Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Fantasyland 2041: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Does that mean Guinevere is real?! Or have I just carried a robot out of the park?
Fantasyland 2041
United States
Crystalware (developer and original publisher); Epyx (later publisher)
Released in 1981 for Apple II and Atari 800
Date Started: 9 October 2019
Date Finished: 19 October 2019
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at time of posting: 68/333 (20%)

Fantasyland 2041 is an epic adventure on non-epic hardware: a long, difficult game with primitive graphics and mechanics. Set in a Westworld-like future of holograms and animatronics, guests proceed through a series of adventure scenarios--Congoland, Arabian Adventure, King Arthur, Olympus, Captain Nemo, and Dante's Inferno--and back again. Along the way, they must find certain items to rescue Lancelot or Guinevere from hell. They must also manage food and inventory, fight hostile parties, and solve a few light inventory puzzles. The interface is top-down, which often conflicts mentally with what looks like first-person graphics. The game's scope and intent are admirable, but ultimately it's too annoying and boring for the graphics, sound, and mechanical complexity of the era.
The manual to Fantasyland 2041 takes pains to emphasize the length and difficulty of the adventure.
[Y[ou may conclude that it is impossible to ever finish or win this game. We had to make it pretty tough. The average adventurer will probably never see the Throne of Lucifer or make it past the gates to the Underworld. We hope that just the experience of a single adventure will be sufficiently entertaining to satisfy our most critical hobbyists.
I can sympathize. Players expected, as they do now, to get a certain amount of playing time out of a $40.00 purchase. Arcade games satisfied that time minimum by being repeatable, but for adventure games and RPGs, a lot of the mystery was gone after you won for the first time. Thus, the developer had to prolong that time. Eventually, they would do that with bigger worlds and more game detail, but those weren't options in the early years of the microcomputer. (Less because of technology and more because of a lack of innovative templates.) So instead, they prolonged the games by just making them hard. Permadeath was a common solution. Fantasyland goes a different direction by allowing you to save anywhere but almost always rolling the dice against you.

There's a seed of a good game in Fantasyland 2041, and part of me wishes John Bell had waited several years and then developed it under the influence of, say, the Ultima series. I would have liked to experience it with more complex commands, more thoughtful puzzles, interesting NPCs, and tactical combat. Instead, game design is as primitive as the world it inhabits, involving a lot of trial and error before the player learns enough to make a successful winning run.

As we covered in the first entry, exploring the land is a very linear process. The Hall of Heroes leads to Congoland, which leads to the Arabian Adventure, which leads to King Arthur. These first three lands are all quite similar.
  • Each one has individual enemies visible on-screen who chase you around the map and attack you. In Congoland, these are tigers and gorillas. In the Arabian Adventure, they're samurai. In King Arthur, they're Modred and the Black Knight.
I'm not sure I remember this part of Le Morte D'Arthur.
  • Each has packs of enemies who can attack randomly at any moment (while you're standing still or moving) but are not seen on-screen. Across the three lands, these progressed from headhunters and Zulu warriors to Turks and scorpions to knights and archers.
  • Each has physical features that are dangerous to bump into, running the risk of losing equipment or companions. These include swamps, logs, mountain crevices, fallen logs, and cliffs.
  • Each has random environmental effects (earthquakes, sandstorms) that have the same effect.
  • Each has treasure chests to find and loot, and villages where you can buy and sell goods and companions.
  • Each has a special spellcasting enemy--witch doctors, genies, and sorcerers--who are necessary to have in your party to "solve" the area.
  • Each culminates at a door to the next world, where you must use the magic of one of your spellcasters to progress.
Each land is made of blocks of roughly 8 x 8. It's tough to count exactly because the screens continually scroll. Each block can have a particular type of terrain. The manual organizes these blocks into named sections ("Jungles," "the Desert," "Baghdad," "Stonehenge") and gives you clues about what you need to accomplish there.

King Arthur's world changed the rules a bit by allowing parties of knights and archers to join you when you (G)reet them rather than attack. This sounds like a good idea, but the most difficult feature of the game is keeping all your companions fed. You can only carry a maximum of 255 of any item, including rations, and every companion eats a meal roughly two game minutes. If you somehow get 100 companions in your party, you have at most about five minutes before they start to starve to death. You can barely move between all the death notices and the need to constantly stop and drop equipment, so once characters start starving, it's basically a reload.
I don't remember why this was here.
Thus, resource issues discourage you from developing a large party, particularly since enemy parties just scale to your size anyway. However, the "individual" enemies on each map--Modred and the Black Knight on King Arthur's map--all have high strength and need a large party to successfully counter, particularly if you want to minimize the chance that they'll kill your spellcasters. Thus, you have to find the balance between logistical annoyance and combat effectiveness.

King Arthur's realm features a dragon's lair, with the dragon guarding the sword Excalibur. The dragon has 50,000 strength, which can only be countered by a very large party. To defeat the dragon, I hung out near his lair, let hundreds of companions join me, killed him, grabbed Excalibur, and then dropped the companions. Having Excalibur among my equipment made the rest of the game a lot easier.
Fighting a dragon to get Excalibur.
There's also a second artifact to find in King Arthur's territory: a Ring of Power. The manual makes a big deal about the importance of Rings of Power, but I only ever found two, and as far as I could tell, they just sat in my inventory. I never employed them. Also in King Arthur's realm: Holy Grails (plural!) show up in treasure chests and can be sold for a lot of money.

King Arthur's world culminates in Merlin's Labyrinth, another maze. Getting past Merlin involves using one of the magic items you've acquired from the witch doctor, sorcerer, or genie. Once he's gone, you can progress to Olympus.

I'll pause here to note that (U)sing items is one of the more annoying parts of the game. Every time you hit the command, you have to scroll through multiple inventory pages before you get to the place where you enter the item's number. Since the "B" key also scrolls through inventory, the developers should have had "U" just take you right to entering the number, in case you already remembered it. A lot of items, like scrolls, feel like they should be useable but are not.
Inventory eventually gets very unwieldy.
The Olympus level changes the rules. You begin at Olympus itself, a town where you can buy and sell goods. You must buy the ship Argos, which appears off the "coast" to the west. To get to the ship, you have to buy a longboat and (U)se it at the edge of the Olympus screen. Once you're on the Argos, you need a sail, an anchor, and oars to operate it. You have to (U)se the anchor to lift it, and after that you can either row with oars, which allows you to go any direction but consumes more food, or sail with the winds, which is a little harder to master.
Sailing away from Olympus.
The level is populated with numerous islands. I couldn't figure out how to land on the Isle of Delos to the west. A northwest island had the Cyclops, who carried 2,000 gold pieces. A northeast island had the sorceress Circe, who carried the second Ring of Power. Finally, an eastern island, Thera, had the portal to the next land. I should mention that we get the only complex sound on this level, with a cycling shhhhh suggesting waves.
The Argos waits offshore while the party picks up the Ring of Power from the slain Circe.
There was a lot of inventory shuffling because to enter Captain Nemo's world, you need a submarine, which you can purchase in Olympus, but it's enormously heavy, so you need people without equipment to bear the weight. Once you choose to enter the submarine, however, your companion and inventory maximums drop precipitously, and you have to jettison a lot of people and stuff.
Handling logistics for boarding the submarine.
Captain Nemo's world is all underwater, and running the submarine into any object causes it to fall apart. I think you can fix it with "spare parts," but I had neglected to purchase any of these, so any time I accidentally rammed into a coral reef, I had to reload. There are treasure chests that you can send divers with diving suits out to retrieve, but only at certain depths. I found the whole level frustrating and thus wasn't unhappy when I found Atlantis in the northwest corner and immediately transitioned to the final level.
I never figured out anything to do in the City of Eelmen.
Dante's Inferno takes place among brimstone pits and rows of demons who just stand there until you run into them, at which point they kill your companions. The City of Dis in the northwest is the first place to buy and sell equipment and companions since Olympus. Demons and Nosferatu attack as you explore, although I found that around a dozen knights plus Excalibur made short work of them.
At least they make me feel "welcome."
Rivers of fire funnel you to the north, where you have to use a plank (sold in Dis) to cross an abyss. Finally, in the northwest corner, you find Lancelot or Guinevere being guarded by Lucifer. As long as you have the two Rings of Power and a Signet Ring from Camelot (the manual warns you to buy it), he or she will come along with you immediately.
All I did was walk up to him. This felt anti-climactic.
At that point--much to my furor--you have to reverse your steps and make your way all the way back to the beginning, traversing each of the lands in reverse order. That took longer than it should have because I had gotten rid of a lot of the items needed for the ship and submarine, thinking I wouldn't need them again.

Returning to the entrance gives you a brief message that "You made it back with Guinevere" and then a "Final Score" screen that summarizes your wealth, experience, and time. The screen encouraged early players to send their disks to Crystalware for a chance to win $1000, with the winner chosen from the highest scorer to solve the game before 1 December 1981.
201 days?! How do people take that much time off work in the future?
One outstanding mystery concerns, well, "The Great Mystery." This is what the manual has to say about it:
To win the prize, you must solve the Great Mystery and beat out your competitors in treasure and courage . . . The mystery is unlike any of the others. It is not an anagram nor is it found anywhere on the disk in basic or machine language . . . At the end of the game, if you make it, you will be prompted to send your disk in if you wish to enter the contest. Do not try to make a copy to send in; it must be the original. At our plant, we have a huge score board, with a list of all the fantasylanders and their achievements. The person to solve the mystery and score the highest will be awarded a trophy and receive $1,000 in cash.
So there's supposedly some Great Mystery that you have to solve to win the prize--but it's not the same thing as winning the game by finding Lancelot or Guinevere, which you presumably have to do, too. More important, the instructions only mention sending in the disk. How will the developers know that someone has solved the Great Mystery, too? Is it somehow recorded on the disk? Did they assume players would know enough to include a separate note? What did they mean when they say the mystery "is unlike any of the others"? Any of the other what?

A re-read of the manual produces few clues. There are poems that suggest using the rings or perhaps scrolls on the "666" of King Solomon's Temple, but nothing I try works. Messages just tell me that those items are "already in use." I've inspected the disks, and I can't find any text related to a bigger mystery, but then again the manual itself warned me that wouldn't work.
Here's a scene from Dante's Inferno. I have no idea what's going on, or who that guy in the center is. Touching any of the figures around him causes your companions to die. Maybe this had something to do with the Great Mystery?
Fantasyland 2041 isn't much of an RPG. It lacks any character development (I don't think the "experience" statistic does anything for you during the game) or personal inventory, and combat is as simple as a game of War. I give it an 18 on the GIMLET, with the best scores (3s) in encounters and inventory. I still don't know the purpose of half the stuff you can pick up. I don't believe I ever used a rope, a shovel, a spotlight, citrus fruit (I assume it was there to stave off scurvy, but no one ever ate it), quinine, a compass, a magic carpet, a box of sand, mushrooms, a lute, squid ink, a wooden stake, or half a dozen other items that didn't seem to be weapons, armor, or treasure.

We also leave the game with some out-of-game mysteries as well. Why did John Bell announce in the manual that this would be his last great fantasy? What happened to him and Patricia Bell after 1982, when the last Crystalware title was published? How did it morph into Crystalware Defense and Nanotechnology of the 2010s, and what did Bell do in the meantime?

I've been exposed to three Crystalware games at this point, and all of them are similar in their interfaces, mechanics, and suggestions that something deeper is happening beneath the game's surface. I have four more on my list and will probably be a bit less forgiving about their statuses as RPGs under my rules. Nonetheless, it was fun to see another example of a developer who, in the area of five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disks, dared to dream big.


  1. Nice to see this one. Wow do I remember when the old Apple II´s and Ataris were hot stuff. For their day they were so attractive. Looks like this game was a nice number. Even if it´s not the perfect rpg it certainly shows an effort and points back to that origin in card playing. Oddly it reminds me of some puzzle games in a way, or maybe I´m thinking of Wizards and Warriors.

  2. "Players expected, as they do now, to get a certain amount of playing time out of a $40.00 purchase."

    This is one of the worst things to happen to games. The "they paid their money, they should win the game" idea. Because of it, we can't have cool things. It's all got to be dumbed down and have flashing lights pointing to it and no path choices along the way, because the player might get it wrong. :/ Sigh.

    I like a game that's difficult, that really challenges you, that you feel a sense of accomplishment for beating. You wouldn't feel that unless you had to work for it. That's literally what a sense of accomplishment means. It's just that there are a lot more of you than there are of me, and you buy a lot more games than I do.

    That Inferno scene looks like Satan surrounded by traitors in the Ninth Circle.

    1. Except that's not what he's saying—he's saying people expected *playing time*, not *victory*, for their money.

      It's still a troublesome concept, as he noted about artificial difficulty back then, and regarding games with loads of playing time but not much of actual interest all the way to the present day.

      As regards victory, personally, my feeling is that some of the changes in more recent games like adding "casual mode" are very good—not just for those who feel the way you describe, but for those with disabilities or even just people who aren't great at the hand-eye coordination and reaction times necessary to achieve victory at action-oriented games. It takes nothing away from the hardcore gamer's experience that I was able to play through the game without having to struggle, because he's still able to play on Super Extreme Nightmare Hell Mode and prove his gaming prowess.

    2. Back in those days you didn't have a backlog of games you bought in bundles for half nothing. A CRPG that had less than forty hours play time was going to be seriously frowned on by almost everyone.

    3. The whole expected hours of playtime thing is what leads to boring filler encounters, just to pad out the game so you can write it lasts 100 hours on the back of the box. Well yeah, it might last 100 hours but only 50 of those are fun, the other 50 are boring, annoying and tedious.

      The excessive amount of copypasted filler encounters in Dragon Age gave me trash mob PTSD...

      I'm not going to feel cheated if I buy an RPG and it only lasts 30 hours. In fact, I will be happy that it didn't waste my time with tedious filler content.

    4. You should buy Dear Esther, then. My wife bought it the other day because she read good reviews online. She won it within an hour, and Irene is NOT an adept game player. She tried not to show it, but I think she felt a bit cheated.

    5. Today the volume of quality RPGs coming out dwarfs what was available in the time of Fantasyland, and that output manages to accommodate games that ensure you win, games that present some moderate challenge, and games whose difficulty basically excludes all but the most determined players. If you're a gamer who likes difficulty, you're better off today than you ever were before (not even counting all the old games that still exist), because the market is larger.

      And if that market were to contract again, it's going to be even more important for developers to target their games to the greatest potential audience, which is unlikely to promote difficult games.

      There's probably also the point to be made about what difficulty *is*. A game that challenges you to guess a number between one and one million, and just keeps saying "no" until you guess it, is hard, but it's not fair, and it's not fun.

      Dark Souls is (for some players) fun because it's *fair* - you can see how to win, it's within your control, and you can see the path between where you are and where you need to be to achieve that. Then it's just a matter of practice. Ideally there are some good milestones along that path to recognise that you've improved. It's the same way that Guitar Hero or Rock Band are "hard".

      So when we talk about a game being hard, it's probably best to specify whether we mean a game that has a lot of depth and precision in the skills it encourages us to acquire (but which leads us to acquire them), or a game which arbitrarily blocks our passage unless we're lucky, or a game which simply designs itself so that only a small percentage of the population have the time, neurodivergence, or motor control to engage with its highest level of content.

      I'd suggest that only the first of those three is in any sense a good game, but of course if a developer makes a game, and then another person buys that game and enjoys it, that's all that needs to be said - people finding games they enjoy is the point of things.

    6. I like your classification scheme, Greg, and I agree with your thesis. The type of "hard" matters.

    7. I felt the same way about many Doom WADs and other add-ons for games like Duke Nukem 3D and Dark Forces.
      A WAD could be hard but still fun if it were well made but it could conversely hard because it was a mess of mob swarms, boring architecture and poorly planned supplies.

    8. The good hard in a Doom WAD: circlestrafing around a dozen imps, a dozen pinkies, and a dozen cacodemons with enough space to maneuver and dodge their projectiles.

      The bad hard: flicking a switch and opening a dozen doors around you, each with a chaingunner in it that starts shooting his hitscan weapon before you can even react properly, ensuring you will lose half your health no matter what you do.

    9. That just gave me PTSD from trying to play Plutonia. Chaingunners are the worst invention in DOOM history (yes, even worse than DOOM 3's audiologs) and almost ruin DOOM 2 for me.

  3. Harland, are you a programmer? You can volunteer to make better games. In both pc and console land, I´ve known games that were extremely hard and some quite easy. I think we´re living in a fashion, a paradigm. People don´t have much time, our attention is pulled in a thousand other directions/delights nowadays.
    Nothing is as bad as phone games though if you ask me. They go by the philosophy "play a minute, then bin it."

    1. Yeah, I didn't make it clear that I was against artificial difficulty, like making the game way too long, or putting in stupidly strong monsters, letting computer players cheat with piles of free resources, etc.

      What I like is a challenge, something you have to figure out and beat. Apparently that is just too difficult for the developers (ironic!) and they'd rather put in a timer or give the boss an extra 1000hp. Easy peasy, problem solved, time to leave the cubicle and do more important things.

      But I'm in the minority, everyone else loves winning and doesn't care if it was a straight path from start to finish. It was explained to me that not winning a game leads to negative outcomes: feelings of frustration, inferiority, you're not good enough, impostor syndrome. Winning means happiness, satisfaction, validation that you're competent. People don't pay $40 to have bad feelings. It's the job of the company to make sure that everyone has good feelings.

      How do you argue with a conclusion like that? It's even better when I get accused of being a bad man who wants to make people feel bad - because from their perspective...that's exactly what they see. The entire ethos of computer games changed from "let's make a cool game" to "above all else we must ensure outcomes that cause players' brains to release pleasing chemicals." It's a second-order or third-order result.

      And no, I'm not a programmer and even if I was I couldn't create a whole game. That's a project manager's job.

    2. So, you're not a programmer? There are many tools available to the amateur, both free and paid, that help create a game. Usually with a built-in language that a non-programmer can understand. Its not like there are examples of amateurs making pretty good games instead of playing some corporate slop made by an incompetent project manager. The only thing stopping anyone from making a game is their own lack of self-confidence.

    3. Well that went in an unexpected direction.

    4. MorpheusKitami, would recommend some tools for amateur game designers?

    5. I really did not expect a hardcore libertarian "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" response. Games are made by teams, the age of the individual is long past. That's the road to weird shit like Soleau Software or Moraffware. Just say no to libertarianism, just say no to the idea that a single person can create something. As a wise man once said, "You didn't build that."

    6. I wouldn't call my position libertarian, but then, I guess it is if you're such a coward you can't even begin to comprehend someone making a game by themselves. Its not like Minecraft was started by one man or that Five Nights a Freddy's has been made by one man who actually releases games ahead of time. Its not like there's Lisa and Grimoire either, those don't exist. I'd suggest a team, but chances are you'd just be a killjoy and say "Life sucks and then you die" or more inspirational quotes from other killjoys and lifeless bureaucrats. I'd suggest not doing it, the indie scene doesn't need another killjoy in it.

      It depends on what you want to do and what you want to pay. Something like GGMaker or whatever's its called these days are very easy to use, but its unstable, but it covers every case you might have. Godot also covers any case, but it uses an actual coding language so if you don't want to put it the effort you'll be stymied by it.
      For specific cases:
      Adventure Game Studio:Surprisingly flexible, there are documented cases of people making RPGs, Prince of Persia-clones and FPSes with it. You could also make an adventure game with it if you wanted to. Rather simple and easy-to-use.
      Doom Engine:People have indeed made new games with it, and sold them. You'll want one of the ZDoom-derived engines though. The language for it isn't the best documented, but you do have a lot of freedom.
      RPG Maker: I don't have much experience with this, and I understand its a pain to do something interesting with the battle system, but hey, its got a lot of graphics sets for it.
      OHRRPGCE: Kinda a worse RPG Maker. Easier to make graphics for, very few graphics sets. You're basically limited to making a SNES game, graphically. Doesn't have any advantages over RPG Maker when it comes to combat, but it does have a more powerful scripting language.

    7. "You don't like the way others are doing it? Do it yourself" is a pretty obnoxious response to criticism, particularly valid criticism. Just because someone doesn't have the expertise or time to spend thousands of hours creating his own game doesn't mean he shouldn't comment from a player's perspective on games others have made. It certainly isn't a matter of bravery or cowardice, Morpheus, and I'd appreciate if you didn't come along slinging insults over something so trivial.

      Even though Harland misunderstood my original point a bit, I agree with him on the absurd ease of some modern games. I'm really enjoying the modern trend to offer a "hardcore" or "survival" option that limits saving, disables fast-travel,and disables quest markers. I wouldn't mind even if auto-maps went away. If I have to find my way from the Imperial City to Anvil, it would be fun to rely more on memory, my compass, and road signs.

    8. I'm not insulting the guy just because he doesn't want to spend time creating his own game. I'm insulting him because he feels no one should. The point I'm trying to make rather than one of obnoxiousness, is one of motivation. Be the change you want to see. It doesn't have anything to do with whether or not I think his comments are valid or not. Given the comment chain, I felt like he might make a good game if he has the interest for it. I apologize if I came on too strongly.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. Man, commentors on this site always beat on Harland and I don't understand why.

      - Alex from TAG

    11. Highly successful games absolutely can be made by sole developers even today. A few examples off the top of my head: Dust (an Elysian Tale), Papers Please, Undertale, Cave Story, Spelunky, and even the AAA looking Ghost of a Tale was mostly done by one guy.

    12. @aj Spiderweb software is basically one guy. His wife does accounts and he buys the art/music.

      Roguelikes often have a single author

    13. @aj Survivorship bias. For every Undertale and Stardew Valley there are thousands of games that have years of someone's work behind them, and are completely ignored.

      It possible for a single author's game to be successful? Yes.

      It is likely? No.

      For sure, those who take the risk and are able to release a finished product, regardless of how successful it is, deserve to be praised to high heaven.

  4. If you are interested, the Book of Adventure Games has maps of this game so you can see what you missed. Notably, the review of this game is scathing:


    1. thanks for the link, didn't know thia book existed.

    2. I used to have this theory that Kim Schuette was Scorpia. It fell apart when I found out that "Kim" is a man (which is hardly unheard of). I downloaded the book a long time ago for some game but forgot about it, so thanks for the reminder. He hated it, all right, although I didn't experience any of the bugs that he complains about. It's too bad he didn't have anything more to say about the Great Mystery.

    3. Kim also died not that long after his last book if I remember right, and Scorpio is still around.

      I'm just glad you played this so I don't have to (I'm officially declaring it Not Quite an Adventure Either), even if the RPG credentials are wobbly.

  5. Finally, I can die in peace. Forget finding a cure for cancer, fixing the economy, heroin addiction, or just simply being a d@mn family man.....the goal has been achieved. This is the important things in life. Keep pushing.

  6. Normal people are going to notice that I'm posting again eventually, right?

    1. How many "normal" people read this blog?

      What is normal?

      More importantly, why is normal?

    2. I think the answer is yes to the question even if I don't know what normal is either.

    3. Not sure if you're making a joke about the proliferation of commenters with very weird and specific barrows to push, or saying that your site visits are down since the hiatus. (I think it's the joke.)

      Aggressively moderate. Free speech is lovely, but there are infinite forums for it, and the purpose of this forum is discussing old RPGs. There absolutely should be some discussion of diversity, changing attitudes, and inclusiveness of older games - and a "no politics" position is itself a political position, in favour of the status quo - but you shouldn't hesitate to just straight up delete any comment that's tendentious, unnecessarily confrontational, or just unproductive of an inclusive environment for all readers. (And sometimes it may be my comment you're deleting.)

      As for site visits, you will have seen some dropoff in anyone who doesn't subscribe to the blog or follow you on Patreon. It should pick up again once someone links one of your posts on Reddit or something - but the nature of that increased traffic is likely to be people who Have Opinions (TM) so I guess settle in, it's going to be bumpy?

    4. Have noticed and enjoy reading as always!

    5. ... do normal people play old CRPGs? :D

    6. Forcing every game to be about politics turns a lot of people off. Social justice has created a lot of its own enemies by refusing to allow people to just be themselves. Everything has to be about hard left politics, all the time. People are mightily sick of it, and a lot of them have been motivated to take action.

      Censorship has a long and filthy history. It is always used by the most odious actors. It tells us not that you have an effective counter-argument, but that you fear the argument that you have no answer for. Not a good look.

      "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
      -- C.S. Lewis

    7. You can't force people to engage with something politically.

      You also can't force people to not engage with something politically.

      Different strokes, right?

    8. I stand with Harland: I'm tired of every single game having a political message! I can't count how many games have been absolutely torn asunder by politics! It's insane! How long must these atrocities stand before we, the world's antiquated gamers, take back what's rightfully ours: games! Contemporary games that we are very well-informed of! And apolitical ones at that!

      Give me the apolitics of bar wenches and boob armor!

      Give me the apolitics of the damsel in distress and the male protagonist's masculinity-defining moment of triumph!

      Give me the apolitics of non-specific good versus non-specific evil!

      Give me the apolitics of my unconsidered beliefs!

      Forbid all allusions!

      Deny all interpretations!

      And never refer to a specific game as an example!

      WHO'S WITH ME!!?

    9. Sigh. The quality of discussion in these comments is going to hell in a handbasket. Had to happen eventually, but can't say I'm happy about it.

      FWIW, since this is apparently the discussion being had: Games are political ALL THE TIME. People only dislike it when it shares a message they don't like.

      Metal Gear Solid is all about the futility of war and how nuclear weapons have warped the world, but people only see sexy anime girls and quirky dialogue. Battlefield V puts a woman on their game cover and suddenly everybody's moaning about historical accuracy and politics.

      Deus Ex is basically about how the government, the military, police forces and corporations all interlink to create a system of oppression that keeps people blind and happy as it brings the hammer down inch by inch. But Cyberpunk has the audacity to allow trans player characters and people lose their minds.

      Fallout--the ENTIRE SERIES--shows how the isolationist, cold war "us versus them" mentality of past America led to the nuclear destruction of all civilization, and yet the survivors STILL let petty squabbles ruin lives at every scale imaginable. But everybody has a problem with The Last Of Us 2 featuring a lesbian romance.

      Remember, it's all mindless apolitical fun until you don't like it.

    10. Yeah, art is inherently political, as is communication itself. It's just that a lot of people misunderstand 'political' to mean specifically and intentionally pertaining to some contemporary political movement.

      Our art, and our words, reveals things about ourselves, and the society that created us.

    11. I appreciate our newer games being more inclusive of groups they ignored for thousands of games. I don't see that as a right or left thing.

    12. I just prefer that these discussions be about something related to the current entry. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of people arguing against straw men that they themselves created. No one was honestly upset that "headhunters" showed up in my first entry on Fantasyland. It was just a word. They weren't even represented by icon, let alone by culture. And this entry didn't mention anything like that at all. "Art is inherently political" is a good excuse to get into a political discussion when the piece of art under discussion is political, not when you feel like taking a swing at "Social Justice Warriors" for no reason.

    13. Deus Ex is basically about how the government, the military, police forces and corporations all interlink to create a system of oppression that keeps people blind and happy as it brings the hammer down inch by inch. But Cyberpunk has the audacity to allow trans player characters and people lose their minds.

      That wasn't some organic idea percolating to the top and magically appearing in a game. It was a deliberate decision by hard left political actors to use video games as a vehicle to shove their wildly unpopular political views down the throats of an audience they despise.

      It's hard to think of a historical analogue to today's situation where a major industry hates its own customers and attempts to piss them off at every point. They're so utterly convinced of their own moral superiority and will never stop because they consider their customers The Other.

      Homer: Lisa! You ruined my barbeque! I demand you apologize this second!

      Lisa: I'm never ever apologizing because I was standing up for a just cause and you were wrong wrong wrong!
      -- Simpsons episode 3F03, "Lisa the Vegetarian"

    14. I'm in favour of a no-politics* rule here, and an actively moderated one if need be. Not because I want to protect the status quo, but because I want to protect the quality of the comments section. Ugly political arguments are draining and miserable. They swallow up everything else. They only have an incidental relationship to the discussion of CRPGs, which is chiefly and expressly the purpose of this blog.

      * 'No-politics' is a misnomer because politics is everywhere, but there's politics and there's Politics. The price of milk might be political but talking about it isn't a political topic in the same way as the Trump impeachment proceedings or racism.

      And yes, that itself is an extremely political statement - how clever of you for noticing - but people are capable of recognising (and respecting) the difference if they have to. They might quibble where the line is drawn, but everyone knows when they're starting a political argument.

      Shamus Young has a no-politics rule on his site. People generally respect it. The discussion is a lot healthier, more diverse and less angry for it. People still talk about politics, all the time, because how could you not, but they don't stray into Politics out of respect for Shamus and each other.


    15. I certainly don't think this is the space for 'US politics' or the like. As Chet said, things relevant to the current game make sense to talk about, and Fantasyland 2041 doesn't really have much to say.

      I half expected that my original pithy comment would kick off a cascade of people giving their Very Important opinions, but I'm not going to not make observations just because there are a lot of trigger happy people around.

      What I actually want to know is how those samurai got to Iraq.

    16. Yeah, I'm in favor of no politics as well. There's more than enough inane political bullshit on the internet as it is.

      There are no sinister conspiracies behind these "scandals" anyway, just one thing: companies want to make money. If they believe offending certain groups is the way to do that, then that's what they will do. There's no malice behind it, outrage is simply profitable. That's all.

      Me? I just want to enjoy games, their characters and stories. I don't get offended if they contain people with the "wrong" skin color, sexual orientation or political views. Just chill and play the damn game.

    17. Deus Ex is more of a satire of American culture and mythology, similar to Sam and Max: Hit the Road than a serious political thriller. All of the events in the game are based on actual conspiracy theories and the plot is clearly a hyperbolic take on spy movies and cyberpunk, more Metal Gear, 24 or James Bond than Frederick Forsythe, Oliver North or a police procedural. I think the implication of Deus Ex is also that government regulations are causing misery: Awesome cyberpunk technology is rare and mostly restricted to the authorities, crime and poverty are rampant, and most forms of entertainment come rebellious underground sources rather than legal means--even the coffee shops are fronts for elaborate conspiracies.

      I wonder how many foreigners have gotten Sam and Max and Deus Ex from GOG.com? I doubt the satire of American culture would translate well to other countries.

    18. A quick reminder that "no politics" is itself political, and is a position being heavily leveraged by people who are, in fact, *extremely* political.

      Not saying that every post needs to be a pitched battle for the soul of a nation, but backing a "no politics" rule is kind of naive.

      Just as the most banal example possible, picture two people commenting to say, "This game didn't ring true to me, and it was a little bit offensive."

      Person 1 is a man from Texas, and he's saying the game's depiction of Texas is geographically inaccurate and full of unflattering hick stereotypes. You might agree with him or not, but most people aren't going to think that's a *political* opinion.

      Person 2 is a lesbian woman, and she's saying that despite the game having a couple of hundred NPCs, none of them are lesbians, and that's, if nothing else, statistically weird. Or maybe she's saying there is a lesbian character, but they're portrayed as a joke.

      Person 1 and Person 2 are saying the same thing. They're criticising the game for depicting something offensively, without doing the research. But Person 1 is going to be seen as "not political", whereas person 2 is being "political".

      There's not a difference in their positions or their complaints. They're both saying, "You could have got this right, and you didn't, and it's a little insulting." The difference is the baseline politics of our culture. Because a "no politics" rule isn't *actually( saying "no politics", it's saying, "I benefit from the current definitions of what is and is not political, and I don't want to hear from people who don't."

      That doesn't mean people need to get shouted at in every internet space. We deserve spaces to withdraw into. There's plenty of ways to raise these issues, and have these discussions, in productive, chill ways, that let people opt-out if they're not in the mood. (Sometimes the discussions *do* need to be less chill, but this is probably not the fora where that would normally need to occur.)

      But it *is* going to be a thing that some games get things wrong, and sometimes they'll it so badly that it really is offensive - to Australians, or to geeks, or to disabled people, or whoever - and that's absolutely worth talking about.

    19. Sorry, because I didn't back up the "being leveraged by people" point in the first paragraph:


    20. The only thing more depressing than seeing paranoid rants about "hard left politics" on this blog is realizing that any kind of response to it would provoke further such comments.

    21. For anyone who hasn't read Neuromancer, the book responsible for the genre that gave us Deus Ex, get on it (and then spend the first several chapters realising that Shadowrun lifted basically the whole book).

  7. Does anyone know what the big secret was, I really would like to know.

  8. About the big secret, Chet, have you tried contacting the developers? Maybe they'd be interested in talking about thrir old games again.

    1. Yes, I tried. I almost always do. I did not get a response.

    2. How often do you get a response, Chet? I've been a (generally quiet) reader for almost the lifetime of the blog, so I recall several instances where you've at least mentioned answers from creators (and a couple where they were highly involved, which is cool to see). I've felt like they've always added a lot to those entries, especially from the perspective of this as a historiographical work.

    3. First, I try to find an active e-mail address. If I know what company they work for but I can't find their specific address, I'll try various obvious guesses using that company's domain. Sometimes I'll guess at gmail addresses, too (always apologizing to those people the message will reach in error). If I can't find an e-mail address, I look for a phone number.

      -About 25% of the time, I can't find any contact info at all.
      -About 25% of the time, all my e-mails bounce back and the phone numbers turn out to be disconnected.
      -About 25% of the time, the messages or phone calls go through, but I never hear back.
      -About 25% of the time, I the developer returns my contact.

      Of that last 25%, the spread is about 50/50 as to whether the developer truly engages me in any serious conversation and thus gives me any material I can actually use.

      A handful of times, I've been unable to contact the developer at the time of the entry, but he's later pro-actively reached out to me after finding my entries. That just happened this week with Motelsoft. I'll use the author's comments to inform future entries on their titles.

    4. Motelsoft finally reached out? Awesome! That will probably be a huge help when you continue your way through their massive catalog

  9. Is it possible the great mystery is the address you're supposed to mail your disk to?

    1. You might actually be on to something. The manual doesn't specify an address in the instructions, although the company address is stamped on the back. However, the manual mentions that "this contest is also being separately sponsored in the U.K.," and there's on U.K. address anywhere.

  10. Somehow I am reminded of Might and Magic I: qbrf nalbar npghnyyl xabj jung gur Frperg bs gur Vaare Fnapghz *ernyyl* vf? V zrna, V erzrzore (nf n xvq, cynlvat sbe gur svefg gvzr) rkcrpgvat riraghnyyl n "gur frperg vf ..." jura bs pbhefr lbh pna jva naq abguvat yvxr gung rire unccraf.

    1. Jnfa'g gur frperg gung lbhe jbeyq jnf whfg bar anpryyr bs n tvnag fcnprfuvc?

    2. Maybe - I also thought it was could be just that Nynzne vf na vzcbfgre.

  11. Just came back to your blog last night after a few days. Glad to see the entry's. Not sure what to say but I hope you find better games to enjoy soon but either way you've written some fine interesting articles.

  12. If it wasn't you, I don't know who else would give a full account of these games. Misfit games are some of the most interesting reads. I too would like some closure on the great mystery of this developer's games. Also, did anyone actually win the prize? Do they still have the trophy?

  13. I really want to know what the great mystery is, and what is going on in that Dante's Inferno scene. I really hope you play and document the other games by this developer. They look fascinating, and will be lost to time otherwise.

  14. It's been 38 years so my guess is that the mystery will remain forever unsolved, but I would still love to know what it is.

  15. WOW! You are the only human I know, who has finished this game. I use manage a computer outlet in the 80's (before there were actual game stores). We carried all of the Crystalware games. Back then, there was nothing like it on the Atari/Apple computers. I for some reason, loved their games, but Crystalware developed a lot of bad press due to many bugs, and unfulfilled promises.

    Still, I was so into Fantasyland. Played it off and on for years, but never made it past Camelot. You nailed all the problems about this game, with starvation being #1. Besides that, we had so many crashes.

    From what I read (back then), John Bell skipped town - owed a lot of developers money. He and Patty tried to reinvent themselves numerous times, advertising new, breakthrough games, but nothing ever surfaced. After Fantasyland, there were a number of other games, including two that I believe weren't even finished, yet were on our shelves for sale. One is The Haunted Palace and the other Glamis Castle. Glamis is the only Crystalware adventure that is impossible to find anywhere. Thank you for your article - makes me want to torture myself for yet another session of Fantasyland 2041. I'm 63 now, so I better complete this.

    Oh, and Scorpion use to shop out our store - she lived nearby, and would stop in often to check the latest RPGS. I actually helped her set up a new computer at her home one day. Lord British even stopped by our store to promote one of the earlier Ultimas and went with us to dinner after closing (with Scorpio)!

    Oh, btw - how come the screens are in B/W? The game was actually in color (I think a total of 4 colors to be exact)

    1. Comments like these are one of the things that make this blog great. Thanks for stopping in. :)

    2. Tronix, thank you for offering some background on Crystalware. I've been able to find out so little.

      On the color issue, I had the emulator configured wrong and didn't realize it because I thought the game was just primitive. I meant to replace some of the shots with proper ones to give people the correct impression, but I never got around to it.

    3. Thanks! I've played all of their games, even when Epyx took over and provided better packaging (that's about it).
      If you're on an emulator, you have to look under graphic options. I believe it's called Artifacting (where it gives you a few palettes to choose from. I'm pretty sure the original game was 3 colors (counting white lol).

      Oh, and correction: I called "Scorpio" "Scorpion" a few times in my original comment. She would strike me with her stinger if she found out.

    4. Scorpio had a bulletin board for a while, but vanished a few years back. She was an interesting reviewer to say the least, one of the few who didn't put out puff pieces on a routine basis.

      Thanks again for the info Tronix, neat stories! These games really are terrible, but having lived through the era... nobody really had the insight to do much better at the time. Or the hardware.

  16. This game is frustrating me now. I'm on the 3rd disk, Camelot, I've obtained Excalibur. I have the Sorcerer with me and the Fire magic as well as Earth Magic. When I go to Merlin's Hideout I USE the Fire magic (I've tried them all) and nothing happens. He doesn't let me pass. My only thought is it may be because I do not have the Ring of Power. I have looked all over every screen that makes up Camelot more than once and I cannot find it though the manual says I will find it here. The manual says I will receive Arthur's blessing through gold so I'm wondering if I have to have a certain amount of gold pieces on me before triggering the finding of the Ring of Power? The game seems very very buggy at times to and unstable as well. I don't think this is another glitch but that I possibly am missing a sequence here. Any suggestions anyone?

  17. One more thing, I did not kill the dragon. I just walked up took excalibur and danced away from the dragon coming after me. It COULD be that killing the dragon is a pre-requisite for leaving but I doubt it. If anything I think it involves the signet ring you're supposed to get on this level. I can't find the ring anywhere

    1. Unfortunately, it's been too long for me since I played this game. I have to re-read my own entry to even remember what it was about.

    2. I figured as much. Once you play around on the levels/disks enough it's pretty simple enough to move forward. The witch doctor and his magic get you past the guard at Solomon's Temple, the Genie and it's magic gets you past Baghdad and into Camelot; I see you wrote that the Sorcerer and his magic get you past Merlin...that doesn't seem to be the case with me.. So there must have possibly been something on your person that also allowed you a way forward. I am guessing it is the Ring of Power which is supposedly on this level according to the manual and I see you found it on the level as well. I am spending way too much time with this Crystalware game lol

    3. I found the Ring of Power. Now I'll see if I can get by Merlin. You had to go into the middle of Stonehenge and USE the Holy Grail

  18. If you're wondering what John Bell is doing these days, he's hawking bad UFO and fantasy adventure books under the pseudonym J.B. Michaels. I bought his book "UFO Encounters" because, well, it's John Bell from Crystalware! It's not even a good cheesy UFO book, as he engages in the same behavior as the "Grand Mystery" from Fantasyland 2041 AD. Lots of build up about something amazing, absolutely zero delivery of anything in the end. From his ramblings, I think its pretty clear he's not fully living in the real world.

    1. I covered a bit of that in my final entry on Crystalware:


      But I wasn't aware of "UFO Encounters."

  19. Here is a contemporary review (by Craig Patchett in 'A.N.A.L.O.G.', number 5): https://archive.org/details/analog-computing-magazine-05/page/n29/mode/1up?view=theater (Fun fact: the Managing editor of that magazine at the time was called "Jon A. Bell").

    He spent close to 75 hours on it without being able to finish and also complains about the cumbersome inventory management.

    Another 'review' of the time which reads more like a 'Let's play' can be found in this newsletter of ACE (Atari Computer Enthusiasts) of Eugene, Oregon: https://archive.org/details/AtariComputerEnthusiastsNewslettersVolume1/page/n80/mode/1up?view=theater.

    The enthusiastic author, who topped Craig Patchett by finishing in more than 87 hours, is none other than Marc (Russell) Benioff, who probably thanks to this and another prior glowing praise of a Crystalware product ("The Sands of Mars") in the same issue went to have his own games being published by them soon afterwards (and much later to found Salesforce and become a billionaire as already mentioned in a later blog entry).

    Just to complement this, here's another short piece on the game by a collector:

    Even allowing for loading times and other factors which slowed down playing this game back then (maybe voluntarily lingering longer and exploring every last nook and cranny to get the most out of it), looking at the times these people spent on 'Fantasy Island 2041' compared to the nine hours it took Chet to win it reflects the 'CRPG skills' he's developed.

  20. PS edit: 'Fantasy Island' = 'Fantasyland'.

  21. I have played and won Apple II version of the game (it is full of bugs), but this time I could not solve the mystery:


    I inspected ALL the code (looking for clues and how to avoid some bugs), and found some references to the numbers in the manual and in some screens (666 and 777).

    There are some references to tarot cards and maybe their hebrew alphabet translations, and some letters hidden in screen graphics, but I couldn't get a word or message with had sense.


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