Friday, August 28, 2015

The Game of Dungeons (aka DND) v8.0 (1978)

Back when I started The Game of Dungeons, I noted that there were two versions on cyber1's PLATO emulator.  I played and finished version 6, but I said at the time that I would eventually revisit the game and play version 8.  Since Moria is becoming a drag I figured that now is a good time.  I'm glad I did, because version 8 is certainly different enough to merit some posts.

In version 6 of The Game of Dungeons, the goal was simple: find the Orb at the bottom of Whisenwood Dungeon, defeat the dragon guarding it, and escape back to the surface.  That goal remains in version 8, but the game has been greatly expanded.  There are now three dungeons: the aforementioned Whisenwood, the Tomb of Doom, and the Caverns.

Whisenwood Dungeon in this version of the game no longer holds the Orb.  Instead there's a fountain at the bottom that supposedly cures all ills, which is guarded by the Grim Reaper.  The Orb and the Dragon are now found on the lowest level of the Caverns.  There's another quest item in the game as well: the Grail, which is in the Tomb of Doom and guarded by "The Vampire".  Retiring to the Hall of Fame is done by claiming both Orb and Grail.

I've been playing version 8 for about an hour or so, and while the basics of the game remain intact, I'm also noticing some significant differences.  The most notable of these is probably character advancement.  Version 6 didn't have levels; instead, any gold you carried out of the dungeon was directly converted into hit points, at a rate of 1 hp per 4000 gold.  Now the game has levels, and your gold converts into experience points instead of directly into hit points.  It's difficult to figure out how much experience is needed to gain a level, because I can't find a screen that shows me what my current experience is.  You also gain experience for defeating monsters, which I'm pretty sure is new to this version of the game.

I've been exploring the top level of Whisenwood, and the layout is different than it was in v6.  It looks as though the levels are 15x15 squares, but I don't know how deep the dungeons go (Whisenwood had 20 levels in v6).  The Excelsior Transporter is still there (for the uninitiated, it can be used to quickly transport to any level of the dungeon, but using it costs hit points, and takes more the deeper you go).  The top level also has two new additions: an Alchemist and an Armory.  You can buy potions from the former, and magic weapons and armor from the latter, but the prices are steep.

There are new monsters in the game, and they do more than take away hit points.  Rust Monsters will eat your sword (and your icon changes to match, in a charming touch).  This makes you less effective in combat, but you can get a new one by making it back to the surface.  Shadows drain a point from your Strength score, while Vampires feed directly on your experience points (and yes, you will lose levels).  Mind Flayers feed on your Intelligence score.  As in v6, monsters have strengths and weaknesses against the various spells, which I'm still trying to figure out.

Character creation has a couple of new touches that makes things more interesting.  The first is your race.  In v6 this was never specified, but here you can be a Human, Elf, Dwarf or Gnome.  It's randomly determined, unfortunately, but at least it gives a small amount of differentation.  Elves are better at spellcasting, and have higher IQ and Wisdom.  Dwarves are better at fighting, always know what level of the dungeon they're on, and have higher Endurance.  Gnomes are more agile, better at running away, and also better at avoiding traps when opening chests.  Humans can carry more gold than the others.

Also, every character has an inheritance, and most of them will begin the game with a magic item.  My first character started with a +1 helmet, and others have had potions and amulets of ESP.  I'm a big fan of this, it makes each character feel unique.  It also gives some extra menace to the monster known as the Eye of Thieving, which often pops up to steal your stuff.  There's not much point to it if you don't have anything to steal, is there?

The magic system hasn't changed a great deal, except for one great addition: charm spells.  You can charm any of the monsters that attack you, and they will follow you around the dungeon and fight for you.  I don't think you can have more than two at a time, but it's cool to have minions to order around, and it does a lot for the survivability of low-level characters.  I've been getting a lot of use out of my meat shields.

You can see at the top of the screen that I have a charmed Vampire in my service.

There's more to The Game of Dungeons v8 that I haven;t mentioned yet, but I think I'll save it for future posts.  I'm having a blast getting back to this game: v6 was probably my favourite of the ones I've played so far in the blog.  It's certainly a welcome change from Moria.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Moria: Failure to Video

This is going to be a short post this week.  I'd intended to have some footage of myself playing Moria, but it turns out that making videos is harder than I thought.  Who knew?  There are millions of kids doing it on Youtube, how complicated can it be?  (As it turns out, very.)

So I don't have much to say, except for a quick update on my Moria progress.  You may recall from my last post that my character died.  In Moria, as in all games of the mid-1970s, death is permanent.  I spent a good few hours creating new characters, grinding for gold, and ultimately dying due to impatience.  Eventually, though, I managed to build a decent character, and I'm back to mapping new areas of the Forest dungeon.  I built his Wizardry score up to 20, which allowed me to join the Circle of Wizards, and much to my delight I gained instant access to the spell which allows me to teleport back to the city from anywhere.  It's great.  Now I can go back to the city instantly, and use the travel function in the Guild to instantly teleport back to my camp (you can set a camp anywhere in the game).  It's cut down on a lot of back-and-forth travel, and should speed up my progress a fair bit.

I'm not sure what's coming next for the blog, though.  I'll have another crack at some video, because I'd like to give a sense of what these games look like in action.  After that it's uncertain, because I'm running out of things to say about Moria.  It's probably time I added another game to my schedule.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Moria: All The Good Things

Occasionally while I'm playing Moria I feel as though I should be enjoying it more than I am.  Sure, it's empty and huge, and a bit of a chore to play, but the game has so many innovations, and the list of things appearing in a CRPG for the first time ever is pretty big.  I start to wonder if the problem lies with myself rather than the game.  Am I playing it wrong?  Am I unable to appreciate it because of my modern perspective?  Then I spend an hour mapping empty corridors, and I'm right back to blaming the game again.  Even so, there are a lot of cool features in Moria, and I've decided to list them below so that their significance isn't forgotten.

  • Stats That Advance Through Use: Your four stats (Cunning, Piety, Valor and Wizardry) all increase as you win more battles, but only the ones that you use.  So if you rely on Valor all the time, that's the only score that will get higher.  It allows you to fine-tune your character to an extent, and decide what you want his strengths and weaknesses to be.  I've been focusing on keeping my characters as well-rounded as possible, but it seems almost inevitable that Valor increases the fastest.  Wizardry seems to be the hardest to increase, because casting spells always drains your Vitality.  It's hard to train your spellcasting when every spell you cast brings you closer to death.
  • Character Classes:  Character classes, such as Fighter, Cleric, Thief and Magic-User, are a common element of Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy games.  Although in Moria you don't have a classes as such, there are four guilds that correspond to the classes named above.  In addition to that, the way your stats advance shapes what "class" your character most resembles.  If you mostly use Valor in battle, your character is closest to a Fighter; if you use Piety, you're a Cleric, and so on.  In the other three CRPGs I've played (pedit5, dnd and Orthanc) your character is a hybrid of all the classes.  Moria is the first CRPG that allows you to differentiate your characters based on anything other than equipment.
  • Food: This is the first CRPG in which food and starvation are a factor. You begin the game with a supply of rations (about 16 months worth, which makes me wonder where I'm carrying it all), and can replenish it by purchasing more at one of the Supply Stores in the city.  If your food runs out, you slowly lose Vitality until you're dead.  It's got the basics covered, but one thing I've noticed is that, after killing certain monsters, my food stores increase.  Presumably my character is cutting them up for their meat. It's a super cool feature, and a surprising one to see in such an early game. There will be later CRPGs that include a food requirement, but very few of them will factor in the ability to cook and eat the corpses of your enemies.  I haven't paid enough attention to notice which monsters are edible, unfortunately.
  • Water: As with food above, you begin the game carrying about 16 months worth of water, and if you run out you will slowly die of thirst. You can buy more from the Water Houses in the city.  Water Holes are scattered about the four dungeons with reasonable frequency (usually two or three per level). Some of these are good, but some are poisoned and will damage you if you drink from them.  It's not as innovative as the food thing above, but again I'm appreciative that the designers factored in the ability to find water in the wild.
  • Aging: You begin at age 13, and gradually grow older as the game progresses.  The character I played for the longest got to age 23.  During that decade of life he mapped six levels of the Forest dungeon, which doesn't sound like a particularly efficient use of his time, but in his defense the years pass relatively quickly. The game's help file says that your character can live until at least 100, and after that there's a chance of  death every time you age a year. If you live long enough without dying, you can apparently become immortal.  This is pretty rad.
  • Heirs: I've mentioned this in an earlier post, but your character can leave some of his possessions to his heir.  You need to make sure that you've stored some spare equipment at your guild, and if you do so your next character can go and claim it.
  • Haggling: Not only is the equipment list extensive, but you can haggle with the shopkeeper for every single item on the list.  No matter the price he quotes you, you can bargain him down to about 2/3 of that, without fail.  It would save time, of course, if he'd just give you the lower price to begin with; it's not like your haggling can ever backfire.  The idea is a good one though, if not perfectly executed.
  • Stealing: You can attempt to steal gold from any of the four guilds.  I haven't tried this yet, because if you get caught you are thrown in prison, and will only be released if someone pays your bail. I'm not sure if that's something I could do with a new character, or if it would require another player on the system to bail me out, so I haven't risked it. I might try it the next time I start a new character, just to see how much can be stolen (and how risky it is).
  • String: One novel feature, that I've never seen in any other game, is the ability to tie a string to any area.  Later on you can simply press a few keys to instantly return to that point. It's a handy navigation tool, though it doesn't always work, as monsters will sometimes find your string and cut it.  I'm not sure if it works between dungeon levels, either.  It's failed every time I tried to do so, but it's possible that a monster cut the string.  I should do some more tests.

Everything on that list is a feature that is appearing in CRPGs for the first time ever.  I've probably missed some stuff, as well, because I'm constantly discovering new features.  It's a remarkably sophisticated game, it's just a shame that it's is so large.  If it was of a more manageable size, I'd probably be singing its praises.  There's also one other thing to remember: a big feature of Moria is that it's a multi-player game.  A lot of its features are intended for multiple players, to help them form groups and tackle the dungeon as a team.  I imagine that with a large group of players involved a lot of my problems with the size and emptiness of the dungeons would be alleviated. So while I'm not having the greatest time trying to finish this game, it's always good to remember the many things that Moria does right.  It may not be the most fun game I've played, but it is probably the most sophisticated and innovative.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Moria: Too Quick, Too Dead

A week ago, I had this post all planned out.  I was going to write about how I was playing this game all wrong.  I had a whole rant prepared about how preposterously easy it is, and how I needed to stop being so cautious and methodical.  My conclusion was that I had to stop mapping the game level-by-level, and start jumping ahead.  So I did, moving straight from level 6 of the Forest to level 11.

Then I died.

I've mentioned before that the groups of monsters grow larger the deeper you explore.  On level 6 I was fighting groups of five or six monsters.  When I went to level 11 I found myself up against groups of 10 or more.  (Now that I write it out, the numbers roughly match the dungeon level.  I'll have to pay more attention and see if this is actually the case.)  The actual combats weren't that much more difficult, they just became more time-consuming, and drained me of more hit points.  That wasn't the problem, though.  The problem, and I've noticed this a lot in my gaming, is that I got complacent.  The fights were so easy on the upper levels that I'd lost all sense of caution.  So I kept barreling along, not paying much attention to my Vitality, and I got murdered by a gang of Slasher Worms.

At least I got to screen-cap this rad death screen.

Losing that character hurt.  I had managed to put together some good equipment, and my stats were high.  My Valor (the stat I relied on most often in combat) was up around 40.  I had moved up a rank in my guild (The Union of Knights), an effort which had required a donation of a million gold pieces.  (Supposedly being a member of this guild gave me the ability to behead my foes, but I never saw it in action.)  Going back to the beginning was difficult.  My character's progress had been earned by painstakingly mapping six levels of dungeon.  With a new character, I'm going to have to grind for ages before I'm strong enough to get back to where I was before.  I just want to explore new territory and keep mapping the game, but I'm stuck going back and forth over places I've already been.

To top it off, my new character didn't inherit my gear like I thought he would.  I had gotten it into my head that all I needed to do was create my new character right away after dying, and all of my weapons and armour would be passed down.  What I'd forgotten was that the gear to be inherited had to be stored in my Guild Locker (a place you can use to store equipment and treasure).  I hadn't put anything in my locker, preferring to sell my gear instead.  My own stupidity was forcing me to start over from scratch.

For my new character, I once again chose to start with a high Valor, mostly because this stat controls your weapon choice.  You need a Valor of 15 in order to wield a one-handed weapon.  Anything less, and you have to use two-handed weapons, and forgo the protection of a shield.  I don't think that I'm going to join the Guild of Knights this time, though.  One of the most frustrating parts of the game is travelling back to town, so I will probably join the Circle of Wizards.  That guild gives the ability to teleport back to the city, which will make the game a bit more enjoyable.

With the setback in progress I just had, I'm going to focus on Moria for the next while.  As I mentioned above, I'm not sure how to progress now.  Should I continue to be cautious and methodical, thereby stretching this game out interminably?  Or should I go hard, and delve deep as quickly as possible to go for the quick win?  For the moment, I'm going to grind cautiously until my new character gets as strong as my previous one was, and then I'll decide which play style to adopt.