Sunday, December 13, 2015

Game 9: Space (1978): Victory.

Space, created by Steven Pederson and Sherwin Steffin and published by Edu-Ware Services, was released in 1978 or 1979 for the Apple II.  Sources differ on which year it was released.  I've seen it cited as being possibly the first commercial CRPG release, although that credit most often goes to Beneath Apple Manor.  To be honest, it may not even qualify as a CRPG at all.  But, assuming that it does, it's definitely the first ever sci-fi CRPG.

Before I begin discussing the game, I should talk about it's similarities to the tabletop RPG Traveller.  Published by Game Designer's Workshop. Traveller was the first sci-fi tabletop RPG.  Many of the elements of Space can be found in Traveller, not least the in-depth (and sometimes fatal) method of character generation.  GDW eventually sued Edu-Ware for copyright infringement, and production of Space was discontinued, to be replaced by the Empire series.  I may get to those in time, but for now let's get stuck into Space.

This being Version 2.5 makes me mildly irritated.  I want to play these games in their original forms, whenever possible

I'm not entirely sure what the end goal is in Space.  You begin the game with a lengthy character creation sequence, and after that there are a number of scenarios you can choose to play through.  The goal for most of these scenarios is to amass money and resources, but it's not clear why.  Yes, the accumulation of in-game wealth can be a motivator all on its own, and I guess it works as a sort of career simulator, but it would be nice if there was an endgame in mind, or even an indication that there is an endgame.  I've no idea if Space has an ending at all.


Creating a character is the first thing the player will need to do, and this was by far the most involved character generation method seen in a CRPG at the time.  You begin by selecting a name, and then you are taken to a screen that displays a letter informing you that you've been chosen for compulsory military service.  From there you get to choose which branch of the military you want to work for: Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, or Merchant Marines.  There's an option for "Other Services" which I'm unsure about, and also an option to just be drafted at random.  As far as I can tell, the military branch that you select mostly determines what skills you are able to learn.

The game then takes you to a menu from which you can review your character.  The first option takes you to your stats.  Characters in Space have six stats: Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing.  I assume that these are randomly generated; I've had scores as low as 2 and as high as 12.  I haven't been able to find a manual for the game, so I'm not entirely sure what effect these stats have on the game.  At the very least they seem to affect the character's physical and mental well-being, as described below, and low stats can also limit which skills you have access to.

The second option shows the results of your character's physical examination.  You get rated in the following categories: cardio-vascular, pulmonary, skeleto-muscular, neurologic, vision and hearing.  I've had characters that were robust and healthy, and I've had one character who was blind, deaf and had a severe heart problem.


The third menu option gives you the results of your psychological evaluation, and this is where the most amusing results come from.  It's not uncommon to have characters with severe personality flaws.  I had one guy who was classified as a "pervert", with recommendations that he be kept away from domestic animals.  You can see below a character who is listed as completely psychotic.  Sometimes it feels like the Space universe has more crazy people in it than sane ones.


(I won't discuss the rest of the menu options yet.  They have to do with your current skills and training, your service record, and your financial accruals, and are basically blank at this stage of character development.)

Despite the warning that this character should be discharged immediately, I was still able to go on with my training.  Your character must do at least four years of military training, and for each year you get to select a stat or skill to improve.  For the first year I tried to study Gun Combat, but due to "psychiatric instability" I wasn't allowed to do so.  I chose Electronics instead, which was deemed as being fine.

For my second year of training I chose Navigation, but again was rejected for psychiatric reasons.  I had to settle for Mechanical.   I was rejected in year 3 for the Jack o' Trades and Streetwise skills, and due to a lack of education I was also unable to choose anything from the Professional Education list.  During the course of those rejections my character got injured, and I was given the offer to restart the game.  Being injured during training results in some significant drops in your stats.  I chose to continue, and eventually I was able to train myself in the Vaccuum Suit (sic) skill.

In year 4 I was unsurprisingly rejected for training in Gunnery and Blade Combat.  With a very small set of skills available to me, I opted to raise my Strength score instead.

At this point my initial enlistment was over, but I had the option to reenlist.  The risk of reenlistment is that your character can be injured or killed.  You can also opt to retire, with either a cash or material reward.  (I'm not yet sure what the material reward might be.  Every time I've tried to take the material reward, circumstances have forced me to take a financial one instead.)  I tried to reenlist, but due to my "psychiatric disability" I was discharged for medical reasons, with a retirement pay of about $16,000.  (Sometimes there will be a state of galactic war, and in that case you won;t be able to leave the military until the war is over.)

As mentioned above, you can die during training.  This hasn't happened to me too often.  Mostly it seems to occur when I have a character with severe heart problems, and attempt to train him in physical skills.

After character creation the game proper begins, and you can choose which of the five scenarios you want your character to play through.  I'll describe them a little below:

FIRST BLOOD
In this scenario you engage in single combat with a character controlled by the computer.  It seems as though you can select either a generic enemy named "Adversary" or any of the other characters on your disk.  I like to think that at least one pair of brother got into a fist-fight over a dead character in this scenario.

You will either be attacking or defending; it seems to me that the computer decides which.  You're able to choose your weapon and armour types, the terrain you'll be fighting in, as well as your general combat tactics.  From there you just sit back and watch as the results scroll by round after round, until one of the characters is dead.  Apparently the winner claims all of the loser's money, but I'm not certain because I've yet to win a bout.  In fact, the character I just created above got killed so that I could get some screen shots, so I hope you're happy with them.

Selecting my tactical approach to the coming battle.  I went with "Uses Counterattack."  It didn't go so well.

A typical combat round during First Blood.

Addendum: I managed to win one of these battles, and you do claim the loser's money.  Here's proof that I won.


DEFEND
In this scenario, you're placed in charge of a remote planet under alien attack.  I've tried this one over and over, and to be honest I have little idea of what to do.  Here's the main screen.


As far as I can figure out, you need to allocate power to the shields for each region (sensors, defenses, starport, residences, energy banks and control center), as well as your weapon strength.  That seems simple enough, but after a round or two I always find that my energy is completely depleted, and there's nothing I can do but wait for the inevitable.

As far as my Jack Manley novels go, this is strictly non-canon.

Occasionally my characters have had psychological breakdowns while defending.  When this happens you are stripped of command, and there's nothing you can do except watch until the colony is destroyed.  You have the option of making a getaway on your own, which I've done once.  I felt pretty bad about it, but at least I was still alive.  You can also surrender, which didn't go so well for me the one time I tried it.

Personally, I think the situation merits at least one more exclamation point.

I've given up on this scenario, because I've tried at a dozen or so times, and I'm getting no closer to success.  If I could find the game manual (assuming there is one) I'd give it another shot.  As the situation stands, I'll have to leave this scenario incomplete.

Addendum: Success!  I was able to get through this scenario by pumping the maximum amount of energy into my weapons.  This hadn't worked for me in the past, but this time around I fluked it.


I'm happy now that I've managed to successfully complete all five scenarios in the game.  Without a proper endgame, I'll consider that my condition for victory.

EXPLORE
Exploration involves seeking out uncolonised planets and mining their resources.  You are initially given the choice of a few planets, with some minor details to go on: how dangerous the planet is, the status of animal life and natives, how much fuel will be readily available, and the estimated value of any resources found.  The amount of information you get varies from game to game, but most of the time it gives a fair idea of how dangerous the planet is, and its level of resources.  There's even a category for the likelihood of a supernatural occurrence; I've played this scenario a lot, and have yet to encounter one, unfortunately.

Each round upon the planet lasts for a year.  During that time you may experience harsh weather, attacks from hostile animals, and encounters with the natives (either friendly or hostile).  You may also find fuel, food, and mineral resources.  Harvesting food and mineral resources costs energy.  Success in this scenario is a matter of managing your resources.  As long as you don't run out of food, and you keep enough energy to make the return journey in your ship, you'll be fine.  Sometimes the weather will destroy some of your food, and I've been wounded by animals and had vacuum suit mishaps, but on the whole this is one of the easiest scenarios to do well in.  If you find a planet with abundant resources, you'll be able to make a lot of money.  The only time I've died is when I ran out of food due to carelessness.

Wedge was also 106  years old, which may have had something to do with it.

TRADER
Once you've accumulated a decent amount of money, you'll be able to buy a ship and become a trader.  There are two types of ships available: a scout ship costing 1 million credits, and a merchant ship costing 8 million.  The former can carry up to 10 passengers and 10,000 tons of cargo, while the latter can carry up to 70 passengers and 100,000 tons.  Saving up the requisite money isn't all that difficult (it should only take one or two trips to a resource-rich planet in the Explore scenario), but you can also borrow money (with interest, of course) to buy a ship.

Once you have a ship, you can start trading.  You begin on the planet Xenon-12, where you can load your ship with weapons and electronics.  Once you've done that, you purchase fuel for the trip, and head off.  A number of passengers will also pay to come with you to the next planet.

The second planet is Y732A, where you can purchase drugs and crystals.  My initial thought here was that trafficking drugs might get me into trouble with the authorities, but I never encountered any.  Basically, this scenario involves loading your ship with goods and flying back and forth between the same two planets.  It's all a bit dull, but it's a surefire way to gradually increase your credits.  Once I was boarded and robbed by space pirates, but that's the only excitement this scenario has to offer.

HIGH FINANCE
This is where the big bucks come from, as this scenario sees you playing the stock market.  The stock prices are super high (in the millions), so you'll need to have some success in the earlier scenarios in order to play this one.  Each of the companies you can buy stocks in has a brief description.  They range from weapons manufacturers, to electronics, to food, to security.  Some are more dangerous to invest in than others: the security companies in particular may see you visited by goons and beaten up.

When I played this, I bought about 20 shares in Milkyway Munitions and sat back.  Each round of this scenario takes place over a financial quarter.  Messages displaying certain galactic events will appear during each quarter.  Sometimes its the breakout of a war, or a plague, or some invention, and each event has an effect on stock values.  My shares just kept going up, and I continued to sell out and buy more.  In the end I accumulated an ungodly sum of money, as shown below.


195,627,000,000 credits!  Of course there's nothing to spend it on except for more shares, so it does all feel a bit pointless.

Sometimes the Gallactica Financial Family shows up to offer you a loan.  I borrowed five million from them, and tried to get myself into negative credit, but my shares just kept going up.  I'd like to see what happens if I can;t pay my debts, but I don;t have the patience to keep going.

Occasionally you will get messages that your character's health is failing.  Most of the time you will recover, but not always.  When I grew near death in this scenario, I got the following message.


I wasn't willing to lose my billions of credits, so I didn't take the offer.  I died, but at least I died filthy rich.  I'm not sure who this guy making the offer is supposed to be.  Just a lord, as he says?  God?  The Devil?  It's all a bit vague, but I should probably just take it at face value rather than trying to ascribe this to mythical entities.

The Endgame
There isn't one.  The only goal is the accumulation of wealth, with no purpose at all.  I tried to see what would happen if  one of my character died of old age.  I got one to 160 years old, and he died of ill health during the High Finance scenario.  It seems that there's no special ending to this game, or at least none that I could find.

FINAL RATING

Story & Setting:  It's all very bare bones.  The suggestion of a setting is there, an interplanetary sci-fi civilisation set around the year 5,000, but it's just that: a suggestion.  There's no story to speak of either.  You simply play through your character's life, accumulating wealth until he or she dies.  Rating: 1.

Characters & Monsters: You don't really interact with anyone else in this game.  You can do battle in the First Blood scenario, or fight various hordes of space nasties in the Defend scenario, but they have no personality to speak of.  There are animals and natives in the Explore scenario, passengers in Trader, thugs and financiers in High Finance, but none of them are at all fleshed out.  Rating: 1.

Aesthetics: The game is presented almost entirely in test, with the occasional graphical representation of space, or your ship taking off.  Sound is restricted to a few beeps here and there, with a not-unpleasant fanfare on the title screen.  I considered granting this game an extra point for its extensive use of memos and letters to convey information, but even so I couldn't give this more than the minimum rating.  Rating: 1.

The graphical beauty of a starship takeoff sequence.

Mechanics: This is a hard one to rate, because the scenarios are so different, and so much of how the game works is hidden from the player.  I would rate Explore and High Finance as decent, Trader as adequate, and First Blood and Defend as poor.   Defend is very confusing, and it's difficult to know what effect your choices have in First Blood.  On the whole, I have to say that the game hinders the player more than it helps. Rating: 2.

Challenge: As with mechanics, the differing scenarios make this hard to rate.  Some are easy and a bit dull (like Trader), some are reasonably challenging (Explore, High Finance) and some are baffling and deadly (First Blood, Defend).  The game also relies far too much on random events for its own good, and playing it - even in character creation - can sometimes feel like navigating through a land mine.  Rating: 3.

Innovation: I considered knocking this down a point for its blatant Traveller rip-offs, but I reconsidered.  If I did that, I'd have to penalise every fantasy CRPG in existence for stealing ideas from Dungeons & Dragons.  As it is, this is the first ever sci-fi CRPG (even if its genre credentials are a little suspect), and the level of depth in character creation alone nets it a good rating.  Rating: 6.

Fun: While I can't say that I hated the game, it was never what I would call enjoyable.  Most of the fun came from the bizarre results found in character creation, to be honest.  Two of the scenarios I never properly figured out, and the rest were repetitious and unexciting.  Rating: 2.

Needless to say, this doesn't get the bonus point, as I'll never be going back to it.   The above scores add up to 16, which doubled gives me a total of 32.

Final Rating: 32 out of 100.

Next: For the moment I'm concentrating on The Game of Dungeons v8.  I've managed to grind a decent character (about 20th level), and I'm making good mapping progress, so I want to try to power through and clear this game out of my backlog.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Current Final Ratings

I've now done Final Ratings for all the games I've completed.  More detailed write-ups are in the Victory posts for those games, but here I present the leaderboard as it stands currently.  And yes, I realise that it's ridiculous to compare RPGs and adventure games.  I'm doing it anyway.

Position Game Final Rating
1 The Game of Dungeons (aka dnd) 54
2 Beneath Apple Manor 50
3 Orthanc 46
3 The Dungeon (aka pedit5) 46
5 Colossal Cave Adventure 44
6 Adventureland 42

Some of the results here were expected, but there were some genuine surprises. I was pretty sure that The Game of Dungeons would be right at the top, as it's easily the most enjoyable game on the list so far.  I'm surprised at how high Beneath Apple Manor rated.  Perhaps it benefited from being short, but it's also a really tightly designed game.  Orthanc is an expanded, improved version of The Dungeon, but because of that it lost points in the Innovation category.

It's surprising that the text adventures are both languishing at the bottom.  I expected Colossal Cave Adventure to rate higher, but certain factors (most notably its absurdly obtuse final puzzle) brought it down a little.

It's also a little disheartening to see that after almost two years I've only completed seven games.  The pace is going to pick up now that I'm into the era of the home computer, thankfully.  I'm already done with Space, and should have a post ready for later in the week.  (Here's a spoiler for you: it's probably going to end up at the bottom of the list.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Game 8: Beneath Apple Manor (1978): Victory!

Before I begin the post proper, I need to give special thanks to Chester over at The CRPG Addict.  Without his help I'd never have been able to find and play the original version of Beneath Apple Manor.  So kudos to you good sir, your help is much appreciated.  Now let's get on with it, shall we?


The front cover art.  Someone got the set square out for this one.

Beneath Apple Manor is probably the first commercial CRPG, so I've decided to play it early on in my list of games from 1978.  (Besides. I really wanted to play the first commercial adventure game and CRPG back-to-back).  It was programmed by Don Worth, and published by The Software Factory.  Worth is a significant figure in the history of Apple computers: he wrote the book Beneath Apple DOS, which exposed the inner workings of Apple's operating system, and became an essential tool for programmers and hackers.  The Software Factory is less significant, it seems.  I can't find any information about them, possibly because they have a name that is almost impossible to google effectively.

The manual gives a short backstory to set up the game.  For three centuries the Apple family had ruled in Apple Manor, sending monsters out to terrorise the people and steal their wealth.  Now the family is dead, and the manor lies abandoned and gutted by fire.  Rumours abound that the source of the family's power was a golden apple.  Many have sought it in the tunnels below the manor, but few have survived the attempt, and none have succeeded.  (I'm not actually certain that this backstory was present in the original documentation.  The only manual I've been able to find is for the Special Edition rerelease.)

The first impression given by this game is impossible to avoid (at least in retrospect): it's very similar to Rogue, a massively influential game that it predates by two years.  It has the same randomly generated dungeon levels, the same macguffin-at-the-bottom-of-the-dungeon plot, and similarly - shall we say - "functional" graphics.  I'd hesitate to call it a true Rogue-like, though, as it doesn't have perma-death.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Rogue doesn't come out until 1980, and there'll be plenty of time for me to discuss that game when the time comes (probably because it's going to take me a hell of a long time to beat it).

Your character in Beneath Apple Manor has four stats: Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity and Body.  There is no character generation, as every character begins with a score of 20 in each stat.  Your Strength determines how much damage you deal in combat, and how much gold you can carry.  Intelligence determines the effectiveness of your spells.  Dexterity is used to determine how accurate you are when attacking.  Body is simply your hit points, and when these reach zero you're dead.

There are various activities in the game that deplete these scores.  Strength is depleted by attacking monsters in melee, and if your Strength drops to zero you can't attack at all.  Your Intelligence drops whenever you use the Zap spell in combat.  I'm not certain, but I believe the amount of damage you deal affects the amount of Intelligence lost, and much like Strength if your Intelligence gets too low you can't cast spells until you rest.  Dexterity is depleted simply by moving around.  These scores can be restored by resting, which has a novel mechanic.  You use the number keys to rest, and the number chosen determines how many rounds you want to rest for.  The longer the rest the more your scores are restored, but the greater the chance you'll be attacked by a monster.  You can also press 0, which restores all of your scores to their maximum (except for Body), but runs a similar risk of monster attack.

Advancement comes via the accumulation of gold and experience points.  You gain a small amount of experience from defeating monsters, but most of it is awarded by finding gold.  Whenever you leave the dungeon you can choose to spend experience points to increase your four stats, at a rate of 10-to-1 (i.e. if you spend 1000 experience you can raise a stat by 100).  You'll need to increase your stats significantly to win the game, as the dungeon levels are generated based on how strong your character is, and the Golden Apple doesn't appear until you reach a certain power level.

The dungeon levels, as mentioned above, are randomly generated.  At the beginning of the game you can set the number of rooms per level, and also assign a difficulty rating of 1 to 10.  The levels contain monsters, of course, and chests that contain traps and treasure.  Once a level has been generated, though, it remains static, so you can continue to leave and return, making yourself stronger in the process, and the level doesn't scale up with you.  It just means that the next level will be that much tougher when it gets generated...  The square you start on contains the stairs back to town, where you can buy equipment, increase your stats, save your game, or head to a deeper dungeon level.

The levels are navigated by using the NESW keys, for North, South, East and West (you get used to it).  Doors can be bashed open by pressing B (another activity that drains Strength), and you can even (L)isten at a door to hear if there are monsters lurking behind.  There are also secret doors, which are discovered by pressing I for Inspect.

The game in Colour mode.  I'm the blue square.  Right next to me is a light purple Worm.  On the other side is a brown door, and the dark purple block beyond that is a Dragon.  This is not a good place to be.

There are five monsters in the game.  Originally I had some trouble identifying them, because when you play in Colour mode the monsters are represented by coloured blocks.  It was easy enough to figure that the green block was a slime, and the white block was a Ghost.  The red block was probably a Troll.  But what about the light purple block, and the dark purple one?  Matters were further complicated because I only had the manual for the Special Edition, which adds a few new monsters.  Eventually I figured out that if I play the game in black & white the monsters are represented by letters instead of colours, and the two mystery monsters were revealed: W for Purple Worm, and D for Dragon.  The Special Edition (which I'll do a post on eventually) adds Vampires and Invisible Stalkers, but thankfully I didn't have to deal with those in the original game.

The game in B&W mode.  The Y is me, the T is a Troll and the W is a Purple Worm.

The slimes are weak, with few hit points and a low damage range.  Ghosts can only be affected by a magic sword or the Zap spell, and their attacks permanently drain your Strength score.  They only drain 1 or 2 points at a time, and you can easily replenish your Strength by spending experience, but it is a nuisance.  Trolls, Worms and Dragons are all just big piles of hit points, each progressively stronger.  There's not a lot of variety to be had in fighting them, and combat is largely a matter of deciding between (A)ttacking with a melee weapon, or using your (Z)ap spell.  You can also (R)un away, but that causes you to drop your gold.  (Dropped gold instantly returns to the chest you found it in, so it can always be reclaimed.)

Having my Strength drained by a Ghost.

In addition to Zap the game has a small selection of spells, each of which costs Intelligence points to cast.  Heal restores your Body points (which aren't replenished by resting).  XRay reveals everything in a three-square radius, which is good for scouting.  Teleport moves you to a random spot in the dungeon.  It's good for escaping a tight spot, but like running it makes you lose all of the gold you're carrying.

You can upgrade your equipment, and there are magic items to be found in the dungeon chests.  You begin the game armed with a dagger, but you can spend gold to upgrade to an Axe or a Sword.  The best weapon is the Magic Sword, which you'll find in a chest eventually.  You can also buy armor, with Leather, Chain Mail and Plate available.  Again, there's Magic Armour to be found in the dungeon, which is the best defense available.  The chests also contain wands and potions.  Some of them will double one of your stats, but there are also cursed items that reduce a stat by half.

This is always welcome.

One of the best items is the Zap Wand, which allows you to cast Zap without losing any Intelligence.  There's also a wand that lets you open doors without losing Strength, and a potion that causes you to lose your memory.  The memory loss is represented by the disappearance of your dungeon map, which I thought was very clever.  There could be more items, but those are all the ones I discovered.

I had a lot more of the screen filled in before I drank this potion.  I think there might have been whiskey in it?

Death in the game is not permanent: whenever your character dies you are reincarnated at the entry stairs of the current level, and you can keep retrying as often as you want.  Your stats will be reset to the last time you had a Brain Scan, which is the equivalent of a saved game.  When you're in town you can pay gold to have a Brain Scan, which saves your current stats.  The higher your stats, the more expensive it is to have a scan done.  If you haven't had a Brain Scan done your stats reset to the beginning (all 20) which is pretty much a death sentence on the deeper levels.  After so long playing PLATO CRPGs, which all delete your characters permanently when you die, using the Brain Scan almost felt like cheating.  I got over it quickly though.  It's a feature of the game, and I feel no shame in using it.

Getting drained to death by a Ghost.

With a decent amount of saving it's not difficult at all to win this game.  The toughest monsters (Worms and Dragons) start appearing when your stats get to approximately 100.  I had a habit of keeping my stats on an even footing, but there's nothing stopping you from pushing one stat sky-high and ignoring the rest; in that case I don't know when the endgame would begin.  But for me, the Golden Apple started to appear when my stats got to about 120.  I've encountered a fake Golden Apple, which blew up and killed me instantly.  Luckily, I had saved just minutes before.  Finding the real Golden Apple is something of an underwhelming experience.

Hitting enter takes you to the command prompt.  How I laughed!

Basically, it's a big old terrible pun.  The Golden Apple... is a computer!  Geddit?  An Apple computer!  I don't know what it is about vintage games, but they love getting self-referential.  The Game of Dungeons had monsters that were programmers.  Colossal Cave Adventure had a final area that was a storeroom for the various elements of the game.  In Adventureland you could wander inside a computer chip.  It's weird, but I suppose it's an accurate reflection of what the creators of these games were obsessed with..

I completed the game on difficulty level 1, and on level 5.  I had a crack at level 10, but I wasn't able to get too far.  Maybe one day, but for the moment I have too many other games to tackle.

So that's that: a one-post game!  A few more of these wouldn't go astray.  Time for the final rating.

FINAL RATING:

Story & Setting: The backstory described above is evocative enough, but like other CRPGs of this vintage it doesn't factor into the gameplay in any way.  The dungeon is just a collection of featureless rooms and corridors, and randomly generated at that.  It's functional, but it's not all that interesting.  Rating: 1.

Characters & Monsters: With just five monsters in the game, and nothing else to interact with, I can't rate this category highly.  The monsters aren't even particularly varied.  Rating: 1.

Aesthetics: The graphics are primitive, and not all that appealing.  It's either coloured blocks, or black & white ASCII characters, and neither looks very good.  I forgot to mention that the game has sound, and that's probably because I spent most of my time playing it with the sound turned off while listening to Turbonegro.  It's just beeps from the PC speaker every time you move or attack, and they got irritating after a minute or so.  Rating: 1.

Mechanics: It's a tight, simple game where everything serves a purpose, and every feature does what it's supposed to do.  Combat is a little simplistic, but the way that stat depletion ties into the gameplay is excellent, and I liked being able to choose which stats to advance when spending experience.  Rating: 5.

Challenge: I have to rate this game highly for its varying levels of difficulty.  It's dead simple on level 1, mildly challenging on level 5, and balls-hard on level 10, which feels exactly right.  Rating: 6.

Innovation: It's the first commercial CRPG, the first CRPG with a save game feature, and the stat depletion system is novel as well.  There's no doubt that this is going to score high.  Rating: 6.

Fun: Beneath Apple Manor is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so if you happen to have a taste for prehistoric CRPGs.  It never wore out it's welcome for me, and to be honest I'd quite happily fire it up now and have a game right now.  Rating: 4.

I'm awarding this game the special bonus point, because I still want to play it; I never did beat it on difficulty level 10, after all.  With the scores above added up, and the bonus point as well, that gives a total of 25 out of 50.  Doubling that (because I'm anal and want my rating system to give a score out of 100) gives me a final rating of 50 out of 100.

Final Rating: 50 out of 100.

NEXT
The next game on my list is Space, a sci-fi game for the Apple II that is heavily based on the tabletop RPG Traveller.  I've already been tinkering with it, and I'm pretty sure that this will be another single post job.  Progress!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Some Changes to the Final Rating System

I've made some changes to the way that my newly instituted Final rating system works.  To check out the explanation (and the new score for the game), read my final post on Adventureland.

I've also done a rating for the first game on the blog: PEDIT5, aka The Dungeon.  Check it out over here.  More to come in the near future!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Adventureland: Victory!

As of my last post I had gotten a bit stuck in Adventureland, but it turns out that the puzzles I was having trouble with weren't so difficult at all.  To recap the puzzles I had yet to solve:

1) The sleeping dragon, which is the first puzzle you will encounter in the game.  It will probably be the last one you solve, which is a structure that I often enjoy.

2) The bees.  As I mentioned in the last post, I can capture the bees in a jar, but they suffocate and die when I try to leave the room.

3) Getting the mirror without using the honey.  The magic mirror is guarded by a bear, and you can make the bear go to sleep by feeding it the honey.  As I suspected, the honey is one of the treasures needed to finish the game, and this is not the correct solution to this puzzle.

4) The lava flow at the bottom of the maze.  Obviously there's something inside it, but it's too hot for me to approach.

Okay then, let's tackle each of these one by one.

The Bear: The bear is found on a ledge over a chasm, guarding a magic mirror.


I was able to solve this without resorting to a walk-through, but in order to solve it I needed to fail it first.  The hint I needed came from the magic mirror.  I had mentioned in my last post that when I dropped the magic mirror on the persian rug, it gave me a hint: "DRAGON STING".  Later I tried it again, and it gave me an entirely different hint: "Don't waste honey, get mad instead! Dam lava!?"

This provided me with help for two of the puzzles I was stuck on, but for the moment I'll stick with the bear puzzle.  I restarted the game (with some minor grumbling), and played my way back to the bear.  With the clue being to "get mad", I tried typing YELL.


Success!  I had claimed the mirror without losing the honey, though I have to call foul on this puzzle.  While it's not impossible to solve without failing it first, it's not exactly obvious either.  The only way to really do it is to start trying random stuff, and see what works.  I'll give it props for leading in to my favourite joke in the game though.


That "slightly woozy bear" gets me every time.  I suppose he's lucky that he didn't land in the lava.

The Lava: Speaking of the lava, I was able to solve that dilemma with the other half of the clue I mentioned above.  Using some bricks from a wall I blew up earlier in the game, and the command DAM LAVA, I was able to stop the lava flow.  This revealed a glowing Firestone, which was initially too hot for me to pick up.  Pouring water on it cooled it down, and I was able to claim my twelfth treasure.

The Bees: This puzzle was easier to solve than I had thought.  I'd previously thought that the bees died as soon as I left the room, but it turns out that the length of time they survive is variable.  It was enough time that I could use my magic rug to teleport to the dragon, which is where the bees come in useful.  Oh yeah, remember to drop the mud before going to the dragon.  You need the mud to survive the bees, but it makes the dragon wake up and kill you.

The Dragon: With some living bees in my possession, this was a simple matter of typing RELEASE BEES.


I say simple, but if I'm being honest this is the most frustrating past of the game.  Forget the mud when you go to get the bees, and you're dead.  Forget to drop the mud, and the dragon kills you.  Sometimes the mud dries and falls off you before you get to the bees.  Sometimes the bees die before you can get them to the dragon.  All of these factors combine to make what can be an intensely irritating experience.  Generally I'm against random factors in adventure games, and this one of those puzzles that suffers from it.

As you can see from the screen shot, the dragon flies away to reveal some eggs, which are the final treasure.  All I had to do was take my ill-gotten gains to the room below the tree stump, drop them all on the floor, and say SCORE.


Underwhelming, isn't it?  I'm not sure what I expected from a game of this vintage, but this is probably the most disappointing end game screen of the games I've played so far.  But, I have finished it, and that means it's time for a final rating.

FINAL RATING
A Final Rating, you say?   Yeah, I know, I haven't given ratings to any of the previous games I've blogged.  I was reluctant to do so, given that I'm playing games from very different genres.  But I've been reading a lot of The CRPG Addict, and The Adventure Gamer, and I decided to jump on their bandwagon.  Besides, there's something fun about giving hard ratings to games, and comparing them against each other.  At the very least, it's bound to make someone angry.

As I said, though, I have to rate both CRPGs and adventure games, genres with very different play-styles.  The rating system I've developed is, by necessity, a bit more generalised than those used at CRPG Addict and Adventure Gamer.  I'm rating games in seven categories: Story & Setting, NPCs & Monsters, Challenge, Aesthetics, Mechanics, Innovation and Fun.  Each of these categories is scored out of 7, which is a lovely mythological number, and also has the added benefit of having an exact mid-point.  I'll also award a bonus point based on whether I still feel like playing the game after I've completed it.  This gives me a potential top score of 50, and I'm going to double it just so I an satisfy my obsessive-compulsive desire to make it a score out of 100.

Story & Setting: The story for Adventureland is barely there.  There are thirteen treasures, and for reasons unknown (though we can assume pure greed) the protagonist is out to collect them all.  There's no background, and very little in the game to give it context.  I understand that the technical limitations of the TRS-80 would necessitate this lack of detail, but could it have hurt to throw a little something into the manual?

The setting isn't overly large, and it's similarly low on detail and description.  The text sticks solely to the items and scenery that are important, and leaves out extraneous details.  This makes the puzzles a lot easier to solve, but it doesn't do a lot for the game's atmosphere.  The areas above-ground feel particularly disjointed, with the protagonist moving from meadow to swamp to lake to quicksand with no transitional areas between.  Again, it's a deficiency born of technical limitations, but I can only rate what's there.  Rating: 1.

NPCs & Monsters:  Adventureland doesn't have a lot of characters to meaningfully interact with, but there are a few monsters around.  Let's see, there's the sleeping dragon, the chiggers, the bees, and the bear.  It's not a lot, though I do have to give it props for the ability to blow up the dragon, and the bit with the woozy bear.  Rating: 1.

Aesthetics: This category covers the game's graphics, sound and general atmosphere.  Adventureland, being a text adventure with no sound, is not going to score very highly, though I'm willing to stretch higher for text adventures with particularly evocative descriptions.  Adventureland is not that game.  Rating: 1.

Mechanics: This category measures how well the game functions.  For RPGs, that will include things like character creation and combat.  For text adventures, it will include how well the parser works.  Adventureland has a simple two word parser, and only recognises the first three letters of any word.  (This has resulted in amusing situations, such as SCREW BEAR working to startle it from the ledge, as opposed to SCREAM BEAR.)  That said, the basic nature of the parser puts a limit on the number of actions you might think to try, and I found that I was rarely in a situation where I was searching for the exact phrasing needed to solve a puzzle.  I also came to like the split-window interface (with my input in the lower window and the room description at the top) the more I played it.  Having the room description visible at all times is really very handy.

I thought about knocking the game down a point for its random elements, but on further thought they're not so bad.  They're restricted to the mud and the suffocating bees, and really only affect one puzzle, so I'm going to be generous.  Rating: 4.

Challenge: This is a good game for text adventure beginners.  The puzzles aren't overly difficult, and the game is full of clues in the form of signs and the magic mirror, not to mention the HELP command which can be used if you get stuck.  There's only one puzzle that I thought was unfair, and that's the bear.  Even so, that one gives you a clue after you fail.  This makes for a mildly challenging game.  Rating: 4.

(A note about the above rating.  It's not so much about rating how difficult a game is, but rather how well-balanced it is.  A super-hard game won't necessarily score a 10, and a super-easy game won't always score a 1.  Indeed, games that are too easy or too hard will no doubt get low scores here.  Games that are challenging without becoming frustrating will score high.)

Innovation: Adventureland is the first ever text adventure game on a home computer, so I have to give it a high score here.  It's very derivative of Colossal Cave Adventure however, so it loses points for that.  Rating: 6.

Fun: And now, the most subjective rating of them all: how much fun did I have playing this game?  Adventureland was a mild distraction.  I enjoyed it, but it was short, and it didn't have a lot of jokes (I like text adventures that have a sense of humour).  I'll bump it up a point for the ability to blow up the dragon.  Rating: 4.

I didn't award the bonus point for Adventureland, as I doubt I'll ever play it again.  The above scores add up to 21, which gives me a final rating of 42 out of 100.  That seems a bit high, but it did score very highly for innovation, and given its limitations it achieves its goals quite well.

FINAL RATING: 42 out of 100.

I'm going to go back and rate the other games I've finished; expect that to be done within the next few weeks.  Then I can set about making a leader board, and give you the definitive, not to be questioned rankings of every significant CRPG and adventure game.

NEXT: Beneath Apple Manor!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Game 7: Adventureland (1978)


Adventureland, programmed by Scott Adams and originally released for the TRS-80 microcomputer, is a milestone on a number of levels.  It's the first ever text adventure released for a home computer (and may very well be the second text adventure ever created).  It's the first game commercially released by Scott Adams, a significant figure in early game design.  And, perhaps most importantly for this blog, it's the first game I'm playing that wasn't designed for a mainframe.  I still have a few games designed for the PLATO system to get through (including Moria and The Game of Dungeons v8.0, both of which I am in the middle of), but I feel with this game that I've turned a corner.  Games designed for home computers should be shorter than those on mainframes, so maybe now I can start getting through my list a little faster.

Before I get into Adventureland proper, I should probably write a bit about Scott Adams.  Adams was one of the pioneers of gaming in the late 1970s.  As I mentioned before, Adventureland is the first ever text adventure designed for a home computer, and even if it turns out to be terrible it's still significant.  He designed a total of eighteen text adventure games between 1978 and 1984, all published through his own company, Adventure International.  Despite his pioneering work, I've often seen Adams disparaged by fans of the genre.  I've played a few of his later efforts (most notably the baffling Incredible Hulk game from the Questprobe series), and found them to be a bit crude in comparison to their contemporaries.  Hopefully Adventureland and his other early efforts will hold up better.

Adventureland was released on a lot of different platforms, but I opted to go with a TRS-80 emulator in order to get the most authentic experience.  It was rereleased in 1982 with added graphics, but I've decided not to play that version.  That's probably a stupid idea for a blog that relies on images, but I'm sticking with it.  I want to play the game as it was in 1978, or as close as I can possibly get to that experience.


The plot of Adventureland is basic to the point of nonexistence: there are thirteen lost treasures, and you have to find them all and return them to a safe location.  No reason is given for why the hero is looking for these treasures, or how they got lost, or what they are.  It's just the objective of the game, and that's that.  It's the exact same plot as Colossal Cave Adventure, and you'll discover as this article progresses that this game owes a heavy debt to its predecessor.

One thing unique to Adventureland, however, is it's screen layout.  The screen is split into two text windows.  The window at the top displays the area descriptions, and the objects that can be seen, while the bottom window displays the results of your actions.  I found this disorienting at first, but after playing for a short time I became accustomed to it.  It's not what I'm used to from text adventures, but it works well enough, and it's nice to always have the relevant room details in sight.


One thing I quickly noticed about the game is that it's parser feels a little less sophisticated than the one in Colossal Cave Adventure.  This is to be expected, I suppose, as home computers were at that time far less powerful than the PDP-10 mainframe that Colossal Cave Adventure was designed for.  Adventureland only accepts two-word commands, and only recognises the first three letters of any word.  It feels limiting, and frustrating in a way that any fan of old-school text adventure games will be familiar with.

That said, the sense of relief I feel to be playing this game instead of Moria is palpable.  There's stuff in this game.  There are things.  Stuff and things I can interact with.  Sure, the interaction is crude, but it's there nevertheless.  I'll run down some of the things I've discovered, and the puzzles I've solved so far.

  • The game begins in a forest, with some wilderness areas surrounding it and a small underground dungeon.  The setting has a sort of generic fantasy/fairy tale vibe.  I'm pretty sure that I've mapped out most of the game, and so far I've visited a mere 28 separate locations.  It's not a large game, and the detail is sparse.  It lacks much of the character and sense of place that Colossal Cave Adventure had.  That's probably due to technical limitations, and the fact that Colossal Cave Adventure was based on a real cave system.  Adams does pretty well here, crafting a number of interesting locations to visit, but it's all a bit disjointed.
  • The first thing I encountered was a sleeping dragon, but I haven't been able to wake it up without being killed.  It wakes up if you enter the area carrying mud from the swamp, and kills you with fire. I've also been able to blow it up with swamp gas, but that didn't seem all that helpful.


  • The first puzzle I solved involved retrieving one of the treasures from out of a pool of quicksand: a statue of a blue ox.  Getting the ox is easy enough, but you can't leave the quicksand while carrying any item.  To get the ox statue out of the quicksand you need to be carrying an axe with the word BUNYON carved on it.  (The axe is found in a pool just south of the quicksand.)  Saying that word while carrying the axe and the ox will transport both items to an area marked as "Paul's Place".  It's not that difficult to figure out, though a knowledge of the legend of Paul Bunyan certainly helps.  Being Australian I'm only vaguely familiar with the story, but it was enough to put me on the right track.
  • Getting out of the quicksand isn't as easy as typing a direction.  You need to SWIM, which takes you to a nearby lake, but you can't do so while carrying any item.  Getting stuck in the quicksand with any item other than the ox and the axe is a bad idea, as you'll have to drop them in the quicksand to get out again.  If you do this the items dropped are gone forever, so you might as well restart.
  • In the lake is a Golden Fish, one of the thirteen treasures.  I'm able to catch it with a Golden Net I found in the dungeon, but it dries up and dies if you're not also carrying a bottle of water.
  • I had some trouble getting into the underground dungeon.  I figured out that you need to chop down the cypress tree in the swamp, and climb down the hollow stump, but I wasn't able to unlock the door at the bottom.  It turns out that you need to climb the cypress before cutting it down, so that you can find the skeleton keys.  If you cut down the tree first the keys vanish into the swamp, and the game becomes unwinnable.  The game does give you a message that something has fallen into the swamp, though, so at least it's playing somewhat fair.
  • The swamp is home to creatures called "Chiggers" (which is a word that I'm somewhat uncomfortable typing).  Occasionally the Chiggers will bite you, but the bites are easily cured by taking mud from the swamp.  I'm not sure if the Chiggers are needed to solve any puzzles, but I do rather enjoy picking them up and dropping them in the quicksand.
  • I've found some Royal Honey, which is one of the 13 treasures, but it's guarded by north african bees.  When I first tried to take the honey the bees stung me to death, but later on I figured out that the bees don't attack me if I have the mud from the swamp.  Even later I tried taking the bees themselves, and you can do so if you have en empty jar.  Unfortunately, the bees instantly suffocate when you leave the room, so I'm a bit stuck with this one.
  • There's a weird bit where you wander into the memory chip of a computer.  There's nothing to interact with in this area, and I suspect that it's just a bit of programmer's humour.  Not that it's very funny, but it is memorably strange.


  • There's a maze in the dungeon, though thankfully it's not composed of "twisty passages, all alike".  This maze is dead simple, because it only has six areas, and they're distinct enough that you always know which one you're in.  I panicked a little when I first wandered in, but it wasn't as harrowing an experience as I was expecting.
  • I found a Persian Rug in the maze, and a sign saying that the magic word was AWAY.  I've worked out that, by carrying the rug and saying AWAY, I can teleport between the sleeping dragon to the bottom of the maze.  Indeed, this seems to be the only way to escape the maze at all, and it's a very handy navigation tool. 
  • I've managed to blow a hole in a bricked up window by igniting swamp gas.  Beyond it is a bear guarding a magic mirror, and I'm not sure if I've solved this puzzle correctly. The bear goes to sleep if you give it some honey, but the royal honey is one of the treasures needed to complete the game.  I feel like there should be another solution.  (It's not the axe.  If you throw it, the bear dodges and the mirror gets smashed.)
  • Dropping the Magic Mirror causes it to smash.  In order to drop it safely, you need to first drop the Persian Rug.  When you do so, the Mirror flashes and gives you the following message: DRAGON STING.  Obviously this is related to waking the dragon, but I'm not sure exactly how.  It may have something to do with the bees, but as I said I'm having trouble keeping them alive in my bottle.
  • There's a lava flow at the bottom of the maze, and there appears to an object hidden within it.  It's too hot to do anything with, though, so I'm stuck for now.
  • The game has a lamp, which is required for exploring underground without falling and breaking your neck.  It runs out after a time, like the one in Colossal Cave Adventure.  If you rub the lamp while it's turned off (it's too hot to rub when lit), a genie appears and gives you a diamond ring.  Rub it again, and the genie leaves a diamond bracelet.  Rub it again, and it kills you for being too greedy.
  • Sometimes when you die, you go immediately to Hell, and the game is over.  Sometimes, you find yourself in Limbo, with a chance to choose a direction and return to the game if you pick correctly.
  • So far I've been able to claim the following treasures: a Golden Net, a Golden Fish, a Pot of Rubies, a Jeweled Fruit, a Persian Rug, a statue of a Blue Ox, a Diamond Ring, a Diamond Bracelet, some Royal Honey, a Crown, and the Magic Mirror.  So far that means I've found 11 of the 13 items required.  I suspect there's another in the lava, and that the dragon is guarding one, but otherwise I have no idea.  I've also had to sacrifice the Honey to claim the Mirror, which doesn't seem right.

With the majority of the treasures claimed, and only a few unsolved puzzles, I feel like I'm just about done with this game.  I haven't had to resort to a walkthrough either, something that I needed for Colossal Cave Adventure.  So far I'm having fun, and it's refreshing to be playing a game that feels short.  The end is in sight, and that's fine by me.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Game of Dungeons v8.0 and Moria: Impasse

It appears that I've reached something of an impasse in regards to Moria and The Game of Dungeons.

Not that I've stopped playing them.  On the contrary, I'm progressing slowly but surely through both.  The problem is this: all of these PLATO games are incredibly front-loaded.  There's no plot progression, little in the way of interesting new places to explore, and no features that become available as you advance.  The games are what they are from the very beginning, and they don't change all that much as you progress.

Needless to say, this is a problem for a blogger trying to maintain a weekly schedule.  I've tried to have two games on the go at once to make sure that I'd always have something to write about, but currently I'm tapped out on both.  I've milked them dry.

So I'm probably going to abandon Moria for the time being, and focus my PLATO-time on finishing The Game of Dungeons (it doesn't feel like as much of a futile slog).  In the meantime, I'll move on to the next game on my list.  If I follow my list strictly chronologically, the next game is Oubliette, but that's another PLATO game.  I don't want to get bogged down in a third one of those.  There's also DND, written by Daniel Lawrence for the PDP-10 mainframe, but that seems to have been a port of The Game of Dungeons.  It got reworked and released as Telengard in 1982, so I'll pick up that thread when I come to it.

Given that I'm kind of burned out on these prehistoric RPGs, I think it's time to pick up another text adventure.  I have Adventureland on the list for 1978.  I see that it's the first text adventure game for microcomputers, and the first game from Scott Adams, so it seems like the perfect game to play next.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Game of Dungeons v8.0: Widening My Scope

After a few weeks of focusing on one dungeon, trying to explore as deeply as possible, and dying repeatedly, I've changed tactics.  The Game of Dungeons has three dungeons, after all: Whisenwood, the Tomb of Doom, and the Caverns.  I've decided to broaden my focus, and explore all three dungeons in parallel.

This is working pretty well so far.  None of the three dungeons is more dangerous than the others, so there's no reason to avoid any of them.  After exploring the top levels of all three dungeons (and doing a decent amount of grinding) I have a 9th level character, with a decent selection of magic items.  If I proceed with the appropriate caution, I think that Geoffrey will do well.

Caution is the key word, as I'm taking very few risks.  I'm determined to grind until I'm perfectly safe on dungeon level 2 before I descend any further.  I've stopped reading magical books altogether, as there's really no protection against Explosive Runes.  I don't drink potions unless I know they're safe, and I don't open chests that I know have traps in them.  It slows my progression a bit, but not as much as starting over from scratch.

The Tomb of Doom and the Caverns aren't significantly different to Whisenwood, but I've noticed that they have their own quirks that make them more difficult to navigate.  The Caverns are loaded with areas that cause hallucination, while the Tomb has a lot of transporters leading up and down.

I've taken a look at the Hall of Fame to figure out what level I need to reach to finish the game.  The lowest level there is 68, and the highest is over 700.  The majority are around level 80, so I think I should be fine if I advance to about level 100 or so.

And now, a selection of things I've observed in the last week of gaming:

  • Once you get strong enough, monsters of low levels pose no threat at all.  My character, currently at 9th level, can't be harmed by monsters of 3rd level or below.  You can even set it so that your character automatically fights monsters below a certain level.  It's very satisfying to watch your character mow down enemies without ever having to press the Fight key.  In a smart move by the developers, auto-combat turns off for Rust Monsters and Eyes of Thieving.  Those enemies are best dealt with via magic, and fighting them is never a good idea.

Geoffrey is set to Auto-Fight monsters below level 3, and to ignore books.

  • Not only can you set the level for Auto-Combat, but you can turn some other options on and off as well.  I don't want to risk reading books any more, so I've turned them off: they don't show up at all while I'm exploring, and that removes any temptation to read them.  You can do the same with chests and potions, too.
  • I forgot to mention this, but during character creation you must choose an Order that your character belongs to.  The Orders have names such as Black Knights, Ruby Crown, and Ivory Tower.  My favourite is the Dead Moose Order.  As far as I can tell, this has no effect on gameplay whatsover, and I wonder why anyone bothered putting it in the game.  If you look at the Hall of Fame, the vast majority of characters there have chosen Emerald, which suggests that players are just automatically hitting 1 when the option comes up.  I like to choose my Order based on my character's stats and race; I can't resist the urge to do role-playing.


  • I had thought that the Cleric spell Dispell was the most effective against Eyes of Thieving, but for some reason it hasn't been working so well lately.  I've switched to the Pray spell, and it seems to be working better.
  • I haven't mentioned them yet, but sometimes you will randomly find Symbols.  Some of these will increase your stats, and there are ones that gives you more experience, money and hit points.  They take effect on you automatically.  There are a lot of negative symbols as well, but I haven't encountered those yet.  Apparently they don't affect you automatically, but there seems to be no way to avoid them except by chance.
  • Using the PG-UP and PG-DN keys, you can teleport up and down between levels, at the cost of 1 magic and 1 cleric spell.  This comes in very handy when you get lost, or fall down a chute, but occasionally it backfires and does the opposite of what you want.
  • Similarly, you can hit the P key to pass through any wall, at the cost of a magic spell.  It's another handy navigational tool.
  • You can use your Clerical magic to restore hit points.  Even better, the option is there to do it on the Open Chest menu, so you can heal yourself before risking a trap.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Game of Dungeons v8.0: Monsters

I've been splitting my gaming time (usually about an hour each night) between Moria and The Game of Dungeons, so I haven't been making a great deal of progress in either.  (Indeed, when it comes to Moria my progress has been backwards, as I died very stupidly and have to start from scratch.)  The majority of my time on The Game of Dungeons in the last week has been spent grinding for experience, which isn't the most interesting thing to write about.  Instead I thought I'd describe the various monsters, and their weaknesses.  Here is a screenshot showing every monster in the game:


Shadows: Rather than attacking your hit points, Shadows drain a point from your Strength on a successful hit.  This means that they don't pose much of a threat to your mortality, although they can apparently kill you if your Strength is drained to 0.  This hasn't happened to me yet, mostly because Shadows aren't all that difficult to kill.  The Cleric spell Light Candle kills them quite easily.

Rust Monsters: If a Rust Monster attacks you, it will eat your sword.  If you attack it, you will also lose your sword.  This isn't much of a problem if your sword is normal: you just have to go back to the surface to get another one for free.  If your sword is magical, that magic is gone forever.  The best spell to use on them is the Magic spell Eye of Newt; this turns the Rust Monster into a newt, allowing you to step on it (often with a satisfying "Squish!" message).

Mind Flayer: Mind Flayers drain your IQ rather than your hit points.  They're a little more difficult to deal with than Shadows, as I haven't worked out a good spell to use against them.  They are strangely susceptible to being charmed, though, and they're great to send into battle against Wizards.  My current character has a really low IQ, so I always get a little concerned whenever I have to fight a Mind Flayer.

Vampire: Vampires drain your experience points, which is just the worst.  If you lose enough XP your level will drop, and if they drain you below 0 you die.  This can be used to your advantage, though: if you gain a level and don't get many extra hit points, you can always get drained by a vampire and try again.  Like Mind Flayers, they're easy to charm, and the Cleric spell Holy Word is effective on them as well.  Apparently you can defeat them with a cross as well, but I've yet to find one. 

Dragon: Counter to most games, Dragons aren't all that difficult.  You just have to remember that the Magic spells Fireball and Flaming Arrow barely affect them.  I usually go with Eye of Newt.

Wombat: I live in Australia, and I've seen a lot of wombats in real-life.  Threatening they ain't, and I'm quite mystified as to what they're doing in this game.  Regardless, a Flaming Arrow spell is usually enough to kill them.

Death: Actually not all that deadly.  Their only special ability is that it's impossible to run away from them.  A Holy Word spell works well on them, as do the usual damage spells (Flaming Arrow, Fireball, Lightning Bolt).

Spectre: Thankfully, unlike in tabletop D&D, Spectres don't drain experience.  They simply damage your hit points.  A Lightning Bolt spell won't work on them, but Flaming Arrow and Fireball do, as does Holy Word.

Eye of Thieving: If you get into melee combat with an Eye of Thieving, there's every chance that it will steal one of your magic items.  It's chances depend on the difference between its level and yours.  The only way to avoid it for sure is to use magic, and I've found that the Cleric Dispell is the best against them.

Phantom: Strangely for an undead creature, it's resistant to Cleric spells like Holy Word.  I find that a Flaming Arrow works okay, or just plain melee.  I've had a lot of trouble with Phantoms; I haven't found a spell that's super-effective against them, and they seem to do a lot of damage in combat.

Warrior: It's almost refreshing to encounter one of these guys, and to know that you're just fighting a regular dude.  If they're 4th level or under a Sleep spell will defeat them, otherwise Flaming Arrow is good.  I find that Charm also works well, and will net you a versatile minion with a decent number of hit points.

Balrog: The first time a Balrog attacks you can be a bit scary, but any reputation they have from Tolkien hasn't translated to this game.  They're not all that tough, and a Holy Word or an Exorcise spell does well against them.  I'm pretty sure they're resistant to fire spells.

Wizard: Wizards are very susceptible to the Magic spell Mind Blast, and the Cleric spell Light Candle.  I don't think they have any particular special abilities, and I've never had all that much trouble with them.

Demon: Demons are resistant to fire spells, and most of them will be killed by an Exorcise spell.

You might have noticed that I didn't detail the various Slimes.  That's because it's quite difficult to figure out which type you've encountered.  You can see their icon from one step away, but to actually discover what type of slime it is you have to enter their square.  I've been blowing them away with spells where possible, so I haven't gone about cataloging their abilities.

(Oh, and while I was tooling around in the dungeon trying some things out for this blog, my 10th level character got blown up by a trapped chest.  Fuck this game.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Game of Dungeons v8.0: The Death Spiral

I've been caught in something of a repetitive loop playing this game: create a character, grind until it's about 6th level, delve to the lower levels to do some mapping, die, start all over again.  I'm not quite sure how to break out of it, to be honest.  After 6th level, advancement slows considerably, and I don't feel as though the difference between 6th and 7th is all that significant.  Perhaps I just need to grind it out until I reach 10th level, or even higher.  It's just a matter of time, if I'm patient enough.  I just hate sinking time into a game and making no progress.

Currently I'm mapping the 4th level of Whisenwood Dungeon, but I don't really have much to write about that I haven't mentioned already.  In lieu of genuine content, here are my maps of the first three levels:

Whisenwood Level 1

Whisenwood Level 2
Whisenwood Level 3

As you can see, every dungeon level is the same size: 15x15 squares.  I should have marked it on the map, but your starting location on level 1 is always the square just south of the Excelsior Transporter (marked with a T).

The game is difficult to map accurately, as you can see from the arcane notations above.  I've used different colours to denote walls, doors and transporters.  The walls, of course are black, and the doors are brown.  The light blue borders are transporters that take you up a level, and the green ones take you down a level.  As in the earlier version of the game, when you go to a new level you appear in a random location.  This is part of what makes mapping the game difficult: you have to start by mapping little bits and pieces, because you won't always be transported to the same sections of the map.  Gradually the map can be pieced together, but until that happens it can be hard to get your bearings, and even harder to find a transporter that takes you back up.

(Luckily, there's a feature that's carried over from the earlier game: a spell that can teleport you up or down a level, by pressing SHIFT-PGUP or SHIFT-PGDN.  It uses up both magic and cleric spell slots, and it can also backfire and take you deeper into the dungeon, but it's vital for getting out of an unfamiliar level.)

The Excelsior Transporter that I mentioned earlier is great: you just have to step on it, type what level you want to go to, and it whisks you there instantly at the cost of a few hit points.  Also on the first level is an alchemist and a weapon store, but the prices are exorbitant; at this point I'm much better off converting that gold into experience points.

You may also have noticed a lot of arrows all over my maps.  If an arrow is pointing at a wall, that means the wall exists from one side, but not from the other; you can walk through in the direction that the arrow is pointing.  If an arrow is pointing at a transporter or a door, it likewise only exists from one side.  Sometimes the other side will be a wall, and sometimes it will be an empty space you can move through; I haven't figured out a good way to mark that on the map.  So the maps aren't 100% accurate, but they're good enough to tell me where I need to go.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Game of Dungeons v8.0: Two Steps Forward...


As you may have gathered from the above screen shot, I've been dying quite a bit while playing The Game of Dungeons.  Like all the PLATO RPGs, death in this game is irreversible, but at this stage it's not such a major setback.  I'm currently mapping level 3 of Whisenwood Dungeon, which requires a character of about 5th or 6th level to explore in reasonable safety.  Reaching 6th level can be done quite quickly with a bit of grinding on the entry level of Whisenwood, so exploration has not been much curtailed by my frequent deaths.

Let's examine some of the ways that I've been dying.  The screenshot above is an extreme example of my own stupidity.  I had been exploring level 3 of the dungeon, when I was attacked by a  level 5 Spectre (there are a limited variety of monsters in the game, but they get stronger the deeper you explore).  I decided to hit it with a fireball spell, but the spell backfired on me (regular readers may recall that fireball and lightning bolt are the two most powerful spells in the game, but have a tendency to damage the caster).  Not only was I reduced to 18 hit points, I was also blinded.  While I sat waiting for the blindness to wear off, I was attacked by another monster.  Because I was blind I had no idea what type of monster was attacking me, so I decided to chance using the fireball again, as I wanted to make sure of killing it.  It backfired again, and killed me, resulting in the embarrassing screen shown above.  It was my best character so far, done in by a series of bungles and misfortune.  Such is life and death in the unforgiving RPGs of the 1970s.

I've had a few deaths caused by monsters, but not too many; a decent knowledge of the spells, and the addition of the ability to charm monsters, has served me well.  Most of my deaths have come from other sources: explosive runes from trying to read magic books, drinking potions of degeneration that drain hit points with every step, falling down chutes to lower dungeon levels and running out of spells.  It's a lot of the same stuff that was killing me in the previous version of the game, to be honest, but I would say that v8 is a bit less deadly on the whole.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was character progression.  In the version of The Game of Dungeons that I played before, character progression is constant.  So long as you survive your dungeon trips, you'll gain more hit points and items, and will steadily grow more powerful.  Version 8 is different.  There are Vampires that drain your experience points, Slimes that eat your boots, Shadows that drain your Strength, Mind Flayers that drain your IQ, and Eyes of Thieving that steal your magic items.  It's inevitable that these monsters will get you at some point, so the progress of your character won't always be upwards.  I spent a while building one character up to level 7, only to be drained by a Vampire and swarmed by Eyes of Thieving.  I escaped the dungeon, but I was back at level 5 and all of my magic items were gone.  It's frustrating, but there's nothing to be done about it but head back into the dungeon.  What else am I going to do, stop playing?

I don't mind these setbacks, because the game is fun.  The constant threat of losing things permanently, with no safety net, is a big part of the appeal of these games.  If you don't like the idea of playing without a saved game, then the PLATO RPGs probably aren't for you.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Game of Dungeons v8.0: Fun With Invincibility

Most of my gaming time has been devoted to Moria (because it's so damned big), but I've managed to fit in a few hours of The Game of Dungeons over the last week.  I've only lost four characters so far, which is quite good; I think that I might still have some residual talent for the game from when I played the earlier version.  My current character is an elf named Melf, who has reached fifth level by way of a huge treasure haul.  He's at the point now where he's basically invincible against all of the monsters on level 1 of Whisenwood Dungeon.  I can roam around without fear, killing everything in sight and never taking even a single hit point of damage.  It's quite gratifying after the caution required at the start of the game, and it's a great aid to mapping as well.

I found out the hard way, though, that you have a cap on the amount of treasure that you can carry.  The haul I mentioned above was a chest containing 100,000 gold pieces.  I was only able to take about 25,000, much to my dismay.  The limit is based on your Strength score and your race: Humans can carry the most, then Dwarves, Elves and Gnomes.  As an Elf with a Strength of 10, I can't really carry a lot.  I'll need to find a Bag of Holding as soon as possible.  (Also, the Help file states that you can only gain one level at a time, but I'm certain I jumped from 2nd level to 5th in one go.)

I've only mapped the first level of Whisenwood Dungeon, so my progress is somewhat slow.  There are a few things I forgot to mention last week though.


The game still features the same odd trash-talk.  Messages such as "Skewered!" and "Ribbons!" appear at the top of the screen whenever you kill a monster.  Above is my personal favourite: "What a Moose!", said while defeating a Phantom.  It's baffling.  Note also that my character in the image above has no sword: it got eaten by a Rust Monster.


There's an area on the first level that causes you to hallucinate.  My character above is seeing hallucinatory cobwebs and slime.  The doors aren't real either.  It was a bit disconcerting the first time it happened, and can really play havoc with your sense of place.  It didn't do my map any favours either.

I didn't mention slimes last time around, but they're a pretty major addition to the game.  There are seven varieties of slime in the game (including the cobweb pictured above)  Each slime affects you in a different way: some will do damage, some will eat magic items, and there are even ones that anesthetize you so you have no idea how many hit points you have left.  I've been wading through them and suffering the consequences, but just tonight I discovered that you can kill them from one space away by using magic.  You get the option of using Fire, Cold, Lightning of your sword.  Each type of slime has it's own particular weakness, and if you pick the correct one it will always succeed.  I haven't figured the various weaknesses out yet, but it's good to know now that I can get rid of the buggers.

That's it for this week.  It's time to send my character deeper into Whisenwood Dungeon, and hopefully by next week I'll have made some greater progress.