Friday, 27 February 2015

Missed Classic 6: Wonderland - Part The First – In Which Alice Stumbles Blindly, As Is Her Wont

By Mad Welshman

'What a strange day today has been!', Alice declared. 'I had only thought to follow that strange white rabbit, and now I am stuck in some other world, of marmalade jars and pear lanterns!'

The Reviewer tutted. 'Oh, Alice, what a terrible memory you have! The pears were in your world, so is this world so strange?'

Alice frowned. 'You may have a point, but I am entirely uncertain what it is.'

The Reviewer smiled, and took another puff of his hookah 'As it should be.'


This first section is mostly to do with what exploration we can do before we get to Wonderland, and to highlight the design of this first, introductory segment of the game. Be warned, I'll be copy pasting some of the text, to give you an idea of the writing here. Let's start with our somewhat wordy introduction. There is a splash screen (Based on the box art), and a short musical sting, but apart from that, there is no sound or music. Considering this was the first port of the game to the Magnetic Scrolls engine, I'm pretty sure that's all we get.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do. It would have been bad enough having to watch Emily read her book all afternoon without the additional bother of trying to stay awake in this terrible heat.

Anyway, what kind of book has no pictures or conversation, you wonder to yourself. All of your books are far more interesting, being crammed full of pictures and conversation, which is just as well,really, as there's never enough room left for boring old words.

Why couldn't Dinah have come with us today, you wonder drowsily to yourself. She's far more fun than Emily even though she's only a cat. Anyway, Emily's too old and sensible to be any fun.

Why is it, you muse, that cats while away the entire winter sitting by the fire and yet guard their chosen spot of shade with an equal degree of ferocious fanaticism in mid-summer? Strange animals, cats.


My my, we are a little... BRAT. Still, there's nothing amazing going on, let's try and raise hell! We begin on a riverbank, also next to our sister, Emily, who, in the grand traditions of Victorian upbringing, is completely ignoring us. Funny, that. We've got no obvious goals right now (Although I have a feeling we'll be seeing a White Rabbit sooner or later) , so we try some things...




Our inventory, items in the room, and the landscape.
90% of it we cannot meaningfully interact with. THOU MUST FOLLOW THE RABBIT.

We can't hit Emily, because we're sanctimoniously told: “Now, you'll only turn people against you if you do things like that and quite frankly you need all the help you can get.” Okay, I'd already figured this wasn't a violent game. Sleeping just acts like waiting, except it says “Zzzzz...” instead of the good old “Time passes.” … Emily won't let us read the book, or take our clothes off for a swim, and, come to think of it... We can't swim. Southwest of us is a lane, Emily's not stopping us from going anywhere, so let's go there...

There is nothing interesting beyond the description and graphics here. Wow, this is pretty empty. Okay, fine, West to the Field.


Almost unique, in that the graphics and text windows can be placed
so as not to interfere with each other.

Again, nothing, because there's a bramble hedge. But, just on a hunch, let's wait... Five actions later, the rabbit appears. The next, he's past us and into the hole.

...Wait, what hole? I get the distinct feeling we aren't getting the whole story. I also get the feeling we have timed events going on... Well, sod it, let's follow him... Whereupon we smack our head on the roof of the rabbit hole (Because it's dark), get woken up by a beech nut dropping on our head from the tree (Because we were dreaming, didn't you read Wonderland?), and we get treated to a witch-hazel flavoured game over. Confirmed, this game has deaths. Although it does warn us that we shouldn't go any further, so it's an avoidable one, in this case.

Let's start again, and this time, let's try the other way. Before we do, however, the map so far. The missing portions are the dark rabbit hole (West), a country lane that not only seems to extend endlessly, it does extend endlessly (South), and a Pear Grove (East).



Okay, fine, this time we'll go east first. And I'll gif this, because it's important to see how big of a spoiler the graphics can sometimes be. If you come into this room in the first turn... It's just pears. But the gif will play once every time you enter the room. Whoops. Either way, there's only one pear-lantern we can get, and we can either pick it up now (And it miraculously turns into a lantern), or we can wait until it changes.


I was incredibly tempted to slap a Spoiler Warning over this image.
On the fifth turn, two things happen at the same time: The rabbit turns up, complaining about how savagely he's going to get treated by the Duchess for being late, and the pears turn into lanterns. We know where the rabbit's going, we know what he looks like, so we might as well pick up the pear. Which is a lantern. Which already hurts my brain. And nets us a whole 4 points. Out of what turns out to be...


Part of this statement is a lie.

So there's another thing confirmed: We're playing an old adventure game (with all that implies)... And it's using dream rules as well. This... Doesn't bode well. Oh well, time to catch the rabbit!

Entering the rabbit hole, we find that the thing that caused our first game over was... The tunnel tightening up a bit. Also a sharp bend that means we turn south now to follow thaAAAAAHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh...

I fell into a rather long tunnel, with busts, and owls, and windows... All manner of things! I wish I could have saved a screenshot that does it justice, because it's actually a long, looping animation, pretty smooth too... But GIF capture has its limits, and every attempt at capturing it has led to failure.

Right, falling past all manner of things, I know this from the Disney movie. I don't remember seeing a marmalade jar mid fall, however, so, just to be safe, I grab it before we fall onto some soft leaves. Better safe than sorry, after all...

So, after the first twenty minutes of playing, saving, loading and writing, we've found ourselves in Wonderland, and... Already there's death. No need for help yet, folks, but before I head off, let's take a look at the hints, and how it impacts our score...

Help → Game → Rabbit Hole

  1. The rabbit hole looks like an interesting place to explore. 
  2. It would help if you could see where you were going. 
  3. A lantern would light the way.

You have used the Help facility 3 times. No score change, and our first puzzle solution can be potentially missed on your first try, or even your second. If you're impetuous.

Alice is carrying a jar, wearing shoes, and a white dress. We have 4 points, and the game is already looking pretty arbitrary, just as I remember! (Things will hurry up from this point on)

Time played: 20 minutes (Would have been 30 if I hadn't played this part before)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Game 49: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark - Final Rating

By Deimar

Long time no see title screen. How are you doing?

And here we are, deciding the fate of Elvira. Elvira is a strange beast. It tries to be a RPG-graphic adventure hybrid but it seems to me the developers didn’t dare to venture far into any of those genres. Unlike Quest for Glory, the reference hybrid, Elvira doesn’t take too much advantage of its RPG elements. They are there mostly for the combat, and it’s not very exciting, although it doesn’t get in the way (unless you are me and enjoy being beat to a pulp). And the puzzles are not that difficult or creative and there is no NPC interaction to spice the dull moments. However, and even though my last hour and a half of pixel hunting almost drove me mad (or at least quite bored), I will say that Elvira is a good game. Certainly there are better games, but it is quite enjoyable. So let’s see how it fares in the PISSED scale.


Puzzles and Solvability

Elvira is at its core an adventure game. The proof is that there are almost no big enemies in the game that can be beaten by pure strength. And I have to say most of them make sense, in a “I hope you’ve done your homework about terror tropes” way, or there are hints about to solve them. For example, the werewolf just plain tells you how to kill him. The vampiress is dealt with in the typical horror manner. The salt gives you a straight hint about what it is used for and so do the torturer’s bones and the crusader’s sword. And I really like the idea of using spells to solve puzzles a la Loom, Spellcasting or QfG, even though is not really explored.

However, there are some puzzles that are solved through tedious pixel hunting. Finding the key in the stables or the torturer’s bones for example. Or the knight’s corpse. I don’t even know if I should call that a puzzle or simply busywork. Putting Elvira’s ring in the chapel's cross is almost a lucky guess, as nothing makes reference to the ring’s shape. Not even its picture. Fortunately, those are limited occurrences.

Rating: 7

Oh, key! How much I despise you!


Interface and Inventory

I’m a bit conflicted about this one. On one hand, the inventory is quite functional. It could be better. For example, I would like to know what armor I’m wearing or what weapon I’m wielding. Each item has a distinct icon that greatly helps to identify one from another, which is also very helpful. However, there is not a lot you can do with your items. Descriptions are quite short in most cases. Sometimes it is even repeating the name of the item, making the “examine” button not that useful. Another issue is that you can’t combine items apart from using them as a container. For example, to make the silver tipped bolt you have to take the crucible, put the silver cross inside, leave the crucible in the room (which automatically places it in the forge) and put a bolt inside the crucible. It is not impossible but not exactly intuitive either. This mechanic is even more patent when the game makes you use items together without you knowing it. For example, you can’t use the stake on the vampiress until you have the sledgehammer. Or you can’t take the crucible from the forge until you have taken the kitchen mittens or take the burning coal without the tongs. You don’t need to use them, just having them in your inventory works. And there is no message telling you why you can take them now. And don’t make me speak about the iron rings that can be “taken” but have no verb associated and don’t appear in the game room inventory.

Let’s not forget the combat interface. I don’t have too much to say about it to be honest. It is simply functional. It is not very engaging and it is too fast for my taste, but it is functional.

Rating: 6

One of the most satisfying solutions. Even if it leads to nothing.


Story and Setting

The game’s story starts and ends with the manual. There is no story to this game, it’s just a gigantic fetch quest. A funny one, but a fetch quest. Nobody is gonna play Elvira for the story, it is an exploration focused game. The setting is also a bit lackluster. The manual says that EIvira is trying to transform the castle into a bed and breakfast. There is a bar in the main keep, there are rooms being refurbished, the two “museum” rooms (the one at the castle’s gate and the armory) some modern things lying around... And that’s about it. Limited to the main keep and the castle entrance. I think the developers could have included some items tied to the story or some more rooms with modern details, because as it is, you can forget the story is set in modern times and think you are playing a sword and sorcery game.

Rating: 3

And not a drop of good cider. In England. Preposterous!!


Sound and graphics

Music. Music never changes. Or at least only changes about 4 times in the whole game. Taking in account it took me nearly eight hours to complete the game you could say I kind of grew tired of it. It is nice and helps a lot with setting an oppressive atmosphere. It’s the same with sound effects. The only ones you will hear during the whole game are the combat sounds, which are always the same regardless of the enemy. I am still baffled that the Hamlet creature from the lagoon screams. And so do the skeletons. It gets repetitive. I know, I know. It is so because of the limited storage space. But in the end you've spent the whole game listening to the same sounds and music.

But it is all for the benefit of Mr. Graphics. Man, this game is gorgeous. You can take screenshots from Elvira and compare them to any of the other 1990 games and see that this game is superior in this aspect. The amount of detail in each screen, the close ups, the animations, the funny death scenes... It is all very well crafted. And even considering they also get repetitive (you get to see all varieties of grey walls and there aren’t that many) it is still a marvel to watch.

By the way, take a look at the far superior Amiga version which even has digitized speech. Take into account that the music is also different from the DOS version.

Rating: 7

One day Elvira, all this will be yours. What? The maze?


Environment and Atmosphere

This is where the graphics, the music and the overall tone of the game really come together. The game really feels like being inside a bad monster movie. Getting inside the garden is peaceful and bright, and the monsters are probably the less dangerous ones, although they are the most obnoxious. The dungeons and the catacombs are dangerous and tense. But while in the dungeons you get the skeletons and a serious threat, in the catacombs there are the… things, directly taken from monster movies. The underwater scene, where the only music is your heartbeat is very stressing, even when you are in the moat above water. I think it works really well. My praise for the designers in this aspect is they managed to capture the essence of the Elvira premise. If I have one but, it is that I think the game takes itself too seriously whenever Elvira is not in the screen.

Rating: 8

Setting the mood since the very beginning


Dialogue and acting

Speaking of which. I don’t think the game should be punished by this decision but allow me to rant for a little. Why is Elvira relegated to such a small role? She is the titular and only known character, she has a personality more or less well developed by her TV program and the movies... Why would you throw all of that away? I’m pretty sure if any Elvira fan played this game only for Elvira, they would have felt disappointed. It feels like they got the license and threw Elvira into the first game they had that somehow fitted the premise.

Regarding dialogue and acting, well, the acting is mostly fine I guess. The little there is, because there are only two speaking characters in the whole game - Elvira and the gatekeeper. There is no option to interact with any NPC other than killing them. Or make them mix spells for you. This is getting a very low score as you could guess.

Rating: 2

This is the only interaction of our character that doesn’t involve hitting someone


Final Rating

So let’s see. 7+4+3+7+8+2 divided by 0.6 is 52. I’m going to add one discretionary point for the deaths, getting the final score of 53. I think that’s fine taking into account it is a graphic adventure with no dialogues and no story beyond “save the princess, save the world”. The CRPGAddict said that as a RPG he didn’t like it, but it was a decent adventure game. And I wholeheartedly agree. That means Fry takes the prize with his 51. Congratulations!!




Cap Distribution:

120 CAPs for Deimar
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging his way through the game for our enjoyment
  • What's Your Story Award - 20 CAPs - For sending What's Your Story -answers

50 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging his way through Wizard and the Princess for our enjoyment

20 CAPs for Fry
  • On Fire Award - 10 CAPS - For guessing closest to the game’s score
  • Simpsons Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a TV show reference in Deimar's post
  • Connecting the Dots Award - 5 CAPs - For revealing some King’s Quest trivia

18 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
  • Things man is not meant to see Award - 5 CAPS - For watching Elvira 2.
  • Ambidextrous Award - 5 CAPS - For providing a satisfactory explanation to the parry and block mechanic
  • You know who Award - 5 CAPS - For beating the dare
  • Jealousy Award - 2 CAPs - For noticing the really important part in Joe’s post
  • Taking The High Road - 1 CAP - For not responding to Joe’s call to caption the slightly obscene hill

15 CAPs for Andy Panthro
  • Holy Grail Award - 5 CAPs - For finding movie references in Deimar's post
  • Snake Charmer Award - 10 CAPs - For his acquaintance with snakes in all King’s Quests

15 CAPS for Ilmari Jauhiainen
  • I dreamt a dream Award- 5 CAPS - For finding a movie reference in Deimar’s post
  • Wizard Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct rating for Wizard and the Princess

10 CAPS for Aperama
  • Globe Theatre Award - 10 CAPS - For winning the caption contest

10 CAPs for TBD
  • Genre Appreciation Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a GOG weekend sale
  • Orange Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the colour of lions

5 CAPs for Dehumanizer
  • Apple Award - 5 CAPs - For sharing some info on Apple II graphics

5 CAPs for Laukku
  • Carnivore Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the feeding habits of lions

5 CAPs for Kenjab
  • Genre Appreciation Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a GOG weekend sale

5 CAPs for Canageek
  • Die Hard Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a movie reference in Deimar's post

5 CAPs for Laertes
  • The Bard Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Joe’s post

Monday, 23 February 2015

Missed Classic 5: Wizard and the Princess - WON! and Final Rating

By Joe Pranevich

Happy Wanderer Travelogue #3: The hero comes and the hero conquers, but he also learns a valuable lesson: always get your contracts in writing. I have explored the mountainous region in the far north and found the castle of my nemesis. Though it was not easy, I was able to use his own magic against him to rescue the princess and return her home. But alas, my days of wandering are not over yet and I must quest onward if I ever hope to claim my reward. I think I’ll go explore the desert first. What could possibly go wrong?


Episode 5: In Which Our Hero Does Some Shopping

The artist must have practiced drawing people between games, but not trees.

Last week, the happy wanderer and I crossed a desert, explored a forest, sailed over an ocean, and dug up a buried treasure. As we ended the session, we had just used a vial of flying water to sail over the northernmost part of the ocean to land on a new continent. This has been a long journey and I admire the game for providing a sense of distance, something that many quest games don’t manage to do. My feet are sore just thinking about it.

Unlike the wide-open spaces of the desert and forest, the new land is mountainous with one pah that presses me onward with few few diversions. Along the way, I find a ring on the ground and meet up with a woman that warns me that there is a giant up ahead. Giants in these sorts of stories always end up being the evil “use your bones for bread” kind of giants, but this seems vaguely racist. For once, I’d like to meet a giant in a story that was just sort of a tall accountant.

Too deep for billy goats.

A bit further along the path, I discover an old bridge crossing a deep gorge. The bridge is in bad shape and when I cross it, it collapses and I die. Over the next few deaths, I try to lighten my load and cross but each time meeting the same end. Only when I am carrying nothing does the game let me keep going. Since I do not have much of an alternative, I proceed empty-handed.

I continue crossing the mountains and it starts to rain. Since this is the first weather in the game, it must be significant, but the rain stops and a rainbow appears. I do not immediately find I can do anything with the rainbow, so I keep going west. In the next screen, I finally find that promised giant: he doesn’t seem all that bad of a guy, but he won’t let me continue. When I retrace my steps, I notice that the rain and the rainbow are gone. I smell a puzzle! I restore back to when the rainbow was out and beat my head against the parser before I find something I can do: “follow rainbow”. At the end of the rainbow, there is a single goal coin. I had honestly hoped for a full pot of coins, or perhaps a figure from Irish folklore, but one coin is a good start! I go back to the giant, coin in hand, and confidently try to pay him off. That gets me absolutely nowhere and this puzzle is not quite as simple as I thought.

Red, orange, and yellow were unavailable. Blue and green were drunk. 

Back at the bridge, I am wondering if this is where I should have been using the flying vial. I restore back to the previous island and look for another way to cross, but fail. I even revisit the parrot, but he will not give me a second vial. I will spare you the long narration of playing the harp in every room and generally acting like a fool, but I found a lead right where I didn’t expect: I had been so used to being forced on a linear path in the mountains, that I did not notice that one of the screens (on the far side of the bridge) let me go north. When I followed that, it to an empty cave. Now, when you see an empty cave, I’m not sure what you think of, but I had a moment of “I’ve Played Roberta’s Games Before” intuition and it paid off! I return to the bridge and instead of dropping all my stuff, I use the “LUCY” spell to send the items into God-knows-where. When I cross the bridge and check in the cave, all my stuff was present! I had completely forgotten about the locket until the cave jogged my memory, so I will call this a lucky break.

So many items! Wait, is everything levitating?

With my backpack filled again, I return to the giant. I remember my children’s stories, so the first thing I try is to give the harp to the giant and he lets me pass! Do you think this is the same giant from King’s Quest? I suspect not as he was guarding a chest of gold, rather than a harp. (Gurer jvyy nyfb or n unec va Xvatf Dhrfg I, ohg V sbetrg gur qrgnvyf.)

Just ahead on the path is a peddler, apparently unaware that a giant was blocking his paying customers. His wares are spread out on a table and each cost one gold coin: unless I find more money, I will just get to pick one. With a bit of experimentation, I can make out a pair of boots, a dagger, a vase, a pan, and a horn but I have no idea what any of them do. Leaving that for now, I head north and discover a castle with a moat. Is this it!? Have I found the wizard’s castle? Unfortunately, the drawbridge is up and the moat is filled with crocodiles, so I do not find a way in. Let’s see if anything I can buy will help!

The selection is great, but no free shipping.

I head south and the salesman is gone. Since there is no way to know what to buy when you meet him the first time, it hardly seems fair that he disappears before you can come back. Something for me to complain about in the PISSED rating, but for now I restore back. In my first attempt, I take the violent approach: I buy the dagger and try to kill the crocodiles. I guess Roberta only believes in the mass slaughter of snakes, because that doesn’t work AND I lose the dagger. On the next pass, I try the horn. When I play it, the drawbridge opens and I can finally enter the castle! Time to fight a wizard!


Final Episode: In Which Our Hero Does Not Get Everything He Deserves

No castle moat would be complete without a collection of crocodiles.

Inside the castle, everything looks normal enough and I have some options how I want to explore: there are doors to the north and west, and a stairway leading up. I choose west at random and find myself in a large dining hall with a flag on the wall. I note a door to the north, but keep moving west. That leads to a throne room. No one is home, so I do exactly what you would do in this situation: sit on the throne.

ZAP!

After a moment of disorientation, I realize that I have been teleported into an open courtyard. There is an angry looking boar here, but after failing to kill the crocodiles I decide to take the non-violent approach: I still have the apple that I picked up in the cabin just after I left I desert. I hand that to the pig, he eats it, and is dead at my feet in moment. Seriously? Who would leave a poisoned apple out where anyone I can pick it up and eat it by accident?

I just feel so guilty...

I re-enter the castle and find myself in an old fashioned kitchen. I start to explore further, before…

ZAP!

I am teleported again, this time to a small room with a locked door. How am I supposed to make any progress if I am teleported around like a madman? I do not have any way to open the door, so I step outside and into a hedge maze. At least, I think it’s a hedge maze; you know how the graphics are… Fortunately, the hedge maze turns out to be large, but simple: each corridor heads off in one direction and there are no switchbacks or hidden exits. Along the way, I find a dungeon room that contains a cell (that I cannot open or do anything with) and the exit back to the castle entrance hall. (The hedge maze had been out the door to the north.)

This pass, I try to explore north of the dining hall instead and… ZAP!

This hardly seems fair.

This time, I find myself in a cell with a locked door, probably the same cell that I just found the other side of in the hedge maze. Unfortunately, I cannot find any ways out so I am forced to reload the game.

This time, I do some experimentation. I find that the zapping is consistent and that it happens whenever I do anything in the teleporting rooms, and always loads back to the same place. More importantly, it seems to only happen once! When I retrace my steps all the way through the hedge maze this time, I can explore the throne room freely without getting teleported anymore. I do not find anything but it is at least a lead!

When I’m done exploring the downstairs, I head up and find a landing with rooms left and right. Left takes me to a gigantic frog, but ZAP! I am pushed back to the landing. I go in again and the same thing happens. This is the only play that zaps you more than once, so it must be significant. Could it be that the princess has been turned into a frog? Who would ever see that coming!?

Not looking forward to kissing that…

The room to the right is a former bedroom, but I find a pair of shoes on the floor in the closet. When I examine them, they have the word “WHOOSH” written on the bottom! I try my new magic word in the frog’s room, but I am still teleported out. It must be something else… how about that locked cell? I force myself to be zapped back to the cell and try my new magic word: nothing happens. But I do not give up that easily and try it again after putting the shoes on. It works! I am teleported back to the very beginning of the game!

Oh God, not again.

Thinking on this for a second, I remember that walking back to the castle won’t be an option. The rowboat is on the wrong shore and I still have no means of getting a second flying vial. Fortunately, using “whoosh” again here teleports me back to the castle entrance. Awesome!

Having triggered and survived that teleport trap, I can explore north of the dining hall further but that ends up not being as exciting as I hoped: it just leads back to the old fashioned kitchen where I was teleported to in the first run. This leads me to another boring segment where I type stupid commands in bunches of places and try to find something that I didn’t before. It’s not the most fun to type up and read, so I’ll spare you the details and just tell you that I found that I could pick the lock in the door at the end of the hedge maze using my knife. (That’s the room I was teleported to, so I wonder if I needed to solve the hedge maze at all.) That leads me to a new room with stairs and a door to the east. When I go through that door, I find myself in the frog room and am teleported out, but the stairs take me to the top of a tall tower.

Now, the first time I went into the tower, it was empty, but at some point I entered it a second or third time and there was a bird flying around. I try to catch the bird or kill it, but that doesn’t get me anywhere and I find myself stuck yet again.

Anyone have a rod with a rusty star on one end?

And this is where I get really stuck. As in, hours and hours of not finding anything new. I even explore the entire first section again after using the “whoosh” spell. Other than the rowboat resetting (so I could get to the second island), there was still no way to get more flying vials so I could not retrace my steps to the castle completely. After hours and hours of this, I gave up and took a hint. I am not proud of that, but I did want to finish eventually. I made it pretty far solving some puzzles and beating others to death with sheer stubbornness, but this one beat me.

The trick is in the ring that I found in the mountains: if you put it on and “rub” it, you transform into a cat. In your cat form, you are able to easily pounce on the bird and eat it. Are there any stories where you rub a ring? I would never have thought to try that verb. Did I miss a hint anywhere?

While that does not seem to do anything immediately, for some reason I can now enter the frog’s room without getting teleported away. (After winning, I consult a guide and it seems that the wizard had disguised himself as the bird to evade detection.) I pucker up and kiss the frog, transforming her back into a beautiful princess.

You still look a little green. Are you okay?

The princess follows me back to the throne room and I expect an ending, but that does nothing. For lack of any better ideas, I use “whoosh” one more time and we are both transported to Serenia. With all the pomp and circumstance of buying a soda from a machine, the game is over:

JUNIOR-MASTER!?

After all this effort, walking halfway around the world, and defeating the wizard, the best they can do is “Junior-Master Adventurer”? The manual clearly stated that I would marry the princess and take half of the kingdom, but now I’m just left disappointed. Did I miss something? Is there a better ending that I could have received? Please reply in the comments!

Time played: 4 hrs
Total time: 9 hrs


Final Rating

Without further pomp or circumstance, let’s talk about the game overall.


Puzzles and Solvability - 3

This game is a mess when it comes to puzzles, with some absolutely brilliant/fun ones (the notes that you have to assemble to leave the desert) with some real losers (rubbing the ring to kill a bird that was secretly an evil wizard). This game loses points for the opening maze as just an example of poor pacing, as well as the puzzles that required reloading to solve. I may be able to forgive the latter since the game was nearly over and we expect an increase in difficulty, but to start the game off in a maze? That was just poor design.

If only the Professor had thought of this, Gilligan and his friends may have made it home.


Interface and Inventory - 3

Other than color, the interface to this game is the same as Mystery House with few exceptions. The keyword “all” has been added and can be used in a few cases, but that is about it. (And the only way I even know about that is that the manual brings it up.) This game however has a great collection of inventory items, almost all of which you need to solve a puzzle. While many of those puzzles had their flaws, the inventory in the game isn’t that bad in itself.


Story and Setting - 4

I sort-of like the story and setting of this game. It’s a decent traveling journey across varied terrain and you really get a sense for having gone a long way. While it was not well-used, I also liked that you could re-explore pretty much the whole game at the end. A better game would have made that worthwhile, but this isn’t that game. I know I’m letting my future-sight cloud my judgement here, but this felt like a King’s Quest game with that same hodge-podge of fantasy tropes and mixed up mythologies that enjoy. I am sure that many would not find that as endearing as I did, but I liked it.


Sound and Graphics - 2

The graphics were somewhat more mature than Mystery House, but it still looked amateurish and unpolished. Worse, it seems that the continuity wasn’t always there. The damned sailboat thing really screwed with me for a long time, but I bet that was just an artist trying to draw the rowboat from far away and not caring that different kinds of boats look different. Sound was nonexistent, of course. I also have to ding some points here for the blandness of some of the environments, especially the two mazes. Since you spend the majority of the first hours in the desert, at least they could have made it slightly less bland.

See the pirate hiding behind that tree? Me, neither.


Environment and Atmosphere - 3

Just like the “story” section above, I find myself uncontrollably reading the Kings Quest feeling into this game, but otherwise the environments were hit or miss. The desert section went on far too long, detracting from the feeling that the game was going anyplace. While I found it somewhat annoying, the constant “zapping” in the final castle created an unsettled feeling, like you could get whisked away at any moment. Exploration became more hurried, tension was higher. That was a good way to shake up the final segment and I’ll give the game a point just for that.


Dialog and Acting - 3

Like its predecessor, the text in this game is sparse and there are relatively few NPCs that you can talk to. I’m reminded of the lonely town of Serenia which apparently has no people at all! But unlike Mystery House, there was enough text to get a feeling for the tone of the game and to appreciate the writing when it was there. I scored it a bit higher for that reason.


Drumroll Please...

(3+3+4+2+3+3)/.60 = 30 points! That is just slightly ahead of Mystery House. I was considering deducting a point for the terrible opening, but I think the scores speak for themselves overall. The first Kings Quest game scored a 48 and while I can see a glimmer of what that series will become in this game, we can see a much earlier and less refined approach to storytelling here. If the art had been a bit more consistent and the start not quite as frustrating, I think we would be a lot closer. I am curious whether any of the “Hi-Res Adventure” games will come close.


Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Roberta Williams may have taken the criticism that Wizard and the Princess was too hard seriously: her next game would be Mission Asteroid. Released as her third game in 1980, the game was renumbered as “#0” to act as an easier prequel of sorts to help new adventurers get into the genre. That will be my next “Missed Classic”!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Game 47: Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls - Final Rating

By Aperama

Still don't know if Ernie is frightened or aroused...

I've really got the idea that Spellcasting is going to score lower on this than it perhaps should. This comes down to the fact that moreso than anything, it's not a graphical adventure game - it's a text adventure with a graphical interface tacked on. Really, the game would have been just about identical if it had no imagery whatsoever (and in some cases it likely would have benefited more than hindered) and while the point and click verb-noun interface is an interesting touch, I found myself never really tempted to use it. It was just simpler to type in all of the commands the majority of the time. This isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed Spellcasting in its own right – but it's just a hunch that the PISSED rating system might not look too favourably on it. Anyhow, enough conjecture. To the meat and potatoes!


Puzzles and Solvability

Spellcasting certainly has puzzles. Unfortunately, they range from those that are less than obvious and lacking in substance (for instance, the island of KABBULing random names obviously had the 'fairies' tacked on near the end as an effort by the QA team to make it slightly less horrid) and those that are simply far too easy (the island of 'repeating the above command backwards for twenty moves'.) It hits a happy medium a few times, though. I quite enjoyed the maze, which is something definitely worth noting given how much I tend to utterly hate them – in fact, just about everything in the first two chapters was quite fun, with it feeling like they ran out of good ideas as soon as Ernie mounted his surfboard. (Sorry. GOT ON his surfboard. It doesn't like the word 'mount'.) I've also got to give it full credit for the fact that the opening screen has three ways to escape and gives a plentiful amount of time to fiddle around with the interface and work your way out. It's just unfortunate that a game which started so strong finished so weakly. Were the entire game like the opening two chapters, I'd happily give it a 7 or an 8 – but overall, the game doesn't hold true to this.
Rating: 5


This is the style of puzzle I can get behind. It's not incredibly straight forward to a point of being unworthy of my time, but my mind immediately took it in and ran with it

Interface and Inventory


This could very easily be a place where Spellcasting falters. As a graphical adventure game, I found often that were it not for the mixture of both the item list on the side and the room descriptions, I would very easily have missed things. Now, I know what you're all thinking – why isn't this a positive instead of a negative – after all, the interface allowed me to find things? Well, if you list an item and just have a random picture to correspond to it, it's not guaranteed to actually be of any help. So when you have to KABBUL MIKE and the clue given is 'a device for recording sound'? I could be fine with this. All this would be requiring would be a picture of a microphone – plain and simple. Unfortunately, it instead has a random picture of some musical notes as though that were supposed to be enough (see below) – I can only consider this a failing when the interface could give some form of correspondence to clue you in to 'microphone' instead of just depending on either guesswork or for you to wait for a hint. I also have to deduct a point for not being able to scroll back over text in a game clearly designed to be played by mouse. Particularly given the default obscenely small text window, it's nigh inexcusable to have to remember three to four pages of text and simply remember what's there (or work off of the 'SCRIPT' command as I ended up having to). I also had to run through a part of the game twice because of inventory limits that were rather arbitrary (you could have dozens of items on one island, then the next wouldn't allow much more than wearing clothes and holding a lead-plated sword) so I couldn't claim to approve of this. On the plus side, though, certain items do at least exist in the image as something to remove or add or interact with by mouse – and the novel idea of including a mouse-interactive parser that corresponds to things in the small image window is at least worth a nod to, even if in practice it doesn't work very well. (I actually found that the mouse often just caused an error message when used – but that might just be my experience, admittedly.)
Rating: 4

I understand the design decision, maybe – but that doesn't make it a good one. This is by no means the only room where the picture was just of no help, and that means it's 100% down to the text

Story and Setting

Were the interface a worry for me, the story feels like it should definitely be a place where Spellcasting makes its way back... but maybe not. The points I want to give it here are entirely more about the atmosphere surrounding the game than the story that the game follows. It's clich̩d, covered in meaningless MacGuffins and is more of a vehicle for a joke than anything else. My last game was Countdown, where I felt a rich plot was unfolding around me Рin this, I can essentially boil the entire plot down to a single runon sentence. 'You, Ernie Eaglebeak, are a fabled person of prophecy (or something like that, so long as it sounds cooler than it actually is) Рand you must journey to save the Sorcerer's Appliance from Fort Blackwand and kick your evil stepdad's butt!' In some games, a clich̩ will fit well and feel like the intent Рin this, it feels more like this is the best excuse they could find for writing a character who is virtually Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds with a little more social ability and a more successful love life from the getgo. The setting itself feels like it belongs in a Discworld novel, though, so that's definitely a positive Рbut the setting rarely plays into things and where it does it's largely just as a set up to either a joke or a puzzle instead of feeling like being an organic part of Daventry, for instance.
Rating: 4

I'm not saying that they had their main character written for them – Ernie is more of a stand in for most of the game for bad things to happen to him – but the resemblance is uncanny

Sound and Graphics

The games of 1990 are getting to a point that they are no longer just 'alright for their age', but legitimately not too hard on the eyes even from a modern standpoint. You only have to look at the modern obsession behind pixel art to realise that there is a definite style in 'less realistic' styled graphics – and in spite of not looking fantastic, you can look at someone who is supposed to be a 'person' in Elvira and immediately go 'that's a person'. This is true of Spellcasting, too – but nothing actually looks 'good', and I doubt it did back then either. Everything looks as though it were drawn by someone with a minimal knowledge of computerised art to my eye. It's a subjective thing – but I would almost have preferred this be the true text adventure it was put together as. The sound, on the other hand, was pleasant and forgettable at its best – and grating/annoying at its worst. A high-pitched shriek of a 'beep!' comes out every time you misclick on something you shouldn't have, and the music turning into what sounded to be one octave off randomly, particularly on the Amazon island, just made me want to claw my eyeballs out. (This may possibly have been the fact that this game only allows for MT32 or Adlib input. Adlib only gives music in the opening screen, where MT32 gives music throughout the entire game.) Still, I can only rate from my experience – less than appealing but functional graphics and less than pleasant sound. That said? There were animations in the imagery (e.g. blazing fire), so I'll mark it up one from my mental picture of three to four. Not looking good, Mr. Meretzky!
Rating: 4

This is all legible and readable. It's also not very appealing at all to me.

Environment and Atmosphere

Finally, this is where I can give the game some full-blown credit. Spellcasting makes you want to play it – but it doesn't quite make sense that you want to do so. The game doesn't add up in this way. The first two hours of gameplay were by far my favourite – soaking in the rich lore surrounding the game, finding new things – sitting down and watching Ernie's dorm mates play a game of Malls n' Muggers. Sure, there wasn't an incredible amount of it – the 'game' loops after about thirty actions, the sporting events you can watch are pre-scripted affairs that only happen one way, the newspapers are short and sweet – but I am being perfectly honest when I say this was what kept me interested in the game. I was really just hoping that the game would go back to its strength in encouraging more of this out – but in spite of the hugely muddled end where everyone suddenly pops out and everyone is happy at least giving moderate lip service to what had taken place? I can't really fault it. It left me wanting more of the same – and that's really what any good designer should be aiming for.
Rating: 8

The college newspaper was taken over by Mr. Rottenwood's cronies midway through Ernie's education, and it showed upon a reading. Great stuff. 

Dialogue and Acting

I'd like to say otherwise – but it's almost difficult to find many places in which Spellcasting actually allowed for dialogue. There were several instances in which people spoke to Ernie, and several more places in which you could interact with characters.. but only a couple of times did I find an interactive character that would allow me to 'speak' with them over things. This is more a design issue than anything – there are probably a few people you could speak further to were it not for the tight window of opportunity used in puzzles. Text adventure stalwarts and parser lovers alike will understand the sorts of conversations that tend to be had with a character in a game like this – and when I ASKED the Amazonian leader Ursula ABOUT the ATTACHMENT, it worked and gave a response. The majority of other times I tried to speak to people, however, I just received a 'blah, blah, blah...' message to tell me I was barking up the wrong tree. Still, the writing was clearly the star of the show here – and it succeeded quite well. Most of the characters felt fluid. I just can't conscientiously rate it as I would, say, a Monkey Island or King's Quest where several pages of dialogue were put together and were made into an interactive experience – dialogue was clearly a secondary worry here, but where it was it fit well enough.
Rating: 4

The Professor was probably one of the easiest to find conversation topics with. If only more were like him..

As my simple math goes, 5+4+4+4+8+4=29, which when divided by 0.6 gives a score of 48 – and that's probably about where I think Spellcasting sits, honestly. It achieved a touch better than I felt it would after fully thinking it over – at its core it is more IF than adventure game with several IF tropes (continual time-based puzzles and finicky wording taking the place of pixel hunts and awkwardly positioning a character as the primary irritations) taking over. Not having Ernie on screen also makes it quite difficult to relate to him just as good ol' AFGNCAAP from Zork felt.


According to the ol' database, that means that Canageek has guessed right and received both the CAPs reward and a little something I decided to spring for myself. There's a GoG copy of the Zork Anthology waiting for you if you'd like it – it's the closest I could find to anything of the old Legend-styled games for purchase.

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs for Aperama
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging his way through game for our enjoyment
20 CAPs for Mad Welshman
  • What's Your Story Award - 20 CAPs - For giving his answers to WYS question
15 CAPs for Fry
  • Spelling Bee Award - 5 CAPs - For having the balls to correct spelling errors of Aperama
  • Art and Noel Award - 10 CAPs - For suggesting puns before they were needed
12 CAPs for Kenny
  • Corny Pun Award - 10 CAPs - For winning the caption contest
  • Couple of Gigantic Spoilers Award - 2 CAPs - For failing in his attempt to con Aperama
10 CAPs for Canageek
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For getting the closest guess for the final rating
10 CAPs for Corey Cole
  • Pizza Award - 10 CAPs - For revealing the story behind fifth element
10 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Helping the Player Award - 10 CAPs - For giving two hints to Aperama
5 CAPs for TBD
  • Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a sale on Steam
I'm quite glad that both Deimar and myself ended at exactly the same time by sheer fortune, as I can now say without a thought of how it might otherwise go to say – on to Rise of the Dragon!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Game 51: Rise of the Dragon - Introduction

Written By Ilmari

Entering the annual Manhunter convention;
now where did I lose my hood?


Infinitely replayable? We'll see...

Spellcasting 101  and Elvira have just been finished and both Aperama and Deimar are busy doing Final Rating, so it's a perfect time to begin a new game. For the first time since the Trickster era, it will be a solo run, with no other games being played at the same time (except the possible occasional Missed Classic).

Rise of the Dragon is the first adventure game designed by Dynamix, a company founded by Jeff Tunnell and Damon Slye, two guys not from Andromeda, but Oregon. The story of Dynamix begins 1981 when Jeff Tunnell bought his first computer, learned programming and founded a software store called Computertutor. After meeting Damon Slye, a fellow programming enthusiast, Tunnell hired Slye and couple of months later sold his store and created with Slye the Software Entertainment Company, which was meant to publish games developed by Tunnell and Slye. Computer game publishing was already getting hard for small companies, thus, with help of two more Oregonians, Kevin Ryan and Richard Hicks, the name of the company was changed in 1984 to Dynamix, which now focused on developing games for big companies like Electronic Arts and Activision.


First game by the founders of Dynamix. Not so stellar graphics


Even after this change, Dynamix struggled financially. Fortunately, help was on its way. Ken Williams of Sierra-On-Line -fame liked the works of Dynamix and reportedly suggested that Sierra could buy Dynamix and so end their financial worries. Dynamix did in 1990 become a part of Sierra. Ken Williams had originally bought Dynamix to create simulations, which was what Dynamix was really famous for and which no one at Sierra had been doing. Dynamix did continue developing simulations under Sierra, like the famous Red Baron, but they also started almost immediately publishing some well-known adventure games, like Willy Beamish.


We are quite excitedly waiting for Willy Beamish


Did the developers of Dynamix then think “now we are part of Sierra, now we must do adventure games”? Probably not, since Rise of the Dragon had been planned even before the sale of the company. Indeed, one might say that an earlier game, David Wolf: Secret Agent (1989), was already a step from simulations towards adventure games. David Wolf was an early attempt at what would later be called interactive movies. The majority of the game experience consisted of watching digitized cinematic cut scenes telling the tale of a spy in hunt of a missing stealth fighter (this seems a common trope), while the actual game play consisted of simple action sequences in a 3D environment. Somewhat prophetically a reviewer from Compute! suggested that the game should have given more control over the character and had a more intriguing plot and it would have been an instant hit.


Too bad THEY didn't get the James Bond license


And so we come to Rise of the Dragon. I’ve never played the game, although I am familiar with the later adventure games of Dynamix. The pictures on the original game box promise beautiful graphics, which is no wonder, since one of the artists, Robert Caracol, had worked with Dark Horse Comics. Indeed, the game was originally shipped with a comic book detailing the background plot of the game - an ex-cop with the rather unimaginative name, Blade Hunter, is awoken by a visit from the mayor, who wants Mr. Hunter to find out why so many people (especially the mayor’s daughter) have been recently killed in Pleasure Domes. The grim and dystopian tone of the comic is somewhat broken by wanna-be-humorous ads and letters-to-the-editor, which include a plea from a mother of one of the producers that her son should quit playing with silly Dynamix and get a real life. Included in the comic is also a Step-by-Step Guide to Private Investigation, which explains proper interrogation methods and also the use of equipment for eavesdropping on videophones.


Hopefully the quality of game's graphics is near this


Is anyone looking for a job?


In addition to the comic book, there’s also a control manual. I am not going to comment on the controls before I’ve actually played the game, although the manual speaks a lot about the “revolutionary concept” that through point and click the player actually picks things up and uses them. What seems more revolutionary is that even though the game will have arcade sequences, there are an unlimited number of chances to complete them, a sliding difficulty set and even a possibility to completely skip these sequences. I am also happily taking into note the promises that you cannot get yourself into a dead end without an important object you cannot find anymore and that there will be multiple solutions to major problems. I am somewhat more intimidated with the facts that passage of time will change the surroundings and that characters have distinct personalities and remember your previous interactions with them - these features can make the game more complex, but they can also screw things up. Oh well, I guess I’ve read the manuals enough - it’s time to start the game itself!

Sierra clock, I’ve missed you!

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 40 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.