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Welcome to Darklands
October 9, 2011 9:58 AM   Subscribe

In 1992, MicroProse published their first and only CRPG: Darklands. Set in medieval Germany, the game gives a lot of immersion, from its innovative lifepath system for character generation, to its use of period music, to the importance of knowing your saints, to tatzelwurms, quite fearsome dragons and raubritters. The game play is good, with lots of different ways of handling any conflict and a semi-realtime combat system. The game is also fundamentally open-ended; while there is a main plot (spoilers), it's possible to ignore that thread and keep playing for years.

When released, the game suffered from some bugginess, including the infamous neon hair bug (links currently down), but when properly patched, it runs quite well. And yes, it runs on DOSBox. There are various walkthroughs on the net, and if you can find a copy, the clue book is one of the best there is. It's still possible to find the original game in floppy or CD form. Probably the single most useful site for the game is the Darklands Domain, but it's currently down.

Darklands was designed by Arnold Hendrick, who also designed several of the Dwarfstar microgames (previous, and also the inspiration for this post). Hendrick also co-wrote and developed Swordbearer, one of my favorite RPGs of all time.

People have started various projects to remake or revise Darklands, but so far nothing has really gotten finished.
posted by jiawen (35 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
My personal advice: learn to camp in the wilderness (F8) and make lots and lots of Sunburst potions.
posted by jiawen at 9:58 AM on October 9, 2011


My favorite bit of Darklands is a random village that just made a deal with the devil to build their bridge in one day. The price was the soul of the first person who crossed it. You don't discover this until the Devil shows up to collect your soul. At this point there are 2 or 3 options. The first is acquiesce and lose the first character in your party.The second is fight the Devil. Spoiler: you're going to lose. And the third, if you have both the knowledge and enough faith points, is to call upon St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas shows up and he and the Devil go over the contract. It ends with the saint telling you that the contract is pretty solid, and you're damned, but it'll be tied up in celestial court until the end of the game. I love Darklands.
posted by khaibit at 10:15 AM on October 9, 2011 [45 favorites]


Oh how I loved this game. Starting a party and trying to sort out the delicate balance between age and ability gives you an idea of just how much depth there is.

This is one of the few games of that era that I kept the box, manual and accessories for. It has a permanent home on my office shelf alongside Star Control 2.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:32 AM on October 9, 2011


Seems to be available from Abandonia and DJ OldGames.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to go to there.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on October 9, 2011


Darklands was the first RPG I ever played. I would go over to my friend's house, and would play with him and his older brother. Each of us got to create our own character, and the fourth member of the party was a healer, under common control. To my 3rd grade self, it was a totally immersive and ominous experience, playing on a rainy day in a dark room. And we were all Catholic school kids, so the whole saints/prayers/devil aspect of the game made it feel very serious. We had to save the world, because no one else was going to.
posted by blargerz at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have fond, but disjointed memories of Darklands, so thanks for posting this. I seem to recall I was not very good at it - just couldn't get my philosopher's stone good enough to do worthwhile alchemy - but I also recall completing the game. Probably loaded up one of my brothers' saves and went from there...
posted by YAMWAK at 11:01 AM on October 9, 2011


"Some bugginess" is a bit of an understatement but it was indeed a great game when patched up! The character creation system was fun in and of itself which you don't see often these days. And paper doll inventory! I just remembered that. Darklands was quite innovative in a lot of ways.

My favorite relic was the Spear of Longinus because I was a bit of an immature twink (in the modern sense not the, uh, other one) and figured a relic you could actually equip as a weapon must be the best kind of relic!
posted by Justinian at 11:31 AM on October 9, 2011


This was a great game. I didn't get to the ending, but followed the various satanic conspiracies around to several of the castles. I seem to remember a lot of witches sacrificing children in the game, which echoed the ongoing real-world satanic panic.
posted by benzenedream at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2011


We've got it at hotud.org as well.
posted by Lord_Pall at 12:19 PM on October 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The price was the soul of the first person who crossed it. You don't discover this until the Devil shows up to collect your soul. At this point there are 2 or 3 options.

What? How is your lead character's soul the property of the town to dispense with as they please? Is the law of heaven so arbitrary that...

Oh. Nevermind.
posted by JHarris at 3:43 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every time they come out with a new Elder Scrolls game, I'm basically hoping it will be a game exactly like this, only with modern graphics, and it never is.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:59 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This sounds really good, but I feel like I have been spoiled by fancy graphics and less-complex mechanics these days, and would likely not enjoy it. OR WOULD I?
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:28 PM on October 9, 2011


Hey, some of us play games with graphics that make this look like the latest PS3 graphics extravaganza. It doesn't really look that bad.
posted by JHarris at 4:41 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wanted to like this game. Couldn't get it to run without at least 10 crashes per attempt at playing, and finally gave up. As I understand it, There were plans to create add-ons of other whole countries to explore, but because of the stability issues, Darklands did not have the commercial success they were hoping for.

So sad, such a great idea, but poor execution.
posted by efalk at 4:47 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This game is awesome and I've never been able to get more than a few hours into it without failing very hard.
posted by beschizza at 5:31 PM on October 9, 2011


Is there an in-depth Let's Play? I couldn't find one last time I looked.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:40 PM on October 9, 2011


Lord_Pall: "We've got it at hotud.org as well."

Ummmmmm, yeah. With the different versions, which do I download?
posted by Samizdata at 6:04 PM on October 9, 2011


Ummmmmm, yeah. With the different versions, which do I download?

I was wondering the same thing.
posted by asperity at 6:10 PM on October 9, 2011


YAMWAK: "I seem to recall I was not very good at it - just couldn't get my philosopher's stone good enough to do worthwhile alchemy - but I also recall completing the game."

The only way I've found to improve the party's Philospher's Stone is to buy better ones from town alchemists. I think the best I've ever gotten was 35; I don't know if better is possible.

It doesn't have much influence anyway, though; Alchemy skill and Intelligence easily add far more.

beschizza: "This game is awesome and I've never been able to get more than a few hours into it without failing very hard."

Would it help if I uploaded one of my savegames somewhere? I don't think I have anything pre-endgame, but it can still be fun to explore with a high-powered party.
posted by jiawen at 6:50 PM on October 9, 2011


The Darklands Domain is now back up. Useful stuff there includes some really handy software and tools (I especially recommend the quest lister); all kinds of documentation; music files; and a wonderful FAQ. Totally worth checking out if you haven't already.

See also the Yahoo group for Darklands, which is still occasionally active. (I'm part of the group, so I didn't include it in the FPP.)
posted by jiawen at 8:29 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


jiawen - I've regularly gotten philosopher stone ratings of 60-65+. Gotta explore, gotta get lucky, your alchemist has to be highly skilled. Takes a lot of time. There are specific places where great philosopher stones can be found.

Man. If I had to pick my favourite game, ever, it'd be Darklands or Quest for Glory 2 (neither on purely gameplay reasons, but nostalgia plays a large role, like hunger and comfort food). This was the first game that I remember where weapon choice mattered due to opponent armour; that longsword (or even double-handed greatsword) is great! against unarmoured/lightly armoured opponents, but if the bad guy you're fighting is wearing plate? You've got to switch to that military hammer and chip away at them. Also, one of the earlier games where armour weight affected movement and attack speed.

Alchemy was a little over-powered; start a party out with 3 young people and one *really* old alchemist - overpowering early-game firepower. Also, high philosopher stone rating "boosts" philosopher stone upgrades; you need to have a high score in order to get a higher score. By the time the old alchemist dies of old age (or just becomes useless due to age-dependent stat downgrades), your other characters are good enough to get stuff done. Priests (or otherwise pious characters who can call down saints) were also extremely useful, but it usually depended on other traits - to get certain Saint's help, you needed a minimum piety score as well as some secondary score (strength, gender, &c.).

A really really old alchemist in the initial party gives a high philosopher stone rating; as long as your party can pull in cash (especially with the old highly skilled alchemist), you can milk the old dude until he dies, then hire a new alchemist (iirc, all the recipes are kept even when your alchemist dies, otherwise, you know where to go to learn/buy the "good" recipies").

I bought my first copy from a software chopshop in Hong Kong when I was 14, visiting the home country, ended up buying a real copy off of eBay back in '96 (on 5.25" disks, no less).

When I replayed it in '96 (and again, in 2001), I kept a hard-bound lab notebook with all of the info/locations that my party found out. Still have them, can't find them though.

Bulgaroktonos - yeah, totally. But I was a little more realistic; The Elder Scrolls is purely fiction, Darklands tried to be true to the dates of Saint's days and Sabaths. Waiting, waiting, and then *missing* because of an unexpected delay during the travel time...

I tried playing it again a few years back under DOSBox; stymied by the bugs but moreso on the very very slow pace of the tactical game.

Still, I love the semi-monochrome waterpainting art. Games had a very different developmental cycle/timeframe back then (and scanning in waterpaint art might have taken less time than to create the art in photoshop/illustrator/3d-rendering).
posted by porpoise at 9:20 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man this is what kills me about games as an art form. You wanna watch an old movie? Probably on DVD, Criterion Collection or whatever, probably has commentary tracks etc. Wanna play an old game? Good luck. Spend hours tweaking this and that, what the heck is DOS Box? (I know what it is I'm just being rhetorical.) What I want is to download an exe (dmg actually since I'm on a mac) double click, install, play. Put it in Flash, I dunno. Until it's this easy to play old games I will remain frustrated. I would love to play this game and it bugs me that I never will get the chance, cos I just don't care enough to sit around figuring out how to make it work.

Also I wish all games had a commentary track. And I wish all games had a mode where they played themselves. Am I the only one who enjoys watching games being played? I wanna see the ending even if I can't get there myself. I mean I've watched the Demon's Souls speedrun on YT like 4 times, and there's a game I will never ever play (esp. now that I have a kid)
posted by jcruelty at 9:21 PM on October 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't usually watch video Let's Plays, but a screenshot LP would be perfect for this
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2011


Interesting fact: The interface in Baldur's Gate was based on the combat interface in Darklands. Mount and Blade was also heavily influenced by Darklands.

I wish Darklands were more influential than that, though. The extensively researched historical setting (the game's manual includes a bibliography) is brilliant, and spoiled me as a child. The standard pop fantasy settings of the vast majority of RPGs just don't satisfy me like 15th century Germany.
posted by Stove at 9:54 PM on October 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Darklands also sparked my interest in medieval and renaissance music. Some versions of the game came with a jukebox program which let you listen to the various pieces of music used in the game, however it omits some information, and I think it has some errors. The period music linked by jiawen is a 16th century lute arrangement of a 15th century madrigal called "O mia cieca e dura sorte" by Marchetto Cara.

I once looked up the Glogauer Liederbuch at my university and looked through every page in an attempt to identify the "village" theme by sight, but I never succeeded.
posted by Stove at 10:15 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mount and Blade was also heavily influenced by Darklands

Heh, that would help explain my urge to do a Darklands total conversion mod for Mount & Blade then (despite my total lack of codimg skills)
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:43 AM on October 10, 2011


Pretty sure Microprose also made a cyberpunk/vampire RPG as well.

Yep. They did.
posted by longbaugh at 5:14 AM on October 10, 2011


Thanks for the correction, longbaugh! I had taken it as received wisdom.
posted by jiawen at 7:24 AM on October 10, 2011


I would love to play this game and it bugs me that I never will get the chance, cos I just don't care enough to sit around figuring out how to make it work.

Then what's the tragedy? If you don't care, you don't get to play the game you said you don't care about anyways. If you do care, you get to play the game.

And, besides that, seriously: this is not hard. I have never used dosbox on a Mac until last night (I think I may have used it a long time ago on a Windows machine). I had it up and running in about 10 minutes, complete with Darklands running in it. No exaggeration. And that included the time to download dosbox and the game.
posted by tocts at 7:38 AM on October 10, 2011


I was obsessed with this game when it first came out. I never completed the main quest, which involved the Knights Templar if I recall correctly, but I did infiltrate the Witches' Sabbat and cleared many mines of Knockers.
This game also introduced me to the Fuggers which led to me researching how banking evolved from letters of credit into the modern banking system. See, mom, gaming can teach you new things.
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:58 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


tocts: "I had it up and running in about 10 minutes, complete with Darklands running in it."

Yeah, DOSBox didn't seem that hard to get running for me, either. It might have taken a bit more than ten minutes, but that's because I wanted to get the speed just so.
posted by jiawen at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2011


You wanna watch an old movie? Probably on DVD, Criterion Collection or whatever, probably has commentary tracks etc. Wanna play an old game? Good luck.

This is completely backwards. You want to play any video game ever made, from Pong to the new iD game released last week, the internet has got you covered. If it won't run on one of the current-gen consoles, you can run it in an emulator on a modern computer.

If you want to watch a film from the first 50 years of cinema? Unless it's one of a handful of well-preserved classics, you're almost certainly out of luck. (And TV is even worse, with lots of stuff from as recent as the 1960's and '70s lost forever.)

Video games? Except for maybe a handful of old arcade machines that have never been dumped, we've preserved pretty much everything, and the vast majority of it is playable in some form or another.
posted by straight at 12:07 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the correction, longbaugh!

Bloodnet has RPG elements but it is more of an adventure game, IIRC.
posted by Justinian at 12:29 PM on October 10, 2011


Darklands is now available on GOG.
posted by jiawen at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


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