Saturday, April 3, 2021

Game 53: Maces & Magic - Balrog Sampler (1979)

Nothing this rad appears in the game.

Of all the games I've played for the blog, this has been one of the most difficult.  Not difficult in terms of completion: that nod probably goes to The Game of Dungeons v8, Moria, or Rogue. But in terms of getting the game running, and researching the history? Balrog Sampler has caused me all sorts of problems in those regards, and refreshing myself on the game - which I played through back in November - has been somewhat less than pleasant.

Balrog Sampler was originally called Dungeon (undoubtedly the most over-used word in titles in the CRPG genre so far), and published by Adventure International for the TRS-80. For an early game by such a famous developer there's surprisingly little written about it: I got pretty much all of this history from the CRPG Addict, who interviewed one of the creators a while back. That creator was one Richard Bumgarner, an x-ray technician who was one of three medical professionals that formed Chameleon Software to create CRPGs in their spare time. We still don't know who the other two were, as far as I know. Poor sales and some legal threats from TSR, the highly litigious publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, forced them out of the gaming industry after a few years.

Despite the short tenure and the obscurity of their creation, there is some historical significance to what they did.  Balrog Sampler is the first installment in the Maces & Magic series, one of the earliest attempts at a CRPG franchise.  It's also possible that it might be the first true text adventure/CRPG hybrid: to the best of my knowledge it seems that Eamon was released around the same time, but it's not known which of them came first.  There are sources that place both games in 1980 rather than 1979, so really it's all very uncertain.

Before I get started, I'm going to give some instructions on how to get this thing running. I don't normally bother with this sort of thing, but if any of you want to play this game I'd like to save you the arse-ache that I had to go through. Here it is, step-by-step:

  1. First, download the trs80gp emulator. You can find it here.  Normally I use trs32, but that one wasn't cutting it for this game.
  2. You also need to download trsdos13 to run the emulator. You can find it at this link, as trsdos13.zip. When you run the emulator, set the trsdos13 file to drive 0 (under the Diskette menu at the top). That should get it going, but I am a little rusty on this early TRS-80 set-up, so I can't guarantee that there won't be some extra steps required.
  3. Set the emulator to run as a Model III in the File menu. (It might be set as that by default, I'm not sure.)
  4. Download these Balrog Sampler disks that I made. I had to split the files across two disks, because I noticed that the versions of the game that I was finding didn't include all of the required files. In fact, the size of all those files was too large to fit on one side of a TRS-80 disk, so I downloaded them all separately and split them in two. They can be found here.
  5. Load up the emulator. Put Balrog Sampler A in disk drive 1.
  6. Type BASIC at the prompt.
  7. You should see a prompt asking "How Many Files?" Type 8.
  8. When prompted for Memory Size, don't type anything. Just hit enter.
  9. At the Ready prompt, type RUN"START"
  10. You'll get a prompt that says "INTRODUCTION (Y/N)?" Hit whichever you like, though I do recommend watching the intro at least once.
  11. After the intro, you'll be told to put Disk B in Drive 0. Do exactly that, by putting the Balrog Sampler B file in disk drive 0 (replacing trsdos13.dsk.
  12. Hit enter after replacing the disk, and you should be good to go.
This title screen is relatively impressive in motion.

The first notable thing about this game is the Adventure International intro, which is a real production. It includes a rotating globe of the Earth, the AI logo turning into a train, and a little guy running after the train trying to catch up. It's fairly impressive for a system that technically doesn't have any graphics capabilities, but it does seem a bit wasteful. How much memory is this thing eating up?  All of the relevant files probably would have fit on one disk without it, which would have made things a lot easier for me.

The Woody Allen quote at the start points towards the
humourous tone that parts of the game display.

After the title screen, some stats are given for how many adventurers have died in this adventure. You're then asked if you want to load a saved game or use an experienced adventurer; I technically have a character that's finished the game already, and it's pretty tempting to use him to make going back through the game easier, but I can't remember things well enough to skip over them. If I'm going to write about this stuff, I'm going to have to slog my way through it all over again.

If you're making a new character, you get the option of buying some weapons.  The game actually asks if you want to see the list or not, which seems like an odd question until you get a look at how many weapons there are in the game.  The complete list of weapons comes to 80, with a lot of the usual selections as well as really odd stuff like war fans, crowbars and arbalests, and things I've never heard of like the oxtongue, jambiya, bich'hwa and bagh nakh. Every weapon has numbers indicating damage dealt, as well as a minimum Strength and Dexterity score required to effectively wield it. Unfortunately, you have to choose your weapons before you know what your stats will be, which seems like something of an oversight.

This might be the first CRPG that's gone beyond the
AD&D Player's Handbook for its weapon list.

After that you are asked to buy some armor, which doesn't have stat limitations, but each piece comes with a limit as to how many you can wear at a time. Every item has a weight score as well, so the amount of stuff you can carry is limited by your Strength score.

I'm not sure how much gold a character is meant to start with in this game, but on the version I have you are given well over 30,000 gold pieces to play with. I suspect that it's been cracked somewhere along the way, but given how much trouble I had getting it running I'm not going out and looking for a more authentic version. It's not actually that much of a help, to be honest, as you're only allowed a few weapons, and the armor you can use is limited as well.

A suspiciously large amount of gold for a starting character.

After you've bought your gear, you get a look at your character's attributes. The character is always called Ceron, and as far as I can tell there's no way to change it or select a different name. The six attributes are Strength, Intelligence, Luck, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma.

  • Strength determines how much stuff you can carry, and which weapons you can use without getting tired. If your Strength ever drops below 5 due to fatigue, you'll pass out and be easy pickings for whichever monsters are nearby.
  • Intelligence apparently determines whether you find secret doors, correctly identify potions, or notice other warning signs.
  • Luck is simply used to determine if certain situations go in your favour, which mostly happens in the background without you noticing.
  • Constitution functions like hit points.
  • Dexterity is used for things like climbing and balancing, and also determines which weapons you can use effectively. If you use a weapon for which you lack the required Dexterity, there's a chance you'll hurt yourself.
  • Charisma affects how some NPCs will react to you.

In addition there are experience points, which I'm pretty sure are awarded for solving puzzles and finding treasures, just like the points in loads of other adventure games. Language Level is also something I'm not sure about, though it may factor into NPC interaction and whether you can read certain messages.

The game proper begins with the exaggerated creaking of a door as you exit the general store (represented by large text), followed by a bit of set-up. Apparently the protagonist is an adventurer who has come to this place following a map, without any particular goal in mind (except, presumably, the accumulation of treasure).  With nothing better to do, the adventurer decides to head off in the direction of a castle in the distance, and the game begins.

Very little of this is relevant to the adventure to come.

I described the game above as a CRPG/text adventure hybrid, but the text adventure part is rather simplified. Rather than using a full parser, it works more like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, presenting a number of options for you to pick from. There are a number of commands you can execute at any time: you can (g)et or (l)eave objects, use an item from your (p)ack, look at your (s)tatus, (w)ait, or look at your (i)nventory.  Looking at your status at this point reveals that there are 1951 points required to fully complete the game.

The initial area is a forest that's bisected by a turbulent river. Trying to swim across the river at any point results in an instant death, There's not a lot to find on the west side where you start, just a cave where you can find some junk (a shackle chain, some mice, an iron rod), and a hill where you can meet a hermit. Sometimes you can't get anything out of him (presumably based on your Charisma), but if you're able to talk to him he'll tell you there's an entrance to "the underground world" on the other side of the river.

There are two ways across the river: a toll bridge and a fallen tree. Crossing the bridge is safe, but will cost you 5 gold pieces. You can try to cross by force, but the young man who collects the toll is apparently the "dungeon master's" nephew, and will blast you with lightning. The fallen tree is free to cross, but requires a roll against your Dexterity. Failure means you fall in the river to your death. It's risky, but in the dozens of times I tried it, it only happened once, so it's worth a shot if you happen to be poor.

There's a shack on the east side of the river that contains a ladder, some keys, a torch, a wooden wheel, and a shovel.  Further east is a building marked as the "Woodland Hills Bank". Inside, you can deposit gold pieces, or make a withdrawal. You can also do the same for inventory items, which - in the grand tradition of Colossal Cave Adventure and almost all of its offspring - is what you need to do with the treasures you'll find.  As in those games, you get points for finding treasures, and points for depositing them. The bank also has the game exit, which you can use when you're done playing.

I'm pretty sure trying to rob the bank is an instant death,
but I didn't try it this time.

Just north of the bank is an area of redwood forest. A gap in one of the trees leads down into the main dungeon, which is where the bulk of the game takes place. So much for that castle on the horizon...

I could probably knock this out in one very long post, but I think I'll take a break here.  The next post will cover the dungeon, and if I'm lucky I might be able to figure out the stuff I missed last time and finish the game with full points.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Game 52: Eamon Scenario 2 - The Lair of the Minotaur (1979)

Well, I'm into the weeds with this one.  Lair of the Minotaur is another first for the blog, as it's not a game in itself but rather the second scenario for a game I've already played.  That game - more accurately a game creation system - is Eamon, and I covered it in March last year.  I went over the history in that first post, but all I need to mention here is that Eamon's creator Donald Brown released it for free, and a sizable community (for the time) created quite a number of games for it.

The default scenario for Eamon, The Beginner's Cave, was written by Donald Brown.  The second scenario was also written by Brown, as the game had not quite taken off yet.  There were 10 scenarios created in 1980, and in 1984 there were 41 created, so it ramps up fairly quickly. My current plan is to tackle them all, but I'll get back to that after I've played some more. So far they've been short and easy, but my tune might change if I get to some that are a hassle to get through.  It's also setting a precedent for me to play through loads of non-commercial products, which I'm not super-keen on. I don't mind when those products are historically significant in some way, but I can't see myself playing through hundreds of RPG Maker games. As usual, I'll play these things by ear.

Games created using Eamon visually resemble text adventures, but although they use a command parser I'd say that they are more CRPGs at heart. The number of commands available to the player is minimal, and I've found that combat, gear and improving stats are much more important to play than solving puzzles. One of the biggest draws with Eamon in this regard is the ability to take the same character through different scenarios. I still had my character Artis, who had gone through The Beginner's Cave. He had a Hardiness score of 16, an Agility of 17, and a Charisma of 14. He was also wielding the magic sword Trollsfire, which could be found in that first scenario, and was wearing Plate Armor and carrying a Shield. (Actually, I'm pretty sure Artis has been through Lair of the Minotaur before this, because I played it months ago.  I was badly in need of a refresher before writing this post, so it's likely that this is the second time he's has been through this adventure.)

The background of Lair of the Minotaur is that I had arranged to meet my girlfriend Larcenous Lil in the town of Dunderhaven. Unfortunately, Lil went off to burglarise a local castle, and hasn't been seen since. I snuck into the castle to look for her, only to be ambushed by the local lord and dumped in a pit, presumably the same fate that she suffered. I suppose my goal is to make it out alive from the dungeons beneath the castle, and rescue Larcenous Lil along the way, if possible.

Not gonna lie, I already have a crush on Larcenous Lil.

I'm getting a bit of a Return of the Jedi vibe, but that
movie won't come out for a couple of years.

When the game started I was at the bottom of a long shaft, with an exit leading off to the south. There was a lantern on the floor, already lit, which was handy if a little unlikely.  Thankfully, unlike so many other adventure games of the era, the lantern has no time limit.

Nice of my captors to provide me with an unlimited light source.

Exploring south and west, I came to a room containing a coffin. I opened the coffin, only to be predictably attacked by a skeleton from inside. It missed with its first swipe, and I destroyed it in a single blow with Trollsfire. The skeleton dropped a skeleton key.

South of that was a room containing a large stone, and a mirror with the word "CIGAM" reflected in it. Saying the word backwards - MAGIC - caused an emerald to pop out of the stone. I always appreciate it when a game eases you in with some elementary puzzles.  Some easy successes early on can be very encouraging.

Fear my intellect.

To the east was a river with a boat on the bank, so I got inside and rowed downstream to the south. There were three grottos where I could land, but before I could choose I was attacked by a Killer Rabbit that emerged from the water. As with the skeleton earlier, I killed it with my first swing.

The river continued south, but I ignored that path and landed in the southernmost grotto. (The hints were pretty strong that I'd die if I continued along the river, and experimenting to find out isn't really a viable option when you can lose an experienced character.) There were signs that the grotto had been recently dug up, but without a shovel I wasn't able to investigate, so I kept exploring to the west.

In the tunnel I encountered a floating eyeball creature that was humming to itself, a creature that the game identified as a "Wandering Minstrel Eye". It wasn't hostile, and couldn't otherwise be interacted with, so I gather that it's only in there so that it can be a pun. I love a good pun, but I hate a bad one, so I stabbed this creature in its stupid eyeball so I wouldn't ever have to see it again.

I'll show you some fuckin shreds and patches...

At a crossroads I encountered a Black Knight, who I tried to greet in a friendly manner. He attacked, but after I hit him a couple of times he thought better of it and ran away. I had to track him down before I could put him to the sword. (I'm not sure if this guy is always hostile, or if my Charisma score is to blame. I suspect the former, but in Eamon your Charisma can sometimes decide whether an NPC will be helpful or hostile.) With the crossroads now clear I was able to explore the other grottos, but I found nothing of interest.

Insert obligatory Monty Python reference.

East of the knight's crossroads was a four-way intersection. Further west was a gate that opened to my skeleton key, but I decided not to explore that way yet. To the north I found two things of interest: an "insanity room" that borrowed the Witt's End pun from Colossal Cave Adventure, and a bag with an Acme label. It's not explicitly called out, but this bag allows the player to carry more treasure.

South of the intersection I came to the door of a temple to "Kalimar". In the initial area there was a storeroom where I found a shovel, and another room with a jewel. I backtracked with the shovel to the first grotto, and dug up some gold coins before returning to the temple to investigate the jewel.  There was a warning not to take the jewel, but my greed got the better of me and I decided to risk it. Sure enough, I was damaged by an electric shock, but it wasn't enough to kill me. I took the opportunity to cast a Heal spell to restore my Hardiness.

(There are four spells in the game that you can purchase from a shop between adventures. I had purchased three of the four, but I forgot to really experiment with them. The only one I cast was Heal, which worked on my first try. I gather that like your weapon skills, your skill with spells increases the more you use them. Once again, I promise to delve into this in greater detail the next time I come around to Eamon.)

Further into the temple I found a treasury, containing a pile of silver coins. There were a number of bags for carrying the treasure, but they all disintegrated as I touched them. Luckily I had my Acme bag, so I was able to scoop up the coins and take them with me.

At the end of another tunnel I encountered a high priest in his bedroom, armed with a morning star and dressed in chainmail. He managed to hit me in the ensuing battle, but my armor completely absorbed all of the damage. The priest wasn't so lucky, and Trollsfire claimed another victim. The room contained a number of books in an unfamiliar language, which I swiped on the off chance I'd be able to sell them.

Finally, I came to the main chamber of the temple, where a priest was standing over a sacrificial altar. There, chained to the altar, was my beloved Larcenous Lil. I made short work of the priest, and freed Lil from her chains. (I'm not sure if the skeleton key is required here, but I suspect so.)  I swiped a gold-and-silver candlestick from the temple, as well as the jewelled sacrificial dagger. I gave the black knight's longsword to Lil, but I have no idea if she used it in combat or not. She did follow me around for the rest of the game and help me in my battles, but I don't know if giving her a weapon made her more effective or not.

I wonder how much games like this shaped my
innate distrust of organised religion.

Heading out of the temple and back to the gate, we continued west into a smithy. There we found a blacksmith, and a solid gold anvil. The blacksmith wasn't hostile, but I couldn't get anything out of him, so I decided to kill him anyway. This ended up being a terrible idea. He didn't hurt me in retaliation, but one of my attacks was a fumble, which caused Trollsfire to break. I was forced to finish the fight with a regular longsword, but before I could kill the blacksmith he ran away. Feeling a little dejected, I decided not to track him down. The anvil was too heavy to move, so I left it behind.

Past the smithy was a series of passages and intersections that form a maze. The maze wasn't too difficult to navigate, although it did loop around on itself in a number of places. After spending some time mapping it, with Larcenous Lil in tow, I eventually found my way to a corridor with a breeze coming in from the surface. I made a rush for freedom, only to be stopped in my tracks by a terrible monster.

Hey, remember the title of this game? The Lair of the Minotaur? Well, the game gets around to it eventually, as the titular minotaur is the one guarding the exit with a battleaxe. Lil and I fought the minotaur together, and once again I was saved from injury by my armor. I did the bulk of the damage, but it was Lil who struck the killing blow.  With the minotaur dead there was nothing stopping us from escaping. We encountered a gypsy on the way out, but he wasn't hostile, so we left him behind and made our way to freedom.

What a woman!

With the adventure done, I was able to sell my loot to Sam Slicker, the local fence.  I was paid 2,184 gold pieces, but the game doesn't itemize the treasures, so I have no idea what each was worth.  I was also able to check out my stats, to see if any of them had improved. The only one that went up as far as I can tell is my skill in Swords; it was at 28% when I started the adventure, and 40% by the time I finished.  That's a pretty significant improvement for one adventure, I feel, but probably offset by the loss of my magic sword.

Artis' stats at the end of the adventure.

It took under an hour to play through Lair of the Minotaur, and it didn't present any difficulties: there were no puzzles to speak of, and the combats were all trivial. I might have been in trouble without my armor, but as far as I could tell wearing plate mail made me pretty much impervious.  If the other Eamon scenarios are like this, I'll keep playing them.  Lair of the Minotaur wasn't particularly engaging, and there really wasn't a lot to it, but a quick game with no hassles is always welcome.

THE RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: Rescuing princesses and such is one of the more common video game tropes, but it's not often that you get tasked with rescuing someone named "Larcenous Lil". The setting doesn't really fit together, though. A dungeon under a castle, with an evil temple, plus a maze with a minotaur? It's all a little much, and no effort is made to stitch it together.  Plus the temple is much more prominent than the minotaur, who doesn't really merit his titular role despite being a final boss of sorts.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: As with the previous Eamon scenario, there's not a lot to be done in terms of interaction. Either a character is hostile and you fight them, or they're friendly and they'll follow you around and help you fight. There are plenty of foes here: a skeleton, a knight, some priests, the minotaur, and even an aquatic killer rabbit.  There are a few non-hostile NPCs, in the blacksmith, the gypsy and the minstrel eye, but none of those responded to anything I tried. Larcenous Lil certainly sounds like she has character, but she doesn't do anything except follow you around and fight. So while there's plenty of variety in terms of numbers, there's not much variety in terms of interaction. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: As a text game with minimal sound it's bound not to do too well here, although I do like the descending speaker beep when you're thrown in the pit at the beginning.  The writing is decent, so it avoids a minimum score. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Combat: The system is a solid one (you can see the math it's using in the game manual), but a little simplistic: like many text adventure games with a combat system, it amounts to typing ATTACK MONSTER repeatedly. The spells might add something extra, but I haven't tried them out much, and hardly needed them anyway. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: Everything in Eamon pretty much does what it's supposed to do, but with such a limited parser I always found it just a bit too restricting. It's solid, but unspectacular. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I was never really challenged in this game, although it's probable that I was somewhat over-powered for the adventure in terms of gear and skills. That (or the opposite) is going to be a factor with these Eamon scenarios, as it's impossible to design such games for characters of every power level. I'll never complain too hard about a game being easy though. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: The exploration is enjoyable, but the controls are just too limited to allow for much enjoyment. It's possible that future designers are able to wring something more out of Eamon, but there's honestly not a great deal to Donald Brown's efforts. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 15, which doubled gives a RADNESS Index of 30. That feels a little high compared to some other games, but it's hard to see where I'd knock it down. It's a solid if unspectacular game of the era, and taken on its own a score of 30/100 seems about right.

NEXT: For my next post I'll be trying to refresh my memory on Maces & Magic: Balrog Sampler.  This game was a nightmare to get running in any sort of playable form, so hopefully I can repeat the emulator wizardry that I managed last time. If not, I'm going to be piecing things together from my notes and maps, which might not make for the greatest of posts.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Priority Adventure 3: Mission: Asteroid (1980)

The best quality image I could find of this game's
Apple II packaging

Well, I've been gone for quite some time, and let me tell you returning to the blog is going to test my memory.  After I wrapped up Local Call for Death and decided to take a break from blogging - a potentially permanent one - I kept on making headway through my list. In late November and early December I played through Mission: Asteroid, Eamon: The Lair of the Minotaur, and Maces & Magic: Balrog Sampler.  I also got a start on Wizardry, but tossed that aside after several of my parties got wiped out. I definitely wasn't in the right frame of mind to be playing a game that would murder me ruthlessly and repeatedly, especially after my long slog through Rogue, so I took some time off to replay The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That's just as well for the blog, because otherwise I'd have a lot more games to catch up on.

What I'm saying is, you'll have to bear with me for the next few entries.  I might not be as detailed as usual, and there probably won't be as many screen shots. Things should be back to normal when I reach Wizardry again, and hopefully by that time I'll be emotionally prepared for that meatgrinder of a game.

Thankfully, my first game back is pretty simplistic, and shouldn't be difficult to recap.  Mission: Asteroid - designed by Ken and Roberta Williams - is designated as Hi-Res Adventure #0, but in actuality it was released after The Wizard and the Princess.  Apparently Mission: Asteroid was deliberately designed as a game for novices, and so it was placed before their other games in the series.  It is much easier than its predecessors, but that doesn't mean it isn't without its own peculiarities, as I'll explain below.

An evocative beginning.

Mission: Asteroid begins with the player standing in front of a building. I started my usual SCORE, INVENTORY, HELP routine, which was interrupted partway through by a beeping sound. An examination of my inventory revealed a watch with a switch. I pressed the switch, and a voice from mission control gave me some instructions: I was to report to the briefing room at once, and the password I should use is "starstruck".  I wasn't able to wander off in any other directions, so I had little choice but to open the door of the building and go inside.

The first room was a reception, with a secretary who wouldn't let me continue without giving the password. Beyond that was the briefing room, where a general gave me my mission: an asteroid was headed for the earth, and I had to fly up there and blow it up. The asteroid collision was going to happen at 7:15, which means that NASA was cutting things very fine here.  It's a very stealthy asteroid, I must assume. (The game prompts you to salute the general when you meet him, and if you don't you're kicked out of the air force and the game ends. I guess they'd have back-up personnel for these missions, but it seems a little drastic to sack your number one pick for a small breach of etiquette when the world's at stake.)

Roberta Williams always finds the dumbest ways for you
to fail in her games.

The general also makes a point of saying that the mission is top secret, and that plays into the room directly to the west, where there are a pair of reporters. What they're doing their if the mission is top secret is anyone's guess, but if you talk to them it's another game over.  Never mind that the verb "talk" doesn't necessarily mean "spill your guts about the top secret mission you've just been given", but apparently the hero of this game just can't help himself.  I shouldn't criticise, because when I played the game I talked to the reporters with the almost-certain knowledge that I'd be blowing the mission wide open.  What can I say, sometimes finding ways to lose is the most fun part of an adventure game.

Back past the briefing room is a computer room, with a "diskette" (yes, we called them that sometimes, but I have no idea if there's a difference between a diskette and a floppy disk). I loaded the diskette, and the computer displayed my flight plan from Earth to the asteroid: right for 10 minutes, up for 5 minutes, left for 15 minutes, down for 5 minutes, left for 5 minutes, and up for 10 minutes. It seems needlessly erratic, to be honest. I was also wondering how these directions would apply to a text adventure, where time doesn't always pass unless you input commands. I tested things with my watch, and discovered that 5 minutes passed every time I made a move.

Next was a supply room, which contained the explosives required to blow up the asteroid.  North of that was the pre-flight checkout, where a doctor gave me the once-over. Apparently my personal hygiene wasn't up to standard, as the doctor wouldn't let me pass until I'd exercised in the gym and taken a shower.  Given the urgency of my mission, I question this doctor's sanity. He's really going to put the world in danger of destruction because I smell bad?

This might be the first game I've played where having bad
BO is a major obstacle.

Once past the doctor, I was able to head out to the airfield and over to the rocket. Inside was a throttle, and four buttons: white, black, orange and blue. These corresponded to left, right, up and down, respectively. Using the throttle launched me into space, where I had to navigate to the asteroid. As I suspected, each move corresponded to a five-minute interval, so it was a simple case of pressing the buttons the right number of times (once for 5 minutes, twice for 10, or thrice for 15), then landing on the asteroid. The need to press the buttons multiple times goes against space physics, of course, but it's hard to see how else this could have been implemented in such a limited parser.

In the space rocket.

The surface of the asteroid was a small maze, made up of just three areas (unless I mapped it incorrectly). The only danger here was suffocation: I needed a spacesuit to survive outside of the ship, and it had a limited oxygen supply. With such a small area to explore I soon found my destination, a cave which contained a deep pit. I set the timer on my explosives, dropped them in the pit, hightailed it back to the rocket and took off.  The asteroid was blown up before it could strike, and the Earth was saved.

Well, that's how it should have gone.  The first time, I dropped the explosives in the right area, but without specifying that I was dropping them in the pit. The explosion didn't fully destroy the asteroid, and it struck the Earth. (I hope it landed right on top of that doctor who insisted I take a shower.)  The second time, I didn't give myself enough time to escape. You have to set the timer on the bomb before dropping it in the pit; I set it too low, and was caught in the explosion.  The third time, I got it right, giving myself enough time to get back to the rocket, retrace my flight plan in reverse to get back to Earth, and watch as my world-saving handiwork took effect.

Oh no, I've been struck by Hugh chunks!

Oddly, the game allows you to continue playing once you've saved the Earth. I wandered around for a bit hoping that some characters might congratulate me, but nothing about the game changes, and when the timer runs out the asteroid destroys Earth anyway. I thought that maybe something was wrong with my copy of the game, but looking around at other blogs I see that this is a universal experience. It makes sense to me when modern games ship with bugs, but in something as small and simplistic as this it's quite baffling. Still, it doesn't affect gameplay at all, so it's hard to complain too much.

Not only does it allow you to keep playing after a victory, but you can keep playing after you've died as well. After the screen shot above I waited around, and at 7:15 the asteroid hit the Earth as scheduled. Then I flew back to Earth and tried to land, only to be told that I'd landed in the ocean and died (presumably because the asteroid had destroyed most of America). So this game is pretty buggy, but at least one outcome has been accounted for.

The victory screen, soon to be invalidated.

Having completed Mission: Asteroid, it's a real case of a game that's on my priority list because of the games surrounding it rather than because of any qualities possessed by the game itself. It's not particularly good or interesting, and it has very little in the way of historical significance, but the Hi-Res Adventure series is important so it's in the queue.  This is going to happen from time to time; heck, it's going to happen a couple of priority games down the line when I hit the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games for the Intellivision.  It's an inherent drawback with being systematic, I suppose.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: The "asteroid colliding with Earth" set-up is a new one, and it's still unusual to find an adventure game with a hard time limit.  The setting is split between mission control headquarters, outer space, and the asteroid itself.  The asteroid and outer space are both disappointingly empty, although I suppose that's realistic.  Mission control has the most content in the game, but most of it's pretty nonsensical. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There really aren't any. The receptionist only responds to the password, the general is a one-time infodump who gets mad if you don't salute, the reporters are only there as a way to lose the game, and the doctor is an absurd obstacle to you getting to the rocket. Characters you can only interact with in one specific way barely qualify as such, so this game is getting a low score. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: The colour graphics here are on a par with those of The Wizard and the Princess, though it must be said that they're not depicting anything nearly as interesting as what's in that game. They're quite ugly, but colour graphics of any kind on a home computer is still refreshing at this point. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Puzzles: The puzzles in this game are dreadfully simplistic, and most of them are signposted heavily within the game. That's a legacy of designing the game for beginners, but I feel like Ken and Roberta took it a little too far. The most difficult part is probably navigating outer space, or finding the asteroid cave before your air runs out. As a small game with simple puzzles it's not going to get a minimum score, but I can't rate it too highly.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: It's a very simple game with very simple commands, but it does what it does reasonably well I suppose. It's tempting to knock it down a point for the false ending, but it doesn't affect gameplay at all. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: This is definitely one of the easiest games I've played for the blog, but it's short and comes without a great deal of frustration. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: The game may be short, and may be lacking in frustrating elements, but it's also overly linear and gives the player almost no scope to do anything outside of the obvious solutions. Games should at least enable some kind of "play", but Mission: Asteroid just walks the player from one simplistic puzzle to the next. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 12, which doubles gives a RADNESS Index of 24. That's well below Mystery House and The Wizard and the Princess, and only a little bit above the earliest of Greg Hassett's adventures. It really is one of the least engaging games I've played so far though. It might have been designed for beginners, but I'd be hard-pressed to see it convincing many of them to stick around and play some more adventures.

NEXT: I go back to Eamon to try out its second adventure, The Lair of the Minotaur.  I can't remember a damn thing about playing it, so writing this one up is going to be a test.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Game 51: Local Call for Death (1979)

The covers for Adventure International
games are usually very accurate, but this
one has loads of differences from the
actual game.


Today's game is Local Call for Death, a very short bit of interactive fiction for the TRS-80.  And when I say very short, I really mean it: I knocked this game out in about 40 minutes.  I wouldn't mind a long run of games of about this length.  I mean, I might have felt ripped off at the time if I'd paid for it, but when I have a list that's many hundreds of games long ahead of me I ain't complaining.

You may have noticed that I described this game as "interactive fiction". It's not a term I generally go for, preferring to describe these early games with the somewhat less pretentious label of "text adventure".  But with Local Call for Death, interactive fiction really is the most fitting descriptor for it.  Set a couple of years after the Great War, you play as an amateur detective helping to solve a murder mystery, with most of the input being in the form of your own dialogue.  It plays out much like a Sherlock Holmes adventure, with the player in a role similar to that of Doctor Watson, being prodded by a smarter detective to solve the mystery.  (Unlike with Lovecraft in my last post, I've read most of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.)

Local Call for Death was written by Robert Lafore for the TRS-80, and released by Adventure International.  We'll see Lafore again later in 1979, and he has some games in 1980 and 1981 as well.  Wikipedia credits him with coining the term "interactive fiction", so he has that claim to fame, and he also seems to have had a lengthy career in the computer field, as well as writing books on programming.  He would have been in his early 40s when his first games were released, which explains why Local Call for Death feels a lot more mature in tone than many of its contemporaries.

Mobygames says that Local Call for Death was a 1980 game, but the title screen and source code have it as being written in 1979.  Generally I'd prefer to go with the release date, but I've already played the game and started writing this post, so I might as well get on with it.  It came out for the TRS-80, and the documentation indicates that it was also released for the Apple II.  I couldn't find the Apple version, so for this post I'm only looking at the one for TRS-80.  I suspect the versions aren't greatly different.

The title screen.

After a request from the author to "please spell correctly" ("the computer is, alas, not bright enough to correct your mistakes"), the game asks you for some details about your character.  It asks for a title - Mr., Miss or Mrs. - rather than a gender, as well as your first and last name.  (Ms. is dismissed as being inappropriate for the time period.) Finally it asks what town in America you come from.  After the last couple of weeks I know a lot more American towns than I used to, but I still went with the boring answer of New York.

A level of spelling and grammar heretofore unseen in gaming.

The game begins with the player, an American visiting England, dining at a club with three people: famous English detective Sir Colin Drollery, a retired soldier named Major Wormsley, and a financier named Mr. Blackwell.  This section plays out much like the opening scene of a short story, with minimal input from the player.  The major characters converse among themselves, with the player being asked minor questions such as what they do for a living, or whether they want to drink some more wine.  At this point, the player's responses have very little effect on the game.

The conversation is extensive and well written, with quite a number of detours and red herrings, but the relevant details are as follows: someone has won the lottery today, and Blackwell's finance company is currently in some trouble.  The dinner ends after Blackwell's nephew Rodney - a gambling addict and womaniser - calls him to threaten suicide if he is not loaned 500 pounds.  Blackwell refuses, and the call ends with the sound of a gunshot.  It's all played off by Blackwell as another of Rodney's cries for attention, and everyone goes off to play bridge before going home.

The next morning the player is woken by Sir Colin, who has received a call from Blackwell; it seems that his nephew is dead after all, and he wants the two of you to investigate the crime scene.  So off you go, and this is where the game properly begins.  You are given a description of the room, in which Rodney is slumped over his last meal with a gun in his hand and a bullet hole in his head. Sir Colin then prompts you to explore various items within the room for clues.

The scene of the crime.

The first time I got to this point of the game I hadn't been taking notes, so I got completely stumped.  After scouring the room for clues, you're asked if you want to accuse someone of murder.  The preamble was so interminably long that I zoned out and forgot the names of the other characters.  The culprit was obviously Blackwell, but I had no idea how to accuse him without remembering his name, so I had to start again.

The second time through I took lots of notes, and was prepared to accuse Blackwell when the time came.  (You can accuse yourself, Sir Colin, or Wormsley, but all of those suggestions are dismissed as absurd. I tried to accuse the prime minister and King George V, but the game wasn't having it.)  Figuring out who committed the murder is trivial; the meat of the game is finding enough evidence of Blackwell's guilt. I didn't pick up on all the clues, and had to be prompted by Sir Colin once or twice, but I got there eventually.  Some of those clues are:

  • The phone is hung up on the receiver, which is pretty unlikely if Rodney shot himself while calling Blackwell.
  • Rodney has this morning's newspaper on the floor, impossible if he died last night.
  • There's a piece of material caught on the table leg that matches Blackwell's trousers.
  • Rodney is clutching the torn corner of a lottery ticket, and Blackwell has the rest of the ticket in his pocket,
  • Rodney's suicide note matches Blackwell's handwriting, which can be found on a business card he gave me over dinner last night
  • The window is open, and the coffee spilled on the table would be frozen if it had been left there overnight

Lord Colin Drollery lives up to his surname.

That's far from all of it, but it's enough to accuse Blackwell.  Perhaps the biggest difficulty in this section is getting the wording right.  Sir Colin insists that you give your answers in the form of complete sentences; you can't just type NEWSPAPER and move on, even though the game is probably responding to keywords.  The one I had major trouble with was matching the torn material to Blackwell's trousers.  I never did get that one right, but I was able to find enough other clues to make my accusation.

Once that's done, Sir Colin runs through his own reconstruction of the case, as is customary in these kinds of stories.  Blackwell makes some empty threats, and the game ends as you and Sir Colin shake hands over a job well done.

Let's be real, Lord Colin didn't need me there..

Local Call for Death is certainly interesting as a "path not taken", and it's often impressive in terms of how well it responds to the many sentences you can input.  Still, it feels a little bit like too much of a story and not enough of a game.  It's a bit like a micro version of those late 90s JRPGs that felt like they were 90% cutscenes.  What it does, it does well once the game gets going, but it does take a little too long to get to the point.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: Both of these were very well realised, if somewhat limited in scope.  Of course, in comparison to murder mystery literature it's pretty cliched stuff, but it's at the top end of quality in terms of the video games I've played for the blog thus far.  The main complaint I have is a lack of interactivity for the majority of the game.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There are only three characters of note in the game aside from murder victim Rodney, but they have more depth than pretty much anything else we've seen so far (i.e. they have actual personalities).  Unfortunately, it's only Sir Colin that you really get to interact with; Blackwell and Wormsley don't do much outside of the heavily scripted opening scenes.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: This game is among the more well-written text adventures of its era, and it almost perfectly evokes the tone and style that it's going for.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Puzzles: Rather than having many smaller puzzles and obstacles, Local Call for Death has one large, interconnected one: gathering enough evidence to accuse Blackwell of murder.  This requires observance and logic on a level that's pretty much unheard of at the time; this might be the earliest adventure game I've played where everything makes sense.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: This is a difficult one.  What this game is doing looks impressive at first, but I had all sorts of problems wrangling with the parser and getting my ideas across to Sir Colin.  At one point I even had him interpret my input as the exact opposite of what I was saying, so it's far from foolproof.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: The mystery here isn't all that difficult, especially for anyone who has read a bunch of stories in this genre.  Even if you get stuck Sir Colin is there to smugly guide you, so I'd say most players would get through this on their first try as long as they're paying attention.  For a commercial release it's certainly far too easy.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Fun: I only had to go through this game twice, and it would be very difficult for such a short game to get a minimum score.  I definitely got sick of the opening scenes though, as I do in any game where it takes too long to get started.  Once I was able to play I enjoyed it, but the ratio of story to game was way off.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 1. I haven't played anything quite like this game before, so it gets a point for innovation even though it's something of a game development dead end.

The above scores total 17. Double that and add the bonus point, and Local Call for Death gets a very respectable RADNESS Index of 35.  That puts it equal 11th overall, and equal 6th in terms of adventure games.  The last two entries have seen good showings from two short games that do what they do pretty well.  There's not a hell of a lot of game here, but fans of old-school text adventures and mystery stories will probably enjoy it.

NEXT: It's back to the priority list for the third game from Ken and Roberta Williams, called Mission: Asteroid.  I've already finished it, so expect a post in the not too distant future.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Game 50: Kadath (1979)

Being a fan of super-hero comics I know the value of a nice round number, so it feels somewhat momentous to have finally reached Game 50.  I didn't realise that it was coming up, so I didn't arrange for it to be anything special.  Instead, I've just gone ahead with my standard chronological order, and played the next game on my list, Kadath.

Not gonna lie, any game with this C64 font is
gonna hit my nostalgia buttons hard.


Kadath was a text adventure designed by Gary Musgrave for the Altair, one of the earliest available home computers.  From what I can gather, the Altair was primitive in 1979 when compared to something like the Apple II.  It doesn't appear to have had a monitor display, so I suspect that Kadath accomplished that with paper printouts, in a similar manner to Richard Garriott's DND1.  Like I said, primitive.

The game was ported to the Commodore PET in 1981, but as I mentioned in my last post I haven't been able to find that version.    In 1983 it was ported to the Commodore 64, where it was renamed as Eye of Kadath.  That's the version I played for the body of this post.  Somewhere along the way it also got ported to the Exidy Sorcerer, a short-lived PC that I had never heard of before today.  I'm told by Jason Dyer of Renga in Blue that this version is probably closest to the original, and thanks to his instructions I'm able to briefly cover it below in Ports of Call.

In this game you play as a archaeologist who uncovered a tomb around ten years ago. In that tomb, the archaeologist found an ancient tablet, and has spent years translating it by consulting such dark volumes as the Unaussprechlichen Kulten and The Necronomicon.  The tablet spoke of the rise of a dark evil that would occur when the dark star Kynath was in conjunction with Arcturus.  Now, with only fifteen days left until that event will come to pass, the archaeologist has travelled to the ancient city of Yaddith intending to put a stop to it.

Laying out the backstory.

If any of the above sounds familiar to you, then you've probably read or heard about the noted horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.  Lovecraft is one of those writers that - due to his massive influence on genre fiction and Dungeons & Dragons in particular - I should have read years ago.  I keep putting it off.  I tried a few years ago to get through a bunch of his short stories in audiobook form, but they slid right off my brain with no impact.  I suspect that's more due to the format than the stories themselves, but regardless, I'm only familiar with Lovecraft via what I've absorbed through pop-culture osmosis.

Kadath marks a pretty big first, in that it's the earliest known video game adaptation of Lovecraft's work.  Given the name, you'd think it was an adaptation of his novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but a quick look at the Wikipedia entry indicates that there's little connection.  I suspect that Kadath may be an original story cobbled together from elements of Lovecraft's stories, but I'd appreciate it if any Lovecraft experts out there can set me straight.  (From further research, I'm seeing that there are elements in the game taken from stories by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan; he was one of a bunch of writers that built on and added to Lovecraft's work over the years, with varying results.  It looks like Musgrave has drawn on elements not just from Lovecraft, but his many collaborators and imitators.)

What's also notable is that Kadath isn't played using the parser system that so defined text adventures in the wake of Colossal Cave Adventure.  Rather than typing in commands, the player is presented with a number of possible actions, and must choose one.  In some ways it's similar to playing a Choose Your Own Adventure or a Fighting Fantasy gamebook.  I can't say for sure if this is the first game that ever used this format, but it must be among the earliest.  It's hard to give this much historical significance, because it's not a style that really ever caught on in the digital realm, but it deserves at least a little bit of credit.

The first thing that struck me when I started playing Kadath is that the quality of the writing is very high by the standards of the genre at the time.  This is especially impressive on a home computer; there have been games with well-written descriptions before this, but they've been exclusive to mainframe systems.  Most of those on home computers have been very terse, no doubt due to memory constraints, and I was surprised to see something this good coming from a computer like the Altair.  I would later find out that the game isn't very long, which explains how Musgrave was able to cram it all in.  It was a good choice though; the game is short, but it manages to evoke a Lovecraftian atmosphere, something that would have been very difficult without longer room descriptions.

The game begins with the player entering the catacombs beneath the city of Yaddith, with the ultimate goal being to stop an ancient evil from arising.  The instructions lay out the five things you need to do to complete this goal:

  1. Enter the labyrinthine caverns
  2. Find the hidden and guarded "Eye of Kadath"
  3. Return the "Eye" to its rightful place
  4. Invoke the Elder Powers
  5. Destroy the gate through which this unspeakable evil will gain dominion over all the Earth.

All of this must be accomplished within fifteen days.  I tried waiting it out, to see what would happen; I've played other games that threaten you with deadlines but don't deliver when the time comes.  I got to around twenty days with nothing untoward happening, and I was about to add Kadath to that list, but then disaster struck while I was poling a raft into a cave.  Luckily, beating this game before the deadline hits is not at all difficult.

This sounds a bit like me during one of my regular
bouts of bronchitis.

The first chamber of the catacombs has four exits (not including the one you entered from), and after a small amount of exploration I was pretty hopelessly lost.  This game is difficult to map, and can be quite disorienting.  There are a bunch of near-identical rooms, all with five exits, and where those exits lead is relative to the one through which you enter the room.  So exit 1 might lead to a dead end, but when you return to that room exit 1 will lead somewhere else entirely.  There are also room where the exits are labelled as Left or Right, and I have no idea if those are relative or not.  Even after finishing Kadath I'm not sure that my map is correct.  I'm not sure if this was purposeful design, but it's another thing that adds to the game's Lovecraftian vibe.

Starting the game.

As you'd expect, you can die in Kadath, but for the most part it requires doing something stupid.  Do you want to dive into a lake from a high cliff?  Or creep across a vast cavern littered with bones?  Or wade through black, waist-deep water?  Go ahead, but you ain't gonna survive any of those.  I found myself doing dumb things on purpose just to read the descriptions, which had some macabre entertainment value.  Another benefit to dying is that the game tells you how well you're doing.  It will clue you in on whether you've found the items you need to beat the game, or if you've destroyed one of them, which I appreciated.

It's nice to be a part of something, though, innit?

Aside from the chambers with five exits, and the obvious death-traps I mentioned above, the catacombs have the following points of interest:

  • A balcony overlooking Yaddith, where an ancient scroll can be found.
  • A room with a stone block, on which rests a dagger and a sphere. Only one of these items can be taken at a time.
  • A room with a huge statue of a nightmarish beast.  Runes at the base of the statue translate as "From death spawned black star great Kadath rises - lord of all".  In the middle of the statue's face is a large pentagonal hole.
  • An underground lake with a raft.  The raft can be poled to an island, on which can be found a conch shell. Taking the conch causes the cavern to shake, and dislodges a stalactite that falls close to you.
  • The raft can also be poled into two fissures.  One of those leads to a certain death unless you turn back, but the other leads to a room where you will find a glowing green gem.  That gem is guarded by something called a Shoggoth, a shapeless, protoplasmic creature made of black slime.

The path to victory is quick.  You need to find and keep the scroll on the balcony.  If you try take it out, the scroll crumbles and can't be used.  You also need to collect the conch shell from the island.  Then you need to find the Eye of Kadath, which is the aforementioned glowing green gem.  If you try to take it without the necessary item, the Shoggoth will chase you away, and you'll be told that you need a weapon to defeat it.  That weapon is the dagger from the stone block, which is powerful enough to kill the creature with one blow.  With the scroll and the Eye now in your possession, you just need to take them both to the statue, where the endgame begins.

I'm more horrified by the hideous mass of typos.

What follows is a series of questions. Do you put the Eye of Kadath in the statue, on the altar, or on the floor?  What do you use to invoke the Elder Powers?  What is the invocation on the scroll?  Will you destroy the Eye with the conch, the dagger or the sphere?  If you get too many of these wrong, you will eventually lose the game, with a message similar to what happens when you run out of time.  The only one I had trouble with was typing in the chant - KADATH CTHULHU R'LYEH - and that's only because the key mapping for the Commodore 64 emulator I was using was different to a standard QWERTY keyboard.  Luckily for me I spent over a decade using a C64 almost daily, so I had little trouble tracking down that errant apostrophe, and thereby beating the game.

Saving humanity with a conch shell.

Overall, it took me about an hour to beat Kadath, and the experience was short-lived and user-friendly enough that I had a good time doing it.  In a lot of ways, it feels ahead of its time; there's certainly no shortage of brief horror games based on Lovecraft floating around the independent scene these days.  I'm interested to see how it does on the RADNESS Index; it's short and very easy, but it does what it does rather well.

PORTS OF CALL:

Before I rate Kadath, I'll take a quick look at the Exidy Sorcerer version.  The most notable difference is that the Sorcerer has more room for its text: it can fit a bunch more characters per line than the Commodore 64, so the text is a little more detailed.  For instance, the star Kynath is only named in the Sorcerer version.  I also noticed that the Sorcerer does a lot more in the way of creating pacing with its text formatting.  For example, the death screams of the Shoggoth are much more drawn out.  The trade-off is that it has a distracting number of typos.  There are plenty on the C64 as well, but on the Sorcerer they are present to a maddening level.  I suppose it's a toss-up as to which is better, but if you're as sensitive to typos as I am then the C64 version might be more to your tastes.

In terms of gameplay, the only difference I noted came in the endgame.  Some of the questions that are presented as multiple choice on C64 must have the answer typed in on the Sorcerer.  It makes the game a little harder I guess, but not so much that it makes a great difference.

The same ending, with a little more fancy text formatting.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: Kadath has great source material to draw from, and does a decent job of evoking that material successfully.  It might be the earliest horror game I've played that manages to be even mildly effective in that regard.  A lot of the details are vague and unexplained: the nature of the menace you have to stop is barely hinted at, and the various lurking creatures that can do you in are never shown or described.  For some that might be unsatisfactory, but again it's something done to evoke that Lovecraftian feel (which, for the record, is much more about fear of the alien unknown than fear of tentacles).  There's not a lot to the story and setting in terms of size and scope, but it makes up for that with atmosphere and implication.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: As with the previous category, there isn't a lot here in terms of detail: just about every creature in the game is lurking out of sight, never seen but dangerous nonetheless.  They provide atmosphere, but in terms of gameplay they're only there to kill you if you take a wrong step. The Shoggoth is the only creature that can be seen, and it's pretty great in descriptive terms, but it operates solely as an obstacle to victory.  Again, there's no interaction, so I can't rate it highly.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: This is a text adventure with no sound, but the writing is up there in the absolute top tier of the adventure games I've played so far.  This genre is never going to score super high here, but I have to put this one on a level with games like ZorkRating: 3 out of 7.

Puzzles: The puzzles in this game are very light on, and are solved almost exclusively by entering an area with the right inventory item.  That's the inherent limitation of a text adventure that relies on multiple choice rather than a parser, I guess.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: Everything in this game works the way it's supposed to, although it would be pretty hard to mess up a game in this format.  I suppose it might have been an impressive game on the Altair - I have no idea what other kinds of games were made for it - but by 1979 it already feels very simplistic.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I finished this game in just under an hour, so I'd say it has little in the way of legitimate challenge.  Navigating the catacombs is probably the most difficult part of the game, but if you move around at random you'll eventually hit everything regardless.  That said, I'm not even sure the game was designed to be much of a challenge; it gives you copious hints about your progress after you die, so even when you do fail it's pretty easy to see where you went wrong or what you're missing.  I feel like it was made to provide an experience rather than a challenge, and on that level it does well. In this particular category, not so much. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: As with most short games, I enjoyed it while it lasted but the experience wasn't meaty enough for me to really get into it.  I might have rated this a little higher as a parser-based game, as that would have provided more interaction and difficulty.  It worked well enough as a game with its multiple choices/branching paths, but the lack of choices brought it down a bit. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus: 1. Kadath gets a single bonus point, for a combination of being the first Lovecraftian game and one of the first Choose Your Own Adventure style games.  Neither of those would probably merit it on their own, but together they're worth a point I reckon.

The above scores total 15, which doubled gives a score of 30; add the bonus point and Kadath gets a respectable RADNESS Index of 31.  That places it equal 13th overall, and equal 8th in terms of adventure games.  It's level with games like The Wizard and the Princess, Colossal Cave Adventure II and Mystery Mansion, all of which I'd describe as games with a mixture of good and frustrating elements.  Kadath does what it does well, and if it was longer or less simplistic it might have scored quite a bit higher.

NEXT: My next game is Local Call for Death, a murder mystery for the TRS-80.  This one is similar to Kadath in that it's short and well-written; I don't expect it to take more than a single post.  After that, it's back to the priority list for Mission: Asteroid, the third game from Ken and Roberta Williams.  If these short games keep coming, I'll be on to Wizardry in no time...