Monday, September 26, 2016

Moria: Examining the Interface

I'm going to be playing this game for quite some time to come, so if I have to post once a week or so, I'll need to discuss every inch of this game in depth.  In more modern games, that could be done by talking about the story, and the various decisions I made through the game.  Alas, games of the vintage of Moria don't have a story, and the games are less about decision-making than repeating the same processes and routines over and over again.

So rather than focus on story and decisions, I'll be doing a series of posts on different mechanical aspects of the game.  Luckily, Moria is really complex for the time.  In today's post I'm going to put up a regular screenshot, and dissect every little facet of it.

I'll begin with the main view, which is the greenish/brown rectangle in the middle.  The background colour changes based on which dungeon you're in; green/brown denotes the Forest.  The view is similar to later RPGs like Wizardry, Might & Magic and the Gold Box AD&D games: a wire-frame maze shown from a first-person perspective.  Indeed, this is probably the very first of its kind.  The square directly ahead of my character has a door to the north and a door to the east.

Written at the top of this rectangle is the word "Room".  The dungeons are designed in alternating blocks of Rooms and Corridors, each one 6x6 squares.  The Corridors are composed entirely of thin straight passages, with blocks of empty space that can only be accessed by casting a Passwall spell.  There's nothing of interest in the corridors except for wandering monsters.  The Rooms have more interesting layouts that use the entire 6x6 space, and they are where you'll find stairs, water holes and the occasional magic item.  You'll also see "N 2,1" written in the bottom corner: this shows the direction you're facing (in my case, north), and your coordinates within your current Room or Corridor.  I'm currently 2 squares east and 1 square north from the bottom left of the Room.

Up the top, right in the middle is a square that says "Forest (11)".  Obviously, this shows the dungeon you're in, and the level.  I'm currently mapping Level 11 of the Forest, out of 60 levels total.  I have a long way to go, but then again the feeling that I'm a sixth of the way there is quite heartening.

Let's go to the bottom right section, labelled "Group Members".  My group has only one member, and that's my character British (no awards for guessing my inspiration here).  The game can be played in multiplayer, where you can join other people's groups and fight together.  There aren't exactly a whole lot of people playing the game these days, so I haven't had the opportunity to test these features out.

Above that, we have "Char Stats".  Cunning can be used to trick foes in combat, and also helps you avoid traps when opening chests.  Piety is used to pray in combat, and can be used to destroy foes or to heal your character.  Valor measures your general combat prowess for when you just want to whack a monster with a sword.  Wizardry determines your spellcasting, for combat spells as well as those cast during exploration.  Your stats go up as you use them, although the gains become less frequent as the numbers get higher.  My stats range from 30 to 35, as I've deliberately tried to keep my character balanced.  Perhaps I'd be better off focusing on one stat over the others, but I feel more comfortable trying to advance them all.

Each of these stats is also used to determine advancement in whichever Guild you join.  You can only join one guild, and there's one for each of the four stats.  A score of 20 is required to join the Guild as an Apprentice, and for every ten points thereafter you can raise another rank.  Once your score hits 50 you can become the Guildmaster.

Vitality starts at 100, and is the equivalent of hit points: you lose them when hit in combat, and when they reach zero you're dead.  Casting spells also drains Vitality, but spells cost less the higher your Wizardry score.  Moria progresses in real time, which includes healing: if you leave an injured character motionless for a minute or two your Vitality will be restored to full.

Below that is Age.  Characters begin at age 13, and gradually get older as time progresses on the game.  Apparently you can die of old age at some point after you reach 100.  I haven't gotten there yet, but I hope it doesn't happen to my character before I can achieve my goals.

Gold is self-explanatory, and I never seem to have enough of it.  There's a huge selection of weapons and armour to buy in the shop, some of which costs well over a million gold.  You also need money to advance your guild rank.  My character British is an Apprentice in the Circle of Wizards (you can see his rank written at the bottom of this section).  My Wizardry score is high enough to raise my rank to the next level, but I also need to have donated a million gold to the guild.  So far I've given them 200,000, but grinding for gold is a slow process.  I'd like to buy better gear, but there's always that trade-off between equipment and saving for the next guild rank.  I can't foresee getting to a point where I'll ever have too much gold.

I'm not entirely sure about the purpose of the Score.  It goes up as you defeat monsters, and I think it's just there to determine your place in the Hall of Fame.

Now to the left-hand column.  "Spells On" simply shows which spells you have active.  I have two spells running: Light and Protection.  Light shows secret doors, and Protection makes you harder to kill in battle.  There's no reason not to have them on all the time: a single casting lasts basically forever, only running out when you go back to town.  The other spell I could have running is Precognition, which lets you know whether monsters have any treasure.  I'm more than willing to fight monsters regardless of any treasure they might have, so I don't see a need for it.

Below that is "Weapons/Items", which shows what I'm carrying.  Items above the line are equipped, and those below the line are unequipped.  Each item equipped has a rating for Attack and Defense.  I currently have two weapons equipped: the Magic Javelin and the Rod of Fear.  Once your Valor reaches 30 you can wield two weapons, but before that you can only have a weapon and a shield.  Obviously shields grant a better defense, but as most weapons have a Defense rating of their own I prefer to get my Attack higher and dual-wield; the loss of Defense is negligible.  Unequipped items can be sold at the shops, or left in an item locker at your Guild.

Finally, in the bottom left corner is the "Supplies" section.  You need to carry food and water, and if you run out of either your Vitality will be drained away with every step.  You can buy food and water in the city, but you can also find them in the dungeons as well.  Some monsters (mostly animals) will replenish your food supplies when killed, which is a really neat touch.  There are water holes dotted throughout the dungeons, although some are poisoned and will drain your Vitality.  This is probably the first CRPG that requires tracking of food, but thankfully it's easy to manage, and running out isn't all that punishing.

So that's the interface of Moria: it works very well, and innovated a lot of RPG staples that we'll be seeing at least until the mid 1990s.  I might have some problems with this game, but the way it looks and functions isn't one of them.  (Except for that tiny, tiny view.  Is there any reason for it to be so small?)

The next few posts will be on various aspects of the game: monsters, spells, combat.  Anything else I can think of.  Gotta fill that time, you know?  This game is a behemoth.

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