Friday, December 31, 2010

Game 37: Mission: Mainframe (1987)


Mission: Mainframe
United States
Independently developed and released as shareware
Released in 1987 for DOS
Date Started: 31 December 2010
Okay, first off: I'm still not done with Le Maitre des Ames, especially now that I have a translated manual. But this hotel has the worst Internet connection I've experienced in a long time, and I keep losing my access to Google translate (which I still need for the in-game text). I'm writing this blog entry in Notepad on Thursday, but I can't imagine I'll be able to post it until I get home Friday night. Second, I really need my second monitor to effectively play Maitre, what with the need to have the game, my notepad, the manual, my map, and the translation screen all open at the same time.

So I'm moving on temporarily to Mission: Mainframe, a roguelike that MobyGames lists as a 1987 offering, but whose own title screen shows that the first version was from 1983. I had heard that it was a roguelike, so I was basically expecting Rogue in a futuristic setting, so I wasn't prepared for all of the variations that this game includes.
Was just a wrecking ball out of the question?

The backstory is that a malevolent computer mainframe has taken over an office building, corrupting employees and causing all kinds of havoc. You must ascend up to 30 floors of the office building (i.e., dungeon levels) to find the computer (i.e., Amulet of Yendor) and return with knowledge of its location to the lobby. On the way, you must deal with hostile employees (monsters), keep up a supply of junk food, increase your levels and statistics, find office supplies (weapons), learn different strategies for dealing with different employees, and collect chips and bytes (gold).

You would think the programmers of this game would know that bytes are not actual objects.
The game offers a very long, detailed tutorial instead of a physical manual, which is unusual for the era (you also have the option to print out the tutorial). Character creation is a process of choosing a name and class (commando, secret agent, detective, or private eye) and then rolling some random stats until you get the ones you like. Supposedly the classes offer stat bonuses (e.g., commandos get extra strength and stamina), but the values seemed random to me, no matter what class I chose.

I don't think any state licenses private investigators as young as 18.
You start off in the building's lobby (i.e., town), where you can purchase from a variety of odd weapons (pencil, pen, paperclips, file folder), fill up your food supplies, go to the gym to increase your stats, visit the library to purchase strategies for dealing with employees, and get healed. Of course, all of these things cost money. The lobby is also the only place to save your character. In the tradition of Rogue, you can only save for later play; death is permanent and your save game is deleted when you die.

Trapped file cabinets? There ought to be a "call OSHA" option.

Moving around the game world is reminiscent of Wizard's Castle, which I reviewed back in July. Each floor contains 64 rooms (8 x 8) in which you might find employees, file cabinets with money, potions (the game doesn't even try to come up with a modern analog for that), and other objects. You might also get sucked up a computer-controlled air vent and delivered to another floor. The lights might abruptly go out. And so on. The level of detail that you see ahead of time depends on the difficulty level that you choose at the start of the game.

When you encounter employees, you have a number of options for dealing with them: you can try to (d)eal or trade, (b)attle them, employ a (s)trategy that you've learned from the library, (t)rick them, (e)vade them, or make a prank (p)hone call to distract them. These various moves have a chance of success or failure based on the type of employee (accountant, janitor, secretary, file clerk, etc.) and your statistics. If it comes to battle, the employees are mercilessly lethal. (The first time I read, "You have been done in by a SECRETARY!" was a bit of a downer.) No matter what you do, success rewards you with experience points towards another level.

I imagine it goes without saying that you die lots and lots in Mission: Mainframe, just like any other roguelike. I haven't been able to keep a character alive more than about 15 minutes. Death wipes out your character and your saved game and forces you to start completely over. Lots of people find this fun, apparently.

The video above shows a few minutes of gameplay, so you can get a sense of the different types of encounters and such (it's hard to read on the size of this screen, though; you might want to go directly to the YouTube site). I managed to make it without dying, but just barely.
I was curious about the developers, Brian J. Shankman and Jerry M. Plemons, who want me to send them $15 if I enjoy it. Shankman has a LinkedIn profile; he apparently used to work for Sabre, the company that owns Travelocity. He mentions the game in his profile. Plemons now owns a photography studio. LinkedIn wants me to upgrade my account to contact Shankman, and I otherwise can't find an address for him, but I have Plemons's studio address, so I'm going to send him the $15. I wrote a book about 15 years ago and it's always a thrill when I get a tiny royalty check; I hope Plemons feels the same way.

Now, here's the difficultly. To paraphrase a quote from Roger Ebert: this posting is like a piece of cheese. Now that you've read it, you know everything there is to know about that cheese except what it would be like to eat an entire block. If I play this game all the way to the end, what am I going to blog about that I haven't already told you? Roguelikes don't reveal new bits of story as you play. They don't offer NPCs. They don't do anything different than you see in that brief video except get harder. And the last (only) one that I won, Rogue, took me four months. These are important questions, because Nethack is coming up right after this (well, after Le Maitre des Ames anyway). I figure my options are:

  1. Don't blog for weeks until I win
  2. Blog what I'm doing, no matter how repetitive or boring
  3. Come up with a lot of special topics postings as I play
  4. Play roguelikes side-by-side with non-roguelikes, only blog about the latter until something interesting happens or I win
  5. Just do one or two postings on the roguelikes and move on

Since I still have Le Maitre des Ames on the burner anyway, I think I'll try #4 and see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Legacy of the Ancients: Won!

"Knowing nothing of the planet?" Did the game forget its own backstory?
Well, it took longer than I thought, but not in any meaningful way did it take "long." Much of my time was spent screwing around trying to find coins so I could view all the Museum exhibits. I'm not sure I explained this very clearly before. In the Museum are a number of digital "exhibits," each of which takes a certain type of coin--jade, topaz, amethyst, sapphire, and so on. Each exhibit tells you something about the game world, and some of them give you objects or money, transport you to various adventures, or give you a quest. Viewing all of them was crucial to advancing. Some coins I had to find in specific places, like chests in the castle, and others I bought from random merchants. It turned out I had to return to Castle Kelfor about 9 times, fighting legions of guards each time. Each visit got me some clue or object that I needed to use somewhere else to get me another clue or object that allowed me to penetrate deeper into the castle. I discovered belatedly that some seeds I found on my first visit turn me invisible and would have saved me a lot of fighting.
I never could have guessed that password.
The ultimate result of Kelfor was to find a mysterious old wizard called the Guardian who branded me so that members of the resistance would be able to identify me. This did exactly one thing for me: it allowed a healer to give me a ruby coin. It took me about 90 minutes to find the healer, visiting every single town in the game before I finally remembered there was a town out on the pirate islands I had forgotten about. That's where she was. Aaargh. 
The ruby coin allowed me access to a special dungeon contained within the Museum, where I spelunked eight levels to find the four jewels that would neutralize the Wizard's Compendium. This wasn't too much of a challenge except that I accidentally quit without saving and had to go through the whole process of getting the key the second time. 
The dungeon, despite all the build-up, was actually quite easy.
I thought to video-capture it on the second run. The nine-minute clip below contains just about everything the game has to offer: towns, outdoors, outdoor combat, buying and selling things, the Museum exhibits, and a dungeon. Note the primitive sounds, which I neglected to mention before. 
After the dungeon, I flew on a pegasus across the sea to the Warlord's castle. It was a long trip, and one wonders how he's managing to terrorize the main continent from such a remote outpost, especially whereas I needed to thaw a frozen pegasus to get there.
The fortress was a bit of a challenge. The game forced me to get captured the moment I walked through the door and stripped me of my weapons and armor. 
This is always a tiresome device.
I escaped from jail by killing a guard, and I soon found an axe and some plate mail. I then had to hack my way through dozens of tough guards who were relatively impervious to spells. 
Along the way were two cut scenes showing the Warlord taunting and threatening me. I finally caught up with him in this room where the Compendium itself kept attacking me, not only sapping my hit points but also destroying my healing herbs! Totally uncool. At long last, I killed the Warlord and was informed that the castle would self-destruct in five minutes. 
At this point, the game completely wore out its welcome. It took me way longer than five minutes to chop my way through the many guards remaining between me and the exit. This is bad gameplay design, don't you think? I mean, once you've killed the big boss, the game ought to be pretty much over.
At length, I returned to the Museum and was given the Galactic Medal of Honor by the Caretaker. I also videoed the end, from the time the Warlord's fortress exploded to the last scene. 
It's quite long, first because I forgot where to find a certain exhibit and I spend a lot of time wandering around. Then the game insists on recapping the entire plot for about five minutes. Still, it's one of the few end-game victory cut scenes that we have in this era, and I suppose I ought to appreciate it. The final shot sets up a very obvious sequel: 
This is already pretty long, but I think I'll figure out the GIMLET ranking right here instead of saving it for another posting.
1. Game World. You have to give it points for originality. Sure, the world itself is fairly standard fantasy fare, and the peasant-rises-up-to-defeat-the-evil-warlord has been done to death, but the framing device of the Galactic Museum is quite original. The problem is, I don't know how well it works. If the Museum is supposed to be a secret, why do the shops sell a spell that has no purpose except to take you to it? Why are the coins all over the place? The land itself is a bit mysterious--who is this Kelfor whose castle I keep raiding? Should I feel bad about killing all his guards? The bad balances the good. One good element is that as you get closer to the end, the Warlord's minions start raiding towns and killing healers (I forgot to mention this above); I like games in which the game world changes noticeably in response to the player's actions. Score: 6.
2. Character Creation & Development. Very unsatisfying. "Creation" consists of just giving a name. There is no opportunity to role-play races, sexes, and classes. Leveling is all quest-based (and linear) and has nothing to do with the legions of monsters you slay. The only good points are the mini-games by which you develop dexterity, endurance, and intelligence. I spent over an hour on the intelligence mini-game, which consisted of a variation of Liar's Dice. Score: 3
The intelligence-boosting mini-game called Stones of Wisdom was actually far more addicting than the main game.
3. NPC Interaction. Ultima I-III-level stuff: you speak to them, they tell you one thing. No dialog options, no role-playing. If you count the Caretaker and seers as NPCs, though, it is necessary to speak to NPCs to learn about your quest and the game world. Score: 3.
4. Encounters & Foes. No other game offers quite the catalog of creatures that Legacy of the Ancients offers, but the only real unique thing about them is their names. They don't really do anything special. The creatures respawn constantly, which I usually regard as a good thing--when killing creatures gets you experience. I suppose there is some very very minor "role-playing" in that you can choose to speak with some creatures instead of fighting them. Score: 3.
5. Magic & Combat. The magic system consists of six spells which you buy in units: two virtually identical blast spells, a "befuddlement" spell that stuns your foes (I never used it), a "kill" spell that clears out dungeon corridors, a strength spell, and a spell that takes you to the Museum. It couldn't be less imaginative. Combat is similarly unsatisfying; you just have one attack option. Yes, some creatures take more damage from certain weapon types, but by the time you've got that nailed down, you're strong enough that it hardly makes sense to bother swapping out equipment. Score: 2.
6. Equipment. Weapons and armor are very basic, although the "rating" system is unusual, and the sale price makes it easy to tell which item is best. There is quite a lot of supplementary equipment that you can find and buy, from grappling hooks for climbing mountains to "magic ice" that allows you to cross small bodies of water. Nothing earth-shattering, but interesting. Score: 4. 
7. Economy. Late in the game, you have way more gold than you need, but for most of it, you're spending most of your cash on spells and herbs. I like the gambling mini-games, and I like that the "break the bank" bit makes it hard to get too rich playing. Score: 6.
 8. Quests. The game has essentially one quest, arranged in various stages or chapters. No side quests, no alternate outcomes, and no real role-playing. Score: 2.
9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. The graphics are decent enough for an isometric game of the era, especially in the Apple II and C64 versions (which I didn't play). The sound is 8-bit throwback and a bit painful. It slows down the gameplay and I couldn't find any way to shut it off. Controls are through the keyboard and intuitive enough. Score: 4.
10. Gameplay. The game is very linear from the outset. Although you can explore much of the world right away, you can't really do anything until you begin the main quest, and that proceeds in a lock-step order. There is no replayability to the game. The difficulty feels right, the pacing is okay, and the five mini-games (three stat-boosting, two gambling) are fun diversions. It's a short game, but I wouldn't want to play it for too long. Score: 5. 
The final score of 38 puts it about on par with 2400 A.D., of which it reminds me a bit. Both of the games were short isometric outings in fairly limited and somewhat boring gameworlds despite interesting sci-fi framing plots. All right, it's well past time to do what I'm going to do with Le Maitre des Ames. After that, it's on to something called Mission: Mainframe.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Legacy of the Ancients: Mildly Amusing Curio

Apparently, intergalactic space travelers still wear cloaks and carry candles.

Legacy of the Ancients is an okay game that moves along at a decent clip. I spent enough time playing today to get several entries out of it, if I wanted. My major accomplishments were to:

  • Accumulate a lot of money through gambling and use it to buy magic items
  • Have the Wizard's Compendium stolen (this doesn't sound like an accomplishment, but the game suggests it was necessary)
  • Build up some of my character stats
  • Raid Castle Kelfor for gold and items
  • Plunder a pirate cave
  • Get some quests from the Museum and its caretaker

This didn't make any sense, but I realized later that (for some reason) I needed to visit the museum exhibit on healing herbs before I could buy any.

The game lets me buy up to 99 of each of its 6 spells. The first two, magic flame and firebolt, are the most valuable of the lot, usable in both outdoor areas and dungeons, and they do about 10 times the damage of my best attack. The other most valuable magic item is healing herbs, of which the game lets me carry 40. But buying the full complement of this kit costs around 10,000 gold pieces, and monsters deliver only about 10-50 per kill, so I thought I'd raise funds through gambling.

Cute, but hardly worth the effort.

There are two gambling mini-games: blackjack and "flipflop." The latter game is like a giant Plinko board in which you bet on where a ball will land. It's interesting but too time-consuming, especially given that the rules of blackjack in this game are extremely favorable. I find my edge is around 115%, so as long as I keep my bets modest, I always wind up ahead in the end. This seemed a bit too simple and it was: it turns out that after you win about 2,000 gold pieces, you "break the bank" and guards swarm and pummel you (you can get the same outcome by robbing the bank). The only way around it is to travel from city to city, never winning too much money. What with the monsters I had to fight on the way, this took a little while.

"I swear I wasn't counting cards!"

In the midst of it, some thieves ambushed me and stole the Compendium. Lest I reload, apparently, the game warned me that this step was a necessary part of the game. Scripted events that you can't avoid no matter how badass your character are staples of CRPGs, of course, but it's handled oddly, and I'm not sure why it wasn't just part of the backstory to begin with.

Isn't that handy?

I lost track of all of the different types of monsters I've encountered. Only a few of them, such as "Eaton warriors," have names reminiscent of any other CRPGs. Some of the names include bone dwellers, carrion manglers, mime ghouls, neural clouds, pit strikers, practon piercers, slime weirds, stinging rakishes, venom floaters, ventro flailers, wave skimmers, and wind stalkers. I would give the game points for originality except that the creatures aren't very well distinguished except by name. A few of them (at least, the ones in dungeons) have special attacks, like dissolving your armor, breaking your weapon, or draining your endurance, but for the most part they're interchangeable by name and unmemorable by icon.

Insert "yo momma" joke here.

Part of the game's tactic is supposed to be that certain weapons work better against certain foes--you can figure this out by trial-and-error or by buying clues from seers. But either way, it's hardly worth the time to swap out weapons when most enemies die from a few blows anyway.

Weapons, I should mention, come in several varieties--knives, clubs, bladed staffs, and so on--and in various conditions ranging from "shoddy" to "great." I learned the hard way to keep hold of a couple of different weapons for when one gets shattered.

To reach the castle island, I had to buy a boat.

Things picked up when I raided Castle Kelfor, but the game follows Ultima I's and Ultima II's traditions of turning me into a mass murderer for the sake of the plot. I must retrieve certain artifacts from the chests in the castle, but opening chests causes the guards to swarm me, leading me to mercilessly slaughter them.

I'm sure he was just doing his job.

The castle also featured a mysterious woman named "Cassandra" who increased my "charm" attribute.

Ultimately, I got hold of a magic tulip that, when returned to the Museum, netted me another boost to my "charm" skill and an extra level.

Oh, yes--leveling. From what I can tell, I don't gain levels in this game through combat. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any reason for combat except to get enemies out of your way (and make a few paltry gold pieces). Instead, the Caretaker levels me up when I solve certain quests. I'm level 3 now; I don't know how may levels there are in the game. I had to find my way back to the Museum first, which turns out to occupy a corner on the westernmost part of the continent. Entering it involves answering some copy protection questions with the help of a fan page.

After raiding the castle, I followed another monitor in the Museum to the Isles of Three Sisters...

...where I explored an eight-level pirate dungeon. The dungeon was in first-person view and featured a variety of tough monsters, chests, and traps (I learned the hard way that I needed to "examine" each corridor before striding on down.) I got very rich (>10,000 gold) from this trip and also found a jeweled crown.

When I returned to the museum, the Caretaker gave me a quest to recover the selfsame crown and a scepter. I returned the crown immediately. I'm not quite sure where to go for the scepter just yet--I think I've explored all of the places on the map--but this seemed like a good place to knock off for the day.

I did die twice. Dying has very few consequences: you are immediately resurrected with your full complement of hit points, but with only a handful of food and gold pieces. Fortunately, the game lets you stash money in the bank (where it gains interest) just for such a situation. When I noticed this, it reminded me to take a break from the game to check on my IRA account, which--just like watching Veronica Mars in the middle of Faery Tale Adventure--is a good sign to me that the game isn't really captivating. I'm sure I'll still finish it, since it doesn't seem like it's going to take much longer, but we're talking Ultima II-level game play here, and we've seen a lot of CRPGs advance much further than that.

I'm going to invest a couple more hours tonight, and if I haven't won, I'll take a Le Maitre des Ames break. Otherwise, you might see a "won!" posting tomorrow.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Le Maitre des Ames: Trés Agréable

"Menu of the day: disgusting sheep, rancid peas" (?)

I admit I started playing Le Maitre des Ames with the idea that I would probably just put in the six hours, collect the bonus points for trying out a non-English game, and then move on. I was almost relieved when it seemed technical problems would keep me from playing. But with those problems solved and thus no excuse, I pushed forward, and I'll be damned if Le Maitre des Ames doesn't have a real charm about it. It contains several elements that I'm finding for the first time in a first-person CRPG; it's somewhat of an evolution from Dungeon Master on the way to Ultima Underworld.

Let's cover some of the ways this game distinguishes itself from its predecessors:

  • Each room has its own character: different furniture, different wall-hangings, and a different look to the doors.
  • The game (or, at least, this first level) is arranged in a logical manner. There's a dining room next to the kitchen, for instance, and an armory next to the barracks.
  • Monsters are in logical places for logical reasons. Orc guards patrol passages, rats hang out in storerooms, a cook is working in a kitchen, and an exhausted fighter rests in a bedroom.
  • You can talk to almost all sentient creatures (not the rats, obviously). Most have interesting things to say.
  • You can pick up a lot of the things in the rooms. Unfortunately (see below), I don't know what many of them are.
Picking up a key.
  • The game is full of secret doors activated with switches and chains on the walls.
  • There are messages all over the walls. Some help me, some taunt me. Some I'm having trouble translating; one seems to say "Nothing will die, but you have to start somewhere." My favorite: "Your passage, only the dust will remember."
  • You can split your party and have them explore separately. I found this out when it happened accidentally: one of my characters fell through a hole in the floor and ended up alone. Fortunately, I was able to reunite them.

My dwarf has fallen down a hole and is "absent."

I had several interesting encounters in today's gameplay. The first was with a cook in the kitchens. I'll offer my entire conversation:

  • Me: Who are you?
  • Cook: I am the cook of the royal high court of Vanir
  • Me: What are you doing here?
  • Cook: I'm making a vinaigrette dressing out of wood lice [I think]
  • Me: Who is your king?
  • Cook: My king was the greatest of all. He died.
  • Me: Who is your master?
  • Cook: The great Akkad, but he disappeared a long time ago.
  • Me: Who is your god?
  • Cook: Nilgar, patron of the traditional high cuisine.
  • Me: Do you want to help us?
  • Cook: I have no time, what with lunch and everything.
  • Me: Give me a clue.
  • Cook: Nothing is free in this world, you know?
  • Me: Name your price.
  • Cook: It will cost you 22 gold pieces.
  • Me: Done.
  • Cook: Beware of the singing howler mushrooms.
I ran into them later.
  • Me: Come with us.
  • Cook: Are you kidding? With all the bugs swarming around here?
  • Me: Goodbye and good luck.
  • Cook: Your destiny is down the road. Goodbye.

Later, an orc tells me he is a guard of the castle and he's there to keep out intruders like me, that his god is Gol Goroth, the incarnation of evil (and taken from Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories!), and I should "tremble as the demon lord arrives on earth." When I ask him to come with me, he says something like, "Over my dead body, sons of dogs!"

Moments later, we discovered his statement turned out to be quite prophetic.

I run into a man named Rockeux who says he's searching for his old master, Sir Maltorn. I ask him to join me--he seems an obvious candidate for the empty slot the game leaves you for NPCs--but he says he's too exhausted to follow in my footsteps.

Now, not everything is la vie en rose with this game. Obviously, the color sucks. You can't name your characters. Your characters get hungry and you have to eat the food you pick up. Unless I'm missing something, combat lacks the tactics of Dungeon Master and just consists of hitting "fight" repeatedly; when you hit your target, it says "Paf!"

The wimpiest combat sound ever.

Most important, I can't tell what most of the equipment I'm grabbing is, and since each character can only hold up to four items, this is a bit of a handicap. There are some things that look like potions, and weapons and armor that I can't find a way to evaluate against what I already have. And I've yet to figure out anything about the magic system.

Some of you (especially you, Georges) have been a lot of help in translations--if anyone feels like helping me a little more, can you take a look at the manual and see if you can tell me what it says, if anything, about a) the different types of items you can pick up, and how you can tell what they are; and b) casting spells? (I OCR'd the manual but the watermark screws up the text order and keeps me from translating it all at once.) [Later edit: one of my readers got a friend who speaks French to translate the entire manual for me. I can't thank them enough, but I don't know if they want to be mentioned by name on the blog. Suffice to say: merci beaucoup to EH and JVR!]

Pending that, I'm going to probably dip back into Legacy of the Ancients for a day.

A good day's work. A bientôt!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

CRPG Tropes

By now, probably everyone is familiar with the glorious thief of time known as, a self-described "catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction." The site cautions that tropes are "devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations," but that they are not clichés. The catalog nonetheless has plenty of examples of clichés, too.

Despite the name, the wiki includes every form of media you can imagine: TV, movies, comic books, art, theater, music, and, of course, video games. Lately, I've taken to visiting the site after each game to see if any tropes are mentioned. There are far more tropes associated with more recent CRPGS, partly because more people know about them, but mostly because tropes require a certain level of storytelling, and the earliest CRPGs didn't have that.

Nonetheless, these are some of my favorite tropes from the games we've played so far:

"Always Chaotic Evil": Every orc that approaches you in Ultima II, every creature in the dungeon in Dungeon Master, everything that moves in Faery Tale Adventure, wants to kill you, and is thus naturally deserving of death themselves. Imagine if CRPGs forced you to treat every such creature as an individual? This trope, by the way, is wonderfully (if unintentionally) subverted in Wizardy, when you randomly encounter "friendly" versions of your foes. I thought one of my commenters had reported encountering a "friendly Werdna" upon achieving the final level of the game, but I can't find that comment.

"Gurrrrglrgug...How are you today?"

"Arbitrary Headcount Limit": Honestly, if I really want to defeat the Chaos Lord, why can't I resurrect every character in the hall of heroes and have them swarm the dungeon? In later games, like Baldur's Gate, I would play a paladin and pretend that he'd sworn an oath to never travel with more than five companions--it was the only way it made sense.

"Dude Where's My Respect": This happens in almost every CRPG. You've been tasked with saving the world, but the world can't spare enough money to outfit you with a decent suit of armor. In Ultima II, Lord British makes me pay him for hit points! I love the entries for Oblivion on this.

Or, you could just give me 9,999 hit points, and I'll go take care of Minax right now.

"Get Back Here Boss": Foes that make you chase them around. This was one of the most annoying parts of Ultima II--and also the thieves in Dungeon Master.

"Karma Meter": It shows up first in Ultima IV, as Hawkwind keeps track of your progress towards various virtues. It's also a key element of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Baldur's Gate, and other games.

"Level Grinding": Love this quote from this one: "Only the hero ever has this advantage. It never occurs to townspeople to walk around their village and bash slimes until they're strong enough to face the pirate who's taken over."

"Nigh Invulnerability": Applies to Lord British in the Ultima series. Not even Mondain's skull or the Armageddon spell--which kills everything else in the entire world--kills him. I did defeat him with a cannon in Ultima III, but his death wasn't permanent.

"Order vs. Chaos": At the end of Dungeon Master, I questioned whether there was a deliberate connection between it and The Saga of Recluce. Well, apparently, there are about one billion examples of this.

"Science Fiction vs. Fantasy": This trope deals with the genre-blending that occurs in games like Might & Magic, Tera, and Legacy of the Ancients. I don't have a problem with it, exactly, but somehow spells and technology always seem to me like an uncomfortable fit.

"Sdrawkcab Name": We've joked about this a lot with Trebor/Robert, Werdna/Andrew, Yendor/Rodney, and so on. There are other examples in Ultima V, Baldur's Gate, and Might & Magic, among others.

I've made one contribution to the site, under the "Wild Mass Guessing" category, offering my theory that Mondain from Ultima I is a Sith Lord.

Exhibit A

A couple of weeks ago, an anonymous commenter said he was going to create an entry on "spellcrafting," but I haven't been able to find it yet.

For those of you who haven't discovered TVTropes until this posting, the rest of your evening is gone, so I'll leave you to it. But as the stories get more complex in the games I'm playing, I'm going to keep checking in to this site for fun references.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Game 36: Legacy of the Ancients (1987)

Those would be Doric columns.
Legacy of the Ancients
United States
Quest Software (developer); Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1989 for DOS
Date Started: 25 December 2010
Before I get in to Legacy of the Ancients, I should mention that I haven't moved on from Le Maitre des Ames yet. I'm just doing that thing you said you wouldn't mind where I play two games at once. I'm still in the midst of translating the manual for Maitre and getting used to the interface. I think the game has a lot of potential, but it seems a lot like work, and I'm feeling lazy this weekend.

Legacy of the Ancients is the opposite of "work": it is an uncomplicated, plain little game--almost a throwback, really. It uses the same game engine as Questron, the first CRPG I ever played, about 26 years ago. I didn't play it as part of this project because of my PC/DOS restriction--a restriction that has come to feel a bit foolish, since this is yet another game in which the DOS version offers the poorest graphics (you can see a comparison of the C64 and DOS graphics at the game's MobyGames site).

The game starts with the basest character creation possible: I simply name my character (I chose "Lailoken") and the action begins. I play a poor peasant in the land of Tarmalon who one day comes across a dead body on the side of the road. It belongs to a nameless previous adventurer who was in the middle of the quest to destroy a powerful and dangerous magic scroll called the Wizard's Compendium. I loot his body for the Compendium, two jade coins, and his magic bracelet and soon find myself transported to a mysterious building.
"Only a poor peasant" strikes me as uncomfortably classist.
The building is the Museum of the Ancients, an edifice constructed in times of yore by a race of aliens. It is apparently one of many scattered on different worlds. The museums allow the Ancients to view life on different worlds, but they are forbidden from interfering with the worlds' developments (a video monitor warns me not to "feed the Tarmalon natives"); the caretaker of the museum on Tarmalon apparently decided to break this rule.
It's like Might & Magic crossed with Star Trek.
As I continue wandering the hallways, the bracelet begins speaking to me with the voice of the previous owner, charging me to "neutralize the evil Scroll of Spells before it destroys everything!" The rest of the museum is filled with similar monitors that take coins of various denominations. With the two jade coins found on the body, I view exhibits titled "Art of Weaponry," which allows me to take a dagger, and "Thornberry," which tells me about a typical Tarmalon town, in which rich and poor live separated by a stone wall. Having used my last coin on the latter exhibit, I take the exhibit's offer to transport me there.

And thus the game begins. Thornberry is a typical CRPG town, with a weapon and armor shop, a bank, and a transportation shop. Gameplay is isometric, with graphics on par with Ultima IV. Commands are all through the keyboard, with available actions listed on the left side of the screen.

At the food shop, I got a quest to deliver a bag of mail to the town of Big Rapids:

I also found a gambling parlor, where I indulged in a few rounds of blackjack featuring rules I would love to see on my next trip to Atlantic City.
"Natural blackjack pays double! I'm not leaving until--hey, let go of me!"
In the wilderness, I encountered creatures both hostile and friendly. So far, I have fought and killed pulp crawlers, bone dwellers, slash nettles, blistopods, scorpods, ventro flailers, carrion manglers, pit stalkers, venom floaters, and wind stalkers. All slain foes give up gold or items, and some of them can be converted to food--yes, this is another game in which you must maintain a rapidly-dwindling food supply.

Combat is, unfortunately, no more tactical than in Faery Tale Adventure. You just keep mashing "F" until you or the creature dies. There is a magic system in the game, but it reaches all the way back to Ultima I for its inspiration--you buy spells at shops and cast them until they run out, then buy more.

What, exactly, does "psycho strength" mean?
Not all encounters are hostile. I bought some food from a bandit, a museum coin from a farmer, and a potion from a merchant.

As I slay creatures, I don't have any idea if I am developing experience or anything. My level remains firmly fixed at 1. The game manual seems to suggest that the museum caretaker will be the one to level me up, but I haven't figured out how to get back to the museum yet. I did figure out how to develop at least one statistic, though: one of the towns has a neat mini-game in which you have to fend off fireballs.

You do it by simply turning in the direction they're coming from, which sounds easy, but it gets pretty dicey at high levels when multiple fireballs are coming at the same time from multiple directions at different speeds. I did okay my first time out.

I had hoped that each town would feature a different side quest, but apparently they all involve mail delivery to the other towns. Nonetheless, I get about 100 gold pieces for each delivery, and it's an easy way to make money while I explore and figure out my next move.

If it seems like an unexciting game, well it is, a bit. But the mini-games and gambling are a neat touch, and it's a good game to mess around with while I'm supposed to be watching It's a Wonderful Life with my family.

There's a big blizzard approaching New England, and I don't feel like dealing with it, so I managed to get a last-minute ticket to San Diego tomorrow morning. I know my blogging usually falls off when I'm traveling, but this time I don't have any particular business to do, and I'm actually looking forward to the idea of hanging out on my hotel balcony, playing games, and only leaving my room to restock my wet bar. If I have any readers in that city, I'll be glad to meet you for a drink at the Green Flash.

Tomorrow, we'll see what strikes my fancy the most: the interesting-but-difficult foreign game or the slightly-boring-but-simple Legacy of the Ancients.