Kimimi the Game-Eating She Monster: Brandish

I still have to figure out some consistent way to differentiate things we’re linking to, in titles, from our own content. It’s making me uncomfortable how things we link to on other sites are generally not distinguishable from things we make ourselves. The site: title construction is the best I’ve come up with for that, although I also use it for our own subseries, like Sundry Sunday. Please, except this rambly prologue as an introduction!

Kimimi the Game-Eating She Monster writes lots of interesting stuff, and we’ve linked to her several times before. In fact I have a whole Firefox window devoted to pieces she’s made. This one is about the Super Famicom (and others) game Brandish, one of Nihon Falcom’s many interesting RPG experiments.

Brandish is played in a dungeon where each level is a map, and monsters appear on it, and you attack them in real-time, without going to a separate screen. That is to say, combat isn’t “modal.” When switches change the state of the dungeon, you see their results happen immediately. Areas blocked to you are shown as just plain wall until you reveal them.

These things all make Brandish seem almost like (here’s that word again) a roguelike. But Brandish’s dungeon isn’t random, but set; the game isn’t a generalized system like roguelikes often are, but has set scenario. That makes it seem like a lot of other early RPGs. And one weird thing about it that’ll definitely require some adjustment is, Brandish is programmed so that your character always faces up; if you rotate to face a direction, the dungeon rotates around you. But the game doesn’t use the Super Nintendo’s “Mode 7” rotation feature: the dungeon turns immediately, which is disorientating until you get used to it, and even, it’s still a little disorientating. Brandish probably works that way because it was originally a Japanese PC game, and to implement Mode 7 rotation would mean having to rework some graphics to reflect the different perspectives.

Here’s a Youtube video of a playthrough. Skip past the intro, and what I’m talking about should become clear:

And now you’re ready for Kimimi’s own piece on Brandish. She likes it! And I agree, it’s a very interesting system. Brandish was popular enough to get multiple sequels. If you want to learn more about the series generally, Kurt Kalata’s Hardcore Gaming 101 has a good introduction to them.

Kimimi the Game-Eating She Monster Covers Brandish

A 30+ Year Old RPG System for the Commodore 64

It’s been months now since I announced my plans to release some project involving LOADSTAR, a 17-year computer magazine on disk, either here or on itch.io, or both. I’m still working on them.

In the meantime, I present this, a packaged-up release of Dungeon on itch.io, a complete old-school RPG gaming system for the Commdore 64, as it was released on the disk magazine LOADSTAR back in 1990.

Written by David Caruso II, Dungeon is a way of creating adventures for others to play, and a system of creating, maintaining and playing characters in those adventures. It was kind of a throwback even in 1990 (the SNES was released that year), but it definitely has charm, and an old-school kind of appeal.

You start out on the Guild screen, where you create a character from one of five fantasy races, then venture out on adventures stored on floppy disks, which in this release are provided as C64 1541 disk images. Fight monsters to earn experience points, find the object of the quest and then return to the Guild by the exit to have the chance to advance in experience level. If your character dies they’ll be revived, but only up to two times! If something happens and you don’t make it back, but don’t die either, your character will be marked as “GONE,” meaning they’re stuck in limbo until they make it back to the Guild on their own!

Your character advances in level between adventures, but they don’t get to keep any items they found on their journey. If they advance in level however, they get to permanently improve two of their stats. Getting to the maximum score of 25 grants them a special ability, but it’s really hard to get there!

This presentation of Dungeon is being made with the permission of Fender Tucker, owner and former Managing Editor of LOADSTAR. It isn’t free, but for $5 you get the Dungeon system and five pre-made adventures for it, culled from the 240+ issues of LOADSTAR. I include a stock copy of the open-source Commodore 64 emulator VICE, configured for playing Dungeon. (If $5 is too much for you, rumor has it Loadstar issues can be found online elsewhere. Dungeon was first published on issue #74.)

If you want to know more about it, I have constructed this 40-page PDF of documentation on Dungeon, from the disks of LOADSTAR in 1990, along with the instructions for the adventures and further notes on playing it from me. Here:

(file size: 2.6 MB)

The document refers to an itch.io release, that’s what I’m currently working on. Late in the document there are some spoilers for a particularly difficult adventure using the system.

Dungeon was created by someone named David Caruso II. Neither I nor long-time LOADSTAR managing editor Fender Tucker knows what became of him. I have what is almost certainly an old address for him. It’s been 33 years, and I suspect that Dungeon itself is a couple of years older than that, so it’s possible that Caruso has passed away by now. If he hasn’t, though, I’d like to talk with him. I think (hope?) he’d appreciate that people are still thinking about his creation even now.

itch.io: Folder Dungeon

Folder Dungeon, on itch.io, is a short and not-too-difficult game where an adventuring cursor has to dig through the folder structure of a hard drive to find an important file. Each window is a room of the dungeon; entering a Door folder takes you to another room down. You can go back the way you came using the back arrow icon at the bottom of the window.

In addition to doors, rooms can contain items, which can be picked up by clicking on them. Gold is among the items, the value of the coin indicated by a number. Some items cost money; if they do, they’ll have a coin and a number on the item. Some items, notably Health Potions and Ice Cream, take affect immediately; they never enter your inventory, but work immediately on your stats whether you needed it or not.

And, some of the things in rooms are monsters. If you do something other than attack a monster by clicking on it, then every monster in the room has a percentage chance to attack you; if you attack a monster, then it always counter-attacks if it survived the attack, but other monsters in the room don’t get the chance to attack.

Somewhere in each folder structure is an Exit icon. When you find it, you can only enter it once all the monsters in its room have been defeated. You don’t have to defeat all the monsters in a room to leave it, but it does give the monsters in the room a chance to attack you.

The most interesting play mechanic is, every action you take generates “heat.” You can only take so much heat. If heat reaches your maximum capacity, you take one damage per action until you leave the level (which resets heat to 0) or you lower your heat by collecting an Ice Cream.

Note, as you can see in the above screenshot, there’s a display bug in the current version that cuts off the left and right sides of the screen. Or is it a bug? It didn’t actually prevent me from playing? Maybe it’s an aesthetic choice? Anyway, I managed to finish the game on my first attempt, but it was close.

Folder Dungeon (by Ravernt, itch.io, $0)

Romhack Thursday: Ultima Underworld on Playstation, in English

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

The critical consensus on Ultima Underworld is that it was a high point of the Ultima franchise, a then-unique (and still fairly distinctive) kind of game, a 3D fantasy adventure released nine months before Doom, with a detailed dungeon and a high degree of player agency.

Ultima Underworld got a Playstation release, but only in Japan. It is not a straight upgrade from the DOS version, it’s got different cutscenes and anime character portraits, as well as interface differences. Still, it could well be worth playing for its own sake.

Often for these romhack posts I’ll try to apply the patch myself and take my own screenshots, but in this case the patch is over 120 megabytes, and itself to be applied to a CD game ISO, and a substantial game to learn and navigate in itself, so I’m going to pass this time and just use screenshots from the game’s romhacking.net entry.

Look at that anime-style character art. I guess this counts as the third JRPG post in a row.

English Fan Translation of Ultima Underworld for Playstation (romhacking.net)

Roguelike Celebration: Common Pitfalls With Roguelike Traps

From Roguelike Celebration 2022, Reed Lockwood’s talk on trap design in roguelikes. Traps are an essential part of a D&D-style dungeon exploration sim, but are very easy to get wrong, either by making them too strong or, conversely, too weak. Some interesting ideas here!

Robert Koeneke, Creator of Moria, R.I.P.

News comes from Ben S. on Twitter, and echoed by Temple of the Roguelike that Robert Alan Koeneke, creator of Moria, passed away on July 15th, at the age of 64.

TotR identifies Moria as the first follow-up game to Rogue. My notes have it popping up three years after the original, which seems like an impossibly long time now for no one to have made a copy, but even Advanced Rogue, which was built off of Rogue code, didn’t see the world until 1984. Moria, by contrast was written from scratch. Moria’s Wikipedia page notes that Koeneke originally wrote it in a form of BASIC, but rewrote it in Pascal, and I think that’s probably the version that first saw distribution.

(A good place to look for the relative appearance times of roguelike games is this page on the Tangaria website. There is also BALROG, which no longer exists on the living web but is preserved on the Wayback Machine, although a link to it currently eludes me.)

Moria was converted to the C language to produce UMoria, which the credits to Blizzard’s Diablo cite as a direct inspiration. A prototype of Diablo was found some time back that was turn-based, and was even closer to the Moria play style. There’s also GMoria, another variant of UMoria.

A browser-playable version of Moria is reputed to reside here, but currently seems broken. Moria itself wasn’t ported beyond Pascal, but UMoria was written in C and so managed to proliferate. User polluks at GitHib has preserved and cleaned up the source to UMoria and released a version 5.7 that remains true to early versions, and runs on Windows, Linux and macOS. Previous versions ran on VMS, DOS and Amiga. Their account also maintains several other versions of Moria, including the Pascal source of the VMS version.

The object of Moria is to descend into the titular mines and defeat the Balrog that gave Gandalf so much trouble. Some of its many improvements over Rogue include a town level where players can purchase and sell items, more types of equipment including helmets and boots, the need to carry a light source in the dungeon, and levels that could be much larger than one screen in size.

Angband players will find most of this familiar; while it has a much longer dungeon, in structure its apple doesn’t fall far from Moria’s tree. Both Moria and Angband place the game emphasis more on fighting and tactics than Rogue.

Rogue was popular in the culture of university computing, but its source was closed, and what variants it got were built off of leaked code. Moria was the first open source roguelike, which allowed for its conversion to C. This C version was renamed to UMoria. UMoria is the ancestor of mighty Angband, which is one of the most-permuted games ever made, with well over 100 variants, with even more appearing once in a while.

I can’t resist turning this into a parable about the virtues of cooperation and sharing. Because of Rogue’s closed source, its immediate variants are very hard to find now, with only the versions preserved by the Roguelike Preservation Project surviving, and Rogue itself has largely been overshadowed by NetHack and its variants.

For more on UMoria, back in 2015 Roguelike Radio did an episode on it. There is also a good Moria resource page.