Sunday, March 6, 2022

Game 447: Forest of Long Shadows (1986)

 
Starting a new game of "FLS," as the kids call it.
      
Forest of Long Shadows
United Kingdom
Independently developed; published as code in the October 1986 Sinclair User
Code provided for ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 2 March 2022
Date Ended: 2 March 2022
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Very Easy-Easy (1.5/5) as a single-player game
Final Rating: 12
Ranking at Time of Posting: 45/460 (10%)
     
Putting Forest of Long Shadows on my master list is forcing it to compete above its weight class. If author Martin Page is still around, he doesn't deserve to come here and see me compare his type-in program to Might and Magic and Starflight (both released the same year). He was creating an afternoon game for bored hobbyists, and in that respect he did just fine.
      
The first page of code. I found a version that someone else typed in. I'm not crazy.
     
Forest appeared in the October 1986 issue of Sinclair User as 3.5 pages of code. It creates what the magazine describes as a "very neat role-playing graphic adventure" for 1-4 players. The goal is to be the first to explore the small land, find four castles, and then return to the starting point at the Jolly Aardvark Inn. If you're playing as a single character, it's hard to lose.
      
One of the four castles I have to visit.
     
When the game begins, it creates a randomized map of roughly 9 x 9 squares, each one holding either a fixed location (e.g., The Lake, Craigmoor Castle, The Fountain, The Village of Lowmarsh) or a generic descriptor (e.g., shady pathways, sinister glade, open clearing). Your character has five attributes--strength, endurance, agility, personality, and magic--and these are rolled randomly from roughly 2 to 8. They do the expected things, with endurance serving as a hit point pool and magic serving as a spell point pool.
        
The map of my winning game. Each time you play, the map is randomly configured. I like to think that "Sorbozon" is a prestigious French clown college.
    
Enemies and friendly NPCs are also seeded throughout these maps. Enemies for each game include an orc, a goblin, a zombie, a golem, a balrog, and a dragon. Fighting them is an automatic affair involving your variances in strength and agility. There are no real tactics except to try to run from the ones that are too hard and cast a spell if necessary. Killing hard enemies occasionally gives you a couple of attribute points, but for the most part you only kill enemies because they're in your way.
     
Trading blows with a skeleton.
      
Balancing enemies are a handful of randomly distributed NPCs--ranger, warrior, paladin, knight, monk, and one or two others--who give you helpful gifts if they like you. Whether they like you is based on a personality check, but if they don't react favorably, you can just repeatedly "greet" them until they do. They give you things like weapons, armor, and magic scrolls, all of which have direct effects on your attributes. For instance, a sword raises your strength by 3 and a helmet raises endurance by 2.
   
A ranger helps a brother out.
     
The ease of the game depends a lot on the distribution of castles, enemies, and foes. If you're lucky, you'll meet a few friendly NPCs before any seriously difficult enemies and thus face your first combats with elevated attributes. If you're really lucky, the four castles will be clustered near the starting area and you'll hardly have to explore at all. But even if you're unlucky enough to meet a demon in the second square, and you can't successfully run away, the game gives you four starting resurrections (you basically start the game with five "lives") and you can earn more from NPCs. It would take some serious effort to "lose" the game.
   
Some squares have storms or other weather events that cause you to miss a turn, but that's only important if you're competing against someone. One persistent annoyance is that the screen will suggest that you can go in a particular direction but you find it "blocked!" when you actually try to go there.
    
I needed a sense of accomplishment today.
       
Forest does its job as a programming exercise and an afternoon distraction. It might even be fun to play in a boardgame-like way with another person. It gets just a 12 on my GIMLET with 0s in "game world" and "economy" and 1s and 2s in everything else. Mr. Page wrote a couple of other Spectrum games in the 1980s, including Goblin Mountain (1987), which Spectrum sites list as an RPG. Thanks to reader P.W. for bringing this one to my attention.
   
Edit from a few days later: Commenters made me realize that I didn't say anything about Forest as a multiplayer game. With more than one player, each character gets a single turn before the game passes to the next player. Players who occupy the same square can choose to fight each other, including from the first moments, when all of them are gathered at the Jolly Aardvark Inn. (Any character slain here loses a life and then resurrects in a random square elsewhere on the map.) A board game like this might be fun, but with a computer game, only getting one action per turn is annoying. It would be tough to pass control from player to player, especially if the maximum of four were playing.

Speaking of board games, commenter HappyChef may have identified the source in a 1980 game called Mystic Wood. The map and its locations are similar, and it has the same 4-player maximum and randomization of the map for new games.
  

34 comments:

  1. Well... hey, I mean, it got your win ratio up, at least?

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  2. "I like to think that "Sorbozon" is a prestigious French clown college." -> Hehe, nice one.
    I'd expext "Kandos Castle" to be a formative place for burgeoning hackers. And based on the list of its (almost) namesakes recorded on Wikipedia, "Craigmoor Castle" would seem to be a Sports college: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Moore_(disambiguation).

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  3. A nice diversion, if nothing else...

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  4. This is cute. I feel like I would have sunk a decent amount of time into this as a kid if I found it on one of those sketchy "300 Computer Games!!" CDs.

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  5. I can't help wondering how long it would take Twitch to win this game :D

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  6. Random map, NPCs, monsters, equipment, stats, wasn't unwinnable, didn't crash, pretty good for three and a half pages of typed in BASIC code.

    If you're playing as a single character, it's hard to lose.

    How does multiplayer work? I can't imagine everyone plays at the same time, ala M.U.L.E. Multiplayer solitaire, try for high score?

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    1. Sounds like everyone takes turns, like with a board game. As implied by the 'bad weather, you lose a turn' function.

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    2. It just takes turns, and the first one to visit all four castles and return wins.

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    3. That probably means that in multiplayer, you couldn't just spam "greet" since it'd take multiple turns?

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    4. I typed in many long BASIC program listings in my day, and none of them were half as good as this game appears to be.

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  7. I can't help but wonder if this game is a modified implementation of the board game Mystic Wood. It was released in the early 1980s, used a randomized tile map of roughly the same size, seems to have similar mechanics, and even referred to the encounters as "denizens" (a word I had to look up, reading the rules as a kid). The programmer here has clearly added his own elements, but there are enough similarities I feel compelled to comment for the first time hoping to add something useful to the discussion.

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    1. I'm glad you did! I looked over a description and screenshots of Mystic Wood, and I agree that there are a lot of similarities. In fact, the nature of the randomization of the map in Forest makes a lot more sense if you regard a board game like Wood as its source; otherwise, why would there be all these paths going to nowhere? Unfortunately, I didn't see any conclusive evidence, like the same proper names for the locations. It actually appears that the board game was more complex in its various encounters and quests, too.

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    2. There also seems to be some similarities to the board game "Magic Realm" in terms of map randomization. If I remember (from almost 40 years ago), your objective in that one was to find several artifacts instead of locations.

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    3. Oh boy Magic Realm! I never played this when I had the board game, but I got into a computer-playable version called RealmSpeak about fifteen years ago and it's amazing. Once you grok the rules it's very deep, and having the computer do the setup for you is very helpful.

      Anyway the map randomization in that game consists of assembling a bunch of preset hex tiles so the paths can go together, which can make a big impact on the gameplay (sometimes you can explore widely, sometimes you wind up having to take narrow paths over tortuous terrain).

      Characters can set their own victory conditions in the game, which can be some combination of artifacts, gold, spells learned, and points from defeating monsters. The original rules (probably what you're remembering after 40 years!) were structured in a series of "encounters" gradually introducing more rules; in the first "encounter" which didn't have monsters or combat, maybe the objectives were to find treasures or treasure locations? I might have the rules in my attic so I could go check.

      (The encounter structure made the rules even more confusing than they needed to be, and the second edition rules dropped it completely.)

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    4. Magic Realm randomized the map by having you assemble it out of preset hexes so paths joined. The differences in the map could make a big difference in gameplay; you might be able to explore relatively freely or be stuck on a single path with treacherous terrain and secret passages.

      In the full game, you could set your own victory conditions, which could include finding special treasures, and also spells, gold, and points scored in combat. The first edition introduced the rules gradually in a series of "encounters"; in the first couple before combat and monsters were introduced, the goal was to visit locations. Introducing the rules this way proved to be even more confusing, and the second edition dropped the encounters.

      (This comment was originally a lot more fanboyish but blogger/Google/Firefox/Safari ate it. Anyway there's a computer-playable version called RealmSpeak which automates the endless setup and is easy to play solitaire and allows for internet play too, I highly recommend it! Though I haven't played in a few years because I don't have Java installed on my computer.)

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    5. Magic Realm was king of the 70s boardgame RPGs. It's truly a masterpiece, a complete world in a box, that lives and breathes as you play it. It has monsters, NPCs factions, reactions that determine if the NPCs attack you, trade with you, or ally with you, weather, a ton of characters who play completely differently, equipment, treasures, a board built by the players out of a hex tileset 15 years before Settlers of Catan, and the kitchen sink.

      It also had the worst rulebook ever written, with legions of players banging their heads against it trying to understand how to play this baroque glockenspiel. Evidently the designer wrote it to himself as a kind of shorthand just to remember the rules. Decades later players made rewritten rulebooks and video tutorials that actually make the game playable.

      I don't see much of Magic Realm here but the resemblance to Mystic Wood (sometimes called Magic Realm Lite) is clear, once it was pointed out. Here's a review with description and a shorter review with photos. Reviewer's conclusion: as basic as an adventure game can be. No wonder it could be implemented in three and a half pages of BASIC. How many KLOCs are we talking about here, anyway?

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    6. Sorry, Matt. Blogger didn't "eat" the comment; I had moderation turned on for all comments because I keep getting spam in Arabic. Sounds like Magic Realm could plausibly be a source, then.

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    7. Sorry, Chet! There was some Blogger/browser weirdness; my initial browser glitched out on displaying something after I posted, so I didn't see what presumably was the message that told me I was in moderation. I hope you didn't have to nuke ten versions of my post! ("matt w" is also me of course.)

      Harland, yes, there's a reason I never really played Magic Realm when I had it in the box, and then came back to it in the '00s with Realmspeak and the rewritten rules! It's just so good once you break through and understand the rules. I remember the thrill of figuring out what the Elusive Cloak was good for.

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    8. For what it's worth, Magic Realm also called its monsters and NPCs "denizens," but I agree with Harland that Forest of Long Shadows looks much more like Mystic Wood.

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  8. Goblin Mountain is currently on the master game list after Golvellius, so not in alphabetical order.

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  9. If you are planning to include ZX Spectrum games you had to type in yourself, there are entire books with games that can be considered RPGs. I know because I owned several.

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    1. Not if I have to type them in.

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    2. I agree with this policy completely. Too much work typing and then finding the typos with too little payoff.

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  10. Maybe I missed it early, but what happened with your upcomming-list?

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    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 7, 2022 at 10:34 AM

      He wrote that he's planning something new and mysterious. We're all holding our breath...!

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    2. It's not anything exciting. I just don't know for sure about how I want to draw from the master list anymore. I'm weighing some possibilities. In the meantime, there will still be "upcoming" games; I just don't want to commit to a specific list.

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    3. As long as you're rearranging the sidebar, please check the blogroll, a couple are dead.

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    4. I could be missing something (or the Addict may already have updated since your post) don't see any dead sites in the sidebar, just three links that need review. Kurisu's two sites have consolidated into one. I think RPG Consoler will come back someday, though it's been on hiatus for ages.

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    5. Ah, I guess there's "CRPG Revisiting old classics" too, which hasn't been updated in close to two years. Sometimes those sites come back unexpectedly, and I hope Saintus does so.

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    6. I fixed Kurisu's link but beyond that...I haven't set a hard deadline, but I'm reluctant to remove a good blog just because it hasn't been updated for a while. The past articles are still relevant to my own blog.

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    7. I agree. Since as far as I remember all of these deal with reviews of "old" games and not current ones, even those (presently) not updated anymore can yield interesting reads for people searching for related subjects covered by them. After checking them all a couple of times, I now know in which ones to look for new posts.

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    8. For what it's worth I appreciate having those inactive sites stay in the blogroll. If nothing else, every so often I'll say to myself "Where was it that I read...?", and you can imagine the rest.

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    9. I agree -- even if Zenic never updates again, there are still 60 or so reviews there of early console RPGs.

      (I've been thinking of making a chronogaming discord for anyone interested in the idea, or maybe people who want to do a project but not make a full blog/twitch, just discuss it with others.)

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