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Peter_Smith
14th Oct 2002, 00:07
Below are my impressions of The Shadow of Doubt series, by Sperry. Please feel free to add your own commentary or questions. If you haven’t played this series, I suggest that you do. It is a great deal of fun if you can overlook its many shortcomings (described below).

Shadow of doubt consists of five missions in a loosely connected story plus a bonus mission, all packed into a single download of 82 MB. The missions and their settings are:

1. Walking the Edge - a city
2. Tears of Blood - a jail breakout (formerly Escape from Giulesatpeak)
3. All Astir - a ship
4. The Broadsword of Sheol - an underground temple
5. Nightcrawler - a mansion
6. Bonus: Tuttocomb's Tomb

I haven't seen much written about the series here, although there are extensive questions and comments on each mission at TTLG, which is a good thing because most of the missions are very difficult, and you will need some help. I think they are worth playing if you like a real challenge with obscure puzzles and key hunts, you have a week or two to spare, and you don't mind going to TTLG for solutions to puzzles.:) Count on an average of two days, more or less, for each mission except All Astir, which is a breeze.

The most enjoyable aspects of these missions are the good architecture, the intricate and complicated maps, and the sense of excitement and accomplishment generated by overcoming the many challenges. There is no question about it: the missions are thrilling to play. The series has a kind of Indiana Jones feel to it.

On the other hand, there are some negatives. With many tricky puzzles to solve in each mission (apart from the ship), it is unlikely that the average player can complete the missions without help. It can be frustrating at times, wandering around without a clue. Another problem is that the ambient light is set to zero, so there are many places that are too dark. And, there are a few game play traps that can prevent you from finishing if you take the wrong route or do things out of order. You must save often into different slots to recover from these incidents. These problems should be caught and fixed in beta testing. It appears that not all of the missions were thoroughly tested. That is a real shame, because the design of the missions is otherwise excellent, and they could be so much better, IMO, with a few refinements.

I started out playing the series in Expert (Master) skill. I got hopelessly stuck in the first mission, in an impossible situation with AI who were perpetually alerted. In Expert you have no blackjack, and you also have a no-kill objective, so your sword is good only for slashing banners and killing non-human AI. I got into that no-win situation because I played things in the “wrong” order. The alerted AI prevented me from revisiting one building so I could get a key I needed to enter another building. So, I restarted in Normal (Fool) and played the rest of the series in Normal skill. I found Normal skill to be more difficult than most Expert situations, so the word Fool hardly applies. Is this the author jerking our chain? I suspect so. Anyway, the hue and cry from players at TTLG is that some of these are the most difficult missions they have ever played, so I can recommend Normal skill. The game play in Normal is actually very similar to that in Expert, sometimes identical, the difference being that in Normal the blackjack is a great help, there are slightly fewer ornery AI to contend with, and the loot objectives are mercifully lower. The puzzles and navigation are still tough, but with less interference from AI they are more fun to solve.

Walking the Edge is set in a smallish city and can actually be completed rather quickly if you know what to do. At the start you must find some guy who is supposed to show you the way. He doesn’t. He just stands next to a switch and says nothing. You must realize that you need to go to a gate that will be switched, whereupon he will activate the switch. Not only that, but you need to throw another switch yourself to let the guy through the same gate, or the mission becomes impossible to finish. That is a simple example of how Sperry throws in little secret things that, if you know them are obvious, but if you don’t know them can cause a lot of confusion. From there, you must find and visit two buildings. Not so easy. The route is a little complicated. Lots of up and down stuff and some roof hopping. In one amusing place you need to jump to a balcony with a patrolling guard on it to snatch a purse from another guard. Sperry makes Garrett work for his living. I really enjoyed the architecture and the general navigation in this one.

EDIT: I just replayed Walking the Edge in expert. Ghosted it apart from a scripted alert of one guard. I found a total of 1643 / 2643 loot, and I suspect either a loot bug or a major secret stash. Also, a recurring problem with the embassy objective cropped up. I believe that if you go back into the embassy a third time after killing Roget, then the embassy objective becomes unchecked and you cannot finish the mission.

Tears of Blood is a jail breakout mission, formerly called “Escape from Giulesatpeak.” After escaping the cell area, you wander through a building complex with a great many locked doors and (guess what) a great many keys to find. Many rooms have racks of keys, the AI are wearing them, but sometimes the keys you really need are better hidden. A fair amount of sneaking is required, especially at first before you find your weapons. There are some nice caves and one or two spiders. The atmosphere is old, dirty, and cluttered, and you can just about smell the stench. I enjoyed playing this mission. The keys were a little frustrating at times, but other than a lot of running around and getting lost (common to the series), it was pretty straightforward.

All Astir is a small sized ship mission where the object is to find a lifeboat and stow away for a ride to an island (setting of the next mission). Some sneaking and patience are needed to avoid confrontation, but on Normal skill the AI can be eliminated and the objectives accomplished easily and quickly.

The Broadsword of Sheol is a large and complicated mission that involves going underground to find an ancient temple, with the main objective to find the sword. At first the navigation is straightforward. One interesting encounter is a cave that is filled with luminous spiders. If you don’t have spiders nearby, it is pitch black, so you need to move fast but not to outrun them. A little hairy. Later you enter the temple and you don’t find too much. You enter a long room with a very high ceiling (look up), but there is no obvious way to get up there. At that point, everything is a dead end. I became stuck and wandered around for hours before seeking advice at TTLG. Turns out that there is a necessary item, fairly well hidden, and if you can find it and figure out how to use it, the item will remove some obstructions. Then the real fun begins. The upper area opens up, and there is a devilish navigation puzzle to get through that tall room and into the next area. And then the real, real fun begins.:) The puzzles get more difficult, and there are a lot of them. You will probably figure out some, but it is unlikely that anyone can figure out all of them. At TTLG it was a team effort to get through it. So don’t get too frustrated. Just spend a reasonable amount of time and then consult the oracle. And, get ready for some very mean, very fast, invincible crayman that sound like burricks.:) Oh, and one other thing. You can’t retrace your steps. If you try to loop back from the end you get blocked. So save your games in different slots and save often. Although I think that The Broadsword of Sheol is impossibly difficult, it is a very fine mission when you finally learn how to get through it.

Nightcrawler is a mansion job, but not your ordinary mansion job. As is typical of the series, it involves another elaborate key hunt and some puzzles. This time, however, the keys are named not for what they work but for where you found them. Nice. So you run around like a crazy person trying every key in every lock, with a lot of retracing of steps. It helps to have your BJ handy so the retracing is not too tedious. I got stuck in only five places here.;) One was my stupidity for not thinking to use a rope arrow. The second was finding a key and failing to retrace to a forgotten lock. The third was a trap: with some difficulty I found my way into an underwater cave system, found a lot of stuff, and ended up at a door that could not be opened from the side I was on. I spent a long time trying to find the escape route, but there was none. Dirty trick. Reload. The fourth was a very tricky switch. The fifth was a tricky puzzle with no clues or even knowledge that it was a puzzle. All told, the mission is another difficult one, but I think it is easier than Broadsword. In the end you kill the bad guy and walk out, if you are playing on Normal. Frustrations notwithstanding, the atmosphere and the general game play are, again, very well done.

Tuttocomb’s Tomb was probably my favorite of the mission pack. The entrance to the tomb is by a tricky underwater passage that took me some time to figure out. Then there is a cave part with some nasty spiders. No ghosting here: just run like hell, but be sure to stop and think (spiders in chase), or you may fall down a big pit. Once in the tomb, it is a mix of large rooms and small connecting passages, sort of how I envision an Egyptian pyramid to be designed. I tried this one on Expert, just to test my mettle, and again I was thwarted. I got into a passage with a patrolling AI who I could never get past. I think, in retrospect, that there may have been another route, but I just gave up and reverted to Normal. Again, even in Normal the mission was very tricky with some interesting puzzles to solve. Again, it helps to refer to TTLG, but since this was the sixth mission I had played by Sperry, I was wise to his tricks so it did not give me such a hard time as the others. The main problem here is navigation, finding your way through the passages. There are a couple of puzzles, but they are not too hard by Sperry’s standards.

That’s it. Give it a try if you can take the heat. And Sperry, if you should read this, I would be pleased to help you test the series and make it a little more accessible, if you are inclined.:)

Gumdrop
14th Oct 2002, 12:31
Thanks for posting a commentary on this series Peter, I love puzzles so will be keen to give it a go. First I must finish Christine's series...or at least get up-to-date before she releases the next part. :rolleyes:

clayman
14th Oct 2002, 14:15
My $0.02......Having tried and given up long ago on both Escape from MacGilicuddy and Tuttocomb's Tomb, I'm relieved to find that someone else found these missions fiendishly difficult. To know that there is now a five mission pack that incorporates these two is truly a terrifying thought. ;)

Kudos to Peter Smith for finishing and starting a commentary. :)

As I replay the FM's chronologically(and play many that I somehow missed along the way), I am finding the year 2001 to be the year that all designers tried to out-do each other in complexity, difficulty, and dowright obfuscation. I have yet to finish any of JIS' missions. The sliding wall trap in The Ritual took over 75 attempts before I could do it without jamming the wall first. The Mines of Margroth had seemingly over 100 AI; finally my blackjack arm went numb, I got lost in the dark, and quit. I felt like a gymnast in Dread, not a thief. Inverted Manse(fifth attempt, still can't finish) felt like work, not fun. Why ? Why intentionally make them so hard, AI so hyped up, why make puzzles and traps so difficult to figure out ?

I'll answer my own question. The answer is either a.) my daddy is bigger than your daddy, or b.) these type of missions appeal to designers and players who are true obsessives, purists, and completists of the game. People who like the hardest challenge possible, for whom relaxation equals the sternest test conceivable. No simple mindless fun for them; no, they want to rock climb without pitons or ropes, blindfolded. Designers : if you are designing because of "a", then shame on you, you are doing the game and the players a bit of a disservice. If it's "b", then bless you, because I sometimes play that way. Not often, but sometimes. 90% of the time your hard work frustrates the hell out of me, but that other 10%.........:)

I also think that the players of these hyper-difficult missions who do not use DromEd are at a bit of a disadvantage. On more than one occasion, at this forum, the old one and at TTLG, many players have confessed that they have opened the mission in DromEd to "find out where everything is", indicating this is a last resort rather than a first one. Right. For those of us who don't use DromEd, we just have to stumble about, trying to decipher the logic of an unnecessarily difficult trap, puzzle or loot placement issue. I wonder if we had confession time, how many "experts" would admit to opening up an FM or four in DromEd, just for purely objective research reasons of course. ;)

Nightwalker
14th Oct 2002, 16:11
I haven't played all of the SOD series yet, by any means, just the first one Walking the Edge and the second one, Tears of Blood, which I had played before under the names of Journey: Escape from Guilesatspeak and also Tears of Blood. The newer release is darker, which makes it more difficult to find your way around than ever. Other than that, there were no changes that I could see from the earlier versions.

I agree with Peter that you need to play these two on Normal if you want to get any enjoyment at all out of them. I played Walking the Edge on Expert the first time and was quickly pulling my hair out in frustration because of touchy guards that alert and won't go off alert and things that are buggy, including objectives that come unticked when things aren't done in the proper order. I may yet try the rest of them when I have time, but they aren't high on my list. If only Sperry would lighten his missions up, instead of making them darker and darker, it would be a major improvement.

As for Inverted Manse, Clayman, it's funny because this mission seems to divide people into two camps. Some, like myself, are absolutely in awe of it and consider it one of the best out there. The others hate it and find it much too hard. There don't seem to be many in between the two extremes. Does the light from the sword cause you the most trouble? Or something else? I'm currently replaying it and I still love it! :)

I haven't tried the Mines of Margroth as yet. I understand there's a new and improved version almost ready, but the author is very upfront that his missions are extremely difficult to complete. He is having a walkthrough written by one of the betatesters and it sounds like most of us will need it!

Oh, and just for the record, I don't have a clue how to open a mission in Dromed, so there's no peeking on my part!:)

clayman
14th Oct 2002, 16:31
Ooooohhhh, she used the "c" word, not me ! :D

(image of rotten tomatoes being thrown, clayman ducks, Nightwalker is puzzled as she is innocently pelted) :D

And, as a prop to Mines of Margroth; The mines themselves are creepy with a capital "C". They make the mines below Cragscleft feel like DisneyWorld. :)

Nightwalker
14th Oct 2002, 16:41
"c" word? What "c" word?:confused: :D ;)

Thanks for the warning, Clayman

clayman
14th Oct 2002, 16:50
Quick edit ! :D

(image of clayman opening Inverted Manse in DromEd, covering both eyes with hands, but leaving just a small crack between his fingers, just in case....) :D

Vanguard
14th Oct 2002, 17:25
Hey, I successfully ghosted Inverted Manse. I didn't think it was that difficult. It was hard but there are other FMs far more difficult. But then over time we ghosters acquire skills that would never be considered typical for normal or newbie players. Be glad you're playing them in chronological order. Tymoteusz, even if it gets converted from Polish to English, is VERY difficult because of all the hidden "switches" (and not all switches look like switches). I ghosted that, too, but not without help.

I was disappointed by the SOD series not in the design of the NEW missions but when I discovered 2 of the missions were old ones. They didn't seem to fit in the series. While the prison mission did have a lead in from the prior mission in that you supposedly get caught, it was an old mission that seemed more spliced in than sequential. And why bother throwing in a completely uncoordinated mission (Tuttocomb) as a bonus when it's already been out for more than a year? It seemed a cheap way to make the series look larger: slice up journey.zip into sod2.zip and tuttocombstomb.zip and slap them in a series with new FMs. Many authors have written several FMs, but I sure wouldn't want them chaining some or all of them in a pseudo series.

I did enjoy playing these before but don't remember if I tried ghosting them. I probably gave up ghosting and just played normally (gee, that makes it sounds like ghosters play abnormally). I'll be getting back to ghosting them but am keeping them for later since I do remember there were bugs and some touchy AIs. I don't remember a call ever from Sperry for beta testers so some bugs are inevitable, but then Sperry isn't registered here as a member (he/she is listed at TTLG but I rarely visit TTLG).

clayman
14th Oct 2002, 17:36
I've admitted before that difficult undead missions cause me to glaze over quicker than any other type. I don't get immersed or something, and when the going gets tough, I bail out and move on. So my lack of patience with Inverted Manse is just that, a lack of patience. Call it a character flaw. :)

That said, I think the FM difficulty quotient has been jacked up unnecessarily. Which causes me to move my commentary to a different thread, since Peter intended this to be a discussion of a mission series.........