Taking Kingdom of Kroz out for a test drive

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Kingdom of Kroz. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

A decade ago — when most of you were suckling infants, I assume — I spoke with fondness of an old ASCII puzzle/adventure game I used to play as a kid named Kroz. The game was named Kroz, not me. It featured very simplistic “graphics” but fiendishly addicting gameplay as the player adventurer sought to progress through many levels of a strange land.

The full Kroz series was released as freeware a while back, with 3D Realms saying, “Kroz holds a special place in the history of Apogee. It’s the original game in the company history. It’s recognized as ‘The first Apogee game,’ and it was released in late 1987. There actually were a few games put out before that using the name Apogee, but that was just Scott Miller solo projects, and not as ‘Apogee’ (the company). An awful lot of people owe their livelyhood to this 22 year old silly (by today’s standards) ASCII game. ”

Despite the nostalgia goggles I have for Kroz, I haven’t touched it since I was a pre-teen. That’s all going to change today as we dive into the 1987 original, Kingdom of Kroz!

So here’s the full game screen for Kroz. It’s deceptively simple: You use the number pad to move in eight directions (you’re the little red ASCII face) in an attempt to grab goodies and reach the exit. Gems are used as life, whips clear out a path all around you, teleports throw you somewhere random on the screen, and various keys and scrolls and traps do other things.

What made Kroz so intense — even today, I was on the edge of my chair — is that it’s a real-time game. The enemies (the weird red As and green Os up there) are always gunning for you, so you have to move fast. You can position yourself so enemies kill themselves on destructible walls, but otherwise, it’s usually futile to attack them with the whip. Just juke and run and try to get as much as you can before reaching the exit.

There are so many different types of levels, and ones like this are designed to freak you out. Basically, it throws you into an enormous, mostly empty room full of enemies, and you got to BOOK IT to the exit. The only advantage you have is that you move faster than the bad guys. But, as you can see, there are so many of them…

I always loved the little notes and other details that Scott Miller left in these levels. His level design is downright fiendish… and creative. Sometimes you got levels where everything was side-view rather than top down, making you consider gravity. Here, the very deadly blue enemies make it a rush to the exit… but I want those whips so badly!

And I need those whips, too, because the next level here requires a lot of dirt breaking. It’s entirely possible to get into a no-win scenario by lacking enough whips to win this level, meaning a restore or a complete game restart.

Anyway, that’s all the time I had today to play Kroz during my lunch break — but it was a really fun trip back down memory lane! The original Kingdom of Kroz had 25 levels, but all of the games combined racked up to over 200 levels. I don’t think I ever beat all of it.

LOTRO: Cap’n crushing it

Facing the prospects of high-level hijinks in Lord of the Rings Online, I found myself fleeing to the lower levels instead. It felt like a good time to invest some love and care into a lowbie — perhaps even a newbie. After flirting with a Hunter for a while, I weirdly ended up coming back to a very old love of mine in this game: the Captain.

The Cappy used to be my go-to main class in the game, but it’s been so very long since I seriously played one that I had almost totally forgotten what the class was like. Within an hour of guiding my new Captain through the tutorial, so many long-forgotten memories flooded back. I remembered how much I liked the tankiness, the unique hybrid style, the pet, and the self-heals. It’s just a  class that can pretty much do anything, other than fast ranged DPS.

To add as much newness to this situation, I did roll her on a server that lacked any other characters of mine (Brandywine). So I have no backups here, no alts to feed her gold or cosmetics. She’s just going to make her way, make some new friends, and putz about doing deeds.

I also have been taking some time to do a round of anniversary quests every day, since there are some really nice cosmetics, pets, and housing items that I want to snag before it’s over. I did finish a couple of scavenger hunts, but the rest require a much higher level character, so I guess I’ll do them next year if at all. They’re still a lot of fun!

Battle Bards Episode 192: Mabinogi

Is Mabonogi a muppet, a Welsh adventure, or a Korean MMORPG? It’s certainly an odd title, but its music is worthy of the Battle Bards’ time. This week, the trio sails through the soundtrack to this anime fantasy sandbox — and gives proper attention, respect, and love to the country of Wales.

Episode 192 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme (Piano),” “Afternoon Tea,” and “Prince of Denmark”)
  • “Sidhe Finnachaid”
  • “Merlin”
  • “Tears of Memory”
  • “Avalon Theme”
  • “Bangor”
  • “An Old Story From Grandma”
  • “Belita: Hunter at World’s End”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Katriana and Danny
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Theme” from The Long Return, “Cowboystrats 3” from Railway Empire, and “Climbing” from Spirit of the North
  • Outro (feat. “Deeper and Deeper”)

ESO: Dungeons and Dunmer

It’s time to really dig into some of these Stonefall quests, so I’m going to try to knock them out while providing some commentary and screenshots on each. First up is “Suspicious Silence,” which has yet another “you do this, I can’t be bothered to risk my neck” NPCs asking me to infiltrate an enemy camp. What are those sneaky Covenant people up to?

Guess it was more dangerous for the NPC to stay behind, because he’s dead now. Aww. That’s what you get for being a coward. Anyway, the plans say that some legendary being named Ahknara is here, and that’s bad for some reason.

In “Venom of Ahknara,” the fort commander suspects that enemy assassins are already inside the walls and wants me to flush them out with blinding light flasks. This might be a tricky task to complete, except that — as with all ESO quests — there are huge white markers pointing me right to the stealthed killers. They didn’t see that coming!

The assassins did a bloody good job before they got stopped, even going so far as to chase some of the guards down into the dungeons below. This is a fortunate development, as the guards discover the bad guys are planning to tunnel up into the fort from below. So the quest shifts to becoming one of containment — and then chasing Ahknara herself out a trapdoor and into a hasty and not-that-satisfying boss battle. It’s almost insultingly quick, for fighting a legend, but at least the quest (and the chain) is complete.

After that, I doubled back to the town of Senie, which was suffering a bad case of Volcano at the moment. Dunno why anyone would want to build a town next to an active vent like this, but the end result is a lot of burned people and angry bugs. So through “Proving Trust” I aided the townsfolk a bit, while rounding up some mining bugs for “Percussive Ranching.”

I’ve noticed that several of the quest chains in this region have dealt with the history between the dark elves and the Argonians. I guess the Dark Elves up and enslaved the Argonians a while back, but that’s not any longer the case. The Argonians aren’t terribly happy about that event, but they oddly enough don’t seem as mad as they should be about it either. There’s some friction between the two races, but really, it’s all weird rather than out-and-out hostile.

Syp’s gaming goals for May 2021

April 2021 in review

  • This was a really strange month of gaming for me. For a good chunk of April, I downshifted hard in terms of game time, generally feeling uninspired to log in. Instead, I worked more on projects and reading books.
  • To help shake myself out of this rut, I went on a two-week Great Game Tour to explore some backlog titles. It was fun and the highlights were Albion Online, Offworld Trading Company, and Daring Dungeoneer.
  • I kept poking and prodding my WoW Classic Warlock forward, getting her within spitting distance of level 58. Some days I would only log in to use up her rested XP and grind the same set of mobs. It wasn’t much of an adventure.
  • By the end of the month, I fell back into typical MMO gaming patterns. I started a new Captain in Lord of the Rings Online and had a lot of fun with that, and I began to document quests I was doing in Elder Scrolls Online.
  • I didn’t really make good progress in Curse of Monkey Island, alas.

May 2021’s gaming goals

  • Until the prepatch arrives, I’m going to keep grinding a bit with my WoW Classic Warlock, to make money if nothing else.
  • When the prepatch arrives — assuming it does in May — then I’ll start up my Shaman and begin a hard push to getting her Burning Crusade ready.
  • My only goals for my LOTRO Cappy is to fully deed out every zone. I have dusted off my Lore-master as well and want to at least stick her nose into the War of the Three Peaks content.
  • One ESO quest or objective per day, documented. This, I swear.
  • I’ve been thinking about giving Wizard101 another go, perhaps as a fun limited-run series.
  • And I am totally going to finish Curse of Monkey Island this month! I want to head into summer with a fresh retro game project.

Great Game Tour Day 13: Path of Adventure

As I write this a week ago from when you’ll read it, I have just gotten my second vaccination shot and spent the better part of the day wrestling with nasty side effects. Since I wasn’t up to sitting at the computer, I booted up another dormant app to do a quick peek and hopefully produce a post that wasn’t riddled with nonsensical rantings.

You know, more than usual.

So today’s Great Game Tour is Path of Adventure, which has been described as a rogue-like text RPG. It’s very similar to all of those awesome role-playing choose your own adventure books of my youth, so the learning curve was pretty low.

The idea is to make it through a series of 50 adventures of all kinds and then, presumably, kill a big giant at the Castle of Doom at the end. I never made it to the end, but to be fair, at some point I was drooling and having a shouting match with my belly button lint. It was that kind of day.

It’s a fine game. Nothing amazing — I think there are better rogue-likes and much better gamebooks for mobile, but this was a pleasant way to spend a half-hour in between shaking fits. I do wish that the writing had more personality and flavor to it; it was very generic RPG with only the barest hint of the absurd from time to time.

Great Game Tour Day 12: Daring Dungeoneer

I swear, sometimes I have downloaded apps sitting on my phone for so long untouched that I completely forget what they are or what piqued my interest in the first place. Daring Dungeoneer is one of these, so opening it up turned out to be a pleasant surprise as I discovered that it was a cartoony card dungeon crawler.

So the idea here is that you’re a sole adventurer who jumps into a series of quick dungeon runs that are represented by cards. Your only options during the dungeon is to “dare” (flip over the next card to deal with it), “flee” (quit the dungeon but keep what you’ve gained so far), or use a temporary potion to increase your odds for the next encounter. At the end of a successful dungeon run, you also get an option to run it again at a higher risk — and higher rewards — with all of your accumulated XP and loot at stake.

The way I see it is that DD is emulating that blackjack feel of getting close to the line without going over — and getting out while the getting is good. You can improve your chances by getting better gear (you can equip one weapon, one armor, and one trinket), upgrading gear, and buying potions. There are also some special card backs to earn and permanent bonuses to XP and gold acquisition to unlock.

As I said, the visuals here are a big plus. It’s a good-looking, slick game that’s perfect for a two-minute session here and there. I can tell already that it’s highly grindy, expecting you to run and rerun dungeons to get good enough to tackle the next one, and so on, but at least it’s up front about its design.

The only major detractors come with the business model. Daring Dungeoneers has unskippable ads from time to time (unless you pay a one-time fee of $5 to turn them off) and other F2P purchases that they nudge you to attain. Even so, I really took a shine to this and will continue to poke around in it to see if it sticks or repulses in the long term.

Great Game Tour Day 11: Space Pioneer

This may be the first time on my list that my kids played well before I ever did. I download a lot of mobile games on my iPad to try at later (perhaps never) moments, and one of these was a highly recommended title called Space Pioneer.

My oldest two children stumbled upon this one day when they were messing about on my tablet and told me that they got hooked — and that I totally should play it. So I made time to do so, and I have to say, I can see what they’re raving about.

Space Pioneer is sort of a frantic Smash TV-style shooter that incorporates some light RPG and base building elements. Basically, every stage is a short mission to the surface of an alien world where certain objectives must be met before an extraction can take place. The player gets a couple of weapons, abilities, and turrets to use to survive the various situations, which can involve run-and-gunning, stationary defense, puzzle-solving, and the like.

It’s certainly nothing deep, but it is satisfying if you want a light dose of carnage and action without any blood or gore. I liked the colorful graphics and easy-to-use UI, for sure. And the whole game is set up to encourage repetition as you grind out items to increase your abilities or different weapon types.

So yeah, this one gets a stay of execution. Sometimes I need to be able to shut my brain off and pew-pew little alien fuzzies to death.

Great Game Tour Day 10: Offworld Trading Company

So, so many untouched games sitting in my backlog that I’ve been hoovering up for years now. Let me tell you, it’s a really good feeling to get to some of them and push myself to see what they’ve got. Not always, but sometimes, you end up with a title like Offworld Trading Company that you heard was good but needed to see for yourself to find that it meets that reputation.

I love RTS-style games where you set up supply chains and get the satisfaction of seeing a well-designed facility operate without micromanaging, and that’s exactly what OTC is all about. It puts you in charge of building up an economic base on Mars that can be more profitable than all of the bases around it using whatever means you see fit. So instead of focusing on combat (which is the typical RTS route), Offworld Trading Company is all about cutthroat corporations making profits, manipulating the stock market, and dealing with the black market to get things done.

There’s a great charm to this game that surprised me, especially while going through all of the tutorials. I kept getting laughs out of the robots and the way they addressed me, and I liked how easy to understand and set up this place was. It’s just deeply satisfying to get all of those base elements working in concert to produce better elements or pay down debt.

This is definitely a game I’m going to be keeping on my desktop for further investigation, although I’m sure that I’d lose hard to any actual human competition.