Sunday, August 2, 2015

Game 196: Dungeons of Avalon (1991)


I've mostly just been drawing names for the next games on my list at random, so I didn't plan it that I'd play three German-published games in a row--let alone two of them from the same publisher, CP Verlag, which seemed to specialize in releasing quick, forgettable games through its various magazines. This one, developed by Zeret Software (which only seemed to exist for Dungeons of Avalon and its sequel), was originally published in Amiga Fun in 1991, then Amiga Mania in 1992. I've tried without success to find where Zeret was actually headquartered. The lead developer has a Turkish name, but his associates sound German. I think Amiga Mania was a Hungarian publication, which is comfortably in the middle of all of this.

Oddly, the game takes place not in Avalon but in "H'Khan." The lead developer's name is Hakan.

It took me a while to find an English version of the game, and even then I don't know if it's an official translation. The quality isn't bad, but not everything is translated. Facing east, for instance, shows me an "O" on the compass, and a couple of the other terms and abbreviations are still in German. So is the manual, which I've uploaded here if anyone wants to give me a hand (not the whole thing, but maybe the backstory and what the advantages to "monks" are). The back story seems to be the usual rot about a wizard taking over a peaceful kingdom.

A bit of the backstory.

Dungeons of Avalon looks like Dungeon Master but plays more like Wizardry. You create a party of six characters in the adventurer's guild of a standard menu town and then descend into a dungeon of indeterminate levels, fighting creatures, opening treasure chests, and so on. Its encounter and combat system is straight out of Wizardry (perhaps via The Bard's Tale, which every German developer seemed to be familiar with), but it has the approach to dungeon design of Dungeon Master, including substantive walls, doors that roll up into the ceiling, opened by buttons, and a light smattering of navigation puzzles.


For your party of six characters, you choose between human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, troll, gnome, "lizzard," and sternbär races. (The latter translates as "star bear"; I have no idea what it's supposed to mean. A wookie?) [Edit: I guess it was "Stembar," an inside joke based on one of the programmers. See the comments.] Classes are fighter, thief, knight, hunter, monk, magician, healer, and wizard (these show a Bard's Tale influence, but perhaps by way of Legend of Faerghail). Attributes, which you can re-roll as many times as you like, are intelligence, dexterity, wisdom, luck, strength, and something abbreviated "KO"--probably constitution. There are no alignments, and every character is male. Portrait depends only on class and is not influenced by race.

Creating a party of characters. Gnarr is supposed to be a troll.

Each character is created with a handful of gold pieces, from which you outfit him with basic equipment at the "armour" shop (despite its name, it sells weapons and magic items, too). Identification of found equipment is done in the shop, as in Wizardry. A temple for healing and resurrections, and a training guild for leveling up, are also found in the menu city.

Buying items for the new party.

Once outfitted, you head into the dungeon, where the textures are reminiscent of Dungeon Master but the rest of the gameplay is more akin to Wizardry. Enemies don't appear in the hallways; instead, markings on the floor alert you to both encounters and treasure. Encounters are signaled by a barely-perceptible blue line; treasures by a star inside a circle. (I had assumed the latter was a Dungeon Master-style pressure plate at first.)

A button on the wall, but there's an encounter in between. Can you see that little bluish marking?

Combat is the turn-based, line-up-all-your-attacks-then-execute system that we've seen a million times (and are currently experiencing in Antares). Enemies can attack in multiple groups of multiple enemies at various distances. Characters can attack, use items, or cast spells. 

The one major combat difference between Dungeons of Avalon and Antares is the existence of a "fast combat" feature here, where instead of seeing the blow-by-blow account, you just get a quick summary of post-combat statistics. I saw this for the first time in Legend of Faerghail, another Bard's Tale-inspired German game, and I wonder if this developer was a fan.

Watching the messages scroll by in normal combat.
Versus just getting summary stats at the round's end.

At this point, you've probably noted for yourself another of Dungeons of Avalon's strengths: its bizarre visuals. Everything from the weapons shop to the monster portraits are done in a highly original, grotesque style that reminds me of something I've seen before but can't quite place. Another element that may not be new, but that I can't remember from other games, is the animation of the character portraits. Each of them winks, blinks, waggles his eyebrows, and opens and closes his mouth more or less continually.

A freaky temple found in the middle of the dungeon.

Sound is also reasonably well done. The town section has a relentless techno track that I'd rather turn off, but once you enter the dungeon, you encounter an evocative soundtrack of howling winds, creaking doors, rattles, and other weird noises. Unfortunately, you soon realize that the track is only about 50 seconds long, and the same sounds just keep looping repeatedly no matter where you are or what you're doing. There are some "ows" to accompany combat and some nice tones that go with spellcasting.

The first level of the game.

I created a party consisting of a human knight, a troll hunter, a dwarf monk, a gnome thief, an elf healer, and a half-elf magician, then spent about 90 minutes mapping the first level of the dungeon. I soon learned that secret doors are clued by little grates in the lower-left corner; clicking on them opens the door.

Note the grate in the lower left.

The "rest party" option, which restores both hit points and magic points, only works if you're standing on a floor tile that's marked by the letter "C"; there was only one of these on the first level. Since there are no torches in the game to run out, no character ages, no wandering enemies, and no food meter, there seems to be no penalty to resting as often and as long as you want.

Chests can hold gold or items and can be trapped. I assume thieves are supposed to be better than others at dodging the traps, but I had about as much luck with that as in Wizardry.


The Level 1 thief was pretty miserable at doors, too, but once I got him to Level 2, the "pick lock" option worked more often.

If I had a wet rag in your position, would I have to heal it as much as I heal you?

When I first arrived at the level, a message told me to "Search for the 'Rune'!" I wasn't sure what that meant, but a little later, I ran into a face that demanded to know what I was searching for. Lacking anything else, I tried "RUNE" and was allowed to pass.


Beyond the face was a button that caused a lot of walls previously closed to open up. I soon encountered a dragon calling himself Elistaire, trapped by the "dark lord's" magic, and requesting a ruby dagger to free himself.


Later, I found the ruby dagger in a treasure chest and brought it back to him. He rewarded me with two chests containing 5,000 gold pieces each, way more money that I can even begin to imagine what to do with right now. The shop in town has only the paltriest selection of goods, and I've already bought everything useful there.

My reward. Taliesin's expression is appropriate.

My characters went from Level 1 to Level 3 during the first dungeon level; each level-up in town is accompanied by an increase in attributes.

The most terrifying training guild imaginable.

Some other quick notes:

  • You take damage walking into walls, just like Dungeon Master.
  • There are four squares surrounding the main dungeon window that seem to indicate active spells. One lights up when you cast the "magic eye" spell; I otherwise don't know what the spell does.
  • You can save and reload anywhere.
  • After experimenting a bit with reloading, it seems that the contents of treasure chests are fixed and predetermined, but the size of enemy parties is not. If you meet 4 worms in one encounter, you might only face 1 or 2 when you reload.
  • Enemies don't seem to respawn; once you've cleared the fixed encounters on a level, the only way to fight more enemies is to move down.
  • Door jambs fully occupy a square, like in Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder.
  • The game is almost entirely mouse-driven, although you can use the arrow keys to move, and you occasionally have to type words.

A large part of the southeast of Level 1 had nothing in it. I don't know if I missed some other secret door dynamic, or if maybe there will be another set of stairs back up from Level 2.

On to the next level!

The game is fast-paced and marginally fun, and I do like what they've done with the visuals, but in general there's a "been there, done that" feel that you often get with diskmag games. In the context of The Ormus Saga, I talked about developers sometimes lacking self-awareness and turning out games of epic length with much less-than-epic content. If the developer of Dungeons of Avalon possesses that self-awareness, the game should wrap up by my six-hour minimum. We'll see.

Time so far: 2 hours
Reload count:

44 comments:

  1. Well, hell. I meant to schedule this to post tomorrow. Now I have to try to do the next one by Tuesday instead of Wednesday. FWP.

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    1. And why do you have to do that?

      We won't mind if you post on Wednesday...

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    2. I agree. Playing CRPGs and writing about them was all initially intended for enjoyment; there's no need to rush to play and write about them if it gets in the way of other aspects of your life.

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    3. I just set a personal goal not to let more than 48 hours go between postings. Obviously, I don't always make it. But when I'm actually EARLY, I try not to screw myself by having it go out too soon. I'm happiest when I have 2-3 postings mostly- or fully-drafted.

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    4. Maybe shoot for N posts every N*48 hours instead, so that if one is ready early it just gives you some extra time to work on the next one?

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    5. Don't let a botched side quest stray you from the main quest!

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    6. Thanks, Kenny. I was on the verge of just giving up entirely.

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    7. My... uh... Sarcasm-Detector ain't working. You're welcome.

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  2. dungeon graphic seems same as eye of the beholder

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  3. The monk is the usual stuff - he can't wear armor or heavy weapons, but can cast sereval spells and is mostly a melee combatant.
    The bear race is called "Stem Bears", which I still can't make any sense of.

    The story summed up:
    A wizard, Rhateph, enters the land Avalon, where people live in the town H-Khan. People are very kind and don't suppose any evil. Soon he starts tyranizing them and they can't defend. He transmutes the land into an icy landscape and blackmails the Avalons in doing everything for them and so they build him a castle with a maze. Evil monsters from everywhere settle around his castle and found the city of Ghale.

    So the good wizard Arakus decides to stop the evil guy. But inside the maze, he was robbed and killed. The secret in defeating the endboss is still hidden as riddles in the maze in the hope that another wizard steps up. A lot of people tried, but nobody was able to solve the riddle. Now it's yout zurn.

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    1. Thanks for your help! Is it really "Stem Bears"? I just thought that was bad kerning.

      I was curious if the monk was supposed to be skilled in unarmed combat, but I suppose we're a bit early in the chronology for that.

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    2. Along the same line, the diacritic above the "a" looks more like a breve than an umlaut, but I don't think German uses breves, so I just assumed it was a poorly-formatted umlaut. Maybe the "bar" part doesn't mean "bear," either.

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    3. Actually, if I'm right, it looks like only Romanian uses breves above the letter "a." That would help fix the author's location in Eastern Europe, although I still can't figure out what it's supposed to mean.

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    4. There are a few comparisons in the class descriptions:
      Knights (Ritter) can use the most weapons, more than a warrior (Kämpfer)
      Monks are a better melee guys than a warrior
      Warriors are more agile than a knight
      Rogues (Dieb) are the lock pick monkeys
      Hunters (Jäger) are ranged combatants and need dexterity, can't cast spells
      Knight have a lot of discipline.
      Wizards (Magier) can only wear light weapons and loses his spellcasting ability when wearing armor. Seems to be a mostly offensive class.
      Healers (Heiler) can cast a few offensive spells, but worse than a monk.
      Sorcerers (Hexer) are very deadly spellcasters, but borderline evil.

      Nothing too surprising, I guess.

      The races:
      Humans are average
      Elves are good spellcasters, quick and nimble, but less tough
      Half-Elves are between Elves and Humans.
      Dwarves are tough and spellcasters
      Gnomes are rogues (basically)
      Trolls are strong, but stupid and slow
      Stem Bears are strong and angry (or whatever this stupid text means)
      Lizards are strong, clever and good spellcasters.

      There are a few typos, so Stembear could be one as well, even though it's written Stembär both times. Either way, no clue, it's supposedly the special guest in this otherwise very plain and basic setup.

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    5. Not much new ground here except for lizards being good at magic, I guess.

      We can't let this "stembar" thing go. If there was one game where the developer needs to be tracked down for an explanation, it's this one.

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    6. It's a joke. The game's music was written by Rudolf Stember, a very prolific Amiga composer. The manual even notes that stembears have great musical talents. The guy has a website at stember.com

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    7. I googled a bit around, but didn't find too much. In some test (Amiga Joker), they also talked of Sternbären and called them mysterious.
      The whole description is:
      "Well, uhm, what should I say about this race? Hmm... well.
      (Now the author breathes deeply. The following lines could have an impact on his health...)
      The stembears are a race, origin unknown. Sharp tongues could say they are from earth. They excel in strengh and have a talent for music, but that isn't important, since bard isn't a profession in this role playing game. Before I'm writing myself to death (literally); I rather describe the last race."

      That doesn't really answer any questions.

      Hakan Akbivik did a lot of games, most times as graphician. Here is a list: http://hol.abime.net/hol_search.php?N_ref_artist=1386
      So it might be possible to catch him.

      Turkish names are quite common in Germany, about 3% of all Germans have Turkish roots.
      One of the best known German graphicians is Celal Kandemiroglu (he didn't draw any CRPG I remember, mostly simulations and manager games).

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    8. Thanks, Peter. That was a pretty "duh" solution, but I didn't get it on my own, so I'm glad you were here.

      I feel like I've contributed enough to this genre to get a class--or at least an NPC--named after me.

      It's interesting: I don't detect the same artistic style in Akbivik's previous games. He must have really broken the leash on this one.

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    9. That was too easy... I have even read the name Stember and wondered about the similarity. But I was looking for a greater riddle. ;-)

      I have finally discovered the blue marking. Did I understand right that the whole dungeon is featureless next to those markers? I can imagine you have to cut some corners in a diskmag game, but that tiny blue line is barely visible...

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    10. Right... I wonder if that'd be visible on a typical 1991 computer monitor.

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    11. The entire dungeon is featureless aside from a number of different markings on the floor. The little blue lines are a battle; the stars are treasure or a special encounter; "C"s are camping spots, and so forth.

      Is it possible that the blue lines aren't MEANT to be visible? It does seem weird that the game alerts you to exactly where battles are going to take place.

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    12. Maybe it's meant to be barely visible - to reward the player for looking extra hard. That sounds stupid, but I have seen a complicated UI as a way of balancing before (in a - German - browser game). I mean, it could be hidden better.

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    13. "I was curious if the monk was supposed to be skilled in unarmed combat, but I suppose we're a bit early in the chronology for that."

      I know it doesn't really count, but Final Fantasy 1 had monks skilled in unarmed combat in 1987.

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    14. Didn't Bard's Tale have monks that did better unarmed?

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    16. I looked it up, and you are correct. 1985.

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    17. Wizardry 6 (1990) had a Monk class that excelled at unarmed combat (and robes as armor), but I think could also use staves and throwing weapons (with less effectiveness) as well as mental magic.

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    18. @HunterZ - It depends. If the staves were powerfully enchanted enough, it may be stronger than being unarmed.

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  4. Nice graphics in the main playing area, but the character portraits don't look that good. Might&Maigic 3+ had animation of the character portraits; that's probably where you recognize it from.

    The game looks mildly interesting, especially since it's turn based. It is Amiga only?

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    1. As far as I can tell, Amiga-only.

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    2. At least some of the versions of Bard's Tale had animated character portraits.

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    3. I just verified that the DOS version does. But it's a little bit different--only on each character's individual portrait screen rather than the main screen.

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    4. Ah, I misunderstood. On the character page, yes, but BT doesn't have portraits on the front. That could indeed be a first.

      I'm definitely impressed with the central pane art. That temple is striking, and the training guild is amazing, in a traumatizing and slightly familiar way. I can't place it right now, but there are lots of movies with nightmarish courtroom parodies, and this definitely seems to fit the mold.

      Don't forget to label this dungeon a "worms in dirt" style map!

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  5. So I had started translating the backstory when there were no comments at all; Naturally, by the time I finished there was a summary already posted. Since it's done, I'll post the whole thing here anyway...
    (On the subject of the mysterious "Stembärs", judging by their silly description, it appears to be an in-joke based on Stember's name, most likely, as mentioned above.)

    1. THE HISTORY OF THE LAND

    A land of sun and fragrant meadows it was, the land of Avalon. People lived happily in their small town H-Khan. They carried out their day's work joyfully and were hospitable towards any stranger visiting their land.

    And so it happened that one day, a wizard visited that fair land and gratefully accepted the hospitality of its inhabitants. But the people did not know what terrible intentions had brought the wizard to their land. They soon realized that this master of black magic would bring only disaster and doom upon their peaceful land. But they were too weak to be able to oppose him.

    Thus he began tyrannizing the people of Avalon. He crowned himself ruler of the land and killed any who would make even the slightest attempt to overthrow his reign. Through his magical power he was able to extort the people. He put a spell on the land, covering it in cold and snow, and threatened everybody to destroy their property should they not do as he commanded.

    He had the poor people build a castle for him, which he had protected with an entangled labyrinth. Meanwhile, his power had grown so much that no one dared to drive him off the land anymore. On the contrary, creatures of the underworld came from all over the world to submit themselves to him and live in his realm. They settled down and around his castle they built a city of evil called Ghale. Thus they controlled the evil wizard's labyrinth and protected him from anyone entering his realm with heroic intentions.

    So it was that the wise wizard Arakus set out to banish the evil wizard Rhateph from his realm and end the curse of cold. However, on the way through the labyrinth to the city of Ghale he was assaulted by bandits and killed. His secret to defeating the evil Rhateph, he left throughout the dungeons hidden by riddles and encrypted, so that an equally worthy magician could finish his task and free the land of Avalon.

    People set forth to uncover the secret of Arakus, but none were able to interpret and understand the riddles correctly.

    But now the time has come to end the evil reign and find the rune that can save the land of Avalon.

    The people have gathered to supply five volunteers to banish the dark ruler from his evil realm for all eternity. Now it's up to you to choose the right people and lead them on their onerous way through the dark labyrinth. Take your decisions wisely, and the land of Avalon can yet be saved...

    ----

    So, "the usual rot about a wizard taking over a peaceful kingdom" is pretty much spot-on, but at least they give us some explanation for the existence of riddles and cryptic messages in the dungeon on how to defeat the big bad.

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    1. Thanks, Atantuo. Even though some commenters beat you to the punch on the general gist, you supplied the most detailed translation.

      The idea of a previous hero having failed, but leaving enough of himself to guide future adventurers, is reminiscent of The Dark Hear of Uukrul. This game's approach to dungeon design (which I'll talk more about next time--lots to discuss since I wrote this post) also reminds me a bit of that previous game. I wonder if DHU actually made a mark on at least one developer.

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  6. There are about 3 million Turks living in Germany (with or without German citizenship), by far their largest minority. It wouldn't be surprising to have a German software developer with a Turkish name.

    A lot of Turks came to Germany in the 60s; the Germans were experiencing a labour shortage and they made a deal with Turkey to fill the void. This was supposed to be a temporary solution. Unsurprisingly, however, most of the Turks not only decided to stay, they also brought their families to Germany.

    Talk about getting your foot in the door :)

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    1. Very interesting bit of history. Thanks!

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    2. Great example (in the context of gaming), of course: Crytek!

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  7. The art reminds me of stuff I've seen in Heavy Metal magazine, particularly Richard Corben's comics.

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  8. I expect it's this Hakan Akbiyik?

    https://de.linkedin.com/pub/hakan-akbiyik/b9/129/23a

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  9. and talking about localization - I've yet to see a native english game that has an "O" for East in the compass, official or otherwise

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  11. "every character is male"

    In Germany the turkish minority has suffered from image problems when it became obvious 10 years ago that even the third generation holds fast to backward concepts like honor killings. See "Germany" part here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor_killing

    Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. Turkish women in Germany are often in a very bad position inside their families, while at least in the greater cities in Turkey people hold to a much more progressive view on gender issues.

    Not to say anything about Mr. Akbiyik's position on gender issues back then, he may have had other reasons...

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  12. I'm sure the millions of Germans with Turkish roots appreciate being in the main associated with minor phenomenons like 'honor killings'. That's like saying Germans hold backwards views on childcare because of all those recent cases of infanticide.

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