Sunday, May 31, 2015

1990 Loose End #1: Legend of Faerghail

Legend of Faerghail was an early representative of a clear 1990s trend: an explosion of interesting RPGs from German developers. I played it in the fall of 2013 and called it, in my "Final Rating" post, an "interesting misfire." Starting with a base reminiscent of The Bard's Tale, it added a bunch of innovative features, including a combat mechanic that drew from both Wizardry and Phantasie, and excellent graphics and sound--including some of the first ambient sound. Alas, it had too many mistakes and half-developed ideas to rate very highly.

I still would have finished it except for a bug I encountered that made an entire castle disappear, preventing me from continuing the game. That was in the Amiga version. The DOS version was already bugged beyond belief, so my only option would have been to re-start with the Amiga and hope the bug didn't recur or attempt the Atari ST version, which is only in German. I decided to simply quit, even though it ended a very long winning streak.

There's supposed to be a castle here.

Last summer, 6 months after my final post, I heard from Olaf Barthel, one of the three principal developers of the game, who started our correspondence by saying, "your observations and assessment of the game's merits and shortcomings are spot on"--a quote that some of my regular commenters should feel free to repeat more often. We traded a series of e-mails in which he offered a wealth of information about the game's development. The exchange made me feel a lot better about Faerghail, and based on it, I fully intended to re-engage the game, peppering my new posts with information from Olaf's e-mails. But every time I went to fire it up, I was reminded that I still faced the same bugs and probably wouldn't be able to finish it.

Now that I'm in 1991, I suspect I won't ever return to Faerghail, but the least I can do is offer some of Olaf's insights on the game.

Olaf, Veith Schörgenhummer, and Matthias Kästner were the creators of Faerghail. They started development when they were in school together and all 18 or 19 years old. The scenario was based on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that Schörgenhummer had designed. At first, they were simply trying to create something for the German domestic market, which was a bit light on RPGs at the time. But their publisher saw potential in the international market and insisted on an English translation and DOS and Atari ST ports.

I had long wondered about the game's name, and in particular whether it was intended to evoke the earlier Fargoal. Apparently not. In 1986, Olaf was studying in England as an exchange student and bought a book called Irish: A Complete Introductory Course. Later casting about for a name for the game, Olaf pulled the book from his shelf, flipped to a section that listed common Irish surnames, and stabbed his finger on "Ó Fearghail." They dropped the "O" and switched the "a" and "e" so no one would read it as "fear." The funny thing is, this is the second game I know of to get its name in this exact way; the first was Eamon. I love the idea that we nearly got The Legend of Flaithbheartaigh.

The page from which Olaf took the game's name.
Olaf confirms that the game was built on a foundation of The Bard's Tale, Phantasie, and first edition AD&D rules (the second edition wasn't translated to German until the game was already finished). Inspired by the ability to dig through walls in Moria, they added the "smith" class with his demolition abilities (something I never really explored). This part I love and leave in Olaf's own words:

The reason why there is a monk, but no female counterpart, was in that we couldn't quite picture how it would look like. It is something of a stretch to imagine how the monk, wearing a cloak and hood, could be capable and effective in unarmed combat. It would have been an even greater stretch to imagine a nun, wearing cloak and veil, in the same role as the monk. Because we did not have a female monk, we added the female-only healer class instead.

Something I didn't realize while playing the game is that monsters, while randomly roaming the hallways, actually pick up treasure. This accounts for why I didn't find chests in the same places sometimes when I had to re-load a level, and why some monsters inexplicably offered more treasure than others. As for the monsters themselves, the generic "ghost" images were a late-game addition. Originally, the game was going to be like The Bard's Tale, where you just stumble upon enemies but don't see them ahead of time. Eventually, after playing Dungeon Master, the team decided they wanted to see monsters in the environment, but they didn't have enough time to create images for every one.

Olaf agrees about the inferiority of the DOS version. It was an awkward time to develop for DOS, right in between the CGA and VGA standards and the AdLib and SoundBlaster capabilities. Ultimately, they just didn't have the time and resources to invest in better graphics or any sound. A fundamental weakness of the DOS version is that you can "clear" monsters in the wilderness areas, which makes it impossible to later grind for food. You end up spending most of your gold keeping the team fed.

My comparison of Amiga (left) and DOS (right) graphics.

As for the translation issues we encountered, Olaf says that the manual and game text were translated professionally, but by people who didn't understand the context of RPGs and had trouble with terms like "dungeon master." He recalls having the same "riddle trouble" that I did when he played Wizardry VI in German, got nearly to the end, faced a riddle whose answer should have been "pen" or "quill," and yet couldn't get the game to accept any appropriate German word. Ironically, Olaf wrote to me in absolutely flawless English. In a few years, he could have done the translations himself.

Faerghail was Olaf Barthel's last game, but he has had a long and rewarding career in the computer industry. (This interview goes over many of his contributions.) Veith Schörgenhummer also called it quits after Faerghail, and Olaf lost touch with him. Matthias Kästner, on the other hand, went to art school and has continued to work in the German games industry as a designer, animator, art director, and project leader. His credits include graphics on Fate: Gates of Dawn (1991), Neocron (2002), Back to Gaya (2005), Mata Hari (2008), Black Mirror II: Reigning Evil (2009), Black Prophecy (2011), and The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief (2013).

Olaf offered a lot more about the game, and rather than try to work it into paragraphs, I'm going to paste his own words below for anyone who's really interested in the details of graphics, sound, and programming.


All text below except for the bolded headers, image captions, and text in brackets is directly quoted from Olaf Barthel's e-mails to me between 12-14 July 2014.

On the development process:

At that age you can move the world, just by sheer force of ignorance and sticking to your guns. In retrospect, that type of approach must have made it harder for everybody who was involved in making the game.

Not only were the three of us pressed for time, as the final exams were approaching (we passed -- working on the game did not have a negative effect on our marks), our producers and collaborators at reLINE software must have been tearing their hair out, given the complexity of the game.

What originally started out as a more modest product evolved into a multi-platform game (Amiga, Atari ST, PC), in two different languages, using unproven technology (reLINE software wrote all their games in assembly language; Legend of Faerghail was written in 'C'), by an unproven designer/programmer team.

Legend of Faerghail was the first, only and last big commercial game the three of us collaborated on. We all were hobbyists/amateurs, who were self-taught and learned the craft through writing software for and painting on the C64.

On monster AI:

The monsters roaming the dungeons follow simple A.I. rules. When a dungeon level is loaded, the monsters are always reset to start positions, and then proceed to roam the halls. They will patrol the hallways, search for treasure (and pick it up, if they feel like it: if you encounter and kill these monsters, the loot will include the treasure they found) and try to follow the player if they can spot it. You can even bait certain types of monsters, which will then stop following the player and stick to the bait. The A.I. is not particularly good, though (Pac Man has stellar ghost A.I. compared to Legend of Faerghail).

On saving the game:

Saving the state of the game to disk and later restoring it evolved over time, with auto-mapping getting squeezed in very late in development. Because of memory constraints I was unable to store the positions, attributes, etc. of all roaming monsters and the level auto-map states for all dungeons the player had visited up to this point. This is the reason why upon reentering a dungeon level, monsters respawn and the level auto-map is reset.

On the Amiga version:

-The game was originally designed specifically for the Amiga, which is why there are sound-effects and, for its time, modest graphics effects. The prototype dungeon crawler even used the Amiga-specific high resolution graphics mode (640 by 512 pixels in 16 colours). These platform-specific features and resolution were eventually scaled back because of the Atari ST port. The PC port arguably had even more restrictions than the Atari ST version. The Atari ST version even supports a 640 by 400 pixel black and white mode.

We never realized that we might have been one of the first computer role playing games to feature ambient sound and day/night cycles in 1st person perspective ("Ultima III" certainly had day/night cycles, but the on-screen visuals never reflected the gradual change of time). Building this feature into the game seemed natural, given the capabilities of the Amiga.

The three of us designed the ambient sound of the game. The Amiga offered four channels of 8 bit digital stereo sound, and we tried to make the most of it. For the sound effects we must have watched (or rather "listened to") just about every adventure movie that was available on VHS tape at the time. I recall that most of the combat sound effects came from Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers.

The Amiga version had to work well on the standard type of Amiga at the time, which had only 512 KBytes of main memory available. Because of this restriction, the game may at times choose not to load monster portraits or sound-effects. However, the game adapts if you have more memory to spare, giving you more monster portraits, sound effects, etc. and it will even cache assets (just set your Amiga emulation to use 512K of fast memory, or more).

The game covers three disks, in the Amiga version, and can be installed to hard disk in order to speed up disk access (it has no on-disk copy protection). The game even supports multi-tasking, which means that given enough memory, you can use the Amiga for productivity software and play the game at the same time.

The reason why saved games can be corrupted is likely because you did not wait for disk activity to finish after saving the game to disk. Because of how floppy disks work with the Amiga operating system, there is a small delay after the last write access before the file system concludes the write operation and spins down the floppy disk. This delay is independent of the floppy disk emulation speed. Hence, if you save to disk, wait 1-2 seconds before you restart the emulation or switch it off.

On the DOS version:

The game itself was designed and "prototyped" on the Amiga, and at some point had to be ported both to the Atari ST and the "IBM PC compatible" platform. This proved to be challenging on many levels: the game was not intended to be ported when designed, game design was still evolving and ongoing, and at reLINE software nobody had the necessary experience in programming the PC in the 'C' programming language.

This was at a time when the IBM PC compatible platform started to become relevant as a gaming platform, both in Europe and internationally. reLINE software had already acquired a development system, with AdLib sound card and EGA graphics. By comparison to the Atari ST and certainly the Amiga, the PC was not a mature platform, because it lacked an operating system. The development tools in particular were immature: the Atari ST had an excellent Turbo 'C' compiler, but the 'C' compiler used on the PC by reLINE software had so many quirks that porting code from the Amiga almost always amounted to a rewrite.

Holger Heinrich at reLINE software took on the challenges of porting Legend of Faerghail to the PC, and from what I recall this was an exceptionally difficult task. Not only did Holger have to port a game which was not intended to be portable, he also had to learn programming the system from scratch.

The PC development platform itself was by no means uniform or stable either. Back in 1988/1989 the term 'compatible' in "IBM PC compatible" had claws and teeth. How you programmed the graphics hardware varied greatly by manufacturer, and since there was no operating system to help you along, you had to use low-level operations to get it to do something useful. I recall that reLINE had to test the game on a special IBM PC compatible machine manufactured by Tandy, which had both a significant market share in the U.S. and which had its own peculiarities to account for.

Porting the game to the PC amounted to rewriting the game code, both because of the quirky 'C' language development platform, and because the code was not particularly portable to begin with. What worked well on the Amiga had to be adapted for the PC, and you probably saw the side-effects of this approach play out.

On the challenges of mapping from a 3D perspective:

The "3D" view was the first tough problem to crack when we designed the game prototype. We had to find a way to make both the perspective work, and find a system for building the image from components (walls, doors, stairs, special illustrations). What Matthias and I arrived at was what you see in the finished game. Each element in the perspective layout was designed according to a template (this [image] is from my original 1988 archives). The game uses a central perspective, and the visible space is three steps deep.

Both the background (floor and ceiling) and the foreground elements are slightly asymmetrical. This was a deliberate design decision: whenever you turn or take a step forward/back, the game redraws these elements by mirroring them horizontally. This makes the view appear slightly, but noticeably different from how it looked before, supporting the fact that something has changed when you moved.

The basic "3D" view design was adapted from The Bard's Tale, but it never occurred to us that our version did not give the player a sense of what is left or right of the wall he or she is currently facing [This was something I had complained about in my reviews].

On location design and content:

We wanted to make the individual location map layout reflect the architecture of the respective place. This is why, for example, the monastery layout looks like how you might find a European medieval monastery does, and why the individual levels of the Elven pyramid become smaller and smaller the further you ascend the pyramid. Each level can cover 36 by 36 individual rooms, but we never used all of that space, not even in the wilderness (trees and walls cover the edges).

Our idea was that each dungeon layout should be different, with respect to the location. Again, The Bard's Tale provided the motivation for this decision: we did not want use the same "one size fits all" style level design in the game.

The size of the game, with all the different dungeons and their many respective levels, came back to haunt us. We arguably succeeded at building a game world, but we struggled with making it interesting. This is why the puzzles and the game's overall campaign design (one single quest, no sub-quests and certainly no branches in the story) are not as ambitious as the technical design of the game world (this seems to be common problem even in contemporary computer game design; Assassin's Creed I and Watch Dogs come to my mind, for example).

The campaign design upon which the game was originally intended to be built did not provide enough content to fill the game world with. The world had simply become too large. Filling the vacuum proved to be very difficult, because we lacked the necessary experience and storytelling background. What ended up in the game therefore came from what surfaced when we stirred the pond, so to speak. The three-part key staff, for example, comes from Raiders of the Lost Ark (which probably borrowed it from a 1930s serial in the first place).
On combat:

We adapted the look and the basic mechanics from what we were most familiar with, this being The Bard's Tale. We tried to add some small incremental improvements to this model. Unlike in The Bard's Tale, our game shows you the placement of the enemy and your player character, and does not represent this information as numbers only.

As we discovered during development, the overall visual design of our game made how the combat played out on screen look rather bland and somewhat pointless. This was tactical combat at its most tactical: you gave instructions to your party, very much like a coach, and wait on the sidelines until this round had concluded. The text on the screen would give play-by-play commentary on what was going on.

Because we discovered these shortcomings late in development, our options to address them were very limited. We provided two variations to the basic formula. The first was the quick combat option: you do not need to read the play-by-play commentary scrolling across the screen, you just get to see the final results of the round. The second was to add minimal animations which identified who was attacking who, which type of character (fighter/magic user/animal) was involved, and also add sound effects (hit/miss/equipment damage). We affectionately called this the "Punch & Judy show" when we developed it (although it is arguably not quite as violent).

The distance between combatants does make a difference during the combat, but maybe not as much as it should. The closer you are to an enemy, the more likely you will succeed in hitting it (and the more likely you are to get hit). Missile weapons and spells should make a difference if the distance is larger.

On monster graphics:

As the game evolved, we added more and more distinct enemy types; we wanted to avoid recycling enemy portraits, as The Bard's Tale did. Unfortunately, this decision increased the workload for creating the portraits, which is why instead of one single artist, three artists eventually worked on the monster portraits (Matthias Kästner, Rainer Michael and Frank Knust). Some of the portraits were adapted from existing illustrations, sometimes by scanning, retracing and coloring what we found in the AD&D manuals and magazines.

The portraits throughout the game are extremely well-done.

The dragon featured prominently in the game's title screen, and which also happens to be the monster you meet in the end game, originally comes from the cover of an AD&D monster manual, and was redrawn by Matthias (this is Matthias' original drawing, in which the priest in the foreground wears a blue tunic).

On the language system:

We added it so that you could get out of encounters without fighting. It turned out that regular combat was somewhat uninteresting, and providing the player with options to retreat or parley instead would offer less boring alternatives.

Once we started down this road, the next logical steps were to offer bartering and recruiting as part of the language system. Recruiting is actually a variation of what happens in The Bard's Tale when you summon an elemental to fight for your party.

One reason why the language system is not as useful as it should be is that there are bugs in the implementation which I only recently discovered. In order for parley to succeed one member of your party needs to be able to speak the language of an enemy. Because of a bug (it is an off-by-one error) the parley can only work if enemy and party member *do not* speak the same language.

This is finally explained!

On "whimsy":

As development progressed and really started to drag, the tone of the game began to drift. What originally began as a serious story, built around a mystery (what happened to the Elves?), slowly started to pull in material to fill the void left by the game world being larger than the story designed to fill it.

The seriousness of the game's tone invited commentary, not necessarily in the form of parody or satire, but it was time and again necessary to lighten things up a bit. This is why there is a snarky comment about magical Elven plumbing, and an inflatable rubber dragon (which comes from a cartoon found in a D&D magazine), for example, and the end-game text featured in the final dungeon is bordering on being funny (at least in the original Klingon, but not so much in the English translation).

As we learned over time, being a D&D dungeon master does not require that you keep the game's tone strictly serious. Fun can come in all shapes and sizes, and not just in how well your character holds up in combat. Equipment can break during combat, attacks can fail. Your character may not face such events stoically, he might even curse (historical note from a foreigner: I understand that "cursing" actually used to mean the use of profanity; in the context of our game it is just the use of obscenity). This is what happens in Legend of Faerghail. When an attack fails, there is a very small random chance that the character will quietly say "sh*t!" (in the Amiga version). We did get called out for that little bit of whimsy, and strangely enough only by U.S. players. Incidentally, that is Veith Schörgenhummer's voice which we sampled for the sound-effect.

We could not resist adding easter eggs to the game. You already found the "Indiana Jones" reference--did you notice that there was a sound effect for that, too? [Alas, I did not. I was probably playing with the sound off for some reason.]

I still don't know what the "wands and sunshine" part means.

 On copy protection and the endgame:

We disliked shipping a game with copy-protected disks. For one thing, we had learned long ago that it did not take long for copy protection to be overcome (look at the contents of the many Amiga abandon-ware game web sites and judge for yourself--almost all of these games were once copy-protected), it also meant that we would have had to somehow adapt the game and its distribution media to support copy protection. We lacked both the expertise and the time to accomplish this.

Our solution to add a bit of copy protection was to put vital information required to succeed at the game into the manual. This is why there are numbered maps both in the manual and on the sleeve of the manual.

If I remember correctly, the end game requires that your party survives traveling through very hazardous terrain. Your party receives an amulet with a map on it early during the game, and that map is pictured on the reverse side of the manual. The map was designed so as to make photocopying it very, very hard. It is the key to traveling through the hazardous terrain in the end game. Now if only we had dropped more hints on what that map is good for, and if the numbering of the maps in the manual actually corresponded to the numbers, as used in the game text...


It's an interesting game, and I'm glad I had the opportunity make more of its backstory known to the world.


  1. Your comments on this game are spot on!

    Seriously though - Thanks for the post!

  2. Wands and sunshine probably refers to the bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy uses the Staff of Ra to direct sunlight onto a model city. Run it back and forth through translators a few times and the staff becomes a wand.

  3. Pretty interesting read. I never finished the game. But probably couldn't have done anyway because I didn't have the map on the manual. I bought it as a German budget version back in the day and the manual was just some cheap b/w-paper tagged together. (Amberstar was the same problem missing some essential text but it came at least with a map).

  4. This is a really excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  5. This is tremendous. Thank you so much for exposing these developer details :D

    I also love that their idea of a Monk class came from the christian concept of the monk rather than the usual 'shaolin' type of martial arts monk in role playing games.

    1. That's the thing, though. The D&D concept was derived from the Shaolin warrior monks; christian monks aren't much good in combat.

      I'm willing to bet some of the subtleties didn't make it across the Atlantic and the Germans just thought 'oh, like our medieval monks'.

      Unlike America, Germany actually has a rich medieval history, which was used to advantage in Darklands, if I remember right...

    2. Christian Monks are known as Clerics in D&D and they are horrible adversaries to face during the Crusades. All of these western Monks received education, as compared to most of the foot-soldiers who were conscripted farmers, and knows where to hit with what weapons.

      They might not share the same mysticism or physical martial prowess of the Eastern Monks, but Crusader warrior-monks (aka Clerics) are a force to be reckoned with.

    3. Of course the D&D concept is inspired by Shaolin monks! As a Greek, a lot of the more pulpy (orientalist, in this case) inspiration of D&D went over my head and I suspect for other Europeans as well. Not that particular reference to martial art monks, but in any case.

      I would agree that the medieval cleric warrior is a fearsome concept but I'd add that it's very apropos to the post-colonial subtext of D&D. D&D the Paladins aren't exactly the easiest characters to like, they become even uglier when one realizes they're basically a straight take on medieval crusaders.

    4. When we picked the character classes to use in the game, the monk had to be on the list. Chronic underexposure to Wuxia movies accounts for the fact that we settled on the "Friar Tuck" image of the monk in "Legend of Faerghail" (we did know our 1938 "The adventures of Robin Hood" by heart, though). Also, it would have been a stretch to put what would have been a Buddhist monk into a quasi medieval European game world, as used in "Legend of Faerghail". Never mind that the "Friar Tuck" image of a Dominican or Franciscan monk does not even fit into the Robin Hood era, since both these orders were founded after the Third Crusade...

      As for clerics vs warrior monks, I think that these aspects would have been even more difficult to fit into the game. If I remember correctly, the medieval 'warrior monks' were basically Christian religious orders which were persuaded (by the Pope) to take up arms and defend the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. This includes, for example, the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. These were knights, in a military organization, not the band of adventurers which the player's party in "Legend of Faerghail" consisted off. Funny thing, some of these religious orders exist to this day. The Teutonic Knights reverted to being a spiritual order, which is headquartered in Vienna.

      So, in a nutshell, there are so many pieces which do not quite fit that we are probably lucky that we stuck with an idealized medieval European monk and did not follow it up any further ;-)

    5. Thing is, D&D never really made all that much sense. They had monsters from every major world mythology, underground cave complexes somehow filled with monsters which got more dangerous as you went down and never ate each other...

      Interesting to hear. It's always neat how cultural differences make slightly different games--apparently the greater story emphasis of the JRPG was due to the fact that sentences are composed of fewer characters in pictographic languages, so it's easier to tell a real story.

  6. >Hence, if you save to disk, wait 1-2 seconds before you restart the emulation or switch it off.

    That actually bit a hell of a lot of people on real Amigas. The rule was this: never turn off the computer if the floppy light is lit... that means the drive motor is on, and another write could be forthcoming. This also held true for hard drives, but their light didn't stay on continuously, so you just had to wait awhile after closing any programs that might write data. Once you knew what you were doing, you could wait for the access flicker a few seconds after writing your data, but that took practice.

    Because the Amiga itself was quite crash prone, especially early, when everyone was learning how to do multitasking without hardware memory protection (so any program could stomp on any other), this meant Amigas weren't very reliable for saving data, and there was a lot of cursing, over the years.

    For many years, you could also immediately pick out almost anyone who'd learned computing on the Amiga.... nearly all Amiga users picked up the 'mouse jiggle' thing, where they'd constantly be moving the mouse just a little bit, all the time, ensuring that the pointer was still tracking. If it froze, you knew the computer had crashed. Most heavy Amiga users kept this habit for many years; I did it through the late 90s at least, even though I left the platform probably in about '89.

    1. I did the 'jiggle' in the 90's with Windows 95 for much the same reason. People forget how unstable Windows 95 was at release. A huge step forward in terms of GUI design, but damn was that thing shaky.

      Your story about the floppy drive motor somehow reminds me of Peddle's Victor 9000 system with its variable floppy motor speed.

    2. I remember. I stayed long time with DOS until there were no more programs and games released for it. When I switched to Windows 95 (and later 98) I hated every moment with it. It had one good effect on me though. It made me try Linux and from then on I have never returned to windows in my computers.

      I have never used an Amiga so I wouldn know how to compare its stability to Windows 95.

    3. I never used amiga but I remember my brother teaching me to do both those things, jiggle the mouse and wait for the light to stop flashing when I saved a file on my olivetti pc, at least if I used Windows 3.1, a lot of the time we just skipped the boot to windows and ran things in msdos so we had more memory to play around with.

    4. This jiggle topic is great. The "jiggle" is something I picked up on Windows 95 also, and never knew so many other people had started doing also for the same reason. Win95 didn't ever become stable, but it was still a great leap forward and it laid the groundwork for WinXP which became the next standard (along with some other OS failed experiments that are better left unmentioned).

    5. >> Win95 didn't ever become stable

      I tend to disagree. I cannot vouch for the first version of Win95 released but by the time they got to OSR3 man it was working well. In my personal ranking of OSes released by Microsoft stability-wise Win95 gets to top three every time I refresh my list.

  7. Very interesting, thanks. I wonder if that castle bug was also caused my memory problems, or to be more precise, emulated memory problems?
    Something that occurred to me as someone who grew up on Commodore systems, The Bard's Tale is pretty much the foundation for all that came later on the C64 and Amiga. It's as central as Wizardry and Ultima for the PC player. Roguelikes were total fringe games, prboably because the Commodore systems had the graphical and musical advantage until 1992 (sound advantage until 1994, I guess). So you had the ability to show nice graphics and so you did it. The Amiga was sort of in the middle between the PC and the Consoles, if you know what I mean.
    Dungeon Master was also big on the Amiga and, as a consequence, Eye of the Beholder, but that already was at the peak of the Amiga. Amberstar and Ambermoon were released when the end of the Amiga was on the horizon.
    For some reason, neither Ultima, nor the Gold Box games, nor Wizardry were as prominent on Commodore Systems. That's how I remember it, but that could also be because those games were not interesting to me in the years I played on these Systems (1988-1996, I guess). But The Bard's Tale and its sequels were THE major games there.

    1. Likely because politely said neither ultimas or wizardy even tried to make use of Amigas superior graphics and sound capabilities and when they finally could had, Amiga was already going the way of the dodo.

  8. I like the implications of that dialogue bug, that Faerghailians can only get along if they can't understand what each other is saying.

  9. Ah, the good old days. I can *so* relate to these 3 guys, from BT1 on C64 to RPGs in general, starting with AD&D, jumping over to the Amiga... Exactly my story and of many of my friends. We actually still play AD&D with second edition rules. :)

    It's hard to imagine nowadays what a quantum leap the Amiga was at that time, growing up with Atari 2600, C64 with 16 colors and 8 hardware sprites etc. and suddenly there's this machine with a mouse, >4000 colors, awesome audio with digitized sampling and your friend is playing Dungeon Master instead of BT and Space Taxi -> Knocked my head off.

  10. That's also on WHDLoad ;)

    As said before if you contact me at abalieno "at" the domain name you see when hovering my nickname here, I can guide you easily through the steps or just give you a .zip that you just unpack & play.

    For example there would be no need to wait for the floppy to end writing, since it would save directly to the hard disk.

  11. I noticed over on the CRPG Revisiting Old Classics blog that Saintus has a "Legend of Faerghail: Won!" post. There is also a reader offering sources for a "100% bug free" English Amiga version in the "Struggling with corrupted savedisc" post. Worth investigating?

    1. Yes, Saintus was able to win it. I covered his coverage in my final rating post on the game. I don't know if he had a different version than me or if the game just doesn't always corrupt. The "100% bug free" version is the one I used, though.

      The bottom line is that I won't KNOW if it corrupts again without playing all the way to that point in the game, and I'm not willing to spend that time.

    2. It can't be a very thoroughly tested "100% bug free" version if they didn't notice the glitch in the language code... Probably they just mean there weren't any read errors when they copied it off the original media.

    3. The game did not receive the kind of testing it deserved, we just did not know better at the time, especially how to perform more effective testing. The state of the art was to test empirically from the outside in: you played the game, took notes, the notes were used by the programmer to make changes and the cycle repeated. When we were working on "Legend of Faerghail" reLINE Software had several games in various stages of production, and the one currently in testing was "Dyter-07". This is what everybody played (except for the three of us), over and over again, testing the individual levels, the attack patterns and the animation.

      Ironically, the English language version was the better tested variant because the original German language version had already shipped in 1989. If I remember correctly, the German language version was so troublesome that retailers had returned copies as defective and were either asking for a refund or a replacement. This was at a time when such bug fixes, if at all, had to be shipped on physical media.

      I worked on fixing the bugs in the German language version, in 1989, and then jumped right into reworking the English language version, with additional work going into merging the changes into the Atari ST and PC versions, respectively. The pressure was on: the English language version was to ship "soon" and because it would be sold outside of Germany, the cost of providing for bug fixes or replacement would have been much higher. This version eventually shipped in 1990, I believe it was in May or June.

      The version of the game which Chester and Saintus played is likely the final release, and it, too, has a cartload of problems. Back in 2012 I started answering forum questions on how the game worked, how the enemy character sheet data looked like, the attributes of equipment, the riddles and event triggers, etc. In order to give proper answers, I dusted off the old game source code and began "clearing out the underbrush", fixing obvious problems and finally getting serious about cleaning it up in late summer 2014. The game is now fit for analysis and investigation, and it might actually be fairer and more playable than it ever was.

      By now I think I may be able to provide help in at least fixing broken saved game files. If you like, please contact me via my private e-mail address (obarthel at gmx dot net), and I'll talk you through the steps necessary to get the saved game files onto a disk image, etc. This might also help in fixing bugs in the game. To this day I cannot explain what happened to the vanished castle. I need data...

  12. Chet,

    You had a comment recently about Neverwinters Nights (1991) and so I did a bit of digging. The game had no offline version officially and there is no way for you to play the original 1991 edition of the game.

    There *is* a fan reconstruction of the game released in 2012-2013 ( for the "Ultimate Adventures" construction set, released in 1993. I can't speak for whether it is complete or not, and obviously you will not be having the same experience as a player while the game was active.

    It might be a fun game to cover, but you may or may not want to consider it an official entry in the blog chronology because you can't say how much different the real game would have been. Alternatively, you could consider it a 2012 or 2013 game, but that means not getting to it anytime soon.

    If you decide to play it, I will play along with you. It might be a lost Gold Box treasure. It also might be crap without the multi-player aspect.

    1. The original release of Neverwinter Nights includes a single player campaign. I was assuming he was just going to play and write about that part of the game.

      I just recently was persuaded/badgered into throwing away all the games I had saved including that one, otherwise I could have mailed it to Chet. (I knew I should have kept hoarding all my old computer games!)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I don't know if that is true. I've just been reading message boards for the '91 "offline version" and it seems that all game saves of the original were made to the AOL servers.

      If there was a single player quest (and there may have been), just having the disks wouldn't let Chet play it. Or at least not let him play it very long...

      Still, it's all second-hand. I never played the game in 91, my addiction was MUSH/MUD and TradeWars so your memory may be correct.

    4. Nevermind, a bit more digging has revealed that I was thinking of the more recent BioWare game.

      It would be fascinating if you could get in touch with
      to talk with them about their involvement with bringing NWN to AOL and their other CRPG history.

    5. Yeah, the newer game makes Googling for info on the older one very difficult.

    6. Because the older one sucks really bad when compared to the newer one with its engine's (Aurora) powerful scripting/modding capabilities.

    7. Well, I was able to find and download a copy of the original, and it's definitely playable. I wandered around, visited some shops, got into a fight with a kobold. There is not, as reported, any save mechanism for offline play, and I'm not sure about a single-player quest. But there's no question that I should be able to get out a posting on the mechanics, at least.

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    9. You could try running NWN (1991) in DOSBox SVN Daum non-official build which claims to include save states. Don't know how stable it would be, though. (Just cleaning up spelling with a repost)

    10. Yeah, I could. I have resisted using a DOSBox version with save states for years, because I fear I'll abuse it.

  13. Fun to see the developer insights on this one, and get a peek into the process and decision making. The dreaded off-by-one error makes me cringe with familiarity, though my own personal weakness was confusing == (is this equal to?) with = (assign it that value).

    Unrelated, I had my first "professional" gimlet the other day, at the recently opened Durango Distillery. Their in-house vodka, plus lime juice, some simple syrup, and a little fizzy water. I don't think that's your preferred recipe, but this one perfectly straddled the line between sweet and dry, and was also huge. Pretty tasty, would drink again.

    I said "professional" in the previous paragraph, because I cross-checked an old project where I've got photo evidence of having made myself a gimlet in the past:

    That project, by the way, was an attempt to drink every booze recipe inside the Kingdom of Loathing game, which has hundreds of booze recipes. As if I needed another reminder of why this site clicks so well for me.

    1. A gimlet should just be vodka or gin plus lime juice, but to be perfectly honest, sometimes I don't want a cocktail that strong. Lately, I've been preferring Moscow Mules, which are basically gimlets with ginger beer. Your recipe would do the trick, too.

  14. Ultima III had day/night cycles?

    I also do agree that DOS games never really came into their own until VGA, mouse and soundblaster support went mainstream. Without them you wouldn't have games like Ultima VII, Eye of the Beholder, Might and Magic 3-5, etc.

  15. Can;t remember if U3 has day/night but it sure has moons!

  16. Addict, I always loved your site and it kills hours of working time. But this post is one of the best you ever did.

    1. Can somebody please nominate this guy for the Pulitzer price or something? Lifetime achievement award for neo- archeology.

    2. That's quite a superlative. Thank you. Of course, I owe it to Olaf Barthel for supplying such great material.

    3. He should get the Poolitzer prize, an award of true radiance.

  17. Is there any possibility that Legend of Faerghail will be updated for sale at sites like This is one of the games I dearly loved yet never got to finish it.

    1. Good question, and it has been asked several times in the past. Short answer: it is currently unlikely to happen.

      The longer answer is that the list of things that have to be taken care makes it difficult to re-release the game.

      Item #1: securing the publishing rights

      To the best of my knowledge the rights to the Amiga game reverted back to the three of us (Veith Schörgenhummer, Matthias Kästner and myself) when reLINE Software GmbH went bankrupt. As reLINE Software had been given a license to sell the game for us, and the license was not renewed, we regained ownership. I did not realize this until a couple of months ago when I rediscovered the contract. As far as I can tell item #1 is not an issue.

      Item #2: making the game fit for publication

      The original game was designed and prototyped on the Amiga operating system. The IBM-PC version was created by reLINE Software GmbH and we do not own any rights to it. More importantly, we do not have access to the source code, and even if we had, modifying the code and producing a working version is impossible. That leaves the Amiga version. While I can currently claim to have a working, updated Amiga version at hand (created for the purpose of answering questions on how the game worked, and whether game "features" were actually bugs), there is the problem of it being in German. In order to re-release the game, it would have to include the English language text. Because the text is part of the software itself, I would have to copy & paste it into the German version. That is a lot of work to begin with. As far as I can tell item #2 is, sadly, still an issue.

      Item #3: documentation

      The game shipped with a nice manual, and that manual not only contains the written text, tables and stories. It also contains pictures of maps which (while irritatingly misnumbered) are essential to completing the game. I was able to dig up the German manual text in my archives and it is at least possible to re-create a working version of the original manual. The problem is, again, the English language manual. So, item #3 is still an issue.

      Item #4: emulation

      The game we are talking about would have to be the Amiga version. I understand that securing the rights to emulate the Amiga operating system for use in games is still somewhat difficult. There is "Amiga Forever", of course, but I am not so sure how this would work out for a game such as "Legend of Faerghail". Item #4 is still an issue.

      Item #5: third party rights

      We owned had the rights to the artwork or the packaging of the game. The package art, created by Celal Kandemiroglu, was commissioned by reLINE Software GmbH, which not only folded once, but twice, and whose last owners are now both deceased. Item #5 is still an issue.

      Bottom line is, this is a difficult task. Not necessarily impossible, but difficult.

    2. Dear Mr. Barthel,
      Thank you for your reply. It answers the question. I'm saddened by the answer, but thank you none-the-less
      I still have my original box, with the disks and manual. If it could be of help in getting the game back into the market, I'd gladly give you access to my English version of the manual.

    3. @olaf:

      thank you for taking the time to reply to this specific question.

      it's a pity, but an understandable one.

      thank you for your game and thank you for stopping by, here, to answer questions about it.

  18. Excellent, excellent blog and it's addictive :) That being said, as a former amiga user during different eras, my first thought regarding Legend of Faerghail is that the game data in question was overwritten by a virus.It really took quite some time for virus killers (and its users too) on amiga to become reliable, actual "system software" that used libraries for updates, and not just bootblock hacks and/or trojans :) Given that at least one disk was probably left "write-unprotected" for saving games...

  19. This was one of the best games back then, if not the best, from my personal point of view. The atmosphere was incredibly intense. At least for a 12 year old boy. Played the Amiga version in German (until the corrupted safe games annoyed me too much) and later, at age 16 bought the English PC version, which was only a shadow of the original and more buggy even.

    Many years later, in my late 20s I think, I emulated the Amiga version, but the game still could not be finished for reasons I don't remember. Now I'm in my late 30s and have just googled Faerghail once more.

    I liked what I read above and do have hope, that maybe in my 40s or 50s, I will get my hands on a version where I can actually finish the game and slay the Dragon for good. ;)

  20. Oohhh I actually also worked on "Back to Gaya" together with Matze Kästner. That means one of the games I worked on has shown up on the pages of the CRPGAddict. Life is good :)

    (or to put it another way: long time lurker here, working through all the posts. Very good article and please keep up the great work. )

  21. How does the Atari ST version stack up to the Amiga origional? Pretty much identical? Sound differences? I see a lot of Amiga to PC version comparisons not much about the ST. port.

  22. One of the many great things on this blog is getting to hear from the developers quite often (through their exchanges with Chet included in his posts, having themselves comment on the blogsite or both) and this was another cool example. Reading Olaf Barthel's recollections, there are two details which might even be "firsts" in CRPGs (though other readers or later backtracking entries I haven't read yet might correct me).

    One is the possibility to lure monsters away from your party through bait. The (Amiga) manual says:

    "LURE (L)
    In order to shake off a group of monsters who are after you in the dungeons, it may be useful to lay some bait. Through this, the party may gain enough time to escape. The time gained depends upon the intelligence of the monster, and the type of bait left. A normal animal would be quite happy with a scrap or more of food, an intelligent monster might stop for some gold coin or other. A few rations or a bag of gold may stop monsters before it comes to a combat situation, or, at worst, sharpen the monster's hunger for more. Whichever way, laying bait will gain time for the group to escape."

    Not sure if Chet experienced this in his playing of the game. I can't recall seeing it mentioned in the blog posts or comments, but found it to be an original idea and interesting mechanic.

    The other thing he did comment on: A character might say "Sh*t!" when an attack misses or a weapon breaks. It's really just a detail, not any kind of groundbreaking feature, but it's still a nice little element of humour that I'd say (from reading about it only) adds flavour to the gameplay.

  23. this was really awesome.

    thank you to olaf for answering your questions and allowing you to post them here.


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