Death Gate – Part 4

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The world of stone turned out to be the most interesting so far by virtue of the more serious tone. The story slowly unfolds throughout and to start with the only people I encounter add dead servants raised through the arts of necromancy. These are easily manipulated as they are only a shadow of their former selves so not very intelligent. I especially like the puzzle where I have to get by a giant snake by commanding a particularly dumb but large zombie to grab it. Unfortunately he’s too dumb not to let go without constant instruction so I have to steal a children’s book off a zombie nanny, persuade her to follow me by telling her I know where her book is, then handing her the book back open at the appropriate page for her to read out a nursery rhyme all about snake grabbing. She reads this over and over giving me all the time I need to sneak by.

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I eventually learn that all the cities former inhabitants left to seek help from the ruler of this realm (the Dynast) when the water started drying up. I sail off to find him but when I arrive he poisons me for my troubles and throws me in a cell to die. I’m not alone as yet another prince is in here in exactly the same predicament. He is the ruler of the city I just came for but didn’t get the response he’d hoped when he came for help. The Dynast plans to get all the information he needs from both of us by raising our corpses from the dead as his servants.


This leads to another quirky little puzzle. I’ve learned a possession spell by this point and use it to transfer my soul into the body of the Dynast’s hunting hound who is hanging around the cells. I know the antidote we need is in a clear bottle but the dog only has black and white vision. Paying close attention reveals that the coloured lines on the tablecloth behind all the bottles are obscured behind all but one meaning that must be the clear one.

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Once cured, I escape with my new Sartan buddy to where all his people are hiding out. Behind an illusory wall I discover the remains of the realms first Dynast who I discover obliterated himself so he couldn’t be brought back from the dead. In an impressively evil scheme of his, it turns out that the staff carried by all Dynasts was created by damaging the Colossus of this world. The Colossus was all that provided water and life to its inhabitants and has been leaking magic ever since leading to the sorry state of the realm now. The staff now acts as a conduit for the remaining magic making the Dynast unchallengeable. If that wasn’t enough he also instituted the realms fondness for Necromancy at the time despite knowing that every time it was used someone else would randomly die before their time. This random death knew no barriers across the worlds hence the dead Sartans I found some time back.

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Suffice to say, I repair the Colossus killing the Dynast in the process and leave the realm in civil war behind me as I head to the fourth and final realm of water.

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This realm is where the Sartans were to live in the original scheme. I find a city when I arrive protected by a ward rune which I promptly corrupt. At this point, the ultimate villain of the game makes their entrance – a particularly nasty dragon called Sang-Drax. He has me paralysed with his aura of fear so I have to transfer my soul into the dog which is now following me around and make a run for it while the dragon toasts my old body to a crisp.


I’m not in dog form for long. I run into the now open city where the Sartan cast a spell to return me to my old shape at the expense of the dog whose body I took. Sang-Drax puts in another appearance at this point. Aside from having to power to cripple mortals with fear he can also assume any shape he wishes. He takes the final world seal, changes into my shape and promptly takes my ship so that he and Xar can go and reform the world killing most of the remaining inhabitants in the process.

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Luckily the Sartans have another ship they can lend me so I can go and save the universe. They don’t offer to come along and lend a hand of course and I have to head back to the last place I should want to go – the Labyrinth. The vortex where the reunification will take place is located right at it’s very centre. The Labyrinth isn’t exactly hospitable with tigermen and man-eating plants to contend with.

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I puzzle my way past all of these saving a village of Patryns in the process, kill off a giant ant monster only to come face to face with Sang-Drax again. At this point I use a rock which I’ve been carrying around most of the time since meeting Zifnab. It summons him and more importantly his dragon so the two can do battle. Sang-Drax escapes badly wounded and Zifnab transports us all to the vortex to continue the chase.

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The vortex provides the climax to the game with some intriguing puzzles on the way to its centre and then a final showdown with Sang-Drax. I manage to convince Xar that I’m the real Haplo and reunification is a bad idea at which point Sang-Drax fireballs him to death. I have to carry out the ritual on my own, the first part of which is placing each of the world seals in the appropriate spire.

Each seal placement unleashes a torrent of that element on the platform I’m stood on. I’m inside a protected area but I can use this to slow down Sang-Drax as he takes different forms against me. The order I have to go here is fairly apparent. What is less apparent is which of the numerous runes I need to select to carry out the final ritual. I should have paid more attention to Xar earlier in the game and I’m reduced to trial and error. I know it’s one of six mentioned in a book I’m carrying and number 4 does the trick.

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In another FMV of dubious quality Sang-Drax is destroyed and the worlds are connected through the Death Gate hopefully helping all the races from here on out, except my own who are still mostly trapped inside the Labyrinth. This may suggest a possible sequel which I’d be playing next if it had ever happened.

It may not come across in my write-up but the story started to come together in this second half of the game. The ending was suitably climactic with the ending stages throwing numerous challenges at me. It did seem a little strange in a graphical adventure how it would go into describing half the events through text instead of showing them. It’s definitely not something that would have happened much in Lucasarts or Sierra games but it does mean that the developers could concentrate on the playable parts of the game instead and this clearly paid off. It’s arguably a little too easy but there is no flab here and it still took many hours to play through with far more puzzles packed into it than most adventure games I’ve played. I’d definitely recommend this one highly – I’ve not enjoyed an adventure game as much since Gray Matter and Death Gate beats it easily in the gameplay department.

What started me playing this was allegedly to see if I could form an opinion on Tracy Hickman’s work after he joined the Shroud Of The Avatar team. I would guess that Death Gate strayed way too far from the source for me to attempt that but there were some interesting moral conflicts in there and enough complexity to the world and it’s characters to suggest that the novels would be well worth a look. I may give them a go some time but right now there are still games to be played. I got my SNES modded yesterday so I ought to play around with that a bit. All this electronic tinkering has been going so well I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to recap and de-buzz my Vectrex next but it will be a week or two before I get my hands on all the parts I need. In the meanwhile, I’m about 15 years overdue to play Descent Freespace.

Death Gate – Part 3

There is a theme starting here but the world of fire isn’t all that fiery and is instead full of giant trees populated by elves. As the base of all these is a huge citadel barred by a locked door with three symbols on it. A quest for these 3 items has to be imminent.

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I go off to talk to the elves living high in the forest and befriend one of the children by giving away a doll I picked up in the last world. They then invite me to a meeting the children have arranged with a wizard out in the woods.


While we are waiting for the wizard to arrive, I rescue a young elf prince who has tried to climb down into a bottomless pit called “The Maw” but only got as far as the first ledge. After rescuing him with a clothes line, he then wants me to help him win the heart of a human princess. I have to get the elves staff which has been cast into the Maw so that she will take him seriously as a leader, find him a gift for her and give him the right words to say. A typical day in the life of an adventurer…


About this time, the wizard Zefnab shows up and turns out to be a living Sartan. As soon as he catches sight of me he disappears with a transportation spell which I immediately copy to follow him.

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He isn’t exactly friendly what with our races being sworn enemies but feels safe enough to talk due to the fact that his giant pet dragon is sat next to him. He has a whole lot to say about how the Sartan plan was to get the mensch (humans, elves + dwarves) on each realm to exist in unity and then unite all four worlds. This doesn’t sound so evil considering these are the bad guys in this story – I can see a betrayal of the Patryns coming before the end of this game.

Most of the characters in this realm are played fairly straight, Zifnab on the other hand is clearly out for laughs with all sorts of references to the real world and generally “zany” dialog. It may just be me but this falls absolutely flat and isn’t even remotely funny. It would have come across better just reading the dialog here and the voice acting isn’t doing it any favours.


After exhausting all conversation options I take Zefnab’s transportation disk, throw it into the maw, and then cast a transportation spell to see what is at the bottom. Turns out it’s a giant people eating spider which is conveniently ignoring me for now. With some fire and a jar of honey, I set some giant insects on it which in a bit of species role-reversal kill off the spider leaving me free to plunder the staff and get out of there.


Having managed to help the elf woo his love, I now get both of them as companions and they carry two of the 3 pieces I need to open the citadel door between them. Zifnab explained earlier that this door was a test to see when the races had united and the Citadel was intended to be a place for all of them to live together.

That means I need to get the hammer from the dwarves. As luck would have it, I find one tied to a tree by a fourth race called the Titans. This race was created by the Sartans to run the Citadel once it was open but in the meanwhile have gone a little mad and started worshipping a crystal Sartan relic and generally squishing anyone who goes in their part of the forest. I won’t go into detail but in a convoluted series of puzzles, I steal this crystal which has the rune for the next world, get the rescued dwarf to bring me the hammer and open up the Citadel for one and all to live in it.

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The world seal I’m looking for is in the Citadel. Zifnab actually thanks me for what I’ve done while pointing out the duplicitous nature of the overall Patryn plan and my part in it. Xar is certainly coming across as ever more evil every time I take these seals back but this being an adventure game I only have the one course of action still available and it’s off to world #3 – stone.

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This world turns out to be reasonably stony after all, although it has a whole lot more fire than the previous realm. Everyone in it appears to be dead but still walking and talking (just about). I left it here for now anyway and will be back with this world as and when.

If anything, I’d say that this game got a little easier in this last realm. I hardly got any new spells and the bit that had me stumped the longest was at the start where I didn’t realise that I could go back to my ship and fly to a second location. There was a half decent if simplistic backstory in this realm which could have played out better if Zefnab had a different character. It should have been a tense meeting with my first live Sartan, not a series of desperately unfunny fourth wall breaking dialog. Later scenes did manage to build a bit of tension when I stole the crystal artefact and had a horde of angry titans on my tail.

The characters in this realm were a little more rounded and the overall story arc is starting to take shape. This story doesn’t look like it will be the games strong point unless it develops further – it always feels like I’m just scratching the surface of the world enough to solve my immediate problems but I’m not really learning about it. This game could really do with reams more of unnecessary text to pad out the characters and world (a la Longest Journey).

The puzzle and game design have continued to be excellent though and it’s still a joy to play. Splitting the game into these bite size chunks may hurt the story but it keeps the adventuring tight and focussed. I really am enjoying this one and it’s up there with any of the better adventure games I’ve played. Unless it goes badly wrong, this is essential adventure gaming from what I’m seeing and deserves to be far better known.

Part 4 may be delayed as I’m hoping to be modding my SNES today for multi-region + 50/60 Hz. I got my Megadrive done last weekend but with the SNES I’ve been waiting for a gamebit screwdriver to arrive in the post so that I can actually open it up.

Death Gate – Part 2

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Death Gate begins in apocalyptic fashion with a 3D rendered intro showing a group of robed figures sundering the world into 5 realms of stone, fire, water, air and the labyrinth. Like most games of the era this 3D isn’t all that impressive looking at it now but at least the speech is reasonably well done. Nothing can ruin a perfectly decent adventure game as easily as terrible voice acting and I’ve often found disk versions of some of these early “talkies” to be preferable to the CD-ROM release.

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The game then jumps forward hundreds of years to a second intro, which is presumably the one that would have been on the floppy version of the game. I learn that the character I play is a member of the Patryn race who has just escaped the labyrinth with the aid of a powerful sorcerer called Xar. My entire race was banished to the hellish realm of the labyrinth when the world was sundered by the rival Sartans and hundreds of years later have only just found a route out.


This still leaves me with lots of questions but this is where the game becomes playable. The interface is fairly typical of Legend and shows their text adventure roots. The common verbs are all on the left of the screen, objects are interacted with by clicking them on screen and selecting one of these verbs or another object. Additional verbs pop up with some items meaning that this interface isn’t restricted to the usual handful of icons you see in most point and clicks.

The red fireball is for casting spells. As I progress through the game, I gradually learn spells which can be cast to solve numerous puzzles. These form a large part of the puzzles in the game from what I’ve seen so far.

The inventory is next to this and finally the compass on the left shows the directions I can travel in. The compass really is straight out of a text adventure but saves typing in directions at least. There is also a map which can be used to speed between screens if needed.

All of this is slightly more convoluted than a Lucasarts or Sierra interface of the time but I really like it as it gives more options to the game designer and usually means I have to come up with an idea to solve puzzles rather than being able to get by them mechanically through trial and error. It’s a decent compromise compared to some earlier Legend games which didn’t pull this off as well and were basically out-and-out text adventures with graphics.


The first job is to talk to Xar who gives me the full introduction to the world. All of the characters in this game have a lot to say with sizable dialog trees to say the least. My quest, should I choose to accept it, turns out to be going into all the four realms in a flying ship to recover all the world seals so that we can reunite the world into one again. His motives here don’t appear to be entirely honourable as both the Patryn and Sartars consider themselves rulers over the lesser beings of elves, men and dwarves but I’ve no choice but to go along with it for now.

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Using a spell Xar has just taught me I transfer the rune for the world of air onto my ships navigation gem and set sail for the first world.

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The world of air is full of little floating islands but isn’t especially airy with plenty of ground for me to explore. I start in a cave populated with dwarves. To a large extent the dialog with the dwarves is being played for comedy with some adventure game tropes thrown in. E.g. there is an old dwarf who spends all day sat under a dripping pipe waiting for someone to fix it. He has a box sat next to him which used to contain 5 parts for pipe fixing which have been pinched one by one by various people, etc.. Not all the puzzles are this obviously constructed but the obstacles you have to overcome are always pretty clear in this game.

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The dwarves are being oppressed by glowing beings calling themselves gods and the dwarves are seemingly dumb enough to accept this just because they glow. I sneak my way onto the gods ship and find some human slaves manning the oars who tell me that the gods are infact elves using a glow spell cast on voodoo-doll type statues of the crew to make this effect. The dwarves have some sort of mining machine called the Kicksey-Winsey which the elves are using to supply water for themselves in this scam. One of these slaves is a captured Duke who asks me to seek his rescue and sends me off to see his royal relatives. This means a new location on my map to fly off to.

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I tell the humans King about the enslavement of the Duke. He says he can only rescue him if the ship is in the air and I have to manage this feat myself. While I’m around, I sneak to the side of the castle, break in and witness someone casting a spell allowing them to walk into a painting. I copy this spell to enter the painting myself and discover that an elf is being kept as a prisoner of war inside. He teaches me a shroud of darkness spell to turn off the lighting in his cell so he can get some sleep but this is a ruse to get me close enough for a swap spell when puts me in the cage in his place while he escapes. Thankfully, his captors release me unharmed when they find out and I come out of the experience two spells to the good.

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The shroud of darkness spell turns out to be just the thing to drape over those glowing statues of elves from earlier. It sucks up the glow spell and the dwarves seeing their gods are now mortal rebel. All the elves make a run for the ship before I can get off myself but the slaves point me to the hold from where I set off some pyrotechnics to draw the attention of the human Kings navy. They rescue all the slaves + myself and as a reward the King offers to help me in my quest. In the newly stolen elf ship, he sends me off to break into the tower of the Brotherhood (a guild of assassins) to get the information I need.

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This leads to a third map location of the lawless city of the Brotherhood. This brotherhood is now headed by Ciang from the short story but I don’t get the meet her at any point. With the help of a young vagabond and through a series of puzzles, I manage to get into the tower by joining the brotherhood. I’m left to my own devices for an hour before the ritual joining ceremony during which time I have to break into their vault and steal the information I’m looking for.

I ran into a hitch at this point in that I didn’t realise this was a timed event, presumably on number of moves rather than actual time. If I don’t manage to carry out this task quickly enough, I’m found out to be a would-be thief and killed. Of course I didn’t realise there were dead ends and had my one and only save game in an unwinnable state resulting in me starting all the way at the beginning again. Thankfully, clicking through every conversation and knowing all the puzzles meant this took 10 minutes rather than the 3 or 4 hours it took the first time. I’m going to be far, far more careful about save games from here on in though as I wouldn’t want to get in this position at the end of the game.

The hardest puzzle of the game so far is in the tower. There is a door covered in hand prints made with different types of gem/stone. I have a piece of paper obtained earlier with the names of 5 floating continents and five words in a sentence above them. These words turn out to be the first letters of the hands I need to press to open the door. I can find which of the 5 continents I’m supposed to use by opening a window in the tower through which one continent is visible – the clue here is referenced in a book to say that the password changed at different times of year and presumably the continents float around in an orbit of sorts. What I like about this sort of puzzle is that all of the information you need is in the game and it’s not just trial and error. Everything in the game has been like this so far.

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I escape from the tower with some books and a crystal globe. Next on the list is to repair the pipework from much earlier as I now have the missing pieces. This fixes the Kicksey-Winsey which through more puzzles takes me to a room full of dead Sartans + a statue which gives me the sought after world seal. One down, 3 to go with the realm of fire being next on the list.

I’ve skipping over most of the puzzles and story on this write-up, this post is more than long enough as it is. I will say that this has been an exceptionally well designed game so far though with loads of adventure and puzzles packed into a relatively small number of locations. I’ve never had to resort to wandering around aimlessly trying things but it’s still been a challenge thanks to the large number of alternatives offered up by the interface. I’d like to think it will get a little more tricky as the game goes on, this should be built in to an extent as I learn more spells and my options open up even further. By this point, I’ve already got about 10 spells under my belt and if I carry on accruing them at this rate I’ll end up with 40-50 by the end of the game.

Graphically, the backgrounds are very good looking for the time being mostly in SVGA but there isn’t too much animation and it does all come across as a little stale somehow. I’m not being drawn into the world and story so much as solving a series of puzzles. The adventure gaming tropes of everyone being there as pieces in a puzzle are all too apparent. The conversations and characters are still detailed and entertaining for all that, I would imagine that the novels took quite a different tone to say the least but this has been a great game to play so far. The interface is arguably the best I’ve seen in an adventure game and if this is typical of Legend’s output, I really need to play more of their games. One game at a time though – I’ll be back with part 3 when I have another world stone.

Death Gate – Part 1

The big announcement for Shroud of the Avatar in the last few days was that Tracy Hickman has been signed up as lead story designer. He doesn’t have much of a history in CRPG’s but did work at TSR for some time as well as writing numerous fantasy novels, most famously the Dragonlance series. I have to admit that the name didn’t mean anything to me and given that name I wouldn’t even have known that Tracy was a bloke without his photo accompanying the announcement. I thought I should put that right and fortunately have this:-

Death Gate Box

This was the second of only two games ever released to have Hickman in their credits with the first being an SSI RPG based on Dragonlance. This 1994 adventure game was released by Legend and based on the Death Gate series of novels written by Hickman together with Margaret Weis. Legend released several games based on novels during this period, some involving the authors more than others. I don’t think Hickman’s involvement in this project went much beyond providing the source material although he did contribute towards the documentation:-

Death Gate Manuals

Given how ludicrously thick the box is you would expect more inside but there is only a CD + these two small manuals. The one on the right is an short story written for the game by both original authors. It tells some of the backstory of one of the characters from the novels. With no knowledge on the series whatsoever this starts me off at an immediate disadvantage but it’s still an entertaining little tale.

The main characters are a high born elf called Ciang and her “weesham” Kasia. The job of the weesham is to carry a box with them at all times in which to capture the sole of their noble elf master which can then be put to use serving the Emperor in some way. In the meanwhile the nobles achieve little with their existence and Kasia has other plans for Ciang who she sees as being better than all of them. In the story, Kasia engineers a scheme where Ciang is cast out and freed from this existence but at the expense of Kasia’s own life.

Considering I don’t know the characters, it’s an involving short tale and hints at a much deeper world behind it which is no doubt what we all are wanting in Shroud of the Avatar. I’m sure the story would mean far more to a fan of the series but it’s a promising start nonetheless. The question that remains is whether the game is any good which I intend to find out next. The links to Origin are tenuous to say the least but I love adventure games and this is one I’ve still to play so I don’t need much excuse.