Sunday, October 7, 2012

Computer games - Mystic Well

Mystic Well is a 1st person RPG that came with issue 28 of the ST Format magazine.  It is a game that I really got into and it showed me the value of exploring and discovering.

It's a very basic and straightforward RPG, its creators not wanting to burden you with complications like instructions or telling you what the hell is going on.  It saves you the effort of having to sit through an introduction and goes straight to telling you to reroll stats or to pick a class for your character.  I like it when my games are to the point.  

You have four stats - strength, agility, reason and vigour which, have some affect on the game.  OK, I expect strength is how much damage you do, agility relates to your chances of getting hit, reason affects your spellcasting ability(?) and vigour definitely affects how many health points you get when you level up.  

Am I doing well?  At least my character is smiling.
You also get four other stats which change when you wear different types of armour or use different spells, but they just have weird symbols followed by the letters AP and I have no idea what they do.  But I try to increase them anyway.

There is a bar for health, energy, food and water.  You need to eat and drink to stay healthy.  Energy decreases whenever you perform an action and you cannot do anything other than move when it is 0.  It increases with time, its speed being dependent on your food and water level(?)

Still, it's fun to discover!

You have the choice of four classes which get different bonuses from the available weapons and armour and they each have their own special skills, which you activate if you press the diamond icon while their right hand is empty.  The warrior can perform a big attack (I think; it does reduce energy to 0), the thief can jump two squares (quite handy to get over pits), the priest can bless themselves and heal themselves simultaneously and the wizard can't do anything.  Ah, that must be it!  The wizard can cast spells (written on blue paper with yellow bits on the top and bottom) without destroying them after the first time they cast them.  Nice work, wizard.

So it's not totally user friendly, but what it did do was make me work to find things out and experiment.  In some weird twist to the story, plunging me into a dungeon with no instructions, aim or items made every mundane act an act of discovery.  Wizards don't get the same bonuses from leather armour as warriors.  If you press the diamond button while holding a club, you can throw it.  This wall is fake.  Some mirrors are magical and show you a map of the dungeon (you have to find out which ones by holding one in your right hand and, yes, pressing the diamond button) etc.

Eventually, after lots of experimenting, I managed to clear the various levels of the castle and make it to a crazy level with blue walls, dragons and crazy robots.  I fought my way through this level to find a room where a floating yellow skull attacked me mercilessly.  I killed it to get a congratulations message and then the game continued.  Was that it?  Did I just win?  If so, why am I still playing on?

This means game over.
Despite (and perhaps because of) its lack of clarity, I enjoyed Mystic Well because it had a huge area to explore with lots of good items scattered around the area (the item distribution was done well.  There were plenty of good rewards after difficult bits and the monster advancement was good).  It also gave me a buzz, when I discovered what certain items did and when I discovered a new hidden place.

If you want to get ahead quickly, then you can find a fireball flinging sword if you fall down a couple of pits, so if you find the pits and can survive the fall, then you can get ahead.  I also remember a way of finding a piece of twisted mithral when you are at a low level, which, if you throw it  in the well, will raise your level to fourteen.

Cheer up.  Here's an
ST Format...
I need to apply this level of discovery to other gamebooks.  I always got a buzz when I discovered the way of overcoming a problem I had been unable to solve.  The one that sticks out in my mind the most was the Toadmen in Creature of Havoc.  I had the solution, I had just got so immersed in the book that I had forgotten to think about which paragraph I was on.  I was on 287 and since I was with Grog, I should have subtracted 52 from the paragraph number.  When I read the paragraph, I enjoyed reading the first line:

'In the heat of the battle, you have forgotten all about the litte half orc...'

I certainly had.  I wonder if Steve Jackson knew this?

So the lesson from Mystic Well is that keeping information secret in order to be found out is fun.  I won't do it to the extent that Mystic Well did (and I can't in a gamebook due to the differences in format.  Imagine if Fighting Fantasy didn't have a rules section.)  But I must remember that discovery is fun :).

You can play Mystic Well on the PC if you download an Atari ST emulator (such as STEem) and then download the file.

Bonus extra review

The above link goes to a review written at the time.  I love the following quote:

'The game itself was, as far as I could tell, well enough written
and ran smoothly with very little disk accessing.'

This bought back a whole load of memories of my Atari ST where I would play for five minutes at a time before the computer accessed the disc.  A little green light would flicker and the computer would make a soft thudding noise as the game would freeze, waiting for its next set of instructions.  Mystic Well did not need to access the disc very much.  It's funny what people used to look for in a game.  

Finally, if you are Jim Todd, the creator of Mystic Well, please get in touch as I'd love to know what all the stats mean and what the spell Mnemonic enhancer does.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose to a lesser extent you could write a book where the rules are explained as you go along, kind of like Black Vein Prophecy having you roll up skill, stamina and luck in three different paragraphs. Or a better example would be Sorcery and the food / sleeping system where it explains it after the first day. However I suppose the real question is what type of discovery would you want? Rules, locations, secrets, Minecraft / Arx Fatalis style crafting of items? It would also be possible to do secrets using the sneaky add 20 to the paragraph number if you see X. Items can have orphan paragraphs explaining their uses. Discovery is fun!