Friday, April 30, 2021

Game 411: The Amulet (1983)

        
The Amulet
Canada
Numenor Microsystems (developer); Tri-Micro (publisher)
Released 1983 for DOS
Date Started: 29 April 2021
Date Ended: 29 April 2021
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
    
The Amulet is a relatively shameless plagiarism of The Valley from the previous year. I covered it in 2014. The Valley had been published as type-in code in the April 1982 Computing Today in the United Kingdom. Somehow it made its way to P. K. Winter in Toronto, who would have had to adapt it to a different platform. You would think in so adapting, he would have maybe added or modified some elements, but all he seems to have done is change the proper names in the needlessly-complicated backstory offered by the original.
        
This is just the same story as The Valley with the proper names changed.
      
In creating your character, you choose from five classes: wizard, thinker, barbarian, warrior, and druid. If you screw up and hit an invalid key, you become a "peasant." These classes are the same as The Valley except that "druid" replaces "cleric."
 
Both games take place on a single screen. A jagged path, looking a bit like a mountain range, cuts through the map and offers safe spaces to rest and travel. Two castles anchor the path at the end. There are some fixed locations on the map that open into six secondary screens: two swamps, two forests, four dungeons, and a castle. The goal is to collect an amulet, six stones, and a helm, all of which are necessary to save the land from an evil wizard. You have to collect them in a particular order--the amulet first, found in the Temple of Rhyangioth; then the six stones, found in Scylfdun Castle; finally the helm, in the Lair of Eoghan.
          
Fighting a centaur.

Comparable screen from The Valley (1982).
       
All the "action" takes place on the random black squares that you traverse from point to point. Every time you step on one, one of seven things can happen--the same seven things as in The Valley:

  • Nothing
  • Combat with one of the game's 19 enemies, including orcs, ogres, fire giants, rock trolls, harpies, centaurs, and balrogs
  • A hoard of gold, which does nothing except increase your score
  • A "circle of evil" that supposedly drains stamina and "psy" power, but it doesn't seem to do anything
  • A "place of ancient power" that restores stamina and power
       
    
  • An "aura of deep magic" that increases maximum strength and psy power commensurate with the experience you've earned since the last aura
   
Combat is extremely basic. Sometimes you surprise the enemy and get a chance to retreat. Otherwise, you strike at the head, body, or legs, with the chance to hit decreasing but the damage increasing in that order. You can also try to cast one of the game's three spells, which become available at various experience thresholds. The spells aren't named, but their lurid descriptions when you cast them correspond with something like "Confusion," "Fire Bolt," and "Death Bolt." Again, this is all from The Valley, which offered the same combat options and the same basic three spells.
        
The spell descriptions are a bit much.
    
The different classes have slightly different balances in strength and psy power, but not enough to make any significant difference. The game is fundamentally easy because there's no escalation in monster difficulty by time or area. You can defeat the most difficult monsters with your starting strength. Since your strength only grows from there, you spend 90% of the game way overpowered.
        
Finding the Amulet. Now for the stones.
       
The key inputs are easy to master, but the interface is otherwise annoying as hell. You spend most of the time waiting for messages to finish so that you can type in your next command. During combat, you only have a split second to type what you want to do, or the game says "too slow," and the enemy gets a free hit. If you accidentally hit a key too many times, the commands stack in the buffer. Very often, enemies got the first half dozen combat rounds to strike at me without penalty because the game was still acting on the directional keys I had been pounding before combat begins.
    
But persevere and you can collect the items easily in a couple of hours. Just like The Valley, the only acknowledgement that you've "won" comes from the score you get when you check in at a castle. Except I can't get it to say my rating is higher than 2 despite having the amulet, all six stones, and the helm. The only way you can tell that for sure is by looking at the saved game roster.
    
Why is it so low?

At least the character screen shows I have the amulet, six stones, and the helm.
         
The Amulet deserves no more than the 11 points that The Valley got in the GIMLET. (It has no inventory, no NPCs, and only the barest character development.) I'm tempted to subtract some for plagiarism, but I've never done that before. The author appears never to have worked on another game, although he did self-publish some fantasy books.
    
*****
   
I had to reach past a couple of games to get to The Amulet (and even then, I needed LanHawk's help with a file issue). Dragon Maze for the Macintosh wasn't working, although after drafting this entry, I found a version that did. I'm still playing Mission: Thunderbolt, but I won't have anything to report until I survive a bit longer. Darkside of Xeen will be up next.
    
Demon Venture: Reign of the Red Dragon is a 1982 game for the TRS-80. Commenter Dungy has been a big help finding it and almost getting it to work. The game is a bit fragile, but Dungy found that he could get it to work if he mounted a system disk in Drive 0 and the game disk in Drive 1, then loaded the relevant file on the game disk. The problem is that when I try it, I get a "File not found" error for anything on the disk in Drive 1. If I switch it to Drive 0, it finds the file, but then the game doesn't work for other reasons. As far as I can tell, we're using the same configuration (TRS-80 Model I), so neither of us can figure out what's wrong. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I'm using the TRS-32 emulator.
  

26 comments:

  1. About your last comment, starting to discover the world of emulation, I shiver when I hear TRS-80 :)

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  2. So is the most blatent plagerism so far, or have there been others just as bad that I'm forgetting?

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    1. This is probably the most blatant, but I can't consider it plagiarism when the source code is released with the intent that the reader modify and learn from it. That was the whole point of the magazines' type-in code feature.

      Adapting a game to a different platform is usually not an easy task. I like to think that P. K. Winter put in a lot of work to get this on to the IBM PC, then lost interest. It doesn't seem as though he tried to sell it.

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    2. He sold it. He distributed it through a California company called Tri-Micro. MoCAGH has some box art and the manual. I wouldn't have been so critical otherwise.

      I agree that the question of "plagiarism" takes on a slightly different tinge when the developer had to adapt it for a new platform, which probably involved some creativity, but that's exactly when I would expect him to use that creativity to make some additions or changes.

      I think maybe The Yendor's Castle was worse because the developer there didn't even do text substitutions competently.

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    3. Personally, I feel like even if the guy had to adapt it, he still had access to the source code which would make that considerably easier. I also just feel like it's scummy in general to take something meant for learning programming, changing a few names, and then going and selling it as a full game, even if it doesn't end up rising to the level of plagerism.

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    4. Copying a learning exercise that explicitly allows you to modify it and redistribute it is still plagiarism if you don't add your own ideas to it before packaging it up as a full program and selling it, imo.

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    5. @JarlFrank

      Yeah, I agree with you. I somehow missed the Publisher blurb before the article started. Must have read this one too early in the morning.

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    6. IANAL, but I'm pretty sure from a legal standpoint this would unquestionably constitute plagiarism. Even if the original program was presented with the intent for people to modify it to learn programming for their own personal use, that doesn't give anyone blanket permission to do what they want with it. It's still copyrighted material, and taking it and selling as your own work without compensating or even crediting the original author is a violation of that copyright.

      It's not really surprising that they got away with it, though. This seems to be obscure enough that it's unlikely the creators of The Valley ever heard of it (especially since it was published on a different continent), and even if they did there almost certainly wasn't enough to be gained by a lawsuit to make it worth the legal costs.

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    7. Software and copyright is a very complex subject - especially in 1985, with a program written in the UK, reworked in Canada and published in the U.S.. Legally, I don't think the case is quite that clear.

      Certain things are not subject to copyright - namely, algorithms (hence software _patents_ exist in some countries) and game mechanics. Is a program that is simple enough to be typed in a creative work covered by copyright? For a software engineer that's a clear no, legally it's at least questionable.

      If you wanted to make a legal argument, the ingame text would probably be your best bet.

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    8. I would say that regardless of the legality, not mentioning that it's a type-in written by someone else is a failure to give credit where its due, and reflects poorly on a person.

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    9. Yeah regardless of the legal aspect, intellectually it is plagiarism as it's just taking someone else's work and releasing it as a product without adding any ideas of your own to the mix. It certainly doesn't qualify as an original work! If he had expanded the base, then yes, but this?

      Delete
  3. The lack of originality notwithstanding, is this the first Canadian-developed game covered on the blog? I do not recall having seen anything else.

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    Replies
    1. I remember at least one Canadian Ultima clone being covered. This might be the earliest, though.

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    2. It is indeed. I meant, it's not the (first that I've covered); there were several for 1987. But is the first (that I've covered). Since it's just from Toronto, though, and had a U.S. publisher, and is a copy of a U.K. game, I wouldn't nominate it for "National Game" just yet.

      Delete
  4. TRS-80 emulation is a scary place. To this day I'm still not completely sure how you're "supposed" to do it, and I've played 17 of them for my blog. A lot of them were bespoke solutions, like the Dunjonquest series.

    When you have the system disk in drive 0, the game disk in drive 1, and boot, what happens if you type "DIR"? Do you see your file there?

    Also, a mistake I've made far too often is typing the filename with the Windows/Unix conventional "." instead of a "/". E.g. BASIC RUN "SQ.BAS" instead of BASIC RUN "SQ/BAS".

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    Replies
    1. Yeah I've made that a lot, too, but that's not the issue here. I have no idea what I'm doing with the TRS-80. I don't know why sometimes I can autostart the disk and other times I need to load a boot disk first. I don't know why CAT sometimes works to show me the directory and sometimes doesn't.

      DIR gives me only the files in Drive 0. Should it give me both?

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    2. I've had to hack *so many* weird TRS-80 games and I still get oddities sometimes. This one I was able to pull off, though, sent an single disk auto-boot to our host.

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    3. I think I've got a low-fuss solution. It won't help you understand how anything on TRS-80 works, but it should help you get the game running without needing to screw with system disks.

      First, get SDLTRS. You'll also need "model3.rom" which you can get here:
      http://drop.caus909.net/roukxwel/0003APL7/trs80/

      Just drop model3.rom into the same folder as SDLTRS.

      Get "Reign of the Red Dragon" here:
      https://willus.com/trs80/

      Download the Autorun dmk file.

      Run SDLTRS. Press F7 to enter the emulator menu.

      Go to "Floppy Disk Management" and mount the dmk file to drive 0. Esc out to the main menu.

      Go to "TRS80 Model Selection" and pick TRS-80 Model III. Esc out to the main menu and press Esc again.

      It should reboot to this prompt:
      TRS-80 Model III Disk Basic
      38,202 Free Bytes

      Wait about 30 seconds and the game should autoload.

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    4. TRS-80 games are really inconsistent and I think a big part of the problem is how they're distributed. Apple II games come on bootable DSK and WOZ files, but TRS-80 games are often just distributed as loose BASIC files. That's great if you have a way of getting them onto a floppy disk and know how to make a real TRS-80 read them, but not so great if you just want to play the games on an emulator.

      The manual for Reign of the Red Dragon on MOCAGH says you can just boot the disk in drive 0 and start playing, but that won't work if you just have BASIC files on a floppy disk. The boot code isn't there any more. The dmk file I used from the above link isn't an authentic copy, but rather it's a disk image containing the BASIC files plus the TRS-80 equivalent of autoexec.bat configured to load them for you.

      I could be completely wrong about everything I just said. When it comes to TRS-80 emulation I'm basically a monkey who figured out how to make fire and is doing my best to explain how it works.

      Delete
    5. Yeah. TRS-80 emulation is such a niche thing compared to C64, Atari, and Apple II. The best emulator available hasn't been updated since 2016, and there is absolutely no consistency in distribution. I've monkeyed through getting most games working, though. The infuriating part, is I can't even figure out what Chet is doing different than me. Our configuration and files seem identical, but mine works.

      Between 1978 and about 1982, the TRS-80 was considered a pretty legitimate computer. I've discovered a number of early RPGs (To Chet's chagrin), that were basically forgotten.

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    6. The state of TRS-80 software preservation sounds a lot like the way things used to be on the DOS side, when most games were distributed as pre-installed directories instead of floppy disk images. Great for popping into DOSBox, but awful for anyone looking to document install-time config options or follow along with manuals. We can only hope that someone will be able to come forward and make proper copies of the actual disks someday.

      Dungy, do you suppose it might be a firmware issue? Back when I was dabbling in Japanese PC emulation, I had one instance where two files had the same name but were apparently different revisions.

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    7. I sent Chet my files. They're definitely identical.

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    8. Well, heck... this thread is making me a bit nervous. I'm laying the groundwork to (re)launch my own blog on level editors and game creation systems within the next year, and I think there are a few TSR-80-exclusive games in the early part of my list... and now this is giving me some apprehension about how hard a time I might have emulating them. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, though I think I'll make a note of this thread in case any of the advice here turns out to be helpful.

      Delete
    9. @Dungy: the one I usually use, trs80gp, has been receiving continuous updates, including one last month.

      Delete
    10. Jason Dyer's disk seems to have worked, although I would now almost judge the game unplayable for other reasons. Sorry to put you through the trouble, Ahab.

      Delete
  5. It probably WAS meant to be a mountain range.
    But then it has been repurposed...

    ReplyDelete

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