Thursday, July 5, 2018

Game 296: Citadel: Adventure of the Crystal Keep (1989)

            
Citadel: Adventure of the Crystal Keep
Canada
Postcraft International (developer and publisher)
Released in 1989 for Macintosh
Date Started: 1 July 2018

When I started playing Quarterstaff a few months ago, I thought the way Mac-native games incorporated the Mac interface was intriguing. It took exactly three games for my opinion to morph from "intriguing" to "f@%&* gorked." Who the hell wants the title screen to come up with a bunch of other stuff in the background? It's like breaking out the Monopoly board and laying it down on the coffee table without clearing it off first. You're trying to play while the board is balancing on the remote control, the Xbox controller, and two coaster, while a couple discarded newspaper sections, a few pieces of mail, and the TV Guide stick out from under it.

I'm being generous in calling the screen at the top of this entry the "title screen." That's actually what appears when you choose "About Citadel" from the Apple menu. When you simply start the game, the title and some introductory text comes scrolling on up atop your mess of windows and icons, as if you're watching a movie by projecting it against a wall that already has a bunch of things hanging on it. Frankly, I've been generous to the Mac games since I started playing them a few months ago, cropping my screenshots so only the game window was in view. But if you really want the Mac experience, I should be showing you the entire desktop every time.
          
The seas majestically sweep across my hard drive icon.
       
What is supposed to be the advantage here? "You can arrange things the way you want!" Screw you. You're the developer--arrange things in the way that the game is best played. Does Martin Scorsese leave the aspect ratio up to the viewers? And don't get me started with the game's love for the mouse. Here's an idea for the next Avengers movie: Thanos's plan is to wipe out half of humanity by selecting the 20% who would prefer to click on arrows rather than use a keypad and the 30% who go to a real creamery and order "soft serve" ice cream. The Avengers clap him on the back and welcome him to the team. [Edit: See this excellent comment for why my scorn is partly unjustified.]

Like all Mac games, this one has a bunch of cutesy nonsense to make you think maybe it'll be clever and original. Character creation, for instance, has you slowly fill out a little birth certificate. The "menu town" screen has you click on little rustic signs. Oh, I suppose these sorts of thing have their charm if you're in the right mood, but if you're in the wrong mood, you want to grab the developer by his lapels and say, "Just because I like computer games doesn't mean I'm a damned child. I was toggling between Boltac's Trading Post and Gilgamesh's tavern with the 'B' and 'G' keys before you knew enough to type 10 PRINT 'HELLO' 20 GOTO 10. Now stop screwing around and give me some orcs to kill."
         
Well, isn't this just freaking adorable.
           
Thus, anyway, were my first impressions of Citadel, one of a pair of Apple games that gets my 1989 sweep-up off to a rocky start. Other than fluff, there is little to distinguish it from Wizardry. It's a multi-level dungeon crawler with six characters and a menu town on top.

In this case, the dungeon is the titular Citadel, once above-ground, high in the mountains, ruled by a sorceress named Lady Synd. One day, a stranger appeared in the town below and asked directions to the Citadel, and before long the land was enshrouded in blackness, with sounds of combat coming from the direction of the Citadel. A mighty earthquake signaled the end of the conflict, and when it was over, the entire Citadel had been subsumed into the ground, with only the top of its highest watchtower sticking above the surface. Since then, many adventurers have entered, and few have exited. Those few tell of Lady Synd entombed in a shimmering crystal.

Cue character creation, where you choose from five races (human, dwarf, hobbit, elf, and gnome) and eight classes: fighter, thief, wizard, cleric, knight, ninja, shaman, and magus, which basically equate to Wizardry's four core classes and four prestige classes. (Knight sub for lords, shamans for bishops, maguses for samurais.) In another impressive display of the developer's ability to use a thesaurus, attributes are strength, health, intelligence, knowledge, mien, and coordination. There are the usual minimum attributes per class.

I admit the game is a little creative in how you build the character. First you choose the occupations of both father and mother, from selections like "Farmer," "Beggar," "Noble," "Gypsy," "Milkmaid," "Tramp," and "Wench," the latter two hardly seeming exclusive of the others. Race, sex, and alignment (good, none, evil) follow. Sex is somewhat original in providing a "neuter" option, whose lack of inguinal distractions makes the character better at magic. As you choose all of these things, a little birth certificate fills in its blanks.
           
Setting my father's occupation.
           
After setting these definitions, you hit the "birth" button and then a button that says "age" a couple of times, watching the character grow from 0 to 18, with random numbers assigned to the attributes. Then you get to determine what proportions of the character's childhood was spent on labor, study, prayer, and play, with consequent effects on the expected statistics, although "mien" seems to be all random. Finally, you pick from the available classes, with the option to choose "serf" if the character can't meet any of them. The penultimate option is to spend some of your inherited gold (pity the player who chooses a beggar father and a tramp mother) on training of between 1 to 4 years, which adds to the class's prime requisite.
        
Establishing a strong, active, but kind of dumb atheist.
         
When you're all done, you can password-protect the character (again, like Wizardry), choose an icon, and even make edits to the icon. Lacking any artistic skills, I left the icons alone.
        
I literally would have no idea what do do here. Even out her smile, maybe.
            
The menu town has a store, temple, hotel, bank, and tavern in addition to the "nursery" where you create new characters. After creation, characters show up in the tavern and can be dragged into the party. Outfitting the characters with basic weapons and armor in the "shoppe" took most of my gold and depleted most of the shopkeeper's inventory. He pretty much has only one of every item, and when you've bought it, its icon is replaced with an "on order" message until some time later.
          
Adding characters from the tavern.
     
Purchasing equipment.
            
On to the dungeon. On the way in, at least the first time, you have to answer a copyright message using the game's codewheel, which it either adapted from Pool of Radiance or an unknown (by me) source for both games. I have an image of the codewheel but no way to manipulate it; fortunately, the game doesn't seem to have a problem with unlimited exits and returns until you get it right; I just kept guessing "A" and got it right on my fourth visit.
            
            
Exploration starts in a small dungeon level lit with torch sconces. Light dims as you move down corridors, and it took me forever to figure out that the way to light my own torches was to hold them up to one of the lit sconces. (But who keeps them lit?!?!) I got started mapping, but the first level (at least, the opening part) consisted of no more than 15 squares with a locked gate and a down staircase. All the levels I've explored so far have been small, making me think the game's levels are likely to be a bunch of small sections with multiple up and down options.
            
The dungeon view.
          
Combat is going to take me a long time to get used to. I really don't understand what's happening, and the manual is a bit obtuse in some areas. The best I can figure, when you enter combat (I've only faced skeletons so far), characters fight automatically but need you to move them into position. You do this by dragging their icons from wherever they start to melee range of the monsters. After a few rounds, someone dies. That's about all I can report so far. I haven't explored the spell system, nor more specific combat tactics like backstabbing. Saving issues (and lack of save states with this emulator) discourage a lot of experimentation.
             
I don't quite get what's happening here.
           
On the second level, I found an elevator that seems to transition multiple levels. It brought me back up to the first, but the gate was still locked.
               
Using the elevator. Midway between levels.
           
It also brought me to one level above the first (which I guess means the first is the second, or lower), which consisted of just a short corridor ending in a skull. The skull asked me a riddle--"How long does it take to fall ten feet?"--for which I didn't know the answer. It certainly wasn't the obscenity I offered in reply. My party fell through the floor and took some damage.
            
Anyone have a guess?
            
I wanted to reload and try some other options, but I guess I need to invest some time figuring out how the save system works. I get the impression from the manual that the game saves your progress in the default data files as you go, but if you want to take a backup at any point, you can use "save as" and then double-click on that file to restart. All I know is that when I tried to reload a "backup" I'd taken before the fall, my characters were mysteriously back in town again, with the inventories I'd had like a hour ago. After I saved that game and quit, upon reloading there wasn't even anyone in my party.

If the game has any promise, I suppose it's in the controls that I detest. If you're going to require your character to click around all day with the mouse, then the environment ought to have some things that require the mouse's precision. Dragging a torch up to another torch to light it is an example of this, as is hitting the right buttons on the elevator controls. There is something vaguely satisfying about dragging a bag of gold from the floor to the character's inventory that isn't quite matched by just seeing the spoils of combat in a text window. The game also does a decent job offering keyboard backups for the most common commands, so it's mostly my own fault when I accidentally click on the desktop and end up in the Finder. I just need to learn them.
         
I'm not sure that the developer knows the difference between a hotel, a hostel, and another place that features the letters OTHEL.
            
Apropos of both this and the last entry, I should mention that while you'd only want air conditioning in Maine about one week a year, this is that week, and I don't have it. When you can't type for more than 30 seconds at a time because contact sweat develops between your wrist and the laptop, it's hard not to be cranky about anything that keeps me at the computer. Maybe I'll like both Citadel and 2088 better when I'm more comfortable. If not, this is going to be a long month.

Time so far: 3 hours

78 comments:

  1. "Anyone have a guess?"

    I think the answer is "You're about to find out!"

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    Replies
    1. Or is this supposed to be a simple calculation? Assuming Earth gravity and ignoring air resistance, the answer would be SQRT(2 x 10/g), where g = 32.174 ft/s2.

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    2. I'm not sure 1992 Mac players would be reasonably expected to have that formula at their disposal.

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    3. I don't know when that's taught in USA, but it's something done in maybe a 14yo physics class in Spain.

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    4. I mean, the simple but incorrect answer is that your fall speed increases by about ten meters per second for every second that you fall, so they might have seen that and thought the answer is "one second." It's not, you're only moving ten meters per second AFTER one second, so it would take more like a second and a half.

      Oh, wait, it asks ten feet. Then I have no idea what they're going for.

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    5. My quick mental arithmetic would have guessed at about 3/4 of a second. My quick google tells me 0.79 seconds, so I'm quite pleased with myself!

      I'd be very surprised if that's the answer though...

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    6. Could it be so simple as it ask for long as in distans, so ten feet, its bad english but this iy not that uncommon in games.

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    7. I agree with Stmp here, the first thought that came to my mind with this riddle was, "Ha, it's probably one of those stupid trick questions!"

      How long does it take to fall 10 feet?
      Well, 10 feet obviously! That's the length you'll have to fall in order to fall 10 feet!

      It's dumb, but it's kinda funny.

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    8. That is a formula we were all taught in high school physics. Was the author of the game a high school student perhaps?

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    9. I remember going crazy over this for a long time. I was a physics major in college, and actually did the calculation. Then I tried a stopwatch. I don't actually remember the answer anymore, or even if there *is* an answer. Part of me thinks this is one of those cruel jokes -- you've been asked the question, and now you're going to experience the answer, regardless. But I'm really not sure anymore if that's true.

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    10. Is there an in game way to tell what the game time is? If so you could take note off the time just before you fall down the pit trap and just after you fall down, you would get an in game answer to how long the fall took. Even if that dosn't work in this game, it would be a fantastic puzzel and soulution for any crpg game in my opinion.

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    11. There's a clock, but only to the minute. All of you are very amusing trying to come up with the actual calculation, but if the actual answer to this riddle involves fractions or decimals, I'll eat my mouse. It's either something dumb ("AS LONG AS IT TAKES") or as some have speculated, unsolvable.

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  2. Other than fluff, there is little to distinguish it from Wizardry - so far the dungeon design sounds more Dungeon Master than Wizardry. Plus highly original combat (it remains to be seen whether it's any good). So it doesn't look like much of a Wiz clone to me, as long as you don't consider all turn-based blobbers Wiz clones. It generally sounds like something I'd have fun playing.

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    1. Do the monsters slowly move towards the characters' starting locations, or just stand there until you engage them?

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    2. I mean, clearly I didn't get far enough into the dungeon exploration to designate it a Wizardry clone. I was just referring to the basic setup, rules, classes, etc. I agree that the dungeon seems more interactive than Wizardry.

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    3. Besides maneuvering on the grid, one of the mouse-based options is the ability to click and drag in order to aim and throw your weapon. If I remember right, your targeting line sort of wiggles or wavers, but does this less the higher your character's agility, basically building in a real-life approximation for your ability to aim.

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  3. I have a terrible feeling the riddle's answer is "ten feet".

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    1. I tried it. That would have been funny, but alas.

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    2. Did you try sitting there and calculating? I'm coming up with 1.894048 seconds, assuming a starting velocity of 0 and a complete lack of air resistance, but this isn't exactly my strong suit, and I doubt it's what the game is looking for anyway.

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  4. stepped pyramidsJuly 5, 2018 at 4:18 PM

    I think they're using "tramp" and "wench" with the meanings "itinerant beggar" and "serving-girl".

    The combat system looks like an interesting experiment. As frustrating as they can be to play, early Mac games sure tried to find innovative ways to use their platform's distinctive qualities (high resolution, square pixels, ubiquitous mouse controls) to overcome its limitations (monochrome graphics, intrusive GUI). It doesn't look like something I'd like to play, but then again I also find Dungeon Master nearly unplayable.

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    1. Would you like your background to be itinerant beggar, or just regular beggar?

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    2. Where I'm from we sometimes use tramp yo mean somebody who would work in the place that ends in othel

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    3. I thought all gypsies of old were "tramps"?

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  5. Thanks for another enjoyable entry, sorry you're not enjoying it but you're always at your funniest when a wee bit salty.

    Starflight had a codewheel, but mobygames lists the InfoCom text adventure A Mind Forever Voyaging 1985 as the oldest codewheel game.

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  6. Your knight's named Elend (misery)? Did you select "Tess" as mother? :)

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    Replies
    1. There is also a character named Sazed. Obviously, the Addict went for a Mistborn theme.

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    2. If you haven't read the series, Buck, I think you'll find it's a real treat.

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    3. I'm not sure. Perhaps surprisingly for a reader of this blog, I'm really not into fantasy.

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  7. You're using Mistborn names! Awesome...but any particular reason why? Have you been reading the books lately?

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    1. Yeah, I just re-read the series, so they were on my mind. Plus, I realized belatedly that I should have used "Vin" as one of my 2088 characters.

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  8. "Pity the player who chooses a beggar father and a tramp mother."

    Actually professional beggars might be richer than you and me. For example: https://www.storypick.com/professional-beggars-in-india/

    See also Sherlock Holmes' "The Man With Twisted Lip."

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  9. I know the pain of no AC... Western Washington doesn't get hot very often and as a result AC is considered a luxury. I'm huddled in the finished basement of my split level right now until the heat goes away.

    Something to consider if you ever get the urge to move to the Pacific Northwest again.

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    Replies
    1. also in western wa, $100 on CL got me a used AC that's lasted years! totally worth it!

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  10. I always like to play my games (especially RPGs) in a full screen, so that nothing interferes with the experience.
    But I thought you were playing in a DOS window, having other things visible at the same time, like Word for writing, Excel for mapping, Internet browser etc. How is that substantially different than the Mac interface?

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    Replies
    1. It's different when you're using an emulator. The emulator screen is still a self-contained world.

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  11. Heh, heh, yeah, that "play your games while desktop is still in view" thing was deliberate on Macs. I remember being made fun of for playing games in fullscreen on my PC. It was less advanced, you see. Mac users tied a lot of their own self-image and status up in the products they bought. And how do you confirm your status if not by looking down on others?

    Editing icons was a whole *thing* with Macs. I hated it. How am I supposed to draw something that looks good? Designers must think everyone else is a designer too. It was already too much of a chore to customize my character icons in Goldbox games.

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  12. "Thanos's plan is to wipe out half of humanity by selecting the 20% who would prefer to click on arrows rather than use a keypad and the 30% who go to a real creamery and order "soft serve" ice cream"

    Addict, you know that's not how it works :)

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    Replies
    1. I suspect there is significant overlap between these two demographics. Soft-serve icecream is ALWAYS the inferior option.

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    2. Yeah, and that's why this isn't how any of this works :)

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    3. Soft-serve now reminds me of that infamous reaction-video spawning 'film clip'.

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    4. What if ALL mouse-clickers are also soft-serve lovers?

      Wouldn't that askew the entire demographic to only 30% dead?

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    5. Exactly, and 30% is definitely not enough!

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  13. What I do like about these old Mac games is the black and white look. I understand that is because of technical reasons, but it can still be an effective look. Mad World on the Wii deliberately went for a similar aesthetic to good effect, and the more recent Darkest Dungeon's limited palette -- although not quite black and white -- also looks good.

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  14. If clicking on little signs or objects in a goofy tableau in order to navigate a menu irritates you, I've got some real bad news about every other game menu UI from 1993-2002 or so.

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  15. Hey, did you know there's a Macintosh port of Wizardry? I didn't until I saw footage of it. It's in black and white, but the enemies move when you're in an encounter. Should have not bothered with this since if you needed your Wizardry fix it was already there.

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    Replies
    1. I had the Mac Wizardry. It had a few issues. I think maybe there wasn't any sound, so that when you were in the blacked out squares (which were whited out on the Mac) you couldn't tell if you were hitting walls, and thus couldn't feel your way through. You had to cheat and use a map, or get really lucky.

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    2. I played the Mac version of Wizardry a lot when I was young.

      The game did have sound, but depending on your version of the Mac system software, it...might not have worked. And it basically consisted of "bip, bip, bip" for movement, "biddlyboop" for bumping into something or falling in a pit, and "boop boop" for a warning/error message.

      I'm fairly sure the black areas were still black, though.

      Delete
  16. "But who keeps them lit?!?!"

    Easy, they're magical torches!

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    Replies
    1. I suspect magic that could tap into a vast reserve of energy to keep dungeons lit for who knows how many years should have had quite an impact on a fantasy world's economy and technology level, and most fantasy worlds aren't well fleshed out enough to support it. I'm aware that here i'm already a few steps beyond the accepted threshold required of game worlds for suspension of disbelief.

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    2. I would love to see a fantasy world that operates as a basically socialist economy, by allocating magical labour on a planned basis. It always bothers me that authors can create all sorts of imaginary worlds, but never think to experiment with economic systems. Though I suppose it takes quite a bit of research, but I love simulated economies in video games.

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    3. In Neverwinter Nights, you make bank casting continual light on everything before selling it. Low-level wizards are the electricians of the Forgotten Realms :)

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. Sorry to be a jerk but there are five races you named not four.

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  19. In honour of your arriving at this old Mac game, I have blogged about its magazine ad artwork at https://videogamecomicads.blogspot.com/2018/07/citadel-adventure-of-crystal-keep.html, content that keeping up with your playthrough of the title will finally satisfy curiosity I maintained for years regarding what kind of game might have been at the other end of the ad.

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    1. I find it odd that you mock the sound without having played the game. I think there was a window where Mac built-in audio was much better than PC audio, for a good number of years before SoundBlaster took off. I don't remember most of the sounds, but I'm pretty sure the party retreat option triggered an audio clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail ("Run away! Retreat!") and I think there was at least one other clip that amused me back then. The rest probably were binks and swooshes--honestly can't remember, though surely the Addict will comment.

      Delete
    2. Not having played the game, all I can do is paint a picture of what was was typical for the platform in that period. The first time I played Dark Castle 2, in its proper time context, I was blown away by the audio. The first time I returned to it as a retrogamer, it was maddeningly busy. It would be a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong, but if Silicon Beach couldn't get it right, that would be an unrealistic expectation of this smaller greenhorn developer.

      (And conceded, PC game sound in the same period was a whole other texture of maddening. Not every platform was at liberty to hit the C64 / Amiga / Atari ST audio sweet spot 8)

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    3. I love your analysis of the ad. "It noted that the ;hundreds of rooms' were on multiple levels -- is that really a selling point? Staircases or GTFO?" Audible and sustained laughter was produced.

      The ad definitely makes explicit the game's connection to Wizardry.

      Delete
    4. Thank you for giving me the excuse to write up the ad! Goodness knows I've given you more than my fair share of trouble over the years, nice to hear I also yielded some laughs 8) You can't necessarily expect responses like that livening up transcriptions of marketing copy.

      Delete
  20. I thought the plural for magus was magi? I don't know. Just throwing it out here.

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  21. Much of your annoyance at the Mac windowing system stems from a misunderstanding. When this game came out in 1989, the default behavior was that only one application could be open at a time. Even the Finder would disappear, leaving the application a blank desktop on which to lay itself out, with no possibility of clicking through to something else. There was an optional MultiFinder mode that allowed multiple visible programs, but games (including this one, in the manual) would often tell you to turn it off before playing so they could have the RAM and CPU to themselves.

    The makers of Citadel intended the title screen to scroll over the user's choice of desktop pattern, but not over a mess of accidentally-clickable Finder windows.

    In 1991, the new "System 7" OS brought about forced, always-on multitasking. Games made after this would have to go out of their way to claim the entirety of the screen. Those made earlier, whose developers lacked the time or money to make significant changes, were left with the aesthetic and usability blemishes you've encountered.

    I would suggest playing games from this period with System 6.0.8 in the Mini vMac emulator.

    About the codewheel: the 35-megabyte package I got from Macintoshgarden.org has a PDF of it along with the manual and hintbook. If you set your reader to fit the whole "page" on-screen and scroll down, it simulates turning the wheel.

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    Replies
    1. One from me too! Great post.

      Vintage gaming/retrogaming can feel like a minefield of situations where a game's weird behavior or seemingly bad design turns out to be a consequence of a later hardware revision or OS update the designers couldn't have reasonably anticipated. Two examples that come to mind are the Sega 6-button control pad (which can mess with games that predate the controller in odd and obscure ways, including hard crashes!), and things like artifact colors or semigraphics modes that don't come off when older games are played on newer hardware revisions (or less-accurate emulators, but that's a different discussion...).

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    2. Those can come from the oddest places, too. My personal "favorite" was discovering that older (pre-HDMI) consoles have serious input lag on non-CRT televisions (the higher-end TVs have built-in ways to mitigate this, but on cheaper ones it can sometimes be measured in full seconds) due to the upscaling and analog-to-digital conversion that is needed. That's something that I would have *never* anticipated.

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    3. Absolutely! I think a lot of people who think they've lost their gaming skills as they age -- or who think old games make impossible demands on players ("Nintendo hard" and all that) -- are actually suffering from TV input lag.

      Many lower-end HDTVs lag badly even when receiving HDMI and not upscaling or A>D converting at all. My own TV, which I bought specifically because it allegedly had very low input lag, actually has more like 150-200ms of lag -- even in quote-unquote "game mode" with an HDMI signal. Yeesh. So I still keep a CRT around for action games, and it really does make a difference.

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    4. That's really interesting, a year or so ago I bought a Megadrive Flashback (Basically a legal third-party emulator-box with a ton of games included) so I could finally play Phantasy Star 1-4 and Shining force 1-2 (lovely games btw) and the controls felt a bit sluggish but I thought it was normal for that kind of games on a 16bit console. As i thought that I simply lost my touch with the action titles thinking that that was just me spoiled by the excellent controllers of today being unable to cope with old-school controls. Now as soon as I can I'll dust off my old CRT tv and see if there's some improvement!

      Delete
    5. Excellent contribution, Adrienne, and worthy of an edit to the original post.

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    6. Pretty sure I just lost my skills as I aged! I play strategy and turn based RPGs the same as I always did, but at 59 I turn shooters to easy-mode now...

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  22. I really love the visuals of the game! The answer to the riddle should be something like "It depends on the weight" I guess – like in Monty Pyhton and the Holy Grail... but I assume that will never work with a text parser based answer.

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    Replies
    1. This is probably a pedantic reply to a joke, but one of the great discoveries of physics is that the rate of falling is not affected by the mass of the object.

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    2. I was always bad at physics in school but is mass equal to weight? I feel stupid and a little confudsed now, but a bag full of potatoes is falling faster than a bag full of styrofoam. and it is also shape depending, isn't it?

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    3. I did a quick research: "falling" is not affected by mass in vacuum. In water i.e. it's significant.

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    4. Mass and weight are different things. E.g. a bowling ball has a lower weight on the moon than on earth, but its mass is still the same.

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    5. Drag is significant in air as well. Hence parachutes.

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    6. So it depends on the weight how long it takes to fall 10 feet – or if it is an unladen swallow or a fice ounce bird falling :-)

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    7. Mass is constant, weight is the force exerted by gravity, which is proportional to mass - but the constant of proportionality may vary.

      If your mass is 100 Kg, it is the same on Earth or on the Moon - but on the Moon your *weight* is only a sixth of what it is on Earth, and you can leap about very freely.

      A different force, e.g. a magnet, will see no difference whether you are on the Earth or on the Moon. As far as it is concerned, it has to pull 100 Kg.

      Delete
    8. Well, I may be wrong, but could not "yratgu bs rknpgyl gra srrg vf ubj ybat vg vf" be an answer?

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