The first video game that really hooked me was the “Tales of the Unknown: Volume I” subtitle “The Bard’s Tale”. Created in 1985 for the Apple II it was inspired by “Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord” which had been released 4 years earlier in 1981. It would be THE “The Dungeon Crawl” game for years.
For all of that, it was a game I never finished. It’s hard to remember that in 1985 there was no world wide web and to understand all of the things that means. For gamers, it means no online hints. If you got stuck in a game, tough. No maps, no forums where you could ask questions, no tables of items, or suggestions on how to get past particularly hard encounters. And heaven forbid if there was a bug in the game that made a section unplayable. For some of the most popular games they might publish a single hint book, but some for some “hint” is the word, not “walkthrough”.
Forward to 2013. The rights to the Bards Tale games were purchased by inXile Entertainment and a new Bards Tale game was created. While the new game had nothing but the title in common with the older games, the remake of Bards Tale in 2004 includes the original Bards tale trilogy playable via an Apple emulator.
Due a combination of finding myself at home for a week with a hurt back, and Steam having a sale of the of “The Bards Tale 2004” for a whooping $7, I found myself with the time and opportunity to revisit Skara Brae.
If you want more of a turn by turn play through, there is an excellent page at the “Lets Play” Archives here LPA-Bards-Tale . Mine is more of a quick trip down memory lane. Just scroll down to the pictures if you want to skip any further ramblings of mine.
The Original Bard Tale 1 was written for the Apple II in 1985. Its easy to forget that at that time, computer graphics were evolving rapidly and there were multiple computer systems all with their own specifications. Not only did each system have different graphics, but within each system they had multiple graphic resolution and colors.
When the game was later ported to the Commodore 64, Apple IIgs, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Apple Macintosh, NES and other platforms graphics were changed or updated. This means that the graphics that you remember will be variable. For myself in particular I originally played the Apple II version. Four years later I would play the game again on the Atari ST, and then a couple years after that I would play it on DOS.
Games 1 and 2 were ported to the Apple 2gs versions and had major graphic updates. Unfortunately the third game in the series was never ported and really looks bad in comparison.
"The Bards Tale" (2004) includes the original Trilogy of games from the 80's. I liked how they used the original game cover art. Interesting when the game was first released it was titled "Tales of the Unknown" and only subtitled "The Bards Tale".
The Apple Emulator program is used for the first 2 games which is great as it allows for the use of the ported versions of games 1 and 2 with the updated and improved graphics.
The Guild Hall. If you know the game, you have spent a lot of time here, even if you didn't want to. hard to remember, but you can only save the game while in the Guild Hall. This was definitely a pain when I was younger and it was time for dinner. Mom did not understand the grave world importance of me saving my characters.
A couple of screen shots with the original Apple graphics. Its amazing what they were able to achieve with only 4 colors, but I'm glad this version uses the improved graphics.
Character creation 101. What surprises me most is that the process of creating a new character has not really changed in 20 years. You have more options now, but anyone familiar with a modern RPG will feel right at home. A closer look will show that they inherited the D&D armour class system of negative numbers, but added a bad idea of just showing "LO" if it was less then -9 for some reason. You can also see that these are screen shots of charaters at the end of the game where you have 100's of hitpoints.
One of the more annoying parts of the game is the total lack of information about your items. How strong is a Dragonshield, is a Ring of Power any good? Tough luck, figure it out yourself. The instructions manual has a one line answer that "items that are more expensive are generally better".
Louise laughs at me every time I play one of these games because I always have a Monk type character. This game is probably the reason why. The Monk starts off incredibly wimpy but then becomes way over powered.
The Magic System. A large assortment of spells, but really once you had a Sorcerer that could cast Mind Blade (MIBL) ever encounter was pretty much (F)ight, (F)ight, (F)ight, MIBL, MIBL, MIBL.
The official hint book. Before the Internet, they had hint books you would have to actually purchase. I do have to give them credit for making this particular hint book unique. It written as the journal of a previous adventure.
The official map from the instruction manual. While useful in a general sense. Its actually pretty hard to navigate around town using this as the town is a layed out in a very strict grid and the graphics don't lend themselves to just wandering around.
A much better map from a hint site
The town and a couple of places to visit.
One of the problems with the game, and one of the reasons it is so hard is the utterly random nature of the encounters in the town. They range from the absurdly easy, to the OMG run away. Someone also thought it would be a good idea to add some code so that sometimes when you try an run, you can't. Did I mention that you can't save yet?
The First dungeon, the Wine Cellar.
Wait a second, it's not that easy. First you have to find this Guardian Statue of a Samurai, attack and defeat it. You will probably loose a character here. That's assuming you can find it, or even know you are supposed to look for it. It also assumes that you don't find the other 4-5 statues that are MUCH harder and will definitely kill your entire party. If you knew nothing of the game I guess it would be a trial and error system.
We'll just assume you managed to kill the Statue and now you are left looking at a dead end street with nothing other than a tavern, which looks just like all of the other taverns in the game. You then have to order a drink and notice that (W)ine is a drink option that is unique to this tavern
The Cellars and the Sewers. Most sites call the first level the Cellar and the next 3 the Sewers, but no matter how you name them there are 4 levels to complete. This is the meat and potatoes of the game. A first person, turn based, dungeon. Each level is a 22x22 grid with monsters, traps, and puzzles. If you just wander around randomly, you will get lost and you will die. A large part of the game was sitting down with a sheet of graph paper meticulously mapping each and every square. I should also mention that this screen shot is not what you are going to see when you play the game. Just to make things harder the developers added a "view distance" depending on your light source. At this point in the game you probably only have a torch and can only see 1 block ahead. And of course there are teleporters, spinners, and sometimes the levels wrap around from top to bottom or side to side. This is fun right? I admit this time, I just used the cheat sites and downloaded the maps. I do have fond memories of hand making my maps many years ago.
Assuming you didn't rage quit from one of the traps, or that particular nasty 'beam of light' that fried and probably killed half your party, you found the name of the Mad God and the hint to speak the Mad God's name at the temple.
Compared to the previous dungeon I thought this one was more straightforward. You will make more frequent trips to the priests as it seems every other creature has the ability to wither.
The Witch King is the final battle, but it's harder to make it to the his room than it is to beat him. After a quick battle you get "The Eye" and return to the surface.
Somehow you decipher the incredible vague clues in the catacombs and figure out that Harkyns Castle is the next dungeon. More likely you just try everywhere until you find it.
The 99, 99, 99, 99 Berserkers. One of the most memorable fights in the game. On the top floor of the castle is the big fight. The first time all of my front line fights died. Don't even attempt this fight unless you have 2 or more wizards that can cast MIBL. This is really where the monk shines. Given his incredibly LO armour class he might be your only surviving fighter.
You will almost certianly come back to this room mulitple times to farm the experience as it's worth the highest in the game at 65,000 for each surviving member.
Back to the story line. Once you make it past the Berserkers you find the statue of the Mad God who just happens to be missing an eye. Interestingly you if have the teleport spell you can skip directly to this fight and bypass everything.
Ok, scratch one Mad God. Onward to Kylearan's Tower. The only single level dungeon in the game, but with a huge dark area. When I last played the game in college this was where I stopped playing. This is also where you find the first of the silver pieces. Yes, you will need to find each one so that you can pass the very last door in the game.
Interestingly the final encounter in the Tower is not a boss monster but an encounter with a friendly mage who tells you a story to advance the plot.
The final dungeon, Mangar's Tower. Somehow you were supposed to remember that way back in the Sewers dungeon there was an exit on the lowest level that lead up here. Or you could have given up and read the hint book.
Yes, the monster difficulty sky rockets here. So much for you visions of the invincible party. Almost everything here withers, drains, or has an insta kill. Plan on retreating a lot.
Grind, Grind, Grind. Ok, I'm skipping about a zillon encounters and a final 3 levels of utter crazy tricks and traps, you reach the final battle. Neither teleport or phase door work in the last 3 levels so levels 4 and 5 have to be slogged through from start to finish to reach the final battle. Everything here is crazy powerful so the only way I was able to make it was to run every time I was able. Even with the maps, the hints, and farming the Berserkers for experience, it took me 4 tries to reach the final battle. I really have no idea how people finished this game before hint books
Assuming you have made it this far you party of adventures will be incredible powerful with hitpoints in the hundreds. You will also have instant death attacks and area attack spells. So will they. Its kind of like a battle between two groups of people where both have sawed off shotguns and your in a 10x10 room. Most everyone is going to die.
If somehow you mapped each and every square of the level you might have found there is a back door to the final battle which allows you to miss the anti magic trap and gives you the magic super weapon "The Snare". Of course in true Bards Tale fashion, if you actually use the Snare on the big bad guy at the end, it doesn't work. You can use it on his henchmen tho.
You've Won! I have no idea why he gives you experience as this is the end of the game, but I guess you can never have to much.
So after all of that the big question is "Was it fun?". Masochistically yes. Would I play it without the hint book. Not a chance. If you ever played this when it was first released and always wanted to finish it, yep, defiantly give it another shot.