Friday, May 20, 2011

Game 54: Moraff's Revenge (1988)

From the last 50 games, I have determined that there is no correlation between the quality of the game and the elaborateness of the first screen. Thankfully.

The other day, I was idly wondering whether I would ever play a game that is still being actively sold. Right now, I guess you can still buy games that were issued in 2002, but by the time I get to 2002, it'll probably be 2018, and those games will be long out of circulation. I figured I'd always be scouring for abandonware or depending on sites like

Well, I'm pleased to admit I'm wrong: Moraff's Revenge, an independent 1988 game, is still being sold for $10 by the author, Steve Moraff. I tried to buy it, but it looked like the only option was to buy it on CD, not to download it. Given my travel schedule over the next few months, I don't have any idea where to ship the thing that will ensure that I actually get my hands on it. Right now I've got a free shareware version that only goes up to Level 17; the $10 version goes to Level 70.

Exploring Moraff's dungeon.

Whether I care to go even to Level 17 (or 7, for that matter) remains undecided. The game is a passable dungeon crawl with some original elements, which I will cover anon, but not much in the way of plot, story, NPCs, or anything to break up the overall monotony. The introduction is actually straightforward about this:

This is a role playing game...Each time you kill a monster, you will obtain experience. When you have enough experienced, you will get more power. The more experience you get, the more powerful you become.

The game freezes you on this screen for about a minute, refusing to let you progress until it's convinced you've read everything (it does this with every text screen, actually), so I had lots of time to contemplate. This really is the quintessential definition of a "role playing game," isn't it? An endless cycle of killing and leveling. What does it all mean? Why have I locked myself into it? Perhaps I should give up this playing and blogging nonsense and go teach...Oh, good! It's letting me into the game!

A pop-up ad for the next game in the series, which I can't dismiss until "Please read this" turns into "Hit any key." This sounds like a pretty cool game, but...God almighty, $195?! Thankfully, it now sells for $10.

Character creation is a simple process of choosing a race and then rolling random sets of standard D&D statistics (strength, intelligence, wisdom, health, and agility) until you get the numbers you want. Unique in the game is the "laziness" statistic, which, according to the game's help file, "wastes some of the limited points that could be part of other important characteristics and serves no purpose whatsoever." I think I like this guy's sense of humor.

You then choose between fighter and wizard classes (I went with the game's suggestion to make the first character a fighter) and give yourself a name.

If you reversed the order of these statistics, it would be a perfect real-life set of attributes for The CRPG addict.

Starting in the town, with the dungeon gaping below me, I find myself wanting to know a little bit more about the game's back story and main quest, so I bring up the help file and ask for the "Objectives." It begins helpfully, "Like life itself, this game has no single simple object." Damn, this game is philosophical.

Life actually has three objectives: vodka, girls, and jazz.

Read deep enough into the narrative, though, and you find that, "the most exciting goal is to find the fountain of youth on the 70th level," so I'm going to regard this as the "main quest." I'm a little wary of the game's statement that reaching it "may take months of play," but reassured that, "if you are very clever, you will find a way." The CRPG Addict is very clever.

I'm making a lot of fun of the text--which Mr. Moraff probably intended, frankly--but let's talk about what's good about this game, because there's plenty. First is the rather original mapping and exploration system ("the mapping system of the game is perhaps its greatest feature," the manual crows). On the left of the screen, you see a bird's-eye map that slowly fills in its passages and rooms as you explore, saving your progress with your game. This is rare in CRPGs of the era (I think only Might & Magic II and Phantasie have functioning automaps so far) and almost unheard of in an independent game.

Tooling about town.

On the right side of the screen is a not-quite 3D view of what your character sees in front of him. Rather than actually rendering a 3D wire-frame view like the Ultima series, it instead shows four "panels" representing what you see in four directions. I actually find it much easier to navigate on the bird's-eye map, although you can only see enemies on the right-hand map.

There are a number of other original features in the game:

  • You gain experience when you kill monsters in the dungeon, but you have to rest at an inn to "absorb experience" and thus gain levels. There are three inns in town, and they vary in quality and price. The higher-priced ones restore more hit points and grant more experience when you rest there. The cheapest one ("The Fleabag Motel") carries a risk of disease and theft.
  • The primary currency of the game is "jewel pieces" (JP). In the dungeon, you find coins of various denominations, but you have to bring them to the bank and convert them to JPs in order to use them. There's a bit of strategy associated with picking up money from slain foes. You have a max carrying weight, and if you waste it all picking up copper pieces, you won't be able to take gold or platinum from the next combat (the game allows you to abandon all your coins, but not to swap cheap coins for the good stuff).
  • At the temple, where you can go for healing, you have the option to pay 500,000 JPs for an extra level. The game thus satisfies my rule that there ought to always be some reason to collect money.

Only 499,980 to go!

  • In an echo of Rogue, you sometimes find pills and wands in various colors. The only way to figure out what they do is to use them. The colors remain consistent across items that do the same thing. If the blue pill heals, all blue pills will heal.
  • The game makes a cute use of music. When you check into the inn, it plays "Rock-a-Bye Baby," and when you visit the temple, it plays "When the Saints Go Marching In." Upon death, it naturally plays Chopin's funeral march.
  • The game occasionally throws hints at you, like "Go to the bank to cash in treasure" (when you're reaching your max carrying weight) and "You should stay at an inn" (when you have enough experience to level).

While these features are fun, the basic gameplay is somewhat boring. Combat consists of repeatedly hitting your foe with your chosen weapon until one of you dies. There are a handful of spells for wizard characters, who face a tough beginning, as they cannot wield anything but knives or wear anything other than armor; at higher levels, they are apparently much better than fighters. Inventory is similarly banal: you can carry knives, swords, and maces, and wear one of four types of armor; if you find or buy better items, they automatically replace what you're already wearing or wielding.

Shopping. Does the distinction between "plate armor" and "field plate armor" come from Dungeons & Dragons?

Monsters are relatively unmemorable. In my gameplay so far, I've fought vampire bats, centipedes, skeletons, hobgoblins, zombies, half-orcs, armored fighters, flying stirges, flesh eaters, gnolls, trolls, giant ants, and giant ticks. Foes have levels, too; a Level 1 half-orc might die in one hit, but a Level 8 half-orc will kill lower-level characters just as quickly. Death, when it comes, is both permanent and insulting:

This was before the "LOL" era.

There is a chance of an adventurer finding your body and raising you, but if that happens your attributes suffer significantly, and it's generally best just to restart.

In short, Moraff's Revenge is a single-character, permanent-death dungeon crawl with limited tactics and almost no story, but with some decent programming innovations. I'll finish up my six hours and see if it delivers anything more. I should note that many of you have been leaving positive comments about this game over the last few weeks, but judging by the contents of the comments, I think you're thinking of Moraff's World, which doesn't come up until 1991.

Before I go, I have to ask: Since Moraff's Revenge is obviously named after the author, Steve Moraff, exactly who is he getting "revenge" on, and why? I can just see him in 1988: "Smart kids at this university are screwing up the bell curve! I shall introduce this game to the servers and make them waste hundreds of hours of studying time trying to find a fountain of youth! Bwu-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

Later edit: The game didn't really offer anything new for the rest of my playing time. As I departed it, I read a review here, which notes that if you make it to the Fountain of Youth, "drinking from it will basically start a new cycle of the game where your character goes back to level 1, but with better stats and stat growth than before, and a newly randomized dungeon to try [to] beat." That's not much of a reward. The review also notes favorable things about the two successive Moraff games, which are on my list.


  1. As I recall, 2nd edition AD&D had plate mail (AC 3), field plate (AC 2) and full plate (AC 1) where a lower AC is better. Each type reduced the amount of mail and increased the amount of plating and weight, IIRC. I'm not sure if this distinction came from anything else before or has any bearing on reality.

  2. Sean is correct as to where the destinction of plate comes from, though it could be even earlier than D&D and in the wargame inspirations that fuelled its inception. Armor Classes in generally certainly come from tactical squad-based war games.

    Moraff (the programmer) always read to me as if he's suffering from some mild psychic ailment or another, what with the delusions of grandeur and the inadvertantly endless nature of his products, but he might just be writing in that 'sadistic Dungeon Master' voice constantly. Nonetheless, I've spent more time with Moraff's World than I'd like to admit. If I remember correctly that game has a hilarious amount of graphics modes you can run it in, many of them with psychedelic ega-to-vga color swaps that can only enhance the feeling of slight delusion that comes with playing that game.

    Also, new game, yay!

  3. I have to say, the fact that he doesn't offer his Moraff's World-series games in downloadable form in 2011 is highly disappointing and leaves me disinclined to actually pay for them, as quaint as the idea of getting them mailed to me on CD is.

    1. you can download full version for $5.95 at

  4. @Jonothan: Moraff's Dungeon Pack is a download purchase ($19 for all 3 RPGs). I doubt it's going anywhere anytime soon so you might want to hold off until Moraff's World.

  5. moraf definitely pumped out the shareware back in the day, and imo, all dreck except for about one game which you will probably get to later on.

  6. Jonothan: Also he probably put those up years and years ago then forgot about them.

    Wow, that looks even more terrible then Moraff's World... I saw at least one claim it was 1987, which could explain the leap backwards in graphics.

    I don't think all of them are dreck: Moraff's Stones was a good time waster. Can't remember were I got a copy though... Shareware CD most likely.

  7. In fairness, the $195 price tag actually appears to be tied to "International Simulation," a vague product that "simulates the pressures of limited time" and various other things. There is no price indicated for the sequel.

    Apparently he should have made the mandatory reading time even longer. :)

  8. Yeah, all right. That's a little embarrassing. I admit I skimmed it.

  9. Dude, it was all I could do to even look at that font / color scheme. (And I used to use EGA screen mode all the time back in the day!) I was just so shocked by the quoted price that I had to give it a close read. :)

  10. I have mostly fond memories of this game back in the day, although for some reason the version I played had invisible chutes to the next level, so there was an extra dimension of danger to the dungeon. And one time I couldn't even finish mapping the town level because I couldn't keep track of which square the chute was on and I'd keep falling down it.

    I have even fonder memories of Moraff's World though. I'll be looking forward to your take on that one. The plot isn't any better, but somehow the gameplay ended up being terribly addictive. And the levels were *huge*. Prepare to not fully map any level except maybe the town level. Also look for shoutouts to Monty Python among other things.

  11. Both Moraff's World and Dungeons of the Unforgiven are more advanced--and far, far more bizarre*-- evolutions of Moraff's Revenge. While I enjoy all three, Moraff's Revenge is the least worthy of the three.

    *Giant walking garbage cans and "Lesdidian Warriors" are just two of the likely drug-influenced monsters.

  12. You can skip the wait on the first screen by pressing ctrl+x. Also, you can "beat" the game in a couple days if you don't care about mapping stuff out. The pills, and one other item type, alter your base stats. Just use enough of the ones that boost your agility and you will soon be unhittable! You can slowly bash the enemies to death with your fists and they still won't be able to touch you. Once you reach that point just make a break for level 70 and you'll find that fountain in no time.

  13. Well, this is an interesting read! I am Steve Moraff, and it is fascinating to read everyone's speculations as to my motives in creating the three games! In case anyone wonders whatever happened to me, I am still at work, but on a completely unrelated project. I am writing a new programming language as a personal research project in hopes of producing a 3D language that is much superior and extremely different from existing languages. I don't have a plan to write another dungeon game in the new language, although I must admit I am tempted. I also wrote a Chinese teaching program that is available for free download at my website, That product worked well enough to teach Chinese to myself, but not well enough to be a successful product. I do plan to rewrite the language-teaching games into the new language. I wish I could offer you all (and me) a great new dungeon game written in Java with 3D and all that, but I just don't have the time!

    1. By the way, if you'd like the rest of the game, email me and I will email the game back to you. Be warned, it is not likely to take just a few days, and it is a huge waste of time. When I play it (which I try never to do), I can't help but curse the author for wasting so much of my time!

    2. It is really cool to hear from you; I looked you up on Wikipedia a while ago, but it didn't have much. I wasted a ton of time as a kid playing a demo of Moraff's World I got with one of those '300 games and demos' books that were so popular in the 90s.

      I was really young, so I never did really figure out how to play it, but I spent a lot of hours wandering around at random, bumping into things as a monk.

    3. Steve, thanks for taking the time to comment. I look forward to Moraff's World in a few dozen games. I really enjoyed aspects of this game, and I would have loved to play it all the way to the Fountain, but the pressure of all the games on my list got to me.

    4. Hey Steve, release the games for free already! Surely you've made your millions over 25 years!

      I remember playing both the demos, way back, from a computer at the library that would spit out shareware games for 1 pound each. My little brother LOVED them, he was very excited at the age of 9 or so.


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