Saturday, September 23, 2017

Inquisitor: Shade of Swords: Won? (with Summary and Rating)


The winning screen offers an explanation of "the mystery."
      
Inquisitor: Shade of Swords
France
Dan Sureau (developer); Chip (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Amstrad CPC
Date Started:  17 September 2017
Date Ended: 20 September 2017
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 16
Ranking at Time of Posting: 48/263 (14%)

Having reached something of the end of Shade of Swords, my best guess is that it was programmed by a younger developer who wanted to tell an epic story through interactive gameplay but lacked the experience and wisdom to both write a good story and program an adequate game to tell it. The ambitions of the title far exceed its execution, and even at the end, I'm baffled by much of what I experienced.
     
My first party fails to kill the gladiator.
      
After the first session, I started the game over and made a new party in which every character favored physical attributes. If I lowered everything else to 5, I could devote 35 combined points to dexterity, intelligence, and constitution (giving two a score of 12 and one a score of 11). This had no effect on the characters' starting equipment.

I paid more attention to the scores this time to see what caused them to change. "M," representing mental ability or morale, never went anywhere. I can only assume that its uses were never actually programmed into the game. "P" seems to be the traditional hit point total. The top line, "E," seems to be some kind of prediction of how many combat rounds the character will last if he takes the average amount of damage per round. 

I also figured out how healing worked. It had nothing to do with the urns and bones and other weird things in some of the rooms; I guess they served no purpose at all. Instead, health just seems to regenerate as you walk around, but the screen doesn't refresh to reflect the healing until you enter an encounter again. It doesn't take long for health to regenerate--one point every few steps.

With my newly-maxed party, I swept through the dungeon, clearing out the same encounters I'd defeated last time, picking up their equipment and keys. Enemies with keys are always named, it seems. I also discovered that if you choose the "barter" option with friendly NPCs early in the game, they offer health potions.
     
I took this for a ring at first.
    
I defeated the gladiator without too much trouble. I had to drink a couple of health potions during combat, but that was it. If I'd had those potions with the last party, they might have been able to defeat him, too. He had a trident, which I assumed was better than my swords and thus gave to a character.

His key unlocked an area on the second floor that ultimately led me to Crassus himself. I thought Crassus was supposed to be the "bad guy" of the game, but he greeted me with a hearty "salut!" and sold me a key.
      
When asked where he is, Crassus himself says "here or there."
     
At this point, I reached a dead end again. Crassus's key opened a door on the third level, but there was another keyed door just beyond it for which I never found a key.
     
Va au diable!
    
Reading the instructions more carefully, I saw a note that if you choose to end the game with the last icon on the main screen, the game will give you a kind of "epilogue" of your adventures. I didn't notice it last time because you have to rewind the tape and let it cycle to the right track to generate the text.

Ending the game in the middle of the dungeon just produces a note that "four adventurers entered the Tomb of the Gods; none returned." But if you end the game at the same square that you entered the dungeon on Level 1, the game assumes you made it out. When I tried it at this point, I got a screen that said four entered, four made it out, and I had a score of 1/5. "Less than half the elements of this adventure have been discovered."
     
Not quite a winning screen, but at least an ending.
     
Looking over my maps, I figured I must have missed something in the dungeon level. The level otherwise has no reason to exist; the only key I found on the level opened another door on the same level and led to a dead end. Returning, I forced myself to test every wall and found a secret door--the only place in the game where this occurs.
     
This just screams "secret door," doesn't it?
     
It led to a stairway down to a bizarre level where the wall textures indicated futuristic technology. We were immediately greeted by a robot who said to "choose the right path."

I didn't know what that meant, so I saved the game and began exploring. It was a good thing I saved. Many of the doors were labeled with colors: black, gold, and red. I didn't find any pattern to what I found beyond the doors, but a lot of the pathways in the level led to dead ends with bones on the floor and no way to turn around. 
      
Yeah? So?
      
There were otherwise no combats or encounters on the level, but there were a ton of one-way doors and a bunch of rooms that, like Level 1, had objects in them that looked maddeningly like they should be interactable. They included a book, several swords stuck in the floor, something that might have been people hibernating in pods, orbs, a rocket ship, and even a house! None of the commands produced any results in these areas, though.
        
Seriously, what is going on with this? And why does that particular house icon look so familiar?
       
Eventually, I made my way back to the entrance with (I thought) nothing to show for it. But when I checked my party's chest, it turns out they did have a book that they picked up somewhere.

I returned to the starting square at Level 1 and ended the game to see if it would say anything different. Hoo boy. I was presented with several text-heavy screens that presumed to fill in the larger story. Most of it was textual narration of my party's progress through the dungeon itself, starting with some dialogue from the characters:
       
Had Alton led them to the citadel by pure luck, or did he act according to a deliberate design which he had been careful not to unmask?

Alton contemplated with satisfaction the line of attributes on the screen of the computer. "I knew that I was intelligent!" he said.
               
Not in the version of you that I created, Alton.
                            
Elisabeth: "Does God exist? Are we, the poor adventurers of the planet Astul, created by a transcendent and omnipresent entity?"

Jofil: "Since the beginning of this adventure, I've felt that someone is watching us!"

"Anyway, we're going to spend the treasure we've found!" said Eddy.
       
There was no text related to the first level, but the next screen recounted the party's discovery of the secret door in the dungeon:
            
The adventurers arrived in a very dark and empty room. There was no other door except the one they came in. Damn. Where is this famous crypt--the remains of the tomb of the gods? It cannot be found! But one of the party members who had mapped the cellars looked at it and said nonchalantly, "Look there: there is a room and we have not found any door leading to it!"

All that remained was to push the walls of the room in question to find the secret door. They entered a new room. A staircase descended again. They took it and reached a strange room with metal walls. The Crypt of the Ancients!
          
The next screen tried to make sense of that bottom level:
        
The adventurers then meet a robot who saluted them as if he had seen his creators yesterday. Then, according to his program established centuries before, he said in a metallic voice: "Choose the right path." They understood that they had to study all the clues left by the elders to avoid the traps of the crypt. 

In the third room, two doors leading to antechambers offered inscriptions: red, black. "Since we are in the graveyard of the gods, let us prefer black, the symbol of religion, to the red symbol of war." At the back of each room there were two doors that opened onto two antechambers, and they continued to interpret the writings, as they seemed to them to be the path traced by the gods.

The doors of paradise are narrow and in addition you have to choose the right one! They crossed at once a strange room made of alcoves. In each of them was a perfectly preserved body in a glass cage. Are these the gods? The temple of the symbols said we had to await their return from the stars!
          
I think this is what the text is talking about.
            
The last room contains strange machines and incomprehensible documents that they take with them. This room leads directly to the first room of the crypt. They had at last the solution of the mystery of the gods!
          
Finally, the last screen elucidated the so-called "mystery":
      
The "gods" came from an Earth civilization (Earth is not a legend!), the second to travel into space in the 21st century. They built several bases on the planet Astul, the crypt being one of them, on which a city and temple were later built.

Then the planet was cut off from the rest of the galaxy. The inhabitants of the bases took off in an interstellar ship. The ship crashed back onto the planet--goodbye to Earth! Some of the survivors chose to place themselves in a state of hibernation until contact was restored; these are the ones that the adventurers found in the crypt. The others were the ancestors of the inhabitants of Astul.

The last of these originator, when the days of barbarism came, placed in the crypts the traps that you discovered, and a robot to prevent encroachment. And it became the Tomb of the Gods.
     
After all that, the screen then gave me a score of 3/5, suggesting that there was still more to find. Presumably it was behind that locked door on the third level for which I never found a key. 
       
It's as if the author wrote a book first, then decided to make a game.
      
Looking through the game files, I did find two screens that I didn't get at the end. One was titled "LES BRIGANDS" and it depicts the party executing the bandit chief. The second is titled "CRASSUS" and depicts the party killing the character. Perhaps I could have achieved this one if I'd attacked Crassus instead of returning his friendly greeting. I tried returning to his chamber, but it didn't give me the encounter again.

Well, I'm going to call that at least a partial win. It took longer to translate the endgame text than to play the game. As I said, the developer clearly had a story he wanted to tell, and he was going to shoehorn it into the interface, sense or no sense. I guess the question is whether it's an original story. Certainly, it feels derivative of something, but Googling the proper names doesn't produce anything.

As an RPG, it's pretty miserable. The entire dungeon is as big as maybe three levels of Wizardry, and there are only about 10 combats with hardly any tactics. What looks to be a magic system was never finished. There is no character development or leveling despite a "level" statistic, and no use that I can see of most of the character attributes. There are only a couple of equipment upgrades, and for all the thousands of gold pieces you find (in a single batch), nothing to spend it on except a couple of potions and keys.

The graphics and sound are minimal and the interface is inexcusable--the computer you're designing for has a keyboard, people! Pretty much the only thing I can admire is the character portraits; adjusting these to reflect currently-equipped items is rare for the 1980s. I can only think of two other games--The Black Onyx (1984) and Galdregon's Domain (1989)--that do it.

On a GIMLET, I give it a 16, earning the best scores in story and quest (3s). As weird as the whole thing is, this might be the first RPG that offers different text in the endgame depending on what the party accomplished during the game. Everything else gets a 1 or 2.
     
Actual production values were afforded to this weird half-game.
      
From everything I've described, you'd think this was a shareware effort, but in fact Inquisitor (who, by the way, is the "inquisitor" of the title?) got what looks like a reasonably thorough production from its publisher. I don't know much about "Chip" except that it was headquartered in Paris and published a handful of games between 1987 and 1990, including an adventure game based on Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1988) and three strategy games with interesting settings: Joan of Arc: Siege & the Sword (1989), Day of the Pharaoh (1989), and Khalaan (1990). Inquisitor seems to be their only attempt at an RPG, but they thought enough of it to give a name (CLONETRON) to the interface.

Dan Sureau is even more of a mystery. I've found several possible candidates online, including one who died in 2015, but none for sure. I can't find that name attached to any other video games. If any of my French readers have Facebook accounts and want to message the several other candidates on that platform to see if they'll take credit for the game, I would really love to hear from the author. I feel like he owes us some answers.

In case you hadn't had enough of the inscrutable French, Karma, the sequel to Tera, is coming up next. Before then, we'll see if I can make progress in another fantasy/sci-fi hybrid.


32 comments:

  1. The Inquisitor was The Addict all along, though even with all of your inquisitiveness you appear to have departed this game with more questions than answers. Still, it is telling how it essentially has the same end-game reveal that the Might & Magic games do.

    At any rate, I can't wait for more Euro RPGs on this blog. They're scrappy and inscrutable, just how I like 'em. (Though I am looking forward to EotB 2 and more on M&M3 as well.)

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    1. Another very European thing coming up is Spirit of Adventure, for which Guido Henkel (of Planescape: Torment fame) has some credits, and which was developed by Attic (the guys who made the Realms of Arkania series). I'm really looking forward to that! I've played a few hours of Spirit at one point, but didn't get very far in the game. I do remember it fondly, though. Some idiosyncrasies in combat options, and quite the difficulty curve, as well as stuff like street names (and having to find specific addresses in towns) that I've never seen in other crpgs.

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    2. Speaking of Spirit of Adventure, I wonder whether it wouldn't be a good idea to cover Drachen von Laas first, which is by the same team, but was released earlier. Thus it would make a better description of the evolution of Attic.

      Although Drachen von Laas as a German Text-Adventure RPG Hybrid might be too much for the addict's German (just speculation).

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    3. I've never played Spirit of Adventure, but Guido Henkel himself said it's very much inspired by Bard's Tale, so I don't think it's really that European - at least not in the way of these French and British games.

      Guido Henkel is also far less obscure, and there are many interviews with him online - though some in German. That means there is much more background information available.

      I think another Henkel/Brändle is up in 1991 with Drachen von Laas? It is a much older game, but publishing was delayed and it was released after Spirit of Adventure.

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    4. I finished Spirit of Adventure recently and the game promises more than it can deliver. I am sure we will read more about the reasons for that (e.g. publisher fraud) here.

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    5. I've got one comment saying DVL came out before SoA and one comment saying that it came out later. I'll reverse the play order if it matters, but I need a tiebreaker.

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    6. According to my google search Die Drachen von Laas was released the 1st of January, if that's true than it would be first.

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    7. 01.01.1991 sounds like a default value set somewhere.

      I got the information from a Guido Henkel interview that is available online (http://www.wilsonsdachboden.com/2014/11/interview-guido-henkel-uber-sein.html - in German). After the trouble with the publisher they decided to release Drachen von Laas - for which they hadn't found a publisher yet - themselves.

      However, I agree that it would make sense to play Drachen von Laas first. Unless you're strictly going after the publishing date...

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    8. I agree, Buck: no game actually releases on January 1.

      I DO want to play in as organic an order as possible, so I'll replace SoA with DvL on the upcoming list. We're getting close to the end of 1991, so it won't be long before SoA pops up again anyway.

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    9. Oh, god. I just read the description for DvL. I hadn't considered the possibility of a non-English RPG that requires text inputs. And unlike French, I can't even muddle through German. Translating all that text from the screen and having to translate my own inputs...that's going to strain possibility.

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    10. Chet, but... but you can't... you can't skip game just because you don't understand anything!

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    11. Don't forget that the Google Translate app can translate text from a picture you take, so you can capture the screen and get a translation.

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    12. DvL is, where interface is concerned, a text adventure, right? Reviews from when it came out compare it to "good old Infocom" stuff. I'd say skip it. Nobody would want to play a text adventure in a language they don't speak!

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    13. It is, but it also has stats, equipment, combat and levelling. Maybe with some help from users, just enough to get some equipment plus one or two combats? No need to invest too much time, it's easy to see that it was released a few years after its time.

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    14. Another option could be outsourcing. Ask a German reader who played the game to write a guest article about DvL.

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  2. The bit about the computer console and the characters feeling watched made me think there was going to be a neat twist where they realize they're the characters in a game. You could have an interesting experience in a more philosophical game exploring something like that, kind of like The Stanley Parable meets Truman Show, where you have to negotiate somehow with your characters to finish the plot as they become increasingly "self-aware" and autonomous.

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    1. An interesting game that looks at this is The Dark Spire, for nintendo DS, and its inspired by wizardry too.

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    2. I agree that would be interesting, but i wouldn't look to 1987 for such a genre twist.

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    3. Well, no, obviously the technology wasn't there. But the expedient of just throwing a bunch of text at the player as in Inquisitor means the creator could (hamfistedly) make the attempt at least. Plus, you know, French game.

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  3. It seems like some weird mix of Asimov's Foundation and random American sf movies like America 3000.

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  4. What is the earliest story (game, book, film, whatever) to do the fantasy->sci-fi trick by making the world actually a spaceship, or the "gods" aliens, or whatever? This week, Shen Nung at Inconsolable, myself (at superfamicomrpgs) and Chet all finished games that involve this idea, and Chet is also working on M&M3. It seems like game designers really liked this milieu.

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    1. Here are a couple of links for you:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_ship#Social_breakdown

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_astronauts#Hypothesis_origins_and_proponents

      People start thinking about generation ships over the first few decades of the 1900s, then you get Heinlein's "Orphans of the Sky" in '41 (as magazine stories, compiled in a book in the 60s), then in the '50s a series of "the gods were aliens" thinkers emerge -- pre-eminently among them the Swiss Erich von Däniken, who inspires a whole school of thought in Brin's Uplift books.

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    2. An early version of this trope is found in an 1898 newspaper serial novel, "Edison's Conquest of Mars" by Garrett P. Serviss, a kind of fanfic sequel to Wells' War of the Worlds.

      In it, Thomas Edison discovers that the Martians had raided the Earth repeatedly throughout history, and were responsible for the building of the pyramids and the Sphinx (the latter of which is a representation of their leader).

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    3. In this case, though, just like Alternate Reality, it wasn't any kind of "twist." The backstory explicitly said that the game took place on another planet that used to be capable of space travel.

      Might & Magic I is the first game that I know to do this as an actual plot twist.

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    4. On tabletop rpgs probably Metamorphosis Alpha 1976.

      As a child read Galactic Encounters series, which Fantastic Planet (1980) was turns tables to scifi => fantasy genre. Thinking about the setting at later age I guess it ripped off Valerian & Laureline comic "Birds of the Master" from 73-74.

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    5. The concept of an environment that seems like medieval fantasy but actually is at least partly the result of forgotten ancient advanced technology is commonplace in science fiction.

      Jack Vance's iconic _The Dying Earth_ (written around 1950) is of this kind, though with a greater fantasy to science fiction ratio than most. It was hugely influential on later SF. And 'Vancian magic' is often considered to be the main source of the Dungeons and Dragons magic system, which went on to influence the classic CRPGs of the 80s, and in return all or most of those since. (Vancian magic mostly comes from some much later and rather different books in the Dying Earth milieu, plus his medieval _Lyonesse_ fantasy trilogy.)

      Sometimes the tech is not so much forgotten as second-nature to the narrator, who does not see any need to point out to the reader that what he describes as a wand of fire is really a laser gun. Gene Wolfe's _Book of the New Sun_ series (from the 1980s) is mostly in this vein - society is largely feudal / faux-medieval due to cooling of the Sun combined with continuous warfare, and the various high tech wonders still available to guilds, aristocracy, visiting aliens and such are described in terms more consonant with a fantasy novel.

      I think stories like these - there are many others - probably had a huge influence on the games of this era. The mixture of magic and technology will seem much less strange to those who have read a fair amount of such literature.

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    6. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks definitely comes to mind, and that was published just a few years prior to these CRPGs.

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    7. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was based on an earlier game, Metamorphasis Alpha, which was based on a really terrible novel.

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  5. This game is begging for a 2019 remake.

    ^_^

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  6. Hi, thanks for your reviews, the author of this game is the same as les templiers d'orven :)

    Cheers,

    Blood

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    1. Well, that's interesting. Do you know the name of the author? Or can you otherwise tell me how you know that?

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  7. You already know that, it's Dan Sureau :)

    About Chip, this is a small studio founded to make games on Thomson Mo5, a french computer and they folling dawn with the transition 8/16 bits like others (Hewson, Spanish studios, System 3...). Chip never be a great french studio and there games, even so in france, are notorius known to be creepy games, especially about gameplay.

    I've discover your blog many weeks ago because i'm currently working on video reviews on YT about french RPG games since 1984 to... today. But not only videos, for each game, i'm make research about author, try to finish game (just try) and in a word, purpose a making off. I don't speak about all the french RPG, only notorious or games i like because there plenty creepy games mades by kids, with kid story and don't maked somehing about the french history of RPG. There are plenty of duplicates too, duplicates of Tyrann or L'Aigle d'Or with just a piece of RPG gameplay. The first video comes this month and after try and read your reviews, i don't think to speak about dan sureau games.

    One last thing about inquisitor script, the author try to tell a story but the fact is, a kid story that's seem like jules cesar from the evangelion planet ride into the universe to earth with a t-rex to kill feary. Don't try to research anything about game title "inquisitor" so. That's frequently why these games don't sell pretty well even so in france and that's why i don't like them.

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