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Lords of Midnight - Classic Computer War Game

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Luxor the Moonprince
He stands at the Tower of the Moon looking east to the Forest of Shadows.

Nostalgia is always a tricky thing, particularly where computer games are concerned. Those who remember the days of 48k of RAM and loading games from audio tapes will often go all misty-eyed at the thought of one treasured game they spent countless hours playing. Tragically, when they play the game using an emulator today they find it, well, lacking. So it is a rare game indeed that still has an active fan base.

Which brings us to Lords of Midnight. Its creator, Mike Singleton, had developed a technique called 'landscaping' which displayed a panoramic view generated from a tiled map. Seeking a means to showcase his creation he wrote a wargame that owed a great deal to JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. From its release by Beyond Software in 1984 on the Sinclair Spectrum, it was a success. It spawned sequels; 'Doomdark's Revenge' in 1985 and, much later, the execrable 'The Citadel' on the PC.

In the game, you take control of Luxor the Moonprince, who, together with a small band of followers, must defend the land of Midnight from Doomdark's Foul minions. Your party must split up and recruit followers from all over the land in an effort to halt Doomdark's expansion and eventually defeat him at his citadel of Ushgarak.

The game itself bears little resemblance to most other wargames. You can recruit other lords as you explore the land. By virtue of the Moon Ring that Luxor carries you may see through their eyes and communicate with them over great distances. This first-person perspective gives a real fog of war and makes scouting ahead vital. You begin with only a sketchy map of Midnight and must explore and discover where your allies wait and your enemies lurk. To complicate matters the land is filled with wolves, dragons and foul skulkrin that may slay an unwary lord travelling alone. If the military solution is too daunting, you also have the option of sending your adopted son Morkin on a quest to destroy Doomdark's item of power, the Ice Crown.

In short, the game oozes atmosphere. As the rise of first-person shooting games testifies, seeing through the eyes of your character puts you very much in the game world. The lack of any sound (there was no room in memory left after the core game) only heightens the tension. Even though the whole map is made up of only a small number of different terrains, different parts of midnight have their own atmosphere and personality. The names and locations fire the imagination, implying ages of history. It is easy to imagine Lord Brith as a nervous coward or the Lord of Gloom as fatalistic. Staring at the snow-covered mountains for too long will make you feel cold. Discovering you are surrounded on all sides by mounted enemies chills you to the marrow. And nothing quite compares to the rush of adrenaline as you let night fall and wait for the enemy to make his moves.

The scope of the AI in the game is limited, as old hands at the game will testify, but trying to hold on to all the lands of the Free is an awesome task. In an age when most games were two-dimensional and sprite-based or text-based and all of them had ludicrous back-stories, it shone. Sadly, despite the later Midwinter series for the Atari, it has no modern inheritors and a rich strand of gaming lies dormant.

Rorthron the Wise is utterly tired and cannot continue.
He thinks again...

Interesting Lords of Midnight Links

  • Icemark, an invaluable source of information for Lords of Midnight and also home page for the PC conversions of Lords of Midnight and Doomdark's Revenge. Its proprietor is also working on a bang-up-to-date version of Lords of Midnight.

  • A Lords of Midnight review from Games Domain.

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