Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Seventh Link: Making a Living the Old Hard Way

Approaching a dungeon. For this screenshot, I'm using an odd option to toggle the color palette.
         
For whatever reason, I didn't give up on this game. I kept playing and grinding for an hour here, an hour there, running around trying to find monsters to fight, fighting them, and retreating to the castle (and its pool of healing) when my hit points got too low. Alas, the process took so long that I accidentally deleted some of the screenshots that pertain to the earlier parts of this entry, assuming they were so old that I must have used them already.

You may recall from my previous entry that the game's primary problem, at least in the early game, is an economic one. Food depletes fast, and you need a constant investment of money to replenish it. Also, most of the places that you need to explore have locked doors, and keys cost 100 gold pieces each at the guild. Meanwhile, enemies are hard to find and enemies that drop treasure chests are even harder to find. Even when you find them, they often don't drop treasure chests, and when they do, the treasure chests are often trapped or contain a pine torch instead of gold. (I learned to love the sight of an orc icon, as orcs drop treasure chests most of the time.) Making 100 gold pieces, enough for a single key, can easily take an hour--an hour in which you've expended nearly 100 gold pieces in food.
         
Orcs reliably leave treasure chests.
          
Things loosened when I opened a door in the castle's underground and found a very large treasure hoard. Around the same time, I ran out of doors to open with keys, so I didn't have to keep investing in that resource. I was able to buy a larger stock of food and better weapons and armor for my two characters. I got my main character up to Level 5 and my secondary to Level 3, and I managed to explore the first level of the only accessible dungeon.

To recap, The Seventh Link takes place on an alien planet populated by remnants of humanity fleeing a destroyed Earth. To make the planet "grow" more quickly, the ancient astronauts seeded its core with a contained black hole, but thousands of years later, the singularity threatens to break its containment unless the player can re-energize it by finding seven "energy packs" hidden by the astronauts and use them to re-charge seven "superconducting bands." The whole backstory is given in epistolary form (captain's logs and such), but it's not hard to figure out by reading between the lines.
          
The game gets a little easier for the party.
       
It's an original plot (at least, as far as RPGs go), but I'm often uncomfortable with the blending of science fiction and fantasy. The world that coalesces around the black hole somehow has giants, dwarves, elves, and magic, which doesn't make a lot of sense. I have the same issue in Might and Magic, where I find it difficult to reconcile magic, undead, and resurrections with a sci-fi narrative.

Anyway, the plot promises to cross multiple planets in the system, but the opening action begins on Elira. Because of mountain ranges and water obstacles, the player can only explore about one-third of the continent at the game's outset, where he can find one unnamed castle, one unnamed town, and one unnamed dungeon. The castle has most of the services you need--weapons, armor, food, healing, guilds--but you have to buy the aforementioned keys to access all of it.
          
In town, most NPCs ignore you. Only about four have had anything to say.
       
The large castle map has an equally-large underground, much of it constructed as a maze. A large section of it is water, and you have to find a boat to navigate. In this underground, I eventually found a joinable NPC, a thief named Hagromil. Having him made combat a little easier. I also found the mages' guild and the thieves' guild, where characters can level up. (They level up for free at their own class's guild, or for 100 gold pieces at another guild.)
           
Leveling at the guild.
        
As I mentioned earlier, the underground also contained a large treasure hoard, and it would have saved me a lot of time if I'd discovered it earlier. The town had another, smaller one. There are a few odd things to do with treasure in this game. First, chests are often trapped. Unlike most other games, if the trap goes off and damages the party, it neither deactivates nor disappears. You don't get the gold and the trap remains active to damage you subsequent times you try to open the chest. However, each chest's trap status seems to be assigned upon loading the game, so simply saving and reloading will clear a lot of the traps.

Second, the "steal" command works oddly in this game. It seems to have been designed to allow the character to steal across counters in shops, but the weird byproduct of the system is that it only works on people and objects two squares away from the party icon. And it works across any boundary. So if you see a chest on the other side of a wall, you can hit (S)teal to somehow cross the barrier and get the chest. Trying this in town is a bad idea, though, as it fails most of the time and aggravates the guards. This status seems to be permanent.
         
Even though I can't get into the area, I can steal the first row of chests "across" the wall.
        
Unfortunately, unlike Ultima III (the game that Link most resembles), chests don't respawn when you leave the area--not in towns, not in dungeons. "Found" gold is thus finite.
             
Eventually, I ran out of things to do in the castle and town. Neither location has a place to buy ships (and you can't take the one in the castle underground out of the underground), so I'm not sure how I'll eventually explore the rest of the continent. I suspect that the dungeon has multiple exits, one of which may lead me to the other side of the mountains.
        
You do not want to step in lava in the dungeons.
          
Like the early Ultimas, dungeon exploration switches to first-person view. The graphics are odd and hard to get used to; it looks like walls directly in front of you are several moves away. There are the usual accoutrements: chests, doors, ladders, fountains, pits, traps. Monsters patrol fixed locations and do not respawn when you leave the dungeon and return. They aren't very numerous.
            
This wall is actually directly ahead of me. I cannot move forward.
          
The first two levels were a large 22 x 22, though in the "worm tunnel" variety, with spaces between walls. Both levels had yellow pillars that don't seem to have any function. They also have squares of lava that equal instant death. Level 1 had battles with fighters and evil clerics, but Level 2 introduced slimes that have to be killed with magic. They just keep dividing when attacked with weapons.
           
Combat in the dungeon.
          
You can't save in dungeons, but I abused an emulator save state to see what would happen if I fell down a pit. Oddly, the party didn't take any damage, but the damned thing took me down 13 levels. That's a pretty big dungeon for this kind of game, and I get the impression that it isn't the only one.

I got attacked by demons and killed on the lowest level, but I'm sure I can survive it eventually. My bigger concerns are travel and torches. I haven't seen any evidence that the game offers spells to move up, down, or out of the dungeon, and it's going to get awful annoying to backtrack in and out after a few levels. Perhaps worse, I'm not sure how to carry enough torches for the journey. The characters' shared inventory is finite, and while you can pack it with a lot of items, torches puff out quite quickly. (The game features both cheap pine torches and expensive enchanted torches; I haven't noticed that the latter last any longer or do anything different.) I could easily see running out on, say, Level 5. There's a "Light" spell in the cleric spellbook, but I'd have to find a cleric.
         
The first dungeon level. The game offers no sense of direction, so I'm not sure if the orientation is "right."
         
So that's where I am. I spent a long time grinding to get my characters to a place that they could survive, but it looks like I've simply swapped one long, boring process for another one. Especially after all the mechanical dungeon-delving in The Game of Dungeons, I'm not particularly in the mood to again map a huge, multi-leveled structure in which nothing much happens. However, I'll resist the urge to title this "Summary and Rating" and give it at least a few more hours.

Time so far: 10 hours



45 comments:

  1. The manual mentions in one of their cuts from the "space log" that teleporters between the planets exist at the bottom of the dungeons. So my guess is you need to find one in order to get to one of the other worlds, and you may get back to a different part of Eliria later.

    I swear I found a cleric in the town or castle once that joined the party on one of my brief play-throughs, but I may be mixing up my memories of Gates of Delirium.

    I took a look at one of the disk files, and there's at least three other party members I think you can find: Tharon, Starwind, and Diriala.

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    1. Well thanks to that link I dug up, I know the other name of the NPC who can join, Juliano. :) I found it in the file with a hex editor, it got split apart due to whatever format they use to store the data.

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  2. I am interested in the game simply for possible "5/5 difficulty rating", which seems to have very high requirements.

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    1. Nah, to get that it has to be actively HARD, not just long and grindy.

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  3. The manual says: "Pirate ships themselves are powerful and rugged. Such a ship would aid your party greatly in its quest." That's a hint that you can take pirate ships as your own. They should start randomly appearing when the main character has more than 200 experience points.

    "I haven't seen any evidence that the game offers spells to move up, down, or out of the dungeon, and it's going to get awful annoying to backtrack in and out after a few levels."

    There are descend and climb spells in the mage's arsenal, but not an exit.

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    1. I've been up and down the coast, but I haven't been able to find any yet. That would really open up the world.

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  4. I really struggle with games that defy the usual first-person conventions. eg in The Bard's Tale, the perspective is from the back of the square you're in, not the front, so squares that look NE and NW of your position, are actually E and W.

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  5. cool that you are still sticking with this one, I would love to read about it for months if you decide to keep it up like a backburner

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  6. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, etc...

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    1. Is any sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from elves?

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    2. Any technology distinguishable from elves isn't sufficiently advanced.

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    3. Elves could be just a genetic mutation in a sci fi game.

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    4. Star Trek has Space Elves. They just call them "Vulcans" for some reason.

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    5. I guess my point is that to explain fantastical elements as reflections as advanced science--for instance, Asgard in the Marvel films--is fine. But to use "science" as an explanation and yet arrive at the exact same place that non-science fantasy arrives at--elves, dragons, orcs, undead, "magic missile," etc.--is kind of lame. Why go through the whole science fiction backstory if you're just going to end up with Middle Earth?

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    6. There's a set of people who are fascinated with an anachronistic aesthetic. Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court sort of thing. It certainly pops up in Fantasy novels. Usually it's the form of the Everyman protagonist falling into a portal to a fantasy world, but the rebooted society has popped up before, as well.

      As I'm thinking about it, maybe it's mostly just Terry Brooks.

      Anyway, the developer wants to build a familiar game experience, but needs to come up with some kind of framing story. Is it more or less lame to rip that off Tolkein, too?

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    7. Yeah Shannara popped into my mind. Post-apoc fantasy has quite a long tradition, and often the apocalypse was scientific in nature.

      But I definitely feel Chet when he says Might and Magic is a pretty nonsensical mix.

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    8. Didn't Ultima I take you into space at one point. That was even more ridiculous.

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    9. With Might And Magic I, at least, the author clearly just wanted to recreate the twist to his favorite Star Trek episode. One of the wall inscriptions calls the episode out by name, even.

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  7. I went digging and found in the internet archives an old page where someone detailed the game. It may contain spoilers so proceed with caution...

    https://web.archive.org/web/20040602083012/

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    1. Looks like the URL got truncated -- it should have a second http in there (the original domain). Try again?

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    2. https://web.archive.org/web/20040602083012/http://142.179.110.134/~jeffv/cocodisk/v001n006/page4.htm

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    3. Neat! A disk magazine that included a copy of Adventure Survivors.

      There was also an introduction in issue 41, which wasn't archived under your link:
      http://www.vavasour.ca/cfdm/v001n005/page21.htm
      They make the start of the game sound very simple...

      And issues 42 with the first half of the walkthrough:
      http://www.vavasour.ca/cfdm/v001n006/page117.htm

      Pity the later issues don't seem to be available anywhere (it seems they were still being published as late as 2000). They might have a solution for Tharoggad...

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    4. All those issues are available on that site:
      http://www.vavasour.ca/cfdm/view.htm
      And you can download them as Virtual Disk Image for reading in a coco emulator ...
      The downloads seem to work. Didn't test the images though.

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    5. The interesting thing about those reviews is that the author clearly had, and played with, the hint guide that Jeff mentions below. I'm sure it's possible without, but the guide probably cuts down on the time an awful lot.

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  8. What was the first CRPG with an automap function?

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    1. Dungeons of Daggorath from 1982 maybe?

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    2. Daggorath or Tunnels of Doom from the same year. Part of the problem with the question is that "automaps" are only necessary for games that don't already occur in a map-like interface. There were several preceding games that slowly revealed a map as you explored--in which the "automap" was essentially the same as the exploration window--but Daggorath and Tunnels required a separate automap because of their first-person interfaces.

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    3. Much as I love Daggorath, I don't think it has an automap as you define it in the glossary, i.e. "an in-game map that is slowly filled in (and sometimes annotated) as the player explores the game world". The scrolls in Daggorath instantly show you the entire level map when used, even if you haven't moved an inch since entering that dungeon level.

      One early example of an automap in the usual sense -- a map that's separate from the area in which gameplay takes place, and which only displays areas of the level that you've visited -- is the Intellivision roguelike/action-RPG hybrid Tower of Doom, which was in development in 1983 as AD&D: Tower of Mystery before being delayed for several years after the closure of Mattel Electronics. I think the 1983/84 builds had the automapping function included, and the map is visible during gameplay (not on a separate screen). Here's an example, though I don't know exactly when this build was made:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaxFl_kXpZo

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    4. Orthanc was a 70s PLATO RPG that had an automap feature, but I'm not sure when it was added to the game.

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    5. Orthanc's was added after the 2003 Cyber1 reboot of PLATO. I remember the author telling me as much by e-mail.

      PK, I had forgotten that the one in DoD required a spell. The one in Tunnels of Doom is also somewhat of a proto-automap given that it's somewhat of an abstraction, and it always shows the entire dungeon level, just shading where you've already been.

      I'd have to hunt through screen shots of post-1984 games, then, to remember what game has the first automamp as we currently think of it. At the same time, note that an indoor automap and an outdoor automap are somewhat separate considerations.

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    6. Tunnels of Doom only shows the entire dungeon level after you have found a map, then you see visited and unvisited areas. Prior to that you only see where you have been.

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  9. Hi, I'm Jeff, one of the original authors of the Seventh Link.

    So, yeah, it's a grind :-). I didn't know much about game design back in those days, and didn't playtest much at all. I feel I should apoligize to you and anyone else who ever played it...

    Indeed I should have done better about merging the sci-fi roots and the fantasy feel. The manual has some hints about it (e.g., orcs are called orcs because one of the original ship's crew was a Tolkein fan, and one of the monster types was due to a mutation induced by the cryo-sleep systems). Not-very-originally, nanotech as the basis of magic: utility fog controlled via a genetically-engineered antenna grown down the spine, and all the original colonists had this alteration. At this point in the game-world's history, though, this genetic heritage has been diluted and degraded, and only very few people still have an adequately functional antenna that they can communicate with the utility fog.


    Here are some hints (with spoilers in ROT13 as requested) if you ever get back to it:

    If you can mount the elira and dungeon disks in drives 0 and 1, you can avoid that prompt about inserting disks.

    There is in fact a kind of auto-map feature, but it's exposed like this:
    Gurer'f n zntvpny vgrz pnyyrq n Trz B'Frrvat. Vs lbh unir bar bs gurfr rdhvccrq ol nal punenpgre va n qhatrba, lbh'yy trg n znc ivrj va gung oynax fcnpr orybj gur 3Q ivrj. Vs lbh "hfr" n trz va n gbja gur trz jvyy or qrfgeblrq, ohg lbh'yy trg n grzcbenel gbc-qbja ivrj bs gur jubyr guvat gung'yy qvfnccrne jura lbh uvg n xrl. Or fher gb gnxr n fperrafubg!

    There are definitely more than one dungeon and town accessible from the starting area.

    Getting a ship:
    Lbh pna ohl bar va n gbja fbhgu-rnfg bs gur fgnegvat cbvag (gur gbja jurer lbh pna frr nabgure gbja qverpgyl guebhtu gur zbhagnvaf, VVEP). Be, bapr lbh ernpu n pregnva yriry (naq V sbetrg jung yriry gung vf), cvengr fuvcf fubhyq fgneg nccrnevat va gur bprnaf naq jvyy nggnpx lbh yvxr nal bgure perngher. Vs lbh pna qrsrng gur cvengrf va pbzong, lbh pna gnxr gurve fuvc ol fgnaqvat ba vg naq cerffvat R (VVEP).

    Cheating in combat:
    Gurer'f n terng oht lbh pna rkcybvg vs lbh unir zber guna bar punenpgre. Jura lbhe ynfg punenpgre vf nobhg gb gnxr gurve ghea, fjvgpu gb gur vairagbel fperra naq zbir onpx gb lbhe svefg punenpgre. Jura lbh rkvg gur vairagbel fperra, vg'yy or lbhe svefg punenpgre'f pbzong ghea ntnva. Xrrc qbvat guvf, naq gur zbafgref jvyy arire trg n ghea. (Lrf, V hfrq gur fnzr zrzbel ybpngvba gb erpbeq juvpu punenpgre'f ghea vg jnf naq juvpu punenpgre'f vairagbel jnf orvat ybbxrq ng, naq qvqa'g ernyvmr gur vzcyvpngvbaf sbe pbzong.)

    Early escape from combat: (This is in the manual, so not really a spoiler):
    Cerff gur RFP xrl be zbir bss bs gur pbzong nern gb rfncr jvgubhg svtugvat. Lbh'yy enaqbzyl ybfr unys bs lbhe ryve be sbbq.


    I produced a hints-and-tips booklet back in the day, and I still have a paper copy. If the community is interested, I'll scan it and uplaod it somewhere...

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    1. Hi, Jeff. Funny timing. I was actually playing the game when this comment came through. I managed to find a pirate ship and I was in the midst of exploring a new town.

      I really appreciate when the original authors stop by to comment, but I'm sorry you stumbled upon this when the game was still in progress. I usually find more positive things to say about games as I progress through them. You certainly don't need to apologize. There were about six RPGs available for this platform, and yours is one of the most advanced. I'm sure that Color Computer owners of the day were grateful.

      If you have time to upload that booklet, I can promise that I'll make use of it, and I'm sure others will, too.

      I appreciate the tips, and I hope that you find my remaining coverage fair. If you're willing to talk a bit about the background, please shoot me an e-mail at crpgaddict@gmail.com

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    2. I'd love to get a copy of the original hint book! The Adventure Survivor's referred to it but I've never seen a scanned copy online.

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    3. Turns out I don't have a physical copy of the hints+tips book (but I did find an orignal manual for Gates of Delirium :-) ). However, I'm pretty sure I have the original hint book files on one of my old PCs. If not, I started a project to port link and some of my other CoCo games to PC, so I do have the game files, and with a little spelunking I should at least be able to reconstruct maps of the towwns+dungeons, which, IIRC were part of the hint book. My area (Seattle) is supposed to become immobilized by snow this weekend, so maybe I'll even have time...

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    4. Yeah, I'm in the Seattle area (Everett) as well, working from home today. Had some snow early morning but it's dry right now. I've heard they're scaling back the predicted snow fall levels now.

      Do you have a physical copy of the Seventh Link? I got my brother's Coco3 with disk drive and all his stuff, it would be neat to see it running on original hardware.

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    5. So couldn't find hint book files either, but did find old actual game files. A little bit of reverse-engineering later, and I managed to dump out world maps for all four worlds. I put the resulting BMPs here:

      https://1drv.ms/f/s!Aoua5UzqnyF-rNALGaUNt8Hr1kWAuQ

      Note, of course, that being able to see the whole world like this is MAJOR spoilers :-)

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    6. Oh, and @Adamantyr: Yes, I do have a physical copy but I'm not really willing to part with it :-).

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    7. I groveled through the disks and found some text that contains a bunch of hints that you would read on signs were you to find them in-game. I placed a text file in the same folder linked above- only look at it if you want hints that are SPOILERS :-)

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    8. Hi, Jeff. I appreciate you offering these resources. I did take a peek at the text file because I was curious how many total lines there were. The file seems to contain both sign hints AND NPC monologues. Can you confirm that this file represents everything said by all NPCs in the game? (Other than the ones who will join you, I assume.)

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    9. Yes, you're right, it's signs and NPC dialog.
      It's not quite everything that is said/written. I left out a bunch of things like "the such-and-such guild is nearby" because without knowing where the speaker is, it's not very useful. Also, I gathered these strings by running a program over the contents of the disk that looked for things that "looked a bit like text", so I may have missed a few things. But I can certainly confirm that there isn't much more text- I remember that there was very little. (Had I a do-over, I would have reduced the map size a bit and used the space to add more details for NPCs etc.)


      BTW I did spend some time trying to pull out maps of the dungeons and towns, but was unable to locate them on the disk. They are compressed, so it's really difficult to find them by eyeballing walls of binary data, and alas, I don't have the source code on my PC. Although it just occurred to me that maybe I can look through it on my coco. Hmm. :-) But it's probably time to get back to real life...

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  10. @JeffNo Totally understand. I've never seen one come up on eBay, or I would have tried to obtain one that way.

    Very nice map extractions! That's actually a huge help with the game. Eliria in particular is VERY maze-like.

    That's too bad about the dungeons and towns being compressed, but it does make sense, disk space was always at a premium. Do you recall if it was RLE or some other compression library that was used?

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    1. It was RLE (a custom implementation because there was no such thing as "libraries" in those days :-) ).


      I did a new C implementation to decompress the maps, but I knew where they started on disk. The problem with the towns and dungeons is that I didn't know where they started, and as you can imagine, pointing RLE at random places on the disk didn't really result in anything useful. If time and inclination present themselves, I might wander through the source code on my coco (if the disks can still be read)- maybe I'll be able to figure out where the towns and dungeons started.

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    2. Another option is to find a CoCo emulator that will let you dump memory while the game is running. At least then it would be uncompressed and easier to find. I did that myself studying the MSX version of Gauntlet.

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