Sunday, September 12, 2021

BRIEF: Veil of Darkness (1993)

 
           
Veil of Darkness
United States
Event Horizon (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS; 1994 for FM Towns and PC-98
Rejected for not being an RPG (no character development)
      
Veil of Darkness is the third Event Horizon title to use a variation of the game interface originally developed for DarkSpyre (1990) and seen in Dusk of the Gods (1991) and The Summoning (1992). The innovative interface features the game world on top and the character inventory and attributes on the bottom, with an adjustable border in between. Combat uses a real-time cool-down system taken from Dungeon Master (1987).
   
Although they featured a lot of mechanical and inventory puzzles, the first three games were all proper RPGs. In Veil, the developers decided to adapt the engine to a more traditional adventure-style game, complete with a meatier plot, more interesting NPCs, and inventory puzzles that go beyond simply sticking the right object in the right slot. But they also removed most of the RPG components, including (probably) character attributes and leveling. I have gone back and forth so many times between making this a BRIEF and just playing it anyway that even as I write this sentence, I don't have a final decision. Or I do, but I forgot to come back and edit this.
      
The opening cinematic shows the character unaware of the threat behind him.
     
The well-written manual story (credited to Scott Noel, who also wrote the manual for The Summoning) tells the story of Kairn, fifth son of Nikolae, Lord of Csarda, a fictional kingdom in Romania. It is set in the second half of the sixteenth century. Rejecting the tendencies of his abusive, hedonistic family, Kairn falls in love with a Hungarian peasant girl named Deanna. But his father learns of the tryst and personally burns down Deanna's house and kills her family. This causes something to snap inside Kairn. He announces his plans to take over as royal librarian, having his father dismiss (and kill) the former occupant of that position. With access to his predecessor's books of power, including a powerful book of evil called the Agrippa, Kairn turns himself into a vampire and proceeds to slaughter his father and brothers. Settling in to a long, cruel, and immortal rule, Kairn occasionally lures heroes into his valley, hoping one will eventually kill him and send him to hell.
       
Couldn't he have just looked out the window?
      
Flash forward to the vaguely modern era and the game's opening cinematic. The main character is a cargo pilot, on his way from somewhere to somewhere when terror seizes him over the Carpathian Mountains. He manages to gain control of his plane, but then Kairn sends a cloud of bats to bring down the plane. The character crashes in the valley and collapses as he staggers from the plane. Some villagers discover him and bring him home to heal.
      
Always stay with the crash.
    
Gameplay begins as the character wakes up to the face of the beautiful Deirdre, one of his rescuers. She asks his name--which the player inputs--and then directs him to her father in another part of the house.
   
Gameplay uses the same oblique-angle interface as the other Event Horizon titles mentioned above, but a bit simpler. The only commands are "Chat" and "Take." There's no character attributes screen because there are no attributes. The inventory screen is simple enough (the character starts with only a dagger), showing 10 backpack slots next to paper doll depicting equipped items. Using an object means putting it in one of the character's hands on the paper doll and then clicking either the left-hand or right-hand "use" options on the right-hand side of the interface.
     
"Character Creation"
          
In a horrible design choice, the developers make the player choose from three combat modes before he even has a chance to fight a combat. The choice is irrevocable. The three modes are "Full," "Simplified," and "Easy." I gather from the manual that despite their names, the "modes" don't represent three different sets of mechanics but rather three difficulty levels. Characters on the lower levels get more bonuses and hit points. This suggests that there is some kind of "combat skill" attribute behind the scenes, but I don't think it can be improved after the choice is made except by equipment.
   
The house is oddly enormous and modern. The owner, Kirill, is wearing a three-piece suit but claims to have never heard of an airplane. "You will find that this valley is somewhat behind the times, good sir," he says, but offers nothing about how this supposedly closed-off valley has electricity, modern furniture, and 20th-century architecture. He explains that Deirdre and his servant, Ivan, rescued me from the wreckage. He suggests that I stay and rest for a few days. The only task he asks in return for his charity is that I recover a carpenter's hammer from a fellow villager named Eduard, who borrowed it and never returned it.
   
This reminds me of the famous "potato story" on Reddit.
     
The dialogue uses the same keyword system as The Summoning. You can click on keywords that pop up during conversation, but if you don't, the game just puts them all in a list for you. You cannot get them to repeat things, so I've been taking copious screenshots. There's a blank slot to type your own keywords, but Kirill had no reaction to DEIRDRE, IVAN, KAIRN, VAMPIRE, or JOB. However, some of these keywords prompt the dialogue box to close and re-open, while others just cause the line to blank and the cursor to return to the beginning without resetting the screen. I suspect some of those are keywords that work later, or with different NPCs.
   
I find a couple of silver coins in the basement, and Ivan gives me a bag with eight more. Ivan indicates that Kirill's last name is Khristoverikh.
      
My inventory grows.
      
There are lots of things on the screens that feel like they ought to be interactable, such as chests and crates, a piano, and bookcases. But nothing happens if you cursor over them, and there's no "Search," "Open," or "Use" command in the game (except with inventory items). Even doors open just by walking into them. A lot of them won't open, but the game says explicitly that "there is nothing important behind this door." A couple of doors are locked.
    
The character can be moved with both the mouse and numberpad. The music is annoying, relentless, and impossible to turn off independently of the sound, so I'm playing the game silently.
     
Leaving Kirill's house.
       
I head out into the village, which is made up of many closely-built houses. In the first one I explore, I meet a candlemaker and widower named Josep, who heard about me from his son, Anton. Anton apparently told him that I was some kind of beast, "more bird than man, covered in glistening scales of steel, armed with long, sharp talons." He says I can talk to Anton, but not to mention Natalja, a friend of the boy's who is dying.
    
I meet Anton in his room. He claims that his mother was killed by a werewolf and that Natalja (of course I asked about her) is dying of some madness that periodically affects people in the village. He wants to see my plane, but the game has the character say no. Based on my experiences so far, you don't really have dialogue "options" in this game, just keywords. The character speaks on his own and for himself. 
      
Man, that's some heavy stuff from a kid.
      
A dilapidated building has maybe a murder scene. The graphics aren't quite good enough, or are too small, to tell for sure. I pick up some "torn fabric" from the scene, in any event. A nearby shack has a pry bar. I try the bar on various chests, boxes, and doors, but the game just insists there's nothing to pry.
   
Could be a murder scene; could be cat vomit.
     
A small general store is run by Jon. He offers me an oil lamp for a silver piece and asks me to inquire about other things I might wish to buy. Jon is apparently the father of Natalja, because when I poke around on the second floor of his shop, I find her in bed with the girl's mother watching over her. She claims there's no cure for the madness killing the girl, but I pledge to help her anyway.
   
I appreciate the realism of this particular NPC.
         
Next to Jon's shop is an herb shop run by an old woman named Annabelle. She sells me some fennel seeds for a silver piece and suggests I ask about anything else I want. I have nothing to ask about now, so I leave.
     
It's an adventure game. If the shop sells fennel seeds, you're going to need fennel seeds.
        
The next building I come to is the inn and tavern, which has a bunch of empty rooms upstairs and people downstairs. The bartender, Seth, owns the place. He has a collection of cups, including a precious gold goblet, and he longs for a drink fancy enough to drink from it. The waitress, Sophia, has nothing to offer, and the character declines a drink. The rest of the patrons, who talk collectively, are talking about Eduard's disappearance and how blood was left behind in his house--that must be what I saw in the dilapidated house. They think he was killed by a werewolf.
           
Seriously? 20th-century fashions made it to Csarda, but you don't know what an "airplane" is?
     
This is a good time to note the many similarities between Veil of Darkness and Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness, including the eastern European/vampire theme, the isolated village, the blond hero brought against his will, and the trio of tavern patrons who talk collectively and believe a fellow townsman was killed by a werewolf. Veil of Darkness would have been a better subtitle for Quest for Glory, too.
     
The patrons make some noise about how "nothing was left behind," including "cloth or bone," so I figure waving the torn fabric around might prompt something, but I can't figure out any way to use it. I grab some darts off the tavern floor and leave. I take another quick look around Eduard's place to make sure I didn't miss the hammer the first time, but no luck.
  
Back at his house, Kirill chastises me for not getting the hammer yet. I have no option to converse further with him, so I can't explain about Eduard. There are no other places to go in town. I re-read the manual to make sure I haven't missed any commands or mechanics, but I don't find anything. So I watch a video of someone playing the game and discover that the character can move things by pushing into them.
    
The solution is to push the bookcase into which the blood trail leads. This reveals a secret door leading into a small chamber. A bloodied corpse (presumably Eduard) lies on the floor, along with a bloody hammer and two silver coins. 
     
I return to Kirill, and he's all excited: "You've found it! You've found the bloody hammer. Or, as it is said, 'a bloody tool most foul.' My thanks, Chester. I'll give the hammer to Ivan once we have finished talking. Oh, can it be? Salvation . . . For a moment I doubted you. Coincidence, I thought, but now I'm sure you're the one! If it wasn't you, the hammer would never have been found."
    
Chester responds:
    
They should have hired Scott Noel for the in-game dialogue.
           
So, yeah, it's going to be a BRIEF.
     
The Adventure Gamer has a current series of articles, so watch them for the exciting conclusion to the tale.
      

60 comments:

  1. "But one thing's sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody's responsible."
    Plan 9 From Outer Space was a clear influence on the dialogue here, from all available evidence.

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    1. Don't know about Mr. Wood's schemes, but the main character deserves to be brutally murdered for not bringing a trenchcoat.

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  2. Well, this was fast.

    Only one 1985 game in the way to Dark Sun.

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  3. So, you point out the parallels between this and Quest for Glory 4, but you finished one and not the other. Since they're both adventure games, they should get the same treatment. I guess maybe if the author of Veil of Darkness commented on your blog...

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    1. As the addict says "There's no character attributes screen because there are no attributes." and "they [the developers] also removed most of the RPG components"

      QFG4 has plenty of attributes & RPG components missing from this game.

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    2. A deeply insecure Veil of Darkness fan has outed themselves in the blog comments, news at 11.

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    3. I guess if it were a game I cared about, I'd grasp at straws, too. Thankfully, the Adventure Gamer exists for this purpose.

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    4. I second the previous suggestion to hiring moderators with some of the patreon income.

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. I have fond memories of playing "Veil of Darkness" in the nineties and I consider it an interesting game to at least play it a bit to check which "alternate paths" in video game design was Event Horizon Software (later Dreamforge Intertainment) trying towards 1993, but it can't be considered an RPG by any measure, and being already played in Advgamer, if Chet doesn't like it, he is being right to leaving it at this point, as in the 1994-1995 period we will have plenty of RPGs from these same designers.

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    7. I like Veil of Darkness and was looking forward to Chet covering it, but I was about 80% sure he'd just BRIEF it because it isn't an RPG.

      Chet has covered hybrids and games with minor RPG elements before, but VoD doesn't even have the slightest RPG element in it, despite its predecessors being full and proper RPGs. No character creation, no character development. Chet played games with no development before, but at least they had character creation. Or games with no creation but they had development. VoD has neither: you start with a fixed character whose abilities stay the same throughout the game. Therefore it is not an RPG.

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    8. We've gone over this so many times that I can't believe anyone posting something like this isn't just deliberately trying to stir up trouble.

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    9. I have seen what happens when gatekeepers from "the community" get to moderate the comments.
      It ain't pretty.

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    10. Good moderation is good, bad moderation is bad.

      As for this community, commenters are pretty well-behaved, and Chet's light touch suffices. If the community increased in size a lot (or the spam did), maybe its a conversation we'd need to have, but things seem fine for now.

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    11. I'm kind of fascinated by what the imaginary issue could be for dear old anonymous? Is it a dislike towards adventure games, or just for QfG? Or revulsion to the non-strict rules in general? Obviously the fellow is just trolling, but I don't quite understand what he's even trying to use spuriously. There were some anonymous complaints about playing an adventure in the QfG 4 posts.

      Regarding Veil, I have to say I don't really miss this particular axonometric branch of adventure games. It mostly felt like it was born out of technical limitations, and failed to improve over either IF or Sierra style adventure games. I get the lineage is different, and thus the comparison is a bit unfair.

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    12. Moderation isn't (shouldn't be [imo]) for comments with opinions you don't like, or even opinions that no one likes. He didn't spam, or swear, or bring up Sh*n M*gami T*nsei, he was just... annoying. The appropriate response is to tell him so. Great! Community Achieved!

      I'm with Tristan on moderation. You should only have as much moderation as you need, and no more.

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    13. I think Chet can cover whatever he wants whenever he wants.

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    14. The road to a totalitarian dystopic hellhole is paved with intentions of good moderation. Just look at Reddit or RPGnet.

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    15. It's ironic that the more a forum is focused on being inclusive the bigger the chance of being excluded for wrongthink. RPGnet is even so fabulously inclusive that they ban people for being Trump supporters.

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    16. NOW you're getting way more off-topic than a foolish complaint about adventure games.

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    17. Petrus, don’t be a dick. It’s the whole whether you should be tolerant about intolerant people, which the almost universal answer seems to be no. And that’s not a bad stance. Also bear in mind there’sa difference between Republicans and Trump supporters, but this is no doubt not the place for such discussions.

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    18. Sure, I'm a dick for calling out the hypocrisy.

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    19. A) Let’s not call people dicks.

      B) This is a pretty inclusive space as far as I can tell, and no one is getting excluded for ‘wrongthink’.

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    20. A good moderator keeps track of people who are repeatedly disruptive and/or toxic, and eventually bans them after they ignore the warnings. Disruptive & toxic people hate it!

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    21. Tristan, Chet did tell Trump supporters he didn't want them here though: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2016/11/hillary-clinton-for-president.html

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    22. Yeah, that's true, five years ago he 'disinvited' Trump supporters.

      But I don't think you see much denigration of people for their views here. A bit of needling from a couple regs on each side but no one is getting banned or hounded for what they think.

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    23. I wonder how many became "Trump supporters" only because the Democrats couldn't find better candidates than people like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden...
      It's like a choice between a narcissistic clown, a psychotic killer and a puppet with dementia.

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    24. I think there's a difference between voting for someone as the 'lesser evil' and genuinely supporting someone.

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  4. Dungeon Hack is pretty much the reverse of this, throwing out all the adventure elements and story. Before your entries on The Summoning, I never realized they were made by the same company.

    It's almost like the RPG and adventure elements in The Summoning got a divorce, splitting into two separate games. The adventure side got the interface, while the RPG side got some of the assets (I think the silver coins in Dungeon Hack are taken directly from The Summoning, Veil of Darkness seems to have gotten new ones).

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  5. And the reason you'd want to buy fennel seeds is to freshen your breath after those garlic-heavy meals ;)

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  6. I recall playing this game and ending more-or-less at the same point Chester did. In my memory, the game is just annoying to play, and not just because of the dialogue.

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  7. As a sidenote, Deanna is decidedly not a Hungarian name, on the other hand, Csarda (the fictional Romanian kingdom) is very close to the Hungarian word csárda, which means a roadhouse-type institution outside city limits.

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  8. Fact: Evil ALWAYS has better surveillance.

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  9. No picture of the absolutely over the top box art?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Despite its non-RPGness, the game has still pretty good graphics.

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  11. The best way for players to spend FFXIV Gil in Final Fantasy XIV is to buy dyes, enhanced food, work equipment provided by suppliers, and raw materials for artisans.

    Attached link: https://www.iggm.com/ffxiv-gil

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    1. I think we are still a few years ago from seeing FFXIV being played here, but thanks for your pearl of wisdom.

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    2. I think the kids were calling spam like that "sus" last year.

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    3. Fishy? Ah yes, because of the gil...

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  12. Obviously too late for this but... You can cycle among music on & sound on, music off & sound on, music off & sound off, pressing F9 during gameplay.

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  13. I really enjoyed Event Horizon’s art style especially for portraits and ingame graphics...the game was a very interesting take on a aventure/rpg without the innane conventions of the genre like crazy puzzle solutions
    Definitely worth playing

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  14. Is there any gameplay similarity to Ultima? I get a Serpent Isle feeling from this game. Am I just imagining it?

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    1. I suppose that feeling comes from the isometric view, but the only gameplay similarity which I am able to find would be the use of keywords in the dialogs, and it is used to a much lesser degree than in "Ultima".

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    2. And the paperdoll inventory, though that makes it closer to The Black Gate than the sequel. It seems unlikely that the Origin developers took inspiration from Event Horizon, but I suppose not impossible.

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    3. But to answer your question, Joshua, no, it doesn't FEEL much like U7 because the world is so non-interactive.

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  15. It's kind of a neat looking game and one that I don't remember hearing about, though I fear that time and improvement in controls might make it a chore to actually play for the first time now.

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  16. Highly recommend watching Ross's Game Dungeon where ge goes through this game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-tF0NKdh24) :)

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    1. He got a little bit on my nerves, but it was a good video for getting the gist of the story and gameplay.

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    2. He sounds like Kenny Lauderdale. Thanks for sharing.

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    3. One of my favorite YouTubers. I love how he always digs up the real obscurities for his Game Dungeon.

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  17. AlphabeticalAnonymousSeptember 18, 2021 at 1:24 PM

    Of general interest to readers of this blog: the UK's Sir Clive Sinclair (of Speccy fame) recently passed away. For better or worse, his technology made possible a decent fraction of the games covered on this blog over the years.
    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/sep/17/sir-clive-sinclair

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    1. Thanks for sharing. My roommate had bought a Timex Sinclair. It think it was from Sears, and I think it was for $50. Black and white, very sparse, but still, it fired up a first technical exposure to computers while stimulating the imagination. Almost anybody could afford one!

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    2. What do you mean for "better or worse"? For better or best! :)

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    3. This Digital Antiquarian article mentions how explody a lot of Sinclair product were.

      https://www.filfre.net/2012/05/micro-men/

      (Sinclair coverage starts about 20% in.)

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    4. And they painted cooling vents on the ZX80.

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  18. I played Veil of Darkness about 20 years ago, think I got it from Home of the Underdogs. Didn't finish the game though, but it was a place I enjoyed exploring. I think of it quite fondly.

    So, this post was really fun with its abrupt, frustrated jump-off point. Makes me wonder if the game would be as enjoyable for me now as it was back then..

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  19. Kairn is no mad dog killer. He is after something.

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