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Retrospective Gaming: Mage Craft

Mage Begins Adventure
Mage Begins Adventure
Darthlupi; Mage Craft game capture

Older Retrospective Game with Magic and Technology: Mage Craft

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War.

Rivalry.

The love of a woman.

Magic to craft, to bind, and to conquer.

These elements shape the backdrop for your character, a war-orphaned youth in a twenty-year war between the Altan Empire and the Jang Republic, to enlist in the Jang initiative to exact revenge upon the Altan Empire for your loss.

In the course of your enlistment, you are recruited into a Jang school for the magically-inclined after showing abilities for the arcane, rising quickly to the top of your class, where you find rivalry for your talents with Lisa Yang, a young woman, a grade above you in studies.

Your rivalry blossoms into love, but not before Lisa graduates and is assigned a deadly mission to infiltrate and destroy an Altan-rumored weapon of mass destruction, leaving you behind to finish your studies.

Now, you hear that Lisa has not reported in after several months. You want to find out what happened to her, but your superiors refuse--forcing you to sneak out of the school and find the means to find Lisa and rescue her--if necessary.

In the seven megabytes that encompass the action/adventure RPG, Mage Craft provides a challenging adventure that is not easily completed. You must, of course, quest to find your missing love, Lisa--along the way forging new spells, summoning allies, controlling monsters, and surviving long enough to do so.

Mage Craft (2003), authored by Robert Lupinek (a.k.a. Darthlupi, at http://www.darthlupi.com), draws upon influences from Sega's Technoclash, Atari's arcade classic, Gauntlet, and even a bit Magic & Mayhem to provide the player a confrontational, top-down, action/adventure RPG that is not easily mastered, but engages the player to enough to seek the end of the story.

Though a small piece of gaming programming by today's standards, Mage Craft http://darthlupi.com/projects/mage.zip provides a soundtrack and effects, which, though dated, are appropriate to immerse the player while battling enemies at every turn on every level.

The keyboard cursor buttons (yes, this is a PC game for its time) allow the player to move about the level, using the mouse as a targeting reticule/firing device for actuating spells. However, in the early stages of the game (as well as the heat of a battle) using the cursor buttons while sighting in your reticule and firing at an enemy can be extremely frustrating--resulting in repeated, multiple deaths of your character. This UI convention is very much an irritation for the player until he/she has mastered the simultaneous controlling of the keyboard and the mouse for playing Mage Craft, though Darthlupi has provided for some added cheats http://www.autofish.net/video_games/creation/game_maker/others/darthlupi/gm_forum_20031024.html to make the gameplay easier in this regard.

The player's arsenal of weapons include various spells, which may be forged using elemental items that are found in the travels through the game's levels. The each of the spells must be charged using "mana" before being discharged upon the enemies which will work to impede the player's progress—and, though the UI is its own challenge, the player may also summon/control allies and other creatures—using simple commands like: “halt”, “attack”, and “guard”--to further the player's progress within the game, making Mage Craft less a chore to try and defeat the enemies singlehandedly.

Of course, no RPG-style game would not be complete without the requisite hand-to-hand combat—and Mage Craft is no exception in this department either—though the emphasis—such that the player is a young mage and would rely more on magic than physical conflict—is a bit more developed for the storyline (and for the player’s use)—as a result.

“Leveling up” of the character is accomplished by gathering the “essences”—which resemble blue droplets—from the enemies defeated in combat. These essence droplets are collected and may later be traded for statistical upgrades in the following areas: “Spell Strength”, which allows the player’s magicks to have a greater effect; “Mana”, the energy for greater spell casting, “Mana Regen”, a reservoir for your mana (greater mana regeneration allows for the increased number of spells to be cast without running out of magic to power your spell techniques), “Shields”, which increase the level of protection a player may cloak the character; “Summon”, which allows the player to summon greater numbers of more powerful creatures to command against enemies, and “Casting”, which allows the player to increase the quantity of times a spell may be cast.

Spell creation, as previously mentioned, is a unique aspect to Mage Craft and is mastered by gathering and combing specific elements found throughout the game. The player must find “Telling Stones”, which describe what combination of elements are needed to create a particular spell. Once a player has found a Telling Stone and discovered the “recipe” for a specific spell, the elements listed from the stone may be garnered to create the spell.

Due to the design of the game and the state of the hardware technology for its time, Mage Craft, being more than a decade old at this point, is only able to utilize a screen resolution of 800 x 600 in 32-bit mode—which it does quite nicely in Windows XP and Windows 7—considering the sprite-style graphics and the programming tools used for Mage Craft’s creation. (At some juncture though, the Mr. Lupinek had entertained the idea adapting the game to higher resolutions, but, for whatever reason, had only programmed the game for its current iteration.)

In playing Mage Craft, among its biggest annoyances are the high level of difficulty at the early levels and the UI control. The character moves at a slower rate than the monsters and their projectiles, forcing the user to plan a strategic attack/evasion plan while trying to move. This slow movement of the character is part of game’s design, and utilizes the “Shields” option to protect the player from near-instant death—which works to protect the character from a quick death in the compromise of the character’s speed inhibition but does not help but to increase the frustration level while trying to contend with the keyboard/mouse controls to move the character and THEN try to target enemies using the mouse as a targeting reticule WHILE charging a attack spell to evade death. If the player does not adapt to this UI after a period of tolerant learning, the stress level of frustration becomes simply too much, and the game is abandoned. However, if the player can endeavor to adapt to the keyboard/mouse control combination and endure the ensuing near-instant deaths from the enemy attacks at the early levels, then the player may just continue on playing Mage Craft.

Another annoyance, though minor, is the movement of the character in view of the top-down perspective in game level environment. It is only by trial-and-error that areas that are seen to be accessible within a level are actually useable by the character. Sometimes, even though it looks to be a passible area behind an object the player may find out too late that an escape/attack venue may actually lead to the demise of the character in the process—and increase the level of frustration, as well.

On the positive side, Mage Craft, once the controls have been learned, is rather enjoyable. The strategy involved in keeping the character alive with the limitations of speed and the abilities which can be augmented over time and with in-game item gathering--make the game a challenge to continue increasing the durability of the character and discover the necessary items to create spells—the creation of which, using the elemental items, is not described in the game’s brief (but effective) instructional screen. The projectile spells, though frustrating to charge and implement at times within the game, act conveniently like homing missiles, allowing to the player target the enemies in the general area without being over-exacting on the targeting.

Unlike many of the games today, which have rigid save points (and there are, punishingly, many), Mage Craft allows its player to save at any given point prior to the death of the character—which, again, works to alleviate some frustration of the difficulty curve, particularly at the early levels of gameplay.

Mage Craft’s monsters are relatively predictable in movement and design, but with the added durability are a plausible force against the young mage the player controls, not being too weak—but not being overly powerful to destroy the player, even at the earliest levels of the game.

The graphics, have mostly withstood the test time of over a decade, being reminiscent of Atari’s Gauntlet, as far as sprite animation is concerned, and with the various influences that have been integrated into Mage Craft, provide the player with a greatly detailed, top-down view of a world that provides ample fuel for the player’s imagination and accompanying gameplay

So, if you are looking for a little bit of a challenge, wrought with a liberal dose of frustration—and can tolerate quick and multiple deaths early on at the hands of Mage Craft’s varied and formidable monsters and environments, then, go and find your lost love, your lost Lisa Yang.