Monday, January 29, 2018

Deathlord: Summary and Rating

Independently developed; Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II and Commodore 64
Date Started: 3 June 2017
Date Ended: 25 January 2018
Total hours: 36
Difficulty: 4/5 (Hard)
Final Rating: 40
Ranking at Time of Posting: 232/282 (82%)

At the end of the last Deathlord session, I was debating whether to explore the new continent or return to the old one and grind first. I ultimately decided on a compromise: I returned to the old one long enough to get everyone enough experience for their next levels (most were already there), then sailed back to the new continent.
Enemies on the high seas are deadly, as I later found out.
I soon discovered a town called Clearview (at least, that's the name of its prison). It was another huge town that required about an hour of running around, smashing doors, searching for secret doors, and talking to people. I was perturbed that the weapons shop didn't sell anything better than what I already had.

NPC dialogue didn't offer a lot that was new, but it did offer that "there's a word in the dungeon" and "there's a dungeon in the canyon northwest of here." Since the bulk of the game seems to be about finding the seven words and six items that will defeat the Deathlord, that was welcome news. I'd been asking about WORDS and ITEMS constantly and didn't have any clues until now.
"It is an obscenity spraypainted by a teenager."
Annoyingly, the new continent uses a different color and style for its poison tiles. I couldn't find any way to the dungeon without crossing poison, so I sailed my ship around the coast until I located it. 

The dungeon was uniquely constructed. I didn't understand half of what was happening while I was in it, but a map I found online later made it clear. It consists of four levels. The center part of each level is nothing but an 11 x 11 map of up and down staircases: all down on the first level, all up on the fourth, and a mix in between. To even get out of this central area means walking five steps to a wall, all the while you're transitioning levels. Fortunately, the druid's (or whatever's) ichihan spell lets you know what level you're on. Every time I cast it, I want sushi, because Ichiban is the best sushi restaurant in Bangor, Maine.
Arriving in the "stair dungeon."
Around this central area is a double ring of square rooms, connected by illusory doors. You have to find a path through the illusory doors--some of which actually teleport you to other levels but to positions that look exactly like the ones you vacated! There are other staircases other than the one in the middle. Some rooms hold treasure pots.

Unique, yes. Very craftily constructed. But can you imagine how long it would take to explore and map this thing by hand? You have to test every wall for illusory doors. You have to cast ichihan every time you go through a secret door to make sure you haven't changed levels. Periodically, you have to return to the central area and get tossed to a new level before you could finish mapping the old one.

And after all that, the corridor that leads to the "word" is in a place that completely breaks the pattern--an illusory door to the north in a place that by the configuration of the rest of the dungeon should have no space at all. At the end of this corridor is a door that leads to a group of "vapor demons," creatures far harder than anything else in the dungeon, with the ability to paralyze characters and cast mass-damage spells. I lost Poniteru and Kuriboshi, whose hit points remain stubbornly in the single digits, in the first wave of attacks.
These bastards.
By this time, I was so frustrated with the game that I was already making decisions as if I wasn't going to keep playing. First, I was looking at an online map, having failed to find the word in hours of exploring because I missed that errant corridor on Level 3. That's another thing: most games, if they were going to do something so indecent, would at least do it on the bottom level where you'd expect to find the big treasure. I spent a lot of time on the bottom level for that reason. But no, it's on Level 3.
Andrew Schultz's map of the dungeon level in question.
Second, rather than turn around with my tail between my legs yet again, I insisted on plowing through the vapor demons. But to do so, I had to capture save states essentially every combat round, reloading if the round went bad. Friends, there's no coming back from that kind of cheating. But I made it through the room and recorded the word: it's chijoku, meaning "disgrace," which I thought was rather fitting.
My mood was dark as I returned to the surface and boarded my boat. At this point, the game or the universe in general gave me a way out. In the middle of the sea, I got attacked by some dragon serpents, and my entire party was wiped out. I reloaded the last save state, and was surprised to see I hadn't made one since leaving the dungeon. Here's the problem: the game saves the world state separately from the party state, and in the game's world state, there was no ship waiting for me on the outside. Since Clearview doesn't sell boats, I was effectively marooned. Maybe pirate ships occasionally come along and you can steal them? I don't know. I circled around for a while and didn't find any.

The only "out" the game gives you in such circumstances is to "disperse" the party from the main menu, which puts them back on the roster but undoes all their work. Upon reconstituting them, I found myself outside Kawa at the game's beginning again. My characters all have their levels and gold, but I don't think they have any of their accomplishments. The Emperor has regressed to demanding "news on whoever is responsible for these outrages!"
Here we go again.
In viewing the map of the last dungeon, I had inadvertently educated myself about the sheer size of the game world. The maps on GameFaqs (supplied, of course, by Andrew Schultz), show a total of 15 continents and archipelagos, all insanely far away from each other. Amidst these landmasses are 23 cities and towns (including palaces) and 20 dungeons and ruins, comprising 125 dungeon levels. Is there a larger permadeath game? In 36 hours, I explored less than a fifth of it--cheating. I don't think we've heard so far (in the comments) from anyone who won the game legitimately. I would love to know how you did it. I could easily see buying this game in 1987 and not winning until 1994.
This map, courtesy of Andrew Schultz, shows the real spacing between continents.
At the same time, I hold a growing admiration for the game's chutzpah (what's that in Japanese? Daitan?), and part of me does want to keep going and properly document it, including some of the crazy-looking levels. But if I'm going to start over, it's not going to be now. I'm going to have to give it some space. Also, I think I need to replace two of my characters; my genkai and my mahotsukai have such low constitutions that they only get 1 or 2 hit points per level. They could be Level 20, and they'd still be vulnerable to some of the mass-damage spells that enemies throw at us.

Thus, I'm technically wrapping things up now, but I'll keep open the possibility of returning to the game once I finish catching up on 1988/1989, perhaps dipping into it periodically. If I do start playing again, I'm going to try my best to adhere to its intended rules.

For now, the provisional GIMLET:

1. Game World. The brief backstory offers nothing that we haven't heard before (evil warlord taking over), and the pseudo-Japanese coating really adds nothing to the gameplay. On the other hand, the world does really feel like a world, and I appreciate the permanency of the world state. There were signs of a growing plot within the game itself rather than just in the background materials. Score: 4.
2. Character Creation and Development. Both are about as extensive and rewarding as an AD&D game of the era, which makes sense given the game's dedication to AD&D spells and classes, albeit (as commenters pointed out) with RuneQuest's attributes. By starting the characters so weak and inept in the first place, the developers left a lot of room for them to grow. So far, there haven't been any class- or race-based encounters or role-playing options. Score: 5.
3. NPC Interaction. The creators adopted a system about halfway between Ultima II and Ultima IV, where NPCs have a stock dialogue line or two, but you can also "inquire" about specific keywords. The lack of clear NPC names, the cumbersome system for interacting with them (there are multiple "talk" commands), and the rarity of responses to keywords all make the system less enjoyable than the later Ultima titles. Score: 4.
You'd call this "role playing" if the nature of the game didn't basically require you to smash every door and talk to every NPC.
4. Encounters and Foes. The impressive bestiary offers about as much diversity in strengths and weaknesses as a Gold Box title. Learning them, and how to counter and exploit them, is a highlight of the game. I didn't find many non-combat encounters or puzzles, although perhaps more would have surfaced as the game went on. The quantity of encounters is particularly satisfying. Dungeons were often frustrating for other reasons, but I rarely felt that they had too many enemies. Walking between towns on the surface, you might face one or two combats, but not enough that you want to scream. And yet there are a few obvious places for grinding. Score: 5.

5. Magic and Combat. A highlight, and I'm sorry I didn't get deep enough into the game to devote an entry solely to this topic. Fusing a Wizardry approach with an Ultima interface and a Dungeons and Dragons spell set was a brilliant idea. D&D offers a great selection of offensive and defensive spells, spawning numerous tactical options. Unlike Wizardry, the game supports pre-combat buffing. There are original spells that assist extrication from combat when necessary. Combats last long enough to be interesting but not so long that they get frustrating and boring.

Finally, I thought the number of spell points and rate of regeneration was near-perfectly balanced. In too many games, the mage quickly becomes a worthless contributor because he runs out of spell points. In too many others, his pool is so great that he can spam his most powerful attacks the entire game. Deathlord puts the fulcrum at just the right place. And if I'd kept leveling, I would have found a "Mark/Recall" spell and one that makes it easy to escape dungeons.

There are weaknesses to the system, such as the inability to target specific enemies, no tactics for fighting classes, nothing special for thieves to do, and no utility for missile weapons. But overall, I enjoyed the system. Score: 6.

6. Equipment. Perhaps the most disappointing category. You can only carry one primary weapon and one suit of armor at a time. You rarely find upgrades, either in shops or as loot, and when you do, there's no easy way to evaluate items' relative strength. In most games, you could compare armor items by wearing them and noting the effects on armor class, but here once you choose to take an item, you lose what you already had, so there's no method of comparison. This is true even if you can't technically wear the new item because of class restrictions! I also didn't find many items to "use." Score: 2.
Arriving on a new continent to find the same old stuff was a disappointment.
7. Economy. I felt it was a bit too generous. I always had plenty of gold for training, equipment, food, and bribes, and I probably could have afforded a new boat on a regular basis. On the other hand, I cheated on the permadeath, and a player playing straight would have had to pay for resurrection a lot more than I did. Even so, I think the developers could have done more with the economy by offering better equipment and, for gods' sake, "restoration." Maybe there would have been more to buy on the other islands. Score: 4.

8. Quests. One main quest with multiple parts. I didn't experience any side-quests, though there are plenty of side areas. Perhaps too many. I'm not sure anyone wants to explore a 10-level dungeon for no reason. I don't get the impression that there were any choices or alternate outcomes to the main quest. Score: 4.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The iconographic graphics are functional but were never beautiful, and the lack of monster graphics puts the game at near-roguelike status. Sound is also unimpressive. The keyboard interface, on the other hand, works great. I particularly appreciate the ability to bring up a list of valid options with the ? key when casting spells. My only problems were from my own muscle memory; I kept pressing "T" to talk instead of "O" (for "orate"). One thing I didn't cover is the availability of macros to streamline common commands. So instead of having to press (C)ast and then select the healer and then type (or select) NASU, you can string these together in a macro and activate them from a single key. On the negative side, the lack of an automap is only forgivable because of the game's year. Score: 4.
In a game where all the spell names are in Japanese, I'm grateful not to have to type them out.
10. Gameplay. The game gets points for nonlinearity, particularly after the party gets a ship. Since you can buy a ship and don't have to wait for the emperor to give it to you, I suppose you could theoretically explore the game in any order. I also recognize a bit of replayability given the many optional dungeons. But the game is simply too big--as I said in the first posting, the mechanics and content aren't deep enough to support an epic size--and is particularly too big for permadeath.

Permadeath might even be forgiven if the variability of difficulty wasn't so high. There's nothing more infuriating than having no problem with three levels of a four-level dungeon, only to suddenly encounter an enemy 10 times as deadly as anything that preceded him. If I were to start over, playing with permadeath, I think I'd have to force myself to grind up to Level 10 before entering a dungeon, thus ensuring that I had the equivalents of "cure poison," "cure paralysis," and "cure moderate wounds." The difficulty is so problematic that it subtracts from the positive things I would otherwise say in this category. Score: 2.

That gives us a final score of 40, which sounds low until you reflect that less than 20% of the games I've played through 1991 have broken 40. With a less punishing difficulty, a better approach to NPC dialogue, and a more robust equipment system, Deathlord could have been near-50-point game and in the top 10%. 
There's no way "1 chance to save" wasn't supposed to be a joke.
Scorpia generally agreed with my assessment in the April 1988 Computer Gaming World, although I'm impressed to see that she finished it, apparently by frequently backing up the scenario disk. She complains about permadeath, a "bland" ending, omissions and errors in the manual, mapping difficulty, and the shallow use of Japanese themes. ("No attempt has been made to draw on the rich folklore and mythology of Japan . . . Rather, the authors have created a compendium of standard CRPG features glossed over with a tinge of pseudo-Orientalism by pasting Japanese names on as much as they could.") She had particular venom for a dungeon full of doors--"one of the most idiotic dungeons ever"--which I didn't explore. Overall, she branded it "a mediocre effort at best" and "a game for the serious player to avoid."

The highest review numerically (89/100) comes from the March 1989 Advanced Computer Entertainment. It's one of those reviews that makes you wonder if the reviewer really played the game. Since over half the review is dedicated to character creation, I suspect not much. He doesn't mention permadeath (or difficulty) at all, only passingly mentions the Japanese themes, and saves his criticism for the combat system--the main criticism being that it's done via menu rather than by showing the characters in their positions (thus showing a lack of experience with anything except perhaps Ultima III and IV). At the end, he suggests that with Ultima V on its way to the Commodore 64, there's not much reason to buy Deathlord except the lower cost.

The ACE reviewer wasn't the only one to see Deathlord primarily as an Ultima competitor. Multiple sources (including the November 1992 Computer Gaming World) report that Richard Garriott was "furious" at Electronic Arts for publishing such a blatant Ultima ripoff. Origin dumped EA as its distributor and included a unflattering pirate in Ultima VI named after Trip Hawkins, EA's president. Ironically, Garriott sold Origin to EA in 1992 and accepted a vice presidency there, but I'm sure that $30 million causes "water under the bridge" to take on a new prominence in your daily vocabulary.

Perhaps even more ironically, EA's purchase of Origin marked the last time Origin made a decent RPG (if we assume that Ultima VII: Part Two and Ultima Underworld II were already well in development at the time of purchase). I don't know much about the other genres in which they've worked, but when it comes to RPGs, EA's history is pretty abysmal. Their first in-house effort was the idiotic Fountain of Dreams (1990), and the universally-panned Ultima VIII (1994) and IX (1999) were developed under their watch. Moreover, half the time that they publish another developer's game, they make a hash of it, whether insisting on a comedy theme for Keef the Thief (1989), destroying the intended scope of Richard Seaborne's Escape from Hell (1990), or insisting on a last-minute Japanese theme for Deathlord.

Deathlord's two primary authors, Al Escudero and David Wong, had some excellent ideas. They were smart enough to take the best elements of the most popular titles at the time. No other game of the era fuses an Ultima interface with Wizardry combat and Dungeons & Dragons spells. At the hands of a better publisher, they might have gotten some sage advice, like "lose the permadeath and cut it down a bit," instead of "translate everything to Japanese." In a November 2012 interview by Crooked Bee on RPG Codex, Escudero says that he was "quite upset" at EA's insistence on the Japanese skin and the quick turn-around:
I had a game I had crafted over a year and a half, and I needed to convert to an entirely different style at the 11th hour and wasn't given sufficient time to do the new style justice. It felt like a hack to me, and I hated doing it. If I'd had a few months, time to do reading on Japanese culture and myths, time to craft a tale that tapped into their rich mythology, I feel I could have done a far better job.
It's too bad we didn't see the game as originally written with a Norse theme; we would have encountered draugr for the first time here in 1987. He also laments making the game so hard--"If I knew then what I know now, I would not have made the game save on death"--and thinks the difficulty might have been responsible for poor sales. The low sales and poor reviews probably killed an intended sequel in which the heroes would have had to resurrect the titular Deathlord to restore the "natural order."

Escudero later found some work with SSI, and we'll see him again with Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace (1992). Later, he formed a company dedicated to online games and was, like Origin, purchased by EA. Today, he serves as chief product officer for a company that makes mobile games. David Wong joined EA Canada in the 1990s and has worked on numerous racing and sports games, but never another RPG. Incidentally, it was in writing this paragraph that I discovered that both developers were Canadian and have thus listed the game accordingly in the master list.

With this wrap-up, I finally end my second pass through 1987. It's time for a transition posting and to re-consider "Game of the Year." Braminar fans, prepare your arguments.


If anyone reading this has won Castle of Tharoggad, I would appreciate a hint (or outright spoiler) as to what to do on the final level to win.


  1. Braminar fans, prepare your arguments.

    It's hard to beat in terms of being memorable, if perhaps for the wrong reasons -- it keeps cropping up here in references far out of proportion to its play value. (And as the recent Reigns games indicate, its "boolean IF" structure was merely three decades ahead of its time!) But of course, I am not an unbiased commentator.

    Later, he formed a company dedicated to online games

    This was actually the middle chapter between Deathlord and Pirates of Realmspace: his Linkedin profile indicates Al Escudero started The Majic Realm at ICE Online (a dial-up MUD in my 604 area code which I had an account to) in Feb 1990, running through 1998. For a time it seemed as though it might return from the dead -- a substantial and enthusiastic community of former players remains huddled around a dormant fan group on Facebook -- but just as progress was being made with digital archaeology, the other main developer had his whole life go to hell, so just as they were producing the first live screenshots of the game seen in 15 years, a radio silence descended which remains today and will presumably persist indefinitely. Very sad for all kinds of reasons.

    1. (Update, the ICE Online revival has, uh, revived: )

  2. "Difficulty: 4/5"

    So what does a game have to do to get 5/5?

    1. All this plus zero sum economy and XP, I imagine, so that you can't grind. Wizardry III might be a contender.

    2. Indeed, this and Wiz 4 should be off the charts in a hall of fame of near impossible RPGs

    3. Yeah, that's pretty much it. There are a lot of dimensions of difficulty. Some games are difficult every step but don't last long; others vary a lot in difficulty but last so long that the odds are always against you. Some are difficult in puzzles or quest progression; others in combat or mechanics. I'm compressing a lot into a single 1-5 scale.

      In the case of Deathlord, at least the economy is open, there's plenty of experience to go around, and a patient player could probably always find a path forward. And you CAN back up the save disks; the manual just doesn't think it's "honorable."

    4. The hardest CRPG I've completed is Aleshar: World of Ice from 1997.
      No saving in dungeons, a totally unforgiving Critical Hit system which means melee fighting is not really an option, and spell casting is so strenuous that every time you cast a spell your heart may burst.

      I guess we'll know in about 5-10 years if Mr. Addict deems it worthy of a difficulty rating of 5/5

  3. Kyuboru et al.,

    For those about to play other CRPGs beyond Deathlord, we salute you!

    During a school break, dragging the IIc by its handle (actually, I never used the ridiculous Apple handle: the giant monitor needs hauling around with its plastic stand, so why bother?) mid/late-1990s to my familial kitchen table, I reassembled the graph paper maps once again and rejoined the obsession.

    Last year, I tried to piece together from the maps now available online the 1 word I missed. At the time, Lau’s FAQ was the first to post all of the words, and I supped deep from the online cup. I never considered it cheating. I did my time and so did you. The spirit of your previous post is absolutely correct: when this game was on the shelves, it was a valid entry into the pantheon. It gained mystery and gravitas until completed or abandoned.

    I still can’t identify the word I needed to finish or where it is located. Maybe it’s on my maps in dull pencil, or maybe not. Gamer morality is nebulous. Autoduel is a great game if you sector edit and own the boxy apple joystick. Given that ability for this game, I would have gleefully succumbed in 1988 and maybe the ending would have been just as satisfying as Scorpia’s experience (based on what you’ve written here, mad respect to her!).

    Harboring a sadistic wish that you might be back, I know for a sick fact that my sagging soul will be sitting at a retirement home table, maybe during the Venus/Regulus conjunction in 2044, IIc disk spinning permadeath. Playing it straight or finishing by any means necessary will be as acceptable then as it is now. Deathlord was the moment when I decided that CRPGs would not invade my moral compass with meaningless “gaming hours.” If I was bored and done, the internet horde would show me the way home.

    In the infinite worlds of ones and zeros, is it true that “it just doesn’t matter?” The handle on that white box of plastic is a spiked pit. I finished Deathlord with the help of Wilson Lau typing a few characters on the proto-www. I finished playing CRPGs after walkthrough closure for the interminable Icewind Dale, I dug the Lazarus remake of Ultima V, and then loaded the entirety of the Ultima VI remake. I took a look around for a few seconds and quit forever. Or did I? Like Mr. Bolingbroke, after Deathlord, I’ll be back (or not).

    1. Is this from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

    2. It's nice to have confirmation of the basic experience, and like BelatedGamer, I can't tell you how much I appreciate the Gonzo style. You really ought to have your own blog. I'd love to see a Thompson-esque journey through Ultima IV.

    3. "We were somewhere around Minoc on the edge of the mountains when the nightshade began to take hold. I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe Iolo should lead the party...'"

    4. "And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the party. And a voice was screaming: 'Holy British! What are those goddamn animals?'" It turned out they were mongbats, which are fairly common in Britannia and probably didn't warrant such a reaction."

    5. Damn it, Dupre, what did I tell you about sipping potions before monologuing?

    6. Now that I think about it, didn't Nakar's LP of U4 have a scene where he did that?

  4. That's a crazy world map. It makes me dream of a game that doesn't hold your hand through a story, doesn't compress space / trivialize travel... That reflects the actual difficulty of being an adventurer in one of these stories. I mean, if you take a step back and look at all the things these characters do that we take for granted, and then look at what we do in our own lives? We can barely make it to work some days! It would just be interesting to see a game that not only has this kind of scope, that could really make you disappear in the world, and struggle in it, but that also had an actually compelling sense of narrative. Ultima and Morrowind have been the closest, in my experience. It's sad to see this designer's experience with EA, because it sounds like if it wasn't for a few misguided mistakes, this would have been on the list.

    1. I agree, which is one of the reasons I like TES games. Deathlord deserves some credit for its ambitions, but the depth and quality of game mechanics weren't enough in 1987 to support a game of this size.

    2. First thought, that sounds cool. Second thought, if you are basically mining Ibn Butatta, Anabasis, Lewis & Clark et al., for ultra realistic traveling difficultly, how are you going to manage to fund things as you do the equivalent of fighting your way across Eurasia, or what ever? What's the reason to travel so far without the high tech and magic that would ease the journey? Obvious answer is borrow Xuanxhang's 'courier religious documents', but maybe that doesn't satisfy.

      Making travel a harsh resource management game, providing multiple options for travel, and providing an opportunity to travel extremely long distances might prove to be conflicting design goals. It'd be interesting to find out.

    3. I think more than anything I'm remembering being told about some cave I'm supposed to go to in Morrowind, with some vague directions, and wondering "Am I anywhere near where I'm supposed to be?" Then entering a tomb and finding it's the wrong place and it's full of vampires so I have to run for my life. Finding a game that let's the player put themselves at risk like that seems so rare... Just imagine in real life actually getting in a boat in ancient times, heading out into the ocean hoping to find new land. Halfway through your journey you'd be thinking you'd made the biggest mistake of your life. That risk/reward scenario is crazy. Would love to see more games try and emulate that feeling...

    4. The first two Realms of Arkania games emulate the hardships of travel very thoroughly. You have to keep track of hunger, thirst, having right clothing and camping supplies and run the risk of catching a number of diseases. They don't feature sea travel though.

    5. Blade of Destiny wasn't that hard in that respect, unless you tried to cross a mountain range in winter. Clothed characters rarely got sick and there were lots of cities. Star Trail had a lot more wilderness and I think characters got sick much more often.

      Robinson's Requiem takes this to the extreme. You can get hurt and die from a lot of things. You might have to perform an amputation for certain injuries, using morphine, otherwise you might die from the shock. I'm not sure if you travel really far, though. I never survived long enough.

  5. I don't like to judge people for the way they play games, but given I know your feelings are similar to my own on this front - 'chijoku' indeed. My mood would have been just as dark.

    In this case, I think you picked the right moment for your act of seppuku, and I understand your inclination to return some day and continue your toils on the riverbed of Sai no Kawara.

    1. The problem that I encountered repeatedly with the game is that I'd explore 90% of a dungeon "honestly," feeling pretty good about my lack of save-scumming, and then suddenly I'd hit an enemy capable of instant mass murder. For 5/6 of the game, when that happened, I sighed and marked the dungeon for later exploration. This time, I insisted on bashing my way through that enemy and felt hollow when I was done.

  6. So which is harder? Deathlord or Wizardry IV?

    1. If you use a walkthrough for the hardest puzzles Wiz 4 is not _that_ difficult.
      Combatwise the Pyramid was brutal, and mapping the penultimate level was a nightmare.
      It's also a rather short game, and it took me about a week to finish.

      Deathlord on the other hand sounds genuinely scary (and being C64/Apple only and having that pseudo Japanese theme is a real turn-off), and I think way fewer people completed that (much bigger) game than Wiz 4.

    2. It's been a while since I played Wizardry IV, but my recollection is that W4 is harder on a minute-by-minute basis, but it's a much shorter game. You could tough it out. Deathlord is less difficult but over a much longer time and larger game world.

    3. Which is larger? Ultima V Underworld or Deathlord?

  7. > Every time I cast it, I want sushi, because Ichiban is the best sushi restaurant in Bangor, Maine.

    Well, I should hope so; otherwise, it would be false advertising! ^_~

  8. Good to know that I had no chance of beating this back in the day. Maybe I'll try this again armed with an FAQ, but my tolerance for permadeath and brutally hard/artificially long RPGs has fallen dramatically. I just don't have the patience anymore.

  9. There is a definite balance between size and depth when it comes to CRPG design. One one hand, you have the world that's just too small (Ultima III's world map is tiny, and the towns ridiculously large) and then you have Deathlord, where they thought "more is better".

    You get the sense that some EA executive wanted to brag about how many continents THEIR game had.

  10. It's completely understandable why you stopped here, but more than most games you leave uncompleted, this one sounds like it would be interesting to have fully documented.

    I hope you do return sometime to give that a try. And yeah, you should use whatever tools needed to minimize the design flaws to get it done.

  11. If anyone reading this has won Castle of Tharoggad, I would appreciate a hint (or outright spoiler) as to what to do on the final level to win.

    Is this still an open issue? RAINBOW (the flagship/longest-running CoCo magazine) used to have a hints column that almost certainly would cover this, if the win condition is hard to guess. Or if not, then one of the newsgroups or Delphi archives might have something.

    I keep meaning to play Tharoggad for more than the 30-40 minutes I've put into it to date, even though I know it's inevitably terrible (seldom has a sequel been a bigger letdown, from all reports) and won't repay my efforts.

    1. It is. I searched Rainbow's archive for references to the game but only found a review and a letter, both of which I reference in my entry. I think I exhausted any source that's Googlable; my only hope now is direct experience or documents that haven't been OCR'd.

    2. Huh, that's a shame. I don't think other CoCo magazines were still publishing at the time of Tharoggad's release, though I could be (and often am!) wrong.

      There's an email list you might try:

      If there's anyone out there who knows the answer to your question and retains their interest in the Color Computer, they're probably on that list. Or, there's also a fairly active Facebook group if you're willing to navigate Zuckerberg's waters.

    3. FWIW I just searched the archives of the email list I mentioned above -- no joy. (Also their downloads claim to be GZIP files, but are just plain text...odd.)

    4. I assume you've also seen this (post #12), from the game's apparent creator:

      Perhaps you've even contacted him already; I'm sure I'm giving you information you already have.

    5. I think it's fair to say that I've tried to reach him using all methods humanly possible short of knocking on his door.

  12. I played this game back in the 80s and I had the walk through guide and maps (separate purchase). I still never finished it. I can't believe I read this blog entry because now I might try again.

  13. The "Lost Sectors" duo has a full live playthrough of Deathlord up on YouTube:

    One of them (Chris) apparently played the game extensively both contemporary with its original release and later, and has deep insight into the game's mechanics, context, and playing it as un/intended. They use save-states and leverage Chris's experience to avoid most fumbling, but even then it still takes them more than 60 hours (!) over a full calendar year (!!) to finish. I haven't watched the full playlist, but portions of the first few sessions are interesting.

  14. Hello, and while I am stumbling in, late to the party, there's a reason for my madness.

    But as a preamble, I commend you for battling through that much of Deathlord, and only argumentatively disagree with your 4/5 difficulty score because anything 5/5 would then make such game useless to play, negating the value of 5/5.

    And what you have seen of Deathlord is difficult, but the rest is difficulter. You think the number of encounters is "balanced"? Sure, if you haven't tried surviving waves of hordes of enemies in unending corridors in the 8th level of a dungeon.

    The Stairs Dungeon is unique, but so are the Doors Dungeon and the Linear Dungeon, and mastery of CRPG should be awarded to those who managed the (entirely optional) infamous 16-level Telegrond which, not so incidentally, has not been included in walkthroughs except for the legendary Obscure Old Gamer who is simply not human.

    Now to get back to the reason for my many-years-belated comment: I just released the free (and open source) game Deathlord Relorded on and GitHub. It is the original Deathlord program running under custom emulation, but modernized, with brand new graphics, automapping, huge viewport, and quality-of-life improvements such as no level drain and no save on death.

    There's also an inventory module that provides for a temporary stash to try out newly acquired items before choosing what to discard, and a battle module that lets you better visualise the unique battle system of Deathlord.

    Some classes and races have added bonuses (to encourage using someone other than human for example), and there's a world mini-map because nobody likes being lost at sea.

    You'll still get wiped out and hate life in the teleport chains of Telegrond, but hopefully you'll appreciate even more the incredible dungeon designs of the game.

    In closing, one last comment:
    you've fallen for the two classic blunders! The first being never to leave the original continent before reaching level 20 (the TLS Freeman Rule), but only slightly lesser known: never start a game without CON >= 14.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.