Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Game 25: Swords of Glass (1986)

I'm not a weaponsmith or anything, but I wouldn't rush the patent application on these.

Swords of Glass is so cute you almost want to pat it on the head. While the age of CGA graphics is in full-swing, and gamers are enjoying titles with the narrative complexity and open-ended exploration of Ultima IV, Might & Magic, and Starflight, here comes a text-based game in which you guide one character through a single wire-frame dungeon.

"Turn THIS lead into gold!" would be a great caption if I was using a gun.
The game doesn't appear on Wikipedia's chronology; it's only thanks to MobyGames that I found out about it at all. MobyGames lists it as "shovelware": a piece of software that wasn't offered individually but packaged with dozens of other titles and sold under the banner "100 FANTASTIC RPG ADVENTURES!" or something. The publisher was a now-defunct Minnesota company called "Keypunch Software," which apparently stripped the credits from the game, so no one now knows who created it.

Character creation is a text-based process of naming your character (you have up to 7 letters) and then rolling random values for hits, strength, dexterity, and IQ, and then supplementing them from a pool of six points. You need at least 9 strength to become a warrior and at least 9 IQ to become a wizard. Those are the only character class choices.

You have to love "possible kinds to be" instead of something more formal, like "potential character classes."

It's then a quick trip to the store for some basic equipment.

Note the first option. Hey, grind some of that up and throw it into a goblin's eyes and it stings, man!

In addition to the (s)tore, the town boasts a (h)otel and a (t)emple.

A town that literally leaves everything to the imagination.

When you choose to (b)egin your dungeon explorations, the game taunts you to "ENTER IF YOU DARE!" and then notes goofily, as you move away from the dungeon stairs, that "well, Toto, this doesn't look like Kansas anymore..." After that, it's all about exploring, mapping, killing monsters (so far, I've met "bruisers," alchemists, and rodents), finding treasure chests, and dealing with traps, and, you guessed it:

Every damned game has to have poison. Most spell it right.

So, right now you're thinking to yourself, "Ha! Sounds pretty lame! I bet this is a one-post game for The CRPG Addict!" (And yes, "The CRPG Addict" has a capital "The.") Well, sit back and hold on, kids, 'cause I'm about to pull the rug out from under you. Notice how much space is wasted--like half the screen--in the image above? Well, let's rectify that by heading back up to the town and adding a second person to my "party." Back to the dungeon we go and . . .

. . . what do we have here? Two sets of commands, two maps, and characters who appear to be looking at each other? That's right, you smug bastards, you're looking at cooperative multiplayer. Let me say that again: cooperative multiplayer--in a piece-of-junk, written-by-a-high-school-kid-in-his-basement, shovelware CRPG. As far as I know, this is the first multiplayer in a graphics-based CRPG (I'm sure I'm wrong; I just don't know of any others), and we don't see it again until...what?...Federation II?

As exciting as that is, I can't really make use of it because The CRPG Addict is a lone ranger, and not ambidextrous. But Swords of Glass has a few other surprises. Let's start with the spells, if you happen to choose a magician. As in Wizardry, you get a set number of spells per level, and as in Wizardry, which featured spells like HALITO and KATINO, the spells in Swords of Glass have strange, otherworldly names (bottom of the screen):

I'm looking forward to level 3, when I get "tumadre."

That's right: my four years of high-school Spanish has finally proven some value. For those uneducated, "pocofuego" means "little fire," and "mapa" means "map." Other spells in the game include "helio" (ice), "melaza" (molasses; it's a paralyze spell), and "infierno" (inferno). Brillante! Estoy muy impresionado!

What else? Remember that chalk I was making fun of? Well, it turns out it has a pretty useful purpose: you can mark marks on dungeon walls so you can track where you've been. In a game that features teleporters, this could be awfully useful. Quick, give me the name of any other CRPG in which you can make a mark without dropping some inventory on the ground. I can't think of one.


You know how I'm always bitching about CRPGs that give you piles of money with nothing to spend it on? Well, not this game. In Swords of Glass, you can take any weapon or armor you want into the temple and ask the priest for a blessing. They get progressively more expensive as you add more +s to your equipment. I'm guessing you never run out of the need for cash.

It's these touches and others--like the little automap on the screen, or a "vault" where you can store good equipment for later characters--that explain why this otherwise-throwback game has a small but devoted online following, with sites like The Glass Shrine and Wayne Schmidt's Swords of Glass page. I owe both of these pages for helping me to figure out some basic game information, since I couldn't find a manual anywhere.

So I'm going to give this game it's full due. I can't say for sure that I'll play it until I win, because unfortunately it's a permanent-death game, and I suspect my patience will run out after the sixth time I lose a level 5 character to a wight. But the unnamed developer has certainly intrigued me enough for a few nights of dungeon crawling.


  1. I have to admit, that sounds pretty neat! I can accept terrible graphics if a game has it under the hood.

    Some questions:
    What are the battles like? Can you fight your fellow adventurer in Co-op? Is the only thing you can chalk on walls an "X", or can you do different symbols?

  2. This came out....sorta....when Ultima IV and Starflight were released? Then there is no excuse that they should still be using CGA graphics. The coop mode is interesting for that day and age and if I had known about it my friend and I could have had a ton of fun playing it (Spy vs Spy gets old really quick).

    Hope you don't spend too much time on this one unless the narrative or features take a turn for the better.

  3. After searching around a bit I noticed something odd. Starflight and Ultima III/IV were definitely not CGA, but at this time I was playing the commodore 64 which by all accounts kicked Dos's butt because it had COLOR and sound :) I got into PC gaming in 1987 - 1988 I believe. Right when EGA was taking over so I missed all those wonderfully horrid CGA graphics.

    Anyways, have fun with this one. Maybe it's a hidden gem that just never was released correctly. Although they did strip the credits so that doesn't bode well for this game. Methinks they didn't want to be assoiciated with it ;)

  4. Great post. Probably not a stellar game, but seems to have charm (and again that shows through in your writing). There are some neat features and quirks in there it seems. The co-op mode seems just.. kind of mindblowing, actually, like with Zyll, I'm really interested in how that would work out.


  5. Bloodwych on the c64, pc and Amiga had the co-op mode / split screen but that came out much later.

  6. Skavenhorde, you have to forgive the game a little. You remember what it was like back then. For every major commercial release that had people raving, there were half a dozen games written by amateurs that might qualify for "freeware" status today.

    Ethan, I didn't get much of a chance to explore the multiplayer, but no, you can't attack your companion and yes, the chalk marks unfortunately make only an X.

    There's actually a bit of liability with multiplayer because when you're in multiplayer mode, an action taken by either player counts as a "round" for both. So relative to each characters, monsters attack twice as often and move twice as fast as single-player mode. This is balanced, obviously, by the fact that you have a partner to help you wallop the monsters.

  7. You do have to forgive this game's graphical shortcomings. Even back in the late 80s, games were made by teams of people. Swords Of Glass has all the look and feel of a game made by a single person that was uploaded to a bulletin board system. Keypunch had a tendancy to swipe such games and release them for money. Probably why they removed the credits. I also know that Keypunch closed it's doors back in the day because it owed money. Don't know any more than that, but it's not hard to speculate.

    Don't forget that the "multiplayer mode" is also designed to used for single-player as well. Take two characters to the dungeon, go to utilities, select "formation on" using zero as the delay. The 2nd character will turn or go forward in perfect synch with the 1st character. That way you can have a magician follow a warrior around. It's still not very practical because the experience gained is divided among the two characters.

    Also, this game is NOT a perminant death game. But, you do have to work to get your character back. When a char dies, go to the temple with a different character. You can buy a potion to revive the dead character. The downside is you have to go to the exact spot where that character died. You'll see a big tombstone when you get to that spot. If you wait too long, the dead character will indeed become dead forever. But, it won't tell you that until you try to revive him. Hurry! ;)

    To this day, I can still remember when my main character died and I took a low-level character down deep into the dungeon to revive him. It was.. actually kinda scary at the time. I've played more RPGs than I can remember and this is the one experience that always stands out in my mind. Today, though, it's not such a heart-pounding experience because I know what I did that caused that low-lev character to survive and can duplicate it if needed. Also, after being revived, my main char went on to eventually become level 50+.

    Still, this makes it practical to not keep all your gold on your main character. If you do so and your main character dies, then there goes your gold as well.

    Also, notice how some of the hallways have lines on the walls? You can see those lines even on some of the screenshots here. Ever wonder where you'll wind up if you follow those lines? ;)

    Been playing this game since the late 80s and always seem to come back to it.

  8. Jack, thanks for your comments and I apologize I didn't read them before the subsequent blog postings automatically published. Your description of the fear associated with taking a low-level character into the deep dungeon resonates well with me.

    I fixed the errors where I could find them and posted an addendum.

  9. I suppose it is a typo but "helio" is not ice, it is helium. "Hielo" is ice.

    Be careful with your spanish because you have at least one spanish reader! ;-)

    1. I just looked it up. The typo is the game's. (As you can see from the shots above, typos are nothing new in this game.) It also has "Muchohelio" for a lot of ice. But it was still my fault for not noticing the poor Spanish.

      Every once in a while, I think on this game. It irks me that we can't seem to find out who programmed it. I consider it one of the great mysteries of CRPG history.

    2. Have you tried a HEX editor searching the binaries for text clues of the programmer's name?

    3. Huh. I can't believe I didn't think of that. You might have given me a lead. The main game executable says "Copyright 1985 Borland Inc." I don't remember seeing Borland associated with the game anywhere else.

    4. Borland made one of the most popular compilers of the 80s. So it may be a remnant of being linked to come of the Borland proprietary libraries.

  10. Borland may be referring to the compiler the game was created it with - Borland Delphi or turbo pascal, perhaps?

    1. That's correct. It looks like it was written in Pascal, some of the code is even readable in the game files. Alas, no author name anywhere.

  11. I was doing a search to see if anyone had heard of this game because it's a blast from my own past. The first RPGI ever played on a computer and I was probably about 10, 11-ish. It will always have a piece of my heart (just like Startflight) because my parents bought the package of games that it came in for my brother and me so we'd stay out of their hair while they wrapped presents at Christmas. Thank you for jogging my memories.

  12. I purchased this game from a shop that had it on a rack that you would normally find post cards... it was packaged with Swords of Glass on the packaging so I do not think it had anything else in the package... it was pretty cheap but I do not remember... It was the first game I played on my own personal PC... (I had played Ultima several years earlier on my high schools apple II) Anyway I wish I still had this game... I enjoyed playing it and mapping it... would love to play it again!

    1. It's not terribly hard to find. I'm probably going to take another look when I hit 1986 again.


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