Tuesday, December 15, 2020

BRIEF: Shadoworlds (1992)

One of the English developers had a fetish for Japanese artwork.
              
Shadoworlds
United Kingdom
Teque London (developer); Krisalis Software (publisher)
Released in 1992 for Amiga and Atari ST; 1993 for DOS
   
From the moment I finished Shadowlands without finishing it, eighty-five games ago, I knew that I would eventually have to contend with Shadoworlds. Readers who think I have some sense of integrity will be disappointed to learn that I never intended to give it a fair shake. Anticipating recording a "no" in the "Won?" column, I've avoided bailing on any other game (except one with a tech issue) for over a year.
    
But now that I've had a chance to play a bit of Shadoworlds, I think I can do better than giving it six hours and quitting: I think I can reject it entirely. The manual offers no suggestion that the characters' minimal statistics improve at all during the game, and none of the reviews that I consulted indicated such. Admittedly, the game otherwise looks, walks, and quacks like an RPG, and I don't feel entirely on solid ground rejecting it. On the other hand, I hate it, and a BRIEF gives me an excuse to not even invest six hours.
          
My short-lived party.
       
Shadoworlds is a follow-up to Shadowlands from the same year. It uses the same engine but is not a sequel. It moves the action from a fantasy setting to the depths of space. At some unspecified point in the future, the galaxy has achieved peace. Weapons have been dismantled and outlawed, save for a single weapons research facility in the far reaches of the galaxy, with which communication has suddenly been lost. A team of four is sent to investigate.
     
You chose a party of four from a roster of 18 characters, including a robot and a dog. Some of their brief backstories are cute, but they have no effect on the game. Each character has a different level in the game's four statistics: strength, health, combat, and tech. (I don't know what the last one actually does in the game. Maybe it makes batteries last longer.)  I think these numbers remain fixed throughout the game. If they don't, neither the manual nor any reviewer thought to mention it. Coming from a civilization of peace, the characters start unarmed and must find their weapons on the station.
        
Only one end of the corridor is illuminated as we read a hint on the monitor.
     
The central attraction to both games is the "Super Photoscaping" lighting system, by which areas of light and darkness are determined by the presence, direction, and strength of lighting sources. The first game specialized in "pools" of light that moved with the party as they carried torches. This game has lighting embedded in the characters' helmets (for which they must find and maintain a battery supply), adding an element of directionality to the cast light. Light is also the key to solving some of the puzzles, and many doors have photoreceptors. (You also need an external light source to read the monitors in the game; I guess monitors work differently in the future.) The system was praised heavily in contemporary views of the game, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that a modern player, if he wasn't aware that the game was known for this innovation, wouldn't think twice about it. I also feel like we've seen these supposed innovations earlier, but I wasn't prepared with a comprehensive history of RPG lighting effects when I played Shadowlands, and I haven't researched it since then, either.
      
That's a security system that makes total sense.
      
Once you get past the lighting issue, you have a fairly standard axonometric puzzle-solving game, the types that the Brits specialized in going back to Knight Lore (1984). There are pressure plates to weigh down, switches to press and to operate with keycards, and photoreceptors to activate. Complex puzzles involve dividing the party and sending different characters to different areas.
    
There were six things I hated about Shadowlands:
     
  • The all-mouse control system. The developers thought they were doing something innovative by having you click on the character's hand and then click on an item to pick it up, or by having you click on the character's head and then something to read. But you can only do one thing with any of the objects in the game (i.e., you can't pick up a monitor or read an enemy), so the whole "body part" system just added unnecessary extra clicking.
      
As a height of absurdity, even though I have to choose options 1 through 3, the numbers on the keyboard do nothing. I actually have to click the "1," "2," or "3" button at the bottom.
        
  • No way to order all characters to attack an enemy at the same time. You have to click on them one by one, click their arms, and click the enemy. 
       
One character attacks a robot while the others stand there.
       
  • The pathfinding. Navigating the party even through wide doorways is a nightmare.
  • The lighting system. Technically, sure, I guess it's impressive. Practically, it means you spend the entire game micromanaging lighting sources.
  • The food and water system. The constant depletion of the meters caused continual angst as I tried to figure out the puzzles.
  • Unkillable rats that constantly nipped at the characters, making it impossible to stand still for more than about 30 seconds.
    
Shadoworlds retains all of these things except the rats (at least during the first few levels), although it has admittedly made a couple of the other bullet points more tolerable. Instead of each character having his own set of body parts, there's one active character figure in the middle of the four character portraits, and there's an option to move all characters at once. Food and water have been combined into a single nutrient system (apparently, you just eat paste in the future), and it depletes relatively slowly. Everything else is still there.
       
With my leg highlighted to move the characters, I am trying without success to get them through this doorway.
       
It was primarily the rats that drove me out of Shadowlands. The game would have been frustrating and annoying without them, but with them, I simply found it impossible. Thus, as I played the first couple of levels of Shadoworlds, I briefly started to imagine that I might suck it up and finish it. Then I ran into a doorway that took me 10 minutes to nudge my four characters through, and the BRIEF idea looked attractive again.
    
Shadowlands got a U.S. release but Shadoworlds did not. MobyGames' round-up of reviews shows that European magazines rated Shadowlands between 40 and 94 with a median of 85. Shadoworlds got between 31 and 93 with a median of 74. In addition to lacking character development, the second game also lack's the first's magic system (without replacing it with anything) and armor as part of the inventory. Reviewers also didn't like the simplistic combat, and many complained (as I did) about the pathfinding. One positive, which I didn't experience, is the ability to customize weapons with different barrels.
      
By the end of my time, my characters had a pistol and a light saber.
    
Teque London lasted until almost 2000 but never put out another RPG or even a game with RPG aspirations. Lighting effects in games would continue to improve through the present day.

84 comments:

  1. Clearly the monitors are LCDs with no built-in lighting :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. E-ink to save energy when they aren't being used.

      This is from a universe where Barnes and Noble's Nook had the same culture-shaking impact as the iphone.

      Delete
  2. "Lighting effects in games would continue to improve through the present day."

    This book-report summary line made me audibly snort. Well played.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm just irrationally bothered by the missing W in the game title. Unless "orld" is an actual word?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The predecessor was Shadolands then I guess

      Delete
    2. Shad o'Worlds maybe? A shad is a fish, right?

      Delete
    3. There's a tabletop fantasy RPG setting called Shadow World. Maybe the publisher of Shadoworld didn't want to risk a copyright issue.

      Or perhaps Shado is the big bad of the game.

      Delete
    4. Yes, the single W is messing with me. I keep reading it as Shadow Lords -- my brain knows there's only one W, so "orlds" must be a word, and lords is the closest typo to it.

      Delete
    5. Shado is the big bad? You mean Grimm Shado?!

      Delete
    6. A world like this that always throws me is "threshold." There ought to be a second h in there, as there is in "withhold" or "hitchhiker." I was trying to think of any other examples of compound words where one of the doubled letters is dropped, but I couldn't.

      Delete
    7. Whoops. I just did a little research, and I guess "threshold" never was a compound of "thresh" and "hold."

      Delete
    8. We've been misunderstanding it this whole time: it's clearly

      SHADOW OR LDS

      Programmed at Brigham Young University, no doubt.

      Mind blown on "threshold". Clearly we need a neologism, "threshnew", to underscore (and yet obscure) the true etymology. It can be used to mean "a new limit established once a long-established norm has been transgressed". Strikes me as a useful word, somehow, though I can't seem to figure out why.

      Delete
    9. the island language is good for simple comunication but I wouldn´t care about spelling or a higher degre of thought

      Delete
    10. Fred Rogers' show before "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was called "Misterogers".

      Delete
  4. I am not disappointed with this brief. It probably would have been a slog even reading about playing the game, but it got some recognition.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Regarding lights, I think the best implementation we've seen on the blog is Dungeon Master, with the way lights fade into the distance and torches gradually grow dim instead of instantly burning out. I don't recall many games that bother with anything more complicated than "lit" or "unlit" squares, or having one light level for the entire screen as in Ultima VII.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The game looks, walks, and quacks like an RPG, and I don't feel entirely on solid ground rejecting it. On the other hand, I hate it.

      (Audible snort) You are on the highway towards Baldur's Gate!

      Great post!

      Delete
    2. (By mistake, I clicked on "reply" instead of "add comment".)

      Delete
    3. "Regarding lights, I think the best implementation we've seen on the blog is Dungeon Master"

      Ultima Underworld would like a word. :)

      Delete
    4. Ultima VII had positional lighting around the gas lamps in the cities and towns. Why they didn't apply the same to a party with a torch I don't know. (Maybe they never figured out how to make it move.) Lots of other games have done square blacking/unblacking based on obstacles and direction of view, which doesn't seem to me a whole lot different than lighting.

      The problem for both of these games is that I don't care enough about lighting effects to go back through all 400 games I've covered just to check for that element. If I ever get a list of several things together that require such a historical review, maybe I'll do it.

      Delete
    5. there probably are a reader out there on the task right now...

      Delete
    6. Didn’t Ultima V have Lighting, albeit primitively? Or an I misremembering?

      Delete
  6. Now I'm wondering if the same fate awaits Worlds of Legend (aka Son of the Empire).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope not. Although I think it was unrealistic to expect this project to be forever taken that seriously as it was, it is only human to get tired of having to play games that you hate for the sake of completion eventually. Maybe a guest post and GIMLET would be a better idea in the future, at least for games like Shadoworlds which are rather well known.

      Delete
    2. I probably can't pretend that one isn't an RPG, so it will at least get the 6-hour minimum.

      Delete
  7. Is this one of the first clearly anime inspired graphics we've seen? Just curious. We know early Western RPGs directly influenced Japan. The question is when did Japanese games begin to significantly influence the West?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aphidya was very anime inspired (though it’s a shoot em up) and was a little bit before this

      Delete
    2. The opening sequence of Turrican II from 1991 has a very anime-esque art style, although the rest of the game does not, and it's not an rpg.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. I remember a few Epic games having distinctly anime styles, like One Must Fall 2097 and Zone 66. I can also think of Shogo and Shadow Warrior, late in the '90s. Further, I also remember ID mentioning they constantly played Fatal Fury. I'd wager it hit indie games big when RPGmaker came out though.

      Delete
    5. Really I would say it wasn’t Japanese games so much as it was Akira which influenced UK game artists; that was all over the gaming press at the time as well as the demo scene. Beyond that, the main exposure to Japanese’s gaming was really arcade games which tended to not do much anime styling. Japanese RPGs were almost impossible to find in the UK with the vast majority of them just not being imported. For instance, final fantasy IV wasn’t released in the SNES in Europe. Presumably the translation needed (as most games in the UK were also marketed across the continent) would make it impossible with a huge cart.

      Delete
    6. The first I remember is BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception (1988).

      Delete
    7. Battletech is one of the first anime-inspired Western fracnhises, even if they've evolved considerably past that. Since anime didn't really take off in the US until the late 80s (despite some early entries like Speed Racer in the 70s), you aren't going to get much earlier than that.

      Delete
    8. Deano, yes, Akira was culturally huge for some reason in the UK, and is likely one source for the influence.

      Delete
    9. Strangely, if you go back and rewatch Akira, the movie characters didn't have the stereotypical gargantuan anime eyes.

      Delete
    10. Lots of anime doesn't have giant eyes. It's just that that's the style a lot of Shounen Jump YA garbage goes with, thus that's the style that gets a lot of mainstream exposure, thus even somebody who actively avoids anime will end up seeing that style because of saturation.

      Delete
    11. Most (if not all) anime has larger than real-life eyes - it is one of the things copied from Disney when anime was invented. There's plenty that has only a 10 or 20 percent larger than life -enough to be good for expressing and for more Cute Factor, not enough to be disturbing- instead of the stereotypical 500% or so.

      Delete
    12. Large, rounded eyes are typical in western cartooning and animation, too. One notable exception is King of the Hill.

      Delete
  8. Probably the best part about this game was the Novella. It tells a similar story of four mercenaries being recruited and sent off to a planetary base, rather than a space station. It ends on a cliff hanger I think.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Just out of curiosity, how much time did you spend with the game?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wait, Shrew's backstory is that she "dislikes all ginger lifeforms'? Was that odd bit of bigotry really provided by the game?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe there's a lot of animals that taste like ginger in the future, and she won't eat them.

      Delete
    2. Yes, all the backstories are provided by the game. They're probably the most entertaining part. Some bits from characters I didn't choose:

      -Prone to flashbacks
      -Dangerously curious about high technology; lost 4 fingers
      -Had transneural lobotomy
      -Speaks 112 languages
      -IQ 442
      -Has implanted neural networks
      -Has no fear
      -Has psychotic implants in cerebellum
      -Xenomorph. Operates pure fuzzy logic
      -Mysterious ESP link with animal lifeforms
      -Siamese twin
      -Registered clinically insane. Happygolucky.

      It would be interesting if any of these characteristics played a role in the game, but alas.

      Delete
    3. PSYCHOTIC implants? Wow.

      Also, IQ doesn't work that way. You probably knew that but I'm betting the game designer didn't.

      Delete
    4. Maybe he's 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999th percentile. There's a lot of people people in the future.

      Delete
    5. Those are a hilarious bunch of backstories, thanks for sharing them!

      Delete
  11. Yuck, a flesh-coloured cursor. Really shoulda used a pointing hand at that point...

    ReplyDelete
  12. This games looks like some kind of odd attempt at snookering people into thinking it's a RPG, even though it really seems to be a party-based adventure game.

    I mean, it has stats and levels, but nothing ever changes? Why even include those numbers then? It's like the devs either couldn't decide which type of game they wanted to make, or completely misunderstood what a RPG even is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The stats and levels don't change, but different characters still start at different levels, so it matters in how you create and balance your party. We've seen a number of such games over the years, and I've generally rejected them as RPGs if they don't involve any advancement, but I've also made a fair number of exceptions.

      Delete
    2. One could argue that it makes them purer RPGs - no turning everyone into a jack of all trades.

      Delete
    3. Ah yes, the eternal question of "is character creation without leveling up later an RPG or not" :p

      I maintain that it is, but if the game sucks it sucks. Not a fan of these early British isometric games either. I tried some but never even came close to finishing any of them. They're usually too puzzle-based for my taste and the combat is often clusterfucky to the point of mostly relying on getting lucky, rather than requiring either tactics or reflexes. I'm not blaming Chet for tossing this one quickly.

      Delete
    4. Gold Box, the EOTB series, Wizardry, Final Fantasy 1 and a large amount of their clones/spinoffs/sequels never had a """problem""" with "jacks-of-all-trades." In a large amount of early CRPGs, a fighter can never cast spells and a wizard can never wear plate no matter how much you level them up. CRPGs with no "class restrictions" only became the norm relatively recently. Even Morrowind, exploits aside, tried to encourage you to play according to your class by tying level-ups to progress in your major and minor skills.

      Delete
    5. Personally, I'd say being able to make everyone a jack of all trades is a plus. It makes it harder to end up with a completely useless character, and gives you more flexibility in encounters.

      Delete
    6. "Ah yes, the eternal question of "is character creation without leveling up later an RPG or not" :p"

      I agree that you can make a good case that such a game is an RPG. But since my own personal enjoyment of a game depends heavily on character leveling (or skill acquisition, or whatever), such games don't fit the definition of an "RPG" for the purposes of my blog.

      Delete
    7. Does this game even really have character creation? It sounds more like just picking prebuilt characters, and I'm not sure if that's enough to count as character creation

      Delete
    8. That is the case, yes. I suppose it's another philosophical question whether choosing from a slate of pre-built characters is actually "creation." But if those pre-created characters got better during the game, I would call it an RPG.

      Delete
    9. Yeah the Witcher has no character creation but no one is going to claim it is not a RPG

      Delete
  13. You got it perfectly right I think: the branding of shadowmehs as revolutionary games because of their light system was something that was told on the press note and just repeated by many magazines at the time as it sounded cool enough to create hype. I like how these games look but that's it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It wasn't just that the lighting was pretty - it was supposed to be used in solving puzzles, and monsters were supposed to be affected by it.

      Delete
    2. You didn't, but I focused on the lighting system as a visual improvement rather than a puzzle mechanic. Gerry is right that it was praised for both. I'm neutral about the use of light in puzzle-solving. I agree that it's an original approach, but lots of things that would original would also be kind of dumb.

      Delete
    3. Apart from natural usage of light to reveal things, simple "place torch here as a key" non-puzzles, I can think of no more than four or five possible lighting based puzzles. At least three of them are impossible until a relatively modern era that uses 3D modeling and real-time lighting.

      Delete
    4. But also... It's a gimmick. It adds nothing. It does not play unique. It's just branding the same branding you get from certain foods in TV ads. It's a substitute for pressure plate puzzles, just that.

      Delete
    5. It could be done in a non-gimmicky way. Like have a really bad enemy who you have to sneak past using as little light as possible, whilst avoiding traps. Or throw a light to distract an enemy as you run past. Have a light which slowly runs out acting as a timer. Put lights in between a set of columns so the shadows produce a special message or symbol. There’s a lot you can do. It’s just that these games don’t which is why they end up as gimmicks

      Delete
    6. Resident Evil 4 had a puzzle where you had to shine a light through multiple stained-glass mosaics to produce a symbol in white light.

      Metal Gear Solid 2 had a boss fight where the enemy could freeze you in place by pinning your shadow to the ground. The solution was to shoot out the lights in the boss arena, thus removing your shadow.

      Delete
    7. Those two and the Resident Evil 7 shadow doors are among the ones I could think of. So was the "project a symbol" one.

      Timer is something that didn't occur to me.

      Delete
    8. I am never too fond of the Portal like puzzles in an RPG and this is what I am reading. I had fun with some of the puzzles in the 2 Eye Of The Beholder and some other rpgs, but going to far and doing a pure puzzle game with timer... that was the worst part of Grimrock, thank you.

      Delete
  14. The premise for this game looks a bit like George R. R. Martin's "The Plague Star". I wonder if there is an influence of some kind.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Gah. I'll probably NEVER get used to these huge eyes. I fear I might be an anti-japanese-manga-character-with-giant-eyes-racist.
    ...
    Should a species like this actually exist somewhere, I apologize. BUT YOU ARE SO DARN UGLY.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Magic Candle III is on the upcoming list.December 17, 2020 at 12:21 PM

    Magic Candle III is on the upcoming list. Yay!

    ReplyDelete
  17. December is a slow month

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diseasember, Covid Christmas, Yellow-sick year, Virus Times, Mental 2020.

      Delete
  18. I'm disappointed to hear this isn't very good. I remember seeing screenshots from it and thinking it looked pretty cool, but never got around to trying it.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Christmas greetings, Chet.

    ReplyDelete
  20. A pre-emptive happy new year to you Chet

    ReplyDelete
  21. The word fetish has lost all its meaning.

    ReplyDelete

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.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

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?"

Also, 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.