Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dungeons of Avalon: Breaking the Mold

This is the best image of a troll in any game ever.

Dungeons of Avalon has offered some surprises, not so much in mechanics or plot, but rather in its world design. I expected a standard structure of a menu town followed by 6 to 10 uniformly-sized levels. Instead, the game has delivered something more complicated: sprawling levels, irregular in size and shape, with multiple unconnected sections and a host of navigation tricks like buttons that completely reconfigure the wall patterns. The map I offered of Level 1 turned out to be only a small corner of the final level, and even here I'm missing one major section reachable only by teleporter.

The real extent of Level 1.
 
The reconfigurations have been trickier than those offered by Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. Most of the time, buttons open up secret doors to new areas, but occasionally they'll simultaneously close existing openings, meaning you'll now have an east-west corridor bisecting what used to be a north-south corridor but no longer offers north-south access. In one place on Level 2, hitting a button somehow removed an entire section of corridor so that the entire dungeon shifted a few squares to the east. (In practical terms, this is probably accomplished with a teleporter so that nothing actually moves, but it's still pretty unnerving.)

There's more. There isn't a single "menu town" in the game, but at least two. In some distant corner of Level 1, I found stairways up and discovered myself in a city called Ghale, where instead of a menu option to enter the dungeon, I had an option to enter a castle. (Oddly, when I entered the castle and then later exited, I was back in the original city, H'Khan, again.) A message in one of the dungeon corridors suggests there's a third city, called Avalon, somewhere.

The second town has a spooky castle rather than a dungeon.

In its disdain for the traditional, neat dungeon level, the game reminds me a bit of The Dark Heart of Uukrul. There are also some plot similarities. Thanks to Atantuo's translation of the game documents, we know that the antagonist of the game is a wizard named Rhateph. When he came to Avalon, he found the people so trusting and guileless that they didn't recognize aggression when they saw it. Before long, he'd conquered the land and had the peasantry build his castle.

A wizard named Arakus ["Kham" in my translation, though] set out to defeat him but was killed in Rhateph's castle. He left messages and riddles behind him for the next party of adventurers to solve. I guess it's Kham's face I've been encountering frequently in the dungeons.

Anyway, this is similar to The Dark Heart of Uukrul, in which the party encounters messages and resources left by the previous (failed) expedition. The two similarities aren't enough for me to suggest a direct connection, but it's nice to think that the possibility exists that Uukrul had an influence on someone.

The useless thief starts to gain a little more confidence.

I spent another few hours after the first post mapping the twisting corridors of Levels 1 and 2. Navigation obstacles, in addition to the fore-mentioned buttons, have included one-way stairs, spinners, traps, and teleporters. The game is slightly unusual in that all teleportation squares both send and receive--although they might not just go back and forth. In one major area of Level 2, I had to find a set of buttons to open the ways to two teleporters. Each teleporter took me to a square area full of traps with a button. Once I'd pressed both of those buttons, the way opened to the next level.

A lot of games have spinners. This is one of the few in which they have consequences greater than just screwing up your map. Walking into walls deals damage. It's easy to accidentally hit the "forward" key too many times, hit a spinner, rotate to face a wall, and then slam into that wall. You have to either carefully annotate spinner locations or force yourself to move slowly down corridors.

This is what happens when everyone dies.

There were a couple places where I had to pass one of Kham's magic mouth puzzles. One asked me for the name of the dragon I had helped early in the game--fortunately, I had taken a screen shot. Another said, "To what did the snake-headed medusa turn you?" I don't know if this is answerable by anything in-game. I got it correct with STONE, but you have to know something about mythology to get it right. Granted, it's not a particularly difficult one. Here's another one that requires some external knowledge:

Fortunately, I correctly interpreted this as what is the winged horse called?

The corridors are littered with various messages, presumably left by Kham.

  • "You must find the switches!"
  • "Here you will find nothing. Search in the north."
  • "The exit is to the northeast!"
  • "I wouldn't go there if I were you."

So...search pretty much everywhere.

There were only a handful of monsters on the two levels: worms and "gnoms" on Level 1 and trolls and vultures on Level 2. Individually, none of the monsters has been hard, but sometimes I'll encounter a huge pack of them, and one of my party members dies. Even though there's a resurrection option in temples, I generally reload when that happens.

I've been leveling up at a pretty quick clip; most of my characters are at Level 5. Equipment upgrades have not kept pace with attribute upgrades. It's a major event when I open a chest and find something like leather armor or a helm. I've found three shops--one in each of the cities, and one in the dungeon--but they all just sell the same selection of basic goods. I haven't found anything that I've needed to identify yet.

I don't think I showed the paper doll inventory screen yet. I'm not sure why it says "00" by his legs.
           
Combat remains mostly boring, but that "quick combat" option makes all the difference. I need to start experimenting more with spells. Characters get 1 new spell level every 2 character levels, and 2 spells per spell level. As you might expect, the healer has mostly healing spells while the mage has mostly offensive spells. I've found a couple of navigation spells, but I frankly don't know what they do. "Magic Eye" supposedly "watches over me," but don't ask me in what way. "Levitation" doesn't save me from traps, even pit traps. And both are gone in about 3 minutes.

My healer's spells. I don't think any offensive spells do mass damage yet.

As I mentioned, I found myself in the city of Ghale at one point, and I chose to enter the castle. Only a few steps from the entrance, I got a vision of Kham, with multiple screens of text:

My name is Kham. I was the good magician of Avalon. In my search for the Dark Lord, I was killed by him. My complete party was defeated by the Dark Lord and his monsters. My soul will never find peace before the Dark Lord is...defeated. It's on you to fulfill the mission. But before you fight against the Dark Lord, search for the Rune. I need this Rune to create a spell to disturb the anti-aura of the Dark Lord. Search for the Rune in the dungeon. You will find some of my old party members there, too. They are all killed by the Dark Lord. But in the temples you can [have them resurrected]. They can help you on your mission against the evil. I wish you more luck [than] we got in our mission. Bring me the Rune and I will give you the anti-aura scroll...please hurry before the evil covers the Island Avalon.

"My soul will never find peace before the Dark Lord is not defeated..." Is he trying to trick me?

Later, in a chest, I found some elf bones. Unfortunately, you need an empty PC slot to insert the bones before you can resurrect the character. I dismissed my mage just so I could do it and see what happened. The resulting NPC didn't say anything, and because he was an NPC, I couldn't even look at his attributes and equipment. I suppose it's possible that he comments on things later, but for now, I'm happy to just keep my original party.

I can't even see his magic point total. I assume he doesn't have any.
  
So the mission is clear: explore the dungeon and its branches as long as it takes to find the Rune, return to Kham with the Rune, and find the Dark Lord in the castle. It's still not an epic game, but it got a lot more interesting after the first post, and especially with the "quick combat" keeping the battles from becoming too tedious, I'm inclined to see it through.



31 comments:

  1. I remember you once complaining about the relatively low average score that games still received here in 1990, i.e. one would expect the average game quality to have increased during the 80s. This game, for once, seems to deliver what one would want in an "average" 1991 game. A couple of ideas, technical competence, and hopefully adequate overall length.
    The first grammar error definitely was a translation error. Germans indeed ask "HOW is/are it/they called" - literally translated "Wie nennt man XYZ".

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    1. Curiously, it's the same in Portuguese, "Como se chama XYZ" would translate directly to "How is XYZ called"

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    2. And French, Spanish, and Italian.

      Seems like English is in the minority among European languages, using "What is X called" instead of "How". It's also unusual by using the "My name is..." formulation instead of the "I'm called/I call myself..." formulation seen in most (?) European languages (not Finnish, though).

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    3. The different prevalence between "My name is" and "I am called" is likely due to the differing prevalence of nicknames. English speakers seem to be more likely to be called by their actual names than an abbreviation, "pet" name, or middle name. English speakers who go by a name other than their given name usually introduce themselves with "Call me". (At least in my general area.)

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    4. In Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese, both conventions ("What is it called" & "How is it called ") can be used in the same context.

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    5. It's the same in Romanian, as in Portuguese (and other Romance languages). Cum se cheama = how is it called. :)

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    6. My throw-away lines spawn oddly long discussions. In English, of course, the answer to "HOW is the winged horse called?" would be something like "With a whistle" or "By yelling its name."

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    7. I don't know. In mythology, is Pegasus actually called via a particular device? That makes the mistranslation even worse!

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  2. the 00 by his legs, is it amount of ammo?

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    Replies
    1. I was thinking they could be rings?

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    2. Then what's that slot below the shield for?

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    3. The 00 does turn out to be ammo. There's one bow, and one crossbow in the game, but I never used them.

      The slot below the shield is a ring slot. There's only one ring in the game.

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  3. It would be a shame not to finish a game like this, unless it becomes horrendously long. Unlike the games where you are having horrible technical issues and bugs, or games which are a very close copy of Ultima (several years later), this one seems to provide at least some original material and has its own graphical appeal. Sure, it is still a "search through dungeons and beat the evil wizard" story, but if rehashing plot is a criteria for not finishing, eventually you'll have no need to finish most games. The main concern seems to be a slight boredom factor and the possibility that it is way too long (see: Dragon Sword). Keep after it, I want to know how it turns out!

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  4. Well, I'm enjoying the posts. I think the games I've never played before are often more interesting than those I'm already familiar.

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  5. About "My soul will never find peace before the Dark Lord is not defeated..." Is he trying to trick me?

    In Germany the "not" in this exact wording is kind of optional, and the version with "not" is used frequently. I don't know why. I expect it's some remnant from classical literature.

    Meine Seele wird keinen Frieden finden bevor der Dunkle Herrscher (nicht) besiegt ist.

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    Replies
    1. Or it could be a stressing amplifier. Like, "I ain't seen nothing."

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    2. Sounds like it should say, "My soul will never find peace *while* the Dark Lord is not defeated."

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    3. But that sounds more like accounting than epic.

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  6. He doesn't not want you to not stop the Dark Lord. Duh...

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  7. Does the paper doll change to match your gear at all, or are you forever steelunderpants man?

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    Replies
    1. No. The equipment just appears in the slots, but the portrait never changes.

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  8. Regarding the monster portraits: I just noticed that they are done by Frank Matzke, who went on to do graphics for Kaiko/Factor 5 and later had quite a successful career the games industry (VP of Marketing Vivendi Games Europe, VP of Sierra Online Europe...today he's General Manager of Zenimax Germany)

    http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,56269/

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  9. I like that the dead, good wizard still has to get you to solve riddles before allowing you to proceed, to save the kingdom. He must have been a very pedantic teacher in life.

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    Replies
    1. It could be worse. He could have made you wear stupid DRM code-ring amulets to enter sanctuaries that offer rest and leveling while STILL making you solve riddles to save the world.

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  10. Where can I find a working copy of this game? I intend to use the WinUAE emulator.

    Thanks,

    Lord Hienmitey

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    Replies
    1. I mean an english copy.

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    2. http://www.oldgames.sk/en/game/dungeons-of-avalon/download/7763/

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    3. Thank you, but this is german.

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    4. Never mind (the bollocks), I have found one :)

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