Posted by: Ben | September 26, 2010

Man vs Genre: The Lords of Midnight

Man vs Genre has been on hiatus due to real life, but now real life is over and it’s back.

The Facts

Mike Singleton’s highly-regarded title which debuted on the Spectrum in 1984. Is it an RPG? An adventure? A strategy game? Or “the world’s first ever epic game”? There’s only one way to find out.

This came out at about the same time as did the seemingly empty promise of two further titles in the trilogy. The sequel, Doomdark’s Revenge, turned up in 1985, but it was another ten years before the final instalment appeared. I’m playing the Spectrum original (downloaded from World Of Spectrum), on the EmuZWin emulator, and for the documentation I’m indebted to the marvellous people behind c64sets.com and icemark.com.

This game looks exceptionally tough and I’m not sure my brain is going to be able to handle it. I think I’ve played it before – Crash might have given it away on a cover tape late in the magazine’s life, but there was no proper manual and I couldn’t make head or tail of it.

The Cover

Spectacular is what it is. I don’t know who the artist is, but they’ve got the 2000AD look down pat, what with the gritty Northern European looking warriors, the shifty be-cloaked moustache owner, the horses crossing the blasted wasteland (looking no better or worse than the ones in the adjacent screenshot), the horn-helmeted robot… Honestly, go to the Wikipedia page and see it for yourself.

The Lore

Luxor stood at the doorway of the hut. gazing into the white gloom of the forest. A thin scatter of ersh, the fine powder-snow of the new moon, was floating down onto the frozen ground.

Whersh?

This is one of those games with a story behind it, and as is so often the case the story is one about a dark lord who wants to subdue the noble peoples of the lands of Midnight. A short story at the beginning of the manual sets up the quest. Luxor the Moonprince is the last in line of an especially noble people given the manifest destiny of fighting evil. Morkin is his squire and secret son. Corleth the Fey is an elfish type who enjoys prancing around in woods, and Rorthron the Wise is one of those immortal and vanishingly rare wizards who doesn’t like to tarnish the reputation of magic spells by being seen to cast any. These assembled heroes have gathered at the Tower of the Moon with two goals: raise an army against the mighty Doomdark, and sneak into his castle to destroy the mystical artefact that’s the source of much of his power.

The Game

The Downs of Shadows look so peaceful at this time of year.

Day One

Luxor’s main talent is probably going to be persuading his fellow feudal lords to raise armies and put them under his command. A look at the game’s rather spidery map (which you can see for yourself at Icemark) reveals what look like settlements due south near the Tower of Elenil and east just past the Downs of Mitharg. According to the novella, towers usually belong to the Wise, who don’t generally interfere in the affairs of Men, so I’ll send Rorthron that way on the off-chance that they will be more helpful to him. The documentation seems to be suggesting Luxor should head for the south-eastern land of Corelay, which makes sense because I’m probably going to need to raise armies from all the major settlements and then march them north to meet the bad guys. Since it’s my first go, I’ll go along with that assessment and send Luxor to Corelay.

It is dawn and Luxor is utterly invigorated. The Ice Fear is quite cold. Luxor is slightly afraid. He has with him the Moon Ring.

The Moon Ring, by the way, is a magical artefact that lets me command the other characters under my control, including anyone I might recruit at a later date.

Moving south-east, Luxor now stands on the Downs of Shadows, looking south-east to the Forest of Shadows, which appears to encircle the Tower of the Moon like a noxious fart.

What about Morkin?

It is dawn and Morkin is utterly invigorated. The Ice Fear is quite cold. Morkin is utterly bold.

Good lad. Let’s send him off to the north then.

Eek! Wolves!

(A check of the manual reveals that time is unrealistic in the service of playability in Lords of Midnight, and even if night falls for one of your characters the others can still get their stuff done. I can therefore stop worrying about having to move each character one step at a time to stop it from getting dark.)

I don’t fancy Morkin being torn apart by wolves early doors, so I shall send him around them. To the north-west there are four of what the manual tells me are skulkrin. These goblinny creatures are most probably considerably more tough than wolves. Let’s find another way. More wolves to the northeast, and to the north. I decide to head west. Possibly not advisable to spend the night in the forest either. Let’s keep heading west until we come out the other side. Dammit, more wolves. A quick dash to the northwest and I come out on the Plains of Ogrim. Night falls.

Luxor is still heading southeast, but very soon spots four ice trolls hanging around outside the Cavern of Shadows comparing their tattoos. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decide to try and dodge these as well. Due south, the Lith of Mitarg lies ahead. Don’t know what that is. Let’s go there. I haven’t reached it by the time night falls, but I’ve made it to the plains.

Being a Fey or elf, Corleth can probably be trusted in a forest on his own. In fact I have now decided that his job is going to be to walk the forests and raise an army of the Fey to mince around the battlefield firing arrows. Apparently such forests are mostly sighted to the north, although Corleth is presently pointing east. How are you feeling about this, Corleth?

It is dawn and Corleth is utterly invigorated. The Ice Fear is very mild. Corleth is utterly bold.

And yet Luxor is afraid. One of them must have misunderstood the situation.

I think Corleth should go with Morkin for now as the young lad could probably do with a bodyguard. By the time he reaches Morkin’s position, a relativistic time dilation effect means that three hours of the day remain, and the Ice Fear has got slightly worse. Corleth passes Morkin and meets some pretty horses on the plains of Ashimar. He heads for the mountains. Which are guarded by Ice Trolls and night has just fallen. Dear me, this is a dangerous land.

My last character who wants moving is Rorthron the Wise. I’ll send him south, to the nearest tower. There are two massive dragons due south of my position. That can’t be good, but maybe they’re friendly. After all, they’re located in the South, which is generally associated with the good guys*, and wizards and dragons are both old and wise. We’re bound to get on well. On second thoughts, let’s head around them. Time for bed.

Night has fallen and the Foul are abroad. The bloody sword of battle brings death in the Domain of Blood.

Part 2 is here

*While JRR Tolkien’s sinister wielders of ironclad, smoke-belching evil were located in the South East in the general direction of Germany, Singleton’s come from the industrial North.

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