Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Go Alone...or Even Necessarily at All

Ho, ho. I bet whoever wrote this grew up to be an actuary!
"Because it's there" is the only phrase that adequately describes why I'm still playing Don't Go Alone. Also, I'm on a business trip--on which, incidentally, I went alone--and I didn't feel like I had time to learn a complex new game. Whatever Don't Go Alone is, it isn't complex.

The gameplay has not advanced significantly since the two levels I explored in the first posting. There have been a few navigation puzzles but nothing overly taxing. In summary:

  • Level 3 was composed almost entirely of hidden doors. Every other "wall," it seemed, allowed me to walk through. It meant I had to keep running into the walls to ensure I explored all of the level. There was a door that I needed a gem called a "cat's eye" to pass, but these were dropped by random monsters, and I had several by the time I came across the door.
  • Level 4 had a bunch of teleporters plus an area of equipment rooms that I needed "boron keys" to unlock. These keys were few and far between, so I only unlocked a couple of the doors, getting formula and weapon upgrades, before continuing to the next level. There was one message stating that I need 5 gold keys to defeat the Ancient One, and I found one of the keys.
  • Level 5 didn't have any special puzzles. There was another gold key and one enemy--a "blood demon"--that I was unable to defeat. I hope he wasn't holding anything important. 

Six attempts, and he defeated me every time.

  • Level 6 had an annoying puzzle. In various rooms, you get the formula for a spell called "auric acid," which dissolves walls and allows you to move through them as if they have hidden doors. It turned out that I was locked into the area and needed the "auric acid" spell to get out. Unfortunately, I'd missed a piece of the formula--all the messages in this game only appear once, and if you miss them the first time, you're screwed--so I had to use a walkthrough to fill in the missing piece.

Crafting a new spell based on known elements. Hey, Canageek: What do you think of their approach to the periodic table?

  • On Level 7, where I am as I write this, "auric acid" has so far proven indispensable, as the game keeps dumping me into rooms with no exit otherwise. If there was a gold key on Level 6, I missed it, so I hope I find the others on this level, Level 8, and Level 9, or I'm going to be one short when I meet the Ancient One on Level 10.

And I apparently have to do this.

All the levels continue to be extremely large. I've been relying on the automap instead of mapping them myself, but I think a couple of them have around 2,000 squares. If they weren't mostly empty and easy to zip through, the game would take forever.

A small part of one of the vast levels.
All of the levels have served up increasingly difficult monsters, but of course my character levels and equipment have also been increasing, so the overall difficulty has remained about the same throughout. Combat really couldn't be more boring. There is no variance in the damage types done by the different monsters (there could have just been one), nor the tactics they employ, and the whole system feels like the game is selecting things randomly from [MONSTER] [ATTACK] and [CHARACTER] [EFFECT]!

Air Elemental
Beast Man
Earth Elemental
Flesh Hound
Pit Fiend
Rock Creature
Unseen Evil
Water Elemental
Casts a curtain of dread
Casts a pall of evil
Casts a spell of magic
Casts a wave of terror
Is frightened!
Is scared!
Is shocked!
Is staggered!
Shrinks back!
Is undaunted! (the only good one)

Menaced by a howling, wailing ghost.

The idea that the creatures aren't actually doing any real, physical damage to the characters--just increasing their "fear"--is unusual and a little pointless. At first I thought it  might be to protect young players against the idea of violence, but the characters are clearly doing physical damage to the creatures--including shooting at them, hacking at them with swords, ravaging them with chainsaws, searing them with blowtorches, and throwing acid on them--and the game often tells you that your foes "die in horrible agony!" so that theory is shot.

My equipment has gone through steady upgrades, with items found in both fixed locations and random ones. Each weapon and armor has a "level" associated with it. I believe the weapon levels have been something like: Pocket Knife < Swiss Army Knife < Dagger < Meat Saw < Machete < Sword < Blowtorch < Tomahawk < < Colt < Nunchuka < Long Sword < .38 Police Special < .45 Magnum < Chainsaw. With all due respect to the martial advantages of a chainsaw, why don't we give one to you and a .38 police special to me and see who makes it out of the room.

The game never says "You found a whatever!" It always "appears!"

Armor, of which you can have only one piece, includes boots, motorcycle helmets, bomber jackets, shields, body armor, diving suits (!), radiation suits, and "blood armor." Other equipment includes both those useful for specific purposes (flashlights, mirrors, keys, compasses) and those that are supposed to protect you in some way from various creatures (strings of garlic, gems). The effects, if actually present, are extremely subtle.

Can't wear a bomber jacket AND a motorcycle helmet. That would be too cool. Has to be one or the other.

I've received better spells from higher levels of "chemistry books." Each time I get a new book, some of the spells are only partly available, with perhaps three of the four necessary elements listed, and I have to find scraps of paper to manually fill in the rest. To be honest, I've barely bothered. Combats are easy enough with weapons alone to make spells unnecessary, and if my fear gets too high, I can just wait it out. Most of the spells I'm using are navigation ones, such as the aforementioned "auric acid" and the one that lets me see a map.

To me, the fact that some of my characters are wearing armor and fighting gargoyles with swords while others are wearing bomber jackets and shooting cockroaches with pistols, all while exploring a "mansion" that's 10 floors and probably 10 million square feet, creates a weird blend of fantasy and non-fantasy that would be jarring if the game were otherwise interesting or immersive. Alas, it is neither. There has still been no NPCs, no encounters, no role-playing opportunities, and no information about the back story or environment other than the occasional taunts from the Ancient One and words of encouragement (delivered psychically, I guess) from my grandfather.

Gramps, we knew that ages ago.

Is there anything I like about the game? Well, there's definitely a steady sense of progression. Lots of grinding opportunities. Leveling brings immediate benefits in terms of statistic upgrades. The animated graphics aren't bad. In my "difficulty" posting a few months ago, I talked about wanting death to have consequences, and it definitely does here (although the easy difficulty level makes it rare). A couple of times, I've been "killed" (all my characters' fear gets too high) on, say, Level 6, and I end up in a random part of Level 2, where I have to re-navigate my way through four huge levels and find the stairs again.

My "technician" character. He started with most statistics in the single digits.
Don't Go Alone isn't exactly a "bad" game; it's just a pointless one. It feels like something someone might have created to say, "See! I can create a CRPG. Please give me some funding for a real game." And here I am with 7 hours into it. Might as well see how it ends.


  1. I do kind of like the whole "ending up elsewhere" after defeat. It makes me think of the party fleeing blindly due to being overwhelmed with fear.--Nyx

  2. I don't know what statement the game's creators had in mind when they made Don't Go Alone, but what I'm getting is "We have some not necessarily bad ideas, but we're clueless as to what to do with them." Also the words "bland" and "boring" come to mind.

  3. Joplin: Guys, notice how we are never getting hurt by any of these things? What are we afraid of?

    Bolden: I'm sorry, despite my name and knife, I am wetting my pants with fear and dragging the rest of you to some other part of the mansion in blind terror. I cannot hear you right now.

    Billie: I TOLD you we should have gone auditioned for Uninvited!

    1. Audible laughter was produced.

      It's even funnier when you get machine guns and bazookas. You're riddling them with bullets while they do the equivalent of yelling "boo!"

  4. Wow! Weird to see this game after soooooo long ago. I DID complete the whole game... but I don't think you're gonna like the ending. ;)

    As I recall there is a brief animation at the end... and then it drops you to a dos prompt. (not quite as jarring as the end to Eye of the Beholder, but pretty close)

    And the last level is BRUTAL!

    1. Nice spoiler there.

    2. I don't think saying the ending is garbage rightly qualifies as a spoiler.

    3. I won a little while ago. The last level did ramp up the difficulty of the encounters, but the weapons and spells also increased very quickly. It was difficult mostly at the beginning, and then once I got a couple of bazookas, it was easier.

    4. Oh, and I didn't think the ending was SO bad. I'm not sure if by "ending," you mean the last level and the puzzles leading up to the ending, or the literally end cut screens. The puzzles would have been a little annoying in a better game, but they were actually refreshing in this one. The final cut screens might actually be the best part of the game: this game, unlike so many others, actually gives you an "ending."

  5. I played Eye of the Beholder on the Amiga - IIRC there was a proper, if short, ending.

    1. In the DOS version the program simply terminated after the Beholder was killed, with only a short "Congratulations!" before the DOS prompt. More of a kick in the pants than an actual ending.

    2. Now THAT is a bit of a spoiler. Fortunately, I probably won't remember by the time I get there.

    3. The description of the ending, or that there's a beholder at the end of a game called Eye of the Beholder?

    4. You have said before that when you're about to start a new game, you do a search to see what comments mention it.

      That said, I don't see it as much of a spoiler, and I'm quite familiar with the game.

    5. "Spoiler" is porbably the wrong word, but I'd rather not know going into a game that the ending sucks. It removes my motivation to get there.

  6. I wish my home had teleporters like in level 4... not because I need them, just because it'd be cool to have them

    1. I wouldn't mind having one between my closet and Frenchman Street.

  7. I believe that messages "respawn" if you save and restart. (Though now I feel like I should replay the game and update my's been 8 years.)

    1. I just confirmed that they do not--at least, not in my version.

  8. I....what....the....hell. They managed to get the SHAPE of the table right, but couldn't be bothered to grab a chemistry book to look it up? Just about every chemistry textbook has it on the inside cover! They obviously grabbed a book to look up the symbols, as some of the ones you list aren't commonly known, but they put them in all the wrong places! I can get omitting the actinides and lanthanides (the bit that hangs below the table) due to spacial constraints, but randomizing the elements? WHAT THE HELL. At one point I had all the elements on the table and where they went MEMORIZED (I had to for a class, as you can tell a lot of the properties of the element by where it is on the table, so a prof thought it was worth us memorizing it). Grah.

    1. I gotta say, I am with Canageek. I am not a chemist, but I started learning chemistry at a somewhat younger age than is normal. My Grandmother was a chemist stationed in Hanford, working on the Manhattan Project. We had a lot of fun quizzing each other on various properties of the elements when I was but a wee lad…
      I can tell you that where an element is located on the table is important. I find this very jarring.

    2. That PSE is seriously painful to look at. The shape, while very wrong, is at least somewhat inspired by reality, but the placement is elements in the table is entirely random.

    3. I never remotely memorized the periodic table, but I didn't think sodium and cadmium were noble gasses.

    4. It doesn't seem to be entirely random. They almost all appear in the correct ascending order, just with many elements omitted. The only exceptions are the next-to-last three: V (Vandium) is element 23 and should appear much earlier, and as far as I can tell R and Ct are completely made up.

      And they didn't leave out actinides and lanthanides. notice Nd, Eu, Th and U in there? It seems they grabbed randomly from every group, but kept them in order.

  9. Even if I, the resident gadfly, made a game it would not be as bad as this game (you will have to take this on faith, I understand). Although it might have been called "Gadfly (The game)!" and been about some forum poster's attempts to become relevant. Hmmm.

    Anyway, amazed you are still playing this game. I actually thought about playing it. Glad I didn't.

  10. "With all due respect to the martial advantages of a chainsaw..."

    It is common knowledge that martial efficiency of chainsaw is considerable and even raises significantly by replacing your hand with one.

  11. Heh, I bought this on a budget rack at Target for $5 in maybe 1991 or '92. I never did get through it. It blew my mind to see if here after all these years.

  12. I actually think that had a basis fir an interesting system, make it internally consistent, say you pour physic or magic energy into it to cause the reaction, might even make the table make sense if its arranged to show magical reactions rather than chemical ones, maybe number them by magic electrons which is different from normal and invisable to muggles. All of this effort would require a better game though I think.


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