Currently Playing : The Citadel of Chaos (1983)
Upcoming : Telengard (1983)
Recently Finished : Gateway to Apshai*, Dunzhin

Friday, April 8, 2016

Game 1 : Dunzhin (1983)

Title :  Dunzhin (Warrior of Ras Vol. I)
Release Year : 1983
Publisher : Screenplay

  The Commodore 64 had it's first wave of RPGs released in 1983. This was a time when the genre was in it's infancy, with designers and gamers alike amazed simply with being able to have archaic graphics, simple audio, and crude gameplay mechanics blended together for the most basic of CRPG experiences.

  According to MobyGames, a total of 14 RPGs were released for the Commodore 64 in 1983. Dunzhin may have not been the first that year, but I decided to start with it simply for my complete lack of knowledge about the game.

  Apparently, many early C64 RPGs were "rogue-likes", which are basically RPGs that feature permanent death of your character, randomized game environments, tile-based movement, and typically turn-based combat.

  I have never been a big fan of this sub-genre, but I also don't hate it either. I prefer a more static gameworld, and often times rogue-likes seem far too punishing to my tastes, but I realized rather quickly I better get used to them fast. Over half of the RPGs I will be playing from 1983 are rogue-likes, so things could get interesting.

The Pleasure Sapphire of Jolay? Um...ok...

  Starting off in Dunzhin generates a new character, as well as a completely randomized gameworld. At the start of the game you are given a goal of a treasure to find, in the lowest level of the dungeon, which serves as the main quest of the game. Dunzhin allows you to start a new game with a character that cannot be named or modified. There are no races, classes or skills and the player has no control over how the character develops.

  It only took me around 15 minutes of playing to realize Dunzhin is not as punishing or volatile as some of the rogue-likes I had played previously. For starters, you can save the game anywhere. This feature makes the game much more forgiving--but similar to other rogue-likes, dying means having to restart with a brand new character. The save anywhere feature promotes some save scumming (reloading from a saved game again and again to get the best results) but in the end makes for a more manageable experience.

  The randomly generated dungeon consists of 5 total levels, and on my initial session I died several times on the first level while trying to get the hang of the game. The dungeon consists of two types of areas--corridors and rooms, with each area being revealed as you explore. Typically, you can only see a few squares beyond your character's current position, and some of the levels can be fairly large in size.

   This brings me to an odd feature of the game, character control. Dunzhin features one of the most awkward movement systems I have seen in a CRPG, and requires a bit of patience. You move by using the arrow keys, advancing your avatar 1 square at a time, but random encounters are so persistent with this method it becomes very frustrating, very quickly.

Taking a chance.

  A safer alternative, and a far less maddening one, is to enter how many steps you want to move in any given direction. Doing so allows you to avoid encounters along the way, although you still have a chance to run into something at the end destination.

  A sample would be to type : "MOVE SOUTH 3". As long as there are no barriers in the way, this action will be executed. Move too far though, into an oncoming wall, and your armor or character will take damage. This process becomes tedious after a while, and makes for a cumbersome experience.

A thief caught in the act.

  Speaking of typing in commands---every action in Dunzhin requires the player to type in a command, and depending on if the parser understands the input, the action is executed. There are some "hotkeys", like pressing F1 to see character stats, and some commands can be abbreviated, like typing N for North, but overall the system is archaic and tedious.

  This brings me to combat, which is the most interesting part of the game--and also the most frustrating. Let me summarize my first encounter with 2 skeletons:
  • I run into two skeletons. The game informs me that no fight is desired, do I wish to fight anyways? I say yes.
  • I am given a command prompt. I type kill skeleton. Nothing. Attack skeleton. Nope. Hmm.
  • Consult a manual online. I find I need to type hit <area I want to aim for>. Ok, let's try hit chest.
  • You missed.
  • The skeleton is going for the head.
  • The skeleton misses.
  • I type hit chest.
  • You missed..
  • The skeleton is going for the left-arm.
  • The skeleton hits for 3 points of damage. That area is protected for 3.
  My first few encounters went like this, with me missing *80 percent of the time*, and when I finally did hit it was for such minimal damage, the armor rating of my foe absorbed the blow. I found that using the command AIM guaranteed I would hit almost every time, but costs you a turn in the process. I simply cannot see how anyone would be able to *not* use the AIM command and have any long term success. My hit percentage went from missing 80% of the time to hitting 80% of the time. It's that drastic.

Getting there.

  Speaking of armor, the game uses a very unique feature for it's time. Looking at my "fact sheet" I noticed all the normal CRPG categories of level, experience,and so forth---but also a list of detailed armor ratings for different parts of the body. From what I can tell, each piece of armor can reflect 4 points of damage, called protection and any damage above that directly lowers the defense.

  So, if an ogre hits my avatar in the chest for 8 points of damage, based on the screenshot above I would absorb 4, take the other 4 damage to my chest defense, which would lower it to 24. Once any part of the body has a defense get to 0, you die. I think.

  It took me several restarts to realize that I should only fight foes in low numbers, be patient, and advance slowly.

You can search for individual monsters.

  Before I wrap this session up, I wanted to bring up some of the other things I have discovered about the game mechanics:
  • You can "search" for a monster. This was a great way for me to slowly build up to level 6 fighting safe encounters like skeletons, elves, dwarves, and fighters.
  • The manual states that you can hit F5 to view your inventory, but this has yet to work for me. Apparently there is no items other than "treasure" which I have yet to find a use for.
  • Weapons can break. My weapon broke on two different play sessions, and once it did, I found every time I tried to attack something, the game would give me a message that my weapon was broken and I couldn't attack. This basically led to me having to restart the game each time.
  • There are traps throughout the dungeon, and running into one requires the player to press any key quickly. If you don't, the player takes damage. 
  • One interesting trap was a web that required me to "hack" out of it. Typing hack gave me the message of "O K ! ! ! !", but I was never able to actually get free. Not sure if this was a possible bug.
  • Levelling up raises your stats slightly. I am still trying to figure out what a few of them actually do. My movement is currently 14, and I'm not sure if this means I can move up to 14 squares at once, if it affects me running away from encounters, or something different.  The same goes for things like attack value and fight value, not sure of the difference between the two. I will have to read up in the manual for an explanation before my next session.
  Currently, I have my game saved on level three of the dungeon. On my next session I will try to wrap up, get Dunzhin rated, and move on to Gateway to Apshai.

  Session time: 3 hours and 52 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. Test!

    Just a test to see if the comments are coming through.