Quarterstaff: Finished!   Leave a comment

I was indeed, as predicted, very close to the end.

I decided to go with no preparation at all and used my newly-found tomb key to go through some obstacles, and ignore a demon, hellhound, and some side rooms along the way.

Fighting Setmoth was simply a matter of using KILL SETMOTH over and over again with all my party members; as you can tell from the image below, he can do some formidable damage numbers, but for some reason he spent the first five turns of combat somewhat confused and only started hitting back when he was almost dead.

After defeating Setmoth the game says you can just “quit” or keep exploring. I think I can safely say I’m done.

. . .

So what went wrong?

Really, as a paper description, this is *exactly* the sort of game I’m looking for. I like adventures. I like CRPGs. I like Beyond Zork (which is another Adventure/RPG hybrid). The promotional materials clearly indicate an aspiration to feeling like an in-person RPG session where situations feel custom-made to be dynamic and monsters are intelligent; I’ve never had an experience that quite matches that.

This game instead hit an “uncanny valley.” The term usually refers to the fact that robot-like-robots are fine, and perfectly-human-looking-robots are fine, but in between the two there’s a sort of revulsion at somewhat-human-but-not-there-yet robots. The halfway-ness of the uncanny valley is what I mean here. The overlapping of CRPG and Adventure elements managed to cover up some of the redeeming features of each.

For instance, in the final battle, I used four characters and the default inventory I had started the game with. They had “stats” represented their abilities in combat but they were essentially no different than when they started. The appeal of a CRPG is often in character growth, and getting to the point of being able to overcome obstacles that seemed impossible early on; here, while this ostensibly every trope up to an including experience points, none of them applied in a way that was meaningful.

While there was a fair amount of interesting gear, none of it was important enough to gather, and there often wasn’t enough information to even tell if a particular item was an upgrade. (It’s clear by convention a “mithral sword” is better than a sword, but what about a halberd versus a broadsword? Or a nasty mace versus a club?)

On the adventure end, a lot of the appeal is feeling like the world is an interconnected puzzle, and each part that gets solved reveals a new piece. There were puzzles that essentially did nothing; I spent ages getting to a “treasure vault” on the first level, for instance, and then subsequently working out how to get into a chest inside (just breaking it works) only to find some golden objects that were entirely unhelpful for the quest. I also mentioned a puzzle leading to a cure disease potion last time; I never at any point had a character afflicted by disease.

The presence of food, thirst, sleep, *and* light source timers also clashed pretty badly with the adventure aesthetic. There’s good reason why these are mostly dead in adventure games; they add a sense of urgency that discourages experimentation.

There’s likely a way to develop this type of game further so there’s less problems; just going light on all the timers, for instance, or finding a saner way to command multiple party members. Alas, this was a stub of sorts in computer game history; while games like Kerkerkruip do bear the torch slightly, an adventure game that feels like a tabletop RPG is still elusive.

From the cover for the Japanese version of the game, via the Museum of Adventure Computer Game History.

Posted June 8, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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