Zelenhgorm Episode 1: The Great Ship


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Moloto

Publisher:    Federation X

Released:   2002

PC Requirements:    Pentium II (or compatible) 400 MHz, 96 MB RAM, DirectX-compatible 8 MB Video Card, 12x CD-ROM Drive, 700 MB of Hard Drive Space, DirectX 8.1 or later (on CD)





by Jenny100

Zelenhgorm:  Episode I

Quicklist of game characteristics - (requested by Gameboomers members)

FMV (full motion video) - both gameworld and characters

Mouse-controlled, similar to the node-and-panning interface used in many Cryo games

First person perspective with your character only visible in cut scenes (and in the mirror)

You can die in the game if you make bad decisions, but most are predictable

Ten save slots

Timed sequences, mainly fishing for pearls underwater

Some character interaction, but approaching people for conversation can be risky

Works with Windows XP, at least on some computers

3 CD's with optional full install to hard drive

First game of a series

Most of what I talk about can be found either in the game manual, on the game website, or at the very beginning of the game. But to avoid all spoilers, skip the Playing Zelenhgorm and My unsolicited opinion sections (especially the opinion section).

Playing Zelenhgorm

Zelenhgorm starts with an introductory video which is full of confusing and sometimes violent images. A skull with oversized canine teeth and evil-looking eye sockets lies on a beach. There is a scene in a tavern where a fortune teller uses a deck of tarot-like cards. Mysterious airships drop flaming objects on tall, odd-looking structures that may be some sort of castles or city complexes. There are scenes showing people rioting and destroying pottery and other artifacts. Someone is seen prying up a stone tile and dropping an object into the water beneath. You see a maggot-ridden corpse in the desert sand. Mysterious standing stones are etched against the sky in a nighttime thunderstorm. One man performs some sort of tribal dance while another cleans a sword, perhaps in preparation for some sort of ritual or spell. Creaky voices tell you that your character, Arikk Vaheirr, has been "chosen" by the "powers of water" and that he must "awaken the ancient ones" after first awakening himself. Then the game credits appear over images of an interesting-looking ship with 3 enormous fan-shaped sails. The ship glides into harbor, guided by an unusual-looking lighthouse beacon. Then your character awakens with a start. What does his dream mean? Are these images of the past or of the future? It's a very intriguing and cinematic introduction for a game, full of promise.

After this very dramatic opening, your character wakes up and you get control of the game. You find the ship that your character, Arikk, saw in his dream has mysteriously beached itself in your garden. Everyone in your village thinks you are responsible for the ship's presence because you are left-handed. And supposedly left-handed people have evil powers or something. Most of the people in your village are extremely bigoted and you meet a lot of people who blame you for everything they think is wrong with the world simply because you are left-handed. You have to be very careful who you talk to because most villagers will be all too eager to have you drowned at the slightest provocation. You are allowed a few missteps. Usually you are put in the stocks overnight instead of drowned. But too many infractions and there's an end to you.

Most of the game takes place within the village of Senava and you start out by exploring the village and talking to those very few people who are willing to talk to you without accusing you, insulting you, or sending you to the stocks. Often you get more information by eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations than by trying to talk to them yourself. Besides the ship, you also find the lighthouse that you saw in your dream. Mysteriously, after untold years of dormancy, it is now flashing. Besides Arikk's house and the lighthouse area, you can visit the market, Arikk's grandmother's house, the Council House, the tavern, the dock where the ferryman waits, and a grassy park with a stone monument. By the end of the game you will have also boarded the mysterious ship that has beached in your garden.

People in the village don't trust Arikk, but they react in different ways. Some are unashamedly spiteful, can't wait to see you drowned, and tell you so. Arikk's uncle seems more afraid of him than antagonistic and makes a big deal about how he never thought anything bad about Arikk. The draftsman doesn't dislike Arikk, but doesn't want to be seen talking to him. Only Arikk's grandmother really relates to him as a person.

Most of the puzzles in Zelenhgorm are inventory based, but inventory can be hard to find. I had a problem finding the scissors because I didn't realize I had to get a closeup of an area before I could see the scissors. And because the cursor to zoom in does not appear unless you target the area you want to zoom in on, and the area I needed to zoom in on to see the scissors did not look promising to me, I didn't think to try to zoom in on that particular area until someone at Gameboomers gave me a hint. So careful examination of all areas for potential zoom points is recommended. However a surprisingly large number of inventory items are things you have to buy at the market rather than found items. Usually you swipe things in adventure games rather than having to pay for them. But not in Zelenhgorm.

You have to buy several things in the market in order to solve puzzles and finish the game. To do this, you need money. In Zelenhgorm, pearls are used as money. There are two ways of making money. One is by pearl diving and the other is by gambling. Pearl diving is a rather simple timed puzzle. There are 3 locations where you are allowed to click on the water and jump in to search for pearls. It is always the same scene when you jump in the water and the oysters that potentially hold pearls are always in the same places. You click them to open them and if you find one that holds a pearl, you click it to pick it up. When you start hearing Arikk's heart beating along with ominous music, you head upwards to jump out of the water or you will drown. If you jump in again, some of the oysters that held no pearls before may now have them, and vice versa. F12 skips the diving cut scenes that play before you jump into the water and after you jump out. Since you have to dive repeatedly to collect enough pearls, F12 is your good friend.

Besides needing money to buy items, you also need money to play the Jester's games and gain information from him. Each time you play, it costs a pearl. If you win, you get your pearl back as well as a piece of information that will be interesting, if not always valuable to you. The Jester's games were all random games of chance as far as I could tell, with Arikk having a one in three chance of winning. 

It is possible to fight with guards, but winning gets you nowhere. If you win the fight you will be sent to trial and either sent to the stocks or drowned. And if you lose the fight, your grandmother puts you to bed with a busted head and they send you to trial, etc. after you're well enough to walk. So there's not much point in fighting. Maybe fighting will be more useful in the next game of the series, but in this one it's quite useless.

Plot and Character Development

In this particular installment of the series, the plot does not advance much and I didn't notice any real character development. Apparently as a result of his abusive treatment by his fellow Senavans, Arikk is a very meek individual. He doesn't have much of interest to say and asks very simplistic questions. You don't learn much about him or about his thought processes during the game. You are left to guess what he is thinking when he finds things and examines objects because he does not comment on them. He doesn't write his thoughts in a journal. He rarely talks to anyone. By the end of the game I didn't know Arikk any better than when I started.


Zelenhgorm comes on 3 CD's. The Readme includes instructions for a full install to the hard drive. After running the standard game install, you copy the contents of the Gfx folders on CD's 2 and 3 to the Gfx folder inside the Zelenhgorm folder on your hard drive. If you don't have the hard drive space, but have more than one CD, CDRW, or DVD drive on your computer, you can put a CD in each drive to cut down on swapping. The game will search all your drives to find the files it needs if it doesn't find them in the Gfx folder on the hard drive.

Whether you do a full install or not, you'll need a game CD in the CD drive in order to start the game. But you can use any of the 3 CD's for this. It doesn't have to be CD1. A full install is recommended. Even though the gameworld is rather small, it is non-linear and there is a lot of disc swapping without the full install.

The version of Zelenhgorm that I played had 4 language options: English, Spanish, German, and Swedish.

An empty folder called Screenshots was created by the installation. But I couldn't find any instructions on how to take screenshots during the game in either the Readme or the paper manual. Nor were there any screenshots automatically created by the game. Print Screen did not put screen shots in the Screenshots folder. And when I tried to use Print Screen to copy and paste a screenshot into MS Paint, the picture was an ugly mess. Maybe the ability to take screenshots was something that was planned that didn't make it into the final game. Or maybe they just forgot to include the instructions anywhere.


The graphics were mostly good quality. The view of the ship looking through Arikk's bedroom window is particularly bad, but most of the game looks better than that. Graphics are mostly in 640x480 resolution, though some of the zoomed in closeups, like the aformentioned view of the ship, are obviously less. Most of the game looks better than average for a node-with-panning type game, average being games like Mystery of the Mummy, Loch Ness,  and Pharaoh's Curse when run in software mode.

The viewing window takes up about 2/3 of the screen. It's similar to a widescreen movie window, extending the full width of the screen with black bands above and below. On a 17" monitor, the band at the top was about 1 inch tall (2.5 cm) while the band at the bottom was about 2 inches tall (5.7 cm), with the viewing window being about 6 inches tall (15.2 cm). The inventory, when present, is seen in a strip that scrolls across the 2 inch tall area below the viewing window.

Graphics are all FMV. Characters seem to have been filmed separately from the backgrounds at least part of the time, though usually this isn't too noticeable. The FMV environments were mostly very detailed and realistic, except for the mountains in the distance which looked fake to me. It was also a bit disconcerting to see static, frozen waves of water while the people in the gameworld were so animated.

Sound Effects

Sound effects were mostly very good, though sometimes somewhat repetitive. You hear such things as the creak of timber as the wind blows, birds singing, the sound of the water, and other background sounds. In the village you hear children laughing and crying, the squeals and grunts of livestock, and vendors calling out what they are selling at the market. The noise made by the lighthouse beacon is strange enough to seem unworldly, but not so strange as to be implausible.


The music sounded good as far as sound quality is concerned. Most of it wasn't really strategically placed so as to heighten suspense or mood though. It was sparsely used during the game. Besides being heard in the introduction, it would sometimes play when you moved into certain areas of the game. For example, you would always hear the same music when you entered town from the direction of your house or entered the market. But it didn't matter how many times you'd already gone past that location, how far you were into the game, or whether there was danger or not. It would always be that same music. So it lost a bit of its drama due to repetition. A couple of places where the music really did work well were inside the grandmother's house and in the navigation room on the ship.


The interface is mouse-controlled and similar to the node-and-panning interface used by game companies like Cryo and Arxel. Using the mouse you are able to pan around 360. The cursor only appears when an action can be taken, such as picking up an inventory item, zooming in, and moving forwards. A circular cursor means you can pick something up. A triangular cursor means you can zoom in on something, move in that direction, or talk to another character.

Movement is node-based, with transition videos (which can be skipped using the F12 key). You are allowed to zoom in on some objects. Right-clicking will take you back out of the zoom. A right-click when you aren't zoomed in will bring up the inventory. Right-clicking will also back you out of finished conversations or conversations you don't wish to pursue.

Inventory appears as a row of items that scrolls across the bottom of the screen. Placing your cursor near one of the ends of the bar will cause it to scroll in that direction. Clicking on an item in inventory produces a large view of the object that fills the viewing window. Dragging the magnifying glass in inventory over an object in the viewing window sometimes allows you to examine it further, for example when you want to read a book. You can also combine items by dragging an inventory item over one that is already in the viewing window. It's very simple as long as you remember that sometimes you need to drag items instead of merely clicking on them.

Minimum specs

PII 266 MHz


DirectX 7 compatible 3D graphics card with at least 8 MB video RAM

DirectX 7 compatible 16-bit sound card


650 MB free hard drive space

Windows 95/98

Recommended specs

PII 450

The rest of the specs are the same as the Minimum specs.

Slydos of http://www.adventure-archiv.com reported playing Zelenhgorm on a Windows XP computer. So even though Windows XP is not listed as supported in the official system specs it can work.

The manual reports that there are problems with the following video cards:

Permedia 3

VideoLogic Neon 250

Intel 810

Matrox Productiva G100

Matrox Millennium G250

Jason Video 67p

(I think they meant Jaton Video 67p here)

I know from my own experience that Zelenhgorm isn't fully compatible with the Matrox Mystique. Mostly it will be older cards that have the problems. Here's a quote from the Zelenhgorm FAQ at http://www.federationx.com/moloto/faq.htm

Streaming video to textures are used a lot during the game. This seems to be a problem on some cards with older drivers (i.e. TNT with 2.x drivers) Make sure you have new drivers installed.

The game will NOT work with 3dfx VooDoo2 graphics cards. Some very unusual cards could also show difficulties to play the game. "

Tested computers

slower computer:

Win 98 SE

PII 266 MHz

320 MB RAM

17 GB hard drive

4.8X DVD drive

QuickTime 4.12 (from the ROTS CD)

SB AWE 32 sound card

Matrox Mystique 8 MB video card

DirectX 7a

faster computer:

Win 98 SE

Athlon 1.2 GHz

512 MB RAM

15 GB partition

48X CD drive

QuickTime 4.03 (from the Bioscopia CD)

Hercules Fortissimo II sound card

ATI Radeon 8500 128 MB video card

DirectX 8.1

The game wasn't very playable on the PII 266 because of problems with the video card. Most of the game looked fine, except for the inventory that showed up at the bottom of the screen. Inventory items were the right shape, but had their colors scrambled in a mosaic mess. Since inventory items appeared normally in the viewing window when I clicked on them, the game was still playable. But another problem appeared when I attempted to go pearl diving. The entire surface of the riverbed turned white with a blue grid stamped on it. So I had no idea where the oysters were. Without being able to see what I was clicking on, I was only able to collect 2 pearls in 9 dives by clicking around blindly hoping to find a hotspot. I didn't bother with further testing on that computer, even though gambling is an alternative way to make money. So there might have been other video problems further on. However a PII 266 MHz processor is more than fast enough and you could probably get away with playing the game on an even slower computer, provided your graphics card is compatible.

The game ran without any issues on the Athlon.

My unsolicited opinion

When I first installed the game, I was thrilled with the FMV. Exploring the gameworld seemed almost like walking around inside a movie. Unfortunately my initial exhilaration did not last. The gameworld is confined to the one village until you leave it towards the end of the game. So there isn't all that much variety in the exploration.

There are a lot of people walking around the gameworld and the Zelenhgorm series boasts a large cast of actors. But there is not that much opportunity for conversation or character interaction unless you enjoy being insulted, sneered at, thrown in the stocks, or drowned. Because your character is something of a pariah, most of the people you see essentially function as part of the scenery. I was expecting more character interaction. It seemed to me to be sort of a waste to have these realistic-looking FMV people and then to make almost all of them unapproachable. The only people who really had anything of interest to say to me were the Jester and the grandmother. And I needed money to talk to the Jester.

One thing that was especially annoying was that the books on the ship were illegible. At first I thought it might be a technical problem with my video cards. The illustrations in the books looked fine, but the printing seemed jumbled most of the time and I couldn't make out what it said. Here and there I'd see a phrase I could recognize among the gibberish. I loaded a saved game from the Athlon onto the PII to see if the text was more legible with the Matrox than with the Radeon. It wasn't. I wondered if it might be meant to be this way - as if the books had water damage and the printing had bled through the pages - or as if Arikk was having problems reading an antique language. But none of the illustrations in the books had similar "damage," which eliminated the water damage theory. Eventually I asked about it on JA+ and on the adventure newsgroup and three helpful people answered, saying the books were not legible for them either. Apparently the illegibility is meant to simulate Arikk's difficulty in reading the language. Personally I did not appreciate this attempt at "realism" and neither did the three other gamers who I corresponded with. It was frustrating not to be able to read what was there, especially since you learn so little about the world outside of Senava, or even the history of Senava itself, while you're playing the game.

The plot of the game didn't really seem to get started until after I'd gotten onboard the ship, and by then the game was practically over. Instead of Arikk gradually learning more and more about the history of his world and his place in the scheme of things as the game progressed, he spent most of the game trying to figure out how to get on the ship. And once he did, there wasn't much he could do there. He couldn't even read the books. Getting on the ship only served as a trigger for a conversation with his grandmother. The adventure had barely begun when it ended. Continued next game.

Zelenhgorm has some very nice extra touches that make the gameworld seem more real. For example when Arikk looks in the mirror, you see an image of his face with blinking eyes and subtle body movement. It's not some frozen image of a person with movement only in a couple of areas. It's like looking at a real person in a mirror. The FMV environments with FMV people standing around talking or working on things make the gameworld very lifelike. At one point in the game, Arikk loses consciousness and wakes to find a dog licking his face. If he wants to, Arikk can feed the dog some meat he bought at the market. When Arikk offends somebody and spends the night in the stocks, the video that plays can be different each time. He may even get a visit and a game hint from the Jester.

There is clearly a lot of history developed for the gameworld and its characters. If you visit the website at http://www.zelenhgorm.com/ you find a host of tantalizing background information regarding the land of Zelenhgorm, its inhabitants, its past, and the potential dangers it will face in the future. Especially interesting to me was the message from the Second Voice in the Well that had the picture of the merperson next to it. It suggested that the evil-looking skull seen in the introductory dream sequence was that of one of an evil race of merpeople. I never encountered anything like that Well in the game. Maybe an explanation of what it is and where it is will surface in one of the later games of the series. After examining the website prior to playing the game and after viewing the introductory cut scene, I expected more mystery and drama in the game. I expected more magic. It wasn't until I got onboard the ship and found my way into the navigation room that I felt like I was finally getting into the meat of the game. And then I was unable to read the books or accomplish anything else onboard the ship.

For me this first installment of the Zelenhgorm series was essentially just a teaser. So despite all the realism of the FMV gameworld, the nice extra touches that added verisimilitude, and the intriguing overall plot for the entire Zelenhgorm series, I don't think this first installment fulfilled its promise. Unlike Amerzone and other short games that I enjoyed, the story in Zelenhgorm never really got started until much too late in the game. I know it was the first of a series, but I think more story should have happened during the first episode.

I don't require much of a story in a game as long as there is a big gameworld to explore. And I don't require much of a gameworld as long as there is a good story with rich characters in the game. But this game had very little of either. That leaves the puzzles. They weren't bad, but they weren't wonderful enough to recommend the game by themselves. 

Although the Zelenhgorm series still sounds very promising as a whole, I think they could have skipped most of the first episode and combined what was left with the next installment. As a teaser meant to whet the gamer's appetite for future games in the series, the website itself holds as much promise as this first game did. That's my unsolicited opinion anyway.


I wouldn't recommend Zelenhgorm: Episode I for the story because there isn't enough of one and what story there is doesn't get interesting until too late in the game. Nor is there a large enough or varied enough gameworld to recommend it as an exploration-type adventure game. But there is something to be said for the realism of the FMV. So the game might be worth trying for FMV devotees. Just be prepared for the fact that Zelenghorm: Episode I is the introduction to a series rather than a free-standing game that belongs to a series (the Gabriel Knight and Tex Murphy games being examples of the latter).

Overall Grade:     I for Incomplete

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