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.


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.


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.