Friday, April 10, 2015

Game 184: Wraith: The Devil's Demise (1990)

All of Nite Owl's games came with an "Amnesty" option that would auto-generate an apologetic letter sent by someone who'd pirated the game or received a pirated copy, allowing the player to return to good graces by sending in various amounts of money. I have to wonder if the company ever received a single letter.

Wraith: The Devil's Demise
John D. Carmack (developer); Nite Owl Productions (publisher)
Released 1990 for the Apple IIGS.
Date Started: 5 April 2015
Date Ended: 6 April 2015
Total Hours: 8
Reload Count: 5
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 24
Ranking at Time of Posting: 65/182 (36%)

Wraith is a clear upgrade from Shadowforge (which we just looked at) while still using the same engine and graphics. It offers nearly identical gameplay to John Carmack's first game but adds more territory (instead of one city and one dungeon, we get three cities, four castles, and four dungeons), treasure chests, a few extra items, and a basic magic system. Unfortunately, many of the limitations of Shadowforge are still here: no character creation beyond the name, no attributes, no dialogue with NPCs, and the only result of leveling is a few extra hit points.

Part of the in-game backstory.

The land, an island, is called Arathia, and the player is a humble guard at the Temple of Metiria in the city of Tarot. An unknown power has recently emerged, stirring up monsters and conquering the castles of the lords of the realm. Metiria has come to the player in a vision, commanding him to find his way to Castle Strafire (on a small island off the coast) and there find an interplanar gate to Hell, where he can destroy the undead menace.

The pre-game documentation also has a map.
As with Shadowforge (and a billion other games), the player starts with limited gold and equipment and must slowly improve the character, including amassing a large stock of healing potions. Although the dungeons and castles are scattered about the land, the in-game manual offers a suggested order for exploration. Enemies only partially respawn in the dungeons, meaning you can kind of "half-clear" dungeon levels. Treasure chests never respawn.

Wraith is quite a bit harder than Shadowforge, mostly because the magic system also allows enemies to cast spells. They're much harder and often attack in packs, leaving you with nothing to do for round after round of combat other than keep quaffing your dwindling supply of potions.

The dungeon levels and towns are much larger here than the previous game. Towns are no longer violence-free, and in fact you're often attacked by monsters when straying from the main path. NPCs still offer no interaction, but you can kill them for experience and gold. You can kill merchants, too, meaning that you can never use that store, so it's a bad idea.

Accepting their offer results in them robbing you for all your money.
The game takes a step back from Shadowforge in its shops. Each armorer, weapon shop, and bowyer in this game sells only one item, so upgrading is a matter of visiting the town that sells the best version. Each spell is also only sold in certain towns, so restocking after a dungeon expedition means making a long circuit around the island to visit each set of shops.

Restocking on spells.

The spells consist of "Magic Missile," "Scare," "Lightning Bolt," "Fireball," and "Recall." "Magic Missile" performs about as well as a missile attack and "Scare" is a waste of time. "Lightning Bolt" (hits every enemy in a line) and "Fireball" (hits every enemy in an area) are indispensable. Later in the game, in a dungeon, you find a guy selling "Ice Storm," which acts much like "Fireball." "Recall" automatically teleports you back to one of the towns, so it's best to have at least one of these. Spells work in the early Ultima style, where you purchase multiple copies.

Confronting a big pack of enemies in a "ceremonial chamber." Three chests await me.

A big part of the game is finding secret areas in the dungeons, where you somewhat nonsensically find standard merchant counters and can buy special items. A "Detection Amulet" flashes when you're within 5 steps of a secret door (which is almost always, rendering the amulet a bit useles; I found it easier just to study the wall patterns). A "Stainless Ring" prevents your armor from being destroyed by rust monsters. A "Life Ring" protects you from paralysis and some other magical attacks. A "Demon Cleaver" is a powerful melee weapon. [Later edit: As an anonymous commenter noted below, I missed a few, including one that would have made some of the later battles a lot easier.]

As with Shadowforge, Carmack tries to give his dungeon rooms fun names and layouts, titled with text embedded in the dungeon walls (I think in real life, the character would have trouble reading these labels). Towards the end of the game, you start to see messages in the walls: "I WILL KILL YOU"; "ARE YOU READY TO FACE ME."

As he explores the castles and dungeons, the player eventually finds a key needed to access a secret enemy fortress, hidden in the mountains south of the starting town. This dungeon eventually leads to the small island where Castle Strafire is located. You have to explore the top level of the castle to find a scepter, and then explore the bottom level to find a portal to Hell.

There are a couple more dungeons and one wilderness area until you finally reach the Wraith's castle.

Where do evil megalomaniacs find contractors that build faces into the castle edifice?
The enemies get progressively harder, and before long you're wandering into packs that, if the die rolls go bad, can wipe you out in a single round with multiple spells and attacks. You have to use navigation tactics, like hiding just outside a door (enemies can't shoot through doors) or tricking them to arrange themselves in a line so that "Lightning Bolt" can hit all of them. Health potions disappear fast.

Towards the end of the game, choosing the wrong stairway takes you to an area of instant death. There's a fortune-teller's clue at the beginning that keeps you out of here.

Since you can only carry 99 health potions at a time, and 99 of each spell, you find yourself casting "Recall" to warp yourself back to the main island when you need to restock. This means you end up exploring this series of dungeons several times--for me, I think it was six--before you finally reach the Wraith.

Confronting the Wraith and his guards.

The Wraith is guarded by a couple of "grim reapers." It took me a lot of "Fireballs" and "Lightning Bolts" to kill them. Once the Wraith fell, I got the following endgame text:

As the remains of the Wraith dissolve before your eyes, you hear the voice of Metiria applaud your victory. "Well done, my son! One last time I return you to your home."

After the Wraith fell to you, his minions gave up their evil and surrendered to the mercy of Metiria. The temples returned to their former glory and peace spread through Arathia.

Huzza for CHESTER, savior of our nation!

Wraith isn't a very good game for 1990, but it's at least a competent one. Tightly plotted and programmed, it offers about 8 hours of classic RPG gameplay at around the Ultima II level of complexity. It earns a 24 in the GIMLET, compared to Shadowforge's 20.

In some ways, it's a little late in the genre's development for a game quite this simple--especially one with a commercial release--but it's interesting to see Carmack's growing competence as a game designer. Dark Designs is a clear next step in his evolution; well have the third installment on the 1991 list.

Finally, it's time for Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire!


  1. So I played this game last week as well. Primitive but still pretty fun.

    You seem to have missed the Spell Ring which protects against fire attacks. It's in a shop next to where you got the Life Ring and the Stainless Ring. I'm actually pretty amazed you made it through hell without it. You also missed the Blaster weapon and the Dwarven Armor.

    There's a sort of easter egg in the final room: scare the Wraith and enter the secret passage behind his throne.

    Finally, a real secret: My cat discovered a cheat code by jumping on the keyboard, but she won't tell me exactly which keys she pressed. It gives you the ability to see and shoot through the walls. Unfortunately the monsters get the same, so it's a mixed blessing.

    1. Your cat probably pressed iddqd

    2. Thanks. I guess my strategy of scanning the walls for secret doors didn't always work.

      I accidentally overwrote my save file near the Wraith, so do tell us what was behind the Wraith's throne. If it was John Romero's head on a stick, that would be a notable find.

    3. Nothing so dramatic :) You're led to a room containing a few hundred chests: "You deserve a lot of money for what you just did" / "You do realize that your character is committing grand larceny". Along the walls a few names are written, presumably Carmack's DnD group or something like that. Finally a message "Sorry about all of the inside jokes".

      There's also an alternate path leading to the "instant death" room, which is actually survivable if you enter by the door.

    4. I wish I could have documented all of that. Thanks for letting us know what happens.

  2. You have to explore the top level of the castle to find a secptre, ...
    Spectre, sceptre or something else ?

    1. Scepter. I'm always telling my students, "Those little squiggles under words actually mean something." I guess I should go easier on them.

    2. Illiteracy can be concatenated to obdurate ignoramuses and the failure to expatiate.

      Seriously, though, my favorite video game writers really need to learn this lesson: Cyril Lachel and Seanbaby. Cyril's articles, published in Defunct Games are usually hilarious and clever, but he is a terrible writer who cannot distinguish between homonyms, having said things like, "Level 1-2: Underground Mote: Running from the hordes of zombies, I seek shelter in the basement. But this is no ordinary basement; this is the way to an underground mote.," "thankfully the pros out way the cons," " The problem is, the ridged story mode meant that you couldn't just go in and have a good time." There are plenty of other examples, but those are the ones that come to mind. Seanbaby is even better than Lachel, but his writing quality varies wildly, sometimes leading to nonsensical statements with disjointed structures.

    3. I'm always telling my students, "Those little squiggles under words actually mean something." I guess I should go easier on them.


      Running from the hordes of zombies

      Shouldn't that be "hoards"?

    4. Ahh seanbaby, if only you'd translated your interesting idea into a better game than calculords.

    5. That works better when you write in a area that word recognizes. I have to carefully train my spellcheck. Also: Make sure you don't mistrain it. I once added "keytone" (instead of ketone) to it's dictionary by mistake and didn't notice for a full semester.

  3. Well, I'll pass on Savage Empire. Easter brought a nice surprise in the form of Pillars of Eternity. I hope I'll have it done by the time Eye of the Beholder comes up.

    1. Might take a while, especially if you're a completionist. I've been playing 2 weeks now (evenings & weekends) and am about 2/3 through I think. Scope (maps and quests) at least as much as BG 1 with add-ons. I also found that I was aczually reading the lore books since the world was new and the story is well integrated into the lore and history.

    2. Pillars of Eternity really threw me when I realized there was no weapon skills whatsoever. I kept agonizing over which weapon was the best for my Barbarian before realizing the game lets you prioritize weapons based on their characteristics, not your character's skill set. I'm only a few hours into it, but it seems like an excellent game so far.

    3. Heh, yes I am a completionist. I began to sneak on the first map to find hidden items.
      I find it takes some time to get used to the skill system, but then I usually agonize over these decisions. This game seems crafted very intricately. I have a feeling that right or wrong decisions make significant differences.

    4. One of these days, I'm going to alienate my readers with a long rant about how much I hate the term "completionist," which, to me, says "I don't really understand the 'R' part of 'RPG.'"

      There is a section of Dragon Age: Inquisition in which to get the best PLOT outcome, you can't finish some run-around-and-fetch-a-bunch-of-nonsense quest. I'm sure that the developers put it in there to separate the wheat (true role-players) from the chaff (so-called "completionists").

    5. Intriguing. Do you mean that you decide whether or not to complete a side quest based on the amount of urgency the main quest instills in you?

      Using BG2 as an example, do you chase down Imoen after finishing one of the six or so major deviations (at which point you can comfortably give up 10k) or do you clear all the maps and arrive at Spellhold with a party of 6 minor gods?

    6. Instead of "completionist", wouldn't it be better to say that we're roleplaying as very conscientious characters who want to be fully prepared for the final battle?

      For one thing, completing a side-quest always nets you a reward. How would you know if that reward wasn't a Sword Of Killing The Final Boss Who Can Only Be Killed With Said Sword? Even though the last thousand side-quests didn't, how would you know this one wouldn't?

    7. It's the difference between role-playing (attempting to react to the game's narrative as your character would) and metagaming (playing directed by the knowledge that you're playing a video game).

      Everyone does a mix of the two, but not everyone is on the same point of the continuum.

      I often don't mind if I drag my feet in moving along the main quest arc, but I tend not to steal, kill non-hostiles, or act like a jerk unless it makes sense within the context its occurring.

      The bit that causes me the most agonising involves exploiting the game's mechanics. eg I really don't like dying in games, and the safest way to take out certain enemy stacks in BG2 (and other games) involves throwing a cloudkill like spell, legging it, then resting to re-memorise cloudkill. On a narrative level, it's much more satisfying to win a fight in a single sequence in which the AI executes as the devs intended. Unfortunately when that happens I sometimes die :)

    8. I dislike the term more than the activity. I work hard to adhere to my rules and err more towards role-playing than visiting every corner of the game and finding every potentially-advantageous item. It thus annoys me that a lot of players pin "completionist" to themselves as if it's some kind of badge of honor instead of a thin excuse to justify playing like a jackass. Yes, I occasionally engage in playing styles that the term would cover, but I don't walk around TELLING people about it. It's embarrassing.

      Look, if you use a pair of binoculars to peep through the window of your next-door neighbors, I understand why you do it, but don't announce "I'm a Covert Anthropologist" as if it's something to be proud of. Do that stuff if you must, but keep it to yourself.

    9. There's a legitimate term for that? I always thought most anthropologist do that to avoid causing the Hawthorne Effect.

    10. I have two responses to this thread.

      Firstly, some games are built around this model of playing. In Pool of Radiance for example, I'm offered a set of quests or tasks to take part in, and by golly I'm not going skip out on them. I'm going to do all the stuff the game is offering for me to do, even if I am going to do it in the order of my choosing. It's a fun experience to sample all the stuff. Yes, I'm not thinking "in character", but a game like this hardly gives you a character to think in the context of.

      In a game like Choice of the Petal Throne or King of Dragon pass, there's a lot of chance to start getting in tune with the story you're taking part in. You can sort of role play in a weak sense, or at least have a sense of immersion. But in older CRPGs, it's an experience of character development and exploration with little role play possible.

      Secondly, I hardly see it as a flaw to be self-aware enough as a person or player to know what interests you in games. "Do all the things" is a very common drive, and admonishments to be quiet about it are kind of weird.

      There are game experiences which focus more in other areas, and choosing to play a game in a way that minimizes what you can take away from the experience can be silly, but many games can be played several ways all equally satisfying.

    11. My comment was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than I think you took it. I really need to learn how to effectively use emoticons.

      Nonetheless, while I completely understand the style of play, I still don't see the need to create an "ism" out of it.

    12. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesApril 20, 2015 at 12:12 PM

      What if I role-play a character hose goal is to discover every interesting thing in the world?

    13. Great. More power to you. It's still not a frigging philosophy or something.

    14. I'd like to see more games where the game starts with the evil lord having won, like in say, Ogre Battle or Final Fantasy VII (At least as far as I've gotten). Taking extra time isn't a bad thing: The bad guy is already at the peak of their power, taking a few days to go racing giant birds and boost your moral isn't a terrible thing.

      Rather then Mass Effect that 90% of the time encourages you to ignore the race against time and boost the loyalty of EVERY one of your crew members, except ONE TIME in Mass Effect 2 when it is suddenly urgent, but they've taught you to always be prepared.

  4. Ref Amnesty: The Thimbleweed Park Kickstarter had an amnesty option, and almost 20% (over 3000) of backers chose it: "I pirated Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island when I was a kid and I feel bad!" This reward tier instantly absolves you of all guilt and includes the Thimbleweed Park game. All subsequent tiers also include guilt absolution.

    Of course, many backers who chose higher tiers may also have been looking for absolution, as I believe it's included in all tiers $25 and above.

    1. Joking about pirating 30 years later when you're 45, well-off, and remembering the earlier games with nostalgia is a little different than deliberately printing and sending in a form letter, but I'll allow that maybe it sometimes does work.

    2. And that the original price of Maniac Mansion costs easily twice that amount back in the pre-inflated year of 1987 (meaning that it would cost more than $100 in today's dollars).

      Amnesty at 1/4 the original price of the game AND get a new game as well? SOLD!

  5. Is this really a IIGS game? It's gotta be the ugliest one ever, if so. It looks like a regular Apple II game. It looks like the Apple versions of Ultima 3 through 5. Like plagiaristically close.

    1. I had to find a special version that would play on a regular Apple II emulator; I'm reasonably sure that the original was IIGS. But information about the game is a bit contradictory and scant, so I could be wrong.

    2. Ah, was that because it was the only version you could find or because you have no way of playing IIGS games? (just curious)

      You're right about info on the game being scant. Googling the game turns up your page as the fist hit now.

    3. The few IIGS emulators I've been able to find are horribly confusing. If a helpful Belgian commenter hadn't linked me to an "8-bit friendly" version of the game, I probably wouldn't have been able to play it.

    4. For what it's worth, this hints file lists the system requirements as "64K IIe/c/gs 3.5" drive required".

      But the common version online has an Apple IIgs intro added by some warez group. It has nothing to do with the game itself.

      The review mentioned in that file was published in Computist 87:
      It doesn't say anything new about the game, but I was surprised that the author used the phrase "typical of games by John Carmack". It seems his name was known even back then :)

    5. So I took a quick look at both images. Pulling a few of the game code files and comparing them shows no differences between the 8-bit friendly version and the IIgs version. What isn't the same and what is causing the problem. Is that there's a boot screen on the IIgs version which uses the Super-Hi-Res mode. Oddly it's NOT a pirate screen but a brag screen from "Antic" who was part of the French IIgs demoscene. Since the II+/IIe/IIc can't display SHR the program bombs.

      It's clear from the screen shots you posted that this is a game that was really designed for the II not the IIgs. The purple/orange/blue colour palette are the tells of the standard Apple II Hi-Res mode. So evidence strongly suggests that you missed nothing by not running this on the IIgs.

    6. Also Peter I don't know if you noticed but that review was written by Jeff Hurlburt (author of Super Quest).

  6. The Questioner anonApril 12, 2015 at 7:26 AM

    Yo Chester,I wasn't certain that my question appeared to have crossed a line, so I thought it might be worth apologising.

    On the topic of the game itself, though, does the aliasing/colouring around the letters bother anyone else? "Well of Souls" is almost impossible to read properly for me and it's kind of painful on the eyes. The words on the interface and the dungeon look fine, though, strangely.

    1. From the screenshots (the map, the letters next to the map, and the green/magenta limbs of the characters), I'd guess that this is a game that is supposed to use something similar to CGA composite mode, which only works correctly on NTSC monitors/TVs and results in weirdly coloured/aliased screenshots when emulated.

      From reading Wikipedia the all the Apple II color modes seem to rely completely on NTSC color compositing, whereas the IIGS also has real color modes(?)

    2. Your question didn't cross the line, but some of the answers were getting a little too close to home. I probably shouldn't allude to my work if I don't want people to speculate, but I'd rather not turn my job into an enigma that a string of commenters feel like they need to solve.

      I work in the public sector. My work occasionally involves GIS (mapping), and I also have a couple of jobs teaching adjunct classes at universities that have programs in my field. Let's leave it at that.

    3. This is why I always make my guesses horrendously absurd, so I don't hit it by accident. I'm still going with Chet being batman.

  7. I played Wraith as a teenager on my Apple IIgs (still my favorite computer). In the spirit of the times, I figured out the map file format. The user manual of my dot matrix printer included a full description of the printer protocol (try finding something like that today) so I generated a complete set of printed maps. Several years ago, I came across it again, and updated the code to generate image files. I still have them if anyone is interested:

    1. I get access denied errors when I try and look at them.

      Today most printers use Postscript or PCL I think, which are both well documented. That is a crazily impressive task though, well done.

  8. It seems grossly irresponsible for the administration of the Temple to appoint someone as Protector who clearly has some kind of degenerative bone disease. I'm sure it's usually a political appointment, but when a Wraith comes around and spreads corruption, as is their wont, the Temple needs to be prepared.

    Or maybe I'm misinterpreting the title screen, and the healthy looking fellow in the corner is the Protector?

    1. The maps links to russ's page aren't showing. Is the page gone?


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