Monday, 26 April 2021

Missed Classic 94: The Palace of Deceit: The Dragon’s Plight (1992) – Introduction

 Written by Will Moczarski

Here we go again! According to Wikipedia, The Palace of Deceit was “remade for Windows 3.x and subtitled The Dragon’s Plight as a graphical point-and-click adventure game with an entirely new plot and graphics”. Call me old-fashioned but how is this a remake and not a sequel? You actually play a dragon in this one, so it must at least be a spin-off. However, the designer was still Cliff Bleszinski and according to a portrait of the man written by a guy called Joe Funk (seriously!) in Hot Jobs in Video Games (2010) his inspirations were the ICOM games like Déjà Vu and Uninvited. I’ve already pointed out the similarities to Shadowgate when playing the first iteration of the game, so this doesn’t actually come as a shock.

The Dragon’s Plight was released on August 31, 1992, once again as shareware, but this time for Windows 3.1 which had come out in April of the same year. Cliff’s company Atomic Revolution Software had been renamed to Game Syndicate Productions in the meantime while InnerVision Software channeled their inner sense of Wonder as their publisher. There are no ASCII graphics this time and, in my humble opinion, at first glance the game looks worse for it. Behold the wonder of Microsoft Paint, we’re in self-made bitmap country now.
You can’t keep a dragon locked up in your penthouse!

In lieu of the standard fantasy plot of the first game, we now have a more unusual setup: We are the dragon Nightshade who was imprisoned by our nemesis, the evil wizard Garth. For what it’s worth, this game may even be considered a prequel since we kicked Garth’s behind and destroyed his castle in the first game! Do you know any other adventure games with a dragon as the protagonist? It sounds quite unusual but due to the first person perspective it won’t make much of a difference, I guess. Anyway, Garth seems to really loathe dragons, leading a campaign to wipe them out altogether. Why he let us live, we do not know (the Royal we seems befitting for a dragon like us!) but we swear that it will haunt him beyond death when we get our claws on him. 

The Dragon’s Plight is the game that first impressed Tim Sweeney of Epic Megagames and prompted him to contact Cliff Bleszinski, starting his career as a designer of games that impressed everybody, like Jazz Jackrabbit and Unreal. Let’s say hello to Beastie, shall we?

The game seems easy enough at first but will probably involve quite a bit of pixel hunting. Apparently, the mouse is “intelligent”, meaning that it changes its appearance when you move it over a hotspot. It can change to either an exit sign, an “action” arrow (replacing push, pull, use, and so on) or an “object” arrow (replacing take, give, use ... with, and so on). I must say that it works pretty well and turns out to be quite intuitive. It’s also very modern, resembling contemporary touchscreen interface solutions. 

The first room is my cell. I can’t interact with either the door or the small rocks on the ground but I can exit to the eastern part of my cell containing my “food” (just bones at this point) and some straw that probably serves as my bed. There’s a loose brick I can interact with, and doing so opens a door in the wall, which is an old trope but together with the design of the prison, it’s slightly reminiscent of Maniac Mansion. Behind the secret door there is a corridor, and at the end of the corridor there is a skeleton. The dead adventurer who came before me is still holding what I assume to be a bit of chalk, and with that he scribbled a message on the wall in what looks like Greek letters from afar. In the status box – essentially the parser – I receive my feedback, and apparently I find that the ancient script is hard to decipher. To my surprise, the status box also contains a crystal-clear translation. Was it not so hard to decipher after all, you little spoilsport of a status box?

Count to twenty. In Greek!

It does not make a whole lot of sense but the unfortunate adventurer tells me, i.e. the “next unfortunate one”, how to solve a button puzzle in the adjacent room. Why did he starve when he knew how to escape? Maybe what lies beyond is even more fearsome. The puzzle is very, very straightforward: “Red means death, Green does too, Yellow drains life, but leave one the Blue.” I think I’ll push the blue button. Correct? Correct. I try out the other buttons, too, just to check out the death screen. It’s not really worth it.

Beyond the gate I ascend into the mines. Yes, ascend. You got to keep the dragon way down in the hole, it seems. The exits in the game are labeled and while one click lets me examine them (as well as objects), a double-click makes me go there (or use the objects). Again, it’s a very intuitive interface and really astonishing for such an early Windows game. The west mines contain a lot of blue crystals and another exit, but their main purpose is as a north-south corridor. Beyond that, there’s a red room with a barely legible sign that says “ridg ut”. If I enter the adjacent door, it becomes clear what it means – “bridge out.” I remember this bridge from the previous game (and from Shadowgate) which reminds me: do I have an inventory this time around? The solution in Shadowgate is to empty your pockets before crossing the almost-broken bridge. This time, it doesn’t work: my pockets are already empty but at least there’s an inventory button. Another improvement over the previous game. I try to cross the bridge regardless as there’s an exit near the end – but I die. Back to the beginning it is. Time to check out the control room instead.

RIDG Racer RevolUTion?

On the way to the control room, there’s a round room – a Zork reference, maybe? – that “seems almost out place” because it is kept clean and well lit. The game goes out of its way to mention the torch on the wall (unlike in other rooms) but my pixel-hunting does not reveal any hotspots. The control room has four levers and four buttons in four different colours. While the buttons are yellow, green, blue, and red (in that order), the levers are red, blue, green and yellow. I don’t know what that means and when I try to investigate the game tells me that it’s “not a good idea to push strange buttons”, so I can’t interact with them. So far, the game is quite linear. We’ll see if it stays that way. 

The antechamber of the east mine is the opposite of the clean round room: it’s grungy and coal dust covers everything. The room beyond is even dirtier: “Absolutely everything is covered with grime and tar.” I arrive at yet another broken bridge and there are a lot of sparkling diamonds I can’t seem to pick up. The bridge is just as defunct as the other one, and when I try to cross it, it “proves unable to hold a 300+ pound reptile.” Fair enough. This seems like a good place to stop, and it feels as if there’s some serious pixel-hunting in my near future.

Nobody canna cross it.

Now I’ll fire up my VirtualBox with Windows 3.1 installed but if you’re brave enough to play along, one possibility would be to peruse the dedicated archive.org site here. In any case, don’t forget to guess the score – the first game got a meager PISSED rating of only 20 points but remember that it was unwinnable. And don’t our dragon look fine when he’s comin’ after Garth?

Session time: 0.5 hours
Total time: 0.5 hours

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 20 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.

21 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Well, I did guess right on the previous game, didn't I? :)

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    2. Absolutely, I'll give you that. I actually hope that you're right again, too.

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  2. I think I'll play along. Somehow I've never actually played this game despite my fondness of Dare to Dream. Apparently I originally played another shareware adventure game that involves dragons back in the day. I didn't know there were so many of them. I can also definitely see the building blocks for Dare to Dream here.

    I'll pick a nice round 30.

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    1. Yes, the interface is quite similar. Great to have you along for the ride! Happy pixel-hunting, Morpheus!

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  3. >>Do you know any other adventure games with a dragon as the protagonist?

    Well, there's "Darby the Dragon", a children's adventure game released by Brøderbund in 1996, though I'm not sure whether that was ever released on any other computer then the Mac.

    Well, I went for 32 the last time (I think), so I'll aim for that score again.

    Has anyone mentioned yet that Nippon Safes, Inc. has been declared Freeware? I just found out that you can now download it over at ScummVm.org

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    1. >Has anyone mentioned yet that Nippon Safes, Inc.
      >has been declared Freeware?

      https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2019/08/nippon-safes-inc-final-rating.html?showComment=1616154513619#c356429893754082717

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    2. Ah, and under the appropriate corresponding game, too. Never mind, then.

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  4. I will go higher at 35. I am very impressed by the interface as well, for the time it is really well thought out. The feedback from your interactions so far have been really good and while I miss the ASCII art the art isn't too bad, but it won't win any awards. I wonder what format they used for them, I'm thinking that good old BMP files would really bloat a system of those times.

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    1. I've read somewhere that they used Microsoft Paint to, well, paint them, so I'd just assumed they were bitmaps. You make a good point, though.

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    2. The in-game graphics all seem to be inside the executable, which is 3.8 MB in size, probably not bitmap files. Checking it with a hex editor, what sounds like graphics files all have the extension FRM, which I'm unfamiliar with.
      That said, it is possible that they're compressed bitmaps. Really depends on how many of the 80 image files inside are the background images. A 320x200 bitmap file is 192kb, while a 180x150 bitmap file is 62kb. Multiplying that by the amount of images and I get 4.8mb. A little compression, me being a little wrong on the math, and voila.

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    3. That's interesting, Morpheus, thank you for checking that out! (Did I mention that I love our community?)

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    4. It does make sense with that mathematics.

      Some digging tells me .frm was also used by Corel Painter, there was a version called Fractal Design Painter released back in 1991 which could also fit the bill. This could also then give the bit of compression that BMP does not, or they could be BMPs that were simply compressed using file compression instead of image compression.

      But that is all conjecture, interesting look at the design in any case, thanks for the extra info Morpheus!

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  5. There is a polish adventure gane named Dragon Story, from the mid 90s i think. You can play that with Scummvm. I played the first five minutes and it is not very good though. For this one, i'll say 29

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  6. Oh, and you play as a little dragon trying to find your dad, who is missing

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    1. Careful now, or next thing we know we will have a list of games with Dragon protagonists as well! Not that it would be a bad thing but I think our reviewers have enough on their plates as is.

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  7. Looks like 34 is available - so I'll grab that!

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  8. Next SQ5 is delayed. While I got ahead on playing and writing last week, I hot some major time crunch this week and didn't quite finish. I hope to get it up soon.

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