Friday, February 25, 2022

Phalsberg: Summary and Rating

 
 
Phalsberg
France
ERE Informatique (developer and publisher)
Released 1986 for Commodore 64 and DOS
Date Started: 29 January 2022
Date Ended: 23 February 2022
Total Hours: 8 (abandoned)
Difficulty: Very Easy-Easy (1.5/5) for combat; hard (4.0/5) in interface and figuring out what you're supposed to do. I suppose moderate (3/5) on average
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)  
   
I played for another couple of hours, but I couldn't figure out anything new. There's a note that the sorceress Astrud wants herbs, and I thought if I gave her my magic balsam, she might give me the love potion that I need for the Amazons. While she happily took the balsam, she offered nothing in return.
   
I feel like I get what kind of game Phalsberg is trying to be. It wants to be an adventure game with an RPG interface. It wants you to follow clues from place to place and use the right item in the right way at the right location (or with the right NPC) to get the next item or clue. The RPG elements are mostly an afterthought, at least as far as I was able to get. Maybe later combats become challenging and character development becomes essential, but I doubt it. 
   
There's nothing necessarily wrong with that game style, but the problems here are twofold:
   
1. There is no indication whatsoever what you're supposed to do in any of the locations. Good adventure games offer descriptions that call attention to puzzles and interactable items.
 
2. The interface is a crime against humanity, requiring you to select among verbs and nouns with nothing more than a joystick.  
      
The result of searching for something.
       
I stripped the text out of the program file looking for clues and surprisingly didn't find many. The game is so sparse with information, and so much of it plucked from data lists, that it's impossible to find any help. Imagine, for instance, that an Infocom text adventure went something like this:
    
You move east into the cavern. In the tight chamber, a hungry-looking goblin has erected a small structure of bone and fur near a miserable little puddle. He looks at you weakly but defiantly.
 
There is a goblin here.

>GIVE FISH

The hungry goblin gratefully takes the fish from your outstretched hands and devours it. In gratitude, he rummages through his meager belongings and emerges triumphantly with a dagger, which he places on a rock and gestures for you to take it.

There is a goblin here.
There is a dagger here.

      
If you were stuck in such  game, you could study the text for the key phrase ("the hungry goblin gratefully takes the fish") and figure out what to do. But in an identical scenario, Phalsberg's narrative would be:
    
You are in a [disk drive runs for 30 seconds] cave.
You notice a [disk drive runs for 30 seconds] goblin.
>GIVE FISH
[Disk drive runs for two minutes.]
You notice a [disk drive runs for 30 seconds] dagger.
    
In other words, the cause and effect don't have any flavor text around them to help you figure out the right move. I couldn't even find any end game text; if it's possible to win, it must be depicted solely by graphics.
   
The manual suggests numerous ambitions well beyond the game's capabilities to deliver. There are numerous RPG-like tables depicting things like penalties suffered in various types of terrain, weapon bonuses, and languages and the minimum intelligence required to learn them, none of which play any significant role in the game because combat comes down to hitting KILL once or twice and moving on.
      
I don't understand. Why would someone this cool be involved in video games?
      
As Abacos pointed out, the French manual ends with a glowing biography of designer Michel Valentin, depicting him as a polymath who turned to video games after a successful career as an actor, comedian, painter, stage designer, director, and producer. ("Endowed with a fantastic imagination and a genius for production, Michel Valentin has touched upon all the arts before turning to video games.") You'd think with such a résumé, he'd be easy to find online, but good luck. The bio credits him with the earlier Série Noire, an odd multiplayer detective game in which players are asked "Who do you want to kill?," "Who do you want to rob?," and "Who do you want to kiss?" during character creation.
         
Author Michel Valentin's earlier video game effort.
     
I have no idea what to give Phalsberg on the GIMLET. My best guess is 17. It gets 2s and 1s in everything, in particular not doing the RPG elements very well. And if I ever again face a game in which I have to select among several dozen abbreviated keywords with a joystick, I'm just going to refuse to play it, no matter what my rules say.

33 comments:

  1. > And if I ever again face a game in which I have to select among several dozen abbreviated keywords with a joystick, I'm just going to refuse to play it, no matter what my rules say.

    That sounds like an excellent codicil to add to your rules. This interface seriously looks rage-inducing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Needs a catchy name for the glossary.

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    2. Joystick fiddlestick?

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    3. "No Joy with Sticky Interface"?

      Or, similar to an existing entry: "GTFO Joystick Keyword Chains" or just generally "GTFO Interface".

      Since it's also combined with abbreviations and there are already some in the Glossary, what about: "RAGE" for "Really Annoying Game Engine" ("Interface" would be more precise in this case, but hey...)?

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    4. How could it be anything but "Short End of the Stick"?

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  2. Monsieur Valentin looks like an early 80's synth pop artist, had to point that out...

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  3. ROT13 ahead. I had a look through the disk code and with regards to Astrud you said "she wants herbs" but the code says

    Nfgehq xabjf nobhg ybir cbgvbaf naq lbh zhfg tvir na nfgebynor (naq yraf?) gb ure. Gur nfgebynor vf tvira gb lbh sbez fbzrbar naq lbh zhfg svaq gur yraf va n arfg ba gbc bs n gerr.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That... That is a true revelation!!!

      Nope, I am still not going back to that joystick-controlled mess of a game.

      Delete
    2. Yeah. I appreciate it, Morg, but unless you feel like teasing out those clues for about 50% of the steps in the game, I'm with Abacos.

      Delete
    3. ROT13 spoilers ahead...

      I've put below everything I can work out from the code - but it is very incomplete and I had to make some educated guesses on some things. Mainly just putting here in case anyone else in the future needs some sort of help as I think the following is well below 50% of the steps to complete any of the tasks.


      ***Pebja***
      Trg n fjbeq (Fjbeq bs Nvenva)
      Ynhapu fjbeq va gur Gnenagvp Bprna.
      Lbh jvyy cvrepr n svfu jub unf n evat va uvf ragenvyf
      Gurer vf jevgvat ba gur evat
      Znlor n Fgrnyvat Cnegevqtr bs gur Sberfg jvyy fgrny gur evat (ab vqrn jul)
      Ur jvyy syl gbjneqf gur frn, snyy arne fbzrguvat naq lbh trg gur evat sebz uvf ornx
      Svaq Nzlegur jub vf ohevrq va n Gbzo ng Oevatfgbja
      Bcra gbzo (abg fher ubj, znl arrq gb tb gb Fnapghnel bs Gnyyva jvgu n pebff?)
      Fyvc evat ba fxryrgbaf svatre
      Trg pebja sebz fxryrgba

      ***Fpneno***
      Lbh arrq n pelfgny bs chevgl juvpu vf va na Nezbhe Bs Fcnexf
      Znl arrq gb znxr gur nezbhe ohg abg fher ubj
      Pelfgny arrqrq gb ragre pvgl jurer fpneno pna or sbhaq
      Gur fpneno jvyy snyy bss gur prvyvat (abg fher ubj be jul)

      ***Fprcgre***
      Trg n xrl gb uryc trg n Znc bs gur Zntvpny Jbeyq
      Znc vf va Fnapghnel bs Pnuz Anuz
      Znc gnxrf lbh gb n arfg jurer lbh trg n yraf
      Fbzrbar tvirf lbh na nfgebynor
      Tvir yraf naq nfgebynor gb Nfgehq jub tvirf lbh n ybir cbgvba
      Tvir cbgvba gb Nznmbaf
      Nznmbaf thvqr lbh gb n gbzo (cbffvoyl)
      Abg fher bs arkg fgrcf ohg znl vaibyir n gnoyr jvgu ebpxf naq n ubyr
      Lbh arrq gb fjvz qbja gb gur fuvc naq trg gur fprcgre fbzrubj

      ***Bgure guvatf va pbqr***
      Ghar bs Znfgnone
      Pnzren gb gnxr cubgb bs n fnapghnel
      Yrggre va na rirybcr

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    4. Wow, even that much still feels incredibly cryptic!

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    5. You have to use a ROT-13 translator on it.

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    6. Sorry, I meant that even after using ROT-13 to decrypt, it's still very cryptic with the odd sequences of events.

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    7. I know. That was supposed to be a joke.

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    8. Yeesh... sounds absolutely terrible. I would have to wonder if anyone ever finished this one.

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  4. Wow. That was short. You literally killed the game.

    Even on the French retro-gaming websites, no trace of a walkthrough can be found.

    And thus, it came to pass that nobody on the web could win Phalsberg... And it is not a victory for Phalsberg, either!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Sometimes the only winning move is not to play."

      -- Joshua, "WarGames" (1983)

      Delete
  5. Clearly this is the right decision. If you are not enjoying a game, it will be difficult (or impossible) to write interesting posts about it, and so your audience gets no enjoyment either. We get the "flavour" of this game, and that is more than good enough.

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  6. The contemporaneous Zzap!64 review Chet mentions in his first post had similar issues (even if the reviewer might possibly have played a different / the official English translated version as Chet suggests) and after a game crash concluded: "Phalsberg is superficially complex, offers a large number of well though[t] out features, and completely fails to implement them satisfactorily", leading to an overall score of 47%.

    The review is on pages 43-44 of Zzap!64 issue 30 of October 1987 (not issue 29 of September as stated on gamebase64 and Wikipedia) which can be found e.g. here: https://archive.org/details/ZZap64Issue0301987Oct/page/n42/mode/1up?view=theater. It has also been OCR'd by gamebase64: http://www.gb64.com/oldsite/gameofweek/30/gotw_phalsberg.htm.

    ReplyDelete
  7. There are two reviews in the French magazine Tilt (for the original French version). Not sure if, true to her name, Nathalie Meistermann did actually fully "master" (i.e. play through and win) the C64 version (and before anyone makes that joke, yes, based on her name she is not a "Mann", but a female reviewer - rare enough in 1986, I'd guess).

    She calls the backstory trite ("banale à pleurer"), the combat mechanics very limited and complains about the (separately loaded) graphics/images as incredibly slow loading, extremely poor and useless. However, she mentions the dialogue navigation by joystick as the main originality/uniqueness of the game which in her view makes the dialogues less flexible, but "speeds them up" (!) - I assume this means compared to a free text parser - and so gives the player a frame that helps to advance the story (not the experience of Chet and Abacus, though...).

    Due to the "simple" dialogue and action/combat options, Meistermann sees Phalsberg as a (C)RPG that's accessible for newcomers to the genre. She states that "everything has been done to clarify how to progress" (!), mentioning the many stat tables Chet also referred to and closes by saying the game is a "must" (in English in the original) for people who want to get started with (C)RPGs ... . Based on what I've read here, I wonder how many promising french (C)RPG "careers" were cut short by this experience (according to her, only the second CRPG released in French after "Danse Macabre").

    The review can be found e.g here: https://archive.org/details/Tilt035/page/n146/mode/1up?view=theater.

    There is a very short 1988 "review" of the DOS version as well, which, besides the complicated character creation process also mentions basic graphics and praises the options interface as "very well designed". It calls the game's strategy traditional, but sufficiently complex to appeal to (C)RPG enthusiasts and sees Phalsberg as a good program with a very comprehensive French documentation/manual: https://archive.org/details/TiltHS1988-09/page/n74/mode/1up?view=theater.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I searched for the phrase 'appuyez sur feu' and found this image - which I assume is (part of) the ending? So perhaps somebody out there has fought their way to the end...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on this thread, the person who posted the pictures did not even test the game, just extract some data:
      https://csdb.dk/forums/?roomid=7&topicid=49497&showallposts=1.

      Delete
  9. For some reason stories like Michel Valentin's were not unique. More than one lead developer has made claims that they were some master in one field or another, possibly in a foreign country, and by the time anybody could realize that something was wrong, it was pointless since he was long gone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do wonder if he ever released anything in other forms of media. Nowadays it's really easy to self-publish pretty much everything. Books? Amazon offers both print and ebook self-publishing services. Video? Youtube, Bitchute, etc let you upload it.

      So nowadays you can easily check up on such claims.

      But back in the day? Who knows, maybe there are some creative works by the guy which never gained much traction beyond a small group of people who got to see them.

      Delete
    2. They were released in Canada, you've never heard of them. No, you can't see them.

      Delete
  10. The two guys on the box cover look like they played the game and want their money back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The guy who's probably supposed to be a wizard looks more like a grumpy garden gnome.

      Delete
  11. AlphabeticalAnonmousFebruary 26, 2022 at 10:01 PM

    I hope you'll be able to give yourself the benefit of consciously choosing a not-quite-so-terrible game for your next attempt.

    In unrelated news, per your suggestion I've begun reading "The Once and Future King." The first few chapters all seemed rather silly, but things are starting to shape up. The parable of the ants, in particular, seems all too appropriate this week:
    --We must attack them in self-defence.
    --They are attacking us by defending themselves.
    --In any case we are not attacking them at all. We are offering them incalculable benefits.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm really glad you're enjoying it! The interesting thing about the book is that its tone matures as Arthur matures. "The Sword in the Stone" has a lot of kids' stuff in it because Arthur himself is young; "The Queen of Air and Darkness" has a bit of awkward adolescent angst; "The Ill-Made Knight" is fully adult fiction; and "The Candle in the Wind" is a bit tired and resigned as befits an old and tired king.

      White wrote "The Sword in the Stone" before he decided to write the rest of the book, and it was originally a standalone publication. When it was incorporated in the larger book, he added some elements not found in the original, including the transformation into ants. That and the goose section were originally written for a separate story called The Book of Merlyn, which depicts Arthur at the END of his life, so they have a different tone and teach a very different lesson.

      Delete

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