Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Game 381: Quest of Kings (1990)

           
Quest of Kings
Canada
Independently developed and published as freeware
Released in 1990 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 15 September 2020
Date Ended: 20 September 2020
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
    
For fans and bloggers of computer role-playing games, there are few resources on the web that are more important--more awesome--than the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History. Since 2001, creator Dr. Howard Feldman, a Toronto biochemist, has provided high-quality scans of the boxes, disks, manuals, clue books, maps, and accompaniments to thousands of computer adventure and role-playing games, most of them curated not from other sites but from scans that Feldman has made of the items in his physical collection. He also has complete sets of gaming magazines, newsletters, and hint books. The brick-and-mortar "museum" is not open to the public, but once I'm allowed to travel to Canada again, I would love to visit Dr. Feldman some day in Toronto and see some of his treasures in person. He has an original copy of Akalabeth donated by Richard Garriott himself.
    
What is less well known about Dr. Feldman is that while he was still a high school student, he wrote two freeware computer RPGs: Quest of Kings for the C64 in 1990 and The Search for Freedom for the PC in 1994. Neither is going to be "Game of the Year," but they're both reasonably fun freeware games, and the young Feldman notably did all the programming, graphics, and sound effects himself. The game uses Dungeons and Dragons conventions and plays a bit like a small D&D module.
         
Exploring the hallways of the dungeon. The compass doesn't appear until you find and equip a compass.
            
Quest of Kings takes place in the land of Kwantulaursia (whoa), where peace was kept for centuries by the custom of simply obeying whoever wore the magical Crown of Kingship. But, as often happens in such stable societies, a necromancer called the Evil One decided to take the crown for himself. He raised an army of beasts, orcs, and undead, and stole the crown from good King Cersis VI, leaving the land in chaos. Figuring that one agent is less conspicuous than an entire army, king's men have been putting posters in local taverns. The PC sees one, grabs a dagger, gets some advice from a wizard named Bagle, and assails the Evil One's lair.
    
A bit of the backstory.
         
A couple of bars of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor play over the title screen, and then we get a little of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" as the game loads. Character creation consists of random rolls for to-hit score, maximum hit points, dexterity, strength, and armor, then a name. Soon, the character is at 0,0 on Level 1. Except for a few places in which you have to enter text, the joystick controls all the action. Even visiting inventory requires pushing down and the button at the same time.
    
The dungeon consists of four 16 x 16 levels. There are no open areas--every square is its own room or section of a corridor--so it took me a while to map. There are the usual tricks like teleporters, secret doors (identifiable by a small mark in the lower-right corner), and one-way doors. Levels 1, 2, and 3 are connected by multiple staircases, but there's only one heading down to Level 4.
            
My maps of the four levels.
        
Encounters come along every 10-12 steps, roughly. Each level has its own set of foes. After an initial screen in which the player can fight or flee (fleeing works about 80% of the time), his options are attack, defend, or visit his inventory to use an item. Enemies only attack; none of them have magical abilities or special attacks, not even those that you would expect, like ghouls and snakes. Combats can take a long time, particularly if you're attacked by a group with lots of foes, and I was appreciative of VICE's "warp" mode to get through most of them.
     
The major downside of the game is that there's no experience and no leveling. Whatever you started with in terms of maximum health and other attributes, you're mostly stuck with. The only way to get stronger is to find better items at the end of combat. (Items are never found outside of combat.) Since you have an equal likelihood of finding something useful whether you fought 6 orcs or just one, it's best to flee combats with large parties.
            
Combat options with a vampire lord.
          
Inventory items get progressively better on lower levels. They include armor, weapons, shields, helms, bracers, gauntlets, and occasional magical items like Wands of Magic Missile, Wands of Fireball, and Scrolls of Death. Most important are healing ointments and potions; if you don't find any of these, you can't heal. Healing items can only be used outside of combat, which causes some problems late in the game when you face large parties of very hard enemies. A high maximum hit point during character creation is a must.
          
My inventory late on Level 2.
        
Level 1's enemies include orcs, kobolds, pygmies, and goblins. With luck, you can find a long sword, a shield, scale armor, and maybe a Wand of Magic Missiles before heading downward. Level 2 has ghouls, skeletons, and minotaurs, and you start to see the first magic items, like short swords +1. Level 3 really kicks it up a notch in enemy difficulty with robotic clones, red dragons, crystal warriors, trolls, and king cobras, but you get even better equipment, including some +2 items. Level 4 features vampire lords, werewolves, war giants, manticores, and dragon kings; here, you can find Gloves of Strength and Helms of Dexterity (both raise their attributes to 18), Bracers AC4, and +4 weapons and shields. There are also high-level magic items to use, such as Scrolls of Death and grenades. The trick is to not go to the next level until you have the best stuff from the current one.
           
Some of the many monster portraits in the game. I want to see that wolf on a t-shirt.
         
The lack of character development otherwise would make for a relatively boring game except for Quest's use of special encounters and riddles. Each level has a few "boss" creatures, usually guarding a room with a key piece of intelligence. On Level 1, for instance, a magic mouth says, "He had vowed no mortal brave would take him to his very ________." A little thought to the rhyme reveals the answer as GRAVE. At this, the mouth says, "Until he came along to prove him wrong. A man known as Sir Dave!" This isn't just doggerel. On level 2, you have to give Dave's name, as well as his hometown, to open the doorway to the stairs to Level 3. You also have to slay a red dragon to get into this area.
          
Recording such messages on the walls is vital to winning the game.
          
Level 4 ultimately brings you face to face with The Evil One, and to defeat him, you have to have been paying attention to several clues. If you just attack him, he immediately kills you with a fireball. Instead, you have to choose the "Talk to him" option.
            
The "bad" ending.
        
Previously, a clue has alerted you that you can "speak the four-letter word to bring the evil one to your mercy." You have also seen a bunch of "jibberish" on a wall that reads: "FTRAX FROJ HBL BNL OV EYTNANM WIPFL OSK IQUG." I thought at first that this was a cryptogram, but no solution made any sense. I then realized you have to look at it along with a clue from a magic mouth on Level 2: "Search with all your 'heart' on the level below for the word you seek." The nonsense text string has LOVE embedded within it, which is what you have to say to the Evil One.
                  
This is the wussiest way that I've ever won an RPG.
          
In disgust, the Evil One flees, leaving you to content with three war giants followed immediately by six shadow lords with no way to heal in between. There is no way to win this battle through conventional attacks. You have to have at least a few high-damage magic items. I had to reload and grind a bit until I had a Scroll of Death and a couple of grenades. These together let me kill the two parties before I ran out of hit points.
 
After this battle, you'd better have a healing potion, because you then have to fight another double header. The first is against the Evil One, who cannot use magic because of your repetition of LOVE, but can still use physical attacks. He's not too hard, but just as he dies, he casts a spell that replicates you and forces you to fight against a shadow of yourself. This battle is a little harder.
          
Chester's shadow is a little more pear-shaped these days.
       
Once the battles are done, you still have to find your way to the central chamber of the level and the Crown of Kings. Outside, a magic mouth says that you have to give it two words. Again, you have to interpret a couple of clues that you found in other rooms:
         
  • "It is to be supposed that the first isn't closed."
  • "After all else had failed, he was left with no choice but to ask politely."
             
The mouth did not like my first attempt at a two-word phrase.
         
Together, these reveal that the phrase is OPEN PLEASE. It took me a long time, particularly because I hadn't encountered the first message on my first pass through the area.
     
After this, you can enter and pick up the Crown of Kings, which makes you the king. Your inventory screen even changes to put "King" before your name.
             
Placing it on my own head feels a bit presumptuous.
         
Unfortunately, this is where things fell apart for me. The game says that you have to find your way to the surface, but I can't figure out how to do that. The down ladder from Level 3 to Level 4 is on the other side of a one-way door, so there's no way to get back to the rest of Level 3. I searched every square of Level 4 and didn't find an alternate ladder or teleporter. I tried using all my items as well as fighting random battles to see if the enemies dropped a Scroll of Teleport or something. No luck. I even tried letting myself get killed, but that just resulted in the "game over" screen. Dr. Feldman didn't remember, either. It's possible that it's a bug and no one ever made it this far before; the only way to be sure would be to search the source code, which you're welcome to do at the link below.

Chester is king. I'm going to consider this "won."
       
A search of text in the game file suggests that you are supposed to make it to the exit and that when you arrive, the ghost of the Evil One appears to vow revenge just before the entire dungeon collapses. Back in town, the Kwantulaursians proclaim you their king, throw a party, and end the game with a toast to your health. However, the game notes ominously that there is an "unwelcome guest" within the crowd.
       
Aside from the riddles, which were fun and occasionally challenging, it's a fairly basic game, but I'm not going to criticize something that a 10th-grader created as freeware. It earns a 17 on my GIMLET, doing best in "encounters" and "gameplay" (both 3s), the latter primarily for its moderate difficulty and length. Four dungeon levels is an ideal size for a game of limited content. It gets hurt in its lack of NPCs and economy. The monster graphics are worth a note. Although clearly the product of an amateur designer, they have a certain goofy earnestness about them, and it's hard not to be a little fond of them.
               
He certainly looks evil.
        
I wrote to Dr. Feldman to ask him a few questions about the game, and he was kind enough to supply his original notes, maps, and code, which he said I was welcome to share, so feel free to download and review it. I can interpret a little, but I'm not sure I see anything that would have been triggered by the final encounters and changes the layout of the dungeon.
    
Feldman started creating a Quest for Kings II the following year but never finished it. It somehow got out, and some sites offer it for download, but all you can do is create a party and look at the backstory. It would have been a more ambitious game, with a four-character party composed of the standard D&D races, classes, and attributes, except for a race called "Teddy" where you would expect to see a hobbit. The party is expected to stop the return of an evil archmage named Kamazol, once slain but now returned as a lich, but first they have to free themselves from a local jail. Many of the plot elements and mechanics made their way to Feldman's The Search for Freedom (1994) for DOS, which he finished around the end of his last year in high school. Feldman still sells Search as shareware on his web site; I look forward to playing it eventually. It promises to blend Ultima-style world exploration with Pool of Radiance-style combat.
            
Wow, he really meant "Teddy."
         
I'll be visiting the Museum less and less in coming years. Although the site has some games that stretch into the mid-1990s, Feldman says that he's generally only interested in titles from 1992 and earlier. This blog would have been a poorer place if not for his images and documentation, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his work as an RPG creator and curator.
   
   

63 comments:

  1. Is this a real outside shot of the museum???
    https://mocagh.org/loadpage.php?thelist=1

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    1. That's Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark. It is a museum, but I don't think you'll find computer games there.

      (Fun fact: King Kong is called Kong King in Denmark - because Kong is Danish for king)

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    2. ...but it's cute that you think a scientist can afford this kind of housing :D

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  2. An interesting tidbit on the graphics is that they all appear to be ASCII art - that is, drawing them using only the default text characters, which appear to be your usual English letters, numbers, and punctuation, but also with filled-in squares and triangles. It also colors the characters, of course. None of the usual extra-wide pixels characteristic of Commodore 64 "hand-drawn" graphics can be seen here, which further evinces this conclusion. The perfect solution to a 10th-grader who doesn't have to code images displaying with the encounters, only showing text as the encounters *already* do to narrate the actions - just this text is displayed in a more artistically-arranged manner.

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    1. IIRC, the C64 allowed programmers to create their own character set in code to replace the one in ROM, enabling savvy programmers to create some impressive graphics for it's age. I think the 8 Bit Guy used this graphics mode to create Planet X2.

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    2. Yeah this is pretty much standard practice on the c64 as it’s fast and allows scrolling. For example, Maniac Mansion uses this for the room graphics. It’s also really memory efficient

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    3. Same for Katakis if you want to see some really impressive graphics all based on fiddling with the character set.

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    4. To be precise, it's PETSCII:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PETSCII



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    5. See, that's why I love the comments on this blog. That's a bit of technical knowledge that I don't even have the foundation for. I really need to take a course on computer graphics one of these days so I can talk in more educated terms.

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    6. The graphics you're likely to learn in a classroom today will likely have a lot to do with vector math and matrix transformations--fascinating stuff if you have the right mindset for it, but won't really be relevant to the blog for a long while.

      A better resource for this kind of knowledge would be vintage programming guides; not those books with type-in programs, but computer user manuals and such. My school library used to have books for programming Z80 and 6502 assembly which would have been invaluable had I actually owned one of those computers.

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    7. Interesting! Thanks for posting that... I love these little games that you dig up Addict! As a child of the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s when I played computer games - I hope they keep popping up for years to come!

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    8. Pretty much all graphics today are vector based; like even 2D is really just 3D quads with a transparent texture set up to always face the screen. However the basic principles on things like Bresenham’s algorithms are still important.

      Addict - for the 8 bits basically any large graphics are probably just redefined characters since full screen images as bitmaps (ie you place each pixel directly) takes up far too much memory - especially in colour. But once it went to Dos it’s all just bitmap graphics and it stayed like that until we shifted to 3D, with the full shift when 3D accelerator cards became basically the norm.

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    9. When I was coding in BASIC for the BBC Micro, and then later for the Apple IIe, I always preferenced ASCII art, because it basically could draw as fast as the screen could refresh, whereas any of the various "graphics" options were too slow to draw without ruthlessly optimising the code (which would almost certainly involve descending into assembler code, which my pre-teen brain was NOT ready to deal with).

      For that matter, I still preferred ASCII when working in Pascal and C++ because it meant I didn't have to work with anyone else's libraries or play around with pointers and suchlike. And the school computers were not exactly beasts when it came to compiling and executing complex games.

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  3. He must have known somebody called "Aisrualutnawk." Wait, no...

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    1. As the evil-one password is an embedded LOVE, one might note this kingdom name contains WANT U LAURA.

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    2. With apologies (?) to Steve Miller:

      Aisru-, aisrualutnawk
      I wanna reach out and bootknock

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  4. Did you do anything specific to get this to run? I played this with a standard WinVICE setup and started getting Out of Memory errors frequently after a while, so I didn't get much past half of level 2.

    On the plus side, I've already analysed the source code while looking for the bug. I don't think there's anything you missed. Finding the crown adds a ladder in the square where you started, using that ladder leads to the ending you described. No special encounters on your way up.

    I've used a slightly different strategy as the one you described, partially due to the OOM problems. Get to level 2 quickly, find easy combats (like a small group of skeletons) and hope for good level 2 loot (the loot is determined by the dungeon level, nothing else).

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    1. Some small details:
      - base AC is determined by dexterity, you can start with a value as high as 3 with DX 17-18.
      - A lower to-hit base value is better. DX has no effect on to-hit chance, strength only increases damage.
      - fleeing is rolling 3D6 plus a number based on monster type and scoring lower or equal than your DX. The number of monsters is irrelevant.
      - Attacking with the war hammer gives the crystal warriors a negative armor class (armor reduces damage in the game, not the chance of being hit)
      - Trolls regenerate 3 hit points per round.
      - magic wands seem to do more damage on lower levels.

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    2. Yeah, I got the "out of memory" errors, too, but I mostly overcame them by using the in-game save frequently (it doesn't even require a separate disk) and then reloading.

      Thanks for the confirmation on the other items. I expected something to happen at 0,0 on Level 1, but it's nice to know that nothing happens elsewhere. I think maybe Feldman just forgot that he put a one-way door into the ladder room on Level 3.

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    3. My first save failed to load so I never tried again. But browsing the code was fun, too, (Apple) BASIC was my first language :)

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  5. That minotaur graphics looks more like a minotrag.

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  6. The final battle being against the hero's own shadow bears a strong resemblance to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (which was released in North America in 1988). I wonder if that's where Dr. Feldman got the idea.

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    1. It is very unlikely that anybody had beaten the sadistically difficult Zelda II by 1990. 30 years of trying and I've still never got to Dark Link - can't beat the penultimate boss.

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    2. Ged fights his own shadow in the Wizard of Earthsea.

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    3. I beat Zelda II a few months ago with no save states and my 40+ yo reaction times, maybe in a couple of weeks.

      It's hard but not THAT hard, especially for kids/teens with a lot of time on their hands.

      Saying that nobody could have beaten it in 2 years seems a bit of a stretch.

      The original Prince of Persia (1989) also had the "dark half" gimmick, implemented as a clever and satisfying puzzle.

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    4. Good call on Earthsea... and not a bad thought that most of us would find a contest with our selves a pretty tough one!

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    5. Yeah, Zelda 2's hard, but it's hard in the same way as Dark Souls where you need to learn the best way to deal with enemies. I can definitely see someone beating it in a few months back when it came out, especially considering Nintendo Power covered up to the last palace

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  7. I like how the red dragon says eeeeeeeee

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    1. It's probably leaking email addresses.

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    2. Kids today wouldn't know but that's just how you had to send emails back in those days.

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    3. Ah, the good old modem squeal.

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    4. Yeah, it was real hard on my throat doing all the sounds to get online but hey that's dialup for you

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  8. Imagine spending a lifetime studying the dark and arcane arts, mastering the five magics, acquiring powers that defy reality and shape it to your whim, enough to make nations tremble before your might... and at the end of all that you call yourself Bagel. Bagel the Wizard. Why.

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    1. Perhaps in that world 'bagels' are called 'Belgaraths' instead?

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    2. I reckon he got the name Bagle from the evil wizard Bargle used in example combats in the dungeons and dragons basic (red box) set from the eighties.

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    3. The female cleric on the Search for Freedom screen is also cribbed from the Basic Set.

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    4. She’s from the Expert set. The Basic set cleric is blonde.

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    5. Ruh Roh! Let's not have a Basic vs. Expert feud here!!!

      Hahaha.. jes' kidding... I've loved the Addict's reviews here since I found them in 2011, but the comments have me in stitches often times!

      Plus... everyone knows basic / expert /etc. / and the other mythical "editions" just aren't true. There is only OD&D and AD&D... I'm not sure why some refer to it as "1st Edition AD&D" when no others were ever released... no... others...

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    6. To be fair, I guess if you have that kind of power you can call yourself whatever you darn well like!

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  9. "peace was kept for centuries by the custom of simply obeying whoever wore the magical Crown of Kingship"

    For what it's worth, this scenario is lifted almost verbatim from Steve Jackson (UK)'s "Sorcery!" series of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks:

    "A powerful artifact known as the Crown of Kings, which bestows magical powers of leadership upon its owner, has been stolen from the land of Analand by the cruel Archmage of Mampang Fortress. With the Crown, the Archmage will be able to gain leadership of the lawless and brutal region of Kakhabad and begin an invasion of surrounding kingdoms."

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    1. Oh man, great books. I know all of FF is basically flawed from a modern point of view, but back then and having no pen&paper group around this was really fun. Well...being juvenile I remember I also had endless fun reading out loud Kakhabad in german as often as possible... -_-

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    2. I noticed this as well - and IIRC the 'one adventurer is less conspicuous than an army' is also the trope used in Sorcery!.

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    3. Thanks for this. I'll check with him, but it sounds like the link to "Sorcery!" are pretty clear.

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    4. If you haven't played the Inkle CRPG releases of the Sorcery! series, you're missing out. The first game is pretty much a point of point copy of The Shamutanti Hills, but the next three have all sorts of amazing new mechanics and encounters added.

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    5. I had completely forgotten about the FF books! Read and played through quite a few of them in the day. My kids got into the Choose Your Own Adventures a few years back... great trip back into the childhood.

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    6. You'd certainly want to have made edits to the later books in translating them to videogames, because from memory not only was each book individually a "one true path to victory" affair, where turning left instead of right at a random crossroads could bar you from success, but the later books additionally required certain choices/items to have been obtained in the earlier ones. (Could be wrong about the multi-book dependency.)

      The Lone Wolf books were similar but typically had at least a couple of valid win paths for most books, albeit that some involved missing the most iconic moments.

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    7. Just to reiterate, check out how the Sorcery! adaptations from Inkle handled the problems you're addressing, GregT. They're absolute masterpieces and work really, really well on mobile. For instance, in Khare, you can loop back through now with already played encounters taken into account. Seven Serpents has multiple win paths as done Crown of Kings. Items transfer between games as well.

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    8. @GregT - Very book dependent. The worst only allowed minor deviations along the way to a single ending but the best involved exploring zones in a variable order before progressing to one of several end points.

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    9. I've played through quite a few of the Lone Wolf books via the app version, and while they do have a relatively large number of different paths per book, there's a number of instances where picking the wrong path will kill you instantly with no recourse.

      There's also the fact that they claim to be beatable no matter where you start in the series, but later books are functionally impossible without the higher HP, additional skills and items granted by earlier ones.

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    10. Scorpion Swamp was a great one for that, Tristan.

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  10. It's great to see some attention to my little game after all these years. Looks like oyu got me on some of my inspiration, I was definitely deep into Fighting Fantasy around that time (and still today, heh...) and Bard's Tale (magic mouths) and Ultima were my main computer game inspirations. I guess I never tried to win my own game (blush) so quite possibly I forgot to make a way to exit after you get the crown - feel free to try to fix the code if you're feeling 'adventurous'. I do remember I spent a fair bit of time on the ending so it is a shame if you're unable to view it without cheating! I don't even remember myself how I drew those monsters, I always sucked at art, but the dungeon graphics were also 'borrowed' basically verbatim from a dungeon game in Ahoy! magazine.

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    1. Changing the 6th value in lvlc from 341 to 405 should do the trick. No idea how to edit a file on the C64 though.

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    2. Thus is what I Love this blog

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    3. You can use C64 Studio which allows you to open PRG files inside D64 files and edit them.

      https://www.retro-programming.de/programming/benotigte-tools/c64-studio/

      Just ignore the German homepage and go directly to Download :).

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    4. Could someone show a video of pic of the real ending?

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    5. It's actually really easy to modify the d64 file with a hex editor. But the OOM errors are so frequent I won't bother with playing this anymore.

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  11. "Placing it on my own head feels a bit presumptuous."
    Take that, Napoléon!

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  12. Oh man, these are one of the most peculiar and creative monster pictures in the history of CRPGs. Yesterday I have have watched Interview with the Vampire and I swear that I see some resemblance between the vampire lord and Brad Pitt.

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  13. Ooh, Dark Queen of Krynn next.

    I have been playing ahead and I have very contrasting feelings about it, looking forward to Chet's opinion.

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  14. I will forever associate "In The Hall of the Mountain King" in gaming with the relevant sequence from The Witness. If you know, you know.

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  15. Which would you prefer, an amulet of Bagels, or an amulet of Beagles?

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