Swords of Glass is so cute you almost want to pat it on the head. While the age of CGA graphics is in full-swing, and gamers are enjoying titles with the narrative complexity and open-ended exploration of Ultima IV, Might & Magic, and Starflight, here comes a text-based game in which you guide one character through a single wire-frame dungeon.
The game doesn't appear on Wikipedia's chronology; it's only thanks to MobyGames that I found out about it at all. MobyGames lists it as "shovelware": a piece of software that wasn't offered individually but packaged with dozens of other titles and sold under the banner "100 FANTASTIC RPG ADVENTURES!" or something. The publisher was a now-defunct Minnesota company called "Keypunch Software," which apparently stripped the credits from the game, so no one now knows who created it.
Character creation is a text-based process of naming your character (you have up to 7 letters) and then rolling random values for hits, strength, dexterity, and IQ, and then supplementing them from a pool of six points. You need at least 9 strength to become a warrior and at least 9 IQ to become a wizard. Those are the only character class choices.
|You have to love "possible kinds to be" instead of something more formal, like "potential character classes."|
It's then a quick trip to the store for some basic equipment.
|Note the first option. Hey, grind some of that up and throw it into a goblin's eyes and it stings, man!|
In addition to the (s)tore, the town boasts a (h)otel and a (t)emple.
When you choose to (b)egin your dungeon explorations, the game taunts you to "ENTER IF YOU DARE!" and then notes goofily, as you move away from the dungeon stairs, that "well, Toto, this doesn't look like Kansas anymore..." After that, it's all about exploring, mapping, killing monsters (so far, I've met "bruisers," alchemists, and rodents), finding treasure chests, and dealing with traps, and, you guessed it:
So, right now you're thinking to yourself, "Ha! Sounds pretty lame! I bet this is a one-post game for The CRPG Addict!" (And yes, "The CRPG Addict" has a capital "The.") Well, sit back and hold on, kids, 'cause I'm about to pull the rug out from under you. Notice how much space is wasted--like half the screen--in the image above? Well, let's rectify that by heading back up to the town and adding a second person to my "party." Back to the dungeon we go and . . .
. . . what do we have here? Two sets of commands, two maps, and characters who appear to be looking at each other? That's right, you smug bastards, you're looking at cooperative multiplayer. Let me say that again: cooperative multiplayer--in a piece-of-junk, written-by-a-high-school-kid-in-his-basement, shovelware CRPG. As far as I know, this is the first multiplayer in a graphics-based CRPG (I'm sure I'm wrong; I just don't know of any others), and we don't see it again until...what?...Federation II?
As exciting as that is, I can't really make use of it because The CRPG Addict is a lone ranger, and not ambidextrous. But Swords of Glass has a few other surprises. Let's start with the spells, if you happen to choose a magician. As in Wizardry, you get a set number of spells per level, and as in Wizardry, which featured spells like HALITO and KATINO, the spells in Swords of Glass have strange, otherworldly names (bottom of the screen):
That's right: my four years of high-school Spanish has finally proven some value. For those uneducated, "pocofuego" means "little fire," and "mapa" means "map." Other spells in the game include "helio" (ice), "melaza" (molasses; it's a paralyze spell), and "infierno" (inferno). Brillante! Estoy muy impresionado!
What else? Remember that chalk I was making fun of? Well, it turns out it has a pretty useful purpose: you can mark marks on dungeon walls so you can track where you've been. In a game that features teleporters, this could be awfully useful. Quick, give me the name of any other CRPG in which you can make a mark without dropping some inventory on the ground. I can't think of one.
You know how I'm always bitching about CRPGs that give you piles of money with nothing to spend it on? Well, not this game. In Swords of Glass, you can take any weapon or armor you want into the temple and ask the priest for a blessing. They get progressively more expensive as you add more +s to your equipment. I'm guessing you never run out of the need for cash.
It's these touches and others--like the little automap on the screen, or a "vault" where you can store good equipment for later characters--that explain why this otherwise-throwback game has a small but devoted online following, with sites like The Glass Shrine and Wayne Schmidt's Swords of Glass page. I owe both of these pages for helping me to figure out some basic game information, since I couldn't find a manual anywhere.
So I'm going to give this game it's full due. I can't say for sure that I'll play it until I win, because unfortunately it's a permanent-death game, and I suspect my patience will run out after the sixth time I lose a level 5 character to a wight. But the unnamed developer has certainly intrigued me enough for a few nights of dungeon crawling.