Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Game 249: L'Anneau de Zengara (1987)

See below for the inspiration. I have no idea why there is a jawa in the background.
      
L'Anneau de Zengara
France
Ubisoft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1987 for Amstrad CPC, possibly for Atari ST
Date Started: 30 April 2017
Date Ended: 1 May 2017
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

Not so long ago, I made fun of Ubisoft's humble beginnings with an RPG called Fer & Flamme (1986), a bizarre title with a horrid interface and a combat system I couldn't figure out despite multiple tries and several commenters trying to help me. I gave up on it without having made much progress, hoping I would never see its like again.

Well, here we are with The Ring of Zengara, Ubisoft's follow-up, credited to the same developer (Hervé Lange), using the same interface and overall design and mechanics. Although it does not appear to be a direct sequel to Fer & Flamme, it does support importing a character from the earlier title, but only one, as this game features a single protagonist instead of a party. It is scaled down in ambition in other ways as well, with only a single city (of three areas), one structure to explore, and no outdoor areas.
    
This image is literally the best part of the game.
      
The game takes place in the legendary city of Zengara, capital of its kingdom, and home to the Palace of a Thousand Dreams. The only fly in the ointment is a thief lord named Shadar, who lives in an impenetrable tower in the city. The bandit is so powerful, enigmatic, and undefeatable that the kingdom has basically given up trying.

The protagonist is given as an adventurer who one day came upon a wounded man. As he tried to tend to the man, the victim's ring slid off his finger and attached itself to the adventurer's, refusing to come off. Before dying, the man whispered that salvation could be found in Zengara.
    
I will later come to rue that strength total. The game doesn't allow you to capitalize the first letter of your character's name. That should be worth -5 points.
     
Character creation options seem roughly the same as Fer & Flamme. You can be a warrior, magician, elf, thief, knight, cleric, dwarf, or "tinigen," apparently the French answer to hobbits or halflings. Attributes are strength, intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity, assigned from a pool of 40-45 points. Together, these determine your chances to throw grappling hooks, climb, persuade, and find traps. Those skills are all new to this game and, as far as I can tell, completely unused except for perhaps finding traps.

As its predecessor does, the game gives you the ability to purchase armor (coat, helm, and shield) during the creation process, but the armor isn't with you when you start the game. The initial purchase just adjusts your armor class score and subtracts from the money you have to spend in the game itself. Spellcasting types can also choose from a selection of spells during this process.
     
Choosing from various spells.
     
The game starts at the gates to the city, and it's not a very big city. You can go right to a provisioner's store, left to an old wizard named Valdor who has some lore to impart, and straight ahead to the tower entrance. Four squares, total. I was expecting a huge, sprawling city like the one in Fer & Flamme.
     
The player enters the city.
     
The provisioner sells a small selection of weapons--dagger, sword, and axe, of which the sword is best--a vest, and a grappling hook. He buys items, too, but since he's the only one who sells anything, I'm not sure why you'd need to amass gold.
      
The merchant and his paltry selection.
      
The old man fills in the story of the ring. In the distant past, a King Turkas had it fashioned for his beautiful wife, but enchanted so that if she ever cheated on him, a demon would appear to kill both her and her lover and damn their souls to wander eternally in limbo. Unfortunately, she cheated. When Turkas found the massacred bodies, he touched his dead wife's hand, and the ring slid to his finger, and the curse passed to him, as it has passed from person to person through the generations, each one damned to wander limbo upon death because of the queen's original sin.
     
The game does a decent job with its dialogue options.
     
At some point, one of the ring-bearers, a wizard, devised a spell to break its curse. He wrote it down on a scroll, but the scroll was stolen, and he eventually died like all the others. The implication is that Shadar stole the scroll, and I need to brave his tower if I want to save my own life.

Therein lay my first problem: getting into the tower. The front gates are guarded by an orc, and my knight couldn't defeat him no matter how many times I threw myself at him. Unlike Fer & Flamme, which similarly didn't allow me to win a single combat, this game at least showed that the orc was taking damage. I just couldn't kill him before he killed me.
    
The death screen came up a lot in the game's few combats. It says that you're doomed to wander limbo and never find the peace due to a valiant warrior.
     
Combat is pretty simple and boring. When the screen first loaded up, I thought I was in for a Karateka-style action sequence, but it turns out that the screen is static. You can choose some preparatory options like equipping a different weapon, casting a spell, or checking your stats, but after that (unless you flee), you just hit "combat" and watch the messages go by indicating who hit, who missed, and how much damage they did. Damage not only depletes your original pool of 1,000 hit points but also your strength, which can be recovered by resting.
     
An orc guards the way in.
     
Combat might take 20-30 turns to resolve, and annoyingly, you can't just hit "combat" and go make a sandwich or something while this happens. The game runs the turns in batches of 1 to roughly 6, and after that you have to keep choosing "combat" if you want to proceed. I guess this is to allow you to flee if things aren't going well. I don't really understand other aspects of what's happening in combat. Sometimes it will show several successful attacks from one side or the other, but no one loses hit points for the round.

Unable to defeat the orc with my first character, I tried a few other options, including a magic user whose spells didn't seem to do anything. Finally, I had luck with a warrior who had 20 strength, 18 dexterity, and hardly any intelligence or wisdom. With the orc dead, I was able to enter the tower.
      
My character attacks and misses.
     
The game's interface is as obnoxious as Fer & Flamme, relying entirely on the mouse. Moving left or right with the joystick, you scroll through the available cursors at the bottom, with options to move in each of the four cardinal directions or up and down, check inventory, check health, check the character sheet, search the room, pick up or leave items, purchase or sell items, open a door, give something to an NPC, fight, cast a spell, talk, use an item, or save the game. The developer couldn't even be bothered to map the directionals to the keypad arrows. But there are places where you have to type answers, so it's not like you can ignore the keyboard entirely.

The tower levels aren't very big. The first one only had 10 rooms. A key dynamic when exploring rooms, just as in Fer & Flamme, is to repeatedly search them. This game breaks down its search options into chercher and fouiller, which translate the same ("search"), so I don't know what the difference in quality is in French. In the game, chercher basically tells you what you've already discovered, or is immediately visible, and fouiller conducts a more in-depth search of the room for items and traps. Annoyingly, you have to choose fouiller repeatedly in most rooms before you find anything, and even then, you may not have found everything. I adopted the practice of selecting the action about 12 times before giving up, and if I found anything, I'd select it 12 times again just to be sure.
     
In a bedroom, several searches found me the mirror (which is never used), but it took me a dozen more to find the crucifix, too.
    
Some traps took me up to 30 searches, but if I missed them, I'd die, reload, and keep searching until I found them. This is perhaps the one place in the game that uses one of the four skills on the character sheet.
    
This took me like 5 minutes of pounding the same command.
     
Some of the objects you find are food and drink, and you need them because you get hungry and thirsty over time, and unlike the previous game, this one offers no place to buy nourishment.
     
My inventory on the second level. I don't think that grappling hook ever comes into play.
     
At this point, I should mention that the game introduced a game-breaking bug when I entered the tower: passing through the door wiped away all my hit points. I assume this wasn't intentional, because I'm pretty sure that initial pool of hit points is supposed to carry you through all of the game's combats, perhaps with a boost from an occasional healing potion (I found one on Level 1). As I explored, I kept dying randomly as I moved from room to room, and I realized it was because hunger and thirst deplete 1 hit point per move, and I didn't have any.
    
My hit points are all gone for no reason.
    
This made my next combat, with another orc, interesting to say the least. I had to win by save-scumming, capturing a save state every time I did damage to him, and reloading if he did damage to me. Later, when I encountered a werewolf, that strategy became untenable, and I had to edit a save state with a hex editor to give myself an adequate number of hit points to proceed.

The indoor areas are generally banal rooms showing several potential exits, but a small percentage of them have more carefully composed "scenes," often with an NPC to talk with. These scenes are more likely to contain items to search for. Like Fer & Flamme, indicators on the top of the screen show which way you can go from each room, but the indicators don't include locked doors, so you have to watch for those and open them with the key icon.
     
One of the "scene" rooms.
      
Along with some food and valuables I'm not sure I need, I found a key on the first floor (there were no monsters) that brought me to the dungeons, where there was another combat against an orc.
    
I hit the orc and do 52 damage.
     
The dungeons held two prisoners. First, a crazy mage named Krook insisted that Shadar was his master, and that the thief lord might not be human. It is rumored that his father is a demon named "Procus" and that he is immortal. The tower is supposedly only 6 levels (I don't know if that includes the dungeons.) He repeated word-for-word some of the things that Valdor said about the ring.
    
Any thoughts as to what he means by "le secret de l'ombilic"? I get "the secret of the umbilical cord."
     
The second prisoner was a "lovely young woman" named Shahela. She said she was starving and I gave her some bread. She said she was from Thulynte (the kingdom from Fer & Flamme) and that Shadar had kidnapped her after murdering her father. She had overheard that there might be a werewolf among Shadar's guards.
     
Shahela wants me to stop asking her questions and give her some food.
    
As I left her cell, she followed me, and from then on piped up occasionally with a comment.
     
I'm beginning to grow on Shahela.
     
Level 2 of the tower had some bedchambers, including a nice scene from a balcony.
    
     
The way up to Level 3 was guarded by a face on a wall. The only thing I could figure out to do with it was to "mount a cross" (which I'd found in one of the bedchambers) on the wall. When I did, it came to life and posed a riddle.

If see it, it is not for me
If use it, I do not pay for it
If make it, I do not use it
If live in it, I have no choice

I'd like to say I'd figured it out via logic and creativity, but I'd heard this one before. I typed in the correct answer (COFFIN) and moved forward.
    
I'm not sure what the cross had to do with anything.
      
Level 3 brought me face-to-face with a loup garou, which seems to be a mandatory monster in French RPGs. When I faced it the first time, I hadn't yet hex-edited my character, and he slaughtered me in one round. I had no chance of using the save-scumming trick with him, so I gave myself the hit points I thought I deserved and was able to defeat him in a couple of tries.
     
I battle a werewolf while Shahela cowers to the rear. Pick up a sword, woman!
    
In a nearby armory, I found another sword and dagger. The sword's statistics indicated it was twice as powerful as my original.
     
This upgraded sword would only be used in one more combat.
     
The fourth level is where I hit a dead end. The level is a small maze. I couldn't find any items within it. There is one locked door I cannot get through. There are three staircases up, but they just go to two 3 x 3 areas on the fifth floor with nothing in them. A hint file I later found on an Amstrad CPC site suggests I was supposed to encounter a thief on the level, but he never appeared.
      
The Level 4 maze where my experience ended.
      
By this point, it was clear that the game wasn't much of an RPG. I had been amassing experience from the few combats (you get experience with every successful blow, in fact), but my character remained at Level 1. The hint file suggested there was only one more combat to come, with Shadar himself. I saw no place in which the grappling, climbing, and persuasion skills would have come into play. (If you try to even use the grappling hook anywhere, the game chastises you about doing that indoors. This happens even if you're outside.) There's no point in trucking any of the valuables you find back to the shop for sale because he doesn't sell anything that you can't afford at the very beginning anyway. Even the inventory-style adventure puzzles aren't good. The game simply doesn't make use of all of its limited mechanics during its short, unsatisfying plot. In that, it reminds me of the later Saga. Perhaps the developer intended the engine to support further adventures to come.
     
The CPC site points out that the main game screen was clearly inspired by this Conan cover.
    
We can piece together what should have happened from the hint file and one screenshot. It appears that I was supposed to meet a thief on Level 4 and give him some money to join my party. In return, he would open the locked door I couldn't open. At some point after that, I needed to remove a grille covering a way up, a feat that apparently requires 15 strength, so screw you to anyone who started with a character lower than that. Some more navigation would follow, bringing me face-to-face with Shadar. It sounds like this wouldn't have been a regular combat (meaning there are only 3 normal combats in the game); instead, he was going to try to stab me but Shahela would have intervened, and perhaps then I would have killed him through the regular combat screen. The shot below shows some lingering messages from the combat screen, in any event.

I found a winning screen on the same site with the hint file. It indicates that Shadar is dead, his wealth belongs to you, you've found the scroll that will release you from the curse of l'anneau de Zengara, and you get to make out with Shahela. I was really hoping it was going to turn out that Shahela was Shadar (they share the same first syllable and everything), but the game wasn't quite that clever.
     
The winning screen, which I did not achieve.
      
30 years later, this company somehow has the Assassin's Creed and Might and Magic franchises.

L'Anneau de Zengara earns an 16 in my GIMLET, doing best in "game world" for its decent (if unrealized) plot and NPC dialogue system (both 3) and worst in its lack of character development, featureless combat, boring monsters, and useless economy (all 1). I found the graphics at least..."intriguing"; well-detailed if not well-composed. I subtracted two points for making it seem like a variety of characters could do well in the game, when in fact you need an ultra-strong he-man to even get past the first battle.
     
The box emphasizes the connection to Fer & Flamme as if that was a good thing.
     
Reviews at the time were pretty poor as well, judging from comments Lange made in a 2011 article. He never really "got it." His next pseudo-RPG, B.A.T. (1989), would have a lot of the same problems, including a host of RPG attributes and skills that never play a role in the game, a paucity of combats, and a senseless plot. That game also features NPCs who tag along with you and occasionally pop their heads into the frame to comment.

We'll be continuing to check out the state of French RPGs in 1987 with at least three more titles, maybe four, continuing with something called Inquisitor: Shade of Swords. Up next, though, we'll see if I can make heads or tails of a rare-for-the-era Japanese RPG with a western PC release: Cosmic Soldier: Psychic War.

57 comments:

  1. Foullier means more like rummage through a pile of stuff, than simply search.

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    1. 'Fouiller' translates exactly to 'rummage' in terms of nuance. 'Chercher' translates exactly to 'search', and 'Regarder' for 'look'. However, the common uses of the terms often translate differently, as we usually say 'I looked everywhere, but I couldn't find it!' but in French you would say 'J'ai fouillé partout, mais je ne l'ai pas trouvé!' in the same context, as you normally wouldn't say 'I rummaged everywhere...', at least not in Canada. :)

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  2. The background of this game reminded me of a Conan comic book I read as a kid.

    http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix5/rhaxring.htm

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    1. Uh, yeah. The story of the ring seems copied directly, except the ring in this game didn't have any positive benefits. Wow. Thanks for pointing that out.

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    2. And the city with the impregnable tower wizard's tower in the center is clearly an "homage" to a famous Conan story - "The Tower of the Elephant".

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tower_of_the_Elephant

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    3. I just noticed that the name of the city in the Conan tale is Zamoria, which is awful close to Zangara.

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    4. And also the name of one countries in Conan´s world is Zingara.

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  3. I really love the graphics in this one, even though it's quite possible they're all more or less comicbook rips.

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    1. Not only comic books. I suspect that quite a lot of the art has been ripped.

      Just as an somewhat obscure example: I know that orc's face (from the full frontal orc image) very, very well. You could say that it's a childhood memory. ;)
      I checked and am now positive that it came from an illustration from the 'Buch der Regeln' - the first edition of the German pen and paper RPG 'The Dark Eye' from 1984. I've always loved the black and white illustrations in it - plus, I like orcs.

      The interesting thing is was not ripped entirely. The only part that they used was that very distinctive ape-like orc face with the charming grin that chose those wonderfully healthy teeth.

      The armour is completely different, the hairstyle seems slightly different (though that might be due to the digitilization) and even the ears have been replaced yet I'm absolutely positive that this is the very same orc face.

      If you check carefully, you can see that the face has a different art style than the somewhat cruder rest of the image - although I have to admit that the dagger looks fine.

      I'd love to know how an image from the monster section of an german RPG book got copied into a french RPG (I believe The Dark Eye got a french translation, but still ... it's just a bit weird :) ).

      In any case, I'm not sure how much credit the game deserves for its art.

      By the way: this game didn't accidentally include images of a goblin, troll (big bearded human with lots of hair), ogre, kobold (little gnarled gnome with a hood) or a Tatzelwurm (okay, hardly would be called that ... a dragon with long tongue and strange ears)? Awesome drawings, by the way. :)

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    2. Haha, I was also instantly reminded of that illustration as soon as I saw the screenshot.

      Speaking of The Dark Eye: Could it be that the sideview in the combat screen was lifted from one of the little cardboard standees in the "Die Werkzeuge des Meisters" supplement?

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    3. Hey, I have that, too - however, I don't see how it could be a model for something else they lifted. Yes, there is a little orc-like cardboard monster among those, if you mean that, but it does not seem to be that similar.

      I guess it is more likely that they just owned / got hands on stuff from the basic box anyway - though I remain curious if they copied anything else from it.

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    4. Well, it was just a hunch. Thanks for checking!

      Still, that pose with the axe over his shoulder... everything about it somehow feels awfully familiar.

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    5. Oh, I didn't check. I just tried to reconstruct what you meant. Axe over shoulder ... mmmh ... doesn't ring any bells, but you could still be right.

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    6. Aaand I've found it. It indeed seems to have been "inspired" by one of the ogre tokens in the second edition of 'Werkzeuge des Meisters'.

      Yay me and thanks for your attention.

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    7. I also recognize the same old friend from the 1980s in that orc picture. :-) If you know a bit more about the history of pen-and-paper RPGs in Europe, this makes a lot of sense.

      The Dark Eye was very successful in France back in the day. As far as I know, France was the one country beyond the German-speaking countries from which The Dark Eye originated where it was a big success, in the sense of: the best-selling pen-and-paper RPG by far, with D&D and friends very niche in comparison.

      With few CRPGs available, I think the RPG experience of the developers might have been shaped far more by (pen and paper) The Dark Eye than CRPGs, and I think this shows in more than just the orc portrait.

      Compared to other CRPGs, this one has oddly few battles and seems much more low-key. OK, it is about escaping eternal punishment, which is perhaps not so low-key, but this aspect was apparently stolen from Conan and doesn't seem to have much impact on the actual "adventure" that the hero faces. The actual story is merely "explore a few rooms in a thief's mansion, win a few battles, solve a few riddles, and overcome the thief", which would well fit the scope of a typical short pen-and-paper Dark Eye module of the day and feels like it has the right level of challenge for a Dark Eye story.

      Where D&D, with its wargaming roots, was always geared towards major battles, deadly megadungeons and rapid growth in power, The Dark Eye cultivated more of an "everyday" feel where a typical pen-and-paper session might perhaps involve 2-3 fights, roughly of the scope of the fights in this game (e.g. a group of PCs facing a werewolf would be a big deal), wounded characters would need a week or so to recover after a single tough fight, mages might cast perhaps 3-4 spells in a gaming session and then also need a week to recover, etc. Think more you're role-playing the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings rather than Aragorn and Gandalf.

      At least to my mind, this explains to some extent how a game with such weirdly (for our CRPG expectations) few fights and comparatively banal challenges might be considered a completely adequate game by its author. It is of course not, because "one single-session P&P RPG module = one computer game" simply doesn't work, but I can see where the author is coming from.

      Also, classical riddles were a staple in The Dark Eye. If I recall correctly, the "Werkzeuge des Meisters" expansion mentioned in one of the comments above included one book that had a long section on classical riddles that the game master could use to challenge the PCs. Of course, such riddles work much better in a pen-and-paper game where it's always possible to improvise if the players don't manage to solve it.

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    8. I think you're making some really good points there, Malte!

      And now that you've mentioned it - the "If I see it, it is not for me" riddle is actually included in the 'Werkzeuge' booklet, if I remember correctly. Coincidence?

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    9. I love that we have plenty of well-documented, well-known American RPGs whose origins are nonetheless impenetrable, but you all managed to identify the source of every element in this obscure French title in 2 days.

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    10. Good job both to Malte and Cowbranch! :) I remember that there was something about riddles in 'Werkzeuge' ... but no specific riddle. Very interesting - especially in the light of what Malte described about The Dark Eye in France which indeed fits very well to this game and its scenario.

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    11. Hi Malte,

      I just wanted to say that the game flow you describe sounds an AWFUL lot like early edition low level dungeons and dragons. My wife and I are playing a Labyrinth Lord (clone of first edition dnd) game and most low level characters are literally one hit from death most of the time.

      That said, the dark eye is really intriguing to me (more so now that you describe it) and I am waiting to find the Arkania(?) first person RPGs on sale and snap them up. Maybe I'll wait until the Addict gets there and play along! Have you ever tried it?

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    12. Honestly my impression is that basically in all pen and paper RPGs starting characters, if not created by experienced power player, are absurdly vulnerable. I must have lost a few dozen characters in first fight, which translates to first hour of game, which in turns in worst case meant around 3 characters per "session". Not always of course, but not it wasn't that rare.

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    13. To Salathor:

      The old Arkania Trilogy you are probably referring to is definitely something I'd recommend - though I'm perhaps a tiny bit biased. ;) The first one is arguably the weakest part of the trilogy, but still a nice game if you can handle its clunkiness.

      There's a new, revised edition with more or less modern graphics, but that is widely regarded as an inferior, buggy product (though it has been patched extensively).

      For anyone interested in Dark Eye games, there are also a couple of modern ones:

      The only proper RPG among them is Drakensang, but there's also the Blackguard series (focussing more on tactical combat) and Demonicon (a darker, grittier action RPG vaguely similar to Witcher ... though definitely not in the same league).

      Finally there are Chains of Satinav and its sequel Memoria which I consider to be great and really atmospheric point and click adventure games.

      I think that pretty much sums it up apart from obscure mobile games and similar stuff. :)

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    14. Mag: Depends entirely on the game. AD&D, OD&D? Yes. There is lots of talk about how you were basically disposable until 3rd level.

      3.X? Less so. 4e? Not at all. Haven't played enough 5e to tell.

      Other games? Heavily variable. Before the 90s? Probably. The current batch of story RPGs? Probably not.

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  4. Hmmm looking them up "chercher" seems to transalate as "to look for" whereas "fouiller" seems to include "to dig or excavate".

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  5. "The CPC site points out that the main game screen was clearly inspired by this Conan cover."

    "Inspired" is probably exaggerated. It seems that this is a blatant copyright violation. But maybe they have gotten the licence for using it.

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    1. I don't know much about copyright of images. Is it a copyright violation if someone creates original artwork that uses similar elements and body positioning of a previously-created work?

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    2. Greg Land's whole career is based on this idea...

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    3. No. You can't copyright leather loincloths, bloody swords, bulging muscles, or a certain body pose.

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    4. I think it's hilarious that Conan's hand even has the same finger positions in the game art, even though he holding a tiny ring. Maybe he's casting a spell, or just has an overpronounced flair for the dramatic.

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    5. This site gives a pretty good impression about plagiarism:

      https://artplagiarism.wordpress.com/about/

      So, yes I think they may have stolen the artwork and used it without asking. And in my opinion that would not be OK.
      But in dubio pro reo. :-)

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  6. Could "secret de l'ombilic" be related to the idea of omphaloskepsis? That is, it's shorthand for some kind of philosophical waste of time, and implies that the guy is just kind of crazy?

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    1. That's as good of a theory as any!

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    2. L'ombilic represent the center in numerous esoteric beliefs. For exemple, the omphalos may represent the center or point of connection between heaven and earth. It can also represent a beginning... I really should continue writing my thesis.

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  7. Without knowing anything about this game in particular, perhaps your lack of success in searching is because of your character's low intelligence and wisdom scores? A lot of rpgs -- tabletop and digital -- base searching on those statistics.

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    1. Good question. I just hex-edited an earlier save state to give myself 20 in both statistics and see if it made any difference in the number of searches I needed to perform. It didn't. This WOULD have made sense, though.

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    2. Oh well, it was a good theory!

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  8. I guess back then a lot of games sold before word got out about how bad it was. Ubisoft's other releases must have kept them afloat, as I can't imagine their RPGs were helping.

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    1. I'm guessing it helped that Ubi was also a distributor, not only a publisher. E.g. EA's products like Bard's tale were distributed in France by Ubi at least for some time during the 80's.

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  9. "This image is literally the best part of the game."

    It is a pretty sweet graphic!

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  10. Ubisoft's first published game, "Zombi", was a huge success, both commercially and critically, which probably gave them some room to publish crappy products afterward.
    Zombi was an unofficial adaptation of "Dawn of the Dead" (only the Argento Cut was released in France, under the name "Zombi"), with an interface that was very similar to the one in Fer&Flammes and l'AdZ, actually pretty groundbreaking for an adventure game (kind of foreshadowing point and click systems).
    My theory is that they used the same "engine" to cut cost (the Guillemot brothers were very keen on cutting costs...), with the dreadful results on RPGs you had to suffer through.

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    1. And the sequel was a launch title on the WiiU!

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  11. That's a pretty unfair riddle. Lots of people buy their coffin while still living.

    Also, why did so many early RPG developers want potentially unsolvable riddles at essential plot points of games? In the pre-internet era, one difficult riddle could ruin the whole damned game.

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    1. It seems to me that overall, in the 80s and into the 90s, it wasn't necessary expected that you would be able to "solve" every game you played.

      I was a child then so my experience may not be everyone else's, but when I played games back then like Wizardry and M&M, although I knew that finishing the game was a possibility, it didn't necessarily seem like something that I had to do. It was fun just to make the characters and go out and fight things. Maybe I was too used to Atari 2600 where you couldn't win most games.

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    2. Yeah I think in a lot of cases they saw their goal as similar to a DM for Dungeons & Dragons...They were supposed to "challenge" a player not "guide" the player. Heh its kinda funny that most RPGs have grown out of "Do It Again Stupid" and the more "action" oriented games have started to fall into that rut...lol.

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    3. Myopia. The designer knew the riddle, which means that everyone in the world knows the riddle. Besides, they have to put *something* in the game so it's puzzle-y, combats get boring you know! What's more classic in the old stories than the hero being presented with a riddle?

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    4. In the pre-internet era, you were sometimes supposed to pay for hint books, call hint lines, or even write to a gaming magazine and hope that they got back to you! Or, at least, to talk to your friends about the puzzle you were stuck on and hope they came up with ideas, which might in turn advertise the game because people were talking about it.

      I used to buy hint guides...

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    5. Growing up with a NES and an XT there were some games I never got close to finishing, and some games I could win even when making it harder on myself. I think mood probably dictated whether I strolled through Double Dragon II for the umpteenth time, or got lost and confused in Solstice, or sailed around in Pirates or EGA Trek, feeling like I was accomplishing things but never actually winning.

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    6. At the time, actually solving and finishing a game was a major feat most of the time, especially in the case of RPG and adventures. If you managed to finish a tough game, you where basically the king of the classroom.

      This is why hintbooks, cheats, secrets and gaming magazines publishing these things where huge at the time, too. And if none of this helped you, you could alawys ask your friends for advice. Back in the day, gaming brought people together, one way or another.

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    7. Me and my friends used to "hotseat" games together so one would continue when the other died or was otherwise stymied. It worked pretty well most times. Also it gave me a taste for watching games like movies!

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    8. "Lots of people buy their coffin while still living." Not so often that you can't basically get what the riddle is going for, especially extrapolated to a medieval society. I didn't think the riddle was unfair, particularly since the first translation I tried (cercueil) worked instantly.

      I rather like the occasional riddle in an RPG, but would generally prefer there was some way around it rather than an absolute blockage to passage.

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    9. The comment about hint books is interesting, and I think that may actually have been a significant part of it, at least for established producers. I read that interview with the authors of Disciples of Steel (I think that was it) who said they sold more copies of the hint guide than of the game itself. It may have been a means of generating additional revenue. Not saying it's good game design, but it's certainly possible that they were considering hint book sales, at least for some games (probably not this one).

      I know my dad bought the hint book for Eye of the Beholder when it came out.

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    10. There is someone I've heard of nominated for worst GM of all time award. He traps the party on a room and to get out they have to solve a riddle. They get stuck. Between sessions they get help on internet forums so they are arriving with lots of answers. Weeks of gaming sessions pass, they finally admit defeat, and the DM declares they starve to death and won't tell them the answer as he might want to use that rifle again.

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  12. Those were desperate times for french crpg-lovers. Most games of the time were in english (yuck)and rare was the game with proper localisation. Desperate times call for desperate measures. One of them was Zengara.

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    1. No offense, though, why "yuck"? Seems pretty self-defeating.

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    2. Maybe it loses a lot of flavor to play an "immersive" game in a foreign language. I know that more French people speak English than Americans speak French, but if my only option was to play games in French I couldn't do it.

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  13. I finished "fer et flammes" and written a full guide with the solution. The version we played was totaly corrupted (places missing, unable to feed the characters) there's a link to the working disks.

    http://www.grospixels.com/site/fer.php (in french)

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    1. Wow, these screenshots lool really nice. I'd even consider them to be the best from all games that Chet played up till now.

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  14. The winning screen is also adapted from a Conan comic from Marvel; I don't know exactly which (could be the color Conan the Barbarian or the black and white Savage Sword of Conan), but that's obviously (to a comics fan like me :) ) the late John Buscema's art.

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