Monday, July 26, 2010

Backtracking: Amulet of Yendor (1985) and Leygref's Castle (1986)

Note from the future: When I wrote this entry about 6 years ago, I didn't know what I was talking about. I recommend ignoring it and reading my full posts on The Yendor's Castle and Leygref's Castle instead.

Amulet of Yendor and Leygref's Castle are both remakes of Wizard's Castle (1981) which I reviewed a couple of postings ago. They are both roguelikes from the mid-1980s, and neither of them have aged very well, especially compared to the 1985 remake of Rogue that I played many months ago.

Amulet of Yendor (this is the MobyGames name; in the game itself it seems to be called Yendor's Castle) involves a quest to retrieve the Orb of Power forged by the elven wizard Yendor. It takes place on an 8-level dungeon with 64 rooms (8x8) each. As in Wizard's Castle, the rooms contain various monsters, pools, chests, books, treasure, vendors, and other assorted items. You have to fight monsters to find an artifact called the Runestaff which teleports you to Yendor's Orb. Winning the game involves leaving the dungeon with Yendor's Orb in your possession, at which point you are given a score based on the treasure you've collected and the monsters you've slain.

After an equipment buy, you're off to the dungeon. Mapping and exploration are complicated by random teleporters ("warps") and sinkholes which toss you about the dungeon randomly. In my first time out, I got warped to Level 4 before I knew what was happening, and I was killed in short order by a dragon. My second time out, I literally made one move from the entrance and got tossed down to Level 8 by a warp/sinkhole combination.

The "map" only displays for a couple of seconds, even when I slow DOSBox down to a crawl; I don't know if this is a deliberate game design or a technical issue.

Every time the game starts up, it takes you through six screens of instructions which are apparently inescapable, meaning dying sucks more than it did in Wizard's Castle.

I played six times but never lasted more than about 25 turns thanks to the balrogs and dragons the game cheerfully throws at you even on Level 1.

Leygref's Castle is essentially the same game but with much more tolerable graphics and gameplay. You are once again after an Orb of Power, this time forged by the elf wizard Leygref instead of Yendor. Other than the name change, the instructions are word-for-word identical to those in Amulet of Yendor (although this game helpfully gives you the opportunity to bypass them). Improvements include a map that remains in front of you throughout the game and more information about your status and inventory on the screen. There are a few other tricks introduced by the game, including a mysterious jerk called "The Phantom" who shows up and steals your stuff and the chance of going blind (I was never able to cure this). The author of this one, a Frank Dutton of either Texas or Louisiana, deserves a lot of credit for this version, and if you're really eager to play one of the Wizard's Castle derivatives, this is the one I'd recommend.
Both games randomly regenerate the map when you start a new game, allowing (in theory) an infinite number of variations in the game. But both keep Wizard's Castle's baffling conflation of strength and hit points. As shareware games, they're an amusing diversion.


  1. I made some comments on your Oubliette post that I have decided that I should let you know about because I don't know if blogspot informs you of new comments. Yo.

  2. amulet of yendor was also the name of a hack variant that preceded nethack...

  3. Marc, I got 'em. Blogger does send me an e-mail whenever anyone posts. I still get comments on my earliest postings now and then.

    Stu, yeah, the Amulet does get around, doesn't it? Of course, it's the grand prize in the original "roguelike," Rogue, although I don't know if it predates that anywhere else.

  4. AFAIK the amulet is mentioned first with the original Rogue game. I did play a version on the Amiga but couldn't muster the necessary amount of enthusiasm to actually finish it. I liked the Amiga Larn-port slightly better, anyway.

    BTW, for "slow" people like myself:
    Yendor = Rodney spelled backwards

  5. Yes, "Rodney" backwards. What I can't figure out is why? The sources I consult list the game's original developers as Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, Ken Arnold, and Jon Lane. Did they reject "Amulet of Leahcim," "Amulet of Nnelg," "Amulet of Nek," and "Amulet of Noj" before just turning to some random person?

  6. Leygref is formed from Grey Elf (the letters rearranged, if not precisely backward), who made the amulet in the first place.

    They really needed to work harder on their naming conventions.

  7. I don't think anything is as bad as Wizardry, where you have Lord Trebor and the evil wizard Werdna. I mean, seriously--those don't even SOUND like real names.

    Then you have games that just give their villains lame names. Everyone was shocked--shocked!--when Lord British's apprentice, "Blackthorn," turned out to be evil! Not even the awesome Baldur's Gate II is immune. "JON Irenicus?!" Why didn't they just call him "Pete" or something?

    Hmmm...I think this could be a full entry.

  8. "I don't think anything is as bad as Wizardry, where you have Lord Trebor and the evil wizard Werdna. I mean, seriously--those don't even SOUND like real names."

    And yes, "Blackthorn" was a horrible design choice. Characterization by name is even worse than by looks (as demonstrated by the Japanese in countless mangas and games).
    Sierra tried to morph the name into some kind of bad-ass hero with this gem but I don't think that it was too successful:

    Jon Irenicus on the other hand may have better worked as "Jonathan Irenicus" but even this name doesn't really fit into the BG universe.

  9. RPGs, for the computer and otherwise, have had a long history of odd naming conventions- aside from silly rearrangements of ordinary names, you get a lot of nounverbers- which is fine if not overdone.

    Names in RPGs should be cool enough to help immerse you into a fantastical world, not so awkward or stupid that they knock you out of that immersion.

    A humorous parody of the excesses of these sorts of conventions is linked below, should it interest any of you.

  10. That link was worth a chuckle. I think to be fair, though, most of these RPGs are set in a primitive world without family names, right? So just as American Indians took names from their achievements and Englishmen took names from their jobs, so do the characters we meet in RPGs. I have no problem with a fighter styling himself Something Trollslayer or a thief going by Something Shadowslinker. It's the names that no one would give himself that get me. You mean "Grima Wormtongue" turned out to be a villain? "Blackthorn" betrayed Lord British? "Iceheart" grew up to be a tyrant? Who would have thought?

    1. "Wormtongue" was an intentional slur, not used by Grima himself, so it's not quite like the other examples. Wikipedia says: "He was widely disliked in Edoras; everyone except Théoden called him 'Wormtongue', for his malicious words were like those of a serpent."

  11. Oh, and Calibrator, that guy's real name is Robert Schenkman. So basically he just failed at a stage name.

  12. I had always heard that Werdna was the name of one of the programmers spelled backwards. This link seems to confirm that story.

  13. Yep, Werdna=Andrew; Trebor=Robert. Still dumb names.

  14. Rodney was apparently the name of the programmer's dog.

    1. That's hilarious. The name's been around so long, and in so many games, and it's for a pet. The only thing better would be learning Sauron was the name of Tolkien's cat.

    2. That's Elrond. Sauron is the mini-pug.

    3. Fun fact: In Tolkien's earliest version of the Silmarillion from around 1917, the being that would become Sauron was at that point Tevildo... Lord of Cats.

      No, really.

  15. Ah! Thanks, El. No more sleepless nights.

  16. So the sacred artefact in search of which randomly-generated adventurers were to die in their hundreds and thousands was a glorified dog tag?

  17. I actually thought Yendor, Werdna, and Trebor were good names until reading your blog, I had no idea these were names spelled backwards. Maybe that's why I still can't do a word jumble.

  18. I know I'm late to this discussion but I'm another person who never would have known that these were names backwards, particularly wouldn't have figured out Leygref, but I don't think these are bad names, I like them. I realize I'm in the minority and maybe its because of that episode of recess where all the DnD players use their names spelled backwards for there characters.


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