Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Missed Classic 5: Wizard and the Princess - Introduction (1980)




King’s Quest was not the first adventure game I played, or even an early favorite, but it shaped how I viewed adventure gaming. I was thirteen when I first played it, one of a handful that my girlfriend introduced me to on her Tandy when I would come visit. We played the first three together. I loved the whimsy of the series, the haphazard way that the they blended familiar stories, and the joy of exploration. As I got older, I continued to view Kings Quest as something of a bellwether for adventure gaming trends. I was awed by the sound and “multimedia” experience in King’s Quest 5, then by the challenge and depth of King’s Quest 6, and finally by the simplicity and cartoon-like experience of King’s Quest 7. Each game brought something new to the formula. I regret that I never played #8 —it came out while I was in college and what little I had heard about it was less than good— but perhaps I will look it up when the blog eventually gets that far.

It was a surprise to me, and it may also be a surprise to some of you, that Wizard and the Princess, “Hi-Res Adventure #2”, is actually a King’s Quest game —or rather, takes places in the same universe as the later games. Thus, two out of two games in the “Hi-Res Adventure” series inspired later Roberta Williams games! I look forward to finding out whether that trend continues with the subsequent games. I have not played this game before, both because the PC version is quite rare and because it is a bit before my time. I did have a large number of Commodore 64 games of uncertain origin that were provided by my parents, but this was not one of them. Either way, I look forward to playing it now!


Title screen from 1986 re-release. This is the version that I played for this review.
It may not be possible to have a more boring title screen.

But first, a little history: Earlier in 1980, Ken and Roberta Williams published the first game by their fledging software company, Mystery House. They had intended On-Line Systems, as it was then-known, to be a business software company, but they saw the way the wind was blowing and shifted to games instead. Mystery House was the first graphical adventure, in a time when text adventures were just hitting their stride. It was primitive, ugly, and short, but it was also successful, selling enough copies to convince the pair to keep going. Wizard and the Princess was their second attempt and was marketed as “Hi-Res Adventure #2”.

Why did Ken and Roberta call their series “Hi-Res Adventures”? The answer seems to be two-fold. The first part of the answer comes from Apple itself: they called their 280 x 192 pixel graphics mode “Hi-Res” to distinguish it from their pong-level 40 x 40 low-resolution graphics. This was a nearly 34x increase! It seems laughable now, but that must have been a big deal at the time. The second part of the answers comes from their competition: Scott Adams was marketing his “Adventure International” games as “Adventure #1”, “Adventure #2”, and so on. Whether this was a common way to market games or simply Ken and Roberta not being above a bit of consumer confusion, I cannot say, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. This nomenclature was kept for a further five games in the series before being retired in 1984. Scott Adams would later rebill his games as “S.A.G.A. #1” and so on during his graphical refresh in 1982. More on that later, if I get to cover some of his games for this blog.

Watch out! This WizArd is in camel case! Doesn’t this cover just scream “romance novel” to you?
Although I have not played the game yet, I know that Wizard and the Princess makes some technical innovations over its predecessor. First and most obviously: this game is in colour! In fact, Ken and Roberta moved straight past blocks of color and into dithering to provide a wider variety of colors than the Apple ][ was technically able to display. My emulator tends to show this as tight individual pixels, but I have heard that on the original systems, the pixels blended to provide a better color experience. They also added support for up to 15 save slots on a second dedicated save-game disk. Beyond that, I will find out as I play.

I know this game takes place in Serenia —the same setting as King’s Quest 5— but otherwise I am a bit rusty on connections with other King’s Quest games. It has been many years since I played any of the early KQ games and I encourage you to comment on any connections you see between this and the later games. Obviously, there is a downside to not being Trickster and having all of these games in my own recent memory.

No one could possibly buy this game twice by accident, could they? 

Before I get into playing, this game has one more curious bit of history. In 1982, IBM and On-Line Systems released a version of Wizard and the Princess for the PC. Although the game appears to be the same (at least through the first several screens), it was retitled as Adventure in Serenia. Why? I am not sure, but several sources suggest that Roberta Williams was unhappy with the port. While it is usually the practice of this blog to play the PC versions when available, I have decided to play the Apple version to ensure a more authentic play experience. I want to be fair to the game, especially if the PC version is a lower quality.


IBM PC version (above) and Apple ][ version (below).

Reading through the manual, the plot of the game seems simple enough: you are a “happy wanderer” just passing through Serenia when you hear a tragic tale. The king’s daughter, Princess Priscilla, has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Harlin and taken to his castle, far to the north. Being the completely clueless wanderer you are, you head off in that direction before buying any supplies. Time to play!


Happy Wanderer Travelogue #1: Man, I hate magic. I bought a copy of “Daventry on Five Gold Coins Per Day” from a quaint little shop in Llewdor and the gnome proprietor offered to throw in some “magic transportation” to speed up my journey. I said sure! Big mistake. Next thing I know, all my money is gone and I’m in Serenia of all places with a nasty headache. Serenia! The only thing Serenia is famous for is how much sand they put in the sandwiches. I tossed the book aside just as a crowd was gathering on the other end of the square. A royal crier was spreading the new: Princess Priscilla was kidnapped by an evil Wizard. My ears perked up when I heard that the reward would be half of the kingdom! Maybe the gnome did me a favor after all. I packed up what was left of my traveling supplies and marched off to the northern desert. Princess, here I come!

Argh, a snake!

And we’re off! I start the game in the “Village of Serenia”, and it takes me only 30 seconds to become disappointed. None of the town is explorable, there are no people or shops, and the buildings are just for show. It’s a complete facade of a town and just a lazy and disappointing way to start the game. Oh well! I know from the manual that the evil wizard is off to the north, so let’s start off in that direction first.

Just to the north of town, a snake is guarding the path. Despite the miles of desert in all directions, there seems to be no way to walk around the snake and the only way further north is through it. I check my inventory: water, knife, bread, and blanket. I try to use the knife, but it is not big enough to kill the snake, but even that failure gives me a clue. How else can I kill the snake? Can I get a bigger knife? Not having the answer, I head east to see what else is around.

Twisty little maze of cacti all alike?

A few seconds later and I realize what I have walked into: a maze. This game drops you into the middle of a maze as the very first puzzle of the game. We have the snake and the town, but all of the surrounding screens are identical, in the style of a classic adventure game maze. Going west in one screen does not mean you can get back by going east, for example. The only way forward is careful mapping. Yes, I do know what to do-- this is not my first adventure game after all-- but mazes are not my favorite kind of puzzle. I restart the game to get a fixed reference and start to build my map using the four items that I started the game with. As I explore, I realize that there is a small help as not all of the screens are exactly identical. Several of them have rocks which, on further observation, have scorpions hiding behind them. I cannot pick them up without dying, but they add a bit of variance to the terrain and makes mapping it somewhat easier.

But damn. No sooner do I think that than the game throws me a curveball: some of the rooms are almost identical. In fact, I only realized that they weren’t when my maps were coming out wrong. The only way I realized was with careful screenshots, which 1980s players would not have had access to. Take a look at this:


Oh yeah. Just try to figure this out without screenshots. I dare you.

That just does not seem fair! Still, I work it out and my mapping is coming along well until I run out of items. I only started with four and so I can only map rooms with rocks and four more and the maze is clearly bigger than that. But by luck, I think I found what the end of the maze is supposed to be: one of the rocks does NOT have a scorpion behind it! In fact, I can pick it up and take it with me. Hooray! I have found a rock. From there, it takes a couple of tries to work out a path that gets me to the rock and back without dropping any items, but I succeed and am back at the starting town with one new rock in my possession. What a victory!

I head north again and “use” the rock on the snake, thumping it until dead. I pick the rock back up in case there are more snakes, but I suspect this is just the beginning. Once I get more items, I will have to go back to the maze and make sure I found everything. I do not trust this game not to hide an important object there. Already, it has proven itself to be somewhat annoying.

Thus far, I admit to being rather unimpressed. After an hour of looking at nearly identical screenshots and mapping, I have managed to solve one puzzle, and I’m not 100% sure that is the right way to do it. (Can you get by without killing the snake?) I am also not sold on starting the game in a maze. Still, there must be a lot of the game left and I am eager to see what Mrs. Williams is going to throw at me next. If there is another maze, I am not going to be pleased.


On the bright side, at least it looks like a scorpion...

Since this IS a first post for a game, do not forget that you can make wagers and vote on the final score for the game. I am also eager to hear of what King’s Quest connections you see, if any!

Session time: 1 hr
Total time: 1 hr

27 comments:

  1. Awesome! I somehow did not think this was coming out yet! Re-rereading this now, the opening just seems so bland. Guess you'll have to wait until next week to see if it gets any better...

    One side note: Andy Panthro, I still have a DVD to give you. Can you message me (jpranevich at kniggit.net) and let's get that taken care of.

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    1. Yeah, we had a bit of a delay with Elvira, since Deimar caught a flu bug, so we posted this instead.

      I have to say, the beginning is probably one of the worst a game could have. I remember that I didn't get that not all rocks wouldn't have scorpions under them, when I first played the game.

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  2. Getting past a snake is a key part of King's Quest 5 of course, although you are obliged to take a less violent option. That game's desert is considerably more deadly too, since you have to drink every four or five screens, which is a rather astonishingly high rate of dehydration, but perhaps a better option for a maze than scorpion roulette.

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    1. It's not scorpion roulette, only the realization that you need to "look rock" at EVERY ONE until you find the one that doesn't have the scorpion. There are five or six screens with rocks, so it's not even all that difficult. The most difficult part is just noticing that some of the identical screens aren't because otherwise your maps get impossibly broken very fast.

      And this game has two (that I can remember) times where you dehydrate as soon as you enter a specific screen, so not as horrible as KQ5. (Neither of those two are in this play segment though.)

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    2. Wait, was there a snake in KQ5 as well? Man, I definitely will have to play along when we get there (soon!). I just remember the snake in KQ2.

      I had mentally blocked the dehydration in KQ5's desert, thanks for bringing that back. :P

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    3. There's at least one snake in all the KQ games up to at least 6. The first one has a random snake near a lake, the second has the one that turns into Pegasus, three has snakeskin in the desert and Medusa, four has one near where you get the golden apple, five has the infamous poisonous snake, and I'm fairly sure there is a snake or similar in six too. There might even be more than that, but I can't remember right now.

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    4. Seeing as I'm about to play through KQ5 soon, just thought I'd remind everyone not to spoil any puzzle solutions to that game here without ROT13ing them

      There haven't been any spoilers so far but I thought I'd mention it in case the discussion ends up going that way.

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  3. I guess this will get 30 points. The graphics are more colourful than in Mystery House, but that's about it.

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    1. Yeah, you're probably right, so I'll Price is Right you and guess 31 points. :P

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    2. Oh, right, points guessing! 25. I think that at least Mystery House invited you to get into it. This... not so much. If you were unfortunate enough to get this game as your first adventure game back in the day and we're given this opening setting, you'd probably swear off of them for life! "Adventure games? Oh, you mean the ones where they start you in a maze of identical screens and the only different way has a snake that kills you no matter what you do? Nah, I won't play this 'Monkey Island' thing." Brrrr. Dark days.

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    3. I'll go for a score of 27, since this hasn't started very well.

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    4. I'm going to go low with 23!

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  4. Of course you can't walk around the snake, it's as large as a house!

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    1. No, the mouse is as large as a house. The snake is as large as a lake.

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  5. I feel bad, because all that my mind could take in from this post was 'badgers' and 'mushroom' after the first in game screenshot.

    Starting in a maze is both evil and horrible. I suppose some better games have started in prisons et al without proving to be terrible, though. Hopefully this is one of those!

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    1. The original caption to this picture was "Badger, badger, badger..." but that seemed too obscure...

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    2. Dammit, I'm one of the young ones here, why are you making me feel old?

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  6. Game aside... A girlfriend when you're 13?! I'd have been really judgmental if I wasn't really jealous.

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  7. Not feeling the vibe with this one... 28!

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  8. >Just to the north of town, a snake is guarding the path.

    Is it the same pOOOIsonous snake, I wonder?

    I'm going to go low with 21.

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  9. Question: when you say "Apple ][", are the two brackets supposed to represent the roman numeral for 2 (which I'm used to seeing as II), or the core of an apple?

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    1. Roman numeral for II, but it was labelled ][ sometimes so some people still call it that. Like people who call Doom DooM or such.

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