Tuesday, November 2, 2021

BRIEF: Sorderon's Shadow (1985)

The title screen lacks the subtitle, but the manual and box both have it.
     
Sorderon's Shadow: The Legend of Elindor
United Kingdom
Independently developed; published by Beyond
Released 1985 for ZX Spectrum
      
If there's one thing that we have to admire about Sorderon's Shadow, it's how quickly the authors produced it. The game is clearly inspired by Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight, released the previous year. The manual says this explicitly. It uses the same sort of enormous game map with the same sorts of locations, and its claim to fame revolves around the same use of "landscaping" in which distant cities, objects, and people can be seen from the current square.
   
You play the "Unnamed One," plucked from your realm by Karavor the Far-Seeing to destroy the evil wizard Sorderon, who has conquered the land of Elindor. We just had a discussion, relative to "Nibenay," about how many fantasy authors consciously or unconsciously borrow their place names. "Elindor" sounds like one of those names that has been used a hundred times--in Tolkien, perhaps?--until Googling produces nothing.
     
A new day dawns in Elindor. I realize this doesn't look like a forest, but in "landscaping" games, what you see is always what's ahead of you.
      
Shadow aims to improve upon Midnight by offering more of an adventure game approach. Just like Midnight, there is a small selection of common commands (directions, inventory, pause) that can be activated with the right SHIFT and then a single key. But there is also a host of text adventure-style keywords like TAKE, CLIMB, KILL, BURN, OFFER, GREET, and so forth. You can even give commands to other characters with sentences like SAY TO JASON, "DROP THE SWORD."
   
These adventure game elements come at the expense of the strategy game elements of Midnight; there are no armies to manage or defeat, and the player controls only one character. In terms of RPG elements, the two games are about equal: neither is an RPG. Neither offers character development. Where Midnight had a basic "bravery" attribute that influenced combat, Shadow doesn't even have that. Combat is even passive; although you can type KILL SKELETON, you don't have to. Your character fights enemies automatically if they happen to enter his square. There are more inventory items in Shadow, but it's unclear what any of them are for or what they do, and the manual is no help.
      
Combat at midnight.
         
The problem, as pointed out in many contemporary reviews, is that this enormous game world and ways of interacting with it is mostly wasted on a completely linear plot that requires the player to consult the hints in the manual for what to do. This is evident from literally the opening moments. "As you awake in Elindor," the manual says, "a guide will go before you. Follow him north, stay close, and pay heed to his words." The "guide" is an NPC named Morrin, who runs five squares north to a cave and says ELIN BALOR, a magic phrase that reveals the hidden town of Balinor. Here, you get your next quest from someone named Lonar: go kill a Krillan (a zombie created by Sorderon). If you go the wrong direction at the start of the game, or if you dally on any of the squares as Morrin heads north, you don't arrive in time to hear him say the code phrase, and you can't continue with the game. 
   
Winning the game involves completing nine tasks, the first seven of which have to be completed in a specific order. I was going to try, but I can't get past the second task. I've killed numerous Krillans, but when I return to Balinor, Loran doesn't acknowledge that I've completed his quest nor give me the next one.
 
I'm trying!
 
Even if I was willing to play it to the end regardless of its RPG status, there are a number of things about the game that annoy me. The screen blanks and redraws every 10 seconds for what appears to be no reason. The only sound is a torturous, intermittent dripping. The apple that's supposed to show your current health changes colors seemingly at random. You can't backspace to correct spelling mistakes. Worst of all, the parser simultaneously over-reads and under-reads key input (this is probably an emulator issue, but still) so that if I type TAKE COIN at what seems to be a normal speed, it will come out TKEEE COOONNN. Trying to move north often looks like this:

>NORTHH
I don't understand NORTHH.
>NORTHH
I don't understand NORTHH.
>NOTH
I don't understand NOTH.
>NORRHH
I don't understand NORRHH.
>NORTH
You travel north.
   
Assuming the keypress issue wasn't a problem for contemporary players, I can understand why they would have liked it. Like Midnight, it's relatively advanced for both a cassette game and ZX Spectrum game, and it was written in less than a year by two developers--Simon Welland and Nick Eatock (that's a name you don't want as a schoolboy)--who only have a couple of other games to their credit.
     
The game at least had an arresting advertisement.
 
        
I know I had a couple of fans of this game who wanted to see me finish it, but I have to start policing non-RPGs a bit harder.
   
*****
    
I'm still struggling with Burntime but hope to get another (final?) entry out soon. In the meantime, we lost a couple of games from the "Recent and Upcoming" list, neither of which I feel compelled to even BRIEF. The only reason Hydlide II (1985) was on there is that someone insisted it was completely in English, but that turns out not to be the case. I was thus delighted to remove it. Meanwhile, Nomad (1993) was a spacefaring trading/combat simulation game with no character development. No game database suggests that it's an RPG. It was nominated by a commenter who hasn't been around in years and who himself admitted it probably wouldn't pass muster.


28 comments:

  1. "Policing non-RPGs a bit harder"
    HAHAHA I've been meaning to suggest Police Quest VI:S.W.A.T 2 to add to the list. Aside from being able to advance your SWAT officers (or terrorists) in skill, there's many ways to complete a mission as either SWAT or terrorists ... Oh and there's permadeath.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meanwhile I'm still insisting on giving Ironseed a look once 1995 comes around.

      It's obviously inspired by Star Control 2, and it does kinda sorta have character development, so it's worth at least a brief!

      Delete
    2. I get where Chet is coming from here, for some of the more obscure games you tend to end up having to trust whoever added a game to a database didn't screw up. An example I remember, though nobody else probably does, is Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt. Mobygames lists it as a RPG, as does just about everyone else, even the ones not cribbing from Moby. Why? Because the game has multiple characters you control, RPG-style. Obviously when Chet got to it he noticed it wasn't a RPG in the slightest.
      Meanwhile Ironseed's Moby page doesn't mention RPG at all. You never do know what you're going to find sometimes. (and yes, I know its a RPG, I was the one to originally nag about it)

      Delete
    3. was thinking that Swat 2 came relatively late to a genre that already offered Sabre Team or Jagged Alliance. I do not follow every entry on this blog to remember how RPG-y are the UFO/XCOM games considered (imho, quite a bit)

      Delete
  2. Regarding the apple changing colour, that might be due to what's called colour or attribute clash. A technical limitation of the Speccy where only two colours could be used in any 8×8 tile of pixels.
    So if the part of the screen adjacent to the apple changed colour, it might have forced the apple to change too

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attribute_clash

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a big apple. The Speccy gave you your choice of ink and paper colours on every 8x8 pixel square, so the apple would have covered about 12-16 of those, and would certainly have been drawn to fit inside such a block. Even if it wasn't, only the edges would have been affected.

      I'd guess the colour represents poison or tiredness or something.

      Delete
  3. To my ESL speaker ears, Elindor immediately evokes Elsinore. Might it be that it's also what you were getting?

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    Replies
    1. I think because -(n)dor means "land" in Sindarin, there are a lot of Tolkien place names that end that way -- Valinor, Gondor, Arnor, Eriador, etc.

      Delete
  4. Alan Garner has a novel titled Elidor, an unusually downbeat portal fantasy.

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  5. Too bad you weren't able to complete the second quest. As I recall the game was a bit buggy, but I remember getting close to the end. But even with a walkthrough I was not able to finish it.

    I don't remember problems with the keys repeating.

    The screen redrawing is a result of redrawing the position of the moving sun, I guess.

    So a very ambitious game, with a fair share of problems. But I remember it being an exciting game to explore, with a very interesting cast of weird and wonderful characters.

    A game that I was afraid to revisit. Revisiting Tir Na Nog ruined much of my good memories of that game.

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  6. BTW, did you try examining the Krillan corpse or something? Lonar probably needs some proof.

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  7. Every single screenshot depicts the three primary colors, that's a garish design choice even for the days of ZX Spectrum.

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  8. "Elindor" is valid Sindarin Elvish—it's not, so far as I know, an actual word from anything Tolkienian, but using the dictionaries in the Appendices, you could easily construct it from "elin" (plural of ĂȘl, star) and "-dor" (land), thus getting "land of the stars."

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    Replies
    1. "And over yon mountains lies the land of Alcindor, where there are many bodies of water, and the men are tall. Very tall. Like, seriously tall."

      Delete
    2. Also, Sam Gamgee's first daughter is named Elanor, after a star-shaped flower.

      Delete
    3. Serious laughing there PK... well played!

      Delete
  9. Dragon Ball's diminutive monk wakes up in a cold sweat.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hydlide 2 has a (fan-made) English patch, maybe that's what the commenter was talking about?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. I had the same idea but a search on romhacking.net revealed nothing. This patch seems really obscure, if anyone else is interested I finally found it here: http://ips.tni.nl/rom/translations/

      Delete
    3. He should play Hydlide 2 in 2006 when the official English patch was released. Already lookibg forward to it

      Delete
    4. On the one hand, there was a late official English release of the game.

      On the other hand, Hydlide II is not a good game (unless it is somehow drastically better than every other game in the series) and we are richer for having lost it.

      Delete
  11. I'm a bit sad that Nomad is no longer on the list. In my memory that one felt more of an RPG than Burntime and I had been hoping for a Brief. But I have to agree that it doesn't match your definition, nor would I call it an RPG, in general. I just remember that I liked the story and the open universe that gave me kind of role-playing choices on how to find my way through space.

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  12. I think I mentioned Nomad months ago as part of those "adventure with mechanics" examples, from which there are many in the space exploration subgenre born out of Starflight, but I don't think it was me who you were talking about. I am too rando for that.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Worst of all, the parser simultaneously over-reads and under-reads key input (this is probably an emulator issue, but still) so that if I type TAKE COIN at what seems to be a normal speed, it will come out TKEEE COOONNN."

    The emulators are working correctly: this was an issue on the ZX Spectrum, particularly the 48k version. It was most noticeable on text adventure games such as The Hobbit by Melbourne House, and 6 year old me found it as infuriating as you do now.

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  14. Hope things get better for you soon Chet.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Bad week? It was a bad YEAR. But your blog helped to endure it. Thanks you for that.

    ReplyDelete

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