Saturday, January 11, 2020

Game 350: Fame Quest (1984)

There's no title screen, so here's the box cover.

Fame Quest
United Kingdom
BrainGames (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 7 January 2020
Date Ended: 7 January 2020
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
          
My modus operandi of late has been to write four regular entries and then spin a wheel for the fifth. Today, it landed on Fame Quest, a 1984 British game for the Commodore 64 that I rejected some years ago with the comment "no RPG elements." Upon re-investigation, it turns out that I was wrong about that. It has, in fact, just enough elements to be considered a "CRPG" under my definitions. It doesn't have much more.

Fame Quest is the type of game that you'd expect on a cassette magazine, or maybe even a type-it-yourself code list. But it actually retailed independently, on cassette. Its publisher was BrainGames of Brighton, East Sussex, which existed from about 1979 to 1985 and seems to have specialized in simulation games. Those advertised alongside Fame Quest include Election Trail about the American electoral system, Highflyer ("an airline management game"), and Rail Boss, "about the heady days of the Iron Horse in America."
            
Fame Quest comes with in-game instructions.
            
It plays a little like The Wizard's Castle (1980) and its variants, though not enough that I'm sure that there was a direct influence. Without even the ability to name your character, you start as a Grade 1 knight in the king's castle. You have just enough money to buy a sword and shield. Out the door you go, onto a 9 x 14 landscape of trees, houses, castles, and mysterious encounters. As you explore, you meet other knights, bandits, peasants, maidens, dragons, demons, and other assorted medieval denizens, and you have to decide how to deal with them. If you deal with them correctly and successfully, you get fame points. Once you've achieved various thresholds of fame points, you can petition at the castle for a higher grade of knighthood. When you reach Level 10, you've won the game. It took me less than 2 hours. It's good that it didn't take more than that because there's no way to save.
          
This is more role-playing than the typical game of the era, I admit.
           
The encounters are randomly dispersed on the map, which resets every time you make a new knight level. The encounters include:
            
  • Another knight. You can talk to him or fight. If you talk, sometimes he has nothing to say, sometimes he asks for a friendly bout. If he says nothing, you fight an unfriendly bout. Some random set of numbers is rolled in the background to determine the outcome. If you win, you have a chance to slay him or let him go. Both give you fame, but if you agreed to a friendly bout, you get more fame by letting him go.
           
10 fame for letting a knight live.
       
  • A dragon, a demon, or a group of bandits. Combat works the same way as with the knight, but you only get fame for killing them.
            
My knight on horseback charges a dragon.
            
  • A peasant who begs for money for food. Giving him money increases your fame.
  • A peasant or maiden who begs your protection from a knight, bandits, or a dragon. Saying yes takes you to the encounter with one of those creatures.
           
Selecting my weapons before going into battle.
           
  • An alchemist or monk who asks if you've slain a demon or dragon this quest. Answering truthfully gives you fame. He might also ask if you need money. If you say no (and don't), you also get fame.
          
What if I can't remember?
         
  • A king who wants a friendly duel. Letting him live after you've defeated him gives you fame.
        
Losing the battles can lower your (hidden) strength or even result in death. You don't have many ways to increase your odds, but there are a few. First, you can buy a horse and lance to go with your sword and shield. Second, you can (one time only) pay to sharpen your sword and lance and harden your shield. Increasing your knight level also seems to make you a stronger fighter. After Level 5, I never lost anything.
             
Death in the game is rare but possible.
         
Reaching Level 10 gives you a final screen, and then the game is over. 
        
Yes, those were some amazing trials and hardships.
          
That's about it. There are some "cute" things about the game, such as the way you have to equip your chosen items each combat, and they appear on your little portrait as you do so. The little combat animations, in which you charge a dragon on your steed, or wave a sword at a bandit, are also fun. But it's otherwise not much of an RPG and it only gets 15 points on my GIMLET, with 1s and 2s in everything.
         
Because of Chester's Rule #6 of Computer Games ("Every game, no matter how forgettable, is someone's favorite") and Rule #7 ("If that person is a programmer, he will attempt to remake it"), we got a 2006 remake from author John Adams. Maybe I'll play it in 2036.
            
The lack of faces disturbs me.
        
My goal for most entries is 2,500 words, with a minimum of 2,000. This one is less than 750, so we'll call it a "half" entry. I'll find something to write about tomorrow to fill the other half.
   
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Dungeons of Avalon II might have to be delayed a bit while I work on a technical issue. If the person who is responsible for the "disassembly project" page is a reader of my blog, please contact me offline if you want to help troubleshoot the issue.

27 comments:

  1. That remake looks positively horrifying

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    1. Well, Rule 7 doesn't state he has to be a modeller...or a texturer.

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    2. Well he could be aiming for an Oblivion art style. In that generation most game characters looked like potatoes up close, so he just cut out the middleman and made their heads actually be potatoes.

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  2. So... Has there been a single good RPG for British microcomputers on this blog? I haven't read every single entry, but the ones I have read made it seem like the C64, Spectrum, etc. mostly got shovelware and pre-Ultima experiments.

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    1. Well, remember that a lot of games were multiplatform and got ported around. Someone with a c64 could play Pool of Radiance or whatever. The kind of thing that would be EXCLUSIVE to one of them however would either be a really small exercise or probably an arcadey/actiony thing, which I think British devs tended to focus on

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    2. The 1980s ones all have a certain low-quality weirdness. By 1990, they get good. Captive, Lords of Chaos, Knightmare, and Legend all had their positives.

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    3. One thing to keep in mind is disk drives weren't really a common thing there in the 80s -- the common user was using tapes throughout. (This is part of why Infocom text adventures wasn't big there -- the games were not only expensive imports but required disk drives.)

      I think it's quite possible RPGs really needed the disk drive capacity to flourish.

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    4. Also, since a lot of these games are for the Spectrum, you have really a very small amount of RAM to work with - like the basic version of the ZX Spectrum is just 16k. Since you're loading from tape, you can't have random access going on, and so you have to store all the graphics (plus the screen data!), player data, dungeon data, game logic, and logic to read the next section from tape in this limited amount of space. So it's little wonder the RPGs are pretty limited. Plus the vast majority of British Developers (and the game playing public) wouldn't have been exposed to the US RPGS which were very quickly evolving, and it's no wonder they're weird and limited.

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  3. The Spectrum wasn't really big on RPGs. Most RPG-likes were hybrids with adventures or strategy games. (It did get a Bards Tale conversion.)

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    1. RPGs have always been a data-heavy genre, and one that tends to benefit from random access to data stored on disk. So the fact that the Spectrum (and the UK market in general) was mainly cassette-based made it a lot harder to implement a satisfying RPG.

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    2. Wrath of Magra?

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    3. Tell me about it. Going down the dungeon in Bards Tale was okay, as the tape data for the next level started when that for the current level stopped. Going back up required a lot of rewinding and searching, though...

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    4. I was just about to write a comment about how playing, say, a hypothetical cassette version of The Bard's Tale would be inconceivably awful because of all the rewinds.

      Now I discover that there was a platform with an *actual* cassette release?

      My brain hurts.

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    5. We put up with a lot to play computer games in those days.

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    6. Between the graphics, the games, and the cassette format, gaming in Britain in the 80s seems like a legit nightmare. It's a small wonder to someone not from that place and time that anyone actually managed to enjoy playing games enough to form a culture around the hobby back then. I guess it must have been a matter of not really knowing how much better everyone else had it across the pond. "Fond" English gaming memories always sound more like Stockholm syndrome than nostalgia to me.

      Huddling around a wheezy little piece of crap like the ZX Spectrum, waiting for it to slowly unspool some rickety-feeling arcade clone off a cassette tape or typing it all in yourself letter by letter, all so you could have your eyesight ruined by squinting to make out the color-bleeding mass of inscrutable black-on-yellow pixels - those were the days, eh lads?

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    7. As someone who grew up in those days, a big bit was that it was all we knew. The vast majority of people with a computer here had a Spectrum, and so that was just what games were like. Occasionally you got flashes of brilliance through things like Elite and Lords of Midnight, but yeah, that vast majority really doesn't hold up. I was comparatively lucky in that I had a C64 with a disk drive (and my granddad had a BBC with a drive, so we could play proper Elite), but even so, very few disk-based American games made it over, with the exception of Microprose's sims.

      Also bear in mind that the NES really didn't do well over here. It was very expensive, arrived late, and was only available from places like the national chemist chain (yes, really....). So we didn't really get to see the quality of those games until really the 16bit era.

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    8. I don't know if the games were worse, just different. Sure, the Speccy was not big on RPGs. And its memory and graphics capability were limited. But we appreciated masterpieces such as Knight Lore for what they were.

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    9. Graphics rarely need to hold a game back from quality. Sure, it's nice to see something that looks awesome or aesthetically pleasing, but you can have a deeply engrossing game out of a bunch of featureless squares, providing that the underlying mechanics are enjoyable, that the player has the information they need to understand the game state, and the user interface allows them to express their will efficiently and accurately.

      In much the same way as people love tabletop RPGs for the way they let you fill in the gaps with your imagination, simple iconic graphics can occasionally be better than more representational ones, for the way that they let you project your own ideas onto them.

      When people talk about games being let down by bad graphics, they more commonly mean that the graphics are *unclear* and don't actually provide the user with the information they want and need - either due to confusing images, frame rate issues, poor draw distance when you need to see distant objects, etc - rather than that they're just artistically lacking.

      Which isn't to say that something like Dragon Age Origins wouldn't have benefited from a few levels that weren't muddy, brown and grim, but its artistic choices didn't get in the way of the gameplay...

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  4. I've got to say... I do like to see some good 8-bit graphics!

    Other than that it appears there are no redeeming qualities.

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  5. Where's the 2006 remake?

    How can there be a Dungeons of Avalon II? The Dark Lord won the first one. Is the sequel where he's covered the land in his darkness, and you're one of his agents? I hope so.

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    1. You play a bat, conquering the dark world for bat-kind.

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  6. If it was me playing all these games (and I'm eternally grateful we have you to do it for us, Chet), there would be an automatic -10 on the GIMLET for use of cod-Elizabethan language.

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  7. I'd never heard of Braingames before, but as I'm a C64 fan and I live in Brighton, I looked them up and the address is a residential one, implying that "Braingames" is less of a company and more a collection of bedroom coders, not at all uncommon in the UK scene.

    What is a little more interesting is that Braingames is listed in the manual as a division of Amplicon Micro Systems Ltd, and Amplicon still exists as an industrial PC manufacturer. I assume it's the same Amplicon, as it is also based in Brighton.

    It wasn't uncommon for hardware manufacturers at the time to have a software division. The bedroom coding explosion of the 80's provided a cheap source of labour for a boom industry, so lots of companies hired lots of enthusiastic teenagers to bash out games on cassette. I assume that was the case with Amplicon.

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  8. ...Highflyer ("an airline management game")...

    Complete aside, but I played the hell out of the SNES game Aerobiz back in the day and had always hoped for more of the same after its sequel, Supersonic, was released.

    Quite funny to hear someone had that idea a decade earlier. I'll have to check out Highflyer if I ever get time to play video games again.

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    1. There's a Japan-only sequel (or remake - I'm not entirely sure) for the PlayStation and Saturn. The few fan translation attempts have failed due to the niche nature of the game.

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