Meanwhile, the Bearded One has dallied awhile with another
eight bit version -- a pre-production copy running on
an Amstrad -- and couldn't resist spilling the beans
for the benefit of those of us sensible enough to have
bought a . . . well . . . better computer!
we all know (but I'll tell you anyway), the original
Tolkien masterpiece Lord Of The Rings comprised
three books -- The Fellowship Of The Ring, The
Two Towers, and The Return Of The King. Melbourne
House's first program -- Lord Of The Rings --
covers the essential storyline contained in Book One
and this latest effort, Shadows Of Mordor, sticks
fairly closely to the plot of Book Two.
means in essence that you must stay out of the way of
the Black Riders (as always), and carry the ring to
the borders of Mordor in the company of your faithful
companion Sam Gamgee. To begin, you and Sam have been
separated from your companions (as in the original book)
and must continue alone. Help comes from unlikely quarters,
including the odious Smeagol (otherwise known as Gollum)
who has already put in an appearance in the first Melbourne
House game The Hobbit.
-- forget the blurb -- what's the game like? Lord
Of The Rings was, after all, rather a disappointment
for most of us. The response times were dreadfully slow,
the bugs most uncommonly large, and . . . well, that's
enough to put most people off. Shadows, however,
appears to be a rather more polished affair.
game 'shell' seems to be remarkable similar to LOR.
The screen format is pretty well identical and the input
syntax is the same. You start the adventure by choosing
whether you wish to control Sam or Frodo or both during
play. Once in the game you can't change your mind, so
it's best to choose both - even if you think you may
only wish to control one. If you hit RETURN at this
stage, the game defaults to Frodo-control only.
programmers say that if you choose to play both characters
then the computer will 'animate' whichever hobbit you're
not controlling. If you only choose one, then the other
hobbit will be 'more fully animated'. I tried both options
but it wasn't immediately clear how much difference
this 'more-full-animation' actually made.
play you enter your inputs in a small scrolling window
at the bottom of the screen. On the version I saw you
could only see three lines of input, which means that
old inputs get rapidly scrolled out of sight. I find
this rather annoying -- especially in mazes and the
like where it helps to see what you entered, say, four
in most adventures nowadays, the good ol' interactive
character raises his head in Shadows. It's hardly
surprising, as this is a technique that Melbourne House
pioneered with The Hobbit. What is surprising
is how little the technique has developed. Every so
often the input cursor disappears while the program
manipulated the various 'mobiles' -- a rather better
technique than constant tme-slicing, reckons the Wiz,
because at least you know when the cursor is absent
that the program is busy and won't be able to respond
to your inputs.
don't know for sure, but I suspect that one of the reasons
Lord Of The Rings was so slow in operation is
that there were too many characters to handle effectively
without compromising on response times. Shadows
has fewer major characters (effectively only three --
Frodo, Sam and Smeagol) and that could be one reason
why the response times are so much better.
Shadows is certainly a far more pleasurable experience
than playing LOR. On the other hand, one has
the feeling that the actual substance of the game is
slightly more limited. Having only two characters to
control may be the reason for this.
with Lord Of The Rings, Melbourne House make
a great play out of there being 800 words in the vocabulary.
The Wiz tends to dismiss these claims as being unimportant
-- there are some excellent home-brew adventures written
using GAC which amply demonstrate that there
is little connection between size of vocabulary and
quality of game. Shadows does, however, allow
some reasonably complex inputs, such as DROP THE SHORT
AND THE LONG SWORDS or KILL ALL BUT FRODO.
can also communicate with those you meet, but as usual
the conversations tend to be rather stilted, and frequently
you will receive quite incongruous replies. Nevertheless
the feature seems to be better implemented here than
it is in most cassette-based games.
Wiz quite enjoyed playing Shadows, but the fact
is that it's not a game of stunning innovation. I think
that part of the trouble is that the adventure market
is polarising to a greater extent between more expensive
disk-based games with huge amounts of data and complex
character interactions, and budget software like Aztec
Gold and SubSunk.
releasing Shadows at £9.95 Melbourne House gave,
I think, taken the right decision. After all, that's
only £2.00 more expensive than the Gold Medallion
GAC home-brew series from Incentive -- and there's
certainly a lot more meaty programming here. A year
or so ago the going rate for a Melbourne House Tolkien
game was about fifteen quid, so prices have dropped
as quality has improved. A final judgement must await
the release of the finished C64 version, but despite
some reservations about the size of the game and hence
its lasting interest, I reckon that it deserves to sell
rather better than some of Melbourne House's recent