Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Game 451: Goblin Mountain (1987)

 
The party starts out. There is no separate main title screen.
    
Goblin Mountain
United Kingdom
Independently developed; published as code in the June 1987 Sinclair User
Code provided for ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 12 March 2022
Date Ended: 12 March 2022
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)  
    
Well, I'll give it this: Goblin Mountain is probably the most fun I've had with a type-in game. It offers a relatively complex experience with a fair amount of replayability. I could see 1987 me applying a little bit of imagination and spending a dozen or so hours with the game until I could afford something better.
  
The artist chose to depict "Goblin" Mountain with a rat.
     
Designed by Martin Page, Mountain builds upon his previous year's effort with Forest of Long Shadows. In the comments for that game, HappyChef suggested a relationship between it and Terrence Donnelly's board game The Mystic Wood (1980). As it happens, reviewers have also noted similarities between Mountain and Donnelly's previous game, The Sorcerer's Cave (1978). So clearly there's some inspiration going on from Donnelly to Page.
      
The Sorcerer's Cave (1978) involved arranging a tiled map in a way similar to this game.
     
Mountain plays like a more advanced Forest. There are four cooperating characters (the game is meant for one player) instead of just one per player. They explore a world of at least six 6 x 6 levels on one of four quests: Visit the Cave of Orcs; kill the Deathfiend; amass 200 experience points; and find the Scepter of Life. Character creation has you specify a name for each character (human warrior, dwarf warrior, elf warrior/wizard, human wizard), after which the game rolls for strength, endurance, magic, and agility. 
     
There are no NPCs in the game. Each tile can contain monsters or a treasure. Treasures include nine spell scrolls: "Fireball," "Lifedrain," "Repel," "Curse," "Teleport," "Invisibility," "Speed," "Wellbeing," and "Strongman." The first five are cast in combat and the last four outside combat. Any wizard who holds a scroll can cast the spell with magic points; points can be replenished at magic fountains. There are also magic weapons, armor, and wearables to find that directly improve your attributes or combat damage.
    
There's an object in this square.
      
For combat, you only have a couple of choices, mainly whether to try to flee and whether to cast an offensive spell before combat begins. Once fighting begins, it's resolved automatically. Character and enemy strength are compared, dice are rolled, and either a character or the enemy takes damage. A little Phantasie-like screen shows the enemies and party opposite each other as they trade blows.
      
A character is killed in combat against a lizard man.
   
The game can be quite hard. The randomization generally puts easier enemies on the first level, but sometimes there's a really tough party that you can't avoid. Traps frequently dump you down to lower levels before you're prepared, too. The key is to try to find items before losing too much endurance to enemies. I found that the "Invisibility" spell is particularly to be prized because it allows you to sneak past enemies while still grabbing items. "Wellbeing," a healing spell, is probably the most important in the game. Even with the best configuration, I found it hard to keep the entire party alive.
     
One of the levels I mapped. Highlighted squares have stairs down. The three squares I didn't map are probably accessed from beneath.
    
I won two of the quests: finding the Scepter of Life (I got very lucky with the randomization) and amassing 200 experience points. Barring luck, I think the experience point one is the easiest, since it doesn't require you to find a particular thing or place. You can just cautiously explore, fighting enemies you know you can take and running from others, until your characters have an average of 50 points each. You can get this without descending farther than Level 3. It helps that wizards get experience for casting. 
   
Winning the third quest.
      
The game technically doesn't meet my RPG definitions, since any character development is dependent on finding items, but it was short enough that I didn't much care. On the GIMLET, it does best in "gameplay" for being short and replayable, but a mixture of 0s, 1s, and 2s in everything else lands it only at a 14. I don't know--maybe it just looks good in comparison to everything else I've been dredging up these last couple of weeks.


53 comments:

  1. "Good", "Fun", and "Spectrum" in the same review?

    You're certainly in a better mood! :)

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    1. It is interesting that while the Spectrum boasted the birth of tactical games as we know them (thanks to Julian Gollop), it is nearly impossible to find a good, fun, RPG on it.

      Bard's Tale might be the exception that confirms the rule?

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    2. I think it was just the culture - the closest you could get to a natively-developed rpg on the Spectrum would always be a strategy-rpg hybrid.

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    3. Culture and lack of disks — due to using tapes predominantly, you either have to fit the whole game world into 48k or somehow have it able to be loaded sequentially on tape. Bards Tale was absolutely the exception here.

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    4. I hadn't even considered the tape constraints! How did one "save game" on BT1 on the Spectrum?

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    5. In the usual manner. :) "Insert a blank tape, press Record and Play, then press any key to continue." After a few seconds, "Stop the tape". Then, to load, you'd rewind and play that bit when the game prompted you to.

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    6. I've never once had this work. Not when I had a real tape drive, not with emulated tape drives. I don't know what I'm doing wrong.

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  2. Some unusual spell names there. "Wellbeing" sounds like a spa and "Strongman" could be some kind of indie superhero.

    Also, if you replace "months" with "weeks", the intro to the article for the code listing sounds like it was written for you in the present, Chet: "Been bored with the last couple of month's [sic] worth of role-playing rubbish?"

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  3. How exactly does art work with a type-in game? The images of monsters, characters and backdrops in the screenshots surely aren't being created programmatically?

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    1. Note how the icons for the human, dwarf, and so forth have only two colors? That means you can represent each group of eight pixels as an eight-bit binary number (or a decimal number in the 0-255 range). The icons are 16x16, so that'd be 32 numbers each.

      As long as there's not a lot of graphics, that's an easy way to do it.

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    2. Ah gotcha. That sounds pretty tedious but I guess people really wanted their free games!

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    3. Yeah, the more complex type-in games had ludicrously long data tables ("DATA 432, 13, 1345, 1, 0, 0, ...", line after line after line). Have fun figuring out your mistake if the game isn't working right because you fat-fingered a comma somewhere.

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    4. I remember typing in exactly that alongside lines of POKE and PEEK on the C64.

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    5. Ahoy! had "checksum" programs that would help you find mistakes. Their machine language entry program (flankspeed) would automatically beep if you had typed in a line wrong. The BASIC editor (bug repellent) would produce two-digit codes for each line, which you could compare with the codes in the magazine listing to see if you entered it correctly. I don't know if other magazines did this.

      Ahoy! also offered disks of the listings for purchase, which may have been a more attractive option.

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    6. RAINBOW magazine for the Tandy Color Computer also had a checksum feature for their type-in programs.

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    7. Compute also had both a BASIC checksum program for multiple platforms and a machine language entry program. PC, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, and Apple II were all supported. No Amiga one. Not sure about any other machines.

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    8. Thanks for asking that question, Brent. I didn't know the answer, and it should have occurred to me as I was playing.

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  4. I absolutely love the graphics in this game. Eyebleeding Spectrum madness!

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  5. Hey, at least it's better than Angband! Short and snappy instead of long and grueling.

    Speaking of which, how's your Angband playthrough going? Do you really want to push through with it at some point or have you given it up?

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    1. I keep telling myself I'm going to give it up and then I keep going back. It is so absurdly, ridiculously long. It's hard to believe it isn't a practical joke.

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    2. Most of what I remember from Angband was the extreme relief at quitting. I find it astounding that the first variant people cranked out wasn't "same game, but shorter".

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    3. Well, if you don't have many games and want something you can pour a real lot of time into, Angband is the perfect game.

      If you want a better-paced experience designed to be actually finished, though, it's probably the worst roguelike to play.

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    4. I can’t argue the point, but speaking personally, I’ve won Angband half a dozen or so times, whereas I can’t imagine I’ll ever win NetHack or ADOM (or Sil, for that matter, which is a much smaller but IME much harder variant) - it’s big but at least in the modern incarnations I’ve played, it’s fairly forgiving and it’s easy to make incremental progress. It certainly took a while to win my first time, but no longer than it took me to finish Baldur’s Gate II in a recent replay.

      Anyway that may or may not be relevant to this much earlier version, and there’s no shame in abandoning it unwon. Still, it’d be a shame to drop it before talking about the inventory / loot system, which I believe was a direct inspiration for Diablo’s and therefore had a huge impact that guess say beyond just RPGs, and vault cracking, which is the most fun part of the game since it forces you to use all that loot and engage in a bunch of risk/reward calculations.

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    5. By "Inventory/loot" system that inspired Diablo's, are you talking about how any effect can be attached to any weapon? It was only fairly recently in my playing that I realized that's what I was seeing.

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    6. Might & Magic III also allows any effect attached to any weapon, allowing for such mad libs as a Gold Swiftness Battleaxe of Teleportation. However, randomly generating items from tables goes all the way back to tabletop D&D, making it hard to say where, exactly, Diablo took its inspiration.

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    7. It’s been a long time since I’ve played Diablo but yeah, the combination of the stackable affix system and unique artifacts was the main thing I was thinking about - MM3 does have something similar but as mentioned it’s pretty mad-libby and the magical effects are usually trivial compared to the underlying characteristics of the item, which is not the case in Angband/Diablo.

      Beyond the Diablo angle, Angband has a very robust interplay between the various resistances and powers you can get from equippable and usable items, and the attacks of different kinds of monsters and uniques, with a lot of the mid game strategy involving choosing items to cover a vulnerability vs doubling down on a strength. Of course all RPGs have this to a certain degree but even today it’s probably the most robust version I’ve experienced, and it feels different than the more adventure-game style approach of NetHack. So that’s why I thought it might be worth talking a bit about, especially since it seems like you’re just getting to the point where you’re seeing enough items that there’s strategy.

      (I’m not sure at what level vaults kick in in the version you’re playing, but if you haven’t found them yet you’ll know them when you see them).

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  6. The upcoming list is back. A lot to unpack there

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    1. UU2! Lands of Lore! EoB3! What a nice list of games.

      And, uh... Ultimuh MCMLXVII. That one is barely even a game, but it only takes one minute to play through so it's perfect for a brief. I wonder what Chet will think about it, considering it isn't even a good parody of Ultima. It's just stupid.

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    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 22, 2022 at 10:47 PM

      And here I had been hoping for Ambermoon... still, will be interested to see how the next round stacks up.

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    3. Wizardry IV. Well that will be over rather quick...I would've said, but Chet already had a take on it before. Still I guess any serious attempt at winning is a rather masochistic matter.

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    4. I just hope that with the lucky rolls he got on the upcoming list, he isn't going to leave the rest of the year with scads of nothing.
      @Jarl, well isn't that good then? Having a current year game be short fodder is cuts down on the amount of games until 1994, and 1993 has a different take on the fodder games than the '80s.

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    5. Should be fine. As per usual, there will be a number of briefs and one-entry games he cuts down quickly, and a guaranteed interesting/meatier game every 10 or so.

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    6. It's a good list if he needs to shake off the winter doldrums, especially after this recent series of underwhelming (but fascinating to read about) freeware offerings.

      I'm real curious how playing Lands of Lore and Wizardry IV back to back will go. Bit of a gap difficulty-wise, as we're all aware. (I'm a fan of UU2 as well, so I'm happy to see it up next.)

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    7. Ultima Underworld II, Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos, Eye of the Beholder III:

      Yes, yes, and yes...

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    8. One somewhat gets the feeling that Chet was needing something *really good* to balance out all the frustration and oddness lately...for which one can hardly blame him.

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    9. On a second thought (again, not a Patreon), in your new approach to the master list, are you beginning to cluster technically similar games together, UU2 + LoL + Wiz4 certainly suggests so...

      Not a bad approach per se, I'm just eagerly anticipating what's to come ;)

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    10. I haven't really implemented a new approach yet. I thought about some options for a while, rejected a few things, tested a few more things, and then largely decided to just put the question aside.

      Nobody on Patreon knows anything more than the regular readers of the blog.

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    11. What problem was the (attempted/deferred) new approach aiming to solve?

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    12. Slow progress, inability to "clear" any era because of people "discovering" new "RPGs" faster than my ability to play them.

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    13. Please nobody take that as a challenge. I'm not looking to have that discussion now.

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    14. No discussion on a "new approach", but since I don't recall separate extra posts on them and I'm not sure how many people (re-)read the FAQ, just want to say I hope and think your two recent changes should both already somewhat help in this regard.

      I.e. the new definition of "CRPG" and the changed policy of not accepting any more "direct" submissions of putative CRPGs, but only through the filter of adding them to wikipedia or mobygames (after passing their respective criteria checks).

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    15. Interesting. By the new rules, I wonder if the second point means that inventory acquisition is required for a game to qualify as RPG? Or does it simply not count as character development? Other than that, the main change is the 4th point.

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    16. The definition Chet has always been using requires both inventory acquisition and non-inventory character development.

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    17. (The update mostly just defines the requirement for non-inventory character development, allowing Chet to ignore
      a certain games that only qualified in the barest sense)

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    18. On a third consideration: My spontaneous interpretation of clustering similar games together might not only be 'not bad' but an interesting approach, hear me out - the forthcoming slew of 1st person perspective dungeon crawlers (UU2, LoL, Wiz4, EoB3) could be followed by a more cerebral post about the state of dungeon crawlers, blobber or not, in '93.

      I'm just spitballing here, bit of a late addition.

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    19. I'm not looking to have that discussion now.

      Certainly not trying to start a discussion you don't want to have! Just curious since, from a reader's perspective (wholly distinct from and inconsequential to a blog author's perspective), there's no problem to be seen: your blog is as rewarding as ever to read. Of course, I'm someone who tends to find entries on earlier games more interesting than stuff from the mid-1990s and beyond, so I would say that.

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    20. (entries on other sites, obviously, since you ain't reached the mid-1990s yet)

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    21. There hasn't been any discussion on my new definition or my new rejection of commenter-submitted nominations because I'm not sure that either is permanent. That's also why I haven't updated the sidebar.

      No, the second item in my definition doesn't require that there be inventory acquisition, just that if there is, it can't be the only means by which the character grows stronger.

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  7. I loved Wizardry IV so can't wait to see Chet give it another shot, even if it's barely an RPG and more an Adventure game. It can be so frustrating with those "good" parties hunting you down each level. But on the plus side, if you could take out both main good parties on a level, you didn't have to worry about them anymore. Um, until you saved the game, that is! Just so evil.

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  8. "Been bored with the last two month's of role-playing rubbish? You'd best turn over then, 'cause here's the third bit."

    Amazing.

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  9. The rat drawing is copied (probably wo permission) form the Lone Wolf book series, the author is Gary Chalk.

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    1. Not necessarily without permission... Sinclair User used to be part of the Century Hutchinson publishing house, which around the time when this issue was published changed hands and was folded into Penguin Books, which was part of the Random House publishing group... Which also published the Lone Wolf gamebooks. So in a roundabout way the may have actually had the rights to that drawing in one form or another - though if it started out that way or just happened to come around after the fact, that's hard to tell.

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    2. Maybe; I read them in their spanish translation so i have no idea of the editorial connections.

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