Sunday, March 8, 2015

Quest for the Unicorn: Won! (with Final Rating)


Quest for the Unicorn
Mike Riley (author); distributed as shareware
Released 1990 for DOS and at some point between 1990 and 2010 for Linux and Unix; DOS version last updated in mid-1990s. "Hardcore" version released for Windows and Linux/Unix in 2010, last updated 2014
Date Started: 26 February 2015
Date Ended: 1 March 2015
Total Hours: 18
Reload Count: one billion (estimate)
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 35
Ranking at Time of Posting: 117/174 (67%)

Quest for the Unicorn's mechanics satisfy the basic RPG craving of explore, earn experience, find better equipment, get stronger. As with many roguelikes, the content of the game isn't quite up to the mechanics. The one-line bits of lore make the wandering people more like fortune cookies than NPCs; the many dungeons, almost all using the same tiles, lack any personality; and even the enemies don't differ much except by strength and icon. My own playing was hampered by a lack of documentation. I had some fun for a while, but eventually I rushed the ending just to get further through 1990.

After the last post, I spent a lot of time exploring random dungeons, loading up on as much loot as I could carry before making trips back to town to sell, identify, and spend. As you enter each dungeon level, the game tells you the sum of the experience points of all the enemies there. I soon discovered that the harder dungeons might require a lot of reloading, but the experience point rewards were worth it: I sometimes went up an entire level from a single combat.

Equipment rewards were also better in the tougher dungeons. It takes far less than one dungeon level to fill up the backpack, so I would eventually resort to carrying items in the most unlikely of places before lumbering back to town to identify the unknown stuff and sell the stuff I didn't need. As Mike Riley pointed out in a comment, identification applies to the entire class of item, so you only need to identify a Ring of Fire Resistance or a  Staff of Striking once.

My backpack is full, so I'm carrying a horn on my shoulder and a scarab on my belt. The game lets you put any item in any slot--it just doesn't always work there.

The lack of documentation for the game hampered me when it came to equipment. I was never sure which items just need to be equipped and which actually had to be (U)sed to have an effect (e.g., Scarab of Protection, Luckstone). For those that needed to be equipped, I didn't always know where they needed to be equipped (e.g., does a Cloak of Displacement go in the "Robe" slot, and are gems held or worn?). A lot of items seemed to produce no effect no matter what I did (e.g., Horn of Valhalla, Necklace of Adaptation, Gem of Brightness, Sphere of Annihilation, Pearl of Power), probably because I was holding or using it wrong. One artifact item, a Phaser, was an awesome weapon when I shot enemies on the main screen, but it didn't work at all when I transitioned to the combat screen, and I'm not sure if this was a bug or some side-effect of the weapon itself. At worst, these were valuable sale items that got me things I did know how to use. Boots of Speed, a Ring of Regeneration, Scrolls of Magic Mapping, Potions of Extra Healing, and a Ring of True Sight--the latter reveals traps and secret doors automatically--were all vital to exploration.

Leveling is relatively rapid through about 16, after which it slows down even in the hardest dungeons, requiring millions of experience points to advance. As my paladin increased levels, he started getting spells at around Level 9. I found the spell system, at least for the paladin, reasonably well-balanced: spells like "Cure Serious Wounds" and "Continual Light" helped ease the pain of exploration rather than rendering it too simple. It would be interesting to play the game as a mage to see the difference that spellcasting makes.

Gaining a new spell upon leveling up.
       
There are a couple of ways you can change classes throughout the game. The first is involuntary, through a change in alignments, which happens when you kill NPCs. This is easier than you might think, as they wander unmolested around dungeons and often get caught in the crossfire. I'm not sure how it works for all classes, but my paladin progressed from lawful good to chaotic good to chaotic neutral to neutral to lawful evil to The Essence of Evil. Upon reaching the last alignment, his class shifted to "Assassin" (not otherwise selectable in character creation) and his level reverted to 1. I reloaded an earlier game and made sure to occasionally pay for "Restore Alignment" at the healer's.

The second method is by joining the "Cavalier's Guild," which becomes available after you reach around Level 10 in your previous class. I kind of wish I hadn't done it, as I stopped gaining spells, and the only benefit I could really determine is that at the beginning of each year, I could go collect a salary of $1,000 x my character level. There might have been other, behind-the-scenes benefits that I couldn't determine.

I could get this in about 10 minutes of dungeon exploration.
         
Eventually, I found a pegasus NPC in some dungeon who was willing to join me, thus saving myself $125,000 at the transportation shop. With the ability to fly, I was able to explore the totality of the kingdom and find the dungeons mentioned in the lore. The game world consists of nine 100 x 100 maps, for 90,000 total overland tiles in the game. 

As we discussed last time, a big part of the game involves collecting bits of lore from the NPCs that dot the various cities throughout the game. Each lore line is like a piece of a puzzle, and you need to assemble them all to determine not only what items you need, but where they are, and how to follow the game's geography to find the right dungeons. For instance, this sequence leads from the main quest back to a specific place:

After Eshter captured the unicorns, she fled through the Gateway
Rumors say a Gateway exists from our plane to the Realm of Eshter
The Amulet of Yathun is needed to enter the Gateway
The Amulet of Yathun was last seen in Larkon
Larkon was once a major city
Larkon was destroyed during the Caldnar Droughts
The ruins of Larkon are found at the head of the Anjar River
The Anjar River is located north of the Enchanted Lands

Thus, finding the right dungeon was a matter of first finding the Enchanted Lands, then finding the river north of it, then following the river to its head, where there was a prominent dungeon entrance.

       
Every dungeon--there are about 60 of them--features some kind of major reward on the bottom level, always surrounded by some kind of electric field that saps half your hit points with every step. In some dungeons, the reward is a quest item; in others, it's a major artifact weapon; and in still others, it's a word of power that acts like a spell but without requiring spell points.

This word of power was a reward for reaching the lowest dungeon level.

The player can make these items relatively easy to find by setting the maximum dungeon levels to 1. Buy a few Scrolls of Magic Mapping, and you can be in and out, reward triumphantly in hand, in just a few minutes.

Approaching the Aurafax, one of the major quest artifacts needed to win the game. Note that I've used a Scroll of Magic Mapping to reveal the level.
       
I made the stupid decision to head right for the endgame after finding the three artifacts needed to enter the Gateway. Mike Riley had warned me that I should probably find some other weapon and armor artifacts, as well as build up my character levels more, but I was impatient to get out of 1990, so I decided to rely on Potions of Extra Healing and "Power Word: Reload." This turned out to be a bad decision.

The endgame begins when you find the entrance to the Gateway on an island off the Valley of the Unicorns. You need a flying creature to reach it. I assume the Gateway doesn't appear if you don't have the Talisman in possession, and the Aurafax must do something to allow you to enter it, but both happened automatically and didn't require me to do anything with the artifacts.

Entering the gateway--well before it was advisable to do so.
       
Once you enter the Gateway, you need to equip the Amulet of Yathun to see anything, as bumbling around in the dark is swiftly fatal. The first level of the Gateway has walls of water, the second has walls of fire, and the third has walls of electricity, all of which halve your hit points the moment you walk into them. (These are the only dungeon levels I saw that varied the wall textures.) Not walking into walls turned out to be more difficult than you might imagine.

A level with walls composed entirely of electrical fields. Since I know I won't be leaving here, a bunch of unwanted items are strewn in my wake. Fortunately, my Ring of True Sight is finding all those traps. To my northeast, a wandering NPC awaits. I hope he joins me, because my party is pretty low.
   
The difficulty posed by the walls was nothing compared to the difficulty imposed by the monsters, with creatures like demogorgons, demons, and dragons wandering everywhere and shooting at me even through barriers. Some of them were able to kill me in a single shot. Even though I loaded up on Potions of Extra Healing before entering the Gateway, I was toasted in most battles, especially after my party of NPCs died one by one (I was able to collect some more in the final dungeons, but not at a rate faster than I was losing them). I reloaded constantly, held down SPACE to regenerate after every battle, and eventually got to the point where I was saving with every step. This is nothing against the game and everything against my own stubbornness pressing forward without taking the time to collect the right items or levels.

Attacked by a demon immediately upon arrival in the Realm of Eshter.
          
Three levels of the Gateway ended in a one-level Realm of Eshter, which in turn led to a one-level Castle Eshter. There, in the usual manner of the rewards in other dungeons, Eshter sat surrounded by energy fields. I pushed through, quaffed a Potion of Extra Healing, and entered what I was sure would be one of a thousand attempts at the final battle.

Approaching Eshter in the last dungeon.
          
To my surprise, Eshter was a lightweight. She never hit me and died in a couple of shots from my Crossbow of Accuracy, at which point I got the winning message at the top of this post. The unicorns were freed and drove the evil from the Realm of Eshter, but decided to stay there so no one else could mess with them. They gave me $50,000 and passage back through the gateway, neither of much really mattered since the game wouldn't let me continue playing after the message.

Firing an arrow at Eshter in the final combat. I'm down to a single party member (a centaur).

In a GIMLET, I give the game:

  • 2 points for the game world. There are tantalizing allusions to history among the game's lore and names of lands and dungeons, and it would have been so much better with the documentation and full back story. Alas, I must rate what I played.

I question whether a dragon wouldn't have also worked.
      
  • 5 points for character creation and development, one of the best parts of the game. Although cut from the standard Dungeons & Dragons mold, Quest for the Unicorn does everything competently and even has a few surprises with the class changes. I only wish the player could choose the leveling of skills rather than have them happen randomly.

A mid-game character. Since I've been favoring the bow, all of those points in "Edged Weapons" and "Pole Weapons" are being wasted.

  • 5 points for NPC interaction, a key part of the game. It's just too bad that there aren't named NPCs with any personality, or any dialogue options with them. The ability to get NPCs to join the party is a nice touch, allowing you to build parties that complement your own character's strengths.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. The enemies in the game aren't really well-defined except by a) whether they can use ranged attacks; and b) how hard they hit. Yes, there are a couple that cause sleep or poison, but neither is a major concern after you gain a few levels, and I never found myself adjusting strategy in the game the way I would for, say, NetHack. (The inability to see any but the toughest monster in approaching parties contributes to this.) Except in the assembly of lore, there really aren't any puzzles in the game (unlike The Land).
  • 3 points for magic and combat. As with The Land, there are more tactical options than you might notice at first glance, particularly in the composition of the party, the use of items, and the various spells--but the overwhelming number of combats encourages you to settle into mindless attacking (and reloading when you lose) rather than carefully plotting each battle.

My party versus a demogorgon and some allies towards the end of the game.
     
  • 5 points for a decent equipment system, with a lot of items and item slots, a sensible item identification system, and some useful artifact items. It might be higher without so many seemingly useless items. Again, I have to rate what I played.

A late-game inventory shot.
     
  • 8 points for the economy. I almost never give a rating this high, but this shareware title achieves something that almost no other game does: an economy that remains relevant from beginning to end. There are loads of things to buy--equipment, transportation, manuals that increase attributes, training at the university, lore, item identification, alignment restorations, potions, scrolls--and almost all of it is priced exactly right. There's never a moment when you feel that you have too much money, nor ever any moment when it's impossible to find a close dungeon and earn some more.

Improving my character by taking some college courses.
      
  • 2 points for a main quest. Mike Riley has said that the game is mostly about mechanics (equipment, leveling, economy) and the main quest is somewhat incidental. This unfortunately shows during the gameplay.

Approaching the Talisman, a step on the main quest. Something looks familiar about it...
       
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Although the icons aren't bad, the unvarying tiles and textures get old quickly, and the only sounds are piercing boops during combat. (There's an option for some background music, but I couldn't get it to work. I probably wouldn't have liked it anyway.) The keyboard interface works okay, minus some bugs that I discuss below, but I didn't like the long screen refresh times (even with DOSBox cranked up).

The enemy icons are pretty good. If only every dungeon combat didn't take place on a blank floor.
        
  • 4 points for gameplay. It's non-linear until the end and somewhat replayable with different classes. The difficulty is highly customizable, and my own experience aside, it offers a decent challenge level to a player willing to put in the extra hours to achieve items and levels.

The configuration file lets you set several options to adjust the game's difficulty.

Alas, I'm going to have to subtract points from this version for bugs. Mike Riley has already identified or fixed most of these in subsequent versions, but I'm playing a DOS version similar to what a 1990 player would have experienced, and there are bugs galore. Some are trivial, such as misspellings; others are nearly game-breaking, such as the player not re-appearing at the same coordinates where he saves in the outdoor map. (Before I had a flying mount, I ended up getting stuck in mountains this way.) Enabling the "bones" option is supposed to make levels permanent, but it doesn't work and you often lose level maps even while in the same dungeon. I found that even the outdoor maps would often "forget" my exploration progress under some circumstances. Dropping an item on the stairs erases the stairs. You can break the inventory system simply by hitting "x" (exchange) when there's no item in the "up in the air" slot, and it's extremely easy to lose valuable items in this slot. Searching for lore in town crashes the game. I ran into one bug that prevented me from buying any more food, and I had to reload a much earlier save. There are a dozen more. It was these frustrations, more than anything, that made me want to end the game quickly, and I subtract 3 points from the final rating.

But even with the subtracting, the final rating is pretty good, at 35, right on my "recommended" threshold, something that hardly any shareware game of the era achieves. It's particularly notable that I find Quest for the Unicorn at least as enjoyable as most of the commercial RPGs I've played since finishing Quest for Glory II last August. If the game world had been less bland, and the dungeons, towns, and NPCs less interchangeable, Unicorn would be a strong contender for a "top five" game of 1990.

Author Mike Riley has been a good friend throughout this process, just as he was with The Land, commenting frequently, warning me about doing things that I did anyway, and sending me several helpful e-mails (including a response to my request to dig up the DOS version in the first place). In a recent comment, he announced intentions to compile a 25th anniversary edition of Quest for the Unicorn and to re-do the game's official page. I hope these postings raise the interest in the game a bit, and I hope Mike comes back to comment when it's available.

If you visit that page now, you'll find download links to a couple of different versions, all published well after the version I played, with fairly different mechanics. The only version Mike has updated in the last few years has been the "HC" (hardcore) version, which implements permadeath and an ASCII interface. I played the Windows version for a little while, and I would consider it different enough to be a different game on my list.

A town shot from the "HC" version for WIndows. I've just talked to an NPC.
         
I'm glad I played Quest for the Unicorn, but we should perhaps use this occasion to talk about a rules change when it comes to independent games, particularly since we're about to see an explosion of them in the 1990s. This is on my mind because I recently downloaded Dungeon, another independent title from 1990, that's not so much as a game as a programming exercise. I'm not saying its bad--it plays like an all-text Wizardry--but it doesn't really offer anything new, and I wouldn't have even known about it if a reader hadn't found it on an obscure DOS archive site and e-mailed me. I rejected it on a technicality--it doesn't have an "inventory" except for potions--but it won't always be that easy.

Naturally, I don't want to reject all games that never received a commercial release. That would remove most roguelikes, Quest for the Unicorn, and a host of 2000s games that better exemplify the type of single-player RPG I like. On the other hand, I don't want to commit to every entry in the Seven-Day Roguelike Challenge, either. Can you think of any good way to end the sentence, "If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless..." other than "I feel like it?"

While we're talking about that, it's time for a return to Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan!


78 comments:

  1. You've encountered a sphere of annihilation before - in Curse of the Azure Bonds, at which time you and an opposing wizard tried to mentally control it and send it inching towards the other.

    "If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless someone (incl. the internet) can vouch for a quality of the game that would make it a worthwhile addition to the blog"

    You played this game with fairly liberal saving. How would it fare as a roguelike?

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    1. It would be possible but LONG as a roguelike. You'd have to spend a lot of time leveling up in the easier dungeons. The difficulty is predictable enough that I think it would be possible, but you'd be looking at 100+ hours.

      Your suggestion isn't bad, but it still leaves a lot of room for interpretation. There's always someone who thinks a game like Vampyr: Talisman of Invocation is the best game ever made. I'd rather see something like "unless it was nominated for at least one category in the Independent RPG awards" or "unless it has at least a 3.5 score on MobyGames." The latter doesn't sound bad, but QftU wouldn't qualify, as it's not even on MobyGames.

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    2. I can think of a couple of things you could do:

      1) Have a time limit. The game has to pique your interest within, say an hour, with a good story or a new mechanic or something worth writing about. Lots of the independent games coming up are clones or exercises by student programmers or both. Some of them are quite good, lots of them are boring. Don't feel bad about ditching the boring ones. Probably nobody else played them either. The time limit can include finding a copy of the game in the first place if you like.

      1a) If you go with #1, jot down a couple of sentences about what the game was similar to and post the list as part of the "record of CRPGs for posterity" that you seem to be building. They're not worth a full review, but it is interesting to see what inspired how much of what.

      2) If you're interested in guest postings for those inevitable periods when you're too busy, you could use a list of games that you don't think will make the cut as candidates for that. You get material to fill in the otherwise empty periods, you get help sorting through the B-list games (you can, of course, reserve the right to play any awesome ones yourself if you like), and the fans of obscure games get an opportunity to have them included if they can do a writeup on them that meets your standards.

      3) People who want to submit independent games to your list should be encouraged to explain why they think you'll find it interesting. This would give you some indication about whether it goes on the "I play" or the "Somebody plays for me" list.

      If you don't want to do guest posts, you could just do an index list of games and link to the writeups of the ones you don't want to play. You're rapidly becoming the most comprehensive CRPG list around, offering info even on the ones you don't want to play yourself could get you some additional ad revenue for a relatively small amount of effort. ;)

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    3. 100+ hours for the older versions is probably realistic. The messier dungeon maps are hard to navigate and take a lot of extra time.

      6.0 uses a new map generator that is far cleaner making dungeon maps that can be navigated much quicker. I can usually complete a 10 level dungeon in about the time of only doing 2 to 3 levels of the older map generator.

      I have been doing a test run of the whole game before release, I am currently about 40 hours in and easily have the level and gear needed to survive the endgame. Based upon my test run, the game is probably reasonably completable in around 30 hours, if all you do is get the necessary items and get to a level that can survive the gateway. Completing all dungeons is probably in the 100+ hours category.

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  2. "...it's considered noteworthy or remarkable by a significant percent of reviewers"?

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  3. Congratulations on another win!

    I think you will have to build up new rules as you go, and I am sure that not everyone will agree with them. You can't play every fan-made expansion pack to "Neverwinter's Nights", for example, and heck you perhaps shouldn't even play all of the official expansions. ("Kingmaker", "Shadowguard", and "Witch's Wake" for example are all commercially-released mini adventures in 2004.)

    You also cannot play every derivative game. Someone out there thinks that "Nethack: The Next Generation" is *the* definitive NetHack, but having to play the whole thing over again because someone added a new "Geek" class and a bunch of references to "Hitchhiker's Guide" and "Red Dwarf" doesn't make any sense. There are tons of similar games which took the source for an open source game and tweaked it.

    Use your judgement on what to write about. We'll complain, I'm sure, but it's well-intentioned. :)

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    1. You're kind of missing the point, though. If I use something as vague as my "judgment," it won't be long until I skip all of the mid-1990s and offer the next posting on Baldur's Gate. I need something more specific and objective to keep me honest.

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    2. Fine then!

      "distribution" and "distinctiveness".

      1) A release has to have been commercially released (even shareware), or open source with a wide release (such as the various roguelikes).

      2) A release has to be distinct from others. A light respin on an open source game does not cut it, nor does a fan-made expansion module.

      I'm assuming that the 7-day roguelikes would trip one of those two rules, if not both. I can't think of any recent games that would have been rules out because of those, but I think that catches all of the expansion-itis examples that I was referring to.

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    3. 1. The specific game must have at least four versions or have been actively maintained for 2 years. (eliminates half-done conceptual games)

      2. The game must have least three features compared to the "base" game.

      3. Any game that is under commercial sale or reports significant donation revenue is considered a commercial release.

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    4. How about whether you can contact the original author(s) of the said game? I doubt the author(s) would contact you back if they know that the game is really bad that any review of it would invite bad reviews and ridicule.

      Another criteria would be more bureaucratic, but it would save you time and energy in a long run: Post the name of the game in advance, then you can ask three volunteers (or two or whatever number) from the huge number of commenters here to play the game for around 3 hours and give you their critical comments, whether the game fits your definition of what RPG is, whether it is playable, really good, etc.

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    5. Bleh, blogger ate my post. >_< Sorry if this is double...

      I think a reasonable standard is whether or not the game had lasting influence. If it was a jumping-off point for a developer that went on to bigger and better things, that would merit inclusion. If it was an early establishing work in a subgenre or artistic movement, that would also merit inclusion. Likewise if some other dev cited it as a particular influence on his own work. But if it was a cliche-ridden Final Fantasy clone done up in RPGMaker by some brave amateur... probably not.

      (Not to throw shade on either RPGMaker or those brave amatuers, of course. Some of them are capable of producing magnificent work. To The Moon comes to mind, though it's not an RPG...)

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    6. Maybe something akin to Wikipedia's "notability" requirements would be appropriate? e.g., require that a non-commercial release must:

      a) Be reviewed or referenced in a respectable secondary source in a non-offhand manner. For most games in the '90s, this would be an article or review in a contemporary print magazines. A modern retrospective in, say, Game Developer Magazine would be acceptable as well. A fan website would not, nor would a list of the latest 7-day roguelike entries with one-sentence descriptions.

      and

      b) Not be derived from the codebase of another game. (No ZAngband, no SLASH'EM, no mods of existing games.)

      Combined with the caveat that our dear Addict can overrule the requirements for any game that somehow catches his fancy (maybe the commentariat loves some obscure shareware release), I think this would work well for games in the 1990s. Better to be, I think, too harsh than too lenient as the shareware era hits hard.

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    7. I think that second requirement would kill Nethack, wasn't it based on Hack? Also what about games based on Unity, Quake, Unreal....

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  4. The graphics in QfU remind me a lot of Castle of the Winds, which I eagerly await you getting to play in 4 or 5 years (although apparently the original version was released in 1989).

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    1. I still fire up Castle of the Winds every now and then via Windows 3.1 within DOSBox. A great game and one of the few whose personal origin is remembered: I found the shareware version on a CD being sold for a dollar at a Walgreen's pharmacy some time in the mid-nineties.
      The mid-nineties: a time when every retail outlet was selling software of some kind.

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    2. As a casual fan of roguelikes since the late '80s, I remember cleaning off the 40MB MFM hard drive in my 8MHz 286 multiple times in order to be able to fit Windows 3.1 on it. Castle of the Winds was one of the few Windows games I remember spending a significant amount of time with during that era.

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    3. I still have an 8MHz 286 in the form of a NEC Powermate 1. I cannot imagine the amount of patience one must have to run Windows 3.1 on it.

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    4. 8mhz is the very bottom of the 286 flavour IIRC. My 8086 was 8mhz. I don't think there's any way it could have run 3.1 (esp with 640k of RAM)

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    5. I beat both episodes of CotW, the developer had it on his website at one point. He also sent me an email back when I thanked him, though that was many years ago.

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  5. Speaking only for my totally selfish self, I would prefer that even completely unremarkable-looking free games get a single blog post listing the game and explaining that it doesn't seem worth putting a full playthrough into.

    That helps bring attention to obscure stuff, offers the possibility of people who aren't you deciding to help out by playing and reviewing them*, and leaves an obvious place for folks to comment if they think there actually is something remarkable about the title worth you taking another look at.

    * - I'm pretty sure there are people reading this blog who would feel at least slightly inspired to try some RPG reviewing, and having an easy list of games you are NOT playing would give them something they can feel useful by doing.

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  6. I really like that there are artifacts at the end of every dungeon. This way, even the additional dungeons are worthwhile and collecting them all becomes a sort of side-quest. Of course, the restraints of 1990 still make it a tedious exercise to actually collect them all, but it's something we can see again in the Bethesda games.. a word of power at the end of the dungeon, that sounds familiar....

    About updating the rules... The guy who made the Doom first-person shooter, he started with two Ultima 2 clones, we talked about them in the comments. I wondered if you would play them, because you'd have to according to the old rules, even if they're basically just clones. They're probably also "programming exercises". Maybe you can rule out games that simply copy the mechanics, or the look, from another game. They're not part of CRPG history, they just repeat it. I think a combination of 2-3 rules about a game adding something to history might do it.

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    1. I believe he has already covered the Doom guy's crpgs (at least, those members of the series appearing in ms-dos).

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  7. I'm torn between thinking that we should get you a Dungeon Master's Guide and Player's Handbook from 1st edition AD&D in PDF form (they're available legitimately these days) so that you can know what all these magic items and spells are supposed to do... and running some sort of sociological experiment where we use your knowledge of these games to reconstruct what you think D&D's rules must have been.

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    1. In this case, knowing what the items were SUPPOSED to do wouldn't have been much help. I can imagine that the Sphere of Annihilation annihilates things, for instance. The problem is knowing how to properly use the items with the game's interface. Maybe I was supposed to (T)hrow it rather than (U)se it. I think I tried that and it didn't work, but maybe I needed it in my right hand.

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    2. They are controlled by the mind, you have had to equip it on your head slot.

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  8. If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless...
    ..it added a completely new feature to the world of CRPGs.

    Of course that's not easy to judge without playing the game and also not really clear, because i.e. a new character class could be seen as a new feature or not. But at least it would help to weed out the occasional clone or programming exercise.
    New features are the most interesting things to read about and I guess also to play.

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  9. Wasn't the purpose of your 6 hour rule to drop games that you do not enjoy? I think "I feel like it" is a perfectly valid reason to drop a game, considering you have a rule that you can drop a game for a lack of enjoyability.

    If you'd like, then you could choose to reduce the amount of hours to, say, 3, for independent RPGs.

    Although I understand there's a certain sense of pride that might stop you from dropping a game on purpose (it does seem sort of a waste to take away your ability to boast that you haven't dropped an RPG for a year).

    You could probably make a mini-GIMLET after a few hours where you set a minimum score threshold and, if it isn't met by that stage, then you don't need to continue with the game.

    Or you could try to keep notes about unique or good points regarding games and if that does not exceed a certain number (such as 5) then you do not need to continue that game. This idea works similar to the one above, though.

    Sorry if my ideas were conveyed improperly or were difficult to understand (I'm not that eloquent).

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  10. Even games that DO have a commercial release becomes a mind-boggling high number, once you get to the mobile-phone era. There would need to be some subjective selecting of "significant" games regardless...

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  11. You havent snubbed flagrantly as far as I can tell. Your judgement is a good guide: this is an imperfect canon you've put together here, but it has some authority to it. I think your guilty conscience will keep you playing anything that could be construed as historically worthwhile.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Query: Could you give some more identification on Dungeon (1990) and where it can be found? I am vaguely curious what it looks like but that's not enough information (given the really vague title) to find it.

    I think no-commercial release should reduce to a 20 minute rule. If something seems substantial you can give it the full treatment, otherwise axe it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with this. It might be nice to see games that would qualify under the current rules get at least a few minutes of play and part of a posting. Roguelikes especially would lend themselves to this, as it wouldn't take long to comment on the specific features of one and a quick impression of the gameplay.

      For the 7DRL's specifically, I think it would be fine to just play what are generally considered to be the top 3-5 from each year and cover them in a single posting.

      Delete
    2. Whether it's 20 minutes, or 2 hours as others have suggested, I agree.

      Ideally the content of the (non-commercial) game itself would dictate things -- not standards based on notability or appearing in source X's list, since most of those would boil down to popularity contests. Experience, and the unvarying fallibility of received wisdom, have repeatedly taught me that there's never any substitute for finding out firsthand if a game has something to offer.

      Easy for me to say since it's not my time being spent, but hey, you asked! So I guess the sentence would end "...unless the game deserves it".

      Delete
    3. Yeah, when these one-off games get casually mentioned, we need a link to it. It's too tantalizing to be told such things exist and then tell us to find them ourselves. Particularly with a search-resistant name like 'Dungeon'.

      Delete
    4. This is it. The designer is Ed Toton.

      https://archive.org/details/DungeonSW1990EdT.TotonIIIAdventureRolePlayingRPG

      Delete
  13. > "If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless..."
    ... the game has a Wikipedia page?

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's certainly a conundrum. It's tough to make a blanket rule for elimination when there's usually at least a couple of things that would be worth checking out. Even with mods. There are a couple of fan campaigns for Neverwinter Nights that are better than the official one, for example. (Actually, a lot of them are, since the official NWN campaign is garbage. But a smaller number really stand out.) And while I don't think most mods for Oblivion are particularly crucial, Nehrim might as well be a whole new Elder Scrolls sized game.

    I would say: mods only if they are total conversions or complete campaign replacements, and only one or two of those per game. Roguelikes only if they are clearly distinct in some major way (so you might touch on a couple of really big Angband variant branches but skip most of them) and have received X amount of ongoing development (so presumably most 7DRLs would be out). And then for stuff that's original development but maybe not very notable...I dunno.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I would personally just prefer if you applied your 6 hour rule to them more liberally, or even make it a 3 hour rule for independants. For example, Dragon Sword was a game that you probably should have cut short.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I kinda like this suggestion.

      Delete
    2. Seconding this. A simple "I played for three hours and in my estimation it is a good/bad game, here's why, next shovelware..." would more than suffice.

      The mid-nineties is not RPG-friendly territory until the revival that Baldur's Gate will herald towards the end of the decade. I can't recall a whole lot in-between, since the nineties was largely the decade of the first-person shooter.

      Delete
  16. For the non-commercial releases, you should require:

    1-Being complete products - demos and halfway done projects (including insufficiently-debugged games) are out.

    2-Meeting all your CRPG criteria cleanly: while you sometime fudge things a little for commercial releases, non-commercial products that also are borderline not CRPGs should not be on the list.

    3-For mods and expansions, add a notability criteria - I'd suggest playing the one "best" fan campaign, plus any very notable "this is effectively a new game" mods.

    4-For roguelikes... I'm not sure of the scale of the problem here, but they tend to be very time-consuming. I would play the original versions, and maybe the final versions of the major forks (as determined by people who actually know what those are.) I certainly wouldn't play each iteration along the forks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1) Insufficiently debugged games? How do we define that? Modern games usually have a lot of bugs due to a) size and b) lack of support.

      2) I totally agree with this but Chet's already practicing this.

      3) I don't know about "best" or "notable" but I'd just like to point out that the Nude skin mods for Fallout 3 & Skyrim just happens to be one of the most downloaded and highest rated mods out there.

      4) Again, I think Chet's already practicing this.

      Delete
  17. Unless the game has had a commercial release, or it has been referenced in at least 3 distinct, well known sources (wikipedia, moby games, hardcoregaming101), the crpgaddict is free to skip the game if it's no fun after a day of playing.

    ReplyDelete
  18. How about drop the gimlet for minor freeware games and just give us the readers a sort of quick introduction, enough to say you have played the game but not necessarily played it all the way through the end screen ?

    In other words a game review instead of a full walk through like you're doing now for each game.

    Like that T&T for instance from the readers part (ie. mine) that game feels such a bore that I would be happy to just settle for a review and be done with it. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  19. One decent rule could be simply eliminating games created for a contest, other than the winning entry or ones that received a commercial release.

    By its very nature, a contest implies a lot of entries, and a number of poor/losing entries.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think that no matter what method you use to qualify which games to play, eventually you will reach a point where it simply won't be possible to play all eligible games without slowing your progress to a snail's crawl. That is, unless you come up with a completely arbitrary means of determining which games qualify.

    Maybe instead you should set a hard limit on the number of games you choose by year. Maybe 20 or 30 games a year at a minimum of six hours each? You could do a reader poll to choose which games are played for a particular year? Those games would have to meet your current criteria for an RPG, of course.

    Just a thought.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a good idea. Pick a number of games per calendar year. I'll say 40 but whatever the CRPG addict decides. Then seed that with commercial releases or other handpicked games first. Then let people vote in the remainder... If you seeded 30 then there are 10 slots for other games to be voted in.

      Delete
    2. Setting limits sounds like a great way to end up covering only the most popular games that have already been covered dozens of times, though.

      For myself, it is far more interesting to read coverage of games that I am only dimly familiar with from seeing ads in gaming magazines at the time, or have never heard of at all, rather than games I already own.

      Delete
    3. I definitely agree that one of the most interesting aspects of this blog is that it sometimes digs into games that almost nobody has heard of.

      On the other hand, I don't think Chet is talking about giving up on commercial games - he's just trying to figure out how to navigate a coming boom in indie and shareware titles.

      Delete
    4. Using a high enough limit would get past the "just covers popular games" issue. 40 isn't enough? Then 75. Or 100. Chet is looking for some reasonably objective criteria to deal with the "myriad variations on a theme" problem.

      Delete
    5. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people just want to see the CRPG Addict replay games that they already know. That way, they can drop hints and spoil the game in the comments.

      Delete
  21. Dear CRPG Addict,

    As others have said, I see in you a good judge. Nevertheless, I think we can accept that you are going to miss somebody's favorite game along the way and we do not want you getting to Baldur's gate when you are 80. Therefore, I agree with others that perhaps and smaller window of playing time for shareware and independent releases, unless you yourself find something compelling about the game. "DragonFire" comes to mind here. You noted its excellent room descriptions that seemed like a paper rpg. In the end its your blog and your call. I trust you will make the best decision, given the circumstances.

    ReplyDelete
  22. There is no easy answer here but if it was myself I would break down games into different categories. The main ones could be games with commercial release, shareware titles, and rogue likes.

    Continue to use your current guidelines for games that have a true commercial release.

    For shareware titles I would be extremely strict about your current rules. Those games that make it through the initial criteria, I would then play for a limited time, 1-2 hours. After that I would give it a mini-gimlit and see how the game stacks up. If it doesn't pass a minimum score and there is nothing special to recommend it, drop it.

    As for rogue likes, I am not that familiar, but it sounds like the best way is to play the first in a line and then maybe a brief write up on subsequent major updates that the community feels need its own mention.

    ReplyDelete
  23. If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless... it appears on MobyGames or Wikipedia, and/or the developer responds to an email asking him or her about the game?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same Here . I also appreciate the response from the developer to better understand the games features.

      Delete
  24. I fear that requiring a Wikipedia page or developer contact will lay waste to too much of your list. My two cents - by now you should likely be able to play a game for two hours and at the end, conclude "oh, it's one of THOSE". If so, just give us an "at a glance" summary and move on. If readers feel passionately about the merits of a marginal game spurned in this way, invite them to blog it and provide a link to their internship efforts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More to the point -- I consider his rigor brought to bear on the "history forgot them"s much more valuable than Yet Another Take on a title that has become canon. You can find a hundred people nit picking the Ultimas and Gold Box games, but for many of the shareware titles he takes on, his blog series becomes basically the Internet's pre-eminent authority on that game. That's worthwhile. (But due to lack of balance, it can also be punishing. I only suggested the 2 hr limit because that's the window that judges are supposed to draw their opinions within in the annual rec-arts-IF competition.)

      Delete
    2. The grain of salt to take my comments with : I'm the weirdo whose Mobygames documentation of Braminar and Girlfriend Construction Set compelled Chet to blog those outliers. That's my beat and I appreciate second opinions on matters of the truly obscure.

      Delete
    3. One of these days, I'm going to revisit and win games like Autoduel and Swords of Glass. When that day comes, the "N" in the "won" column for Braminar is going to eat at me and I'll have to force myself to play the lousy thing again.

      Delete
  25. The idea that Chet could spend x time instead of 6 hrs on every single game isn't feasible.When you have a situation like the one we'll find with rpgmaker and game dev competitions, and even user submitted games for magazine diskettes, there has to be some sort of notoriety clause.

    ReplyDelete
  26. If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless...it was recommended by x amount of CRPGA readers (unless I played it for a period of no less one hour and decided to move on).

    Allow us to submit and vote on non-commercial release?

    Also while it's a mighty burden to bear, even a single brief summary post would be powerfully appreciated (for every game you load up).

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hm, he can always do quick reviews of same niche or obscure shareware RPG-s...

    Or as someone sugest, guest posts for some games...

    mpx

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thanks, everyone. I have enough ideas at this point, and I'll make a final decision some time in the future. I'm not interested in changing the entire nature of the blog. I suspect some combination of "notability" (the specifics of which I'll work out later) and lowering the minimum time rule will do the trick.

    ReplyDelete
  29. BTW, I see that you have a really fun freeware RPG Dark Disciples but I don't see the sequel in that list.

    http://www.reloaded.org/download/Dark-Disciples-2/511/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's because the list only goes through 2005.

      Delete
    2. Geez, you're right.

      BTW, back when Trickster was running The Adventure Gamer blog, he had a system where readers submit their articles for games that are borderline cases which just lightly caressed the Adventure genre.

      However, it is usually such games that provided a fresh new look on that genre and provided something innovative, albeit unorthodox, to the table.

      Perhaps you might want to do something like that? Though I'm not sure how much a true addict could stand just looking at someone else playing a game that he could be enjoying.

      Delete
  30. "If a game never received a commercial release, it doesn't appear on my playlist unless...
    The CREATOR has an online presence, and I manage to somehow reach to him/her"

    ReplyDelete
  31. Congrats on finishing the game! Nice there was not a show-stopping bug at the end like in The Land. Although I do still have all the source code, like The Land it is a pain to compile. I do have a few comments after reading your final post on this game.

    1. Nearly all the bugs you mentioned have been fixed in later versions. The last outstanding one in released versions is the saving while upland, which is fixed in 6.0.

    2. There are a number of items that have passive effects. Some of the items you mentioned are like this. In general passive effect items must be in your main inventory, not in your pack. Here are the effects of some of the ones that you mentioned:

    a. Gem of Brightness - Provides light. With this in your inventory you no longer need to use torches or use light spells.
    b. Scarab of Protection - This when worn in a neck slot reduces the enemies to-hit against you.
    c. Horn of Valhalla - This produces an AOE fear effect. Any monsters nearby will be feared. In all versions prior to 6.0 fear effect reduced the enemies ability to hit you and increases your ability to hit them. In 6.0 a monster in fear will run from you.
    d. Necklace of Adaptation - This reduces damage taken from certain monster types, mostly dragons and demons. It must be equipped in a neck slot.
    e. Sphere of Annihilation - This should be an AOE damage effect centered on the user. It has to be 'u'sed to work. I believe the damage should extend 2 squares from the user.
    f. Pearl of Power - Increases attack power and damage. This item can be in any main inventory stlot to work.

    3. The Phaser should work in arena combat mode as well. So it is a bug that it did not work there. I will check this item in 6.0 to make sure this bug has not propated forward.

    4. The Cavaliers also use a different combat table, more likely to hit their targets. They also gain hit points at a higher rate per level.

    5. You do not need a flying mount to reach the gateway island. A ship can get you there as well. However, by this point in the game it is pretty unlikely to not have a flying mount.

    6. That is correct, the Talisman and Aurafax do their thing by just being in your inventory. Without the Talisman the gateway will not even appear and without the Aurafax the gateway will not be activated and therefore cannot be entered. And you learned the importance of the Amulet!

    7. Your fight with Eshter is a bit of an anomoly and I would say a bug. Eshter is found by herself in order to not use the arena comabat mode so that her protective force field becomes a factor in the battle. I am guessing that you still had the always use party combat mode on and so it went into this mode for the fight with her. She was made a bit weaker on purpose since the intention was that you had her force field to deal with in addition to her.

    8. It is also a bug that you could not continue play after defeating Eshter. The way it is supposed to work is that you are supposed to be teleported back to gateway island and then you can just free play all you wanted to after that.

    9. Named NPCs and the way lore is given as well as diversity of dungeon tiles all stem back to the system the game was written in. The game data is very large for the Turbo Pascal it was originally written in and a lot of corners had to be cut just to fit in what I did. The original game was limited to only 200 tiles in order to fit them into memory, so the set had to be minimal. These early limits no longer exist for the modern versions, so going forward more depth and diversity can be added. In fact 6.0 defines over 300 different tiles.

    Thanks again for giving the game a shot! The Land was a labor of love for me, but Unicorn has been my pet project now for over 25 years and will probably be for some time to come. Any and all feedback is always welcome, as I want to make this game the best that it can be.

    Good luck with all your future games! I will be reading along with all the rest of your readers as you progress along your journey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the information, Mike!

      Will it be possible to write in an "Examine" command to the items that could explain the passive effects? It's not very apparent even if we trial-&-error ourselves.

      Delete
    2. Version 6.0 already has that. You can pull up an info card on any item in your inventory. If you have identified the item you will get all the pertinent information about it.

      Delete
    3. Oh... No wonder. Just updated it. Thanks, Mike!

      Delete
    4. Are there instructions about how to compile the game using cygwin?

      Delete
    5. I mean the Quest for the Unicorn game.

      Delete
    6. A few comments in response to Mike:

      2a. That makes sense on the Gem of Brightness. At some point, I cast "Continual Light" and figured it, not the gem, was responsible for my perpetual light. However, I swear there was one place in which, through some combination of items and spells, I had light extending for two squares around me instead of just one. I was never able to replicate it after the first time and I assumed it had something to do with using the gem wrong.

      5. There's a bit of lore that says you need a pegasus to reach the Valley of the Unicorns. What was that talking about, then?

      7. Yes, I had "always use party combat" on. I liked the ability to rest and heal after each battle before leaving the combat screen, although I suppose that was a bit of a cheat. I agree that without it, standing in the force field and taking half damage every round, the combat would have been a lot harder.

      As always, thanks for coming by to comment so extensively.

      Delete
    7. Compiling the game using Cygwin is pretty much the same as compiling for Linux. You do of course have to have a good Cygwin install to be able to compile with it tho.

      I am not sure if you are trying to compile the later HC version or the older graphics version? For the HC version it is easier to compile it with MinGW if you want to play it on Windows (The Windows binary for 5.7 is available from my site). If you want to run the older graphic version on Windows then Cygwin is needed, else the only other option is the even older DOS version that was played here, in which case you probably need DosBox to play it.

      Delete
  32. There are a couple of ways of getting light to go two squares, but these involve using limited duration light sources like staves of light. Any of the continual light sources are limited to a single square.

    When the game was first written, a pegasus was the only flying mount you could get, so areas that could not be reached by ground, like the Valley of the Unicorns, could only be reached with a flying mount and the pegasus was originally the only one. One of the early changes to the game was the addition of the mount shop where it was possible to get other flying mounts. The lore just never changed to indicate that a flying mount was needed, rather than just a pegasus.

    Ok, I figured that on the Eshter fight. I will have to fix that in the 6.0 sources to make sure that with party combat mode always selected that the fight with Eshter will still remain on the main screen. I never played with that mode on so never caught this one.

    ReplyDelete
  33. For those who are interested, the silver anniversary edition (6.0) of this game has now been released. It is available at:

    http://elf-emulation.com/rcs/unicorn5/index.html

    At the moment only the Windows executable is available, full source will be available soon.

    Older versions of Quest are also available there, including the one that CRPG addict played here. The Land is also available from that site as well as the source code for The Land.

    Thanks again everybody for all your comments on this game!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot, Mike! I'll check it out myself I can get a break from work and my regular list this month.

      Congratulations on getting that re-issued.

      Delete
    2. Mr. Riley... Thanks for this, I am having an absolute blast playing this!

      Delete

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