Written by Morpheus Kitami
There's a sort of empty space in the history of adventure games between 1982 and 1985. At least I feel that way. The '70s had the mainframe games, followed by Scott Adams and Infocom. Then Sierra came along and did graphical text adventures, and before King's Quest we have a handful of literary adaptations and text adventures with pictures. There's not really much discussion of this time period, even among people who like text adventures. Things sort of disappeared into the ether outside of Infocom. Let's see some of them.
Twin Kingdom Valley was not my first choice, but my first choice has about 1000 pages of backstory I feel I should read first. Twin Kingdom Valley is a fantasy text adventure, one I keep getting confused as Twin Valley Kingdom and now I'm not sure which way is up. The back does not describe much, just that its a fantasy game with 175 rooms. Its one of two games Trevor Hall developed and the only adventure. While he is mentioned as having made a few other games, only an obscure text strategy game seems to be credited to him on online databases.
Morpheus desperately trying to play The Hobbit, 2007, colorized
Twin Kingdom Valley's claim to fame is active NPCs, these having their own, hopefully complex personalities and move around. This gives me flashbacks to The Hobbit, where NPCs moved around while you slowly tried to figure out what to do. For me, that meant dying to the trolls before they would go on to killing and eating Gandalf, Gimli, the rest of the dwarves, Morgoth, Saruman, the Silmarils, uh, Cirith Ungol, Angband and the rest of the universe. So, let's hope it isn't one of those adventure games.
Reading an interview from the developer, its clear he was dissatisfied with how in previous games, the world only existed as you interacted with it. Here the player is just another adventurer in the Twin Kingdom Valley, seeking his fortune through either legitimate or illegitimate means. Not that he wished adventure games were more based in action. There's no stated end game objective other than getting 1024 points.
The other claim to fame of this game is its use of scaleable vector graphics. That is, everything displayed in-game was constructed from a lot of little images, scaled up or down as the developer wanted a room to have. Through more trickery, the game only fills each pixel once, and displays images in about 4 seconds. Not impressive now, of course, but keep in mind this blogpost in plain text is about a tenth of the size of the game and you've probably loaded an internet page that takes up 10mb in a second or two today.
The game was released on BBC Micro, Commodore 16, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. I, of course, will be playing on the greatest 8-bit computer of these, the BBC Micro. Curiously, there was a modern port of the game for J2ME, that is, phones from roughly the mid-2000s. It's different enough to qualify as an enhanced remake. While Mr. Hall did indeed sell the game back when those phones were current, now the only way to play it is through a phone emulator, and one of the rare sources of old phone games. Not impossible, but probably not convenient compared to more classic emulators.
Oh, god, I just realized how awful playing The Hobbit would be on one of those phones.
Firing up the game, I am greeted by several help screens. Something I am immensely grateful for even though it appears to be the same information that's in the cassette insert. And basically just "how to play adventure game". There's always the very real possibility that its missing entirely and that's always a fun experience. As you can read, this game, rather than trying to justify what you're about to do, just shoots it straight. If this were a RPG, the word "murderhobo" would probably be used, probably by me. If you think about it, the vast majority adventure game protagonists are thieves of some caliber, we just ignore it because we get to be king at the end.
The game offers me several options as to what I see. Short description, long description, and where pictures always appear, just the first time in a room, or never. Because I don't have enough metal covers and DnD art to properly fill up a game of this length, pictures on, but just the first time through. Onward to glory!
It's done via the drawing method, where the pictures slowly fill in
Something a little bit in
The screen draws up, and whenever I press anything it goes into the text prompt until I return. If these are the long descriptions I don't want to see the short ones. I start with nothing in my inventory. I'm just outside of a cabin so I enter it. It's fairly standard, though as you can see items are described very simply and examine doesn't work.
Man, they sure put this inn in a crap place if it's next to swampland
So from the outside cabin I go east. Oh, cool, the inn is east. Except there's still more road. I go east again, and again. This is an unusual approach, usually every room has a purpose. Sure, a few are structural, leading just to other rooms, like a hallway, but three empty road spaces? Well, two, there's an elf here. Can't really talk to the fellow, you can ask him about something. If what the author has said about the game is any indication, he's going to attack me as soon as he gets a weapon. He doesn't have a name either.
The lengths some will go to avoid drawing humans
Right...I can't really talk to anyone. Don't have anything to ask the innkeeper for. I can drink beer. Guess this isn't fantasy text GTA if I can just drink it. I guess I'll go back and look for paths. Wandering around as of yet could end badly. One room east of the cabin entrance is a forest path north. Into a mountain path north. Where I meet a gorilla with a club. I don't have a weapon yet so I flee, getting hit on my way out. And yes, it is a per turn thing, rather than real-time.
Now, after doing that, I run back to the path. At which point I realize I didn't map that path, and I don't know where it is on the road yet. I go west one step, in front of my home. Hey, there's a path back into the forest to the northeast. Didn't notice that before. And...it's a new room. And there's a troll here.
Let's talk about why I hate this, besides the obvious point I've been harping on. There is a heavily armed troll RIGHT BEHIND MY HOUSE. I repeat, a heavily armed troll. No wonder adventurers drop off like flies here. AND HE FOLLOWS YOU. This is becoming less fun fantasy and more like a prelude to a death metal album.
He throws his little flint stone at me too. But there's something funny about this. I fled east, and there's a club here. I've also seen the picture before. But this isn't a forest path, it's a spring. Hang on, I've been naming my rooms wrong, and apparently weapons are thrown between rooms? Uh-oh.
Be quiet, you stupid elf. Stop throwing that flint at me. Fine, you want violence, I'll give you violence. So basically, you can imagine this whole thing as me bonking an elf on the head with a thick stick, while a troll is whacking me with an axe. The elf gets a dying status, but so do I, I flee to the inn, hoping to restore my health with beer.
Real, "Oh, no, anyway" energy from the Innkeeper here
Right, the troll is following me. And I am actively dying. Beer isn't doing anything and I'm just slowly bleeding out. Oh, and the troll isn't about to let the innkeeper live either. No, he'll stab him. He prefers me, but he'll enjoy two humans on his fire tonight. I feel like this entire game is going to involve me fighting off enemies, because no sane person would live in Twin Kingdom Valley.
Your friends are dead, your dog is dead, etc, etc
I run away to my cabin, hoping I can lock the door. I can't, which makes me wonder what that brass key is for. Oh, I'm dead too, but you already knew that. Gotta say, it's rare for adventure games to have such exciting action in them, especially when it's all turn-based. However, I think you have to be in the right mindset for this, I know that if I played this instead of The Hobbit I would have probably hated this game instead. Because I wouldn't have made a map. Which considering the sheer scale of this game, is going to be absolutely essential. It's especially essential that you pay attention to what room names are inside the room rather than what the path names are. That's more obvious in games where you don't get names for what path is in each direction.
Now, about the troll behind my house. No, he's not always behind that house, owing to characters walking around randomly. He just has a chance of walking there. Some characters move around, the elf is very eager to follow me around, I guess his objective is to be a filthy graverobber, unlike me, who would have taken out that troll if him and his little wimpy stone throwing didn't soften me up. I'm gonna take him and that gorilla out! Just wait, that gorilla is going to throw his club at me, and I'm going to take it!
The two of them flee from me after I pick up the club. Cowards! I'm going to shove this club up both your (unfortunately, the rest of this paragraph was not saved, I wonder what could have been inside it?)
Eh, turns out that troll could take me out no matter what as of yet. Even just throwing that stone around. And there are multiple gorillas with clubs. Yippee. Well, I'm still just exploring until I get the chance to get some real equipment. Mostly, this is just exploring the mountains around the inn and the cabin. There are a lot of them, and they seem to function as the boundaries of the map. Food and water is a concern, but fortunately beer solves my water issues. There's a lot of interesting looking locations, even if they don't have much.
There are a lot of one way paths into this place, but only one out.
A deep fissure
Now, the vast majority of the southern half map is just dead space. That's the area I've been starting in. There are three points north, only one of which seems to be safe to traverse, but it has a dark room. At least I assume there's a lot up there, I only have 45 rooms so far according to Trizbort, my map program. Kind of funny to think of rooms as a percentage of a game, especially considering I've made zero progress in getting score. First, there's a locked grate in the clearing I want to explore first. The brass key opens it, but it's dark. I better light my lamp.
Wow, this troll has perfect comedic timing! Why, it's just like Looney Tunes. You can get away from enemies pretty consistently if you have enough space to run away, getting caught in my cabin was somewhat bad luck the first time. So it's not really trouble escaping from the troll now. With him out of the way, the interior is mostly just full of items and locked doors. A crystal ball, a dagger, a wooden rod, and...
A maze. And trying to go where I once was just sticks me deeper in the maze. I love that. Even better, a maze with an enemy in it. Yep, dead. Pretty consistently too. Oh, and she has a bronze key, so she's absolutely vital to the success of this game. It seems the big puzzle so far is how to kill all these wandering NPCs in an orderly fashion. Every enemy I have a shot of killing I either destroy or drop my weapons on, or they drop their weapons and flee. To say nothing of being able to take out the troll or this witch.
The second big puzzle is what do I do with this crystal ball. I understand how treasure hunts work, and this game is a treasure hunt. Find treasure items, and drop them in a special place. I assume my special place is my cabin, but nothing happens if I drop the item there. The game says I can drop any ill-gotten gains there, so clearly it's not important for that reason. As there's nothing else in the southern half, I'm going to leave things here.
While it's clearly an adventure game, so far it seems like Twin Kingdom Valley is taking significant influence from RPGs. Every adventure game that has you hit a troll with a sword twenty times that I know of is quite a bit RPG-ish. The only thing I can compare it to is Leadlight, which is a RPG without any character development. I am vaguely aware of the rest of Eamon, and then Quarterstaff*. Thing is, unlike those, this is purely an adventure game, you hit every time, and all stats are relating to weapons and enemies, not you. It might be closer to compare it to a modern action game, like Assassin's Creed, except more complex in some ways and simpler in others.
* I should point out this is entirely different than graphic adventure RPGs. Graphic adventure RPGs all make a big production out of combat, while text adventure RPGs all function more akin to actual RPGs, and you can run away, albeit, enemies chase you. The vagueness of text adventures makes this aspect more intense, like they're actually chasing you across long distances. In actual RPGs, they rarely follow for long.
A few notes:
NPCs can and do pick up anything. Usually this works out to dropped weapons in combat. The small flint stone starts in the quarry, so the troll must have wandered in and out of there the first time. Or there are multiple trolls. I am very eager to find out if that's true.
Weapons, while I don't understand the mechanics yet, function with a bit of randomness. Perhaps they do a consistent amount of damage with each kind of attack, cut, hit, throw, but the real random nature is that attacking someone with a weapon has a chance of causing the weapon to drop. Great if you're getting hammered by a troll, horrible if you're hammering a troll. Also, all the weapons I've been able to get my hands on so far break. I don't know if its random or if every weapon has durability, but it's not great.
My map, as of the end of this session, and probably the last time I post it, since 175 rooms is HUGE
This map, man, this freaking map. It feels messy. Clearly, the author is going for quantity over quality, but I get the distinct feeling in places that the author just ran out of rooms. Could be me feeling that from the game getting more rooms in later versions, but even as I was playing I was saying to myself, "That's how it links up? Really?" We'll see how the upper half goes.
Inventory: Brass Key, oil lamp, small flint stone, crystal ball, small dagger, wooden rod
This Session: 30 minutes
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.