Monday, February 27, 2023

Shadowcaster (PC-98): Plumbing the Depths of the Monster Manual

You again?
The Opsis is a beholder-like creature. It flies, it has two tentacles, and a wide variety of spells and abilities. The first two abilities are a triple fireball and a single iceball. Why that way? Dunno. With the iceball, I can take out a protective fire, along with another Maorin skeleton and snake thing. The problem is...I have now run entirely out of power. All 175 points. I check how fast the regeneration rate is. By my crappy estimation, about 5 seconds a point. Or 15 minutes.

This thing has a lot of special abilities, most of which are of limited utility. The first two attacks are the most cost efficient, and thus the ones you would want to use the most. Because the key thing about the Opsis is, that levelling up with it doesn't actually improve it beyond increasing health. It doesn't do more damage or improve beyond that, to my knowledge. Only improving Kirt's base power does that. So while the Opsis has attacks that offer the ability to slow down enemies, make them afraid or instantly die, these are tied into resistances which soon enough get too high for these attacks to have any purpose. Well, outside of the attack which can kill enemies, which is too inefficent for my tastes to begin with.

It also has a spell which increases map distance, essentially useless since you only need the map to find out where you've been. For hands, the it has tentacles, which deal basically no damage, and while it flies, it does so slowly.

Its just those three that take up the path before the next area. A mine, full of Caun slaves and wereboars or "slave drivers". Imagine my surprise when I find out that the boars fall quite easily to ice attacks. And thanks to some red, blue and green bombs lying around, in general they're a joke. Unfortunately, so are the Cauns, and its very easy to accidentally hit these guys as they wander around. Which makes the Opsis not the most ideal at all times. Doesn't help that the boars run around like crazy.

Its actually kind of weird, because I remember last time not having so much trouble with these guys, even though I was probably using Kirt all the time, and he can kill just about one. Whereas the Opsis can consistently get a couple. Either way the length of time it takes to get through here has skyrocketed hard. I'm starting to mind it a lot more than I did before. I even fight with some dude who seems to just eat up damage. It drops an amulet of protection. Was that the boss? Huh.

There's a single tree in one corner of the area, next to a lever I can activate. This creates some restorative fruit, along with another message telling me to continue downwards and to be tenacious. This actually leads to the next floor, but I hold off for now to explore the rest of this one.

Ah, mushrooms. I remember these. They more or less just stand in place and shoot poison at you. In comparison to the wereboars, they're a joke. Kirt can usually take out two before needing to rest. There are just a few of them here, before I end up with an absolute wealth of items. Huh.
They're very hard to see even if they're this close, which is why you want to be on the alert for them at all times
It turns out that was very much needed, because the next floor starts off with an absolute ton of spiders. Betting I didn't like it the last time around either. So these guys hug either the ceiling (cool) or the floor. Because of their size, its easy to not hit them, and guess what's on the floor? Another shuriken. So you might accidentally pick up that with that while trying to kill a very tiny creature, possibly in the dark. Despite this, the situation feels oddly easy. The game is becoming generous to a fault with items so I can basically breeze past most of this. Its not like I'm going to be using any of this in the very late stages of the game.
Complete with creepy webbed up Caun
The bigger spiders aren't that special, they're slow, but otherwise they behave much like the slave drivers did, Kirt has enough health to take out one, and with a full power bar the Opsis can take out 2/3. Otherwise there are a lot of mysterious crystals on the ground which can't be used. This level is mostly fairly simple for a long while. The mushrooms return, and I try to stay in Kirt's form as much as possible so he can build up his power.
Gotta love a mine with a skull on it
The game gets a bit weird when these guys show up. These are mines, they're stationary and shoot fireballs at you, but what's curious is what's going on in this section around them. Fireballs keep shooting out from a set distance, causing the game to constantly switch from the generic level music to the combat music, then sometimes the victory music. Its strange.

This leads to an acid pit with a switch in the middle. Which I guess opened a door. There's another spider and then the next obelisk tip. Picking it up opens another door and...the obelisk. That's this section? Really? Right, the message. Now Kirt has the use of the aquatic Kappa, which can do things underwater. What I got was considerably more...simpler than I would have expected. Next time, the underwater areas...

Why the short length for this one? Well, outside of keeping a pretty tight ship this week on not counting time spent waiting, I don't count time I spend with it in the background, this was a pretty short section. Two levels, one of which was pretty tiny. I also hope I don't need those crystals later...

This Session: 0 hours 40 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Commander Keen: Episode 3 (1990)

Name:Commander Keen in "Invasion of the Vorticons" Episode 3: Keen Must Die!
Developer:Id Software
Time:1 hour 30 minutes
Won:Yes (62W/57L)

I've been dreading this episode. I've already played most full versions of shareware games I enjoyed back in the day. Those from Apogee and Epic MegaGames to more obscure ones like Traffic Department 2192. I probably couldn't tell you very specific things about them, but from this point in time I could tell you what I remember liking about them. Except this one. I don't remember this one. I played it, and it went in one ear and out the other. But I do remember an internet friend who was going through these games saying the level design in this was spectacularly bad.

Last time we left off, Keen saved the Earth from the Vorticon ship's death rays. After once again returning home, he sets out to the Vorticon's homeworld, to ensure it doesn't happen again. Its funny, basically the only real threat to humanity in this game's story is Keen's bedtime. As Keen arrives, the Vorticon's Grand Intellect issues an order, Keen must die. I'll get to the overworld later.

I wonder why no parent groups ever went after Id for this...

Now if you saw the previews in Episode 1, you know by now that Keen goes through some Vorticon homes in this episode. That means a lot of them. Time to take out some Vorticon grannies. Not a joke, and they're the toughest enemy early on. They aren't fast and don't jump around, but they shoot. Sometimes, and they take four shots to kill. That means this first level has a tight grip on ammo. Also, in addition to the regular Vorticons and the Vorticon children, you have these small things that run away that you can jump on. Rounding out the enemy roster are these green dudes, whose attack can go through walls I think. They're easy.

Its kind of weird, the game Id made with the biggest grasp on realism is a game taking place on an alien world. Nice little houses, underground bunkers full of rooms. It kind of feels wrong in a regular platformer. I also encounter ninja Vorticons. However, because the game gives me a shield I don't discover how hard it is to fight them until later. Yeah, there's a shield now. They're not that hard unless they get the drop on you, since they don't jump around that much and have no range attack. Honestly, these early levels feel deceptively easy for the impression I've been given of the game. After the first few levels I just don't have problems with ammo anymore.
I guess if I need this later I can always come back here.

Apparently the big advertised feature of the game was that you could learn the Galactic Standard Alphabet and decipher messages you found in the first two episodes. As such there are things like this around. I think a lot of games later on referenced this, but its not something I find interesting enough to care about. I do find it amusing that Kill Keen is important enough to be written in a classroom. This is definitely no Saturday morning cartoon.

The first real troublesome level is this one. A deceptive level. Starts off innocently enough, a single Vorticon and some children bouncing around. Then you get presented with two paths. Despite appearances these don't lead to the end. The lower path is just full of Vorticon grannies who will have long killed their children by the time you reach them. Your reward for killing a half dozen enemies? A paltry amount of ammo! I should explain, compared to the last episode where you got more ammo by picking up weapons, here you can also get single shots of ammo from these weird purple power-ups. You can also shoot enemy shots.

The real path is just through a mazey apartment building. Some sections seem like a real challenge to get through, while others depend slightly on luck of the draw. A glitch, one I suspect added in by Commander Genius, causes the grannies to sometimes get stuck in an attacking state, meaning that if you touch them, you're killed, and you can't hurt them. Which is a problem since their presence blocks further passage in such cases.

Then we have this one, an endurance level through and through. Its only saving grace is that you won't run out of ammo and its optional. I suspect most people never finished this level. You are presented here with three holes in the ground, each one further down than the last. This isn't a one-way trip, you can get out of the first one, and the other two have one-way doors that lead there. You need to go to that first hole anyway, because there's a key down there. The problem is this requires more precision than the game is capable of doing. You are expected to be able to jump over death tiles where the place you jump from and the place you land on are one tile wide. It feels dangerous even if I rarely fell.

But that's just the first part of the problem. Next, you have to climb up an area full of turrets. Its only really annoying at the beginning, where platforms keep getting in your way. Platforms don't kill you if you're under them, but jumping up to them doesn't work and instead you have to hope that when they crush you, you're placed on top of them. Then there are some Vorticon children above some water. As I haven't mentioned it since they appeared last time, they knock you out, a process which causes Keen to jump up. There are moving platforms here.

The final section, by contrast, is relatively easy, just some regular Vorticons, red balls and a new enemy. The red balls I haven't mentioned before because they just bounce around, and slightly move you whenever they touch you. You can't shoot them, and they haven't really been notable. The new enemy, on the other hand, functions like the Vorticon children, except it kills you. At this point its just an endurance level.

I hate this level. I hate it. Here's how it works, you have to go across several sections, each of which the game can, entirely at random, just decide you lost. And that's just a cherry on top of an already difficult sundae. Increasing the game size might have made some previous levels impossible, but here its impossible otherwise. Even if you were to finish it, you'd basically just be save scumming your way through it. The day I tried to finish it my patience was completely gone, and since it was an optional level, I just left it.
I hate this level. Its awful. This is just the starting area. The blue things kill you if you touch them, while the gun and the lamps all shoot laser blasts. One might make the usual comparison to I Wanna Be the Guy, or some other infamously hard game, but those are all designed around those games being hard. Keen is a random platformer which suddenly has insanely difficult levels which seem to revolve around split second timing in an engine that is quite clearly not designed for what the developers are trying to do.

At first I prepare myself for another slog, even if I know I'll give it up later. But no. Its a straight shot. Instead most of the area is blocked off by two doors. Huh. Well, there's no consequence to me for not exploring. There are a lot of these green guys on this level, which are called Meeps. They shoot through walls, but are otherwise harmless. I say that and they're so dense down in the lower sections that I couldn't get past them to the second exit.

Meanwhile, somehow a level absolutely filled with ninjas is not the hardest level. Far from it, I breeze through it. It works weirdly, because sections that would normally force you to restart, since the ninjas are trapped in some area or another, are passable because this level is also generous with ankhs. What the heck is this difficulty curve? Even discounting the wild difference in levels, this game is weird.
The map to this game is bizarre. You have a dozen teleports, which link up in confusing and strange ways. And outside of that, its possible to just miss large swaths of the game. Being generous, five levels are necessary to win the game, possibly as little as four. However, the game has one thing I do like, the secret level requires you to pay attention. There's this dinosaur swimming across all the oceans, and you have to climb on it to get to the secret level. Its tricky to get the location and timing right, and you need to press the jump key to ride it. Savescumming is practically encouraged, because missing it means you have to wait a while.

The secret level is basically just a points and ammo grab in a nice little, mostly safe, cave. Unfortunately, since this is the second to last level, by the time you've gotten here points and ammo are basically pointless. Its a nice thought though.
There is some awkwardness in how this game is depicted at higher resolutions
The final boss, or the Grand Intellect the game has been hyping up, is Keen's rival and bully, Mortimer, who has an IQ of 315 compared to Keen's 314. Or at least this is an android duplicate. Its a simple boss fight, shoot each of the glowing spark things and the robot dies. At least in theory. Obviously, touching any of the moving parts hurt you, and those green things shoot at you, plus the top two platforms have laser guns trained on them. But that's not that bad. No, what's bad is that this level seems to easily glitch, making it unwinnable.
There's so much wrong with this picture
Eventually I win, Keen saves the day, freeing the Vorticons from mental enslavement by Mortimer. The Vorticons that Keen didn't kill thank him for saving them, and Keen gets an award and the game ends.

Same as Keen 1. 1/10

More or less the same concepts as last time, with a few slight variations around. 4/10


This just feels poorly balanced. So much of the stuff here that's difficult to beat is made entirely optional, while by the end of it I had enough ammo for anything. I wasn't even trying to exploit anything, the game just feels poorly thought out. 2/10

Player Agency:
Same as Keen 1. 6/10

Back to just doors that disappear when you have the key. 0/10

The setting is nice, and while the action has issues, feels nice. 3/10

I think the levels look somewhat better. Not great or anything, but they're better looking than the previous two Keens. 3/10

Its intriguing to see a bunch of dialog screens pop up when you enter a level. Well, the first time. Mostly just what you'd expect. 2/10

Same as Keen 1. 1/10

That's 22...somehow.

A disappointing end to the trilogy. Some of these levels I genuinely hated. That said, I guess in comparison to the second episode, there are parts I enjoyed. Keen 2 just felt boring in a lot of places, while Keen 3 has parts I really hate and parts I like. In a way, this game is clever, because you don't ever have to interact with the bad parts of the game. Outside of people who genuinely like the bizarre difficulty of it.

There will be some delay before Keen 4, as that's where Id's first FPSes come in.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Kagirinaki Tatakai (1983)

There's a neat little sequence showing each attack and then the button to use that attack.
Name:Kagirinaki Tatakai (限りなき戦い or Limitless Warrior)
Developer:Hiroshi Ishikawa
Genre:Side-scroller Shooter
Time:1 hour
Won:No (61W/57L)

Enix is a weird company. For most people, their pre-merger with Square output is solely defined by Dragon Quest, maybe ActRaiser and...Star Ocean!? They're responsible for that confusing mess of a series? Yikes. Otherwise, like me, you're vaguely aware they released some computer games and published one of the most important Japanese games, Portopia Serial Murder Case. But what's the real story?

Enix was originally a newspaper company, when its owner decided to venture into the world of video games. Rather than the usual practice of having an in-house staff, Enix would hold programming contests in which they would publish the best titles and pay out royalties. This worked wonders, and at least for a little while, caused Enix to dominate the Japanese computer scene. Limitless Warrior was not one of those successes, only selling 3000 copies allegedly. But judging by reviews in English, this doesn't mean that its a bad game.

Whatever story the game has is unknown to me, but its probably not important. The player is the warrior of the title...presumably. You move around with the numpad, 789 activate a jetpack. 123 increase the speed at which you go down. To attack, you get a rapid fire laser by pressing space, grenades which fly nicely in a downward arc, and rockets shoot straight and move you back a tile. You have limited ammo for the latter two, but they're restored to 20 and 10 respectively whenever you die. You start with three lives, and get one at 10k, and probably another at 20k. I never reached the second threshold.

A little ways down, the opening section is just a giant hole.

Once you begin the game, you're unceremoniously dumped into a giant hole. A triumphant theme tune plays which is probably a legally distinct version of some famous movie theme. Once it stops, which is a surprisingly long amount of time, you start falling. This game has fall damage, or rather death, which is why that jetpack is important. Whether or not you die from falling is determined by how fast you're going. And its pretty quickly clear that while the game's controls work on a superficial level, you can only have one button's action working at once. Shooting stops any movement you have, outside of momentum. Pressing one movement button cancels out another.

Enemy design here is pretty broad. You start off against turrets manned by aliens. Destroy the turret and the alien does nothing. Perhaps the reverse is true, but that's one heck of a situation to set up. They aren't repeated for a long time. Just a little ways down are more stationary objects, round things you have to walk into (or use explosives) to destroy. Walking into them causes an explosion, which destroys the two tiles below them. Thus revealing the gimmick of the game to anyone randomly starting it. Explosives destroy scenery.

As such, the game is basically a balance of using explosives when required, using it to avoid fights you can't win, and managing lives so you don't run out of explosives in an awkward position. For a game from this year, that's fairly impressive. Touching enemies is also not instant death, depending on your foe. With touching ranged enemies doing nothing, while you can stand safely on all enemies. Most only kill you via shooting you, though one group of flying enemies has the ability to kill you if they touch sideways.

The enemy at the top shoots, the middle one just flies around, and the bottom one just walks back and forth shooting mindlessly.
The game does a good job of mixing up the design of each "section" of the game. You can see the two different forms in most of these screenshots, falling and hallway crawls. Even though I found the falling sections annoying, for many reasons, they did a good job of mixing them up. Assuming you don't get stuck, each section lasts for a relatively short period of time. There are also numbered coins, which mostly exist for you to shoot in order to get points. Note, shoot, not blow up.
Missiles and stationary objects tend to kill you when they touch you.
Now, obviously this game has some faults. Quite a few of them. Firstly, the music is nice the first few times around and rapidly becomes annoying. The little intro tune grinds the game to a halt, because it happens every time you die. Even discounting hearing that dozens of times, because of the way its set up, its easy to be in a situation where you're likely to die when it finally unpauses. Sound is also annoying. When some enemies are on-screen, they cause a constant noise, like morse code.
In order to get past here, I had to wait for those things to rise up to where I was standing. Very fun.
Despite the nice variety of enemies, there's one glaring problem. They act completely randomly. Sometimes you can get the drop on them, other times they just sit down and let you kill them. Worse yet, while its neat that you're travelling down one large level, falling puts you in a position of constantly being at risk of the game just deciding you're dead. It is truly comical how the game can easily screw you over.

On a simple level the controls don't really work. That much is already clear, but it works on a more insidious level than that. You can walk over holes if you do it right. However, this distance isn't consistent, and often I found myself falling in. Flying out is a tricky thing to just right, because too much height and you're a prime target to get shot by the thing you're trying to destroy. Precision is impossible. Considering the way to destroy stationary targets without explosives is to walk into then, which creates holes, this can rest in considerable annoyance.

I got as far as about 400m, out of a total 600m. This game can be won, but as I keep saying, this is annoying due to the randomized nature of the game. The real roadblock is one type of enemy that shoots homing missiles. Because of the way the controls work, I find this too troublesome to deal with.

Each weapon has its own use and purpose. I like that. 3/10

Just enough variety to make things interesting, even if they are designed to screw you over. 2/10


I like the design and concept well enough, but the randomization puts me off. 2/10

Player Agency:
Functional only in where the keys have been placed. Otherwise its a fight to do what you want. 3/10

About the only thing that is well executed. Destructible walls are always nice too see, and in this case it can save you from an otherwise unavoidable encounter. 4/10

I'm sure that early '80s Japanese computers have an appeal to someone. Just not me. 0/10

Garish, bad, but everything is distinct. 1/10


Pure noise. 0/10

That's 15.

Its a neat little thing to see, but outside of its central gimmick, nothing worth talking about. I'm surprised this wasn't that big a hit back then, because for the year this seems mind-blowing despite its issues. All you'd really need to do to fix this is remove the music, get rid of the starting delay, and fix the controls. Undoubtedly, some indie game exists which does solve that. Perhaps not one with consistent level design, but some roguelite or Minecraft-esque title. Come to think of it, that's not too dissimilar to Starbound. Which would bring up a whole new set of worms.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Shadowcaster (PC-98): Castle Master

Upon entering the temple, I find myself surrounded by these imp things, along with a few bats. The bats aren't that annoying, but interestingly, I get pretty well ganged up on by the imps. That's a surprise. This is some temple or another, you'd have to look up the official guide to figure out who's. Probably Veste or Melkor. Its very blue, but I wouldn't necessarily describe it as bad-looking. Hard to see at times. I think their static sprites and textures have aged pretty well, but the animation depends. Enemies don't seem to bad from what I can see, but that intro cutscene was kind of awkwardly animated.

Honestly, these imps are so slow that outside of situations where they're forced up against you they haven't a chance. Just stand a little outside their reach and use the shuriken against them. It feels like the developers knew how pathetic these guys are, which is why they're standing right behind every door for a while. But because of this section's layout, you might sometimes end up sneaking up on them.

Eventually, this comes to a medallion moving over an acid river. Its this trick. While the common train of thought is that this game is a FPS/RPG hybrid, with less credence given to whichever genre the writer usually prefers, I notice that in many ways, this game's design anticipates action-adventure games of the PS2 generation. Just minus the platforming that was common in those generations. At least I think. Its after this that the game remembers it should be trying to kill me. Meet the Maorin skeleton or Zardaz Guardian. Its the boss. Its tough, hits like a truck and throws fireballs. Somehow I managed to kill it without using any of my items. I wrongly assumed the boss was later. Huh. Guess that's a difference between versions...?
Kirt, the gods have given you the form of the great doctor Caun. On the other side of the north door is a temple. The way leads to a castle.
He's guarding the second obelisk allowing me access to the form of the Caun. The Caun is the seemingly most utilitarian form, yet in practice one of the most useless. Its not a very good fighter, but they have a special healing spell. This is the most useful feature of them. They can cast a light spell, which does work across forms, but doesn't last very long. Then we have a grab move which is useful maybe once or twice. Then defensive and offensive moves, a shield that reduces damage taken by 2 points, a move that reduces enemy visibility, and an attack that shoots out 6 or so bugs at 1-2 damage a pop. These abilities are useless, of course, because fighting with the Caun is suicide, they have 20 base health and 10 points per level increase. None of the combat spells increase in usefulness, ever.
This leads me to what I've always assumed is a castle. This serves as a sort of hub for the rest of the game, you come back here every few levels, and while the area isn't restored of its enemies, you do fight some new ones every time. First up, these serpent things, something I suspect was an inspiration for some Heretic creature, is tougher than the previous monsters but doesn't seem overpowered. I took out two (with the shuriken) so that the Caun's light spell could last for 80 seconds instead of 40. The cluebook says it only lasts as long as the Caun shape is selected, but it does last outside of it. Not 80 seconds though. Duration stacks between spell uses, but having decent length in general helps.
Next, magic drainers. Not on this level, health drainers. They're robes who shoot an attack that drains power or health depending on which one they are. I think in the latter case it restores their own health, making those things some of the more annoying enemies around. These guys are annoying but not that annoying. Power just means you have to wait around more.

The gist of this level the first time through is you have to destroy four coins to open up a path, guarded by another Zardaz Guardian. This time I make short work of him thanks to the wands I've been saving. I haven't done a good job of explaining how these work. Each wand has its own damage type and how much damage it deals, along with an ammo count. Each wand's damage and ammo is unique, so its not the wisest idea to save a wand from the beginning to use at the end game. Once activated, just use it until what you hate is dead or its out of ammo. There is no recharging.
This leads to an area with four obelisks and I think five teleports out. Each teleport out leads to a new area. First stop...castle.

...and werewolves. As far as melee enemies go, these guys are good/annoying. Fast, hit hard and generally ruin your day if you aren't prepared. Like, say, when you teleport somewhere and get one right on top of you. While the animation isn't amazing, they do a pretty good job creating their enemies, they guys look pretty nice. There are quite a few here, in this area, some sort of prison. There are a bunch of locked doors in which one contains a person. None of the others do for some strange reason.

I am your grandfather's friend. I have a message for you. In the tower the lord of the castle hanged himself, cursing the place, take the obelisk there.

Half very confident on the meaning of this, half not great. The first sentence I know, and the last very roughly.

To open these, you have pull another chain, hopefully by this time you have that all figured out, then return. There seems to be nothing in any of the other cells except this dude. After that the door out leads to a barrel blocking your path. I kind of like this, because typically in games of this time, such an obstacle is insurmountable and the path forward lies elsewhere. Because Shadowcaster doesn't do secret doors, that's not the answer. Instead, you turn into the Caun and jump over it. Better be careful or you'll get ambushed by a werewolf. Curiously, despite this area looking like a warehouse and having crates, there's nothing here. Is this supposed to be a subtle joke?

Next up are...these. I wasn't expecting them nor was I expecting them to be so difficult to kill. These guys take a proper amount of damage to kill, it took me multiple walks back and forth to take them out. Doesn't help there's a werewolf here too. There's not a lot here, despite all the skeletons in those hanging cages. The one thing here is hidden via a clever single chain, over a pool of damaging liquid. This is the one point in the game that the Caun's grab move is useful...for a suit of armor for the Caun. For the one time you accidentally get caught in that form.

Cutting through all these guys is a long process. Slowly advance, take out one or two, retreat, hoping you don't get followed, then use magic if you can, wait if you can't, and repeat. At the end, I get a silver sword, which, naturally, does more damage against werewolves. I also find stairs down and stairs up. Huh, I forgot about that, guess I don't quite remember everything. Well, down first.

This I do remember, but until I see these guys I wasn't quite sure what. These are, of course, the health draining versions of those blue cloak enemies from earlier. Fighting them is quite cleverly set up, you approach in complete darkness, at least if you haven't cast light, before seeing an alternating series of niches, designed to protect you from these guys, two of them. They're guarding a chest containing a book. Sigh...
Diary, several weeks have passed. Werewolves have come, Opsis (?) escaped from the castle. I shut myself in the wine cellar, as long as my sanity can be protected, I'm not confident. Ah, I hear distant howling. The diary crumbles to dust.
You must forgive me, but I've actually been translating these after the fact rather than in the middle of the game. And this particular screenshot only shows the middle lines of text, not the first and last. Not confident of the first line, but I'm mostly sure on the second two. Except "opushisu". So Japanese fact for those of you who don't know the language. Japanese is a bit like English in that just because you know what all the syllables mean doesn't mean you can say a random word. There's another system that screws with this, but practical here is the process of dropping some letters, usually vowels in spoken words/names. For example, semi-famous musician Stomu Yamash'ta for shi, and basically any borrowed English word that ends in a "s" is going to use the su character, they just drop the u. Its a bit more complex than that, but I've made a long enough tangent.

All this explanation for some neat mood building.

The upstairs path leads to a twisty castle interior. In theory, I suspect the Caun's stealth was to help you get past here without much incident. But one of the big problems with that creatures abilities is that it works against a game where killing every creature counts. I'm running out of places to carry regular items. Its very rare for me to be in a situation where I need to use a health potion and obviously attack items are for bosses. No way in heck am I using any of those on regular enemies.

Then there's this crap. More of these flying dudes, but you know something? Doors are like every other object in the game, something that can be flown over, which is what these guys are supposed to be able to do. In practice they're more annoying since I have to hit them dozens of times with the shuriken. Heretic wasn't the beginning of Raven's problem with having too many hit points. It also exposes how annoying it can be to hit something above you when you can't look up and down. The closest this game gets is later when you can fly.

Despite this issue, this section encapsulates why Shadowcaster works despites its flaws. Its easy to criticize the game for not having great controls or for having a short view distance, but here, in this hall, in an area full of monsters that are as fast as you. Its pretty tense even a few playthroughs in. To say nothing of wondering when a boss is going to appear.

Great hall number two, and now crap's getting real. Yeah, flying enemy plus annoying enemy. What's worse is that with this guy I'm actually dealing just under his damage threshold, nice. What prevents this fight from feeling damage spongey is that it requires acting as quickly as possible to survive/kill this thing. This turns into one of the most intense fights this game has, with multiple trips back and forth restoring health, throwing the shuriken from safety...and finally winning. Right, let's take out that flying enemy...and there's more of all of them. Ah...

Right, well, there's a different path, one I'm sure is full of the easier werewolves. And its one werewolf before I have to fight red and blue cloaks again. Honestly, this seems to be the only area giving me trouble by not taking advantage of the Maorin's higher health and damage. Still, these aren't as difficult as the batch that gave me trouble. Its all smooth sailing for the rest of the floor. All I'm left with is one path down and a portal. Ah...crap, the portal.

There's a portal in that first big area, where I dealt with the flying dudes. This leads to a library full of the cloak enemies. Seven red cloaks, one blue cloak. I use the dragon horn on some, exploit the terrain on others, and I've killed them all after a few short trips. For what? Another book. Funny thing is, they created this nice and fancy set for one room. I don't think any of these tiles appear again.
Did not read until later. Not that its very important since all it says is that there are magic power restoring pools around in the castle. Which I reached beforehand, and besides you're probably going to want to walk over any strange blue tile anyway.
Enemies get stuck on the scenery a lot, I believe this behavior is intended so the player isn't constantly in danger when fighting superior numbers
Finally, the stairs down. To another blue temple. With the usual werewolf surprise. I know I usually criticize games for this, but for Shadowcaster, the game started of doing this and by this point its less a surprise and more expected. It can stil be surprising, you never know what's behind a door, or if there are six (or so) werewolves. Considering how modern internet communities can be sometimes, it might not be a bad thing for Shadowcaster to be a hidden gem.. Fighting directly is too time consuming in terms of health, so I just mix picking them off with shurikens to fighting melee whenever they stop blocking each other from entering the hallway.
The werewolf lord isn't in this room, he's in the next room, with another number of werewolves. He's like the Zardaz Guardian, except he shoots lightning balls. He's not so tough, I still had the frost wand and while that didn't kill him, the strength potion along with the silver sword took out him and his remaining buddies. Off his corpse and loot in various nearby rooms, I get a staff of power (damage item), an obelisk tip, a Caun sword, a crystal of light, and a chalice of mana/power.
The obelisk tip allows me to use a nearby obelisk, granting me another form. Not translating the thing accurately, but basically: "Your duty is going well. Opsis is the next form, it has many abilities and magic. The cave is next." I'm just assuming something I don't quite understand clarifies that the next area is a mine. And I guess Opsis is correct.

This Session: 2 hours 50 minutes

Total Time: 4 hour 10 minutes

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Dandy (1983)

Publisher:Atari Program Exchange
Developer:John Palevich
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 20 minutes
Won:Yes (61W/56L)

Over the course of this blog I've discovered many games that beat beloved classics to the punch. Games like Midi Maze and Space Vikings predate often-cited firsts in their respective genres, even if today they're quite primitive. Its just one of those funny things you end up finding when you try to explore a genre as much as you can. But, for the most part, its just me saying this, titles remain woefully obscure, in part undoubtedly because my own writings on early titles tend to be simple. Not today's game, no, today's game is something people already know was important, even if its not something they really think about. Because Dandy is Gauntlet before Gauntlet.

The concept, if you don't know, is that the player has to navigate their way through 26 mazes, killing monsters while gathering food and treasure. You move with the joystick. You can fire arrows at hostiles, this is done by holding down the joystick button and moving the stick in some direction. You can only have one shot on-screen, but it moves quickly and you can shoot diagonally. In the right situation it works wonders.

In addition to that, you also pick up food items, represented by red crosses. They're less food and more a healing item. You can carry up to 9 and use them by pressing the 1 key. They fully restore health. The game also has smart bombs, which blow up everything on-screen, activated by pressing shift + 1. In multiplayer, apparently up to 4 players. No split-screen, they all share the same screen. Which sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Opposing you in this task are various enemies, which mostly run at you and drain your health, killing themselves. These come in three varieties, one that looks like a man, a square block and a smiley face. When you shoot a smiley, it turns into a block, which then turns into a man, which then disappears. Rounding out the somewhat lackluster selection are a stationary heart which doesn't hurt you, but when shot turns into a smiley face, and a monster spawner. None of these things have AI beyond just running at you.

These harm health based on how many shots they have left before dying. The smallest causes 10, and so forth. You can't ever be higher than 90%. The heart actually has a purpose in two player mode, in which a player who dies can be brought back by shooting the heart. Difficulty determines how fast enemies move, from laughably slow on trivial, mostly manageable on easy, to hard and deadly, both fitting the speed you deal with.

Starting off, levels are okay. There's not really a lot the game can do with its monsters. They're either placed in a way that so long as you don't go running around like an idiot, you should be able to kill them before you, or on the other side of a divider. Even when you're in a hallways with monsters on either sides of the walls its considerably less dangerous than it seems. The screen moves pretty well though and this is one of the first games of its type to have real levels.
Level E is where the game starts trying to be clever. A series of corridors three tiles wide divided by hearts. Each room contains three enemies of varying types. An interesting idea, nevertheless, not very fun. I'm sure it was fun at the time, but now it just feels like busywork. Shoot in a certain direction for a while, then go to the next room, until you hit a dead end or the end of the level. I tried it again on hard and it honestly wasn't any better.
But its level F where the game starts to succeed. The trick with the heart is that you were only ever in danger if you put yourself in danger, but now, in addition to ramping up the number of enemies and enemy generators, you have money or a door blocking enemies from reaching you. When you move into something slowly, you have to put in a deceptive amount of movement to do so, holding the stick or key down for slightly longer than you would expect. Better be quick backing out. Level G follows it up with having a monster generator on either side of the entrance. Wow, and I doubted this game could do much in the ways of interesting things.

But as I clear more and more levels I can't shake off the feeling of this game feeling like busywork. I'm just shooting an endless amount of enemies with an endless supply of ammo, and while the sound's nice, what I'm doing feels lifeless. The game even throws a level where you have to aim at everything diagonally, and exploit how AI works in such a setting. It was okay.

Level J stitches me back to a more interested opinion of the game. Its deceptively clever. There are a few areas here where if you approach one way, its easy to end up in an unwinnable situation. But if you break away from the whole area and approach from a different path, the whole thing gets much more manageable. Each few levels it focuses on a new trick, before discarding it for the next one. This would make the game pretty good if it weren't for how lackluster the game feels. This rollercoaster continues for a good amount of time.

But outside of level V, most levels around the back 10 or so just feel like the author gave up. Even Level V's idea consists of trying to reach a monster generator slightly offset from where you can attack it, except that you had to enter a diagonal hallway to reach it. Things are placed in a very haphazard, what else can I do, kind of way. The final level even caps things off with a giant treasure room that loops back in on itself. So much for score being important.

Simple but effective. You have a generic gun for most situations along with a smart bomb with takes out everything on-screen. 1/10

As annoying as it could be sometimes, enemy generators did make this game play a lot better. As in the end it doesn't matter how many enemies you have and how many hits they take, they're still really dumb. 2/10


As sort of could be expected for an early game with actual level design, there's nothing special going on now. There are attempts to be clever, but its not very memorable. 4/10

Player Agency:
Diagonal attacks and movement are a little hard to reliably pull off. It takes a bit too much effort to move your character in one direction. Regardless, these are minor issues, the controls are fine for a game as simple as this one. 5/10

The way static items work in the game are kind of clever. Most of them enemies from moving into them, and you're the only one who can do anything. Smart bombs out in the work can even be activated by shooting them. 2/10


I can tell what it is I'm looking at, but none of it looks nice. 1/10


The sound is interesting. Each enemy is created and killed with a unique sound, so in the heat of combat there can be a strangely musical effect to what you're hearing. 2/10

That's 17.

Dandy is ultimately a game of its time, very impressive when it came out, but today it has nothing going for it. There are flashes of brilliance in-between amateurism. Alas, it seems the game didn't make much of an impact at the time, outside of Gauntlet's developers. This was the only game of note from developer John Palevich, though he did other work at Atari, while the Atari sub-label that published this ceased publishing the same year this came out.