Sunday, July 23, 2017

Game 255: Quest for Tanda (1991)

There is no title screen for the game.
Quest for Tanda
United States
Independently developed and published
Released in 1991 for Atari ST
Date Started:  17 July 2017
Date Ended: 17 July 2017
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
The unlikely story of Quest for Tanda's survival is more interesting than the game itself. I originally drafted a relatively scathing posting on the brief adventure and its horrible sense of spelling, but then I heard from the author, Jonah Schwartz, who said he was only 13 when he wrote it on his school's Atari ST. It was just an exercise to teach himself GFA BASIC, uploaded as a lark to several San Francisco Bay-area BBS sites. He never received a single envelope with the requested $5.00 shareware fee. And yet, somehow, 17 years later, a programmer in Sweden decided it was worth cataloging on MobyGames. I wish I could fill in the blanks in between, but I wrote to the contributor and he doesn't even remember listing the game.
A ransom note puts the brief plot in motion.
The setup is that you are the lover of Princess Tanda of Khlad. One day, Tanda is kidnapped by the evil Istvan. He leaves a ransom note promising to torture and kill Tanda, but he frankly acknowledges that the requested ransom (1 million gold pieces) exceeds the total wealth of the kingdom. King Aahz, Tanda's father, promises her hand in marriage if you can rescue her from Istvan.
The proper names are drawn from Robert Lynn Asprin's MythAdventures novels (1978-2002), which I've never read but gather are humorous, almost satirical fantasies in the same vein as Terry Pratchett. The game doesn't go beyond the names themselves, as in the novels Aahz is a reptilian magician and not a king, and Tanda is an assassin and not Aahz's daughter.

The castle graphic that leads this entry is shown during the backstory and when the player visits either of the other two castles in the game. The image is not original to the game, but Schwartz doesn't remember where he got it. A reverse image search finds it on a few web sites (and one jigsaw puzzle box) without conclusively answering the question of its origin.
The extent of character creation.
Character creation consists of choosing from three names. The player does not know until after making the choice that "Skeeve" is a Level 2 fighter/Level 4 wizard; "Garkin" is a Level 0 fighter/Level 5 wizard; and "Frumple is a Level 3 fighter/Level 2 wizard. Each character begins with 40 or 50 hit points, water and food, 20 or 40 magic points, and some basic weapons and armor. I don't think there's a mechanism for the characters to gain levels during gameplay (I suppose making it not an RPG under my rules), but it's hard to tell since you only fight a handful of combats.
The "character screen."
The only other choice during character creation is whether to play on easy or hard mode. Easy-mode characters start with a boat and can go anywhere. ("I know that it is not possible to carry a boat around," Schwartz apologies in the "readme" file.) Hard-mode characters have to visit the towns and learn where they can obtain a boat. The more important difference, though, is that easy characters start with 200 gold and hard characters start with only 10. It's nearly impossible for those latter characters to make enough money from the game's few random combats to remain healed, watered, and fed and pay for the NPC clues and items necessary to win the game.
This master screen appears between every move.
Gameplay takes place on a small 8 x 7 map. After every move, the screen reverts to a kind of "master control panel" where the player can eat, drink, cast a spell, view statistics, sleep, or refresh himself as to the nature of the main quest. You click an image of a directional pad to move, but the master screen appears again after the move is completed.
The entirety of the game world.
Each of the five towns is laid out the same, consisting of a weapon shop, an armor shop, a food shop, and two houses with NPCs who will give you hints for a price.
One of the NPCs gives you a summary of the entire game world.
Three of the houses in the game are locked and require you to find a sequence of keys to open them. None of that is necessary on "easy" mode, as the game simply tells you where to go for instructions on how to defeat Istvan. 
Visiting the "wepons shop" in a town.
It makes little sense to spend money at the weapon and armor shops. The game's best weapon is available from winning a battle (see below), and it's tough to buy armor because the game warns you that you'll be replacing the armor you already own, but it never bothers to tell you what armor the character starts with.      
Options in the weapons shop.
Each of the empty grass squares has a chance of an encounter with a ghost, a wizard, or a spider. These three enemies, plus a zombie who only seems to attack while you're sleeping, and a couple of enemies you fight at fixed encounters, seem to be the extent of the game's menagerie.

In combat, you specify whether to attack or cast a spell. If you attack, you then specify your weapon and watch the results. That's it. If you cast a spell, you choose between wizard spells ("Fireball," "Disrupt," "Turn Undead") and cleric spells (heal, create food or water) and put a designated number of points into them. I never found that the offensive spells worked even once. "Turn Undead" explicitly doesn't work on ghosts, the only undead that you regularly encounter.

"Combat options." You can't even use the 1-3 keys. You have to click on the answer.
There is one optional side area in the game: Badaxe's castle, where you can fight an ogre and get Badaxe's axe as a reward.
I'm always down for a tryst.
By now, you will have noted the numerous spelling mistakes that populate every screen. I originally wrote that the game featured "spelling that would appall you even if you discovered the developer was a toddler," along with unnecessary capitalization and frequent but inconsistent use of pseudo-"olde English." Schwartz actually apologized in the "readme" file for "mixing medieval and modern language" and for being "a bad speler." Knowing that he was 13 dilutes my venom a bit, although I'm not sure why he didn't just grab a dictionary or a playtester.
As small and short as the game is, it's a struggle to get to the end before your pools of money, food, water, and hit points deplete, leaving you with no way to regain them. "Easy" mode characters really just need to visit two towns--one to get the instructions from an NPC, and one to buy the missile spell that she recommends. "Hard" mode characters have to find the boat first and earn enough money to pay the NPCs.
Explicit instructions on how to win. This costs 40 gold pieces.
For both characters, the quest path is the same. You go to the square with the bridge and fight the "Halk" guarding it; he is vulnerable only to a bow and arrows or the "Magic Missile" spell (which, confusingly, appears as a weapon instead of a spell). Once you kill him, you loot the key to Istvan's castle.
Once you make it to Istvan's island, the plot resolves itself on three text screens with no player input. And the game is over. It takes about 15 minutes on "easy" mode and perhaps 2-3 times as long on "hard" mode, if indeed you're able to survive the latter. There's no way to save the game, so the brief play time is an advantage.
The game earns a 13 on my GIMLET, which is close to the minimum a game could possibly earn and still be considered an RPG. In doing so, it has spawned a new rule in my sidebar: If the game is independent or shareware but won no awards, garnered no positive reviews, has no fan pages--and if I fire it up, play a few minutes, and find nothing charming or original about it--I have the option to reject it. I mean no offense to Mr. Schwartz, who accomplished something relatively remarkable at a young age, but there's no reason other than pure luck that this game found its way to MobyGames and thousands of similar efforts from young students of computer programming did not.

Mr. Schwartz was understandably startled when I wrote to him about this 26-year-old project and said I was going to blog about it: "It's a bit like finding out your 8th grade science project is being reviewed by a scientific journal." While it leaves something wanting as an RPG, it did accomplish its purpose. Schwartz went on to a long and prosperous career as a software developer and entrepreneur. Among many others, was the co-founder and CTO of Rumpus, a San Francisco-based company that made games for iOS and Android, including Mo' Monsters, a Pokémon-inspired game that is, ironically, not cataloged on MobyGames.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Conan: The Valedictorian!

I think this "troubled brow" bit is lifted from the films, albeit less poetically here.
The rest of the plot of Conan unfolded much as the part I've already related, in a series of short, linear episodes with light inventory puzzles. In between, I sold my accumulated riches and used the gold for healing potions and training to increase my skills. But other than having to frequently backtrack to obtain a missing item, the game never posed much of a challenge.

As I closed the last time, I was heading for Zamboula to rescue Princess Zosara and thus get the support of the Kuigar nomads, whose king was set to marry the princess. I had to sneak into the city via a four-level maze of catacombs swarming with rats and spiders. There were some nice treasures to pick up along the way, including a Horn of Valhalla, which I never used.

The princess was held captive by a wizard who turned himself invisible the moment I entered the chamber. I couldn't kill him with regular sword blows, so I started going through my inventory to see if anything would help. When I used my staff, it somehow slid into a hole on the floor and activated a trap door, sending the wizard plummeting to his demise. Good thing I kept that staff, I guess. I don't think I would have figured out the puzzle otherwise.
Why did he even have a trap door in his chambers?
The denouement to the episode related that Conan led the Khan's forces in battle against Thoth Amon's armies and won a bunch of victories before Conan returned to Shadizar.

Back at the Red Dog, a wizard named Akada approached Conan with intelligence about Thoth Amon: specifically that the evil priest had lost his Ring of Power. He said if I could recover the ring, I could wield it against the villain. A nearby sage told me that the location of the ring was unknown, but some thieves had hid a map to the ring in the ruins of Larsha.

Before I continued on this quest, I returned to the jungle ruins and looted the pyramid, obtaining a bunch of gems and an Enchanted Sword, the best sword in the game, doing +100 damage.
A treasure chamber looking appropriately treasure-y.
Larsha was another jungle ruin, populated by lizard men. I had killed a score of them before I found a Lizard Sword, which is supposed to do more damage to them than the Enchanted Sword. I frankly didn't notice any difference. 
Fighting a Gorn.
Ultimately, I found the map to Thoth Amon's ring. It showed it back at the Governor's Palace in Shadizar. Fortunately, I also found a Marble Key to access the doors inside the palace. I returned to the city, crept into the Inner City, evaded the guards, and entered the palace.

I had to kill a couple of guards, but there were numerous rooms with treasures in gems and gold, a Skeleton Key, and of course Thoth Amon's ring. At one point, I blundered into the chambers of the Governor and his wife or mistress.
They weren't happy to see me.
Finding the ring concluded that episode. The next one began with Akada telling me that I would need to find the Scrolls of Skelos to interpret the Ring of Power. They were supposedly back in Larsha, protected by an "indestructible demon made of iron."
Talkative for a demon made of iron.
The iron golem attacked me the moment I entered the ruins and he was immune to damage from anything that I had in my possession. When I fled from the battle, he followed me, appearing even on other maps. This provided me the solution. I led him back to the jungle ruins to be snared by the monolith (which draws in all metal).
Sucks to be you!
After that, I was able to explore Larsha unmolested. The Skeleton Key opened the way to the chamber with the Scrolls. I retrieved them and the final episode began.
Text related how Conan and his allies moved on Thoth Amon's fortress of Tarantia. The Great Khan, Taurus, and Belit all engaged various forces while Conan sneaked into the fortress itself.
You wonder why Synergistic didn't incorporate the army combats from the two Excalibur games into this one. It would have been more fun than just reading about it.
Inside, I faced several of the enemies previously encountered in the game, including mummies, lizard men, giant snakes, and priests of Set. I guess if I'd kept the Snake Sword and Lizard Sword, I would have had an easier time, but as it was, I didn't have many problems with just my regular Enchanted Sword and my potions.
Killing giant snakes is like a Tuesday these days.
The fortress consisted of about 20 rooms. I had to run around finding a series of keys to open new areas. I was blocked from a few areas by more iron golems; if there was any way to defeat them, I never found it, but it was easy enough just to skirt around them.

The only problem I had was this living statue. It killed me the moment I approached it and didn't respond to any of my magic items. (My Horn of Valhalla summoned a berserker, who the statue instantly killed.) After exhausting everything I could think of, I Googled a quick hint and found that I needed a Freeze Amulet (which I'd completely forgotten about). I don't know if there was a place in the game to find one, so I had to buy it back in Shadizar for 1,600 gold pieces, which required me to sell a few excess magic items to raise the amount.

Back in Thoth Amon's fortress, I froze the statue and continued past him to Thoth Amon's private chambers. Like so many other enemies in the game, he was immune to damage in combat.
That statue sure doesn't look like Set. Who are you worshipping on the side, Thoth?
I had to push past him to his chambers and shatter the jar containing his heart. When it was destroyed, Thoth turned into a skeleton and died, and the endgame screen above immediately appeared.

Thoth-Amon suffers a grisly fate as I smash his heart. He might have thought about hiding it instead of leaving it sitting on his desk.
A few miscellaneous notes:
  • The city has a handful of "seers" who never did anything at all. They would take my coins, fiddle around with their crystal balls, and never say anything.
  • After the first scenario, there wasn't much NPC dialogue. Most of them simply said they couldn't help me.
  • I never made use of several items I carried the entire game, including two Staves of Power and the Horn of Valhalla. I guess these items would have allowed me to instantly win some of the tougher combats, but I didn't find any of the combats particularly hard.
  • I didn't mention it above, but the rope was necessary to climb out of some pits in the Zamboula catacombs and Thoth Amon's fortress.
  • According to a spoiler site that I looked at after winning, I missed several side quests. I could have given the ruby Amulet of the Undead to a tavern owner; there was a fortune in gold hidden in the Shadizar underground in an area accessible only by teleport; the priests of the Temple of Adonis would have rewarded me for one of the Staves of Power; and there was a way into a secret Thieves' Guild vault under the city. I apparently need to invest more in bribing people.
In the end, Synergistic did a good job adapting the linear, "chapter" approach from the two Excalibur games, ensuring this time that things undone in early chapters wouldn't leave the player in a "walking dead" state for later chapters. It still isn't a great game, and particularly not a great RPG, but it was fun and undemanding, and it led me to fill in some gaps in my knowledge. More on that in the final entry.

Final time: 24 hours

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Game 254: The Dungeon Revealed (1987)

The Dungeon Revealed
United States
John Raymonds (developer); Woodrose Editions (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Macintosh after a demo shareware version (The Dungeon of Doom) was released in 1986
Date Started:  15 July 2017
Date Ended: 16 July 2017
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

I arrived at college in 1992 with a Brother typewriter. I thought it was awesome because it had this tiny screen that stored your current line of text, not committing it to paper until you'd reviewed it, made your corrections, and hit ENTER. But I soon grew envious of my roommate's Brother word processor and purchased one of those instead.
That held me for about 6 months until I took a mandatory class on computer applications and was introduced to the modern personal computer for the first time. The class was probably 14 weeks and consisted of 7 weeks on the Macintosh and 7 on the IBM PC with MS-DOS. Of the two, the Mac was so manifestly superior that I couldn't imagine why anyone would buy anything else. By the end of the semester, I had gone down to Sears, opened a credit account, and purchased one.
A typical Dungeon Revealed screen shows me fighting a vampire with some food, a wand, and the exit stairs nearby.
Imagine my disappointment when I then wandered into a CompUSA, looking for RPGs for my shiny new machine. There was an enormous wall of PC games and a tiny shelf of Mac games. Incredulous, I flagged down a store clerk and demanded answers. "I think most developers are moving away from the [Mac] platform," he said. I was outraged. But of course he was right. I hadn't done enough research. I only knew about my own experience using the platforms, not how easy or difficult it was (both on the technology side and the business side) to develop software for them. I don't recall that I ever bought or played a single Mac-based RPG. What I did eventually do is purchase a product called SoftPC that allowed me to run DOS and Windows on my Mac, and play their associated games. That's how I finally played Ultima VII and Ultima Underworld, years after they were released.

Despite its strengths in whatever areas people think it has strengths, the Mac is definitely not an RPG PC. (I originally said "gaming PC," but I don't know enough about other genres, and I definitely did burn a lot of hours playing Descent on mine.) My master list shows exactly 17 games released solely for the Mac--less than one a year between 1986 and 2000--and a few of them are only identified as RPGs by GameFAQs, which usually is wrong when it conflicts with MobyGames and Wikipedia on a game's classification. The real total might be as low as 13. OrbQuest (1986) should have been the first one, but I can't find a copy. 1987 brought three of them: The Dungeon Revealed, Quarterstaff, and Scarab of Ra. To play them, I've had to learn yet another new emulator--Mini vMac--which will be good enough for the 1987-1989 games. For anything in the 1990s, I'll have to switch to something that supports a more recent version of the operating system, like Basilisk, which made me want to kill myself when I tried to use it for Shadow Keep (1991).
Early TDR levels are open and easy to navigate.
The Dungeon Revealed is a black-and-white graphical "roguelite," clearly inspired by Rogue (1980) but eschewing permadeath. The developer circulated a demo version, later upgraded to a full shareware version, as The Dungeon of Doom a year earlier. I don't know if the commercial version came with a printed manual--I haven't been able to find one--but the setup seems simple enough: the character has entered a multi-level dungeon and can't leave until he finds the Orb of Carnos on Level 40.

Character creation involves only a name and a choice of class from 7 options: knight, fighter, sage, wizard, alchemist, jeweler, and "Jones." Each class has a fixed set of starting attributes (from the D&D list) and a particular item type that they're able to identify without an Identify Scroll. For instance, fighters can always figure out weapons and jewelers automatically identify rings. Some of the attributes are a little mysterious; I'm not entirely sure what wisdom or charisma do. There are some original uses of attributes here: once a character has 16 strength and 18 dexterity, he can dual-wield weapons; 18 strength is needed to push boulders; and having 16 intelligence automatically activates the auto-map.
Character creation.
You begin on Level 1 of a 40-level, randomly-generated dungeon, randomly seeded with treasures and monsters. Movement is with this key group...

K   ;
,  .  /

...which I never fully got used to. Other actions, like using potions and eating food, are tied to specific keys, but since this is a Mac, you can also select the options from the various menus.
Starting on Level 1 and checking out the menu options.
Monsters appear and respawn randomly, each tied to a particular range of dungeon levels. About half are fantasy standards--for instance, giant bats, ettins, centaurs, skeleton warriors, shambling mounds, vampires, and dragons--and the other half are original to the game, with names like sethrons, schwein hunds, pirbolegs, drackones, and electric penguins.
"The Floor" can also come alive and attack you.
A lot of them have special attacks and defenses. Fire lizards roast you with fire and are immune to fire-based attacks; ice whirlwinds are the opposite. Giant scorpions have a chance of reducing your strength by 1 with a poison attack. Vampires are the worst. They don't drain your levels, as in most games, but rather drain a bit from your maximum hit point bar. More on this in a bit.

To contend with the creatures, you have a typical roguelike variety of equipment, including melee weapons, throwing weapons, armor, gauntlets, helmets, potions, scrolls, wands, and rings. As in the typical roguelike, you don't know what each colored potion or type of scroll or wand does at the outset. You have to learn through Identify Scrolls or trial and error that yellow potions are Healing Potions and ruby rings are Regeneration Rings. Fortunately, Identify Scrolls are plentiful and often come with multiple uses. A lot of potions and scrolls permanently boost your attributes; the maximum is 25. Some items are cursed and require a Remove Curse scroll to take off once you equip them.
Using an Identify Scroll on a ring.
There's a food meter that needs periodic refilling, but food is extremely plentiful, and I never found that this was a problem as in Rogue. You have to be careful not to overeat because your stomach bursts and you automatically die. There is no system for eating enemy corpses here; this is Rogue, not NetHack.

You don't see your experience points, but you level up at regular intervals, which improves your maximum hit points. You hit a level cap at 25, well before the end of the game.
A "magic map" scroll shows the level. At Level 27, I'm about halfway between the wide open paces of Level 1 and the tight, twisty corridors of Level 40.
The developers did an original thing with the levels. The early levels are wide and spacious--more like rooms than corridors. As you descend, they get narrower and narrower, so that by the time you're in the 30s, each level is a large maze of thin corridors and dead-ends, making it tough to avoid monsters. Still, the nature of the procedural generation doesn't allow for "islands," so if you just stick to one wall or the other, you always find the stairs. A couple of levels have secret areas full of treasure, and you need a Digging Wand to blast through the walls to get to them, but I found I was generally overloaded with regular treasure anyway.
Opening my way to a secret area, with a bunch of weapons that I really don't need.
The game lets you backtrack to earlier levels, unlike Rogue. Equipment doesn't get better as you descend--it's jut random--so a careful player could just hang out on the early levels, killing easy creatures, until he's identified practically all the equipment and has used enough scrolls and potions to boost his attributes to 20 or above. I didn't have that kind of patience, but I found that I had what I needed by about Level 20.
My inventory about halfway through the game.
I didn't get much use out of throwing weapons, since you have to go through a cumbersome process of unequipping your melee weapons to use them. Wands, particularly Death Wands, are a godsend. I learned to save Speed Potions, Invisibility Potions, and some wands for the very tough combats.
Some of the scrolls are just a waste of time.
Every 5 levels, your descent is blocked by a Gate Keeper who gets harder and harder each time. I spent most of my high-end gear on him. The Gate Keeper on Level 9 drops a Wishing Scroll (I otherwise never found one in the game), which doesn't help much for your first game because without an exhaustive list of items in the game, you don't know what to wish for. Plate armor turns out to be the best armor, along with gauntlets and a helmet. I guess a two-handed sword is probably the best weapon. For rings, a Regeneration Ring almost makes the game too easy, but I didn't have a strong opinion on the second ring (you can only wear two); Resist Fire, Resist Cold, and Sealth all seemed to have their uses.
I finish killing the Gate Keeper on Level 9.
Making your way to Level 40 is about as hard as in Rogue, but without permadeath, so not really hard at all. I had an embarrassing number of reloads, but I was more interested in documenting the game than meeting any kind of challenge.
Battling a dragon on a higher level. Note the maze shown on the auto-map.
There are two Orbs on Level 40, one in the middle of some boulders that you have to push away, and one under a suit of plate armor. One is the real Orb of Carnos and the other is a plastic ball. An Identify Scroll can sort them out.
Finding the Orb of Carnos amidst some boulders.
Once you have the Orb, it's time to backtrack up 40 levels. Fortunately, you don't lose your auto-maps. Unfortunately, monsters seem more plentiful, treasure much less plentiful, and a Dark Wizard dogs you the entire way. Even worse are the vampires. They knock down your max hit points permanently and the only way to regain them is to drink a Life Potion, which is pretty rare. I would highly recommend that all players keep at least one Life Potion until they reach Level 30 on the return (at which vampires stop appearing), then chug it to undo all the damage vampires have done. I didn't have one during my return, and I ended up limping along at half-health for about 35 levels.
Trying desperately to find the exit stairs, I am dogged by multiple enemies including two vampires.
I guess the Dark Wizard is killable, but I wasn't able to do it (I ran out of Death Wands long before the endgame). I just kept fleeing him when he found me. Teleport Scrolls are very useful towards the endgame for this purpose. As you reach earlier levels, the other monsters become much easier, but the nature of the level layouts (more open space) makes it easier for the Dark Wizard to find and kill you. I had to reload a lot during the return.
The Dark Wizard continues to harangue me steps from the end of the game.
At the end, you get a nice victory screen, a number of points based on how much treasure you hauled out, and placement in the Hall of Legends.
Wow, do I look happy.
The title screen, death screen, and ending screen are well-composed graphically, and the icons are serviceable enough during the main game. The lack of color is jarring, but I guess the Mac wasn't capable of color until the Macintosh II, released the same year. Sounds are sparse but effective, with little "oofs," "ouches," and "uh-ohs" punctuating key moments.
The nicely-drawn death screen.
I don't know if the original game shipped with any documentation. The commands themselves are well-documented in-game, and there's a section in the "Help" menu called "Rumors" that offers a series of cryptic hints about characters, enemies, and winning the game, such as that "there are two Orbs" and "a sage knows scrolls."
A different game might force you to uncover these clues from pieces of paper or NPCs.
Overall, it's cute enough. Impressive for an independent game. But it doesn't offer much more than Rogue offered 7 years earlier except an easier time. It earns a 21 in a GIMLET, hampered by no backstory or NPCs (0s) and an economy that only matters for the final score (1). It does best in the area of equipment (4), and graphics, sound, and interface (4), mostly for the interface. I suppose I could see remembering it fondly if I had a Mac in the 1980s, but I don't think it's a great example of a Mac-specific game. I think maybe we'll have to wait until Quarterstaff for that.
The very brief Hall of Legends on my version of the game disk.
Judging by comments on his LinkedIn page, John Raymonds created the game on a lark while attending M.I.T., mostly to teach himself C. His career took him to various manufacturing and technology companies at the managerial and executive level, and he now seems to be involved in producing films (he has an IMDB page). I don't know if "Woodrose Editions" was his own company. I can't find any mention of it that doesn't connect it to The Dungeon Revealed.

Thus ends our first Mac game and my first use of the Mac OS in about 20 years. Fairly soon, we'll have Quarterstaff and Scarab of Ra from 1987 and Shadow Keep from 1991. For now, let's see if I can wrap up Conan.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Conan: The Samaritan

Conan rescues a pirate queen from a demon, in a scene that feels appropriately Howard-esque.
I'm having authentic fun with Conan, and I'm having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why, other than it being a relatively undemanding game at a time when I'm feeling mentally lazy. It's a sharp contrast to Deathlord, which always makes me feel like I must be missing something. Conan has plenty to criticize, and yet I don't really feel like criticizing it.

Using my paper map of Shadizar, I kept exploring the remainder of the city, annotating various buildings and collecting their treasures. I didn't really cover this well in prior postings, but when you enter a house, you have to click on all of the objects on the screen. Treasures might lie behind books, in chests or baskets, or under beds (among others). Some of the locations, I discovered belatedly, might offer multiple treasures, and you have to keep clicking on them.
This message has become my worst enemy.
Random thugs, thieves, and guards continued to attack me as I explored. Since there's no point to combat except to get past the enemy, I found myself fleeing whenever possible and trying to lose the pursuing enemies in the maze of buildings. When my health got low, I chugged white lotus potions or stayed at an inn.

By the end of my explorations, I had nearly 3,000 gold pieces. Once I was reasonably satisfied that I didn't need gold for any plot purposes--just potions, inns, equipment, and training--I spent 1,200 at the master swordsman's house, improving my skills with each style of combat. I was tempted to spend 1,600 on an "enchanted sword" at one of the shops, but I seemed to get relatively swift upgrades in swords anyway, so I think it would have been a bad purchase.
The southwest section of the city is called the "Inner City" and it contains the governor's palace and several homes belonging to high officials. Guards patrol the obvious entrances, but I found a back way from Snake Alley by climbing up to the outer wall, following it down to the Inner City, and climbing down a ladder. Still, I couldn't find anything productive to do here. Guards chased me all around the area, and attacked me in every building that I entered. The governor's place had two locked marble doors, so I clearly need to return when I have the appropriate key.
A common message in this area.
When I had finished exploring the surface, I decided it was time to hit the underground. I returned to the master thief's house and followed his directions down. I had found a Gem of Light in one of the city's houses, and using it provided light for almost my entire exploration of the underground; only at the very end did it go out, and I had to light a torch.
The underground was full of those lion-rats, and like the enemies on the surface, I tried to run away from them when possible. Sometimes, battle couldn't be avoided.
Nice random visual here from the Temple of Set.
I expected the underground to be long and mazelike, but it was actually fairly small. It took virtually no effort to find the secret entrance to the Temple of Set. I guess what I was supposed to do was enter the Temple of Set, kill the priest holding the jade key, return to the underground and open the jade door, find the Snake Sword behind the jade door, return again to the Temple of Set, find the snake guarding the Eye of Set, and kill him with the Snake Sword. However, I ran into the snake first and was able to kill him just fine with my regular sword.
Exhibit A.
I guess maybe the Snake Sword would have made it easier. I did ultimately find it and discovered that it did +35 damage compared to my starting sword, so it was still a good upgrade. At some other point, however, I found a Steel Sword that offered +50 damage.
When I picked up the Eye of Set, the plot took over and related that I returned the Eye to Taurus (the master thief), who gave me 200 gold and promised his assistance against Thoth Amon. My "defense" rating moved from 50 to 55.
That's not much of a "life's savings" for a master thief. I earned a lot more than that in about 3 days.
The game automatically moved me back to the Red Dog Tavern, where I got my second major quest. Vicarus the Sage told me that north of Shadizar, I would find an ancient crypt in which a great king was buried. The king's crown would allow me to walk past undead creatures "as if I were invisible." But to get it, I'd have to defeat the mummified king.
Before I embarked on this adventure, I wanted to clean up a couple of side-quests in Shadizar. The first involved the recovery of a ruby amulet, also said to offer some power against undead. It was supposed to be in the underground, but I hadn't found it on my first visit. Looking at the map, I realized I had annotated more entrances to the underground than exits I had found while exploring there. I realized there were multiple section of the underground that didn't link with each other.

Anyway, I ultimately found the ruby amulet in a chamber guarded by yet another giant snake. This time, I had the Snake Sword, and he died in just a few hits.

Second, the priests of Ishtar had asked me to find an emerald amulet in the Temple of Set. I hadn't found it in the "secret" area, so I tried the normal entrance. This just led to two rooms and one fight with a priest of Set--no treasure. It turned out that I needed to use a Teleport Scroll to get to the top of the temple (from the outside), where there was a doorway leading to an otherwise-inaccessible room and the amulet. The priests of Ishtar gave me a nice gold reward.
I couldn't even see this one from the ground.
I was getting lots of "inventory full" messages at this point. In addition to the items I've already mentioned, I've been toting around several keys, a coil of rope, flint and steel, several torches, a regular staff, a Staff of Power, various gems, various keys, a Gem of Sight (shows an area map) and several types of lotus potions. White lotus heals; purple lotus offers a boost to defense; red lotus offers a boost to attack ability; and black lotus poisons. (I clearly don't want to use the latter on Conan, but I don't know if there's a plot reason to keep it for later.) To make room, I sold all of the items I assumed I was done with (and could be repurchased), including my inferior swords, common keys, and gems.
For the first time since the game's beginning, I returned to the world map.
I expected the king's crypt to be large and sprawling, equal in size and intensity to the game's first scenario, so I was surprised when it turned out to be just two rooms. The door locked behind me as I entered the first room. The second room held the king, sitting on a stone throne, the crown on his head and a sword at his feet. Behind a gargoyle statue, I found a rope and some flint and steel.
Approaching the undead king.
Picking up anything in the room caused the king to awaken and attack, and I soon found that he wouldn't die by my sword. But since I'd found the flint and steel in the crypt, it wasn't hard to figure out the solution. I had to lead him back tot he first room, where the floor was covered in flammable debris, and light it. The fire destroyed him, and I was able to recover his sword (+70 damage), his crown, and the steel key to let myself out. When I did, the game automatically transitioned to the next scenario.
Fire solves everything.
Conan was back in the Red Dog Tavern, where a corsair named Jalek related that his company, led by Queen Belit of the Black Coast, had been traveling up the River Styx to "aid the Kushite forces fighting Thoth Amon." (Belit appears in Robert Howard's Conan stories as a major love interest for the barbarian.) On the way, they investigated a ruined pyramid, where an ape-demon took Belit captive, holding her near a black monolith, "which seems to trap all those who approach, holding them for the beast to slay at will."

Back on the world map, Conan traveled to the jungle ruins surrounding the pyramid. Again, I was hoping for a large map with side-quests and multiple encounters, but it pretty much just held the pyramid, the monolith, and a lot of random guards.
Wandering the jungle ruins.
Belit was tied to the ground by the monolith, guarded by a "priestess" who shed her clothes and turned into a demon. Approaching the monolith led to my being trapped and slain if I had any metal in my possession, including my gold and sword.
Showing images like this just cost me $200 per year.
The pyramid had multiple entrances, including one that led to a door locked by a copper key that I had to leave for later. The top room, accessible by climbing vines along the sides, held an Obsidian Sword.
That sounds like it would be awfully heavy.
I dumped my metal objects here, picked up the sword, and returned to the monolith. With it, I was able to kill the demon, recover a copper key from its body, and free Belit.
I expected to be able to loot the pyramid and retrieve my equipment, but I was immediately taken to a long series of text screens that related how Conan joined Belit in her voyage to aid the Kushites. Conan took command of the corsairs, distinguished himself in battle, and returned to Shadizar two months later with Belit's promise to aid him against Thoth Amon.
It would have been nice to actually play this.
Again, my defensive abilities improved.
There's very little character development in the game, so you're grateful for what you get.
Back at the Red Dog Tavern, where Juma, a Kushite warrior, related how he had been escorting Princess Zasara of Turan to her wedding to Kujala, Great Khan of the Kuigar nomads. They were beset by Thoth Amon's forces and the princess was captured ad taken to the "cursed city of Zamboula."

I was surprised to find that my inventory included all of the items that I'd dropped back in the pyramid, so I didn't have to go back to retrieve them. At several points during the transition between the scenarios, however, the game teased me with the memory of all the treasure that must lie behind the copper door. It seems to be offering a role-playing choice about whether to waste time returning to the pyramid to retrieve the treasure, or to head directly to rescue Princess Zasara. Conan is torn, but I think I'll probably err towards rescuing the princess.
Conan gets his next quest.
Part of me wants to be disappointed in the game for turning so linear, with such small episodes, after the relatively open first chapter. That same part wants to comment on the relative ease of the puzzles. But I like it anyway. So many of the games on my list, including Synergistic's previous offerings with this engine, have felt like work, and this one definitely doesn't.

To get into the proper mood for the next (last?) entry, I'm going to read a couple of Howard's stories and re-watch the Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

Time so far: 13 hours


Good news for those of you who don't like ads. I got an e-mail the other day that my site was in violation of AdSense policies because some of the posts contain nudity. (Ironically, those posts usually involve me complaining about said nudity.) It warned me to remove ads from those specific pages. But Blogger doesn't seem to offer the ability to turn off ads for individual pages--just for the site as a whole--so I threw in the towel and disabled them permanently. The $200 a year I was making from the service isn't really worth going back to all those images and drawing black bars on them.