Currently playing: Nox Archaist

September 25, 2011

Revisited - Crystal Dragon

The same year Commodore went to bankruptcy a Dungeon Master inspired action RPG was released true to its ancestor, named Crystal Dragon from Black Legend. Despite that Amiga 1200 had been released over 1,5 years ago, Crystal Dragon was an A500 version which did not use the capabilities of the AGA-chipset. I just happened to buy an english Amiga magazine that featured Crystal Dragon as a demo and was totally blown away by the good music. I did never get hold of the game unfortunately, but since the game now is released for free I couldn´t resist going back to it and see what it was all about.

I first tried out the game quickly just to see if I found the correct keys for loading/saving game, movement etc. It seems there are only two saveslots available (or one per drive). I cannot move forward with the keyboard, only turning so I have to click forward with the mouse and turn with the keys. Not a very smooth solution in the midst of realtime combat.

You outside the dungeon and can only enter by solving a riddle
You start directly in front of the gate to the dungeon where you have to solve a puzzle to be able to get the door to open. When you step in everything is pitched black so you have to equip your characters with torches and their weapons. There are only a 8 inventory slots so you won´t be able to carry a lot of things. Water and Food is consumed in realtime apart from the problems with the denizens of this place. Just be sure to not stand around doing nothing and you might just have enough food to sustain this place.

You only get to choose two characters from a list of some dozen pre-generated ones. But you are allowed to use 6 points from a pool to increase the attribute of your choice. The five attributes are strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom and intelligence. You could also opt for total random figures as well.

Personally I could roll up characters for hours just to get the best rolls but I felt the pre-generated ones where quite good as they where so I picked a Paladin and a Cleric and started my adventure.

Ariath beating the dragon to get hold of the crystal from the intro

What about the story then, what is your goal ? To tell the truth I didn´t bother to read the 8 chapters of the background story in the manual. The game intro says there is a powerful magician named Ariath who tried to get hold of a certail crystal gem hidden deep down in a cave guarded by a dragon. After heavy losses and long fighting with the dragon he finally could get hold of the gem. If it weren´t for the gem was magically protected so he set up a new base at the mountain to be able to study it.

I don´t know more right now and it doesn´t matter. I am to force myself into this domain and everyone who attacks me will regret it. So into the darkness we stepped.

Exploring the first level

My Paladin, Rennard took the front with the cleric Ritenne at the back with her mace. Food is running out quickly and is scarce to find so I discovered I really don´t have time to linger around,searching for exits when I get stuck etc. There are a lot of classical doors with buttons that either opens on the fly, requires a key or could be broken down. Most of the time you navigate around to look for keys of better items. There are not many items lying around and at first level there are barracks and guard room quarters filled with ?.....yep, that´s right...malevolent guards that attacks on sight. They are however quite easy to get disposed of you just have to be sure you don´t get a serious wound that drains your hit points.

Stairs down to level 2

A few things I reflect on so far

  • To identify items you have to have high Wisdom. Everytime you pick an item an automatic identify check occurs. If you succeed you will be told about it otherwise you are given just a general description like, a potion for example. The trick though, is to repeatedly picking up the item. Sooner or later you manage to identify it. Seems a bit.....well you know.
  • Not only do you have to be quick since you runs out of food quickly and everyone screams they are hungry, you also don´t have unlimited light. I have no spells whatsoever for my cleric so I am dependent on finding torches. Navigating in the dark is not recommended.
  • Why do games in 1994 stubbornly let you loose hit points every time you bump into a wall ? Its just irritating. There are enough problems as there is with food and light. 
  • The puzzles are so far at level 1 fairly standard. Secret buttons must be looked for. Doors opens with guards coming through them and the only way to get into the door is to wait for the guard to open it and be quicker in entering the door square.
The guards are not very friendly
I was happy to find a chest containing the map scroll in front of the stairs to level 2. At least now I can see the automap from time to time since I haven´t bothered drawing any so far. It takes to much time which drains the food and light supply. I am slowly getting used to the cumbersome controls with movement but the enemies are quite slow so it works ok for the time being.

Today Crystal Dragon is released for free. I stumbled upon a forum where one of the programmers at that time describes the game:

"Hmmm, the developing process was pretty intense because there were only 2 of us, myself and Ian Lewis. Ian did all the graphics and designed the levels though I had some input with respect to what was possible as far as puzzles went (i.e. switches/pits/teleports etc.)

The basic system for health/stamina/food/water/experience/poison/disease etc. was one of the first things we did. This was tested with a small AMOS program that ran in extreme accelerated mode as far as all the stats were concerned and we tweaked things so that (for example) when you got to the green dragon (poison) if you got a full poison bar but were at the estimated levels for that point in the game then you could just about manage to survive

I have to admit that the game editor was a bit of a pain for Ian to use because due to lack of available memory there wasn't a proper "undo" mode, this is partly why there's the odd lock or switch remaining in the game that are just red-herrings

Overall it took two years, one of the most difficult things to solve was the save game and current game state saving (when changing dungeon levels) each level was 64k plus another 32k for other data, I think there were 24 levels and we allowed up to 5 saved games - and all this had to fit on a floppy. In the end I used a "save changes" method - however if you play the game a fair way through and then proceed to drop a single object on each square of one of the middle levels then it's quite possible that major failure will occur when exiting the level or saving the game !!

As each level was designed Ian would keep playtesting and adjusting the amount of food, weapons and spells etc. so that if you played reasonably well then you'd not starve or be too overmatched etc.
I say it was intense because at one point I was programming for around 16 hours a day for 7 days a week over a period of around two months.

During this time I got really annoyed one day because some of my code seemed to have disappeared - it was only after discussion with Ian that I realised the relevant code was something I'd worked out in my head the night before but hadn't actually written yet "

I have continued deeper into the dungeons but I´m still somewhere at level 2 right now. That depends on how to count because at times there are small sections going down which I don´t know really counts as a level or not.

What have happened ?
  • There is no new information about the main quest or anything. The only thing I´ve found out is that a warning has been sent to the guards for reinforcements because a group of adventures has been infiltrated the complex. Should I be flattered ?
  • I was about to give up on one occasion. I figured I needed four gemstones because I found four holes for them to put in but I only found three gems. I searched all levels for hidden buttons and illusion walls but couldn´t find anything. But then I found a hint saying that the guards rooms door had two switches. With that helped I managed to remova a pillar, hiding a chest that...hurrah! contained the green gem I was looking for. But it was a close call.
  • I hate the almost invisble buttons on the walls you have to look out for, but more worse are illusionary walls that are even harder to detect. I´ve found a spell that´s supposed to reveal those but I´m yet to see it in action.
  • My characters was raised to level 2 and it seems they get a random number for hitpoints and spellpoints as well as raising one or two attributes randomly. I have to save before this occurs to get the maximum out of a level upgrade.
  • The food supply is still scarce but haven´t got worse either.
  • Regarding light sources I´ve found a light wand which I think I can use. I hope it does not have a limited amount of charges thoush.
  • Level 3 introduced a new monster. A flying skull, able to shoot fireballs. It is harder to hit but less durable than the guards. 
  • You are harassed by small rats. They don´t do much damage but they are irritating and hard to hit. Or rather you can try to grab it and throw it into the wall. In that case you get a dead rat you can eat. But sometimes you get diseased by it.
  • The graphics in the game is good, but it has too few animation frames and would be state-of-the art in 1989 but not in 1994. I am conviced that the game Black Crypt released a few years earlier was much more elegant. I don´t like the colour palette being brownish all the time. I hope the dungeons will change later on in the game.
  • Sound effects are very sparse. You hear enemy movement, and door sounds. There is no ambivalent sounds or music playing.
Moving pits

Most of my troubles is to find to find the next stairs down. There are always locked doors or no visible way to continue forward which makes you scratch your head and wonder where you have missed something.

I´m currently stuck at a place with four rooms. Each containing a moving pit and a shelf with a scroll. Each scroll represents one of the four elements. I took all of them and had no other way to go than jumping down the moving pit. Later I found out that I had to look for four hidden elemental stones below before being able to be teleported back upstairs again. Here is the problem: I am probably supposed to put these elemental stones at the exact same place as the elemental scrolls were found. The problem is that I´ve took all scrolls and don´t remember in what order they where in the four rooms. That makes 16 tiresome combinations each taking around 4-5 minutes of hard and tedious concentration to pull through since the moving pits in irregular movements and flying skulls harass me along the way. My only hope is that I will hear a sound of a wall or door moving when I am finished or I will never know if I have succeeded or not. This could be the place I get stucked in this game. So far I´ve tried 6 combinations before being to tired to continue.....