The Fanatasy Role-Playing Game of Medieval Germany






Darklands is an ambitious attempt to expand the "world" of computer fantasy role-playing games. At MicroProse, we have grown tired of "hack and slash" adventures, punctuated by silly puzzles blocking your acquisition of the magic gizmo that dispatches Foobash, the evil wizard. All this happens in a world populated mostly with a random assortment of monsters, sometimes expanded by a similarly random assortment of silly villagers, all of whom sprang from a bad imitation of Lord of the Rings.

Unlike any other game in this genre, Darklands is set in a real time and place. Darklands is fantasy because whatever people of the era imagined was possible, now really is possible. Then we took a few additional liberties for the sake of gaming and playability. However, much care was taken to make this world be the real 15th Century, as perceived by its inhabitants. There are many different adventures in Darklands. Some are interrelated, but many are completely independent of each other. Lots of things are happening in the world. You can be involved in whatever interests you! This "non linear" aspect of Darklands means you can play it almost endlessly, or return to it from time to time, as the inclination strikes.

Since reality has so many possibilities, our biggest problem was deciding what not to include. Microcomputers, circa 1992, are still very limited in their abilities, as are corporate budgets. We trust you'll be understanding when you see similar city layouts, artwork, etc. There simply isn't enough manpower in the computer gaming industry to bring alive every detail. Therefore we concentrated on the high spots. Hopefully it will inspire your imagination to fill in the rest.

THE GAME SYSTEM: Darklands uses an innovative game system for computer fantasy. Until now, fantasy games almost universally copied the concepts of "Dungeons & Dragons"®, including various "classes" of characters, who advance through various "levels" via "experience points," acquiring more "hit points" as they go. In such a system, it's quite possible for 20th Level warriors to absorb an entire mercenary company's volley of crossbow fire, simply because the character has so many hit points!

There are alternate and better systems available. They've been used for years in paper role-playing games. Darklands is the first to bring these concepts to computer fantasy games. In Darklands attributes change rarely, while skills improve regularly. This means that you, as a player, must balance the permanent importance of attributes against the desirability of higher and higher skills. Best of all, even the most skillful of adventures cannot survive target practice by a company of crossbowmen!

One controversial aspect of this system is the appearance of "virtue" as a skill. Perhaps "virtue" is a poor term to express the concept of greater mystical understanding. When characters acquire "virtue," they acquire greater holiness and a wider ability to seek miraculous aid. If this seems improper, remember that in the medieval era the pragmatic and the spiritual were intermixed in ways alien to many modern philosophies.

Most fantasy games have a magic system. Instead, Darklands has religious and alchemical systems. It is important to remember that both are based on forms of belief now repudiated.

The Church portrayed in Darklands has no relationship to the modern Catholic Church. For the sake of game play we emphasized the miraculous. Modern Catholics should be justly proud of the Counter-Reformation (in the 1500s and 1600s) that cleansed the Church, sweeping ancient, superstitious baggage away, along with all sorts of daily evils and hypocrisy. Out of that has come a vigorous, health, and far more spiritual Church whose quiet role around the globe is more altruistic and beneficial than many imagine. Be assured that this game has no secret "hidden agenda" or religious message, and our apologies to anyone offended by a glimpse into one of the less attractive aspects of European religious history.

The "alchemy" of Darklands represents what some of the finest medieval minds hoped they might accomplish with their art. Alchemy is the ancestor to modern chemistry. However, without equipment to understand gases and no concept of scientific method, alchemists were doomed to an imaginary "science." Modern chemists will see brief glimmerings of real reactive properties, but none of the "formulas" in this game produce the results described. Readers and gamers should not try alchemy; studying real chemistry is far more interesting and much more productive.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of Darklands is the extensive use of menus. We choose this approach primarily because the traditional "guess the word" or "hear the canned speech" methods bored us. However, this has a beneficial side effect: Darklands is not constrained by a data base of objects and actions. As designers, we could create any situation, with any options and results, simply by creating a new menu and attached logic. The only limits are design time and imagination! Of course, as a player this means you need to study each new situation. Even an experienced player can be surprised periodically with new situations or results. Best of all, this menu system allows the game size and scale to be quite large. You don't have to deal with endlessly boring details, manipulate specific objects, etc. Instead, you pick a course of action and see what happens!

The battle system in Darklands was designed with care. We wanted the realism of real-time fighting, including animated effects, the clash of weapons, the ebb and flow of action. However, we've observed that it's either frustrating or impossible for a player to control four or five characters fighting simultaneously in real time. We think "pause for orders" is a perfect compromise between realism and enjoyable gaming.

THE PRICE OF REALISM: Some playtesters complained about our use of monastic hours, medieval coinage and selected German spellings. We agree it's a bit more difficult, but we think it makes the game environment "feel" realistic without ruining common readability. This is why we include umlauts (which only cause minor changes in pronunciation), but avoid the essen, a special character in the German alphabet that represents "ss" in the middle of a word.

The biggest problem is coinage, mainly because Americans have been "spoiled" by a ridiculously easy decimal system. Older Britons will undoubtedly find the relationship between pfenniges, groschen, and florins more familiar, being not unlike their old pence, schillings and pounds.

Similarly, the arms and armor available in the game are authentic. Historians may point out that things like cuirbouilli and scale were antiquated in 15th Century Germany. However, such armor was still commonplace in Poland, Russia, and many other locales. Besides, who says that relatively poor adventurers could necessarily afford most modern equipment?

The region depicted in the game, Greater Germany, is not intended to be a justification for German expansion into neighboring countries, including Holland, France, Switzerland, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The game only shows the political conditions and borders of that era, rounded off to a conveniently square map area. The history of this region is so complicated that suggesting a "rightful" owner to almost any territory is silly. Instead, we applaud the growing European attitude that problems are best managed by people living together in harmony, democratically, without racial or cultural bias.

WITCHCRAFT: The portrayal of witches, witchcraft, and the Templars in Darklands is based entirely on 15th Century ideas, from careful reading of primary and secondary sources. There are no covens, no nature ceremonies, no pre-Christian rites or worship of Diana. The witches here come from the "Malleus Maleficarum," the classic book about witchcraft, written in the late 1400s by two Dominican friars. The ultimate purpose of the Darklands witches is entirely in keeping with philosophies of that era, especially the recurring millenarian themes.

Incidentally, this portrayal is quite different from most modern conceptions. These were fostered by early 20th Century interest in pre-Christian rites and the peculiar theories of Margaret Murray. These ideas gained an unreasonably wide audience when she managed to get them into the Encyclopedia Britannica for all too many decades. Most neopagan or "modern" witches are based on Murrite theories. There is no connection between these modern ideas and the witches of Darklands.

Modern historians still debate whether witchcraft really existed as a cult in its own right, independent of the confessions extracted under torture by the Inquisition and various witch hunters. Some argue that the Inquisition, with its methods and beliefs, created the idea of witchcraft, which was then seized upon and believed by various desperate and/or unbalanced people. Others see satanic practices as activities of real extremists, the "lunatic fringe" of various heretical cults spawned by the transparent decadence of the medieval Church. Recently, some historians have suggested that since witchcraft was predominantly female, it was a relatively harmless "device" women used to redress the balance of power in a male-dominated society. A few go on to suggest this sometimes expanded into a cult of self-delusion, caused by using various natural, mind-altering drugs available at that time.

Regarding the Templars, most historian fee they were "framed" by King Philip's need for cash and betrayed by a captive Papacy at Avignon. Indeed, subsequent medieval investigations confirmed this, but by then the legend of satanic rites was well established.

THE CREATIVE TEAM: Darklands would have been impossible without the faith and vision of the management of MicroProse software. We originally underestimated the time, complexity and cost of the project by a large factor. When development costs rose past the stratosphere, there was a great temptation to either give up or just "publish whatever we've got," regardless of quality.

The initial design work and research was done by Arnold Hendrick, veteran of many MicroProse military simulators. Eventually, the design tasks proved so huge that he dragooned first Sandy Petersen, then Doug Kaufman to help. All three are veteran designers and players of role-playing games from the 70s and 80s.

The initial programming, and ultimately the entire animated battle system was created by Jim Synoski, long-term veteran at MicroProse (among other things, he wrote the original F-19 Stealth Fighter game). He too eventually needed assistance, first from Doug Whatley (who ably took over the complexities of the menu logic system, map and world data), and finally from Bryan Stout (who provided various "black boxes" to glue together the game).

The artwork demanded by Darklands was a vast task. Art Director Michael Haire developed the initial concepts, including the "great illustrators" approach to background scenes that is new and extremely fitting for the subject. Implementing this fell, in an unseemly rush, onto Artino (who roughed out each scene in pen) and Chris Soares (who did much of the color rendering), assisted by Erroll Roberts and others. Meanwhile, the other huge task was the battlefield character animation, originally masterminded by Jackie Ross, then fleshed-out and refined by Rawn Martin and Patrick Downey. The introductory and concluding animations were entirely the genius of Artino, who ultimately used an in-house animation tool developed by Brian Reynolds. Overall, Darklands needed great art, and it certainly got it. The most constant complaint of all the artists was they didn't get enough time to (a) add more and (b) do an even better job!

Dr. Jeffery Briggs, MicroProse's "composer in residence," is the brain behind the music. However, assembling this in computer form, and doing all the sound effects, fell as usual upon the overworked MicroProse sound department, led by Ken Lagace.

We would also like to thank Dr. Kelly DeVries for his kind academic help in various matters relating to the 15th Century, especially weaponry. We also appreciate the advice of various gaming experts who saw the projects in various stages. We apologize for sometimes ignoring their advice!

SEQUELS: Darklands was designed to permit sequels. It is possible to have some additional adventures in Germany. More importantly, it is possible to create entirely new games elsewhere in Europe. The system not only allows moving "saved game" files back and forth, but also allows you to load multiple games onto your hard disk and move back and forth between the nations, in a sort of giant adventure. Let us know what you enjoyed in Darklands, what you would like to see in a sequel, and what setting you prefer. There are plenty of possibilities: the Emperor in Germany has many political problems and intrigues, England and France are busy finishing the last half of the Hundred Years War, after which England falls into civil war (the War of the Roses). Meanwhile, Italy is at the peak of its warring city-states era, Vlad the Impaler appears in the Balkans (the historical figure who ultimately became Dracula), Tamerlane is conquering Central Asian, and much more. What's your preference?


--Arnold Hendrick, 1992



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