The Guild of Thieves

Reviewed by John Sweeney


Issue 32

Mar/Apr 88

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Magnetic Scrolls/Rainbird

XL/XE with 1050 or ST

Price 19.95 / 24.95

Magnetic Scrolls started well with their Pawn and are now rapidly establishing themselves as a major force in the world of computer adventures. Their second offering, The Guild of Thieves, I found even better than the first.

In its plot the Guild of Thieves is cast in perhaps a more traditional mold than the Pawn. Your objective is much more straightforward find all the treasures and bring them back to your starting place. They have added a nice twist by casting you as a thief by profession, and they have located the game in their rapidly developing realm of Kerovnia so there is plenty of background material to flesh out their fantasy world and make it seem more realistic. Most of the instruction manual is devoted to humorous articles about The Guild of Thieves and its origins, and the descriptions of the game locations add to this to provide an interesting background to the game.

I recently had a letter from Allan Palmer of Basingstoke (now there's a place to visit if you want some practice at solving mazes!), who complained about the linearity of games like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where, at least for the first part of the game, you only have one route to follow and if you get stuck then there is nothing else to try. Well, The Guild of Thieves is the exact opposite. As long as you can reach the river bank, get the castle open and find your lamp, all of which you can do very easily in the first six moves, then you have an enormous selection of places and puzzles to choose from. You can visit about sixty locations (roughly half the total), by simple commands such as LOOK IN, UNDER and BEHIND, OPEN and EXAMINE you will find over forty acquirable artifacts plus lots of information make copious notes there are clues hidden everywhere! Furthermore, once you have found all those artifacts, you will also have found plenty of problems.

The nice thing is that at least a dozen of them are independently soluble. This means that there are always lots of things to try and you shouldn't get really stuck for some time.

Of course there are some problems which require you to crack other ones first, and there are some which are actually insoluble (unless you happen to have located the thermonuclear device which you also needed in the Pawn and doesn't seem to be in this game either!). The difficulty is of course in knowing which problems are soluble and which ones aren't! Never spend too long on a problem until you are sure you have explored everywhere and at least made some attempt at every problem!
The quality and variety of the problems is excellent, ranging from simple ones which you will kick yourself for failing to solve immediately, right through to complex logic problems which, once you have all the information, you can solve away from the computer just by thinking about them. I especially enjoyed the problems involving the Poisonous Jumper Spider, the 'maze' of strange Cubical Rooms, the way to make the Champagne Bottle explode without killing yourself, how to get inside the Bank, and the Weighing Scales which sets off an alarm if you try and take the treasure off it!

The Guild of Thieves has a wide vocabulary, an excellent parser and lots of entertaining responses to your attempts to survive in this dangerous world. On three or four occasions, though, I was slightly frustrated by the fact that, even when I had correctly worked out the solution to a problem, I had difficulty in getting it to understand what I wanted to do. My subjective feeling is that it is better than the Pawn in this respect, but you may still find that there will be cases when you need to persevere with numerous attempts at phraseology before you succeed. Hopefully this will continue to improve in future adventures.

Also, on the negative side, unfortunately for the XL owner, the game was written to use the power of the ST, especially in terms of memory usage. On the ST all responses are sub-second and it is a great adventure. But on the XL if you have the graphics on in order to see the pictures of the locations then you will get an average response time of thirty seconds as it frantically loads overlays into memory. The game implements a useful key-ahead buffer (but watch out it's only thirty characters long) and you can easily type in the next four commands this will mean you have to wait two minutes for it to finish responding! I found this made the game unplayable. Fortunately you can improve this by turning off the graphics. Although you will still get the occasional twenty second response, most of the responses will now be significantly better, and although still frustrating when you see the ST working, the game now becomes playable. (N.B. If your diskette is date stamped before October 1987 you will find that you still get thirty second responses all the time on an XL - Magnetic Scrolls did their final testing on an XE and didn't realise that they had a bug in it which failed to reclaim memory. When I pointed this out to them at the PCW Show they kindly fixed it and sent me a new version - by the time you read this that new version should be generally available. If you have an old copy please take it back to your retailer and ask them to replace it.) Another deficiency for the poor XL/XE owner is that they failed to squeeze in the Restore function after a Death - you have to Restart and then Restore taking over one and a half minutes on an XL - since Death, in the form of the Gatekeeper, the Bees, Hot Coals, Colourful Floors (!?), Explosions, Ice Snakes, Poisonous Spiders, Wells, Rats, Bears, and various other Death Traps abound throughout the land of Kerovnia, this can be a trifle frustrating. Still, I suspect that is the price we are going to have to pay if we humble XL owners wish to play all the games being developed for the 16-bit machines. Just as the cassette based machine has been left behind in the development of bigger and better games, it is inevitable that the 8-bit machine will eventually fade. Full marks to Magnetic Scrolls for at least providing a version of the game for the 8-bit range!

As far as the graphics are concerned I personally don't find that they add a lot to an adventure unless they form an integral part of it (e.g. the King's Quest series) but if you like pictures with your adventures then, yes, The Guild of Thieves has excellent pictures on the ST - and does the best it can for the XL/'XE. In The Guild of Thieves I found that not only did the pictures not add anything, but they actually detracted from the gameplay. For example, the most prominent items in the pictures of the Temple and the Kitchen are the Pillars and the Table. Naturally enough I tried to EXAMINE PILLARS and TABLE. But they don't actually exist in the game! By taking notice of the pictures I was actually wasting my time!

I would even go so far as to say that Infocom (yes, the Text Only people) have more graphics in their adventures than Magnetic Scrolls do. True they never switch into a 'graphics mode'. But they do, where necessary, use characters on the screen to represent graphics as an integral part of the game. Examples are the maze map in Hollywood Hijinx, the display of your current position in the Royal Puzzle in Zork III, the computer displays in Bureaucracy, and especially the Sonarscope in Seastalker where the upper half of the screen shows a map of your location, either in the harbour or chasing the sea monster, and your normal text entries in the lower part of the screen cause the upper half to scroll to show your new position. While we're on the subject of Infocom it may also be worth pointing out that the GO TO command which other reviewers have been hailing as a wonderful new innovation in Guild of Thieves and Knight Orc was being used by Infocom back in 1984 in games like Suspect!

But enough about Infocom - they have had ten years and thirty games to get their act together. For Magnetic Scrolls to be producing this kind of quality on only their second game is a remarkable achievement.

All in all, The Guild of Thieves is an excellent Adventure - a must for all ST owning adventure players (and probably XE's although I haven't seen it working on one) and well worth considering for the XL as long as you accept its slight limitations in that environment.