Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Knightmare: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Does that mean there's no more show?
United Kingdom
Mindscape (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for Amiga and Atari ST
Date Started: 6 November 2016
Date Ended: 5 December 2016
Total Hours: 55
Difficulty: Very Hard (5/5)
Final Rating: 29
Ranking at Time of Posting: 123/232 (53%)
Ranking at Game #460: 262/460 (57%)
I have never come as close to needing therapy because of a video game as I did in the final stages of the aptly-named Knightmare. I blame commenter Quido. If he hadn't sent me his maps and notes, I would have gotten stuck early in the final level, quit in frustration, and published a quick GIMLET. But since I had his materials--and, all kidding aside, they're a brilliant set of maps, with absolutely everything carefully annotated--I was motivated to keep playing. For 30 hours after my last post. That's right: the final level is bigger, longer, and harder than all the previous ones combined. The difficulty increases so much, in fact, that it essentially becomes a different game. I was leaning towards liking it after Quest #3; now I just want to forget it. [Update: Quido gave permission to share his maps. Here they are. Note that the Excel commenting doesn't work in the browser window; you'll have to download the workbook and open it in Excel.]

Quest #4 comprises around 4,000 squares of small maps interconnected by teleporters, portals, pits, and ladders. Here's a summary: illusory doors, spinners, radiation squares that deal constant damage, walls that disappear and reappear when pressure plates are stepped on, doors that respond to keys, doors that respond to levers and pressure plates and "open" spells cast from afar, pressure plates that you have to get monsters to walk onto, pits, hidden buttons, buttons that you have to press or shoot from moving vehicles, pressure plates you have to throw things onto, teleporters that don't alert you you've been teleported, enemies that spawn when you step on pressure plates, invisible pressure plates, invisible swamps to sink into, boats, water, fireball launchers, halls that rotate, and monsters, oh so many monsters, that you must waltz, waltz, waltz all night because they're capable of stoning and blindness and aging and crippling and if any of these happen to you, you might as well be dead.
The game has never featured quicksand before, but boy is it about to.
Knightmare is far harder than Chaos Strikes Back, which is celebrated for its difficulty but at least offers you that hint disk. No such luck here. It is the first game to get a full 5/5 on the "difficulty" scale, and I honestly question whether it's possible to win it without hints. I guess Quido must have, although I'm guessing--hoping, really--that he built his walkthrough off some previous, less thorough version, or perhaps the official hint guide.

At first, I was determined not to use Quido's maps, which would have been a shame because they deserve to be looked at. After all, I'd gotten through Levels 1-3 without a lot of difficultly, and I arrived at Level 4 healed up with a full stock of rabbit pies. It didn't start out so hard. Near the beginning of the level is a series of four gated rooms where enemies continually respawn. The game calls them "training rooms." Here, you can grind to your heart's content--not that it really does you any good.
Quido's detailed maps of the fourth quest.
As I began this session, I was sick of picking up missile items all the time, so I stopped using my rear characters as archers and started using them more for their core strengths: spells. This meant resting a lot more than I'd been doing before, but really I was being stingy about resting. It has virtually no penalty. Around the middle of the level, when combat became so hard I figured I must be doing something wrong, I watched a YouTube series for a little while. (The 15-hour series comprises 100 videos, more than 60 of them in the fourth level.) Not only did they put my fears to rest, I saw that the player was routinely resting every minute or so.

Anyway, the level didn't start out hard: a few pressure plate puzzles, a variety of keys opening a variety of locks, and so forth. I got some weapon and armor upgrades early on, including a chainsaw and various pieces of plate armor. I finally figured out the magic system and had my wizard and priest dual-wielding wands of different types. The combats were hard but the usual tricks got me past them.
One aspect of the level promised to be easy and indeed remained so: food. Near the starting area is a ladder leading to a small map of constantly-respawning spiders, which drop edible spider's legs. Between those and frequent grapes and apples scattered throughout the level--plus a portal back to the forest you encounter about halfway through--starvation was never a threat. I guess the developers felt you needed to focus on the hard stuff.

My first obstacle was a series of pressure plates that served as a "conveyor," yanking my party up and down a hallway with no easy way to stop it and get to the end. After trying everything I could think of, I capitulated and looked at Quido's maps. The solution was to throw a "spanner"--an object found in an earlier section--on a particular plate. Nowhere else in the game so far had specific objects been required to trigger the pressure plates (at least, I don't think so; if there were such puzzles, they were obvious), and of course using a wrench by throwing it is unintuitive. Even if I'd hit upon this solution, I probably would have given up after throwing it on a couple of the plates and seeing no result (it has to land on one particular one).
Do you see a button on any of those walls?
Shortly after this puzzle, I encountered another one that I couldn't solve. The area of the map was labeled "target practice" and it consisted of a wagon on a track flying past a series of 7 hedges with walls on the other side. The game had offered a bow and set of arrows shortly before I entered this area, so I understood the basic gist of what it wanted me to do--but there were no obvious "targets." I mean, it turns out that one of the 7 wall squares--which you zoom past too fast to look at, let alone from two squares away--has a button, and throwing or shooting something at the button causes a wall to open. But you have to know it's there, and then hit it from a moving vehicle, and between the two I don't know how you'd solve it without some spoiler at least telling you the particular wall section to aim for. In the meantime, you have to contend with snakes that spawn every time you miss and hit a different bit of wall.

By this time, the dam had broken and I had a hard time not using Quido's walkthrough quite liberally. I never would have survived without it. There are several places in which you have to cast an "open" spell on a door you can't even see, or fire a missile onto a pressure plate that's also out of visual range. Sometimes, I couldn't tell what a button or lever did, largely because it affected a remote area of the dungeon. One button, towards the end of the dungeon, lowers a wall that took me more than 20 minutes to fight my way back to. Without consulting Quido's map, I would have had to explore nearly the entire dungeon to find out what had changed.
In that darkness is a door, and behind that door is a pressure plate. So all I have to do is fire an "Open" spell ahead of me, followed by a missile, and I'm all set. But how would you have figured this out without a hint?
The worst part, though, was the increasing difficulty of the enemies. Certain monsters, like knights and large dragons, were taking me nearly 15 minutes per enemy to waltz around and kill. Then the game started serving up enemies with special abilities: medusas who can stone you; wizards who can blind, age, and cripple you; demons who can do all of those things. Killing them was taking so long that I wondered if I could just run past them instead. The problem was, maybe 5% of creatures carry a key or some other quest item that you really need. Hence, I started consulting Quido's sheet to see what enemies I really had to kill and which I could avoid--provided the layout of the corridors allowed me to avoid them.
I'll be waltzing around this guy for 15 minutes or more.
Quite often, the sheer density of enemies, or the corridor configurations, makes waltzing impossible and you have to fight them head-on. In such situations, your party members' lives depend on how quickly you can shift the healer back and forth, casting spells to undo the damage. If the healer's points run out--which happens pretty fast--you're screwed.

One particular area had me nearly give up in despair. There was a succession of 3 or 4 rooms with unavoidable pressure plates, and stepping on those plates causes three spellcasting enemies to spawn. These guys are nearly impossible. Not only do they have spells that age you, cripple you, and turn you into a moron, draining your attributes to about 10 each, but they have a particularly annoying spell that causes you to turn 90 or 180 degrees and waste your next spell or attack on a blank wall. I had to try luring them one by one into an area where I could escape via a ladder if necessary. Waltzing each one took about 20 minutes, meaning killing all the mages in the area took about 4 hours of gametime on its own. The area is so ridiculous that the developers stuck a couple of mages that cast healing spells in a nearby corridor. One of them randomly casts "Youth" (reverses aging), "IQ" (reverses dumbness), "de-cripple," and 5 spells that restore attributes drained by these spells. I had to park my characters in front of him for almost an hour before everyone was healed.
These guys are going on the "most annoying" list.
There were several areas that featured a similar puzzle: a series of buttons or levers that caused 4 corridors surrounding a central square to rotate clockwise. Some of these squares would have doorways, and each set of corridors interlocked with two or more central hubs. Passing through the areas meant pushing or pulling in the right order to "pass" doorways between hubs and create chains of open spaces leading to where I wanted to go. The problem was, I had no idea what the corridors looked like on the other side. I had to guess (or use Quido's maps). I liked the puzzles--they involved a lot of deduction--but even with maps, figuring out the correct order of levers was challenging.
One such area. different levers rotate the corridors around hubs 1, 2, 3, and 4."D" represents doors, and the other corridors are blank wall. I have to pull the levers in the right sequence to line up the doors so I can get to Point X.
A few other notes:

  • Apparently, if you're unencumbered, you can run across a single square of water. There were several areas in which this was necessary.
  • A lot of enemies have dialogue or hints if you take a second to click on them in the middle of battle.
It's nice to have goals.
  • My characters capped the game at "doyen" in their respective classes. I'm not sure if there's a higher level.
It would take too long to recap the dozens and dozens of puzzles on the map, but they all come together to open a wall not far from the entrance. Passing through there takes you down a ladder and into a room full of demons, whom I simply ran past (apparently missing a second chainsaw and an "aqualung" of unknown use). A ladder from there takes you to the large final area.
Not doing so well against some demons.
I had assumed that I'd find the crown in the level, then take it back to the beginning, and then fight Lord Fear (the manual hinted at that sequence of events), but it turns out Lord Fear has the crown and is found in the final area. I first had to kill his demon ally--about 20 minutes of waltzing--to get a key. This opened the door to Lord Fear's chambers and the final battle was on.
It took longer than some entire games. Fear is capable of all of the previously-mentioned spells, including blindness, stoning, and crippling. You simply cannot let him hit you. He also bounces spells back at you, so your melee fighters have to carry the day. There's no other solution except to waltz him to death. The one saving grace is a nearby portal where you can recuperate in a safe area in case he does happen to zap you with something bad.
My lead character after a few unlucky breaks.
It took me 430 hits to kill him, representing over an hour of waltzing and retreating, saving every 5-10 minutes, and reloading if things got too hopeless. (Completely healing a single character who's been hit with "stone" and "lame" might take 15-20 minutes by itself between the casting and resting; I typically reloaded rather than go through it.) I won late last night and my hands are ruined today.
Picking up the crown after killing Lord Fear.
Lord Fear leaves the crown when he dies. I had to make my way past the demons to finally get out of the dungeon and back to the starting area, where a pressure plate waited to receive the crown.
Tossing the crown on the plate opened the way to another pressure plate, which brought me to the endgame: a graphic of a trophy, a congratulations screen, and an advertisement for Antony Crowther's other games.
This was not, in fact, the title of Captive 2.
Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of players who love the challenge inherent in these puzzles and this style of combat. As for myself, if for some reason I had to play this game again to continue my blog, I'd give up the blog. These last 30 hours have been excruciating. This simply is not what I like about RPGs.
Knightmare is a rare game for which I would consider the hintbook a necessity.
This post is already long, but I want to GIMLET this and be done with it:

  • 2 points for the game world, which is confusing and inconsistent. I'm not really sure where I'm supposed to be, or why I'm there, or how I got roped into defeating Lord Fear in the first place.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. The usual Dungeon Master system is in place. There are more races and classes than necessary, particularly since you're screwed if you don't have a mage and a healer. Development isn't very satisfying--you don't even find out when you've leveled, and the effects of leveling aren't palpable in combat. 
  • 1 point for NPC interaction, and I'm being generous in calling the heads on the walls "NPCs."
I think he actually had it.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. For the enemies, we have the usual Dungeon Master nonsense where we don't even know the monsters' names. You figure out their special attacks and overall difficulty pretty fast, although I would have liked a hit point chart in the manual so I'd have some reassurance that they'd die eventually. Most of the points here go to the puzzles, which I rate as "encounters" in this type of game. Although I thought they were too hard, they were also highly original and constituted an impressive use of the engine.
I just wish the game didn't make the buttons so hard to discern.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The old Dungeon Master mechanics reach their nadir in this game, where nothing you do really matters because you end up having to waltz every enemy to death anyway. The game doesn't even bother with the pretense that you can survive in a stand-up fight. The magic system, consisting of a variety of spells that seem to do the same thing, cast from different wands, is unimpressive.
  •  3 points for equipment. Weapons, armor, helms, pants, and boots are found at fixed locations. There are no rings or amulets as in Dungeon Master and only a few special items. As with character development, the nature of the combat system makes you feel that item upgrades hardly matter.

I like the way different weapons have different attacks depending on skill, but they didn't seem to make a lot of functional difference.
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 3 points for a main quest in 4 stages with no choices or branches.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are decent, the sound even better, and the interface has more keyboard options than the typical Dungeon Master clone.
  • 2 points for gameplay. I found it too linear, too long, and too hard. I suppose for some people, the difficulty is a virtue, so add another 4 points if you really like to be challenged by pressure plates and buttons and moving walls and whatnot.
The final score is 29, quite a bit lower than I gave to Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, Captive, or Eye of the Beholder. But in a funny way, if you're a fan of those previous games and you like them better than most other RPGs, you might find Knightmare to be the pinnacle of this sort of game. I mean, there must be some players out there who love the mechanics of Chaos Strikes Back but think it's for "n00bs." Or those who have played it so many times that they want a fresh challenge. I'd love to hear opinions from players who prize this particular lineage.

As for me, at its best moments, the Dungeon Master line nears what I love about RPGs but doesn't quite reach it. In the original game, character development is highly satisfying and rewarding, and the combat and magic system are well-balanced between tactics and digital dexterity. Chaos Strikes Back increases the difficulty of the puzzles but not so much the encounters, making it a worthy successor. But I don't play RPGs for the puzzles--particularly this sort of puzzle--and I much prefer a more tactical, turn-based approach to combat. Captive and Knightmare both tip the balance so far towards speed and action in combat that tactics take a far back seat.

Still, I suppose the difficulty of Knightmare is in keeping with the difficulty of the television show, which only 8 teams won in 8 years. I have to admire the producers for maintaining such a high difficulty when there was no winner in Seasons 1 or 3. There must have been pressure to dumb it down. Reading more about the show, I see that the quest objects in the game--the Sword of Freedom, the Shield of justice, the Cup of Life, and the Crown of Glory--were in the show as well, and the screenshot of the trophy mimics the awards given to victorious players. Even Lord Fear appears in the show.
My in-game reward.
I think Computer Gaming World missed this one. Amiga magazine reviews of the time range from 64/100 (Amiga Joker) to 91/100 (Amiga Action). I've read a few of the higher reviews, and I'd bet real money that most of the reviewers never got to the fourth quest. (My own rating would likely be 7-10 points higher if it was based only on the first three quests.) Amiga Action manages to discuss the game and its changes from Captive without once mentioning Dungeon Master.

I have to quote this hilarious paragraph from the beginning of the Amiga Computing review:
Knightmare is that terrible show where they get four kids and blindfold one of them by sticking a massive helmet on top of his head. This normally happens to the smallest who is always called Colin or Jeremy. The other three kids get the chance to kill Colin by telling him to walk around a computer-generated world into traps and clutches of giants, witches, trolls, etc....The three kids aren't supposed to kill him, but most of them couldn't find their way out of Woolworth's, never mind a dungeon plagued with goblins and giants.
It goes on to make fun of the show for about 5 more paragraphs before spending a small part of the rest of the review on the game itself. The reviewer admits he hasn't finished the first quest yet when he gives the game 86%. Was there any sense of journalism among Amiga magazines of the 1990s? I mean, I don't always love Scorpia, but at least she finished the games before reviewing them.

This is an era of Mindscape ascendant. We've already played two of their games in 1991--HeroQuest and Moonstone--and we'll have Worlds of Legend: Son of the Empire and Liberation: Captive II coming in 1992 and 1993, respectively. I have to note that while I haven't rated their titles very high, I don't find them weird, so sometime between 1986 and 1991, the British Isles worked out the problem I highlighted in Heavy on the Magick.

We'll periodically check-in with Antony Crowther for the remainder of this blog's existence, starting with his Captive sequel next year. And of course the basic Dungeon Master style isn't going anywhere soon: we still have Dungeon Master II and the two Eye of the Beholder sequels to explore in the next 100 games or so. I'm still waiting for any of its clones or sequels to be as good as the original.


  1. 2 points for Game World because you have no idea why you were roped in to defeat Lord Fear?

    But you obviously know why since you talked about it later, just 2 paragraphs after giving your final score! XD

  2. This must be a rough time for you, playing the most difficult real time blobber of all time, and perhaps the longest of all CRPGs (except Deathlord, maybe) at the same time.

    As a huge fan of Chaos Strikes Back, I must admit Knightmare sounds too over the top even for me. CSB was hard, but it was _fair_, and there was no HP bloating. Having to waltz for 15 minutes to defeat one generic enemy is ridicilous. In CSB the only thing comparable was the few large dragons (most of the dragons were smaller versions).

    Black Crypt will be a nice, relaxing game after Knightmare.

    The reason CGW didn't review Knightmare is because it had a British publisher, I guess. But they mentioned the game in the March 1992 issue: "just been released for Amiga, Atari to follow. DOS to be announced".

    Anyway, congrats on completing this Knightmare of a game.

    1. I dont know about anyone who finished Deathlord. Im really looking forward to Addict playing it.

  3. Regarding "In that darkness is a door, and behind that door is a pressure plate. So all I have to do is fire an "Open" spell ahead of me, followed by a missile, and I'm all set. But how would you have figured this out without a hint?"

    I never played this game, but I'd assume that throwing something akin to fireball could light the area (or at least squares that it flies over) and show you that door is there. Or maybe some kind of sound? Like arrow hitting something different than stone? I can't believe that someone tried to cast every spell there is blindly just hoping for something to happen. But maybe I'm just underestimating human persistence :)

    1. I want to say that the clue for this puzzle was the sound of objects (or spells) hitting the door, though since I last solved the puzzle 24 years ago it's hard to be certain :)
      One thing I started doing in this game was shoot spells (dart / open) everywhere to scout ahead, was also a great way to check for illusionary walls without bashing your head. (Holding an item in your hand and clicking on the wall was another way)

  4. Regarding "Worlds of Legend: Son of the Empire", it's a sequel to another Mindscape game (1992) you haven't mentioned called "Legend". Legend was a creation of Anthony "Tag" Taglione, the man behind Bloodwych. It was later released to the US and, because of naming rights, with the name "The Four Crystals of Trazere".

    I personally consider Legend to be one of the 10 best CRPGs ever made, because of the magical system and the puzzles.

    1. Legend is one of my favourite RPG's of the time, and probably the most underrated. I even wrote about it on my blog.

      About the Amiga style of game reviews, i think that's more a British think than anything else. British ZX spectrum magazines also had the same gonzo style.

      I also used to read french (Joystiq) and Spanish (Micromania) magazines, and they had an whole different style.

    2. Ricky thanks for posting, I'll take a look at your blog - I'm a huge Legends fan! Even the Bard songs were great! :)

      I grew up reading Joystiq and Micromania as well, to me they were better than the British counterparts (PC/Amiga Format etc)

    3. Joystick was, by far, my favourite games magazine ever. Intelligent reviews, plenty of humour and good analysis of what makes a good video game.
      Made all the other gaming magazines seem to be written by fanboys, industry-bribed reviewers, etc.

      I sure miss that old paper news.

    4. Pedro, actually most of my blog posting is about the songs of the game. That only makes sense on the Amiga, because the sound on the PC was pretty dire.

      The first issue I've ever read of Joystick (yes, that's the correct spelling, sorry) was the one that had all the Prince of Persia maps. Fantastic magazine indeed.

      But even so, Amiga Power is still my favourite magazine of all time. Yes, as we can see from this blog, they weren't really precise with their reviews, but it was such a fun read.

    5. I just looked up Legend on Wiki and learned that Dragon had given it 3 stars! Can you imagine that? I thought in their scale that was reserved to an interactive reading of the Shanghai phone book or something similarlyboring?! That alone makes it worth checking out :)

    6. Even without being a fan, it would be hard to call Legend "boring". I mean, my only issue with the game is that you CAN pause during combat but CANNOT give orders while paused. It makes things quite frantic, but not boring :D

  5. Well congratulations, I can see now why you were complaining last time. The first 5/5 game, huh. Sounds like yet another game where reading about it is a lot more fun than actually playing it.

  6. Congrats on beating Knightmare. If it makes you feel better, pretty much everything else is going to be smooth sailing in comparison.

    Any chance the author of those maps would let you post them here? There seems to be a dearth of guides for this game online (the GameFAQs page for Knightmare is empty).

    1. Quido? Your maps really are works of art. Would you mind if everyone had a look?

    2. It was the biggest incentive for my friend Gant and me to play Knightmare back in 2007 that no maps/walkthroughs/longplays were (easily) available on the net. Feel free to share it. I'm going to post a short story of all the issues we had playing this nightmare.. To finish the game within couple of days like you did is unbelievable despite using our maps. You have my respect. Quido. P.S. It's also amazing to watch and follow your learning curve while playing Fate. It took 2 years of our lives to completely map every square of the Fate world incl. all the islands. Unfortunately we didn't use Excel for mapping in 1999, so our chance to publish it is quite small. We also didn't have Zardas and his precious advisory services so that the whole progress through the game was a very painful experience..

    3. Congratulations, Addict! Knightmare got rave reviews in Finland, just as Captive had done. Somehow no one in my circle of friends played it all the way through, though...

      Quido. That is terrifying. Could you please tell us much much more about your projects?

    4. I second JK's request. Based on Chet's description, I'd love to hear more from you Quido on how you actually managed to get through this game.

    5. I embedded the link in the article, but here it is:

      The Excel comments don't work if you view it in a browser; you need to download it and open it in Excel.

    6. Just click Open in Google Sheets, that one supports comments too.

  7. I wonder if the creator of dark souls would like this game :-) aside from the difficulty I'm saying this because I don't know why, but some of the art reminds me of Dark Souls (the knight for exemple)

    1. Dark Souls' difficulty is often overstated. I'd be highly surprised if it rates more than a 3 if the Addict ever gets that far (Demon's and DS2 might eke out something a bit higher for certain sections).

      Miyazaki and his art team are definitely heavily inspired by classic fantasy art and by the western tradition of high adventure and dungeon crawls, which likely is some of the inspiration behind the work for Knightmare as well. Likely a case of drawing from the same well.

    2. Please note that Addict frequently states that his manual dexterity leaves much to be desired and that he prefers strategic combat (which as I assume boils down to being able to pause at any time like in Baldur's Gate or giving commands for the team for next round like in Wizardry) to combat waltzing, which in new games like Skyrim or Dark Souls is masked as an ability to avoid being hit by moving out of the blow's way thanks to manual dexterity and (nearly) perfect timing. I'd even bet some virtual money on him not finishing Dark Souls because of this.

    3. Dark Souls isn't that difficult. I finished the first one, and I rarely finished games back in the day.

      Yes, it's hard compared to most contemporary AAA games, but in the grand picture of the history of gaming it's quite accessible. In fact, you can grind to make it easier if you're having a hard time.

    4. > Please note that Addict frequently states that his manual dexterity leaves much to be desired and that he prefers strategic combat

      And that was before he destroyed his hands with 30 hours of combat waltzing!

      > combat waltzing, which in new games like Skyrim or Dark Souls is masked as an ability to avoid being hit by moving out of the blow's way thanks to manual dexterity and (nearly) perfect timing.

      The difference between combat waltzing and avoiding blows in these games is that combat waltzing is an unrealistic combat technique imposed by the engine, while in these games it's meant to be more realistic, and requires different strategies for different foes (to a much larger degree, at least).

      Also, the way I play Dark Souls actually doesn't use much dodging. I go all Poise and giant weapon, and stomp enemies before they have a chance to hit me, or hide behind a big shield and wait for my chance. I look like a beached whale when I roll. Bosses are quite hard though...

    5. If he reaches Dark Souls, at least it has a multiplayer element with which people (like me) would be able to assist if he got really stuck.

    6. Dark Souls has definitely taken on a weird 'there's only one way to play this game' mentality over the last few years. That 'one way' is to parry attacks, counter, keep your soul level low, etc. I get that this is the best way to get an easier New Game+, but if you're just looking to get through it once, there are a multitude of ways to play through that really don't involve a lot of grinding. Or if you like to grind, even better. I'll be around if you need my axe as well!

    7. I wouldn't have even called Dark Souls an RPG, and would not have expected Chet to play it. It's an action game with some character progression elements. I know Chet has a particular definition he uses but if it includes Dark Souls I feel it probably needs some tweaking.

    8. "1. There must be some form of character development, which might include increases in hit points, spell points, experience, levels, attributes, or skills. Basically, the character has to get intrinsically stronger and tougher as you play the game. Improvements in inventory do not count.

      2. Combat effectiveness (including accuracy and damage) must be dependent to some degree on character attributes. Again, these could include standard Dungeons & Dragons-style characteristics, like strength and dexterity, or a skill-based system as in Skyrim. Combat effectiveness based solely on inventory or player dexterity with a controller does not count.

      3. Characters in the game must have flexible inventories that are not based around solving puzzles. Characters should find some variety of weapons, armor, potions, and magic items during the game, and the player should be able to choose what the character wields and when he uses various items."

      If a game satisfies those criteria, Chet will play it, if it doesn't, he may or may not.

    9. The Addict has already played -and acknowledged as RPGs- games with much more tenuous credentials than Dark Souls, and has referred to his one attempt at playing DS as being aborted because it was "too deep" to play as a console game.

    10. Good thing we have PC versions for all of the mainline games, then.

      (Again, though, this isn't going to be an issue for years to come.)

    11. The comment about Dark Souls being mainly an action game with some RPG elements is spot on. Still, by the Addict's definition, it'll qualify.

      Regarding DS being hard: well, it's not so hard that a complete and utter failure as an action gamer like me can't still play and enjoy it a lot. I don't like the boss fights (I never do), but apart from those, it's a beauty. In the grand scheme of things, it's neither particularly hard nor easy, but well-balanced, I'd say. Quite a bit of challenge in there, but also enough easy bits to let you get a breather in between.

      BTW, I'm interested whether Severance (or Blade of Darkness in some countries) will make it onto the list. It's very similar to DS where gameplay is concerned, but has even less RPG elements (still enough, though, I'd say). I enjoyed that game very much when it was new, and the engine they used made for breathtakingly beautiful effects and environments back then. Awesome atmosphere, as well. It's on GOG, and perfectly playable on a WIN7/64 machine, at least.

    12. How is Dark Souls not an RPG? I really don't get this argument at all. I mean, it has deeper progression mechanics than any of the recent Bethesda or Bioware titles. A lot of people get hung up on there being less in the way of town exploration and the like.. but half of the games he's talked about on this blog also lack those things, including the very game these comments are responding to. But whatever, some people are just stubborn about the platonic form of an RPG I suppose.

    13. As for the CRPG Addict's view, this is what he has said on this topic in the past:

      "2. The arguments about Dark Souls are just dumb. I mean, argue whether it deserves to be #1, but there's no question that it's a RPG. People arguing against it's inclusion are creating their own tortured definitions of RPGs."

      I'd say that's the 100% correct. As Gnoman alluded above, the Addict's main other comment on Dark Souls is that he didn't understand the mechanics. When a guy who has beaten Nethack and Rogue says a game's mechanics are too complicated, maybe calling it an action game is a little.. ridiculous?

  8. "I'm still waiting for any of its clones or sequels to be as good as the original."

    Be prepared to wait for a long time... 2014 and Legend of Grimrock 2 to be precise.

    1. Dungeon Master 2 is excellent. Wouldn't rate any Grimrock close enough.

    2. DM2 was panned by a lot of reviewers for not changing much from the original. I thought it was pretty good myself, though I think I still prefer the original.

    3. Dungeon Master 2 had too few new ideas imho. But for me the problems where more
      a) There were few good puzzles. Both Dungeon master and chaos strikes back had more and more original puzzles. With peraps 2-3 exceptions most puzzles in DM 2 were re-hashes of other puzzles or pretty obvious (ghost merchant)
      2) I found the minions incredible annoying. Since they eventually reach a point where you cant sleep properly anymore, you have to start over and do everything faster. (Although in my memory DM2 seems much shorter than 1, so it was not that bad - or am I wrong and they are of equal length)

    4. "not sleep properly anymore"? "do everything again faster"? Not sure what you mean. I grinded that game a lot and never had any issues resting or finishing the game.

      As for new stuff:
      1) Summonning mechanics
      2) Barter mechanics

    5. Heh. Since first reading about Knightmare, I got the old itch again and fired up Grimrock 2. I'm on my third playthrough and about burned out again, but it's been a good ride. I haven't actually played DM yet, and haven't been big on the blobbers in general, but Grimrock really hits a sweet spot for me. Given the release date I don't have much hope of seeing that one reviewed in my lifetime, but it's on my short list of games I'd like to see the Addict play.

  9. Congrats on making it through this one. The map of that last quest is literally insane. I guess I prefer at least some level of verisimilitude / reality to my fantasy RPG dungeons!

    Based on the few that I've tried, I find the DM style games sit in a hybrid area between tactical RPGs and true action RPGs that I just don't find enjoyable, even though I like both of those categories. It seems to me that designers of DM games really wanted to make full action RPGs, but the technology just wasn't there yet in the early 90s to make that possible.

    1. I'd say the DM line has led to two separate lineages of full blown action RPGs, though both through Ultima Underworld. On one hand, you have Elder Scrolls, which came through that lineage. On the other, you have Dark Souls, which is descended from Ultima Underworld via the King's Field series.

    2. Probably the desire to make action rpgs was at the fore, though the grid-based system has a certain charm of its own, as Grimrock fans will attest.

      I think full 3D action RPGs started coming out on the PC first. The Amiga and probably other systems had difficulty doing real 3D, even though in the early 90s they could do some stuff better than the PC. Whereas the DM style played to their strengths.

    3. Not sure Ultima Underworld can be considered part of the DM lineage. DM showed Neurath that first-person perspective was an immersive way to approach dungeons, but any connection beyond that seems scant.

      UU's closest thing to a predecessor is probably Neurath's previous game 'Space Rogue' - originally intended to be some sort of Ultima in Space title. They shared an engine and Space Rogue encouraged Neurath to attempt a greater marriage of simulation and RPG.

      Interestingly, that would make Space Rogue parent to two influential lineages (the other being Wing Commander)

    4. When Neurath wrote his own recollection of the creation of Ultima Underworld,here is what he said:
      "Some of my favorite games at that time were the classic CRPGs, such as the Wizardry and Ultima series. I can fondly remember playing the original Wizardry with a group of friends huddled around an Apple II. However, with their abstract visuals, these games required a bit of imagination to achieve suspension of disbelief. In the latter 1980's a game called Dungeon Master was released on the Amiga. While the game play was fairly standard fare, its first person 3D perspective, with detailed bitmapped walls and animated sprite monsters, had more impact and immediacy than prior CRPGs. This game provided a glimpse into the future.

      After finishing Space Rogue for Origin in 1989, I decided to try my hand at a traditional fantasy CRPG game, but with a new approach that would bring even more immediacy than Dungeon Master. I wrote a high level game design for what was then simply called Underworld, and contracted with Doug Wike, an x-Origin artist, to do concept artwork. It seemed promising."


    5. Yep, and he said in another interview:

      "the concept for Underworld first came up in 1989, after I had finished a game called Space Rogue for Origin. Space Rogue took the first, tentative steps in exploring a blend of RPG and simulation elements, and this seemed to me a promising direction. However, I didn't like the jarring way that Space Rogue took the player from the simulation of flying around, which was done in 3D, to the RPG play, which was done with traditional top-down 'tile' graphics. I felt that there ought to be a seamless way to meld these elements, and thereby create a more immersive experience."

    6. Interesting interview quotes! I was specifically thinking of Ultima Underworld when I made my initial comment. In an alternate world where UU came first, I'm not sure if we would have had any DM-style games.

      How many DM-style games came out after UU? I can only think of Lands of Lore and Grimrock, although Grimrock seems more like an appeal to nostalgia. (I haven't played Grimrock, so I apologize to any fans if it brings a lot of new things to the table!)

    7. Eye of the Beholder 3 came out after UU, which, AFAIK, is a DM-style game.

    8. Don't forget Stonekeep, that came out after UU.

    9. I can also think of Menzoberranzan and Descent to Undermountain.

    10. I think King's Field was correctly identified as descending from this lineage in an earlier thread.

      Debatably Anvil of Dawn, as well.

    11. Very sorry to double post, but I forgot all about System Shock, which is an absolute classic and very much in the same vein.

    12. System Shock (and Deus Ex and BioShock) are direct UU lineage. Though BioShock's inheritance is thematic rather than mechanical.

      Strahd's Possession/Stone Prophet/Menzoberranzan are a bit hard to find information for, but I'd guess they are an evolution of EotB (and hence DM lineage) but that Wolfenstein and UU's success had lead to a new possibility of representing first-person dungeon exploration - So we were now getting blobbers without the blobbing!

  10. It takes a certain state of mind to battle ones way through 'masterpieces' like this one.
    Well done.
    Also: Are you mad?! Well you certainly will be when this is over.

  11. Which of Knightmare or Wizardry IV is more challenging? I took a look back at your Wiz4 posts and didn't see a difficulty rating, but it did sound just as frustrating as Knightmare.

    1. Maybe equal but for somewhat different reasons. I don't know--I might have wussed out of W4 too soon. I didn't have as much fortitude back then.

    2. I am pretty sure you quit Wizardry IV way too soon. The Endgame is not only very difficult, if you don't know what you're supposed to do (and which items to keep) most endings can't be reached. And then there's the Grandmaster Ending...

      If you want to retry Wiz4 or just read what you missed out, here's a good view on what you left out:

    3. Oh and by the way, this got certainly made shortly AFTER your playthrough, going by this little gem of an entry:

      The first clue, the one we've just received, recently provoked a strong reaction in a certain CRPG blogger:

      CRPG Addict posted:
      &*$# the "oracle," who took 2,500 of my gold to tell me that "the egress will set you free." Oh, really?! The exit is the way out? Who would have guessed?

  12. For the plate that you had to throw the spanner on, was there any indication or note that it had something to do with "works"? I ask, because I think the British have a saying "throw a spanner in the works" (equivalent to "throw a wrench in the works") and that may have been a clue with some cultural dependencies.

    1. That's what I immediately thought when I read about the spanner - and I'm not even a native English speaker! I guess the BE/AE divide makes itself felt in many more ways than my old English teachers back in school ever thought...

  13. A first time commenter, a loooong time reader here (thanks to the awesome finnish game magazine 'Pelit-lehti') Thank you Chet for suffering through this dreg. Always been interested in the game due to my long time fandom and appreciation for the original DM. I just never could bring myself to conquer the Amiga-emulation hurdle. A deep thank you and a handshake from me to you Chet for this greatest of blogs also. It has given me so much through the years. Best regards, Ile

  14. Not only do they have spells that age you, cripple you, and turn you into a moron

    For a moment I wasn't sure which of the active games we were talking about here.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Hi!
    Congratulation! I nearly finish that great game in the past playing just solo.
    Few of my screenshots:

  17. BTW, i have a webpage with most of Amiga RPG games at one place, packed in to simple Windows installer so called "HWA". I also prepared 200+ Amiga games for HWA. I spend a lot of time in the past on that project. To play such games , there is no need to configure anything in the emulator, just double click on the icon. It is completelly free, but i do not known if it is ok to post the link here...

  18. There is a reason all those games are called DM-clones: Dungeon Master is the apex and nothing has ever beaten it.

    The puzzle density, pacing and the complexity made out of a quite simple engine is unbeaten. There are dungeon crawlers with more complex puzzles, but either they are out of game riddles (like giant crosswords) or surprise you with a total new mechanic. In DM, you have seen all mechanics after the first 2 levels, but still the game manages to challenge and surprise you all the time. There are epic fights (I think the dragon in the end has like 2000 HP and many walkthroughs tell you to just skip it), but they don't overdo it. And you can kill the dragon by jumping down a pit on him or lock him away, so there's even multiple solutions.

    There are other enjoyable dungeon crawlers, but DM is a class of its own. The fact that it had to be compressed to a single DD disk rather helped the game, because it forced the developers to focus and to cut everything which doesn't improve the game (there are even a few leftovers). After DM, hard discs came around and no future game even had such limits (EoB came on 2 or 3 HD discs).

  19. I’ve beaten Knightmare without help! No, really! I though it was bullshit hard (like how nearly every enemy can beat you to a pulp in a straight-up fight), but I think it's kinda reassuring to know that Chaos Strikes Back is actually easier than this... I thought that I was nearing the end with the fourth quest, not knowing beforehand how tough it would be. It did feel like slogging in a swamp uphill all the way...

    1. I'm glad to hear you confirm that it was very hard, at least.

  20. I'm surprised you didn't rank this one higher graphically. This is got to be the best looking game released at this time, except maybe a few adventure games. Could be it just reminds me a bit of H.R. Giger, which has always been a plus in my book.

    1. 6 is about the highest that a game of this era could get. Sure, the graphics are great for the time, but I have to leave room for the advances we see in the next 25 years. That goes for sound, too.

    2. Don't get me wrong, I get where you're coming from, but good 2D graphics tend to age less than, say, good 3D graphics. I guess there's improved animation in that time, but nobody ever really did anything for RPGs in animation that made me go, "wow, that's really nice". Arbitrarily removing points for graphics seems oddly counterproductive in my opinion

    3. Clearly, I can't make myself understood on this particular category.

    4. I can't speak for anyone else, but I've never really been clear on the criteria you use for graphics, and the GIMLET page isn't that much help. Sometimes it seems as though you view graphics as a category in which "progress" is intrinsic, making it absurd that an older game could possibly compete with the Skyrims of the world. But that (inherently presentist) attitude would seem at odds with other aspects of your rating system, in which you seem more willing to engage games on whatever terms applied at the time of release, or in any event to view each game as a world unto itself that stands or fails based on its internal cohesion and enjoyability (I won't vouch for the exact phrasing I've used there but I think you know what I mean).

      I personally would have expected that you'd evaluate graphics based on the extent to which they further immersion. In that case there really wouldn't be anything about the graphics in newer games that inherently puts them on a higher footing than older games, since (among other things) it's so routine for newer games to make aesthetically horrible decisions that break immersion, while the stylized graphics of older games allow for immersion through imagination -- something that becomes impossible when you know exactly how the princess/dragon/wizard whatever looks, and how they look is utterly stupid.

      So yeah, I guess I think the graphics in a game like Ultima IV really do deserve a better rating than many recent games I've seen, because they're better at doing their job: pleasurably immersing me in the game world, while maintaining gameplay functionality. But that's just me.

    5. (To be clear, when I say "But that's just me" I mean exactly that, and am not prescribing how anyone else should rate games -- though of course I can still be bemused by someone else's criteria.)

      (And I do mean bemused, not amused.)

    6. I'm simply not going to engage with a commenter who accuses me of "arbitrarily removing points." Nothing I do is arbitrary, and the GIMLET is an additive scale, so there's nothing to remove. I value your comments, PK, so I wish you hadn't come along to add credibility to this particular form of the discussion.

      I'm working on a permanent GIMLET page in which I hope to clarify this issue, but I'm sure there will be people who continue to see this category as "graphics" alone despite its title and who expect me to rate games based on how good they were "for the time" despite the GIMLET never having worked that way.

    7. I wouldn't have suggested that if the way you phrased it didn't imply it. I didn't mean offense any more than you did. Perhaps a soft cap would've been a better phrase. And perhaps best-looking for the time was perhaps another poor choice on my part. Since I'd genuinely call nice looking compared to a lot of later games. And I did forget that sound was also included in the category. So, I hope you will forgive me accidently being a huge knob.

    8. I'm certainly looking forward to see that page, just like PK Thunder I sometimes stare at this particular point in GIMLET and can't make head or tails from it. Not that I disagree with your or have any strong opinion how it should work, it is just that I don't understand what it represents. So such a page with explanation how you assign points in this category will be much appreciated.

      And once again thank you for a great blog!

  21. I hear you, but note that considering future advancements Skyrim is 3 AT BEST :)


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