Friday, December 9, 2016

Game 235: Legend of Lothian (1991)

Legend of Lothian
United States
Independently developed; published via September 1991 Jumpdisk
Released in 1991 for Amiga
Date Started: 7 December 2016
Date Ended: 9 December 2016
Total Hours: 7
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

The defining part of an RPG--the addictive part--is character improvement. The idea that we can quantify the attributes that make us valuable and effective in the world, and then engage in a process of making them better; that we can build our capacity to take on new challenges. From serf to knight, from knight to champion. More than any other genre of games, RPGs impel a palpable--and, if I dare say, a very American--sense of progress.

That's why it's so depressing to meet a game like Legend of Lothian, which screws it all up by punishing you for getting better instead of rewarding you. In a classic dungeon crawler like Wizardry, here's the way it works: on Level 1, you fight the easiest enemies. On Level 2, you fight slightly harder enemies. By the time you hit Level 10, you're fighting the hardest enemies. If the characters need to develop their experience in a safe place, they can regress to an earlier level. Maybe you throw some unpredictability in there--maybe a Level 5 creatures has a small chance of showing up on Level 1--but in general you follow this pattern.
A typical Lothian screen has me approaching an island town while my ship lingers nearby.
It can be difficult extrapolating this to a flat world, I agree, but the basic concept should still apply. The area right around where the character starts is the "easy zone." As he explores in various directions he finds harder monsters. The ones behind the Black Gate or in an area that you've explicitly named the Vale of Darkness are the hardest. Sure, throw in some uncertainty by making the player figure out on his own that he shouldn't wander behind the Ghost Fence at Level 1. But leave an "easy area" that he can regress to.

Legend of Lothian's mistake is pinning the difficulty of monsters to the character's level. On Level 1, there's nothing but orcs everywhere. They die from one blow of a club. Once you hit Level 2, giant insects start showing up with the orcs. Level 3 adds mummies to the equation; Level 4, skeletons. Pretty soon, every few steps you face a horror show of at least 10 enemies, and 50% of battles still kill you outright. You're not accomplishing anything.
A difficult combat early in the game.
And yet, you still have to keep fighting. Why? Because of food. There's a tight formula at work in this game:
  • You deplete 1 ration every 5 steps
  • Food costs 1 gold piece per ration in the starting city and 2 gold pieces per ration everywhere else. Hit points regenerate at a rate of 1 per 5 steps
  • At any level, I typically lose half the amount of hit points in combat as gold I gain.
So here's how the math works out: I fight a combat against a few foes that nets me 20 gold pieces but costs me 10 hit points. It takes me 50 steps to regain those 10 hit points. In those same 50 steps, I consume 10 food units. Those food units cost me 10 gold to replace in Larkspur and 20 gold everywhere else. None of this accounts for the food consumed just walking between places. There has never been a game that made me feel like I was so literally living hand-to-mouth.
Constantly satisfying the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy is exactly what every RPG player wants.
Legend of Lothian is an Ultima clone written by Cal Poly student David W. Meny and published via the September 1991 issue of the Amiga magazine Jumpdisk. A handful of probably non-representative titles (the Dark Designs series and Dungeons of Avalon, chiefly) have led me to look irrationally forward to diskmag games, which often offer short, satisfying quests. In everything but the leveling issue, Lothian is at least competent, rising in moments to Ultima I or II in quality.

It starts with a well-written and illustrated backstory that quickly sets up the main quest: King Lothian of Mercia once ruled a propsperous, peaceful kingdom, but one day he didn't wake up, and no method magical or mechanical could rouse him from his slumber. Without his leadership, the country fell to ruin and orcs roam the land freely. The game's main quest is to help the land develop a better governing system so that the loss of a single leader doesn't cripple it.
A clear homage to Lord Britiah.

And perhaps a reference to Questron.
No, just kidding! The game's main quest is, of course, to find a way to wake up Lothian. The character is a poor shepherd. One night, a bearded man visits his dreams and tells him that only he can awaken Lothian. The old man leaves a glowing gemstone behind which is still there when the character wakes up. He gathers what money he can and sets out the next day. The player gets to specify only the character's name and sex.
The quest begins.
The game starts next to the village of Larkspur (also a city in California next to where Meny currently lives) with the character in possession of 10 gold pieces, 300 food, and 10 hit points. And unless the player really wants to die, it stays there for a while. The only way to get ahead in the game is to upgrade weapons and armor, and that requires saving your razor-thin combat profits until you have a mace and a chainmail (Larkspur doesn't sell any better), a solid supply of food, and enough money to upgrade to a crossbow and platemail when you come across it. After a few hours of grinding here, you can start exploring the rest of the land and its cities, probably starting with Castle Lothian to the east.

Navigation uses the arrow keys and 12 commands drawn from the Ultima mold, such as (B)oard ship, (C)limb, and (T)alk. There is no "search" command, so what you see is what you get in terms of the game world. For those more graphically-oriented players, a series of buttons replicates the keyboard commands, and you can even move around with the mouse.

The cities are fairly small, with weapon, armor, and food shops, inns, healers, and bars. Buying drinks in the bars can be a source of information.
An important clue.
At first, the healer and inn seem like wastes of money, since hit points regenerate automatically as you walk, but after you pass a certain threshold, it becomes more economical to spend the money directly on healing rather than waste food by walking around.

Weapon progression goes club > dagger > mace > sword > crossbow. Armor is cloth > leather > ringmail > chainmail > platemail. Eventually, you get the coordinates and chants for the Shrine of Protection and the Shrine of Might, where you find magical armor and weapons, accordingly--akin to the mystic weapons of Ultima.
Obtaining a magic weapon at a shrine.
Unlike the early Ultima games, you don't see enemies in the wilderness. You just blunder into their squares. In combat, the only options are to attack or to flee. (The character has an "S" statistic that I'm guessing was supposed to be spell points, but there is in fact no magic system in the game and the statistic never budges.) Fleeing becomes preferable late in the game when combats are just an annoyance, although it often doesn't work. Combat is highly deterministic. Your armor affects the likelihood of a hit but not the damage. Orcs always do 1 damage, lizard men always do 7, red dragons always do 13, and so on. No matter how many enemies you're fighting, only one can hit you per round (I have no idea how the game determines which one takes the shot). Meanwhile, the character's weapon always does a fixed amount of damage to the enemies, from 4 (clubs) all the way up to 100 (magical).
Crossbows always do 40 damage; red dragons always do 13.
Once the character is Level 10 and has the best armor and weapons and at least 500 food, you can at least try to start exploring the land. It never gets really easy. There were plenty of times even at high levels that I started out, fought three or four combats, and had to turn around and return before the city had even left my sight. Once you find the mystics, combat becomes less deadly--just in time for it to become really annoying. You're trying to cross-cross the land to find clues and items, and you have to keep stopping to deal with 15 giant worms, 3 red dragons, 2 cyclopes, and an orc. Fleeing stops working once enemy stacks top 12-15. The sheer number of combats soon wears on your patience.
Come on. I'm just trying to get to my ship.
The map comprises 149 squares east-west and 73 squares north-south. It does not wrap. There are 6 cities, 3 castles, 2 shrines, 1 cave, and 1 set of ruins to explore. Some of the locations are only accessible by ship, which you obtain in the town of Marlot by flashing your green gem at the shipwright (he had a dream that portended your arrival); it otherwise costs 5,000 gold pieces which would take a long time to save up. Once you have the ship, it's easier to explore by circling the continent and darting inland where necessary, since the serpents that attack you on the high seas never number more than 8 and can usually be fled.

I made the game more difficult for myself until the end by not finding a key artifact, the Orb of Sight, in Forlorn's dungeon. This item creates a small mini-map of the area for you. I misunderstood the hints and though it would be a quest reward rather than something I could just go grab; I also failed to realize that an inauspicious grate in the castle was in fact an entrance to his dungeon.
The Orb of Sight would have come in handy when I was trying to find the various towns and castles.
NPCs have more to say than in the early Ultimas. There aren't that many of them, so almost every one is vital in some way.

Although this guy doesn't seem to be referencing anything in this game.
And this woman is just high.
Winning the game requires finding a variety of clues and items from the NPCs in the various towns. Since you don't know the order at the outset, there's a lot of backtracking involved. The basic sequence of events is:

1. Get a skeleton key from a prisoner in Castle Lothian's "brig."
2. Use the skeleton key to enter Forlorn Castle.
3. Get a quest from the mad King Forlorn to bring back a mirror.
Forlorn's servant wanrs me about him.

4. Find a rose in Castle Forlorn. Also get a compass here that helps with navigation. (Although, oddly, the "compass" gives coordinates instead of directions.)
5. Go to the city of Wenhea and find the maiden obsessed with her own reflection in the mirror. Give her the rose to remind her that there are more beautiful things; she gives you the mirror.
A bartender tells me what to do.
6. Return the mirror to Forlorn; get the next quest to find some magic wood.
7. In one of the towns--I forget which one--find an axe.
8. Visit the old wizard in a set of caves on the western coast and get an amulet that protects against marsh gases.
This is the guy that appeared in my dream, but no other explanation is given.
9. Find the magic tree in the marshes to the northeast and cut it down.
A woman gives me a hint as to the location of the tree.
10. Return the wood to Lord Forlorn and get his final quest to return with a unicorn.
11. Repeat the whole rose/mirror thing because you need the mirror but Forlorn took it. Also get a rope from a shepherd in Larkspur.
12. Use the mirror at the ruins to Hesron, where a medusa has entrapped a unicorn. The medusa sees her reflection and turns to stone.
This is what happens if you enter without using the mirror first.

13. Use the rope to get the unicorn.

14. Bring the unicorn back to the mad king. He gives you a "worthless animal horn" and laughs maniacally. Suspect that the horn is in fact the now-dead unicorn's horn. Feel bad.
15. Go to the evil castle on an western island and blow the animal horn to gain entry. The castle has "bombs" every few steps that you can't avoid and mimics for every door. Fight down to the lower level and explore the maze until you find the evil wizard.
Fighting an evil castle door after setting off bomb traps.
16. Defeat the evil wizard in combat and get his book of spells.
The game never tells you what this guy's story is. Judging by his face, he certainly has one.
But he leaves the quest object behind.
17. Return the book to Castle Lothian and read it in front of the sleeping king.
The bugged ending in my version. I love how they just propped the sleeping king up on his throne.
Now, my version of the game is bugged. If I read the book in front of the king, I get a message that I've found an "Awaken" spell and that I follow the text's instructions. But then it says "Save Mercia!" and "Your quest begins," suddenly reverting to the opening text. A YouTube video shows what's supposed to happen: Lothian wakes up, there's a big party, the king takes control again, the army comes together and scours the land of monsters, and the hero goes back to tending sheep, but continues studying the spellbook on the side.
The"real" ending screen from Milan Stezka's YouTube video.
I won the game in a long 7 hours, and the entire time I just wanted it to be over. The first 2/3 was too deadly; the last 1/3 was just annoying, with combats every few steps and each one taking a couple of minutes. It GIMLETs at a 23, with the highest scores (3s) going to the decent plot, the use of NPCs, and the always-relevant economy. I also liked the completely redundant mouse and keyboard commands. But it suffers (1s) in encounters--there is nothing special about the monsters except how hard they hit--and the no-tactics combat system.

Lothian was Meny's only RPG, and only one of two games I can find credited to him (the other is a solitaire title), but it's the first in a trio of Ultima clones that we'll be seeing over the next few weeks. The others are Journey into Darkness (if I can get it working) and The Rescue of Lorri in Lorrintron. It makes sense that developers clone Ultima--it's a popular platform--but the Ultima clones I've played so far don't seem to clone much more than the iconographic view, the keyboard interface, and perhaps some one-line NPC interaction. Does any Ultima clone copy the really good stuff about Ultima--particularly IV and V? The dialogue options? The tactical combat system? I guess we'll find out.

Journey into Darkness's starting screen, telling me that I'm a "rouge."
Note on Journey into Darkness: I have the game working, but I can't quite figure out what the game wants in terms of controls. It has two modes, switchable on my keyboard by the period on the number pad: one in which you move the character around, and one in which you move a cursor around the screen and use it to pick up objects and activate the two menus.

This leaves me confused as to what the game's original controller was. The first mode seems optimized for a joystick; the second for a mouse. You need both modes to play the game. Is it possible that it literally required switching between a joystick and mouse?

In any event, if I emulate the mouse in AppleWin, nothing happens when I click around the screen and on the menus. And I'm finding that moving the cursor around the screen with the keypad is far too imprecise to play the game without going crazy. This is a pretty amateur effort anyway, so I don't know if we'll lose anything by skipping it, but I wanted to see if anyone could offer an opinion on how to better emulate the controls.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Knightmare: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Does that mean there's no more show?
United Kingdom
Mindscape (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for Amiga and Atari ST
Date Started: 6 November 2016
Date Ended: 5 December 2016
Total Hours: 55
Difficulty: Very Hard (5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
I have never come as close to needing therapy because of a video game as I did in the final stages of the aptly-named Knightmare. I blame commenter Quido. If he hadn't sent me his maps and notes, I would have gotten stuck early in the final level, quit in frustration, and published a quick GIMLET. But since I had his materials--and, all kidding aside, they're a brilliant set of maps, with absolutely everything carefully annotated--I was motivated to keep playing. For 30 hours after my last post. That's right: the final level is bigger, longer, and harder than all the previous ones combined. The difficulty increases so much, in fact, that it essentially becomes a different game. I was leaning towards liking it after Quest #3; now I just want to forget it. [Update: Quido gave permission to share his maps. Here they are. Note that the Excel commenting doesn't work in the browser window; you'll have to download the workbook and open it in Excel.]

Quest #4 comprises around 4,000 squares of small maps interconnected by teleporters, portals, pits, and ladders. Here's a summary: illusory doors, spinners, radiation squares that deal constant damage, walls that disappear and reappear when pressure plates are stepped on, doors that respond to keys, doors that respond to levers and pressure plates and "open" spells cast from afar, pressure plates that you have to get monsters to walk onto, pits, hidden buttons, buttons that you have to press or shoot from moving vehicles, pressure plates you have to throw things onto, teleporters that don't alert you you've been teleported, enemies that spawn when you step on pressure plates, invisible pressure plates, invisible swamps to sink into, boats, water, fireball launchers, halls that rotate, and monsters, oh so many monsters, that you must waltz, waltz, waltz all night because they're capable of stoning and blindness and aging and crippling and if any of these happen to you, you might as well be dead.
The game has never featured quicksand before, but boy is it about to.
Knightmare is far harder than Chaos Strikes Back, which is celebrated for its difficulty but at least offers you that hint disk. No such luck here. It is the first game to get a full 5/5 on the "difficulty" scale, and I honestly question whether it's possible to win it without hints. I guess Quido must have, although I'm guessing--hoping, really--that he built his walkthrough off some previous, less thorough version, or perhaps the official hint guide.

At first, I was determined not to use Quido's maps, which would have been a shame because they deserve to be looked at. After all, I'd gotten through Levels 1-3 without a lot of difficultly, and I arrived at Level 4 healed up with a full stock of rabbit pies. It didn't start out so hard. Near the beginning of the level is a series of four gated rooms where enemies continually respawn. The game calls them "training rooms." Here, you can grind to your heart's content--not that it really does you any good.
Quido's detailed maps of the fourth quest.
As I began this session, I was sick of picking up missile items all the time, so I stopped using my rear characters as archers and started using them more for their core strengths: spells. This meant resting a lot more than I'd been doing before, but really I was being stingy about resting. It has virtually no penalty. Around the middle of the level, when combat became so hard I figured I must be doing something wrong, I watched a YouTube series for a little while. (The 15-hour series comprises 100 videos, more than 60 of them in the fourth level.) Not only did they put my fears to rest, I saw that the player was routinely resting every minute or so.

Anyway, the level didn't start out hard: a few pressure plate puzzles, a variety of keys opening a variety of locks, and so forth. I got some weapon and armor upgrades early on, including a chainsaw and various pieces of plate armor. I finally figured out the magic system and had my wizard and priest dual-wielding wands of different types. The combats were hard but the usual tricks got me past them.
One aspect of the level promised to be easy and indeed remained so: food. Near the starting area is a ladder leading to a small map of constantly-respawning spiders, which drop edible spider's legs. Between those and frequent grapes and apples scattered throughout the level--plus a portal back to the forest you encounter about halfway through--starvation was never a threat. I guess the developers felt you needed to focus on the hard stuff.

My first obstacle was a series of pressure plates that served as a "conveyor," yanking my party up and down a hallway with no easy way to stop it and get to the end. After trying everything I could think of, I capitulated and looked at Quido's maps. The solution was to throw a "spanner"--an object found in an earlier section--on a particular plate. Nowhere else in the game so far had specific objects been required to trigger the pressure plates (at least, I don't think so; if there were such puzzles, they were obvious), and of course using a wrench by throwing it is unintuitive. Even if I'd hit upon this solution, I probably would have given up after throwing it on a couple of the plates and seeing no result (it has to land on one particular one).
Do you see a button on any of those walls?
Shortly after this puzzle, I encountered another one that I couldn't solve. The area of the map was labeled "target practice" and it consisted of a wagon on a track flying past a series of 7 hedges with walls on the other side. The game had offered a bow and set of arrows shortly before I entered this area, so I understood the basic gist of what it wanted me to do--but there were no obvious "targets." I mean, it turns out that one of the 7 wall squares--which you zoom past too fast to look at, let alone from two squares away--has a button, and throwing or shooting something at the button causes a wall to open. But you have to know it's there, and then hit it from a moving vehicle, and between the two I don't know how you'd solve it without some spoiler at least telling you the particular wall section to aim for. In the meantime, you have to contend with snakes that spawn every time you miss and hit a different bit of wall.

By this time, the dam had broken and I had a hard time not using Quido's walkthrough quite liberally. I never would have survived without it. There are several places in which you have to cast an "open" spell on a door you can't even see, or fire a missile onto a pressure plate that's also out of visual range. Sometimes, I couldn't tell what a button or lever did, largely because it affected a remote area of the dungeon. One button, towards the end of the dungeon, lowers a wall that took me more than 20 minutes to fight my way back to. Without consulting Quido's map, I would have had to explore nearly the entire dungeon to find out what had changed.
In that darkness is a door, and behind that door is a pressure plate. So all I have to do is fire an "Open" spell ahead of me, followed by a missile, and I'm all set. But how would you have figured this out without a hint?
The worst part, though, was the increasing difficulty of the enemies. Certain monsters, like knights and large dragons, were taking me nearly 15 minutes per enemy to waltz around and kill. Then the game started serving up enemies with special abilities: medusas who can stone you; wizards who can blind, age, and cripple you; demons who can do all of those things. Killing them was taking so long that I wondered if I could just run past them instead. The problem was, maybe 5% of creatures carry a key or some other quest item that you really need. Hence, I started consulting Quido's sheet to see what enemies I really had to kill and which I could avoid--provided the layout of the corridors allowed me to avoid them.
I'll be waltzing around this guy for 15 minutes or more.
Quite often, the sheer density of enemies, or the corridor configurations, makes waltzing impossible and you have to fight them head-on. In such situations, your party members' lives depend on how quickly you can shift the healer back and forth, casting spells to undo the damage. If the healer's points run out--which happens pretty fast--you're screwed.

One particular area had me nearly give up in despair. There was a succession of 3 or 4 rooms with unavoidable pressure plates, and stepping on those plates causes three spellcasting enemies to spawn. These guys are nearly impossible. Not only do they have spells that age you, cripple you, and turn you into a moron, draining your attributes to about 10 each, but they have a particularly annoying spell that causes you to turn 90 or 180 degrees and waste your next spell or attack on a blank wall. I had to try luring them one by one into an area where I could escape via a ladder if necessary. Waltzing each one took about 20 minutes, meaning killing all the mages in the area took about 4 hours of gametime on its own. The area is so ridiculous that the developers stuck a couple of mages that cast healing spells in a nearby corridor. One of them randomly casts "Youth" (reverses aging), "IQ" (reverses dumbness), "de-cripple," and 5 spells that restore attributes drained by these spells. I had to park my characters in front of him for almost an hour before everyone was healed.
These guys are going on the "most annoying" list.
There were several areas that featured a similar puzzle: a series of buttons or levers that caused 4 corridors surrounding a central square to rotate clockwise. Some of these squares would have doorways, and each set of corridors interlocked with two or more central hubs. Passing through the areas meant pushing or pulling in the right order to "pass" doorways between hubs and create chanis of open spaces leading to where I wanted to go. The problem was, I had no idea what the corridors looked like on the other side. I had to guess (or use Quido's maps). I liked the puzzles--they involved a lot of deduction--but even with maps, figuring out the correct order of levers was challenging.
One such area. different levers rotate the corridors around hubs 1, 2, 3, and 4."D" represents doors, and the other corridors are blank wall. I have to pull the levers in the right sequence to lie up the doors so I can get to Point X.
A few other notes:

  • Apparently, if you're unencumbered, you can run across a single square of water. There were several areas in which this was necessary.
  • A lot of enemies have dialogue or hints if you take a second to click on them in the middle of battle.
It's nice to have goals.
  • My characters capped the game at "doyen" in their respective classes. I'm not sure if there's a higher level.
It would take too long to recap the dozens and dozens of puzzles on the map, but they all come together to open a wall not far from the entrance. Passing through there takes you down a ladder and into a room full of demons, whom I simply ran past (apparently missing a second chainsaw and an "aqualung" of unknown use). A ladder from there takes you to the large final area.
Not doing so well against some demons.
I had assumed that I'd find the crown in the level, then take it back to the beginning, and then fight Lord Fear (the manual hinted at that sequence of events), but it turns out Lord Fear has the crown and is found in the final area. I first had to kill his demon ally--about 20 minutes of waltzing--to get a key. This opened the door to Lord Fear's chambers and the final battle was on.
It took longer than some entire games. Fear is capable of all of the previously-mentioned spells, including blindness, stoning, and crippling. You simply cannot let him hit you. He also bounces spells back at you, so your melee fighters have to carry the day. There's no other solution except to waltz him to death. The one saving grace is a nearby portal where you can recuperate in a safe area in case he does happen to zap you with something bad.
My lead character after a few unlucky breaks.
It took me 430 hits to kill him, representing over an hour of waltzing and retreating, saving every 5-10 minutes, and reloading if things got too hopeless. (Completely healing a single character who's been hit with "stone" and "lame" might take 15-20 minutes by itself between the casting and resting; I typically reloaded rather than go through it.) I won late last night and my hands are ruined today.
Picking up the crown after killing Lord Fear.
Lord Fear leaves the crown when he dies. I had to make my way past the demons to finally get out of the dungeon and back to the starting area, where a pressure plate waited to receive the crown.
Tossing the crown on the plate opened the way to another pressure plate, which brought me to the endgame: a graphic of a trophy, a congratulations screen, and an advertisement for Antony Crowther's other games.
This was not, in fact, the title of Captive 2.
Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of players who love the challenge inherent in these puzzles and this style of combat. As for myself, if for some reason I had to play this game again to continue my blog, I'd give up the blog. These last 30 hours have been excruciating. This simply is not what I like about RPGs.
Knightmare is a rare game for which I would consider the hintbook a necessity.
This post is already long, but I want to GIMLET this and be done with it:

  • 2 points for the game world, which is confusing and inconsistent. I'm not really sure where I'm supposed to be, or why I'm there, or how I got roped into defeating Lord Fear in the first place.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. The usual Dungeon Master system is in place. There are more races and classes than necessary, particularly since you're screwed if you don't have a mage and a healer. Development isn't very satisfying--you don't even find out when you've leveled, and the effects of leveling aren't palpable in combat. 
  • 1 point for NPC interaction, and I'm being generous in calling the heads on the walls "NPCs."
I think he actually had it.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. For the enemies, we have the usual Dungeon Master nonsense where we don't even know the monsters' names. You figure out their special attacks and overall difficulty pretty fast, although I would have liked a hit point chart in the manual so I'd have some reassurance that they'd die eventually. Most of the points here go to the puzzles, which I rate as "encounters" in this type of game. Although I thought they were too hard, they were also highly original and constituted impressive use of the engine.
I just wish the game didn't make the buttons so hard to discern.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The old Dungeon Master mechanics reach their nadir in this game, where nothing you do really matters because you end up having to waltz every enemy to death anyway. The game doesn't even bother with the pretense that you can survive in a stand-up fight. The magic system, consisting of a variety of spells that seem to do the same thing, cast from different wands, is unimpressive.
  •  3 points for equipment. Weapons, armor, helms, pants, and boots are found at fixed locations. There are no rings or amulets as in Dungeon Master and only a few special items. As with character development, the nature of the combat system makes you feel that item upgrades hardly matter.

I like the way different weapons have different attacks depending on skill, but they didn't seem to make a lot of functional difference.
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 3 points for a main quest in 4 stages with no choices or branches.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are decent, the sound even better, and the interface has more keyboard options than the typical Dungeon Master clone.
  • 2 points for gameplay. I found it too linear, too long, and too hard. I suppose for some people, the difficulty is a virtue, so add another 4 points if you really like to be challenged by pressure plates and buttons and moving walls and whatnot.
The final score is 29, quite a bit lower than I gave to Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, Captive, or Eye of the Beholder. But in a funny way, if you're a fan of those previous games and you like them better than most other RPGs, you might find Knightmare to be the pinnacle of this sort of game. I mean, there must be some players out there who love the mechanics of Chaos Strikes Back but think it's for "n00bs." Or those who have played it so many times that they want a fresh challenge. I'd love to hear opinions from players who prize this particular lineage.

As for me, at its best moments, the Dungeon Master line nears what I love about RPGs but doesn't quite reach it. In the original game, character development is highly satisfying and rewarding, and the combat and magic system are well-balanced between tactics and digital dexterity. Chaos Strikes Back increases the difficulty of the puzzles but not so much the encounters, making it a worthy successor. But I don't play RPGs for the puzzles--particularly this sort of puzzle--and I much prefer a more tactical, turn-based approach to combat. Captive and Knightmare both tip the balance so far towards speed and action in combat that tactics take a far back seat.

Still, I suppose the difficulty of Knightmare is in keeping with the difficulty of the television show, which only 8 teams won in 8 years. I have to admire the producers for maintaining such a high difficulty when there was no winner in Seasons 1 or 3. There must have been pressure to dumb it down. Reading more about the show, I see that the quest objects in the game--the Sword of Freedom, the Shield of justice, the Cup of Life, and the Crown of Glory--were in the show as well, and the screenshot of the trophy mimics the awards given to victorious players. Even Lord Fear appears in the show.
My in-game reward.
I think Computer Gaming World missed this one. Amiga magazine reviews of the time range from 64/100 (Amiga Joker) to 91/100 (Amiga Action). I've read a few of the higher reviews, and I'd bet real money that most of the reviewers never got to the fourth quest. (My own rating would likely be 7-10 points higher if it was based only on the first three quests.) Amiga Action manages to discuss the game and its changes from Captive without once mentioning Dungeon Master.

I have to quote this hilarious paragraph from the beginning of the Amiga Computing review:
Knightmare is that terrible show where they get four kids and blindfold one of them by sticking a massive helmet on top of his head. This normally happens to the smallest who is always called Colin or Jeremy. The other three kids get the chance to kill Colin by telling him to walk around a computer-generated world into traps and clutches of giants, witches, trolls, etc....The three kids aren't supposed to kill him, but most of them couldn't find their way out of Woolworth's, never mind a dungeon plagued with goblins and giants.
It goes on to make fun of the show for about 5 more paragraphs before spending a small part of the rest of the review on the game itself. The reviewer admits he hasn't finished the first quest yet when he gives the game 86%. Was there any sense of journalism among Amiga magazines of the 1990s? I mean, I don't always love Scorpia, but at least she finished the games before reviewing them.

This is an era of Mindscape ascendant. We've already played two of their games in 1991--HeroQuest and Moonstone--and we'll have Worlds of Legend: Son of the Empire and Liberation: Captive II coming in 1992 and 1993, respectively. I have to note that while I haven't rated their titles very high, I don't find them weird, so sometime between 1986 and 1991, the British Isles worked out the problem I highlighted in Heavy on the Magick.

We'll periodically check-in with Antony Crowther for the remainder of this blog's existence, starting with his Captive sequel next year. And of course the basic Dungeon Master style isn't going anywhere soon: we still have Dungeon Master II and the two Eye of the Beholder sequels to explore in the next 100 games or so. I'm still waiting for any of its clones or sequels to be as good as the original.