07
Apr
13

Elfland for DOS

The Elfland title screen

The Elfland title screen

Elfland is a simple platform game written by Carl Erikson back in 1992. The game was inspired by other popular platformers of the time such as Commander Keen. The game has you playing as a young elf (either Elfie or Elfita) who is tasked with helping protect the small elf village where they live from evil trolls. The game is broken up into two episodes, the first one being shareware. In the first one you need to acquire a potion to protect the village from a wizard who lives nearby.

The Elf Leader

The Elf Leader

The game is EGA like many other platformers of the time, despite it being outdated technology. The graphics in game aren’t that attractive and it seems the reason is to do with a weird feature of the game. When you go into certain parts of levels that are darker, the game switches to a darker colour sprite set. It seems from observation that only the bright EGA colours are used for the outside area, and the dark ones for the inside cave sections. This effectively limits the available colour palette that could be used when generating sprites. The graphics would have probably been better off without this feature as interesting as it is. That aside the animations are nice, and the sprites are reasonably nice given the colour limitations.

Crossing a river

Crossing a river

Sound blaster sound cards are supported for sound, and the music sounds pretty nice. However there are only two songs that change when you go from the dark into the light (or vice versa) so the music can get a little repetitive. The digitised sound for the sound effects doesn’t sound right running the game under dosbox. It sounds like it’s running at an extremely low sample rate, so I’m not sure that the sound blaster is responsible for them. Some clever programmers were able to use the PC speaker for digitised sound, so I suspect that is what is actually generating the sound effects.

The castle

The castle

The game play is reminiscent of other platformers of the time but suffers from collision detection problems at times. I often found it difficult to hit enemies, some times because of their position relative to where my projectiles go. Many parts of the game do work quite well such as the jumping mechanic, and the controls. I just found it awkward dealing with enemies. Perhaps more practise with the game would help with this. Unfortunately you only get one life and no continues so you can be punished severely for making mistakes even on the easier modes of play.

The darkened graphic mode

The darkened graphic mode

Whilst Elfland has its faults, it is an impressive game given that one person built it on their own. The games basic ideas, structure and mechanics are sound, and the EGA code is impressively fast. The game basically just needs a bit of polish around its rough edges to make it quite good. It’s still fun as it is now, albeit a little difficult given the names of the difficulty ratings, but it’s worth a go if you enjoy platformers from this era of DOS gaming or for nostalgia because you played it as a child.

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