Posted by: Ben | January 18, 2010

Man vs Genre: Temple Of Apshai

The Facts

It’s easy to forget now, but in the early eighties, the RPG wasn’t a genre as such. There were so few examples around that each new one pretty much had to reinvent the wheel. It’ll be a while before we see these games starting to influence one another. Temple Of Apshai is another “classic” RPG that I hadn’t heard of until yesterday, and another game from Epyx. It first came out in 1979 or 1980 (it’s funny how many classic RPGs get these two years mixed up), but I don’t do the TRS-80 or even the Apple II. So this is the C64 version, dating from 1983.

The Cover

Considerably classier than the Rogue or Sword Of Fargoal covers, one version has an illustration that I can only describe as an etching. It shows an adventurer battling a pair of giant ants, and it looks like it was posed about a quarter of a second before one of the ants bit him in the “family jewels”. An alternate (later?) version has a considerably more lurid image of a warrior in an anatomically astonishing breastplate fighting a fire-breathing dragon. I hope he doesn’t have a metal shield, or he’s going to get burns literally all over his body.

The Lore

For more generations than any man living could count, this entire corner of the continent was dedicated to the worship of Geb, god of the earth. Into the area came worshippers of Apshai, the insect god, who claimed knowledge far in advance of that possessed by the followers of Geb. However it was widely known that this knowledge came from dark and sorcerous practices, and the Gebite priests, fearing the results of their grisly rites, led their people to drive the outlanders from the village.

All of which could make an interesting backstory, but all you, the hero, have to do is enter the titular temple and get as much treasure as you can. What’s really interesting about this game is that it claims to be a real, actual Role Playing Game in computer game form, even going so far as to invite you to import your characters from pen-and-paper games like, erm, that one that rhymes with Bunions And Baggins. Never having played a Role Playing Game in my life, I will not be able to comment on the accuracy of this claim, but it certainly sounds ambitious.

Character Building

Essentially there are two choices when it comes to character creation. You can create your adventurer at random, or you can simply type in whatever numbers you choose for your character attributes (you can enter anything between 3 and 18.) Of course there’s nothing to stop you entering 18 for everything, but if you do that you’re only cheating yourself.

I decide to play the game, and I conclude that Keema Korma VI will have attributes not dissimilar to III when she met her fate in Wizardry. So looking that up and using Temple Of Apshai’s handy conversion kit that provides me with a decent list of stats to use. She has also inherited Keema III’s 33 gold, but inheritance tax has reduced it to 33 silver. However being a brand new character she hasn’t inherited her ancestor’s 3955 experience points.

What kind of sword hast thou? is the game’s next question. What kind of question is that? The kind of question that asked by one who expects me to know what the kinds of swords are, that’s what. I decide that randomly generating a character will be safer.

Ok, the REAL Keema VI has entirely random stats of:
Intelligence 9
Intuition 8
Ego 15
Strength 13
Constitution 11
Dexterity 7

She also has 70 silver, which is an improvement.

Shopping time. Wilt thou buy one of our fine swords, you ask. Too right I will. I go for a short sword, like those used by the ancient Romans to conquer the known world. I fear my crappy dexterity might lead me to drop anything more ambitious. Apparently the shopkeeper wants me to haggle. I did have a go at a game once, I think it was Morrowind, where the shopkeepers wanted to haggle but if you offered them anything less than the asking price for equipment they’d basically laugh in your face. But these ones are surprisingly receptive to a bit of hard bargaining. More so than my local Toyota dealer, anyway. I also invest in a small shield and some leather armour, and a salve, whatever that is.

The Game

So here we are, in Level 1, Room 1. Temple Of Apshai has a curious system wherein a text adventure-style description for each room is to be found in the manual, which is intended to add colour. However it loses points because the room descriptions don’t change when you pick up an object. Obviously.

Now that’s weird. The door from Room 1 leads to Room 3. I’m not going to make a map. I should be able to memorise it.

Now, here (in Room 11) I meet my first foe, a dirty great Antman who appears from behind a corner, nearly scaring me out of my wits. I came here to fight creatures, so fight them I shall. Gottim.

In the next room I am slain by a skeleton. Curses. And yet resurrected by a dwarf. Go me.

“The walls of the room are covered with algae. Most of the algae is black and rotten, but the few remaining patches have a nutty aroma and, if tasted, are reminiscent of spiced bread.”

Ten pounds of algae. Ten pounds of mushrooms. Ten pounds of kelp. Clearly Level 1 is fit only for greengrocers. There’s literally nothing else on Level 1, unless you like feeling every single wall several times to see if it contains a secret passage. So I leave and go back to the shop, whereupon I am confronted by a series of extremely confusing messages.

It takes another hour of faffing around before I work out that I don’t actually need to save to go down a level or buy more equipment, which is good because the game crashes every time I try to save it. So I start again and am eaten by an antman in the second room.

Total play time: 30mins

Verdict: This game is missing two things. Given its vintage, the dodgy controls and bizarre interface are understandable. Less so is the lack of motivation, which might (and that’s a big might) make perfect sense in a collaborative game, but none at all in a computer game. The difference in approach between this and Akalabeth is primarily that the latter is a pure computer game whereas this one feels stranded in swampy middle ground.

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