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.

Shroud Of The Avatar Kickstarter Launched

I’m late to the party with this bit of news but as everyone who stumbles across this blog will no doubt already know Lord Cantabrigian British (aka Richard Garriott) has announced something of a return to his roots in the form of Shroud Of The Avatar. The game is an Ultima-esque fantasy RPG that is being partially funded on Kickstarter. I won’t repeat it here but all the information you could wish for should be one of those two sites. If you want to see another RPG from Lord British, head over there and throw in a few quid.

Shroud Of The Avatar Screenshot

As for my own opinion, what I’ve seen of SOTA isn’t even close to what I was expecting from the long awaited Ultimate RPG and for the most part this is for the better. It looks to be less of an MMO than anticipated and is trying to walk the line between single player/multiplayer RPG’s. It most definitely isn’t a Facebook game and is targeting PC’s and not tablets. There must have been a serious change of direction at some point since I got to visit Portalarium back in October as it just doesn’t fit with anything we were told at the time. The Portalarium meeting room was plastered with Ultimate RPG concept art none of which bears the vaguest relation to Shroud Of The Avatar. Instead SOTA is blatantly inspired by Ultima to what must be copyright pushing extents. I’m not about to complain about getting such a clear spiritual successor and hope it will live up to heights of the series.

The details on the game are a little patchy for my liking at the moment, hopefully more will come out throughout the Kickstarter. As for Kickstarter goodies, I’d really like to see a boxed option with a manual in the rewards especially since this is Richard Garriott who pioneered giant boxes for PC games in the first place. The physical rewards are perhaps a little stingy as they are but extra tiers may be planned. Whatever your opinion of the game, the Kickstarter promises to be great fun for anyone interested in Origin/Ultima with gems like the Youtube chat with Iolo and the chance for Richard Garriott to fit in as many interviews as possible in the next month. If I’m honest there are other projects I’m more excited about on Kickstarter right now but no other campaigns that I’ll be following with half as much interest.

In marginally less important news, after tracking down and replacing another dodgy memory chip I got my C128 fully fixed and running in 128k mode. The means Ultima V with SID music as can be seen but not heard below:-

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Next on the list are some Jiffydos ROM chips to speed up the interminable loading times. The Commodore disk drives were not exactly speedy without a little help. My console corner is starting to fill out anyway and there will be a SNES and Megadrive making home in there next week. Something to sit my C128 on wouldn’t be a bad idea at this point & I may have to do something with those yellow keys.

The photo on the right is a SD2IEC drive which I got from and I thought I should give it a quick plug. This is a great little gadget that emulates a 1541 disk drive (to an extent) and allows me to shove floppy images on an SD card and load them as though they were a real disk on the C128. It doesn’t support all fastloaders meaning some games may be incompatible but there are versions of nearly every game which will work with it. The fully compatible alternative is 3-4x the price and probably overkill for most people. Aside from being activity LED’s, the green dots on the top of the drive act as a reset button (to take you back to the root directory), and a disk swap button for multi-disk games like Ultima V. It’s run nearly everything I’ve tried and all in all is an essential bit of kit if you own any type of old Commodore. It’s great to see people offering quality devices like this for such ancient hardware and I wouldn’t want to own some of these old machines without the added convenience of flash carts and their ilk.

I’m still playing Wing Commander 3 on the 3DO in the meanwhile and am up to CD #3. I’ll hold off until I’ve finished it before a second post which is probably going to be the middle of next week.

System Shock 2 Review – PC Format

With the long overdue GOG re-release, I thought I should dig out a review of System Shock 2 today and the first one I found was from the December 1999 PC Format. It’s a decent overview of the game but not quite as full of praise as you might expect for a game that is regarded as such a classic these days. Half a dozen other games outscore it in the same magazine including the likes of Expert Pool which I doubt many of us will even remember.

The reviewer cites the games difficulty, which I don’t recall being too extreme myself but I would agree that it isn’t the most easily accessible. I must have had this one sat on my shelf for over 10 years before I got any distance into it and was missing out big time:-

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Chickenboy Productions T-Shirt

The clothing theme of the week continues with yet another T-Shirt. ChickenBoy Productions was a division of Origin that created all of the electronic catalogues that would appear on many of their CD releases as well as popping up on magazine CD’s. These catalogues were very much a product of their time and were replaced by regular web pages on the Internet within a matter of years but were a great way to generate some publicity with the new CD-ROM format allowing full size screenshots and the like. Where the name ChickenBoy comes from I have no idea but I’m sure someone can tell me. Like near enough every team in Origin, they got their own T-Shirt which looked like this:-

ChickenBoy T-Shirt