THE ADVENTURES OF MADDOG WILLIAMS IN THE DUNGEONS OF DURIDIAN / Game Crafters / PC
 
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Game Crafters was an also-ran adventure game development company of the early '90s for whom this was their one major project. I don't mean this as an insult, it's just the most accurate possible description after reading their tale of adventure in trying to get the game published. Since this was their big showpiece and attempt to break into the industry, you can see a lot of elbow grease put into it and there's definitely some stuff to like here. It's unfortunately also weighed down by a lot of the exact sort of bad design decisions you'd expect amateur developers on their first project to make, however, and ends up not really being very playable unless you've got a walkthrough printed out and sitting by your side.
 


Though the title makes it sound like some sort of Cowboys vs Aliens crossover, this is actually straight high fantasy in the Tolkein mold. The titular Maddog is basically a Mary Sue who is an amazing inventor plus also an epic swordsman and has a champion beard to boot. The developers seem to have forgotten to make his inventing skills any kind of significant part of the ongoing narrative, however; the writing is of that amateurish "just do stuff because we put it in front of you" style. The plot sees Maddog roll out of bed one morning, happen to wander into a ritual sacrifice because there's nothing else going on, and from there get recruited to save the whole damn kingdom from an evil sorceror.



From a technical standpoint, the game initially looks for all the world like a modification of Sierra's original AGI engine (the one behind the earliest of the Quest games), just with greater color depth and the ability to actively jump and swordfight on any screen without going to a separate "arcade sequence" or "battle mode." The game ended up being released in 1992, however, well after Sierra's first SCI1 games had hit market (King's Quest V, Space Quest IV), so at the time the engine was already a good five years out of date.

The game actually looks pretty nice, with a lot of detail worked into almost every scene. At times there are impressive sequences, and even some clever puzzles. The two big problems with it are technical issues and more puzzles that are simply poorly designed than are enjoyable.



On the technical end, the first big problem I encountered was having to turn the sound entirely off as if a screen transition occurs while a note in the main melody of the soundtrack is playing, the game then holds that note forever. The parser is a bit clunky and limited, not quite up to the standard of the better text adventures and Sierra games; figuring out that "examine" is the only command that will get the game to tell you what is in the drawer or cabinet you just opened can be pretty frustrating for at least a few minutes.

Discovering that pressing Shift makes you jump is neat at first, as none of the old Sierra games of this type ever let you do that, but as the game wears on you'll find there's only like two scenes where you actually use this ability. You can also test out the swordfighting mode very early with an incompetent pirate lurking outside of Maddog's house, but you'll soon learn that the collision detection is horrible and you can damage the enemy while facing the wrong way and also not really being all that close to them. The combat is most comparable to the occasional side-view combat in the first release of Quest For Glory, like when you're training with the Weapons Master, just with only one type of strike, no dodging or parrying and in general just way more clunky.



Then you've got the problematic puzzles. There's a plethora of nasty Sierra Hang-Ups, including a truly awful one where you'll fail near the very end of the game if you forgot to arbitrarily take some socks out of Maddog's drawer at the very beginning (not kidding). There's also a sprawling forest maze near the beginning that has to be mapped out manually; what's particularly insidious about it is that the two main things you need can be found by going just about straight north and south, respectively, but way off to the northwest in some arbitrary point are some mushrooms you need to pick up to get past a later monster. There's zero indication that they are there, you can easily never run across them, and then get to said monster and be stuck with no clue how to proceed.



Obviously, a ton of love and elbow grease was put into this; the shortcomings are much more from inexperience than from lack of effort. Had they actually struck a deal with a major publisher who could have provided some more editorial guidance, this might have been polished into an adventure game classic. Kudos to Games Crafters for not only making it freely available since 1996, but also maintaining a site for it since then and periodically creating ports, such as a Mac port which was just created in 2012.
 
 
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