Thursday, January 9, 2014

Elvira: Castle of Blood

Now that's what the CRPG Addict needs to truly become an indestructible man.

I got stuck for a long time at the beginning of Elvira, trying to figure out how best to map it. I rather like games that either offer an easy mapping solution (most grid-based games) or don't require any mapping solution (games with auto-maps). Mapping adventure games is always a bit more difficult than RPGs because they're more likely to play tricks with directions. I liked that Hero's Quest didn't screw around with any of that, and I could map the game in big blocks in Excel.

But few adventure games are as map-friendly as Hero's Quest, instead offering landscapes in which an east exit from Area 1 might turn into a southern entrance into Area 2. To map this, you need boxes with lines that bend in between them--quite easy to draw, a little more difficult to do on the computer. It gets worse with too many up and down passages and you can't figure out whether to create multiple maps based on the "level". Elvira is even more complicated, since it offers no directionality at all and the various areas aren't of equal geographic size. After fiddling a bit with boxes and lines in Word, I eventually gave up on computer-based solutions and just went back to hand-drawing. I was surprised at how liberating it is--until you hit the edge of a page or start to crowd the boxes and finally have to re-draw the whole thing.

In the "experimental" phase of playing an adventure game, or quasi-adventure-game, I mostly just worry about creating the initial map and annotating the areas that clearly require some kind of puzzle solution to pass. If the solution is obvious, I solve it right away, but otherwise I don't worry about it until I have a more holistic sense of the territory and its items. I also don't worry much about death at this stage, since I don't intend to complete the game with a single character.

At the top of the horror castle.

I like the geography of Elvira. The castle has the types of things you'd expect a castle to have, without seeming unrealistically large. There's a small inner courtyard with turrets in the corner. Stairs in the turrets climb to a rampart on the first level and to a view of the countryside at the top. Outside the walls are a garden, an archery target, a hedge maze, and a groundskeeper's shack. The inner keep has several levels with sensible rooms: bedrooms, a bathroom, an armory, a chapel, a kitchen. There are catacombs beneath the castle.

Moving throughout these areas subjects you to random encounters with guards, undead, and ghoulish creatures that I guess, from the manual, are "monks." I still can't seem to figure out the best way to anticipate attacks and block them. Since there's a 50% chance that an attack will come from either direction, I've just been sticking with one or the other until it works and I get my own chance to attack.

Don't look in the basement--this is what you get.

The good news is that my own attacking abilities have improved. My skill has steadily increased with successful attacks, and I can often get into a rhythm where I land several attacks in a row. I'm hoping to take on the gate captain soon, though it might be that he's a puzzle to be solved rather than an enemy to be defeated in combat.

As for puzzles, I've been taking note when I encounter an obstacle:

  • A guard that the game warns me is "invincible" (and, indeed, I can't seem to even land a blow in combat)
  • A locked gate at the bottom of a well.
  • A passage at the bottom of the same well that I can't fully explore because I keep drowning.
  • A cannon in one turret pointed at another.
  • A man in a stable who turns into a werewolf and rips my throat out.
  • A vampiress sleeping in a bed who wakes up and kills me when I enter.

Could this be Count Dracula's great love?

  • Various locked doors.
  • A garden full of plants that I can't identify.

I hope all this pollen doesn't attract the wasp woman.

  • A guy with a hawk. He tosses the hawk into the air, and it plucks my eyes out.
  • A sign at the top of a set of stairs that I can't read because it's in some runic language.
Part of the Necronomicon?

I figured out the solution to the werewolf first. He gave it to me as he was turning, which the game depicts through a fun animation:
Looks like the moon of the wolf is out tonight.

I thought he was suggesting a silver-tipped bullet, given the presence of a gun in the armory. One of the first things I encountered in the game, right next to the starting area, was a forge with a crucible, so it got me thinking about something I could melt to create a silver bullet. I found it in a silver cross in the dead groundskeeper's shack. Incidentally, one of the highlights of the game so far has been the recovery of maggots from the groundskeeper's body (they're one of the listed spell ingredients).

More than any other, this game truly captures the horror of death.

I melted the cross in the crucible but just got a bunch of molten silver, which I had no use for. Later, after I found some crossbow bolts in the drawers in the bedchambers (someone has some kinky stuff going on), I returned and dipped one in the crucible.

Creating a silver bolt in a crucible of horror.

I had found a crossbow in the armory, but I first had to learn how to use it by practicing a bit on a target.

Now, with a wooden crossbow bolt, I can become one of the fearless vampire killers.

With the crossbow and the silver-tipped bolt, I returned to the stables and shot the wolf. He turned into a skeleton and then disappeared, and beyond him, concealed behind an iron ring, I found a gold key. I thought it might just be a key to one of the random locked doors, but when I examined it, I found it was labeled "secundus," so I'm thinking maybe it's one of the six keys to the chest. One-sixth finished?

Die, monster dog!

I have a sneaking suspicion that it will turn out I needed that cross--for the vampire, perhaps?--and there's some other silver object that I needed to melt to create the silver-tipped bolt.

I have an idea how to solve both the rune and garden puzzles, and they revolve around the game's spell system. Elvira hangs out in the kitchen and will take ingredients you find and turn them into spells. Two of the spells are listed as "Alphabet Soup" (allows reading of runes) and "Herbal Honey" (provides knowledge of plants). My two problems are that I haven't found all the ingredients for either spell, and the kitchen has been taken over by some crazy woman who, the moment I enter, hacks off my head and puts it into a soup.

My fate at the hands of the mad butcher.

Elvira refuses to re-enter the kitchen until I deal with her, so I guess that's the next major puzzle.

The she-freak proves useless.

The image above is one of the many postmortem images available, depending on what killed you. They all involve slightly different artwork (puncture neck wounds, plucked-out eyeballs) on the same image.

You'd think there's be one B-movie title with the word "drowned" in it, but damned if I can find one.

Please, no hints or help on any of the above. I haven't gotten far enough into the game to be stumped.


  1. Would it be a stretch to say that the game may be growing on you? Your post seemed pretty positive, other than the minor mapping frustration.

    I've never played this before, and like you had only vague ideas of who Elvira was and what she did, so I don't have a horse in this game. Just curious. :^)

    1. I never really had a problem with it to begin with. I'm sorry my first post sounded that way. I'm lukewarm about Elvira herself, but I don't actively hate her. I don't think the game is GOTY material, but as I said in the first post, it's not BAD.

  2. I can't help but wonder if Horrorsoft had this game already into development when they got the Elvira licence. That's the only reason i find to justify such a big dissonance between the character outside the game and this work of fiction.

    1. Well, the idea of "cooking" spells come directly out of the movie, as does the plot of Elvira inheriting a property from a deceased witch, so even if you're right, they couldn't be too far into development.

    2. I think it's possible. You could remove Elvira from the proceedings and still have a decent game.

  3. When its all said and done, how many different deaths scenes will there be? I cant think of another game that comes close to showing so many different ways a character can die.

    When I first saw this on your list, I thought for sure it was going to be a complete waste of time, but based off of your first two posts, this games appears to have potential.

    1. Think Sierra's adventure game titles. Hell, half the point of the Space Quest titles was finding all the odd ways to have Roger meet his demise, complete with scolding voice overs and sometimes instant replay.

    2. I saw a Youtube video once that was devoted to chronicling all the horrible deaths you could have in some Amiga game. There were LOTS. Can't remember the game, though.

    3. It's probably Waxworks. Made by the same people as Elvira.

    4. Quest for Glory IV's awesome narration by John Rhys-Davies practically invites you to die, the snark John uses while explaining how you died is too good to pass up.

    5. Elvira is to Legend Entertainment as Quest For Glory is to Sierra Entertainment.

    6. That video is almost cerainly from moonstone, I think I watched it, to try and see if I had missed any when I used to play it

    7. @Kenny: Legend had its own RPG/Adventure hybrid - The Superhero League of Hoboken. I'd say it was slightly better than Elvira, but still not anywhere near QfG.

  4. You may find GUEmap from this page useful for mapping.

    It works quite well for text adventure games, anyway.

    1. GUEmap is pretty neat. I'm not much of a mapper, but I do still occasionally use this, if I'm not using omnigraffle. There's a newer free software (GNU license) version of the GUEmap on the developers home page, which allows for bigger maps.

      Control-drag to move everything selected, drag between rooms to connect them.

    2. Based on the Addicts comments on what he would like to do I'd say any competent general purpose graph editor should work pretty well. For example yEd.

    3. I second yEd. I use it to map my old gamebooks, which have the same difficulties as adventure games.

    4. Indeed. That's what I was looking for. Thanks!

      It turns out I didn't really need such a solution for this game: the castle is small enough that you can basically memorize it. But I'll use it next time I have a game like this.

  5. Replies
    1. It's amazing how many ways I've found to misspell a simple name.

    2. I thought that was supposed to be a pun:)

    3. Could have been worse... like El Vulva.

  6. Indeed, as others said above, the game seems to have potential, and combines adventure and RPG elements quite well, plus nice visuals and a certain dose of "realism" (as real as you can get in a haunted house...).

  7. He'll be revisiting the concept again in 1993 with The Leacy: Realms of Terror.

  8. In somewhat related news...Woohooo, I just killed Sarevok for the first time!! It took me quite a bit longer than I initially expected. And when I entered Chapter 7 I thought, oh... Let's just quickly finish the last unvisited zones, Ulgoth's Beard and Durlag's Tower and then wrap up the game- But then those quests added up to almost an additional week of playing... The game is really quite huge, non-linear and replayable - though I won't do it for a long time.
    I have to admit that sometimes the controls were a little frustrating, especially moving the group through small corridors and unwanted AI actions. I restarted Fallout 1 during my BG-playthrough because of the temporary free availability of the games on GOG. The comparison between the two games was quite clear. Fallout is far easier to control, and the easier game overall. Baldur's Gate is quite challenging (at least for me). There is quite a bit of Fallout's DNA in Baldur's Gate, but then the DNA of Baldur's Gate spreads to Morrowind which probably had the idea to use the first-person RPG set-up of Daggerfall with the detailed scripted world of Baldur's Gate, and well, the storylines are somewhat similar. Also, my player character was probably the weakest character in the group. Maybe that was my poor D&D roleplaying skill...

    1. I just started a playthrough of BG: EE myself. I hit up Durlag's Tower early on, not realizing how large the tower actually is. I've had to abandon it in favor of Cloakwood due to the plot.

      BG: EE seems to be easier than vanilla Baldur's Gate, though I can't exactly pin the reason why this is.

    2. I didn't play EE though, just vanilla BG plus Tales of the Sword Coast. This blog has made me interested in playing all those older classics I hadn't played yet. I spent too much time in the last decade playing WoW and the Elder Scrolls games.

    3. BG:EE has higher level caps, more character creation options and some comparatively strong NPCs. It's certainly a bit easier. You may just be better these days though.

  9. "I hope all this pollen doesn't attract the wasp woman."

    Is that a sly reference to the Roger Corman movie from 1959?

    1. I'm pretty sure all the captions end in titles of B horror movies.

    2. How embarrassing! I guess I was in semi-skim mode, and overlooked the others. I've even seen another one of the referenced movies (The Indestructible Man).

    3. All of the captions CONTAIN titles of B horror movies. They're not all at the end.

      I was going to continue that shtick for the next two posts, but it was taking too long to track down the titles and match them to the images I wanted to use.

  10. "You'd think there's be one B-movie title with the word "drowned" in it, but damned if I can find one."

    You're right, there aren't many (there's a few extremely rare films that would be pointless to reference since I'd wager no one reading this blog would get it). Odd, too, if you think that many horror movies use drowning as part of their plot device (think Jason Voorhees). You can always branch out and go for "Last Gasp", "Dead Lake" or "Savage Water". :-) Yet another great article on a game I probably would have loved as a kid!

  11. I never got to play this one because it had the fame of being extremely difficult, unforgiving and illogical. Later, I realized that it was made by the same people from "Simon the Sorcerer", a game that I find extremely lacking in design and fun, so I never played it.

    Now, in 2014, you gave me reasons to do it.

    1. Really? It had that reputation? I found it to be relatively easy and sensible. I'll look forward to reading the contemporary reviews before my final posting.


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