Kaves of Karkhan: Finshed!   3 comments

I wish I could say I had some grand strategy, but I pretty much just grinded until the game decided to show me a win screen.

The only thing I did do extra (and I’m unclear if this is really helpful) is I tried my best to go up rather than down. I used ladders and up-stairs when I saw them, but avoided holes in the ground and down-stairs when possible (it wasn’t always possible).

I honestly suspect the bier (the place where a coffin is placed before being taken to a grave, although it doesn’t look like that from the picture) might just pop up randomly when you’re far enough in the game.

I did make some honest attempts at mapping, and it helped a little at the local level; within a particular area the level is at least somewhat consistent, and it’s possible to systematically eliminate corridors as you test them. One thing I only discovered very late is that encounters “eat up” the square of the map you enter, so if you successfully do an encounter, you “jump” to the next square. That means you may entirely miss a side path that would normally be in that square and you’ll only see the path if you turn back.

Above is a typical configuration. I was going “east” and I hit the spot marked “X” and there was a river of blood I used a plank to get by. In the process, I missed seeing the passage that went “south” and had to turn around and enter the X position to find it. It’s possible to “skip” the intersection multiple times if you keep finding encounters there.

One last discovery I made was regarding chests. I hadn’t been able to interact with them (“OPEN CHEST” didn’t work, and trying to use my thief or a hammer or anything like that led to nothing happening). I finally discovered just OPEN by itself works.

Another episode of Great Moments in Game Parser History.

Unfortunately, I discovered this when I nearly was at the end, too late to be useful; I had a method past every obstacle except, of all things, a walled-up corridor.

You’d think a hammer would help here, but no.

Just for reference, the only other games I’ve hit in my sequence so far I’d call roguelike-adventures are Mines and Lugi. While Kaves of Karkhan was bad for personal enjoyment, it’s still fascinating as an artifact of design. Some of the elements — like having a limited subset of available items, and randomized puzzle placement but consistent solutions — seem like they’d make a roguelike-adventure a success, but they fell down hard here.

First, keeping track of 10 characters and 10 items was excessive. It made getting used to the environment rough, and I only felt comfortable after about two hours of gameplay.

Second, it makes for overly simplistic gameplay when each puzzle boils down to finding the right object or character. This is similar to my complaints with Devil’s Palace and The Poseidon Adventure where the authors try for higher difficulty without an adequately complex world modeling system to match. By contrast, Lugi had some persistent effects (like being infected) and puzzles that needed to be solved with objects in combination.

Third, the map was too random to use geography in any rational way. To compare with Lugi again, in that game it was possible to encounter a puzzle in one location, find a helpful object in another, then loop back to the original location to solve it.

Fourth, the punishment of losing objects or characters for failed puzzle attempts was too harsh in context, and it was impossible to reliably survive a loss of resources without already knowing how to solve most of the puzzles.

Fifth, having almost no items found during the process of the game undercuts a lot of what makes an adventure game fun (having an adventure game without the ability to “increase power” with new discoveries is akin to an CRPG that doesn’t let you level up your character). Even an essentially item-less game like Myst at least contains a steady drip of new information and clues.

The only immediate “fix” I could see that would help the game without more extensive design changes would be to allow a lot more alternate solutions. As things stood I was jamming pipes with juggling balls and walking on lava with buckets, and not because I was being creative; they were the only solutions I could find via brute force testing everything I had.

We’re going to have at least one more adventure-roguelike in 1981 — Madness and the Minotaur — at which point I’ll try a grand recap and armchair design of How to Make Such a Thing Work (or possibly, instead, a cautionary warning that such experiments are best left in the early 80s).

Long before we get to that, we have another game from Level-10 that re-uses their 3D engine for a much different game; one only comparable to a handful of computer games across history, and with a mystery that has never been solved.

Posted February 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Kaves of Karkhan: Finshed!

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  1. Judging from the last screenshot, the game has an extreme “How does the thing you used get back across for the other crew members to use it?” problem.

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