Wizard's Crown Chronicles (00) - The Setup

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Wizard's Crown: Apple II version (emulation)Wizard's Crown: Apple II version (emulation)(See The premise at the end of this posting for details on this ongoing feature)

Having literally dozens of boxed classic CRPGs (Computer Role Playing Games) and related software to choose from in my collection for the first Armchair Arcade Chronicle, I finally decided to go for what was generally known as one of the hardest of hardcore full Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs), Wizard's Crown, published by SSI in 1987. Even though the Atari ST is probably the best from a visual standpoint (and adds a debatable mouse-driven interface), the C-64 version is the version I happen to have complete in the box. I've never played Wizard's Crown, but it's always been on my list.

In order to set the scene for what is to come, first some background on Wizard's Crown...

Snippets from Wikipedia's entry covering some fact's about Wizard's Crown:

"Wizard's Crown is a 1985 top-down computer role-playing game published by Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI). It was released for the Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, IBM PC, Apple II and Commodore 64. Its sequel, Eternal Dagger, was released in 1987.

Wizard's Crown is a detailed game for its age. While the graphics are typical for games of the era, the extensive combat, injury, character advancement, and magical equipment systems rival those of games made ten years later.[citation needed] The object of the game is to rescue a magical crown from Tarmon, a wizard who sealed himself and the crown in his laboratory 500 years previous.

The game design and programming was done by Paul Murray and Keith Brors, game development by Chuck Kroegel and Jeff Johnson, the rulebook created by Leona Billings, and the playtesters were Russell Smith, Arlon Harris & Mike Musse."

And a more personal description from our own Matt Barton and his The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 2: The Golden Age (1985-1993):

"In 1985, SSI released another party-based fantasy CRPG called Wizard's Crown, which was probably the most "hardcore" CRPG of its time. Players could create up to 8 players, and multi-class them as much as they liked (i.e., a character could be a thief/fighter/mage/cleric). Instead of "levels," characters improved their stats and skills, such as hunting, haggling, alchemy, and swimming. This skill system would show up again in modern games like Fall Out and Neverwinter Nights. Likewise, the combat system was more dynamic than anything offered up to that time. There were over 20 combat commands alone, including unusual ones like "Fall Prone," which made a character harder to hit with arrows but easier to hit with melee weapons. Like Questron and Phantasie, different situations called for different weapons. However, Wizard's Crown went a step beyond with added realism--shields only worked if the character was facing the right direction, for instance, and characters were still vulnerable to axes and flails, which could destroy or circumvent a shield, respectively. Ranged weapons were implemented, as well as an intelligent magic system. Although a major battle could last up to 40 minutes, players could also choose "quick combat," which would automatically resolve the combat in seconds. While the storyline was droll (find a wizard, kill him, and take back a crown), the extraordinary attention to character development and strategic combat made up for it. It remains one of the most complicated CRPGs and a strategist's dream. SSI released a sequel to the game called The Eternal Dagger in 1987. Demons from another dimension are invading the world, and the only item that can seal the portal is the titular dagger. Besides the new storyline, the sequel is nearly identical to the first game, though some elements like the "fall prone" option mentioned above were omitted."

I will primarily be using the Commodore 128DCR pictured here after I get JiffyDOS installed, with the occassional use of the Commodore SX-64, pictured here (though with a different keyboard), when I don't want to be in the office for whatever reason. Since the game is played with disks, portability between different machines is not an issue. In the next installment, I'll lay out all the components prior to actually beginning.

END

The premise
Having seen and enjoyed other blogs/recountings of personal experiences in chronicling the regular goings on while playing computer or videogame RPGs, I decided to present my own take on the concept. More than a simple review or type of "fan fiction", this is an ongoing series of features told in both traditional review and story formats concurrently (and as visually as possible, perhaps even with some video). Whether the experiment is ultimately a success or not won't be determined until the game is completed and the last blog entry written, when I'll compile each piece into separate features (likely smoothing a few things out and making proper transitions). I may even change styles and formats along the way if I see the need or get feedback to that effect. As with my other ongoing series here on Armchair Arcade, this will not be a regularly scheduled event, but I'll try to make it as consistent as possible. Regardless, there's always a good reason to keep checking Armchair Arcade daily for something new!

Comments

yakumo9275
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Eternal Dagger

I would like to see you tackle its sequel Eternal Dagger to make it complete :)

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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Eternal Dagger
yakumo9275 wrote:

I would like to see you tackle its sequel Eternal Dagger to make it complete :)

-- Stu --

If Wizard's Crown is as potentially epic as I think it is, I'm not sure if I would want to go through Eternal Dagger anytime soon. I do have it though. Also, in concept the idea is fine, but in execution I may not like it and pull it all together. We'll see though.

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Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Calibrator
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Picture file format

Bill,
I would really like to read this as I never had the time/money back then and now it's definitely too hardcore for me ;-)

However, I think that the bigger version of the emulator screen shot could be optimized quite a "bit" -- especially considering your will to provice a visual experience with this series, too:
Using a JPG may not be the best option as this relatively small image (608x413) uses around 443K can take several seconds to load whereas a GIF takes about 16K and a PNG only 9K(!) -- with very short loading times. BTW: Even a regular, uncompressed BMP is nearly half as big as the JPG: 246K

All alternatives don't reduce picture quality in this case because the JPG only uses 193 colors (most of these introduced by saving into the JPG format).
It may even be possible to get smaller files if you don't save/convert into JPG at all but use the GIF format all the way, which should work with all graphical web browsers, too.

Best of luck for your new series!
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Explanation for the image used in the blog post
Calibrator wrote:

Bill,
I would really like to read this as I never had the time/money back then and now it's definitely too hardcore for me ;-)

However, I think that the bigger version of the emulator screen shot could be optimized quite a "bit" -- especially considering your will to provice a visual experience with this series, too:
Using a JPG may not be the best option as this relatively small image (608x413) uses around 443K can take several seconds to load whereas a GIF takes about 16K and a PNG only 9K(!) -- with very short loading times. BTW: Even a regular, uncompressed BMP is nearly half as big as the JPG: 246K

All alternatives don't reduce picture quality in this case because the JPG only uses 193 colors (most of these introduced by saving into the JPG format).
It may even be possible to get smaller files if you don't save/convert into JPG at all but use the GIF format all the way, which should work with all graphical web browsers, too.

Best of luck for your new series!
Calibrator

No need to worry about that. I'll be doing direct screenshot captures and direct feed videos from the actual C-64 system. I only did that Apple II emulator screenshot from the superb http://www.virtualapple.org/ Web browser-based Apple II and IIgs emulator as a one-off. Here are some excellent screenshots of the nicer Atari ST version: http://www.retro-experience.co.uk/atarist/wizcrown.html , which no doubt has the best visuals and the most different (mouse-driven, as most SSI Atari ST/Amiga titles were, which was not necessarily an improvement (for instance, I didn't immediately like it on the Atari ST versions of the Phantasie games) interface.

GIF's use fewer colors - only a maximum of 256 - versus JPG's millions of colors, so I'd like to hear you explain your theory a bit more as it's an intriguing one. They're all lossy formats and all have their place, though PNG usually gives best quality to size performance.

By the way, I'm not so sure I'd enjoy playing the Apple II version, because at least in emulation, the graphics seem to be a disaster...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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Bill Loguidice
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Another idea... (Phantasie)

Another idea I had, but one that would have been too time consuming and too "epic" (though who knows what the future may bring), was to replay the Phantasie games, but play it on the different system classes, since each engine was subtly different (and some versions had "flipped" maps). The major classes were Atari 8-bit/C-64, Apple II, Atari ST/Amiga and PC DOS. I could eliminate PC DOS since it was close enough to being a pale hybrid between the C-64 and Atari ST versions (and II was never made for DOS!), leaving just the C-64, Apple II and Amiga, since those would represent the overall best interpretations in their class. However, I'm not sure if II was ever made for Amiga, so even if it looked slightly better (my guess from what I've seen) than the ST version, the ST version would have to trump it. I played and beat all three C-64 versions, so it might make sense for me to play the slightly drabber Atari 8-bit versions. Unfortunately, I don't know if III was ever made for the Atari 8-bit, so that brings me back to the C-64. So the final list then would have been the C-64, Apple II and Atari ST, which would cover all major engine types and interpretations and translate to all the other conversions more or less.

With that said, even playing three different games relatively concurrently (I would have made a point of creating radically different characters) and doing my hybrid review/story format that I'll be using for the Wizard's Crown chronicles would have been a lot of work, not to mention having three major computer systems set up concurrently. I can do it, but it would still take up a lot of room. You combine that with having to mentally shift focus between three different closely related universes in order to write as those characters and I think it just wouldn't work unless I happened to be retired. Which I'm not.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Calibrator
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About Apples and oranges errr picture file formats
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Here are some excellent screenshots of the nicer Atari ST version: http://www.retro-experience.co.uk/atarist/wizcrown.html,

Thanks for the link but it looks like they were mady by using an emulator, stretched
(look at the text) with an image manipulation program and lastly saved as JPGs.
In other words: I don't think they look like the real deal - especially when magnified.

The Atari ST and Amigas were the first popular computers that used RGB video to
good effect (sharp and color-correct video). Therefore I think that pure "emulator-
generated" pictures like these are better:
http://www.mobygames.com/game/atari-st/wizards-crown/screenshots

Quote:

which no doubt has the best visuals and the most different (mouse-driven, as most SSI Atari ST/Amiga titles were, which was not necessarily an improvement (for instance, I didn't immediately like it on the Atari ST versions of the Phantasie games) interface.

You are certainly right about that. Especially if one is "trained" by the Ultimas to use the keyboard...

Quote:

GIF's use fewer colors - only a maximum of 256 - versus JPG's millions of colors,

That's also correct. But more colors don't automatically mean its "better".

Quote:

so I'd like to hear you explain your theory a bit more as it's an intriguing one.

Getting the old fingers already warmed up ;-)

Quote:

They're all lossy formats

Not quite.

The term "lossy" in this context means that a compression is used that reduces image detail.
Or to be more precise: It substitutes the original detail (in the form of colored pixels) with artificial
(algorithmically generated) detail ("falsely" colored pixels).

What you see on your desktop is really only a (usually) linear series of bits in the frame buffer
of the video hardware. You could of course save these bits to disk using various programs
and in various file formats. But what's the difference?

Some file formats preserve the original structure of the picture bitmap in the framebuffer or
computer memory (some pictures are of course larger than the framebuffer).

Today the best known uncompressed file format in the Windows world is BMP which is very
simple in its most popular variant. It usually uses four bytes per pixel which results in a large file.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_bitmap

GIF uses a compression algorithm which is "lossless" - the result is that when you load a GIF
file you'll get the exact same state when saving it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIF

PNG is usually "a better GIF variant" because of its better compression and its ability to store
true color pictures: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PNG

JPG (or JPEG) is an entirely different beast and works much more complicated.
Its main attraction is its high compression capability but it has several features: it is lossy
(depending on the compression ratio), it has problems with high contrast material (like text)
and can't work with 8 bits only so a color depth of 256 is out of the question. It's also not
optimal with rather small pictures like icons or window frames and the like.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JPEG

Quote:

and all have their place, though PNG usually gives best quality to size performance.

That's right - and choosing the right format depends on analyzing the circumstances.

Your circumstances were an emulator screen with six colors. Now, what file format
would be better: JPG or GIF/PNG? ;-)

Quote:

By the way, I'm not so sure I'd enjoy playing the Apple II version, because at least in emulation, the graphics seem to be a disaster...

The reason for this is twofold [verbose mode on - again...]:

a) The Apple II was designed for NTSC video displays and the color generation is quite tricky.
It really consists of "white" pixels at certain timings whereas the Atari and C64 video hardware
for example produces "real colors". The Apple's method is called "artifacting" and it doesn't
work with the PAL color system or other types of video connections like RGB.
This means that if you play an Apple game of that timeframe (late seventies, early eighties)
you'll get optimal results only on NTSC capable displays.

b) The Apple II emulator you used is AFAIK really an Apple IIgs-emulator.

The Apple IIgs (the "gs" stands for graphics & sound) is nearly 100% software compatible with
its predecessors Apple II, II+ and IIe but it's video generation hardware also only emulates
the old hardware to get colors on RGB displays (which are the optimal displays for a IIgs).
The result is a very sharp display and comparable to what a IIgs emulator will produce.

The IIgs also has a composite video output like the older II's but the picture quality will be
different, too.

One could assume that playing games on an emulator that emulates a system which itself
only emulates the original target platform is less than optimal and that "direct emulation"
would be better ;-)

The truth is that the currently available non-gs emulators have other strengths than simulating
an NTSC display to perfection and most Apple enthusiasts today seem to want a super sharp
VGA-like display and not a very authentic looking softened mudgy picture.
[verbose mode off]

IMHO your best bet with Apple II games is by using the original hardware.

ATB
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Colors

Thanks for all that Calibrator, good reading. Indeed, I use the Apple RGB monitor on my IIgs, but straight composite with my IIe and other Apple II and clone systems in that same class. As for that particular Apple II emulator screenshot, I used that online IIgs emulator for convenience, did a print screen into Paint Shop Pro, then saved it to JPG with the lowest compression possible, which I have as the default (since that's how I'm doing photos for the book). It was no big deal really. I'll take your advice though when the actual feature starts and I'm doing direct feed captures from the real system. I may even try the occasional photograph of the monitor, but that rarely comes out well (though it is convenient).

By the way, tt looks like the "city" screens look like butt on ALL versions because of the harsh texture on the tileset, so that's interesting. In fact, it looks like the game is at its best when the background is black. I do love the multi-colored character sprites of the Atari ST version, though, as that's quite appealing to my aesthetics sensibilities.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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Matt Barton
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Project Ideas

Wow, Bill, that one idea sounds like a real time sink. It'd probably be easier (though likely impossible) to find someone else willing to cover the other platforms, then get to together at some point and compare notes. Besides, I'm not sure it'd be necessary to beat each game on each version, since I'd assume the important thing would be understanding the differences among the interfaces and audiovisuals. Some games do offer extended levels or different cinematics among the ports, though. Maybe play each version to a certain point, or until you meet certain conditions.

I guess what I'd say is that it seems like potentially useful work, but is it the best way to spend your time? :-) Or do you just need an excuse to get all those retromachines up and running with one of your favorite games?

Matt

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Bill Loguidice
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Nixed idea
Matt Barton wrote:

Wow, Bill, that one idea sounds like a real time sink. It'd probably be easier (though likely impossible) to find someone else willing to cover the other platforms, then get to together at some point and compare notes. Besides, I'm not sure it'd be necessary to beat each game on each version, since I'd assume the important thing would be understanding the differences among the interfaces and audiovisuals. Some games do offer extended levels or different cinematics among the ports, though. Maybe play each version to a certain point, or until you meet certain conditions.

I guess what I'd say is that it seems like potentially useful work, but is it the best way to spend your time? :-) Or do you just need an excuse to get all those retromachines up and running with one of your favorite games?

Matt

Yeah, that's why I nixed the idea. I still think there is potential in reviewing such multi-format games simultaneously and in a narrative, but CRPG's are probably not ideal for doing it because of the immense scope. It would probably make sense to tackle an action game or something in that format.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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