Friday, August 11, 2023

BRIEF: Caer Shiraz (1984)

Caer Shiraz
Screen Play (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for Commodore 64
Rejected for: Insufficient character development; combat based solely on equipment
Care Shiraz is a trite little game with no winning condition. I found it in some online catalogs, but I'm not entirely sure about its country or if it was ever even sold commercially. A lot of sites link it to Screenplay, a small publisher out of North Carolina, but I don't think Screenplay ever styled itself as two words (as the title screen does here), and its games were generally more complex than this. I haven't been able to find a manual, box, or review. I had no luck tracking down author Paul Kay, a very common name.
[Ed. As per the comments, the company was out of Adelaide, South Australia.]
The game begins by giving you 81 gold pieces and asking you to buy weapons and armor with it. There are some difficulties during this process. First, the lists of items give no prices; you don't find out how much an item costs until you select it. Second, when you select an item, you're asked how much you're willing to pay for it. The game acts like it's willing to haggle with you, but in fact if you type anything other than the asking price, you're told to make another offer. Third, if you can't afford the item on this screen, there's no way to back out of it. You're trapped in an endless loop of either making an offer that the shopkeeper rejects or making one that you can't pay.
Why pretend that I have any choice?
In fact, during this starting session, the only way you can afford both a weapon and armor is if you buy a dagger and a suit of leather--the worst items in both categories. Weapons start at 24 and increase by 12 gold per level, maxing at a 72-gold-piece longsword. Armor starts at 51 and increments by 25, maxing at field plate (226). From experimentation, I decided that a starting character has a greater chance of survival by purchasing the best weapon and no armor.
After these purchases, you give your name and decide whether you want to control the character with a keyboard or joystick. 
"Character creation."
After that, you're thrust into a multi-screen dungeon with fairly simple wall configurations. You start with 23 hit points and however much gold you have left from the beginning. The character remains in constant motion in the dungeon. He'll keep moving in the last direction you indicated until he hits an obstacle, then bounce off in a random direction if you don't otherwise input something.
Encountering my first enemy . . .
Each screen has a chance of hosting an enemy. If it does, it runs towards you and attacks you. You retaliate by holding down the joystick button. There are no other tactics or inputs. Combat is resolved in a few seconds based on your weapon and armor and the enemy type. I'm not sure if your "rank" plays a role or not.
. . . and immediately dying.
If you manage to kill the enemy, there's around a 50% chance that it has some treasure to loot, which goes into your treasure pile. The enemy may have a weapon upgrade or an elixir that restores your health, but they never have armor upgrades.
I did better in a rematch.
You periodically find doorways back to the shop, where you can trade your treasure for better weapons and armor, then re-enter the dungeon (you can even specify a new name when you re-enter). Some weird stuff happens during this process, though. Sometimes you lose your weapon and armor; sometimes you get a "bonus" weapon or armor, which may or may not be better than what you had.
If you die, you can immediately re-enter the dungeon, keeping your weapon and armor but losing your gold, or return to the trader, keeping some of your gold. Either way, you lose whatever rank you've accumulated.
Options if you die.
There are 10 ranks: newman, veteran, warrior, fighter, cleaver, slayer, dicer, warmark, barlow, and lord. You gain one for every battle, I think. If not, it's never more than two. Every new level increases your maximum hit points by one, up to a maximum of 34.
The hard part about the game is surviving the first few battles. It took me five or six deaths before I won one. But since you can keep your gold even in death, you only have to win a battle now and then, then upgrade your weapon or (particularly) armor when you can afford it. By the time you have the third armor rank, you'll win about half your battles, and by the time you have field plate, you'll win almost all of them.
Late in the game, I'm relatively immortal.
I don't think the dungeon has a fixed number of screens. I think that every time you leave a screen, the next screen is completely randomized, something the game hides by always closing the door behind you (sometimes doing damage to you) when you move from one screen to another. 
Anyway, that's about it. I don't think there's any winning condition. The game files don't contain any winning text, anyway. Once you have the best weapons and armor and "lord" status, you're pretty invulnerable anyway, and it eventually gets boring just coasting through the hallways killing enemies who can't hurt you and collecting their treasure. It took me only a couple of hours to reach this point.
Another enemy. The screens either look like this or the configuration in the other shots.
In the end, I don't think I'd call it an RPG. Its character development is insufficient, and I don't think your level has any effect on combat. If I took the time to give it a GIMLET, it would definitely be in the single digits. 
The name is curious. Caer of course means "castle" or "fort" in Welsh. Shiraz is a city in Iran and it gives its name to two varieties of wine grape: one actually grown near Shiraz and the other a synonym for "Syrah." That factoid was perhaps the best thing I got out of the game.


  1. Talk about obscure... . That's one of the reasons your blog is a reference by now.

  2. Sorry, published before adding the rest:

    It seems Screen Play was based in Adelaide, Australia, and did indeed at least offer Caer Shiraz for sale. See this announcement/ad on the left side of the page in The Australian Commodore Review - April/May 1985. Most of their other offerings seem to be utilities, not games.

    There is also a letter to the editor by a "Malcolm Haines, Manager, Screen Play" about another product of theirs, Bitmapper II, in issue 35 of the Australian Commodore Magazine of March 1986, so the company could have still been existing then.

    However, in an ad for Bitmapper II in October 1985, the company is spelled "Screenplay" and has a different address from the one in the ad linked above, so not sure it is the same.

  3. Caer Shiraz ,Shiraz
    Whatever will be, will be
    The future's not ours to see
    Caer Shiraz ,Shiraz
    What will be, will be

    1. Well, thanks, dmb. I've had this song in my head for 9 days now.

  4. "In the end, I don't think I'd call it an RPG."

    Me neither, and the ad describes it as an arcade adventure.

  5. I guess it's too early for Newman to be a Seinfeld reference.

    You made this a BRIEF but it looks like you covered pretty much the entire game.

    1. "Newman" is definitely waaaay too early to be a Phantasy Star reference, either.

    2. No win screen, not a proper crpg, no number feels ok.

    3. It would have gotten the lowest GIMLET score in history, and I felt that type of superlative ought to go to an actual RPG.

    4. This made me curious about what was the lowest GIMLET; looks like it's Ultimuh MCMLXVII: Part 2 of the 39th Trilogy - The Quest for the Golden Amulet (1993) with 3 points (which you said you rated so it wasn't just blanks in the spreadsheet) and then Garriott's Dungeons and Dragons #1 (knocked down from 6 to 4 to avoid tying some non-bugged games). Ultimuh would surely earn a BRIEF now but I think Dungeons and Dragons #1 is a real RPG by your standards?

    5. Sure, a BRIEF works best, I did not want to question that. Just wanted to give some credit. You've won this game as much as this game can be won. You could have briefed this after playing half of it, giving you 3 hours you could have spent with U7.2 instead. ;)

  6. I´m not going to claim to be right, but Caer in spanish is the root verb meaning to fall, and Shiraz in a European sense is a corruption of the more correct name syrah for a grape wine coming from France. It can of course be simply said that it´s interesting the same words can have a different meaning in another cultural setting.

    1. Digging a bit, there was a rumor that Syrah was originally brought back from a Crusader from the grapes near Iranian city Shiraz, which was historically noted for its wine making. This rumor has been verified by DNA testing to be false.

      The confusion may have been caused by the similarity of the names, but that's just speculation on my part.

    2. Anyway you slice it... Syrah or Shiraz... a very nice grape and a very solid red!

    3. Adelaide, Australia is a big wine making region. I don't think that's a coincidence.

    4. I assumed it meant castle/fortress - ala old welsh - and then combine with the adelaide origin, you get something equating to 'house of wine' - somewhere one goes to have a glass or two?

      ... I'd never heard of this game. I love this blog.

    5. Probably not the real meaning, but Shiraz is also a biblical name that means 'secret song'.

    6. What might be the oldest still existing CRPG, The Dungeon (alias pedit5), takes place in "the country of Caer Omn" (according to its backstory shown in this screenshot in Chet's 2019 coverage of it).

      As already mentioned in the comments to Chet's initial 2011 post on that game, it's one of several anagrams used there ("Romance"). Here that appears less likely, though.

  7. Shiraz is also the birthplace of Dr. Jamshidi, who invented the needle that we currently use for bone marrow biopsies in 1971. We refer to them by his name to this day!

  8. [i]If you die, you can immediately re-enter the dungeon, keeping your weapon and armor but losing your gold[...][/i]

    [i][...]But since you can keep your gold even in death,[...][/i]

    What is it, then? Do you keep or lose your gold upon death?

    [i][...]I think that every time you leave a screen, the next screen is completely randomized, something the game hides by always closing the door behind you [b](sometimes doing damage to you)[/b] when you move from one screen to another.[/i]

    Wow, is this one of the most bullshit ways of punishing the player we've seen in this blog?

    1. Damn, I though Blogspot used BBCode formatting on its comments. Is it plain HTML?

    2. Sorry for the confusion. If you die and choose to immediately-renter the dungeon, you lose your gold. If you die and choose to visit the trader before re-entering the dungeon, you keep some of your gold.

  9. "It took me only a couple of hours to reach this point."

    Possibly a couple more hours than anyone ever spent playing this game before!

  10. Hey Chet, I need to ask, have you already started 'Baldur's Gate III' and what are your initial impressions?

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 12, 2023 at 6:43 PM

      Thanks for asking him!
      I won't have the hardware needed to play it for years, but there's no community whose views on it I would respect more.

    2. Same for me, but I intend to get a new rig in the next couple of years. I recalled that Chet called BG 1 probably the best crpg he'd ever played in the "why we're here" article, so yeah, I expect him to play BG 3 and having a strong opinion about it...

    3. I call BG1 the first modern party-based CRPG, but I don't think it's overall game experience really compares to PS:T or BG2.

      I'm looking forward to BG3, but I want to play Divinity: Original Sin 1&2 first (And dont want to pay 90AUD for it).

    4. Says Tristan, who wasn't even addressed ;)

    5. I'd like to try BG3, but I've barely had time to work on my blog this summer--and this has been a time that I'm technically "off." Generally speaking, since I started this blog, I haven't played any PC games that were not FOR this blog. There's a much greater chance that I'll play it when it gets an Xbox release.

      But I'm glad it's been well-received and that sales have been good. I look forward to trying it eventually.

    6. I don't think you need to wait for D:OS, it's the same engine, and the same quality of tactical combat and encounter design, but they've just had a chance to get better at it. And, of course, there's no lore connection.

      Unless you are crazy enough to try to play every CRPG in chronological order, then — I guess — you do need to.

    7. For my part, I'm super curious about what you'll think of Kingmaker, which you will hopefully live long enough to get to.

    8. @Tristan Don't worry, they go on sale on gog quite often but, honestly, I paid D:os 2 full price and never regretted it. Since I bought it I have replayed it at least once per year and it's still as fun as the first time. That said if you want to play both I'd advise you to start from D:os. I didn't and while I enjoyed it I couldn't help but think that I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't played its sequel beforehand. They got so much better at it that D:os feels more like a good prototype than a prequel. At least to me.
      That's what makes me so curious about BG3, licence aside, they were on a roll. Much of what I'm reading about what impresses people so much was already in both D:os and now is "just" even more refined. Can't wait to save for the hardware to play it

    9. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 14, 2023 at 11:00 PM

      I only just started BG1 (enhanced edition) and am enjoying it so far... seems doubtful that I will find the time to make it through all its successors, though!

    10. @Ronconauta

      Yeah, I’ve intended to play D:OS for so long that I’ll (illogically) be annoyed with myself if I dont play it first. And you’re right, I wouldn’t need to pay 90 for D:OS2 (It seems to go on sale for about 30) that’s the price for BG3.

    11. If one can wait, GOG tends to offer very good deals on D:OS (I managed to et the 1+2 bundle for 20 €). I am quite hesitant to consider BG3 however, since I loved the classic BGs (especially the first) and really disliked D:OS, which gave me addiction but no sense of satisfaction. So I'll probably leave it on the shelf.

    12. I found D:OS tactical combat to be a lot of fun, especially with the way the elemental magic interacted with the environment, but I didn't get as much satisfaction from the combat system in D:OS2. The split into physical and mental hp didn't feel like it worked for me.

    13. Meanwhile, over at the RPGcodex, they're having a meltdown because BG3 is too good and too 'woke' at the same time, what a dilemma, it's a sight to behold ;)

    14. What is with RPG Codex? Why are they so obsessed with politics over there? I went to go see what they were saying about BG3 and I found a review with a bunch of Nazi stuff in it and a thread where people are sharing links to a forum "for people who find RPG Codex too woke". What relevance could any of this possibly have to computer games?

    15. The most vocal Codexers are those who commute on the hypetrain to Butthurtville. While on the train they will entertain their fellow passengers with parodies, memes, jokes they are not allowed to tell on other trains, and in-depth analising of games they plan to uninstall.

      It's a shame the Codex refuses to conform to the standards of most other gaming sites. They really stand in the way of total diversity.

    16. I don't think the Codex is any worse than any other site when it comes to politics, but that's less a statement that the place is good and more a statement that politics ruined a lot of the internet.

    17. I think the internet has exacerbated negative aspects in political discussions and yes, sadly these in turn have made a substantial number of places on the net more divisive and a worse experience for many of us.

      However, being a haven of racism, antisemitism and homophobia is far from a generalized property of most addresses on the web - including all those gaming sites which in their majority shockingly and boringly focus on talking about, you know, games. Of course, if jokes carrying the mentioned hallmarks are your kind of "humour", then the Codex is the "diversity" you want.

      Meanwhile, places like this blog or the Digital Antiquarian have shown over the last >10 years that you can combine discussions on games with those on many other subjects, including those involving political attitudes, and have people disagree, even strongly, mostly without getting nasty.

    18. Well, that's just it, the Codex is, in fact, focusing on the games. Talking about the writing and politics of a game or it's developers is a valid point of criticism. Like say, a series of highly beloved Japanese RPGs which just so happen to have a hero who doesn't believe in the word no, or a game set in medieval Europe having the ethnic diversity of medieval Europe. Both of which have had been complained about, some valid, some silly. That doesn't really mean they didn't talk about those games.

      Going back to my original point, no, it pretty much is a generalized property of most addresses on the web; that they're full of obnoxious people screaming some set of slurs, it doesn't matter what kind they're using. Because for every jackass screaming about the Jews, there's another one screaming about the whites, and another on cars, and another the Asians and another the people who voted for a different political candidate. The Codex, much like the rest of the forums that are still around, has many people who aren't screaming about some political issue and actually talk about games, so you join to talk with those people; Then probably leave eventually when you get tired of some "Christian" screaming about how Americans should be genocided for the umpteenth time this week, because they have a lot of free time to argue about that. And for some strange reason I've never seen a forum that doesn't some variation on the general topic, because people who tend to post the most tend not to be people who actually play games. I can't say I've ever seen a forum that breaks these conditions these days, but perhaps I merely missed it.

    19. The vibe I get from codex is akin to that old timey internet edge which was almost synonymous with internet communities prior to social media becoming mainstream (and moderated). In my experience, that sort of vibe is kept alive by communities that lean libertarian-right and skew heavily towards a certain demographic.

  11. The room layouts remind me of the arcade game Berzerk, which also walls off the door behind you so you can't immediately run away from a difficult situation. Berzerk is fun; Caer Shiraz does not appear to be fun.


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