Low End Mac Gaming

King of Dragon Pass

Brian Rumsey - Sept. 19, 2000

If you are anything like me, you have seen the game King of Dragon Pass (KODP), from A-Sharp Software, mentioned, reviewed, and discussed in many places, but you've never known too much about it.

Obviously one more review may not clarify everything, but I think that I have gotten to know the game pretty well and will be able to help you understand what it is like.

Before going into the game itself, I should mention that it requires a PowerPC processor. Although the game will run on any Power Mac with sufficient RAM (about 16 MB free), it will feel quite slow on older machines. My impression is that this is not necessarily due to the processor-intensiveness of the game; it seems to be more due to the speed of the CD-ROM drive. KODP utilizes detailed graphics which must load from the CD, slowing down the game noticeably. There is no "full install" which copies everything to the hard drive. I think that this option would help performance greatly on older machines. On the other hand, anyone who has 500 MB free just for a full install of a game probably has a fairly fast CD-ROM drive anyway.

To give some idea of performance, I tried this game on three machines: a Power Mac 8100 with a 2x CD, a Power Computing Power Base 180 with an 8x CD, and a Power Mac 7300 (G3 upgraded) with a 12x CD. Only the 7300 did not feel noticeably sluggish. The Power Base gave acceptable performance, while the 8100 felt quite slow. I have also tried the demo on a Power Mac 7100, which is even slower than the 8100, but it ran pretty well. This is a hint that CD access could be the holdup. The greatest hint, however, is simply noting the CD being accessed furiously as the game proceeds to the next scene.

I found the game itself to be quite addicting at times. The premise of KODP is that you are the leader of one of many clans inhabiting Dragon Pass. KODP is built around the Glorantha role-playing world, but since I'm not familiar with Glorantha (other than through KODP), I can't comment on how faithfully the rules are followed. Almost the whole game is based on making decisions that will affect your clan's future. These range from minor issues, such as a man trying to find a wife, to decisions about how you will relate to other clans. Other parts of the game include exploring and going on raids. You must also keep various deities happy to do well. For those of you familiar with Civilization II, I would say that probably 80 percent of this game is much like the diplomacy screen in Civ II (or the original Civilization, Colonization, Deadlock, etc.).

One big difference between this game and a lot of others which I play is the values which must be used. In most games like Civ II which involve diplomacy, I generally like to grow quietly while remaining on good terms with anyone that does not provoke me repeatedly. This strategy will not work in KODP. If you do not go on raids often enough or occasionally retaliate for minor incidents, your warriors will become restless and demoralized, and your whole clan will suffer. I have encountered similar concepts in some other games, but KODP takes it farther than any other I can think of. From my knowledge, this seems to be a good representation of the Viking culture which KODP is based upon. KODP also does a good job of representing what religion was probably like in pre-Christian Europe.

You may or may not have realized something about this game already, and if not, I'm telling you now: KODP is not your average build and conquer type of game. Although there is a screen which represents your village, as in many strategy games, it is a relatively minor part of the game. I have heard KODP described as "like a good novel that keeps the pages turning." In some ways I think this is a very good description. The artwork throughout the game certainly makes this game feel more like the work of a specialized artisan than most games you will see. The storylike flow of the game does indeed often keep you coming back for one more turn late into the night, although there are certainly other games which will do this also.

Though I liked KODP quite well, it is definitely not a game that will suit everyone. It does not have any multiplayer options, let alone a fancy 3D engine or impressive cut scenes. However, there are some people ready for a breath of fresh air, as well as those who simply like a game like this, and those people need to try it as soon as possible. My main complaint about KODP is that, with its relatively simple interface, it feels like it could have been made to run well on a 68040 and maybe even lower. Otherwise, I must say I got pretty immersed in this game and had trouble pulling away at times. I even found myself thinking like a Viking occasionally, until I realized, "Hey, this might have worked then, but it won't get me anywhere now!"

There is a demo available from sources such as Cnet's download.com. It is a fairly hefty download, but I recommend it nonetheless - this game is so different from any other game out there that you'll probably want to try it and get a feel for it before buying the whole thing. If you like it, by all means purchase the game and support a small mom-and-pop software developer (does such thing exist?) who has taken the time to beautifully illustrate the most unconventional game I have played in quite a while.

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