Thursday, September 16, 2010

Swords of Glass: Final Reckoning

Right after this, a screen popped up and said "You Won!" You're going to have to trust me.

On Wayne Schmidt's tribute page to Swords of Glass, he says:

My interest in Swords of Glass began in 1987 when I purchased and played it with my son. I can still feel the thrill of excitement when, after two months of painstaking effort, we finally surmounted the last obstacle and captured the Sword of Glass.

I applaud this kind of nostalgia. This is really what CRPGs should be about. If I had a son--or, indeed, anyone in this household who even remotely enjoyed playing computer games--yeah, I'm looking at you, Irene--I think we could have a ball with Swords of Glass. She could map while I explore. She could play a wizard to my fighter. She could ensure that no game playing had to stop due to desperate need for a vodka gimlet. Oh, and she could wake up my f%&*#$ character when a trap puts him to sleep! I'll bet your son did that for you, didn't he, Wayne? Otherwise, I don't see how you could have won the game in only two months. [Later edit: turned out I was wrong about the permanency of sleep and paralysis. See this posting. Sorry, Wayne; sorry, everyone.]

I had mapped most of Level 2 when this happened and had my fighter character--who could suddenly cast spells after finding a spellbook (another nice innovation, allowing me to heal myself without returning to the town)--up to level 11. Frankly, I was already annoyed with the game when I tripped over a rock and somehow dropped my sword forever; plus, I had to abandon a bunch of my other hard-earned equipment when I fell into quicksand (in a dungeon, keep in mind.) On the plus side, there was a neat mapping puzzle having to do with appearing and disappearing walls, and the game provided the first battles with rhinoceroses and "land sharks" that I've ever experienced in a CRPG.

Reading through Wayne's walkthrough, it looks like by ending my game early, I missed out on:
  • Some Wizardry-style dungeon features like spinners and pits with poisoned spikes.
  • A large variety of brain teasers.
  • A randomly-generated dungeon on Level 8 that changes every time you enter. (I am again impressed.)
  • A menagerie of creatures that include jelly fish and squids, giant ants and mosquitoes and spiders, killer rabbits, giant amoebas, jack-o-lanterns, walking trees, storm clouds, friggin' giraffes, pterodactyls...Jesus Christ...kangaroos, "teste" flies (not a good spelling error there), elephants, tyrannosaurus, "furballs with teeth," (I'm not making this up but Wayne might be) "raunchy giraffes," and of course demons.

You can't fault the creators of Swords of Glass for unoriginality. Images courtesy of Wayne Schmidt.

I know I've been praising Swords of Glass for its scrappy innovations, but honestly, traps that effectively kill your character immediately with no chance of escape or save are a bit of a dealbreaker. So let's review and then get on to Tera: La Cité des Crânes or Wizardry IV depending on how taxing on my memories of high school French the former turns out to be.

1. Game world. None to speak of. It's possible the game came with a manual that told the back story, such as why you're seeking the Sword of Glass (or, you know, what it is), but neither of the two fan pages I've mentioned say anything about it, so I'm assuming it's just you and a dungeon. Score: 1.

2. Character creation and development. Character creation is about selecting a name, assigning some points to four statistics, and choosing between warrior and magician classes. Pretty basic. But leveling up is strangely satisfying, allowing you to channel more points into your attributes. Your character notably improves with each level. Nonetheless, there is no "role-playing" with characters; the game is basically a three-dimensional roguelike. Score: 3.


3. NPC Interaction. There are no NPCs that I could find, and the walkthrough didn't seem to give any indication that there are any at all. Score: 0.

4. Encounters & foes. There a quite a strange selection of creatures in Swords of Glass, but they are not described except by name. Many share the same image. There is no AI to speak of, and nothing to do in encounters except whack away. Score: 2.


5. Magic & combat. I love the magic system in which all of the spells are simply in Spanish. Other than that, it's a clone of Wizardry. Combat doesn't give you many options, but the ability to shoot arrows in multiple directions is innovative. Plus, the totality of combat in Swords of Glass is quite tactical, as you must carefully monitor your hit points and spell levels lest you get trapped too far from the surface. Score: 4.

6. Equipment. There's a decent variety: several types of main weapons and bows, five different pieces of armor you can wear (armor, helms, shields, greaves, and gauntlets), plus various potions and magic items (I really liked the magic map). The ability to increase their power through blessings is unusual to a CRPG. Score: 5.


7. Economy. You'd think with chests that respawn every time you re-enter the dungeon, it would be easy to get rich quick. I didn't find it easy. Healing, equipment, and blessings all cost enough money that you always need more. Score: 5.

8. Quests. You have but one quest, to find the Sword of Glass, and I gather its ending isn't particularly celebratory. No side quests. Score: 1.

9. Graphics, sound, inputs. Lousy, of course--you've seen the graphics, and I think there is only one sound in the game--but it's not like it pretends otherwise. Score: 1.

10. Gameplay. If it wasn't for that damned permanent paralysis and sleep [Later edit: wrong about this; see here], I'd rate the game pretty high. Although it's "linear" in the sense of being a single-dungeon, multi-level game, it doesn't restrict where you can go in the dungeon. It seemed to have a good balance in terms of monsters, you level at a good clip, and the cooperative multiplayer is quite impressive. It's not replayable except to the extent that any roguelike is replayable. Score: 5.

Final score: 27. That puts it on par with Rings of Zilfin and some of the roguelikes for enjoyability. It's worth a rainy afternoon but not a week.

Swords of Glass has a kind-of blue-collar charm, a certain nobility about its poverty. I'd still love to know who created it, but since Dean Tersigni's Glass Shrine has been entreating the author to write to him for eight years with no luck, I don't suppose we have much of a chance of solving the mystery here.

8 comments:

  1. Wow. "Teste" flies are by far the scariest monster yet conceived to haunt a dungeon. Or anywhere else for that matter. I am equal parts impressed and horrified.

    (In the author's defense however, 'teste' is not the singular form of 'testes'.)

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  2. I like how this blog is often equally good with lackluster games as well as stellar ones. Keep it up!

    --Eino

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  3. Did you get my comment on the previous post on how to recover from falling asleep/paralysis? Use Utilities->Wait.

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  4. I admit that the idea of "testes" flies makes me almost wish that I was talented with drawing on a computer, simply so I could create a demented mockup of what one might look like.

    Also, I can't speak for the others, but I was just thinking that it'd probably be really interesting to read a microblog (Identi.ca, Twitter, etc.) feed of your comments (or cursing) as you play, if it wouldn't be too disruptive.

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  5. Your statement that you got the "you win" screen after your lowbie character was put to sleep with a trap is rather dubious.

    Paralysis and sleep are not perminant effects. You have to wait them out. You wait by going to utilities and selecting "Nothing" (ie- do nothing and let the monsters take a move). Repeat it until the sleep or paralysis wears off. The game is an odd blend of real-time and turn-based. The monsters don't do anything unless you're doing something. So, you have to tell the game that you're doing nothing right now.

    You tripped over a rock and actually dropped something? That was actually a little amusing. It only does that if your dex is rather low.

    Dexterity does affect your hit and miss ratio, but it's most important purpose is to help you avoid traps and such. Traps and riddles abound in Swords Of Glass and they don't want to hold your hand and ask how you're feeling.

    If you ever give it another go, don't forget your Dex when you level up!

    If you've played the early Wizardry games, you may notice that Swords Of Glass has more in common with Wizardry than Rogue, so it's more "Wizardry-like" than "Roguelike".

    One thing you may've missed out on because it is such a simple thing (or I may've just missed it in your blog); Swords Of Glass was a CRPG where monsters physically roam the dungeon. So, when you see a monster ahead of you, you can decide to battle it or try to evade it. You don't just have those "pop up battles" that were the staple of CRPGs for so long (even in later Final Fantasy games). Swords Of Glass wasn't the first ever CRPG to do this, but it was among the first ones.

    When you said you had mapped most of level 2... I wondered if you were trying to make maps yourself. Swords Of Glass has in-game maps on almost every dungeon level. It's hardcore in the fact that you have to find the map for that dungeon level first. Think Legend Of Zelda with old-school CRPG game mechanics. Sometimes you even have to find a key and unlock a little room to where the map is or something like that. Level 2 is the exception. I've never found the map for level 2.

    I may sound like I'm putting forth some critique on your review here. But, honestly, your review is 100% fair.

    The feelings you got from the game are what most modern gamers are likely to feel. Swords Of Glass came from the age when CRPGs were made to be somewhat hardcore. It doesn't want to hold your hand and tell you stories. It wants to steal your lunch money.

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  6. Damn, Jack. I thought I was going to fool everyone with that "you won!" thing.

    See my last posting on SOG for what happened with the missed comments. I won't set postings to auto-publish again.

    I wish I'd found the in-game maps. That's yet another feather in this weird little game's cap.

    The problem with comparing SOG to Wizardry is that Wizardry features turn-based tactical combat, whereas SOG is more like a roguelike in its keep-thumping-them-until-they're-dead tactics. Also, SOG has no fixed encounters or any quest messages like Wizardry. That's why I compared it to a roguelike where you get your initial quest and then never hear about it again until you find the Amulet of Yendor.

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  7. Geez, I very much enjoy your blog! Been reading everything since February in the last two weeks, installing and testing some of the games, yet reading your posts is more fun to me than playing those old gems myself. The last two posts had me almost rolling on the floor, though definitely laughing out loud - again :-D

    Thank you!

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  8. Glad you like it, Napkin. Always good to get feedback from readers!

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