Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Priority CRPG 4: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981)

The Apple II cover of Wizardry

Aaahhh, that's much better.  I'm happy to be playing pretty much anything other than Balrog Sampler, but it's even nicer that the next game is a stone-cold classic from my CRPG priority list.  This is one I've been looking forward to for years.

I've been playing CRPGs almost since I first got my Commodore 64, way back in the mid-80s.  I've at least dabbled in most of the major games and franchises, but I've never played a Wizardry game before.  I've certainly read plenty about them, and I spent most of my teen years obsessively playing the Bard's Tale trilogy, which I gather is very similar.  So I'm not unfamiliar with the series and how it works, but I have no firsthand experience.  This is a big one for me.  If it's as much like Bard's Tale as it seems I think I'm going to enjoy it a lot.

As usual, I'll be trying to play this game in its original version.  Wizardry was initially released for the Apple II, which is a huge relief.  Balrog Sampler had me struggling manfully with TRS-80 emulators for weeks on end, and the simplicity of Apple II emulators is wonderful in comparison.  I'm also going to be attempting to play this game at its legitimate difficulty.  Wizardry is yet another early CRPG that will permanently delete your characters without allowing you the luxury of returning to a prior save.  I figure that if I was able to beat Rogue properly, I should be able to do the same with Wizardry.  Hopefully I'll be happy with that decision a month from now.

Wizardry was initially developed by Andrew Greenberg (then a student at Cornell University) and Robert Woodhead, starting in 1978.  A version written in BASIC was apparently playable as early as 1979, but wasn't released because it was really, really slow.  I can attest to that as far as BASIC games go, as the ones I've played for the blog have been really sluggish.  (It gets especially bad for games with graphics.)  There are claims in the Wizardry documentation that the game is the "largest single micro-computer game ever created", so I shudder to think just how slow it might have been.  The game was rewritten in Pascal in 1979, but because Greenberg and Woodhead didn't have access to a run-time system the game couldn't be released until 1981. This meant that Wizardry got two years of solid playtesting.  So now I know that when my party gets wiped out by monsters without a chance to retaliate, that was a deliberate decision, and a not an oversight.

I played the PLATO game Oubliette some years ago, and Wizardry draws heavily from that game.  There have been accusations of plagiarism over the years, although from what I've played of both I'd say that it's no more egregious than what had already been going on in gaming up to that point.  If Wizardry has ripped off Oubliette, then just about every adventure game I've played - including Zork - has ripped off Colossal Cave Adventure.  There's no denying the influence, though: in many ways, Wizardry is an attempt to bring Oubliette to home computers as a single player experience.

Of course, Wizardry is massively successful, important, and influential in its own right.  It sold over 200,000 copies in its first two years, outselling Ultima at the time.  It inspired the aforementioned Bard's Tale series, not to mention just about every first-person dungeon-crawler that's ever been made.  And then there's its influence on Japanese RPGs, where its combat system was lifted for hugely successful games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.  The Wizardry series actually continued in Japan long after it was dead in the west, with the last game having been published in 2014.  Wizardry is a milestone, possibly the most important CRPG that I've never played.  I really want to dig into this one, even though there's probably very little new that I can say about it.

Wizardry's Apple II manual

The first thing I like to do with a game is check out the box and the manual.  This is especially important with games of this vintage, because often the story is almost entirely contained in the supplemental material.  There's no story in Wizardry's manual, but the box apparently did contain a slip of paper called a "briefing", which says that the evil wizard Werdna stole something valuable from King Trebor, and has hidden it in the dungeons below Trebor's castle with monsters to guard it.  Apparently there's a "control room" somewhere that will allow me to access the deeper dungeon levels more easily, but that's something for me to worry about later.  ("Werdna" and "Trebor", as I'm sure everyone reading this already knows, are the names of the developers written backwards.  I've seen this dismissed as lame on many occasions, but it is fully in keeping with the game's roots in Dungeons & Dragons, in which Gary Gygax happily named his wizard alter-ego Zagyg.  This is just the sort of thing that RPG players were doing at the time, and I kind of admire that ability to not take the fantasy too seriously.  Besides, it's not nearly as pretentious as inserting yourself into your game as "Lord British".)

The manual sets the tone pretty early.

While the manual doesn't have any story details, it's chockers with information on how to play the game.  Character creation, combat, exploration, shopping, and pretty much every other aspect of the game are described pretty thoroughly (or at least it seems so from my inexperienced perspective).  The illustrations are of a humorous nature, which is in keeping with the tone of a lot of RPG material of the era: more proof that the creators of D&D and CRPGs didn't take this stuff very seriously back then.  The back half of the manual is taken up by spell descriptions: there are fifty spells in all, and I gather that mastering their use will be vital to beating the game.  I'm not a huge fan of the way the spells are named in Wizardry, though. Yes, it's cool that the names are built using a system of syllables with meanings, and that the meanings are consistent across the spell names.  But when I'm trying to figure out what the fuck LATUMOFIS and LAKANITO do, it's not that helpful.  There's something to be said for D&D's use of prosaic names such as fireball and magic missile.

After booting up the game, it begins with an impressive title screen depicting a wizard summoning a demon from a bubbling cauldron.  Yes, it's primitive by modern standards, but this level of colour and animation are a real eye-opener when seen in the context of the day.  (That said, I'm playing Wizardry somewhat out of sequence, so maybe it's on par with some other stuff out there. I'll find out for sure eventually, I suppose.)

Impressive in its day.

The title page says that I'm playing version 2.1 from 1982, which I gather makes some minor improvements from the original.  It's probably not a major enough shift to warrant me tracking down an earlier version, and besides that I'm using the disks made available by Ahab at Data Driven Gamer, which are apparently the only ones out there that are in the same state that the game would be in when newly purchased.  So I doubt I'm going to get a more authentic experience than the one I'm going with.

The game starts in King Trebor's Castle, but your options are limited because you don't have any party members yet. The only thing to do is go to the (E)dge of town, where you can head to the (T)raining grounds to create some characters.  I could see this all being a little baffling to a first-timer, but the manual lays it out clearly enough.

At Trebor's Castle, with no party members

You begin character creation by assigning your character a name, which feels a little backwards to me: I like to know my character's stats, race and class before I name them.  The game then asks you to assign the character a password.  It will ask you for that password whenever you try to use the character.  It's an odd touch, but it is borrowed from Oubliette, where it was used to prevent other people using your character in a multiplayer environment.  It's included here to stop your little brother from mucking up your best guys, I guess.

The second step is to assign a race, using the standard D&D choices of Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome and Hobbit.  Each race has its own affect on your stats, as well as resistances to certain attacks, but the manual is uncharacteristically vague about this.  At this point I'll resist the urge to look them up, and assume that they conform to the stereotypes (i.e. Hobbits have high Agility and low Strength, Dwarves have high Vitality, etc.).

Choosing a race.

After choosing a race, you need to pick an alignment: Good, Neutral or Evil.  This affects which classes you can qualify for in the next step.  It should also be noted that Good and Evil characters can never be in the same party together, which means that there are certain classes I won't be able to use.

The next step is to determine your stats. Each character has six of these attributes (which range from 3-18 in standard D&D fashion): Strength, I.Q., Piety, Vitality, Agility, and Luck.  Strength affects your ability in melee combat, I.Q. and Piety affect your ability to cast and learn mage and priest spells (respectively), Vitality affects your health and hit points, Agility affects your speed in combat, and Luck affects your ability to avoid traps, spells and other attacks.  Again, I'm being vaguer than I'd like to be here, but I can't find where this is explained in the manual. I'm sure I read it in there yesterday, but it's escaping me right now and I'm wondering if I imagined it.  Anyway, if you've ever played an RPG, these stats do the things they always do.  You know how it works.

Assigning stats and choosing a class.

Aside from their usual effects, certain stats are required to qualify for a character class.  There are eight classes in Wizardry, four basic classes and four elite classes.

  • Fighters, your standard warrior type with high hit points and the best access to weapons and armour. They require a Strength of 11.
  • Mages, your spellcasters.  They get the most effective combat spells, but they can't wear armour and can only wield a dagger or a staff.  They require an IQ of 11.
  • Priests, your holy men who can fight a bit and use healing and defensive magic. They can also "dispell" undead monsters, allowing you to avoid fighting them. They require a Piety of 11, and can't be Neutral in alignment.
  • Thieves, who are primarily there to disarm traps. They can only use daggers and short swords, and wear leather armour. They require an Agility of 11.
  • Bishops, which are a kind of cross between Priests and Mages. They also get the ability to identify magical items, which seems handy. Like priests, they can't be Neutral in alignment.
  • Samurai, which are fighters that eventually get access to Mage spells. They can't be Evil.
  • Lords, which are combination Fighter-Priests. They must be Good.
  • Ninja, which are described as "inhuman fighting machines". Their Armor Class gets better as they reach higher levels, and they also have a chance to kill enemies with a single blow. They have to be Evil though, which puts them at odds with Lords.

The last four classes listed above are harder to qualify for, requiring high scores in multiple attributes. At higher levels you can also switch classes, retaining your hit points and spells while gaining the abilities of the new class.  To be honest, I feel like the ability to switch class kind of negates the benefits of the "elite" classes. Only the Ninja and the Bishop seem to have unique abilities.  Perhaps there's something I'm missing.

The manual recommends starting with two Fighters, a Priest, a Thief and two Mages.  I suspect that I might eventually swap out that Thief for another healer, but it's hard to argue with the balance here.  The scan of the manual that I'm using also has some hand-written notes, with the names of the player's party scrawled on the inside front cover.  In recognition of that player so considerately making his manual available, I'm going to use the names of his characters.  So my first party will consist of fighters Bubba and Mean Joe, thief Chico, priest Father Fred, and mages Misto and Merlin.  I decided to make Bubba and Father Fred human, Mean Joe a dwarf, Chico a hobbit, Misto a gnome and Merlin an elf.  I've covered all of my racial bases there, striking a blow for diversity.

The inspiration for my first party

I hemmed and hawed about whether to go with a good or an evil party, but in the end my basic CRPG instincts won over.  I made Bubba, Father Fred and Merlin good, and the rest of the party neutral.  I guess I'm not going to have a ninja in the party (unless all of these guys gets slaughtered and I have to start over).

My stats were disappointingly low: most of them begin in the 5-11 range, and you only get around seven points to distribute amongst them.  This number is variable, though, and occasionally you hit the jackpot.  This happened to me with Mean Joe, who got a whopping 19 points to spend.  He ended up with a Strength of 18, and a high Vitality as well, and expect he'll be the MVP of the party in the early going.

Once your characters are created, you need to go to Gilgamesh's Tavern to add them to the party. This is kind of irritating, to be honest, as you can only see the roster of characters at the training ground, and you can only add them to your party at the tavern. It's not so bad now, but I can see it being a potential problem down the line if I have a bigger roster and I'm more likely to forget their names.

While I was at the tavern I took the time to inspect my characters and look at what spells my priest and mages got.  Father Fred got Dios (heal) and Badios (harm).  Misto and Merlin both ended up with Halito (little fire) and Katino (bad air, basically a sleep spell).  I'm not sure if beginning casters all start with the same spells or not, but the ones I got are pretty good.  I wouldn't want to tackle the dungeon without some healing and a sleep spell.

Next it was time to head to Boltac's Trading Post to buy some gear.  Most of what's sold here is standard weapons and armour, but I was surprised to see some magical items (+1 weapons and armor, another D&Dism), as well as some potions and scrolls.  All of the magical gear was out of my price range, but it's something for me to work towards.

Bubba, who started with 170 gold, bought a longsword, a large shield, and some chain mail.  Merlin,  with 110 gold, bought a staff and some robes. Misto, with 135 gold, bought a dagger and some robes. Chico, with 163 gold, bought a short sword, small shield, and leather armour.  Father Fred and Mean Joe were a little lacking in funds (100 gold and 91 gold respectively), so I went back to the tavern and had some of my other characters trade their leftover gold to them. (This was pretty tedious, as I had to do it one character at a time; there's no "pool" function where the party can just spend money from one collective pile.  It's hard to criticise games for not using functions that had never been thought of at the time, though, so I'll try to shut up about it.)  Upon returning to Boltac's, I was able to buy Father Fred an anointed mace, a large shield, and some chainmail.  Mean Joe was able to buy a longsword, a large shield, some chainmail, and a helm.  So not only does Mean Joe have the best stats, but he has the best gear as well.  Life just works out like that for some people, I guess.

I decided to take a quick foray into the maze, just so that there's some actual gameplay in this post.  I was pleasantly surprised that the game doesn't dump you straight into the dungeon: instead you are in camp, and have the opportunity to review your characters and equip their gear.  It's a nice little reminder to be prepared.  Equipping weapons and armour is also very user-friendly, as it runs through each character and asks what you want to use in each category.

The party begins at the stairs (which I assume are at the bottom left of the map), with a tunnel leading ahead and another to the right. I chose to take the right tunnel, which led to a room through a door.  Movement uses the W-A-D cluster, with W being forward, A turning left, and D turning right.  Going through a door has its own separate command - K - which is another minor irritant.  Trying to walk forward into a door using W brings up a message that says OUCH.  I'm not sure if this can hurt the party, but in this case my characters emerged unscathed.

I didn't find anything there, so I went back to the stairs and headed north.  As soon as I turned a corner I was attacked by 5 Scruffy Men.  Sometimes in Wizardry you don't know exactly which monsters you're facing, only their general type.  As the battle progresses the monsters will be identified.  In this case, I was soon to learn that I was fighting 5 Bushwackers.

The battle begins with mysterious enemies.

I decided to kick off with my full arsenal, as I was planning on heading right back to the castle after my first fight.  I had my first three characters attack, while Chico parried and my mages both cast Katino (sleep).  It did not go well.  Bubba went down in a single blow, and was dead.  Mean Joe retaliated, wounding one of the Bushwackers, but my Katinos were not all that effective: only two of the enemy were put to sleep.

Bubba nooooooo!

I probably should have fled, but I decided to stick it out for another round, attacking with everything and casting two more Katinos.  Mean Joe, Chico and Father Fred all killed a Bushwacker, and of the two remaining one was asleep.  The cost was dire though: both Mean Joe and Chico were killed.  With only a single foe I decided to chance another round, but nobody on either side landed a blow.  The second Bushwacker woke up, and I knew that I was overmatched.  It was time to run, which I was able to do successfully.  Back at the stairs, my party dragged the corpses of their friends back to the castle, with nothing to show for their foray.

This game's going to be a tough one, isn't it?

I get the feeling I'm going to be seeing this kind of thing a lot.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Balrog Sampler: Near Victory

Yes, I know, it's taken me ages to get around to writing this post.  There hasn't been anything going on in my life to prevent me from writing it up, and I haven't been dealing with any particular personal problems that might affect my desire to write.  This delay has come down to one thing, and one thing only: I really didn't want to spend time replaying this game.

It's a problem of my own making, really. If I'd just taken some screenshots when I played through it the first time I might have been able to knock up a post from memory.  I say might, but that's debatable: my memory of this game is hazier than pretty much anything else I've played for the blog, and I only went through it about six months ago.  That's one of the benefits I've found with keeping the blog: the games I've written about stand out sharply in my memory.

Anyway, I've now replayed Balrog Sampler, and the pain is all in the past.  I'm very keen to knock this post out so that I can move on to something (literally anything) else.  Last time around I went through the basics of the game, and played through the wilderness area. This post will deal with the dungeon, which is the meat of the game, and where things get much more difficult (as you'd expect).

Early on, the thing that always stymied my progress was the combat, specifically the random encounters.  They're not overwhelmingly common, but they happen often enough to be annoying, and my starting characters invariably got killed by them.  There's supposedly a way to balance things by choosing the correct combination of weapons and armor based on your character's Strength and Dexterity scores, but I never figured it out. I didn't try every combination of course; there are far too many weapons for that. I tried quite a few though, and nothing seemed to work.

What I found was that the trick to surviving is in raising your character's Strength.  One way to do that is with the Personality Change Machine in a room to the north of the dungeon entrance.  When you use it, it rolls up completely new stats for your character.  It's a little random though, and doesn't really raise your Strength beyond the normal limits.  The better method is to head south and west from the entrance, and find the library.  There are a number of books to read, one of which is about physical fitness.  Reading it summons a drill instructor, who forces you to do push-ups that raise your Strength by two points.  Unlike many of the other stat boosts in the game this one can be done repeatedly, and the only limit to how high you can get your Strength score is your gold, as each reading costs 10gp.  Eventually you'll get it to a point where none of the monsters can threaten you, but the trick is to get there before a random encounter wipes you out.  I'd also recommend not boosting your Strength too high; this game is fragile, and any numbers outside of the usual range can cause it to cack itself.

There's a third method of getting through combat that I haven't mentioned yet, because it's definitely a bug.  After I played for a while, the monsters suddenly all had Strength ratings of 0, and were incapable of doing any damage.  Having suffered through the early stages of the game, being killed repeatedly by every random encounter that came along, I seized on this immediately when it happened.  Most of my exploration of the game was done with this glitch in effect.  Once I'd solved most of the puzzles playing this way I went back and fought my way through legitimately (or as legitimately as I could in my probably-cracked version of the game that starts me with 30,000+ gold pieces).

Fighting nothing in a bugged combat.

Adventure games like this are a little unfocused, so I sometimes struggle to figure out which areas to write about first.  This is why my adventure game posts often resort to point form, as it helps me to organise my thoughts.  The goal of Balrog Sampler is to find various treasures and take them back to the bank vault on the surface.  I'll break this one down by the treasures to be found, and hopefully that will cover everything important.

  • Necklace:
    • South of the dungeon entrance is a room with a dwarf, who tries to charge you for passage through doors to the south and east.  He'll let you go back to the north for free, though, and when you come back into the room he's gone. Quite a number of encounters in the game are like this: you get one crack at them, and then they disappear forever.
    • South of the dwarf is a room containing four boxes: one marked "poof", one marked "fizz", one marked "skull" and one marked "flower".  The "skull" box contains the necklace.  The "poof" box contains a genie, which can be asked for a number of wishes (none of which end up benefitting the player).  I think the "fizz" box has a strength potion, and I can't remember what the "flower" box has inside.  I also can't remember what happens if you try to open more than one box, I just know it's not good.

  • Witch Protect Cross
    • This can be found a few areas south of the box room. It's sitting in an alcove, and there's nothing special that needs to be done to obtain it.
    • The cross, as the name says, will protect you from witches.  There's a witch in the secret room east of the dwarf, but there's not much of a reason to go and see her (although you can apparently get her to transform into Helen of Troy and have sex with her if you choose the right options; I never figured out how).
  • Silver Tiger
    • North from the entrance is a room guarded by a snake. To get past this snake, you need a stone mongoose.
    • The mongoose can be found in a room with six statues just north of where you find the cross.  The statues are of various historical, mythical and fictional warriors, ranging from Attila the Hun to Conan of Cimmeria.  Pressing the button on Alexander the Great's statue reveals a secret compartment containing the stone mongoose.

    • The Silver Tiger is just lying on the ground in a passage about a half-dozen-or-so rooms beyond the snake. There are some encounters along the way, including a crazed doctor and a mummy, but those can be easily avoided.
  • Ruby
    • Past the hallway with the Silver Tiger is an Oracle, who will give you some clues if you stick around to listen.  The oracle doesn't always oblige; I assume that your stats determine whether you get the clue or not, but I'm not sure how. It doesn't really matter, because you can just keep trying until it works.
    • Further along there's a fight with a thief, and after that the path splits in two. There's only one exit to the west, but it leads to two different locations. As far as I can tell, the place you end up is totally random.
    • One of those locations has a lion with a thorn in it's paw. Unlike the well-known story, if you take the thorn out the lion will kill you.
    • The other location has two doors, one marked "Lady" and the other marked "Tiger".  (I've heard the phrase "the lady or the tiger" before, it's apparently from a short story published in 1882.)  The door marked "lady" leads to a tiger named Lady, and the door marked "tiger" leads to a lady named Tiger. It's amusing enough, but neither this encounter or the one with the lion are important beyond your own survival.
    • The path then leads to a wizard's laboratory, where you can fight a wizard and take his wand.  I have vague memories that you can bribe this guy, or trick him somehow.
    • The room beyond the laboratory is dark, but you can light it with a torch. At the end of the room is an alcove with a keyhole.  The key from the shack will unlock it, but there are a number of lethal traps to avoid through trial-and-error. Inside is a ruby.
  • Emerald Orb
    • East of the entrance room is a "spaghetti maze".  There's no trick to this one, you just have to keep picking an exit until it randomly spits you out on the other side.  Once there you'll find the emerald orb.
  • Bag of Jewels
    • South of this and down a ravine is a river that leads to a lake, where there's a woman sleeping on the shore.  There's also an island in the middle of the lake. You can get her to show you where a boat is buried, and if you use it to get to the island you'll find a bag of jewels. If you try to swim, you'll be attacked by the island's "guardian".
  • Diamonds
    • South of the river is the "Monster Maze", which I had to map using the time-honoured method of dropping inventory items. It's a pretty big maze, but being able to drop different amounts of gold coins really helped to speed the process. The diamonds are found at a shrine deep in the maze.
  • Chalice
    • On the far size of the Monster Maze is a rusted door. To open this door you need to fill a jug with oil.  The jug is found really close to the dungeon entrance, but it's through a tight tunnel that can cause a lot of problems. If you try to get through with too much inventory, you'll get stuck and eventually die.  I've gotten stuck even with no inventory, so I think it might be based on a die roll of some sort.  You have to get through twice, and I've had more characters die to this tunnel than pretty much anything else in the game.

    • The oil is found in an area north of the spaghetti maze. It's past a bridge with a troll who demands treasure; I killed the troll rather than bother to find the right treasure to give to it. Beyond that is an oasis, with some stereotypical arabian trappings, and you can fill your jug with oil there.
    • With the oil you can open the rusted door, and the chalice is in an alcove on the other side.
  • God of Waterfalls
    • If you follow the river from the lake, you'll come to a waterfall. Climbing the waterfall can be difficult, but each time you fall you get a boost to IQ so it's actually pretty helpful.  If you keep trying you'll eventually make it to the top, where you'll find an idol called the God of Waterfalls.

  • Golden Eggs
    • There's a secret area behind the waterfall that can be accessed by pulling a lever. Whether it opens or not is random, and probably based on your stats (again, the game isn't great at letting you know when this is happening, and I don't have the motivation to go trawling through the code to find out).  Usually it takes me a few minutes of repeatedly pulling the lever until it opens, which can get really annoying.
    • Beyond is a room with two pits, reminiscent of the Twopit Room from Colossal Cave Adventure.  The east pit contains a rusty sword, and the west pit has a tiny beanstalk calling out for water.  You can collect water in a flask to make the plant grow, which allows you to climb up to another area.
  • Singing Harp
  • Clock
    • Both of the items above are found at the top of the beanstalk, but I can't remember the details.  The game I have currently saved shows that I have a flask filled with water in my inventory, but when I go to water the plant it doesn't acknowledge that I have the item.  My patience with Balrog Sampler is wearing really thin, so I'm not going to bother going to the effort of starting a new game so I can get back to this area.
  • Collar
    • I have a collar written down in my list of treasures, but it's not anywhere on my map, so I have no idea where it came from. Again, I'm leaving this one as a mystery (assuming it's actually there at all).
  • Pearls
    • North-east from the dungeon entrance is a large door. This door can only be opened with the correct password. There are a number of clues to this password scattered around the dungeon (one is in the library, one is deep in the Monster Maze, and I think the other is given by the oracle).

    • For some reason, I always have to say the password twice.  I'm not sure if this is deliberate, or a glitch.
    • North of the door is a room with an oyster in a pool of water. If you burn some coal the water will boil and the oyster will open, revealing the pearls.
  • Ruby Skull
  • Silver Pirate Ship
  • Chest of Jewels
    • The three treasures above are found past the door, but there are a lot of deadly obstacles in the way before you can reach them.
    • The first of these is a Fire Lizard, that will immediately attack if you enter its lair. A new Fire Lizard attacks every time you stumble into this room, but you can skirt around the lair once you know where it is.
    • Further along is the lair of a Phase Spider, which is similarly hostile. Again, you can avoid this lair if you know where you're going.
    • Next up is the final gauntlet of encounters, which begins with an unavoidable battle with a Baby Chromatic Dragon.  (For those who don't know, a Chromatic Dragon has five heads, one of each type from Dungeons & Dragons; it's one of the deadliest monsters in early D&D. For those who watched the D&D cartoon, think Tiamat.)

    • Deeper into the lair is the "Daddy Dragon", which is a Chromatic Dragon so large that you can't possible fight it.  The only way to defeat the dragon is to release a mouse in its presence.

    • After the battle you find a secret door, which leads to the lair of the Pirate.  I don't think I've mentioned him before: he shows up occasionally to knock you out with sleep powder and steal your treasure. He's pretty much an exact copy of the pirate from Colossal Cave Adventure, except that you have to fight and kill this guy in order to claim his treasures.  These treasures consist of the three listed above, plus anything else that he's stolen from you.

Finding the treasures above got me to 1871 points out of a possible 1951. Those missing points will haunt me, but not enough to ever want to go back and try this game again (unless I find a complete walkthrough, or someone just tells me what I'm missing).  I think I know where the missing points might be: there's a high alcove in the library that can be reached with a ladder, but lurking in the alcove is a creature that bites my arm off or eats my weapon when I try to reach inside.  I've tried all sorts of things: throwing pretty much my entire inventory, waving a magic wand at it, trying to wedge its jaws open with an iron bar.  I'd have tried more, but the game frustratingly tells you that you're wasting time after a few ineffective usages of your inventory. You then have to leave the area and go back, which isn't that bad, but it's pretty grating when you add it to the many other inconveniences that the game piles on you.

The 80 points that will haunt me until I die.

I think that's about where I'm going to wrap things up with Balrog Sampler.  There's some interesting stuff in it, even if the adventure game elements are a bit simplistic.  None of the good elements are able to get past how horrible this game is to play, though.  Just getting the thing running is nightmare enough, but once that's done there's no shortage of errors and bugs.  Sometimes the game won't let me buy weapons when I start a new character.  Sometimes it doesn't acknowledge items in my inventory. There's the bug with the monsters in combat that I mentioned above (a blessing in disguise, really).  And to top it all off, the save game system doesn't always work, so I was constantly having to restart.  I really wasn't kidding when I said that I didn't want to play this game ever again.  I dread the sequels.


Story & Setting: The story is yet another treasure hunt, with little to distinguish it's plot from the multitude of other games inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure.  The dungeon setting has no rhyme or reason, with nothing to connect its various areas.  And now that I think of it, it doesn't contain a balrog of any sort, which makes the name quite nonsensical.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: Although there's not much in the way of interaction, there are a number of characters scattered through the dungeon, and a good variety of monsters.  The monsters aren't differentiated by anything more than their strength, but at least some effort has been made.  Rating 2 out of 7.

Puzzles: I wavered on whether to use the Puzzles or Combat category here, and ultimately I went with puzzles because I spent most of my time playing the game with the combat horribly bugged.  The puzzles are rudimentary, and almost entirely inventory-based. Those that aren't rely heavily on random chance, or multiple choice options with little in the way of clues to guide you.  What puzzles are there are either simple or frustrating, with nothing in-between. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: The writing for this text adventure is good for the time, and it often displays a warped sense of humour that is by far the game's best feature.  It's not enough to elevate it very far, though. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: As an RPG/adventure hybrid there are some interesting things going on in this game: the multiple-choice interface might be simplistic, but the inventory system is quite involved, and the combat seems to be trying to emulate the tabletop RPG Tunnels & Trolls.  Unfortunately, this is probably the most broken game I've played for the blog, not counting those that are incomplete, such as Library.  Between the effort it took me to get running, the many crashes and bugs, the unreliable saves, and the general clunkiness of the interface, I can't give it anything but the minimum score. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Challenge: Although the puzzle aspect is not too hard, I never was able to reach a balance where I could survive the combat without ramping up my Strength score to absurd levels.  I found this game difficult, and not at all in an enjoyable way. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Fun: This is easily the most painful game to play in the history of the blog. It would be nice to find a stable version that works the way it's supposed to, but the version I played was very far from that ideal scenario. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 9, which doubled gives a RADNESS Index of 18.  If the game worked the way it was supposed to it would have scored a lot higher, perhaps somewhere around a 30, but the sheer volume of technical problems has placed it as my lowest-rated game so far.  That's the curse of playing games chronologically: you have to take the terrible games alongside the gems.

NEXT: It's back to the priority list for a CRPG classic: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.  I've never played any Wizardry games for any great length of time, so I'm looking forward to ticking this one off my bucket list.