Saturday, 21 December 2013

Game 38: Conquests of Camelot - Final Rating

As is often the case, I’m not completely sure where Conquests of Camelot will end up as far as a PISSED rating goes. It was a solid adventure game which I enjoyed, but there are some undeniable flaws that will likely bring it down a bit. I assume it will scrape into the 50’s, but can’t see it going much higher. Let’s find out...

Puzzles and Solvability
Conquests of Camelot is a pretty classic adventure game, albeit one that has quite a few action based mini games built into it. There are lots of puzzles to be solved through various means, including traditional item-based puzzles, riddles, piracy protection checks, mazes and parser challenges (ie. talking to the right person about the right topic). It would be easy to punish the game for falling into all the typical traps that are associated with these types of puzzles, but that would actually be a little unfair. The mazes are easily surpassed if you have certain items (the crystal, the rose, the lodestone etc.), the player is still required to use their brain while answering the piracy protection style questions, and there are quite a few alternate solutions to be found throughout the game too. That being said, I think the general level of the puzzles in Conquests of Camelot is a bit too easy. Some literally seem to have been included to tick off something that Christy Marx wanted to include in the game (for example, passing Widdershins requires only giving him a coin, which he straight out asks for). In the end I enjoyed the puzzles in the game (the Jerusalem market section was particularly fun), but was rarely challenged. There are quite a few possible dead ends too, which shouldn’t be ignored.
Rating: 5

The puzzles can be described as fun but easy.

Interface and Inventory
I’ll start with the inventory, since it’s very simplistic. It’s just a list which the player can select items in to see an image of it. Nothing to get excited or too riled up about! As for the interface, well I’ll start with the positives. General movement is handled well enough, even when a horse and trailing mule is involved (I’m not sure what purpose they served though!). The parser was adequate too, although I did have some minor struggles with it from time to time. One particular example occurred when I tried to use the elixir on Galahad in the catacombs, only for Arthur to drink it himself despite my pretty direct instruction. Another occurred when I simply wasn’t able to find a way to get back onto my horse, even though I was using the same commands I’d used previously. I faced a few bugs during my travels too (such as getting stuck behind the pillar in the treasury), but they were pretty minor compared to the game breaking error I was hit with in the catacombs. I’m not sure how much I should punish the game for the Out of Memory Heap error, since it seems I could have run into it during other games too. On the one hand, I just happened to be unlucky this time around, but on the other hand, there seem to be an abnormally high number of players that have commented about this error in relation to Conquests of Camelot. Finally, there are the controls for the mini games. I liked the idea of these mini games, but they were terribly executed, particularly the jousting and sword combat sections, which were impossible to master and relied on either blind luck or cheap tactics. We’re in 1990 now, so I have to get a tougher in these technical categories.
Rating: 3

More like "slain by the Black Interface"

Story and Setting
It’s always great when you get to play a game that has subject matter that you’re genuinely interested in. That was the case with Conquests of Camelot, since I have a general fondness for both medieval fantasy and historically important figures. Christy Marx obviously has a real love of all things Arthur, and must have put a lot of time into learning everything she could to give a realistic flavour to proceedings. There is quite a bit of superfluous information for the player to uncover, and while this occasionally creates red herrings, for the most part it helped to create a vivid and satisfying world to spend time in. I’m personally not well versed in the story of King Arthur, so I have little idea how well it’s encapsulated in Conquests of Camelot. A few readers have questioned some of the decisions made, but I don’t see any reason why Christy should have to do everything “by the book”. One thing the game does have going for it is the memorable characters that Arthur runs into throughout his quest. The Lady of the Lake, the Black Knight, the Forest Witch that transforms into the Lady Elayne, the Mad Monk and the Old Ones that were pissed at his death, the Thing trapped in the sarcophagus in the catacombs, are all strong, memorable characters. Then there’s the seductive Fatima, who may already have her name on the most memorable TAG for the end of 1990! Probably my biggest criticism of the game is the way the Six Guardians were handled. It was confusing enough to have Six Guardians and Six Goddesses, all of which represent Aphrodite in same form or another, but I couldn’t even tell you who the Six Guardians were now that I’ve completed the game (yes, I’m sure I could figure it out).
Rating: 6

King Arthur focused intently on the water so as to ignore the heavenly woman that was now lying spread eagle on the floor in anticipation.

Sound and Graphics
I often whinge about the large sections of silence that I have to endure while playing these old adventure games. Even the games at the top of the leaderboard have used music and sound sparingly to this point. I’m happy to announce that Conquests of Camelot finally has background sound effects and music throughout pretty much every section of the game. Not only that, Mark Seibert did a really great job with it, managing to create reasonably authentic music while making it enjoyable and atmospheric too. It’s not hugely memorable in the way the music for games like Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry is, but it has a huge influence on the feel of Conquests of Camelot, and I never once turned to playing my own albums over the top (which I often do). I should point out that the sound effects are fairly minimal though, limited to specific events rather than general movement, but I guess you can’t have everything at this stage. When it comes to the visuals, my first thought was “Boy, is this ugly!” I now realise that this reaction was more about coming down from Loom than it was a fair assessment of Conquests of Camelot. In comparison to LucasArts, the graphics and animation are pretty average here, but it doesn’t fare too badly when compared to other recent Sierra games. There is plenty of detail, and the colour choices were decent, even if they were a bit too haphazard in their use (who knew catacombs would be so colourful!). The animation is probably where games like Hero’s Quest and The Colonel’s Bequest are much stronger, but this wasn’t a bad effort.
Rating: 5

Hey, I can't help it if the SCI0 technology is aging rapidly!

Environment and Atmosphere
I always appreciate adventure games that have varied and distinct environments. Loom did this really well, and I think Conquests of Camelot does a pretty good job too. Ot Moor is filled with ice and snow, to get to the hill of Glastonbury Tor I had to travel through the Forest Perilous, and finally I had to cross both ocean and desert to reach the walled city of Jerusalem. All of these areas were well represented, and the characters within each had distinctive personalities and traits. My biggest complaint is the way the game designers faked a bigger environment, the same way the makers of Deja Vu II did. It’s one thing convincing the player that they are experiencing only a small portion of a bigger world, but it’s another entirely to give them actual options that turn out to be fake. I could select stacks of locations on the map to travel to, and could also pay a fare to travel to many different lands by sea, but there were only a small handful of places I could actually go. When it comes to atmosphere, I think Conquests of Camelot does a pretty good job. There’s no doubting the importance of the quest, and the many environments, characters and dangerous situations make it pretty compelling. It’s difficult to say why it doesn’t reach the heady heights of Hero’s Quest, but I’d have to put it down to the linearity of it, despite its attempts to suggest otherwise, and the technical flaws that pop up from time to time marring the experience.
Rating: 6

Lies I tell you! Lies!

Dialogue and Acting
I’ve already mentioned the vast amount of research Christy must have put in prior to making the game, and this also comes across in the dialogue and language used by the characters. In its most basic form, the dialogue isn’t far removed from what you might find in a King’s Quest game, but there’s less silliness and a focus on historical and cultural accuracy. There’s good distinctions between groups of characters (the characters in Jerusalem speak very differently to those found in Camelot for example), but I do think individual characters lack memorable personas. One thing I think deserves credit is the innovative way the designers handled parser communication. The player isn’t talking to some unknown intelligence, they’re communicating directly to Merlin! It doesn’t change anything as far as gameplay goes, but it was a nice touch, particularly when Merlin starts to talk unrequested at certain times. When I think about other games, I’ve often thought of the writers when reading parser responses, such as Al Lowe when playing a Larry game. That probably takes me a little bit out of the game world, whereas in Conquests of Camelot I always communicated with a character within the game itself.
Rating: 6

Not since Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess has a narrator been an in-game personality.

So, what have we got here? 5 + 3 + 6 + 5 + 6 + 6 = 31, divided by 60 equals 51.666666, which is 52 when rounded up. That would leave it equal with a bunch of other games, including Space Quest II, Police Quest and King’s Quest III. I don’t really feel any pressing reason to push it up or down in comparison to those games, so I’m going to leave it right there. 52 it is!

Did anyone guess 52? Yes, our favourite Canadian geek did! Well done Canageek, you’ve won yourself a copy of the King’s Quest Collection from Steam. If Canageek decides he doesn’t want it (which he often does), then TBD is next in line with 53. Congratulations!

100 CAPs for Charles
• Olav Challenge Winner Award – 50 CAPs – For winning the Olav & the Lute Challenge
• Normality Award – 20 CAPs – For solving my Ken Knutson riddle
• Legend Award – 20 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it without assistance
• Widdershins Award – 10 CAPs – For informing me that I’d left out Widdershins completely!

85 CAPs for Lars-Erik
• Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with free games
• True Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it
• Sharing the Pain Award – 10 CAPs – For sharing the immense pain that comes with an (unnecessary) restart
• Genre Support Award – 10 CAPs – For announcing an enormous adventure game sale on Steam
• Technical Assistance Award – 10 CAPs – For assisting me with my Memory Heap error
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on GOG
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on GOG
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on GOG
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on Steam
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on GOG

35 CAPs for Ilmari
• Major Technical Assistance Award – 20 CAPs – For assisting me with my Memory Heap error
• Riddle Lister Award – 10 CAPs – For linking to a list of all the possible riddles
• Employee Demand Award – 5 CAPs – For reminding me of the admin work I’d not yet completed

31 CAPs for Draconius
• Australian Award – 10 CAPs – For bagging out the poms and referencing Bundaberg Rum ads
• Death Award – 666 CAPs (well, how about 6) – For picking my Death Leprosy reference
• Mahna Mahna Award – 5 CAPs – Do doo do do do
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on GOG
• Sympathy Award – 5 CAPs – For having the best excuse ever for not playing along

30 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
• Kickstarter Award – 10 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game project on Kickstarter
• Caption Contest Award – 10 CAPs – For rapidly becoming our TAG Court Jester
• Christy Mack Award – 5 CAPs – For taking my inappropriate joke to its logical conclusion
• Minstrel Award – 5 CAPs – For spreading fear among ye olde peasantry.

30 CAPs for Laukku
• Grim Reaper Award – 10 CAPs – For linking to a video showing all possible deaths in the game
• Technical Assistance Award – 10 CAPs – For assisting me with my Memory Heap error
• Horse Mounting Award – 5 CAPs – For teaching me to mount a horse.
• Alternate Solution Award – 5 CAPs – For explaining what happens if you choose to kill the thief

30 CAPs for Corey Cole
• Insider Info Award – 20 CAPs – For sharing his inside knowledge of all things Sierra
• Technical Assistance Award – 10 CAPs – For assisting me with my Memory Heap error

20 CAPs for Canageek
• Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – For predicting the score I would give the game
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on Steam
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on Steam

15 CAPs for TBD
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on GOG
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on GOG
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on Steam

10 CAPs for Cush1978
• Book Sale Award – 10 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game related book sale

10 CAPs for Splitting Image
• Technical Assistance Award – 10 CAPs – For assisting me with my Memory Heap error

5 CAPs for Jarikith
• The Wrong Man Award – 5 CAPs – For correcting my embarrassing knight related mistake


  1. 52? I guess I can't fault your reasoning for each individual score, and I loathed the action sequences due to the horrible controls that don't seem to control much. But despite my incessant moaning in the comments on this game I found I actually enjoyed it, and would add a point to 53 myself.

    1. Well, I'm not qualified to judge most of it, but I'd drop off a point for its incoherent and generic paganism, mixing it at random with Christianity (Why does a pagan god have a Christian artifact again?) and generally missing the point.
      Possibly more then one.

  2. So what happens now? Is it straight to Earthrise now? Or is Zenic first guesting with Circuit's Edge? Or will you both be posting at the same time?

    1. I think the plan was for both to start at the same time and finish whenever they respectively finish. But now that I think about it that could be just the way I assumed it would work in my head.

    2. Just looked up some old posts to check. From a previous Loom post...

      "I think it would be great if we could put your guest posts up in between my posts for Earthrise."

      So, looks like alternating bloggers was the plan then.

      However it works, I'm looking forward to it.

    3. Ideally we'll be alternating, but it would be silly to be that strict if one of us turns out to be busy. We'll just see how it plays out. :)

  3. Well, I didn't put any time into this game, so I guess Charles gets to pull ahead. Maybe I can make it up on the next one.

  4. Hey! Being an ass nets me some CAPs! Who'd have thought?

  5. Another occurred when I simply wasn’t able to find a way to get back onto my horse, even though I was using the same commands I’d used previously.

    I think this is not a parser problem, but a pixel problem - you have to be standing in the right place relative to the horse to be able to mount it.