Friday, August 5, 2022

BRIEF: Teltnuag ][a (1987)

Remind me why Apple users liked to use brackets for Roman numerals. I always forget.
     
Teltnuag ][a
United States
Sentient Mice (developer); released as shareware
Released 1987 for Macintosh
Rejected for: No character development or attribute-based combat
  
Teltnuag is an interesting attempt at adapting Gauntlet (1985) gameplay in an iconographic environment with limited graphics. (Teltnuag is, of course, Gauntlet backwards.) The result is a game that looks like a roguelike, and even has some common roguelike commands, like q)uaff and w)ear, but has the rules of Gauntlet.
    
It mostly works, for both good and ill. I'm not a Gauntlet fan. It fails my definitions as an RPG for lacking character attributes and development (and please, let's not have another discussion of why blah-blah-blah isn't functionally the same thing as "character development"; it just isn't), but that's not why I don't like it. Gauntlet was created as an arcade game (it didn't have a Mac port until 1989), and as such, its primary mechanic is to keep players feeding quarters into the machine. To ensure this, the developers made it so that you don't just risk death from enemies. Instead, you're constantly starving and must thus constantly be on the lookout for food. Exploring, finding items, and fighting come to seem like incidental tasks that occur during your all-encompassing quest to fill your ravenous stomach. To that extent, Gauntlet is almost an anti-RPG. What kind of RPG player wants to skip an interesting room because he's almost dead from hunger, or eschew a cluster of treasure chests for a grain sack?
     
Out of my way, grunts! I have cornmeal to consume!
     
Teltnuag, unfortunately, adapts that mechanic quite literally, and in the hour or so that I spent with it, every single death I experienced was due to starvation. You can save the game and reload, but you have to be careful not to accidentally save in a "walking dead" situation in which your food level is already too low and there's no more in the area.
    
The game invites you to create a barbarian, cleric, knight, ranger, or wizard, and I'm afraid I didn't really get a chance to scope out all the strengths and weaknesses. You begin in Level 1 (which the game calls "Room 1") of a fixed dungeon--no randomization here--with keys, treasures, wands, torches, lanterns, potions, and food sacks strewn liberally throughout, and large clusters of enemies waiting for you to mow through them. Combat is handled by simply bashing into foes, although you can use the mouse for ranged attacks. The nominal goal is to find four pieces of armor, the only items that you can actually w)ear if you happen to find them.
      
Character creation.
      
The author couldn't quite replicate the real-time action of Gauntlet, so he made the game turn-based, but so that you automatically "pass" if you haven't taken an action in a second or so. This allows for the game to seem more action-oriented than it otherwise is.
   
I assume the key to success is playing it enough that you essentially memorize the levels and plot the most efficient routes to ensure that you find key items while minimizing food use. I didn't get anywhere near that close. This was partly because of my dislike for this kind of game in the first place, but also because of a bug. When you die, the game invites you to enter your name for the leaderboard. Unfortunately, after you enter your name, no key that I could identify lets you record the name and move on. ENTER just clears the field. You end up stuck on this screen, which has taken over the interface. You can't return to the finder; you can't quit the game; and Mini vMac won't let you just kill the emulator without going through the proper shut down process first. Thus, every time I died, I had to CTRL-ALT-DELETE and force the emulator to quit. That quickly kills enthusiasm. [Ed. As commenter James Schend helped me figure out, the issue here was I was using Mac System 7 while the game was designed for System 6. The ENTER key works as expected in the earlier system.]
          
I can't leave this screen.
      
Teltnuag was created by Kevin S. Wiechmann of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. His label was Sentient Mice. I don't know if there was a Teltnaug I, but if so, the Internet has forgotten it. I can't find any evidence that he produced any more games. Assuming I found the right individual, he was a Computer Science major at Rutgers when he wrote Teltnuag, then became a software engineer and web developer. I feel like his game deserves more ink than it has received online, but a different type of addict needs to be the one to write about it.
  

54 comments:

  1. Interesting that the food angle is at the core of your dislike here, since I associate constant, impending starvation with the roguelikes I've played. I've skipped a lot of cool stuff in search of food, both in games and in real life!

    The brackets-for-Roman-numerals thing is annoying. Don't know why Apple chose to brand the Apple II that way, but they did, right down to the trademark.

    Side note, searching on "Telnaug" (see the last paragraph) yields two meaningful hits. One is a very old Usenet thread (I think?) about this very game, noting that AppleTalk makes it crash, and the other a list of demon lords from an archived 4chan thread in which I can't be bothered to suss out what's just memes and sh-tposting and what's not. Somehow that's fitting.

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    1. It was a big issue for me in Rogue specifically, and I didn't like it there, either, but at least that game had a Ring of Slow Digestion. Other roguelikes have made it less insistent. I don't mind a food mechanic as long as it's realistic and integrated into the game mechanics. Gauntlet has you losing hit points every step.

      I agree with the brackets nonsense. It just makes it look like the keyboard didn't have an "I" key.

      Then again, I was recently reminded that movies didn't start using numbered sequels until 1956 and didn't use roman numerals for sequels until The Godfather, Part II in 1974. Perhaps when the Apple II was created, there was concern that people would misinterpret the two Is.

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    2. It's probably that I'm used to console roguelikes, which tend to push the starvation angle hard and don't always have items to compensate. I liked how the Sega Genesis roguelike Fatal Labyrinth handled it, allowing you to eat yourself to death. (Another nice touch in that game: gold does nothing except, if you get a GAME OVER, your funeral is better-attended.)

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    3. I believe Apple themselves consistently referred to it as the "Apple II" in print, with the stylized case logo being what looked like "apple ][". The original Apple II didn't even have square brackets on the keyboard!

      The logo for the Apple IIe was similarly stylized as "//e", but again the print advertising for it consistently referred to it as the "IIe" (with serifs, of course).

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    4. The actual (original) Apple II+ boot screen, to boot, shows "APPLE ][+" at the top. (And the IIe's shows "Apple //e", yes. So in large part it was "Because Apple themselves did it"

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    5. Ah, thanks for the correction! It's been many years since I booted a IIe.

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    6. You know, this is the first time I've realized that //e was supposed to represent a roman numeral. In my mind it has always been "Apple slash e".

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    7. Rogue is brutal with food, but it's brutal with everything else too, so you don't really notice how bad it is until the first time you grab the amulet and then get pecked to death by something that should be harmless when you faint from starvation on the way back up. It's really a key element of the game -so overtuned that it makes most rings barely worth wearing.

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    8. It's worth noting that Crawl (DCSS), which I would consider the flagship of modern old-school Roguelikes, did away with food several versions ago. They used much the same logic: that the pressure of the food timer is inimical to the parts of the RPG experience that players find interesting. Either it's a nuisance, as you juggle overflowing piles of food and try to remember where you stashed it when you need it, or you slowly die in a not-very-fun way to starvation.

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    9. Agreed about the original Rogue being brutal on food. Chet's the only person I've ever read about actually winning the original game legitimately -- I was playing it food-optimized for a while (no rings, take every ration when I find it, minimize distance travelled, etc) and still starved every time before finding the amulet. Perhaps it was the version I was playing (mid-80s BSD system) and they toned it down a bit in the later PC/etc ports?

      IMHO Hack and NetHack tuned food a lot better. Most of the time there was enough, but it was always lurking there as a threat, something you needed to manage in case of a string of bad luck.

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    10. "Chet's the only person I've ever read about actually winning the original game legitimately." I think you absolutely have to find a Ring of Slow Digestion on an early floor. It was the only way I won.

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    11. I managed without one on my winning play through (a port of an early UNIX version). Instead I had heavily enchanted armor and two-handed sword, two genocide scrolls, and a load of slow monster staves. And a lot of luck with food drops, I guess.

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    12. The only time I've won Rogue was also with an early ring of Slow Digestion, and IIRC I was still very close to starvation death when I made it out.

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  2. "Remind me why Apple users liked to use brackets for Roman numerals. I always forget."

    I wouldn't be floored if it sprang from the l33tsp33k used by c00l h4x0r d00dz 70 d1571n6u15h 7h3m53lv35 fr0m l4m3r5. Back in the day, it wasn't ent!re|y uncommon +o find people projecting their in$ufferable personality by using punctuation marks etc. in pl@ce of alp#anumerics... using one symbol in place of another similar one is just a further step along this deranged path.

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    1. It's not just Apple users. For instance, the PC version of King's Quest 3 is officially stylized ]I[. Yup, looks much cooler that way...

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    2. I think the PC versions of Space Quest II and III were officially called "Space Quest ][" and "Space Quest ]I[" in their respective score bars, too.

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  3. Double-negation in the bracket part of the third sentence of the second paragraph kind of defeats the point you were making.

    Just saying...

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    1. The bracket sentence makes sense to me. Chet thinks it isn't the same and says let's not have another discussion why (he thinks) it isn't. He could also have said let's not have a discussion why somebody else thinks it is the same, but either works in my view.

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  4. Mac Classic nerd here...

    First of all, thanks for covering these games even if they don't exactly qualify, because it feels a lot of times that Mac Classic history is just being wiped. (Apple themselves certainly doesn't seem to care about even acknowledging the OS that kept the in business for 15 years even existed.)

    I know you've given up on this game, but there's two reasons you might be having a problem with that dialog:

    1) In Mac Classic, "return" and "enter" are different keys. "return" always creates a new line, and "enter" enters the information. (Well, that's what they were designed to do-- as more software was ported from Windows which only had one key to do both that distinction kind of went away.) It's possible the dialog is expecting an "enter" but your emulator is only sending a "return".

    2) System 7 had some backwards-compatibility issues, and one of those was breaking dialogs like that... (Carrier Command was one game I absolutely loved that was broken by that particular bug!) Since this game predates System 7, if the emulator is emulating System 7, that might explain the problem exiting the dialog.

    If anybody else is interested in playing, hopefully this advice will help them.

    (BTW, do you have Curse of Dragor on your list? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Dragor )

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    1. To clarify a little, "return" would be the usual button, and "enter" is the numpad key.

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    2. The ENTER/RETURN thing is useful for the future, but not what's happening here. The keys DO do different things; the regular ENTER clears the field while the numberpad ENTER puts a square character in the field. Trust me, I've tried every key on the keyboard to exit that field.

      Your System 7 thing might be the answer. I should probably have a System 6 boot disk anyway, so when Macintosh Repository lets me out of the doghouse for trying to download too many files too fast, I'll give it a try. If someone else wanted to give it a try in the meantime, I don't mind.

      Curse of Dragor is on the list.

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    3. You nailed it on the OS hypothesis, James. In System 6, ENTER works just fine and stores the name in the leaderboard. I'll append a note above, and now I have a System 6 boot disk ready for any other early Mac games.

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    4. Also for future reference, you can force quit Mini vMac from within by pressing Ctrl+Q+Y. It will yell at you that this is not healthy (and you might want to keep a backup of your system boot disks), but it will work.

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    5. Glad to hear my post was helpful!

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  5. The reason for the brackets for Roman numeral II was the Apple ][e, which was frequently styled as such officially.

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    1. I'm sure you're right, but that just moves the question of "why" to a different level.

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    2. The original Apple ][ case has a metal sticker on it that clearly uses the ][ letters for the key. Definitely earlier than the ][e.

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  6. Another reason for the brackets as Roman numerals - bear in mind that actual Roman numerals has a top and bottom bar across each of the numerals. The brackets kinda represent that a bit better than capital I; especially in sans serif fonts.

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    1. Didn't Ultima 2 end with an announcement for Ultima "]I[-C-]II[-D" or something? And I'm pretty sure that wasn't sans serif, either.

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    2. That's actually not a bad answer, Deano. I'll trust that it's the case that Roman symbols for "I" did always have the serifs.

      Radiant, it's even weirder. Ultima II ended with an advertisement for "ULTIMA ]I[-D ]II[-P." If it was just the first part, I would think that Garriott originally intended to program the entire game in 3D instead of just the dungeons, but what did 4-P mean?

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    3. And you're right--it wasn't sans serif, so the use of brackets don't make sense there. But Deano's explanation could cover why Apple did it in the first place, and then everyone else was just making a wink to Apple.

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    4. Styling of Roman numerals is pretty complicated. There are plenty of historical examples without serifs, but it's definitely true that it's common to represent them with serifs, or even with joined serifs or overlines to merge them into a single visual figure:

      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/BadSalzdetfurthBadenburgerStr060529.jpg

      I believe the "4-P" was "4 players" or "4 party members".

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    5. Regarding "If it was just the first part, I would think that Garriott originally intended to program the entire game in 3D instead of just the dungeons, but what did 4-P mean?"

      4P likely meant "4 player" as in you got to play 4 characters in Ultima 3.

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    6. Edit: didn't see Stepped's comment before posting

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    7. Were :-D style smileys already trending back in the days of Ultima? I see those in ULTIMA ]I[-D ]II[-P.

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    8. I'm glad that one didn't catch on, and people didn't start referring to games as Clouds of Xeen ]][[-P, Ultima Underworld I-P, or Eye of the Beholder ]V-to-V[-P.

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    9. And ]II[ isn't a 4 anyway, so what's the deal with that one? Should've been IV.

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  7. On the food issue, isn't that premise also a part of the EOB trilogy? While you get the spell eventually, at least in the first game food is a very big deal.

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    1. Not particularly, as you get the spell early in the game and food is plentiful until then. In fact, EOB1 has so much food in it that it was likely designed without the Create Food spell (and had it added as an afterthought).

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    2. I don't remember food ever being a problem with any of the three games. They could have taken the mechanic out to no negative effect.

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  8. Something about your description of Gauntlet triggered a long-forgotten memory of being in an arcade as a teenager. A little kid of about the age of 7 was playing Gauntlet quietly in the corner for a while then suddenly yelled angrily, "NO, YOUR MOM NEEDS FOOD BADLY!"

    The complete randomness of it combined with the sheer hatred in the kid's voice made everyone at the arcade laugh pretty hard, myself included.

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    1. Do kids still do the whole "your mom" thing, or was that an 80s thing? It nonsensically served as the rejoinder to everything. "I'm tired." "Your mom's tired!" "That's an ugly cat." "Your mom's an ugly cat!" We thought it was so hilarious. What idiots.

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    2. It's amazing how often "So is your mom" can be used as a counter-insult without stooping to using profanity.

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    3. Your mom still does the "your mom" thing!

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  9. On the topic of Gauntlet, Dark Legacy and Legends are Gauntlet as arcade RPGs. On the home versions at least, the depleting health was gone, some versions had an inventory system, and you had levels and stats that did something and went up with experience or by buying them. Unfortunately no version of it's ever been released on PC, and I don't think there's been any release since the originals.

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  10. My problem with too harsh food systems is that they basically serve as a time limit on all your actions. Wanna backtrack through half the dungeon to explore a little nook you missed? Haha, can't, you'll starve! It provides constant pressure by limiting the amount of moves you have. They enforce efficiency in every aspect of the game and never allow any downtime.

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    1. That is precisely why they exist, yes: they are intended as a time limit on all your actions. Not all food systems do this equally WELL, of course, but that is their goal.

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    2. I have no idea why that comment was posted as Anonymous.

      But yeah. I'm not big on features that function as time limits and remove any downtime you could have between scenes of action and danger. They also limit exploration because you can't afford wasting time. And exploration is my favorite element of CRPGs.

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    3. I don't think I've encountered a hunger mechanic that did better by me than "Not too obtrusive" - never once have I thought one actively contributed to my enjoyment of a game. But I can more-or-less understand and accept one in, say, early adventure games, where the assumption is that you'd play several times to work out what to do, leading to a final highly-optimized run, probably after a penultimate run where you did everything else right but took too long and starved. But in an RPG, you're not generally going to be doing multiple playthroughs to optimize the raw number of moves like that -you might optimize in other areas, but with randomness as a major factor, the idea of "Well now that I've mapped out the dungeon, I'll do my canonical run where I race through as fast as possible and don't have any random encounters" is hard to understand. Doubly so in a roguelike, where "Okay I'll do a few practice runs to map out the dungeon" doesn't apply.
      A hunger mechanic would make more sense to me perhaps in a more strategic- style game where play is based around taking multiple short sorties, their length limited by your food capacity, which would fit some rpg styles, but not the more quest-driven ones that I think became the dominant RPG design.

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    4. I kind of enjoy in open-world games when it adds a bit to the challenge. I'm thinking Fallout 4 in survival mode or any of the mods for Skyrim that make food necessary. It's not terribly hard to satisfy those needs, but you do have to consider food and water in your travel plans, and it adds a little tension to long dungeon explorations.

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    5. I like it in open world games, too. And I do enjoy survival games as long as they're not too focused on basebuilding (I wanna survive, not build an RTS-style base but as a solo character). I really love The Long Dark, for example, a great entry in that genre. Die Young is also decent. Getting your hands on food is a core element of their gameplay.

      But when it's just a thinly veiled time limit, it feels kinda like the breath meter in Tomb Raider and similar games, which restricts the time you can spend underwater so you are forced to be quick there and optimize your route. Except it's always on, not only underwater, and recharging it consumes a finite resource.

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  11. Gauntlet the arcade game was at its best when we had youth lock ins at Aladdin's Castle (arcade chain back in the 80s) because you could basically play it for hours with unlimited tokens! I remember playing it so long that we had to switch out to let our hands rest! But yes... pretty limited compared to a true CRPG.

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