Sunday, January 14, 2018

Shadow Keep: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

 
         
Shadow Keep
United States
Independently developed and distributed as shareware
Released in 1991 for Macintosh
Date Started: 30 December 2017
Date Ended: 5 January 2018
Total hours: 10
Difficulty: 3/5 (Moderate)
Final Rating: (To come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (To come later)

Shadow Keep was an eminently satisfying experience. It wasn't an epic game, and it won't get epic scores, but finishing it feels like finishing a filling, inexpensive meal at some family-owned restaurant from which you had no expectations going in. It's probably the best shareware RPG that I've played. It has a few good ideas, understands its limitations, and keeps to a reasonable size, scope, and time frame. There were times I got stuck, but I always had enough clues to un-stick myself. The interface was clear and consistent, and I didn't experience a single bug. If Glenn Seeman responds to my e-mail, I'll be happy to send him his shareware fee.
          
I find a key artifact.
        
When I wrapped up last time, I had just finished mapping the overworld and identifying the entrances to all the dungeons. I had also explored the dungeon beneath the castle for the first time. After a brief rest break and re-stock of potions, I returned to the dungeon. It was a good thing I did, because on the second trip, I found the Amulet of Guidance that I needed for the labyrinth. I had assumed it would be in the catacombs.

A secret door in the dungeon led me to an NPC named John. Several other NPCs had spoken about him. He was raising giant chickens and said they were for the king's "lance corps." Anyway, he was supposed to respond to the keyword HINT, but he only told me that he didn't feel like giving me a hint. The manual warns that he's not always in the mood. I eventually left and never returned, so I don't know what his hint would have told me.
        
Sure, no problem. It only took me 45 minutes to find you.
      
I had heard that the mermaid bobbing off the northern coast would know how to defeat the evil overlord, but I didn't know how to get her to talk to me. I asked a sailor in the castle about MERMAIDS, and he said they favor orchids. Asking NPCs about ORCHID, meanwhile, gave me a hint that a hermit on an island knows about them. Having found no hermit on the island in the Sea of Serpents, I figured he must be in the middle of that eastern lake. I explored its shores for a while but still couldn't find a pirate ship.

I wondered if maybe the unnamed cave would take me to the island underground. I started to explore it but was soon turned away by a new monster type: "rust beasts." Just like their D&D counterpart, they destroy metal weapons and armor. I returned to the shop in the gnome village and bought a "champion's club" and dragon scale armor, which you'd think would be amazing but actually under-performs plate. I also had to remove my helmet.
      
"Champion's Club" sounds like a way of upselling a piece of wood.
   
The new getup was helpful against the rust beasts, but the armor offered little protection against giant wasps, terrors that could kill me in two hits. I had to keep changing armor in the middle of the dungeon, which was mildly annoying.
       
Fighting a giant wasp in the unnamed caves. The scroll with "Unlock" is nearby.
      
Anyway, my guess was wrong. The caves didn't lead to the lake and didn't have a second exit. The only thing I found, besides lots of gold, was a scroll with the "Unlock" spell, which duplicates magic keys. Since keys are pretty cheap, the dungeon is really optional. The manual noted that there were some optional areas.

Returning to the lake issue, I solved it in short order. It turned out that pirate ships sail under bridges with no problem. I assumed they wouldn't. I was able to take one from another part of the lake system and sail it to the hermit's island. He said that orchids are found in the "living forest" by the Temple of Life. I was worried because I'd slain all the tree creatures there, but I was able to find the orchid at a stationary tree.
        
Uh, yeah, it's not exactly "living" anymore.
    
With it in my hand, the mermaid came right up to me. She said that the Evil Overlord could be defeated with the Black Sword, and an NPC named Sprite would know where the sword was. That was a lot of work for nothing, as I'd already spoken to Sprite, but she also gave me a "good luck charm" that made it easier to find hidden treasure chests.
        
         
My next stop was the catacombs in the cemetery. It was swarming with skeletons, who fled at "Turn Undead," but I couldn't cast that spell too many times. I had to kill a bunch of them. Aside from a lot of chests, the dungeon had a demon guarding the Grail. He wanted to know the names of the Gods of Strength, Life, and Magic. I had no idea. I left, vowing to return later.
         
The catacombs had a lot of areas with multiple doors in a row.
       
I tried the labyrinth next. I entered and equipped the Amulet of Guidance, but it didn't seem to do anything, and I soon got lost. Reloading, I consulted my notes and saw that it said I needed to enter the labyrinth with the amulet already equipped. Doing so brought up a series of arrows directing me through the huge maze. There were no monsters in the labyrinth, which was a nice change of pace.
           
The arrows don't appear on the way back, but I was clever and wrote them down.
       
I emerged in Far Land, an overland map that I'm guessing is around half the size of the main continent. There was no way I was going to map it. I just went around the perimeter hoping that was enough. I soon found the third temple--the Temple of Magic. Shortly afterwards, I found the Valley of the Unicorn and was killed when I tried to walk past the guardian.
          
Doing it right the second time.
        
Reloading, I equipped the Sacred Bone and got past the guardian okay. The titular Unicorn told me the Black Sword was hidden along the north coast, and I soon found it in a cluster of trees. It's the best weapon in the game, but not by a lot. Most enemies still take two or three hits.
        
       
With the sword in my possession, there was nothing to do but return to Shadow Keep's land and try to find the names of the gods. I asked dozens of NPCs and got nowhere. Finally, I looked back to the manual for clues and noted a recommendation to search the temples. Sure enough, that's what I'd been missing. Each of the three temples has a scroll with the god's name on it. Returning to Far Land was a pain, but otherwise I soon had the three names and went back to the catacombs.
         
    
Another visit to the demon, and I soon had the Grail. The only thing left was to enter the cave in the center of the Lake of Serpents and find the Evil Overlord. I spent my accumulated money on potions, hopped a ship, and entered.
       
Enemies in the final dungeon include rust beats and carrion crawlers.
      
The caves had the same enemies as the other cave map. I didn't feel like changing in and out of armor constantly, so I quaffed Potions of Invisibility to run past the enemies until I found the Evil Overlord.
      
The E.O., with a kobold hovering nearby.
     
The Grail protected me from instant death, but he still packed a wallop, and I had to retreat every hit or two to swallow a healing potion. I eventually killed him with the Black Sword, and he left the stolen Ankh behind.
     
         
Using more Potions of Invisibility to get out of the dungeon, I went to the Temple of Life and returned the Ankh. I immediately got a summons back to Shadow Keep and the endgame screens. The king congratulated me and made me an honorary knight. I was able to view my final statistics, and game over at just about the 10-hour mark.
          
Some of the panels from the endgame.
       
In a GIMLET, I give it:

  • 4 points for the game world. The backstory is derivative, but it's self-consciously derivative, not even bothering with names for the Evil Overlord or Great Battle, as if it was a generic template. Inside the game, the world holds up pretty well.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. Not a strong point. You don't even get a name. "Development" consists solely of increases in fighting and magic ability. Frankly, these don't feel like they make a huge difference, and they max at 10.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. A great system in the Ultima style. It just lacks true dialogue options.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are nothing special. A couple have unique attacks, like the rust beasts and the beholders that drain magic. 
  • 3 points for magic and combat. It's pretty basic, but well-balanced, and there are some minor tactics associate with fleeing and the use of spells and potions. The small selection of spells would be more useful if the magic bar didn't deplete so fast and take so long to recharge. I like that enemies don't swarm you; if one enemy has you in combat, the others move around randomly instead of crowding all sides.
     
My final spell list. I think I got them all.
     
  • 3 points for equipment. There's a small but decent set of weapons, armor, potions, and special items. Relative cost tells you easily how the items compare.
  • 5 points for the economy. There's no complexity, but for the first half the game, you're always saving for an item upgrade, and for the second half, the need for potions keeps the economy relevant.
       
My final inventory heading into the endgame.
       
  • 3 points for quests, including a clear main quest and a couple of side areas.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The black and white graphics are only okay--most of the portraits are a little silly--and I have to judge the sparse sound from what I can hear online. I had no problems with the interface, with redundant keyboard and mouse options for most actions. I appreciated touches like the speed controls.
  • 6 points for gameplay, the best category. It hits the length and difficulty just right, and it's partly non-linear. It has a strong Ultima quality where you slowly piece together what you need to do via NPC dialogue and open exploration. I wouldn't call it "replayable," though, unless you want to challenge yourself to win with the lowest score or something.
       
My final stats. The "total play time" doesn't include reloads.
     
That gives us a final score of 36, enough to call it "recommended." Like I said earlier, there's nothing "epic" here, and it isn't going to vie for "Game of the Year," but it's well-constructed and easy to pick up, and it offers a satisfyingly-moderate challenge and length. It's too bad it didn't get more recognition. I haven't been able to find a single review or walkthrough. There is, however, an effort to remake it, from the intriguingly-named "Retribution Studios." (Are you okay? Do you guys want to talk about it?) Normally I only support remakes for games that were harmed by the limited technology of when they were made. In this case, though, given how hard it is to emulate the Mac, a remake may be the only way modern players ever get to experience it.
        
I like the game, but a few too many things smile within it.
      
Developer Glenn Seemann unfortunately never made another RPG that I can find, although he programmed and converted other games for the Macintosh into the 2010s, and has a site dedicated to Macintosh games.

As for me, I can't say that I'm looking forward to the rest of the Mac-only games on my list, not unless they do something different with the interface. I opened my Quarterstaff coverage by noting:
       
The interesting thing about many Mac games is that they make use of, rather than override, the conventions of the operating system. When you play a PC game, even today, you're used to the game taking over completely, remapping your keys, seizing your mouse, changing your graphic resolution, filling the screen, and monopolizing your sound . . . . The Mac was different. It pioneered the graphical user interface. It made popular the conventions of menus and overlapping windows. And games went ahead and used these conventions. You open an RPG on a Mac, and it looks like you've never left the operating system.
          
I was careful not to take a positive or negative stance on this approach, having not experienced it long enough, but now I can say for sure that my reaction is negative. Take a look at the shot below.
         
The end panels appear amidst the clutter of the Mac OS.
      
It just looks unprofessional for the game screens to appear amidst the clutter of the OS, with other open windows and icons in the background. And while playing, too many errant clicks sent me accidentally to the "finder." No, thanks. I know it's possible for Mac games to just take everything over--I sure didn't play Descent in a window with a bunch of junk in the background--and I hope they start doing so soon. I have to suffer this OS for about 20 more games.

33 comments:

  1. You know, I kind of miss games in the old Ultima IV/Ultima V style. Because they could put cities on a different scale than the outdoors, the outdoors could feel significantly bigger, and it could really seem like there was a whole expansive world to explore, in a way that just doesn't happen so much with modern 3D games where everything is at the same scale (or even with Ultima VI and VII, for that matter, good games though they were).

    Then again, it seems this particular game sort of spoils the epic scale feel by sticking individual trees and items like scrolls and swords right there on the world map. (Though then again I guess Ultima IV did the same thing with chests dropped by monsters...)

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    1. I know what you mean about those different scales, but I've been playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild pretty much non-stop for the last couple of weeks, and it feels enormous. It's all on one scale, definitely modern 3D, but the wilderness is vast and really gives me the sense that I'll never, ever see everything the game has to offer. We've reached the point now where games can be big enough to capture that feeling without different scales.

      (Incidentally, Breath of the Wild is incredible, and one of the few Legend of Zelda games that I'd absolutely categorise as an RPG. It'll never be on PC though, so Chester won't be playing it unless he does so on his own time. It gets my highest recommendation, but then again I am a huge mark for the series.)

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    2. Ultima VI definitely seemed smaller than IV/V at first. I just wish I had time to go back and play some of the older games reviewed here. Glad the Addict lets us live vicariously through him!

      Other than a TI99/4A we went straight to DOS with a Tandy 1000 in '85, so emulating other systems just adds to the time requirements I'm afraid.

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    3. I also miss the scale changing between cities and the world. Make the world feel appropriately huge.

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    4. Nathan, actually anything he does is on his own time, not like he´s getting paid for the blog - all the more appreciated! But I get what you meant to say :)

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    5. That's another of those conventions that JRPGs kept long after Western games abandoned them. Indeed, a lot of jRPGs still use world maps, from my limited experience with modern jRPGs.

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  2. I never liked that Macintosh "everything in the OS" look either. The OS was too ordinary and depressing and integrating it made games look less fun. One of the things I liked with a game was it taking over the whole screen and transporting me elsewhere for a while. If you do it right, you forget you're even using a computer.

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  3. Of Mac-only games Cythera is really good, but that's about a decade off ;)
    Your master list also puts Prince of Destruction as a Mac game, but I distincly remember it running under Windows. It's pretty terrible though.

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  4. That Joust reference re: the giant chickens is great.

    This game actually reminds me a bit in spirit of the first Dragon Warrior / Dragon Quest game. I guess that game shared many influences with this one, but still the feeling is there.

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    1. Its funny I got this impression too

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  5. I find it amusing that you dislike having the game in a window, since my duration as a Mac user (88-92, roughly) fixed in me a distinct preference for playing games that way that persists to this day.

    I *loathe* playing games full screen.

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    1. Well, you may have a point. I like playing modern games full-screen, since the graphics and sound are good enough to fully immerse you in the game world. I wouldn't want to play these early games full-screen, though, because I need to be able to simultaneously work with maps, notes, and a draft blog entry.

      In the case of this game, though, I'm not just playing in a window--I'm playing with a window inside a window (the emulator). I'd rather that a game took up the entire emulation screen but not MY entire screen.

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  6. I don't really like the OS aesthetic that Mac games of this era have. It was rarer among windows games, but Castle of the Winds is a notable exception, probably because the developer was working at MS during that time :)

    Speaking of which, CotW is listed as a 1993 game but that was specifically its boxed release. Most articles date the first release as 1989 (also supported by its copyright).

    Original

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    1. What kind of released did it have in 1989? My general policy is to go by date of publication, not date of development, and both Wikipedia and MobyGames give its first release as 1993. If it was only circulated among friends and family before that, I'm not sure if it counts as "release" enough for me to change it.

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    2. From what I can tell, the author released it as shareware in 1989. It proved popular enough that a major distributor, Epic Megagames, agreed to publish it in boxed format in 1993. The MobyGames listing for the title is pretty bad - with the two different episodes (one free and one obtained with a shareware registration) listed as being published a year after the boxed release (which contained both games).

      This was pretty typical of Epic Megagames back in the day. They had a knack for picking up promising low-profile games and giving them wider releases.

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    3. http://hg101.kontek.net/castleofthewinds/castleofthewinds.htm

      Looks like shareware (Saadasoft) in 1989 and retail (Epic) in 93. 5¼" on the first box vs 3½" on the second fits these timelines.

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    4. Castle of the Winds was the first shareware I ever registered, and it was definitely before 1993.

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  7. "It's probably the best shareware RPG that I've played."

    Boy, am I looking forward to you getting to the Exile series. And those were originally developed on the Mac, too, although they were ported to Windows fairly quickly.

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    1. Hah yeah. Wish that weren't such a long wait. I haven't played the Exile games but I think Avernum 1 would kill the gimlet. I can't see how M&M1 is superior in any category.

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    2. I'm currently playing Exile 1 on a Win95 virtual machine. It's really, REALLY bloody great. I think I actually prefer it to its remakes too, which are way more streamlined and directed experiences than the original.

      Also, towards another point Chet made, I don't mind the Windows interface all that much there. At least its window fills the whole screen with a game background so you don't have to look at your stupid desktop while playing.

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    3. What would really kill the gimlet is the first Geneforge.

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    4. I ordered exile directly from spiderweb back in the day. I always thought of it as indie and not shareware, in that the entire game was never “shared”. I suppose there are other definitions of shareware.

      My favorite was the original Netherworld.

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    5. The freely distributed version of either Exile or Nethergate (don't remember which one, maybe both) had an NPC called "shareware demon" that blocked your progress, so at least Vogel seems to disagree with you ;) I believe the "indie developer" category just didn't exist back then, you were either published or shareware.

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    6. All his games were released as demos that let you explore roughly a 1/4 of the game but to get more you had to 'register' the game.


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    7. Which is the definition of shareware, as opposed to freeware, isn't it?

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    8. Not in my mind. The early shareware, utilities more often than games, were often complete byt one was expected to send money because it was the right thing to do, and also in order to get manuals and other documentarion, which was often necessary.


      If you want to call demos that need upgrades shareware, well, that’s most products.


      The term indie is older than at least some of the people who read this blog. It goes back to at least the 1970s.

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  8. It looks like Runes of Virtue for Gameboy!!! Gives me a shiver...I hope this was out of copyright when Nintendo took the ideas!

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  9. I like how you basically did a guerilla raid, snuck into the castle and ganked the villain. Some hero!

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  10. So the King, who could actually just knight you, makes you an honorary knight? That made me chuckle.

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    1. MYbe he didn’t want to give you the lands or income that many societies included in knighthood? Just an empty title?

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    2. Knighthood might have special requirements associated with it. Just like no matter how heroic a civilian's actions, he can't be made a general or given the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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  11. Although the main game itself is poorly implementing the Mac OS, I still liked how dialogues and inventory isn't squished into small myopic boxes in the UI like its contemporary peers in the MS-DOS universe.

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    1. That's a good point. Even though a lot of DOS games of the era support a mouse, they rarely maximize the possibilities of the mouse (possibly to avoid requiring it). It's still rare to find overlapping windows in DOS games.

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