Friday, December 15, 2017

Game 273: Spirit of Adventure (1991)

     
Spirit of Adventure
Germany
Attic Entertainment Software (developer); Starbyte (publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST; 1992 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 12 December 2017

Spirit of Adventure is a potentially-enjoyable title from the minds and hands of Hans-Jürgen Brändle and Guido Henkel, two developers at the cusp of fame. They had cut their teeth on Drachen von Laas (1991) and would soon find renown with the Realms of Arkania series, which uses an update of Spirit's interface.

Sprit was originally released in German, and like many German games of the era, it shows a heavy Bard's Tale influence, particularly in the graphics, the layout of the city, and the approach to combat. But it also shows an awareness of Legend of Faerghail (1990) and has similar elements to Antares (1991), published the same year (I'm not sure which came first). In my experience so far, it makes small improvements on its sources.

The backstory is sketched in the manual and fleshed out as you explore and talk with NPCs. The game is set in the world of Lamarge. The planet's first civilization turned its back on their creators and destroyed itself. The survivors are in the process of re-building and re-discovering old magics. Society is governed by the Cult of Knowing, which studies and makes use of the power of magical runes. The Cult's power is being threatened by the Fraternity of Dreamers, dedicated to trafficking a highly-addictive drug called Opitar. An estimated 20% of the population is addicted, crime is rampant, and "the very fabric of society is endangered." A group of adventurers have been commissioned to track down the source of the drug and stop the machinations of the Dreammaster, the elusive leader of the Fraternity.
     
Rowena, head of the Cult in the starting city, lays it all out. I don't think the runes on her robe actually spell anything.
      
The player assembles a party of six characters. Races and classes are mostly original, though drawn from familiar themes. There are basically four classes, though the male and female versions of the classes have different names (something we saw previously, to some degree, in Faerghail). Warriors and Amazons are the fighting classes, magicians and goddesses the spellcasters, and priests and fairies the clerics. Samurais and banshees serve as warrior/priests.

Races are described in terms of attributes but not appearance, and from the portraits everyone seems to be human. Odinaries are a Nordic race, hardy, clumsy, and stupid. Tidicians are forest barbarians, strong and healthy but ugly and clumsy. Dyce come from cities and have high marks in intelligence and magic. Finally, Allays live in smaller towns and are weaker, but with high charisma and intelligence.
     
Creating a "goddess" character.
      
The races mostly affect the attributes, which are randomly rolled by the computer: body, mind, magic, strength, dexterity, IQ, and charisma.
     
The party starts in Moon City. The city's "monastery" serves in the same fashion as the "adventurer's guild" of Bard's Tale. Only here can you save the game and create new characters. New characters start with a paltry selection of equipment.
     
The monastery is kind of like the "town hall" of Lamarge.
    
The "principal" of the monastery has some words before the party departs. In Moon City, the principal's name is Rowena.

I spent most of the first session simply exploring Moon City, which is a large 32 x 32. Like The Bard's Tale, it has a few important locations mixed within dozens of private homes. Spirit has a fun selection of graphics and NPC comments for those private homes, but you have to try all of them because the essential locations aren't obvious from the outside. 
     
He's awfully polite given that I interrupted his dinner.
This guy is more to the point.
      
The game is graphically more sophisticated than The Bard's Tale, showing details like flower boxes, hung laundry, and carts in front of the homes. Each street and square has a unique name, which is also a fun touch.
  
A shirt dries outside a house on Ordain Boulevard.
     
Key locations are scattered throughout the city and I haven't been able to visit them all yet, partly because there's both a day/night cycle and a day of week cycle that keeps some locations closed. So far, I've found several taverns, a weapons shop, an armor shop, a general goods store, a magic shop, a healer, a thieves' guild, a seer, and a mage who recharges crystals. Thus far, I haven't spent much money.
     
It will be a while before I can afford anything at the magic shop.
What kind of a world closes its taverns on hump day?
       
In one fairly significant improvement over its sources, Spirit of Adventure features NPCs who respond to dialogue keywords. Some of them occupy fixed homes but others wander the streets. Through experimentation, I found that most of them responded to OPITAR, LAMARGE, CULT, DREAMERS, and ROWENA.
       
Bartenders and named NPCs respond to keywords.
      
The first NPC I encountered was named Corbryn. His portrait looked like Oliver Hardy. He offered me a book called Monas Hieroglyphica for 500 gold pieces, and because I misinterpreted my total gold piece reserve as just an individual character's, I thought I had plenty, so I bought it. I couldn't find anything to do with it in my inventory. Later, I met him again in a different part of the city, and he protested that it wasn't his fault that I don't know how to read hieroglyphics, so perhaps the book just exists to get me to waste money. During the first conversation, Corbryn also mentioned that he'd seen a Banshee woman selling Opitar in the city.
     
Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into.
       
I found the Banshee, Grishna, elsewhere on the streets. She offered to sell me some Opitar for 1,000 gold pieces, far more than I have.
      
She also had an oddly angry reaction to a question about Elfrad.
      
In a house, I met Yakka Deepshaved, whose portrait is clearly based on Sean Connery in Highlander. He said he was an elf, which I didn't even know was a race in this setting. He said he'd tell me the name of the head of the Cult of Knowing if I could tell him the name of the mayor of the city of Elfrad. I guess I'll have to return after I visit Elfrad. He also mentioned that Rowena likes to roam the city's streets at night.
       
You call that "deep"? You missed at least two spots!
      
In one major departure from The Bard's Tale and most of its clones, combats are somewhat rare in the opening city. There was maybe one every 5-7 minutes. During combat, characters can make a physical attack, a mental attack, or cast a spell (the latter two depending on class). Antares also had the physical/mental distinction, and I wonder if one game influenced the other. I'll naturally have more on combat in a later entry.
     
Trading blows with some witches and goblins.
    
My characters get pretty battered from combat, and most of my gold so far has gone to the healer, since neither physical nor mental hit points seem to restore over time.
     
This guy is eyeing a second home in Santa Barbara because of me.
        
None of the characters start with spells. I have to create them later in a "rune temple." I'm not sure if the magic system has anything to do with the slate of Futhark runes on the left side of the screen, or otherwise what they're telling me.
Also a bit of a mystery is the nature of character development.  You get experience for combat, but to actually level up you have to visit a "mysterious place" somewhere in Lamarge. Supposedly, leveling up improves statistics and allows you to acquire new skills. Every character starts with one magic skill, selected at random I think. I'm not sure if they work automatically or if there's some way to call on them. Some of the skills my characters have aren't described in the manual.

The interface isn't the best. Much of the time, you can select a menu option by pressing the associated number or first letter, but sometimes the developers didn't translate them from German. Any time the game asks "yes/no," for instance, and you want to say yes, you have to press "J" for ja. There's no clear command to "use" inventory items, so I'm not sure how that works. Trading items between characters requires more strokes than it should, and I keep having to look in the manual about how to do it. There appears to be no keyboard shortcut to view a character's inventory (you have to double-click on the portrait), but oddly you have to use the keyboard to get out of the inventory with an undocumented "Q," presumably for "Quit." [Edit: I missed some keyboard shortcuts. They exist, but they require CTRL.] There's no armor class statistic and thus no easy way to see the relative protection offered by armors.
     
My Amazon. This is a useful screen, but there's no obvious way to leave it.
     
There's a navigation issue that I don't know how to describe. When you stand next to a building or door, from the side it looks like you're immediately adjacent to it. But when you turn to face it, it appears that you're one square away. You have to advance to the door and then advance again to enter. If you only advance once, then turn, the game moves you one square away again. It's not crippling, but it takes some getting used to.

Before I wrapped up this session, I took one of the four exits from Moon City and found myself on a top-down overland map. Presumably I'll find other cities and dungeons here. I have no idea how big the game is. It would be nice if not all the maps were so big.
        
The overland world of Lamarge.
       
Before I forget, I need to thank a reader named Jan for providing me with a spoiler-free English version of the manual and for otherwise doing some initial scouting on the game and its versions. Apparently, the C64 version is a travesty that we'll have to later explore.
        
My map of Moon City.
       
"The Bard's Tale but with more plot, Ultima-style dialogue, and fewer combats" sounds like a great game, and I look forward to seeing how this one shapes up. I could see it becoming very hard, with no clear way to level up and nowhere to save except the monastery. By next time, we'll know.

Time so far: 4 hours

****

SSI's Realms of Darkness was supposed to be Game #273, but I can't get any version working. Every C64 version I download insists that there's something wrong with the disk drive when I boot the game. Every Apple II version allows me to create characters but then complains that "characters exist" already on the adventure disks and gives me no ability to delete them. If you've ever gotten the game running and can educate me on how, I'd love your help. Until then, I think I have to list it as "not playable."

52 comments:

  1. Everything can be selected by keyboard and mouse. Check your manual, it has lots of keyboard shortcuts listed at the end. To select an inventory by keyboard, press Ctrl-E. To leave the inventory by mouse, press the tiny box in the top left corner.

    And don't worry, the game isn't very large.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also important keys are "," and "." that allows you to speed up/slow down the battle messages.

      Delete
    2. Okay, yeah. I somehow missed some of the latter sections when I copied the text out of Notepad. Thanks.

      Delete
  2. I think, you got only one half of the manual. One is about characters and such, the other have a full list of keyboard commands.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SdAjr4127f_CF94TglHQBJ-NPzsocUqf/view?usp=sharing

    Here it is.

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  3. I'm not sure if the magic system has anything to do with the slate of Futhark runes on the left side of the screen
    It does, you combine 3 runes to learn a spell.
    Both the rune temple and the castle where you level up (don't remember the name) are overworld locations.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting! I used to play the Dark Eye trilogy a lot as a kid but have never heard of this one. The interface and graphical style look quite similar, although the Dark Eye games switch to a tactical Gold Box style combat system, IIRC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it looks like a crude version of "Schicksalklinge", the font gave me flashbacks...



      Delete
  5. I used to play this game as a kid - but I got bored after a couple of hours as I did not take good notes. So I cheated and gave my chars some million XP - which resulted in a nice screen telling me the party is powerful like the gods or some-such (I don't remember it in detail). If you could not amass enought XP during a normal walkthrough you should try this after you've won.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I played this game as a kid - liked it a lot, but never completed it because I found it too difficult. Partly because one can only save the game in the monastery/cloister; but from what I've been reading on your blog, you impose some such rule on yourself anyway.

    Please feel free to delete since I don't know what you consider spoilers here: the map you mentioned at the end is going to be the one and only overland map. There will be a few more cities, and very few dungeons. I read somewhere that the developers had planned more, indeed had planned the game to be part of a series located in one more complex world, but it never came to be.

    I also remember where you can find the place to level up your characters (Castle Attic), but I don't know whether you want me to state this.
    Also, a hint: while traveling the overland area, you can "search" at any given place. Presumably by pressing 'S'? Not sure. In any case, when you do that, you can run into monsters, but you can also find more runes for creating spells in the temples (found on the overland map).
    When I played this as a 13 year old kid, I did not manage to create a single spell because I could not figure out any of the proper combinations.

    I am a fan of your blog, and I look forward to more posts on this game in particular, which brings back many memories. I really liked it, but I also *loved* Legend of Faerghail, to which you had only mixed reactions, so I would not expect you to grow very fond of this one.
    Also, feel free to ask any German translation questions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ROT13 nächs­tes mal

      Delete
    2. As stmp suggests, telling me "feel free to delete" doesn't really help since I'LL have already seen the spoilers before I make that decision. Did you think I cared about spoilers because my READERS might see them?

      In any event, these aren't so bad, so don't worry about it. I might not have even minded if you'd said explicitly where that leveling up place is. I'm not telling you to do that, you understand, just saying that if you had, it wouldn't have been so bad.

      Delete
    3. Ups, yeah that makes sense :)
      Let me know if you do want me to say explicitly where the leveling up place is.

      Delete
    4. Thanks, but I was able to find it legitimately.

      Delete
  7. kkarpfen: the similarities you mention are not accidental; the developers of SoA subsequently developed the DSA trilogy.

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  8. Re SSI's Realms of Darkness : there seems to have been some heavy copy-protection involved, see http://www.lemon64.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13190&sid=02a878c2d1fda529539b9a26fd259f97 for details.Link to the .G64 files here : ftp://8bitfiles.net/gamebase_64/Games/r1/REALMSD0_12270_02.zip

    I did a test run with WinVice 3.1 (the "x64" program, less picky than "sc64")and it at least let me watch the intro.In a bit of a rush to get to the salt mines in a bit, so,alas, no time to investigate further. Main thing is to have "true drive emulation" turned "ON".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Someone else said that. I do have true drive emulation on, but I can't get ast a "disk error!" message, and I did download the GB64 version.

      Delete
  9. You should see your talents on the character screen, and they are activated there by clicking on them. Once a talent is active, you see it as a small symbol on the character portrait in the main screen. Only an activated talent has any effect, and each character can only have one talent active - so later on you have to choose.

    All 24 talents should be described in the manual, and they are usually very helpful, so use them all the time. I think there are two exceptions with talents that have a negative side effect, so you may switch them off in favour of another talent from time to time.

    Priests have talents that heal health and psy for everyone, but it's very slow.

    Coming from the Realms of Arcardia games, I had a hard time getting into this game, but it grew on me eventually.

    ReplyDelete
  10. That seems interesting! I've played a lot through Realms of Arkania and Star Trail when they came out, altough never finished them, due to a combination of difficulty and just poor game design resulting from adaptation problems of the tabletop RPG (like useless skills, or skills you need in 1 critical place only in the whole game). But I had never heard of that one. I hope it is more "polished", but since it came before, and even by the next games they still had some issues, I anticipate less.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is much less polished than the Realms of Arkania games mostly due to problems with the publisher.

      Delete
    2. Blade of Destiny was a huge improvement over this, and the games play quite differently. Only the towns have a somewhat similar feeling to them (owning to the Bard's Tale heritage, I guess). I quite liked the talent and magic system of SoA, but The Dark Eye licence brought its own skill and magic system. The street names were a nice feature which could have been carried over.

      I'm surprised you found the Realms of Arkania games difficult, though, I found them rather easy and I'm anything but an expert at CRPGs. The unused skills are only a few and there's nothing game-breaking.

      Delete
  11. Is that just a digitized picture of Sean Connery in Highlander? You sure could get away with a lot in those days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wait until you see Batman...

      Guido Henkel (one of the developers) commented that they just picked some images they liked and redrew them as pixel art.

      Delete
    2. That Grishna character reminds a bit of Deanna Troi from Next Generation.

      Delete
    3. Honest question: were scanners available and affordable enough in 1991 that a developer COULD digitize a photograph?

      Delete
    4. Scanners were affordable enough in 1991 that pornographers could digitise a photograph so I imagine developers could too.

      Delete
    5. We're only about 18 months out from live action FMV in videogames at this point, too.

      Delete
    6. Most consumer afordable scanners scanned in back & white and had to be moved by hand over the picture.

      A4 sized scanners existed but the quality was a bit so and so and the price was quite high.

      Good thing I have these old computer magazines lying about ... back in 2001 a 600x1200 resolution A4 scanner costed roughly 100-300€ for comparison Gforce IIMX 32Gb was 150€ or so and canon powershot digital camera was 1300€ and average home gaming computer 1400€ I have to go and look for older magazines but I think you can imagine what a good quality A4 scanners costed in the early 90's

      Delete
    7. There is a question about this in the German interview with one of the developers that captaingrog linked:

      Q: "I'm sure you've often been asked about the graphics, where images and actors from well-known movies were frequently used as models. Were there any legal concerns or problems? In how far do these borrowings reflect your taste in movies?"

      A: "We did this for fun, and because the graphics were all done by hand -- scanners were unaffordable back then, and the Internet did not exist -- we did not have any major fears regarding the legal situation, although we often used movies as models. The images do not really reflect our taste in movies to a large extent because we really just browsed through books and magazines for motives that we liked and that seemed to fit.

      This approach was not unusual in the industry back then, and since video games were a niche topic back then, the movie industry hardly took any notice."

      Delete
  12. I came here to ask if one of the statistics was really called "boy" but on the way here I realised you meant to type "body".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment overlapped with my fixing it.

      Delete
  13. Here's another one for the master list: "Wizzardz & War Lordz". 1985 according to the disk label. Apparently it was believed to have never been published until somebody sent a boxed copy to YouTuber slash collector LazyGameReviews.

    http://www.papergreat.com/2017/12/would-you-like-to-play-game-of-wizzardz.html

    In the same video LGR shows very impressive boxed copies of Star Saga One & Two and also Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess, which seems to be an odd RPG-themed puzzle game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looks like that's going to have to wait until someone bothers to copy and upload the images.

      Delete
    2. Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess is the American version of Kult: The Temple of Flying Saucers. I have both complete in box for the Amiga, and like the music and french weirdness a lot, but I don't think the Addict will do. Neither of them are on the playlist, but they are more like point and click adventures and have no RPG elements.

      Delete
    3. Just to add more trivia, those are games by ERE Informatique, later known as Cryo. So expect a lot of Captain Blood weirdness in there. And the music is by Stephane Picq, of course.

      Delete
  14. That was actually one of my first PC Games that I owned, I never REALLY got far in it though ....

    In the Character Screen there´s a peculiar golden button in the upper right corner, that´s not the "Normal" way to exit or? ... Maybe I never got far in it because I got stuck in the Char screen :D

    ReplyDelete
  15. "Monas Hieroglyphica" is actually areal occult book of renaissance John "007" Dee the court magician of Queen Elizabeth I.
    -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dee

    ReplyDelete
  16. I look at that map and am struck by the level of dedication to this project. Thanks for getting us a taste of these games. I think you are teasing out the greater arc and significance of the art as you go. Very interesting. Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Is this your error in Realms of Darkness?

    DISK ERROR! MAKE SURE DISK IS IN DRIVE,
    DRIVE DOOR IS CLOSED, etc...

    You don't have True drive emulation enabled. Turn it on. You generally need it on for copy protected games to work. In VICE, this is under Settings->Drive settings.

    My copy boots fine with this setting on. The disk filenames look like this:
    realms_of_darkness_s1[ssi_1987](ntsc).g64

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is indeed the error message that I get, but I do have true drive emulation on, both normally and for "autostart." I don't have files of that particular name, though. If you want to .zip and e-mail them to me, they may work where the others didn't.

      Delete
    2. Try setting the C64 type to NTSC in the C64 model settings in VICE. That should work...

      Delete
    3. Still no go, but I'm convinced at this point that it IS something in my emulator settings. Another commenter just sent me his config file, so maybe that will do the trick.

      Delete
  18. https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-2yqh-B253pQ/WjNfABKMoFI/AAAAAAAAkps/u7FQlsr_mSQVq2bTTGZf1B5xddVTZEVCQCLcBGAs/s400/soa_031.png

    He looks a bit like Hans Schultz from Hogan's Heroes.

    ReplyDelete
  19. "Apparently, the C64 version is a travesty that we'll have to later explore."

    It's certainly a strange version. For some reason, they changed the first-person view to an Ultima-style topdown map. The graphics are horrible, and the whole game is extremely slow. It's also only in German, so never really got anywhere with it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the other end of the spectrum, the Amiga version had an intro which the DOS version lacked:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zuv48snZlYA

      Delete
  20. The developers from Attic were under servere pressure by the publisher (Starbyte). Therefore not all features made it into the game as planned, and also the intro didn't get finished for the DOS version.

    The C64 version from Attic also got canceled by Starbyte and instead had it made by an inexperienced team in BASIC.

    Also the Attic team never got fully paid for Spirit of Adventure! So they decided to publish their next games on their own.

    ReplyDelete
  21. An interview with Guido Henkel (one of the developers) from 2014 containing some background information for Spirit of adventure. http://www.wilsonsdachboden.com/2014/11/interview-guido-henkel-uber-sein.html

    It's in german but with a little help of google it may deliver some additional insights.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Will you be revisiting Deathlord for C64?

    ReplyDelete
  23. "Screamer Slice" road? Nice, apparently the devs were fans of Dungeon Master. :P

    ReplyDelete
  24. Do Goddess and Banshee mean something different in German, this is the second time I saw Banshee as a class after Fate and I always think of it as a ghost.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Realms of Darkness on C64 will only work if the emulator is in NTSC mode. Just a heads up :)

    ReplyDelete

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