(This is part of my journey going checking out Pool of Radiance. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
Bio Break’s readers have spoken, and Pool of Radiance is the next retro game that I’ll be covering on the weekends. To be honest, I’m an equal mixture apprehensive and excited about this one.
On one hand, it’s the first of the legendary “Gold Box” computer RPGs that became fairly popular in the late 80s and early 90s (It’s also the first computer AD&D product). My entire experience with the Gold Box games up to this point in my life was a brief stint with one of the Buck Rogers games way back when, and I barely remember any of that. Why Buck Rogers? Because it was on TV in the afternoon during summer and I was starving for sci-fi.
On the other hand, older CRPGs can be a lot more difficult to revisit, as my prior expedition into Wasteland proved. They’re clunkier, and in this case, GOG equipped me with a manual, clue book, reference card, and code wheel to handle it. I think that this is also the type of game where you draw your own map, so that’s going to be fun.
Oh well, this game’s not going to get any more done by jawing about it, so let’s do it!
Some day — perhaps in about three months — I will have to explain to my kids how computer games used to have these insanely convoluted copy protection techniques back in the day that usually required an easy-to-lose code wheel or manual. Fortunately for me, GOG scanned in every permutation of the code wheel and plunked it into a PDF. Alternatively (and easier to use) is this site.
No expense was spared when it came to the artwork in this game!
So here’s my character: a neutral evil Gnome fighter who initially looks like the villain in every 80s teen movie. Getting to this point was a little tricky since the game wasn’t accepting most of my keyboard input for navigating the menus. I eventually learned that “1” was down and “7” was up, but not on the keypad. Go figure.
Anyway, I rerolled a bunch of times until I got a mix of stats that looked fairly solid. Go get ’em, Gnomey!
Yeah… so I might have gotten a little side-tracked with the character portrait customization. You can mix and match heads and bodies regardless of gender or artistic skill. I decided to go with the second to the left there, Tinyhead the Barbarian.
Of course, that’s not the end of it. I have to make a full party of six (there’s a default party, but what’s the fun in that?). I roll up a mix of thieves, fighters, clerics, and one magic-user, and name them all after Arrested Development characters except for the first character, which is Syp.
Starting the game proper, our party steps out onto the docks and is greeted by this chiseled masterpiece of a man named Rolf. Rolf is going to take us “courageous ones” on a tour of New Phlan, the name of which is making me strangely hungry.
The screen is divided up into three sections. The upper-left is the first-person perspective of your entire party, the upper-right is the status screen, and the bottom is flavor text and whatnot. Do I have an inventory? Going to have to look into that.
After a brief and confusing tour — Rolf whisks us to various locations as the screen flicks between various first-person 3D views — we’re abandoned. “You are on your own now.” There have never been more terrifying words written in an RPG.
What’s surprisingly nice is that if you type “A” it pulls up a small overhead map of the area — something that I don’t usually get in these older CRPGs and is definitely helpful. Moving is trickier — I eventually settle on “4” to rotate my party to face different directions, and “8” to move forward. While experimenting with this, I accidentally ended up in the monster-ridden part of the old town. I got out of there post-haste.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how I’m playing this. There’s the game (in the small window), blog behind it, and clipboard holding the clue book with the full map. I’m so retro-nerdy!
This bored-looking woman wearing a cage (?) is the city clerk, who is the de facto quest-giver for this game. She gives us our first mission: to clear the slums from the monster presence. Oh boy!