Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Game 289: Seven Horror's (1988)

Or just one if you're a grammar nazi.
           
Seven Horror's
Germany
Motelsoft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1988 for Atari ST
Date Started: 24 May 2018
Date Ended: 28 May 2018 
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at time of posting: 63/294 (21%)
           
Sometimes, when a commenter tells me about a game not on my list, I can pretend I didn't see the comment, and I therefore don't have to add it unless they get really insistent about it. But when a commenter says that I've missed about 20 games, all from the same publisher, as JarlFrank recently did, I can't just ignore it.

The company is the still-extant Motelsoft of Stuttgart, Germany, and the first of its RPG titles is the unfortunately-named Seven Horror's. It is called Seven Little Horrors on the publisher's site, but it drops the "Little" (and adds an unnecessary apostrophe) on its title screen. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any documentation for the game, but the backstory summarized in a magazine indicates that the land is called Timor, evil threatens, and it's up to the party to find seven artifacts and a mysterious key, then confront the purveyor of evil in the Black City.
            
The Black City explains what I need to enter.
        
The twist (and the magazine article doesn't explain this) is that the party is composed of monsters, and if Seven Horror's does one thing well, it's introducing a variety of bizarre character and enemy portraits.
            
Nice of Motelsoft to preload the scoreboard.
        
The game begins with a roster of 10 characters, from which you select 3 to go adventuring. (I don't know if the default roster came with the game or if it's just what's saved on this particular disk image.) You can delete existing characters to create your own.

Races, I'm guessing, were mostly made up by authors of the game rather than reflections of German high fantasy. They are Orge, Thauma, Hunch, Waxor, Gnome, and Megrim. "Orge" is probably a misspelling of "Ogre," "Thauma" perhaps a back-formation from "Thaumaturge" (Thauma itself meaning "miracle" in the original Greek). No idea on "Hunch" or "Waxor." "Gnome" is the only thing recognizable from normal fantasy. "Megrim" means a kind of funk or depression in English, so I have no idea how it translated to a race in a German game.

Gathering a party of my own creation: an Orge magician, a Gnome vampire, and a Thauma devil.

Classes are less bizarre: magician, banshee, devil, vampire, voodooca, and psychic. Each race/class combination gets scores in "vitality" (basically strength, or the damage they do to enemies) and hit points as well as starting values in each of the game's six magic powers, which are the same as the classes (roughly: devils use the "hell" magic power). Magicians naturally start with the most points in magician magic, but they also have some values in psychic, vampire, devil, and voodooca magic. My Thauma devil started with at least some points in all magic.

The game begins on a small overland map dotted with towns and dungeons. It's impossible to distinguish them, so I made some annotations. There are 4 towns, each of which offers a single service: one town to heal, one to save the game, one to level-up, one to swap out characters for others on the roster. The healing town is called "Sandor," which is the name of the next two RPGs from this developer.
                     
My annotations of the game map.
         
There are 14 dungeons, 10 of them displaying a level from 1-10 before you enter. This is presumably to help guide the explorations and prevent inexperienced parties from tackling the toughest dungeons.
Combat comes randomly as you explore, always against individual enemies. It took some getting used to. When it begins, the third character always activates by default, but you can activate the other two by clicking on the "rollers" under their portraits. You can switch characters throughout combat, but you only get one attack per round no matter who makes it.
           
Combat begins with one of the game's inventive enemies.
          
Attacking is all done by magic. Every foe is susceptible to one of the six types of magic, so you have to do a little experimentation the first time you encounter an enemy (and the game doesn't have very many of them), but after that it's just a matter of consulting your notes. Using a type of magic drains your points in that magic type, but you can still use the magic even if you have 0 points. You do a lot less damage than if you have points, but the foes' vulnerabilities are so imbalanced that it's better to attack with 0 points using the right skill than with many points in the wrong one. I'm not sure if the character race or class makes any difference beyond the starting vitality and magic points.
            
Babayaga tries an ineffective attack. An effective one does like 100 points instead of 2.
         
The character who scores the kill gets most of the experience from the combat, while others get 100 experience points for combats in which they didn't participate. The party also gets gold from the encounters, and the amounts are laughably variable. One might deliver 34 gold pieces while the next provides 25,089.

Alas, there's no town that restores magic points. To do that, you have to enter the dungeons. The dungeons are all one level, 29 x 19. The numbered dungeons offer an automap and use the "worm tunnel" convention by which there's always wall space around corridors, and every potential space is filled. Every wall has some kind of monster portrait on it, and a lot of them have buttons underneath that open doors. There are occasional spinners and teleporters. Combats are about as frequent as in the outdoor areas.
          
Slowly filling in the automap. There's a treasure in the lower-left corner.
          
As you explore, you periodically come across containers in the lower-left corner. Opening them may provide you with healing or a boost in a particular magic score.
           
The game lets you check your current levels before deciding who to apply the increase to.
       
Combats only get more difficult, and longer, the higher the dungeon level that you explore. I soon discovered a few important tips. First, the damage you do is based on both your vitality and your current point level with the associated magic type. The spell points aren't just a reservoir of power; they also indicate a current skill level. Thus, it makes sense to give point boosts in a particular category to a single character, getting his skills as high as possible, rather than spread them out evenly. It makes sense for each character to specialize in two magic skills.

Second, combats in the dungeon eventually get so long and deadly that it makes sense to flee from most of them and do your grinding later, in the outdoors, where you have easy access to the healing town.
           
A mid-game combat. Note that my third character is specializing in magician and banshee magic.
              
When the treasure canisters don't provide skill boosts, they provide one of the game's 20 inventory items, or I guess potions, which you can use as-needed. These various items heal individual (or all) characters, resurrect, provide boosts to vitality and experience, and increase points in the different magic skills for everybody at once. A couple are mysteries. For instance, one says that when used, feinde sterben, which means "enemies die." But you can't use the items in combat, so I'm not sure how that works. Another is labeled "Protons I" and simply lists "?????" for the description.
            
My inventory items after finding one artifact.
            
The spaces at the top of the inventory screen are reserved for the 7 artifacts. I found the first in Kalos, the "Level 1" dungeon, then slowly assembled the remaining ones from among the other 9 leveled dungeons.  I have no idea what any of them are depicting. Three of the numbered dungeons, of course, have no artifacts.
               
All the artifacts assembled.
          
The four unnumbered dungeons are a bit odd. They have no enemies within them and hardly any walls. Instead, they have about half a dozen squares that offer copious treasure--and one square where you encounter a mage who wants that treasure in exchange for a hint. "The miserable creature cannot be defeated without the magic word," the magician told me in the first of these dungeons that I explored. The other three offered single words--"XORA," "NADA," and "LOR"--which perhaps together equal the magic word.
         
This gives me a lot of gold, but what is it? A cash register? An ornate treasure chest?

I said "a mage," but honestly, I have no idea what this guy is.
           
Leveling up, which only increases your maximum hit points, takes a long time. In eight hours, I was only able to get to Level 3.
           
It's going to be a long time between levels.
      
After eight hours, I've explored every dungeon and found the seven artifacts, but I have no idea how to find the schlüssel I need to enter the Black City. Dungeon exploration isn't exciting enough for me to go through them all again, and I think I was pretty thorough the first time anyway. Thus, I'm going to prematurely offer a GIMLET for what I experienced but hold the game open a few days in hopes that someone comes along and offers a hint. I'd also like to know more about the backstory. Are my characters evil? Or is the game inverting usual tropes and suggesting that vampires and devils can be heroes?

Seven Horror's earns:
           
  • 2 points for the game world, maybe more if someone can show that the documentation provided a more interesting backstory. As it is, a land of monsters is pretty interesting on its own.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. The races and classes don't seem to mean much since anyone can use and develop in any type of magic. Leveling is too rare to be very rewarding.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. Once you learn their weaknesses, there's not much to the enemies.
  • 2 points for magic and combat, which are identical. Again, there aren't many choices to make during combat itself.
  • 2 points for equipment, a small but useful set of enhancements.
  • 2 points for economy, which almost all goes to healing. It would have been cool if one of the towns had a shop to buy the various potions or other magical enhancements.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 2 points for its fun, bizarre graphics, but none for its sparse sound and annoying, mouse-only interface.
  • 3 points for gameplay, mostly for what seems like a modest length and a decent challenge.
           
That gives us a preliminary final score of 19, but I'll hold out the possibility of amending it if I'm ever able to continue and win.

According to Motelsoft's web site, Seven Horror's was based on an earlier Atari 8-bit game called Labyrinth (1986), which no longer exists. Neither game seems to have attracted much notice or press, but that didn't slow them down. We'll soon encounter them again with Sandor (1989) and Sandor II (1991), top-down games with first-person dungeon exploration and tactical combat on a grid; there seems to be some Ultima inspiration here. The company offered 20 more RPGs through 2006, ending with Arcan - Der Schatz des Hexenmeisters.

With an eye towards finishing 1988, we move now to a Rogue clone called Talisman.

34 comments:

  1. That's interesting - a company which pretty much nobody knows about, but one that kept on releasing RPGs well into 00's (and is still alive, although as a casual games studio). I wonder if they slipped through the cracks because of lack of English translations, or because the games weren't very good (publisher "Budget Games" suggests the later, but you probably shouldn't judge a game by publisher alone).

    I mean, they are probably not ground-breaking games, but there are companies which make excellent, even if somewhat derivative RPGs, like Spiderweb Software, that received some recognition in the last decade because of indie boom.

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    1. Spiderweb have actual fans, though - their games often excel in certain aspects even if they are limited in others.

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    2. What I mean is that one can legitimately argue that Geneforge (for example) has one of the best branching storylines as well as a really great and innovative pet creation mode, compared even to AAA games. It's not a case of indie quality versus AAA quality, it's a case of this indie actually being the best in certain respects.

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  2. Huh. Never heard of this company or any of their games. A bit surprising, seeing how they're a German studio that released quite a few games over a pretty long time, and my penchant for obscure RPGs. Guess I'll have to look into their later titles at least, assuming they're a bit more polished than this one...

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  3. All right, I guess since I'm the one who opened this can of worms, I should make a post about this.

    First off, I won't be able to help much with Seven Little Horrors, as I'm not familiar enough with Atari ST emulators and the interface takes a lot of getting used to, and I just have a too busy work schedule right now to help you find the keys to the final city, Chet.

    What I can say about the company itself is that I only found it by browsing Mobygames for RPGs I might have missed, finding one that looked interesting (Darkstone: Necromina), and following the link to Motelsoft's website that was listed on the bottom of the Mobygames entry. And from there, I discovered that the company made tons of other games, including other RPGs, most of which aren't listed at Mobysoft and aren't available on any abandonware sites despite being made freely available by the devs themselves. The company and their games are extremely obscure, and even I as a German have never heard of them before. They were also extremely prolific (along with the 20 RPGs they made, there are just as many puzzle and casual games, and a few economic simulator type of games) and one of the two main guys behind the company is an artist who also made some weird erotic 3D comics in the 2000s - all of which can be seen on the Motelsoft website.

    Due to them being so insanely obscure even here in Germany, all I know about the company is what is available on their own website. I tried to find out more by googling, but there's nothing. What can be said for sure is that the company is mainly made up of Harald Breitmaier - the artist who apparently made all the art for all of the company's games, as well as the comics - and Heinz Munter. They are/were located in/near Stuttgart in the south of Germany.

    This first RPG of theirs, Seven Little Horrors, has little information available anywhere. The readme that comes with the .zip file you can download on their website contains a few instructions on how to play, but not much about story or setting. But while the title screen says "Seven Horror's" (putting an apostrophe before the plural-s is some weird German thing for some reason, you won't believe how often I've come upon that little error over here; in the menu of a local restaurant, I've seen even seen "Steak's" once...), the title under which the game has been distributed seems to be "Seven Little Horrors", as stated in this article:

    http://www.motelsoft.de/motpic/presse1.jpg
    http://www.motelsoft.de/motpic/presse2.jpg

    This is an article from a German magazine called Public Domain, issue 9, from 1989. The magazine probably wrote an article about these developers because a few of their games - including Seven Little Horrors - were distributed under a public domain license.

    The article praises their games for being free of bugs and having good graphics, but overall the article mostly focuses on the company itself, saying only little about Seven Little Horrors. What is said about this game is that the graphics were inspired by the art of H.R. Giger.

    The most interesting part of the article are the few lines at the end of it talking about one of the games Breitmeier and Munter were developing at the time: Projekt Terra, a Dungeon Master clone and the first game of theirs that was going to be a commercial rather than public domain release.

    Projekt Terra is supposed to be "better than Dungeon Master or Bloodwych, which the demo version of the game seems to prove". It also allows the player to go through the game without combat, by deactivating or reprogramming the hostile robots instead of destroying them, which sounds like a really interesting concept.

    It looks like we're going to see at least one Motelsoft game per year until the Addict reaches the mid 2000s, because the company was insanely prolific. The games are also extremely obscure and, as far as I know, documented nowhere else on the internet yet.

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    1. "Putting an apostrophe before the plural-s is some weird German thing for some reason." It's actually a common error among English speakers, too. There are whole blogs devoted to angrily pointing it out. I blame style guides that for some reason decided it was okay to pluralize numbers by adding an apostrophe, despite it being completely unnecessary, from which people confused its need in other plurals.

      I'm sure I've thrown one in accidentally. But as common as it is, it's usually identified and edited out of things like title screens.

      "the title under which the game has been distributed..." There are often conflicts between the titles on the promotional materials, game box, game manual, etc. My policy is that the screen holds the official title unless there are odd circumstances, such as the title not fitting, or being split among multiple screens, or something.

      Thanks for bringing the series to my attention, and sorry we probably won't be able to tie up this first one. Feel free to write to Motelsoft; maybe they'll respond to a fellow German more readily than they have to an American.

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    2. I saw this anime on Netflix called "Knight's & Magic". I blame Tolkien.

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  4. Maybe you could upload your savefile and let someone else look for the key and then tell you where it, is considering the rarity of the game it is unlikely that any one here finished it.

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  5. Speaking of games not on your list, I have a couple shareware titles:

    Anoraks of Doom: Untramielled Adventures
    http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-anoraks-of-doom-untramielled-adventures_11069.html
    which is a sort of a Bard's Tale type thing, and

    Mystic Well
    http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-mystic-well-_10573.html
    which is a primitive Dungeon Master clone I played back in the day. The latter doesn't have a disc image attached, but I might be able to dump mine for you if you're interested in covering it.

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  6. I apparently have a disk image for a 1986 game called Labyrinth by a Dave Oblad for the Atari 8 bit. There's another one in German by Jens Woehrmann as well, but my German is only slightly better than my English.

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    1. I looked at them both, and neither seem to be the inspiration for this game. I assumed from the context that the 1986 Labyrinth was developed by Motelsoft.

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    2. Yeah a few of the earlier Motelsoft games are lost to time. The creators dug up some of them only because some Atari ST fansites remembered and were looking for the games, as far as I know. But the creators didn't keep all their old discs, so a few games are lost unless someone, somewhere digs up a copy.

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    3. Motelsoft.de does not have the Labyrinth game so digitalise it and send it back to them

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  7. I used to buy PD (public domain) games a few times when I was very young. That were free games, usually sold in collections - basically an euphemism for shovelware. There was a store where you could copy disks for a fee in the next city (Karlsruhe) and I also remember a PD magazine where those games were introduced, might have been the catalogue of this store (or probably even store chain) or not.

    I remember Motelsoft as a name and also the interface of this game. But I think I dismissed it soon. It's very strange and weirded me out.

    Another name I now remember, and I'm really sorry for this, is HASCS, meaning Hack And Slay Construction Kit. It was an editor for games and released only on the Atari ST.
    I have played 3 or 4 games built on this engine (one of them: Allein in Eritrea), and they were actually quite okay (the interface is clear and useful), but I never finished one of them. Oh, and there's a webshrine where you can download like 20 of those games. That is probably a bit too much, but maybe you might want to introduce the editor (and the sequels HASCS 2 and 3) and show an example of a game or 2. Or overread this, whatever.

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  8. On the sensitive topic of RPGs not on The List, Hall of Light lists quite a few obscure Amiga RPGS. Their complete RPG category, ordered by release year, is here: http://hol.abime.net/hol_search.php?&N_ref_genre_category=16&tri=Y_released&order=ASC&limitstart=0

    Browsing almost at random, I see games like Black Dawn VI: Hellbound: http://hol.abime.net/4119

    Crystal Dragon: http://hol.abime.net/3136

    Bloodfest: http://hol.abime.net/5518

    Skarbnik: http://hol.abime.net/4031

    Etc.

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    1. When I've looked into many of those in the past, they've turned out to be action/fantasy games with no character development. This is why I generally institute a rule that I'll only add a game if you have personal experience with it and can attest that it fits my definition of an RPG. I reject mass databases because so many are careless in their categorizations.

      This is NOT a suggestion that you personally go through every RPG in the "Hall of Light" database that isn't on my list in an effort to confirm whether it is or isn't an RPG. Let things evolve organically.

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    2. Especially since I want to see Turlogh le Rodeur soon, because I want Chet to explain why it has naked owl women.

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    3. There are surprisingly few references to "naked owl women" available on Google, in case anyone else was compelled to look.

      Delete
  9. With all these people posting new additions to the list, prompted by this post, I'm really worried now about what I have started with this... :P

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    1. What's there to worry about? Our gracious host's stated goal is to play every RPG ever created. Pointing out titles he missed is not sabotage, it's the exact opposite of it.

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    2. Your gracious host's goal is more accurately stated as to BELIEVE he has played every RPG ever created.

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    3. So do you want us to tell you about missing games or not?

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    4. He wants us to tell him about missing games if we can confirm they're RPGs, and furthermore wants us to nag him about including them until he does :P

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    5. I was going to say that I want you to tell me if you're doing so ruefully. If you're doing it with enthusiasm, you should keep quiet.

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    6. So do you want us to tell you about missing games or not?

      Well, let's see:

      I'll only add a game if you have personal experience with it

      I want you to tell me if you're doing so ruefully. If you're doing it with enthusiasm, you should keep quiet.

      Since the Venn diagram between these -- "games you've played and found memorable enough to mention, but only apologetically and without enthusiasm" -- has a specific and very small intersection, I guess we have our answer: please, only joyless comments about joyless games you've played joylessly!

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    7. I wanted you to be rueful because you're adding to my list, not because the game was bad. But I can see how that part of the rule is ripe for misinterpretation.

      Let me put it another way: BEFORE you tell me about an unlisted game, everything is fine. AFTER you've told me, you've made a valuable contribution to my blog. AT THE MOMENT that you're telling me, you're being an incredible jerk and I hate you. Don't tell me about new games unless you're okay with that.

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    8. Oh, I knew you what you meant, and that you were partly joking.

      (It's the part of you that's not joking that leaves me bemused. I can't imagine undertaking a project like this -- and, for the record, I've poured thousands of hours into a large-scale completist project like this, a few of them in fact -- if I felt such profound resentment toward its very premise! It strikes me as akin to setting out to read the complete works of the Greek tragedians, and then becoming infuriated when a lost play is discovered partway through.)

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    9. (BTW, don't get me wrong -- I 100% understand getting irritated when people point out games that don't really fit within your mission, or are right on the edge of relevance. [Your Hydlide II/III joke made me chuckle, even while I also think they merit eventual inclusion on your list as English-language RPGs commercial released in the West.] It's the idea that we should have to apologize for informing you of something completely relevant to your project that takes me aback, even if said in 90% jest.)

      (And again, this is coming from someone who's worked on similar long-term projects, including one that started before your blog and hit the decade mark this year -- so I'd like to think I have some understanding of the frustrations involved, and perseverance required.)

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    10. Your point is acknowledged. Nobody is properly understanding nuance or tone in written words, so let's just let this thread die.

      Delete
  10. Interesting, but mostly unknown even in Germany. Not sure it's even worth the trouble, I mean, how many people have ever played this? You don't *really* think you need to play *every* rpg that ever existed? Because then you will soon drown in a flood of homemade/semiprofessionally made rpgs.

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    1. My rules are pretty clear: every commercially-produced RPG, independent RPGs at my discretion. That's served me well for 8 years. I may re-evaluate after I finish 1988/1989 and see how much progress I make (or don't) when I'm concentrating on one year at a time.

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    2. Martin: If a game is obscure, doesn't that make it more important to document, not less? With mainstream games it's likely that everything worth saying about it has already been said. But games nobody has heard of before? Those are new ground to cover.

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  11. This is maybe too obvious, but perhaps the magic word is the key?

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    1. Good thought, but unfortunately no. The key is definitely an object, as there is an inventory slot for keys.

      Delete

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