Sunday, April 14, 2013

Game 97: Prophecy I: The Fall of Trinadon (1988)

Activision's market research department: "Our studies show that RPG players really want to play pre-teen heroes with girls' haircuts, bare, hairless legs, and little furry bootees." Activision CEO: "Well, get on it, then!"

I was looking for something different to occupy me in between Knights of Legends's interminable battles, and I found it. Prophecy is the opposite of Knights: a fast-paced action RPG with relatively rapid advancement, limited tactics, and the ability to save anywhere, any time.

The game takes place in the Gendorian empire, ruled by a tyrant named Krellane. The unnamed hero's father was part of a resistance movement called the "Jedists," but he ran afoul of Krellane's forces and was forced to flee into the forests, where he founded a hidden town called CrissCross. The hero was raised with martial and magical training, in hopes that he would one day fulfill a prophecy and destroy Krellane. Just as the game begins, Krellane's forces have found the village. The hero awakens to the shrieks of his fellow townsfolk being butchered in the night and soon discovers he is the last survivor.


Left unmentioned anywhere in the game's documentation is who or what "Trinadon" is. The only time the word appears in the manual is in the name of a monster, a "Gendor of Trinadon."

You get no choices during character creation. After the splash screen, the game displays your characteristics, and you're launched into the middle of your village, weaponless, to meet the attacking hordes. There's only one attack option (employed with the SPACE bar), but as with all action RPGs, maneuvering is half the battle. Quick use of the number pad can help you outflank the opponent, dodge his attacks, and attack him from behind.

Taking on a goblin near the opening screen.

The game invites comparison with Origin's Times of Lore from the same year, but there are a lot of differences that ultimately make Prophecy much more fun. Prophecy has, in my opinion, better graphics and sound. Where Lore only allowed east/west and north/south movement, Prophecy uses all the keys on the number pad. Prophecy has a much greater selection of weapons and armor. Lore's enemies continually respawned and attacked in hordes, but Prophecy's respawn slowly and unpredictably, and generally attack one-by-one or in small groups. In Lore, there was barely any reason to fight, since you didn't gain experience levels, but in Prophecy you have lots of reasons to grind. Lore had more NPCs to talk with, and it used the Origin-patented keyword system for engaging in dialogue, but Prophecy takes pains to give more descriptions in the world itself, as you transition from screen to screen and walk up to various objects and signs. These add a lot of flavor to the game.

Note the detailed descriptions and attractive graphics.

Perhaps most important, while Lore was continuously-scrolling, Prophecy is organized into discrete screens, with much less freedom of movement among them. You can't just stake out in a random direction; strategically placed trees and rocks funnel you along a relatively linear path in wilderness areas, and walls constrain movement in dungeons and castles (though I allow that the game may open up later). Enemies don't follow from screen to screen, meaning that fleeing and waiting for hit points to regenerate is a viable strategy, especially since enemies don't regenerate during the same time. Modern players can speed up regeneration by jacking the DOSBox CPU speed. but rather than do that, I've been using this waiting time to write my postings and play Knights of Legend in another window.
 
So far, I've found the game fast-paced and addictive, with an intriguing story developing. The only thing I absolutely don't like is the action-oriented combat, in which you have to dance around trying to get on the same plane as your opponent. The difference between swings that connect and those that miss might only be a few pixels, and plenty of times I've been in situations in which my enemy could hit me and I couldn't hit him. (This has happened the other way around, though, too.)

Action combat in Prophecy is about getting into the right position.

Slaying foes rewards you with gold and experience. After 1,000 experience points, you move from Level 0 to Level 1, after which the number of experience points needed to move from level to level increases by 3,000 for each level (it takes 4,000 to go from 1 to 2) before maxing at 32,000 per level. There appears to be no maximum level. 


There are 31 spells in the game, with effects including damage to one creature ("Fireball"; "Harm"), damage to multiple creatures ("Air Wall"; "Rock Wall"), buffing your statistics ("Battle Fury"; "Hit Point Hype"), reducing enemy statistics ("Weakness"; "Slow"), healing ("Heal"; "Cure Disease"), and incapacitating or turning enemies ("Enrage"; "Amnesia"; "Fear"). They cost anywhere between 2 and 12 spell points to cast, and all are immediately available at the beginning of the game, although you can only have 10 in "memory" at any given time (each keyed to a function key). To "memorize" a spell, you open your spell list and type the spell's "code word" into the appropriate slot. For instance, "heal" is "Harlok" and "harm" is "BaeHarlok." The neat thing is that while typing in the code word, you can add one of four prefixes to the spell's name to increase its power (and, thus, its spell point cost) by various magnitudes. So while "Millmeta" (blade missile) normally does 1-10 points of damage and costs 3 spell points, "Parmillmeta" does 2-20 points and costs 6 spell points, and "Sunmillmeta" does 16-80 points of damage and costs 24 spell points. This system allows even base spells to continue increasing in power as character levels increase.

Adding to my list of memorized spells.

After starting the game, I explored the devastated town and found no one alive, nor any equipment or treasure left.
That's an abrupt transition to the final sentence.
 
The path forced me to go south and defeat a sentry guarding a bridge. My unarmed attacks were nearly useless against him, but some "magic arrow" spells took care of him. Beyond him, in front of a church, was the "boss" of the opening area: a fighter named "Guthgore," who was well-armored but fell fairly quickly to my magic missiles.
 
 
In the church, I found three priests who survived the massacre and hailed me as the prophesied one. They told me to pray in the alcoves nearby. In one, I was given a quest to find the "goblin crown of mind absorption" and return it to the church; in the other, I found a teleporter that whisked me to the goblin capital city of Gobar.
 

Gobar was full of monsters and treasure chests, and before long I had a long list of different weapons, helms, armors, and magic items.
 
Sweet.
 
I died a few times and discovered that the chests didn't hold the same items as before; treasure is randomized in the game. The equipment interface in the game is fairly intuitive: you scroll to the item and choose to equip it in your right hand or left hand, as armor, as gauntlets, or on your head.
 
Moebius taught me that a "YinYang Symbol" is properly called a "Taijitu."
 
Some of the monsters were willing to talk to me (there are no dialogue options; you just read what they say); a few suggested they were part of the Jedist resistance. It's nice to play a game in which not all "monsters" are immediately chaotic evil.
 

I defeated some jail guardians and talked to the prisoners, several of whom--despite looking like monsters--were clearly good guys. One of them told me to listen carefully to what a Jedist says, "for the answers to your questions are likely to be spoken, hidden deep within the pattern of his response." The next mentioned that "The Answer Lies In Someone's Mental Astral Needs," which clearly spells TALISMAN, although it didn't seem to have any applicability to this area.


Most of the enemies in the city and palace gave me little trouble, with the exception of a wicked-looking monster guarding some treasure (the game bafflingly calls it a "kobold") and the goblin king himself, both of whom had several hundred hit points. My fortunes improved significantly when I found a "wraith dagger" in one of the chests; fighting with it transfers hit points from my enemy to me. With it, I was able to stand face-to-face with the kobold and strike fast enough to replenish my hit points even as he wailed on me.
 
I don't think this is what a "kobold" is supposed to look like.
 
But the goblin king was capable of devastating physical attacks that I couldn't keep up with using the dagger. I had to resort to hit and run tactics to defeat him.
 
Note that I'm facing three enemies here, and there are three sets of enemy hit points in the bottom right.
 
In a treasure chest with his chamber was the crown, and his bedroom, aside from additional treasure, held a letter that he had been writing to Krellane, warning the emperor of the danger of the Jedist cause.
Hmmm...the "Jedists" oppose the "Emperor." I can't imagine where they got this idea.
 
After I reached the exit with the crown, I received a message telling me to return it to its "rightful owners."
 
Soon I was teleported to the city of Nermon and immediately beset by guards. I killed them and knocked off for the evening.

I just noticed from this screenshot that I got diseased somewhere. I guess I'd better cure that.

Some other notes:

  • There doesn't seem to be a way to drop equipment. I've got a lot of armor I don't think I'll ever use. I hope there's a way to sell it later.
  • On the other hand, I have no idea what to do with all the gold I've been amassing--more than 10,000 so far. No place to spend it has yet emerged.

There'd better be a store at some point.
 
  • The game may scale the difficulty of encounters based on the PC level. I noticed that as I increased levels, tough monsters started appearing on screens on which there had been peons before. 
  • Enemies can damage each other by accident, especially if they're firing missile weapons or spells. You still get the experience if they do.
  • There are a lot of magic items--potions, rings, necklaces, wands, bowls--that seem to duplicate the game's spells. You have to figure out what they do through trial and error, which is dangerous because some of the items damage you.
  • The game brings up a copy protection screen in between each teleportation; to pass, you have to identify a creature from its silhouette in the pages of the manual.

 
  • Although the main screen gives the copyright date as 1988, the manual is copyrighted 1989, and almost every online source uses the latter date. My general policy is to regard the title screen as canon, which means I'm playing this a year late.
  • The date isn't the only thing hard to nail down: the publisher wasn't even consistent on the title. The game box, disk images, and manual all refer to the game simply as Prophecy; it's only in the game itself that we get The Fall of Trinadon subtitle, accompanied by a I after the main title, as if the developers were planning a series of games. Meanwhile, all of the inventory, spell, and status screens in the game have the subtitle without the Roman numeral; this is the way the game is almost always represented online.

All told, Prophecy is a satisfying action RPG that provides a nice contrast to the plodding pace of Knights of Legend. It surprises me that I've never heard of it before. I look forward to playing a bit of it in between Knights battles.

45 comments:

  1. what struck me about the title screen was that even as late as 1988 there were apparently mainstream games (activision!) with just two developers: one programmer/designer and one artist.

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    1. Yes! I like that when I want to track someone down to comment on the game, there's an obvious single person. You're right that this is swiftly changing in this era.

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  2. I enjoyed my time with this one. I'm glad you've found the documentation for it, I wasn't so lucky when I tried it a year or so ago and had to resort to a lot of trial and error to get anywhere with its controls.

    It's a game ahead of its time, really. It reminds me of Diablo. It's telling that as a game OF its time it seems to have been forgotten in time and dust. Perhaps that doesn't tell us as much of the public's tastes as of a bad - or nonexistent - publicity campgaign, though.

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    1. Did you win it? I can't seem to ascend in the Jedist Tower because I don't know who Lord Richard's squire is. I can't find any dialogue in which it's come up.

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    2. Oh good heavens, no! Perhaps somebody else can help.

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  3. Just outta curiosity - is the 'red' of the Wraith Dagger in the screenshot of your inventory significant of anything? Obviously, it has health draining properties.. but the Nethack/Wizardry-minded side of me says it's either 'cursed' or 'evil'. Or, indeed, 'magical'.

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    1. Never mind.. I just realised it was 'toggled status' as of the spells inventory. Clever, me.

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    2. Exactly. It just indicates the currently selected item.

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  4. Dayum, this game looks both fun and enjoyable and winnable. Actually, it might even be a game that the Gadfly could play and enjoy. I think I just may do this! Coolio! Your blog has enriched me again!

    As a btw, my wife is... not getting better like she used to. Small setbacks used to be something she could heal back from. These days, small setbacks are new, lower levels of health. It's dragging her and me down. Just a by the by of the life of the Gadfly and his family.

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  5. The graphics look really nice for a 1988 game. I deleted it from my own chronological play list partly due to HotU's review that said "Good for RPG newbies only".

    I like the name of the Emperor's "humble servant" - Grovelinne.

    Chet, where did you find the manual for this game?

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    1. Museum of Computer Adventure Game History. Delmoko linked it below. I'm coming to rely more and more on this site.

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    2. Yeah, that looks really pretty compared to the other games you've been playing.

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  6. I remember playing this game as part of an Activision compilation with Circuit's Edge and Mines of Titan and found it fairly enjoyable, although some enemies can be cheesed and randomized loot meant you could get some powerful stuff early. IIRC the gendor full plate armor that you have is one of the strongest in the game. There's also a useful spell that would paralyze an enemy in place for you to wail on freely (which is how I handled the kobold) but if you cast it too close and get hit by its radius, you would freeze yourself and have no way of breaking it except by quitting :p

    It's been so many years so I don't remember exactly who Lord Richard's squire was, but I think there was some knight you needed to talk to?

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    1. Agreed. I found that Gendor full plate in one of the earliest chests and never topped it for the rest of the game. I also fell victim to my own "hold" spell, as you say, repeatedly.

      There was a knight named Sir William, but he didn't give me the squire's name. I ended up missing this part of the game.

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  7. That's a lot of stats for an action game. Do they actually affect anything?

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    1. Good question. I assume strength affects damage, agility has something to do with avoiding damage, and will and intelligence are both related to spells. I have no idea what "charm" and "vision" do. Perhaps more important, these stats aren't adjustable by the player, and they increase in fixed values during leveling. The developers might as well have not included them at all.

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  8. I find it interesting that this game was developed by SSI but published thru Activision. Did they not think it was good enough to stand as an SSI title?

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    1. I'm not sure that SSI had anything to do with it. Though Wikipedia and other web sites (though not MobyGames) give SSI as the developer, SSI isn't mentioned in any of the contemporary reviews, on the game box, or in the game manual. None of the developers have other titles developed by SSI. I'm going to assume that the SSI attribution is an error unless anyone else can find evidence that it's not.

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    2. Just talked to Richard Seaborne, the lead developer. SSI had nothing to do with it.

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    3. It is great to read this after so many years, 25 or so years. Thank you so much for the passion and sincere appreciation of Prophecy and early games. Prophecy was a game I had always wanted to write, one that would attempt to give story, action, progression, spells, and grind in a single experience. Perhaps it tried to be too much, likely too early in the industry.

      I recall it receiving front cover reviews from magazines such as computer gaming world, but quickly faded from awareness...no significant marketing budget. I love seeing interest in it.

      Thank you,

      Richard

      P.S. I had hoped of making sequels, but contractual limitations with Activision prevented it when I worked with other publishers

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    4. In my final postings for games, I like to find old ads from computer magazines and include them, but I combed through several issues of CGW and couldn't find any for Prophecy. I remember wondering if that was related to the game's limited popularity, so thanks for confirming that. It's amazing how many good games of the era suffered from bad marketing. I covered one called The Dark Heart of Uukrul a few months ago.

      So many developers of the era faded into obscurity, so it's nice to see someone still in the industry. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

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  9. Also, you can download the 10 mb manual here:

    http://mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=prophecy

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  10. By the way, if you want to see when a game came out each year, Trickster has been having good luck with using the File Created dates on the games files. Matching that to when the first reviews came out and known dates has so far been giving a good match.

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    1. That's an interesting idea, but it didn't yield success for the sample of games on which I tried it. If I look at them for Prophecy, though, I get December 31, 1979 and January 1, 1980 for all of them, and Starflight II returns a 1995 date. Still, I'll see if this provides any important evidence next time I'm really stymied.

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    2. Yeah, I pointed out some of the weaknesses to him (A lot of early archive programs didn't preserve file dates correctly, and if it was reissued on CD or whatnot that could change the date. Still it is worth a try. Keep an eye on the files such as help files and data files, as exes are likely patched to remove old DRM schemes, make them work on modern computers and such.

      I'd say that copywrite dates on the manual are likely more accurate that title screen, as you'd just slap the current year on the title screen when you code it, when the manual is probably created later in the development processes.

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  11. Hi there Addict, regulars and irregulars. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate this blog and the quality of the writing, the wit of the Addict and the level of scrutiny and commitment put into his loving labor of LP's. The fact that so many of the developers have taken their time to read and comment shows that the whole community of CRPGers appreciates what is being done here. Thanks, Addict. And thanks to all of you commenting as well - there is no end to your knowledge or your nit-picking skills.

    Also, Addict, I really don't mind the odd take on a never game now and then. Your thoughts on Skyrim were interesting and a pleasure to read as always. Although for the HP of me I can't understand why anyone (with other options) would get it for a console. Modding saves lives, you know. Ah, just my two septims. Carry on, all of you.

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  12. Chet

    What is your favourite part of the RPG experience?

    1) Stumbling around at level 1 trying to figure out the controls
    2)The more confident midgame leveling and exploration
    3)Romping through the end sequences with your power gamed party

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    1. For me 3 is the boring part of the game and I usually just want the game over at that point.

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    2. I struggle with 1), I'm a lot less patient when it comes to ease-of-use than I used to be, a significant barrier when it comes to playing older RPGs

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    3. I enjoy #1 out of the choices. Learning how the game works and the sense of discovery are what I like. Which is not quite the same as struggling with the interface, a bad interface (all mouse driven or 5 menus deep to perform one task) can kill a game for me. Once I get my kicks with that I usually get bored of the game unless there is more to learn and do that opens up later. I tend to hate how repetitive things get in games so #3 is the worst and I usually quit by then.

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    4. Sorry to take so long, but definitely #2. By the time it's clear that it's no longer "mid-game," I'm usually ready for the game to be over. I like #1 the least, which is probably why, before starting this blog, I played the same games over and over.

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    5. I've gone from 3 to 2 to 1 slowly over time as a gamer from a young age.

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    6. I am regularly stunned by Chet's patience whenever I load up an oldish RPG I haven't played before. I mean the UI for some of these games seems to have been coded by Satan.

      That said, I couldn't even find my way out of the opening scene of Skyrim.

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    7. I think that maybe needs a little more explanation. Did you somehow keep getting beheaded?

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  13. Wow, there are a lot more comments a lot quicker in these newer postings than in the 2011 ones I am still working my way through!

    But I had to pop in here once I saw that in the time since I last looked here, this game had gone from "up next!" to "WON!" and alas, I missed my chance to contribute! Also exciting to see Richard Seaborne commenting here, since Prophecy and Escape From Hell were some of my favorite games, and I still have the cover art for both framed on my wall!

    Glad to see you enjoyed the game, though.

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  14. So you have decided to play all the old school role-playing games out of your passion for the genre? Good luck with that, although chances are you won't get every single one. There were many role-playing games that were pretty much non-existent, and were distributed by word of mouth, or were sold in small bags to anybody who wanted to play.

    If you were there at the time, you would have been able to purchase a vast collection and hold onto them. Do you own most of the games within that Google Doc, or do you download them to play?

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  15. Interesting to read these posts. I remember my dad buying me this game for my birthday back in '89. Never managed to finish it as a 10 y/o, stumped by my mental astral needs. Found it again 3 yrs ago and was very satisfying to clock it.
    Quarex is right about it having great cover art. Thankyou to Richard Seabourne for leaving me some great childhood memories.

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  16. Activision's market research department: "Our studies show that RPG players really want to play pre-teen heroes with girls' haircuts, bare, hairless legs, and little furry bootees." Activision CEO: "Well, get on it, then!"

    Is there anything in the game that conclusively determines the character´s gender?

    Because based on the top image and the sprites I thought it was a girl in a skirt

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    1. Well, now that you mention it, I don't think it comes up. Perhaps the marketers were deliberately going for someone androgynous so that players of either sex could identify.

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  17. I just bought the game and it only came with two disk a 5.25 and 3.5. Is this correct or am I missing a disk? Thanks Dave

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    1. How the... where... This game still exists in solid boxed form?!

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    2. I'm sorry, man, I don't have any idea. I just got it from an abandonware site. My guess is that if the box mixes 5.25 and 3.5, something is amiss.

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    3. At least one of my games came with two sets of disks. 4 of one and 3 of the other or something.

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    4. The game was shipped with two 5.35", and one 3.5" disk. You either use one set or the other, depending on your disk drive.

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