Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Game 292: Wizard's Lair I: The Trial (1988)

Nice-guy programmer uses the title screen to praise the software he used to create the game.
        
Wizard's Lair I: The Trial
United States
Independently developed; distributed by Microstar
Released in 1988 for DOS as shareware
Date Started: 2 June 2018

Wizard's Lair I--not to be confused with the TI-99 Wizard's Lair that I reviewed last year--plays like a combination of Ultima III, Rogue, and Wizardry. From Ultima III, we get the importance of exploring a wilderness and its various cities, towns, castles, and dungeons, many of which have NPCs that offer a single line of advice. From the roguelike tradition, we get the minimalist graphics and the complicated keyboard commands (but thankfully not permadeath). The game supports a large party of eight characters who fight in rounds that play much like Wizardry. It also has some original ideas that of course we'll discuss. The game was written by Rick Nowalk of Somerset, New Jersey, and despite the title there's no evidence that he issued a Wizard's Lair II.
          
A set of roguelike commands serves as the game's primary interface.
          
The accompanying material documents the game well except for any hint of a backstory or quest. You create eight characters and head out to accomplish something. Perhaps the characters are just generic mercenary-adventurers meant to stumble upon the quest as they explore.
              
Wandering through the game's unnamed wilderness.
          
There is some originality in the races and classes. There are 11 races: human, elf, dwarf, giant, barbarian, halfling, centaur, gnome, pixie, woodling, and orcling. The "woodling" is a bit mysterious. They have the expected strengths and weaknesses with the six attributes: strength, dexterity, intelligence, combat sense, insight, and stealth. There are no class restrictions on characters, but you wouldn't want a giant thief or a pixie fighter because the classes suffer penalties if their prime requisite statistics aren't high enough.
         
Rolling a pixie thief.
         
Classes are fighter, thief, ranger, druid, illusionist, conjurer, and sorcerer, meaning that you can have one of each and still have an extra slot. There are no alignments or sexes. There are a series of weapon, rogue, and magic skills for which everyone starts at a 0.
          
A full character sheet.
       
Based on the documentation, the game world consists of 3 outdoor areas, 7 cities, 2 dungeons, 4 caves, and 2 castles. Some of the indoor structures are multi-level. No name is offered for the game world as a whole, but you start in the guild in the city of Angston. Cities offer inns, armories, and general equipment shops, and Angston specifically has an academy where you can pay to train skills (or, at least, all but the thief skills, which must be trained elsewhere). Graphics are mostly ASCII characters, though they vary in color.

Towns offer a variety of NPCs to talk with, some of whom want money before they'll offer their hints. In either case, they speak in single declarations without prompting, and much like an early Ultima, you must cobble together a sensible quest path based on their utterances.
           
This one was free.

This one cost money.
          
Outside the town, a wilderness beckons, although I haven't gotten very far into it yet. Random combats with large parties of enemies begin soon after you leave the town. Unlike most top-down games, you don't see enemies in the environment. Encounters just pop up as you move along.

In combat, characters have three attack options that each balance offense and defense differently: a regular attack, an all-offense "kill," and a defensive attack. Spellcasters can cast spells, and anyone can parry, use an item, run away, or change weapons. Only the first four characters can attack (and be hit) with regular melee weapons, but the rest can fight with polearms or missile weapons if they have enough strength to wield them. Holding down ENTER makes each character choose a default action, which is to attack if in the front ranks. The default action for most spellcasters is to cast a low-level damage spell, to attack with missile weapons if out of spell points, or to parry otherwise.
             
My fighter's combat options.
          
The game is absolutely unforgiving in the opening stages. When you first fire up the game, it offers you a difficulty level from 1 to 5. I started at 3 but over time lowered it to 2 and then 1 as I kept getting my butt kicked. You start with a low-level weapon and cloth armor, and nobody has any gold, so there are no upgrades until you can defeat some enemies. The parties that attack you right outside Angston routinely have 10-12 enemies. If you manage to defeat them, a good treasure haul is about 30 gold pieces, not enough to buy a suit of leather armor or get trained in a single skill point. One combat per day is enough to exhaust your party's hit points and magic power, so you need to rest every night to recover. Slain characters cannot be resurrected until you have the appropriate spell; the game does not allow you to haul their bodies back to a temple. If you don't have enough spell points, you bury them on the spot or reload.
             
Actions about to execute in combat.
         
Once you hit Level 2 and can afford to pay for a few skill trainings and weapon/armor upgrades, things become a little easier. You get more spell points, among other things, so your spellcasters can remain relevant longer, and your sorcerer starts getting mass-damage spells.

Each spellcasting class has a different list of only 8-10 spells, each costing between 1 and 40 power points. You can cast them as soon as you have enough points. There are some duplications--almost everyone gets the equivalent of a "light" spell for dungeon exploration, for instance--but you really need all classes. Druids are focused on healing and removing bad effects like poison and disease. Once they hit 30 power points, they can resurrect. Other than "Turn" (undead), they have no offensive spells, so I equipped mine with a spear so he could poke from the fifth position.
             
Typically-paltry post-combat rewards.
         
Illusionists have some classic illusory spells, such as "Fade," which makes the enemies think the party has disappeared, "Flash" to blind enemies, and "Double++," which makes enemies think there are twice as many party members. They also have mass-defense spells like "Armor" and "Shield." Conjurer spells mostly focus on utility, navigation, and moving the party, with spells like "Map," "Compass," "Reveal" (secret doors), and "Out" (gets the party out of the dungeon).

Sorcerers have the offensive direct-damage spells, both single-foe and full-party. Although "Harpies" (sends a flock of vicious harpies at foes) and "Needles" (launches a flurry of poisonous needles at all foes) in practice aren't so different from "Fireball" and "Lightning Bolt," I still admire the creativity.
          
Mass-damaging Black Orcs with summoned harpies.
         
There are other magic skills that must be developed, including "Alchemy," which allows someone to mix potions; "Languages," which lets you read clues in dungeons; and "Magic Sense," which lets you identify magic items from among treasure hauls. You have to find a hidden city of thieves to develop thief skills.
         
Enrolling in training for secondary skills.
         
Most of my time this session was spent just getting to a level where I could survive. I tentatively started exploring the rest of the land. The opening wilderness area is at least 150 squares wide, and I don't know how many north to south. I tried exploring a dungeon, called the "Grey Dungeon," but the enemies in there clearly outclassed me.
              
The Grey Dungeon, where I didn't last long.
           
From NPC hints, I know I need to find a Holy Shrine of the Ancients in the mountains, where if I speak the right mantra, I'll receive a mission from the wizard. To learn the mantra, I have to find the "waterfall that doesn't." There's a place called the "Ice Castle" that's the home of a demon-king. Someone called The Ancient, in a city southwest of Angston, may give me hints, but I'll have to give him gold in multiples of 100.

There are portals scattered throughout the land that require some kind of passphrase to activate; a hermit in the Grey Dungeon can tell me more about this. Someone in a "city by the sea" can help me if I ask him about elves. The thief city is somewhere in the mountains. There are general hints to avoid the forest and "ruins."

A few other notes:
            
  • Equipment is assumed to be worn. You don't have to equip a ring or other magic item. If it's in your inventory, you're "wearing" it.
  • The game has a food system, but you can "forage" anywhere outdoors and find plenty. Maybe this gets harder later.
  • Dungeon states are apparently not saved. And you can't save in dungeons.
  • A "boss" button quickly takes you to a DOS prompt.
         
It's a tough game, but it's well-programmed and has an intuitive interface. I'm intrigued enough to keep playing long enough for the story to develop--perhaps once I visit this wizard in the mountains or something. It's a bit similar in appearance to UnReal World, obviously, so I'm going to try to wrap the latter up next entry before I get confused on the commands.

Time so far: 3 hours

******

For those of you used to getting post and comment notifications by e-mail, you've probably noticed that Google's system for doing these things is broken. It has been since at least May 25. I don't get e-mail notifications of your comments, either; I have to visit and look at "Recent Comments." I'm sure there are some readers who think I haven't written anything in two weeks. Anyway, all Google will say is that they're aware of the problem and hope to fix it soon.


57 comments:

  1. Wow, this looks really cool in how it combines the styles of several games of its era, rather than just straight-up cloning one game. Never heard of this one before, so this is going to be an interesting read!

    I wonder about the equipment... if it counts as equipped when you have it in your inventory, and you have two or more items of one type in your inventory, which one counts as equipped? The better one? The one you put in your inventory first? Both at the same time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is indeed an unusual and not particularly elegant way to handle inventory/equipment. In addition to the aforementioned problems, I assume there must be no cursed items or ones that have any negative effects, or you'd never want to pick those up even for selling at the shop (if that's even possible).

      (The idea of all same-type items counting as being equipped amuses me quite a bit--I can't help but picture a warrior with a sword in each hand and one between his teeth à la Roronoa Zoro, but also clad in multiple layers of plate armor...)

      Delete
    2. You have to sell the "equipped" armor to buy a new one.

      Thank you addict for this good game! I have never heard about it before.

      Delete
    3. More importantly, it seems to combine the *good* parts of its inspirations, quite often it's the other way around. I'm tempted to try it out, provided the dungeon design is any good.

      Delete
  2. I'm already biased in favor of any RPG that lets you field 8 characters.


    FYI - I've been getting comment notifications from the Unreal World thread.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wiz8 was probably the latest.

      Delete
    2. Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar also lets you have 8 chars!

      Delete
    3. Oh, and the freeware tactical RPG Helherron also lets you have 8 chars, and it's excellent. Those are the newest ones I can remember with 8 char parties.

      Delete
    4. I tried Grimoire but didn't get very far.

      Helherron looks cool, thanks!

      Delete
    5. Anyone know what the maximum is? We've seen games on my blog that let you create up to 20 characters but not put them all in an active party at the same time. Is there any RPG that does more than 8? (I'm talking individual, named characters with their own inventories and attributes.)

      Delete
    6. Only jRPGs and tactics games (Fire Emblem) come to mind

      Delete
    7. Shining Force 1 and 2 allow for large squads. Jagged Alliance 2 has up to 10 in a squad and in JA1 you can bring in a second nearby squad in some encounters to get up to 12.

      Delete
    8. The first Xcom let you field 26 I guess but there's not much reason to go over 10-12.

      Ogre Battle 64 lets you field 10 units of 5 characters each for 50(!!) units per battle. Each actual fight though is only a single unit, and you can only give a general order to the whole team, not target individual attacks. Still, that's 50 characters who all level up, gain stats, have a full equipment set, and even have an alignment that you have to manage.

      The Last Remnant lets you field 18 people, and it is a fairly typical jRPG with towns and dungeons and such, not a strategy game. Though, like Ogre Battle, you have to group characters up into units and you can only give them general orders.

      Delete
    9. Natuk and Nahlakh (Helherron's progenitor of sorts) have 8 characters.

      I am very much looking forward to 1994 and seeing what the Addict makes of Nahlakh. I suppose for me Tom Proudfoot's games fall into that weird category of "more
      respect than affection". I think Nahlakh had a soft timelimit, and it's quite hard and a bit tedious. But it also has plenty of admirable qualities the combat system in particular.

      Delete
    10. Does Dynasty Warriors count?XD

      Anyway, Tactical RPGs seem to have much more leeway in character limit.

      Aside from above, Disgaea can have 15 party members in a single encounter.

      Dungeon Siege has 8 but can be modded to have more.

      Delete
    11. You won't be playing it since it was a Game Boy Color exclusive, but Lufia: the Legend Returns had a 9-character party in a menu-based JRPG setup.

      Outside of strategy RPGs, which tend towards letting you use more characters at once and the amount often being map-based rather than universal to the game, I can't think of any that hit double digits, though.

      Delete
    12. With some of the games mentioned here, it's arguable whether they qualify as an RPG or not. Over on RPG Codex it's a popular topic to debate whether Jagged Alliance 2 is an RPG or not (I would say it is by Chet's definition since you lead squads of unique individual named characters and have full control over their inventory and the development of their stats).

      But while JA2 can easily be defined as an RPG, with something like XCom it's a little more difficult. Your units may have individual names, but they're essentially just disposable units and the game is mostly a strategy game (JA2 also has a strategy layer, but not in the way XCom does: in XCom, you have a dedicated system for base building and research, and the gameplay focus is clearly geared towards strategy rather than RPG elements).

      I don't know too much about jRPGs since I don't like their style (too linear and formulaic for my taste), but I did play Tactics Ogre and enjoyed it a lot. Too bad it never received a PC port so we won't see it here. But in general, I'd say the whole Japanese "sRPG" genre is also balancing on that fine line between RPG and strategy. Now, I only played Tactics Ogre which would definitely qualify as an RPG by Chet's standards, but I've read about other games from the sRPG genre which lean more towards the strategy and less towards the RPG, like Der Langrisser or Fire Emblem, and there the line becomes blurry.

      A similar question arises once we reach the late 90s and encounter RTS games with heavy RPG elements. Does Warcraft 3 qualify as it has a relatively strong focus on hero units that level up, gain skills, and can wear equipment? As far as I remember (but no concrete titles come to my mind right now) there are also some RTS games where all units can gather experience points and level up, and even use equipment, but the core gameplay is still RTS: build a base, lead large numbers of troops, defeat the enemy.

      Would a game such as that still qualify as an RPG? Where do we draw the line?

      The late 90s are going to be an interesting era overall, and the 00s too, with all the hybrid games that popped up and RPG elements creeping into other genres.

      Delete
    13. Sure, or what about Spellforce, which is basically a Diablo clone mashed together with a full-on RTS mode.

      Delete
    14. Didn't The Return of Heracles (1983) actually allow you to play as many of the characters as you wanted, which means 19 and more with NPCs?

      Delete
    15. Not simultaneously, though.

      Delete
    16. There was a game called M.A.G.U.S or something in the late 90s wher you could start as many PCs as you wanted. It had its drawbacks though, as it was turn based, and you had to control each one separately, bat way back I thought it was brilliant.

      Delete
    17. https://obscuritory.com/rpg/magus/
      1997. MAGUS. bat->but

      Delete
  3. I assume the waterfall that doesn't... (fall?) is frozen.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This sounds like a real hidden gem! And I like the idea of a group of mercs running around looking for work before stumbling on a bigger story. That being said... Realistically, if you're getting your butt kicked every day and you're not making any money, maybe find a new line of work?

    ReplyDelete
  5. So im wondering if the woodling is the same race as the one from Fighting fantasy, in which case it's like a forest dwarf or halfling.

    Also fyi, I've been getting email notifications on old posts I subscribed to for comments.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think you still get them if you subscribe to specific threads. But those who subscribe to the blog as a whole aren't getting notifications about new articles. More important, I'm not getting notifications of new comments, including those that need to be moderated.

      Delete
  6. Good heavens, I'm tiring of these generic Ultima clones just reading about them. I hope you're getting satisfaction out of them!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This isn't a great comparison, but this game makes me fondly remember the BBS game 'Arrowbridge.'

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ah yes, the good ol' boss button. Wouldn't work anymore. Having Dos pop up pn my screen would attract more attention than it would deflect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe a button that makes a generic Excel spreadsheed pop up on the screen?

      But ah, well, the boss button is one of these things that are obsolete these days due to the ease of alt-tabbing to other programs, an endearing relic of a simpler time.

      Delete
    2. But you have to alttab carefully, as game guide popping up is not that great either :P

      Delete
    3. "ease of alt-tabbing." Not in my case. I my case, whenever someone approaches and I've got something on the screen I don't want them to see, I either completely forget how to accomplish anything, or the computer decides it's time to lock up. More than once, I've resorted to turning off the power. Which looks suspicious as hell, but not as suspicious as having Ultima Underworld on you're screen when you've told your spouse you have to work all weekend.

      Delete
    4. Start-D = show desktop! Just don't look at the taskbar too closely and you're golden .

      Delete
  9. I like games like this. The world doesn't have a name because the world doesn't *need* a name. The game is about playing the game, not about telling a story or other claptrap. Conservation of detail: only what is necessary and no more. I never read that backstory anyway. Who cares if the Kingdom of Llwellyn's king had a beef with some baron over tax rates? Just point me towards the dungeon where the real fun is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's rare, but it can happen that the backstory plays a part in game.

      Delete
    2. I mean, I certainly wouldn't mind if the "story is there is no story"--if the game was composed entirely of side-quests, for instance. But I'd at least want that stated explicitly.

      Delete
  10. Concerning obscure rpgs, 'digg' seems to have stumbled over a few japanese games
    https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/a3anja/labyrinthe-japanese-game-discovered-on-private-forum
    ...no idea if they are rpgs at all, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting find. I'll let someone else do the research to determine if any are RPGS, though, especially since they won't appear on my list unless they have English translations.

      Delete
  11. A Centaur seems to be a formidable fighter. In Greek myth they could be quite evil, Nessus for example. The Pixies seem like an analogue of Wizardry's faeries. It seems like a good game and the blending of approaches is nice. I just get tired of abstract wizardry style combat. Goldbox has spoiled me in allowing me to move my characters around on the battlefield. I think you should call yourself the CRPG Archaeologist!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree on the combat. There are definitely some positives to the Wizardry style, and it's "tactical" its own way, but it gets awfully repetitive.

      Delete
    2. It was the repetitiveness which encouraged me not to finish Wizardry 7. I am shamed to say it, but I have no desire to finish it the way, for example, I finally finished Pools of Darkness.

      On another note, I do not mind permadeath myself. On the other hand, many modern games have too many variables. The result is a lot of frustration. I guess in the end my appreciation for permadeath goes as far as the game allows me to resurrect dead characters. It seems contradictory, but I guess I want there to be consequences but not frustration that makes you want to quit.

      Delete
    3. "Many modern games have too many variables." Agreed. As I've noted a few times, Irene jokes that on my tombstone she's going to have engraved, "Wha--Why did I just die?!" because she's heard me yell it so many times while playing games. Any game that prompts such a question should not have permadeath.

      Delete
    4. When I last played Temple of Elemental evil, the length of my party's sojourn was strongly conditioned by perma-death. The dice went against me in a battle; half of the party are dead; their money is short. Thus I found myself deleting the game from the computer. Perma-Death thus takes on a new form. The game is dead to me. I try to find a good balance on saving versus death versus healing and no game has yet come close. As you once said, "Does it all have to come down to my willpower?" or some such quote I remember. You nailed it.

      Delete
  12. I am delighted to see your reaction to this one. I played every shareware RPG I could get my hands on as a kid, and this one absorbed many hours. I don't expect it to rate highly on the GIMLET compared to others, but the nostalgia is very strong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm surprised to hear from someone who actually played it. Feel free to offer any tips if you remember them.

      Delete
    2. Do you have toe manual that came with the game? I remember mine had it as well as some hints from the creator, which helped a lot.

      Delete
    3. Yes, there's a hint document among the files, but I wanted to see if I could figure things out before I resorted to it. I read the first couple of paragraphs, which gave me a sense of how big a game world to expect.

      Delete
  13. Did this thread jump forward a year from June 2017 or something?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He meant you were playing games of 1991 in june last year, and now playing games of 1992 :)

      Delete
  14. Can you increase the starting attributes of the characters?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't found anything yet that does.

      Delete
    2. Probably a very minor spoiler, so:

      Juvyr rkcybevat gur svefg yriry bs gur Terl-Jnyyrq Qhatrba, V sbhaq na vgrz pnyyrq na Vzeny. Gur punenpgre hfvat vg unq nyy bs gurve nggevohgrf vapernfrq ol n enaqbz nzbhag, juvpu frrzrq gb or va gur enatr bs 1-8.

      Delete
  15. My druid has intelligence=20 and she is level3 now. She have never managed to cast heal. Not in battle and not by using alt-h. What am i doing wrong? alt-h -> druida attempts the heal spell, who is to receive the healing??? -> press A for character1 -> nothing happens

    i am using the version 2.2

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never mind, it is working in version 2.0

      Delete
    2. I never tried ALT-H. I've just been doing (C)ast and then HEAL. It's cool that the game gives a couple of shortcuts for the most common spells, though. ALT-M for MAP is another.

      Delete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) THIS ALSO INCLUDES USER NAMES THAT LINK TO ADVERTISING.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

NOTE: I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.