Sunday, April 28, 2024

Game 512: Futurewar (1977)

Most of my screenshots use a white font because I prefer it, but I thought the title screen should have the era-accurate orange glow.
United States
Independently developed
Released 1977 for the PLATO mainframe at the University of Illinois
Updated several times between 1977 and 1980; recreated for Cyber1 in 2017
Date Started: 26 April 2024
The impossible nature of my project to play every CRPG is perhaps best encapsulated not in the fact that we can't seem to ever finish all the CRPGs of the 1980s (new ones get added to online databases all the time) but rather that we can't even seem to exhaust all the CRPGs for the first CRPG platform. (For a history of games written for the PLATO mainframe, see this entry.) But while I may groan every time I have to fire up the TRS-80 or VIC-20 emulators for some obscure 1980s commercial title, the PLATO games rarely disappoint.
Futurewar, in particular, needs to be better remembered. Developed without reference to prior CRPGs, it manages to anticipate elements of Dungeon Master, Fallout, and the entire first-person shooter genre. I missed it on my first pass through the 1970s because it wasn't available on Cyber1 yet; only in 2017 did the original authors recreate it with printouts of the code and graphics. It is not only the first known science fiction CRPG, it may be the first 3D CRPG. Although Moria (1975) precedes it, Moria did not get its 3D perspective until later in the 1970s. Oubliette (1977), which also had a 3D view, and Futurewar were roughly contemporaries, and it's not clear 50 years later which was first available to students.
Futurewar has you battling mutants and robots in 2020.
The framing story starts the game in 1978. You, a member of an "elite S.W.A.T. team," have breached the castle of the evil Doctor Brain. Brain intends to take over the world by transporting mutants from an apocalyptic future. He escapes in his time machine, and you follow him--to the unimaginably distant year of 2020. Admittedly, there were aspects of that year that felt post-apocalyptic.
A nuclear holocaust has destroyed the world, sending the remnants of humanity underground, fighting a constant battle with other factions and various mutants. The factions are the Americans ("a mixture of rednecks, bikers, and convicts"), Guerillas (former soldiers and police), Barbarians (feral humans), Martians (colonists returned to Earth), and Cyborgs (enhanced with technology). As the game begins, you pick a faction and roll your character. Attributes are strength, quickness, endurance, technology, and intellect, with derived attributes of power and hits. Assuming you get the minimum values necessary, you can choose from professions of leader, techno, soldier, hunter, spy, medic, assassin, or holy man.
Character creation. Note the "rating" tells you how good the aggregate statistics are for your chosen faction.
The game takes place in a 20-level dungeon of 20 x 20 levels. The top 5 levels supposedly belong to the factions, although you can find plenty of enemies there. You always start the game at coordinates (2,1) or (1,2) (counting from the northwest). On each dungeon level, coordinates (1,1) are an "exit" where you can recharge your hit points and power, get cash converted to experience points, and leave the game.
My map of the Guerilla Zone.
The character starts with no equipment except an unnamed rifle with as many shots as you have "power." It disappears the moment that you find any other weapon. As you can see from the shots, the barrel hovers at the bottom of the character's 3D field of vision, much like a modern first-person shooter. When you fire, you even see a little bullet travel to the enemy and either hit or miss. If you have an automatic weapon, it's a burst of bullets.
Combat still only occurs when you enter an enemy's fixed square, and on the faction levels, those squares are always marked from a couple of squares away. Combat itself is not turn-based, but it is timed, with characters having a limited number of seconds to aim, shoot, switch equipment, use an item, or run in between enemy attacks. You'll notice "aim" in there. The gun barrel can be moved to the right or left to get a more direct shot against foes, who also continually move. These mechanics are the basis for the game's "first first-person shooter" status, although I wouldn't go quite that far.
Enemies are drawn liberally from popular culture and monster tropes. In the civilized zones, I got tentacles, daleeks, PUDs, and pudbots. The War Zone level (the first level below the faction zones) brought giant grubs, x-men, aquamen, R2-D2s, and cylons, some of which had to have been added after the first release.
My submachine gun barrel is too far to the left of center to hit this dalek.
Players can join into teams, although a single character's life isn't as short here as it is in Moria or Oubliette. The hunter is described as a "jack of all trades" and has the lowest attribute requirements, so I've mostly been focusing on him. I frankly haven't seen many places where technological or intellectual skills come in handy, let alone the "diplomatic and social skills" that the backstory promises will be relevant. Both combat victories and treasure contribute to your experience pool. Leveling is swift and rewarding, accompanied by increases in maximum power, maximum health, and attributes. Attributes also go up as they're exercised during combat.
As I fight this enemy, oddly called a "cookie," my strength increases by 1 point.
In addition to enemies, levels also have random loot, mines, pits (taking you to the next level), areas of sewage and radiation that cause damage when you walk through, and rubble that you cannot pass at all. Each faction level has a "base," but they're all "closed" in the current edition. I'm not sure what's supposed to happen there; perhaps they offer some place to spend all the money you accumulate.
You only do this once.
Some other notes:
  • Every door is depicted visually with a board over the door, and it must be kicked open, which sometimes takes a few attempts. It's possible to create a character so weak that he cannot break down any doors and thus cannot progress in the game. This is particularly true of the Martian area, which requires you to break down a door to even get out of the starting hallway, and yet Martians routinely roll strength in the single digits.
  • There are secret doors found by just kicking through blank walls.
  • Levels can wrap, although most do not. When they do, their coordinates become offset by 1; that is, a character on Row 7 walks east from Column 20 and finds herself on Row 8 in Column 1.
  • There is sometimes creative graffiti spraypainted on random walls.
Are there any other kinds?
  • Miscellaneous items that you can find include metal detectors and flashlights. I'm not really sure what they do or how to use them. There are a few commands I have not yet explored.
  • Every time you enter a new square, there's a chance you'll find a first aid kit (restores health) or a battery (restores power).
I can survive a little longer before heading to the exit.
  • Only technos and holy men can use some forms of technology, which are basically this game's version of spells. They include "Sleeping Gas," "Flame Bomb," and "Death Ray." The minimum attribute requirements for either class are so high that I think only Martians have a chance to qualify. I played a Martian techno for a little while but I didn't find any of the supposed technology that he could use. I did find that the Martian level is a lot harder than the other ones that I'd tried.
  • You can get a full set of enemy stats during combat, which is a nice feature.
"Securitron!" The game really does anticipate Fallout.
  • The instructions suggest there are clubs that can be used as melee weapons (without requiring power) with the "f" key. I've never found one, and for me the key otherwise does nothing.
  • I guess you can fight players in other factions. No one else has been around during my sessions.

It took me a long time to keep a character alive for more than a few minutes. You have to stay near the exit and refresh every time you get below 50% or so. Power often runs out faster than health. You're well into your teens before it becomes advisable to leave the starting level by taking the elevator down to the War Zone.
My best character so far.
This act is particularly risky because the elevator deposits you at (1,1) and you have no idea, until you map it, how to find the elevator back to previous levels. For the most part, I found enemies in the War Zone to be the same difficulty level as those found on the faction levels except for one--something called a man-beast. He's 20 times as hard as any other creature. Most enemies on the early levels have 1-10 hit points; he has close to 50 and he damages you for almost as much. I had a character up to Level 15, with a submachine gun and a ballistic vest, and he died when he was unable to successfully escape from a man-beast. Losing him was a real gut punch.
The theoretical way to "win" the game is to defeat Doctor Brain on the lowest levels of the dungeon. When Nathan Mahney at CRPG Adventures attempted this in 2020, he only managed to map a couple of levels before the game glitched and wouldn't let him go down any more. He dropped a note in the lab files to the game's author, Erik Witz, who later fixed the problem, but by then Nathan had moved on to other games. Lacking such an excuse, I'll try to finish it, but there are a number of other bugs in the game, and I can't guarantee that winning is even possible.
Note that El Explorador de RPG also covered the game fairly recently. 
I was briefly #4 in the hall of fame.
Author Erik Witz's father was a professor at the University of Illinois and got Witz interested in PLATO programming as early as age 11. Later, Witz attended the University High School, which was on the PLATO system. He began Futurewar when he was 15, later collaborating with university student Nick Boland. I was able to get in touch with him just a few hours before I scheduled this entry for publication. I included some of what he told me here, but I saved a bit more for the next entry.
This isn't one of my "official two" games, so it will be in the background until I have something new to report. 
Time so far: 5 hours

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Red Crystal: So Bad It's Tolerable

I finally find the first boss--two of him.
Wow, did this entry go through a lot of drafts. I started it as a "Summary and Rating" in which I intended to claim it as "NP" (not playable) because of all the bugs. Then I saw proof that other people had won it online and redoubled my efforts but still couldn't find a single Secret of Life, so I decided to do it as a "Summary and Rating" taking the loss, supplementing my coverage with the experiences of the online players--except that meant watching about 13 hours of video to find the Seven Secrets and other key moments. While I was watching the videos, I started playing myself again, and finally managed to get one of the damned secrets, so now . . . I don't know. I guess I'm going to keep at it.
Red Crystal models itself thematically if not visually on Ultima IV. You have to assemble seven adages about Living the Best Life before you can take on the final boss. Each Secret of Life is in the possession of one of the big boss's lieutenants, each in his own castle. Each castle has 10 or so levels connected by a maze of up and down stairways, and each is absolutely swarming with respawning monsters. 
The very world starts breaking apart.
The outdoor map is a single screen. In addition to the lieutenants' castles, it has eight towns and a couple of optional dungeons. The towns have NPCs who offer services and side quests. Both the outdoor areas and towns have wandering NPCs who have no purpose whatsoever.
Exploring the overworld.
As we've seen, the game is staggeringly broken. Amusingly, some of the ways that it's broken cancel out the others. For instance, there are a lot of side quests that require you to return items to NPCs--but they usually take the wrong item. They sometimes take other NPCs' quest items. This would be a game breaker except that the side quests are mostly unnecessary in the first place, since regular combats provide you with more money than you can spend.
The cut scenes are nice.
Many of the NPC side quests have to do with artifact weapons, which you would normally want to find because combat with the starting weapons takes so long. But these quest chains are broken (I think) because NPCs who are supposed to give you information refuse. But that's okay because there are a couple of weapons so overpowered that I think they must be bugs. A bull axe, which you can buy after a couple of hours of adventuring, kills most enemies with one hit. We'll see some more examples of how I learned to compensate for bugs below.
I wasted a bunch of time looking for a bug-free version but I had no luck. Thinking that the problem might have been with my previous game, I started a new character--a barbarian--but he had the same problems. Later, I saw that the YouTube players also had the same problems.
A new character. It doesn't help.
I spend four hours exploring Kang's Castle, getting my character up to Level 5, but I never find Kang. I log a few notes about dungeon exploration on the way:
  • It turns out that food and blue potions only heal you if sufficient time has passed since your last one. 
Finding both food and a blue potion.
  • There are occasional NPCs in dungeons, but what they have to say is usually mysterious, perhaps signs of broken side quests. In Kang's dungeon, I meet an NPC named "Shakes" who says: "Forget me! I am not worth your blade! I will run . . . run . . . run!" He then disappears. Another one named Homple says, mysteriously, "Go to Lexor," and another named Mitakaron, even more mysteriously, says, "You smell horrible."
Yeah. I'm a barbarian in a medieval society who has slaughtered about 50 things in the last hour. I'm sure I don't smell like Irish Spring.
  • Yet another NPC (who looks like an enemy) thanks me for an elixir which I never had and definitely did not give him. "Now know this," he continues. "Seek out Rotazar Hoterag in Trautner and he will help you in the search for Xopotaous's legendary axe." This is one of those broken side quests. Rotazar wants nothing to do with me. 
Maybe it was one of my blue potions.
  • There are traps in random places on the floor of dungeons. I usually set them off and take the damage. I guess thieves probably have a chance of disarming them.  
Not how lightning works.
  • Armor, as we discussed before, disappears once you equip it, and armor values continue to stack as you equip new pieces. I don't think this is a bug; I think it was intended to work in this (stupid) way.
  • I find a lot of keys in the dungeons and never find a door that takes a key.
  • About 50% of chests have nothing in them, and the other 50% have less gold than you get in the typical random encounter.
  • Money accumulates so fast that I assume the game intended that you would bribe most enemies--except that non-sentient enemies (spiders, maggots, wolves) can't be bribed, and they're the most annoying. I don't believe you get experience from bribes. 
  • Enemies occasionally have bits of dialogue before they attack. That's fun.
  • You occasionally run into things in the dungeons that, if there's anything to do with them, I can't figure it out.
They are, indeed, rocks.
After frustrating myself for hours, I leave the dungeon and go to the nearby city of Trautner. As before, cities are annoying to explore because there are dozens of useless wandering NPCs whom you have to acknowledge, plus you're always accidentally entering buildings that you don't intend to enter. I meet an NPC named Fabian who says: "The ultimate thief would be the one who could rob the king of thieves! With proof of that feat, I could make them rich beyond even a thief's dreams." Clearly this is a side quest that requires bringing him some item. 
A druid named Utan wants a knight to rescue his lord, King Tuwoka, held in Worm's castle. Someone named Malcome warns me about Kang's elite bodyguards, the Black Circle. I think I met one in the dungeon.
Trautner doesn't have a weapon shop, so I move on to the city of Ogden. More NPCs: Ganzador simply will not talk to "the likes of me"; I'm not welcome in Angus's home; and all Grogar has to say is that "the whole realm has gone to the dogs." I buy the town from some guy named Corzar for 1,300 zetos and set a "fair" tax rate. This puts a deed in my inventory that I have to be careful doesn't get taken by some other NPC or accidentally used in a dungeon (more below). 
I still can't find a store, so I move on to Zervos. Here, an NPC named Grandar offers 10,000 zetos for the Destiny Sword. I find a shop and buy a bull axe for 3,000 zetos. There are more expensive weapons, including an "orb cutter" and a "mage slayer," referring to two human enemies you find in dungeons (I have no idea why one is called an "orb"), but the bull axe kills them just fine. I buy the town from Amaro for 1,500 zetos and get the deed, but on a later visit, the ownership has somehow reverted to Amaro. I imagine that's another bug.
That mountain looks awfully big to be in the middle of a city.
To my surprise, I find a hidden dungeon in Zervos while exploring some hills. It's not very big, but it has a lot of enemies. I find two artifact weapons in the place: the Deathaxe and the aforementioned Destiny Sword. The Deathaxe looks like an axe in my inventory, but its animation looks like a club. It seems as overpowered as the bull axe, killing most enemies in one hit. The Destiny Sword, on the other hand, is a lot less effective. I keep it instead of returning it to Grandar for reasons I can't explain. He probably wouldn't have taken the right item anyway. 
I find the Destiny Sword in a cave.
Because I have plenty of money, I visit the mage's tower and buy every spell that they sell.
While in Zervos, a couple of NPCs mention someone named "The Shadow Killer," who apparently carries a key that unlocks an optional dungeon to the north. An NPC named Tolman wants me to retrieve it from him. Finally, an orcish-looking NPC named Rocco says he'll train me if I meet him on the first floor of Tagar's Castle. 
I try the castle next, but I don't find Rocco. I spend hours in it and get hopelessly lost. I meet a "war party" that says they're looking for Shadow Killer, so I guess he's in this dungeon.
Great. More enemies.
Combat is, of course, relentless. It accounts for 95% of the time you spend exploring dungeons. Although weapons like the Deathaxe make it a little faster, it never really gets better. For one thing, once you have a certain class of weapon, the difficulty becomes hitting the enemy at all. When the game first started, and I had an introductory weapon, if I chose an attack type that wasn't optimal, it would do at least 1 point of damage. But once I started getting better weapons, the "wrong" attack type simply misses. This is worse than only doing 1 point, because when it misses, you don't know whether it's because you've chosen the wrong attack type or whether you just got unlucky and missed. So you have to miss several times to be sure, then switch among different attacks.
To refresh memory: there are 9 attack settings, three high, three middle, and three low. When the game began, the type made sense. Tall enemies like humans responded to high atttacks; low enemies like maggots responded to low attacks; medium enemies like wolves responded to medium attacks. At some point, logic goes out the window, especially when the game mixes multiple enemies on the same screen. I think it actually gets confused about which enemy is which. For instance, I might fight a group of two maggots and two undead knights. Undead knights will normally respond to high attacks and maggots will normally respond to low attacks. But in this battle, one of the knights will die to a low attack and one of the maggots to a high attack, which makes no sense unless the game mixed them up.
Oh, and the game punishes you for leveling up by throwing more and more enemies into each battle. Pretty soon, you can't walk four steps without having to fight another group of six enemies, which you have to fight with hit and run tactics while testing out 9 different attack positions. Oh, and for extra fun, sometimes the game will start you in the middle of a pack of enemies and you can't move. You just start laying attacks all around you, hoping to kill them before they kill you.
Swinging my Deathaxe/club at a group of druids.
As I said, I get lost in Tagar's Castle. I try to escape by casting "Transport," but it turns out that spell can take you to entirely different dungeons, so soon I'm even more lost than I was before. 
Eventually, I learn the secret to effectively navigating dungeon levels. First, you want to use a red crystal to reveal the entire dungeon level. You can try a red potion or the "Crystal" spell, but both of these tactics reveal the levels only temporarily; you forget the level when you go up or down the stairs. The red crystal, on the other hand, keeps it in memory.
The problem is that when you use a red crystal, you don't really use it. Because of the game's inventory pointer problems, it always consumes the last item listed in your inventory instead of the crystal. So you have to load up with a bunch of junk items, like weapons you don't want, before you can use the crystal.
I'm about to use my red crystal--but it's my mace that will disappear.
Once you have the levels in memory, you need to make careful note of stairway locations and mark off which ones you've already tried. If you can't find your way to parts of a level, you have to look for secret doors. Supposedly, the "Door" spell will make a door in a blank wall for you, but I've never once gotten it to work.
Eventually, I find my way out of whatever dungeon I've landed in, and I return to Tagar's Castle. This time, I do find Rocco in a corner of the first floor. "Your training shall commence now," he says. "To prove yourself, journey below and slay the vile Trithalgma. Emerge victorious and you shall have glory beyond your years."
You realize I'm already Level 6?
I head back down again, this time mapping and taking more careful note of my progress. I meet a fish guy named Igar who again warns me of the Shadow Killer and gives me a broadsword to help deal with him.
Thanks! That broadsword will come in handy for the next time I want to use a red crystal.
Finally--lo and behold--I find Tagar on a lower level. He attacks with two copies of himself plus a floating eye. I kill them without too much trouble and, at last, get one of the Seven Secrets of Life, which I render without editing:
Moderation. Moderation in everything. To pig out on anything food, drink, or merryment. Material items usually lead to an unhealthy situation physically or mentally.
In the space of two sentences, we've gone from "moderation" to complete asceticism.
I've always preferred Oscar Wilde's take: "Everything in moderation, including moderation." Some of the best memories of my life (and, admittedly, some of the worst) have been born from excess. More important to our present purposes, how does this character operationalize this advice? I'd be glad to fight fewer enemies. Stop sending them my way.
Once the message disappears, I get a little hourglass in the lower-left corner indicating that, as the manual warned, I only have a short amount of time to get out of the dungeon. Fortunately, I don't have to remember how to get back to the surface. As soon as I go to the first stairway, I'm taken outside, and the dungeon is represented as a smoldering ruin. I hope the Shadow Killer and Trithalgma quests weren't all that important.
Hope you got out, Rocco.
I made it to Level 7 in the dungeon, and I guess I actually completed the Shadow Killer quest. There is a key in my inventory that I got somewhere. When I return to Zervos, Tolman thanks me--and takes my green potion, leaving me the key. A bunch of other NPCs who were interested in my Destiny Sword try to take that, too, but they end up taking random short swords that I purchased so I could use red crystals in the next dungeon. I don't feel so bad, since Grandar only gives me 1,000 zetos instead of the promised 10,000. That, in turn, doesn't bother me because I have no idea what I'm going to spend the 20,000 zetos I already have on, particularly since purchasing cities, at best, just gives you more money you don't need and, at worst, results in the deed disappearing from your inventory while you're trying to drink a potion or something. You see what I mean about errors canceling each other out. It's almost impressive.
I confess to being mildly curious about the other Secrets of Life. Maybe one of them will be life-changing.
Time so far: 13 hours

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Dungeon Hack: Won One!

That drawbridge has no chains. How were they ever going to get it up again?
In my second entry on Dungeon Hack, I was relatively positive about the game. It was challenging but fast, and the character I chose (a cleric/mage) had a variety of powers. I was enjoying swapping among them and blasting my way through the hallways. This never entirely went away, though there were times that it ebbed a bit. The game ended when I was ready for it to end, and I'm glad I didn't do something crazy like set the dungeon to 20 levels.
I ended the last entry having explored most of Level 6, fighting my way through mummies and trolls. The "boss" creature on the level was a bizarre (even by D&D standards) creature called a "slithermorph." It crawls around the dungeon floor, eating carrion, looking like a black pudding. But then suddenly it rears up into the form of a four-armed lizard holding a dagger. 
Why not four daggers?
Slithermorphs then joined banshees as the Level 7 foes. Neither of these creatures have special attacks in this game, but they hit relatively hard. As I carved my way through them, I reached Level 11 as a mage and acquired two artifact items: The Chainmail of High Priest Myrh +3, and the Mace of High Priest Myrh +3. I also found Bracers of Protection +2. These artifacts offered such a boost to my armor class that I stopped wearing the Cloak of Protection and simply took off my armor when I wanted to cast a mage spell.
Having a bunch of banshees around kind of ruins the point of banshees.
Alas, that desire happened less and less as the game went on. There are two major problems with mage spells in the game. First, you have to learn them from scrolls, which appear randomly. I never found a scroll with "Fireball," "Haste," "Lightning Bolt," or many of the other spells I would have liked. I never found any Level 6 spells at all, meaning the two slots I eventually acquired in that level were completely wasted.
Second, the spells are horrendously underpowered. I could kill a troll with three or four hits from my mace. I could easily exhaust half of my offensive mage spells on that same troll. The best offensive spell I got was "Snilloc's Major Missile" at Level 5, and it took three of these plus a regular "Magic Missile" to kill most enemies. Worse, the cooldown period between spell castings is so high that you have to backpedal halfway across the dungeon over the course of casting those three or four spells.
Level 7's boss was an umber hulk.
I stopped using "Spiritual Hammer" as my primary weapon at some point. It's a great spell, but underpowered compared to my Mace +3. Thus, I had to start getting into the face of more enemies. I also found a Maul of the Titans +2 on the level, but the game insisted I wasn't strong enough to wield it despite a strength of 19.

I never found any information to explain who Myrh was. It would be nice if the scrolls had covered the particular hero whose items you find. Instead, I got a few scrolls talking about Midnight and a bunch of others offering hints for specific creatures.
That would have been helpful a level ago.
I reported last time about the oddities related to the timing of an enemy's movements and attacks. I tried to analyze the timing for this entry because it really started to bother me. Enemies are capable of things that seem like they should be impossible and I think were impossible in Eye of the Beholder despite the games sharing the same engine. These impossible actions include:
  • Turning, moving a space, and attacking in one very quick motion.
  • When you come upon an enemy from behind, doing an about-face and attacking you before you have time to react.
  • Scoring a hit on you even if you back away immediately after stepping up next to a creature.
Notice how this undead beast turns, moves, and attacks in one motion. The swipe of his arm isn't necessary. If the attack animation begins (e.g., the arm raised), it always finishes, even if I dart away before it completes.
Based on my investigations, this is what I think is true:
  • The game uses cycles of action and inaction for enemies, each lasting a couple of seconds. If the enemy is in its "action" cycle when you happen to wander into an adjacent square, the enemy will inevitably get to attack you, even if you immediately step away or even if the enemy has to turn to make the attack. 
  • The player's movement is tracked on a different timer than the enemy's. Thus, you get ridiculous situations like stepping away from an attacking enemy and not having the attack "connect" and do damage until you're several squares away.
  • If you step up next to an enemy while it's in its "dormant" phase, you can attack with impunity.
Especially on Levels 8-10, where enemies could swat away all my hit points with a single attack, I learned to lead them to long corridors, watch them step forward, then dart in, attack, and pull back. This ensured that I only ever got up to them during their "inaction" phase. I tried for a while luring them to large rooms, where I could run around and attack from behind, but that didn't work because of the problems listed above.
I've seen more attractive medusas.
Level 8's creatures were medusas and shambling mounds. I freaked when I saw my first medusa and used a Scroll of Protection from Petrification that I'd been holding. It only lasted about half the level, but I never got stoned by any of the medusas despite engaging them in melee combat repeatedly. Maybe I just have good saving throws. They did poison me a few times, however, requiring me to sacrifice some of my L4 spell slots for "Neutralize Poison." The first time, I had to find one of those magic coin-taking machines, which heal all your hit points for a silver coin and all your conditions for a gold coin.
My kingdom for a Wand of Defoliation.
Shambling mounds were the toughest enemies so far, capable of killing me instantly. I made Cleric 11 at some point and got Level 6 spells, including "Heal." I also hit Mage 12. I have no idea what the boss level was on Level 8--some kind of dude with six spider or scorpion legs. This game's version of a drider, maybe?
Or a scorpi-taur?
Level 9's enemies were hags and spirit nagas, which look like something out of Beetlejuice. No special attacks on either of them. It's funny how level drain and other special attacks were weighted towards the first half of the dungeon. I found the High Priest Myrh's holy symbol, but I'm not sure if that does anything that my holy symbol doesn't; spell power is based on the character attributes, right? 
The boss was a Feyr, a tentacled blob with three mouths and a row of five eyes. It also was capable of phasing in and out of visibility. I reloaded after my first attempt and cast "See Invisibility," but he still killed me about four more times. I had to do a lot of hit and run work on him. When he died, I hit Level 13 in both classes.
I slowed this one down. Note how when I come up on the feyr, he instantly turns around and attacks, even though I dart away before any attack animation plays. I don't actually take the damage and die until I'm already away from him.
Then it was time for the final level. Routine enemies were undead beasts and ettins--again, no special attacks, but they were very fast and had the ability to kill me with one hit despite my -9 armor class. I rounded out my equipment kit with Myrh's Helm +3. The level featured a lot of long corridors, fortunately, and I was able to get most of the enemies from a distance.
You already saw the undead beast; here's the ettin.
The final boss was--I don't know. Tell me if you can. It's nothing that's in the manual. An owlbear, maybe? It has some things going on graphically that I don't understand. 
Any thoughts?
I didn't stand a chance against him. He was far too fast. If I bungled a strafe or move backwards, he'd kill me instantly. I don't think he missed even once despite my low AC. After he wandered down a side hallway briefly, I ran past him, thinking I could find the sorceress's orb without killing him, but there was nothing on the other side but empty corridors. Apparently, the boss always has it. 
Fortunately, I had saved a few emergency items. One was a Wand of Paralyzation. That did the trick. It took a couple of uses (it lasts a variable amount of time), but they were long enough that I could whack away his hit points while he was stunned. 
The paralyzed whatever sits still while I hit him.
He dropped two scrolls and a potion when he died, but I never got a chance to look at them. The game said: "I've bested the final monster! And the orb--I see it right there!"
I do not, in fact, see it right there.
The endgame cinematic took over, showing the character exiting the dungeon with a literal wheelbarrow full of treasure and wheeling it up to the sorceress. She picks it over for a few minutes and pulls out the orb. "My thanks, adventurer," she says, "Now come, it is time for us to leave." The adventurer doesn't leave, though; he just spends the closing credits kneeling by the wheelbarrow inspecting one shiny bauble after another. 
This is going to take a while if you insist on doing one at a time.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Except for "Improved Identify," I don't think I cast a single mage spell on the last three levels.
  • Another fun alternative to a lock and key:
Is this a flat-screen television?
  • For all the manual's promise that "once you identify one type of potion (or wand), you'll automatically know what the others of its type do," I don't think I found more than one of anything.
  • On a couple levels, I got a message that I felt like there were spiders crawling all over my body; a few squares later, I got a message saying it went away. Does anyone know what that was about?
Worry more about the spirit naga.
  • The last four levels all added teleportation cubes to the navigation mix. You enter, and they deposit you elsewhere on the level. 
A teleporter cube. I thought it was a gelatinous cube at first.
  • I lost sound at some point on Level 9. The game rendered every effect as a high-pitched squeal. Quitting and reloading didn't help. I eventually gave up and turned it off. The issue didn't recur when I started a new character.
Almost immediately after I won, I started a new game and tried to pick the hardest options that I could think of. I chose a chaotic evil male gnome thief and rolled until a dexterity of 9 and a strength of 7. I set the dungeon to "Hard" with permadeath.
The weakest character I can conceive of.
The character started with leather armor and a short sword. I killed about six goblins and orcs but didn't have any way to heal when they hit me. I didn't last more than 10 minutes. 
My heart may not have been in it.
So I tried another tactic: randomization. Using random numbers, I ended up with a true neutral half-elf fighter/thief with great strength and charisma (what does charisma do in this game?). For difficulty, I ended up with:
  • 11 levels.
  • Monster amount of 6 on a scale of 0-7 (same scale for all below except where specified).
  • Treasure amount 7.
  • Food availability 3.
  • Illusory walls 1.
  • Key frequency 7.
  • Magic traps 4.
  • Pit frequency 7.
  • Hints 3.
  • Magical zones on.
  • Water level on.
  • Multi-level puzzles on.
  • Undead off.
  • Food consumption 2.
  • Monster difficulty 0.
  • Magic power 5.
  • Poison strength 7.
  • Permadeath
  • Enemy spells on.
Five minutes into the level, I had eight keys and key-equivalents.
I'm going to do my best with this one. The very low enemy difficulty will hopefully offset the permadeath. In the meantime, your assignment is: download this game, play your own preferred character or randomize one, and report on your experience. I can't afford to play a single game for too long, so help me document as much as we can.
Time so far: 11 hours (the winning game took about 8).