Thursday, March 28, 2024

Shadow Caster: Air, Land, and Water

A globe shows this world to be quite a bit different from Earth.
As I closed the first entry, I had just gained the ability to transform into a Caun. Caun are the physical size of toddlers, but they have a number of special abilities, including faster regular healing, a healing spell, sneaking, the ability to create light, the ability to create a shield, a kind of "insect swarm" spell, and the ability to grab things at a distance. They are the rogues to the Maorin's fighter.
Although he isn't a great warrior, I spent much of the early part of this session as a Caun, just so I could level him up. The human gains a small percentage of experience from the other forms' kills, but the forms do not grant experience to each other. Since the Caun doesn't last very long in combat, I had him kill enemies with the shuriken.
The Caun can barely see above the shuriken to hit the skeleton.
I'm glad I took MorpheusKitami's advice and let myself look at the cluebook. First of all, it's the only way to assign names to the areas and the monsters, and it's the only way to see how much relative damage your weapons do. That's one Dungeon Master tradition that I wish other games had not adopted. Unfortunately, it also means that I know exactly how many areas the game offers. I had finished the Garden Ruins, the Flooded Palace, the Misty Ruins, and the Dark Temple during the first session. There were 10 more--which isn't a lot, even accounting for the probability that they'll get larger and more complex as the game goes on.
This session opened in the Temple of the Dark God, where Veste had sacrificed two of his top lieutenants to gain the power needed to defeat the People. It was a small map, consisting of one long corridor with chambers on each end (entrance and exit) and four apartments, two on each side. Each of the apartments had a "Disk of Woe" high on the wall that I had to destroy to access the final chamber. The space in between was the home of roaming skeletons, blue phantoms, and rice snakes. The skeletons and rice snakes had no ranged attack and were thus easy to kill with the shuriken. The blue phantoms had a blast attack, but it got caught up on walls and corners easily, as did the enemies themselves.
About to die to "rice snakes."
Destroying the four disks opened the last chamber, where another six-armed Zardaz Guardian attacked. He had a powerful ranged attack, and it was easiest to take him out by switching to the Maorin. Thanks to the manual, I know that the Maorin does 2-8 damage with his claw attack but 8-14 with the magic sword, so I equipped him with the weapon, and he took care of the guardian while losing about half of his health. I switched back to the Caun to heal up (if one form heals, all heal, but some heal faster) before moving on.
The teleporter from the temple brought me to Castle Dorneon, "the oldest structure in the worlds known to shapeshifters," although it doesn't specify that shapeshifters lived there. Honestly, the world-building in this game is so bad that they might as well have not even tried. Veste conquered it with werewolves--whether these werewolves were forms offered to the disgruntled members of the People or an external force is unclear.
Some interesting artwork in the castle.
The area starts in the dungeon, with a werewolf right in front of the arriving player. I lost a ton of health killing it. The arrival area turned out to be one of many dungeon cells in a long corridor. A chain at the end of the corridor unlocked the cells. There was a guy in one of the cells, but I couldn't get him to talk or otherwise offer anything.
Just say one thing and this game's GIMLET goes up 2 points.
The rest of the level wound through a torture room and a large room with skeletons on the floor. There were barrels that I had to switch to Caun form to jump over. The same barrels trapped the werewolves, so I could kill them (although it took a long time) with the shuriken.
Making use of the Caun's special talent.
The torture room had a swampy area with a chain hanging from the ceiling. Pulling it (for some reason) caused a piece of armor to pop out of the swamp. I started to swim for it, taking damage, before I remembered the Caun's "far grab" action. The armor was called Caun armor, so I naturally gave it to him. I hope it's enough to just put it in the inventory. There doesn't seem to be any way to actively wear it. I could be missing something. The controls can be confusing. It's not entirely clear when you're supposed to right-click and when you're supposed to left-click. Every time I want to use something like a potion, I have to bumble around until I get it right. Sometimes you have to turn off the attack actions to interact with something in the environment and sometimes you don't. I should also note that the numberpad allows you strafing options, but that doesn't work well with the right hand on the mouse (which you really need--too much in the game requires precise aiming), so it forces you into an awkward hand configuration unless you're lucky enough to have an external numberpad. That still doesn't excuse this Alienware gaming laptop from not having one, Dell.
I also found a Power Potion, a Frost Wand, and a Silver Sword in the dungeon. Without the cluebook, I would have twisted myself into knots wondering if the Silver Sword was better than the Magic Sword or vice versa, but thanks to the cluebook I know that the Magic Sword is better, except against werewolves.
It's cat vs. dog!
The exit from the dungeon led upward, but there was a quick foray down to a wine cellar--casks lined the walls--with more clerics and a chest. The chest had a journal in it. The final entry read: "The Opsis fled the castle when the werewolves came. I have locked myself in the wine cellar, but I fear I'm losing my sanity. The howling, howling . . ." This wouldn't make much sense without the cluebook's backstory.
The way onward was up a flight of stairs to the castle keep, which apparently once boasted a vast library of tomes from other worlds, replaced by books doing nothing but glorifying Veste and Morloch. Other than werewolves, the level had flying blue eyes called blue monitors and robed figures called clerics. The throne room was large and airy, with columns, tapestries, frescoes, and shields. The graphics are about as good as they could be for the era, which is not quite good enough to really immerse you. A couple more years are going to make a big difference. As it is, I spent a lot of time wondering what some complicated blobs are supposed to be depicting.
The castle hall is almost there, but not quite.
The library, accessed from a teleportation pad in the throne room, was full of more blue phantoms and clerics. I had to retreat to the throne room a few times to rest and heal. When I had cleared them out, I found a single book that told of pools of magic water that refresh power. "One such pool is said to be located in the north side of this castle!" I had found the pool but didn't realize what it was. When you stand in it, it slowly refreshes your magic power. It apparently only has a finite amount of power, though, as it dried up while I was standing in it. So it's basically a potion you can't take with you.
Nice try, Tyranthraxus.
From the keep, the only exit went down again. I found myself in another section of the Dark Temple that I had conquered earlier. I faced about a dozen werewolves and a werewolf lord, who dropped a Staff of Power and an obelisk tip. A nearby room had a Chalice of Power, a Crystal of Light, and a Caun Sword. The cluebook clarifies that the Caun Sword is "Caun-made, not specifically for the Caun." It does less damage than the other two swords despite looking cooler.
When I put the obelisk tip on the nearby obelisk, I got the form of the Opsis, "a magical race with many powers." The obelisk bade me to then "restore the Tree of Life in the Mines."
Let's hope it doesn't require sunshine.
Aside from being a disgusting one-eyed beholder thing with two tentacles, the Opsis is pretty cool. His tentacles do a paltry 0-1 damage and he moves quite slow, but he has five awesome spells: "Fireball," "Cold Blast" (which was needed almost immediately to put out some fire squares), "Slow Time," "Mortal Terror," and "Death Blast." The last one straight-up kills anything you point it at, although it takes about a third of the mana bar. I used it to kill the next few enemies I faced, including another Zardoz Guardian.
The new guy makes his first kill.
This time, the only exit led to what the book calls the Slave Mines, where Veste put Caun slaves to work mining crystals.They were apparently prized for their ability to see in the dark and heal rapidly from wounds, including those caused by the mining explosives. A Caun resistance fighter named Geirob thought he could buy his people's freedom by smuggling in a seed of the Tree of Life and planting it, but he was captured before he could see his plan to fruition. Veste, the book reports, "ordered the seed planted and tended, but starved of water and nourishment so that it would bear no fruit, as a symbol of the absolute stranglehold he had on the Caun."
I ignored the little Caun as I explored picking up blue and red bombs. Enemies were large, tusked boars led by a Boar Lord. None of them could fit through the narrower corridors, so it was easy to kill them at range, though it took forever. There were also hostile mushrooms in one section of the mines.
The boar guards can't fit down the corridor.
At the end of the level, I found something that looked like a stick in the ground. I just touched it, and the game said: "With the tree restored, the slaves will be free from Veste's tyranny. You're doing well, Kirt, very well. Go to the Mines below these and restore the obelisk." I'm not really sure how the tree keeps the Caun free, but I guess I'm happy to help. The tree drops red and blue fruit, which act like health and mana potions. I was starting to run out of inventory space as I went through the portal to the next area. 
I arrived in a very dark place. While I was trying to figure out how to get the Light Crystal to work, spiders came crawling along the walls and floors and killed me despite my swinging away at them. On a reload, I started tossing bombs at them, and I was satisfied at how quickly they vaporized. The Opsis's "Cold Blast" also did a good job. There were much larger spiders later on in the level.
Greeted by ceiling and floor spiders.
The cluebook said I was in the Spider Den, with enemies named Shrooms, Giant Spiders, Floor Spiders, Ceiling Spiders, and Skull Mines. It had been the base of operations for Geirob, but Veste defeated him by turning his only water source to poison and multiplying the spiders until one caught Geirob in his web and consumed him.
I couldn't find any way to productively interact with webs covering passageways and sacs hanging from the ceilings. One of the sacs looked like it had someone in it.
I flew the Opsis over an area of poison and pulled a chain to get access to some parts of the level. Caverns were full of Shrooms, difficult because they had a ranged attack. I found a power-restoration pool across another lake of poison. My inventory filled up with items I didn't understand: Cane of Force, Shock Horn, Tri-Wand, green and blue crystals, and so forth. I even found a second shuriken. 
A good place for the Opsis.
At the conclusion of the level, I restored another obelisk tip to an obelisk and got my fourth form: a Kahpa, or frogman. "With this form you rule the waters," the obelisk said. "Now return to the Temple; the Ssair need your help."
Maybe I'll find a princess.
The Kahpa has a pathetic "claw" attack, but he has "Shock" and "Sonic" attacks, the second of which is particularly powerful underwater. He has no other special abilities. I expect I'll need him primarily for his water-breathing ability.  
The Kahpa contemplates taking on some enemies.
I didn't know who the Ssair were, but a teleporter took me to yet another unexplored part of the Dark Temple. It was short--a couple of Rice Snakes and Green Ssairs who apparently did not need my help because they attacked me. A hidden door brought me back to the main part of the temple that I'd already cleared, where a new teleporter took me onward to the Flooded Caverns. I enjoy water levels as much as I always have, which is not much at all, so I think I'll wrap up there.
Some miscellaneous notes:
  • I kept the music, credited to John Miles, on for a while. It's not bad. The exploration melody is sparse, with drum beats, staccato plinks, and drones that suggest half-melody, half-background sound effects. When you're in combat, everything but the drum beats and the drones fade away, but an absurdly bombastic victory tune accompanies every kill. I left it on for a little while. 
  • I didn't notice until late in the session that the player can set a difficulty level from a list of five options
Modern games would try to take some of the sting away from the lowest ones by calling them "story mode" or "casual," or something, but this one pulls no punches.
  • The perspectives and sizes of objects shift when you change forms. The Caun's perspective is closer to the floor, and he sees everything as larger, for instance.
  • The game is very linear. Once you teleport to a new area, you generally cannot go back to a previous one.
I end the second session feeling much like I did after the first one. The game isn't bad. It moves along at a good clip. The shapeshifting is more interesting and less bothersome than I thought it would be. I just wish it was more of a proper RPG, with proper leveling, a real equipment system, and maybe an NPC or two. At least it looks like it won't linger too long--I might be able to wrap it up in one more.
Time so far: 6 hours


  1. Are there any other games that let you play a beholder?

    1. I was going to say 'Dungeon Keeper' but a quick check of the monster list only reveals some sort-of-beholders.

    2. The company who owned D&D at the time (TSR) was known to be very triggerhappy on the lawsuits; as the joke goes, the acronym stands for They Sue Regularly.

      So I'm reasonably sure no game from that era contains actual beholders (or mind flayers, or a couple other "iconic" monsters) except with an official license.

      Of course, some games contain "definitely not a beholder" creatures like the Gazers in Ultima. Did you ever wonder why defeating a gazer leaves a swarm of insects in its place? Vg'f orpnhfr gurl'er orr ubyqref!

    3. That was like a shaggy dog rot-13. (I enjoyed it)

      And the reputation for this continued with WOTC:, see this comic from the early days of The Order of the Stick

    4. Eye of the Beholder IV: The Return of Xanathar

      (It's pretty hard, though)

    5. @Radiant I laughed xD

    6. Sure, Anonymous, but Buck made the better joke ;)

  2. Always enjoy a PoR reference.

    The game seems nice enough for what it is, even if it's not much of an RPG. At least it's not the nth Ultima clone or DM copycat. Plus, as you also say, it appears it won't overstay its welcome.

    "I hope it's enough to just put it in the inventory. There doesn't seem to be any way to actively wear it. I could be missing something."

    Yes, it's enough.

    "My inventory filled up with items I didn't understand: Cane of Force, Shock Horn, Tri-Wand, green and blue crystals, and so forth."

    The (stats for) Shock Horn and Tri-Wand are mentioned in the cluebook (p.63/64). For a table of weapons, armor & other items, also including e.g. the Cane of Force, see here (as mentioned it seems more comprehensive and easier/faster to navigate than what can be found on this in the manual & cluebook).

  3. *Nobody* likes water levels, but they keep on making them... I guess they might be okay with a form that can swim underwater indefinitely.

    It does seem like a very decent little game with moderate puzzles that are really just about finding the right form to get through the maze. Seems like not the most memorable game, but a satisfying experience that won't outstay its welcome. Though a good story and ending are things games like that need to stand out.

    1. The water level here is pretty good, but that might be a consequence of the weird way the game works in general. Being underwater here isn't really any different than flying in another form, you just have to make sure you don't run out of mana. Instead it was the above water part that was annoying, even without having to wait around to heal.

    2. Water levels *can* be good, but what you really need is both the experience of struggling through the water, and then the experience of getting an item or power-up that lets you move through it freely and easily and too many games don't do the second bit. One example I'd pick is almost every Metroid game, where being able to jump or fly through the underwater areas you had previously struggled through is incredibly satisfying.

    3. In spite of all the suspension of disbelief required, I thought the underwater area in The Dark Queen of Krynn (covered by Chet mostly in this entry) was a nice change of pace when it came to spell effects and their uses as well as enemies. The party got at least one (two? Don't recall all details of my own playthrough or Chet's blog entries on the game) 'Ring of Free Action', allowing the wearer to be able to move easier (i.e. like on land) underwater.

      This thread in the comments to that entry discusses other games with underwater areas.

  4. I wonder if John Miles [the inspiration for Ultima's Captian Johne] wrote the music, or just the music sound system. The Miles Sound System was used by the majority of PC games in the 90s.

    1. No, it just uses his system, the guy who did the music here is Marc Schaefgen, who I think also did some tracks in an Ultima game and nothing else of consequence.

  5. The old man you find in the cells does talk, not sure what you missed there. There might have been an item you need.

    Hmm, you didn't notice that the blue and red cloak guys, the phantoms, drained mana or health respectively? I'm impressed you got through the library without knowing that.

    THAT many kills with the Caun? Oof. I hope you keep that same attitude with the last form.

    I think things like the ssairs or monitors (which seem like they're just opsises) are supposed to be enemy shapeshifters.

    Incidentally, the difficulty selection changes how much XP you get. I don't think it's that dramatic, but it is noticeable. Probably best to keep it where it is right now. Also, in case you didn't notice it in the manual, you can change your height by pressing the gems on the left or right side of the main viewing area, only useful if you're flying or swimming. (Which means you can see earlier pools even if that just means Kirt will drown) By the same token there are shortcuts for the forms primary powers, no idea about the stuff in the lower right. Several times I played the game I took advantage of it to punch and kick as Kirt, and you can also do the powerful jumping kick that way.

  6. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 28, 2024 at 12:11 PM

    > by smuggling in a seed of the Tree of Life and planting it,
    > but he was captured before he could see his plan to fruition.

    Very nice wordplay, much appreciated.

    Also: is it "Zardoz Guardian" or "Zardaz Guardian?" A quick internet search seems to suggest the latter, though I remain hopeful for an enemy based on the ultimately-disappointing 1974 movie.

    1. I can't imagine what a Zardoz game would be like, in terms of game mechanics, but I would dutifully play it into the ground.

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 28, 2024 at 3:25 PM

      > I would dutifully play it into the ground.

      Just like they did with that floating stone head.

    3. There is a Zardoz game on the Amiga, but the only thing it has in common with the film is its name.

  7. The complaint about a gaming laptop not having a numpad making no sense just makes me wonder how many modern games even use the numpad in the first place. I generally don't keep up with PC gaming but I can't think of many that I've played that didn't originally come out in the 80s or 90s that used the numpad, and gaming laptops don't seem to be aimed at people primarily playing 20+ year old games. If anything a gaming laptop makes the most sense to ditch the numpad if it's generally unused in modern games, because if it's not going to be touched by the intended market then there's no reason to have it there, especially when external ones exist

    1. For a PC game that's not a first-person shooter, a common keyboard layout is the numpad for movement and Z,X,C for actions like jumping and attacking. So that can be tricky on a laptop.

    2. I'm not sure I've seen a game like that using the numpad that isn't just using the arrow keys, or at least not one that looks like the sort of thing most people buying gaming laptops would want to run on it. That being said I'm also coming at this from a mindset of "gaming laptops are primarily aimed at playing modern AAA games" and when I tend to do most gaming on a Switch modern AAA isn't exactly something I'm the most familar with

    3. I don't think I've seen that particular combination in American games, but I've seen similar in Japanese games, though most were arrows + zxc. That said, it has been a while since I don't play many imports; the only one I've played with that layout heavily was Receatter (and I just mapped them onto a controller.)

    4. I bought my gaming laptop eight years ago (!) and tastes in hardware may have changed since then, but it has a full numeric keypad.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.