weapon I’m armed with (none at the moment because I…have nothing). The upper right dial thing is the clock with the date and month below it. Underneath that is some kind of gauge that measures how ‘magical’ you are, but it seemed utterly useless in-game. And the dude below will display whatever equipment you find from hats to quivers and boots and whatever else you might find. As for Experience points, that’s all they are — points, like a high score.

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The wilderness outside might have helpful people like this Hermit (be careful not to throw pebbles at this guy or he might not be inclined to help you which can be...problematic). But most everything else just wants to kill you.

(Amiga screen) The wilderness outside might have helpful people like this Hermit (be careful not to throw pebbles at this guy or he might not be inclined to help you which can be…problematic). But most everything else just wants to kill you. BTW, every kingdom kind of looks like this. Even the desert, unless, on Tessera, sand really is green.

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Like this guy. The enemy AI isn't the sharpest tool in the box, but it can be deadly if you're napping at the controls. Like, literally napping.

(Amiga screen) Like this guy. The enemy AI isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but it can be deadly if you’re napping at the controls. Like, literally napping. Enemies don’t often drop a lot of stuff, but they usually drop ammo like pebbles and arrows. And then there are times when they drop absolutely nothing. On the Amiga, whenever these guys get killed, they burst into a geyser and scream because I guess that’s just how death is on Tessera.

The mouse does mostly everything. Sliding it forward moves the cursor on the screen up and our hero, well, forward. Pulling back does the opposite. Taking the cursor to the extreme left or right of the playing screen turns you in that direction.

Combat is all about being clicky. Clicking on the left mouse button fires whatever you have armed as long as you have the ammo. In the beginning, it’s a bunch of pebbles that your apparently herculean strength can turn into deadly projectiles. Interestingly, the cursor’s location not only determines the direction that you’ll be firing but also the distance. Raise the cursor hire and fire and whatever you have will go further adding a bit of thinking to simply firing straight ahead and expecting stuff to die.

I had to switch to the MS-DOS version of the game at one point because, for whatever reason, the Amiga version wouldn't take me to the next world no matter what. This was a huge downgrade. The MS-DOS version is kind of bad. Oh look! A randomly wandering prince guy!

(all following screens from the MS-DOS version) I had to switch to the MS-DOS version of the game at one point because, for whatever reason, the Amiga version wouldn’t take me to the next world no matter what. The MS-DOS version is…not as nice as the Amiga one for obvious reasons. Oh look! A randomly wandering prince guy!

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We're underground! And all of these dwarves are bad so we'll just slaughter them all...which I did...and apparently found their king and took him out, too.

We’re underground! And all of these dwarves are apparently bad so they died. I also found their king and took him out, too, because that pixely prince above needed his crown back. On the MS-DOS version, they still burst into geysers, but there’s no death scream. Just some kind of “brrrrrrrr” sound. BRRRRRRRR.

Sometimes better weapons (other than in using your bare hands to throw pebbles) are dropped and these can have varying ‘load’ times to get the next projectile ready. Pebbles are quick to toss at enemies on after another, but using a crossbow can take a lot longer between shots.

By simply moving over stuff, you can vacuum things into your inventory or use special items when you make contact with what they can interact with. NPCs will automatically talk to you when you simply approach them. And that’s essentially it. Point, click, throw stuff, and move over things to pick up whatever is nailed down or use what you have found to solve puzzles.

This dying dude is actually part of a puzzle in this kingdom. You need to take his blood to activate the way to the next kingdom, but it's not explained why. He seems like a guy down on his luck, but once you get near him with a special glass vial, he dies horribly as it sucks his blood. I felt bad. But I guess our chosen one in the game was okay with it. Oh well.

This dying dude is actually part of a puzzle in this kingdom. You need to take his blood to activate the way to the next kingdom, but it’s not explained why you should be okay with that. He seems like a guy down on his luck, but once you get near him with a special glass vial, he dies horribly as it takes his blood.

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This happens sometimes. But here's the thing -- it's a critical error, but it lets you save before you're forced to exit the game. If only more games could be so kind.

This happens sometimes, at least in the MS-DOS version. But here’s the thing — it’s a critical error, but it lets you save before you’re forced to exit the game. If only more games could be so kind.

As for the lands you’ll be traveling to, they’re broken up into eight different kingdoms, though that’s kind of misnomer because they don’t actually have a ruler overseeing each one. Each kingdom is further broken up into six areas linked by gates. To get to the next kingdom, though, requires you to solve a few puzzles and perhaps battle a number of beasts for goodies to activate the way through. Once you leave a kingdom, though, you can’t go back. But as for the smaller areas that these are divided into, traveling back and forth between those almost becomes required to find and solve everything you need.

So some enemies are literally just lines with no solid color aside from what passes through them from the landscape behind them. Animation-wise, let's not even go there. All U can say is Powerpoint slides, but back then, we were lucky to get awesome looking things like this at all.

Some enemies are literally just lines with no solid color aside from what passes through them from the landscape behind them. Animation-wise, let’s not even go there. All I can say is Powerpoint slides, but back then, we were lucky to get awesome looking things like this at all. By the way, gold does have a purpose but only in one place in the game — to pay for a ferryman to take you to other islands. And if you’re short on coin, there are always seagulls to farm for more. Yes. I know it sounds silly.

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At one point, you sneak into a palace dressed like a priest but in my case, it worked until I accidentally armed a weapon (I guess that robe had a lot of room underneath) and the guards went nuts. But thanks to their terrible AI and Stormtrooper aim, I lived long enough to farm a new longbow, fire arrows, and regular arrows. And kept farming the palace for more. For the center of an empire, these people weren't very scary. Also, all the guards seemed to have bad backs like this guy.

At one point, you sneak into a palace disguised like a priest but in my case, it worked until I accidentally armed a weapon (I guess that robe had a lot of room underneath) and the guards went nuts. But thanks to their terrible AI and Stormtrooper aim, I lived long enough to farm a new longbow, fire arrows, and regular arrows. And kept farming the palace for more. For the center of an empire, these people weren’t very scary. Also, all the guards seemed to have bad backs like this guy.

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Oh hey! A dragon! Time to make use of all of those farmed fire arrows.

Oh hey! A dragon! This was a great looking sprite. Time to make use of all of those farmed fire arrows.

The manual goes into some detail in describing each kingdom and indulges in a bit of mathematical humor in saying that the “Kingdoms map like a four-dimensional hypercube, or Tesseract” though the descriptions of the lands themselves make for entertaining reading. It has to be because every land, with some exceptions, look exactly alike with only more descriptive text in-game creating additional environmental aesthetics. Sunderabad has pyramids and is supposed to be a desert, but it still looks a lot like the last green colored landscape you left behind a few kingdoms ago.

By breaking out of the grid-based, 90° turn-based movement of other first-person dungeons or the overhead tile-based displays popular among cRPGs, Sleeping Gods Lie’s first-person freeform movement was one of several interesting stabs at creating a more open world despite its restrictions. A year later, Infogrames’ Drakkhen would also adopt the same approach, but with a much more detailed and extensive RPG underneath the hood.

Our friends, the witches, return. Just stand nearby, listen awhile, and you'll get the final weapon needed to win the game and vanquish the Archmage. But they're also serious about you saying no...

Our friends, the witches, return, from a previous encounter earlier in the game when they helped me. Just stand nearby, listen awhile, and I get the final weapon needed to win the game and vanquish the Archmage. But they’re also serious about giving me the option to “say” no…

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...and if you do turn around and bid our witches adieu, they wail and disappear (you actually don't hear anything thanks to the MS-DOS version's pitiable sound effects). But the game, for all practical purposes, is over for you. There's literally nothing else to do than wander around and shoot enemies with whatever ammo you have left. Time to reload!

…and if by turning around bidding our witches adieu, they wail and disappear (you actually don’t hear anything thanks to the MS-DOS version’s pitiable sound effects). But the game, for all practical purposes, is over. To quote Morrowind after I had punched Vivec to death with my awesomely leveled hand-t0-hand skill, “the thread of prophecy is severed”. Time to reload!

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You've faced off against the Archmage above, but he seems immortal. Every time you kill him, he only returns later. For now, however, you've slipped past and into N'Gnir's resting place. Are you in time?

I’ve faced off against the Archmage, but he seems immortal. Every time I’ve killed him, he only returns later. For now, however, I’ve slipped past and into N’Gnir’s resting place. Am in time?

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The Archmage has followed down into N'Gnir's resting place, but it was a trap...for him!

The Archmage has followed me down into N’Gnir’s resting place, but it was a trap…for him! Ha!

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And like that, the sleeping god has a new, magically toughened body. Thanks, Archmage!

And like that, the sleeping god has a new, magically toughened body. Thanks, Archmage!

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Obligatory thank-you speech. You're welcome!

Obligatory thank-you speech. You’re welcome! But…I think I caught plague again from going through the Plains of Ash again to fight the Archmage the first time. And the Hermit who cured me the first time when I had to find the ring  I needed kind of exploded in a ball of fire earlier. Could you *cough cough* help me instead? *cough*

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I guess I'm relieved the quest is over as it says...but I'm also feeling dizzy right now. And I think my skin shouldn't be this color. *cough*

I guess I’m relieved the quest is over as it says. I’m also feeling dizzy right now. And I think my skin shouldn’t be this color. *cough*

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Okay, maybe some rest would be a good *cough cough* idea. I just hope it's not the permanent kind, especially if you need me for the sequel. Wait...there never was a sequel, was there? Oh, oh dear... *cough cough cough*

Okay, maybe some rest would be a good *cough cough* idea. I just hope it’s not the permanent kind, especially if you need me for a sequel. Wait…there never was a sequel, was there? *cough cough cough*

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And now the game is really over. Thanks for coming along! *cough*

And now the game is really over. Thanks for coming along! *sniff* I think I might need to lay down now.

Sleeping Gods Lie was reprinted in 1992 by an outfit called Touchdown. It received less-than-glowing reviews not for the quality of the reprint but for the game itself which seemed dated when compared to everything else that had gone on in the RPG space since 1989. After that, it disappeared into obscurity only to lurk in the corners of the ‘net as its Amiga, Atari ST, or MS-DOS versions.

On the whole, Sleeping Gods Lie felt more like an action adventure with a few simple RPG elements bolted on. The biggest draw for the game, at the time, was its 3D presentation of the world dressed up with neat sound effects (especially on the Amiga) and graphics if not the relatively simple gameplay. Some of the lands could be great challenges, though, such as when I nearly ran out of ammo in the freezing hills of Simala (your health also slowly erodes) and thought my quest would come to a premature end. Or when I baked to death under Sunderabad’s sun before I found “cool shades”. Moments like that made it was easy to see how engrossing this short adventure into a mysterious land with an unusual goal, especially on the Amiga or the Atari ST, could be. An interesting gem from the UK with a unique ending that dared to take players on a quest to wake a sleepy god.

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