Monday, November 8, 2010

Game 32: Braminar (1987)



Braminar is a CRPG the way that the home movies your dad made are "cinema." They might be interesting, but you wouldn't expect to find them cataloged on IMDB. Braminar's inclusion on MobyGames's list of CRPGs stretches the definition of the term to its utmost limits.

Braminar might be the oddest game I've played since starting this blog. First, it's all text. The short documentation that comes with it describes it as a "Boolean interactive fiction" game. The author seems to have gotten sick of traditional Infocom-style interactive fiction (like Beyond Zork, from which I took a break to play Braminar) in which you have to remember (and in some cases divine) the right verb/object combo to use. So he offered a game in which all of your choices boiled down to "yes" or "no" or a selection from a very limited list.

The action takes place in the titular land, "a magical kingdom plagued by an evil overlord," who has "raised taxes, enslaved villages, and outlawed hamburgers." You play a young male or female warrior raising an army and developing experience so you can challenge the overlord. Character creation consists only of giving yourself a name and sex; the game randomly generates everything else, including your hair color and whether you have "good looks" or not!

I do. Naturally.
 
Then the action begins, and boy is it relentless. The game simply throws one encounter after another at you:

  • You come up to a thicket in the woods. Enter? (Y/N)
  • You come upon the Dark Castle of the Mad King. Enter? (Y/N)
  • The statue of Pan suddenly animates and asks you the following riddle: Why does Pan play the flute? 1 - His sax is broke; 2 - His tube is broke; 3 - 'cause it's there. Choose (1,2,3) (I guessed that one right as #3 and was given "the prime command is GOMDC")
  • You come upon a flowing river. Gaze into it? (Y/N)
  • Things seem strangely quiet when out of nowhere jumps a band of demons. They look grumpy. The say they will let you pass if ou give them 2 male slaves, 5 female slaves, 6 gold pieces, or you may fight their champ and win their horde. Do you wish to (f)ight, (g)ive, or (r)un?
  • While you are walking along, the weather suddenly changes. A tidal wave comes. Will you take shelter? (Y/N)

If you successfully navigate these--and winning battles is entirely due to chance; you play no role in the combat--you slowly gain levels, gold, and slaves. Yes, slaves. I don't really know what they're about, but the game keeps track of how many male and female slaves you own. You need to keep up a food supply to feed them and medicine for when they get sick. I guess you're ultimately using them as soldiers in the final battle. The goal is to get to Level 20, find the Staff of the Aviatar, and confront the mad overlord in his castle.


 
Here's an encounter that anticipates the button-pushing-sequence "quick time" challenges of a lot of X-box adventure games by more than 20 years: "You spot a large chest of gold at the throne. Press: 1 / = \ H keys in that sequence to simulate grabbing gold and putting it in a bag. A mis-typed key = dropped gold. Don't make too much noise, or the king will hear you and enter the room!"


 
I stole food from a gnome and got knocked down a level by my deity. I entered a gypsy camp and engaged in a stabbing-a-dagger-between-the-fingers game and lost. A fortune teller told me "enter no dungeon without a dagger." I ordered a drink at a tavern, realized it was poisoned, held on to it, and used it in a battle against demons to win automatically. I lost dozens of slaves to starvation when my food supplies ran out. I refused to steal from a tree and got the Talisman of Braminar for being a good person. I was ambushed by a troglodyte at a river, but I defeated him in combat and acquired his gold and slaves. I entered a hut in the woods, was attacked by the evil wizard Anthrax, but instantly vaporized him with a ring on my finger. In a river, I had a vision of a deity giving me a box of "Duncin' Donuts" [sic]. And so on, through a couple of dozen such encounters (a few of which repeated). Finally, I died at the hands of some drow elves.

The best things in life always pass so soon.

The game offers no way to save, so when you die, you simply have to start over and try again.

Braminar is an interesting curio, published by a shareware company named PC-SIG that apparently went defunct in the early 1990s after publishing half a dozen titles. I'm guessing that whoever included it in the MobyGames RPG list would say that its inventory and statistics qualify it as an RPG. My problem is that it's not even really a "game." If Braminar was Super Mario Brothers, you'd get a question at the beginning saying "Do you want to try to rescue the princess? (Y/N)," and you'd say "Y" and watch the computer play the game in front of you.

I should probably exclude shareware titles from my list, but honestly, it didn't take me long to play, and it didn't take you long to read it, right? I give it a 9/100 on the GIMLET scale (it's not even worth explaining why). I'm going to hit Beyond Zork for a few more hours and then see about Dungeon Master.

One more WTF screen shot, though (y'all realize you can click on these to enlarge, right?):

Nnnnooooooooo! Anything but that!

26 comments:

  1. Well, Wikipedia can be edited by anyone... Apparently somebody either grabbed it off another more ancient list of CRPG's, or someone who worked on it said "Hey, it's a CRPG! I'm putting it in!" And most people wouldn't know enough to delete it out again later.

    As far as "interactive" goes, this is pretty laughable. WHAT interactivity?

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  2. This is like the best game to waste your time on ever!
    Y
    N
    N
    Y
    N
    Y
    Y
    Y
    N


    :)
    Will you give me a high score on the GIMLET scale ? (y/n)
    N
    DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!

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  3. "The author seems to have gotten sick of traditional Infocom-style interactive fiction [...] in which you have to remember [...] the right verb/object combo to use."

    Or maybe he just wasn't capable of writing a halfway decent parser?

    If unknown verbs were a problem to him he could've included a list of all legal verbs in a help function or something (commercial games often had lists in the manuals, though incomplete).

    As for Wikipedia, either there is some "completionist" out there thinking he's doing such crap justice or it was the author himself, still proud of his creation (yes, I know, I shouldn't lambast him too much as he actually has published something but, well, crap is crap).

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  4. Hey, you know what? I was probably far more amused reading this than you were playing it. I don't really have any desire to play it, but I got a kick out of your description. Thank you for playing these games so we don't have to...

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  5. Yeah, this post was great, even if the game wasn't. I don't think you should exclude shareware (or "indie") games, there are some gems in there, and I've understood one of the project's purposes was to discover them.

    Dungeon Master!!! I'm excited. Maybe I should play it myself instead of spoiling it by reading about it, but hey, Starflight was probably such a case too and I enjoyed those posts a lot.

    --Eino

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  6. I second the Rampant Coyote's comments--you go where others fear to tread, and we are the richer for it. After all, without you, I never would have seen an image of that trippy giant pocket watch in Alien Fires. Your relentless commitment to this project--along with the consistently excellent writing--keeps me coming back for more ...

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  7. Thanks to RampantCoyote for pointing CRPGAddicts project out, btw - those are the only two blogs I follow and its very enjoyable to do so!

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  8. Seems very much like a "choose your own adventure" style, but with vague RPG elements, like the Fighting Fantasy books I read in the 80s.

    But perhaps not up to the same standard!

    Does playing games like this put into perspective the better games you've played?

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  9. Pladio, I could have saved a lot of time in the review by just writing "Braminar? (Y/N). N."

    Calibrator, I guess I was being more charitable to the developer, but you're right; perhaps lack of programming skill was behind it.

    The rest of you make a good point: the inclusion of an occasional pseudo-game like this breaks up the monotony and give me an excuse for a one-shot posting. So I guess I won't make any edits to the list. Thanks for reading!

    Rampant Coyote has featured me two or three times this month, so I'm getting plenty of traffic from him. Much appreciated.

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  10. Oh, and Andy, the answer is yes, playing a bad game makes you appreciate the features of good games more. Although this is generally more true when you're comparing, say, The Bard's Tale II to Might & Magic. If the game is SO bad that it's just laughable, you don't really learn much from it.

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  11. How to cheat

    Go to the slave market and buy -500 slaves
    When the next storm or tidal wave comes proceed
    If you lose some slave your slaves will return to 0
    Sell all the food you have accumulated
    Might be a wise idea to invest in medicine as several people in the game pinch your liquid assets (hermit, priest)
    Cowardice is the best option when facing drow elves or rust goblins (as you will lose bows/arrows swords if you have them if you fight)

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  12. Actually caring enough about "Braminar" to cheat is impossible to imagine.

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  13. This post was worth it for the last pic alone.

    (I remember an ancient adventure construction kit that let the users create such choose your own adventure-type games. I still have my unfinished masterpiece* on an old harddrive somewhere)

    (* may not be an actual masterpiece)

    -Joe

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  14. "If Braminar was Super Mario Brothers, you'd get a question at the beginning saying "Do you want to try to rescue the princess? (Y/N)," and you'd say "Y" and watch the computer play the game in front of you."

    Progress Quest, years ahead of its time!

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  15. I can't believe I had never heard of "Progress Quest" before this.

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  16. Although nobody here seems to like it, I'm quite fond of it, for it's utter weirdosity. But not everyone can appreciate that and prefer boring stuff.

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  17. I agree with the Anon above me. This is actually one of my favourite PC games of all time; I played it daily for about two years when I was six or seven, and continue to play it every now and then today.

    It's an amazing game and I expect to play it for a long time still to come.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure if you're talking about Braminar or Progress Quest, but either way it's hard to imagine you're not kidding.

      Delete
    2. I was referring to Braminar. :)

      Delete
  18. Agreeing with Mr. Watts, this was a great game when I was young. Remember to climb the mountain trail to get rid of the ring!

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  19. So I just tried it, and it's as silly as it is entertaining - for a short time. Yeah, it was probably the result of limited coding skills, and not what I'd consider an RPG at all.

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  20. I played this back in the late 80s on an 8088 and it was amusing (easy to cheat due to the neg. number issue and easy to break/crash too by submitting unexpected data types to an input prompt). If I recall the game was just some guys college project.

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  21. What's amusing is, this pretty much perfectly encapsulates how FTL's encounters play out, but people think that game is wonderful for some inexplicable reason.

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    Replies
    1. Yet some people win 90% of games they start on 'normal' difficulty with a random ship and others manage 10%.

      Delete
  22. Hey I think this review is unfair... I played and enjoyed Braminar for its simplicity and quirky humour (and finished it legitimately, which I feel is a prerequisite for reviewing a game like this IMO). It follows the "Camels!" style of game closely - in case anyone was coding in the very early 80s and remembers this game it worked exactly the same way. Unfortunately Camels! (a game that appeared in magazines for people to copy the code into their C64 etc) seems to be lost to the ages yet Braminar survives. Wonder why!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Is this the game you're thinking of?
    http://www.atariarchives.org/morebasicgames/showpage.php?page=25

    ReplyDelete

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