Monday, December 10, 2018

Legends of the Lost Realm: Bit by Bit

It's tough to advance in Legends of the Lost Realm.
       
Legends of the Lost Realm is one of those games that it's hard to believe anyone has ever won. It's taken me 13 hours, several false starts, a couple of dozen character deaths, and at least three complete re-installations just to map most of the starting level and to get my party to Level 2. And that's with cheating.

Normally, I try to avoid circumventing the game's intended difficulty, but I'm sick of losing so many Level 1 characters. Plus, cheating is so much work that it barely improves upon playing it straight. The game writes character deaths to the save file almost immediately, so you can't "quit without saving" when you die. With a DOS game, you might be able to kill the emulator as soon as things go poorly, but this is a bad idea with Mac emulators because of the whole "shut down" thing. Hex editing is a solution to a different problem, and I don't have any idea how to use Mac hex editors anyway. Basilisk doesn't support save states (neither, I think, does Mini vMac), so that's out. You can back up the game's save files, but you have to do it somewhere the game won't accidentally find them (when I tried it, the game loaded the backups at one point rather than the primaries), and there are several to backup, in different directories. I don't know how to write a script to speed up the process, so I found it easier just to copy the entire Mac hard drive image in Windows and restore it as needed. Imagine telling a 1992 player that one day, your solution to cheating an RPG will be to re-image the entire hard drive every time you die.

Basically, every time something good happens, I have to save the game in-game, quit the game, shut down the Mac inside the emulator, back up the hard drive image, re-open the emulator, re-open the game, go through the copy protection exercise, and finally load the party. When something bad happens, I have to shut down the emulator, restore the hard drive image, re-open the emulator, re-open the game, go through the copy protection exercise, and load the party. I've won entire RPGs in less time.
           
You have to deal with this every time you start the game.

My colorblindness makes it really hard to read those codes.
             
The copy protection process is particularly annoying, although I realize it's obnoxious to complain about it since I am functionally pirating the game. When you fire up the game, it asks you to enter a spell code from the game documentation, referenced by spell number and "card number." I've found the appropriate documentation, but it was created (sensibly) by taking apart the original paper document and scanning each folded folio. None of the pages ("cards") have numbers, and there's no easy way to tell in what order they would have appeared when folded. I've had to guess and then annotate the PDF when I get it right. Meanwhile, the codes themselves are very hard to read--they're written in a light color against a shaded background to foil photocopying.

When I first started playing, I was resolved not to use "Pete," the Level 4 fighter-mage who comes with the game, equipped with a "mithryll sword." (I love how every RPG developer has to come up with his own spelling of mithril, as if that makes it less derivative.) That resolve lasted no more than a couple of hours. He's the only character that can even hit some of the enemies you find on the level.
            
A lot of plazas have guardians at the entrances.
      
After fielding a few dozen characters, paying for their burials when they died, and finally re-installing the entire game when I ran out of money, I settled on a party of Pete, two other fighters, a thief, a shaman, and a mage. In the first entry, I noted that the game's six attributes--strength, dexterity, intelligence, constitution, wisdom, and luck--are rolled on a scale of 3 to 18. That turns out to not quite be true. They exist on that scale, but the actual minimum and maximum rolls depend on the character class and sex. The male fighter, for instance, only ever rolls 16-18 for strength, 12-16 for dexterity, 10-14 for intelligence, 14-18 for constitution, 10-14 for wisdom, and 11-15 for luck. Every character class has a very good chance of 18s for his or her prime requisites, and only the mage ever rolls in the single digits (for strength and constitution). See, this the level of detail you don't get when I can blast through three dungeon levels per entry. Anyway, figuring that I needed all the help I could get, I calculated the odds of an 18-16-18-15 string for the fighter in strength, dexterity, constitution, and luck at 1 in 375 and rolled until I got it. I did the same with the other characters and decided this would be the final party, come hell or high water.
              
This fighter's stats in strength, dexterity, constitution, and luck are as high as they come for fighters.
          
The 20 x 20 "town" level has several temples, an armory, a bank, a magic shop, a supply shop, the adventurers' barracks, and the "review board" where you level up. The corners and center of the map all have towers that lead to their own mini-dungeons, and the plazas in front of those towers are guarded by high-level foes, such as wizards, shamans, mountain giants, samurais, and master thieves. Getting strong enough to kill those guardians is a key early goal. 
           
The "town level."
          
A lot of the other squares--particularly any single-square room behind a door--have fixed encounters that repopulate every time you reload. There's a large section of such rooms in the northwest, in a configuration that suggests a kind of jail, perhaps inspired by a similar place in Might and Magic. Monsters in these locations include rats, bats, spiders, bullies, pirates, burglars, thieves and master thieves, ninjas, barbarians, hags, magicians, and dwarves. In addition to fixed enemies, there are wandering parties of fighters, thieves, archers, mages, and wild dogs.
             
I get this message entering the "jail" area.
          
If the game makes one thing easy, it's usually possible to run away when you first encounter an enemy party. But that doesn't make the party disappear, and it's easy to get caught in a corridor between two wandering enemy parties, one of which you have to defeat to progress.

Combat in Legends of the Lost Realm follows a Wizardry pattern but with a different kind of interface. Characters have options to attack, hide, cast a spell (which includes using a special ability), use an item, or switch order. Only the first three characters can strike in melee range. You set an option for each character and then hit "Attack." Unlike Wizardry, you don't have to specify a target for your action until it actually executes in the round, and you can click a button to have the game auto-select the target for you.
          
One of the more difficult groups for a Level 1 party.
         
I've found that surviving early combats means casting the shaman's "Cure Light Wounds" just about every round and trying to keep up with hit point loss among the lead three characters. Mage spells are pretty useless at the first level, but some of them, like "Pain," "Slow," and "Weaken," can take the edge off large parties. Any enemies capable of attacking at range--including archers and  spellcasters--are a priority because the rear characters have lower armor classes and hit point totals.

I also learned early how to manage which enemy parties are in melee range. Only the "lowest" two groups on the combat diagram can attack in melee range, so if you face more than two groups, you want to get one of them down to 1 member and then leave him there, blocking one of the more numerous groups from coming forward. 
          
Keeping two smaller groups at the bottom prevents one of the larger groups from attacking in melee range.
        
Slowly, I began to amass a bit of gold. Things got easier after I was able to purchase plate armor, helms, and gloves for all three of my lead characters, lowering their armor classes and making it easier to keep up with hit point losses. I bought bows and arrows for the rear characters, which didn't help much because they hardly ever hit with them.

It took a long time to get to Level 2. Each character needed about 1,000 experience points, and each battle delivered an average of about 60 (for the entire party, not per character). It took almost 100 successful battles to level up, and of course that was interspersed with many fatal battles and reloads. And all Level 2 really seems to have brought are more hit points and spell points. I haven't noticed that the characters are significantly more effective in combat. I won't get new spells until Level 3.
           
Leveling up is a long way off.
          
Another annoyance in the game has to do with food, water, and fatigue. They all deplete rapidly, limiting the amount of time you can spend on an expedition. (This is especially true if you forget to activate the pause feature while you step away from the game.) You can buy food and water in the supply shop, but it's a chore going through each character and having him eat and drink, particularly because each "gulp" of water only restores 10%. Fortunately, returning to the barracks restores everyone to 100%, so it's not as much of an issue on the first level as it will be later in the dungeons.

Miscellaneous notes:
           
  • A "tax man" lurks around the barracks and skims from any character who has more than 100 gold pieces. This forces the party to visit the bank before returning to the barracks area.
  • There doesn't seem to be any way to sell excess equipment. You just have to drop it.
  • As I mentioned last time, if you can't afford items, you can buy them on credit. But you have to pay off your debts before you can level up, so it's best not to abuse this.
  • There was a fixed encounter with a "horrid beast" who was tough to kill. He left a can of beer. No idea what that's for.
  • Special skills are "cast" just like spells. For instance, the thief "casts" PICK to pick a lock. 
           
"Casting" my lockpicking ability.
        
  • There are some keyboard redundancies, but most of the game involves a lot of pointing and clicking. There are a lot of non-obvious commands that require you to read the manual. For instance, using item "0" in combat means that you attack with bare hands. "Casting" a dollar sign ($) attempts to bribe enemies. Adding a "D" to the end of a spell code causes a caster to delay until the end of the round.
  • For whatever reason, the "review board" un-equips all of your weapons and armor when you level up. Also for whatever reason, you can rename characters during the process of leveling up.
           
Actually, I guess I get the reason. A player might eventually come to say, "You know, 'Kerg' is a pretty stupid name."

         
  • The first level has both hidden doors (which you reveal by walking into the wall) and one-way doors.
  • The magic shop lets you pay 5 gold pieces to consult a book for hints. Examples: "The central tower is most difficult on the west side"; "Some puzzle pieces are not used"; "Stay in the t's in the teleport maze, and you will be OK." There's also a "monster lore" book that you can read for 1 gold piece. It offers hints like "the rat is vulnerable to archery" and "an enchanter may be slapped around" (a hint to attack unarmed, probably). That's an original feature.
           
Getting a hint in the magic shop. That doorway in the back is a dungeon you can enter.
           
  • The developers clearly played Wizardry (character creation, permadeath, prestige classes), The Bard's Tale (the review board, spell codes), and Might and Magic (map design and the nature of many of the encounters).
         
Entering one of the tower dungeons.
        
Several messages have given me the impression that the game's quest will involve finding 16 clues among the various sub-dungeons. So far, I've found seven entrances to those dungeons: the four towers in the corners, the one in the center, a grating behind a hidden door, and a door in the magic shop. (There might be more; there are some locked doors and enemies I haven't been able to pass.) I guess it's time to stock up on food, water, and torches and try one.

Time so far: 13 hours

*****

Regrettably, I've had to bail on Sandor. It's become clear that I have a freeware version of the game and there's no way to register it. I keep running afoul of demands for some code that I can't enter. Rather that write a new entry, I've updated the original entry with some more information and a best-guess GIMLET.

Looking ahead, I rejected some games from the bottom of the 1989 list:

  • Universe 3 isn't an RPG (only GameFAQs had it as such). It's a sequel to an adventure/simulation series and maintains that genre.
  • Two Vikings is an interesting C64 game from a diskmag--the German Magic Disk 64. It uses Ultima-esque tiles (some of the graphics seem to be copied directly), and it has hit points, but there's no character development, and combat is all action. It's a competitive game in which two players, using only joysticks for inputs, try to accomplish something as their hit points and food rapidly deplete.
            
One character explores a town while another fights Ultima II-looking monsters.
            
  • Tower of Light for the ZX Spectrum is an adventure game with a text interpreter in which the characters have hit points. Again, there's no character development, and combat success seems to be based solely on luck and the type of weapon equipped.

           
Those eliminations get us closer to the end of 1989 and a return to a single list.


29 comments:

  1. "Those eliminations get us closer to the end of 1989 and a return to a single list."

    Looking at your master game list spreadsheet you have about 27 "Unplayed" non-1989 games that predate 1992. How are you going to approach them once you clear '89? (Some of them look very short/marginal RPGs)

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    1. Wow, is it really that many? I was planning to pick them up one by one in between games on the main list, but as I felt like it rather than in a systematic way. I mean, any game that managed to go unidentified during TWO passes through its given year is unlikely to be a gem.

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    2. I think it was less originally but you have picked up a few stray add-ons over time.

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    3. and I am sure you will reject a lot of them, as being non crpg or not working

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    4. Looking through these "leftovers" there are probably only two significant games, "Realms of Darkness" (1987), an early SSI game, and "Centauri Alliance" (1990) which was made by the same guy who made Bard's Tale, and I think you missed both on your previous passes due to having the wrong year and moving them.

      Several of the "leftovers" I can't even find when I google them!.

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    5. The Hydlide games were relatively big in Japan, hence why there are 2 sequels of it in that list. The first game was also, with Wizardry, Ultima and Black Onyx, one of the major influences which defined the jRPG genre.

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  2. If it makes you feel any better (and I'm sure it probably doesn't), I'm not colourblind and I still can't read half of those spell codes.

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    1. I can read them, my red-green color blindness is perhaps just the right one to see the letters...
      But with some image editing it's no problem to read it, for e. g. with IrfanView it's one click: Image->Negative.

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  3. The look of Tower Of Light makes me nostalgic for the Spectrum.

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  4. This is super thrilling, somehow.
    Also, my eyesight is unusually good and I can barely see those codes. I think they tried to make them resistant to photocopiers or something but, wow, that's extreme.

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  5. Thank you for documenting these games, I couldn't sit through playing them but it is very interesting to read.

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  6. Universe 3 is an RPG.

    http://www.atarimania.com/reviews/hi_res/universe_3_review_atari_st_st_action.jpg

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    1. I'm not sure how that page proves your assertion. I looked at the manual for the game on MOCAGH, and it didn't suggest anything in the way of character development or attribute-based combat.

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    2. Still waiting for that Strategy/Simulation Addict to pick up the slack.

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    3. @Zenic Reverie:

      Don't even tempt me! I love strategy games, though I'm not quite as keen on simulations unless they're city-builders.

      Something to think about once I finish my Elder Scrolls blog. Going on seven years now...

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    4. Strategy and simulations are my third and fourth favorite genres. I'm already putting off getting back to the RPG blogging though, so I have no hope of ever starting another project like that.

      Good to hear you're still going with the Elder Scrolls blog. Once I get through those games I'll look forward to reading it. Are you stopping at Skyrim, or including the ES:VI, or even ESO?

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    5. Maybe people should try a group effort like what happened to the adventure game blog.

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    6. I can't include ESO since that takes place before everything else and the blog is a continuous journal of the Nerevarine made immortal through Dagoth Ur's "gift".

      I wouldn't mind including ES:VI when it comes out so long as it occurs chronologically after the events of Skyrim.

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  7. The difficulty seems a bit off, so wondering if there is any way to be able to pick your combats. Probably there's a grind spot somewhere (like the dungeons in Bard's Tale had).

    Does this game have day and night circles? I remember Bard's Tale, which surely was an inspiration, got a lot harder during nights. Fortunately, you could easily reset this to morning by visiting the adventurer's guild. During day, even a level 1 party could win more than half of the fights and run away from the others.

    Or probably you have to grind by class, if there are great differences at low level. This would mean gathering a full party of (i.e.) fighters, hope to level up maybe 2 of them, bury the rest and then try to bring 1 of 3 (maybe) rangers through with your now stronger party, etc.

    Just wondering if there is any strategy hidden or if this game is just mean.

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    1. No day and night cycle, and as you'll see from the next entry, grinding would REALLY be a chore.

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  8. I've got to say, other than the impossible difficulty, this game sounds pretty darn interesting. I wonder if even the developers ever beat it.

    Also, the idea of having to reinstall when you lose hard enough is very annoying.

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  9. Given the difficulty, it concerns me that the game may abruptly stop having content at some point... if no one ever gets very far, no one will know it wasn't finished?

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    1. Some adventure games do this once you get past the midpoint, you zoom to end through practically empty screens with maybe a maze or two.

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  10. "(I love how every RPG developer has to come up with his own spelling of mithril, as if that makes it less derivative.)"

    At some point when there was only one edition of Dungeons And Dragons, the Tolkien estate hit TSR with a copyright infringement suit. The result of this is that "hobbits" became "halflings" (and changed significantly in later editions to blur the connection further), "ents" became "treants", and "balrogs" became "balors".

    Since Tolkien invented the word "mithril", this was also changed (to "mithral") even though it wasn't part of the suit. Most later non-Tolkien works have adopted a similar policy of not taking words directly from Tolkien's work - either out of direct fear of another lawsuit, or simply because that is the way things are done.

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  11. Games like this ask the question: if it's basically unplayable without cheating - and the method of cheating wouldn't have been available to players of the era - is there any point in playing it beyond satisfying your curiosity? It doesn't sound like it's fun, and if nobody could play it then it can't possibly be influential or inform an understanding of history...

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  12. Finally some game to rival Knightmare!
    Hope it doesn't get 4.5 difficulty rating in the end.

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  13. That certainly is quite extreme.

    For curiosity, I went to read the Computer Gaming World review and they concur with the absurd difficulty of the start, but at least say it becomes a rewarding experience later. So maybe there is hope. They actually give some hints to get started, including instructions on which files to back-up precisely. I took a screenshot: https://imgur.com/JXIC1fR

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    1. It did get a lot easier after this entry, but I'm not sure it's "rewarding" yet. We'll see.

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  14. The food/drink system sounds horribly annoying.

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