Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Game 335: Prophecy of the Shadow (1992)

              
Prophecy of the Shadow
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 24 June 2019
             
SSI began as a wargame company, and their best games--principally the Gold Box series and the Wizard's Crown series--have always reflected those roots. Nonetheless, by 1992, the company seemed to be on a mission to dominate, or at least compete in, every RPG sub-genre. Eye of the Beholder and its sequel were their answers to the first-person, real-time category, while Shadow Sorcerer took inspiration from British axonometric titles. Neverwinter Nights had virtually no competition online. The company's streak of 22 published RPGs between 1991 and 1994 has never been broken on the personal computer. 

Prophecy of the Shadow is so blatantly the company's answer to Ultima VI that it's a wonder they didn't license the "look and feel" from Lord British the way they did for Questron. It's got the same mostly-top-down-but-slightly-oblique perspective, the same row of icons with keyboard backups (even most of the icon symbols are the same), the same targeting of enemies and objects with a cursor, the same keyword-based NPC dialogue, and the same continuous scrolling movement through a landscape that desperately wants you to think it's not just tiles but really is.
           
Character creation even has some Ultima IV-style questions.
         
But just like Ultima clones from independent developers with a lot fewer resources, Prophecy of the Shadow lacks a lot of Ultima's complexity. To start, you control only one character. The box puts an exclamation point after the game's single-character nature, as if that by itself is a good thing, as if other developers were sitting around thinking, "Gee, it never occurred to us to allow the player to control just one guy." It also greatly simplifies the inventory--the protagonist can wield one object at a time and can wear nothing at all--and it runs dialogue by feeding the keywords to you. (In many ways, it's more like Origin's Times of Lore, which used an early version of the U6 interface, than Ultima VI.) Whether by intention or limitation, it's clearly geared towards the RPG novice.
           
The game map shows a small world. I already explored the northwest island.
           
None of this means that it's a bad game. There's always a place for an easy, familiar title telling a new story. Here, the story is probably the game's best feature. It calls upon familiar tropes without being overly cliched or obviously based on a single source. Told mostly in the form of the naive protagonist's journals, the backstory casts the character as an apprentice mage in a world where magic is outlawed. In infancy, he washed ashore on the island of Bannerwick, which I gather is part of the larger kingdom of Ylowinn. This is a world in decline. Every season, the crops get smaller and plants go extinct. Mines are exhausted of ore. Civilization itself seems to be coming apart at the seams; when the local ferry to the mainland breaks down, no one bothers to repair it. A princess named Elspeth was supposed to take charge on her 18th birthday, but she mysteriously disappeared, leaving the land in the hands of the regent Cam Tethe, who blames a conspiracy of mages for the disappearance and spends more time hunting them than searching for Elspeth.
            
An NPC delivers part of the backstory.
        
The townsfolk distrusted a baby who managed to survive the sea unscathed, so it was left to the local healer, Larkin--himself regarded with suspicion--to raise and tutor the child. The child of course becomes you. You've had so little contact with the outside world all your life that when you head into town at the beginning of the game, no one knows who you are.
          
"Yeah! I hope you find . . . him!"
        
In the game's opening moments--so sudden as to be comical, particularly with the accompanying scream--Larkin is assassinated by a thrown dagger, leaving the protagonist to bury him in the back yard. With his dying breath, Larkin tells his ward to "get the text of the prophecy from Berrin," as "it must go to the council in Silverdale," which is on the mainland.
          
The main character's master dies in the opening scenes.
                  
In these opening moments and almost all the NPC dialogues that follow, we see that Prophecy of the Shadow was on the cutting edge of what would become the early- and mid-1990's worst trend: the use of full-motion video (FMV) instead of computer animation (or just static graphics). Naturally, the subjects of these animations were whoever was sitting around the developers' offices and not actual actors. Blessedly, it only seems to have been about five years before developers realized this was not the wave of the future, and I don't remember seeing FMV after about 1998, though of course there are a lot of titles I haven't played.
          
A little FMV upon entering the inn.
        
Character creation is a simple process of giving your name and sex. A few role-playing questions set your initial values for health, magic, and agility. Health and magic are both attributes and pools of points, and the maximum goes up with successful actions (swinging weapons and casting spells), which is a bit different than the Ultima titles. These attributes automatically regenerate, albeit slowly, as long as you have food. If you run out of magic points, you can still cast spells, but they draw directly from your health.

A row of icons--all, blessedly, with keyboard equivalents--defines how you interact with the world: look, attack, cast a spell, enter, drop, search, use, give, and rest. "Search" on Larkin's door mat revealed an iron key to his house, but all I can do there is spend the night.
             
Using the L)ook command--and learning a new piece of vocabulary.
          
As I began the game, the passages through the forest around Larkin's house naturally guided me to his neighbor, Berrin, who related that rumors have already spread that I killed Larkin. He gave me the key to Larkin's workshop but otherwise wouldn't help me (including giving me the prophecy) until I could prove my innocence. Behind Berrin's house, incidentally, are two gravestones--his wife and son--both "killed by guardsmen." I wonder if that bit of backstory will later come out.

Larkin's workshop was accessed through an underground hatch near the house. There, I found a book of spells and a "lead catalyst." You have to be holding a catalyst in your hands to cast a spell, and I guess lead is the lowest-level catalyst. The book had four spells: "Incendiere" is a basic fire blast that strikes one target; "Curare" is a healing spell; and "Memoria" and "Repetere" are a pair of mark/recall spells that let you designate a point and later warp back to it.

Using the game map as a guide, I eventually made my way to town, where I found about half a dozen NPCs, including some generic "peasants." You converse by selecting keywords on the left side of the screen. As the NPCs respond, more keywords appear. Today, the local news was that the sheriff had caught Robin One-Eye, a famed bandit whose gang lives in the woods north of town. I was able to visit Robin One-Eye in jail but he just taunted me.
         
Getting lore from a local. Where did a bunch of programmers get access to so many actors who look like unwashed peasants with bad facial hair?
       
I also heard some talk of Larf the Terrible, a gnome wizard who lives in a tower to the east. There was a note in Larkin's workshop that a circle of mages expelled Larf for necromancy. I suspect that either Robin or Larf is responsible for Larkin's death, and I'll somehow need to prove it to get off the island.

The local shop had some weapons and other items that were outside my price range, although the innkeeper was willing to pay me 10 silver for odd jobs. I repeated this option about 8 times before he finally said he had nothing more for me to do. I bought a sling and a torch but spent most of my money on food.

Outside of town, I started encountering bandits. Attacking is a matter of hitting "A" (or the attack button) and then moving the cursor to your foe. If you have a melee weapon equipped, you can only target the 8 squares around you. (Well, technically you can target your own square, but the game just admonishes you not to attack yourself.) If you have a missile weapon, you can aim anywhere in the visible window. Missile weapons are tricky because enemies will typically move out of the square before the missile reaches them, meaning that you really want to attack the square in the direction they're going. It strikes me that missile weapons are going to be mostly useless in this game. There simply isn't enough distance in the view window, and enemies close the gap too fast.

You can cast a spell instead of attacking by using the spell catalyst--or, if it's already equipped, hitting the M)agic button. At the outset, I only had "Incendiere," which kills most enemies in a couple of castings, but two castings cost 20 magic points out of the 45 I started with.

If you choose to fight with a weapon, your health occasionally goes up a point. If you cast spells, your magic pool occasionally goes up a point. This is the game's approach to "character development."
         
My health increases as I kill a bandit.
        
Slowly, I explored the rest of the island. It turned out there were two major indoor areas to explore: the bandit camp and Larf's tower. You need a rope from the former to access the latter. I needed a password to enter the bandit camp, which required me to trudge back to town and buy Robin One-Eye a bottle of white zinfandel before he would tell it to me: ZINFANDEL.
           
Why does zinfandel have such a bad reputation? I rather like it.
        
The bandit camp was one small level and one large level. I had to kill a bunch of bandits. I rather like the game's search function. If you wander over to a chest, a dead body, or just an interesting area, you hit S)earch, and the game tells you what you find. It's rather tolerant in its distance allowance, so you don't have to hit the command every step. A lot of what you find are notes, journals, and other writings that flesh out the game's lore.

The bandit camp held a few healing potions, a rope, a rapier (better than the starting dirk), a magic potion, and several black potions. The black potions are acid that damage you when you drink them, so I'm not sure what good they do. Late in the dungeon, I fought and killed a "mage killer," who was carrying a "death warrant" for Larkin.
             
The "T," of course, probably stands for "Tethe."
           
A book called The Joy of Pies held a treasure map that directed me to a specific square from one of the stone heads on the island. There, I found a chest with several pieces of jewelry.

By now, I was running up against the inventory limit, which dogged me the rest of the session. It became clear that you want to drop most items as soon as their utility is done, including keys and notes. Actually, a better idea is probably selling them to the general store, because the store keeps sold items in their inventory and will re-sell them to you in case you made a mistake. The problem is that you constantly have to leave locations and trudge back to the general store. I ended up selling most of the black potions because I couldn't find any use for them and they were preventing me from picking up other things. I also sold all the jewelry I found, assuming it was for that purpose.
             
A few too many things in my backpack.
          
Showing the death warrant to the sheriff cleared my name, and showing it to Berrin prompted him to give me the prophecy on a vellum scroll. I read the prophecy. Larkin's notes indicated that "most of it has already come to pass."
           
And it shall come to pass that in the day, the end of all days, a Shadow will come forth from the wilderness. The Lord of the Shadows, the Bringer of Darkness, the Master of Death. At his hand, Evil will arise anew. Green fields will wither, and a plague will smite the land. Cry mothers for your children, for when you see these things, know ye that the fate of the world hangs in the Balance.
             
It's probably going to turn out that Cam Tethe is the Lord of the Shadows, but it would be nice if the game had some kind of twist on the standard template, like maybe it's me (I did kind-of come out of the wilderness). Either way, I had to get off the island. Since the ferry was broken, I turned to the only place I hadn't explored: Larf's tower. It sits in a ruined heap on the coast, near a graveyard where a ghost wanders. I tried talking to him, but it didn't work.
          
Maybe later, I'll find a "Seance" spell.
        
A rope gets you into the basement of the tower, which turned out to consist of five levels. Every one is dark, so you need a light source. The game keeps track of torches as a statistic, along with food and silver, rather than as inventory items, but you need a flint and steel in your inventory to light them. An alternative is to purchase a lamp and lamp oil, the latter of which is also tracked as a statistic. It would be a waste of inventory space, I gather, to have both a lamp and flint and steel.
          
Arriving in the dungeon.
        
The levels of Larf's tower were full of evidence of Larf's macabre experiments, including zombies that I had to kill. His notes indicated that he was more than a necromancer: he was a serial killer, having captured living subjects for many of his rituals. These notes also said that he eventually created an undead butler to serve him, but the creature went insane, stole something called a "translocation rod," and hid it in a lower level of the tower. Larf was apparently making plans to destroy the creature when it attacked him in his bed at night, killing him and leaving his severed head behind.
           
Later, I killed the butler, Jeffers, with fireballs.
         
This scene is graphically illustrated, and it's worth making a note that the graphics are detailed enough that they can show rather than just tell evocative stories like this. This hasn't been true of many games up until now, but it's good to see it becoming more common. We'll of course see another murder scene with the same level of gruesome detail in the upcoming Ultima VII.
        
The gruesome scene.
        
I eventually killed the butler--the hardest creature in the game so far--with a few "Incendiere" spells. I recovered the rod, which allows transportation to the mainland when used between a couple of stones northwest of the tower. I also had the option to take Larf's head. I have it for now, but I 'm not sure if there's any long-term use for it. Other treasure included a better catalyst (platinum), a magic weapon called a "Dirk of Sharpness," and a scroll that gave me the "Inlustrare" (light) spell.
            
Now I guess I can eschew both lamps and torches.
         
I used the rod in the right location and found myself transported to the mainland. I explored a while before concluding that I was in the northern part of the map, near the town of Glade. Larkin insisted that the prophecy had to get to Silverdale, to my southeast, but I'm tempted to go to the northern tip to the town of Malice and work my way systematically down to Silverdale.

So far, it's been an inoffensive little game, but I wonder if there was really much of a market for a "lite" RPG. Were there legions of gamers in 1992 thinking, "I'd really like to play role-playing games, but they're just too complicated"? I guess we'll see when we check the reviews. I can't imagine this one will take more than three entries, but perhaps it has some tricks up its sleeve.

Time so far: 4 hours


74 comments:

  1. Ah...I think I had this game long ago. I remember the awful character portraits. One was this fat guy who was woefully out of place in his pointy elf hat. He looked like he should have been clutching a can of Jolt cola instead of a cloak. I didn't get very far in the game.

    Zinfandel has a bad reputation because it's wine for people who don't really like wine. White Zinfandel, of course...actual Zinfandel is different. But that's why people look down on it. Nothing worse than drinking the alcoholic Kool-aid that the deplorables like.

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    1. There are some very good Red Zins out there. I'm not sure what evil led to creation of White Zin, but it's too bad that Captain America didn't stop its inception before he returned the infinity stones.


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    2. Perhaps no other factor will elicit more negative judgements from one's fellow man than his choice of alcohol. Everyone sneers at something.

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    3. Zinfandel grapes develop a lot of sugar. Natural fermentation stops either when the sugar runs out or the yeast stops reproducing, for example due to the alcohol content. Generally yeasts used in vinification go dormant around 16%, and with zinfandel you may naturally end up with a wine that still has sugar left after the fermentation ends. While generally undesirable, this is almost certainly the story behind white zinfandel.

      It does also occur to me that this means that historically zinfandels have probably been boozy wines, and perhaps that has also been a point against them. Modern wines in general are all on the stronger side, so these days the difference isn't as pronounced.

      In Europe zinfandels are quite unknown, and I don't really have a lot of experience with them. I, like many serious alcoholics, enjoy acidity in wine, and that's something I always find a bit lacking in zinfandel. Combined with the high alcohol, zinfandels feel like a perfect example of the style of rich, bold New World wines that I always feel are a bit off.

      There are New World wines I do enjoy, mostly from the US, but US is an import market, so it's extremely rare or expensive to see them.

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    4. As someone who doesn't like acidity/sourness overly much in most of his foods and drinks (a fresh citrus note is nice, though - I do enjoy mojitos), I'm really not a wine drinker and have little idea about the different sorts. The sweetness of zinfandel sounds appealing though.

      Overall I'm more of a beer and whisky kind of guy. Wine I prefer the Roman way - mixed with spices. Yes, modern wine enthusiasts would call me a barbarian for it, but then, the ancient Romans would call modern wine drinkers barbarians for drinking it unsweetened ;)

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    5. Jarl, sanguine foot lord from the 'dex, if you like your wine the Roman way you must remember to dilute it heavily. Not only are our modern wines stronger than the Greek and Roman stuff, they're also undiluted. Drinking undiluted wine was something only barbarians did, like the Germans up north. For the Roman experience you might need to mix your wine with one, better two, parts of water.
      Of course their wine was also much more sour, too, which is why dilution helped.

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    6. Everyone sneers at something.

      But, fortunately, at least the converse isn't true: there are some drinks at which no one seems to sneer, e.g. gin and tonic, which is like the Swiss passport of drinks. (Of course some people don't like gin, but...)

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    7. You can still sneer at the wrong gin and/or tonic being used :)

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    8. You could in theory but I've never encountered it.
      But what I'll certainly sneer at is the vodka gimlet! Drink it with gin like God intended you barbarians!

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  2. Like many retro aesthetics, FMV has been making a comeback in recent years. Although it is - and has ever been - mostly an Adventure thing. The only RPGs employing FMV besides PoS were Stonekeep and Lands of Lore 2 to my knowledge.

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    1. I think Betrayal at Krondor had some really bad FMV. But not much of it.

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    2. I think there were still some RPGs employing a bit of FMV as late as Might and Magic 6, no?

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    3. Might and Magic 6's character portraits definitely count, if we consider any graphics made directly from photographs as "FMV" (I don't remember them being truly "full motion", more like stop motion).

      The intro of Daggerfall was FMV.

      Other than that, yeah, it wasn't very common in RPGs and more of an adventure game thing.

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    4. Bards Tale IV, the brand new one, features a bit of FMV whenever you start or load the game -- the conceit is that the game is a story being told by the fireside and the storyteller and his audience are FMV. It's a rather clever way to remind the player of what they're doing. I suspect it upholds the "programmers as actors" tradition, because the costuming is profoundly terrible. I love it to death, partly for that reason.

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    5. I mean, it's pretty obvious from the game's other aspects, like musical numbers, story companions etc., that Fargo really wanted to do a Stonekeep 2 but was stuck with the BT name.

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    6. Story heavy, FMV sequences, casting spells with no mana depletes heath, light on CRPG mechanics - could this be an influence on Betrayal at Krondor like SER points out?

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    7. @VK Oh, you are so right XD. The mouthfeel is the same.

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    9. Isn't FMV a pretty general term, and includes everything we might call a cutscene? I think what people are referring to here is digitised videos of real people.

      The C&C franchise did it well, and I think kept doing it until they stopped making the games. Red Alert 3 has Takei, Stormare, Curry and JK Simmons, and they're great.

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    10. FMV referred specifically to filmed sequences of real people in the 90s,that's what Full Motion Video stands for, in contrast to 3D animated or hand drawn graphics.

      I guess over the years the term was broadened in its common useage and people refer to all kinds of cutscenes by that name. But calling a 3D animated cutscene FMV is like calling Zelda an RPG

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    11. Zelda being called an RPG seems to be unusually common, so that's probably not the greatest comparison in the world. Besides, Zelda 2 exists.

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  3. I remember randomly finding this game while on vacation and then going home and having a fair bit of fun with it. It left me wishing there was a bit more to it. Best to be thorough in exploration, though, the map itself warns you it doesn't really show much of anything the average peasant wouldn't know about.

    Overall, while not a true hybrid, this one struck me as being closer to the 'adventure' than the 'simulation' end of the RPG spectrum. Holding onto odd items like Larf's head does end up being a bit of a problem given the small inventory space. Test it first, but I think items that you strategically cache on the game map don't disappear.

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  4. "Where did a bunch of programmers get access to so many actors who look like unwashed peasants with bad facial hair?"
    Sounds like regular programmers to me. Myself included

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    1. We got the from the local community college theater/drama group.

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  5. Being a FMV-game was at the time a mayor sellingpoint, a lot of people me included was really impressed by it in the beginning. It was not a longlasting feeling but still at the time I would have thought this looked so cool

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    1. this is probably also the reasoning behind rpg-lite, thinking that the new cool grafik will bring in a lot of people not familiar with heavy rpg mechanics

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    2. Oh, I agree. I probably would have liked it at the time. It just doesn't age well.

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  6. "and they were entering the console realm with Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun"

    And with the ports of the "Eye of the Beholder" to the SNES and the Sega CD, I may add. Since the "Warriors of the Eternal Sun" was made for the Sega Genesis, they covered both popular 16-bit consoles.

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    1. Aside from sub-licensing the D&D property, I don't think SSI had any hand in Warriors of the Eternal Sun.

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    2. Yeah, that was tasked to Westwood Studios:

      *https://steemit.com/gaming/@badastroza/interesting-people-20-louis-castle-on-developing-dragonstrike-and-other-d-and-d-classics

      *https://books.google.es/books?id=hxhmDQAAQBAJ&lpg=PT175&ots=MX5IqgfRUG&dq=Hollowworld%20westwood&hl=es&pg=PT175#v=onepage&q=Hollowworld%20westwood&f=false

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    3. You're right. I took out that line. I'm not sure where I got the idea that SSI was involved.

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    4. Oh, I see where I got the idea: if you go to MobyGames and search "Strategic Simulations, Inc." and then click on their list of games, WotES is one of them. But they're listed nowhere in the game credits.

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    5. EonFafnirJuly thank you so much for linking to https://steemit.com/@badastroza - the whole site is an amazing set of longform interviews related to people in gaming in the 80s-90s-00s. I've read quite a few and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone else on this blog who runs out of things to read here...

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  7. The "curare" spell is probably supposed to sound like the Latin word for "to cure", but I can't help but think of the poison some native tribes would use on the tips of their arrows:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curare

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    1. Frankly, those spell names sound like someone picked them from a Latin dictionary without actually knowing Latin...

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    2. That's exactly what we did.

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  8. These graphics are aggressively hideous. It's hard to imagine the thought process that led to it being published this way. Not just the clashing photos of the dev team pasted over some shoddily scrawled medieval backgrounds but also the isometric art of a that world got steamrollered like Judge Doom. Except the isometric characters don't match the flattened scenery!

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    1. I really think the isometric graphics are okay. At least they're showing me interesting scenes in the indoor areas and not just a bunch of repetitive tiles.

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  9. So that's what it's called...'FMV'. Learnt to love-hate it playing Lands of Lore 2.

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    1. Short for Full Motion Video

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    2. Although "video" is a bit kind here. There's a short animation of the NPC for about a second, on top of a pre-rendered background. The animation is so coarse that you can see the individual frames.

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    3. We had to ship on floppy disks back then - not a lot of video you can store on those. :)

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  10. I'd assume the reason why Questron was pretty much the only game to license look and feel is because it was made in a time where Apple was going around and making companies that made GUIs license the look and feel of Mac OS under the grounds it was covered by copyright. While it was eventually determined look and feel is covered by patents and not copyrights, that was still a few years off.

    Also, while FMVs in the sense of live action video did mostly die out by the late 90s, the term still stuck around for a while to refer to prerendered cutscenes

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    1. How typical of computer companies back then. "It has buttons and makes sound therefore we own the copyright."

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  11. Long time reader first time poster here. For those interested, Saintus over at CRPG Revisiting old classics did a review of this game several years ago. The developer Jaimi McEntire stopped by an give some background on the development of the game. http://crpgrevisited.blogspot.com/2012/01/prophecy-of-shadow-revisited.html

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    1. I wonder what happened to Saintus. He hasn't commented here in over three years. When that happens, I like to think that the commenter was elected to a Senate seat in the meantime.

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    2. I wrote to Mr. McEntire, too, so I hope we can get some additional information from him.

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    3. Hi! Saintus here! I am still alive and playing RPG:s but lately mostly newer ones. Due to a growing family my time does not allow me to write about the games anymore but I wish I would be able to return somewhere in the future.

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  12. >>The black potions are acid that damage you when you drink them, so I'm not sure what good they do?

    Have you tried throwing them at enemies? That might work. (More shades of Ultima here?)

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    1. Or maybe (guessing) they leave the character in some state (e.g. poisoned) that can be communicated to others (e.g. enemies).

      (There is an action-adventure game I've played where if I recall this is exactly the role of the poison potion.)

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  13. How strange, an SSI RPG I have no clue of! Looks like a fun simple game, if it doesn't drag overly much. A fascinating read, despite the lightweight nature of it.

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  14. There's something comical about seeing a "Map of the known world" and it's just one island that's about three miles across. Really? You guys aren't aware of any life outside this dinky little islet?

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    1. Maybe it's surrounded by sea for many kilometers, so they don't knoe any world beyond their island.

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    2. That's what life is like when you live on a remote island. They don't really know about the larger world, or care. They've got everything they need right there. What a wonderful existence that must be.

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    3. It's just funny that the demon's ambition is to take over this "world." Like if Pazuzu manifested on the Earth but was content to just conquer one of the Lesser Antilles.

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    4. "What a wonderful existence that must be." In the past few years, I've looked at houses on some of the islands in downeast Maine, like Islesboro, the Cranberries, and Isle au Haut. Every time I think the existence will be idyllic, I wonder how I'll fare when I have my first heart attack or a desperate craving for alou gobi.

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    5. Most "remote islands" rely on regular and expensive shipments from outside, so they don't really have "everything they need right there". There's a reason that most island nations are playgrounds for the ultra-rich.

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    7. Funny you should say that. I lived on Saba in the Netherland Antilles for 2 years. Popolation < 2000.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saba

      While the people are very reliant on external support for food, construction material, and fuel, for the most part there is very little concern on what is happening outside the island.

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    8. And like the Addict said, it's a BAD place to have a heart attack, unless you consider an aspirin adequate support. It can take 24 hours or more to transport a patient to the next island over on St. Maarten which has an actual hospital. And that's if the weather behaves.

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    9. I always loved the idea behind this game but my computer (at the time) kept choking on it. Not sure why, maybe I had a bad disk and it wasn't worth sending away for a new one. I was staioned in Germany at the time so mail order took a long time and I was already deep into learning the inner workings of Doom.
      I always found games like Ultima to be too big and grindy but SotS was small and manageable for me.

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    11. Tried to edit my reply, but couldn't figure it out.
      Anyway, The island being separated (and the guardian menhirs that faced toward the west) all tied into the backstory that was supposed to be addressed in the sequel. That however, never was finished. Remember that this was 27 years ago, and computer memory at that time was specified in KB, not MB or GB.

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    12. Hi, Jaimi. Thanks for commenting, and again for all the information that you sent by e-mail. There will be two more entries on Prophecy, the next on Sunday night/Monday morning at midnight.

      Can you tell us anything about the sequel? Now I'm curious about why all the menhirs were facing west!

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    13. Sure - but this is all of the top of my head, so I can't go too in-depth. The island was populated by mages (and their families) fleeing a war they were losing, and the menhirs were magical guardians, separating the island from the mainland. In the sequel, you find that the menhirs guardian functions, which were supposed to last forever, are failing due to the long period of magic loss in the first game, and the island is no longer cutoff from the mainland, and the withering is now spreading to the island again. The child of the first hero (and Elspeth presumably) travels to the mainland via ship to determine what is causing it. And of course, he is shipwrecked and left with nothing on the coast.

      Delete
  15. Depends on whether you're trying to sustain a lot of modern amenities that rely on specialized procurement and manufacture. I was going to say that would be a good explanation for why the character doesn't have armor, but we see the stuff in some of the character portraits.

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  16. On a side note, Menhir wouldn't be a new word to you if you read more Asterix - there's many a menhir in those. It's mostly menhirs, roast wild boars, manually tenderized Romans, druids, potions and a lot of puns.

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  17. Thanks again, Chester: Yet another CRPG I’ve never heard of, but am now enjoying thanks to the CRPG Addict. I’m pretty sure you’ll meet your match in this one, though!

    This reminds me of the original Diablo. Walk around, collect stuff, kill things, with gradual stat increase. Of course, it’s been many years since I’ve played Diablo, so my recollections could be off the mark.

    The web has several discussions about getting Prophesy to work with DOSBox. I had similar difficulties, but it turned out to be a misunderstanding based on lack of documentation. START.EXE only sets up the sound configuration file. If that file is already created, START.EXE does nothing but return to the command prompt.

    QUEST.EXE is the game. When START.EXE did nothing, I thought I had an emulator problem, but it turned out to be a conceptual problem that was cured by running QUEST.EXE.

    Sometimes when my character is outside and I leave the game unattended for a while, the Adventure Window goes black. Casting Inlustrare or using Flint & Steel brings it back to normal, but only for the natural duration of the spell or torch. It’s as if the game has a nighttime. Except it doesn’t. The only way I’ve found to get around this problem is to save, quit, restart, and reload.

    Anyway, I’ve been enjoying this game I’ve never heard of. Thanks again! And, Chester, you’ll surely meet your match in this one!

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  18. Weird, I played this recently and remember none of this. Maybe there was a bat file or something you were supposed to use? What I do remember is that you had to hex edit something to get mt32 music working. Not that that affects Chet, who plays without sound as I recall. Never encountered the darkness bug either.

    The general feeling the game left to me is that of unfinishedness and roughness. Like how you have a handful of npcs to converse with like Ultima, but none have any real personality, as opposed to Ultima.

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    Replies
    1. Whenever I install a new gate, I look for .BAT files first and only then .EXE files. Here, a file called PROPHECY.BAT worked fine, so that is what I have been using. I play games without MUSIC, not without sound.

      Delete
  19. Another modest bug: when speaking to Gerald, one of the conversation choices flashes a message so quickly you can't read it, then kicks you out of conversation mode and into overland travel mode. I actually had to load my video recording software and single-frame through it to catch the message.

    Although it's hard to call virtually any message in this conversation-lite game much of a spoiler, here it is in ROT13:

    Jura pubbfvat "Thvyq" pbairefngvba bcgvba, Trenyq fnlf,

    Gur zna ybbxf areibhfyl nobhg. "Thvyq? V qba'g xabj nalguvat nobhg nal Thvyq! Abj trg ybfg naq yrnir zr nybar!"

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  20. I decided to try a more minimax build.

    It seems that the only way to increase health is through combat, but the limited number of combatants puts a cap on how high your health can possibly go.

    Agility can be increased through combat and by purchasing acrobatic training, so it seems that silver will be the limiting factor. In reference to this, I really look forward to seeing CRPGAddict’s observations on the game economy.

    Magic is the only attribute that can be practiced volitionally. You can do it right outside Larkin's house, resting at any time to restore full magic skill points.

    Based on these observations, during character creation, I opted to max out health, with agility as my second priority, and magic as my lowest priority. My starting character had a magic attribute of 20.

    As soon as I had a spell book and a catalyst, I cast Memoria outside Larkin’s door, then rested. Repeatedly, I cast Repetere and then rested. Magic skill grew gradually. It seemed that if I used up all of my magic skill points and took a little health damage, there was about a 50% chance of a magic attribute increase, so I added the Curare spell to the mix. Without adverse health impacts, the chance of magic skill improvement was much lower.

    Eventually magic skill maxed out at 127. Fortunately, the game checks and does not allow further progress, in contrast to those games that roll signed bytes over to -127 with the next point gained :)

    My next focus was on funds. The inn will always hire you until you have 100 or more silver. The pawn shop will sell to you at 2x the cost they will buy from you. This means that you can work for 100 silver, then buy equipment for 100 silver that will be worth only 50 silver when sold, then go back to work for another 100 silver. Lather, rinse, and repeat as desired.

    My final focus was on health and agility. The manual says that each time a weapon is swung, there is a small change of an ability score increase. Therefore, my plan was to maximize the number of times a weapon was swung. I entered combat with only my bare hands to minimize damage to the limited number of opponents, thus maximizing the number of times my bare handed weapon was swung. With 127 magic skill, Curare was pretty accessible, with Repetere as spell of last resort if things go poorly. Lather, rinse and repeat while opponents exist.

    Although I’m only at the bandit camp, it seems to be going well so far. I’ll report back as it progresses.

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    Replies
    1. Wow, you really worked it. I didn't cast many spells, so my magic never got above 56.

      I thought the inn just ran out of work; I didn't realize it was tied to silver.

      There are some potions that also raise maximum health, sold in Granite. There are only two or three, however, and the shop doesn't restock.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, that was great information.

      Skill "farming" summary:

      Magic maxed out at 127.

      Agility could not be trained beyond the 80s using acrobatics.

      The three strength potions increased health from the starting 60s into the 90s.

      It seemed as if health gains were more tied to damage delivered than to "Each time a weapon is swung," as the manual had intimated. Barehanded fighting, swinging many times for few points of damage each, did not seem to improve health more than achieving the same results using many fewer swings with the Dirk of Sharpness.

      It took about 3 hours to maximize magic skill through repeated practice. Using Autohotkey to macro, I didn't have to suffer through my character's menial "wax on, wax off" -- I just checked back every half hour or so. As noted previously, magic skill went up significantly faster when health was partially depleted by magic use.

      Macro'ing the work at the inn took 30 seconds to accumulate 100 silver. Between working at the inn and buying and selling at the pawn shop, it took about 3 1/2 minutes to yield a health potion which could be sold for 100 silver. At that rate, it took about 35 minutes to generate 1,000 silver.

      At this point, I've finished the Bannerwick area, but have done very little on the mainland.
      Skill evolution:
      (start/now)
      59/99 Health (30 from strength potions)
      30/87 Agility (50 from acrobatics training)
      20/127 Magic (107 from magic practice)

      Delete

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