Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shard of Spring: Meh

The big boss in the first dungeon.

Shard of Spring isn't exactly a bad game; it's just that nothing's grabbing me. It seems like a good game for 1983, about three years earlier than it was actually published. After Might & Magic, though, the limited inventory, monochrome images, and basic quests that Shard of Spring offers seem a little lame.

Since I last posted, I built up my characters a bit with outdoor combat and outfitted them with the best weapons and armor that the first town had to offer. I'm above what the manual says are the number of experience points I need for Level 2, but apparently I need to find a guild to train my characters up to Level 2, and there's none in the two towns I've discovered so far.

I explored the first dungeon, Black Fort, rescued a priest, and killed the evil ruler of the dungeon.

The dungeons do offer a combination of random encounters--lots of 'em--and fixed encounters like the one below:

Just FYI, his skill and ferocity availed him naught:

The combat, as I said earlier, is fairly tactical. You can't sleepwalk your way through it. The game does offer you the ability to rest, but only every eight hours or so, and even when you do, you don't fully heal. Thus, it's more like Wizardry than Might & Magic in that you're forced to conserve spell points and try to survive a series of combats instead of one combat at a time. As much as I like the tactical nature of the game, the combats are extremely repetitive and the limited amount of movement makes them annoying. My troll character hardly ever gets to fight because by the time he actually makes it over to a foe, the combat is usually over. Mostly the game makes me anticipate the similar but better combat I know I'll find in Pool of Radiance.

After each battle, I find at least one weapon. These need to be tediously identified, however, by my spellcasters, each of whom can only identify one per day. I have a huge backlog of weapons waiting to be ID'd. When I do identify them, they turn out to be basic maces and swords, and since the game doesn't offer you any option to sell weapons, I guess I just have to drop them.

I'm glad I found an online manual, though. Without it, I wouldn't even be able to play: at every startup, the game asks you a question from the manual as a copy protect feature.

1980s DRM

The manual is also necessary to understand the spells. When you cast them, you have to type the full name (as far as I can tell). This is a little annoying for such incantations as COLUMN OF FIRE and BREATH OF LIFE.

So I'm torn about finishing this one. On the one hand, I keep hearing about how cool Starflight (my next game) is; on the other, I hear that Shard of Spring is over fairly quickly. Moreover, school is back in session this week, and I'm taking two classes and teaching three, so perhaps I'd better stick with an easy game I already know. I also have a bias towards finishing games if I'm going to be playing their sequels, and Demon's Winter is coming up in 29 games. Any opinions from people who've played Shard of Spring to the end? Does it get more interesting?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Game 23: The Shard of Spring (1986)

Oh, good! This game will feature swords, treasure chests, scrolls, and...uh...dreamcatchers?
The Shard of Spring
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1987 for DOS
Date Started: 28 August 2010
I go from one SSI game directly to another. I don't know whether this was released before Rings of Zilfin or not--just that they were both released in the same year. Shard of Spring feels in many ways more like an SSI game; you can feel the transition between Wizard's Crown and Pool of Radiance happening here. The creators are Craig Roth and David Stark, who worked on this and it's sequel, Demon's Winter (coming up in 29 games). (Roth now seems to be a technology analyst, and Stark's name is too common to figure out where he is now.) The main game screen seems proud of the fact that it was "written entirely in Microsoft QuickBasic v. 3.0," which I gather is something like writing an orchestral composition for a kazoo. First, the back story. Here's the first line from the manual: "For two centuries, as the rest of the land lay baking in the desert sun or freezing in the winter wind, the small island of Ymros enjoyed an eternal spring." It transpires that someone called the Red Sorcerer decided that Ymros was too special to go through normal seasonal changes like the rest of the world, so he used sorcery to enchant a piece of the LifeStone and twist the world's climate and environment to his whim. He stuck this enchanted Shard of Spring in a crystal in a place called the Green Shrine. While the rest of the world suffered the regular vagaries of nature, the people of Ymros enjoyed continual spring. How they grew any food is left uncertain--presumably they used similar sorcery to just steal it from other lands. 
Suck it, mainland!
Some centuries later, an environmental crusader named Siriadne sent some of her followers to destroy the shrine and take the Shard. She then levied a punitive fine against the people of Ymros for benefiting from these dark arts for so long, demanding gold and food instead of turning Ymros into the "icy wasteland" that it deserved. Rather than learn its lesson, Ymros decided to raise a group of adventurers and steal back the abominable artifact. 
The global-warming-causing Island of Ymros
I may have filtered this description through 21st-century liberal sensibilities a bit. Character creation is nothing particularly new, allowing you to choose from only two classes (warriors and wizards) and five races (human, dwarf, troll, elf, and gnome). It's not quite that much of a choice, because dwarves and trolls can only be warriors and gnomes and elves can only be wizards. You get up to five characters in a party. Each character has a familiar set of statistics: speed, strength, intellect, endurance, attack skill, hit points, and spell points. These are rolled randomly but have modifiers based on race. You get to choose attributes to re-roll, but you can only re-roll three times. 
There is a bit of originality in the game in the way that you assign "skills" to your characters. In addition to sword, axe, mace, and different wizard skills, we have karate, dark vision, berserking, hunting, persuasiveness, and tactics (which allows you to identify what party member a monster is targeting). As I start the game, it appears that the skills are binary: either you have them or you don't; there's no ongoing skill development as in Wizard's Crown. I created one "paladinish" human warrior character (Roland) with sword, persuasion, and tactics skills, a standard dwarven fighter type with axe and berserking skills, and a troll brute with karate and armored skin. The spellcasters were more difficult. Spell skills take a lot of intelligence. I created an elven wizard with fire and wind abilities and a gnome wizard with metal, ice, and spirit magic. I always feel slightly lame creating a party with one of each race or one of each character class in a party-based CRPG, like I can't commit to any one theme. A bolder decision would have been to try an all-troll party or something. Why don't we agree that I'll do that when I get to games I've already played? 
The heroic anti-environmental crusaders.
Your party launches from the town of Green Hamlet, where, if you visit the bar, you can get what appears to be your first quest: the rescue of a priest from a local dungeon called Blackfort.
Wandering outdoors is much as in any top-down party-based game like Ultimas III and IV or Wizard's Crown. The difference is, Shard of Spring has some reasonably lame-for-the-era monochrome graphics. The sound is no better.
Combat, on the other hand, is interesting, featuring a tactical depth worthy of Wizard's Crown but without quite so many confounding options (but also no "quick combat" option). You move your characters around the battlefield to engage enemies with weapons or spells. Each character has a certain number of movement points (based on speed) that determine how far he can go and how many attacks he can make when he gets there.
The neat thing is that the combat map is a blown-up version of the game map. The screen shot below, for instance, is a dungeon combat in a room with a western door.
I don't have much time in, but I'm in the midst of exploring the first dungeon, hoping to find the kidnapped priest. Whether I "like" the game is going to hinge, I suspect, on how interesting the various encounters and role-playing choices are. SSI has been a mixed bag so far, with both games I found tedious (Wizard's Crown) and those I found interesting and fun (Phantasie). Here's hoping Shard of Spring turns out to be the latter. 

Rings of Zilfin: Won! (with Final Ranking)

I don't think that "so it came to pass..." adequately ascribes me the proper credit.
Rings of Zilfin
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1986 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1987 for Atari ST and DOS
Date Started: 16 August 2010
Date Ended: 28 August 2010
Total Hours: 16
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 26
Ranking at Time of Posting: 6/22 (27%)
Ranking at Game #453: 226/453 (50%)
I probably should have made an intervening post, but I went ahead and marathoned my way through Rings of Zilfin. It did get a little harder, with enemies having more hit points and doing more damage in the second two kingdoms, but it never got very hard, and in the entire game, my character never once died. That's a sure sign of a too-easy CRPG.
The game is full of mushrooms and plants that maximize your damage while minimizing the damage that enemies can do to you.
Rings of Zilfin is not a pure CRPG; it's more of a RPG-adventure game hybrid. I say this because there are a lot of inventory-based puzzles in the game, and you can only win after performing a series of tasks in a precise order. You'll recall that in my last post, I was leaving the kingdom of Deloria for Begonia on a quest to find the kidnapped King Rolan. This, to the best of my recollection, was the sequence of events that followed:
  • Went to a cave and used a series of words (given to me in Deloria) to open a passage
  • Met with the lost Zilfins, who told me how to rescue Rolan from the Dark Tower, home of the demon assassin Dzomon, and gave me the code word to use the Rings
  • Bought a pearl and took it to a sorceress named Zara, from whom I got a magic seed, which I planted to grow a tree from which I fashioned a Staff of Grumm
  • Entered the Dark Tower using the code word, used the Staff of Grumm to defeat its mystical guardians, got to Rolan in time to hear his last words, which were to seek the Ring of Zilfin from a halfling named Sam in Sumaria. (By the way: "Rolan" and "The Dark Tower"? Were the creators of Rings of Zilfin reading Stephen King's The Gunslinger or were they, like King, inspired by Robert Browning's poem?)
  • Killed Dzomon on my way out of the Dark Tower
  • Moved on to Sumaria
  • Collected a bunch of quest items from stores: a rope, a key, a flute, a magic cloak, a cookie, a book of riddles
  • Defeated the dragon Bogum to find the Treasure of Fulgarsh, which included a magic harp
He was even less happy moments later.
  • Gave Sam the halfling a book of riddles and showed him King Rolan's amulet, which made him trust me enough to give me his Ring of Zilfin (Dragos had the other)
  • Used the rope to descend into a dungeon called "The Well," battled past monsters to find the lost kingdom of the Elves, enchanted them with my flute playing, gave the elf king the magic harp in exchange for a horn to summon a mystical flying creature called an Ankha, which could fly me to the otherwise-inaccessible Castle Graz
  • Bribed a water dragon with a cookie to reach an island where a wizard gave me a magic shape-changing elixir
  • Flew to Graz, got past the guardian by bribing it with drugs
  • Fought my way through the castle to the evil Dragos
  • Fooled Dragos by using the elixir to transform myself into the appearance of his demon god, ordered him to give me his Ring of Zilfin, used the code word, turned him to ash
Oh, there was some character-building stuff in here, too--I maxed out my strength and got to spell level 3--but mostly I was running around with these various errands. It felt a great deal more like King's Quest than, say, Might & Magic. How did I know how to do all of these things? Well, the game offers you numerous ways to get clues, including wandering monks you meet on the road, helpful bartenders, fortune tellers, and passers-by in towns. The game forces you to visit each location, interact with everyone, and assemble your task list from sometimes-arcane clues like "Three words will do it!"
Bit by bit, it comes together.
I didn't make a screen recording of the end game, but here are a series of screenshots that show how it progresses: The game ends with a series of questions about unresolved mysteries, suggesting that a sequel might be in the works... ...but if one was ever made, I can't find any evidence of it. I'm not complaining. Rings of Zilfin was passable light entertainment, but it was not a great CRPG. **** Let's do a quick final reckoning on the GIMLET scale: 1. Game World. Reasonably good back story about the lost Zilfins and the rise of the evil Dragos. If a bit derivative, at least offers some original elements like the inaccessible castle and the drug-addicted guardian. Generally the gameplay itself does not live up to the manual's backstory. Score: 5. 2. Character Creation and Development. Barely a CRPG in this regard. No creation decisions, assigns you a default name, only a few basic character statistics and hardly any control over character development. Nothing customizable about the character at all. Score: 2. 3. NPC Interaction. Only the basest sort. You talk to them and they tell you things. No dialog, no opportunity for role playing. NPC interaction is necessary, though, to figure out the plot. Score:3. 4. Encounters and Foes. A handful of monsters, some unique to this CRPG, but most of them only distinguished between those that cause physical damage and those that cause magic damage. No random encounters. Areas do respawn. Score: 3. 5. Magic and Combat. Very, very basic. Only combat options are to attack with sword, shoot an arrow, or cast a spell, and there are only 12 spells. No role-playing opportunities in combat. Score: 2. 6. Equipment. All kinds of different items, but most are either quest items or trade items. Only four types of weapons and three types of armor, none very well described. Score: 2. 7. Economy. Horribly unbalanced, too easy to get rich, hardly anything to spend your money on (except healing, which is cheap). Score: 1. 8. Quests. One main quest, very linear, no side quests. Main quest has only one outcome. Score: 3. 9. Graphics, Sound, Inputs. All primitive, even for the era, although there is some fun animation in the cut scenes. Score: 3. 10. Gameplay. Very linear and constrained, more like an adventure game than a CRPG. Far too easy, and not replayable at all. Only bonus is that it doesn't take very long. Score: 2. Final score: 26. The best I can say is I liked it better than Ultima II. It was a nice, easy game for a month in which I have been extremely busy, but I'm looking forward to SSI offering better fare down the road.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rings of Zilfin: An Easy Game (Except for Poison)

"Argh! Venom!" is right. Why does every game have to have poison?

Well, I owe my readers a debt. Bereft of the game manual for Rings of Zilfin, I asked for assistance. Ziad and Calibrator sent me key information and Stu posted a link to the manual itself. I'm not sure why this didn't turn up in my Googling, but it made things a lot clearer. Thank you, everyone!

Here's what the manual clarified: the land of the game is called Batiniq, and it's being conquered by an evil necromancer named Dragos. I'm some kind of Child of Destiny who was given a quest by the ghost of my dead mother to find the two Rings of Zilfin. The Zilfins were a "great race" that used to rule Batiniq but "became extinct after the battle of Bihun, many years ago." This leads to the introduction that I described in the last post. Dzomon is "a vicious demon, strong right arm of Lord Dragos." Dragos seized one of the Rings when he took the Zilfins' old castle, but he's still seeking the other, along with the fabled treasure of King Fulgarsh, which was carried off by a dragon. So...yeah.

The manual also helped with a lot of the navigational and logistical aspects of the game.

With this in hand, I see what Matt Barton means by Rings of Zilfin being a game "for novices." It's horribly easy. There are a limited selection of commands, only a handful of different weapons, three combat actions, and about a dozen spells. At first, I thought that figuring out what the different mushrooms and plants do was part of the challenge, but no, the manual tells you straight off.

The game consists of exploring a series of screens arranged within three kingdoms: Deloria, Begonia, and Sumaria. I've only explored Deloria so far, where there were 22 locations, including cities, towns, castles, wilderness areas, and special encounters. Each town has two or three buildings which might be shops, inns, residences of various NPCs, or temples dedicated to Dragos in which acolytes try to kill you. You have to explore all of them, as well as talk to various NPC passers-by, to figure out how to get through the game. Here are some of the many locations:

A town with three houses to visit.

Killing Dragos's minions in a temple. Note that my sword skill increased.

One of many villages to explore and speak to NPCs.

A monk along a roadway. His comment reminds me (not in a good way) of Ultima II.

Fighting an evil creature on a bridge.

A ruined village.

In between towns are roads along which you can pick up mushrooms and plants (all beneficial in some way), talk to NPC monks, and drink from fountains. Occasionally you get attacked by orcs or goblins, and at nighttime there's a risk of different flying monsters, which you have to shoot with your bow. I ran out of arrows at one point, which was annoying because I just had to stand there and take the damage until the critters decided to fly away.

Lacking arrows, Reis must stand passive to the Denzils' attacks.

So what makes the game so easy? A few things:

  • Early in the game, you can buy the best armor (heavy armor) for a fairly small amount of gold. This greatly reduces the damage you take and even makes you immune to some monsters.
  • There are only two key characteristics: endurance (hit points) and fatigue. You start off with a small amount of each, but there are several locations with healers who, for only a little gold, will heal you to your maximum of both. Then there are different fountains and mushrooms that will increase this maximum, but it doesn't cost any more to heal yourself after the increase. The upshot is that I started out with about 400 hit points and now I have 9,000, which I think is the game maximum.
  • Gold is absurdly easy to get. The game introduces a trading system by which you can buy goods in one town and sell them in another. (This same type of system appears in other games, including Might & Magic VII, but I think this is the first time I've seen it in a CRPG.) The variance between the selling price and the buying prices is so high that in just a few trips between nearby towns, you can have the maximum gold in the game.
  • The only characteristics to improve are strength and sword skill. Sword skill improves more-or-less automatically as you fight. Strength required me to visit one location to train and up my maximum "potential strength" and then another location to up my actual strength. Still wasn't too hard.
The game got easier once I increased my STRENGTH!

  • Once you up your strength and buy a better weapon to go with it, most enemies--at least the ones in Deloria--die in just a couple hits.

There are a few annoyances in the game, including the aforementioned flying monsters, plus the fact that every time you save, the game quits. Every fourth or fifth time you visit a store, you get pocket-picked for some of your gold, and this is one of many games of this era that requires you to keep a food supply. Visiting the towns is an annoyingly long process of watching your little character march across the screen as he enters the village and goes from house to house.

And then there's poison. God, how I hate poison, and every damned CRPG not only has to include it but also make it horrifically deadly. Was Wizardry the first? In that game, there were many ways to get poisoned, including different creatures and chest traps that your thief always sucked at disarming. Getting poisoned meant losing hit points every step, and until a fairly high level you don't have a cure spell. The same is true in Ultima IV: step into a marsh or encounter a poison trap early in the game, and you might as well just restart. In the Gold Box D&D games, getting poisoned means instant death unless you have a level 4 "neutralize poison" spell.

$&^#*$ poison.

Rings of Zilfin is full of pools along the roads, some of which help you by increasing your endurance or fatigue, but at least one out of every three is a poisoned pool, which immediately reduces your fatigue and endurance to 0, which means you die the next time you take any damage. A plant called an Iola will cure you, but these are exceedingly rare. Essentially, you cannot risk drinking from a pool unless you have an Iola, and once you find an Iola, you use it again almost immediately. Man, I wish CRPGs would just ditch poison.

All right. Back to the game. In the first third of it, in addition to increasing my stats as described above, I had to find a wizard named Eklun who taught me level 1 magic (there are only three levels), although I frankly didn't find any of the spells very useful.

I visited a castle where the denizens told me that King Rolan had been kidnapped by Dragos and was probably being tortured for his knowledge of the second Ring of Zilfin. They sent me on to the next kingdom, Begonia, to get more information on his possible whereabouts.

Entering the next kingdom involved battling my way through a mountain pass. There were a lot of flying creatures in the pass, but nothing I couldn't handle.

I can't exactly recommend Rings of Zilfin, but it's definitely an undemanding game. I'm going to go ahead and finish it, mostly because I haven't finished one since Might & Magic and I'm too busy with work to learn a new game from the beginning right now. I'll let you know if it gets more difficult or more interesting.


Just a quick administrative note: I track the number of visitors to this site using Google Analytics, which also tells me where y'all or from and what brought you to my site. I got a spike earlier this month when a user named zzajin posted a link to my blog on a message board at RPGWatch.

I must say I'm amused by the discussion that followed, with some posters calling me things like "beyond stupid," "naive," and possessed of a "mental disorder." (To be fair, there were some nice comments, too.) But I did want to make a few things clear:

1. I do not have children. I don't know where anyone got this idea. If I did, I don't think I would be able to maintain this blog.

2. I don't care if I ever "finish" the list. The point of this project is not to reach the "end," close the blog, and mark it off my "to do" list. The point (for me) is to achieve something moderately productive while simultaneously satiating my addiction. Maintaining this blog--spending time on something that people like to read--is a tangible, positive outcome from something that would otherwise just be an exercise in self-indulgence.

3. No matter how long I go between entries, I'm in no danger of quitting. I have a lot of professional commitments and I travel a lot, so occasionally I can't play games or post for a long time, but no matter how long I go, I will always be back--at least, as long as "blogging" exists as a technology.

Thanks to everyone who reads and comments--you give me a reason to keep at it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Character Classes & An Apology

I reached the point this month where overindulging in my CRPG addiction would be career suicide. Please bear with me, and I'll do my best to continue with Rings of Zilfin as soon as I can. So we don't utterly waste the week, let me toss out a question about character classes. In a single-character game, what is your default character class, and in a multi-character game, which of the classes in your party do you most identify with? And why? I tend to default to a paladin, which mystifies me a bit because in real life, I am anything but pious or lawful. Perhaps I just find them easier to role play. For instance, I can integrate the six-party maximum in most games by pretending that my paladin is sworn to travel with no more than five companions (any more than that, and he's leading an army). In contrast, I hardly ever go with a spellcaster as my primary class. I think this is because there comes a time in every game in which you reach a boring stretch and you just want to pound your way through it with brute force. You can almost never do this with spellcasters; you have to plan each encounter.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Game 22: Rings of Zilfin (1986)

Rings of Zilfin
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1986 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1987 for Atari ST and DOS
Date Started: 16 August 2010

When I last posted, I said I was going to try out several different games and go with the one that I took to the most strongly, so I could actually finish it. Well, none of them really did. This wasn't the fault of the games, I'm sure. I'm facing one hell of a busy week, and I was hoping for a game whose mechanics I could figure out immediately--something like another edition of Wizardry, or Might & Magic. Since none of the games fit this profile, I decided to stick with Rings of Zilfin, which was next on my list anyway. I was excited about another SSI game--I'm eagerly awaiting the day that Pool of Radiance comes up on my list--but this game doesn't feel like an SSI offering so far. In Dungeons & Desktops (2008), Matt Barton calls Rings of Zilfin "a game intended for novices" (p. 109). Barton should try playing it without a manual--I couldn't find one anywhere. Mostly I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm trying to feel my way through it. Let's start with what I do know. The game is notable in that it starts with a cut scene. I'm not 100% sure this is a first for CRPGs, but I honestly can't remember encountering one previously.

Please note that I did at least hesitate for a little while, though. I'm not a total wuss.
The story that the animated scene tells casts you in the role of Reis, an apprentice wizard from the village of Sham. One night, you awake in a cold sweat, having dreamed about hordes of goblins. You receive a telepathic warning to "run for your life." Grabbing some food and weapons, you run out the door into the woods, just in time to avoid a demonic assassin named "Dzomon," sent on behalf of a nameless master. At this point, the introduction says, "so begins your quest...for the Rings of Zilfin." Huh? There's a hell of a "yadda yadda yadda" in there somewhere. I have no idea what the Rings have to do with Dzomon, my attempted assassination, or the quest. Maybe that becomes clearer later. The game then tosses you onto the open road, where you can wander from town to town. Along the road, you encounter different types of mushrooms and plants (I've figured out what a few do through trial and error), pools of water that sometimes offer good benefits and sometimes poison you, and a variety of monks who give assorted clues.
This monk was not particularly helpful.
At the end of the roads are various towns with different buildings that you can visit. Some of the buildings house shops, some inns, and some temples with monsters. There are also wandering townspeople. Again, the purpose seems to be to get various clues.
Just like the swamp boots in Ultima VI.
I don't know what a prihny is, and I don't know why I'd want a witch to help me, but thanks!
Occasionally, you encounter monsters. As far as I can tell, there are just two forms of attack: sword and bow, and I'm almost out of arrows. I'm not sure what purpose combat serves, since you don't seem to get experience points from your victories. There seem to be just two major statistics: endurance (damaged in combat) and fatigue (damaged by walking or running, especially if you don't rest for a night). I'm not quite sure how to restore either.
Combat with...actually, I have no idea what.
My plan right now is to keep exploring and mapping, and hope that something of a main quest becomes clear. In the meantime, I would love any clarification from anyone who has played this game--or a manual if you have one.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Game 21: Larn (1986)

"Good luck! You're going to need it!" is always a bad sign.

About 10 months ago now, when I hit upon the idiotic idea of playing every CRPG that ever existed, I downloaded and started Rogue. I hadn't begun this blog yet, so you missed out on a blow-by-blow recap of my experiences, which I summarized in two postings, four months later, after I finally won. It amuses me to think what my blog would have looked like if I'd started it last October:

  • Day 1: Started Rogue. Died almost immediately. Re-started. Died again.
  • Day 2: Died again. Re-started. Got down to level 3. Died.
  • Day 3: Died 16 times. Re-started. Died.

I think I would have lost my readership fairly quickly.

This will be my only posting on Larn. I apologize to the many roguelike fans out there--and there seem to be many who are fans of Larn specifically; there's even a blog just about Larn--but really, once I tell you stuff about the basic gameplay, there's really nothing else to blog about except how many times I died that day. Even if I was inclined to spend four months seeking the MacGuffin of Yendor again, you wouldn't want to read about it.

At least Rogue didn't have exploding chests.

Larn is an embellished roguelike. As with most roguelikes, the graphics are very sparse. Your character is represented by an @. Monsters are letters. Walls are pound signs (#). And so on. Interaction is through a fairly large selection of keyboard commands in which capitalization matters. You don't want to mix up (r)ead a scroll with (R)emove gems from throne, because the latter has a nasty habit of sending a gnome king to kill you.

You can read about the basic approach to this kind of game in my postings on Rogue. Almost everything holds, including permanent death (the game deletes your save file every time you start up). Larn's additions are:

  • Your quest is not to recover the Amulet of Yendor, but rather a potion that will save your daughter from dianthroritis. Someone who's taken Latin, help me out.
  • The game is not timed by your own starvation, causing you to press forever downward to get more food, but rather by an actual time limit. You have 300 "mobuls" to save your daughter. There are scrolls which set back the clock a bit.
  • You can backtrack within dungeons to upper levels.
  • There are things to find in the dungeons that seem to have been inspired by DND or Telengard, including thrones, fountains, and altars.
  • The game starts you in an outdoor area with shops and a training college where--for precious gold and mobuls--you can improve your stats.

The game is addictive, I'll give it that. I just got a major government contract that I have to finish by September 30, but damned if I didn't spend the entire day playing Larn instead.

It cost $235 of your tax dollars to make this map of level 1.

I went through about nine characters today, never making it past level 3 of the dungeon. I could see keeping this game around and dipping into it from time to time, but I can't see making a concerted effort to finish it.

Swarmed and killed by giant ants.

Oh, I suppose some of you are wondering what happened to Moebius. I just wasn't getting into it. In a comment on my one Moebius posting, reader judgemonroe said: "So far I'm not thrilled with the gameplay. I don't have the hang of it yet, I guess, but the controls feel very sluggish and I keep starving. I have no idea where to get more food and water." That pretty much sums up my experience. The game is also very chaotic, constantly chirping at you about earthquakes and famines and droughts. Tigers and beetles come flying at you from nowhere; thieves run off with your stuff. In another time, I would have given it more of a chance, but I need something a little less bizarre to get back in to the swing of things after a 10-day absence. My next three games--Rings of Zilfin, Shard of Spring, and Starcraft--are all 1986 games, and I suppose I could play them in any order. I'm going to give each about an hour to see which "takes" the best because I want to go the distance on my next one.