Monday, October 24, 2022

The Power Stones of Ard: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

The Power Stones of Ard: The Quest for the Spirit Stone
United States
Three C's Projects (developer and publisher)
Released in 1987 for Tandy Color Computer 3
Date Started: 23 August 2022
Date Ended: 22 October 2022
Total Hours: 25
Difficulty: Hard-Very Hard (4.5/5)
Final Rating: 25
Ranking at Time of Posting: 226/483 (47%)
Wow, did Ard put me through the ringer. It's been a long time since I had the experience of repeatedly saying "#@%* this" and giving up on a game "for the last time" only to wake up at 02:00 with a voice in the back of my head saying "what if you tried this?"
I ended up admiring the game somewhat. Some of the things that originally struck me as unfair turned out to be fairer (if still not exactly "fair") after considering all the clues. For instance, you heard last time that the player is expected to intuit that he needs to SCREW a peg, SEAL a hole, and SPIN a silver coin. During this session, I found a room with musical notes on the wall. I knew immediately that the puzzle was going to involve the lyre, but what verb? PLAY? PICK, PLUCK, or PLUNK? No, the player has to figure out that the right verb is STRUM. How many times do you imagine that you've said STRUM in your life?
But just as I was planning to eviscerate the game for requiring such a leap of logic, I noticed a pattern: all of the special commands begin with an "S." SCREW PEG, SEAL HOLE, SLICE APPLE, STACK BOXES, STRAIGHTEN PICTURE, and so forth. This realization clicked with a clue that, "Specials need an S," although at the time I thought it was simply saying that you have to hit "S" to input the special command in the first place. But that's a basic instruction, right there in the manual; clearly, a "hint" must be saying something else. Now, if I knew that I was looking for an "S" verb in all those situations, would I have figured out SCREW, STRAIGHTEN, and STRUM? I don't know. But it's less impossible than I originally made it sound.
I never figured out what this encounter was about.
Some of the other things I complained about last time turned out to have solutions, too. You cannot, after all, get into a "walking dead" situation because of a lack of flint or a lockpick. Those items show up in their original locations after they disappear from your inventory. They just take some time. As for the room on Level 2 that you can only pass through once, it turns out that the arm bands you loot from the Tor Beast will teleport you (albeit in unpredictable ways) if you invoke them with the EARTH trigger. You can use them to get past that door. 
Lest you now think the game is too easy, let me relate something that I didn't discover until towards the end of my final session. Because I had been saving with save states, I didn't realize that the game enforces permadeath. The only way you can mitigate it is to purchase a Soul Crystal from the temple, which will automatically resurrect you, but you lose all your accumulated equipment. You might as well just start over.
I did start over after my last session, creating a new character called "Chet" and prioritizing strength, as I was always getting over-encumbered with my previous character. I carefully mapped everything and took detailed notes, almost as if I were making a walkthrough, as I was sure I would get stuck somewhere and would have to leave it for a later player to finish. That turned out not to be the case, but it almost was.

The Spirit Stone is at the bottom of a five-level dungeon with about 250 total rooms and about 100 unique rooms (there are a lot of generic corridors and/or rooms with nothing in them). The layout is complex and difficult to map because the levels are interconnected and, unlike Dungeon Master II, they don't preserve fidelity of distance between departure on one level and arrival on another. Level 2, for instance, is made up of four major sections, all interconnected with Level 3, and it took me a while to figure out how they fit.
Level 2 alone had about 75 rooms.
The steps and puzzles absolutely necessary to reach the endgame are:
  • Solve the hermit's riddle and get the apple from the apple tree.
  • At the Thieves' Guild, get the Green Potion as related last time.
  • On Level 1, open a coffin and kill a vampire lord, taking from his corpse the Crystal Key. He didn't show up the first few times I passed through the level, so his appearance is either tied to an inventory item or a character level.
  • On Level 2, figure out the SEVER HEAD and SEAL HOLE puzzles related last time.
  • On Level 2, kill the Tor Beast and get his Arm Band, as related last time. Solve the box puzzle, find the Silver Coin, use it to escape the skeleton room. Find a lyre in a secret room.
  • On Level 3, STRUM the lyre in a music room to open a door to Level 4.
  • On Level 4, find a room with a gold star on the floor. The hermit gave a riddle comparing an apple core to a star, and a gypsy riddle said, "A star, revealed a star, reveals a star." In this room, SLICE APPLE to make a Star Sword magically appear.
If it accomplished nothing else, Ard is probably the only game where you obtain the ultimate weapon by slicing an apple.
  • Elsewhere on Level 4, find a room with red and black panels. There are messages in other rooms that encourage you to press red three times and not to press black at all. Pressing red three times opens a secret door forward.
  • On Level 5, find a Silver Sword at the bottom of a pit and use it to kill a werewolf. Also find a Bone Ring, which protects you from dragon breath. In an old bedroom, take the hint that a picture is tilted and STRAIGHTEN PICTURE, which opens another secret door. Use the Arm Bands to cross an area of black smoke that dumps you into a pit if you enter.
  • Kill a dragon.
  • GO to the dragon's secret chamber. Use the Crystal Key on a Crystal Chest and find the Spirit Stone within.
  • Make your way back to the main entrance to town and then leave.
The rest of the large levels are mostly about providing hints for how to accomplish the list above. There is a subset of puzzles that are optional, good primarily for improving inventory or giving the player a chance to fully restore a character without having to return to town. For instance, the "alter" I had discovered for my last entry turned out to be one of the latter. Hold a gem in hand and SACRIFICE it at the altar, and attributes are fully restored. There are Blue Scrolls and Blue Potions to find that do the same. A Red Book found in town fully restores you if you read it while sitting (another "S" command) in a red chair in a red room. Two fountains grant you healing potions if you fill your flask at them; a third has a water elemental attack you every time you enter.
A perfect place to relax and read a book.
The weakest part of the game is the RPG side. You can attain at least 11 levels, but each level just brings new types of enemies that hit harder and take longer to kill. I avoided leveling up past Level 5 as I explored the dungeon, as higher levels attracted demons and giants and other creatures capable of killing you after a few unlucky rolls. Inventory improvements are the only way to get an edge against enemies, and as you explore the dungeon, you find items like a Breastplate, Bracers, Boots, Chain Mail, and various rings. (Every piece of armor you find improves your rating automatically. Nonsensically, the Small Shield and Large Shield both "stack" to have a combined effect.) There are also five "artifact" items, each with a different "trigger word" (all clued by wall messages). An Amulet automatically destroys demons with the DESTRUCT keyword; the Star Sword becomes more powerful with the STARLIGHT keyword; a Gold Ring automatically restores strength (keeping you from having to sleep in dangerous places) if you say REPOSE; and there's a magic wand that shoots fireballs in response to BRIMSTONE.
This message has all the "triggers" in one sentence.
Spells, on the other hand, are mostly useless since their reagents are only good for one use before they disappear. "Lighting Bolt" and "Fireball" are both for emergency use only, since you have to make your way back to town and replace the Silver Wire and Fire Ruby that they require (respectively) after each casting. I never found the Snail Shell required for "Hold." "Healing" only restores about 10 hit points for the Holy Water it requires. I never noticed "Augment" doing anything at all. "Detect" finds secret doors--helpful, but unnecessary since you can just bump into the walls. "Knock" and "Light" are the only ones for which the reagents are good for multiple castings. There are about half a dozen locked doors and dark rooms between the dungeon's entrance and the Spirit Stone, and if you're lucky, one lockpick and one piece of flint will get you there. Otherwise, you have to "Teleport" back to town, get another, and try again.
There are an awful lot of puzzles that I didn't solve, and I don't know what they would have led to. On my "mysteries" list are:
  • That jet of toxic gas that I described last time. The text in the game files suggests you're supposed to fill a flask of it, but nothing I did worked. Similarly, I never used the SQUEEZE FLASK command that you find in the files.
  • There's a message suggesting that you need to say MAGIC in a particular room to get teleported to another one. I think I said it in every unique room, but I got nowhere.
  • I solved most of the puzzle messages (including an interleave, an acrostic, and a cryptogram), but this one had me stumped: AU,CDE@TN? (UUU)N4(LEV84)FU(ON)T(RMB&). The best I can figure is that it's some form of pre-Internet "leet" speak. The latter part seems to be saying something like, "If you own the Arm Band."
  • Level 4 has a statue of a toad with emerald eyes. If you STRIKE EYES, a toad demon appears and must be defeated, but upon his defeat, nothing happens. Maybe that's all that the idol is good for, but it feels like there's more to be done here.
Nothing toad me what to do here.
  • Level 4 also has a room with a pit and a skeleton chained to the wall on the other side. You can J)ump across the pit if you're strong enough, but once you do, there seems to be no way to interact with the skeleton or otherwise do anything.
  • Also on Level 4: a silver globe suspended in the air with a keyhole where Baron's Keep should be. I'm sure it opens to the Silver Key, an object that the files suggest is in the game, but I never found it.
  • Items that exist but I never found: Snail Shell, Silver Key, Glowing Orb.
  • I never found any use for the feather.
  • I never found out what "each race has a special" meant.
Inspecting the text in the game flies only gets you so far because the game doesn't really acknowledge most of what you do. Except in a few places, you don't get messages like, "Your Crystal Key opens the chest" or "Your strike reverberates against the idol's eyes." Instead, you do something and the resulting item just appears, or the resulting door just opens. Thus, an inspection can tell you what commands and objects exist, but not always how they interact with each other or where to use them.
At the game's conclusion, you enter a large room with a dragon. The Bone Ring protects against its fire breath. The Star Sword is the only weapon that will damage it. It's still a nearly impossible fight, as the dragon gets five physical attacks per round. I had no chance against him at Level 5, so I had to return to the surface and pay for advancement before I had any chance. Even at Level 10, I could last three rounds against him at best. I tried a lot of strategies, including drinking the Red Potion in the first round (which doubles your attacks in subsequent rounds) and wasting a round to invoke the Star Sword's enhancement, thus doing extra damage in subsequent rounds. I still died about seven times--keeping in mind that these would have required a restart of the game if I had been playing "honestly." Finally, the dice went my way and I killed him.
My attempt to defeat the dragon at Level 5 didn't go well.
Beyond the dragon is a room with a crystal chest, which opens with the Crystal Key. Inside is the Spirit Stone. You have no idea how happy I was when I finally had it in hand. I gleefully went to put the Blink Dust in hand and "Teleport" back to town . . . only to discover that on this one trip out of all my trips to the dungeon, I had forgotten to re-purchase Blink Dust first. I had to walk back out, a process made a little easier by the fact that the Spirit Stone adds 5 to your armor rating.
Samuel L. Jackson would be proud of my response to that last message.
Back in the village, I just had to go north from the main gates to get the winning screen above. It's been years since I felt so relieved to win a game. Winning Ard legitimately would be a hell of an achievement.
Let's do a quick GIMLET:
  • 3 points for the game world. The backstory is derivative but reasonably well-told, and the character's purpose is clear.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. Creation has a few options, but you really need strength and dexterity to have a shot. "Development" mostly just gets you more hit points and harder enemies.
  • 2 points for NPCs. There are a few of them, but the game doesn't make very extensive use of its keyword-based dialogue. There are maybe half a dozen valid words and responses.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. I give all of that to the puzzles, some of which are enemy-based. Ard makes the most of its 26 commands, and while some of the special commands were a bit arcane, none of the solutions are patently absurd.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The combat system is underdeveloped, relying far too much on luck. Magic is mostly for navigation, although I like the reagent and "trigger word" system.
Better prepared at Level 9, I finally defeat the dragon.
  • 3 points for equipment. There are weapons and armor items to find. All armor items are illogically additive, and the game is a bit obtuse as to the damage caused by weapons. A wide variety of healing items keeps things a little interesting.
  • 2 points for the economy. Money is a bit too easy to obtain, and by mid-game, you're ignoring most gold.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no side quests or roleplaying options. The ability to walk away by leaving the main gates at any time isn't quite worth a third point.
  • 2 points for graphic, sound, and inputs. While I enjoy the 26-letter keyboard interface, the game damaged it a bit by making you type out too many full words too often (e.g., every time you change the item in hand, you have to type the entire name) and by making BACKSPACE delete everything you've typed instead of just the last letter. Graphics are minimal and sound is nonexistent.
  • 2 points for gameplay. It's a bit too linear, too hard, and too long for its limited content.
That gives us a final score of 25, which falls comfortably below my "recommended" threshold, and yet there's an extent to which I recommend it anyway. While it doesn't measure up perfectly to my ideal CRPG, it succeeds well in its own unique niche. I never heard from author Bill Cleveland, but I suspect it satisfied his intentions. It's also worth remembering that the various Color Computer models were under-served when it came to RPGs, so owners would want a game that was long and challenging. Ard was only one of two that I've identified for 1987; the other is the similarly-long Gates of Delirium. Ard is also a highly original game; unlike most of its Color Computer contemporaries, including Delirium, its interface takes no obvious inspiration from a previous title.
Ard had a 1990 sequel called The Power Stones of Ard II: The Five Towers of Trafa-Zar. It sends the hero in search of the Mind Stone. Screenshots show a similar interface but with more color and with additions such as a character portrait, monster portraits, and a compass. The navigation window shows a 3D view rather than a static "overhead" view. As far as I can tell, these are the only games that Bill Cleveland or the Three C's Project produced.
Struggling through some of these titles can be a lonely, frustrating experience, so again I want to thank LanHawk for helping me through this one. And on that topic--and on the topic of adventure-RPG hybrids in general--there's going to be some more CRPG Addict/Adventurer's Guild synergy coming up in November, as both I and Will Moczarski will be playing BloodNet starting the first week of November. Stick around!


  1. Do you claim you say STRUM often? Lyre.

    1. Stop harping on the verb and guitar ta here

    2. If the SITARation calls, for it on some BASS level

    3. Ukelele aren't aware of how musical Chester is

  2. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 24, 2022 at 12:40 PM

    Two in a row -- you're on a roll. Congratulations for making it through this one, in particular.

  3. I like the idea of providing the first letter for the expected verb, and I wonder how many adventure games could have been improved by using that approach? The designer doesn't have to waste as much effort covering redundant options, and the player doesn't get as frustrated trying to guess the right word. But in most cases just knowing the first letter is not going to give away the puzzle by itself. I don't know a ton about adventure games, but it seems appealing to me as an outsider.

    1. What comes to mind is text adventure Ad Verbum, which has such locations as the Neat Nursery where every word in the room description starts with N, and the game only accepts inputs starting with N.

      The only exit is South, though. Good luck!

    2. Rick S--that's how I did it!

      Now you get to do the same thing for E, S, and W. (Getting out of the E room was pretty easy for me, picking up the things in it was less so.)

    3. Ad Verbum is really great, I actually just replayed it earlier this year! There are some less-inspired puzzles, but the best ones are amazing.

      You can play it online here:

    4. I had forgotten I had played this game until I followed your link and got to the kid with the toy dinosaur. Was fun to replay (the dinosaur was the only puzzle to which I remembered the solution, so I got to re-solve everything else)

  4. Glad you didn't give up on this one. All the entries were great, nice to see this rewarded with a win. I'm also looking forward to the BloodNet coverage.

  5. "AU,CDE@TN? (UUU)N4(LEV84)FU(ON)T(RMB&)"

    I'd say this looks like the old sound out the letters trick. I've seen a whole book of them. OUBUT, B my QT is "oh you beauty, be my cutie" and there's the old ducks joke with "OSMR" for "oh yes them are" and "CMEDBD wings" for "see them itty bitty wings.

    The best I can get here is something like, "Hey, you, see the eaten? You in for elevator for if you own the armband." Really stretching it on a lot of that, though.

    1. Or you never alleviate if you own the armband?

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 24, 2022 at 2:13 PM

      I wondered whether "N4" could be "never" - though that's certainly a stretch, too.

    3. Could be a combo of different "meters". "UUU" could be "Try you" for example.

    4. I thought UUU might be "Use" (U's)

    5. I'm with Harwin on "Use." So the question is what e-at-tee-en is. There isn't, like, a yataghan in the game, is there?

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. I would hazard a guess that e@t somehow means earth, since the whole thing seems to be an instruction on how to use the tor beast armband to move around.

    8. Agree with "use" (UUU). I wonder if "see the eaten" (CDE@TN) refers to the skeleton with the pit/ledge room. And don't ask me why, because I don't know either, but doing "N4" in my head results in "north". So it would roughly be:
      Hey you! See the eaten? Use north elevator if you own the armband.
      So maybe using the armband as an elevator to get on the ledge to the north???

    9. Or "levitator" instead of "elevator"

    10. What about "Are you, candle eaten? Use one for levitator, if you own the armband?"

    11. Or better "are you, candle at need? Use one for levitator, if you own the armband"?

    12. Probably don't need another take on this, but I'm reading it as "Ay, you, see the ettin? Yooo never [something] armband."

    13. "And don't ask me why, because I don't know either, but doing "N4" in my head results in "north"."

      I think it's because the '4' is a compass arrow pointing up?

      ""see the eaten" (CDE@TN)"

      If that was it, why not just write it as CDETN? Did the @ need to be there? That makes me think the 'T' needs to represent some additional sound: at-tee-in. I also wonder if the @ symbol was known as something else in the 90s?

    14. The armband is used to fly across the gap I believe and the letter 'N' in the game instructions means 'Do Nothing' so maybe 'use nothing for levitation if you own the armband'. No idea about the first part, however I thought maybe the comma might be a word (eg 'come and'). Still makes no sense.

    15. If we're supposed to interpret "candle" in that string, it would make sense. The room were I originally used the candle was the only one I found where using the arm bands was absolutely required to progress.

      I tried using the arm bands in the ledge room, and they just moved me to another nearby room that was easy to find anyway.

    16. Good guess, but nothing happens.

  6. " How many times do you imagine that you've said STRUM in your life?"

    Strum is the hero of many a dyslectic Dragonlance fan.

  7. It seems like a really charming game. I love it when these obscure games turn out to be interesting.

    BloodNet should also be entertaining, although "charming" is not the word I would use.

    1. I feel like Bloodnet is charming, in that its writing and world are very interesting and fleshed out, but the game good, to say the least.

    2. Yeah, I would not call Bloodnet a good game, it has a lot of cool concepts but their implementation is very rough.

      Still, Chet might enjoy it anyway:

      - The setting should be a nice change from the more usual high-fantasy or hard scifi ones.

      - It's a game that rewards (or even requires) detailed note-taking.

      -With the above, the puzzles are not hard but still fun to figure out.

    3. I'm definitely looking forward to reading about BloodNet, too. The game is pretty out there, thematically (and unmistakably from a very specific era). And even though the gameplay is pretty janky, it's also different enough from its contemporaries that it should make for an interesting write-up.

  8. Nice one. Have you tried stripping the emarld eyes again after the demon dies?

    1. No command works with the eyes other than STRIKE, and it just generates a new demon every time. Good thinking, though.

  9. Glad you played and kind of enjoyed it. I didn't have half the patience you did with this game. The TRS-80 COCO must have been such a huge disappointment for any RPG fan who had it.

    1. Speaking as a Coco owner BITD, I had no experience playing CRPGs on any other system. I certainly saw advertisements and reviews for games in magazines, and I knew that I was missing something, but not now much. I quite enjoyed the small handful of quasi-RPGs that I had access to.

      Adventure games were common on the Coco, and there were a few other Adventure-RPG hybrids. Heck, I even tried writing one myself.

  10. Always happy to help when and where I can. Congrats on the win!!

  11. a coffin and kill a vampire lord, taking from his corpse the Crystal Key. He didn't show up the first few times I passed through the level...
    My thought on this one goes like this.... The hint was: "The prince of darkness has the crystal key you need". So enter the room and leave the lights off when you open the coffin.

    1. Yes! That is clearly what's happening. The first time I entered the room, I didn't know what was there, so I cast the "Light" spell. But the last time, I already knew the coffin was there, so I just opened it without casting the spell. I should have figured that one out.

  12. Blogging Ard, or 'ardly blogging? Congrats on this victory, sounded like the kind of ordeal that gave you newfound respect for the game and its clearer-in-hindsight clues.

    If these first two games had you going after the Spirit Stone and Mind Stone I'm guessing there were plans for four more sequels? Five, if you also needed a gauntlet? Ambitious stuff.

    1. If game number two is also this hard then I can just see the protagonist dragging himself half dead out of the second dungeon and saying "to hell with this, I am just going to let evil be."

    2. You could slightly adapt the difficulty rating for them and games with similar characteristics - Difficulty: Ard-Very Ard (4.5/5)

  13. Strum was the first thing that came to mind for me, but I am a guitar player...

    1. Yeah, same for me (well, amateur guitar player. Very amateur guitar player). But I did not dare to mention it with all the anti-Strum sentiments here.

  14. But just as I was planning to eviscerate the game for requiring such a leap of logic, I noticed a pattern: all of the special commands begin with an "S."

    This is exactly the sort of bizarre leaps in logic that killed adventure games. It's the sort of thing that makes sense, I guess, if you're not good at making puzzles and are scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas.

    I avoided leveling up past Level 5

    This is exactly the wrong way to do a game with RPG elements. I tellyawhut, if the character is actively avoiding leveling up, you know that game just ain't right.

    It's been a long time since I had the experience of repeatedly saying "#@%* this" and giving up on a game "for the last time" only to wake up at 02:00 with a voice in the back of my head saying "what if you tried this?"

    He really is an Addict. I'm going to go on record and say he's the first person to beat this game, anywhere. Having this level of commitment to go after badly crafted adventure/RPG hybrids is an ability that some consider to be unnatural. It's not a story RPGCodex users would tell you.

    1. Again with the nonsense that "bad puzzles killed adventure games"? Come now. We had thoroughly disproven that in a thread just last week.

    2. Is it possible to learn this power?

    3. Wasn't avoiding levelling up the only way to actually enjoy playing TES: Oblivion, too? I always knew why that game always felt not "right" to me.

    4. Not leveling up is a viable strategy in Oblivion (I think, never tried it myself). I'm not sure I'd find it enjoyable.

    5. Several games you're advised to not level up in. And the ones I know of have monsters scaling to your level in some way. Mainly Wizardry 8 and Final Fantasy VIII. In fact, in FFVIII you can get away with no leveling at all from near the start.

    6. Wizardry 8, like Morrowind, has limited level scaling, selecting monsters from a range but the general difficulty of an area plays a bigger role (and then there's Arnika road, where the level scaling is buggy). I don't think a normal player could finish Wizardry 8 without significant leveling. Games like Oblivion, as far as I understand, scale every area based on your level, so you could theoretically play them without leveling.

      Ard seems to work like Oblivion up until the final encounter.

    7. The vast majority of "never level up" advice in games is misguided. Oblivion and FFVIII both get it because levels drive the scaling but are not the main source of your combat power. Oblivion uses individual skills, which can fall behind if you have non-combat skills as part of your "primary" set that are driving leveling, while FFVIII the primary source of power is Junctioning, with levels mostly giving you easier access to better Junctions.

      From the coverage, ARD doesn't have that sort of setup, and there is no deeper system driving it. Which makes it the rare game where levels actually do make things harder.

    8. Oblivion's level scaling has always bothered me on dogmatic grounds, but I never found that the game became difficult because of it. I always objected more to the fact that the "hardest" enemies were scaled down to match you, rather than that the weakest enemies were scaled up. In other words, my objection was less "it never gets any easier" than it was "you never have to struggle to defeat a particular enemy."

    9. @addict, as a fan of the series, what do you think of scaling in the latest Assassin's Creed games (Odyssey and Valhalla)?

      Playing on hard difficulty, enemy scaling works by raising the level of weaker enemies to match the player's, while stronger enemies retain their own level.

      While it works in theory, in practice I found that fighting the same enemy type after 50 hours just scaled up in stats got old fast (to be fair, later areas have more unique enemies with special abilities).

    10. I've always believed that the Right Way™ to do level scaling is "scaling within bounds"—that is, a given enemy might range from level 3 to level 9, and scales through that range as the player goes from level 2 to level 12, or something. It lets enemies scale enough that they don't become trivial as soon as you level up a couple times, but also lets early enemies be easy for a lategame player to steamroll (or just ignore; I particularly like the mechanic in Final Fantasy XIV that enemies whose level is too far below yours will just...not aggro unless you attack first).

    11. A mechanic I enjoyed in tabletop games with a human DM was him occasionally rolling a die and declaring that we'd just had an encounter with an enemy so far beneath us that we could just trivially assume we had curbstomped it for de minimis rewards. I've played CRPGs that have a concept of "low-enough level monsters just flee immediately" or "Low level monsters do not trigger encounters any more", but it would be interesting to see an explicit game mechanic in, say, a Final Fantasy style JRPG of the occasional non-blocking popup announcing that you'd just gained 5 GP from a trivial fight (Similar to, say, Octopath Traveler's character skill that causes occasional "You happened to find a few gold pieces on the ground" events)

    12. I swear I played some (J?)RPG that does exactly that, where enemies that are low enough level compared to you die instantly as you touch them rather than triggering the usual combat encounter, giving you their XP and gold rewards. Now if only my memory didn't suck...

    13. I think a more interesting way to implement something like scaling would be just to have the world evolve based on your actions and not necessarily your level. So you kill the boss of a dungeon and this causes his surviving minions to flood out into the country side which changes the encounters you'll get there compared to earlier in the game. There's no level manipulation nonsense, but it keeps old areas fresh, and it makes sense.

    14. @Atantuo The most famous game to do that is Mother 2/Earthbound - enemies that are guaranteed to die without acting just do the battle transition straight into victory. Enemies also flee from you once you've defeated the local boss.

    15. Yeah, you're right. I did play that, too, although it's been a while. I might have been thinking of running weak enemies over in the Mementos dungeon in Persona 5.

    16. The advice not to level up in Oblivion (and Morrowind) also came from the system of level up rewards. You gain a level when you rank up your marked major skills a total of ten times. On level up, you choose 3 attributes to increase, but the amount they can increase (from 1 to 5) depends on how many related skills you ranked up since the last level up. It's possible to have only one attribute with +5 and all others with only +1 or +2; level too much this way and your stats suffer making you underpowered later on. It's also possible to "overlevel" individual attributes, so in the previous example the +5 was most likely gained from ranking up way more skills than necessary, which can bite you if you want to level that attribute in the future (extra skill ranks are "wasted").

      It's just bad implementation that encouraged minmaxing of major skill choice and tracking skill increases foe the "best" level ups over other more interesting character creation and play. Enemy scaling made the problem worse but wasn't the whole issue. Bethesda takes a lot of flak for "dumbing down" their series over time but this was one mechanic removed in Skyrim that was absolutely for the better.

    17. I don't know. I think phrases like "encouraged minmaxing" just excuses the player for playing like a jackass. Oblivion isn't nearly hard enough, even with level scaling, that you have to insist on getting +5 in every attribute at every level-up. Players frustrated themselves trying to game the system and then blamed the game instead of their own playing style. Choose to play a mage and then play like a damned mage. It isn't hard.

    18. By the way, I am aware that "blamed the game instead of their own playing style" is a phrase that could be thrown back at me, perhaps frequently. None of us is perfect.

    19. "Choose to play a mage and then play like a damned mage. It isn't hard."

      Interesting you say that as my favorite Oblivion character was a custom conjuror using summon spells. Was a really fun mage :)

      "Hard" varies from person to person especially in an action RPG. I never worried myself too much with leveling because I agree it wasn't too tough even with enemy scaling - plus I had experience from playing Daggerfall and Morrowind. But I had friends who had issues with the leveling system combined with enemy scaling, and adjusting the difficulty stung them.

      As far as enemy scaling itself I think the real issue is it's a blunt tool. In Oblivion's case it took some suspension of disbelief; don't think too long about why bandits are now wearing daedric armor.

    20. The first time I played Oblivion, I spent forever messing around improving exclusively non-combat skills and doing some kind of money making activities. I think mostly alchemy and bartering. I remember thinking how deep and immersive a world it was, and having a great time.
      Then I went to a farm and had to defend it from Goblins, and they were absolutely unbeatable. I eventually went a different way and encountered some bandits on the road, who were almost as impossible. Though when I eventually beat one, I looted all this unbelievably valuable glass armor. I had no idea what was going on and the game seemed really bad at that point!
      Finally doing some research, I found out about how the leveling and scaling worked. I had to start all over with a careful leveling strategy. I was so diligent the second time that it became too tedious, and I never finished it :(

  15. The lever creating a male dwarf reminds me of Colossal Cave Adventure and its axe-wielding dwarves, but I suspect it's generating a character of your race and sex, not a male dwarf.

  16. >This realization clicked with a clue that, "Specials need an S," although at the time I thought it was simply saying that you have to hit "S" to input the special command in the first place.

    While I've seen wordplay puzzles in games that advertised that fact up front, this is the first time I've seen the the fact there is wordplay to be a puzzle in itself.

  17. Congrats on the win!
    Btw, slicing an apple in a specific room to get a sword - seriously, I would burn the game on a CD, crushed it with a friggin' hammer and sent the remains to the developer with some suggestion on how to apply it in a most painful way possible. This reminds me of some crazy Discworld puzzles.

    1. Chet mentions two pretty good clues to the "slice apple" puzzle. Combined with the observation that "special" commands start with S, it doesn't seem to be that outrageous.

    2. Right. The hermit, who clues you into the importance of the apple in the first place, emphasizes the resemblance of the core to a star. He then tells you something like "just figure out where and when!" So if you're primed to associated the apple with a star, the room isn't so unfair. Like I said in the entry, it's still quite hard, just not completely impenetrable.

  18. Didn't expect that win, congrats! Tough nut, but fascinating. Lots of interesting things to see here. Text adventure and RPG hybrids are quite the rarity.

  19. This was the best post series of the year for me. The game might have been mediocre but the metagame – reading you getting stuck, then a comment proposing an unlikely solution that turns out to be the correct one, then other readers offering help to reverse engineer the game – was really exciting. I checked the blog almost every day asking myself if you would manage to beat the game or if you would succumb to some twisted puzzle logic or to some fatal program bug. Nice to see that you managed to log this game as a win.

    On a more general note there is a mildly negative correlation between the playthroughs you enjoy more and those I enjoy reading more. Thanks for suffering for us all.

    1. I'll remember this the next time I'm tempted to skip an obscure game.

    2. Honestly these sort of games are way more interesting to read about then all the usual popular ones, though not because you get frustrated with it. :)

      Everyone and their dog has probably played or read a review of Dungeon Master II, the game and mechanics are well known and are often built upon with more modern games.

      But these sort of more obscure titles, especially during the formative years, are entertaining to read and reason about because they're different, often unpolished and creative in their own way.

      It's just like archeology, sometimes the fossils end up being weird and odd dead ends, other times everyone just wants to evolve to become a crab. /shrug

  20. It's quite heartwarming to see weird and obscure old games such as these get as many comments as beloved, widely-played games like Skullkeep. I love seeing how the community will thoughtfully engage with the story and game design, no matter the game. I'm sure the game's authors will feel flattered if they ever come across these posts and comments.

  21. This game seems to have been featured mostly in "The Rainbow" magazine for the TRS-80 Color Computer.

    Ads for it started appearing in March 1988 as far as I can see
    ( and it received the magazine's 'certification seal' in April ( - which seems have to been a quick sanity check the program is what it purports to be and not an obvious scam.

    There is a review in August 1988, page 134 ( The author describes it as a "'dungeons and dragons' type game". He thought it has an "attractive screen to display all the necessary status reports" and considered the graphics in the lower right also "attractively done and well executed". He found the game "both fun and challenging enough to provide hours of entertainment" - I guess Chet can confirm the "challenging" and "hours" part, don't think the reviewer played the game very far.

    Others were stumped and stuck as well, e.g. on how to get past the green door and how to use the gems (

    In the issue 8/1990 'Ard II' is introduced (ad) and reviewed.


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