Sunday, July 28, 2019

Game 31: Swords and Sorcery (1978)

Monsters on the battlements from left to right: demon, werewolf, zombie,
goblin, dragon, unknown, and wizard.

Ah, that familiar orange glow. Despite all the grief that the various PLATO CRPGs have given me  - I'm looking at you Moria, and you The Game of Dungeons - going back to that system almost feels like going home. There's something warm and comforting about it.  It could be Stockholm syndrome, or it could just be that the best PLATO games are so much better than their contemporaries on home computers. It's one of those.

(While I'm on the topic of Moria, Ahab over at Data Driven Gamer has just started playing it. If you didn't get enough of that game during the eight months that I was immersed in it, that blog has you covered.)

Today's game is Swords and Sorcery, which as far as I can tell is the second-last PLATO game I'll be covering. It was developed by Donald Gillies, who was a student at Urbana High School at the time, where he had access to PLATO. Its inspiration was a game called think15, created by Jim Mayeda, which is another one we have to chalk up as having been deleted by an overzealous system administrator. Following think15 was another game called think2, which Gillies describes as running incredibly slow. Development of Swords and Sorcery started in 1976, but the full game wasn't playable until 1978. Thankfully, Gillies made the game available again on back in 2003, so we can still play it today.

 Apparently, this lineage of games is heavily influenced by Star Trek from 1971, which is a very important piece of early gaming that I've never actually played. In that game, you fly the Starship Enterprise around a map with 8x8 quadrants, blowing up Klingons and seeking refuge in starbases. Swords and Sorcery takes the same idea and applies it to the fantasy genre.

There's no back-story in the Help file (no Help file at all, which is unusual for PLATO games, which normally have manuals that go into excruciating detail). It's set "1200 years ago," and you play a warrior or a knight undertaking missions for the king. These missions take place in a forest, and usually involve killing a certain number of a specific monster, except for a character's first mission which requires chopping down trees or collecting treasure chests.

Before you are given a quest, the king will ask you to determine the dimensions of the forest you'll be exploring. You can go as small as a single screen (1x1). I'm not sure what the upper boundary is on size; I'd test it out, but I don't want to get locked into a mission that might take me over an hour to complete. The larger the forest, the more monsters you have to kill to complete the mission, and the higher the reward you get from the king when you finish. I generally default to a 2x2 configuration, which is 4 screens. In the note files for the game, Gillies says that playing with a single screen is the most efficient way to advance, but I find that I rely on shifting from one screen to another quite a lot to survive. There's not a lot of room to maneuver one just one screen.

Moving around the screens takes a bit of getting used to. You need to type M (for move), followed by a direction, followed by the desired speed. You can move in all eight directions, using a number pad (or the arrow keys if you only want to go north, south, east or west). If you don't have a number pad the directions are mapped to different keys, but I can't remember what those are. The speed you set determines how many steps you move in one turn. Normally you can move from 1 to 3 steps, but by using adrenaline (which you can buy or find in phials) you can move 4 or 5. The trickiest thing to master is the inertia mechanic, where once you start moving in a direction you keep moving that way until you stop or change direction. I spent a lot of time early on killing myself by bumping into trees, because I couldn't figure this out. Once you get the hang of it it's not too bad, as you can stop your movement by pressing 0.

Loads of monsters, three chests, a Magic Circle on the far right,
and me at the bottom, surrounded.

Each screen will be filled with monsters, which will move towards you and try to kill you. Melee combat is a simple matter of hitting S (for sword) and choosing the direction you want to swing. Either you do enough damage to kill the monster, or you don't and it gets to retaliate. The weakest monsters are goblins, with about 10 hit points. Moving up from there are thugs, zombies, werewolves, dragons, wizards, and demons. Worst of all are the invisible demons, which have about 10,000 hit points, deal almost 2,000 damage per hit, and can't be seen. I've lost a number of characters to them without even realising I was being hit.

You can attack monsters from a distance with arrows, which do more damage than your sword early on. Arrows can be fired the length of the screen in eight directions, but they're in short supply; you need to buy them or find them. There are magic arrows that do extra damage, and can fire through multiple foes.

Some screens have treasure chests, which are opened by pressing T when you're next to one. Most of them contain bags of gold, but occasionally you'll find gems, jewels, or a magic item. Gems and jewels can be sold, and are extremely valuable. Much like original Dungeons & Dragons, finding valuable jewels is the quickest way to advance in experience. Magic items include swords, shields, boots of flying and the magic lamp (which allows you to see invisible enemies). I've found a few cursed weapons as well. Your character will normally default to the best weapon and shield, but a cursed item will force you to use it instead.

The forest will have a number of Magic Circles, which are vital to your success. Once you step on a Magic Circle, you can't be damaged by attacking monsters. You can retaliate, though, so it's a good place to fight back against those monsters that are more powerful than you. You can also sell gems and jewels here, trading them in for bags of gold. The Magic Circles are also where you can buy experience points (1 gold piece buys 25), arrows, and adrenaline. You can also pay for the ability to fly, but this isn't something I've tested out much yet; the one time I did it I accidentally left the forest and was executed by the king for failing my mission.  If your sword breaks (which occasionally happens during combat, even to magic swords), and you don't have a spare, you can buy one here or beg to have the king send you a replacement if you don't have enough gold. A sword costs 50gp, but you're better off spending that money on experience points, then begging for a free sword. Speaking of swords, don't swing one at a magic circle; the circle will become hostile, and you can't use it any longer.

Enjoying the protection of a Magic Circle.

Experience points are the most important thing in this game. Not only do they measure your progress, but they double as your hit points. You can buy them, and earn them by killing monsters, but every hit you take reduces them, and if you go below 0 you're dead. It's a fairly elegant distillation of the Dungeons & Dragons system, in which earning treasure grants you experience points that allow you to gain levels and more hit points. Swords and Sorcery does away with levels, lets you spend your treasure on experience directly, and uses that experience total as your hit points. A simplified system like this works for a simpler game.

I found this game to be very Deadly at the start, to the point where I started to despair of ever making any progress.  The first mission can be tough, because you begin the game with 0 experience points. Any damage will kill you, even bumping into trees as I mentioned before. Combat is right out, because you start out not being able to do enough damage to kill even a lowly goblin in one hit, and the return strike will absolutely be fatal. One method of survival is to outmaneuver the enemy, and either collect the required treasure (or chop the required amount of trees) without entering combat. Another is to try to nab a treasure chest and then find a Magic Circle, where you can buy some experience and arrows. The third method, the one I eventually came to favor, is to find a Magic Circle and use its protective power to kill your enemies without taking any damage.  Also useful is switching from one screen to another; you'll never be attacked on your first move into a screen, and the layout will rearrange every time you enter. So if there's a Magic Circle that's too hard to get to, just leave the screen and return and it might be in a more convenient spot.

My current character.

Using these tactics I'm making slow and steady progress. My current character has about 130,000 experience, and is mostly being given missions to kill Demons. I'm enjoying it quite a bit; it's not the sort of game that dominates my thoughts when I'm doing something else, but when I do play it it's very easy to get into a rhythm and lose a few hours. It has that thing where a mission is just short enough that it's always tempting to play just one more. I could probably finish this up in one post, but I want to keep playing, and I suspect that there are more powerful enemies that I haven't encountered yet. I'll give it one more week and see how it goes.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Game 30: Quest (1978)

Back in May I played a game called Treasure Hunt, and I was pretty sure that it was as basic as the adventure game genre could get. Well, step aside Treasure Hunt, because we have a new contender in Quest.

Quest was written by Roger Chaffee (who I think was a school teacher), who was inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure. He started the project when his school received a pair of Commodore PETs, and finished the game in a couple of weeks. The code was printed in the July 1978 issue of Byte Magazine, which is archived here. I'm playing version 3.0, using WinVice as a PET emulator.

The premise is dead simple: you stumble across a cave where it's rumoured that a pirate his his treasure years ago. Like many an adventure game, your goal is to find the treasure and bring it back to the cave entrance.

The command list above is the entirety of what you can do in this game. You move around using the four cardinal directions, as well as up and down. I spent a good few minutes trying to type things in like it had a real parser before I realised just how simplistic this game is.

With nothing else to do but wander, I didn't have to feel bad about my usual method of ignoring puzzles until I had mapped out a chunk of the game. It's not all that large, and mapping only took me a little over an hour.

The two exits from the first cave lead through either a narrow tunnel, or the home of the Gnome-King (who is currently not home). There's a maze of twisty passages, in which the rooms are thankfully distinguished by subtly different descriptions. A pit leads down to a canyon, which features the graffiti "Bilbo was here". Past the canyon is a guillotine room, which is not as deadly as it sounds. (I'm not actually sure you can die in this game; I never managed it.)

Climbing up the canyon leads to the home of a Giant, who your character will automatically avoid if he shows up. Another path leads through an incense-filled room, and then to Xanadu, which is described as having "caverns measureless to man" in a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kublai Khan (see, have some culture). East of Xanadu is the Quest Control Center, which is probably a reference to the end-game of Colossal Cave Adventure, where you end up in a repository of the game's various elements. When you enter the Control Center you're immediately kicked back to Xanadu, so this was as much as I was able to map to begin with.

The treasure is found in room above the Guillotine Room, and the game simply prompts you with a yes/no question as to whether you want to take it. This is where Quest actually becomes an adventure game, because you can't take the treasure back to the entrance: the Gnome-King will be there to block one path, and on the other the tunnel is too narrow to fit the treasure through. The goal is now to find an alternate path outside.

The first path I tried was through the maze, but I hadn't gone far before a Pirate jumped out and reclaimed his booty. My first instinct was to go back to the treasure's original location, to see what was there. It wasn't the treasure, but there was a note saying that pirates never hide treasure in the same place twice. My second instinct, based on my memories of Colossal Cave Adventure, was to thoroughly explore the maze. Sure enough, I found the treasure in a dead end. I half-expected the pirate to show up again after I reclaimed it, but he never did.

I swear this is the exact dialogue from Colossal Cave Adventure.

After bumbling around for a little while, I eventually went back up to Xanadu and tried the path through the Control Center. This time, presumably because I was carrying the treasure, the path led to a Crystal Palace, and then to a labyrinth. The labyrinth was dead simple, as it only has two rooms, and I was able to get through by heading south repeatedly. It ended at a Black Hole, and by heading down from there I entered a chute that dumped me near the cave entrance. One move north, and I was outside and victorious.

Beating the game.

Originally Quest didn't have a score, but Chaffee added one after the children who played it complained. You score 1 point for every location entered, as well as for things like meeting the pirate and escaping with the treasure. The game also counts the number of moves it took to win, but I don't think that affects the score. The best I was able to score was 60 points, but the article I linked to above says that there are 66 in total. I didn't know that until I started writing this post, though, and I'd already declared myself victorious. In this case, unless one of my readers would like to point out the six points I missed, I don't think I'll go back to find them.

All that's left is to show my map, and the do a Final Rating.

Click to embiggen

Final Rating

Story & Setting: The treasure-hunting set-up is already well-worn, and the setting is a mish-mash of disparate elements that's pretty sparsely described. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The denizens of this game are obstacles and nothing more, and there's no way to interact with them at all. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: I feel like I've written this phrase a thousand times already, but a text-based adventure game isn't going to score any points here unless the writing is descriptive and atmospheric. The descriptions in Quest are functional, and nothing more. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: This is a tricky one. The mechanics of this game are simple, but they do everything they're supposed to do. Sure, all you can do is move from one place to another, but the implementation works fine. In the end, though, I think I have to dock points for sheer lack of mechanics. Yes, they work, but what they do is the absolute bare minimum that every other adventure game on this blog has achieved. Those games did much more on top of that, and it wouldn't be fair of me to mark this game on the same level. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Challenge: This game was dead easy. All you have to do is explore, and you'll eventually complete it. Literally the only way to fail is to give up. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: This game takes its inspiration directly from Colossal Cave Adventure, and adds nothing of its own. Instead, it takes things away, which might have been a technical necessity but still loses points on innovation. It doesn't look like this game had any influence either, but I'll give it an extra point for being a very early microcomputer adventure. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: At best I would describe this game as mildly distracting.  Even so, a short, simple game is welcome every now and then, and I didn't hate it. I reserve the minimum score for games I genuinely dislike, so Quest gets bumped up a little. Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point, I won't be revisiting this one. The above scores equal 11, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 22. Alas, that puts it second last, just above Library (which was horribly broken). It's much too simplistic to score high, I'm afraid.


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 adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  For CRPGs I'm using a Combat category.  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.

Puzzles: It doesn't really have any, although I guess navigating around the Gnome King and finding the treasure after the Pirate stashes it should count.  It's almost tempting to give this a zero, but I can't quite bring myself to do it.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

Quest gets a RADNESS Index of 20. It's second last, on equal points with Library, which at least had some good gags about Michael Moorcock to keep me amused.  The only game lower is Devil's Dungeon.

NEXT: I'll be returning to the lovely orange glow of PLATO to play Swords and Sorcery. Thankfully, it's nowhere near as big as the other PLATO RPGs, and should be another one-poster.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Lords of Karma: Victory!

Having spent most of my last post on mapping and exploring, I decided it was time to dig into this game and start solving some quests. The most obvious goal was to earn enough karma to enter Heaven, but there were a number of other quests in the game as well. Laying out my goals was helped by the discovery of a book on a mountain top, which purports to hold the wisdom of someone called Maharathi. Continuously reading the book gives a number of hints:

  • CHAPTER I. Putting the Torch to Cobwebs
  • CHAPTER II. I Give a Beggar a Silver Dollar
  • CHAPTER III. A Cooling Egg
  • CHAPTER IV. Secrets Found in a Crystal Ball
  • CHAPTER V. An Idol Destroyed.

This was a pretty good set of quests to go on. In addition, I had been asked to rescue a princess from a knave and return her to the palace.  Tackling all of these took me the better part of an afternoon, which was time I could have better spent watching hard Japanese wrestlers batter the hell out of each other (it's G1 Climax season once again!). Still, I've had worse weekends, and played worse games.

Rescuing the princess turned out to be not difficult at all. Her and the knave are always found somewhere in the Oak Forest to the west of the city of Golconda. The last time I tried to fight him he killed me, but this time I battered him to death with a lit torch. Combat is very swingy in this game; you can kill a Troll with your bare hands, then lose a fight to a bat when armed with a sword. It's very much just a case of luck, though it seems that the knave is one of the game's weaker enemies.

The princess then started following me, demanding to be returned to the palace. I returned her to her father, who rewarded me with a diamond before taking his daughter on a vacation. From that point on I was able to enter the palace without fear of being thrown in the dungeons, although there's not really much reason to do so.

Reuniting the royal family.

It was time to get to the clues in the book, and I started with the beggar. The silver dollar is usually found somewhere in the Oak Forest to the east of Golconda (the locations of items and creatures is randomised, although they usually pop up in the same general area). The beggar is easy to find as well, as he's always on the road either north or south of the city. I gave him the dollar and he rewarded me with a lamp that never runs out. This game involves a fair bit of stumbling around in the dark, so it comes in handy.

The next easiest clue to solve was the one about torching cobwebs. I'd found some cobwebs in the Cyprus Swamp, so I went there armed with a lit torch and tried to burn them. None of the commands I tried worked, so I explored a bit and was soon attacked by a giant spider. The spider kept firing webs at me, but with my torch I was able to burn them away and thus avoid being killed. Eventually I struck a killing blow, although it was a long, laborious process of typing KILL over and over again. Searching the swamp afterwards I found a sword, which soon became my primary weapon.

I had no idea about the egg, but after an hour of fruitless exploring, monster killing, and treasure-finding, I decided to try talking to everyone I met. Most of them just attack, but I was quite pleased to note that every creature I tried to talk to had some sort of response.  Success came when I talked to the giant who lives in the Redwood Forest to the south-west. He told me that humans aren't welcome in his forest, but I could win his trust by bringing him a sapling.

I'd found a sapling in the swamp during an earlier game, so I wandered around (and killed a crocodile) until I found it again. The sapling is heavy, so I had to drop everything from my inventory to even move. Then I couldn't get back out of the swamp the way I came, because the sapling was too big to fit through a crack in a wall. I was forced to find another path east and north of Golconda, but I was eventually able to circle around and take the sapling to the giant.

I hope those are some REALLY big leaves.

He rewarded me with an egg. I suspect there's a way to hatch it, but I never did figure it out. The "cooling egg" in the clue had me trying to light it on fire, which I couldn't get to work. So I'm not convinced that I solved everything here, but finding the egg is good enough for me to consider the third clue dealt with.

The other two clues took quite a bit longer to deal with, because they both involve exploring underground. There are a number of underground areas in the game: the sewers beneath Golconda, the tunnels under the mountains, more tunnels accessed through holes in the swamp. The most extensive of these seems to be the caves under the southern Promontory. It's hard to tell, because there are secret doors all over these areas. Sometimes they appear when you LOOK, and other times they don't, so fully exploring these places is a matter of luck and patience. I'm still not sure I got everything.

There are monsters underground, and all of them can kill you: the worm and the vampire bat are the weakest. There's an axe-wielding goblin, a mace-wielding troll, and a shimmering wizard who will happily roast you with a fireball from his staff when he sees you. The idol mentioned in the clues is also underground, in the caves below the Promontory, past a maze of stalactites and stalagmites. The troll always guards the areas leading up to it, and he can be tough to kill even when you're well-armed.

The idol is dedicated to Baal, and when you examine it you're asked to make an offering. I knew it would be a bad idea, but I had to try it at least once.

Whoever the god of this world is, he punishes you worse for this than for murder.

Yes, I got blasted for idolatry and took a massive karma hit. Needless to say, I restarted.

With idol located I needed a way to destroy it. I had earlier found a bomb lying in the Aspen Forest to the north-west, and I figured this was the way to do it. Sure enough, I took the bomb to the idol, lit a match, lit the fuse, and moved away. The bomb exploded, reducing the idol to rubble, and I got a big karma boost. (What I didn't get was a screen shot, because my torch had run out while I was waiting for the bomb to go off.)

My final goal was obtaining the crystal ball, which I knew was being held by a friendly wizard who roams about the wilderness. When you talk to him, he asks you to bring him the staff of the shimmering wizard. Which I then tried to do. Many, many, many times. That guy is tough.  In the end I resorted to praying at the temple, which sometimes results in you grabbing a torch and wandering into the underground tunnels, and is probably the quickest way of finding the wizard. So I just kept on praying, fighting him when I found him, and returning to pray after he killed me. It probably took me thirty tries to beat him (with a lot of fruitless underground journeys when praying sent me to the wrong area).  When I took his staff to the good wizard, he rewarded me with the crystal ball, which I discovered could be used to see secret doors. I considered using it to map out the whole game accurately, but even I have my limits (I would have totally done it if this was an RPG though).

Say "appear" one more time...

Last of all, it was time to earn enough karma to make my way into heaven. If I'm being honest though, I accomplished this one way before destroying the idol and obtaining the crystal ball. The number of points required to ascend to heaven is randomised with every game; in some games I've ascended with only 24 points, and in others it's taken me over 300. So as you can see, the game can vary greatly in difficulty.

There are three ways to earn karma: solving quests, donating treasure, and killing monsters. The first of these I've covered pretty comprehensively above.  Donating treasure simply involves taking any treasure you've found to the temple and using the DONATE or GIVE command. A sign tells you that "contributions will be gratefully accepted", so it's not all that obscure, but it did take me a few tries to hit on the right command. Despite this game's premise supposedly being to do good deeds, it still ultimately boils down to finding treasures and returning them to a single location. We haven't escaped the influence of Colossal Cave Adventure just yet.

Killing monsters is a little more interesting, because doing so can earn you karma as well as lose it. I think it has something to do with the weapon you're using.  When you examine a weapon it tells you where it was made. Some are forged in Valhalla, some in Hades, and some are made by "Knave Armaments, Inc."  I'm pretty sure that you get points when using weapons from Valhalla, and lose them when using weapons from Hades. I found a ring from Hades that shot lightning bolts, and while it was powerful I lost karma every time I used it.  As for the Knave Armaments weapons, I'm not sure, but I think you lose karma from those as well. I just tried to test it and got killed by a vampire bat, so it'll have to remain a mystery.  Oh, and of course killing friendly characters always loses you karma.

So I amassed a couple hundred karma, went to the temple, prayed, and got the following victory screen.

After this it dumped me to the OS prompt, so I guess heaven is using a TRS-80 you guys.

So that's Lords of Karma done, dusted, and off the books. After a couple of games that I feel like I didn't properly beat, it's a relief to notch up another win. All that's left is a quick Final Rating and I can move on to something else.


Story & Setting: The set-up for Lords of Karma promised more than the usual late-70s adventure fare, but in the end it wasn't much more than another treasure hunt. It perhaps deserves some props for being one of the first adventure games that has a number of sub-quests, and multiple paths to victory. It's possible to win without donating any treasure at all, by completing the quests instead. The setting doesn't have a lot of personality, and I'm tempted to dock it for mixing mythologies with Hades and Valhalla. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The characters are simple quest-givers, but they do all respond when spoken to, and have a minimal amount of personality. The selection of monsters is decent, although combat is too random to differentiate them all that much. It's a slight cut above the other adventure games available on home computers at the time in this regard, though. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: As with so many of its kind, it's a text adventure with very sparse descriptions. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is very simple (I doubt it knows more than about a dozen commands), but it gets the job done. Once you know how to GET, DROP, GIVE, TALK, PRAY, LIGHT and KILL you're pretty much good to go, and the games does what it's supposed to do. Combat is very random though, and there are no tactics that can mitigate this swinginess. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: In terms of puzzle solving this game has very little in the way of difficulty, and gives a decent amount of hints as to what you need to do. Earning karma is also not that hard, especially once you know how to avoid losing it. The game even resurrects you when you die, with no loss of karma at all. The most challenging thing is combat, but even that's a minor setback in terms of the goal of ascending to heaven. It's probably about the right amount of challenge for the size of the game, if not a little too easy. The randomisation gives it some small replay value, though. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: It doesn't seem as though this game had much of an impact, but it does feature some minor innovations. It might be the first adventure game to explicitly have "doing good" as a goal, and it might also be the first to feature elements of Eastern philosophy and religion (albeit in a minor way). Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: I only had three sessions on this game, perhaps five hours in total, but I found myself enjoying it while it lasted. There's just enough to see and do in the game to make it worth exploring for a short while, although the combat can be very frustrating. Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point for Lords of Karma; I doubt I'll revisit it.  The above scores add up to 17, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 34. That puts it equal 14th overall, and 8th on the chart for adventure games. That's right in the middle, equal with Pirate Adventure, and among the highest-rated adventure games for home computers.


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 adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  For CRPGs I'm using a Combat category.  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.

Puzzles: This game does have rudimentary combat, but it's a little more puzzle-focused.  The puzzles it does have are pretty simple, and well signposted.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

That gives Lords of Karma a RADNESS Index of 32. That puts it 12th overall, and 7th out of eighteen adventure games.

NEXT: It looks like I have tracked down a copy of Quest after all, so I'll be looking at that if I can get it to work. If not, it's either Swords and Sorcery (a minor PLATO RPG) or Daniel Lawrence's DND (which I doubt I'll be able to get running but you never know). The end of 1978 is finally in sight!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Game 29: Lords of Karma (1978)

The cover of Avalon Hill's 1980 release

Lords of Karma is the first game from Gary Bedrosian, who will later create the well-regarded Empire of the Over-Mind and something called GFS Sorceress.  It was first created in 1978, and eventually published by Avalon Hill in 1980. (Avalon Hill is not a name I connect with video games. I know them much better as a purveyor of wargames, and it's weird to see them involved here.)  It was created to work on TRS-80, Apple II and Commodore PET, but I'm playing the TRS-80 version.

After reading over some articles it seems that Lords of Karma is going to a bit more forward-thinking than its contemporaries: rather than collecting treasures, my goal is to do good deeds and earn karma. With enough karma, I'll be able to ascend to heaven and win the game. I gather that a lot of this is randomised, and that the karma required to win is different with every game. I'm not so keen on the randomisation, but I am pretty happy to find a game with a goal that isn't a simple treasure hunt. I've had enough of those for a while.

Starting the game

You start the game in the central square of the city of Golconda, and can wander around pretty much anywhere from there.  For my first game, I left Golconda by the city gates and followed a path north to the Chapel of Prayer. I prayed there, and earned a point of karma. I decided to pray a second time, which caused me to faint. When I woke up I was in some underground tunnels, and I never found my way back out again. I did kill some sort of worm while I was down there though, and earned some karma for that.

Restarting, I decided to explore the overworld instead. Golconda is small, with just the Central Square, the Royal Palace, and a Market. In the Market you can find a brass farthing, a torch, and 6 matches.  (I haven't tried taking them, so I'm not sure if you need to buy them or not.)  If you enter the palace, the king tasks you with rescuing his daughter, and threatens to throw you in the dungeon if you return without her. I think I've found the princess, being ravished by a "knave" in the forest, but when I tried to save her the knave killed me.

Killed by a knave and reborn on a mountain.

Most of the overworld consists of different types of forests: redwood, pine, and aspen. There's a cyprus swamp to the southeast, and the land is bordered to the south by an ocean. It's all very sparsely described, and to get any sort of detail you need to type LOOK in every location, which can get a little tedious. The LOOK command tells you where you are, lists anything of interest, and gives you all of the exits from that area. It even lists the Up and Down exits, which I appreciate.  I've noticed, though, that some exits aren't always listed; the door to the Royal Palace is one that comes and goes, and there were secret doors when I was underground that only appeared sometimes.

The game has rudimentary combat, like many of the adventure games of the era. I haven't had a lot of success, aside from the worm that I killed in the underworld. So far I've been killed by a giant to the south-west, a crocodile and a spider in the south-eastern swamps, a wizard on a mountain, and the aforementioned knave a little to the west of Golconda. When you die you are reborn on a mountaintop to the north-east of Golconda. Dying doesn't seem to harm your karma score at all, although it does scatter your inventory around the map.

I've also encountered a beggar, and a grey-robed man carrying a crystal ball. When spoken to, the beggar asked for alms, and the robed man asked me to fetch him the wizard's staff. I've met that wizard and come off much the worse for it, so I'll skip this quest for a while.

Despite the goal of this game being to do good, there are treasures scattered around as well. I've found a topaz, a silver dollar, and an emerald. You don't get any karma just for picking them up, but giving them to the beggar might do so, and there's a suggestion that offering them at the Chapel of Prayer might do so as well.

I'm enjoying this so far, but I usually do in the initial stages of a game when I'm mostly exploring and mapping. I think that eventually the random elements of this game will get to me, especially because the map seems to be somewhat random as well. We'll see how it goes, but so far I like playing a game that's not quite so influenced by Adventure as the games surrounding it while still remaining accessible.