Friday, August 13, 2021

Game 429: Knight Quest (1983)

This knight looks like he's on a quest to stay sober.
     
Knight Quest
United States
Independently developed and published
Released in 1983 for Apple II
Date Started: 6 August 2021
Date Ended: 8 August 2021
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5), but a lot depends on the module
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
      
Both adventure games and RPGs have common roots in tabletop role-playing. RPGs decided to emphasize the mechanics of tabletop RPGs while adventure games focused more on the puzzles and storytelling. The separation was perhaps part deliberate (some players like puzzles without statistics and combat) and part enforced by technology. Not until computers with hard disks were common did games fully escape the natural limitations of a floppy disk. As that era dawned, more efforts were made to reunite the two genres. We're playing one right now in Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness.
  
Eamon (1980) was an early effort at such reunification, accomplished by creating a central "hub" disk for the game's mechanics (including character creation and shopping) and several "spoke" disks with the texts of individual adventures. It plays like a hybrid between a Zork-like text adventure and an RPG. The RPG half is not ignored or minimized as it is in many hybrids. The combat system is, in fact, as complex as anything being offered in the RPG world at the time, with considerations of weapon complexity, character attributes, character skills (which increase with successful usage), weapon fumbling, weapon breakage, critical hits, and several other factors that go into a complex formula. Outside of combat, the player navigates with a simple parser: GET LAMP, LOOK CHEST, DROP SWORD, and so forth.
     
A typical Knight Quest screen.
       
Creator Don Brown put Eamon in the public domain with the hope that fans would write their own adventures. He later tried to commercialize it as SwordThrust (1981), got frustrated about something, and (as reported by the Eamon Adventurer's Guild) "dropp[ed] out of sight, never to be heard from again." Eamon super fan John Nelson, author of almost a dozen of the early adventures, became the custodian of the game after Brown's disappearance. He formed the National Eamon Users' Club and started a regular newsletter. Eventually, he looked to improving the original game with more weapons, more spells, more classes, and more commands. After an intermediate stop with Eamon II, Nelson published the result as Knight Quest, for which most web sites inexplicably delete the space. Nelson made the game, like Eamon, public domain, thus showing more integrity than many other authors that copied the system, including the anonymous plagiarist who wrote The Adventure: Only the Fittest Shall Survive (1985).
     
The game's "backstory."
    
Knight Quest begins with a utility menu where you can create and delete characters. Creation starts with name and sex. Eamon had no specific classes, but Quest offers eight: fighter, thief, cleric, mage, scout, assassin, pirate, and saboteur. Eamon also had no races, but in Quest you can be a human, dwarf, elf, giant, gnome, orc, or troll. Other character options include your name and age. Your race and class combinations come together to determine your attributes: hardiness, agility, charisma, intelligence, and height. The latter two are new to this game. Intelligence mysteriously seems to exist on a 0-100 scale while the other attributes are something like 0-30. Your class, race, and attributes determine, in part, the number of languages available to you (another Quest addition), the number of spells you can learn, and your starting skills with maces, spears, bows, axes, and swords. There are a couple of quick creation options that give you a default character if you want to just jump into one of the adventures.
     
Character creation. No one starts with much spear skill.
    
Both new and veteran characters start their adventures in a "small town lying in the middle of nowhere . . . an infestation of killers and thieves." The town has an inn, a bank, an armory, a magic shop, a general store (for lamps, shovels, etc.), and a gymnasium for training. Despite the name, the latter location teaches languages as well as improving weapon skills and strength. 
     
Options in the Town of Diablo.
    
New characters can't do much more than purchase a weapon and suit of padded armor. Then it's off to one of the three adventures that existed for the game. One of the game's additions is a pair of ruffians outside of town. They allow you to experience combat without actually starting an adventure.
   
The adventures start with "Amateur Alley," the equivalent of Eamon's "beginner's cave." The setup is simply that an old man has told you about treasure to be found in the alley behind a tavern. The game begins at the north end of the alley, next to the tavern's trash can, with an old bum asleep on the ground. OPEN CAN reveals a piece of paper and some fish heads. GET PAPER and READ PAPER shows that the paper reads "JOCKO SENT ME." As I fiddle around with the can, the bum wakes up and picks up the fish heads. I can't find any way to interact with the bum except say "Hello," which causes him to smile at me. There doesn't seem to be any way to enter the tavern or a boarded-up building to the east, so I move south. The bum follows. 
       
The setup for "Amateur Alley."
    
A brown rat and a gray rat menaced me in the next alley square. I take on the brown rat (ATTACK BROWN RAT) while the bum attacks the grey one. We're both successful in our first rounds, taking no damage. This is particularly lucky because I forgot to READY SWORD first which I do now.
      
An epic battle.
      
LOOK reveals a hidden door in the west wall, which I take. Again, the bum follows. We enter the back room of the tavern, which has a poker table and a man named Turk. I can't figure out anything to do in the room, or with Turk, so I head west into a hallway covered by graffiti. NORTH from there leads to a barroom, where I can't figure out any way to interact with the bartender, but I'm able to snag a bottle of whiskey and the cash box from behind the bar. WEST off the corridor leads to a storeroom with an old man named Joe. Another room off the corridor is the "Munchies Room," where chips are stored, and the bum and I run into the "Frito Bandito" stealing chips. We kill him in a few rounds, and I take the pistol he was carrying (but fortunately did not use against me).
       
I was going to complain about the goofiness, but I didn't want to have another conversation about how some people prefer games with "Frito Banditos" to those that "take themselves too seriously."
      
Another room serves as a halfway house for "men without enough money for the inn." LOOK reveals a bag of gold beneath one of the mattresses. An "old hag" tries to shoo me out of the room, but I snag the gold first. In the tavern's bathroom, I encounter two muggers named Mac and Charlie. The bum and I attack them. We kill them, but I take moderate wounds in the battle, and the bum is badly wounded and flees. Charlie and Mac seem to have nothing on them worth taking (or else I can't figure out how to search them properly). The bum meets up with me back in the hallway.
   
Back in the alley, we meet a hungry old alley cat. I can't figure out how to get the fish heads from the bum. I return north and get one of the rats, but when I give it to the cat, the game tells me that "Chester growls at you."
    
What now?
    
I enter a building to the east, which has a reception area where a burly-looking man named Ralph demands who sent me. I say JOCKO, and he calms down. Moving past him to a room to the north, I find a large group of people playing roulette. The game isn’t explicit about what’s happening during gambling but I can type PLAY to try my luck. I lose a few rounds and give up. 
        
My inventory of goods towards the end of the adventure.
      
You get the idea. The alley has several buildings off of it, including one large one full of thieves and a black market for weapons. A would-be knight named Havelin of Sylph joins me after the bum finally flees for good. (To get NPCs to come along with you, you just have to get them to smile. As far as I know, the only way to do that is to SMILE at them.) With Havelin at my side, we carve our way through the various denizens of the thieves' lair and find several valuables, including a ruby, a gold statuette, and some jewelry. 
       
Wrapping up the adventure.
     
The scenario ends when you make your way back to the alley entrance. Sammy the Fence gives you a lump sum for the treasures you found, and a gypsy buys regular items. Then you return to town, where you can spend your riches on training, equipment, and spells. 
     
My character sheet after a little experience and training.
      
I get extremely frustrated with the parser. Knight Quest is supposed to be an improvement on Eamon, but I don't remember either Eamon or SwordThrust being so annoying and limiting. First, there's no HELP option. I have no idea how documentation was distributed with this game, but it's not on the disk. I had to inspect the files to determine the valid commands. The standard ones are GET, TAKE, DROP, LOOK, EXAMINE, ATTACK, FLEE, GIVE, INVENTORY, EVOKE, SMILE, SAY, READY, USE, REVERSE, EAT, DRINK, OPEN, and PUT. There are special ones for each adventure; for instance, Amateur Alley supports DIG, PLAY, and READ.
   
The limitations are frustrating in a few ways. First, the game generally doesn't recognize objects simply listed in the text description. So it might say something like "There are posters on the wall here," but you can't get anywhere with READ POSTERS. Only objects separately listed after the text description of the room are generally recognized. That's not universally true, however. For instance, the trash can is not listed below the text, and OPEN CAN does work. The worst outcome of this limitation is the near uselessness of EXAMINE. In an Infocom game (or Quest for Glory, when it used a parser), you'd be able to EXAMINE everything in the text description and learn something useful. Here, it usually just gives you a generic room description again--the same as if you'd typed LOOK.
   
Second, what ought to be easy, common tasks don't seem to work with any combination of commands. It took me forever to figure out that lighting the lantern is accomplished with READY LANTERN. Even after that, I never figured out how to refill it with oil when it ran out. USE and PUT don't work. In one corridor, the text told me that the north wall looked weak and I could probably batter it down, but no set of commands I could think of would produce this outcome.
   
Finally, the game is constantly giving you what sound like interesting scenarios or puzzles, but you have no way to solve them. I found a junkie unconscious in a basement but couldn't heal him. A maid stopped me from stealing a statuette, but there was no way to distract her, lure her out of the room, or stealthily steal the item. I would have had to kill her. It's particularly frustrating how you can't effectively interact with NPCs except to SMILE (Eamon also had a WAVE command). 
     
It feels like I ought to be able to do something here.
       
Essentially, the game only supports the initial description of the room, the list of people or creatures, and the list of items. There is no file containing text that accounts for any change to the initial conditions of a room or the people or things within it, such as "YOU MOVE THE RUG TO UNCOVER A TRAP DOOR" or "YOU DESTROY THE TABLE." Even secret doors, once found, must be entered immediately or the game forgets that you found them. This means that all you can really do is enter an area, LOOK to try to find secret doors or hidden objects, and GET anything you find.
  
I think this is a limitation of the scenario, not the engine, so I was anxious to try the other two modules, "Quest for the Firedragon" and "Curse of the Hellsblade." "Firedragon" seems to have something to do with assembling a group of NPCs to take on a dragon, while "Hellsblade" suggests it's going to be about putting a demon to rest.
       
Finding an NPC in the dragon caves.
        
Unfortunately, neither scenario has opening descriptions, and both crash a few minutes into them, usually when entering regular commands like LOOK. I'm not sure what's happening there, but I tried a couple of different downloads.
      
"Hellsblade" opens with an interesting diary, but it crashes right after you read it.
   
In a GIMLET, I give it:
   
  • 1 point for the game world. You really don't get much of a sense of the world at all.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. I like the combination of attributes and skills, and the way you can develop both through experience or just by paying for it. There are some interesting classes that I would have liked to explore with better modules.
  • 2 points for NPC interaction. There isn't much interaction, but I like that they can join and help you.
  • 1 point for encounters and foes. Very disappointing in this module, anyway.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. It remains the best part of the game. It's quite nail-biting as you watch characters strike, fumble, fall, break weapons, search around for new weapons, wrestle, flee, and so forth. I'm giving some consideration here for spells that I didn't get to try. 
       
Fighting "Jake the Ripper" with "Havelin of Sylph" at my side.
      
  • 2 points for equipment, a basic selection of weapons and armor.
  • 4 points for the economy, which remains relevant indefinitely, particularly with the ability to pay for improvements.
    
Paying for sword training.
 
  • 2 points for a series of quests.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. It has no graphics or sound, and the parser is simple but frustrating.
  • 3 points for gameplay. It has about the right length and challenge to its modules, but "Amateur Alley" specifically cannot be replayed, and I couldn't get the others to work.
  
That gives us a final score of 23, a few points lower than the 26 I gave to Eamon. In the end, while Knight Quest may have had technical improvements over Eamon, they're not well-showcased in the existing modules. The game ran extremely slow on contemporary systems (I had to crank the emulator up to 4X) and thus never caught on, which meant the types of modules that could have demonstrated the engine's improvements were never written. It supported only three adventures to Eamon's hundreds. Fans still write adventures for Eamon today. This one is best left forgotten.

17 comments:

  1. I came across this which seems to indicate that the author hadn't fully finished his efforts on the Apple II before moving onto IBM PC.

    http://www.eamonag.org/pages/beyond_eamon.htm#KnightQuest

    There is also this note from someone who attempted to remake "Hellsblade" into a Eamon adventure.
    https://archive.org/details/a2_Eamon_206_Curse_of_the_Hellsblade_1994_


    1010 PRINT FF$: HOME : PRINT "'CURSE OF THE HELLSBLADE' WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN SOME YEARS BACK BY JOHN NELSON FOR HIS 'KNIGHTQUEST' GAMING SYSTEM."

    1020 PRINT : PRINT "'KNIGHTQUEST' WAS MEANT TO BE THE GAMING SYSTEM TO END ALL GAMING SYSTEMS, WITH SO MANY FEATURES AND SUBTLETIES THAT AN ADVENTURER MIGHT PLAY 100 DIFFERENT ADVENTURES AND STILL NOT SEE THEM ALL."

    1030 PRINT : PRINT " UNFORTUNATELY, JOHN RAN OUT OF MEMORY LONG BEFORE HE RAN OUT OF IDEAS, AND HE MOVED ON THE THE IBM PC TO GET THE ELBOW ROOM HE NEEDED TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT."

    1040 PRINT "'HELLSBLADE' WAS LARGELY COMPLETED, AND WAS BEING USED BY JOHN AS A TEST BENCH FOR THE 'KNIGHTQUEST' SYSTEM. IT HAS BEEN LANGUISHING FOR 4 OR 5 YEARS, NOW, AN ORPHAN ADVENTURE."

    1045 GOSUB 8000

    1050 PRINT : PRINT " AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF NAGGING, JOHN FINALLY GRANTED ME PERMISSION TO TRY TO CONVERT 'CURSE OF THE HELLSBLADE' INTO AN EAMON ADVENTURE."

    1060 PRINT : PRINT "THE FINAL 'KNIGHTQUEST' VERSION HAS BEEN LOST. ALL I HAD TO GO ON WAS AN EARLIERVERSION THAT LACKED THE QUEST AND MOST OF THE PUZZLES, AND WAS IN PRETTY ROUGH SHAPE. THERE WERE ALSO TWO DIFFICULTIES TO OVERCOME:"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that page is where I got the downloads in the first place. If Nelson "moved on to the IBM PC," I can't find that he ever finished the game for that platform.

      The programmer's notes make it sound like I was using an early version of the game, so I suppose that's why so much stuff doesn't work.

      Delete
  2. "This knight looks like he's on a quest to stay sober." Audible laughter was produced.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And tbh the Amateur Alley quest storyline sounds like "Knights night out in Town"

      Delete
  3. Regarding refilling the lantern, did you try OPENing it first? I remember struggling with a similar problem with an old text adventure once, and that ended up being the solution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I tried every verb/object combination that the game supports. Given what LanHawk uncovered, it wouldn't surprise me if the author just never got around to adding a way to refill the lamp with oil.

      Delete
  4. "In the tavern's bathroom, I encounter two muggers named Mac and Charlie. The bum and I attack them. We kill them, but I take moderate wounds in the battle, and the bum is badly wounded and flees."

    This sounds like the plot of an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

    If it weren't for the fact that this game was released in 1983 I'd wonder if it were inspired by It's Always Sunny.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am fascinated by the idea of an entire RPG that's just wrestling hobos in alleys in the hopes of getting enough rotting fish heads to feed a starving cat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is called Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and it is one of my favourite tabletop rpgs.

      Delete
  6. Probably not Allen Iverson's favourite game either.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yaay, dark sun is on the upcoming list

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1993 is starting to flex its muscles. I expect a brief about "Stronghold", probably a full entry about "Stone Mist 2" (I am curious since "Stone Mist 1" was declared NP), then "Veil of Darkness" (spin-off of "The Summoning"), then "Dark Sun 1" (a cult). It is going to be a great autumn read. I am thrilled !

      Delete
    2. Nah, you're going to get two full entries on Stronghold. Any game that has me playing feverishly until the sun comes up on a day when I have an important appointment gets the full treatment whether it's a proper RPG or not.

      Delete
  8. In many European languages a "gymnasium" is an entire type of school, equivalent to a prep school, which might explain why this game's gymnasium also teaches things like languages. I'm not sure why in America it's become a descriptor for a place of athletic training/playing sports.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, a quick look at etymologies shows that the root is the same as for gymnastics, which I don't think has ever meant the exercise of the mind. That root, incidentally, is the Latin for "naked," given that's how the Greeks apparently exercised. gymnasium seems to have developed in Greece as a term for a place to exercise the body. So the American definition seems closer to the original. I would guess that the term acquired additional connotations in some European languages rather than losing any in English.

      Delete
    2. Either way, I meant to add, it explains the choice of the term in this game, as it's set in a vaguely European setting in a vaguely ancient time.

      Delete

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