Saturday, 30 July 2016

Missed Classic: Robin of Sherwood: The Touchstones of Rhiannon - WON! with Final Rating

Written by Alex



It’s been a long time coming, but work and life have conspired to keep me away from this game, and anything resembling free time really, for the better part of a month. But I persevered and eventually finished The Touchstones of Rhiannon, thanks in no small part to our maestro Ilmari and some timely hints he provided when the parser got in my way. But we’ll get to that later.

As with the previous post, I’m going to go scene-by-scene instead of providing a linear narrative. The important things to remember are that I have one touchstone, 200 gold pieces, a quarterstaff, a longbow, a quiver full of arrows, the magical sword Albion, and a list-ful of quests.


One Missed Location . . .

As a classic adventure-gamer, I know that when stuck, it’s often a good idea to retrace one’s steps and see if you missed anything. So that’s what I did. And in the south-western corner of the forest, I discovered a location I had missed in my previous mapping expedition: A circle of stones known as Rhiannon’s Wheel.



There was nothing there, but I had some burning questions about this strange race of people, the druids. Who were they? What were they doing there? Why does their legacy remain, hewn into the living rock?


Why were they only three-feet-tall?

I didn’t find anything at Rhiannon’s Wheel, but the word “Rhiannon” in its name made me think it was where the touchstones belonged. I dropped my solitary touchstone into the stone circle, but nothing happened. Nor did anything happen with any other objects I dropped. Gathering my things, I decided to try crossing a few quests off of my to-do list:
  • The archery contest at Nottingham Castle: I could win it and get the silver arrow, but I could not escape. What was I missing?
  • The treasure chest in the bedroom at Nottingham Castle: There’s got to be a way to open it. Who knows what wonders this could hold?
  • The nuns of Kirklees Abbey: These sweet ladies will exchange a touchstone for 400 gold pieces. Where can I get more money?
  • The Knights Templar: These religious crusaders will exchange a touchstone for their missing Holy Crest. Where is it?
  • Leaford Grange: Maybe Marion is here and can help me? Or I can spring her from Nottingham and bring her here?
  • Castle de Belleme: Perhaps Satanic Simon has a touchstone?
Return to Nottingham, Part I:



Previously, I could win the contest and get the silver arrow, but could not escape when gates slammed down and the Sheriff’s men took Robin to the dungeons, presumably to be poked with the fluffy pillows.


Or maybe it was the comfy chair . . .

I had an idea: Maybe I could shoot the Sheriff? Threaten him? Hold him hostage?

. . . “GET” him?


You “GET” the Sheriff . . .

That’s right: Tough-guy Robin slings the Sheriff over his shoulder Conan-style (at least in my head), forcing the guards to let Robin go before their leader gets harmed. Not quite as sexy as slinging Marion over your shoulder, but I guess it all depends on who you ask.


“Any port in a storm, my friend.”

Once outside, I “DROP” the Sheriff, who runs away like a crybaby, leaving Robin safely in Sherwood with a brand new silver arrow! Still, I wasn’t able to get back to that treasure chest, or even more to Robin’s chagrin, Marion who was sitting on the bed in that room.

There’s no way that the chest isn’t important. This is an adventure game. It’s a Chekov’s chest. I’d be shocked if it had no purpose. That’d be bad game design, and if there’s one thing I can tell about Mike Woodroffe and Brian Howarth from playing this game, is that they are good game designers, so I’m not worried. Just intrigued.

Castle de Belleme:

I don’t like Satan, and I don’t like Satanists. So since I had no other leads, I figured I’d visit that jerk Simon and see if I could get anywhere in his castle. For whatever reason, I was able to get through that tunnel and into the inner sanctum, and OH MY GOD—



The dude’s gone full metal! He has Marion tied up to some sort of pentagram, there are candles burning . . . am I at a Slayer concert? And how the hell did Marion get there, anyway?

Doing anything results in death. I try to shoot Simon with an arrow, but he burns up my bow and kills Robin. I try to shoot Simon with the silver arrow—which I’m assuming is the reason why I didn’t die upon entering the room like before (because plot)—but he still burns up my bow and kills Robin. So I, uh, type “KILL SIMON.”



That’s right! Robin plunges the silver arrow in Simon’s chest. This isn’t technically a “longbowing,” but I’m not one to stand on technicalities. Anyway, Robin frees Marion, and instead of having to carry her around like an inventory object, she accompanies Robin of her own volition. Bechdel Test: Passed. Or something. Who cares?

Oh, and Simon had a touchstone.



So there’s still that statue of the demon Azael outside in Simon’s . . . elegant hallway. I tried everything to that statue—pushing, pulling, hitting, prodding, talking, smacking, breaking—except for “GO STATUE,” because that would just be silly.


Sigh.

So you “GO STATUE” and stand up close to it, I guess. Examining the eyes reveals that they are hollow and hiding 100 gold coins. Cool! I’m three-quarters of the way to being able to get the Nuns’ touchstone. (Thanks to Ilmari for this hint).

Nothing else to do here, so off we go.

Siward the Thief

Well, I figured out what to do at Leaford Grange: Nothing. After searching Sherwood for what felt like days, I broke down and asked for hints. Ilmari provided me with the solution which is so unfair that it alone lowers this game’s PISSED rating: On the screen south of the Grange, you type “LOOK BUSHES” and Marion finds a secret cave.


So obvious, in retrospect . . .

You don’t go to the Grange and knock. Marian doesn’t go and let her father know that she is safe or that Robin needs his help. Nope. You’re supposed to have the wherewithal to search the bushes near the Grange for a secret cave that absolutely nothing and nobody in the game indicated would be there. I know it’s a classic adventure game, but this is the sort of thing drives me nuts. Oh well.



Inside you find and free a prisoner named Siward the Thief. Who is he? How did he get there? Who cares? You can “GET” him and you can “KILL” him, but nothing happens when you do. He carries nothing, so I might as well jam him into Robin’s pocket and see what else there is to do. Unfortunately Mr. the Thief has nothing to say, but I’ll bet there’s a certain treasure chest he could help me with, provided I can get back into Nottingham . . .

Return to Nottingham, Part II

What’s this? Near the big tree in the southern part of the forest there’s a serf just hanging out with his cart. Does his lord know he’s slacking off? Feudalism never sleeps!

The lazy bum has nothing, and therefore cannot be robbed, and most choices cause him to just mosey on his merry way, bringing his cart with him. Eventually, I try “STOP SERF,” which does the trick: He runs off in fear, leaving his horse and cart behind.



The cart is full of hay, but otherwise empty. Ideas swirl in my mind, many involving Marion and the hay. But then I remember this is only a game. I think back to my last play session, where the tax collector’s horse bolted straight for Nottingham after I robbed the sucker blind. Maybe this horse could take me there? That’s it! Robin and Marion will hide in the hay!

I try everything. Riding the horse, getting into the cart, getting on the horse, getting on the cart, hiding in the cart, hiding under the cart, kicking the cart, kicking the horse, killing the horse, eating the horse, killing the horse and then eating it, killing Marion, hiding in the horse, using every object on the horse, the cart, Marion, the tree, the dirt, the sun, the sky, my computer . . . finally, I break down and ask the wise sage Ilmari for another hint. And here’s what he said. You ready for what he said? This is what he said:

“GO CART.”


???

“GO CART.” It makes sense, actually, so I shouldn’t penalize the game for it. But the right idea/wrong word choice conundrum in parser-based games is always frustrating.

In any event, the horse goes to Nottingham Castle, whose guards are more than happy to let a riderless horse and cart inside without searching the cart or anything. Obviously, they’ve never read about the Trojan War.



This next puzzle was kind of cool: Leaving the cart resulted in death, but waiting passes time until nightfall, when the guards apparently go home for the night and leave Robin, Marion, and Siward with free-reign over Nottingham Castle.



I make my way back to the bedroom with the chest and “DROP SIWARD.” He calmly goes over and unlocks the chest, leaving Robin to search through its goodies. I make sure to “LOOK CHEST” until it’s totally empty and I find the Knights Templar’s crest, 100 more gold coins, and another touchstone! Yeah!

I hit “I” to check my inventory, counting the touchstones and my gold. What’s this? Stuff is missing. I rub my chin a bit. Now who around me would steal things? It couldn’t be the guy whose last name is the Thief, could it?


“Uh . . . can’t you guys take a joke?”



Robin reloads and murders Siward before ransacking the chest. You’d think Siward would be a little more gracious towards his emancipators, but no. I leave the body there as a warning to anybody foolish enough to carry around a thief named Siward in their tight’s pocket.

Taking stock, I have three touchstones, 400 gold coins, and the Knights’ crest. I’m almost there!

The Nuns and the Knights

These quests are simple to take care of: I give the nuns coins until they give me the touchstone, and the Knights don’t mess around once they’ve got their holy crest back.





So that’s five touchstones out of six. Where could the last one be?

The End

I go to Rhiannon’s Wheel and start dropping stones. Nothing happens. I start dropping other stuff. Herne the Hunter pops up to turn the silver arrow into a touchstone. Lightning flashes. The end.


Please, don’t ask.


Victory! Somehow.

Final Rating
I’m going to keep this brief, but fair:

Puzzles and Solvability: 3

On the whole, the puzzles in Touchstones of Rhiannon are logical and reward clever thinking. I’m particularly fond of the initial escape sequence, and wish more of the game’s puzzles were this clever. I also wish I could give this a 3.5, or even a 4, but the bushes outside of Leaford Grange drags it down. “GO STATUE” was a little annoying, as was “GO CART,” but they weren’t offensive or needlessly obtuse, and stabbing Simon in the chest with the silver arrow is pretty funny. Even dropping the silver arrow didn’t bother me as much as the hidden cave. If that was a part of the show’s plot, shame on me for not watching the entire series before playing this game, I guess.

Interface and Inventory: 3

This may seem high, but for a game of its vintage, both the interface and the inventory were just fine. The inventory consists of a list of your items, and doesn’t offer any explanations or pictures, but it does the job. And any issues I had with the interface were my fault and not the game’s. If I were playing this back in 1985 at the age of 4, my biggest problem would be being 4. But if I could transport myself back to 1985 now, I’d buy stock in Apple and then play this game, likely with more confusion about how I traveled back in time than about the parser.

What I’m trying to say is that on a scale of 1 to 10, taking everything into consideration, I feel that a 3 is fair here. I debated giving it a 4, but that seemed a little much.

Story and Setting: 4

It’s cliché, but I love Robin Hood stories, I love the cast of characters, and I love Sherwood Forest. I actually give this bonus points for being based on an interesting intellectual property which this game makes me want to seek out and watch!

Yes, the game itself doesn’t convey much of the story, but it’s Robin Hood! English or American, you know the drill: Fight the Sheriff, get the girl, hang with your boys, and split an arrow or two in an archery contest. All good stuff.

Sound and Graphics: 4

It’s an old game. It’s a text adventure with a few pictures. There’s no music or sound, but the pictures are nice, and there’s even some animation on the waterfall and when the lightning flashes upon dropping all six touchstones in Rhiannon’s Wheel (sounds dirtier than it is).

Environment and Atmosphere: 3

As much as I love the story and setting, I can’t give this category any higher than a 3. I never really felt like I was Robin Hood. It’s an old game so it gets some leeway, and it does a reasonable job considering, which is why I couldn’t give it a 2. A 3 seems eminently fair.

Dialogue and Acting: 1

I could give this higher if the game had any dialogue or acting, or even interaction with other characters beyond getting them, dropping them, and killing them. I get the impression that Touchstones of Rhiannon was more about the exploration and hitting the plot points of the TV show than detailed and intricate conversations with NPCs.

3 + 3 + 4 + 4 + 3 + 1 = 18. 18/.6 = 30

A 30 seems plenty fair. And just because I did enjoy my time with Touchstones of Rhiannon, I’m going to award it my discretionary bonus point, bringing the final score to a 31. Not bad for a Missed Classic, if you ask me.

Now if you don’t mind, Rhiannon and I have a lot more exploring to do in her wheel . . .

Session Playtime: 3 hours.
Total Playtime: 6 hours, 20 minutes.

On a scale of Daffy Duck to Errol Flynn, how much do I feel like Robin Hood?:



16 comments:

  1. Great work! I have to say that my experience so far has been that the Scott Adams games have better puzzles, but the AIUK games seem to be a lot more accessible to casual players. We'll have to see if that holds up as we play more games.

    This one, like Seas of Blood, is essentially an interesting wrapper around a fetch quest.

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    1. What I find somewhat peculiar is the relative feel of cheapness of this game. There's definitely no intricate plot (like Infocom had), not a huge game world (like Level 9 had) and even the graphical side of the game seems far from what Sierra had done with King's Quests. But I guess AIUK was targeting the low end machines of the era, so the feeling of cheapness is just to be expected.

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    2. Thanks Joe. It was fun, but like you said, a glorified fetch question. I enjoyed the first puzzle the most, and the rest were logical enough, but I found myself wrestling with the parser.

      Still, for the time and for the type of game, it was entertaining albeit with some strange parser issues . . . "Go statue?" Really?

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    3. @Ilmari,

      Cheapness is an interesting word. The plot is not intricate, but I think that's because it's based on a preexisting intellectual property. I think I could better make the comparison to other text adventures of the day if I had played them too. But the game is rather short. Still, for what it was, it did a yeoman's job.

      (Like the use of the word "yeoman"? I can't get out of Sherwood Forest . . .)

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    4. Well, cheapness might have been a bit overkill. Let's just say that the game felt a few years out of date compared to what the market had to offer by then. But the target of the game were probably owners of not that fancy machines, to which the more state of the art games couldn't be imported. From that perspective, at least the graphics are reasonably good.

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  2. Well done.

    I've no patience for parsers any more, but I quite enjoy reading about other people struggling with them.

    Does that make me a bad person?

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    1. I like parsers when done well. I enjoy the gameplay in e.g. Quest for Glory 1, Colonel's Bequest and Trilby's Notes.

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    2. No . . . it just means you have a sick sense of humor. Kind of like the rest of us here! I mean, we'd have to be sick to play some of these games (I'm looking at you, Police Quest 3 and Les Manley).

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    3. @Ilmari

      Agreed. QfG I, and I'd say II, are examples of good parser interfaces. Colonel's Bequest is a fun game, but I wouldn't say the parser in that is all that great.

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    4. Did you get us Finns confused?

      And I'd say the parser in CB is at least OK, better than LSL2 or Altered Destiny.

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    5. @Ilmari,

      I would make a joke about how "you all look alike to me," but I don't want to get banned from TAG!

      And yes . . . my error was my dyslexia or something rearing its ugly head. Finnish dyslexia, apparently . . .

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    6. HAHAHAH I DID IT AGAIN!

      Laukku!

      Wow I am an awful reader.

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    7. Alex, are you deliberately channelling Sardor from Heart of China, or is that coincidental? Either way, I'm amused :):)

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    8. @Alex,

      Finnish dyslexia? You are clearly requiring some instruction on Finnish linguistic peculiarities, to be able to read us clearly. We might begin with our sixteen noun cases:

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

      And something about our ridiculously long words and how to pronounce them:

      http://www.expat-finland.com/living_in_finland/finnish_language.html

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    9. Here is a classic lesson in Finnish: http://sironawolf.deviantart.com/journal/What-do-you-mean-finnish-is-hard-412484980

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    10. You multilingual people have my admiration.

      And it's not the words - learning different words is something I can imagine - it's the different grammatical rules - keeping those in your head's gotta take significant effort and/or skill.

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