Saturday, February 24, 2024

BRIEF: The Mystical World of Paradigms! (1980)

You keep using that word . . .
The Mystical World of Paradigms!
United States
Independently developed
Released 1980 on the PLATO mainframe system at the University of Illinois
Rejected for: Insufficient character development, game may not be finished
This is another one that I learned about from El Explorador de RPG. It is deeply weird. When I auto-translated El Explorador's coverage and read the first few paragraphs, I thought the translator had gone wonky, as the terms it chose didn't seem to be quite right (e.g., "[the game] manages an entity whose race is changing as it evolves and must create creatures and give them life to form an army"). It turns out that the translator is fine and all the weirdness comes from the game's own instructions.
Nothing is perhaps more odd than the game's use of the word paradigm, which has been used various ways in different fields and historical contexts, but never quite the way the game uses it: "Your goal is to acquire enough skill (which will be shown as movement points) and to create enough armies to evolve into a PARADIGM and become IMMORTAL." Probably one of the authors saw the word and thought that it sounded cool. I went through the same fascination with odyssey when I was in sixth grade, somehow getting the idea that it had a linguistic connection to awesome. 2001: A Space Odyssey was about something awesome happening in space. I was disappointed when someone told me that it just meant "journey." 
This one introduction screen has nonstandard uses of paradigm, entity, mind, and movement.
The authors are given as Kevin Dunn, Tim McMahon, and Joe Stanton. There are two versions of the game on PLATO, an original from 1980 ("oparadigm") and an update from 2013 ("paradigm"). I can't get anywhere with the original. Every time I create a character, I'm just dropped on a screen that shows nothing and repeatedly says "you are not allowed past the energy field." This refers to the border around the world, and the instructions say that if you hit it, you'll be dumped into the River Styx. I don't know why the game insists on starting the character right up against it, but it happened with four characters in a row. None of the options at the bottom of the screen work. 
What happens every time I start the original game.
The remake drops me into a world of various landscapes, including grasslands, forests, rivers, mountains, and mudlands. You see the world from a side-view perspective that I've never seen in a PLATO game before, with the image showing the terrain in the direction you're facing, sort of a primitive version of the "landscaping" used in Lords of Midnight (1984). The movement system draws from the previous PLATO games Think and Swords and Sorcery (1978), which in turn draw from Mike Mayfield's Star Trek (1971). You specify a movement speed and keep moving at that speed in your chosen direction until you run into an obstacle.
Paradigms wants you to build an army of "deadly yits" and "demon riders" and evolve them through several stages of existence. Your primary resource is "movement points" (MPs), which despite their name is an all-purpose statistic representing character health, strength, skill, and currency. You gain movement points through positive encounters with NPCs (and perhaps other players?) and by overcoming monsters, although you can also lose MPs from combat if it goes poorly. The game apparently has an inventory, as one early encounter with "Phssthpok, an Alien" offered me a "Lazer Gun," but neither the manual nor the interface says anything about it. The only interface options are movement and speed (including an option to T)eleport to a random part of the map for 10 MPs), plus whatever the game gives you on the screen during an encounter.
This is the only main game screenshot I got before it crashed.
The encounters come at regular intervals whether you move or not, and between positive encounters and battles, my MPs hardly went anywhere. You need to find something called the Building of Evolution and spend 200 MPs to create a deadly yit or 400 MPs to create a demon rider. Even then, apparently all you've created is a dead body. You have to take them to the Building of Life and spend more MPs to bring them to life.
Meanwhile, your character is meant to evolve through several stages, from gnome (the starting race) through human, giant, elf, and sorcerer before you finally become a phantom. I imagine a lot of Dungeons & Dragons players would object to that hierarchy.
After a few minutes of play, the game crashed with a "gameloop" error message that recurs every time I try to get back into it. I assume I brought it down for everyone. Unfortunately, that happened before I got many screenshots.
For all I know, with this game, this is the winning screen.
I am thus forced to conclude, like El Explorador, that the game is unfinished. Even if it were playable, I'm not sure I'd call it an RPG. It seems more like a  "campaigner" (see the glossary), and in the past I've rejected games with a single improvable variable as RPGs.


  1. Yep, a non-game if I ever saw one.

  2. Some of the graphics look like the old Battlezone arcade game...

  3. Could it be that the author mixed up the words paragon and paradigm? Evolve into a paragon and become immortal sounds a lot more reasonable.

    1. The original meaning of "paradigm" was closer to "archetype" or "exemplar". The meaning most of us are familiar with was introduced by Thomas Kuhn in 1962. "Paradigm" is still offered by as a possible alternative to "paragon", "exemplar", and "archetype".

      "Avatar" also turns up "archetype" and "exemplar", and of course that was the name of an earlier PLATO game. So I think it's not hard to see how someone might thesaurus-crawl their way to "paradigm". Although I do think the intro text indicates that the author had some understanding that "paradigm" was more appropriate for concepts than individuals.

  4. Nice to see a Larry Niven reference (Phssthpok). Odd that it looks like an elf or gnome.

  5. Maybe what was meant by "becoming a PARADIGM and becoming an IMMORTAL" was some sort of weird transformation into an ABSTRACT IDEA, which would make you "immortal" (sort of) because IDEAS never die? Kinda like the point of view that gods are like ideas (god of sun = idea of sun, god of smiths = idea of smithing), so it's something like "becoming a god" combined with "god is an idea"?

    1. That's what I thought. I guess Phssthpok already won the game, if he's already reached PARADIGM status. Which also makes me wonder if the reward for transcending from Entity to Paradigm is to become a persistent randomly appearing NPC (in name at least) for other players to receive hints from.

    2. That's a possibility, but I think it's equally likely that the kids heard the word and didn't know what what it meant.

      I'm not sure Phssthpok is a Paradigm. You get MPs "from his paradigm," but that happens every time you meet a friendly NPC. So "paradigm" is both something to achieve and like an aura that surrounds people? Who knows.

  6. We need a RPG made by crpgaddicr, with a maker , but made by crpgaddict!!! Please

  7. Will the well of early 80s not-quite-RPGs ever run out? Surely it must, given nobody's making new ones.

    1. Given how things have been going for the past 14 years, I suspect that somehow, someone has found a way to continue making 1980s games.

    2. It's an odyssey.

      Do odyssey really only mean journey in English? In German it means a very long journey where you often take the wrong turns. Like the journey of Odysseus home from Troja. We have even a German word for it: Irrfahrt. Can't find an English expression for it.

    3. If you think this 1980s abundance is excessive, wait until you make it to the RPGMaker era!


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