8

Around 1993 or 1994, I remember getting a copy (probably downloaded, but it's possible that it might have been on physical media) of a shareware fantasy CPRG. I don't remember that much about it. I only played the free version with one town and one dungeon; there was supposed to be a paid version with the whole game—although I think it might not have been finished yet when I played the beginning. I believe I played the game on an IBM PC, although it's conceivable that it was a different system.

It was not a spectacular game by any means, but I am somewhat curious about what happened with it, since it did have some interesting elements. The documentation for the game stated that the game world had two pieces—the top and bottom of a flat world. This was likely inspired by Might and Magic IV and V (as the latter game, Darkside of Xeen, was released in 1993). However, unlike the Might and Magic games, in this game, the decision to descend to the underside of the world, once the main quest elements on the upper surface had been finished, was irrevocable. This was significant because of something else I remember being particularly unusual about the game—that completing the game's main quest had a hard time limit of one thousand in-game days. The idea was that budgeting your in-game time was supposed to be crucial, and it would not be possible to overpower the game simply by grinding characters up to very high levels. In the early part of the game I played, I recall there was a library in the town, where my party could stop to study for some number of in-game days (one or three days, I think); this would improve characters' magical skills at the cost of precious time.

I do not remember much about the classes or races, except for one thing. I believe that for its diminutive race of demi-humans, the game followed the early Ultima games and called them "bobbits." (I don't remember whether it actually came out before or after John Bobbitt's severed penis hit the news in June 1993.) I think the bobbits were portrayed as teddy-bear-like humanoids—short and brown furred, with large round ears.

The format—at least in the opening town and dungeon that I played—was rather like some of the intermediate Ultima games. As you walked around, the setting was shown in (first-person) perspective view, but it switched to an overhead tactical view when entering combat. I was not impressed with the graphics, particular in the exploration mode. The walls were textureless solid colors (maybe that color being purple inside the dungeon), at a time when lots of games had already done a lot better. (The game promoted itself as a must-have for fans of The Bard's Tale series, and I was not impressed with the fact that the dungeon graphics were clearly inferior to those from the original 1985 Bard's Tale.)

15
  • Also crossposted to solveforum.com/forums/threads/…
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 3:38
  • You said - "The game promoted itself as a must-have for fans of The Bard's Tale series". Where did it do this promotion? In a readme file? In computer magazine adverts? This information could make it easier to track down. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 23:53
  • By "perspective view" do you mean isometric? First-person perspective? Also, was there any indication as to whether the graphics engine had been used in any other games? Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 23:56
  • @Astrid_Redfern No idea what you are trying to indicate about the World of Xeen games. I mean, obviously, if you only had one game, you only could explore one side of the world.
    – Buzz
    Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 0:07
  • 1
    Perhaps one of the games mentioned in this thread? Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 19:47

5 Answers 5

6

Despite having posted two incorrect answers so far, I am now pretty sure that this is a game called The Search for Freedom (released in 1995 according to that link, or 1996 according to Mobygames, or 1994 according to the Internet Archive.)

This is the game's website. Because it's hosted at the mocagh DOT org (Museum of Computer Adventure Game History) domain, I had thought it was an archived copy of the site. But according to CRPG Addict, the Museum's owner, Howard Feldman, created this game when he was in high school!

The dosgames site linked to above states that it was shareware, and has a link to download it. Downloading the .zip file, I opened MANUAL.TXT to take a look, and I'll be quoting from that extensively during this answer.

First of all, the in-game graphics. You stated:

As you walked around, the setting was shown in (first-person) perspective view, but it switched to an overhead tactical view when entering combat. I was not impressed with the graphics, particular in the exploration mode. The walls were textureless solid colors (maybe that color being purple inside the dungeon), at a time when lots of games had already done a lot better.

From MANUAL.TXT:

The Search for Freedom uses two points of view: first person, and bird's eye.

FIRST PERSON VIEW

When in dungeons or towns, you see a 3-D first person view of the surrounding area in the upper left view-box. To the right appear the names, HP, and spell points of all your characters. Below this appears the day, time, and icons representing any spells currently affecting the party. The lower box in a message window, and any information you must read will appear here. At the very bottom will appear the main adventuring menu, from which you make all your decisions about what to do next, described in detail later on, by using the left and right arrow keys.

Here are some screenshots of the first-person dungeon perspective:

enter image description here enter image description here

And the "birds-eye" (i.e. top-down) combat perspective:

enter image description here enter image description here

Next up, you stated:

The game promoted itself as a must-have for fans of The Bard's Tale series

The mocagh.org page contains a copy of the game's advert, which begins:

A must-have for die-hard fans of the Bard's Tale and Ultima RPGs --

That said, the advert has clearly been altered to refer to a later modification of the game (v1.3, with a 2004 release date). So it's possible that wording may not have been in the advert you saw.

MANUAL.TXT also mentions Bard's Tale, and confirms that the game is shareware:

inspired by such RPGs as Pool of Radiance by SSI, Shard of Spring by SSI, and Bard's Tale by Electronic Arts.

This game is Shareware, it is not Public Domain. You may try the game, up to the end of the first dungeon, and then you must register it to play the remainder of the game. ... The original, unregistered installation .ZIP file may be copied and distributed freely.

The reference to "up to the end of the first dungeon" matches your saying:

I only played the free version with one town and one dungeon; there was supposed to be a paid version with the whole game

As well as MANUAL.TXT, the download also contained REGINFO.TXT, which matches it even more closely:

You will be allowed to complete the first town and the first dungeon, and then you will be required to register

Now, let's take a look at another detail. You said:

I believe that for its diminutive race of demi-humans, the game followed the early Ultima games and called them "bobbits." (I don't remember whether it actually came out before or after John Bobbitt's severed penis hit the news in June 1993.) I think the bobbits were portrayed as teddy-bear-like humanoids — short and brown furred, with large round ears.

They're not called bobbits... but from the description I think this is them:

Teddy - small, adorable creatures who won't think twice about swiping money or other possessions from under your nose. They are very fast, and are often charming conversationalists as well. They may be Thieves or Mages.

There are pictures of them on the mocagh website... but after seeing those pictures, I really, really don't want to paste them in here. Follow the link if you're curious.

You said:

completing the game's main quest had a hard time limit of one thousand in-game days. The idea was that budgeting your in-game time was supposed to be crucial, and it would not be possible to overpower the game simply by grinding characters up to very high levels.

From the manual:

Unlike some RPGs, in Search for Freedom, there is a time limit of 1000 days. You will learn more about this when you read the introductory story after you've created your characters, but suffice it to say for now that you cannot waste too much time resting and must learn to conserve your magic powers and only use them when you must.

Now for another of your main points. You stated:

The documentation for the game stated that the game world had two pieces—the top and bottom of a flat world. This was likely inspired by Might and Magic IV and V (as the latter game, Darkside of Xeen, was released in 1993). However, unlike the Might and Magic games, in this game, the decision to descend to the underside of the world, once the main quest elements on the upper surface had been finished, was irrevocable.

From the manual:

The known world consists of 3 continents, surrounding the dreaded Isle of No Return. ... This Isle, in the centre of the world, is completely covered by the Nameless Mountains, and none that have visited the isle to date, have returned, hence the name.

...

Aegea

It is rumoured that, since the world is flat, like a playing card, then there must be something on the other side of the "card" we know as Earth, and this land has been called Aegea, or sometimes just "The Other Side". It is believed that if you sail in the ocean to the edge of the world, you will fall off, and land on The Other Side. However, no boat has been built yet that can withstand the powerful waters when one approaches the edge of the world, so the theory cannot be tested (not that anyone would be foolish enough to test it anyways). It is also believed that when you die, and are buried, your soul goes through the ground, to The Other Side, and so it has also been called the Land of the Dead. Whether Aegea exists or not is pure speculation, although the name has come up in legends before.

So it sounds like you have to visit this Isle of No Return, and as if there's a way to reach Aegea somewhere on that island.

Another point now. You stated:

  • In the early part of the game I played, I recall there was a library in the town, where my party could stop to study for some number of in-game days (one or three days, I think); this would improve characters' magical skills at the cost of precious time.*

It's not actually a library, but the Magic Store is a pretty close match:

Magic Store

Perhaps the shop you will visit most often, this store offers the widest variety of services. Use the up/down arrow keys to decide who will buy what:

...

Spellbooks - if the selected character is a mage, who is ready to learn a new spell level, you may purchase the spellbook for the new level here. Then, by resting in camp for half a day per spell level for the level you wish to learn, you will learn all the spells of that level, permanently. Without the spellbook, you cannot learn the new spells, regardless of whether or not you are ready to. All starting mages are able to buy the Level 1 spellbook immediately, provided they have sufficient funds of course.

(I added the above italics, to emphasize the fact that learning spells consumes in-game time.)

Several files in the dosgames.com download are text files in some kind of cipher, and it doesn't appear to be ROT13. I suspect capital letters are either enciphered differently to lower-case letters, or not at all. I also suspect that numbers, spaces and punctuation are not enciphered.

Ihdy fz Nf Rannbc in that cipher is probably

Isle of No Return.

although if it is, note that the ciphertext 'n' representing both 't' and 'u' in succession implies that this isn't a simple substitution cipher. Or that there was a typo.

Likewise,

1000 qqyh! is probably

1000 days!.

And the game's creator even seems to have enciphered the registration instructions!

xn paqgn $09

is probably

at least $10

and

Be., Jlpdfjexpa, Rcnxblf, RXDXEX

would have been

Rd., Willowdale, Ontario, CANADA.

Files of this sort include AASTORY, WRIT, COOKIE and several others. There are none of these enciphered files in the mocagh version of the download (v1.3), or in the Internet Archive versions (v1.2 and 1.3). They are only in the dosgames version. If you can find a decipherment of the text in them, I would be interested in seeing it. If you can work out the encipherment/decipherment algorithm, I would be very interested!

EDIT: I've been doing a bit of code-cracking by hand - here is a partial decryption guide for the cipher, or at least the lower-case letters. I think some files encipher the upper-case ones and some don't:

CIPHER  a b c  d e f g h i j k l m  n o p q r s t u v  w x y z

PLAIN   e r n  l d o s s g w h i v? u h l a d o r   p?   a a f
        w t m? n m         u   j?   t i g d o y            e
                                            c?             y

Here are a couple of partial decryptions from the AASTORY file:

Iz bklh bncrjt lh ntja, noy vrbbqd jodp ffyc ld 1000 qqyh!  Iz oy og 
If this rumour is true, the portal will open in 1000 days!  If he is 

cfb qygntfyyq syzfty bkad, bka jftpq lh erfeyq!
not destroyed before then, the world is doomed!

Rncrjt xpgf kxh ob bkxn eayf ld q endpyrd fc bka Ihdy fz Nf Rannbc lh 
Rumour also has it that deep in a dungeon on the Isle of No Return is

q cxilrxp vrbbqd, fcy-axs, dyxeldp bf Aaiaq.
a magical portal, one-way, leading to Aegea.

Incidentally, the mocagh site states that the game had a prequel, Quest of Kings. (CRPG Addict, Gamebase64). There's an in-game screenshot of that which shows first-person perspective and purple walls:

enter image description here

But that game was C64, not PC/DOS.

CRPG Addict has played Quest of Kings, and mentions that he looks forward to playing The Search for Freedom when he eventually gets up to games from that year.

2
  • 1
    The first two screenshots definitely jumped out at me; I can't say exactly why, but they looked familiar as soon as I saw them. You have my sincere admiration for tracking this down, among so many other better-known games that you have looked at!
    – Buzz
    Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 22:59
  • Thanks - and whoever works out the encipherment algorithm for the files I mentioned near the end will have my sincere admiration! I also found out about CGW magazine and its RPG reviewer, Scorpia, while trying to find this one. I definitely enjoyed reading her reviews and it's a shame she no longer writes about RPGs. Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 23:06
7

Might this be Challenge of the Five Realms: Spellbound in the World of Nhagardia?

Challenge of the Five Realms is a plot-heavy axonometric title set on the flat world of Nhagardia. A prince must race against a creeping darkness to retrieve the five crowns of Nhagardia's five kingdoms (human, gnome, elf, fish-man, and effete flying man), whose leaders have been killed by the mysterious, demonic Grimnoth. The game is as full-featured as anything in 1992, with animated cut scenes and voiced digital dialogue at the beginning and end. There are hundreds of NPCs, dozens of side quests, and a book's worth of dialogue. Many of the NPCs may join the party, which maxes at 10. The tactical combat system works relatively well. But the game lacks in other key role-playing areas, particularly character development.

Found with a search for shareware rpg "flat world" "time limit" and the time limit is one hundred days, not one thousand.

Image of the overworld and the message if you missed the time limit - 3/4 perspective Image of combat - overhead view

It's available on GoG and Steam (I actually own a copy, although I'd never played it before, and my brief dip into it, I didn't make it out of the castle).

Playthrough

2
  • The setup sounds similar, but this isn’t the one I’m looking for.
    – Buzz
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 14:23
  • @Buzz: No worries. Does comparing the two shake out any more details for you?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 15:24
7

Maybe part of the shareware series Dark Designs? This was published by Softdisk and utilised a very early 3D graphics engine made by John Carmack.

According to this list, games 1 and 2 came out in 1990, and game 3 in 1991. Games 4, 5 and 6 were released in 1994, and presented as a sequel trilogy to the originals. The games were released for DOS and the Apple II, although some games may have been released for only one of these platforms.

The graphics varied quite a bit - not just by whether the platform was DOS or Apple, but possibly also by graphics card and what model of Apple II you had. (The Apple II GS would have much better graphics than a standard Apple II!) This screenshot of the dungeon graphics for an Apple II version of game 3 most closely matches your description:

enter image description here

As you walked around, the setting was shown in (first-person) perspective view, but it switched to an overhead tactical view when entering combat. I was not impressed with the graphics, particular in the exploration mode. The walls were textureless solid colors (maybe that color being purple inside the dungeon), at a time when lots of games had already done a lot better.

First-person perspective was indeed used when you walked around in the dungeon - see these dungeon screenshots for game 1 on PC:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

And perspective did indeed change to overhead during a fight:

enter image description here

As I said, the graphics varied - this is a dungeon screenshot from what I think is the PC version of game 3:

enter image description here

This is game 5 on a much more primitive Apple II than the one used in that Game 3 screenshot:

enter image description here

And game 4 on the same:

enter image description here

Most of the screenshots I've seen imply game 2 would have had the same graphics as game 1, but here it is using colour graphics for a fight scene:

enter image description here

The original game did not have any "overworld" - when you were out of the dungeon, you just had a text-based menu of things you could do in the town. I think the same was true of games 2 and 3. However, by game 4, the same first-person perspective 3D graphics were being used for the overworld as well as the dungeon.

In the early part of the game I played, I recall there was a library in the town, where my party could stop to study for some number of in-game days (one or three days, I think); this would improve characters' magical skills at the cost of precious time.

You start off in the town, and you can pay money to have various characters learn new spells. But I don't think there's any time cost.

I believe that for its diminutive race of demi-humans, the game followed the early Ultima games and called them "bobbits."

I couldn't find any encounters with bobbits, but I certainly wasn't able to look at every fight scene in every Let's Play video, so there might have been some.

I believe this is a close match for gameplay mechanics and graphics, and for being released as shareware. However, the time limit and the two-sided flat world are not as far as I can tell present. I think this is a close enough match in the other areas that it's worth posting anyway - maybe you had multiple games on that disk and misremembered details from Game X as being part of Game Y for instance. Still, only you know for sure!

External links:

A Youtube Let's Play of game 1

CRPG Addict blog post for game 1

CRPG Addict blog post for game 2

CRPG Addict blog post for game 3

4

I think this is the first of a series of unofficial Ultima III mods called "Ultimore". This particular mod was called: "Ultimore Adventure #1: A World Divided".

As far as I can tell, this wasn't actually shareware, and I think what you were playing was a free demo for the full version. According to this webpage, that full version would have cost $10 at the time. A review of the game gives the price as $20 - I don't know why the two sources differ on this.

Plus you'd need to buy a copy of Ultima III to be able to play it.

You stated:

"The documentation for the game stated that the game world had two pieces - the top and bottom of a flat world."

This Reddit posting contains a scan of the first page of the instructions. In it, we are told that the villain

"erects a giant force field separating the north and the south reaches of the Sosarian continent."

Here it is in full:

enter image description here

So we have a match for the "top and bottom" of the world, but not for it being flat.

You stated:

I believe that for its diminutive race of demi-humans, the game followed the early Ultima games and called them "bobbits."

The Ultima Codex entry linked above states:

"The scenarios were created by reverse engineering the file formats of Ultima III, and producing an alternative disk for side two which included new data for towns and dungeons. Because the program files remain unchanged, the quest of the original Ultima III, to collect the four cards and marks and ultimately defeat a final boss, remains unchanged."

It also notes that the final boss was described as a "shape-shifting balron".

This implies that the names for the various races were unchanged from those in Ultima III. So hobbits would still be bobbits, and balrogs would still be balrons.

The above quote mentioned that you still had to collect the Marks from Ultima III. That would include the Mark of Force, and you wouldn't be able to pass through forcefields until you had it. Implying that you'd be limited to just one half of the separated world for quite a long time.

A review from when the game was released states that the forcefield separated the northern and southern hemispheres of the continent, by the way - so the precise location of the north/south dividing line wasn't arbitrary.

It also means that the game engine was the same one used in Ultima III. Let's take a look at another item from your post:

"The format ... was rather like some of the intermediate Ultima games. As you walked around, the setting was shown in (first-person) perspective view, but it switched to an overhead tactical view when entering combat. ... The walls were textureless solid colors (maybe that color being purple inside the dungeon)"

Now, I think you may be misremembering a little here. Ultima III would have an overhead view most of the time, but would shift to a first-person view when you entered a dungeon. That said, I don't know whether it shifted back to overhead if you entered combat within the dungeon.

This page from the Ultima Codex wiki shows an Ultima III in-game dungeon in first-person perspective, and another area in overhead perspective:

enter image description here enter image description here

Those two screenshots are taken from an IBM PC with EGA graphics, and you did say you remembered the IBM PC being the platform you played this on.

Importantly, although you remember playing this circa 1993, it was actually released in either 1984 or 1985. So its graphics would have been very out-of-date by the time you got to play it, fitting in with your remark that:

"I was not impressed with the fact that the dungeon graphics were clearly inferior to those from the original 1985 Bard's Tale."

You also mention seeing adverts comparing it to the Bard's Tale series. I couldn't find those, but I can tell you where to look. The above Reddit post contained a download link for a zip file. When this is unzipped, the contents include a text file which states:

"I saw an advertisement in the back of A+ Magazine selling new scenarios for Ultima 3 by Backstreet Software. These scenarios were called "Ultimores", I recall there were four of them, along with another set of 4 scenarios for Wizardry called "Wizimore". These were not sanctioned scenarios but rather the product of Joel Fenton, a one man operation out of Iowa."

So we now know the name of one of the magazines this game was advertised in.

I can't find anything about the 1000-day time limit you mention, though. Or the need to visit a library and study for several days. Perhaps there was another game that you acquired on the same disk as this one?

For much more information, take a look at the links below:

https://wiki.ultimacodex.com/wiki/Ultimore

https://wiki.ultimacodex.com/wiki/Ultima_III:_Exodus

https://ultimacodex.com/2014/05/pix-plays-ultimore-a-world-divided/

https://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/ultimore-a-world-divided-part-1/

https://mocagh.org/questbusters/qbustersII8.pdf

https://daemonmaster.wordpress.com/2021/07/31/the-ultimore-project-what-is-ultimore/

https://daemonmaster.wordpress.com/2021/08/07/the-ultimore-project-the-path-of-recovery/

https://daemonmaster.wordpress.com/2021/08/14/retro-pc-review-ultimore-a-world-divided/

https://daemonmaster.wordpress.com/2021/08/21/the-ultimore-project-a-world-divided-re-release/

https://daemonmaster.wordpress.com/2021/11/28/the-ultimore-project-conversion-completeish/

https://daemonmaster.wordpress.com/2021/12/12/the-ultimore-project-ibm-version-released-what-next/

https://old.reddit.com/r/Ultima/comments/j966u9/ultimore_adventure_a_world_divided/

(There were a couple of other blog pages from that Wordpress site, but they were devoted to the Ultimore series in general and not specifically this game, so I left them out of that list.)

5
  • Cool, but I'm afraid that's not it.
    – Buzz
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 22:20
  • @Buzz Another possibility I had in mind was "Penultima", by Tom Hall of id Software fame. In a comment posted on his site, he stated: "I did a game called Penultima. It was a parody of Ultima. You just walk around and do three things, seriously, if you know where you are going, gameplay takes about 1 minute. It was just a one-off joke for the April Fool’s issues of Softdisk. Not available for download… I will see if I get my old disks archived. If I do that, I will try to get a disk image of that old thing." Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 7:45
  • Apparently Ultima VI was the only one of the official Ultima games to have a flat Earth. The journey to the "other side" (the dark side) would advance the plot only after you'd found a certain item. Unfortunately it was ALSO the first Ultima game to stop using first-person perspective for the dungeons. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 23:14
  • There's a Youtube playthrough of this game at youtube.com/watch?v=AzinGNkzyCw Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 11:37
  • Hmm... looks like Ultima V may in fact have been the first one not to use first-person for the dungeons. The wiki claims there was some first-person, but I can't see any in Let's Plays or screenshots. (EDIT: there's a little at youtube.com/watch?v=grlqyaGq2uE) Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 21:33
3

Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny

Matching:

  • Published in 1992/1993
  • has a time limit of 1013 days
  • as you walked around, the setting was shown in (first-person) perspective view
  • has an overhead tactical view when entering combat
  • The battle view features some texture less walls

Different

  • it doesn't look like there is an underworld you can't return from

The original trilogy is available on gog, steam has both the original trilogy and remakes of 1 & 2.


textureless walls in battle:
screenshot battle 2

a humanoid with large round ears:
round ear

screenshot gallery on mobygames

screenshot walking screenshot battle
screenshots from a let's play on youtube

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