Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Game 304: Kayden Garth (1989)

Otherwise known as "what two words does a suburban soccer mom write at the top of the list after 'if it's a boy'?"
Kayden Garth
Mentrox Goldline (developer); EAS Software (publisher)
Released in 1989 for Commodore 64 and Atari ST. Amiga version mentioned in manual, but probably unreleased
Date Started: 29 September 2018
Date Ended: 1 October 2018
Total Hours: 13
Difficulty: Guessing hard (4/5), but I gave up trying to play it honestly
Final Rating: 9
Ranking at time of posting: 3/305 (1%)
I spent an absurd amount of time playing, mapping, and trying to win Kayden Garth, mostly out of the sincere concern that if I didn't fully document it, some other poor bastard, years hence, would feel that he had to do it. Unfortunately, I didn't succeed, and I can do is beg that future player not to throw away the precious hours of your waning existence the way I did.

The title--produced in Germany but for some reason in English--looks a bit like an Ultima clone but lacks the gameplay depth of even Akalabeth. The story is that Kayden Garth is a prison planet in the Beta Draconis sector, administered by an automated orbital station, but recently the Galactic Confederation has received an emergency signal from the station indicating that it's being pulled out of orbit. (Depending on whether you go by the poorly-translated manual or the back of the box, there might also be reports of prison riots.) The Galactic Confederation sends a team of four people to investigate.
A typical outdoor shot, near the "hangar" where the endgame is (I think) supposed to take place. An enemy approaches from the south. A random unseen thief has just stolen some of my credits.
Gameplay theoretically begins by creating the party of four from eight races (human, Vulcan, Ghardan, Woroner, Abornar, Gryhn, Sihbon, and Faranter) and eight classes (soldier, pilot, technician, scientist, doctor, merchant, cybernetic engineer, and thief). These races and classes have some effect on the few attributes--strength, hit points, and psi power--but otherwise absolutely no effect on gameplay. There's nothing for the technician to fix, the scientist to study, the pilot to fly, or the thief to steal. A "doctor" can't even heal his own party members.

I had plans to follow the title's theme and create a party of characters named Cole, Graham, Hunter, and Wyatt. Unfortunately, character creation simply doesn't work. I ultimately downloaded two "cracks" of the C64 version. The first one wouldn't take me to the character creation section at all. If I said yes, I want to start a new game, it still insisted on dumping me into the game with the default party. The second version would take me to the character creator but froze every time I reached the second character. 
The character creator also has a chance of generating absurd decimal numbers. Damn, I was holding out for a strength of at least 11.0065794.
I was thus forced to play with the default party, generically named "Char. 1" through "Char. 4." I note that every image I found online, including the images on the game box itself, shows this default party, so I'm not sure if the character creator ever worked. None of the default characters has any psi ability, which has consequences I'll cover in a minute.

The game begins with the party on a fairly large outdoor map. From the moment you begin, there's no reference to the backstory and nothing about the planet seems like a prison planet. Instead, it's dotted with buildings that house shops, casinos, banks, hospitals, and dungeons. Banks are important because as you explore, the word "thieves" periodically pops up, and with it goes a decent chunk of your money. Casinos offer silly games with roughly 50/50 odds and the opportunity to only win 5 or 10 credits at a time.
Buying "equipment" at an "armery."
The characters have no real equipment. At the shops, you can buy food (your pool of rations maxes at 250 and depletes rapidly), a single lamp, and lasers and shields of various levels, but those latter items just add to a generic pot of laser and shield "points" that deplete in combat. Similarly, visiting the hospital and choosing "heal" is really just buying hit points directly, not restoring points to some character-based maximum. 
There's a day/night cycle with things getting blurry at night and shops not open.
Enemies pop up in the environment as you explore. There's never more than one enemy. They're all just goofy--Rocky Horrors, Karatekas, mad nurses, and Rambocks (the latter of which look like Rambo) among them.
The developers' opinion of Sylvester Stallone.
Given the backstory, wouldn't it have been better to replace this silliness with something like "convict"?
You have only three combat options: flee, fight, or cast a spell. You can fight while viewing a portrait of your foe or in a side view where you actually see them shoot at each other. The choice doesn't really matter. Combat is usually over (in your favor) in a few rounds, and you get some gold and experience. Experience, as far as I can tell, has no effect in the game, and the characters never actually get any stronger. This technically makes it not an RPG under my definitions.
Watching the combat from a side view.

Fighting while keeping the portrait on the screen instead.
Characters with psychic abilities can choose from eight "spells." Five of them are for dungeon exploration: "Light," "Teleport," "Position," "Fogforce," and "Dungeon Sight." There are two offensive spells--"Fireneedle" and "Shadowblade"--but they're not really necessary, and they deplete spell points needed for dungeon exploration.
"Dungeon Sight" is a helpful spell, but it doesn't show secret doors or ladders, and it costs more in psi power than a party is likely to achieve legitimately.
With the backstory unreferenced, the only goal of the game seems to be to escape the planet, which you accomplish by exploring the dungeons and finding three items to blow up a tractor beam. I assume then you take off from the building designated "hangar," but I'm not sure.

There are six dungeons in the game, all five levels of 13 x 13, all annoying. Playing with the default party, you soon run into a problem. Every dungeon level requires a light source, and you can only carry one lamp at a time. You thus need the "Light" spell, but none of the default characters can cast it (or anything). I had to download a hex editor, which I'd been trying to avoid, to give my characters some spell abilities. About this time, frustrations with the dungeons led me to stop even trying to play the game honestly. I abused save states and hex edits to keep myself alive long enough to map the levels, and even that wasn't quite enough.
A typical dungeon level, full of dark squares, spinners, and traps.
The dungeons take forever to explore and there's just no point at all. None of them have anything of interest between the entry stairs and a single square on the fifth level--no treasures, no fixed encounters, no messages scrawled on the wall, just annoyances like random combats every 12-15 steps, squares of darkness, traps, spinners, teleporters, hidden doors, and squares of fog. The fog, at least, can be dispelled. At least once per level, there's a square that destroys your compass for the rest of that dungeon. Also, from the moment you teleport for the first time, the "Position" spell becomes useless in determining your actual position.

Some of the traps are capable of poisoning the party, causing damage every round until cured at a hospital or until a "Heal" spell is cast. Unfortunately, "Heal" has like a 25% chance of backfiring and decimating the party's health. This isn't mentioned in the manual, and doesn't really make sense, so I assume it's a programming error.
Pushing through squares of "fog."
Making the dungeons even worse is the fact that many of them require you to find your way to isolated areas, unconnected by door or corridor, to progress. You can theoretically use "Teleport" for this, but the spell moves you to a random location, so you have to try it multiple times before you find your way to the right area. There's at least one dungeon level in which the "right area" is a single square. I had to cast the spell about 100 times before luck brought me to it. Naturally, I wasn't playing honestly by this point, and I just reloaded a save state every time the spell brought me to the wrong area. There aren't enough valid spell points among all the party members to support this level of trial and error, so I assume this is a bug in the game and those isolated areas were supposed to be connected.
The most ridiculous dungeon level. The ladders up and down are in single isolated squares, and you have to randomly "Teleport" repeatedly to land in them.
There are also key areas in which the dungeon poses some kind of riddle. An inspection of the game file shows that there are several such riddles, but because of some kind of bug, you only ever get one of them, over and over: "It shows a different face to each and every one but has none itself." I'll let you work on that. In any event, the riddle is sometimes posed just before a dead end or other nondescript square, rather than always before a key encounter.

Hiking back and forth, mapping all the dungeons for who knows what reason, I ultimately found explosives at the bottom of one, a power pack at the bottom of another, and a detonator at the bottom of a third. These items together allowed me to blow up the tractor beam in the fourth dungeon.
As close to a "win" as I got.
The same dungeon that had the detonator also had a three-digit code (543) written in the dungeon walls. I figured with the tractor beam destroyed, I'd be able to take off from the hangar. But going to the hangar produces no result. I suspect I perhaps need something from the bottom of one of the other two dungeons, but one of them has no way down from the fourth level, just an erroneous second staircase up. Since that up staircase leads to a dead-end area that's supposed to be in the middle of a wall, I can only assume it was supposed to go down. Meanwhile, the second superfluous dungeon has nothing on Level 5 that I can find, but the "Dungeon Sight" spell shows a single unconnected square in the center, and no amount of "Teleport" casting--I tried at least 300 times--would get me into it.
The point of every dungeon is a single square on the fifth level.
I'm going to call this one an "N/A" in the win column, since it seems to be bugs that prevent me from winning. On a GIMLET, I rate the game at a 9, which includes a -3 point "bonus" for all of the bugs. This is one of the lowest ratings I've ever given. The best score (3) is in "graphics, sound, and interface," mostly for the relatively easy keyboard interface. People who enjoy game music will want me to mention a passable futuristic techno theme, credited to Dirk Schuetzner, that runs over the title screen.

The only way I could see to win it is for someone better than me to figure out how to hex edit the party's position in the dungeons or to try again with the Atari ST version. If anyone wants to try either option, you're welcome to my map book from the game. I didn't find the Atari ST version until after I'd wasted 13 hours on the C64 version, but I gave it a brief try. The character creator works and even has extra attributes (dexterity and constitution), but once the game started I couldn't figure out how to move (I admittedly didn't try that hard). I also can't figure out how to hex edit Atari ST save states, and trying to play the ST version honestly, with no guarantee I won't encounter the same problems in the dungeons, is not something I'm willing to do.
Some people wanted their names attached to this.
EAS was an extremely short-lived publisher, issuing only a small number of arcade-style games in the late 1980s. I find Mentrox Goldline credited one other EAS game, a boxing title called Ringside (1989). The lead developer, Klaus Melchert, appears on no other titles that I can find. 
The box art is cooler than anything in the game.
One of the graphic artists, Andreas Bahr, appeared on an Amiga message board a few years ago and provided a little context for Kayden Garth, saying that Melchert only had 90 days to produce it (one wonders why), and that none of the developers ever saw any money because EAS went bankrupt shortly after releasing it. They deserved it.


It may be a while before another update on Crusaders of the Dark Savant. I'm still playing it on and off, but mostly mapping wilderness and grinding while I experiment with class changes. I'll blog again once I'm back on track with the plot. In the meantime, I suppose we'll check out Shadowlands (1992).


  1. Putting a price sticker on this game took some gall.

  2. This feels like the CRPG version of Big Rigs, where as soon as it was in a "playable" state, they slapped a price tag on it and sent it to the unfortunate consumers who didn't know any better

    1. At least Big Rigs got three versions and TRIED to remove the bugs each time.

      They didn't SUCCEED, but they tried.

  3. If the programmer only had 90 days, it seems like this is one of those cases where the publisher pressured for a quick release and ended up massively harming the game that way, with most features implemented either half-assed or not at all.

    Considering the publisher went bankrupt soon after, this might have been a case of "we NEED to get this game out ASAP or we're bankrupt, we absolutely need to sell something and make some income!" which, of course, never works out because a rushed buggy mess of a game puts off most potential customers.

    1. The bugs in Final Fantasy I weren't game-breaking, and could easily be missed unless you were paying attention and took good notes.

    2. Yes, but I meant this part about publishing ASAP or we're that doesn't end well. Also as a side note it is funny to know origin of its name and seeing Final Fantasy XV or whatever is the current multi-million dollar version.

  4. I know the feeling. I just skipped major deadlines for two projects which were set for release on yesterday because of impossible requirement and today I'm going to admit that in front of 200 people. Unfortunately I cannot use the example of Kayden Garth to explain why we're running late, but wish me luck anyway.

    Oh, and the caption of the first screenshot cracked me up.

    1. Ma tu sei Andreotti, il Divo, puoi farlo no? : D

    2. Tristan Gall: it went ok in the end, it seems everyone knew that the initial requirements were crazy. I just had to take responsibility so that they wouldn't and everyone was happy.

      Darkseed: Il potere logora chi non ce l'ha.

  5. I think, this post might actually make people to play it. They'll probably go along the lines: "A worst CRPG of all time candidate, with too many bugs to beat? Challenge accepted!" Plus the "Bile Fascination" thing.

  6. You're sooooo gonna hate Shadowlands :D

    1. I remember that on the Amiga. I didn't finish it, but it was interesting.

    2. I meant the click-heavy interface. Unlike the Addict, I'm all for mouse-only controls, but that one was too much even for me, gave it up in under 30 minutes.

  7. I would like to see you try one dungeon in the remake. It doesn't have to make an entry, you could just let us know in the comments if anything improved.

    1. I forgot to add Commodore version is from 1987 https://nl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayden_Garth

    2. I don't think that Wikipedia entry is right. It doesn't make sense based on the timeline given by the developer. Moreover, a review in the January 1989 ASM of the C64 version indicated that they'd received essentially a beta version, suggesting the real version didn't come out until later that year. The C64 manual has (c) 1989 and every other site lists it as a 1989 game, except a few that say 1988, but I suspect they're going off the title screen copyright.

  8. Beta testing 29 year old games.

    1. First case of a game that wqs abandoned in early access?

  9. Rambcok kind of looks like Toxie from The Toxic Avenger . . . or is it just me?

  10. "Kayden Garth is a prison planet." I assumed it was the name of the hero (and a pretty cool one).

    1. I thought of Kirth Gersen (Jack Vance) right away when seeing the picture!

    2. Well, Garth is obviously Earth with one substituted letter. Wonder where Kayden came from...

  11. I think Klaus Melchert has to answer some serious questions...

  12. The person on the cover reminds me of the robot mascot of Odyssey magazine from the 80s.

  13. Hi there, the ST version is indeed unplayable as you can't easily move on the world map, but you can download a fixed version there (look for 'day 16 aof the AL advent): https://atarilegend.com/news/news.php

  14. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 1, 2021 at 7:56 PM

    If the planet's name is "Kayden Garth," perhaps there was some slight inspiration from the 1988 Hugo/Locus award-winning book, The Uplift War - set on the planet of Garth. Although while the timing would work, there's really not much else to suggest a connection.

    1. That seems like an entirely plausible hypothesis. I had never heard of that book before.


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