Tuesday, 11 June 2013

#3: The Lost Kingdom Of Zkul

Publisher: Talent Computer Systems
Developers: Jon Malone, Allan Black.
Released: 1985(?)

I couldn't find the box-art for the ST version, so here's the title screen.

Well, it had to come sooner or later. The Lost Kingdom Of Zkul is the very first text-only adventure I'll be covering on this blog, and I've spent quite a bit of time wondering how I was going to present it in a non-boring way. In the end, I decided to go with the most obvious choice of a screengrabby "Let's Play"-ish format documenting my attempt(or possibly failure) to play the game.

TLKOZ(as it will probably never be known) was published by the Glasgow-based Talent Computer Systems, and is another port from Sinclair's doomed QL. Talent themselves were probably better known for their "serious" titles such as QL Paint and Cartridge Doctor, the purpose of which was to rescue damaged files from Sinclair's notoriously troublesome microdrive.

I've put a question mark next to the release date because I believe the ST version came out towards the end of 1985, but I'm not 100% sure as of yet. Antic Magazine No. 9 from January 1986 carried a report from the previous year's PC World Show in London, focussing on the array of new and upcoming titles available for the ST. Zkul is listed under "FINAL", meaning the reviewer had seen a completed, marketed version of the game. Given that the PCW show took place in early November, this seems to indicate Zkul must've been available by the end of that year. I realise no-one probably cares about this but me, but accuracy is important, dammit!

Anyway, lets get started. When the game begins, you are confronted by this lengthy screen of backstory, which would seem to suggest the authors are more than slightly familiar with the works of the late Professor Tolkien:

tl/dr: The upshot of all this is basically you have decided to go into some caves and look for treasure.

There isn't a huge amount to explore in the area outside the cave. There's an apparently endless dirt track, one of those adventure game forests that causes you to get instantly lost upon entering, your mate Eldomir's hut, and that's pretty much it.

Here, after some initial stumbling about, I make my first attempt to force my way into the cavern, and am immediately stymied by the very first obstacle. How embarrassing. By the way, the "EXAMINE" command is completely useless in this game, as it always results in the same response: "The [examined item] is just what it seems."

This is one of the more novel aspects of the game - a built in hint system. Basically, when you get stuck in certain situations, you are offered the chance to trade off some of your final score in exchange for a clue as to what to do next. 

...but sometimes, it's just not worth it.

Many adventure games of this era suffered from a limited vocabulary, but the parser in Zkul seems particularly lacking in intelligence. I know I have to get the portcullis out of the way somehow, but finding the precise combination of words to do so is eluding me.

Having exhausted all my available options, I take the coward's way out via a headfirst plunge into the River Benethor...

...however, this proves to be fortuitous, as it turns out this is the only way you can reach the home of your good buddy Eldomir, who I'm sure has loads and loads of useful advice to help you out on your quest.

Or, then again, he could just be completely and utterly useless. You see, it turns out all Eldomir actually does is wait in his house for you to bring the treasure back. Something tells me this not exactly a 100% equal partnership.

Oh thanks a bunch Eldomir, you massive dick.

At this point I decide to take the Long Walk out into the wilderness, by following the dirt track at the start of the game to see whether it actually ends at any point. Spoiler: It doesn't.

You are allowed to be resurrected twice upon dying, but on the third attempt the game will throw a hissy fit and refuse to continue, forcing you to reload the whole game. What a bitch!.

Another "feature" I forgot to mention is food and water situation. In order to survive, you are required to eat and drink at certain times, effectively giving you a set number of moves to do what you have to do before you drop down dead. These kind of arbitrary time limits have always been a bit of a bugbear of mine when it comes to older games, it always feels like a needless extra element of frustration on top of everything else.

Unfortunately, I decided to call it a day on Lost Kingdom Of Zkul without even having got past the first puzzle. As I haven't really given the game a fair crack of the whip, I think I may come back to it once I figure out how to get past that wretched portcullis. It can't be that hard, can it...


  1. Haha! I have never completed an adventure game for reasons exactly like this. I always hit and wall and find myself thinking of a million things I'd rather be doing. If only text adventures had remained in vogue. Imagine the sophisticated parsers available after a further twenty years of development!

    >> Tell Eldomir that he is a massive bell-end.

  2. Ha! I knew coming into this I was going to end up playing a lot of text adventures, and how much time I was prepared to spend playing them "properly" was going to be an issue. I still have to work out how I'm going to tackle the massive wodge of Infocom releases I've got coming up - I may just have to cover them all in one post to get it out of the way.

    There is still a thriving text adventure scene believe it or now, except they generally call it "interactive fiction" now. It's sort of continued to exist as a purely non-commercial thing, once publishers lost interest in putting out games without graphics in them.

    I recommend checking out Adam Cadre's stuff, he's done some very interesting things with the format, most notably "Photopia". The genre's come a long way since the "AN ELF APPEARS AND STEALS YOUR FOOD" type games of old.

    1. Yes, I don't think anyone would blame you for glossing over the Infocom's a little, otherwise it could get a bit samey! Thanks for the recommendation, I'll look into Adam Cadre for sure.

  3. nostalgic memories is what this game bring me today.. i wish i could download it for free so it could bring me back to those days.. i can believe this game would have 30 years soon!