Quest / Fantasy Quest (1981, 1983)   Leave a comment

I normally associate the Sharp MZ series of computers with Japan (and while we’ll get to Japanese adventure games, we have to make it to 1982 first); however, it also sold decently in Europe. Quest was originally published in 1981 by Kuma Software for the Sharp MZ-80A and republished in 1983 by the same company; it was additionally republished the same year by IJK for the Oric-1 (Tangerine’s successor to the Microtan 65) as Fantasy Quest. I’m having trouble running the Sharp version, but I’ll link a video of the game running on a real machine just so you can see it.

There was a third version for Tatung Einstein, but I went with the Oric-1 edition.

Via Retrogames. I incidentally am going by the title on the main loading screen rather than just “Fantasy”, if for no other reason to distinguish this game from Level 9’s first game Fantasy (1981). Couldn’t think up an easier-to-Google title, early game programmers?

The back of the tape case states our mission is to “find and take the four sectors of the eye of Morpheus to the eternal fires of hell.” This will allow us to cross a “crevasse” and find the “long lost treasures of BORGAN.”

Well, it’s not quite a Treasure Hunt, even though the plot says it is literally a treasure hunt. I’m curious why the author (John Wolstencroft) felt obligated to toss the treasure in there, even though destroying some presumably evil artifact seems motivation enough.

The author also wrote Castle Quest. Clearly, he had a penchant for generic titles.

Almost right away, because I had to take notes, set up a map, and so forth, I ran into a feature that I’ve never seen in a text adventure before from any era: the text equivalent of idle animation.

If you haven’t seen it yet, let the image above sit for a moment.

Perhaps a few extra moments. The computer starts to beg. There’s a lot of messages; I cut the file off early just to keep the size reasonable.

You can also peruse, as you’re idling, the spot in the upper left corner: that’s a compass map view, as seen all the way back in Spelunker (1979) although formatted as an above-down view of the environment.

A brief pause.

Texts have rhythms to them, sometimes particular and specific ones. Words best read fast, words best read slow. Scenes painted literal, scenes painted as metaphors.

A thief drives to the museum in his black van. The night
watchman says Sorry, closed, you have to come back tomorrow.
The thief sticks the point of his knife in the guard’s ear.
I haven’t got all evening, he says, I need some art.
Art is for pleasure, the guard says, not possession, you can’t
something, and then the duct tape is going across his mouth.

— From Girl Writing a Letter, William Carpenter, 1993

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

— From On the Pulse of Morning, Maya Angelou, 1993

The first excerpt works like an action film, thrusting forward with a similar force. The second is more contemplative, more demanding of reflection. While it’d be possible to swap the reading approaches and get satisfaction, there’s still some sense of optimal approach.

The same extrapolation applies to gameplay. By surface appearances, adventure games of the early era — rooms, objects, a parser — are blended to the point it may appear all games are simply extensions of each other. But for each one of these games I have re-adjust, and sometimes I simply start wrong — reading room descriptions too closely, or not closely enough. Bypassing verbs that search things, or using them at every opportunity.

With Fantasy Quest, I diligently started a map with “Large Cavern” mapped out and continued for each room like a traditional Infocom game. This is not the best approach here. Many of the rooms are described as just tunnels, or just turns, or just intersections, and are quite intentionally described in a generic way. The focus here is on dens.

Spots in orange have passages going up.

I have marked with color each “den” in yellow, which represents some foe or friend. For example, there’s an orc den you can pass through safely once, but the game explicitly says not to enter again; if you do, you get eaten.

A troll demands money; some nearby coins help to satisfy.

A devil can be driven off with a cross.

The interesting part — and this is where it really did take me a while to catch on — is that the layout forms a logic maze of sorts. Here’s an early example:

A “super-structure” map. This is generally the better way to think about the game, and hits at what I meant by the poetry analogy earlier; I originally wasn’t properly “zooming out” but rather getting annoyed at all the “plain” rooms in between the important parts.

The Opening Area lets you visit a devil early, but you can’t get by because you don’t have a cross yet. There’s also a chest that has the first sector of the eye of Morpheus (remember, the objective is to find all four) but you can’t open it without a key from the second area. So the only way from the opening to the second area is to pass through the orcs, but that’s a one-way trip. But in addition to finding a key in the second area, you can find a cross, so you *can* then get through the demon lair and back, which lets you access the chest in the opening area.

There’s yet another route back to the opening area past a spider, but it only works once, and you use up the cross later (it’s silver, and there’s a creature that wants silver) so this needs to be saved for when you no longer have the cross later in the game.

Another example:

A monster wants a feather. A feather happens to be nearby. However, to take the shortest route back requires passing through a “lizard bird” who normally ignores you; if you’re holding a feather, he attacks and kills you. So to get the feather back to the right place you have to take an alternate route: which passes by a.) a dark area with a pit (that you need to LIGHT a TORCH for) b.) some elves, who require an ORB to get by and c.) a dragon lair, will the dragon will only appear if you visit the place twice — so this is a one-way trip, so you need to make sure you haven’t tried to enter from the other side prior to taking the feather trip.

There’s an entirely different route from the feather to the elf/dragon portion of the route which passes by some gargoyles, but just like the orcs and dragon, you can only pass through once, as the gargoyles will kill you if you enter a second time.

The sequence above is where the setup on the game clicked for me; I had solved the “puzzle” getting the elf orb to the elves but was led to rooms I had already been to, and the dragon lair from the north rather than the south side, but was confused what that accomplished until I realized I need to focus on available paths more than individual rooms.

But not too much focus — while the automap is helpful, there are parts of the game you can GO UP or GO DOWN, and that’s only described in the room text itself.

I really wanted to finish this by reporting victory, but I’ve only managed to get 3 out of the 4 sectors of the Eye. The last map section I managed to arrive at has a wizard satisfied by a gift of a wand, but past the wizard I can only go back to part of the map I’ve been to. I have a plank of wood I haven’t used and there’s two parts nearby where you get dropped a level via traps (one by a burst of water, and one by a trapdoor) but all my attempts at verb use have been stymied. (This is an ultra-minimalist verb set; a lot of the cases you’re just giving gifts to monsters, or applying items automatically like the cross and the devil.)

(If anyone wants to try the game, Fantasy Quest is here. I played it with the Oricutron emulator here. To load the tape you need to type CLOAD”” as a single command.)

Posted September 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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