Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Game 62: Times of Lore (1988)

Times of Lore
United States
ORIGIN Systems (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for Apple II Commodore 64; 1989 for Amiga, DOS, and ZX Spectrum; 1990 for Amstrad CPC and NES
Date Started: 9 August 2011
Yeah, I know. Don't start, all right? I don't like having three active games on the board any more than you do. But you wanted me to start posting again, right? I've hit a bit of a wall with both Sentinel Worlds and Star Command. They're too similar, for one thing. It was a huge mistake trying to play them both at the same time, because I forget which gameplay elements belong to which game. Anyway, I made attempts to re-start both of them several times over the last two days and found myself watching re-runs of Scrubs instead. My triumphant return was ruined.

Times of Lore is a relatively generic high-fantasy game with an uncomplicated quest and interface. It's just the sort of thing I need to get the pump primed again. Let me get back in the habit of blogging, and then I'll go back to the two sci-fi CRPGs. Fair enough?

The back story is told in a series of well-illustrated screens at the beginning of the game, accompanied by a quantum leap (at least for DOS) in game music (it's too bad I don't much care about music). The story is set in the kingdom of Albareth, whose king and high mage have mysteriously vanished shortly after winning a ten-year war against a barbarian horde (one suspects they have ascended to rule the House of Shadows). The king's ineffectual steward, Dariel, hasn't been managing things so well. The barbarians are threatening the kingdom again, the lords are squabbling amongst themselves, the wizards have gone into hiding, and a new evil cult is rising.

Despite the growing danger in the countryside, my father, a woodsman, has refused to leave his home, and has instead sent me to stay with my wealthy uncle in Eralan, Albareth's capital city. At the same time, the steward has summoned a council of lords, demanding that they bring various magical artifacts with them, hoping to summon back the king and his Medallion of Power. When my uncle suddenly dies, leaving me his gold, I am left to make my way as an adventurer, running missions for the steward and the lords.

Basically, I can be a fighter, a fighter, or a fighter.

Character creation is a quick process of choosing a knight, a valkyrie, or a barbarian (someone's been playing Gauntlet). I went with a valkyrie because, what the heck, I never play a female PC, and I immediately found myself in a tavern.

The game hand-waves how the daughter of a woodcutter ends up a valkyrie.

The game's Origin origins show in the graphics but not in the gameplay--it almost immediately revealed itself as an action CRPG, and not a particularly good one. Commands are limited to talk, examine, inventory, pick up, drop, give, and use. There is no diagonal movement. The game supports mouse control, but I found it so wonky that I disabled it and went to keyboard-only. The in-game sound is not up to the quality of the pre-game music.

This being an Origin game, though, we have to have some NPC dialogue, and it's fairly extensive for an action RPG. You begin by selecting the "talk" icon on the far left (although it looks more like you're about to bite the NPC) and from there have a selection of options. If you don't want to be rude, you begin with "start chitchat" and then you can ask for rumors or whatever the other topics of the day are. Speaking to the innkeeper, I got a hint about a sorcerous tower to the north of the city. The game buzzes at you every time an NPC says something that opens up a new dialogue topic.

In another room of the inn, I immediately got a quest from a cloaked figure to retrieve the Foretelling Stones--one of the magical artifacts summoned by the steward--which had been stolen by orcs in a caravan raid.

I tried exploring the town and immediately found myself out of the town, heading through the wilderness. The game doesn't seem to have any transition between areas. I was immediately assailed by a large number of orcs and other enemies, who I dispatched by facing them and repeatedly hitting the ENTER key.

Trying to talk to someone attempting to kill me was a mistake.

Enemies drop gold, scrolls, food, and potions. The scrolls and potions have different colors, and it didn't take me long to figure out what they do: blue scrolls freeze enemies, red scrolls kill all visible enemies, blue potions heal a little, green potions heal a lot. I'm not sure, but it might be that you can only have one of each item. I've never held more than one, and I've noticed that if I use one, an enemy tends to drop the same item fairly soon afterwards.

I wandered north for what seemed like an eon before I finally succumbed to the wounds inflicted by repeat combat. Hit points are represented by a candle on the right side of the screen. The game announces death by placing a tombstone at the very spot where the enemy slew me--it was nice of the townsfolk to bury my body where it lay and erect a memorial.

I set out again and was a little more careful. At length, I came to a house of a woodsman (not my father, I gather), who was upset about the proliferation of orcs in the area. He told me that to find their camp, I needed to continue on the forest road to a pool, then head north along a winding trail.

From the woodsman, I also got a dagger, which automatically throws if I hit ENTER while not right next to an enemy. I have to keep remembering to pick it up after each combat.

At this point, here's what I don't know about Times of Lore: whether you gain experience or levels for killing monsters ('cause otherwise, it seems easy enough just to run by them), what happens if I attack townsfolk, whether there's anything to buy with the gold besides food and a night's sleep at the inn, and how, exactly, I save the game (resting in the inn seems to save it, but I don't know if there's any other way).

With the basic combat, the large game world, and the various potions and scrolls, I am reminded--unfavorably--of Faery Tale Adventure. As I've said before, action CRPGs don't tend to age very well. Games with interesting tactics (Wizardry), compelling plots (Ultima IV), broad worlds to explore (Starflight), or all three (Pool of Radiance, Might & Magic) never grow old, but games that blow their wad on graphics, sound, and action last only as long as the next better game that comes along.

I wanted to at least complete the first quest before I finished posting for the night, but I wandered along that damned forest path for an hour and never found a pool of water. The game world seems quite large and mostly devoid of anything interesting. But it's uncomplicated--thank Lord British for that.


  1. Doesn't sound like the greatest game. I hope you give it a shot and explore it a bit more, though. I'd like to see if it pans out and gets any better.

  2. Good to see you back in action!

    If you finish this one quickly and then start Ultima V, we may end up playing that game simultaneously. I already have a good idea of what you will complain about when playing Ultima V. :-)

    As for Times of Lore, for some reason I never played it despite in being released on both the Amiga and the humble ZX Spectrum. That it was released on the Spectrum suggests that it is a rather simplistic or small game.
    Combat in the game sounds very boring. Just spamming the Enter button?

  3. I played this game and completed it on the Commodore 64 in 1989 but I don´t remember much from it. But I liked it then. It was a very good game but a little hard at the time.

  4. From what I recall, when this game first came out it wasn't really regarded as an action RPG (I don't think they had such distinctions at the time). The idea behind it was more like "baby's first Ultima" - it's an introductory RPG with a basic system meant to ease new or casual players into the genre.

  5. Surprisingly, I found that the NES version of this game is better. Although the quality of graphics are worse, it displays the map on the entire screen, making it much easier to know where you're going. But the best change in the NES version is the fact that you don't have to pick up the dagger after every throw! Don't worry though, you'll be able to buy a better weapon soon enough.

    The game came with an attractive map which will help you out greatly. Here it is: http://www.suave.net/~dave/images/tol/TimesOfLore_Map.jpg

  6. Guru, that map helps a LOT. Thanks! I usually track down the documentation before beginning a game, but somehow this time I overlooked the map. Now I can see where I mis-wandered last night.

    Petrus, alas, mashing the ENTER key is pretty much the extent of combat. I'm very curious what you mean about Ultima V, though. I remember the game fairly well, and yet I can't think of any obvious complaints I would have.

  7. If you're not having fun with a game, why torture yourself? Why go back to Sentinel Worlds and Star Command at all? It's not as though you're short of games to play.

    I know you wanted to try them all, but you did. And if they're not fun for you, why bother going back to them? There are better games ahead, and if you lose your enthusiasm for this, we'll all suffer.

    Oh, and welcome back!

  8. "I'm very curious what you mean about Ultima V, though. I remember the game fairly well, and yet I can't think of any obvious complaints I would have."

    I was thinking of one of your pet peeves (or should I say Chet peeves?) - poison.
    Many low level monsters have poison attacks, like rats, snakes and spiders. And chests often have poison traps. Even searhing monster remains can poison you.
    It certainly annoyed _me_, especially before I could find or afford the reagents to make the counter spells.

  9. Just so you know, I caught your reference to the Malazan Book of the Fallen. (I'm actually doing a full read-through of the series now, currently just over halfway through _Deadhouse Gates_.) It's fantasy for people who find Robert Jordan insufficiently prolix and George R. R. Martin too kind to his characters.

  10. Hi CRPG addict,
    Great to see you back in action. Too much sci-fi crpg eh? HI just wanted to let you know you are responsible for me replaying Might and Magic 1 again....(3rd time). And I'm having fun again! I saved my old handdrawn maps from the first time I played so that makes life a bit easier. Even with a liberal use of the save-state from the emulator, it's still quite hardcore to play, the game can throw an impossible encounter at you at a whim's notice! But that just adds to the excitement and sense of danger. All my characters are near or at level 12 now, so a ways to go before I become really powerful. Then again, only a few encouters are still beyond my reach. Let's see how you fare with Times of Lore. Next on the list? :-)

  11. From as much of addicts personality I have pieced together from his prior posts, I think he really want to give the space crpg's a fair shake and doesn't feel like he was able to due to his busy schedule during his first attempt. Of course I could be wrong and he has other reasons.

    My suggestion to you our dear addict is to split them up when you try them again. So play one then a non-space crpg before you get back to the other one. That way you don't get overloaded and burned out on them. At the very least don't play them simultaneously.

    I actually was intrigued by what you posted on them and would like to hear some more about each game. Or you could just abandon them like kittens in an alley.

  12. I agree, this game is not very good, and yet, it kind of worked for me. I too played the NES port, and something about the 'non-differentiation' aspect really worked for me. I actually felt like I was exploring, though you're right, there isn't a whole lot to find, but it felt neat when I did wander upon something--usually to die pretty quickly. Oh well. I am content to use my rose-colored glasses on this one. Thanks.

  13. I decided to try this game today and I'll warn you: careful when exploring the woods, I was randomly looking for the orc camp people kept talking about and was roasted by a dragon! A freaking dragon in the starting area!

  14. Just letting you know that for some reason the last two entries are not showing up in the RSS feed.

  15. Played this on the NES, like others, and never could remember the name. I remember being blown away by the keyword dialogue system, which was possibly a first on the NES.

  16. I recall liking this game, but that was way back in 1988 so I might not like it now. I don't remember finishing it, so perhaps even then my enjoyment didn't last. Now that I think of it, my fondest memory of the game was when there was a glitch in the innkeeper's sprite that made him look more like a shambling mound from Pool Of Radiance. From then on my brother and I dubbed him the "stupid, pretend innkeeper". (Anyone get that reference?)

  17. Ah, Petrus, you make me recall unpleasant things. Yes, both IV and V are horribly unfair in their use of poison--especially in the swiftness with which it kills your characters. And you're right that I had forgotten the sheer number of ways it threatens you with its toxins.

    WCG, UbAh answered pretty well for me. I tend to favor fantasy CRPGs and I want to make sure I give as much of a chance to sci-fi CRPGs. Both of the ones on the board are fundamentally good games and deserve at least enough of a playthrough that I can get a GIMLET out of it. Right now, I wouldn't even be able to rate them fairly.

    Slam23...Look, I know my own rules are a bit draconian...but, seriously? Save states? Nonetheless, I'm glad I inspired you to replay such a classic game.

    'Nym, on the RSS feed: I see it, and I have absolutely no idea what to do about it. Suggestions welcome from anyone.

    I had to fly cross country today, so I didn't get a chance to play more, but I'll keep at it. Thanks to you, Kyle, for inspiring an off-topic posting.

  18. It didn't show as new on blogger dashboard either, so I think it is a flag on the blog itself that is not being set right. I don't know google's blogger that well as this blog is the only reason I signed up in the first place and I have had little experience with it. So anyone know the quirks of blogger and can tell us why the new posts are not being flagged as new?

  19. Well, I don't quite get it, but something about the image sizes in the "Wish List" posting were blocking it from being included, and I guess that blocked all subsequent postings as well. It seems to be working now.

    Blogger suspiciously started letting me just paste images into the posting instead of having toe "upload" them. I guess I should have been suspicious of that.

  20. Stupid feed, is working *now* but I was all ready to go questing after you!

    The back story is told in a series of well-illustrated screens at the beginning of the game, accompanied by a quantum leap (at least for DOS) in game music (it's too bad I don't much care about music).

    A quanta is very small, thus quantum mechanics are the mechanics of the very small. Just saying, you just said it took a tiny, almost infentesily small leap forwards.

    1. That's a common misconception, but no; that's not what a "quantum leap" means. The defining feature of a quantum is its discreteness; it is a distinct level or quantity rather than lying on a continuum with other quanta. A quantum leap is a leap between quanta, i.e. an immediate leap from one level to another without passing through any other level in between. Size has nothing to do with it.

      It's true, of course, that the quantum leaps most often dealt with in quantum mechanics, mainly those between electron energy levels, are extremely small, but that's just an empirical fact about those particular quanta; it's not an essential defining feature of quantum leaps in general. Using "quantum leap" to refer to any sudden change in quality is a common and acceptable figurative usage, and does not necessarily imply that the change is small.

  21. I too remember playing this on the C64.

    It's more of an action adventure than an RPG, the combat is boring and repetitive and there isn't that much actual content but for reason I liked it. The intro music by Galway is absolutely beatiful and the graphics and size of the world are quite good for a C64. I think it was a unique concept at the time, at least for the C64; easy to play, good looking actiony games with large worlds & some plot and dialogs were rare those days.

    Some trivia: It was the first game of Chris Roberts and the engine was also used in Bad Blood.

  22. I'm surprised more games haven't used a candle for a life bar.

  23. I think Times of Lore is more like baby Diablo than baby Ultima. I enjoyed it back in the day but it wasn't great.

  24. I agree. Very much at the beginning of the action RPG tradition.

  25. I love your blog. I could read this stuff all day.
    I gotta kick out of you panning Times of Lore. All your cons you listed are legit but of all the C64 games I had, I have the fondest memories of this one. It had one of those most satisfying endings I can remember. Combat would have been improved (slightly) for you had you found the boomerang axe.
    Keep plugging away!

  26. A lot of the things we remember fondly from childhood don't live up to scrutiny when we revisit them. I loved The Dukes of Hazzard and Three's Company and an old Roger Corman film called Battle Beyond the Stars as a kid, and I find them unwatchable now.

    Not everything's that way, of course. Sometimes you get Pool of Radiance or Waste Land or The Godfather; sometimes you get Times of Lore or The Bard's Tale II.

    I'll bet you played it on your C64 with a joystick, though, which would have made maneuvering a lot more tolerable.

  27. Definitely agree with jonmsg4. This game, together with Dragon Wars, is the best C64 game. I finished it in early 90s with a joystick and enjoyed it very much. Why don´t you just buy a gamepad and try it again? I just hate seeing this game in the list of the lowest rated games. I think the dos version of this game is equally good. I tried it and I liked it. Come on! Stop panning this game.

  28. Even if I had a better control, I can't imagine I'd like it. But once I get through another year of games I haven't played yet, I'll consider revisiting some of the games I ended before I won.

  29. If you are going to revisit games, I think there are worthier targets than this. Alternate Reality: the city and Autoduel spring to mind.

  30. This is one of those games that was originally designed for a C64 and ported to other systems. Most of the ports were not as good. Also of the 3 characters to choose from the Valkyrie is the most difficult - she's quickest but doesn't hit as hard and can take the least amount of hits. The barbarian kills enemies in the fewest amount of hits and the knight has the best armor. I think the barbarian is easiest and knight is a close 2nd.

    1. I'm vaguely toying with the idea of coming back to this now that I have a controller. I'd like to see how gameplay differs.

  31. This may not be the most profoundly useful comment ever, but between the fact that this really was an easy-to-get-into RPG at a time when most had steep learning curves, and the fact that (for the time, again) it was graphically gorgeous on the better systems, it is easy to see what this game had going for it. It is just that, well, "cutting-edge [x] plus overly simplistic" is undoubtedly not a recipe for standing the test of time.

    Of course, someone can probably instantly prove me wrong here, but I bet the challenging games that focused on gameplay/story/et cetera over flash-bang are going to be more fun to play after the whiz-boom-pow has worn off.

  32. Fire King has a lot more RPG elements in it than this game, and its a better action game. Give it a shot Chet!


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