Saturday 30 June 2012

Dun Darach - Amstrad CPC and Sinclair Spectrum - 1985

Dun Darach is an adventure game that was released in 1985 for the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.  It is a follow up to a critically acclaimed 1984 game call Tir Na Nog. This game uses the same engine, gameplay and character graphics as the earlier title.  I didn’t include Tir Na Nog on my list as I just seemed to wander around aimlessly with no obvious quest path.  The game was also quite confusing to navigate as it is viewed side on and can be viewed from either side of the character. You have to walk along each path twice viewing from each side to avoid missing anything.  Also annoying were these creatures roaming around which, if touched, would make your character lose his items and transport him somewhere else on the map. This was unavoidable if one of them followed you up a dead end.

Tir Na Nog - Same game engine, not enough game.

I approached Dun Darach with some trepidation as both games were highly praised when they were released and I wasn’t looking forward to more traipsing around getting nowhere.  I needn’t have worried as Dun Darach improves on these areas.  Firstly, it is set in a city rather than the countryside and each street has a name making it much easier to navigate. Secondly, there are more obvious things to do – within the first few minutes I found a (locked) secret door, came across someone who wanted to exchange a map for fur, and then had all my money stolen by a pickpocket.  Dun Darach was already looking more promising…

In this game you play a character called Cuchullain.  The aim of your quest is to find your friend Loeg who was captured by a sorceress called Skar in revenge for killing her ally Prince Amhair of the Connachta tribe in battle.  Your search leads you to the city of Dun Darach where you start the game with 2000 iridi (the local currency) and no clue on what to do.

I restarted after downloading a map which saved several hours as travelling around the city is quite slow (even using the portals located in each district). As you need money to make any progress I immediately deposited my iridi in a bank where it would earn interest while I explored the city.  Scattered around the city are shops, galleries, deposit houses, portals, temples, gambling houses, banks and a thieves guild.  The shops sell all manner of objects some of which I had to google to find out what they were.  Who off the top of their head knows what rue is? Or philtres? Or lasts from a cobbler and piles from a herald? A lot of these objects need to be bought and placed in the four galleries in accordance to the cryptic clues in the pictures – for example one gallery contains a picture showing +z meaning you would drop an adze on the table. Once all the puzzles in a gallery have been completed another object appears to help you continue your quest. Apart from navigation the only commands are pick/drop and offer so the tasks are limited to ‘find out what item goes where’ type quests.

This gallery was easy: lead, last, sting, hemlock....

....this one not so.  I think the the one on the right will be a broadaxe but the others will be trial and error.

Of the other buildings you can store items in deposit houses (for a fee) as you can only carry three objects at once.  I did notice each deposit house has a letter associated with it which may (or may not) provide a clue.   Each of the temples has a place to drop objects but I haven’t figured out what yet. The gambling houses provide the quickest way to make (or lose) money.  I used one of these to obtain the 10,000 iridi needed to buy licence from the thieves guild so you will no longer be troubled by pickpockets.

I am not a great fan of adventure games (mainly because I’m crap at them) so the fact Dun Darach is on my list in the first place must mean something.  It is a game I think I’ll persevere with, but can see it taking many hours to finish.

You need eagle eyes to spot secret doors - only a break in the brickwork gives them away..

Example gameplay [Amstrad CPC]

Friday 22 June 2012

Doomdark's Revenge - Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC & Commodore 64 (1985)

Doomdark’s Revenge is the follow up to the seminal The Lords of Midnight and was once again released for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and Sinclair Spectrum.  The playing area is half as big again as the former game making a total of 6,000 locations and 48,000 views.  The Landscaping engine has been given an overhaul with improved graphics and a mist which can rise up to obscure features in the landscape and sap strength from your armies.  There are also underground tunnels though I’m quite sure of the point of them.

I didn't find tunnels useful as you are forced in a certain direction and it's hard to determine where you will end up.
Doomdark’s Revenge is set in the Land of Icemark to the north of the Land of Midnight.  The instructions contain a short story setting the scene for the game which basically says Morkin has been kidnapped by Shareth the Heartstealer in order avenge the death of Doomdark, her father and adversary in the earlier game.

The Land of Icemark has five races: Giants, Barbarians, Dwarves, the Fey and the Icelords.  You start the game controlling three characters this time.  Luxor the Moonprince and Rorthron the Wise start at the Gate of Varenorn – the entrance to Icemark - in the Barbarian Outlands.  Morkin’s betrothed, Tarithel the Fey, starts a little further north near the forest dwelling Fey. Again you need to travel around to persuade Lords to join your cause while Shareth the Heartstealer does the same.  The characters roam about independently this time rather than waiting at their stronghold to be recruited. In Doomdark’s Revenge it’s not usually clear cut who is friendly and who isn’t.  When coming face to face with an opposing force you have two options – Approach and Attack.  If you approach an army and they are unfriendly you are put at a disadvantage in battle (I don’t know how you determine who is friendly and who to attack).

Hmmm... Approach or Attack?

Like The Lords of Midnight various ruins, lakes, temples and other landscape features can reveal clues and objects to help or hinder you on your quest.

The game can be won in several ways with various levels of victory.  All involve Luxor returning safely to the Gate of Varenorn. The most basic victory will be to rescue Morkin with Tarithel the Fey being the main protagonist.  If you also return with Rorthron, any of the Crowns of Icemark and objects of Shareth’s power then the greater the win.  If Morkin dies then the only way to win the game will be the complete destruction of Shareth. The greatest victory can be achieved by destroying Shareth and the safe return of all four main characters.

The only goal for Shareth is the destruction of Luxor the Moonprince - if he should die then the game is lost. 

So, Doomdark’s Revenge is bigger, has more features and is better looking than The Lords of Midnight yet I’m not convinced it is necessarily a better game – it’s basically just more of the same.  It would be unfair to discount a good game just for its unoriginality so it still makes it onto the list.

Thigrand the Fey could do with finding horses, not dragons.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Cyclone - Sinclair Spectrum - 1985

Cyclone, programmed by Costa Panayi, is his follow up to T.L.L.. It makes use of the same skewed top-down view, only this time you pilot a helicopter instead of a Tornado.

Your main mission is to collect five crates of medical supplies which are randomly placed on a series of storm hit islands. The crates are winched aboard the helicopter by hovering low over them.  One difference between Cyclone and T.L.L. is that you can change your viewpoint between North and South to enable you to find crates which would otherwise be hidden by the terrain.  You can collect bonus points by rescuing people from the islands as well as the medical supplies.

The islands can be navigated via a map which can be called up at any time.  The play area is not wraparound this time so you can’t take any short-cuts between the islands.  The map also shows the position of the cyclone which travels randomly around the area.  Getting too close to the cyclone adversely affects the handling of the chopper causing it to crash if you stay in the area too long.  If you can successfully land the helicopter on a flat peace of terrain or a landing pad it is possible to weather out the storm.  The landing pads can also be used to replenish your fuel supply.

Adding to the difficulty is a time limit.  This can pile on the pressure when you are halfway through time limit and haven’t found any crates yet.  Low flying jets also make an appearance and must be avoided – you get a warning when they are in the vicinity.

The graphics are good for the time with smooth scrolling and minimal attribute clash.  The sound is adequate just consisting of the engine noise of the helicopter.  This is another excellent Spectrum game that I find as playable no as it was back in the day. 

The map can be called up at any time.  It show the location of the cyclone and your helicopter.

Your main objective is to pick up the medical supplies.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Alien 8 - Sinclair Spectrum - 1985

Alien 8 was released by Ultimate Play The Game in 1985 and employs the same Filmation technique that was used in Knight LoreIt was, unfairly in my view, criticised on its release as just being Knight Lore set in space.  Back in the day I completed this game prior to playing Knight Lore, and the Sabreman game felt like a big step backwards.  I still hold the same opinion after playing them in chronological order this time round.

The game is set aboard an interstellar starship on which the crew have been cryogenically frozen.  As the ship nears it’s destination it is boarded by aliens who have removed the circuit boards from the cryogenic life support system that keep the crew alive.  You control the titular robot who has to recover the circuit boards and return them to their proper places before the destination is reached.

The game is played against the clock and you have to search the rooms for the circuit boards which are shaped as pyramids, cubes, domes and cylinders.  These must be placed in the corresponding flashing sockets in the cryogenic chambers. The game contains the usual platform type puzzles requiring lateral thinking and/or quick reflexes. The puzzles are generally more complex and varied than that those in Knight Lore as other features have been added such as remote controlled drones and piles of blocks that have to be carefully manoeuvred around.  The ghosts and guards from Knight Lore have respectively been replaced by clockwork mice and a dalek/mouse cross; the sparkly enemies remain the same.

As Alien 8 uses the same game engine as Knight Lore it feels, sounds and plays the same.  The graphics have been updated to give a suitable spaceship look and are a lot more varied than Knight Lore.  The extra objects in this game add to the variety of puzzles, both in the lateral thinking and the more dexterous ones. Where Alien 8 really differs is in the main quest.  Whereas Knight Lore is totally linear, in this game the tasks can be completed in any order you choose. The circuits and cryogenic suspension chambers are scattered all over the ship – there is no central repository you have to take objects to and no particular order in which to complete the rooms.  Another positive change is that there are no objects which randomly drop on you in certain rooms – they are there but are triggered (usually by picking up one of the circuits) so can be avoided.  Finally, the annoying and awkward shape changing mechanic has been removed from this title.  Overall it is a marked improvement over Knight Lore and more of a step forward than it was given credit for on its release.

The sparkly enemy can be 'guided' and is needed to reach the pyramid circuit.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Goodbye 1984, Hello 1985

Goodbye VIC-20 - Commodore pulled the plug on the venerable VIC-20 in January.

Hello Commodore 128 - Released in January as the intended successor to the Commodore 64 but was discontinued 5 years before it.

Hello Atari ST - The first of the two main 16-bit home computers was unveiled in January and available to buy from early July.  It beat the Amiga to the market by two months.

Hello Commodore Amiga - The Amiga 1000 was the first Amiga model released.  Although superior to the ST in the video and audio departments, many of the earlier games were direct ports.

Hello NES - The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America in the wake of the video games crash.  It would go on to become the world's best selling console until eventually being overtaken by Sony's Playstation.

Hello Sega Mark III - This snappily titled console was released in Japan in October.  It would later be redesigned, re-branded and exported as the Sega Master System.

1985 games I'm looking forward to but have never played….

SunDog: Frozen Legacy [Later update] - A good, not great game.  Did not make the cut
Super Mario Bros.  *Hangs head in shame*