The Lords of Midnight

Yours will be no inevitable victory...

Source // Winterdrake

The entry for The Lords of Midnight in 1001 Video Games includes a screenshot of a chap on a horse, in front of some rocks, accompanied by some blurb. It's reflective of what you'll see in game, but it's akin to taking a screenshot of some dialog in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, rather than showing what you can actually see in Skyrim.

I use Skyrim as an example because both it and The Lords of Midnight allow you to traverse the world you inhabit from a first person perspective, where you're able to move all the way up those mountains in the distance. Mostly.

Skyim-lite on the ZX Spectrum? Count me in. PC remake with the input and blessing of the original developer? Count me in. Accompanying short story to set the scene of Luxor the Moonprince on a quest to rid the world of the evil Witchking Doomdark? Count. Me. In.



The Lords of Midnight is difficult to get into. It doesn't hold your hand, but it does give you options - options that will serve you no purpose when the goddamn Moonprince can get killed by wolves in his first attack on his first day of the game.

No matter, for his son, Morkin, still has fight in him...

God damnit.

Obviously I'm missing something that not even a re-reading of the manual can help me with, probably because I'm a blithering idiot, so that means the next best thing is to head to YouTube and watch what incredible, must-play game I'm missing out on.

Fun Times

A walkthrough or speed run doesn't help to show what's going on in the slightest, but a Let's Play like above at least lets you see the game at the pace of someone trying to work their way through it, and it's seeing the game in this way that helped me make heads or tails of it.

There are three ways to complete The Lords of Midnight. Either Luxon the Moonprince can conquer the lands with his army, defeating Doomdark with a bit of muscle, his son Morkin can destroy the Ice Crown, the source of Doomdark's power, or - for the truly brave and/or stupid - you can defeat Doomdark with both methods at the same time.

Both the instruction manual and the video above shows that taking the more quest driven path forged by Morkin is quicker - much, much quicker, though even that is assuming you know what you're doing and where you're going.

You're not really told, so you've got to go exploring for yourself. You've a set number of moves before darkness falls, where Doomdark is able to influence your journey, usually by spilling blood somewhere on the map - and it's quite a map as well. You start off with a party of four, each able to move on their own, allowing you to push them all in different directions and see how you fare. If one is killed, you can switch to another, and you can even recruit party members if you happen to come across them on your travels. Twenty Eight recruitable characters, in fact. I can't even name that many people in games today, let alone recruit them.

The game feels - and is described in the manual as - epic. Not a tiny little game where you have to get from point A to point B without taking a hit, but a somewhat first person journey across hostile lands, battling a foe that can be defeated in multiple ways, and all on the ZX Spectrum.

Battles are conveyed via simple images and text descriptions, with no animations in sight. There's no inventory, no combat mechanics in general, come to think of it. Unless hiding counts. There are options, as I say, and the adventure unfolds with or without your input. A single night can cripple your forces and scupper your chances. If you need to embellish it with some imagination, so be it.

Hopefully you get some sense of how impressive this, and how much I wanted playing it to be equally epic, rather than an epic fail.

Final Word

You can compare the image above to the top image for a comparison between ZX Spectrum and the PC remake, which has a much more user friendly (read: which has an) interface, and faithful graphics. In the original, the 8 different directions you can look in were eight different directions. There was some overlap; you could get a sense that what you saw displayed in the North could creep into the side of the view towards the North-east, for example, but having a full 360 degree panoramic image in the remake - even if holding true to the original graphics - really does show what the developer, Mike Singleton, had in mind all those decades ago.

The Lords of Midnight was grand in scope, ambitious and inspiring, and for those reasons and more it should be played. Some of the recent games have really come from out of blue, mostly because I have no idea what's capable with the technology of the time, but partly because neither did gamers in the 1980s. This was as incredible then as it is in some senses now, which is all the more reason why I should try again (in a way where I don't die in a matter of days, or hours, in the case of Luxor...). When or if that will happen I don't know.

Fun Facts

Now Skyrim is undeniably bigger, but The Lords of Midnight can claim 32,000 unique views from 4,000 different points on the map. On a ZX Spectrum. Just going to hammer that point home...

The Lords of Mighnight, developed by Mike Singleton, first released in 1984.
Version played: Microsoft Windows, 2013.
Version watched: ZX Spectrum, 1984 (Manual, what manual?)