Friday, September 24, 2021

Game 433: Bronze Dragon: Conquest of Infinity (1985)

The authors were surprisingly not from Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Kentucky.
Bronze Dragon: Conquest of Infinity
United States
Commonwealth Software (developer and publisher)
Released 1985 for Apple II
Date Started: 20 September 2021
Bronze Dragon is a text-based adventure-RPG hybrid in the mold of Eamon (1980). You create a character on a "hub" disk, which features a town called Dragon Village, and from there go on any number of adventures that were supposed to be created on module disks. The problem, as with so many Eamon-inspired games (cf. Knight Quest), is that there weren't many subsequent modules. Bronze Dragon shipped with one scenario, Seekers of the Storm, as well as 12 "plots" that can be customized into dungeons of different length and difficulty levels. Later the same year, the authors released another scenario called The Twisted Speare. That was it. In some ways, I understand why players didn't warm to Bronze Dragon's odd interface, but the authors showed enough originality in characters, monsters, and mechanics that the game cannot be dismissed as a simple Eamon clone.
The main menu.
The game's main menu looks a lot like Eamon's, but it starts showing its originality in the character creation process. You're invited to create a large roster, from which up to five characters can go adventuring at once. Although its races are relatively standard (human, elf, dwarf, halfling), its classes are a bit unusual: knight, assassin, ninja, elder, and wizard. An "elder" is essentially a priest. The character also chooses an alignment from virtuous, lawful, chaotic, and vile. For all the talk in other RPGs about "chaotic good," it's clear that in Bronze Dragon, the first two alignments are "good" and the second two are "evil."
Attributes are strength, agility, intelligence, constitution, and endurance, each existing on a standard Dungeons & Dragons scale from 3-18, but their values are completely determined by class and race. There's no "re-rolling." 
Creating a character.
New characters want to visit Dragon Village's equipment store, where their starting gold doesn't go very far. The game includes a huge variety of weapons and armor as well as adventuring staples like lanterns, ropes, and iron rations. My starting characters could basically buy one weapon and one armor type.
Purchasing items. Weapon and armor selections are specific to each class.
There are other menu options for selling items looted during adventures, learning spells (each spellcasting class comes with a few slots per level), learning martial arts, visiting the pub, visiting a healers, identifying equipment at a wizard's house, and storing gold in the bank. The pub is an interesting option. Before talking to anyone, the game asks what adventure you plan to go on next. After loading the appropriate text, it offers a selection of NPCs who provide various adventure-specific hints.
Things to do in Dragon Village.
Up to five characters at a time can go on an adventure, which definitely marks a departure from the single-character Eamon. As for that adventure, you have a few options. The game comes with 12 "plots" that can be seeded into a randomized "castle." The plots provide the framing story, a couple of key encounters, and an Amulet of Yendor that you have to retrieve. You decide how many levels the castle has (up and down), how many rooms it contains, and the difficulty of both monsters and the overall scenario. The minimum dungeon size is one 10-room level, but the game often warns you that your choices have created a castle too small to fully contain the plot. Seekers of the Storm and The Twisted Speare are two full scenarios in which the castle parameters are fixed.
After choosing your adventure, you have to swap disks around a few times while the game creates your scenario ("castle") disk. After that, it's off to the adventure.
Setting some options for a randomized adventure.
Once you're actually in a castle, Bronze Dragon makes a pretty bad first impression. It's so bad, in fact, that the first time I played it, I thought that something about the interface was bugged or corrupted in my copy. Part of the problem is that the first room of each scenario has no description beyond the scenario's backstory, so after you read the backstory, you're left with only the "header" of the game's interface. Most other rooms have descriptions below the header.
The opening setup for the second scenario, "The Philosopher's Stone."
The interface header shows the active character's name; the menu or sub-menu that you're currently in; the character's hit points, armor value, and endurance; and the available commands. It's the "available commands" part that doesn't work so well. They're mapped to the number keys from 1 to 0. You can press the numbers themselves to highlight them or use the arrow keys to move through them. ENTER executes the commands. The "Regular Commands" menu is the same for everyone, with 1-0 corresponding, respectively, to rest, fight, search, look, diversion, advance, retreat, use object, inventory, and leave (the room). Almost all of these options have sub-menus with their own commands, and even on the regular menu, you can hit SPACE to toggle to a special set of class-specific and race-specific commands for each character. 
The first gameplay screen (minus a bunch of black space below it). The 1-0 numbers correspond with the standard commands for each character.
It's not as bad as I thought it was at first. It's helped by allowing the player to hit the first letter of each action, so "F" takes you automatically to 2 ("Fight") without having to remember the number or scroll through the commands. But it's still more cumbersome than it needs to be, and I rather which the developers had done away with the numbers and just offered a text list of the available options at any given time.
Anyway, all navigation is through these commands or through numbered menus on the screen. There's no GET LAMP here. If you want to pick up a lamp in the room, you choose 3 ("Search") and then 1 ("Search for Object"), and then choose the lamp from the list of objects in the room that pops up.

Actions cycle through the characters. There are times when it doesn't matter which character performs an action ("Leave," "Look," "Search"). If you need a specific character to do something, you can just "Rest" until you get to him or her. When I first started playing, I thought the game would be a pain with a party and that I'd just field a single character at a time, but it turns out that it works pretty well even with a group.
Combat is fought through menus, too. In my first attempts at the adventures, I faced an odd variety of foes, including crypt zombies, enchanted clouds, piercers, dwarves, banshees, and curiously easy "tower demons." Enemies can start in the room at short, medium, or long ranges, and you may have to advance depending on the length and range of your weapons (again, each character does this individually). Melee combat uses a THAC0-type system by which the game tells you what number you need to roll (or higher) on a 1d20 to hit the enemy. Numbers flash by too fast to time, and you hit ENTER to freeze on one of them. If you hit, the game rolls separately for damage done. If you slay an enemy, characters immediately get the experience (called "skill points") divided among them.
Chester makes his roll.
Although the mechanics are relatively basic, there are some tactical considerations associated with special abilities and spells. Each class has two special abilities: "Swordplay" and "Rage" for the knight; "Assassinate" and "Sneak" for the assassin; "Martial Arts," "Imitate Dead," and "Leap" for the ninja; "Destroy" and "Innate Heal" for the Elder; and "Cast Energy" for the wizard. Elders and wizards can also cast spells from a pool of "charges." Level 1 combat spells for wizards include "Shatterglass" (c. 12 damage to a monster), "Snare," "Attraction" (pulls a monster into short range), and "Protect." There are obviously more at higher levels. I've barely begun to explore different spells and special abilities, but clearly they create a lot of tactical scenarios together.
And my mage blasts an enemy with shards of glass.
Endurance depletes with each action, and you have to stop for a few rounds of resting every so often. There's a good chance that wandering monsters will enter the room while you're resting.
After a few false starts, I determined to create a solid party and win the "Dungeon of the Undead" scenario, which is only available to Level 1 characters. My party was:
  • Chester, a virtuous human knight
  • Ezio, a virtuous halfling assassin
  • Hattori, a lawful human ninja
  • Pius, a lawful dwarf elder
  • Morgan, a virtuous elf wizard

(For reasons covered anon, it makes sense to have the party entirely "good" or entirely "bad.")
I equipped everyone with weapons, armor, and food. Hattori got some thieves' tools, but I didn't have enough money for him to learn any martial arts yet. Pius learned 5 charges of "Heal Wounds" and 2 charges of "Zombie," which summons a zombie to fight with the party. Morgan learned 8 castings of "Shatterglass," 25 castings of "Find Traps," and 4 castings of "Snare."
First-level spells available to the wizard.
I then made a new adventure using Plot #1 ("Dungeon of the Undead"), with 15 rooms per level and 4 castle levels. I then had Chester enter the bar to get rumors. When he entered, the bartender was whispering something about a container. I greased his palm with gold, and he offered that "the magic stuff" is hard for newcomers. The nobleman wouldn't talk to me. The blacksmith said that zombies are hard to kill. The waitress said: "The wands are the first step. You only need one." The hooded assassin wanted 50 bronze pieces, way more than I had left. None of the other characters had anything to offer.
The "container" bit actually has some relevance.
I gathered the party and started the adventure. The opening text read:
Many fearless adventurers have sought the Parchment of Power--and died for their efforts. This is not surprising, because the parchment is within the Dungeon of the Undead, a place of evil and death. The Parchment of Power is so named for its ability to "bestow pure healing," an aspect of its nature which isn't fully understood.
You now stand outside the Dungeon of the Undead, which glows a pale white through the mist that surrounds it. Eerie organ music floats out from the stone structure. The mist seems to part as you walk up.
As usual, the starting room had no additional descriptive text. I could return to Dragon Village or take one of four "misty entrances" in each of the four cardinal directions.
"The west wall and columns are cool and polished," the next room description read. "The walls and floor are hard. It is dim." I soon learned that the game draws its room descriptions from a list of adjectives (e.g., reinforced, slick, gnarled, weak, stained) and nouns (e.g., walls, columns, ceiling, alcove). One room will have walls that are cool and polished and ceilings that are weak and stained; the next will have a slick alcove covered in blood and a floor that is reinforced and oiled. It basically works, although some of the combinations make little sense.
How can an alcove be "gnarled"?
The game also has a library of descriptions for the rooms' exits: a misty doorway, an oaken door, a double-barred door, a scratched stone door, and so forth.
The rooms and their various exits do create a cohesive dungeon layout. Each room tells you its dimensions, in factors of 10 feet, and the specific position of the exits along each wall. For instance, a northern doorway marked "3" is three squares along the north wall from the west wall. With this information, you can make maps of the levels. This is useful because room descriptions and door descriptions often repeat.
This room is 4 x 6 squares. There are two doors on the south wall, one two squares from the west wall and one six squares from the west wall.

My map of one of the levels. "Ds" are stairways down. I feel like there must be something in that 1 x 3 area to the northwest, but I couldn't find any secret doors leading into there.
Monsters that I encountered in the dungeon included crypt zombies, skeletons, halflings, dwarves, giant ants, giant rats, and "refuse bolisks," perhaps a corruption of "basilisks." Halflings and dwarves are "good" creatures, and you're supposed to bribe them to leave you alone rather than fight them if you're playing a good party. I missed this in the manual, with consequences that we'll soon see.
A giant rat gets a bite in.
You find a lot of junk in the rooms, including random items of clothing, bars of soap, and various types of dishes and cutlery. There are also a lot of containers, like boxes, cupboards, and chests. Many of them are locked and have to be opened with the ninja and his tool kit. I kept forgetting to swap his weapon back into his hand after doing this, which would cause him to attack the next enemy with his tool kit and damage the kit. Anyway, what's more frustrating are the containers that aren't locked, because it feels like you should be able to do something with them, but no set of commands seems to let you simply open or look in a container. Everything you pick up sells for at least a few bronze pieces back in Dragon Village, but your encumbrance limits you, so you want to prioritize the expensive stuff.
The various items in one room. "Pennon" is an actual word and not a misspelling of "pennant" as I originally thought. It means "pennant."
I guess the dungeon was once a temple led by a priest named Doomeis. There are numerous inscriptions to him as we explore. A wraith says that he "went too far" and that "everyone paid for his foolishness, Doomeis most of all." His name is written in blood on a wall that used to hold maps. Spirits scream his name from somewhere below a rift in the floor. 
Despite his confidence, he does not appear to have lived forever.
The first puzzle item we find is a Wand of Freezing. On the same level (second), we also find some Jumping Boots, but they are "too hot to touch." I use the Wand of Freezing on the boots and am able to collect them. On the fourth level, we find the Parchment of Power, but it is "too fragile to take." A nearby room has a scroll casing, but it is "floating high above your head." I have to use the Jumping Boots to get the scroll casing, which I then use to collect the fragile Parchment of Power. After that, all that's left is getting out of the dungeon.
My knight collects the scroll.
The party escapes with the Scroll and piles of stuff to sell back in Dragon Village. We have also amassed about 1,200 skill points, or roughly half of what most classes need to reach Level 2. You don't simply level up when you reach the threshold, however. You have to visit one of the two local rulers, King Leopold or Lord Usul. King Leopold will only reward good characters and Lord Usul will only reward evil ones (which is why makes sense to have all characters the same alignment). The manual promises that they will offer skill point and treasure rewards for artifacts claimed during the adventures.
Wasting my time on a visit to Leopold.
I take the Parchment of Power to King Leopold, and here the game pulls out the rug from under me. Apparently, since I killed halflings and dwarves in the dungeons, my characters' alignments all changed to "chaotic." Leopold therefore won't see us. But he's the only one interested in the Parchment of Power, so after winning the first adventure, I can't really claim any kind of reward for it. All I can do is sell my meager treasures and buy a few equipment upgrades.
At least he's enthusiastic.
Thus is my first experience with the game. I find the interface slow and frustrating, but it has a few good ideas, and I want to try some of the spells and abilities at higher levels. I think I'll continue on to the Seekers of the Storm adventure before wrapping it up. We'll talk next time about the development team, which is still (mostly) together and working on games to this day.
Time so far: 5 hours   

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Shadows of Darkness: Out, Ye Rogue, Play Out the Play

The thief gets a special set of gear.
September is always my busiest month. I pre-scheduled a number of entries in early August, but they could only take me so far. I needed to find time to play and blog just as classes were starting and a couple of major contracts came to a close.
Given that, you'd think a replay of a game I just finished would be the easiest option. I'd previously replayed the first three Quest for Glory games with all of the character classes, and it usually took less time for three replays than it took me to run through the game originally. That, alas, is not true for Shadows of Darkness. Running through as a thief didn't take me the same 20 hours that it took my paladin, but neither was it a half-hour lark the way it was in the first three games.
There are several significant timing and pacing issues with Shadows of Darkness that didn't exist with its predecessors, except to a much lesser extent in Trial by Fire. Whereas in Trial by Fire, certain events occurred on certain days, in Shadows of Darkness, events rely on particular triggers. You can't really solve any puzzles prematurely or use knowledge from a previous run to inform a subsequent one. You have to do things in the right order and wait. In a replay, you spend most of your days waiting for night to fall, and there's no quick way to do that (the way there is to, say, "sleep until morning" to do the opposite). Moreover, some of the triggers are obscure. For the life of me, I couldn't get the "Igor is missing" event to start. I don't know precisely what triggers it, but I think it may require you to visit the Burgomeister in his office during the day. That's the only thing I hadn't done after waiting about two weeks, and the event occurred the next day after I did it.
Until you get this bit of dialogue, there's no way to rescue Tanya.
Over the previous games, I've come to think of my thief as a charming, affable chaotic neutral. He isn't cruel, but he's definitely a thief. He's in it for the wealth, the adventure, and the thrill of successfully pulling off a job, whether he's burglarizing a house or conning people into thinking he's a hero. I can picture him kicking back with other thieves in a tavern, telling his stories. "Technically, I'm a prince in Shapeir. At least, I think I still am. I haven't been back in years."
The thief escaped the opening cave the same way as the paladin, except that I tightrope-walked across the chasm rather than crossing hand-over-hand. I found no sword and shield in the heart chamber, which raises some existential questions. Why would a corpse that appeared for the paladin not appear for the thief? Did something of the thief's exploits in Spielburg, Shapeir, or Tarna change the timeline in a way so that some random fighter never entered the heart chamber and died there? Or did Katrina plant those items for the paladin, staging a corpse so that he wouldn't be suspicious of finding them?
When I reached Mordavia and climbed over the gate at night, no Piotyr appeared in the town square. As dawn broke and the citizens began coming out, none of them recognized the thief sign (though all of them had an amusing reaction to it). I bought the usual selection of items at the shop and discussed the usual keywords with the townsfolk, including Doctor Cranium.
A couple of the amusing responses to the Thief's Sign.
No one gave me a key to the adventurer's guild. I had to break the door down. Once inside, I couldn't break the glass around the sword in the case. So I searched the guild and used the equipment to work out. At the top of the rope climb, I noticed something that the paladin would have missed: on one of the beams was scratched a crude mark. In the language of thieves, it was telling me to look beneath the table.
Doing so rewarded me with another image. There was a set of scratches suggesting different positions for hooks, then an indication that putting them in the right position would cause something to happen above the bookcase (where there was an obvious panel). It took me a while to figure out that the "hooks" were the tiny line of things to the right of the bookcase. I thought it was a chair rail. I guess that would have made more sense if it had extended around the room.
How did it work when this place was filled with Adventurers' Guild members?
Solving the hook minigame opened the panel and allowed me access to the thieves' guild. I found a knob in a grate on the floor and a guild card in a poster on the wall. The card allowed me to open the door on the back wall, and the knob fit on to a safe in that area. A minigame invited me to enter a combination of letters, which was clearly FILCH--the maker of the safe. Between other hidden safes (behind portraits) and the desk in the room, I found a bunch of gold, a thief's toolkit (including lockpicks), several daggers, and a poison cure potion.
A diary in the desk (Memoirs of a Master Manipulator) had a little nonsense poem:
Bad Boys Yell
Good Girls Giggle
Rich Girls Run
After I got over my annoyance with the gender stereotypes, I realized that the poem was the solution to a puzzle on the barrel in the room involving colored tiles. They were arranged 3 x 3, and the top row was blue, blue, yellow. I'm sure you can get the rest.
Solving the puzzle caused the right wall to slide open, revealing the chief thief. He didn't introduce himself by name, but he appears in the manual as Matt "the Cat" MacMaster. He looks a lot like Peter Lorre. Anyway, he had been turned into some kind of human/bug hybrid--some kind of curse from trying to steal a statue from the basement of the monastery. I offered to help him, and he asked me to bring him the statue.
That body could be useful for a thief.
At his suggestion, I climbed into the monastery by using my rope and hooks on the upper window. I didn't realize there was an alternate way to get in. That was great, but I soon found myself trapped inside, as I lacked the climbing skill to get back out. I had to reload. I used the more conventional way to enter the second time. I found my way into the basement as before. I tried taking the statue, but when I touched it, I turned into a slug.
Reloading, I found that if I used the shopping bag (purchased at the town store) on the statue, I could pick it up without harm. I brought it back to the master thief and turned him back into a human. 
The guild with the restored guildmaster.
For all that effort, the Chief Thief was spectacularly useless. He wasn't even running a fencing operation anymore, so I couldn't sell anything to him (not that there was anything to buy). The only thing he was good for was returning at occasional intervals to tell about my burglary exploits.
I think he's being sarcastic.
Not that there were so many burglary exploits. There are only two places you can burgle: Nikolai's house and the Burgomeister's office. Every time I tried to pick the lock on Nikolai's door, the game said I could hear him shuffling around; I guess he searches for Anna all night. I could only enter Nikolai's house after solving his quest and sending his ghost off with Anna, at which point it was less burglary and more trespassing in an abandoned house. Given that they both said they wished they could reward me before departing for the afterlife, you could even argue that I was owed the few dozen crowns I found in the old man's desk. I later discovered that you can enter Nikolai's house while he's still around. You just have to enter the window instead of the door. My way, Chester had no ethical pangs.
Snooping around Nikolai's house.
The Burgomeister's office can only be entered by the locked window. It requires a very high lockpicking skill, and lockpicking skill increases maddeningly slowly in this game. Every attempt consumes stamina, and burning through an entire stamina bar might only increase you 2 or 3 points. Late in the game, I discovered that a) every door in the castle is locked for the thief, so it's a good place to train stamina; and b) even after your stamina bar depletes, you can keep trying to lockpick, but it (slowly) depletes your health instead. Until I knew those things, I spent many nights attempting to pick the window until my stamina ran out, then resting a couple hours, then attempting again.
I passed several nights doing this.
Eventually, I got through the window. Inside the office, there are only two things to do: pick the desk open and pick the jail cell. There's no point in picking the jail cell until Davy gets arrested. Anyway, both locks require even higher skill than the window requires, meaning that even after I got through the window, I spent a lot of nights inside the office, futilely trying to open the desk. When it finally happened, I was clicking so fast I didn't even notice what I got, but I assume it was just some more crowns.
You technically don't need to let Davy out of the cell--you can just find Igor--but I think the thief gets points for doing so. I freed him and then rescued Igor anyway.
Davy escapes from the Burgomeister's office after I open his cell.
If you mess with the door to the Burgomeister's residence, you get an automatic "game over" screen. It makes sense, but it was a lot more fun back in So You Want to Be a Hero when you had the cute animation of the goon tossing you off the balcony and the confused sheriff coming out of his bedroom in his stocking cap. In fact, it occurs to me that's true throughout the game. Where previous games (particularly the first one) had all kinds of animations for scripted deaths, this one just takes you right to the message.
Perhaps they spent the budget on the voiced dialogue.
Everything else proceeded much as in the paladin's game, but here are some notes on the thief's experience, plus a few things I didn't notice until this replay:
  • The three townsmen in the tavern are doing bad vocal impersonations of--according to numerous sites--Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, and Rodney Dangerfield. I caught the Jack Nicholson one, but the others are so bad that they don't really sound to me like the people they're trying to badly impersonate. Anyway, during one of the first conversations,  one of the characters is saying, on screen, "I be Franz. I am wealthy garlic grower." This is the character who is supposed to sound like Dangerfield. But the vocal file that goes with the screen has the Nicholson impersonator saying, "Listen, I'm telling ya, Igor's death must be avenged." I don't know if this mis-match happens all the time or if it was a fluke.
  • This time around, a couple of times while I slept, I had dreams about Katrina and Ad Avis arguing.
Ad Avis is concerned both about and for me.
  • I didn't realize until about my 30th hour that Dr. Cranium's house looks like a face, including a mustache and bulbous nose. 
  • Davy has an amusing reaction to the Thief's Sign. He says he doesn't know what it is, but he clearly does.
"Steal?" Why would you mention stealing at all?
  • I couldn't find any reliable way to increase my "Stealth" ability except to walk around with it on all the time. It would go up by maybe 2 points per (real) hour doing this. Then again, I'm not sure "Stealth" does much for you in the game.
I "sneak" through a forest in broad daylight.
  • Non-paladins cannot solve the Rusalka quest even though there's no particular reason for the old gypsy woman to offer the solution only to a paladin. I was able to befriend her, however. If you just talk to her and give her flowers and candy, she'll warn you about her true nature and refuse to kill you.
There's a good screenplay here.
  • A lot of the thief's puzzles use a "jump" option available only to thieves. It draws on the "Acrobatics" skill. The thief does a little somersault in the air while leaping from place to place. It's the only way for the thief to get through the swamp to the Mad Monk's tombstone, for instance, as he doesn't have the option to just trudge through the mire the way the paladin (and presumably the fighter) can.  
Somersaulting from islet to islet.
  • There are several paladin puzzle solutions that rely on strength. These aren't available to the thief even if he's strong enough. For instance, the thief can't force the castle gates or topple over the monolith.
  • My thief was magic-trained, however, and he was able to make liberal use of spells. "Fetch" got me several items I was probably supposed to get another way, and I used "Levitation" a few times when the game probably wanted me to use climbing or the rope and grapnel.
  • Despite these transgressions, I still ended the game with 500 points.
  • Every door in the castle is locked for the thief. Again, it raises the question of why. Does Katrina know that the hero is a thief and thus inclined to burglary?
The thief gets an exhausting number of options at doors.
  • The same trap-disabling interface shows up at several points in the game. The various squares in a 3 x 3 grid rapidly flash several symbols. You click to lock them in place. Get the same symbol across one row or down one column, and the trap is disarmed.
An easy mini-game.
  • I fought a lot of manual combats before I thought I'd see how autocombat works for the thief. It turns out that it has him exhaust his throwing daggers before doing anything else. "Anything else" in the case of my thief usually meant casting spells. I honestly don't know how you manually throw daggers in combat. 
You wouldn't think a dagger would hurt a wraith, but it does.
  • Because of his burglaries and the wealth he got from killing all the wraiths, my thief ended the game with over 300 crowns. It would have been more, but there's one chest in the castle that I couldn't pilfer because I got stuck in a trap where I couldn't get out of its area. Every time I opened the door to the main hall, it just put me right back in the room I'd come from again. Anyway, it's pretty ridiculous how little there is to spend money on. I hope all that money will do me some good in the next game.
Oh, yeah--I have three pieces of jewelry, too.
  • The fortuneteller has one more reading than I experienced with my paladin. In it, she explains more explicitly where to get each ritual and also makes explicit that you have to release the Dark One to save Erana and end his threat once and for all. This makes the character's actions in the endgame more palatable.
I'm not entirely sure why the Dark One isn't released at the endgame.
The endgame had some thief-specific solutions, most making use of the "jump" option. In the Bone Chamber, the thief jumps out of the bone cage rather than smashing it open like the paladin (again, strength doesn't matter). In the Blood Chamber, the thief doesn't knock over the stone to staunch the blood: he just leaps across the platforms to the exit.
The Breath Chamber made the least sense. The thief can't grab onto a plant. Instead, he has to wait for the wind to blow him up against the screen (I assume this is supposed to be the near wall) and then climb down and to the right. 
This is probably the largest graphic that we get of the hero in the entire series.
In the final confrontation, Erana's staff turns into a stake for the thief rather than a spear. After disabling Ad Avis with the Ultimate Joke, the thief somersaults to Ad Avis's platform and plunges the stake into his heart. I have to admit that was pretty satisfying.
Air assassination!
But I got a stake to my own heart in the final conversation with Erana. Where she told the paladin that she would love him forever, she simply tells the thief, "Thank you and farewell." I don't know whether that's a class thing or an honor thing. Either way, it sounds like Erana isn't going to be the thief's love interest in Quest for Glory V, and I know from experience that neither is Katrina. That makes me wonder who he'll end up with. I'm rooting for the Rusalka.
I still want to replay as a fighter and wizard, so we'll have a little more Shadows of Darkness before moving on. I think next time, I'm going to try harder to note the various triggers and dependencies. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

BRIEF: Veil of Darkness (1993)

Veil of Darkness
United States
Event Horizon (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS; 1994 for FM Towns and PC-98
Rejected for not being an RPG (no character development)
Veil of Darkness is the third Event Horizon title to use a variation of the game interface originally developed for DarkSpyre (1990) and seen in Dusk of the Gods (1991) and The Summoning (1992). The innovative interface features the game world on top and the character inventory and attributes on the bottom, with an adjustable border in between. Combat uses a real-time cool-down system taken from Dungeon Master (1987).
Although they featured a lot of mechanical and inventory puzzles, the first three games were all proper RPGs. In Veil, the developers decided to adapt the engine to a more traditional adventure-style game, complete with a meatier plot, more interesting NPCs, and inventory puzzles that go beyond simply sticking the right object in the right slot. But they also removed most of the RPG components, including (probably) character attributes and leveling. I have gone back and forth so many times between making this a BRIEF and just playing it anyway that even as I write this sentence, I don't have a final decision. Or I do, but I forgot to come back and edit this.
The opening cinematic shows the character unaware of the threat behind him.
The well-written manual story (credited to Scott Noel, who also wrote the manual for The Summoning) tells the story of Kairn, fifth son of Nikolae, Lord of Csarda, a fictional kingdom in Romania. It is set in the second half of the sixteenth century. Rejecting the tendencies of his abusive, hedonistic family, Kairn falls in love with a Hungarian peasant girl named Deanna. But his father learns of the tryst and personally burns down Deanna's house and kills her family. This causes something to snap inside Kairn. He announces his plans to take over as royal librarian, having his father dismiss (and kill) the former occupant of that position. With access to his predecessor's books of power, including a powerful book of evil called the Agrippa, Kairn turns himself into a vampire and proceeds to slaughter his father and brothers. Settling in to a long, cruel, and immortal rule, Kairn occasionally lures heroes into his valley, hoping one will eventually kill him and send him to hell.
Couldn't he have just looked out the window?
Flash forward to the vaguely modern era and the game's opening cinematic. The main character is a cargo pilot, on his way from somewhere to somewhere when terror seizes him over the Carpathian Mountains. He manages to gain control of his plane, but then Kairn sends a cloud of bats to bring down the plane. The character crashes in the valley and collapses as he staggers from the plane. Some villagers discover him and bring him home to heal.
Always stay with the crash.
Gameplay begins as the character wakes up to the face of the beautiful Deirdre, one of his rescuers. She asks his name--which the player inputs--and then directs him to her father in another part of the house.
Gameplay uses the same oblique-angle interface as the other Event Horizon titles mentioned above, but a bit simpler. The only commands are "Chat" and "Take." There's no character attributes screen because there are no attributes. The inventory screen is simple enough (the character starts with only a dagger), showing 10 backpack slots next to paper doll depicting equipped items. Using an object means putting it in one of the character's hands on the paper doll and then clicking either the left-hand or right-hand "use" options on the right-hand side of the interface.
"Character Creation"
In a horrible design choice, the developers make the player choose from three combat modes before he even has a chance to fight a combat. The choice is irrevocable. The three modes are "Full," "Simplified," and "Easy." I gather from the manual that despite their names, the "modes" don't represent three different sets of mechanics but rather three difficulty levels. Characters on the lower levels get more bonuses and hit points. This suggests that there is some kind of "combat skill" attribute behind the scenes, but I don't think it can be improved after the choice is made except by equipment.
The house is oddly enormous and modern. The owner, Kirill, is wearing a three-piece suit but claims to have never heard of an airplane. "You will find that this valley is somewhat behind the times, good sir," he says, but offers nothing about how this supposedly closed-off valley has electricity, modern furniture, and 20th-century architecture. He explains that Deirdre and his servant, Ivan, rescued me from the wreckage. He suggests that I stay and rest for a few days. The only task he asks in return for his charity is that I recover a carpenter's hammer from a fellow villager named Eduard, who borrowed it and never returned it.
This reminds me of the famous "potato story" on Reddit.
The dialogue uses the same keyword system as The Summoning. You can click on keywords that pop up during conversation, but if you don't, the game just puts them all in a list for you. You cannot get them to repeat things, so I've been taking copious screenshots. There's a blank slot to type your own keywords, but Kirill had no reaction to DEIRDRE, IVAN, KAIRN, VAMPIRE, or JOB. However, some of these keywords prompt the dialogue box to close and re-open, while others just cause the line to blank and the cursor to return to the beginning without resetting the screen. I suspect some of those are keywords that work later, or with different NPCs.
I find a couple of silver coins in the basement, and Ivan gives me a bag with eight more. Ivan indicates that Kirill's last name is Khristoverikh.
My inventory grows.
There are lots of things on the screens that feel like they ought to be interactable, such as chests and crates, a piano, and bookcases. But nothing happens if you cursor over them, and there's no "Search," "Open," or "Use" command in the game (except with inventory items). Even doors open just by walking into them. A lot of them won't open, but the game says explicitly that "there is nothing important behind this door." A couple of doors are locked.
The character can be moved with both the mouse and numberpad. The music is annoying, relentless, and impossible to turn off independently of the sound, so I'm playing the game silently.
Leaving Kirill's house.
I head out into the village, which is made up of many closely-built houses. In the first one I explore, I meet a candlemaker and widower named Josep, who heard about me from his son, Anton. Anton apparently told him that I was some kind of beast, "more bird than man, covered in glistening scales of steel, armed with long, sharp talons." He says I can talk to Anton, but not to mention Natalja, a friend of the boy's who is dying.
I meet Anton in his room. He claims that his mother was killed by a werewolf and that Natalja (of course I asked about her) is dying of some madness that periodically affects people in the village. He wants to see my plane, but the game has the character say no. Based on my experiences so far, you don't really have dialogue "options" in this game, just keywords. The character speaks on his own and for himself. 
Man, that's some heavy stuff from a kid.
A dilapidated building has maybe a murder scene. The graphics aren't quite good enough, or are too small, to tell for sure. I pick up some "torn fabric" from the scene, in any event. A nearby shack has a pry bar. I try the bar on various chests, boxes, and doors, but the game just insists there's nothing to pry.
Could be a murder scene; could be cat vomit.
A small general store is run by Jon. He offers me an oil lamp for a silver piece and asks me to inquire about other things I might wish to buy. Jon is apparently the father of Natalja, because when I poke around on the second floor of his shop, I find her in bed with the girl's mother watching over her. She claims there's no cure for the madness killing the girl, but I pledge to help her anyway.
I appreciate the realism of this particular NPC.
Next to Jon's shop is an herb shop run by an old woman named Annabelle. She sells me some fennel seeds for a silver piece and suggests I ask about anything else I want. I have nothing to ask about now, so I leave.
It's an adventure game. If the shop sells fennel seeds, you're going to need fennel seeds.
The next building I come to is the inn and tavern, which has a bunch of empty rooms upstairs and people downstairs. The bartender, Seth, owns the place. He has a collection of cups, including a precious gold goblet, and he longs for a drink fancy enough to drink from it. The waitress, Sophia, has nothing to offer, and the character declines a drink. The rest of the patrons, who talk collectively, are talking about Eduard's disappearance and how blood was left behind in his house--that must be what I saw in the dilapidated house. They think he was killed by a werewolf.
Seriously? 20th-century fashions made it to Csarda, but you don't know what an "airplane" is?
This is a good time to note the many similarities between Veil of Darkness and Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness, including the eastern European/vampire theme, the isolated village, the blond hero brought against his will, and the trio of tavern patrons who talk collectively and believe a fellow townsman was killed by a werewolf. Veil of Darkness would have been a better subtitle for Quest for Glory, too.
The patrons make some noise about how "nothing was left behind," including "cloth or bone," so I figure waving the torn fabric around might prompt something, but I can't figure out any way to use it. I grab some darts off the tavern floor and leave. I take another quick look around Eduard's place to make sure I didn't miss the hammer the first time, but no luck.
Back at his house, Kirill chastises me for not getting the hammer yet. I have no option to converse further with him, so I can't explain about Eduard. There are no other places to go in town. I re-read the manual to make sure I haven't missed any commands or mechanics, but I don't find anything. So I watch a video of someone playing the game and discover that the character can move things by pushing into them.
The solution is to push the bookcase into which the blood trail leads. This reveals a secret door leading into a small chamber. A bloodied corpse (presumably Eduard) lies on the floor, along with a bloody hammer and two silver coins. 
I return to Kirill, and he's all excited: "You've found it! You've found the bloody hammer. Or, as it is said, 'a bloody tool most foul.' My thanks, Chester. I'll give the hammer to Ivan once we have finished talking. Oh, can it be? Salvation . . . For a moment I doubted you. Coincidence, I thought, but now I'm sure you're the one! If it wasn't you, the hammer would never have been found."
Chester responds:
They should have hired Scott Noel for the in-game dialogue.
So, yeah, it's going to be a BRIEF.
The Adventure Gamer has a current series of articles, so watch them for the exciting conclusion to the tale.