Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Game 168: Warrior of Ras, Volume Four: Ziggurat (1983)

This title screen is from the C64 version even though I played the Apple II version.

Warrior of Ras, Volume Four: Ziggurat
United States
Randall D. Masteller (author); Screenplay (publisher)
Released 1983 for Apple II, Atari 8-bit, and Commodore 64
Date Started: 12 October 2014
Date Ended: 13 October 2014
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 27
Ranking at Time of Posting: 75/164 (46%)
Ranking at Game #457: 250/457 (55%)

Ziggurat brings the Warrior of Ras series to a satisfying conclusion, synthesizing elements that we saw in Dunzhin, Kaiv, and The Wylde (links to my reviews, which it would make sense to review if you want to understand this one). We've got the indoor walls and room layout of Dunzhin, the expanded item list from Kaiv, and the tactical combat system from Wylde, all in pursuit of a randomly-generated treasure, just as in the first and third games.

The back story--just as superfluous as those for the first three games--recounts a warrior's expedition to the Ziggurat of Ras, where he hoped to find the "Sapient Scepter of Sirocco" and break the power of a "wretched king whose reign of horror reduced these prosperous lands to poverty." The game's interface is presented in the manual as the creation of a magical amulet, passed down to the warrior by his father, "the great warrior Dominican." As you start your own game, you receive a random quest item--the Spiteful Rod of Jysor, the Ebony Horn of Fisat, the Silver Scarab of Sevyw, etc.--to find.

The main quest is randomly generated at the start of the game.

As with the other three, there's no character creation. You can import a saved hero from the previous games, but otherwise you start as a Level 1 adventurer with 2000 gold pieces to spend among armor, swords, torches, food, water, packs, crosses, flint & steel, ropes, dirks, picks, mirrors, and magic items. As with the previous two games, there's a magic sword for 3000 gold--something worth saving for. Unlike the previous games, you can purchase various potions, rings, and wands in the shops instead of only finding them in the dungeons. Magic dirks and magic spears also join the item list for the first time in Ziggurat. A bug in my version made dirks cost $30 but sell for $500, making it possible to get infinite gold at the outset.

The market, for the first time, has potions.

Once outfitted (the "@" gets you a "standard pack" of gear for $1900), you stash your excess treasure in the vault and then head into the dungeon. The ziggurat consists of about half a dozen randomly-generated dungeon levels connected by tunnels. As you move along, you may encounter packs of the game's varied monsters. Stepping on a special square in the rooms always generates a battle followed by a treasure haul.

In the basic interface, little has changed. You type various commands (EAT, INVENTORY, GET, MOVE EAST 3) or their abbreviations (E, I, G, M E 3) to interact with the world and your objects. Volume Four restores the ability to specify a number of squares to move that Volume 3 took away. Every so often, you have to DRINK water and EAT food to avoid hit point damage. You supposedly need torches to see, but I couldn't figure out how to light them in this game (USE didn't work), and the dungeon revealed itself despite the lack of them. I also noted that Rings of Light appeared to have no effect, so this might be something that was never sufficiently programmed. Ropes also don't appear to have any use at all.

The corridor at the north end of this level is connected by two tunnels, but not to the rest of the level.

The random events and messages that kept Dunzhin and Kaiv interesting are gone here. Ziggurat does add secret doors for the first time. 

You may have to walk past them a few times.

In Dunzhin and Kaiv, combat was fought through commands on the main screen. Wylde moved this to a separate combat map, which Ziggurat preserves. I found this system admirable in Wylde--only a handful of other games in the era were offering special combat maps--but also a little annoying, as it made each combat last a bit too long. Ziggurat solves the problem by making the combat screens a lot smaller and removing navigation obstacles. I thought it hit the right balance.

Something called a "slizzer" aims for my chest. This attack will cost him about 10 movement points. #3 and #4 will get to go next, after which everyone will be below my number of turns, and I'll get to attack. If things get rough, I can flee out the corridor to the right.

Combat is governed by "turns," the number of which are affected by strength, encumbrance, and magic considerations like Potions of Haste. Every action--turning, moving, running, throwing, using a magic item, attacking--consumes a number of turns, and the character with the highest number always goes next. This is a complexity we don't see again in top-down games until maybe Wizard's Crown. Unfortunately, clever enemy pathfinding makes it hard to get on the same line with them at a distance and reduces the utility of spears and some magic items.

Tossing a spear at a warrior.

Like the previous games, in melee combat, Ziggurat allows you to do a regular HIT, AIM for a round, or put your energy into a FORCE attack, afterwards specifying what body part you want to target. Low-armored body parts like heads and necks are harder to hit but easier to score a quick kill. Each body part has its own hit points. Lucky rolls can result in critical hits that do 2 or 3 times the damage.

A few new commands make an appearance here: CHOP, GOUGE, KNEE, and KICK. Regrettably, the manual doesn't cover these new commands at all, but they seem to apply to unarmed combat.

Killing enemies gives you experience points, which in turn make up levels, which in turn affect your attack value and hit points. Leveling is rapid through Level 10 and then slows down considerably as experience point requirements increase exponentially. 

My character about halfway through the game.

Magic treasures--rings, wands, and potions--are far more plentiful than in the predecessor games, at least at specific treasure squares. You can activate a Ring of Shielding, quaff a Potion of Strength or Ironskin, or wield a Wand of Fire almost every round if you want. I found that offensive rings and wands had some weird range issues--enemies can be too close to use them--but potions were particularly valuable, and I sold most of the other magic items to buy more potions of Healing, Super-Fight, and so on.

Your ultimate goal is to get strong enough to defeat the higher-level creatures on the later screens, like mummies and vampires, both of which require magical weapons to hit. One room holds the quest treasure, and I don't know if this always happens, but in my game it was in a section of a level with no doors or tunnels inside. I finally learned that you can wield a PICK and use it to knock through walls, which is how I got into the quest area.

I bashed through the walls to the south and am about to pounce on the quest treasure.

The treasure was guarded by a "zombie king," but I defeated him (aided by potions) and collected the treasure. Returning to the entrance, I was given this message:

I ache to know what the rest of this message said, but I suppose it's lost to history.

After your success, you get a new quest treasure and can keep playing the character.

The GIMLET should be, by a small margin, the highest in the series:

  • 1 point for a threadbare game world.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. No creation options, but leveling is rewarding.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. No special encounters, but the monster parties have various special attacks and defenses and are well-described in the manual.
  • 5 points for combat. The body part system and tactical logistics are both impressive for a 1983 game.
  • 4 points for the most extensive equipment system of the series.
  • 3 points for the economy, which is relevant for most of the game, especially with the ability to buy magic items.
  • 2 points for having a main quest

  • 2 points for limited graphics and sound and a serviceable interface.
  • 5 points for gameplay that is replayable and pitched at the right difficulty level and length.

The final score of 27 is 2 points higher than Wylde. In my post on Dunzhin, I said that the game "has some ideas too good to ignore, but it lacks too many RPG elements to fully enjoy as an RPG." It's in this sentiment that I leave the series. Although it developed some RPG elements, like an inventory system, after Dunzhin, it never really blossomed into a full-fledged RPG. On the other hand, author Randall Masteller only had a year between the first game and the last, and regardless of what I think makes a good comprehensive RPG, it's clear that Masteller achieved exactly what he set out to achieve: create a challenging game whose randomly-generated quests and dungeon levels could amuse even the game's author.

While Masteller was working on the Ras series, he was also programming and porting other authors' games for Screenplay and other companies, including MicroProse. Titles concurrent and just after Ras include Asylum II, Solo Flight, F-15 Strike Eagle, and Silent Service. More than a dozen titles follow in the 1980s, most sports and action games. He did porting work on Pirates! (1987) and Airborne Ranger (1987), both fondly remembered from my childhood. Eventually, he started his own company, Random Games, focusing on board and strategy games. You can read my full account of his work in the post on Dunzhin.

None of his future games, alas, were RPGs, so we will not be encountering Mr. Masteller again. While I can't detect direct influence of Warrior of Ras on later games, this small series represents some of the most innovative titles of the early 1980s and deserves to be better remembered. I also suspect it will be a long time before we encounter the word "ziggurat" again in an RPG.


  1. Wow, seeing the name "Airborne Ranger" bought back a flood of great memories, I hadn't thought of that game in 20 years!

    This series does seem like it should be better remembered when you take into account the year it came out, some of the other games from this era seem more fondly remembered despite being worse.

  2. Great article! The name Ziggurat caught my attention since there's a game coming out on Steam with that same name. :-)

  3. Replies
    1. Did it actually call it that, or did it just have something in the shape of one? W4 came to mind when I was writing this, but I couldn't remember. I guess Expedition Amazon technically had them, too.

    2. From your blog ;)


    3. Interesting that it's described as "art-deco".

  4. Well it's coming futuristic marathon, three titles which topics are: Cyberpunk / Dark Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi / Futuristic and Post-Apocalyptic.

    The most interesting thing for me is going to be the Fountain of Dreams. Intended as an "sequel" to Interplay's classic Wasteland. While the images of the game seems to be a mix of post-apo with horror in the style of "It" by Stephen King. One of the strangest settings, isn't it?

  5. "Difficulty: Moderate (5/5)"
    Are you just good at CRPGs that it's never challenging or is that a measure of how good the balance of difficulty is?

    1. maybe this is mistake, according to previous entries, moderate is (3/5)...

    2. Yes, just a typo.

      1=Very Easy
      5=Very Hard

  6. This looks like a well done game. Maybe it lacks some features or graphics, but it doesn't seem to have any bad or annying stuff in it. Also the progress between the 4 titles seems awesome for that short time span. Seems like the author played his games by himself a lot, since I doubt he did get that much useful feedback (being 1983 and all...).

    Also check this awesome anecdote on Moby Games: http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/bio/developerId,646/

    1. For those too lazy:

      Randall [Masteller] was an interesting character. A true genius. He wrote a programming language in two weeks once...wrote it in machine code. W. Denman and I were visiting him in his house and we saw the disk. "What's this?" we asked. "Ahhh, that's some programming language I wrote to help with adventure games". It had a parser and all kinds of crud built into it. We were like "SHIT! Randall, people get PhD's for less than this!!!" It impacted him not in the slightest.

    2. From experience, I can say that people do NOT get PhDs for less than that. People who get PhDs might be able to DO less than that, but to actually get one you have to go through an ordeal that makes developing a new programming language seem like a joke.

    3. Chet, I would tell you otherwise. So, you can cancel both mine and Kill Bio- er... KBbtGS's recommendation. The amount of content in the game is staggering. The ways you can play it and the ensuing results is also extremely varied.

      IMHO, the more open the game, the less imagination the devs can put in it. For one thing, just compare The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher. The Elder Scrolls have a lot of lore, sure, but interesting? Pssshh... I equate it to skooma; you hit it because you're addicted to it, not because it's fun.

      The Witcher, on the other hand, is motherf*cking magnificence incarnate. Very linear, but it's a sacrifice you have to make to create a great story. I'll bet Witcher 3 will suffer from it's openness but, hey, skooma.

    4. I'll just point out that making a programming language encompasses a wide range of difficulty curves. As Chester points out the vast majority don't come anywhere near the level of work needed for a PhD. I designed my first one when I was fifteen - coincidentally to help build adventure games as well. I was enamored with Eamon but didn't like it's dependence on BASIC to implement item effects. So I allowed each item to have a short code snippet this was appended to the main program regardless of the module you were playing.

      Point being is which headline do we write? "Fifteen year old creates object oriented language?" or "Fifteen year old solves a problem in a pretty obvious way"?

      Another thing to consider is how few programming languages were actually the result of PhD work or are even the subject of academic work. Holt who is the co-creator of Turing (which I was subjected to in my undergrad because I went to the University of Toronto). Has exactly one paper that uses his creation as a topic.

      All that said, it's probably worth mentioning that I've read plenty of masters theses which were less than impressive and some PhD topics that I have no idea how they were approved. In fact someone very high up in an organization I worked for had a PhD in Computer Science that was, IMHO nonsense.

      So if we were using "People get PhD's for less than that" to refer to the lowest common denominator then sure but if we mean "this represents the nominal amount of work for a PhD" then no freaking way.

  7. What is a potion of Super-Fight, and why does it cost less than a regular potion of fight?

    1. "Fight" increases the attack value by 4 points; "Super-Fight" increases it by 8. I have no idea why it costs less.

    2. Less fun because your enemies die faster, maybe?

  8. I'm really looking forward to seeing a review of Fountain of Dreams. It's probably the worst RPG I've ever played. The "sequel" to Wasteland idea just didn't happen. It's just set in the same world, in a bombed out Florida with stupid mutant garbage everywhere. No other relation to Wasteland except Interplay "publishing" it (like none of the same people stuck around for this load). I'm glad I never have to play it again. Good luck.

  9. Can you make a tutorial of how exactly to map in Excel? I can't understand how you do it, but I really want o play Might and Magic 1.

    1. It's not hard, but I think the Addict has some examples on his M&M pages. If you want to avoid spoilers, I have an example on my blog for Wizardry: http://kniggit.net/2014/10/16/wizardry-proving-ground-mad-overlord-1981/

      What you need to do first is create the "graph paper" in excel by making a sheet that has cells square. This may take some trial and error to get right, but I believe that if you highlight a bunch of rows and resize one, you will use the same size for all of them. Just drag around until you are happy they are square.

      After that, you need to decide on what you will do for walls, etc. Excel has a number of line styles and different colors. For myself, I like solid lines for walls, dashed lines for doors, and dotted lines for secret doors-- but you can choose to use different colors or whatever is convenient.

      For myself, I use _ to mark a square that I have been on and I use labels like A, B, C for special things on a square (filling in the details somewhere else on the map as a legend.) I like !! for squares with fixed combats and for MM, I marked those red if I couldn't win the combat so I would try to come back later. Really you will figure out what works best for you pretty quickly.

      And the final part should be the most obvious: at first, you pick a square and decide what direction is "north" and draw in walls where you see them as you explore. Until you get good, it will go pretty slowly. In M&M, I recall you get a spell (or it just tells you-- I forget) that tells you what square you are on and what direction you are facing. Once you have that, you can start to label the X and Y axises of your little map so that once you can teleport (or when you get teleported), you can label it correctly.

      It is slow, but worth it to play these old games-- and much easier than graph paper in my opinion.

    2. *Internet ate my first attempt to post this*

      Excel really isn;t the best tool for the job. Grid Cartographer in keyboard mode is vastly faster, the program has plently of support for annotation, and it just works better overall. It isn't free, but $12 isn't all that much.

      You can find it at http://www.davidwaltersdevelopment.com/tools/gridcart/

    3. I have seen that, I was just too lazy to shell out 12 bucks. I'll try using excel first.

    4. Google Docs is free and better than Excel for this, IMHO.

    5. Everyone else seems to have covered it. My general preference is to make do with as few separate and proprietary applications as possible, and my Excel method works well enough that I don't feel a need to change. Joe, other than the "free" aspect, I'm not sure what makes Google Docs better. In particular, I don't see that it has the ability to "draw" borders the way Excel does.

  10. I still don't know how to resize squares. Would anybody mind to create a step by step guide for me? :P

    1. Waitaminit... Excel costs at least 9 times more than Grid Cartographer. Buying something at that price which you don't know how to use is flabbergasting.

      1) highlight the row of grey numbered boxes above the cells (that row governs the column width of each cell) by holding down the left mouse button over them. Don't worry if you only highlight a few of them. Treat it as an exercise for now.
      2) Now, place your cursor BETWEEN one of the now-black boxes. Once the cursor transforms into a double-headed arrow, you can hold down the left mouse button again to pull the boxes to adjust the cell's width.

    2. Lots of people use Excel without ever having to resize columns, so I don't think it should be that flabbergasting. Also, I used to get Excel for free under a corporate license, so it can also be free (at least to the end-user).

      Anyway, as an alternative to Kenny's 2nd point, once you have a number of columns highlighted, right-click the shaded area anywhere in the sheet. Choose Column Width, set it equal to 3 (assuming the default column height), and you should have a grid of squares.

    3. Excel is fere on my computer. Thanks!

    4. The easiest way is to left-click the upper left corner of the spreadsheet (not cell A1, but the actual corner of the spreadsheet between the A and the 1. This will highlight the entire sheet, Now you can drag and resize any of the dividing lines between columns and rows and the whole sheet will change.

  11. 1) Dunzhin - Dungeon
    2) Kaiv - Cave
    3) The Wylde - The Wild
    4) Ziggurat - Ziggurat... uh... what?

    I'm appalled at the lack of creativity on the titling of the 4th installment for this series!

    1. Masteller actually mentioned this in an e-mail exchange. He said that he "couldn't think of a way to spell it wrong that it looked right." I kept misspelling it "ziggarut," but I'm sure he was thinking of something more esoteric. Maybe the original Akkadian "ziqqurat"?

    2. I'd personally call it Zeegrat or something and have a gigantic fire-breathing rat in the game with that name. LOL

  12. There's a new game called Ziggurat developed by Milkstone Studios ;)

    1. Er... 2nd comment, I mean. Yeah, I can't count but I don't spam either.

    2. Just mentioning a game exists isn't spam, give it a rest and let the Addict deal with it if he thinks its a problem.

    3. Since this game is called Ziggurat, is it really that far-fetched to be reminded about (and even mention) another, much more recent game of the same name? This page probably comes up if you google "Ziggurat game" or something like that, which might have led those two commentors here in the first place.
      By the way, the new Ziggurat is actually pretty fun, a mix between a roguelike and an old-school, fast-paced FPS. Feel free to add this to the list of spam if you like. ;)

  13. Hi Chet,
    thanks to your break I have finally made it through all your postings and all of the comments. I'm looking forward to your next one and hope that I could read this on the upcoming weekend?
    Keep on the great work!

    1. I hope so, too. I'm having a hard time moving forward. I'm having a hard time getting into Hard Nova, a hard time writing about Moria. I'm out of things to say about Dragon Sword despite having a lot of the game left to cover. None of the others really excite me. Nonetheless, I hope to invest some time later this week.

    2. The best advice is always write what makes you happy.

      If following your strict progression isn't doing it for you, if you feel burned out-- remember that the rules are YOURS. If you want to write an essay about the overuse of healing potions in cRPGs, or a haiku about your hatred of level-grinding, go for it! Your community will still be here. I find that the pallet cleansers get me more engaged with writing my "usual" stuff than just banging my hands on the keyboard forcing myself to finish words I do not believe in.

      We've just lost "The Adventure Gamer" due to burn-out and I would hate very much to lose you too.

    3. Trying to play games you don't like would burn you out quicker than playing through a genre that you do like.

      I think he just needs to jump ahead to an interesting game and gradually take care of the leapfrogged games as he's doing with the non-IBM PC games.

      Or do a series of articles on Skyrim. That would certainly be interesting.

    4. Chet, if you have invested over 6 hours for each and they've become a chore to play, I remember that you have the "authority" to stop playing them and give your GIMLET to them based on what you have seen so far. Amirite?

      Just go for it, I say. Unless it's that Completionist in you screaming to take over again.

    5. Hard Nova is a game that haunted my childhood. The intro music used to spook the living daylights out of me. There's two important things that I'll put down as spoiler texts - but will become self evident if you learn of either of them naturally.

      Svefgyl, lbh pna'g evfx univat nal bs lbhe ACP perj qvr. Guerr unir crefbany fxvyyf gung znxr gurz irel yvgrenyyl veercynprnoyr - V pna'g erzrzore rknpgyl jub, fb vg'f orfg gb fnir fphz. (V erzrzore gurve cbegenvgf, abg gurve anzrf.)

      Frpbaqyl, KC vf njneqrq cre-crefba ol gur nzbhag bs qnzntr rgp gurl qb, nf bccbfrq gb ol xvyyf rg ny. Nf fhpu, gurer'f na vasvavgr tevaqvat bccbeghavgl gung rkvfgf ol univat lbhe znva punenpgre ercrngrqyl nggnpx n cnegvphyneyl avtu-vaihyarenoyr punenpgre gung lbh zrrg rneyl ba - ur qbrfa'g ghea ntterffvir vs lbh nggnpx uvz. V jnfa'g rfcrpvnyyl tbbq ng znantrzjag bs gurfr guvatf nf n xvq, fb V frg zl znva punenpgre gb nggnpx uvz, yrsg n jrvtug ba zl RAGRE xrl naq erehearq gb n yhqvpebhfyl bireyriryyrq punenpgre... Fbzrguvat gryyf zr gung gur ceboyrz lbh'er yvxryl univat vf zber onfrq nebhaq jurer gb tb naq jul, gubhtu.

  14. Anyone ever figure out what KICK or CHOP does? It's not unarmed combat, i still have to have a damn sword.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.