Rows of words - on the screen - OOOOH, what they do
Review by "Bloomer" aka Wade Clarke
Originally at http://www.gamefaqs.com/computer/apple2/review/R49638.html
''EAMON is a computerized version of what are called 'Fantasy Role-Playing Games.' When you enter the universe of one of these games, you are no longer John (or Jane) Smith, mild-mannered computer hobbyist. Instead, you become a character in a land of adventure, doing almost anything you want to.''
- from The Eamon Manual
These introductory remarks are extremely cute and quaint to read today in a world where RPGs are a taken-for-granted computer gaming force, but back when these words were written (1980), computer RPGs barely existed; they were new and they were being invented.
Eamon was an all-text roleplaying adventure game system created for the Apple II by Donald Brown, and distributed in the public domain. From its humble beginnings on one floppy disk containing a very simple adventure called 'Beginner's Cave' and a fairly basic combat-heavy game engine, Eamon grew over more than a decade into a cult phenomenon with almost 250 different adventures available for it, whilst the main program was developed through seven versions to become an admirably elegant and accessible means of driving any kind of adventure that Eamon players/ authors could come up with. Eamon was eventually ported to other computing venues, sometimes in original or enhanced form (MS-DOS), sometimes in part form or with modifications sufficiently extensive to warrant calling it something else (Atari and Commodore 64 respectively), and its ultimate legacy was to re-emerge in the form of an online multiplayer gaming experience in the internet age: the MUD, or Multi User Dimension.
Perhaps the most important element of Eamon's appeal was that it allowed you to save and develop your character(s) from one adventure to the next, no matter how vastly different in subject matter all those adventures might be. From dungeons to starships, from an historical simulation to someone's in-joke recreation of their school as a battlefield, Eamon was nothing if not a diverse ongoing experience. This lended it a glimmer of the same desirable open-endedness which Dungeons and Dragons (D+D) players always knew was what made their game experience something of a higher order. While you face discrete goals in passing, your character in Eamon is ultimately yours to do with as you see fit, a projection of your imagination. You can play straight for gold and glory, trying to master the game's various skills, spells and weapons, trying to survive all that's thrown at you and grow... or you can simply try to cause as much havoc in each adventure as possible, slaying friends, abusing magic, looking for shortcuts and generating your own entertainment as you see fit. You can invest in your character emotionally or just play for laughs. Most Eamon players had characters for both purposes.
Having created a brand new tri-stat Eamon character (Hardiness, Agility, Charisma) in the Main Hall and taken him/her for an initial spin through the minor rigors of Beginner's Cave - killing some rats, a hermit, a pirate and maybe even a gorilla to improve your weapon skills, and nabbing some riches en route - you were then ready to go adventuring in a wider world of your choosing. At this point in regular D+D, you'd have to go and buy another adventure module from the game shop or write your own in order to keep playing, and such was the case with Eamon. You could swap adventure disks with Eamon-going friends, mail-order them from public domain distributors, or make the Eamon universe larger by creating your own adventure with the Dungeon Designer Diskette.
Core gameplay in Eamon worked along standard text adventure lines. Descriptions of your present location, which were as atmospherically rich or grammatically poor as the author's skills allowed, would roll onscreen as you moved around. At the prompt you could enter verb-noun commands to interact with the environment and the creatures and objects in it:
NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST EAT APPLE DRINK POTION LOOK PAINTING SMILE ATTACK REVENANT
The achievement of Eamon's combat system (as rough as it was in the game's first incarnation) was that it mathematically endeavoured to deal with any eventuality based on the player's actions, and gave a rough simulation of independent thought. Monsters displayed different personalities. They could be brave, cowardly, friendly, uncertain or downright hostile. Uncertain monsters might be more likely to help you if your charisma score was high, turn on you if it was low, or just ignore you if it was average. In this way, the same adventure could prove to be a different experience for differently built and played characters. Friends would follow you around and fight with you, and the nastiest enemies would pursue you if you fled. There was no officially programmed 'party' mechanism, and your friends could and did turn on you if you abused them.
In the later versions of the game, standard behaviour was programmed to be even more sophisticated. Friends would accept a healing potion, take a swig and hand it back. If disarmed they'd scrabble after their own lost weapons and sometimes even deprive foes of theirs. These were simple enough touches but they created a charming illusion of camaraderie. My favourite Eamons were always the ones which, over time, gave you dozens of companions and worked to create the illusion (both through balancing of behind-the-scenes stats and through artful text description) that these were all individuals who were helping you in their own way by choice. Striking the first blow in a mass melee was always a rush, as friends and foes would then 'open fire', turning the screen into a scroll of flashing combat messages visually punctuated by all the best flourishes ascii could offer. This great mass of violent action was somehow excitingly beyond your control. All the other creatures in the gameworld would pick their own targets using the rudimentary but loveable Eamon AI.
Eamon was made to be an eminently hackable game, and in this way it could be as grueling or as easy as you wanted it to be, within reason. Dead characters were easily restored with a little elbow grease, and there were numerous 'cheats' available to supercharge your weapons, stats and abilities if you felt that was what you wanted. This was a good thing, because if I had to make one generalisation about the experience of playing Eamon, it would be that 'you get killed a whole lot'. With the main programs written in Applesoft Basic and structured to be as open as possible, there were hundreds of elements players could toy with if they knew how. Numerous incarnations of the Main Hall program (Eamon's guild/ keep/ inn/ homebase locale) appeared over time, embracing all manner of fun diversions, including casinos, exotic weapon shops, training centres, banks, and interesting figures you could visit, such as the witch. My personal favourite perk was the fountain found in the graphics version of the main hall program, which had a fifty percent chance of increasing the damage dice on your wielded weapon every time you tossed some money into it. The only change I made to my own Main Hall disk was to have it play my cover of the theme from the Commodore 64 platformer Journey over the Eamon title screen, a tune which in turn was a cover of Madness' House Of Fun, only more evil-like.
While adventures following the standard data structure could be built in the Dungeon Designer by novices with no programming experience at all, the real joy of Eamon-making was coding in your own flourishes specific to your adventure. Each Eamon shipped with its own version of the main program as modified (or not) by the author. These flourishes might consist of an entirely new spell system (the standard four - BLAST, HEAL, SPEED and POWER - became a bit of a joke), improved AI for your companions, speech, puzzles, interactive environmental features, or anything else you felt was necessary for your story. The main program engine carried all the grunt work while you as a designer could jump straight into etching in the details.
One of my very favourite Eamons was Rhadshur Warrior (adventure number #132) which sent you on a spy-like mission into an atmospheric world whose mythology combined science fiction settings and martial arts. It was crawling with striking opponents (with massive agility scores - you had to train your agility way up before trying this one), and was one of the relatively small number of Eamons to employ the diagonals of the compass in its mapping and movement. A droid companion, known as a Seeker if memory serves correctly, accompanied you on the mission and could be programmed to scan for secret doors and rooms, and to heal you a limited number of times. This was great stuff.
An adventure like Dungeon of Doom (#117) showed that you could also eke great results out of the standard Eamon facilities. There were a few non game-altering flourishes present, like a graphic title screen and sound effects, but essentially this was a straightforward loot-and-kill dungeoncrawl through a mappable labyrinth, driven by the basic engine and made exciting by good design and judicious use of monsters.
In the way of more eccentric Eamons, Peg's Place (#139) was a loving satiric take on an infants school and its staff, and got a lot zanier when you found out that standard combat had been programmed out and replaced with the ability to SCOLD and LECTURE. Verbal jousting sapped the opponent's ego until death by embarrassment eventually occurred. The Body Revisited (#185) was the Fantastic Voyage of Eamon, sending you into a painstakingly researched recreation of the internals of the human body, with more than 190 deeply boring rooms to explore and monotonous hordes of cancer and blood cells as monsters.
I never actually played The Beermeister's Brewery (#142) but I wish I had, based both on the game's introductory spiel...
''You are about to face your most trying task. You must go rescue your friend Damian who has wandered into the Beermeister's Brewery while he was intoxicated. You will undertake many tasks, but this is probably the most difficult. Good luck to you.''
... and on Pat Hurst's review of the adventure for the Eamon Adventurers Guild (EAG):
''It has poorly written descriptions, massive spelling and grammar errors, an obnoxious keypress beep, and is vulgar and makes light of drinking problems. For these reasons, Pat Hurst hated it and wouldn't recommend it to anyone.''
While 'cute' was definitely a major school of Eamon adventure design, so was 'vicious and entirely unreasonable'. This seemed especially true of some earlier adventures. They tended to be sparser in description (as this was obviously an art which was collaboratively developed over time), meaner in hazard, and far more arbitrarily punitive in attitude. I've noted that the first instinct of any creative figure suddenly placed in a god-like position is to test the limits of his/her world, which in short means blowing up the scenery and anyone and everything foolish enough to blunder into it.
''You dumb, stupid jerk! You just fell down the s--t hole! The walls are smooth, the sewage deep, and you drown! You jerk! You're dead!''
This was one of the less forgiving moments from Temple of Ngurct (#23). More than a decade passed between me reading about this particular adventure in Creative Computing magazine as a kid, and finding and playing it as an adult. Said Robert Plamondon of the adventure he'd co-written with his brother,
''This is a very sophisticated adventure, if I do say so myself.''
Maybe it was. It was hard to judge it objectively by the time I'd lived through the nineteen-nineties, drowned in sewage and then been called a dumb, stupid jerk.
Sewers cropped up as the setting for more than one Eamon. Excitingly-titled adventures such as Sewers of Chicago (#60) and The Eamon Sewer System (#181) offered players the chance to slip their brains into neutral and splatter wimpy rats, perhaps as an antidote to the nervous tension brought on by surviving the four-disk extravaganza of life and death that was Elemental Apocalypse (#149). This breadth of style and subject matter across adventures was also a great part of the charm of the Eamon universe. Sometimes you'd find yourself on a stupendous quest to save the world, and at other times your only goal was more akin to surviving a stroll down the village street whilst being molested by small animals. And you wanted both of these experiences. You wanted to adventure in both Shopping Mall (#88) and in The Superfortress of Lin Wang (#89). It was the Eamon way!
As could be expected, another major branch of Eamon adventures consisted of recreations, both reverent and humourous, of episodes from players' favourite novels, films and TV shows. The irony is that (for me anyway) these were often the less enjoyable Eamon adventures to play, because the more reverent the authors were to the source material, the more of the standard freedoms they might deliberately axe from the main Eamon engine in order to force the player to follow a set story and sequence of events.
A highly dispiriting example of this was to be found in the Lord of the Rings-inspired adventure Assault on Dolni Keep (#124), to which the EAG had at some point awarded a massive 9.3 out of 10 possible points in their review. This was in fact the highest score I ever saw assigned in their catalogue and it was the reason that Assault was amongst the first batch of Eamon modules I mail-ordered.
Assault turned out to be a straitjacketing experience for me, no matter how much I was impressed with its excellent programming. If you strayed from the mission, you were killed by stoney-browed elves, and the rest of the time seemed to be spent figuring out ways to prevent regenerating groups of literally hundreds of orcs from arriving onscreen. It's nice to be able to pluck a keystone from a bridge to make it collapse before an angry horde that wants to murder you, but nicer still to not feel that the game's offering you a stab at doing things the regular way even though it knows full well that they cannot be done the regular way.
Still, I should be thankful that Assault featured combat at all. The similarly high-scoring but infinitely more repellent Walled City of Darkness (#150) (inspired at least a bit by the novels of Roger Zelazny) was basically a straight text adventure unnecessarily masquerading as an Eamon. This hateful experience started off with some evil laughing force (I could never forget that obnoxious opening of 'Oho! Ohohoho!..') dangling your adventurer upside down so that all his/her possessions were removed from play - a vile copout of a ploy if ever there was one - and then you were placed in a boring action-free city and expected to solve puzzles, with little context or interest.
The kinds of Eamons I most admired and enjoyed (and so tried to create) were the ones that did not excise too much of the standard programming as a cheap means to insure greater difficulty - such as the ability to cast HEAL in a fantasy setting - but either added new features, commands and spells, or created difficulty in other ways; by well-handled puzzles, the use of time limits (The Black Death (#20) put a time limit on your whole life by giving you the plague and expecting you to find a cure for yourself), or making you rely more on good management of your companions for survival. I liked the idea that an Eamon might vary in the difficulty of its combat, dependent on the strength of the player's character (which, as previously discussed, was in many ways a matter of player choice), but could still find sly ways to produce gaming stress for a character or player of any nature.
I may knock Dolni Keep, but I stole its comments engine and smart companions idea to make the good guys say helpful things to the player at relevant points in my own Dawn Of The Warlock. I also tried to imbue this motley crew with some personality by having, for instance, Celeste the thief bounce obnoxiously when you freed her from the dungeon (though her fearsome agility compensated for her obnoxiousness), Guland the psychotic dwarf act psychotic, and Friagne the druid be all 'noble'. Friagne's agility was lousy. In The Prism Of Shadows, the most consistent schtick (beyond more genuinely useful programming, like allowing the player to use the Prism to cast spells once it was assembled) was gore. My friend and I tried to wring as much blood and as many cheap laughs out of each ludicrous corpse description as we could.
As an overall experience, Eamon was most strongly defined by its unevenness and its seductive longevity. With amateurs of all skill levels reflexively creating its universe, the quality of adventures varied dramatically. But so did the style and subject matter, so that if one Eamon didn't do it for you, there was always another that would, or you could create your own. And plenty of the poor Eamons were enjoyable in their own laughable way.
Your character could live on to perform deeds both great and stupid, and be tweaked, played and developed by yourself for whatever purpose suited your fancy. There wasn't any other ongoing open-ended RPG experience remotely like this available for home computers in the 1980s, and certainly none that lived on through its decade of birth in a state of constant programming and imaginative development, and as the subject of constant widespread player interest. Eamon proliferated by being accessibly programmed, providing every player with the tools to further develop the game, and by existing in the public domain, making distribution easy in pre-global internet days. The Eamon Adventurers Guild provided a centralising influence for the whole thing, offering technical help, reviews, discussion, and assigning those all-important adventure numbers.
My own favourite elements of Eamon were:
(a) The quasi-crappy independence exhibited by all the characters you met in each game, so that you were touched when your friends helped out in a fight, and
(b) The fighting itself, that great scroll of PARRIED... A HIT! BLOW GLANCES OFF ARMOR!... followed by status reports like CELESTE IS AT DEATH'S DOOR, KNOCKING LOUDLY. The text presentation and its flow and delivery really had some kind of visceral effect as you mashed your through it with the return key, eager for the next round.
The rough and tumble, wildly erratic, very creative and highly amusing experience of Eamon adventuring is something I miss in this overpolished new century.
-- Eamon -- 9/10 --
Reviewer's Score: 9 / 10, Originally Posted on 3/2/2003
Eamon is to RPGs what the Amoeba is to the human
Review by "aepiphid"
Originally at http://www.gamefaqs.com/computer/apple2/review/R49041.html
For years I have wondered what happened to Eamon adventures. I was first introduced to this single-player text-based role playing game in my most formative years during the mid-80s. My family upgraded from an old Leading Edge computer (featuring Volkswriter, the Microsoft Word of the early 1980s) to a state-of-the-art Apple IIgs, the limited edition signed by Steve Wozniak himself. Ah, the memories... ...where was I. Oh yes; it was around this time that I discovered this obscure gaming series, obscure even in its own day. I often credit the original Phantasy Star series as being the beginning of my love for RPGs, but in retrospect, Eamon was my very first exposure to this fascinating genre.
I will try to put together a review within the confines of a normal review structure (story, game play,etc.), but I cannot promise you I can pull this off. Please forgive any inaccuracies; it has been nearly 15 years since I last played an Eamon adventure, and my aging memory is not what it used to be. Well, here goes...
Story Eamon is not actually a game. It is a software platform into which various stories are programmed. Remember Dungeons and Dragons? (Yes, I played D&D for a few years when I was a kid - I'm man enough to admit it). D&D was not the game itself, it was the gaming platform, with rules and behind-the-scenes development. The games themselves consisted of modules you bought to accompany the myriad of manuals for which your parents shelled out way too much money.
Eamon worked the same way. There was a base module in which you would develop your character. Once you went through your first adventure, you could take your character through any other module of your choice.
The stories themselves were as good (or bad) as the individual programmer creating them. Eamon was an open platform and anyone could make a module for it. I even made one myself using an Eamon editor.
In all fairness, it is not really possible to rank the quality of the stories because of the sheer number and diversity. I only wrote this section to help familiarize you with the Eamon system and for nostalgic value for the few of you out there who remember Eamon. ?/10
Game Play The most surprising aspect of Eamon was that somehow, in spite of the primitive nature of the technology, adventures were non-linear! You could explore your worlds (limited though they were) in almost any order, acquiring items, making friends, fighting battles and solving very basic puzzles.
Every Eamon player equipped him or herself with a pad of graph paper with which to plot the path they had taken and where items of note were.
Because of the openly mathematical nature of the game's programming, it was possible to make friends with monsters you had fought a module earlier, and make enemies of other humans who otherwise would have accompanied you as your ally. Though encounters in Eamon were not random, the nature of the interaction was, a remarkable feat for its time.
For what it was, when it was, Eamon's game play was fairly impressive. 7/10
Controls What can you say about the controls of a text-based game? Well, with Eamon, you can say a whole lot. Why? Remember how I mentioned Eamon was programmed as an open platform? This meant you could actually ''hack'' the code and change characteristics of a module as you played it!
I distinctly remember a cheat that accompanied the initial character building module. You opened the code and scrolled to line 110. You could give yourself any statistics you wanted from here - certainly cheating, but what the heck, right?
Hack into a game and change the outcome as you play it - with no special system add-ons required? That, my friends, is what I call control! 10/10
Visuals It is possible to rank visuals with text-based games. The rating has to do with how well the environment is put into words (and therefore how easy it is to visualize). However, going back to what I said in my ''story'' section, modules were as good as the programmer, and there were many. There's no good way to rate this. ?/10
Sound You guessed it. No sound. ?/10
Replay Eamon really shined in the replay department. I'm sure the casual gamer today would not give an Eamon module a first look, let alone a second play. But for some reason, even though the modules never changed, I never got bored with them, and with the ability to create my own Eamon adventures, I could spend hours playing at a time. 9/10
Overall My final score is my tribute to the great-grandfather of RPGs. If you have nostalgic tendencies (as I do), try to dig out some old Eamon games and see if you can make them run. It's a worthwhile experience. 8/10 Reviewer's Score: 8 / 10, Originally Posted on 2/20/2003.