Monday, May 12, 2014

Game 144: Lord of the Rings, Vol. I (1990)

The game is listed as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Volume I on the 1993 CD version, but the original omits Tolkien's name from the title.

My feelings about Tolkien run hot and cold. I admire the extensive world-building in which he engaged, but I think he was a mediocre--sometimes terrible--writer and I've never been able to force myself to finish Lord of the Rings. I respect his place at the forefront of both written fantasy and, through Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy role-playing, but I'm sick to death of Tolkien references everywhere (e.g., games like Moria, Angband, Orthanc; the sword Orcrist in NetHack; whatever-Hai in a ton of games). I even regard the films with two minds, loving them for their visuals but constantly ridiculing them for their dialogue.

Nonetheless, I've always been surprised that there aren't more games based explicitly on the Tolkienverse, especially CRPGs. Prior to 1990, there were a handful of adventure games that basically just recapped the plot (The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring), and one strategy game that aspired to some RPG elements: War in Middle Earth (1988), which I reviewed in March 2011 briefly before concluding that it wasn't enough of an RPG. This game and its 1992 sequel are the only real RPGs set in Middle Earth until the films created an explosion of new games starting in the early 2000s.

To me, there's a right way and a wrong way to adapt licensed titles. The right way is to use the setting to introduce original characters and tell an original story. Champions of Krynn, Spirit of Excalibur, and Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday do a reasonably good job in this regard. 

Most Tolkien-based games go about it the wrong way. Instead of using the setting of Middle Earth to tell an original story, or perhaps one with characters ancillary to the main plot, they use the same characters and plot that everyone already knows. I guess it must be exciting for fans of the books to play as Frodo or Aragorn, but the pre-determined plot, to me, removes some of the excitement, not to mention the role-playing. Worse, attempts by the game to introduce other conventions of CRPGs, like the ability to loot the houses in the Shire or accept various side-quests, create a kind of dissonance with the original material.

Frodo and his party wander around a surprisingly-large hobbit hole.

Thus, going into the game, I already had reservations about the plot. As a game, though, Lord of the Rings, Vol. I shines, making excellent use of VGA graphics and contemporary sound. So far, Ultima VI and Lord of the Rings are the only two games of 1990 that really make me feel like we've been kicked into a new era. It's unsurprising, then, that both games feature a similar interface and gameplay elements. Both are isometric, continuously-scrolling games with redundant mouse and keyboard commands (using both mouse buttons) in which you control a lead character but party members dutifully follow behind you. Both have keyword-based conversations, a day/night cycle, and a combat screen integrated with the main exploration window. The games have some differences--and ultimately, Lord of the Rings is the poorer of the two--but the upgrades in the game experience are welcome.

The opening screen from the 1993 CD-ROM version of the game.

Volume I exists in two versions: the 1990 original release and a 1993 release on CD-ROM. I've played a bit with both. The main difference is that the 1993 version replaces carefully-drawn exposition screens with movie clips from Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film. I guess some find the clips to be a bit of a bonus, but I don't like the animation style in the films, and I find that the clips go on for a bit too long. I rather prefer the nice-looking static screens from the original. Moreover, since the animation clips weren't created specifically for the game, they sometimes feel a bit out-of-place even when covering the same plot exposition.

Another major difference is that the 1993 version replaces printed journal text (a la the Gold Box games) with on-screen text. This is a more welcome change, but I think I might stick with the 1990 version anyway. (Rest assured, I'm playing version 1.3, not the buggy 1.0.)

Several shots from the 1990 version's introductory exposition.

The earlier version starts with more information for those who don't know the plot. A series of screens recounts Bilbo's birthday celebration, Frodo's inheritance of the ring, and Gandalf's later revelation that Bilbo's ring is the One Ring. Gandalf explains the history of Sauron and the rings to Frodo, outlines the main quest to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, and tells Frodo to head to Rivendell. The game begins as Frodo sets out with Sam and Pippin.


The 1993 version, on the other hand, has the clips from the film that illustrate the history of Middle Earth, Gollum's acquisition of the Ring, and Gandalf's visit to Frodo at Bag End. But it doesn't make it explicitly clear what Frodo is supposed to do (head to Rivendell, eventually find a way to destroy the Ring).

A small bit from the 1993 CD-ROM version, with clips from the 1978 Bakshi film.

As far as I know, the sequel, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (1992) didn't get the CD treatment. Part of me hopes that I don't end up really liking the saga, because there was no third installment. In this, it shares some characteristics with the Bakshi film, which concludes near the end of The Two Towers and never had a sequel.

The beginning of the game for the player is the same in both versions.

The gameplay begins with Frodo, Sam, and Pippin standing outside Bag End, with a note that Merry is waiting at Buckland Ferry. Although the two other hobbits start standing next to you, you still have to talk to them and "recruit" them into the party. Frodo starts with only the Ring and the key to Bag End in his possession; Sam and Pippin have nothing.

I naturally turned around and went right back into Bag End to see what I could loot. The Bag End map is rather spacious, with numerous bedrooms. I'm not sure how it was described in the books. In any event, the game has an odd approach to finding and looting items. You don't walk up to specific chests, shelves, or such. Rather, the moment you enter a room, you're alerted that something of value lies within, and you use the "Get" command.

This turned out to be a ration and a torch.

For the most part, you explore on an unobstructed map window, only bringing up the command interface when you need it with the SPACE bar or by right-clicking. The command bar has 10 options: attack, view character attributes, get items, use or trade items, use a skill, cast spells, talk, change the party leader, change the active character, and exit. On the keyboard, these actions are mapped to sensible keys (e.g., "T" for "Talk"), but I wish they'd made it so that the command bar goes away when you hit SPACE again instead of typing "X." It's hard to understand until you play how this one little change would have made the interface more intuitive and less frustrating. The other major interface element I dislike is no ability to move diagonally. But I like the redundant mouse and keyboard commands, allowing me to move flexibly between them, just as in Ultima VI.

Bringing up the command bar while talking to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.

Bag End offered the first opportunity to use the "skills" system employed by the game. The manual lists 26 skills, divided into "active skills," "combat skills," and "lore." Apparently, combat skills and lore come into play automatically, but the 13 active skills are employed directly from the skills button. Skills are binary--you either have them or you don't; there's no leveling--and my three hobbits start with several of them. Frodo has climb, hobbit lore, jump, perception, read, elven lore, and dwarf lore. Sam has brawl, charisma, hide, read, hobbit lore, and jump. Pippin has brawl, sneak, climb, jump, and most importantly, picklock. I used the skill when the game alerted me to a chest Bilbo had left locked, and we retrieved several silver pennies.

The skill menu.

Using the "read" skill in Bilbo's library gave me a couple of text paragraphs and a note from Gandalf instructing me to go to the Prancing Pony in Bree and use the name "Underhill." The paragraph system works much as in the Gold Box games or Wasteland, with numbered entries representing text in the accompanying manual. The first entry just described the library and my disappointment that Lotho would soon have access to it. The second was a note from Bilbo that suggested asking the Brandybucks about the Old Forest, accompanied by the "Lay of Leithan," which conveyed upon me the magic word "Luthien"--more on magic in a later post.

After clearing out Bag End, I set about exploring the other hobbit holes in the area. My next door neighbor was named Griffo Boffin, apparently a very minor character in the book. Talking to him introduced me to the dialogue system used by the game, which is a bit like the Ultima series. After "questioning" the NPC, you can type any keywords that you like. But the dialogue is sparser than the Ultima games. Everyone responds to NEWS and perhaps a few keywords relative to their response, but it lacks the full-fledged conversations of Britannians.

I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be in the other book.

My conversation with Griffo went as follows:

  • NEWS: They say that a drunken dwarf is at the Green Dragon Inn in Bywater, asking for a burglar.
  • DWARF: You know how odd those folk can be. Certainly not like sturdy Hobbiton hobbits.
  • GREEN DRAGON INN: The ale at the Green Dragon isn't as good as it used to be.

Everything else produced a stock response: "I don't know any more than you do about that." I should also note that the text parser is a bit less forgiving than in the Ultima games. DRUNKEN DWARF and GREEN DRAGON returned no answer; the question had to be phrased very exactly.

Other neighbors had more to say. May Brownlock (invented for this game?) told me about Black Riders in the area. Bingo Chubb (also invented for the game?) said that wolves were stalking the ruins in the East Wood. Daddy Twofoot notes that in the Green Hills, some bird is singing Gandalf's name. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins stood at the end of the road demanding the key to Bag End, but she hit me with an umbrella--actually costing me a hit point!--so I declined to give it to her. Let her break in. Sam's Old Gaffer alerted me to some lost kids that people are talking about at the Hobbiton Inn. Anson Goodbody wants my help finding his lost dog.

The countryside around the Shire is quite large but interspersed with dense, impassable foliage that creates somewhat awkward, artificial barriers to movement (in fairness, no different than Ultima VI). Based on the thick foliage to the north and west, I suspect Bag End is in the northeast corner of the map. Just to get a sense of the scope of the game, I started wandering around randomly and I saw dozens upon dozens of buildings and NPCs across a map that takes 10-15 minutes to cross at full speed. I suspect it will be a long time before my little party even gets out of the Shire.

A house next to some hedge rows.

The day/night cycle chugs along mercilessly while you're standing still, even when a menu is active on the screen. The only way to pause the game is to choose that option from the "options" menu. I'm not sure if there are any consequences to too much game time passing. One thing I like is that when it gets dark, the screen just gets darker. It doesn't do any of that Ultima VI nonsense by which the periphery of the screen is blocked from view. On the negative side, the cycle doesn't seem to have any influence on the positions of NPCs, who are always rooted in the same location and will happily talk with you no matter what the time.

That's about all I can report on the first brief outing. Let's see if I can get to Bree for next time.

67 comments:

  1. Trying to avoid spoilers, but the plot of the game takes considerable steps away from the books. In fact, you have so many subquests in the Shire (and companions besides the "canon" ones) that you will definitely take your time to leave it.

    You will also often have more than one solution to the same problem.

    Between the richness of the plot, its extras, the free exploration, the longevity, I consider this to be one of the 10 best CRPGs ever made.

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    1. I agree with Pedro, the strength of the game is in the optional things. Although you can easily rush through the main plot, there is the possibility to stray from the main path and spend time exploring every corner of the game world and the optional quests. And the game world feels very true to the Tolkien lore (well, at least for most parts).

      My biggest complaint is how the game actually plays - somehow everything feels like it was left half finished: Important things and opponents just appear from thin air. The interface is a bit annoying. The dialogue system is useless for most parts, the skill system... lot's of wasted potential, but if you can ignore the flaws it's actually a very enjoyable game.

      I remember waiting many years for the last part, before sadly admitting that it would never be released..

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    2. Exactly. I'd say this game is most enjoyed if lore is forgotten for a bit. Going about the shire thinking "I need to find Pippn and Merry and be on my way" misses on quests, items, and most importantly, companions :) Although most of the optional quests you can still backtrack and redo them - I once walked all the way from Rivendell to Shire to see what I had missed. Guess whom I found? Bombadil :D

      The inventory system is terrible, otherwise yes, there are interface shortcomings but passable.

      The 2nd game was already worse (nice subquests too, but party switching was weird), so maybe it was a blessing the 3rd never came out.

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    3. Just like watching the movie!

      TROLLOLOLOL!

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  2. "I even regard the films with two minds, loving them for their visuals but constantly ridiculing them for their dialogue."

    Are you talking solely about the Bakshi animated films?

    There were different animated films of "The Hobbit" and of "The Return of the King" by a Japanese studio, IIRC, and of course there are the more recent live-action movies by Peter Jackson. The Bakshi films have been panned *hard* by critics, over the decades, while the Jackson films won more awards than I can count. The other two animated movies have been largely regarded as kiddie fare, I believe.

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    1. No, sorry. When I meant "films" in that context, I meant the Jackson ones. Every time I watch them, I catch myself doing a Mystery Science Theater with the dialogue.

      "And my axe!"
      -"That is...my other axe. It's back in my room. I'll get it after the meeting."

      "You know the laws of our country, the laws of your father. If you let them go, your life will be forfeit."
      -"You known, Chapter 32, Section 8, Paragraph B: 'If a hobbit ever arrives in Gondor carrying a magic ring, and thou dost let him go about his business, thou shall be put to death."

      "We ride south!"
      -"You mean the way we were already going, sir?"

      I could go on for pages.

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    2. Why re-invent the wheel? Rifftrax (from some your favourite MST3K folk) have already done the hard work for you:

      http://www.rifftrax.com/rifftrax/lord-rings-fellowship-ring
      http://www.rifftrax.com/rifftrax/lord-rings-two-towers
      http://www.rifftrax.com/rifftrax/lord-rings-return-king

      (I remember this game being long, so sorry if I just made things take even longer...)

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    3. I'm happy to know that someone else cringes at every other line of dialog in Jackson's movies. The original dialog from the books is usually better, but Jackson chose to rewrite it at virtually every opportunity. The Bakshi version, in contrast, maintains much of the dialog of the books.

      Another thing I hated in the movies - all the characters became X-Men somehow. In the books, every time there's a fight, a major character dies or is wounded. It changes the tone a bit when Legolas is slaying armies single-handedly.

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    4. The movies would have been great if nobody had ever tossed a dwarf and Legolas had been mysteriously absent from the entire story.

      As it stands, they're much better than those awful hobbit films.

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    5. I think the movies are absolutely astoundingly awesome, despite agreeing with everything said here. I guess the good FAR outweighs the bad in my opinion. :)

      This game looks right up my alley too, so I'm surprised I haven't played it at some point over the years. Looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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    6. Which awful hobbit films? I thought some parts of the new hobbit film worked really well, though he crammed way the hell to much stuff into it lifted from the other books. I can't bring myself to read the appendixes or Simerillion, but my Dad is a complete Tolkien geek with a stunning memory, so he was explaining all the changes and such. I thought the addition of an ongoing badguy was an annoying concession to modern movie sensibilities and it would have worked better in the original children's book format.

      Speaking of changes, my brother was always annoyed at Dad and I objecting to some of the changes in the LotR movies...until he saw the first Hunger Games movie (He is a huge fan of the books, having found them at a very, very dark part of his life), and he then apologized as he 'gets it' now.

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    7. I couldn't stand the hobbit films, especially the second one. They felt like long CG action sequences interspersed with exposition and Hollywood tropes.

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    8. I just recently watched the second Hobbit film. In its defense, I'll mention that action and Hollywood tropes don't 100% overwhelm the spirit of Tolkien's book. I think one has to be able to turn one's brain off to enjoy the movie - but I also think that's a requirement for the majority of pop culture movies. And at least some CRPGs.

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    9. "Couldn't stand" is a little strong, but I can't say I've really liked the Hobbit adaptations for the reason Tristan says. Then again, I didn't like the book, either. (Unlike LOTR, I read that one all the way through.)

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    10. I really don't like the Jackson films. I think they're too Hollywood, lack subtlety, focus too much on action and setpieces, and are emotionally clichéd and shallow. In short, pop culture. One of the few things I liked though was how they handled Gollum's split personality. The music is pretty good too.

      I saw the first Hobbit film and disliked it even more. Probably my biggest groan was at the end when Thorin made his Arson Murder And Life Saving speech to Bilbo. I really have no interest in seeing the other two films.

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    11. The animated Hobbit movie was one of my favs as a kid (and still holds up). Much closer to the book, and great music (Rankin/Bass are known for that, I think).
      Just don't watch their Return of the King. The music's wonderful (When there's a whip there's a way, Frodo of the 9 Fingers), but they massacred the plot.
      And as for the recent Hobbit adaptation, great visuals but I really feel they lost the charm of the book. And wow, the pacing issues.

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  3. I never finished this game as a kid. I suspect it's because I had a budget release of the original version of the game that had no manual to look entries up in. Wound up having to call Interplay's helpline just to figure out how to save. That, and the bugs, and the unforgiving combat. Combat is brutal in LOTR Vol. 1, and if you get into a fight in the Shire it's very likely the same as just getting a game over screen. Never did figure out how to heal characters, I think. I'm looking forward to seeing someone armed with the manual and who knows what they're doing playing this.

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    1. I have finished this game several times and have completed what I believe to be all subquests, with the most diverse parties. It IS very possible to win certain combats in The Shire, particularly knowing you can leave it with, IIRC, 7 party members :)

      I don't remember it being buggy at all, although I remember being able to use a glitch to bypass the entire Moria area, by doing something that you're only supposed to do AFTER Moria.

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    2. I'm not sure why we experienced such differences, but I fought spiders, wolves, and a few other characters in the Shire and didn't find combat particularly unforgiving.

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  4. I don't think this is an isometric projection, I'd say it its a cavalier projection.

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  5. Re: Tolkien's prose, I have a friend from Germany who was quite disappointed when he came around to reading the original English version of LotR in his 30s.

    Apparently, there exist two German translations, an older and a newer one, and he was only familiar with the newer one which he said takes some liberties with the original text to make it more lively and interesting to read - he specifically mentioned "more natural" dialogue.

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    1. The new German translation makes some utterly unnecessary changes too, unfortunately. For example, some names are changed for no apparent reason, even in cases where Tolkien himself came up with the German names... Even worse, Sam refers to Frodo as "Chef" (not a kitchen chef, it would be retranslated as "boss", I suppose.) Yet even worse, because the new translation exists, various really nice prints of the old translation are out of print now and can only be bought used for inflated prices.
      One more random translatione fact: In the German translation, Elves are called "Elben" (that's the plural, the singular is "Elb"). According to some foreword I read in some edition of the old German translation, Tolkien prefered that term to "Elves". The term "Elben" only turns up in Tolkien's books though, usually, elves is translated to "Elfen" (singular "Elfe").

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    2. I recall reading LOTR in Hebrew as a child - the translation used incredibly archaic language and sentence structure, almost biblical at parts. For example, elves were called "Bney Lilith" - Sons of Lilith.

      Reading the English original a few years later, I was actually quite shocked by how prosaic and simple the language was...

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    3. I'm not to far into Judaism, but hasn't "sons of lilith" a negative connotation?

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    4. @Shanghay- Why yes! The German version is called "Der Ring des Nibelungen". Great read.

      @marc_aut- If you're more into the New-Age stuff and not Judaism, it's totally positive. http://lilith.org/

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    5. "Der Ring der Nibelungen" is a opera cycle based on the "Nibelungenlied" a medival poem of the Dragonslayer Siegfried.

      I know Lilith was the first wife of Adam and was banned out of paradise cause of disobedience and cause of this a feminist symbol, but for a believer "Sons of lilith" would be equal to demonspawn

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    6. Well, for better or worse the negative connotations of "Sons of Lilith" went over my head at the time I read the books, as I assume it did for most secular Israeli children.

      Lilith as a demonic/mythical figure is part of Jewish esoterica and mysticism, as opposed to the "main stream" religion. Certainly not something you'd learn about at a non-religious school.

      I think the translator simply looked for a name that would fit a magical, mysterious, non-human race - I.E. Sons of Lilith as opposed to the sons of Eve. I don't think she meant to portray them as evil or demonic.

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    7. @marc_aut - I see that my sarcasm and attempt at trolling has failed miserably if I had to explain myself. XD

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    8. @Kenny: Have you tried the Icelandic translation of Hobbit called Edda? They took some liberties with Gandalf (he's practically one of the dwarfs).

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    9. @Kenny
      Fuck, I really didn't get it :-)

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    10. There are numerous Russian translations of LotR and most of them take liberties with the original text.
      The most famous one is about Boromir.
      Russian translation: "A shadow of a smile crossed Boromir's pale, bloodless face".
      Original text: "Boromir smiled".

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  6. I tackled this game a bit some years ago. Not having a manual, I resorted to using the original novel for paragraphs - and for the most part it worked quite fine ;)
    My overall impression was that it had a bunch of neat ideas wasted on a "licensed" plot.

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  7. Mostly when I think of this game I think of the problems you had with Fairy Tale Adventure: Lots and lots of walking, very little to see.

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    1. Hey, that sounds great! :D

      After all, I quite liked the Sega Genesis port of FTA, *and* I'm one of the very few who enjoyed the SNES version of LOTR Vol. 1 (which is obviously massively different -- it's a crude action RPG that supports up to 5P and is full of bugs).

      Sounds like I should give this game a whirl, then...

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    2. Good to hear someone liked the console ports for this and FTA. I have hope for them yet.

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    3. Well, be warned that there's a reason many people don't like them. Both games are strangely desolate and full of empty areas that have no significant payoff, though SNES LOTR Vol. 1 is very linear and FTA on the Genesis is wide-open. I think SNES LOTR is probably an objectively bad game, but I spent a weekend or so playing through it with my fiancée and had a nice time. You absolutely have to have the manual for both games, especially LOTR.

      Actually the SNES game is a lot like Battlemaster on the Genesis (and other systems), as keeping track of your subsidiary characters is like herding cats -- they go off in the stupidest directions. But at least you can take direct control of them, or have up to 4 people play with you. One thing the SNES LOTR has going for it is absolutely beautiful music -- probably Top 5 on the system, at least in my book -- though there's not much of it, unfortunately.

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    4. Is the SNES game the one where you have to find a pair of spectacles in a cave? I remember spending four weekends in a row with a friend of mine, but we never found the things. I swear this was a LOTR game of some sort, though my memory may not be correct.

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    5. I believe I remember a similar quest when I rented the game. As for enjoying them, we shall see. I am armed with the manuals, seems that's the way to go for these old games without tutorials that introduce every option.

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    6. Four weekends? Geez. Just draw a map :)

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    7. A map for this game? You'd fill out a few sketchbooks by the time you're done.

      If you're using Excel to do it, that Excel file will be larger than this f*cking game.

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    8. I should've spelled this out, but: both Faery Tale Adventure (Genesis) and Lord of the Rings Vol. 1 (SNES) came with maps in the manuals. That's why you need the manual. :) The LOTR SNES dungeons are unmanageable otherwise.

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    9. Moria on the PC version is quite hard to navigate. You don't even know visually if the stairs go up or down (unless you have a dwarf in the party, who tells you so). At a certain point I knew the dungeon almost by heart. Moria too has a few very welcome extras in relation to the book ;)

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  8. Bought both LOTR games on floppy as a combo pack in the mid-90s and somehow managed to beat them both. The first one is very rough, while the second one is actually fairly well done for the most part (even has some memorable music).

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  9. The big flaw of this game (or strength-your option) is that there's lots of side content to miss early on. Either you backtrack, or you miss things that you need later to get other things. These would work of they were pure side quests, but they end up being really important to the main plot, although my one game completion is evidence that you can miss things and still win. The main problem is that you basically have to find and complete ALL of the side quests to reap the rewards of any of them.

    Like many of these sorts of games, the ending seems rushed and buggy compared to the rest of it. But there's so much content and so many different ways for certain things to happen that I'm willing to cut it some slack. And I'd not have won my one victory if not for some of the end bugs.

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  10. I liked this game as a kid, it was my first crpg. Igot the CD version that had the movie scenes and it also had some very good music which replaces the midi music from the floppy version. I beat this game a couple of times and I remember getting to Rivendell to grab Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas the going back to the earlier areas to wreck havoc and finish any remaining side quests. Fun times.

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  11. I played the hell out of this on my father's CompuAdd 286 back in the day. Read the manual to tatters, everything. I've been looking forward to it showing up on this blog for a long time. Curious what stuff I missed, and what I think I remember that probably never happened.

    There is a lot of walking. Of course, one could say the same of the books/movies. Lots of walking, and also sometimes elves and wizards.

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  12. The boat with you and Tolkien may have sailed (and, if I hadn't first read LOTR when I was 13 or so, may have for me as well), but if you want to take a course that certainly has changed my interpretation of LOTR for the better as an adult, I'd suggest you first read his essays in "The Monsters and Critics", then read Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf (I've heard that an edited edition of Tolkien's unfinished translation is coming out soon.. but I'd still read Heaney), then start on the Silmarillion (I think you would actually like it better) or LOTR.

    Given your attraction to the multitude of Arthurian sagas through the ages, I find it hard to believe that some level of Tolkien's hybridization between Norse and Greek mythology wouldn't be of interest.

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    1. Good suggestions, but probably not a project I'm going to have time for in the near-future.

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  13. Wow...VGA in 1990. What must that have been like.

    Plus mouse input. I remember when I said "screw it" and went out to buy a mouse. It was to play Civilization (the game, otherwise known as Civ1 to you kiddies). Up til then I had just been playing with a keyboard, and it worked perfectly well. To be honest, at the time a joystick was a better optional peripheral for a PC gamer than a mouse was. But I could see how the game would just be better with a mouse, so I bit the bullet and went out and bought one. They didn't have dirt-cheap mice back then, they were all good quality, so they weren't cheap. Funny thing is, after my friend came over and saw me with my mouse, he bought one too. It was just superior for that sort of gameplay - which honestly hadn't really been the case before then. A game constructed to use only the keyboard works very well using only a keyboard.

    Silver pennies...yeah I think I remember this game. I don't remember it being that good because you went around doing non-LOTR plot related tasks. I wanted to be Frodo, dammit! I just remember thinking it was dumb because the hobbits really never had any use for money in the books.

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    1. Man, I remember that Radio Shack used to have a ton of joysticks on sale, now they are hard to find in stores. I wonder why flight sims fell to the wayside in favour of FPS? I think they overclomplicated themselves and priced themselves out of a market.

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  14. VGA was the game changer for me. Those wonderful 256 colors. Games like Ultima VI, Might and Magic III, Eye of the Beholder, etc.

    Speaking of LOTR though, I mentioned it in the other thread but I found this basically to be a lame Ultima VI clone, and Chet seems to have noticed the similarities as well since he keeps mentioning U6.

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    1. I'm not sure how you can call a game a clone when it was released in the same year.

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    2. I certainly just meant that U6 and LOTR remind me of each other, not that I think either influenced the other.

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  15. If U6 had that interface I'd probably play the heck out of it.

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    1. I think U6 has a similar-enough interface. What is it about the LOTR interface that you see as superior?

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  16. This game is different enough from the console version that I think I can follow along with your posts. I should be reaching the title within the next year, so I'll come back and post about the numerous differences.

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    1. Great! I'll look forward to it.

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    2. Turns out I had my games mixed up. The SNES version wasn't released until '94 (which is about 3 game years out).

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  17. You think this interface and inventory are bad? You must have forgotten about the next Ultima game, in which the inventory items all stack on each other, blend into the background of the sack, and are nearly impossible to find even when you know exactly what you want. It gets much, much worse though: Inventory items disappear when you go to sleep, the inventory is so convoluted that you will never be tell if something has disapoeared, and if an important thing goes, game over, The Guardian wins. I love Ultima 7, it is one of my favorites despite the may flaws but both times I played, the cube vanished and I had to cheat it back in to win the game.

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    1. Can't they both be bad for different reasons? I seem to be getting a lot of comments lately that make spurious comparisons between games.

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  18. Interesting how diverse the opinions on this game are...
    I agree that licensed titles and CRPGs aren't really the best combination, but then I like the epic RPGs that give you lots of choices, the possibility to explore unknown lands and so on... I mean wouldn't it be fun if there was a LOTR RPG and you could, say, join Sauron or Saruman, or visit the lands of Rhun or those areas to the south where the pirates and Oliphants come from? Of course, there are other more linear RPGs and those that play more like movies and they have their charms as well, but well.. I like RPGs for the freedom.

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    1. There are some possibilities in this game as you mention, that go within the Lore but beyond the scope of the book. Without spoilers: remember Radagast? :)

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    2. It's the age old problem of being hamstrung by your license - There's just too many inbuilt limitations. The folks that own the IP aren't going to allow a software studio the artistic flexibility they need in order to create certain styles of games.

      Due to the sole focus on storytelling means that the narrative structure of books is often very different from that of games and the worlds are designed accordingly. Even when the world building is extensive it doesn't really work unless the game designer is given a free hand to do more than just tick the boxes on the lonely planet guide to middle earth.

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  19. You want to talk about bad writing and Lord of the Rings connections? How about Bioware? I love Bioware's games, and the plots work in context but the writing is pretty awful. I explained this on another website:

    Both Dragon Age games, though the first one worked in context: I will start with the second one, a plot so terrible and inane that it is a mere thousand times better than M. Night Shyamalan's best movie. Dragon Age 2 is %90 wandering around a dull, featureless city, doing inane tasks for idiots, or as I call it, my daily life. You get no sense of accomplishment, power, relevance, scope or anything else that makes good games involving. Games are escapism: We use them to distract from the horror and tedium of daily life, which is why we enjoy playing the powerful warrior who saves or destroys the world. Nothing you do matters in the game: You buy a mine, it collapses; you collect a treasure, it gets stolen; you stop the Klingons from conquering the city, but the factions who remain are even worse. You just meander around until the endgame, which is a conflict that only affects a few city blocks, is not really affected by the presence of your characters, and makes you choose between two sides who are genocidal lunatics.

    Dragon Age: Origins's plot works in context, but everyone who called it a ripoff of Lord of the Rings was right. Boromir did not want to take the throne, but his crazy father died and he realized that his role was more important than his petty concerns; Alistair did not want to take the throne, but his crazy father died and he realized that his role was more important than his petty concerns. Anyone who gets the One Ring is inevitably corrupted, but less so the Hobbits, who are resistant but eventually succumb to temptation; anyone who is infected with the Darkspawn blight dies immediately, except for a few men who are resistant but eventually succumb and die after a few years. Wearing the One Ring puts you in an alternate dimension where you are invisible to humans, but vulnerable to Nazgul; entering the Fade puts your mind in an alternate dimension where your body is asleep on Earth, but your soul is vulnerable to demons in purgatory. Gandalf and the armies of Middle Earth distract the forces of Sauron at Mordor so Sam and Frodo can destroy the ring; the amassed armies of Thedas distract the enemies at Lothering, if I remember the name correctly so the characters can fight the enemy leader. Dwarves and elves are the same as in Lord of the Rings; there is a long, tedious detour through a dwarven mine; the mage tower is invaded and has to be saved, like the Shire; you get the idea.

    Baldur's Gate is pretty much Medieval Star Wars, with the same characters, story plot, writing--"never has there been a more wretched hive of scum and infamy," "a foul den of stinking evil..."--it is a pretty blatant copy. (http://www.caltrops.com/article0007.php)

    What about the relationships? Bioware has so many memorable characters: Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Kirk, Spock, Beverely Crusher, Geribaldi, Boromir, Frodo, the Klingons--sorry, I mean the Baalspawns, Minsc, Viconia, Commander Shepard, Mordin Solus, Garrus, Alistair and the Qunaris. I know you will never play Persona 3 or 4, but maybe you can read a transcript and see how to develop relationships naturally, with fewer cliches and much better writing. I never realized how poorly Bioware handled relationships before I played Persona.

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    1. I'm sorry, I simply don't agree with you. I find the dialogue and NPCs in many Bioware games extremely memorable, and I don't see the connections to Star Wars that you do, except to the extent that many works of fiction (intentionally or not) echo each other. I also don't see as blatant a connection between LOTR and Dragon Age as you do, except through fantasy tropes that are reasonably generic.

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  20. I don't know about the first name for Chubb, but Bilbo does acknowledge Chubbs being present at his birthday party.

    I agree with you that using a familiar setting but with a different story would be preferable. However, although not quite the same consider a board game such as Middle Earth Quest. It uses a familiar Middle Earth setting but with a completely different adventure and different characters...and people reamed on it for being so unfamiliar, and said everyone in their games just started calling the elf Legolas, the dwarf Gimli, etc. So, I think this is a case where no matter what you lose. Granted CRPGs have significant differences from board games, but there was pushback with exploring the relatively "boring" time in between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in that game.

    I am looking forward to hearing about this CRPG; I tried playing this game as a kid, but didn't get very far, and was just borrowing the disks from a friend (back in the day when you could do that sort of thing!). It will be nice to hear whether it's worth revisiting.

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