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  Preview and
review by
Steve Cooke
(The White Wizard)

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!

The Guild of Thieves
1987 Rainbird/Magnetic Scrolls
By Robert Steggles & Ken Gordon

 
Most text of the present article comes from the preview published in the twenty seventh issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: June 11th, 1987) and the review published in the twenty ninth issue (street date: August 9th, 1987).
 

 

ADVENTURE PREVIEW!
GUILD OF THIEVES

Rainbird/Magnetic Scrolls

 

his long awaited sequel to The Pawn will hopefully be on the shelves as you read this. The Wiz sneaked out to visit Magnetic Scrolls and has returned with this report . . .


Anita Sinclair, Ken Gordon and newcomer Hugh Steers work from a small office near London Bridge. At the moment, they're best known for The Pawn -- now a great success on a number of different formats as a graphic adventure, though originally a text-only game for the QL. The company have their own adventure system that runs on a VAX, and enables them to cross-assemble and produce code to run on no less than 11 formats.

It's actually The Pawn's graphics which first strike people, and the same is undoubtedly true of Guild of Thieves. As you can see from the accompanying screen-shots, the piccies are pretty stunning -- Anita reckons that 'the style of graphics we have are works of art in their own right' and it's hard to disagree. But just how important are they?

'The thing that worries me about graphics', reflects Anita, 'is that a lot of people won't buy games without them. But they're not at all important, although you could argue that -- for example, the Lewis Carroll books (Alice in Wonderland) wouldn't have been the same without the illustrations.'

As it is, the company will be bringing out 'a couple of text-only games in the next two years.' That should be interesting, because the other main strength of Magnetic Scrolls' system is its parser. There aren't many games where, carrying a set of keys and two bottles (red bottle and champagne bottle) you could carry out the following:

> open bottles, empty them
The champagne bottle is now open.
The red bottle is now open.
The wine seeps away.
The red bottle is now empty.
The champagne seeps away.
The champagne bottle is now empty.
>put key in bottle
Which one, the red bottle or the champagne bottle?
>red
Which one, the golden key, the ebony key, or the ivory key?
>golden
The golden key is now inside the red bottle.
>Put key in bottle in champagne bottle
The golden key is now in the champagne bottle.

Now THAT is pretty nifty -- note how in the last command the parser is accepting an adjectival (or is it prepositional) phrase to define an object (the 'in the bottle' key). Note how the Wiz is a master of grammatical nomenclature . . .

Not only is the parser pretty hot (and they're working on a new one -- which should really be a corker), but the game design in both The Pawn and Guild is often excellent. Here's a neat little passage from Guild where you chat to a Mynah Bird . . .

>mynah, hello
The mynah bird squawks loudly.
>again
The mynah bird squawks loudly.
>again
The mynah bird squawks loudly, 'hello'.

Yes, you guessed it -- you can train it to speak.

Guild of Thieves itself is a 100-location, 600-item, 17-treasure game in which you must qualify for membership in the elite Guild by pulling off a series of jobs and deposit your ill-gotten gains in the night safes of the Bank of Kerovnia. 'One of the things people objected about The Pawn was our weirdness' says Anita. 'We've taken a lot of our weirdness out of the Guild of Thieves. It's leap-years ahead of The Pawn -- we sent a copy to Infocom and it came out at Number Six in their all-time list of favourite games.'

That's no mean praise from a competitor of whom Magnetic Scrolls are justly proud to be judged alongside. Anita is obviously proud of their links with the US company (they send each other beta-versions of their games to test), and can't resist mentioning them on first-name terms with noticeable frequency -- but that's only understandable. There can't be many other adventure software houses in the world who can claim to be in the same league.

There's no doubt that the 16-bit versions of Guild are superb pieces of software. What the 8-bit versions will be like remains to be seen -- and doubtless you'll be in a position to judge by the time this issue comes out. One thing's for certain -- the Wiz would be astonished if the pennies you squandered on Guild (complete with copy of What Burglar magazine, in sumptuous Rainbird packaging) didn't turn out to be one of the best adventure investments of the year.

 


Even Wizards need a holiday, so hidden away on the Lands End peninsula, the Wandrous one
. . . casts his spell over Guild of Thieves for the 64 -- is it a steal or a rip-off?
. . . previews Level 9's Knight Orc -- can this most venerable software house survive in the new age of 16-bit machines and disc-based games?
. . . and gets outshined in Shades -- is it really worth a modem, a pound an hour and an exorbitant phone bill to get into multi-user games, or are they for MUGs only?
.


GUILD OF THIEVES
Magnetic Scrolls/Rainbird, 19.95 disk only

 

e've already taken a preview peek at this game on the Atari ST but now we've got the 64 version the Wiz can give you the low low low-down.


First let's do a bit of image stripping so we can see what the game itself is actually like. Magnetic Scrolls leaped into the headlines last year with The Pawn -- stupendous parser, brill graphics, interactive characters, original scenario, new software house (well almost), Rainbird marketing and multi-format availability.

The last two points are very significant -- there are really only four companies in the UK that have marketed their games forcefully across all formats -- Adventure International (now defunct), Adventuresoft (via US Gold), Level 9 and Melbourne House. Some might wish to include CRL, but it only just scrapes in, as it's not a dedicated adventure house. Magnetic Scrolls is therefore a big fish -- albeit in a very small pool.

Secondly, a lot of this media hype arose because of the strength of the parser and the graphics. Journalists who would never have been seen dead playing an adventure, suddenly went all ga-ga because of the pretty pictures. And the parser means that they could communicate with the game. Therefore a whole legion of self-appointed adventure reviewers sprung up proclaiming The Pawn to be the best thing since sliced bread.

Meanwhile for us dedicated adventurers the real question has yet to be answered -- are these Magnetic Scrolls adventures actually good games? Are they worth your 19.95, or is 90% of the satisfaction derived from just looking at the pretty pics and entering PUT THE IVORY KEY IN THE SWAG BAG AND THEN DROP THE POISON ON THE STEPS.

The Wiz sat down to play Guild of Thieves with slight misgivings. I wondered why this was and realised to my horror that I hadn't actually enjoyed playing The Pawn very much. Sacrilege! But although others will doubtless disagree, I felt that it was just a bit pretentious. It had some great puzzles, but the scenario was a bit odd . . . well, let's say I found it a bit -- gulp -- dull!

So it came as quite a pleasant surprise when I found myself getting very engrossed in Guild of Thieves. It may not be as original or way out as some of the things we've seen lately, but it's definitely shaping up to be one of the Wiz's favourite games.

You start off sitting in a boat in mid-stream with a representative of the Guild. To gain admission to this august body you must loot the surrounding countryside of all its valuables. So unlike The Pawn we have here a very traditional scenario -- the good ol' treasure hunt.

If you're wondering why there should be anything good about sticking to traditional themes instead of inventing startling new plots, the answer is that the very structure of adventure programs revolves heavily around locations and objects. It makes sense therefore to have a scenario that rewards the discovery of locations and objects with good solid points! So traditionalists will note with glee the score counter constantly displayed at the top of the screen (together with the number of moves you've made).

The parser is once again magnificent. You can make a lot of use of your good ol' swag bag: for example, PUT ALL EXCEPT THE LAMP IN THE SWAG BAG AND CLOSE IT will execute rapidly and without difficulty. This means that playing the game becomes an enjoyable exercise of the imagination, rather than a battle of misunderstood words.

As you move about, you'll start to make use of another feature of the parser -- the GO TO command. Once you've visited a location or EXAMINEd an object, you can GO TO it from another place. In the Golden Wheatfield for example, typing GO TO TEMPLE or GO TO STATUE will take you rapidly through the intervening locations to the temple (where the statue is).

There are two points to note about the GO TO command. First, it can kill you if you're not careful. For example, typing GO TO TEMPLE in the Lounge will take you out of the castle by way of the drawbridge and irate door keeper -- not a very good idea, and once you've entered the command, you can't take it back.

Second, it appears to GO only TO objects that you've actually EXAMINEd. This can be misleading. Take the temple again -- the room description says clearly that there is a statue there, but entering GO TO STATUE later will do you no good unless you've examined it. Apparently, seeing it is not enough.

The GO TO command is particularly useful when storing your treasure. Valuables aren't that difficult to find to start with, but the inexperienced player may wonder why picking them up doesn't increase his/her score. The answer is that they only register when you've put them in one of the Bank of Kerovnia's safety deposit boxes.

Use of the safety deposit boxes highlights another excellent feature of this adventure -- the game design. All of the puzzles are wonderfully constructed -- logical, sometimes quite difficult, and very satisfying to solve. For example, the safes will not relinquish an article once it's been put inside, so you have to be quite careful about banking your treasures, making sure first that what you have is a treasure and not something that you will require later on.

Having played the game on both the Commodore and the ST, I found one aspect to be less than satisfying -- the disc accesses. The game comes on two discs, and although actual disc swapping is kept to a bare minimum, the old 1541 grinds away for ages. Even Infocom disc accesses seem quicker than these, and at tense moments I found the delays a real annoyance.

There's a particularly long access when the game loads in a new graphics scene. The pics are great, but if (as with most people) you expectations have been raised by seeing the Atari screenshots that most other magazines printed, then you are in for a slight disappointment. You certainly won't find yourself complaining about the lack of illustration, although sometimes you may find yourself wasting time examining objects that are clearly shown in the drawings, but don't in fact exist within the program.

Guild of Thieves is an excellent program, combining Magnetic Scrolls' programming expertise with a more accessible scenario and some excellent puzzles. It should take you a long time to finish and numerous SAVEs will be needed. Sadly there's no RAM-save option and -- equally annoying -- no catalogue function to enable you to check up on previous saved filenames. However, these are minor quibbles about a game that's destined to be a classic. Even at 19.95 you can't go far wrong.

 
Atmosphere 85%
Interaction 91%
Challenge 89%

Overall

90%
 


If you want a walkthrough, visit
Jacob Gunness
' Classic Adventures Solution Archive or
Martin Brunner's C64 Adventure Game Solutions Site

Guild of Thieves Complete Artwork Gallery!

Total Pictures Count: [29]

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (9 Oct 2005)
Artwork gallery images added 2 Feb 2006.
There were no screenshots in the original preview and there was only a single screenshot (the exterior view of the castle) in the original review.

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