Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Orthanc: Victory!

After a mere eight months, I've completed Orthanc.  I did take a break for a few months in the middle, so it's not as bad as it looks, but I'll need to pick up the pace if I'm going to make any progress on this blog.  I've only got myself to blame, really, for my desire to explore every little bit of a game.  If I hadn't set out to map the whole dungeon I would have been done on the first night.  I also would have experienced much less of the game, and you would have missed out on my amazing maps.  Like these!

Level 8

Level 9

Level 10

I was progressing slowly through level 8, but the turning point came (as I had suspected it would) when I found an Invisibility Ring.  Wearing the ring allowed me to completely avoid all set encounters, and so I was able to map the lower levels of the dungeon with little fear of attack.  I was still under threat from wandering monsters, but I never encountered any on the lower levels while wearing the ring.  In a way, it felt like cheating, but after all the time I spent with this game I was glad to be done.

And despite all the time I spent playing it, I didn't quite experience everything that Orthanc supposedly had to offer.  I never found any of the magic books, or a +3 weapon.  More importantly then any of these, I never encountered any other players in the dungeon.  The game allows different players to run across each other while exploring, and no doubt it was a common occurrence when the game was at its peak of popularity, but in the whole time I was playing I never saw another human being logged in.

The conclusion was a disappointment, as well.  All I had to do was go into the Hall of Fame and retire my character.  There was no victory screen, and no fanfare of any kind.  All that happened was my character's name appearing in the list, as shown below.  Anticlimax!

That's me!  Perrin!

My character was only sixth level when I completed the game, and that's a side-effect of using the Invisibility Ring: I didn't fight any monsters, and so I didn't gain any treasure or experience.  That's fine, though.  I'm in the Hall of Fame, I mapped the whole damned dungeon, and now it's time to give my official likes and dislikes.


Emptiness:  The dungeons levels, at 24x20 squares, are big.  This wouldn't normally be a problem for me, especially in a grid-based game, but there's nothing in them.  Explore as much as you want, all you'll find is monsters, pits, chutes and stairs.  All the games I've played so far in this blog are devoid of interesting locations, but The Dungeon was only one level, and The Game of Dungeons had such a frenetic pace that it didn't bother me.  Orthanc is just too big, and too empty.

Quest?  What Quest?: I suppose that Orthanc does have a goal, in that you have to prove yourself valorous enough to reside with the king in luxury.  It feels a bit nebulous, though.  I would much prefer my goal to be something in the game itself, rather than an intangible goal that's gained after the game is done.  Give me something to find in that big-ass dungeon, dammit!

Randomness: Try as you might, if you spend enough time in the dungeon you're going to fall afoul of some bit of fatal bad luck, probably in the form of a monster that surprises you and kills you before you can react.  It's realistic, I suppose, but it doesn't make the game more fun.  I don't mind when it happens to a low-level character, but once I have a well-developed character I feel like I should be able to survive with good tactics.  Most of the time in Orthanc this is the case, but there are still those times when the numbers go against you.


Authenticity: 1975 is full of games trying to be like Dungeons & Dragons, and so far this is the one that captures it the best.  It's not just the spells, and the monsters, but the power scale.  D&D characters hit their peak at about 9th level, and that was about the point in Orthanc where grinding for the experience needed to level up became more effort than it was worth.  As a result the game felt a lot more grounded, especially after the gonzo power scale of The Game of Dungeons.

Spells and Tactics: The combat in this game was about as complex as that in The Game of Dungeons, except that this game has more spells and more types of monsters.  It's reached the point where figuring out the right spells to use in the right situation feels satisfying, and it often captures the thrilling moment where casting the right spell can be the difference between life and death.  It's slightly disappointing that all of these PLATO games use spells as the only meaningful battle tactic, but in that way they're emulating D&D; it's hard to simulate the effect of clever tactical play, but it's a lot easier to code in the effects of various spells.

Tension: I've included this category in all three games so far, and there's a reason: perma-death!  I've said it before, but in the right kind of game perma-death is absolutely a positive thing, and little in gaming beats the thrill of reaching safety with no spells and a single hit point.  A simple thing like sliding down a chute to a lower level can be a harrowing experience.

That's Moria done and dusted, then.  I enjoyed it in a mild sort of why, but on the whole it was too large and too empty.  I'm going to leave you with this image of the game's dark elf, which amuses me for some reason.  Perhaps I'm just over the usual dark, angsty portrayal you see with them.

Ain't he adorable?


Story & Setting: Yet again it's another vast dungeon with nothing in it, and a non-existent plot.  Rating: 1.

Characters & Monsters: I have to give this game credit for the sheer number of monsters on display here.  Their interaction with the spell system works well, and the differing ranges of hit points and damage outputs is just enough to add some variety.  Rating: 3.

Aesthetics: There's no sound, but as with the other PLATO CRPGs the graphics are pleasing and functional.  It's that orange and black, I love it.  Rating: 2.

Mechanics: This is where the game shinesThe spell system is good, there are a ton of magic items to provide for differing play-styles, and the variety of monsters allows for differing combat tactics.  None of these elements are superb, but they're all good, and that combines for a really solid gameplay experience.  The only negative here is that you can be too easily killed by random elements.  Rating: 5.

Challenge: This is a challenging game, but it's balanced rather well.  As mentioned above, its major flaw is that random elements can be instantly fatal.  That said, most of my issues came from my desire to explore the entire dungeon.  Actually finishing the game and getting onto the leaderboard wasn't too difficult.  In a way, you can set your own difficulty by how deep you delve, and that's cool.  Rating: 4.

Innovation & Influence: Any game that comes this early in a genre is going to score high, but most of the elements of Orthanc come from pedit5.  In many ways it's an expansion of that game, so I have to knock it down a point.  Rating: 5.

Fun: I enjoyed this game a fair bit at the beginning, but it gradually wore me down.  That's perhaps my own fault for playing it too long, but I still have to knock it down a point.  Rating: 3.

I can't see a time when I'll fire this game up again, so I'm not going to give it the bonus point.   The scores above total 23, and doubling that gives me a rating of 46.

Final Rating: 46 out of 100.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for CRPGs with a category for Combat.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Combat: This game's combat is similar to that in The Dungeon, even moreso than The Game of Dungeon's was.  It does have actual combat rounds though, rather than just telling you who died at the end.  As in The Dungeon, you can flee in a corridor but not in a room.  There are more magic items that can influence the results though, and a wider variety of spells. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0. Orthanc is a formative game, but its quite derivative of The Dungeon, and lacks the widespread influence of The Game of Dungeons.

Orthanc's RADNESS Index is 40 out of 100. So far that puts it second, below The Game of Dungeons and above The Dungeon.

NEXT: A while ago I said that I had tried to play Moria and found that I couldn't get it running.  I did some further digging around in the PLATO help files, and discovered that I was using the wrong lesson name to load the game.  Armed with my newfound knowledge, I'm cracking on with this game, and progressing nicely, and that's what I'll be writing about next week.


  1. So many of us, whether we create an account to comment or not, appreciate these maps infinitely!!!!

  2. Congrats! also just a slight error you Referred to the game as "Moria" by accident. "Moria is done and dusted"