Showing posts with label Zyll. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zyll. Show all posts

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Backtracking: Zyll (1984)

This is one of several mini-reviews of CRPGs I missed in my first pass, which I explain here.

Of Zyll, Matt Barton (2008) writes: "Unfortunately, this highly innovative game is virtually unknown today" (p. 91). We need to change that, because--to a CRPG archaeologist, at least--Zyll is simple, pure pleasure. I started this blog to discover games like this.

In Zyll, you play a young warrior, wizard, or thief on a quest to recover the great treasures of your kingdom (the Land of Magic and Enchantment) from the evil wizard Zyll, who has stolen them. You also must steal Zyll's black orb--the artifact that gives him his power and has allowed him to turn your kingdom to a wasteland. There are other minor treasures to take, too, and the game isn't just about "winning" but rather achieving the highest possible score when you do.

The game is entirely text-based, with detailed written descriptions of all the areas. When you start out, for instance, you are told:

You are at a small shelf on the top of a cliff. There is a mist in the air, and you can see a magnificent waterfall cascading down the mountain. You also see:
  • The ledge continue to the south
  • A sharp downward slope to the west

This type of description sounds very familiar to anyone who has played Zork or the other Infocom text adventures of the era. But unlike these games, Zyll is a real CRPG, with different classes, an inventory of armor and weapons you can find and wear, random encounters with monsters, and combats based on statistics. Oh, you could quibble that the game lacks certain CRPG elements: you can't name your character, for one, and there's no character development. But it's at least a quasi-CRPG, and I like it.

CRPGs have made it impossible for me to explore abandoned wells in real life. I'm always disappointed when all I find is spiders and trash.

The game consists of exploring a castle and its surrounding area, finding treasures (which are randomly placed), solving light puzzles, picking locks, mapping, collecting inventory items you need to progress (like keys), and slaying wandering trolls and skeletons.

Combat in Zyll is text-based, but your chances of winning depend on your equipment, your strength, and random die rolls, just like a CRPG.

But I haven't covered the coolest part yet: the game supports a second player! Moreover, this other player can play in "competitive" mode, trying to find the treasures of Zyll before you do, or in "cooperative" mode, working with you to save your kingdom. Both players play in the same game window using the same keyboard--"in effect," Barton says, "a MUD playable on a single nonnetworked computer, a novel concept then and now."

The interface is a little cumbersome on a modern keyboard. Instead of typing in commands (as in Zork), you choose from a selection of commands using the function keys (F1-F10). Because F10 is "Other" and gives you another screen of options, there are as many as 19 different actions (not including sub-actions) available at any given time. The commands were mapped to the corresponding function keys on the IBM PC/XT keyboard, which were arranged in a group on the left hand side. With modern top-level function keys, you have to pause and count the order of the commands before you know what key to press. It's annoying but not fatal.

The IBM PC/XT keyboard.

The second player uses the number pad on the right. His commands and text description are also on the right-hand side of the screen. Thus, although both players had to use one keyboard, the game took advantage of the layout of the keys and kept them from interfering with each other. Ingenious, really.

Zyll in two-player mode. Note that player 1 (a thief) sees a wizard and player 2 (the wizard) sees a thief.

Mapping in text-based games can often be a challenge, and Zyll is no exception. With four cardinal directions plus up and down movements, passages that twist and bend, one-way tunnels, and other assorted challenges, you can start with maps like the one below, but you usually end up drawing them by hand.

The game occurs in real time, and damned if I could find any way to pause it, so you have to be careful about bathroom breaks, stopping to write a paragraph for your blog, or other time outs because you're liable to get eaten by a wandering lion. I really want to win this one, if for no other reason than it doesn't seem like it should take that long, but the interface keeps doing me in. I keep getting attacked and getting flustered figuring out what function key to use to fight back or run. More than once, I've gone to attack and ended up dropping my sword instead.

If I end up winning, I'll post the screen shot and a few other paragraphs, but I suspect I will give up before that. Nonetheless, I recommend Zyll for people who don't have a list of near 1,000 games in front of them.