Saturday, October 4, 2014

Game 165: Warrior of Ras, Volume Three: The Wylde (1983)

This is the opening screen from the C64 version, which I couldn't get to run properly. A follow-up screen (as well as the main screen in the Apple II version) clarifies the game's full title. Despite the 1982 copyright date, most  online sources say it was released in 1983, and the manual has a 1983 copyright date. I'm going to go with 1983 as correct and assume 1982 is the copyright date for the entire series.

Warrior of Ras, Volume Three: The Wylde
United States
Randall D. Masteller (author); Screenplay (publisher)
Released 1983 for Apple II, Atari 8-bit, and Commodore 64
Date Started: 28 September 2014
Date Ended: 28 September 2014
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Medium-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 25
Ranking at Time of Posting: 61/164 (37%)
Ranking at Game #457: 223/457 (49%)

Warrior of Ras, Volume Three: The Wylde is the third of a four-game series in which all titles were released in an extremely short time period between 1982 and 1983. I reviewed the first game, Dunzhin, in January, and the second, Kaiv, just a few weeks ago (links to my reviews). The games are characterized by an unnamed hero who explores the titular areas and fights numerous random combats, all with the goal of reaching a far-flung area and collecting a treasure.

All of them are light on most classic role-playing elements. The series has limited back stories, no character creation, no NPCs, limited equipment (no equipment at all in the first game), and limited character development. For these reasons, the games have earned lower scores on my GIMLET. Nonetheless, they do feature some interesting innovations for the era, in particular a complex system in which every body part has its own hit points, armor class, and protection. This is true of both the PC and his foes, and combat becomes an exercise in determining whether to strike easy-to-hit but well-armored places, like chests and abdomens, or low-HP but hard-to-hit locations like heads and necks. The combat system is also slightly more tactical than the average game of the era in that it allows you to spend rounds AIMing or to sacrifice accuracy for power in FORCE attacks.

Also notable about the series is the way that the author, Randall Masteller, rapidly added features as the titles progressed. Dunzhin had no inventory, but Kaiv offered some basic armor and weapons, including the odds of weapons breaking in combat, the need to keep a stock of torches, and the need to eat and drink occasionally. The Wylde, meanwhile, builds upon the previous games with a more complicated combat system.

The main city screen designates the object of your quest.
The brief back story recalls Grimsweord the Warrior's ill-fated expedition to the "Kaiv," which left him mortally wounded. When the king's wizard can't heal him, he calls upon his apprentices for a volunteer to travel to the "Wylde" and recover the "Truculent Tonic of Tabanid." No one volunteers, so he designates a girl named Cwenellen and gives her detailed instructions on the game's interface.

As with Kaiv, it's not really clear whether you're supposed to be Cwenellen or just following in her footsteps. I guess it's the latter, because each new game randomizes the treasure that you're supposed to find (just as in Dunzhin, but unlike Kaiv where everyone's quest treasure was a big pile of gold). In my trials, I got the "Rotting Star of Vekuz," the "Robust Cross of Xusat," and the "Velvet Ruby of Tehyq." There's also a coda at the end of the manual that says Cwenellen returned triumphant with the Truculent Tonic after six years--only to find that Grimsweord had died after three.

The Wylde adventuring screen. My character has made it from the city in the lower-left to the trading post in the lower-right, on the way to the treasure location in the upper-right.

The Wylde takes place on a single screen of around 48 x 48 squares depicting randomly-generated trees, hills, rivers, and I guess swamp. You start in the city in the lower-left and must make it to the treasure location in the upper-right.

In the city--or at either of two trading posts along the way--you can purchase equipment. The list has changed a little since Kaiv. There are no more torches and flint and steel, since we're outside. There are no encounters that require a rope or pick to overcome, so no ropes or picks, and instead of food and water, you only have to worry about food. New items are shields and coats, both of which provide some combat protection. Just as in Kaiv, you start out with 2,000 gold and can quickly purchase a "standard pack" of goods for 1,970 by typing @. There's a magic sword to save 3,000 gold pieces for.

Buying things in the market. Here, I finally got the magic sword.

A few differences from Dunzhin and Kaiv become immediately apparent, some good, some bad:

  • Each game starts with a random creature designated as a "bounty," and for each one of those creatures you kill, you get 100 gold pieces upon returning to a trading post or the city.
  • You can only return to the city about 5 times before the wizard gets mad at you and prematurely ends your quest. (You can kind of get around this by saving your character and then importing him into a new game. The only thing you sacrifice is uncollected bounties.) Thus, you really need to make it to the trading posts to replace broken equipment, restock food, and collect bounties.

Maybe Lord Doserror the Inevitable and his wizard aren't really good guys.

  • The odd events from the previous games that gave you luck (or took it away), randomly teleported you, and required you to quickly hit a key to avoid damage are gone. Instead, you just get random environmental messages, such as a storm off in the distance, the tracks of wolves on the ground, or rotting corpses. Every once in a while, you step into a rainstorm or snowstorm and have to wait until it passes.
This accomplishes nothing except to burn an hour.

  • Time passes at the rate of one hour per move. At 21:00, the game forces you to camp for the night (until 06:00), and there's a chance of a random encounter while you sleep. If you don't EAT when you wake up, you start taking damage.
  • In the previous games, you could move up to 9 steps at a time, but in this one, you can only move one step per action. This makes it even less forgivable that you still have to type MOVE EAST and MOVE NORTH (or the abbreviations M E, M N) instead of just using the arrow keys.

The biggest difference is in combat. In the previous games, it took place fairly quickly on the main screen. You might encounter a party of 6 skeletons, but they would attack you one at a time, and you had the options described above to hit each body part, take a round to AIM, or use a FORCE attack. In The Wylde, when enemies come upon you, you move to a separate combat screen that represents a zoomed-in area of where you were in the world. Enemies start some distance away and slowly advance on you. They can surround you and attack simultaneously. Once they get into range, in order to attack you must be facing the appropriate direction, accomplished by the TURN command.

As the wolves close in, I try to dispatch this one quickly by going for the neck.

You and your foes each have a set of movement points that deplete as you do various actions. Some actions, like RUN (which moves you two squares) deplete a lot of points, while others, like TURN, deplete only a few. The relative movement points remaining determines who goes next.

The tactical combat screen theoretically gives you more combat options. For instance, spears appear in the inventory for the first time, and if you can line yourself up with a distant enemy, you can throw them and take them down before they come into melee range. Practically, this is difficult, because enemies are smart and they come at you in a zig-zag pattern instead of a straight line. Also, swapping a sword for a spear in your hand requires that you first STORE the sword and then FETCH the spear, then FETCH the sword again once it's thrown. Coupled with the need to TURN, these actions take a lot of movement points, so you have to make sure there's plenty of distance between you and your foe.

Throwing a spear at a distant wolf.

Once you start finding magic items, like Rings of Fireball and Wands of  Lightning, they work the same way as a thrown weapon (need to be facing, in a straight line) but without the need for all the storing and fetching, so they're a bit more viable as options.

Blasting an enemy with a Ring of Fireball.

The terrain also adds some tactical considerations. If you're attacked by multiple enemies, you want to put yourself in a position where only one or two can engage you at the same time. Depending on the pattern of terrain, you may be able to funnel enemies to you along a straight line, giving you more chances to use thrown weapons or magic items.

BRIBE and HIDE are gone as options; you can still flee by moving yourself to the edge of the combat screen, and as far as I can tell, this always works.

In all, this is quite impressive. Recall that we're in 1983--perhaps even programmed in 1982--and the only other games in which combat is taking place on a separate tactical screen are Tunnels of Doom and Ultima III. The Wylde shows no influence from either game, and it actually seems to anticipate the tactical combat systems that SSI would introduce starting with Wizard's Crown, two years later.

In practice, I didn't really care for it. I thought the battles took too long and there were too many of them. But I think the problem is me, not the game. The lack of story and other RPG elements made me eager to finish this one quickly, in a single session, as I had done with its predecessors. Every time a combat screen showed up, I groaned and prepared for a 10-minute ordeal. In 1983, I think I'd have been a lot more forgiving and would have really enjoyed the tactical nature of the battles.

5 skeletons converge on me (on the right).

Post-combat, the enemy might drop several items of treasure, including potions, wands, rings, and piles of gold. I learned the hard way that you have to type GET for each dropped treasure before moving on. The end of combat also sees the game checking for level advancement, which (like the previous games) comes pretty rapidly through Level 10 and brings improvements to hit points, attack scores, and defense scores.

Enemies get harder as you move from the southwest to the northeast, and appear in context-specific terrain. Wolves, fighters, skeletons, and elves give way to lions, gargoyles, ogres, and gorgons, and finally to wyverns, trolls, vampires, and mummies. Like their D&D counterparts, these monsters have some special attacks: high-level undead drain experience points; harpies can paralyze; gorgons can turn you to stone. A lot of the higher-level ones can only be damaged by magic, making the magic sword a necessity past a certain point. I didn't encounter any creatures capable of spell-casting or missile weapons, but then again I fled from a lot of combats just to get to the end of the game. Combats are quite hard, and only by liberal reloading was I able to persevere.

This screen comes up a lot. Fortunately, you can reload.

Unfortunately, I was unable to win. I did reach the location of the treasure a couple of times. The game said, "You have come to the site of the item of the wizard!" and told me that it was being guarded by 5 mummies. Something glitched in the game at this point, and the combat screen went all wonky.

This is some odd terrain.

I was still able to kill the foes, but after combat, there was no way to pick up the quest treasure. All I could do was leave, return, and fight the 5 mummies again.

I suspect the problem is with the cracked version of the game floating about. Some jackass took the original Apple II version and replaced Randall Masteller's name with "Some Loser" and the name of the publisher (Screenplay) with "1200 Club," and this is the only version that seems to be available on any site.

Crackers show their wit and humor.

I'd try harder to find the original version--perhaps even get the C64 version working--but I can't imagine that the ending of the game is any different than Dunzhin, when you return with the randomly-generated item and the game simply says "You have obtained the item! WELL DONE!" I did make it back from the treasure location to the city, so I don't have any problem just envisioning that I got this message and calling it a "win."

The GIMLET for The Wylde is just going to be a few tweaks from Kaiv:

  • 1 point for the game world. The framing story is still very brief, and with no impact on gameplay.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. Leveling is rewarding, but there are still no creation options.

My late-game character.

  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are still interestingly varied, but there are no other types of "encounters" in The Wylde the way there were in previous games.
  • 5 points for combat. That's a point higher than Kaiv and reflects the effort put into the tactical combat screen. The body part/armor class/damage system continues to be unique and interesting.
  • 3 points for equipment, slightly improved from Kaiv with throwing items and magic items.

My mid-game inventory.

  • 3 points for economy, which is relevant throughout the game. You really need to save for that magic sword. It's just too bad that you can't buy other magic items in the shop.
  • 2 points for a basic, if randomly-generated, main quest.
  • In an exact repeat of what I said last time, "2 points for bare-bones graphics, a sound system that consists mostly of piercing boops, and a text-based control system that I still don't like for movement even though Masteller tried to help by allowing abbreviations."
  • 4 points for gameplay. Masteller deliberately designed the game to be replayable, and the random nature of combats and constantly-changing quest treasure supports this. It was only slightly too hard for my tastes (with permadeath, it would be impossible) but relatively quick even with the long combats.

The final score of 25 is 2 points higher than Kaiv and 3 points higher than Dunzhin, reflecting the continued development of the series. The improvements are modest, but still impressive given the rapidity with which the games were released.

I've continued to correspond with Mr. Masteller (you can read some of his recollections in the post on Dunzhin), though I fear that the low numeric scores may have insulted him a bit, even though I tried to explain that I'm ranking every game from every era on the same scale, and 23-25 isn't bad at all for the Bronze Age. I look forward to seeing how things continued to develop in Ziggurat, the last game of the series, which I'll play within a few weeks.


If anyone wants to see a Crystals of Arborea posting, he or she will respond with the answers to two questions:

1. How do you enter 3D view with characters other than Jarel? Is it even possible? If not, how are they supposed to explore dungeons and such?

2. Is there any way to join Jarel with the other companions and move them with him, or does he always have to explore independently?

The entire game is driving me nuts, and I'm afraid I need these answers to keep my sanity long enough to offer a full post.


  1. Hi! In Crystals the other companions can join Jarel when they are near him and you click on their faces. They get highlighted and the whole group than moves together. You can move separately the companions on the map, but they can´t use the 3D mode, only Jarel can. You can for example left your exhausted companions resting and then command them in map mode to come to Jarel and join him.
    Well, Crystals are a really crude RPG and I take it more as a technological demo of kind for the beautiful Ishar graphic engine. The dungeons are especially terrible to navigate, fortunately they fixed this in Ishar with a more traditional 3D view. The good thing is that Crystals should be really short...

    1. Thanks, Petr. I appreciate the quick response and assistance.

    2. Yep, as Petr states, your other characters are basically just scouts and cannon fodder. You can use them to spread out and scour the map for places of interest, but only Jarel can interact with things in 3D view. If they're in the same location as Jarel on the map, then you can bring them along in 3D view by clicking on their faces. In tunnels you can find pieces of equipment that you can only pick up if you have certain characters with you - only fighters can pick up armour, etc. Tunnels are horrible to navigate, but some are essential, for example the one leading to the island in the bottom-right of the map. As to everyone saying it's a really quick game...maybe it is once you know where everything is located on the map. If you're discovering everything for the first time, then it's really not a quick (or fun) you're no doubt discovering!

    3. I actually managed to win it yesterday, but I never found the tunnel to the small island. What made you think it was "essential"?

    4. I can't remember now, but I thought one of the crystals or towers were on it? Maybe their positions are randomized after all.

    5. Yes, they must be. I played several games, and in each one the crystals were in slightly different locations. I guess i just got lucky not having one on the island. I'm guessing I missed out on some equipment in that cave, though, which would have come in handy for the final fight.

  2. Not sure what problems you had with the C64 version, but if you got stuck on the title screen you'll want to make sure true drive emulation is enabled (in the options menu). Unfortunately this will slow down loading times a lot since it runs the disk drive emulation at accurate C64 speeds.

    1. Oops. I meant _increase_ loading times of course. Slowing down time would probably do bad things to the universe.

    2. I have still never understood why the engineers at Commodore decided to make the firmware for the 1541 so clunky, kludgy, and SLOW. It had the potential to run quite quickly and yet the driver of the hard drive race car had never driven anything more complex than a single speed bicycle before. I've found a satisfactory answer though to be fair I have not looked that hard or deep. I'd rather get the answers by asking people like you :)

    3. Grr. NEVER found an answer, not implied HAVE found. Whoops.

    4. Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened. Thank you, Google :) provides the complete, total, unabridged (well, abridged, really) story of what happened.

      TL;DR: There was a physical bug in one of the controlling chips in the 1541 so they merely quickly wrote a kludge, shipped with that, and never ever replaced the bad chips or the poorly written kludge.

    5. The book 'On the Edge: the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore' is full of little stories like that. If you're at all interested in the Commodore systems or retro computing in general you'll really enjoy reading it.

    6. Thanks for the tip, Erik. I had that setting turned on. I think what was happening was, the game took so long to load, I assumed it was crashing. When I let it just run for about 5 minutes, I came back to find the game screen waiting for me.

      Oh, well. I don't imagine that the C64 version is a lot different, and I'm not going to replay everything just to get a one-line confirmation of returning with the treasure.

    7. There is a playthrough on youtube of the C64 version.

      If you win you get a congratulation, 10000 gold and a new quest (a new object to fetch from the top right corner)

    8. If you run into long loading times in the future, try hitting Alt+W to enter Warp Mode which will run the emulation (including the disk drive) as fast as your computer can handle. On a modern PC this tend to be pretty fast.

    9. @william

      That's Commodore for you, always cutting corners.

      I haven't checked this myself, but from what I've heard all C64s outputs slightly different colors due to Commodore not being very picky with the specs of the components they used. The same is very much true true for the audio as well.

      Sorry for going off topic.

    10. Thank you for going off topic with me :) I don't think it was Commodore itself that was the main problem. The main issue that *I* saw through the years (magazines, articles, etc) was Jack Tramiel. He seemed to be the driving force, the mainstay, the pillar- and was a deeply, deeply flawed man. I cursed him when he bailed and went to the Enemy- Atari :) I laughed as his toy, the ST, turned out to be (well, in my humble opinion :) ) a total hunk of junk. If he could have been the driving force, but been tempered with someone who was a better person... Commodore coulda bin ah contendah!

    11. Original c64 load times were quite slow, actually so slow on both for cassette and disk drives (though I had a 1541-II which was actually quite fast) that we usually had a game on load while we ate and it was ready and waiting for us when we came back ...

    12. @william
      Yeah, many C64 and Amiga owners back in the day, myself included, had this weird love/hate relationship with Commodore. The C64 wasn't going to last anyway because of aging hardware that could not really be upgraded much, but it's a shame that they mismanaged the Amiga so badly.

      Loading Gunship from tape was always fun. It took something like 25 minutes as I recall. I still don't know exactly how Microprose managed that particular feat.

  3. Replies
    1. As I suspected, you get a "thank you" screen and then can continue playing, just like in Dunzhin. Since I made it to the treasure, defeated the mummies, and made it back to the city, I have no problem just imagining I got the same screen.

    2. The thing that scratches my britches is how the quest item doesn't even change. Just go out and get the same thing again! Grr.

  4. The early Apple II keyboards only had horizontal arrow keys, which might explain the lack of arrow key support in these games. I think the IIe, released around 1983, was the first to have both horizontal and vertical. Of course Masteller could have used a control scheme like WASD, IJKM, or AZ + horizontal arrows.

    It's fascinating to see such an early example of rapid iteration in design, too.

  5. Ha! A game-breaking bug on Commodore with the ruler in the game named DosError! Sweet irony!


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