I go from one SSI game directly to another. I don't know whether this was released before Rings of Zilfin or not--just that they were both released in the same year. Shard of Spring feels in many ways more like an SSI game; you can feel the transition between Wizard's Crown and Pool of Radiance happening here. The creators are Craig Roth and David Stark, who worked on this and it's sequel, Demon's Winter (coming up in 29 games). (Roth now seems to be a technology analyst, and Stark's name is too common to figure out where he is now.) The main game screen seems proud of the fact that it was "written entirely in Microsoft QuickBasic v. 3.0," which I gather is something like writing an orchestral composition for a kazoo.
First, the back story. Here's the first line from the manual: "For two centuries, as the rest of the land lay baking in the desert sun or freezing in the winter wind, the small island of Ymros enjoyed an eternal spring." It transpires that someone called the Red Sorcerer decided that Ymros was too special to go through normal seasonal changes like the rest of the world, so he used sorcery to enchant a piece of the LifeStone and twist the world's climate and environment to his whim. He stuck this enchanted Shard of Spring in a crystal in a place called the Green Shrine. While the rest of the world suffered the regular vagaries of nature, the people of Ymros enjoyed continual spring. How they grew any food is left uncertain--presumably they used similar sorcery to just steal it from other lands.
Suck it, mainland!
Some centuries later, an environmental crusader named Siriadne sent some of her followers to destroy the shrine and take the Shard. She then levied a punitive fine against the people of Ymros for benefiting from these dark arts for so long, demanding gold and food instead of turning Ymros into the "icy wasteland" that it deserved. Rather than learn its lesson, Ymros decided to raise a group of adventurers and steal back the abominable artifact.
I may have filtered this description through 21st-century liberal sensibilities a bit.
Character creation is nothing particularly new, allowing you to choose from only two classes (warriors and wizards) and five races (human, dwarf, troll, elf, and gnome). It's not quite that much of a choice, because dwarves and trolls can only be warriors and gnomes and elves can only be wizards. You get up to five characters in a party. Each character has a familiar set of statistics: speed, strength, intellect, endurance, attack skill, hit points, and spell points. These are rolled randomly but have modifiers based on race. You get to choose attributes to re-roll, but you can only re-roll three times.
There is a bit of originality in the game in the way that you assign "skills" to your characters. In addition to sword, axe, mace, and different wizard skills, we have karate, dark vision, berserking, hunting, persuasiveness, and tactics (which allows you to identify what party member a monster is targeting). As I start the game, it appears that the skills are binary: either you have them or you don't; there's no ongoing skill development as in Wizard's Crown.
I created one "paladinish" humanwarrior character (Roland) with sword, persuasion, and tactics skills, a standard dwarven fighter type with axe and berserking skills, and a troll brute with karate and armored skin. The spellcasters were more difficult. Spell skills take a lot of intelligence. I created an elven wizard with fire and wind abilities and a gnome wizard with metal, ice, and spirit magic. I always feel slightly lame creating a party with one of each race or one of each character class in a party-based CRPG, like I can't commit to any one theme. A bolder decision would have been to try an all-troll party or something. Why don't we agree that I'll do that when I get to games I've already played?
Your party launches from the town of Green Hamlet, where, if you visit the bar, you can get what appears to be your first quest: the rescue of a priest from a local dungeon called Blackfort.
Wandering outdoors is much as in any top-down party-based game like or Ultimas III and IV or Wizard's Crown. The difference is, Shard of Spring has some reasonably lame-for-the-era monochrome graphics. The sound is no better.
Combat, on the other hand, is interesting, featuring a tactical depth worthy of Wizard's Crown but without quite so many confounding options (but also no "quick combat" option). You move your characters around the battlefield to engage enemies with weapons or spells. Each character has a certain number of movement points (based on speed) that determine how far he can go and how many attacks he can make when he gets there.
The neat thing is that the combat map is a blown-up version of the game map. The screen shot below, for instance, is a dungeon combat in a room with a western door.
I don't have much time in, but I'm in the midst of exploring the first dungeon, hoping to find the kidnapped priest. Whether I "like" the game is going to hinge, I suspect, on how interesting the various encounters and role-playing choices are. SSI has been a mixed bag so far, with both games I found tedious (Wizard's Crown) and those I found interesting and fun (Phantasie). Here's hoping Shard of Spring turns out to be the latter.