The Bard's Tale (1985 video game)

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The Bard's Tale
Bard's Tale Box Cover.jpg
Developer(s) Interplay Productions
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts, Ariolasoft (Europe)
Designer(s) Michael Cranford
Series The Bard's Tale
Platform(s) Apple II, Amiga, Commodore 64, Apple IIGS, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Amstrad CPC, Macintosh, ZX Spectrum, NEC PC-9801, NES, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Release 1985 - 2019
Genre(s) Role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player

Tales of the Unknown: Volume I, better known by its subtitle The Bard's Tale, is a fantasy role-playing video game designed and programmed by Michael Cranford, produced by Interplay Productions in 1985 and distributed by Electronic Arts. [1] It spawned The Bard's Tale series of games and books.

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

Michael Cranford American video game programmer

Michael Cranford is an ethicist, game developer, and software architect.

Interplay Entertainment American video game developer and publisher

Interplay Entertainment Corp. is an American video game developer and publisher based in Los Angeles. The company was founded in November 1983 as Interplay Productions by developers Brian Fargo, Jay Patel, Troy Worrell and Bill Heineman, as well as investor Chris Wells. As a developer, Interplay is best known as the creator of the Fallout series and as a publisher for the Baldur's Gate and Descent series.

Contents

The Bard's Tale was noteworthy among other role-playing computer games at the time for its unprecedented 3D graphics and partly animated character portraits.

3D computer graphics graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data

3D computer graphics or three-dimensional computer graphics, are graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data that is stored in the computer for the purposes of performing calculations and rendering 2D images. Such images may be stored for viewing later or displayed in real-time.

It was originally released for the Apple II, and was also ported to the Commodore 64, Apple IIgs, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Macintosh, and NES platforms. In August 2018, a remastered version was released for Microsoft Windows, followed by the Xbox One release in 2019.

Apple II first computer model in the Apple II series

The Apple II is an 8-bit home computer and one of the world's first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products, designed primarily by Steve Wozniak. It was introduced by Jobs and Wozniak at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire and was the first consumer product sold by Apple Computer, Inc. It is the first model in a series of computers which were produced until Apple IIe production ceased in November 1993. The Apple II marks Apple's first launch of a personal computer aimed at a consumer market—branded toward American households rather than businessmen or computer hobbyists.

Commodore 64 8-bit home computer introduced in 1982

The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64, is an 8-bit home computer introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International. It has been listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time, with independent estimates placing the number sold between 10 and 17 million units. Volume production started in early 1982, marketing in August for US$595. Preceded by the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore PET, the C64 took its name from its 64 kilobytes(65,536 bytes) of RAM. With support for multicolor sprites and a custom chip for waveform generation, the C64 could create superior visuals and audio compared to systems without such custom hardware.

ZX Spectrum series of personal home computers

The ZX Spectrum is an 8-bit personal home computer released in the United Kingdom in 1982 by Sinclair Research.

Plot

The following text from the box cover summarizes the premise:

Long ago, when magic still prevailed, the evil wizard Mangar the Dark threatened a small but harmonious country town called Skara Brae. Evil creatures oozed into Skara Brae and joined his shadow domain. Mangar froze the surrounding lands with a spell of Eternal Winter, totally isolating Skara Brae from any possible help. Then, one night the town militiamen all disappeared.

The future of Skara Brae hung in the balance. And who was left to resist? Only a handful of unproven young Warriors, junior Magic Users, a couple of Bards barely old enough to drink, and some out of work Rogues.

You are there. You are the leader of this ragtag group of freedom fighters. Luckily you have a Bard with you to sing your glories, if you survive. For this is the stuff of legends. And so the story begins...

The introduction depicts a bard sitting in a tavern. Between occasional sips from his mug, he strums a lute and sings:

The song I sing
Will tell the tale

of a cold and wintery day;

Of castle walls
And torchlit halls

And a price men had to pay.

When evil fled
And brave men bled

The Dark one came to stay,

'Til men of old
For blood and gold

Had rescued Skara Brae.

In the actual game, the player forms a group of up to six characters. Game progress is made through advancing the characters so that they are powerful enough to defeat the increasingly dangerous foes and monsters in the dungeons, obtaining certain items relevant to solving the overall quest, and obtaining information.

The (fictional) town of Skara Brae consists of 30x30 map tiles containing either buildings or streets (plus gates and magical guardian statues blocking certain streets). Access to one tower in the northeastern and southwestern city corner each is blocked by locked gates. The main city gates which open to the west are blocked by snow, and remain impassable throughout the game. One street seems to lead south endlessly, by actually teleporting the party back to its beginning upon reaching the portion where the city walls would be.

Certain buildings within the city are special, such as the Adventurer's Guild, Garth's Equipment Shoppe, the Review Board (which is unmarked and must be found first, and is the only place where characters can advance in experience levels), various taverns and temples and the dungeons. The latter are mazes of various kindscellars, sewers, catacombs or fortressesfull of monsters and riddles, some guarded by magical statues that come to life to attack trespassing player parties.

  1. The first dungeon is the Wine Cellar (1 level) of one particular tavern, which turns out to be connected to the Sewers of Skara Brae (3 levels) that in turn feature an exit that leads to the otherwise inaccessible southwestern corner of the city where Mangar's Tower, the final dungeon, is located. The tower cannot be entered without a key, however. In the sewers, numerous hints are found including the name of the Mad God. Finding this first dungeon (the Wine Cellar) required the party to order some wine at a certain tavern. There was a hint to this in the manual (Hint: The first dungeon is the wine cellar of the only tavern in town which serves wine. It's on Rakhir Street). However this hint was not present in the manual included with the C64 release of the game. Upon ordering wine, the party would be sent by the bartender to his cellar to fetch a bottle themselves. It is not actually possible within the game to obtain a bottle of wine, nor is it required to proceed. The purpose of this introductory dungeon was simply to introduce the dungeon concept and provide access to the sewers.
  2. The undead-infested Catacombs (3 levels) beneath the temple of the Mad God, accessible only if his name is known (but not technically requiring the party to have found this password themselves; it just needs to be typed in by the player regardless of how they came to possess this information). On the lowest level, a Lich must be defeated to obtain an eye.
  3. If they possess the eye, a statue of the Mad God in Baron Harkyn's Castle (3 levels) will teleport the party to the (otherwise inaccessible) northeastern area of Skara Brae where the next dungeon is located; however, it is not required to proceed to the next dungeon immediately. If weakened too much from the fighting in the castle, the party may elect to leave the area via one-way portals instead at this point and return to the city and the Adventurer's Guild.
  4. Kylearan's Tower (1 level) can only be reached through the teleporter in Harkyn's Castle, requiring any party who wish to enter to fight through the castle's three levels first. Kylearan the Archmage awaits the party at the conclusion of his tower maze and turns out to be friendly. He gives the party an access key to Mangar's Tower, the final dungeon, but they still have to circumvent the locked gates around the tower by going through the Sewers.
  5. Still reachable only via the Sewers at this point in the game, Mangar's Tower (5 levels) is the final dungeon that has to be overcome to reach Mangar and slay him, provided the party has acquired several items in the other dungeons which are required to best him. At one point within the tower the party can acquire a key that will allow them to access Mangar's Tower and Kylearan's Tower from the city directly thenceforward, without having to move through the Sewers or Harkyn's Castle, respectively.

Gameplay

A screenshot of The Bard's Tale on the Commodore 64. C64 The Bards Tale.png
A screenshot of The Bard's Tale on the Commodore 64.
A screenshot of The Bard's Tale on the Apple IIGS. Bard's Tale for Apple IIGS screenshot.png
A screenshot of The Bard's Tale on the Apple IIGS.

The Bard's Tale is a straightforward dungeon crawl. The objective is to gain experience and advance characters' skills through (mostly) random combat with enemies and monsters. This is done while exploring maze-like dungeons, solving occasional puzzles and riddles, and finding or buying better weapons, armor, and other equipment.

Dungeon crawl video game genre

A dungeon crawl is a type of scenario in fantasy role-playing games in which heroes navigate a labyrinthine environment, battling various monsters, avoiding traps, solving puzzles, and looting any treasure they may find. Because of its simplicity, a dungeon crawl can be easier for a gamemaster to run than more complex adventures, and the "hack and slash" style of play is appreciated by players who focus on action and combat. However dungeon crawls often lack meaningful plot or logical consistency.

An experience point is a unit of measurement used in tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) and role-playing video games to quantify a player character's progression through the game. Experience points are generally awarded for the completion of missions, overcoming obstacles and opponents, and for successful role-playing.

A random encounter is a feature commonly used in various role-playing games whereby combat encounters with non-player character (NPC) enemies or other dangers occur sporadically and at random, usually without the enemy being physically detected beforehand. In general, random encounters are used to simulate the challenges associated with being in a hazardous environment—such as a monster-infested wilderness or dungeon—with uncertain frequency of occurrence and makeup. Frequent random encounters are common in Japanese role-playing games like Dragon Quest,, Pokémon, and the Final Fantasy series.

When beginning the game, the player may create up to six player characters, chosen from among the following classes: bard, hunter, monk, paladin, rogue, warrior, magician, and conjurer. The classes sorcerer and wizard were available to experienced conjurers and magicians. On some platforms, the player could import previously created characters from Wizardry and/or Ultima III , which was somewhat revolutionary at the time.

Player character fictional character in a role-playing or video game that can be played or controlled by a real-world person

A player character is a fictional character in a role-playing game or video game whose actions are directly controlled by a player of the game rather than the rules of the game. The characters that are not controlled by a player are called non-player characters (NPCs). The actions of non-player characters are typically handled by the game itself in video games, or according to rules followed by a gamemaster refereeing tabletop role-playing games. The player character functions as a fictional, alternate body for the player controlling the character.

In role-playing games (RPG), a character class is a job or profession commonly used to differentiate the abilities of different game characters. A character class aggregates several abilities and aptitudes, and may also detail aspects of background and social standing, or impose behavior restrictions. Classes may be considered to represent archetypes, or specific careers. RPG systems that employ character classes often subdivide them into levels of accomplishment, to be attained by players during the course of the game. It is common for a character to remain in the same class for its lifetime; although some games allow characters to change class, or attain multiple classes. Some systems eschew the use of classes and levels entirely; others hybridise them with skill-based systems or emulate them with character templates.

Bard professional poet in medieval Gaelic and British culture

In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional story teller, verse-maker, music composer, oral historian and genealogist, employed by a patron, to commemorate one or more of the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities.

Of particular innovation to the genre was the bard, whose magical songs functioned like long-lasting spells and affected the player's party in various wayssuch as strengthening their armor, or increasing their attack speed, much like "buffs" in modern-day RPGs. A number of obligatory puzzles in the game were unsolvable without the use of bard songs. Each bard song triggered corresponding music while he played (some classical, some original).

Magic users were allowed to change classes permanently. The game manual describes a magic user who has mastered all spells from all four classes as "an Archmage, the most powerful being in the world of The Bard's Tale." However, Archmage status had no effect on gameplay other than simply having all spells available.

Casting one of the 85 magic user spells consisted of typing a four-letter code found only in the printed game manual. However, when using a mouse (in the DOS, Amiga, and Macintosh versions), the full names of the spells would appear in a list to choose from.

Combat is turn-based, described in text rather than shown graphically; there is no notion of moving characters around on a map during combat. Cash and experience points are distributed evenly to all surviving party members after a particular encounter is won.

Cluebook

Publisher Electronic Arts published a cluebook for the game in 1986 ( ISBN   1-55543-064-3) that added some original characters and background information to the game's setting. Written by T.L. Thompson, it purports to be an in-universe document that one Pellis, who seems to be an influential individual working against Mangar behind the scenes, entrusts to an unnamed friend who has just come of age-implicitly, the player (party).

It is the journal of Lord Garrick, viscount of Skara Brae's sister city Hamelon. Trapped in Skara Brae by Mangar's spell, Lord Garrick and his party of servants and associates (including Corfid op Orfin the Bard, Ghaklah the Magician, Isli the Paladin, Soriac the Archmage, and the otherwise unnamed "last of the great sage-sorcerors") take it upon themselves to rid Skara Brae of Mangar's influence. The journal narrates how they navigate the dungeons and solve the puzzles until, one step short of actually confronting Mangar, they find that crucial items were stolen by the party's Rogue when he had abandoned them. Soriac prepares a spell that will allow Isli to escape and give the journal to Pellis, but is also thought to rent from the fabric of time everything they have accomplished, and will consume Isli as well as it burns itself out.

Development

Michael Cranford developed the concept, design and programming of The Bard's Tale and its successor game ( The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight ), with additional design by Brian Fargo (the founder of Interplay) and Roe Adams III. David Lowery designed the graphics, Lawrence Holland composed the music, and Joe Ybarra served as producer. [2]

Cranford was a devout Christian. He included references to Jesus Christ in The Bard's Tale, and all but one of the city names in The Bard's Tale II are taken from the New Testament. After a falling-out with Brian Fargo he was not involved in The Bard's Tale III and decided to go back to college to study philosophy and theology instead. [3]

Lawrence Holland, who composed the music and programmed the music interface for The Bard's Tale, went on to create the renowned Star Wars: X-Wing series of games for LucasArts. He later founded his own game company, Totally Games.

Artist Eric Joyner painted the original cover art, which featured himself (foreground, vest), artist Don Carson III (foreground with mug and background with pipe) and Carson's father Don Carson Jr (harp) as models.[ citation needed ]

Rebecca Heineman, who worked at Interplay at the time (then as Bill "Burger" Heineman), is credited in the game's manual for the "data compressing routines that allowed [Cranford] to pack so much graphics and animation", and according to herself also wrote development tools for the game such as a graphic editor and all ports to other platforms. Heineman became openly critical of Cranford in later years, saying in an interview that Cranford, after doing some last bugfixes, held the game's final version "hostage" to force Brian Fargo to sign a publishing contract that contained a clause by which the sequel game (The Destiny Knight) would be Cranford's alone. [4] Brian Fargo confirmed this, but still defended Cranford. [5]

Cranford in turn called Heineman's words "disparaging slant" and "fiction", noting that Heineman ("a storyteller with an agenda") at the time was (paraphrased) a loner who "sat isolated in a cubicle in the back corner of the room", wasn't involved in the company's business operations nor deeply involved in The Bard's Tale, and therefore would not know all the details. [6] [7] As far as he (Cranford) could remember the situation, Brian Fargo would not produce a written contract for the game until near the very end of the development, and then only under pressure from Cranford withholding the final product. When he finally did, the contract was not what Cranford thought they had verbally agreed on when he had started working on the project, nor something he felt he could or would have agreed to at the onset. [6] [7] Although a compromise was found, Fargo asked Cranford to leave the company after The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight was finished. The experience contributed to Cranford walking away from game development to pursue a different career. [6] Cranford said he later apologized to Fargo after learning that the attorney who had represented him had misrepresented several other cases to his clients and had apparently misled him into assuming the worst. [7]

Cranford, Fargo and Heineman have all since stated that they hold no grudges against each other over something that occurred when they were in their early twenties. Cranford and Fargo remain friends. When Fargo, through his firm inXile Entertainment, started making The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep on the original game's 30th anniversary, Cranford was invited to join the project and did contribute, while Heineman offered to create a 'remastered' edition of the original three games for modern operating systems (see below).

Reception

Critical reception

Computer Gaming World 's Scorpia in 1985 described Bard's Tale as "not to be missed!" [8] In 1993 she criticized the game's starting difficulty and single save location, but stated that it had "many points of interest, particularly in the puzzles, and is definitely a game worth getting". [9] The game was reviewed in 1986 in Dragon #116 by Hartley and Pattie Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers rated the game well, concluding that "Bard’s Tale, a game of high adventure ... is one we recommend for your software library." [10] The game was revisited in Dragon #120. [11] In a subsequent column, the reviewers gave the game 5 out of 5 stars. [12]

Calling the Commodore 64 version wondrous, Compute!'s Gazette in 1986 stated that while the game's plot and gameplay did not vary from the norm, "its depth of concept and brilliance of execution" did. Praising the complex magic system, the magazine concluded that "the greatest danger is not Mangar—it's the likelihood that you'll never be able to tear yourself away from this masterpiece of a game". [13] Compute! in 1987 called the Apple IIGS version "unquestionably the most graphically stunning product I have seen on any Apple computer". [14] The ZX Spectrum version of The Bard's Tale, released in 1988, [15] was favorably received. CRASH said that "the Skara Brae environment is so complex and involves so many different factors that it's hard not to get completely enthralled in your quest" and rated it at 86%. [16] Sinclair User rated it at 89%, but noted that it would not appeal to general gameplayers, saying that "The Bard's Tale will enthrall diehard pixie fans [...] but there's too much text, and not enough graphics and animation, to convert the uncommitted." [17] Your Sinclair were similarly positive about the game, rating it 9/10. [18]

The Commodore 64 version of The Bard's Tale was given a 'Sizzler' award and rated at 94% by ZZAP! 64 magazine, in the 1986 Christmas Special edition. Reviewer Sean Masterson called it "the best RPG on the Commodore". [19]

With a score of 7.49 out of 10, in 1988 The Bard's Tale was among the first members of the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame, honoring those games rated highly over time by readers. [20] In 1990 the game received the seventh-highest number of votes in a survey of readers' "All-Time Favorites". [21] In 1996, the magazine named The Bard's Tale the 89th best game ever. [22]

Commercial performance

The Bard's Tale was very successful, becoming the best-selling computer RPG of the 1980s at 407,000 copies. [23] It was the first non-Wizardry computer role-playing game to challenge the Ultima series' sales, especially to Commodore 64 users who could not play Wizardry (a Commodore version did not appear until 1987, with inferior graphics to that of The Bard's Tale). [24] By 1993, over a million copies of the game had been sold. [25]

Legacy

Sequels

A magazine advertisement for The Bard's Tale. Ad-TheBardsTale.jpg
A magazine advertisement for The Bard's Tale.

The Bard's Tale was both a best-seller [26] and a critical success, and produced two official sequels and a "Construction Set" in its time.

A compilation of all three classic The Bard's Tale games, entitled The Bard's Tale Trilogy, was released for DOS by Electronic Arts in 1990.

According to programmer Rebecca Heineman the name of the overall series was to be Tales of the Unknown, and the three games were to be entitled The Bard's Tale, The Archmage's Tale, and The Thief's Tale. This is supported by the cover art of the original Bard's Tale release, which proclaimed the game as "Tales of the Unknown, Volume I." However, the immense popularity of the first game prompted Electronic Arts to re-brand the series under the more well-known name. [27] Michael Cranford, however, stated that an Electronic Arts agent they worked with had come up with the city name (Skara Brae) and the game's title, The Bard's Tale (from originally: Tale of the Scarlet Bard), and that The Destiny Knight was never going to be called The Archmage's Tale. [28]

What was originally going to be The Bard's Tale IV became an unrelated game called Dragon Wars (1991) at a very late point in its development process, due to rights issues after developer Interplay parted ways with publisher Electronic Arts. [29] The game's name and storyline were changed to disassociate it from the Bard's Tale series.

In 2003, Brian Fargo (who created maps for the first two Bard's Tale games and directed the third) left Interplay Entertainment and began a new game development company named InXile Entertainment. In 2004, they released their first game; also titled The Bard's Tale; an unrelated, console-style, top-down, action RPG which pokes fun at traditional, fantasy, and role-playing game tropes as in those found throughout the original Bard's Tale. It was not a proper sequel to the classic series, nor was it connected in any respect apart from the title and location: the story takes place on the Orkney Mainland, where the ruins of real-world Skara Brae lie. Although a legal loophole allowed InXile to use the Bard's Tale name and the company had evidently planned to incorporate more elements of the original games, [30] Electronic Arts still owned the original trademarks for the Bard's Tale series itself, and InXile was not legally allowed to use any of the plot, characters or locations featured in the original trilogy in their 2004 game.

In May 2015, Fargo announced he was planning to develop and a sequel funded through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, The Bard's Tale IV . [31] The game, which was released in 2018, continues the storyline of the original trilogy but has significantly changed gameplay.

The Mage's Tale was published by InXile in 2017 as a spinoff game using virtual reality technology. It was developed concurrently with The Bard's Tale IV.

Remastered Edition

Following the successful Kickstarter campaign to create a proper fourth installment to the series, Rebecca Heinemann offered to create a remastered version through her company Olde Sküül that would run the original trilogy's content on a modern computer (instead of the emulated versions offered by inXile). After reaching a beta stage, Olde Sküül and inXile agreed to transfer the project to Krome Studios. Krome Studios and inXile released the Remastered Edition in 2018 and received very positive responses.

The Remastered Edition essentially re-wrote the original games, keeping only the storyline and gameplay design but little if any of the original game code. Graphics, sound and user interface were updated to modern standards, various bugs were fixed and a unified authoritative gameplay was devised when it turned out that there were significant differences not only between parts I, II and III of the original trilogy (such as the number of characters in the party or spells being available at different levels, or not available at all, in different installments) but also between ports of the same game. Some content was added, including female character portraits and (inconsequential) references to the Bard's Tale IV storyline.

Novels

A series of novels based on The Bard's Tale were published by Baen Books during the 1990s. Although the books had little in common with the storyline of the games, their existence is a testament to how influential the Bard's Tale brand had become. They include:

  1. Castle of Deception, by Mercedes Lackey and Josepha Sherman (1992, ISBN   0-671-72125-9)
  2. Fortress of Frost and Fire, by Mercedes Lackey and Ru Emerson (1993, ISBN   0-671-72162-3)
  3. Prison of Souls, by Mercedes Lackey and Mark Shepherd (1994, ISBN   0-671-72193-3)
  4. The Chaos Gate, by Josepha Sherman (1994, ISBN   0-671-87597-3)
  5. Thunder of the Captains, by Holly Lisle and Aaron Allston (1996, ISBN   0-671-87731-3)
  6. Wrath of the Princes, by Holly Lisle and Aaron Allston (1997, ISBN   0-671-87771-2)
  7. Escape from Roksamur, by Mark Shepherd (1997, ISBN   0-671-87797-6)
  8. Curse of the Black Heron, by Holly Lisle (1998, ISBN   0-671-87868-9)

While they are listed here in the order they were published, some books in the series connect more than others, such as Castle of Deception and The Chaos Gate, Prison of Souls and Escape from Roksamur, and Thunder of the Captains and Wrath of the Princes.

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Legend of Faerghail is a 1990 role-playing video game, developed by Electronic Design Hannover and published by reLINE Software for the Amiga, Atari ST and MS-DOS.

Pool of Radiance is a series of role-playing video games set in the Forgotten Realms campaign settings of Dungeons & Dragons; it was the first Dungeons & Dragons video game series to be based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules.

The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep is a dungeon crawler video game developed by inXile Entertainment.

<i>Questron</i> (video game) 1984 video game

Questron is a 1984 game from Strategic Simulations, the first fantasy title from a company known for computer wargames. It was written by Charles Dougherty and Gerald Wieczorek and released for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit family, and Commodore 64. A sequel, Questron II, was released in 1988.

References

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