Saturday, July 3, 2010

Game 19: Might & Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum (1986)

The nine-game series (not counting the Heroes spin-offs) begins.

Last week, I announced that I was taking a break from The Bard's Tale II, and shortly thereafter I found myself playing a game that looks a lot like The Bard's Tale II: Might & Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctum. Like The Bard's Tale series before it, Might & Magic I is a descendant of Wizardry, offering a tile-based multi-party game in a first-person perspective. The game's approach to combat, magic, and exploration seem remarkably like its predecessors.

Yet playing it, I found myself enjoying it a lot more than The Bard's Tale II. This may have been external. I finally finished my traveling season and I've returned home for a full month (expect a post nearly every night in July). But there are some game play features that improve upon what came before, even if the graphics aren't quite as good (among other things, there seems to be no animation).

Might & Magic I was released for the Apple II in 1986. I'm playing a DOS port from a year later. It was the first publication of New World Computing and is the beginning of one of the most successful franchises in game history. I'm sure I played it before, back in the 1980s, but frankly I can't remember it. The first Might & Magic of which I have any real memory is III.

The game does not begin promising. Based on the game manual I consulted, Might & Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctum tosses you into the world with no hints whatsoever as to the world's history and what your quest is all about--or, indeed, if you even have a quest. There's a cryptic line in the manual: "When you begin, the uncharted world of Might and Magic is as strange and unfamiliar to you as it is to your characters." Huh? Why is that?

To get a clue, I consulted the evocative map of the Land of Varn. The map is divided into 20 sections (A1-E4), that show some neat terrain: rivers, sea, mountains, a volcano, forest, plains, a desert plateau. Towns and castles are shown on the map as are numerous monsters: a scorpion, a sea dragon, a knight on horseback. Do these indicate actual game encounters or are they just decorative? Based on a clue I picked up in the first town, Sorpigal, I think the former. A statue reads: "One by water, one by land, one by air, one by said. The wheel of luck will favorably pay, the more of these menacing beasts you slay. Although wishes may come true, all the beasts will become anew."

Only the Ultima series has had cooler maps so far.

The basic characteristics of the game break no new ground. There are six character classes: knight, paladin, sorcerer, cleric, archer, and robber. Each requires a different minimum combination of seven attributes: intellect, might, personality, endurance, speed, accuracy, and luck. There are five races: human, elf, dwarf, gnome, and half-orc. You can choose your alignment from good, neutral, and evil, and set your sex and name.

A very basic character creation process.

Character level is based on experience, which is accumulated through quests and combat. Your level determines your hit points and spell points and, for spellcasters, what spell level they can cast. The magic system features 47 sorcerer spells and 47 cleric spells, divided into 7 levels. Obviously, higher level spells use more spell points and many also require gems, which you pick up from slain foes.

All characters start at age 18 and can age through magic and natural passage of time. Your skills deteriorate as you age, and after age 80 there's a chance of dying in your sleep! Fortunately, there's a rejuvenation spell to reverse old age. As in the Ultima games, your characters have a food store and they eat a meal every time you rest. One major difference that seems to be a bit unbalanced: every time you rest, all of your hit points and spell points are regenerated. As food isn't terribly expensive, this suggests the major difficulty in the game will come in the form of individual encounters rather than the culmination of encounters like Wizardry and The Bard's Tale.

I created a party of six characters. I couldn't think of any reason not to just include one of each character type, so I did that, mixing races, sexes, and alignments. If you're curious, my party consists of:

  • Palamedes, a good male half-orc paladin (kudos to Might & Magic for allowing any class to be a paladin well ahead of D&D)
  • Redbeard, a neutral male dwarf knight
  • Kata, a neutral female elf archer
  • Lone Wolf, an evil male gnome robber
  • Sarah, a good female elf cleric
  • Grey Star, a good male human sorcerer

The game starts you with clubs, 10 meals, and absolutely no gold. I needed to find something to beat with clubs before I could even think about an edged weapon. Each character has between 8 and 10 hit points and the two spellcasters have 5 spell points. Talk about brutal.

Starting out in this game is tough.

I ventured out to explore Sorpigal and almost immediately died at the hands of a band of six sprites who bombarded my party with "curse" spells making my attacks ineffective. I wanted to throw up my hands in exasperation but I re-loaded and did a little better. Through exploration, I learned:

  • Sorpigal consists of a 16 x 16 square. Until I find otherwise, I'm going to assume that all Might & Magic I areas are this size. This makes exploration a little quicker than in The Bard's Tale where all maps were 22 x 22. Might & Magic may actually have more levels (so far, I figure there are at least 20 outdoor areas, 5 towns of at least two levels each--I've already discovered that Sorpigal has a dungeon--and a couple of castles, for a minimum of around 35 areas), but I like that you can get through them at a faster clip. And unless there are ways of finding secret doors that don't simply involve walking in to walls (I've found a few that way), not all of the squares on each map are used.

Exploring Sorpigal.

  • There seems to be a lot more things in this game. I've only half-mapped Sorpigal, but I've already found half a dozen statues with cryptic clues, a trap that dumps you into the dungeon, a mystical leprechaun who offers transportation to other towns for a gem, and a jail full of monsters where if you're not careful the doors lock behind you--along with the usual shops, temple, and training facility.

Unfortunately, I don't have any gems and don't know when I'll find any.

  • Random encounters vary from somewhat easy to very hard. It took me a while to realize that you have to (s)earch the square after you finish fighting a battle or you don't get any treasure. Even when you search, the gold and experience rewards are not that high. Based on the encounters I've had so far, it's going to be a long time before my characters reach Level 2 and can afford decent equipment.

Ah, the old reliable orc.

The game follows The Bard's Tale's convention of only allowing you to save in the inn, so you have to be careful about getting trapped too far away. Fortunately, I've discovered that if you run from combat, instead of simply skipping the battle and leaving you where you are (as in The Bard's Tale), you end up back at the inn. In dungeons, as I found out after a trap square unceremoniously dumped me into one, fleeing takes you to the entrance. This makes up a little for the fact that one out of four combats leaves all your characters dead (at least at level 1).

I'll leave combat to tomorrow's posting, but suffice to say that it seems like it has that same nail-biting ultra-tactical quality as Wizardry. I need to spend some time analyzing what makes Wizardry and this game fundamentally different from The Bard's Tale even though they seem so similar.

Again, I don't know what it is, but I'm mapping and exploring with a lot more gusto than with The Bard's Tale II despite the game's difficulty. I kind of like that I have no idea what the main quest is about (I assume it has something to do with an "inner sanctum"). I'm looking forward to continuing this one.

29 comments:

  1. None of the early Might and Magic games tell you what the overall goal is about. In a sense finding out what what the quest is about is a quest in itself.

    The game's bigger than you think. Expect to have over 50 maps by the time you're finished. Every single square can be stepped on, though of course this doesn't mean there's always something to find.

    The early game is brutal. I don't think there's any way around grinding - you need to find an easy fixed fight, then keep doing this fight, saving after every victory, until you get to level 2 or 3 even. It's boring but once you get out of Sorpigal and into the world the game becomes much more interesting.

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  2. If "every single square can be stepped on," I'm either missing something (is there some way to find secret doors other than just walking into walls?) or it doesn't happen until you get the Teleport spell at Level 5. Either way, I'm marking these areas inaccessible for now.

    I agree that the game is tough in the early stages. I did pretty much what you suggested--essentially doing laps around Sorpigal and hitting the fixed fights--until I was level 3. It really didn't take that long, though.

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  3. PetrusOctavianusMarch 7, 2011 at 3:12 AM

    Just started playing MM1 myself. In the early MM games (unlike Bard's Tale) I've found that the pre-generated party is better than what you can generate yourself without lots and lots of re-rolling of stats, plus they have _some_ equipment and money. So with Crag Hack and his merry band I have survived the first half a dozen combats (which probably means my party will be wiped out in next battle).

    It's very similar to MM2, except MM2 on the Maiga had much better and animated graphic.
    Another difference is that in MM2 the game checked for encounters not just when moving, but also when _turning_. Not sure if that was an Amiga only thing; I thought it was kinda weird even when I was a kid.

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  4. I noticed that, too, but something about playing with a pre-generated party just grates against me. The beginning WAS pretty damned difficult with no equipment, though.

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  5. MM1&2 are great, if a lot harder to play than later games in the series. For some reason the Mac ports were a lot more manageable for me to complete, although I can't remember why. The graphics were certainly marginally better in the Mac ports, but that certainly can't be why.

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  6. The pre-gens in M&M1 are the actual Heroes in Heroes of Might & Magic. So, it's not half bad as compared to playing pre-gens of other RPGs.

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    1. Now I have to find time to install both and see this for myself.

      Heroes came out much later than M&M1 so using the names there would be a nice nod to the history of the franchise. It also makes me wonder if there was any history behind those names and why they were chosen.

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    2. "It also makes me wonder if there was any history behind those names and why they were chosen."

      Crag Hack was a character name that Jon Van Caneghem used all the time in his tabletop RPGs.

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  7. Ah Might And Magic 1, the first game in your list I actually played when it was new. I was totally lost in it :)

    Having no clue what the quest even is was actually a big downer for me. I like at least partial railroading. Say the typical Bioware style, yes you can pick from four locations to go to now but at least each will have some clear quests.

    This though was an important game to me, it taught me things I don't like about games :p

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    1. It was a different approach, to be sure, but I rather liked it. You explored the game world for a while before the "main quest" became apparent. It would have been cool if, say, Skyrim had done this. You arrive in the province, solve a few people's problems, join a guild or two, and THEN Alduin appears.

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    2. This is exactly why I was stunned someone actually preferes M&M I over Bard's Tale II. Guess this shows how different personal tastes can be.

      I'm a long time crpg playet, too, and I have to admit BT was my very first CRPG series on the C64, so maybe I'm biased. But having no clue where to go next and what to do exactly is a real issue for me and M&M I offers absolutely NO clues for some of its vital parts. After you finish the first series of carrying this from one wizard to another, you're left alone. I can forgive having no story whatsoever present, but even then you have to admit BT II has more of a story than M&M I at least in the beginning. However, having no line of quests to follow or anything is a big turnoff for me I figured. Trying to be less subjective I still wonder if having dungeons with no purpose whatsoever makes sense gameplay-wise And M&M I has some of those AFAIR. Also remember having some strange encounters in the dugneons which dsuffered the same problem, e.g. the room that shakes in Castle Dragadoon IIRC, what was that supposed to mean? Looks like they didn't have time to finish implement something there, the same goes for some talking faces I don't remember in which dungeon they were. In all parts of BT such encounters were clues to real existing riddles, in M&M I those faces and the room were just there for the fun of it or so it seemed, maybe some inside jokes of the programmers but again, that was absolutely pointless and drawed on the overall atmosphere for me.

      Again, really interesting fact how different peoples tastes are even if they really enjoy classic crpg. Back then, BT had way better reviews in my country than M&M I. M&MI is widely regarded the weakest part of the series over here. Maybe that says something about different tastes in different parts of the world, too.

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    3. Well, open ended vs linear is only one of the aspects that make up the games. Also, when it comes to sound and graphics it depends on the system on which you played it.
      As a kid I loved BT2 and played the Amiga version, which looked and sunded very good. MM1 was never released for the Amiga, so I never played it as a kis, though I loved MM2 (even more so than I did BT2).
      About two years ago I played MM1 (the ugly DOS version) for the first time, and I liked it. I tried to replay BT2, but the constant random encounters every 10 seconds was such a huge turn-off.
      So while I would probably not have liked MM1 as well as BT2 when I was a kid, I now consider MM1 the superior game.

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    4. BT2 has a more sensible back story and main quest, but (in my opinion) far, far worse gameplay. The gameplay--the navigating, mapping, encounters, and combats--is what makes up most of the player's experience, and I'd rather have THIS be good and the story nonsensical (or even nonexistant) than have a good framing story but boring, repetitive gameplay.

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    5. I think not having a quest from the outset makes it more authentic. If you were a newbie adventurer in real life, you would have to go arround asking people what you can do to them, and after getting experienced, get entwined in the epic quest.

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  8. These posts intrigued me so much I downloaded Might & Magic I through VI from GOG, and wow, I'm hooked. I don't have too much time to play (having a five-month-old will do that to you), so it's been slow going, but I've been enjoying the hell out it. I chalk it up to your great writing and explanations as to why the game works, and not just what the game is like.

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    1. Thanks, Alex. I'm glad you've enjoyed both the postings and the game.

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  9. I remember playing the C64 version on my C128. All these years later I misremembered it as Might and Magic II, but thanks to your blog I stand corrected.

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  10. I have owned this game for a long time, having bought a bundle pack of M&M I-VI on cd years ago. Could never get the darn thing to work though. I played the game once on the NES when I was a kid and remembered liking it. Well, with the D-fend reloaded app, I got the game running no problem. Can even slow down the CPU cycles to make everything readable. Damn, but I don't remember this game being so freaking hard! I open a door, walk through, big encounter! Barely survive, find a chest, open with robber, TRAP! knocks half my party out. I turn around to leave, doors locked! Unlock with my robber, TRAP! My knocked out members are now dead! I can't handle this kind of stress! :0P

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    1. It stabilizes after you gain a few levels, but yeah, that sounds like my initial experiences with the game.

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  11. I owned this game and couldn't play it because the floppy was corrupted or something. I don't remember what the deal was, but I thought the MANUAL was SO INTERESTING!

    "When you begin, the uncharted world of Might and Magic is as strange and unfamiliar to you as it is to your characters."

    The monsters! The spells! I think I wound up playing the second installment before finally playing the first and it didn't quite live up to what I dreamt about when reading that damn manual.

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  12. It's strange to me that you enjoyed this so much, when the thing is just totally grinding my gears. I've put in about two weeks or so, and have tonnes of maps to show for it, but it just keeps on finding new ways to be totally unfair.

    An NPC who takes all my items with no warning or recourse? Sure! Instant-death fights that I can only encounter after an extremely long session of exploring past no-challenge fights that I'll have to repeat eventually? Check. It also has quests that bug out if you don't guess which character's inventory to hold an item that the quest does not mention, along with incorrectly worded English for critical game-progress messages.

    Just now I managed to follow a serise of teleports and land in an area that I hadn't mapped yet, but was in an easyish zone outside. I went through a series of fights carefully resting and tediously reprotecting after every single fight. In the last square I found a Lich and a bunch of mummies. What? Okay well, let's try to run. Nope. Well... Okay fine let's see if I can survive. I have a hugely exciting difficult and scary fight that I squeak through. I plan to search, and then Fly to Sorpigal and immediately save.

    FOR SOME REASON search here just starts the fight again with no warning. This is completely inconsistent with probably 45 hours of gameplay so far. I die and lose an hour of progress. Again.

    The thing is from where I sit this is just vastly inferior to The Bard's Tale. Might & Magic Book One has such a failure to communicate a goal, puzzles that depend on badly worded text, combat that's far too slow and yet features things like 8 combats in a row in a corridor, a real lack of any coherent theming, and yet manages to pack in lots of cheap gameovers.

    I *liked* the start of the game where I died a lot and had to scrape by to advance. The later game where I'm not scraping but saving is very inconvenient and results in huge amounts of wasted time is not really working for me.

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    1. I absolutely cannot disagree with you on the facts you present, and yet I had a totally opposite reaction as to my enjoyment of the game.

      Oh, well. It would be a dull world if we all had the same tastes.

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    2. PetrusOctavianusJune 28, 2015 at 5:40 PM

      I guess there is a reason why MM1, along with Knights of Legend, is the only game for which I used a DosBox version with Save States function...

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    3. FWIW, the first time i wrote that comment I made an explicit callout to the variability of taste, and that being normal and all.

      It was only after blogger lost it a few times that I got a little hastier in recomposing it.

      ---
      @PetrusOctavianus: I managed to get a save states build going as a result of this straw-camel-back experience. Hoping it restores the fun for me.

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  13. I know this is a long time aho but did you have bug problems? For dome reason in Dusk I have found no traps or portals but they should be there.

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    1. No, I didn't experience any problems like that. My blog isn't a very good source for tech support, unfortunately. I'd try one of the GameFAQs forums.

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    2. Thanks addict, turns out my apple ][ version was bugged but I went to GOG and got the whole series through to 9, I did play the original nes version but never got far, without you I never would have figured out that I was suppose to map the areas, thanks for turning me on to this great series. You also turned me to another series but I'll post my comment about it there.

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  14. Inspired by your playthrough I've finally decided to give it a go. I'm a huge World of Xeen fan, but always skipped over Book One due to the interface. I've gotten over it (now that I know I need to map the damn thing).

    I'm about 8 hours in and I've explored all of the non-hidden parts of Sorpigal (Upper Level) and some of the dungeon below. I decided to go with the default party, however in my most recent trip to the dungeons, one of my characters is dead (which I only discovered after several rests and healing spells used). I have gotten 0 gold thus far and so I need to roll up my very first replacement character until such time as I get the first guy (who had finally reached level 2!) back to life. For that I need to find some damn gold.

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    1. It's been 6 years since I played it, but I remember how brutal MM1 was for the first few levels. You basically have to wander around Sorpigal, hitting the fixed fights until you exhaust them, then sleeping in the inn to re-set them. Repeat 20 times, losing parties along the way, of course, before you're strong enough to adventure outward.

      "I have gotten 0 gold thus far." You're remembering to hit (S)earch after every battle?

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