Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Quarterstaff: Knock on Wood

An early encounter.
       
I was keeping a good schedule for a while, but a game like Quarterstaff was destined to break the pace. I've been very busy with work in early December, trying to wrap up some projects so I can take my usual mid-December to mid-January vacation. If I'd been playing something light and uncomplicated during this time--some Ultima or Wizardry clone--I probably could have kept on with regular entries.

A text adventure like Quarterstaff is another matter. It doesn't lend itself to playing on-the-go. I find myself needing two monitors to accommodate all the tools I use to play it: the emulator, a draft blog entry going in Firefox, the game documentation, a mapping program, and a notepad. Perhaps more important, it requires the concentration inherent in adventure games. You can't just blast down a corridor killing orcs and then solve an occasional button puzzle; you have to carefully map, annotate items and encounters, and think through puzzles. There are times that I'm just not in the mood for that.
      
Part of the game map so far.
      
So far, I've mapped all or most of what I think is the first level. (I'm using Trizbort, which works great. Thanks, Iffy and Teknefer!) The only way I can find to move on from here is a "Spiral Death," and I haven't yet found a way to navigate it without getting hurt. This is what I can report from multiple forays through the first level:

There are one billion items. I have no idea what to do with all this inventory. Some of the rooms just have piles and piles of stuff. By the end of the level, I was juggling this list: berserker sword, black potion, blanket, broadsword, bronze key, coin, copper bracers, curvy dagger, deerskin boots, elven gourd, food ration, gnarly club, gold brooch, hot poker, identify wand, inlaid book, iron key, leather gloves, leather braces, leather headband, match, old ring, old scroll, ornate ring, parchment, potion of sleep, pretzel, quiver, ransom note, red garnets, redwood staff, resin torch, ruby ring, rye bread, scarab of insanity, silk pouch, sleep potion, small lantern, small leather pouch, small potion, small torch, soft leather bag, steel rapier, tarnished key, teleport potion, thick potion, tinderbox, wax blob, wax candle, wooden ring.
  
Some of the many items in a single room.
     
Perversely, a lot of the corridors are narrow and won't let you through if you have a heavy inventory. My assumption is that many of these items are just for flavor, like all the junk lying around a typical Elder Scrolls room, or at least optional, such as some of the weapons. (There's no way that I can tell to determine relative damage and accuracy levels among weapons.) 

It was late in my exploration that I found an "identify wand" and even later that I learned how to use the tools that came with the game to figure out the magic code words required to activate the wand and identify potions, rings, keys, and other wands. It involves putting a coin in the middle of a paper diagram, rotating it according to instructions on the paper, and following a path of letters. It's not all that different from the "codewheel" that came with the first two Gold Box games. Now that I know how to use it, it might help me identify some other items.
      
Rotating the "coin" image on top of a "parchment" to find keywords. I'm doing this in PowerPoint.
      
There's not much in the way of plot exposition. I suppose that may come on other levels, but so far I haven't learned a damned thing about the Tree Druids and why they disappeared. Part of the problem is a lack of meaningful ways to interact with NPCs. You can SMILE at them and GREET them but not interrogate or ask complex questions. Thus, when I run into a "chief torturer" and a "druid guard" hanging out together in an early room, I'd like to know what's going on, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do except fight them. Same goes for an "insane druid" and a "wild wizard" encountered later.

Even the PCs don't interact with each other. The first character, Titus, encounters the second, Bruno, in an early room. The third, Eolene, is rescued from a cell. None of them has any dialogue when they meet. They just smile and nod at each other repeatedly until they finally join Titus's party.

There are a few plaques, inscriptions, tapestries, and books that offer poems alluding to the deeds of various druids. If they have any significance for the main plot, the meaning is cloaked in thick language and obscure references. In their use of proper names, the developers drew from several Welsh texts, including the Triads and the Mabinogion. There are references to two Briton bards: Taliesin and Llywarch Hen. One bit of verse mentions Llwch Llenlleawg, a Welsh hero who has been suggested as a early incarnation of Lancelot. They're all cute, but so far they don't add up to much.
         
This passage about Dremhidydd is drawn directly from the Welsh Triads.
         
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be killing things. Role-playing citizens in a land of druids has made me cautiously pacifistic. There are four potential combats on the first level: a chief torturer and a druid guard, a huge spider, an insane druid, and a wild wizard. But I don't think I really have to kill any of them. The wild wizard doesn't pre-emptively attack you. He just picks up items that you probably want and runs off. The insane druid is only insane because he's holding a berserker sword. You get nothing from killing the huge spider, and the path he's blocking can be circumvented.

As for the chief torturer and his druid guard, that's an interesting encounter. It's one of the earliest in the game. At first, I tried just killing them in regular combat, but after a few rounds, the chief torturer would always manage to close his manacles around Titus's arms and immobilize him. After a few attempts, I realized that I could pre-emptively close the same manacles around the torturer's arms, and moreover close a pair of thumb screws around the druid guard's thumbs, incapacitating them both. This allows me to mercilessly kill them, but also to loot their items without killing them--at least, some items. I'm not sure if the others are necessary. One of the items I can't loot while the guard is alive, for instance, is a Scarab of Insanity. But maybe I don't need it, as all it seems to do is change the sex of the wearer. My characters, incidentally, make absolutely no comment when this happens to them. They really are pretty mellow druids.
      
Giving the torturers a taste of their own medicine.
      
Combat is otherwise pretty boring. I type KILL HUGE SPIDER for Titus and MIMIC (which is like "ditto") for the other two and watch the results. Most of my attacks miss. I type REPEAT for all three the next round. And the next. Eventually the spider is dead. Maybe there are more options later with magic and the use of items and such. 
      
Trading blows in combat.
      
Puzzles are light. I talked above about the complexity of adventure games and how you have to pay attention. In the case of Quarterstaff, this is more hypothetical than actual. So far, the puzzles have been easy. You need a couple of obvious keys to open doors. A hidden door is found behind a tapestry. A lever opens another hidden door (though a second lever opens a trap). I've only flagged two squares with "things I can't figure out," including a shrine with a sarcophagus I can't open (though maybe I'm not supposed to) and a conspicuous "protruding brick" I don't know how to manipulate.
  
Maybe I should let this druid rest in peace.
    
I hate the windows. Last time, I noted how Mac games often use the conventions of the Mac interface including multiple windows that the user can size and position. I stopped short of praising this element, and I'm glad I did. I've come to hate the damned windows. I can't get any configuration to work well. Finally, when I started mapping in my own application, I just hid the automap, expanded the text window, and played it like a straight text adventure. That, however, doesn't stop unwanted and unnecessary graphic windows from coming to the forefront every time a particular room triggers them.
    
This frigging' window pops up every time I enter a passage. I can guess by now what a passage looks like, thanks.
    
RPG elements are almost non-existent. My weapon proficiencies have increased slightly from use, but I suspect that these improvements will end up playing a small part in the game.

Logistics have not yet played a role. The manual promises that half the battle is keeping your party fed, watered, rested, and in possession of light sources. The latter has come up once or twice when someone falls in a hole and leaves the others in the dark, but so far no one has complained of hunger, thirst, and fatigue. I've found several items of food and a couple places to drink, too. Maybe it's just a really long game and I've barely started.

Aside from all of this, the game keeps annoying me by splitting my party without asking. Every time I do something that causes one character to get left behind (e.g., two characters can fit down a hallway but the third can't), the game automatically creates two parties with two leaders, switching back and forth between them. You have to specify some action for each leader each round, but usually I just have one party trying to get back to the other, and I just want the other to stand still. It's hard to explain without playing, but trust me: it gets confusing and irksome fast.

All I can tell you about the plot is that the Tree Druids' colony seems to be largely deserted. I had to step over a previous adventurer's body as I entered. The chief torturer and druid guard seemed to be getting ready to ply their trade on Eolene before I killed them and freed her from her cell. No telling where they came from; it's hard to believe that the peaceful Tree Druids employed a "chief torturer" before all the trouble started. No one is in the main chambers, banquet hall, or shrine hall except an insane druid with a berserker sword and a "wild wizard" who seems to be searching for something.
    
The wizard has a "ransom note," but I don't know if he's the writer or recipient.

In some ways, it's probably good that I haven't made much progress in the game. By next week, I'll be home for the holidays and in a much better place to enjoy it, if it is indeed enjoyable. I'll probably start completely over then and may have a better experience.

*****

List note: I've decided that the upcoming Quick Majik Adventure isn't enough of a game to bother playing on this blog. It's a demo version of a longer game called Majik Adventure which no longer seems to exist. I'd be happy to play the full thing if someone can find it, but the "Quick" version starts you at a high character level and just lets you explore one dungeon level. It's not enough to get a sense of the full game or to constitute a game on its own.

36 comments:

  1. It's ironic how text adventures essentially descend from PnP RPGs, yet all of the IF/CRPG hybrids turned out worse that either of the pure genres.

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    1. Text adventures started with one guy's passion for RW cave exploration - the original original Adventure was a pretty realistic depiction of a real cave system with some light exploration puzzles. The P&P RPG elements and most of the puzzles were a later addition.

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  2. Only four games left in 1991! Nice :)

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    1. I'm keeping an eye on the upcoming list, I like how he has topped and tailed 1991 with EOTB games, and I'm very keen to see what game he will choose to open 1992 with! Although Chet did float the idea of just doing the old 1987 stuff until he catches up, have you decided yet Mr. Addict?

      p.s. also looking forward to the upcoming 1987 list to see if he is brave enough to have another attempt at Wizardry 4 (with a more relaxed attitude to saving).

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    2. If it matters, I'd root for finishing the 1987 backlog before pushing into 1992. It's about 50 games.

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    3. I was leaning towards that, but 50 is a lot of games and I don't know if I want to delay the 1992 feast that long.

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    4. On the other hand, I am eager to finish with the back log. I have big plans for things I'm going to do with the blog when I'm no longer operating from two lists.

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    5. Quarterstaff is listed in 1988 as well, so that's one game you can take off. There are probably a good number that won't qualify as an RPG as well.

      Given the choice, I'd like to see you continue interspersing. By the end of 1992 you should be on the same list.

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    6. I really appreciate the different eras, gives more variety.

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    7. I like the alternation as well, and would find it maybe a bit long to wait for 40+ "old" games before moving onwards.

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    8. I'm definitely going to keep alternating between two games, even if they're both from the same year. I like that it gives people longer to digest and talk about the games while taking no more aggregate time to complete them.

      Once I'm operating from a single list, I'll probably try to mix it up every 5th or 7th entry with a special topic, a relook at a prior game, a new attempt to win an earlier game that defeated me, etc.

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    9. I think this is great idea. Because I started to follow this blog later and I tried to read older posts chronologically, I miss now that special topic articles like "My readers spoil me" or "What I learned from CRPG" etc.

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  3. Can anybody let me know the best/easiest way to be able to play this on a Windows 10 PC? I assume emulation but from my googling it seemed super complex to get an Mac set up running... unless I'm just slow.

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    1. https://www.quora.com/How-do-I-play-old-%E2%80%9890s-OS-Mac-games-on-a-Windows-10-Is-this-even-possible

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    2. Also - Addict - where did you get your copy of this? I might want to give it another go before reading more posts. Thanks.

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    3. I can help with this.
      Give me a day or two and I'll put up a Dropbox with everything you need. Just unzip and go.

      If Chet doesn't object, I'll post the link here.

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. No objections at all.

      For me, the process was:

      1. Download the preferred emulator. Unlike most platforms, there are different Mac emulators for different OS versions. It seemed to me that Basilisk crosses the 1988-1993 era easily, so I went with that one.

      2. Surf until you find the appropriate ROM for the OS version that you want to emulate.

      3. Get a bootable hard disk image and a hard disk image with StuffIt Expander installed. These can be the same file or different ones since Basilisk allows you to mount multiple volumes.

      4. Download the game file from the appropriate abandonware site. It will almost certainly be in .sit (StuffIt) format.

      5. Transfer the game file from Windows to the Mac hard drive image with StuffIt expander. I used a separate application called HFV Explorer to transfer files between Windows and the Mac drive.

      6. In the emulator, un-stuff the game file and play it.

      The most difficult part of this process for me was #3, and it's where Arthegall's help was invaluable.

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    6. I'm posting this in the unlikely case it matters later, not simply to nitpick.

      It isn't the different Mac OS versions that determine the different emulators, it is the underlying hardware. Mini Vmac emulates only the very original Macintosh, Basilisk II covers all of the Motorola 68000-based versions, and SheepShaver covers the PowerPC versions. I don't think that this matters much in the long run, as what usually matters is the OS version, but there might be some edge cases.

      If those crop up, all the same drive images from Basilisk should work in SheepShaver, so this isn't a major problem.

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    7. That would be a huge help Arthegall, thanks.

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  4. I've been reading your blog since forever now and plan to do so for eternity (or, at least as long as you DO it!) so please continue your blog for eternity :) You've actually been somewhat of a lifeline during the years following my wife's death. Thank you for being you- it is appreciated.

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    1. Always good to hear from you, William. I'm glad you're still reading.

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  5. Now that your Mac emulator is working will you go back to Shadow Keep? Loved that one as a kid.

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  6. I've decided that the upcoming Quick Majik Adventure isn't enough of a game to bother playing on this blog. It's a demo version of a longer game called Majik Adventure which no longer seems to exist.

    Heh, your resident Mobygames gadfly here apologising for throwing that one in your path. (At least it's no "Girlfriend Construction Set"!) It probably will turn out to be relevant however if you decide to document the developers' "Bob's Dragon Hunt" down the line.

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    1. Had to look up "Girlfriend Construction Set" and it is playable online on one of those old dos game websites. LOL!

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    2. Is that a version of Pygmalion?

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  7. I saw this: "a draft blog entry going in Firefox"
    and thought I'd note that I stopped writing stuff directly in the browser because I've so often lost a complete post when the goddamn session expired and my POST data went into Nirvana.

    Just a thought...

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    1. Yeah, I've lost lots of entries, too. Never for that reason--Blogger is actually quite obsessive about saving every few seconds.

      But nothing I out of the browser works quite right. If I compose in Word or some other text editor with formatting options, it uses slightly different encoding (or whatever the right term is) and I have to spend a lot of time adjusting paragraph breaks and punctuation when I paste it in. If I compose in a plain text editor, I have to spent a bunch of time on formatting once I paste it in, and I inevitably forget to italicize something I wanted italicized.

      I'm sure there are solutions for both issues, but I probably won't implement them even if they're easy. I don't know precisely WHY I won't, but I won't.

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    2. In AD&D I´d say you need a remove curse :)

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    3. With Blogger owned by Google it baffles me that you can't import directly from Google Docs and preserve formatting...

      But yes, I remember all these issues back when my own Blogger sites were active.

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  8. I just noticed Spurgux on the upcoming list. If you need any help with translating from Finnish to English, I’ll be happy to help. I remember playing that one with my friend in the late ’80s and of course we didn’t get very far.

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    1. I appreciate the offer! Would you mind sending me an e-mail (crpgaddict@gmail.com) so I can get in touch with you if I need it?

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    2. THAT game is on the list? Oh, holy hell, please no... XD

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  9. I thought Taliesin is the male robot voice in Fallout 4 and Legion in World of Warcraft.

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