Posted by: Ben | June 13, 2010

Man vs Genre: Master of Magic

The Facts

In putting together these pieces it has never been my goal to play every RPG ever released, only those that strike me as interesting in some way. Master Of Magic (published in 1985 by Mastertronic) is worth a go for a number of reasons:

– It’s one of very few RPGs to have originated in the UK. These are vanishingly rare in the 80s (Maybe Elite? Surely not Lords Of Midnight?), slightly more common in the early 90’s (Captive? Bloodwych?) and today once more terribly uncommon. Furthermore,

– It was coded (for the C64) by future Codemasters co-founder Richard Darling.

– It has an Auto Demonstration Mode.

Less interestingly, it’s the first game I’ve come across (no doubt of many) to claim to be the first in a series when it’s actually the only one, most probably due to disappointing sales.

One other thing – I try and do a bit of reading around these games, to research them before I write about them. In an amusing typo, Crash magazine attributed the music to Ron Hubbard (rather than Rob), which would have been funny if it was true.

The Cover

That’s right, it’s got an Auto Demonstration Mode, so if you’ve loaded it up but don’t really want to play, you can watch the computer have a go. This feature was so popular that it rapidly became a standard throughout the industry.

Master Of Magic’s cover is so impressively lurid that words don’t do it justice, making it exactly the sort of thing I personally would have picked up in a shop as a child, possibly putting it down again with disappointment when I saw the screenshots on the back.

And this is another game that had a different cover in North America, albeit one that looks equally like the work of an overexcited 2000AD artist, with a naked green man on a throne leering at the camera, accompanied by a skeleton in a red robe and a woman in the outfit we’re now starting to think of as the Adventure Bikini. Conclusion from comparing the two covers: this game features skeletons and naked green men.

The Lore

Whilst exploring underground caverns you chance upon a deep black pool. A ripple in the mirror-smooth surface draws you closer to the edge – a powerful hand slides out and swiftly drags you under!! It is the hand of Thelric, Master of Magic, plunging you into his strange mythical world of Magic and Mystery.

It is written in the Book of Magic that only Thelric has the knowledge which blends time and space into a powerful spell. He will not cast this spell to return you to your own world until you retrieve for him the lost Amulet of Immortality, without it he will age and die.

The bounder!

In the 80's, graphic artists and cover artists worked in different offices, or preferably different cities.

Character Building

Right, judging by the cover art I’m a contemporary kind of guy, drawn from my own world by unnatural means. I guess my name must be John Desk II.

The Game

So here I am in the caves. Walking around a bit, I find a pedestal and a scroll, which advises me “Go up and east to find your treasure, beware the minotaur or be his pleasure.” Given what I know of the classics, this is to say the least deeply unnerving.

See that tiny little gold disc at the top left? That's me.

I soon discover we’re in a typical roguelike-dungeon-crawl-in-underground-maze scenario, except here all the action is viewed from above in a teeny tiny box in the top left corner of the screen. I go back to my roguelike tactic of hugging the right hand wall while I explore.

Bits of the map keep on disappearing in a sort of line of sight effect, probably in order to encourage mapping. I’m not biting just yet.

Soon I encounter some foes. A bat, easily killed at range with a Magic Missile spell. An orc, killed quickly with the same technique. Looting his body yielded a mace. Another bat, despatched with the fireball spell. I’m running out of magic, so I try whacking the fourth bat with a mace. Success.

Like Hydlide, there’s a strong element of timing to successful combat. I beat another orc to death and steal his armour. Wearing this, I even manage to survive an encounter with a skeleton, a hellhound and another bat, although only just.

Why are bats so hostile in roguelikes and dungeon crawls?

I’ve run out of magic but eventually in a far corner of the ground floor I find a healing potion. Perhaps I’ll still be able to get somewhere. I kill a spider and find a backpack, which lets me carry more than two objects

Anyway, there I was fighting monsters and thinking I was doing quite well when an orc killed me.

One curious feature that's almost unique to the genre: If you haven't played any particular RPG, it's almost impossible to interpret a screenshot of it. This oddity continues to this day.

Total play time: 15 minutes.

Verdict

Decent, uncomplicated, bog-standard dungeon crawl. Nothing wrong with this at all. If I was a reviewer, I’d give it six out of ten, but I wouldn’t call it “absolutely brilliant”.

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