Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Game 469: The Power Stones of Ard: The Quest for the Spirit Stone (1987)

 
The game was originally called the Power Stones of BilliARDs.
      
The Power Stones of Ard: The Quest for the Spirit Stone
United States
Three C's Projects (developer and publisher)
Released 1987 for Tandy Color Computer 3
Date Started: 23 August 2022
     
I've made so many passes through the 1980s that I no longer have any hope of finding a "hidden gem." The best I can hope for is a game that at least shows me something different. The Power Stones of Ard is such a game. It may not be a gem, but it's at least gem-like: a bit hard to dig out, and showing more than one facet.
   
Ard was developed by one Bill Cleveland for the Tandy Color Computer 3. It and its sequel seem to be his and his company's (North Carolina-based The Three C's Projects) only two games. A decently-written backstory sets the game in the world of Ard, where a cabal of wizards once sought to destroy all evil. Their efforts led to the creation of three power stones that apparently worked, but the wizards lost their nerve in the final battle, each fleeing in a different direction with a different stone. They were all eventually killed. Unable to destroy the stones, the forces of evil instead locked them up in heavily-guarded fortresses. You play a young, eager adventurer seeking to reclaim the Spirit Stone from Baron's Keep.
      
The kind of cover illustration that could only come from an independent developer.
      
In character creation, you choose your name, sex, and race (human, elf, dwarf, gnome) and then select from six sets of attribute scores--strength, intellect, dexterity, and constitution. You start with no equipment and only a little gold.
      
Character creation.
    
Gameplay begins inside the main gate of Baron's Keep. If you go north for your first move, the game interprets this as you choosing to leave the keep and abandon the quest. You otherwise change screens by hitting the arrow keys. You don't move on the little map in the lower-right; instead, this map changes as you move, reflecting new areas. 
      
My adventure begins.
     
Baron's Keep consists of 24 screens (5 x 5, but there's no way to access the center, at least not that I can tell), with a number of buildings to enter, including a weapon shop, an armor shop, a guild hall, a temple, a gypsy camp, an inn, a tavern, and several abandoned buildings. Most of the locations are safe, but a few of them reliably produce battles with enemies most times you enter. Combat is just a matter of putting your chosen weapon I)n Hand and then hitting A)ttack. Through these battles, you slowly accumulate gold and experience, allowing you to purchase some weapon and armor items and level up at the guild.
 
The world of Ard--at least so far.

 
      
In the southeast corner of the keep, you find a "maze" square, and I'm utterly baffled by it. You don't seem to enter or exit in any consistent way. You can't see where you are within it. Trying to move usually produces a message that says "that's not the way out," but sometimes you get this in any direction you choose. Still, if you just keep choosing directions, you eventually find your way "out." One of the exits leads you to a square called "Ruins." It's here that I assume you enter a dungeon (the manual talks about hallways and doors). Actually, I don't assume it: an "elder" in town told me that the ruins is the location of a powerful wizard's abandoned castle, and that the wizard hid the Spirit Stone in the dungeon. 
       
Fighting a giant spider in the odd "maze."
    
So far, it sounds like a pretty stock RPG, but there's an adventure game lurking beneath the surface, and it took me a while to uncover it. The manual lists a lot of commands that have no obvious use as you explore the map; these include C)limb, L)isten, P)ush, Y)ank, and even a S)pecial option that lets you type your own command. Most of the locations don't give you any indication that one of these special commands is called for; you just have to try them out. Through experimentation, I learned that:
    
  • There's an empty house with a book stand where you can G)et a Red Book (my character couldn't read it). P)ushing the book stand reveals a brass key.
  • E)xamining the stables reveals that one of the stalls contains a centaur. I couldn't get him to say anything interesting.
     
Asking him about his JOB accomplishes nothing.
    
  • In an empty house in the northwest corner, L)istening results in a ghostly voice saying, "My name is Nephron; summon me." If you then T)alk and say NEPHRON, the ghost appears and warns you that he died on the same quest you're on. He suggests you pick up his demon-destroying amulet from beyond a door marked "enter here," but he warns that he got stuck because he lacked a silver coin.
  • The barracks has a soldier, but I couldn't get him to respond to any T)alk prompt.
  • C)limbing a tree in the woods lets you find a nest and a feather.
  • C)limbing a tree in the field lets you find free apples to eat.
  • There's a thieves' guild in the southwest with a trapped treasure chest inside. I can't find any way to disarm the trap. 
      
Exploring the thieves' guild.
     
  • A hermit responds to T)alk with what seems like a riddle, but I can't even think of a good guess. Regardless of what you say, he recommends using SEARCH with the S)pecial command, and this indeed works in the ruins.
      
The riddle has stumped me.
     
Usually, I can tell a game's pedigree within a few minutes of gameplay, but Ard doesn't seem clearly inspired by any previous game. It has a lot of quirky mechanics and commands, some promising, some annoying. Examples:
   
  • When you want to pick something up, you have to type the full name. This includes looting gold after combat. So after every combat, you have to hit G)et and then type GOLD and then the number of gold pieces you want.
  • You have to pay to level up. To do this, you D)rop your gold (again, you have to type out GOLD) in the doorway of the guild, which puts it into a kind of bank. If you've banked enough gold when you enter the guild, you can level up.
  • The game directly depletes your attributes. Strength depletes as you fight enemies. Constitution depletes from hunger and thirst as time goes on. Dexterity depletes when you type nonsensical commands. Intellect depletes if you ask for a H)int. Strength is restored when you sleep and constitution when you eat, but I accidentally knocked down my intellect early in the game, and I haven't found any way to restore it yet.
  • The magic system involves paying a wizard 200 gold pieces each for the game's nine spells. The spells each have a material component, and the wizard tells you what it is when you buy the spell. For instance, "Knock" requires a lockpick and "Hold" requires a snail shell. These items are consumed when you use them, and you can only ever carry one at a time, which makes me think that spells in this game are more about puzzle-solving than using them in combat.
            
Buying spells.
    
Finally, I'm having three performance issues with the game:
   
  • I can't get saving to work. You have to Q)uit to save. If I do so, the disk runs, but when I reload, the character is in the starting position in the main gate with no experience or other progress.
  • The game repeatedly gives me messages that seem to have more text, but there's no key that I can find that makes it "continue" or advance.
  • The game is slow at 100% speed. Excruciatingly slow. 
   
#1 and #3 have made choice of an emulator difficult. Since I can't get the game to reliably save, I need to use save states. That rules out VCC, which doesn't support save states. But VCC does support incremental speed improvements, whereas XRoar, which supports save states, doesn't seem to have any option between regular speed and maximum speed. I've been using XRoar for now, but having it constantly running at turbo means I miss some things. I should be happy it's working at all. Other emulators just booted to a gibberish screen. (Thanks to Jason Dyer and LanHawk for helping me get this far.)
   
At this point, I've gotten lightly stuck. Searching in the ruins produces a door with three slots, and the game asks me how much gold I want to put in each one. I've seen nothing that would provide hints to the right combination. But I probably haven't exhausted all my exploration and dialogue options, so I'll make another round of the screens to ensure I haven't missed anything.
   
Time so far: 3 hours

 

49 comments:

  1. Chet, I was able to save my character's progress using MAME's CoCo 3 driver. I'll shoot you a message with instructions in case you'd like to give it a try.

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  2. Oh, no, that cover illustration.... hahahaha.

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    1. Yeah, it's 5th grade stuff but still adorable...

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    2. I suspect BB was maybe referring to the positioning of the two characters? Kenny would have made a comment immediately... .

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    3. Hey, it's better than the generic "protagonist face" covers we get nowadays!

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    4. Like the Monster Manual was any better?

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    5. Right, where is Kenny when you need him ;)

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    6. @Harland That was exactly what I thought of when I saw it. The cover art has a very 'early D&D' quality. The Fiend Folio may have contained a lot of pointless monsters, but the artwork was a quantum leap forward.

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    7. I guess it's arguable which is worse: today's covers that are 'Marketing Deptartmented' to death, or a barbarian's O-face. But yes, the linework and anatomy isn't that bad (at least comparable to early D&D). Just poorly composed.

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  3. I may know the answer to the riddle:
    "Vs lbh phg na nccyr va unys nybat vgf rdhngbe gur frrqf sbez gur funcr bs n fgne"

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    1. I had the exact same thought - pretty sure that has to be right.

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    2. Yes, that was my thought before decrypting the rot13.

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    3. Same here as well—which is weird, because normally I do terribly with these kinds of riddles. Maybe I found this one easy because Purg unq whfg zragvbarq nccyrf rneyvre va gur oybt cbfg... but who knows.

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    4. Having not cut into a nccyr in probably 30 years, I never would have gotten this. You were correct, but the answer didn't get me any further in the game. The hermit just told me to go and get one and note "when and where." I found it in the southern field.

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  4. re: hidden gems -- we haven't really had "hidden gems" much at all, have we? The only two off Highest Rated I'd call a surprise are Dark Heart of Uukrul (which I hadn't heard of until you wrote about it) and Disciples of Steel. Everything else is I game I've at least heard of by reputation even if I haven't gotten around to it (still want to get to Starflight someday).

    I suppose Fate-up-to-the-train sort of counts? Is there any you'd consider a "hidden gem" where the point system just isn't reflecting that?

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    1. He has not played SunDog: Frozen Legacy yet, so there's still hope.

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    2. The two roguelikes that got a high rating, Ragnarok and Omega were definitely hidden gems. At least, I had never heard of them before, whereas most games I've at least vaguely heard of. (and I heard of Dark Heart before!)
      Although I agree that there probably aren't any more hidden gems from the '80s. Well, outside of Japanese games, which don't really apply here. I guess some of the more questionably RPG titles like SunDog and Sleeping Gods Lie could qualify as hidden gems, but in those cases you're breaking away from key RPG elements and entering games with questionable gameplay mechanics.

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    3. What was that strange conspiracy-themed rpg set in, I think, modern Massachusetts? That one was a bit of a hidden…shiny pebble, at least, I think.

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    4. Defender of Boston. That was a 90s RPG, though.

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    5. Chet was really surprised by Sword of Aragon. He hated it and was about to quit, but then the game grabbed him and he ended up enjoying it quite a lot.

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    6. I guess it depends on how much of a CRPG expert you were before reading the respective blog entries (and maybe also your age and focus in games). Even if some of the names might have appeared somewhere on the horizon in passing, to me also games like Alternate Reality: The Dungeon, Demon's Winter, The Magic Candle, Escape from Hell, LotR Vol. I or Perihelion were ones I hadn't played or really read about and which sound interesting enough to at least give them a try, time permitting,

      Maybe not real "gems" and maybe not "hidden" for everyone prior to being covered here, but discoveries for me at least. Of course, according to individual preferences, YMMV. Though I agree those already named by others above are among the strongest candidates for this category / title

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    7. Ragnarok and Defender of Boston both feel like "hidden gems" even though they are 90s.

      I knew about Omega but I certainly found it a surprise how much Chet liked it (I remember him being fairly down on roguelikes up to then, and for pretty good reason).

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    8. I thought I remembered Chet thinking Swords of Glass was a hidden gem, "the little CRPG that could," but I guess his final verdict wasn't quite so positive.

      I've tried Omega but never have been able to quite get into it, though in theory I like roguelikes. But it can be hard to learn a new one, for me.

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    9. IIRC Chet didn't realize how to get rid of paralysis in Swords of Glass (you have to unintuitively force your character to wait and pass a turn) so that may have biased his final verdict - he didn't finish. Feels worthy of a revisit now that he's redone Wiz 4.

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    10. Anyone remember The Land? Sure, maybe the game wasn't great, but it nevertheless made for an interesting series of posts, what with (IIRC) the creator popping up to fix his ancient Turbo Pascal code to help Chet play it and Chet becoming like the second person ever to have a registered copy. You don't get that with the Baldur's Gates.

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    11. The Land was a great experience. Quest of the Unicorn from the same developer, Mike Riley, too. Anonymous is correct that Swords of Glass may be worth a second look some day.

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  5. Back story sounds close to the story of Beren from the Silmarillion.

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    1. ...I'm not sure how it relates to Beren...? At least assuming you mean the tale of Beren and Luthien. That was much more about recovering a Silmaril from one who stole it than...anything about people losing their nerve and running away.

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  6. Have you tried casting Knock on the trapped chest?

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    1. Yes! Nothing happens. I hold the lockpick in my hand and cast the spell, but it doesn't work.

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  7. I'm guessing that the maze is actually a number of rooms with the same graphic or description; that's how adventure games would do it. Normally you map these by dropping a different item in each room to make them distinguishable.

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    1. Since he says that sometimes attempting to move in ANY direction is blocked, I feel that it's likely 100% random and intended to force the player to spend more time in that square facing monsters. You could just choose the same direction repeatedly and one time it might take 3 tries and another it might take 8, but eventually the diceroll lets you out. I mean, I'm assuming, not having played it.

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  8. he got stuck lacking a silver coin

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  9. I found this read strangely compelling, like going on an adventure, and I'm curious how this thing will progress.

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  10. "I will now magically unlock this door!! ... No peeking." *proceeds to use lockpick in a totally magical way*

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    1. Yeah. Wouldn't it be easier to just pick the lock with the lockpick? You might even get to keep it that way...

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  11. Usually, I can tell a game's pedigree within a few minutes of gameplay

    Heh. Yeah, that's the kind of mastery that happens when you play every CRPG in existence.

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  12. That riddle has to be about the center square in some way...

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  13. "Gameplay begins inside the main gate of Baron's Keep. If you go north for your first move, the game interprets this as you choosing to leave the keep and abandon the quest."

    That counts as an ending, right? How fast is the speedrun for this game?

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  14. Useless trivia: "ARD" is one of the two main public service broadcasters / TV networks in Germany (and, as I just read on Wikipedia, the largest public broadcaster network in the world). Makes the game title sound potentially somewhat weird for someone who has grown up or lived a while in Germany. (So the whole network is kept running through mysterious 'power stones'?)

    Never heard of the game before. So far indeed sounds like a mix of RPG and adventure elements, looking forward to see how well that works (or not). At least the approach is somewhat original and not (bad / boring) Ultima / DM / BT clone no. 257.

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    Replies
    1. Even more useless trivia: ARD is as much a public service broadcaster as Snickers is a company.

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  15. The sequel exclusively takes place from a 1st person perspective, with a much improved combat system. Interestingly, it still includes a lot of adventure game elements.

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  16. I greatly appreciated the “Job” reference.

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  17. I had a Tandy 1000 HD computer that ran on MS-DOS back in the 1980s. What kind of computer was this released for in 1987? Ther ewere some PC-DOS games that did not run on my Tandy 1000 until later on like Wizardry because it was only compatible with PC-DOS(IBM computers and not compatibles). If this was for The Tandy Color, then it ran on all MS-DOS Operatng Systems. So was this sold at Radio Shack? By 1987, there were BAbbages game stores at the mall.

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    1. TRS-80 CoCo exclusive. It wouldn't have worked on a Tandy 1000 or other IBM PC clones (I think). The game was advertised in Rainbow Magazine around the time of release. I can't imagine it was really advertised any where else.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. Man, this is weird for me. Around six years ago, I mentioned that this game was missing from your list. I found it from solving really obscure "Tip of my Tongue" post, so I had it on my mind as a game you would have never encountered. I remember I solved it on Tuesday, November 8th, because it was the last thing I did before falling asleep while working nights after voting the election, and waking up to one of the worst days of my life. Crazy how a single post can instantly take me right back there, and how the space between memories feels like a blink, rather than representing the better part of my 30s.

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    1. If you've solved it, I'd appreciate some hints, because this game is driving me crazy. Right now, these are my open issues:

      -How to read the red book

      -How to solve the door puzzle in the ruins, which involves inserting a number of coins into each slot

      -How to open the chest in the thieves' guild

      If you can remember any of these things, I'd love a light hint about where to check.

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    2. Ack! No, sorry, I solved the "Tip of my Tongue" post on Reddit. I just meant I found someone else's question about something they barely remembered and helped them find that piece of media -- I've never actually played it, except to take a screenshot to show to the person trying to place a vague memory of it. Sorry!

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