Monday, August 6, 2018

Game 299: Bandor: The Search for the Storm Giant King (1992)

It turns out he's not hard to find.
         
Bandor: The Search for the Storm Giant King
United States
Magic Lemon (developer and publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 30 July 2018
Date Ended: 5 August 2018
Total Hours: 16
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 26
Ranking at time of posting: 133/305 (44%)

A party of adventures has come to an ancient town in the midst of re-civilization. From a central keep, the regent for a Council of Lords hands out quests that will further the city's mission, including clearing the slums (where a seer lives), dealing with troublesome bandits, and finding documents that tell of the city's history. The city's efforts are threatened by a mysterious, powerful figure who is gathering evil armies to his side. Does any of this sound familiar?
              
Sasha was prettier.
             
Bandor is a ripoff of a previous game, but it's at least original in the selection of that game: Pool of Radiance (1988). We don't see many Gold Box clones. The cloning here takes several dimensions, including a basis in Dungeons and Dragons races (human, dwarf, elf, half-orc, half-elf), classes (fighter, magic-user, thief, cleric, fighter/thief, fighter/magic-user/thief), and attributes (strength, piety, magic, dexterity, stamina). Attributes are rolled on a scale of 3-18, hit points derived from "stamina," and so forth. You know the drill.

Like the Gold Box series, Bandor combines first-person exploration with top-down tactical combat. And as we've seen, elements of its plot are drawn directly from Pool of Radiance, including certain quests.
            
Attacked by some dwarves while exploring.
           
Bandor being a shareware game, everything is somewhat scaled down. The game world consists of only three 40 x 40 maps: the city, the forest outside, and the "underworld." There are only 10 monster types, half a dozen spells for magicians and clerics, two or three usable weapon types per class, and one or two usable armor types. Graphics are significantly reduced in quality from the Gold Box, although they're still decipherable. And although combat takes place on a Gold Box-style tactical grid, there aren't as many options. In particular, backstabbing, "Delay," and "Guard" are all absent.
            
A couple of trees and a river in the forest area. Honest.
               
Despite these compromises, the basic setup is fun and would have produced a reasonably enjoyable game except for one fatal choice: the game supports no keyboard controls. You have to use the mouse to do everything. Now, I know from experience that plenty of you think that's perfectly fine, but I promise this isn't just me with a quirky preference. I defy any of you to play this game and tell me that the control scheme is acceptable. It's worse than simply not supporting sensible keyboard backups (not even the use of arrow keys) for simple tasks. The game is far too sensitive to the precise position of the mouse when you click. Miss the exact center of a button or menu option and you get an error tone, a question mark, and a maddening pause. Everything ends up taking four times as long as it should.
           
A little wizard explains the backstory.

          
The introduction (which is supposed to offer a digitized voice, but crashed every time I left it enabled) has the party visited by a wizard named Osi who offers the basic backstory. After character creation--which includes a selection of portraits--the party is free to explore the central city of Bandor. The city map offers no random encounters, so any battle that you fight will solve one of the regent's quests, such as defeating C'Dor and his bandits, clearing some wild boars, and eliminating a group of kobolds.
              
Putting bandits to "Sleep" in an early battle.
        
The town offers a training facility, a tavern, the Temple of P'Tah, and the castle and its regent, where you receive and turn in quests. There are two armories in town but hardly any reason to visit. Characters start with axes and leather armor (the game doesn't have D&D's full set of weapon and armor restrictions for clerics and mages), and the armories don't offer much that would be considered an "upgrade." You may want to buy missile weapons for battles in tight corridors, but their utility is limited by the fact that you can't change weapons during combat.
            
The armory and its paltry selection.
           
The forest and underworld areas both offer plenty of random encounters. Bandor does a decent job simulating the basics of Gold Box combat, but having to mince around with the mouse kills any sense of momentum, and the game missed any opportunity to adopt shortcuts to this tedious process. You can't just move; you have to turn and move. You can't just click on an enemy to target him; you have to right click to bring up the menu, click "Aim," click the arrows to set the aiming cursor, right-click to accept, and click "OK" to accept again. This tedious process--plus all the missing that you do at early levels--makes early combats with three or four kobolds last half an hour.
            
An auto-map fills in the city area.
         
Things get a little better once you get mass damage spells, particularly the magic-user's "FlameBall" at Level 4, which affects a 3 x 3 square area and reliably ends most combats. In contrast, I found clerical healing spells mostly unnecessary because I rested to often to restore my magic-user's spells. I played with a fighter, thief, magic-user, and cleric, but if I played again, I'd probably go with two fighters and two magic-users. The thief has a few locked doors to pick, but "Open Doors" spells replicated this ability.

Bandor follows the Gold Box convention of having combat occur on a screen that mirrors the wall pattern of the environment you were exploring when combat began. However, where the Gold Box expanded the area by 400% in transitioning to the combat map, Bandor keeps the literal proportions. This results in a lot of cases where only one character can fight in melee range, or even where one or more characters are separated from combat by walls.
          
Dirtena and Ohlo can't do much back there.
        
The economy is somewhat purposeless. Since there's nothing useful to buy at the shop, the only thing you really need money for is training (100 gold pieces per level) and resurrections, if you don't simply reload. The manual says that you sometimes get item rewards for solving quests, but I never got any.
        
One of the few places you have to spend money in the game.
          
Exploration has a few annoyances. First, there's an automap, but it seems to forget your progress after a lot of combats. Second, the game does a poor job of showing you the periphery in 3D view. In any square, what you see to your left and right is the status of walls, doors, etc., in the squares ahead of you, not in your own square. Good games give you a sense of the terrain to your immediate left and right, so you know when you need to turn. After combat, you'll be facing in a random direction instead of the one you were going, which can confuse systematic exploration. Finally, the game does something weird with the walls, adopting the "razor wall" approach, but still requiring you to move an extra step to get beyond a wall, meaning you can turn and look at the ultra-thin wall mid-stride. Even weirder, walls don't actually come together in their corners.
             
This kingdom has a way to go, architecturally.
          
There are about 10 quests in the game, but I only solved about half of them before stumbling upon the endgame encounter. Bandor ends once you've defeated the Storm Giant King in the underworld. He's supposed to be the hardest enemy in the game, but he isn't very hard. He attacks alone, and I was able to kill him in two rounds with a few melee attacks and a couple of "Magic Missiles." Then again, Tyranthraxus wasn't all that difficult, either.
             
He offers the option to join, just like Tyranthraxus did, but there's no mechanism to say "yes."
         
Striking the final blow against the "Storm Giant Kin."
        
After he dies, the wizard Osi appears and provides a quick congratulations screen, and the game saves and quits to the prompt. Weirdly, you can reload it at this point, but there are no more encounters and nobody in the keep acknowledges further quests.
            
While I appreciate the fame and thanks, maybe something more tangible is in order?
             
I offer a GIMLET here, but I can't overemphasize how much my experience was ruined by the maddening control system. I would not have lasted 16 hours except I knew I was going to bail on Citadel and I couldn't justify two losses in a row. I binged a decent chunk of the TV series Episodes while playing the game because I needed some other source of entertainment to keep me going.
       
  • 3 points for the game world. I like the setup, but it's derivative and not as fleshed out as Pool of Radiance.
  • 4 points for basic D&D-style character creation and development. You might gain six or seven levels during a normal game, but aside from new spells, leveling doesn't have a palpable effect on success. Fighters never get a second attack, for instance. 
             
My thief towards the end of the game.
         
  • 1 point for NPC Interaction. There aren't really many classic NPCs; just a couple of encounters.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The small selection of foes doesn't provide a lot of variance in the challenges offered. There are a couple of non-combat encounters where you can make a basic yes/no choice.
            
If you help this guy, once you get to the temple, he turns into a thief and steals most of your gold.
          
  • 3 points for magic and combat. Bandor copies the Gold Box in look but manages to drain the blood out of it. In particular, the reduced number of spells provides fewer tactical options.
  • 1 point for equipment. You don't find any during the game and you barely have to buy more than what you started with.
  • 2 points for the economy. You earn a modest amount but don't need it for much.
            
A gambling mini-game in the tavern serves no purpose.

          
  • 4 points for quests. A central quest hub with lots of side quests is never a bad setup. The quests offer no choices or role-playing, however.
            
Turning in completed quests for treasure never gets old.
          
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. I offer it for a meager attempt at graphics. I couldn't experience the sound without the game crashing, but even if I blame that on the emulator, the interface is so bad that the negative points I award it cut into anything I would give for sound.
  • 4 points for other gameplay elements. There are some positives here, such as a moderate difficulty, a nonlinear approach, and a modest length. On the other hand, interface issues make those hours seem a lot longer.
             
That gives us a final score of 26, putting it in the "some good elements, but not recommended--try again" category.
            
            
Bandor is a product of Marysville, Ohio-based Magic Lemon Software, which seems to be a sole proprietorship of developer Don Lemons. He supposedly produced a sequel, Bandor II: The Wrath of the Storm Giant King the same year, and Bandor III: The Final Encounter in 1993, although I haven't been able to find either so far. He has two other games on my list: Shadowkeep 1: The Search (1993), a single-character dungeon crawler with an Arthurian framing story, and The Infernal Tome (1994), a multi-character Dungeon Master clone. The titles are all relatively obscure, lacking any significant online reviews or commentary. I think I've identified the right Don Lemons, who would have been 32 when Bandor was released, but I haven't been able to make contact yet.

Only more independent clones in the near future, I'm afraid. We have to look at the Bard's Tale-based Citadel of Vras (1989) and the Wizard's Crown-influenced Dungeons of Kairn (1989) before checking out one of 1992's anchor games, Wizardry VII.

30 comments:

  1. Well, I guess there's no reason to play this when you could just play Pool Of Radiance for the nth time and have a much better experience.

    I kind of like the graphics though, they're charming.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The mix of high-res and low-res graphics in this one is odd. Does the wizard in the backstory screen have claws for hands?

    Because I guess I like to read about crappy shareware, here's a link to Bandor II. This one has keyboard control at least. Released December 31, 1992.

    http://cd.textfiles.com/psl/pslv2nv01/GAMES/DOS/ADVEN_GR/BANDOR_2.EXE

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, thank the gods. He implemented keyboard controls in the second one. I figured where it was released the same year, it would have the same interface.

      I wonder if anyone can tell me how to configure SoundBlaster in a way that works with the supposed digitized voice. I don't know whether to blame the game or my emulator settings.

      Delete
    2. I think his hands are supposed to be in his pockets but I'm not sure. Too bad this game wasn't better be nice to see a good POR clone, maybe two is better.

      Delete
    3. Sound Blaster and DOSBox does not require anything specific for playing back digital voice samples. Most likely it is a game's issue. In DOSBox .conf file, you may try setting sbtype= to sb1 or sbpro1, from the default sb16. Generally, they are fully compatible, but in case of shareware games it's anyone's guess. Maybe, changing irq= to 5 from 7 can help. If there is no sound configuration utility for the game to set it, some games default to 5 instead of 7.

      Delete
    4. The readme and the error message flashing up for a microsecond point to a missing soundblaster driver. The game depends on CTVoice.SYS which Dosbox doesn't provide.

      But you can just open the VOC files of the game with a player like VLC. It's just the intro and two step sounds, with the intro sounding a bit choppy.

      Delete
    5. In that case, the below should get it to work
      https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?t=10364&p=588066

      Delete
  3. This is like a peddle powered go kart, compared to the Ferrari Testarossa that is Might and Magic

    ReplyDelete
  4. May I ask where did you find this game? I'd like to give it a try, but all my searches turnded out be futile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Google "bandor.zip" and you'll find it. Make sure you read the installation instructions, though. I don't remember the details, but you can't just unpack all the files in the same folder.

      Delete
  5. Those graphics are aggressively bad. The issue is that the interface uses reasonable, if amateur, graphics, but then the world has these giant blown up things that might have been acceptable in the mid 80s (think the monsters from early Ultimas), but by 92 are just completely terrible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, the screenshots of this game immediately put me off when I first saw it on an abandonware site. It's not just that they're bad, I can live with bad graphics, but on the screenshots everything just looks so hard to decipher. Chet said he found the graphics clear to read but when I look at these screens, all I see is a big blocky mess. Even Wizardry 1 style wireframes would be more readable than this.

      Delete
  6. No offense to Mr. Lemons and other shareware developers, but I'm glad I skipped on all of these shareware titles back in the day. They seem like not enough to warrant the time investment.

    Thanks to the Addict though for continuing to document all of these games!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's shareware and shareware. DOOM was probably the most successful shareware game of all time! In the CRPG field, Spiderweb software is graphically unambitious, but has always made some of the best games.

      Delete
  7. I gave this a try a couple of weeks ago (why? don't know, can't remember). The mouse control is really bad, I found it almost unplayable (I have up after a few steps). I really admire your tenacity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I started playing it, I thought, "There's no way I'm going to last my six hour minimum, even." But eventually it became Bandor or Citadel, and I discovered at least I could play the former with a TV show going but not the latter.

      Delete
  8. If Mr. Lemons had waited a year he could have made a FRUA module out of his ideas instead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But then the likeness with Pool of Radiance would be even more obvious...

      Delete
  9. I played a demo of the Infernal Tome on a solitaire disc(LOL!) It really isn't that obscure.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, thanks for scratching that itch. I had this (and II) on an old Shareware disk years ago, couldn't make heads or tails of it (looking back, it was probably the same mouse issues, as I remember most of the buttons didn't seem to do anything) and gave up.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Seeing that you are often complaining (rightfully so) about the control schemes of old games, and "Die Dunkle Dimension" is coming up, you should probably know that its author released a version with support for the Cursor Keys in the early 2000s.
    His website is down, but the download on this waybackmachine link should still work:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20071013035742fw_/http://www.die-dunkle-dimension.de/i-ddd64.htm

    Also, manual, etc. and the 2600 page rulebook of the pen and paper version of Die Dunkle Dimension (this is what happens when a German accountant designs an RPG). But don't worry, the CRPG was first and the pen and paper RPG has 10+ years of rules added to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 2600 pages?! That's... more than most of the D&D 3.5 rulebooks combined. Wow. Probably even more than all of the core rulesbooks of D&D 2E and 3E combined.

      Delete
    2. Even more important is the last page of the manual with the security codes for the game. You can find the manual in the archive link.

      Delete
  12. While this game clearly looks terrible I wish game publishers made more games that were short. Something you could have played through in a week. Games that took more than a month to finish demanded more time than my teenage would tolerate.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Be ready for the interface of Shadowlands. I've tried to play it 3 or 4 times and always quit after the frustration with it

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Played that on the Amiga, don't remember major interface issues.

      Delete
    2. That I can list, from the DOS version under dosbox:

      - Clicking doesn't seem to work sometimes. I.e. can't turn off torches...sometimes. Maybe a dosbox problem
      - The need to click on a leg to move to an spot where there's nothing to interact with. This move modes are completely unnecessary, and solved much better in other games that also allow for group and individual movement
      - No keyboard shortcuts. Well, they mimic the mouse, with a key for each mouse button click and the arrows to move the cursor.
      - No map scroll away from the characters then click on a place to move them. The view is attached to at least one active character, that forces them to move in little steps.
      - Pathfinding problems: there is none. Probably the reason they didn't allow longer walking distances too but still too easy to spot. If there is a tree in front you'll need to walk in an L. Sometimes (some of) my characters get stuck before a door while the others went through, so I need to go back to pick them up.
      - Clicking the environment seems to require the cursor to in the precise spot that the devs decided it made sense, like to fight the birds at the start you'll need to click on their shadow on the ground instead of on them (maybe a wink to the game's name?).
      - The clicking surface area is tiny or I don't have the correct body part selected to interact with it. Give me a default action at least, or for gods sake, simple walk the character closer
      - Inventory problems: put object in the hand is required to inspect it. Ok, this is more a pet peeve that still would have made checking your inv faster if done better
      - Give an object to another companion: please tell me that there's a different way than this. Only seems to work by dragging the object from A's inventory to B's hand in that screen. So, if B has something in his hand, so rare... maybe a sword? you will need to 1) go to B's inventory and put the sword in his bag 2) go back to the A's inventory and drag the object from there into B's hand 3) Go back to B's inventory, put the object in his bag and re-equip his hand with the sword.
      - Hunger, thirst, sleep and light management. This can be a dosbox problem again, but this guys get bad too fast and torches don't last much. Yes, I have dosbox cycles adjusted to something that looks like they aren't having seizures when moving. Maybe solvable with magic at some point like in EotB, but it should not be such painful that's in the way *all the time*

      Probably some other things, this is just from memory when I tried last week. Are these a problem on other platforms? no idea, but the game looks cool and would have been nice to give it a proper play-through. As I've said, I've tried 3 or 4 times and given up in frustration

      Delete
    3. Shadowlands tried to bring something new but paid the price of being so experimental, and the sequel came way too early to fix all the issues it had.

      Delete
  14. I've a feeling the graphic problem that exists with the corners is due to a weird perspective/graphics issue that exists in all games that use the pseudo-3d grid-based dungeon-master style view point. Professional - and every amateur - game using this view have used tricks to cheat their way around it, but I'm guessing it was beyond the ability of this programmer, and they just went "eh, sod it, that'll do."

    There's a pixel art tutorial that explains and demonstrates the issue pretty well somewhere (it;s kind of hard to get across in just text), but I can't remember where and don't seem able to google it up right now.

    ReplyDelete
  15. For a long moment I perceived the hooded figure in the "COUNCIL" graphic as some sort of Kermit the Frog cameo.

    ReplyDelete

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