Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Might & Magic: Final Ranking

Although I won the game, there were a few encounters I was never able to beat. This is one.

Matt Barton, who wrote, Dungeons & Desktops (2008; I talked about the book in this posting) has some good things to say about Might and Magic. He describes the series as a lesser-known younger sibling of many of the more prominent series of the decade (e.g., Ultima, Wizardry). King and Borland don't mention it once in Dungeons & Dreamers (2003). But, as we've seen, the game did "refine several gameplay elements that would show up in later games, such as having the characters' race and gender exert a strong effect on gameplay" (p. 128). Barton calls the game "a labor of love by developer Jon Van Canegham and his wife Michaela" and he praises the size of the game world, the number of encounters, and the mystery of the main quest. It made, he says, "a great impression on critics and gamers" (p. 129)--an impression that still holds favorable 24 years later.

As usual, my ranking is based on the 100-point GIMLET scale that I described here.

1. Game world. This is a tough one. Might & Magic launches you in to the world of Varn (or VARN, as it turns out) with very little background and with no lore or history. You are left to explore the world and piece together its nature through quests--this is part of the game's fun. The world itself is large--around 50 15 x 15 maps--and varied in its terrain and encounters. Although graphics limitations make the dungeons and castles look mostly the same, each has a certain distinct character and purpose. The revelation at the end--that the game world is simply a biosphere/spaceship--makes Might & Magic unique among games, I'll give it that. But it also raises a lot of questions that the game doesn't begin to answer. How do fantasy conventions like magic and undeath fit within the sci-fi framework? Who thought it was a good idea to combine people and dragons in a spaceship? (Here's hoping Michael Bay never stumbles upon this site.) For that matter, don't the dragons bonk their heads against the "sky"? Except in a few cases, Might & Magic also has the drawback of most early CRPGs in which the game world doesn't react to your actions--nowhere is this more notable than the ending, in which you can "reveal" the false King Alamar over and over. Final score: 6.

2. Character creation and development. Character creation is fairly basic in Might & Magic: you choose from a list of six classes and roll a standard selection of attributes. You can choose name, sex, and alignment. Character development, while still fairly basic, is surprisingly satisfying. In a standard game, you might achieve around 20 levels, and each level-up makes you palpably more powerful and able to handle the game's difficult battles. This is true of spell progression, of course, but also in the way that your fighters get extra attacks and do extra damage, and your robber has a better chance of disarming traps. Because of this, the experience rewards you get from quests and combat are quite satisfying. The game does introduce some "role playing" based on alignments, although it is very light (whether to release, torment, or ignore prisoners) and doesn't have lasting consequences. There is one area in which sex matters. Most encounters play identically no matter what the class, sex, or alignment. Final score: 5.

3. NPC Interaction. The game is devoid of visible NPCs, but you come across them in certain squares, and your encounters with them are essential to advancing the game and learning about the game world. The game is one of the first to introduce choices in your NPC interactions--not dialog choices, unfortunately, but very basic ones such as whether to kiss, release, or ignore a maiden you find chained to a wall. A little better than The Bard's Tale (or, at least, more than The Bard's Tale) but not nearly as complex or satisfying as Ultima IV. Final score: 4

Oddly, option (A) is the only way to advance the game. More oddly, all of my characters were female at this point. Jayne will be in his bunk.

4. Encounters and foes. There are dozens of monsters in Might & Magic, almost all with a unique attack or two (sprites curse, centaurs put you to sleep, demon lords can eradicate your characters with a spell), almost all with special resistances, which makes encounters challenging as you try to figure out the best order in which to engage your enemies and the best weapons and spells to use. These foes are not well described, unfortunately, and most are standard fantasy game fare with the exception of some aliens. The game continues The Bard's Tale's tradition of throwing you up against wildly improbable groups of monsters in even more improbable settings: six green dragons and a herd of pegasuses in a cramped dungeon corridor, for instance. There are a few scripted encounters in which you have the option to do something other than fight, but it's almost always the poorer of the options and much of the game is hack & slash. I liked the way the game balanced fixed encounters with random ones. I also like how the game doesn't pull any punches. If you wander into the wrong map early in the game, your level 2 party gets fried by red dragons with no apologies. Areas re-spawn the moment you leave, allowing endless opportunities for experience-boosting. Final score: 6.

Honestly, how did this party of foes ever come together?

5. Magic and combat. Combat is fairly tactical, with a few nail-biting moments, especially at the beginning when opening every door is potentially deadly. The game is one of the first to include missile weapons, and the variety of items you can equip (see below) adds yet another layer to your options. The ability to immediately rest after most combat means that combats are individually tactical rather than tactical by accumulation as in Wizardry or The Bard's Tale. The first-person perspective doesn't offer a lot of opportunities for role-playing in combat. The magic system is well-balanced except at the end, when some of your spells become too powerful and you start to use them as crutches (by then, combat has become a bit boring anyway). Every level increase gives you something new to look forward to in combat, which is nice. Final score: 5.

6. Equipment. In this area, Might & Magic is one of the best of the early CRPGs. You can wield up to six items and carry up to six more, and there are a wide variety of weapons, armor, accessories, rings, boots, and other items to don and use. These have increasing levels of magic power, including some that boost your statistics or cast spells. This may be the first game to require magical weapons to strike certain monsters, but I'm not sure. Some equipment I didn't understand: I held on to a set of rope & hooks and a 10-foot pole all the way to the end of the game, thinking they'd eventually be required, but they never were. I felt that even after around 100 hours of game play, I only had encountered a fraction of the possible equipment. Treasure is generally randomized within the game world, but there are a few special items that you receive after fixed battles or encounters. Although the items have no descriptions, and it's tough to tell the relative worth of weapons and armor except by selling cost, this is one of the best CRPGs of this era when it comes to variety and utility of gear. Final score: 7.

Some of the varied types of equipment available in the game.

7. Economy. Not complicated, but not bad for a 1980s CRPG. You start out with no gold, so you have to start making some fairly quickly. As you do, you're able to equip yourself slowly. As you progress through the towns, you find that more advanced equipment is available, so making money to buy things (and to train your characters) remains viable well in to the 12th hour of the game. After that, well, there are still things to do with your money. Donating at temples will temporarily bestow upon you every protective spell in the game, at much higher levels than your characters can cast, so it's worth it to pay before a big battle. Second, the magic fountain at Dragadune converts all your gold to experience--meaning that if you make use of it, you need to immediately start building your finances again if you ever want to level up. Third, there's a place in the game where you can exchange gold for gems, through the intermediary of trivia questions. Thus, cash rewards never stop being relevant. Final score: 7.

8. Quests. This is where Might & Magic really excels, particularly among its brethren of the Silver Age. As I remarked several times, the "main quest" reveals itself only in stages, which actually works well in a game that allows you open-ended exploration. The main quest is also unusual in its sci-fi theme and lack of a "big boss." More important, however, there are dozens of side quests--the first real side quests in any CRPG, I think. Some of them are unusual and reasonably complex: climbing all the trees in a grove, solving the magic square puzzle, the mystery of Portsmith, and the prisoner-Statue of Judgment quest among them. They even offer a little light role-playing. Some involve finding items, some visiting locations, some killing monsters, some answering riddles. This is all extremely advanced for a CRPG of the era, and they remain fun even today, even if they don't offer the narrative complexity or role-playing choices of, say, Neverwinter Nights or Oblivion. Very well done, JVC. Final score: 8.

Just picturing my characters doing this one is fun.

9. Graphics, sound, inputs. The graphics of the era still have not advanced out of the "functional" stage. The game makes good use of sound, for the time, but to modern ears it's repetitive and ultimately annoying--I played most of the game with the sound off. Keyboard controls are easy enough to get used to. Final score: 4.

10. Gameplay. As I previously covered, game play in Might & Magic is very non-linear, which (as I also previously covered), I like a lot. Except for a handful of locked doors for which you have to find the keys, there's almost nowhere in the game world that you can't trek from the starting town--assuming you can survive the monsters (hint: you can't). I liked that the game essentially required me to explore to even figure out what the main quest was about. The difficultly of the game is well-balanced. Although you die a lot, particularly at the beginning, the pace of the gameplay is fast enough that you don't really mind (assuming you haven't been a complete idiot about saving). Just as it starts to drag a bit, you start to get a selection of spells--time warp, fly, teleport, town portal--that make traveling about the world a bit faster, and low-level monsters much easier to dispatch. It was over just when I was about ready for it to be over, which is always the mark of a good game. My only complaint: no replayability. But that's par for the course in the Silver Age. In the end, this game was exactly what it should be to earn a high score on my blog: addictive. Final score: 8.

The final tally of 60 is the highest of any CRPG so far, even higher than Ultima IV. This gives me a few pangs, but although I like Ultima IV better as a story, I admit that I probably like Might & Magic better as a game.

As you'll see in my next posting, my next steps are not all that clear. More soon.


  1. Well, your blog inspired me to give Might and Magic a shot, and so far I'm liking it. I do have some criticisms, though. The battle interface has some annoyances, most prominently the absence of HP and SP on the main screen... having to press 'Q' every turn is getting old. The menu system is annoying, too - I thought typing the cryptic spell names in Wizardry was bad... at least HALITO is more memorable and intuitive than pressing number keys. AFAIK there is no in-game list of spell names, much less details on what they do. Equipment is the same - they seem to insist on giving you the bare minimum of information about items. At least you don't have to identify everything like in Wizardry. Getting better equipment seems really random - my characters are at levels 7 and 8 and I have a few +1 and +2 pieces for each character, but they're few and far between. I wish there were treasure chests lying around dungeons or other ways of getting good items other than random drops.

    Even with all my nitpicking, I can't seem to put the game down. It seems to be one of those games that makes you lose your sense of time while playing it... I'd glance down at the clock and realize that I'd been playing for hours when it felt like minutes. There's always one more quest to complete, one more item to get, one more monster to kill... it's really epic, especially considering that it's about as old as I am.

  2. Yeah, you need to have a printout of the spell card next to your computer (or in a text file alongside your game window). I found that I had memorized most of them by the end, but at the beginning it's tough.

    The pacing of the game is quite good, though, isn't it? I had the same experience as you with the loss of time. In my case, it was entire nights.

  3. Yup, there have been times when I got in the zone and the only thing that knocked me out of it was the sunrise... I swear, I never imagined such an old game could be so addicting!

  4. Your blog entries on M&M have made me incredibly nostalgic. This was always one of my favorites, though I honestly don't remember if I ever beat the game. I know I made it to the Inner Sanctum, but that was 20+ years ago now. If I ever get some free time to revisit one of these games, I think M&M might be first. Unfortunately, even finding time to read your blog is hard for me right now!

    BTW, I think having rope & hooks was necessary for traveling in mountainous terrain. The 10' pole may have been for avoiding pit traps or something? Not sure.

  5. I just finished MM1 after nearly five weeks. Even with no wife or job to distract me I used twice as much time as Addict to complete it...

    I kept me captivated for the whole time and unlike Bard's Tale and Ultima IV never got tedious.

    My only real complaint is that there was very little scope for creative use of spells.
    Clever spells like Silence, Freeze, Finger of Death and Eradicate almost never works, even against monster with no magic resistance, so I ended up spamming the foes with Fireball, Lightning Ball and Dancing Sword. The only "clever" spells I used was Weaken and Slow since they nearly always worked, and Paralyze since there were nearly always *some* monsters that were paralyzed.
    I also found it annoying that Dancing Sword not always worked even though the manual specifically says there is no defense against it. And some foes cheated - they cast Sun Ray indoors.

    So all in all, MM1 is a rock solid game that has stood the test of time well, but will not appealt to the console generation du to lack of automap, lack of directions and the need to keep detailed track of information (some of the puzzles are extremely obscure).

    I had problems with corrupted files when nearing the end, so I never completed Og's quest and I used a walkthrough for the final stages from confronting Alamar and onwards, and I ended up with a score of 424838.

    I was also able to import my characters to MM2. They were reduced to lvl 6, stats above 20 were reduced to 20, age set to 30 and they start with 1000 gold each.
    I already beat MM2 with green adventurers (since there was no MM1 for the Amiga there were no characters to import anyway) so this time I'll use the imported characters. I just hope it won't be *too* easy.

  6. Congratulations, Petrus. I agree about the spells. I've been working on a post for MM2 where I try out every spell, but I think it might ultimately end up being too boring.

  7. After ~9 months, I finally finished this game! Thanks to CRPG for scoring this game so highly and making me interested in playing it; it's one of the best RPGs I've played in a while :)

    I had the same experience with spells; I spend the entire game casting a small set of overpowered spells; Lightning, Dancing Sword, Power Cure, and Slow. The game did have a good feeling of increasing in power as your spellbook grew, but it seemed that every time you learned a new spell you immediately found out that it was crippled in some way and the powering up effect was lessened. For example, how all the really high level damage spells only work outdoors, or how some of the maps that you really wanted to Teleport on had anti-teleport fields.

    There is a LP who had some different opinions on magic though; he didn't care for Slow and used Disintegrate to one-shot all the bosses with great accuracy. I kinda wish I had known about that, I gave up on Disintegrate after the first failed casting assuming that it would never work. It would cheapen the sense of victory in all the boss battles, though, so I guess it's good that I never used it. I actually managed to kill all the superbosses, including the Dragon Council, without using Disintegrate :)

    Most important lesson learned from this game - mapping in Excel is a bad idea and takes way too many clicks to do anything. I'm pretty sure that this game would have taken half the time it did if I hadn't spent so much time dealing with arranging colored borders and backgrounds. I'm already a few floors into Wizardry 1 now, and it's unbelievable how much simpler and lower stress it is to be mapping with a low res image in MS Paint. Not to mention how huge of a background process Excel is in comparison..

    On the bright side, I still mapped every square of the game and got it into GameFAQs, and am also the first to post a map for the overworld :D -

  8. Taylor, congratulation on beating the game (including all the bosses), and especially with those beautiful maps.
    Are you going to import your characters into MM2?

    And congratultions again to Addict for his contribution to Retro Gaming (although some credit must go game publishers for publishing such crap and unfriendly to honest gamers games.)

  9. I'm not gonna import my characters; it seems rather pointless to me considering you lose so much in the process. And the initial grind in these kind of games is such an integral part of the experience that I'd hate to just skip over it :)

  10. Although I played around with earlier cRPG's I really lost my cRPG virginity to this game when I was probably around 15 and haven't looked back since. I bought it on a whim and afterthought (I had pocket money left after buying Bump 'n Wrestle and a stupid spy/helicopter game called "Infiltrator") when I was on vacation in the good old USA, I had no clue what I had bought. I think I even remember buying it at a store that was called Egghead ("where the nerdherd resides....") How lucky was I to stumble upon such a fun game! I can tick every box that you come up with, mapping the whole damn thing on graph paper (still have it and proud of it!), hurrying back to town with sweat on my back, praying I would survive and hold on to the extra exp and cool items, the challenging puzzles, the shock of sudden death, the diversity of areas and monsters (albeit with some imagination necessesary), the bewilderment that it took a sci-fi turn (which is still a bit of a turnoff to be honest) and the sheer fun of leveling your characters in what seems a really well balanced game in that respect. I took the manual and map to bed to pore over it, trying to pry secrets out of them and just bask in the fresh memories of playing that day. I played this one on my Apple and a few years back I revisited it using an Apple emulator (the game hadn't lost anything but I seemed to have changed in the mean time into an impatient cRPG wuss that can't be bothered playing games without an automap function and instant saves). I can't remember how high my character levels eventually were playing the first run through it (80+ for sure I vaguely remember), but they must have been off the charts at the end, because the impossible encounter you describe at the top of this posting was my bread and butter, I played that one endlessly because it yielded the greatest single encounter exp. that I could find in the game. I was essentially doing avant la lettre what in WOW happens when people camp around monster spawning points and feeling sorry for those guys. Maybe I broke the game balance with that myself, because the treasure drops like the exp. reward were also insane. I do seem to remember that item/weapon levels kept increasing also making things look more generic after a while (cRPG law no 215: the difference between a +11 and +12 sword is essentially smaller than the one between +1 and +2) But that didn't stop me a bit.
    Before rambling of this blog page, I must thank you again for this wonderful blog. I am going to follow it now, catching up from 2010 onwards. I can't wait to meet more expected and unexpected cRPG friends from my past and I'm really looking forward seeing you tackle games like BG1+2 and my own alltime great game and favorite cRPG: Planescape Torment. Thank you for playing them all so we don't have to!

  11. Glad to have a new dedicated reader, Slam.

    This is one game in which you can engage in limitless level grinding. I would have done that if I didn't have so many other games ahead of me.

    I'm glad you like the blog. Keep commenting!

  12. I used to love the Egghead store by me, I would ride my bike down to it and pick games out of the bargain bin with the money I had saved up. Egghead eventually closed the storefronts and they are now newegg.com. I still have and wear (yep they still fit) two old, worn, and oh so comfortable shirts from there, with the egghead mascot on them (looks like Einstein if his head were a huge egg with a bird popping out)

    1. I used to work at egghead during high school. Good memories. Was sad when they had to close.

  13. Just for the hardcore MM players here, I found an even better level-grind encounter in the game, one that I eventually couldn't even beat with my level 50-60+ party (who have 300-800 HP each, AC ranges from 18-24, fighters do damage 200+ in a single attack, and even my sorcerer can stab a dragon to death in a single stroke with his diamond dagger). It's the statue of the sable and white dog in the stronghold in the enchanted forest (area B3) for which you need the ruby whistle to enter. The square at which the statue rests is on level 2. At first you get 10.000 exp just for finding it, then you can search and find the Gold key. The fun starts when you say yes to the question if you want to desecrate the statue. You then get an encounter with 2 gold dragons and some other random baddies. Not something to lose sleep over. So after dispatching them I discovered you get another chance to desecrate the statue (not leaving this level). This time I got 4 golden dragons + assorted baddies (when you get above level 30 or somewhere in that range, the game just throws in more monsters in fixed encounters, and they get more tough when you get to higher levels). So I got through that encounter (I can kill 4 golden dragons in one round, with my fighter, paladin and archer taking care of 1 golden dragon each. When my sorcerer is within melee distance, he can kill one too with some luck). Ok, so I took some rest after that one and tried again. And this time the amount of golden dragons doubled again to 8! Now I got an encounter which even my seasoned party had second thoughts about. I went trough with it and just made it. It yielded my all time high experience reward of around 68.000, about 15.000 more on average than the "dragon city" encounter would give me. Only my sorcerer fell unconcious, the rest of my party was still alive, although just clinging to a few HP points. Rinse and repeat, and now I was faced by 13 golden dragons and 2 other baddies. Maybe the game designer took some pity on me and decided not to throw in an extra 2 golden dragons (15 is the maximum number of monsters possible in one encounter). Cut a long story short: I did not stand a chance. For those who don't know what gold dragons do: they have a devastating energy breath attack that do party damage in the range between on average 70-140 damage. And they go to that attack often. Even so, sometimes my paladin was still standing after one round. If I only had a potion of life to revive my cleric (who just died every time I played that first round through), who then could cast divine intervention and give me another chance with some remaining 9 gold dragons. With a lot of luck I could survive that encounter. The experience reward from 13 golden dragons would probably be around or just over 100.000 exp. I also would like to see if the game would generate an even bigger encounter than that. I could only imagine throwing some archdevils or demon lord into the mix. Anyway, just wanted to let you know. Gonna stack up on some potions of life, just to see this one through another round! And then onwards to MM2!

  14. Slam23, that's an awesome find. Please post again and let me know if it kept escalating!

  15. Well, it seems it doesn't get any worse than 13 golden dragons. And I found a way to survive that battle too: I just overlooked (and greatly underappreciated) the sorcerer spell Power Shield as a means to defend myself. I thought nothing could stop the energy attack, but Power Shield stops half of all damage done by any attack. This way my cleric survives long enough to cast his one Divine Intervention he gets per battle. With a careful use of Power Cure and attacking like crazy my party was victorious! I indeed scored just above the 100.000 with all my party members either alive or just unconscious. One time it yielded the coveted black box (with a really cool blue ringmail = 9 AC), but I also got a lame wooden box as treasure. I still don't get the chance distribution of getting a black box, but it seems that experience yielded (and/or difficulty level of the encounter) just gives a better chance of getting a black box. As for roleplaying, I have difficulty picturing how extremely bad-@ss my party really has become if it can slaughter a whole herd of Golden Dragons, just once asking for help from the Gods. There now is not much left for me to do (I also beat the Volcano God, and he just respawns like the irritating immortal he probably is). I could play on for a couple of levels just to see how my cleric reaches 100% on his level 7 spell Protection from Elements, but a sense of futility is creeping upon me.... :-)

  16. Yes, I think you can consider yourself having "won" Might & Magic.

  17. Unexpectedly, this blog (which I greatly enjoy reading) has led me to the conclusion that I generally dislike the majority of what people call CRPGs.
    Turns out I'm an RPG fan, not necessarily a CRPG fan -- I look for the character development, equipment advancement, deep story, rich environment, interesting RP/combat choices, etc...but not necessarily the pages of note taking and hours of dungeon mapping. Rogue, Wizardry, BT, M&M, etc just seem like too much work to be able to experience an RP story -- I have a salaried job if I was looking for more work during my evenings. ;)

    My taste is more in the area of series like Diablo, Final Fantasy (the early ones, IV being a favorite), Zelda (mostly the older ones here also, especially A Link to the Past), and Chrono Trigger. There's an awesome lore/story to play through, but only 1 page or less of notes to keep track of it. I know all but one were originally console (C = Computer), but I don't own a console anymore, so my last memories were in emulator and might have thrown me off originally.

    I guess the idea around your blog is to specifically ignore console because they are generally considered "simplified", as they have no keyboard input -- maybe the lazy people like me don't belong here. BUT that may also explain why I love your blog so much...you offer the general story (I know some details are missing) behind the games I would get too frustrated to play myself. Sure, I could read the walk-throughs, but they are structured differently...your personal struggles and celebrations add to the experience of reading about these older games.

    I know I have a lot of reading ahead, and my comments are very late (so I'll limit them greatly), but this personal epiphany was too great not to share.

  18. Silence: I wonder if you've played the Infinity Engine games (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment). If not, I think you'd greatly enjoy them for the automap and quest log. All the CRPG pros that you listed above are well represented. :)

    - Amy
    That RPG Chick

  19. Silence, I second Amy K's suggestion. Baldur's Gate is generally considered one of the best CRPG series as well. (Haven't tried Planescape yet, but it's on my list... I have my own list like the CRPG Addict's that I'm going through!) With BG I took less than one page of notes to keep a checklist of quests and clues: the first BG had a not very well organized quest log.

    The challenge with a BG is more the tactics and difficulty during a combat. Also, there is a rich lore and interesting story. It's more "open-ended" than the series that you cite, which might be a welcome change of pace. If you try it out, I would love to hear your thoughts!

  20. Thanks guys. Yes, I did enjoy Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, but conversely, I absolutely hated Neverwinter Nights. I enjoyed BG more than IWD, but I have no concrete reasons why (it's been forever) -- my dog is named Boo.

    I will have to try out Planescape. I've heard many times that I should, I just never got around to it.

    I guess the idea was that I thought I loved most CRPGs, when really I was only a fan of a particular subset (mostly newer) + some console RPG series (most older). Funny how I'm split between old/new for the different platforms.

    Thanks again!

  21. Baldur's Gate has more of a storyline to it, that may be why you liked it more. Icewind Dale has a few things going on plot-wise, but it's pretty much straight combat and such. Planescape, however, has even more story going on than BG. Some have complained that it's just too "wordy." I would never complain of such a thing. :)

  22. slam23, that is an amazing set of battles you described!

    CRPG Addict, thank you so much for your reviews of these games. I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago while replaying some childhood classics on a whim, and at the time it was Bard's Tale II. I had MM1 when I was a kid, but somehow it didn't appeal to me as much back then. But your blog convinced me to give it another shot, and I was really amazed by how much pure FUN it was.

    I found it was interesting that you did things in a different order than I did. As it turned out, I also missed the Merchant's Pass, and so I wasn't able to access all the castles until very late. (I used the Jump spell to bypass the guards, but that didn't work in every castle.)

    I was stumped by the magic square puzzle, because there actually are 2 different ways to solve the square with all the numbers adding up right. I happened to come upon the solution that the game didn't recognize. Only when I realized there were 2 answers did I solve it.

    I was completely stumped by Og's quest, but I hate to refer to walkthroughs and like to try to solve everything myself. I went back forth 4 or 5 times to get little bits of information, including just getting the entire answer for the final riddle. But what a disappointing reward! As it turned out, I had already exposed the imposter and beaten the Soul Maze, and so when Og referred to the prisoner I was very confused and went back to Doom, but that was fruitless.

    One of the downsides of these older CRPGs, before they remembered your impact on the game world.

    I really liked the sense of increasing in power you get in this game. I especially like revisiting old areas and blasting through what used to be tough fights, or returning to old impossible fixed encounters and beating them. However, if it's true that MM2 scales up the difficulty of random encounters as you level up, I don't think I'll like that feature.

    This was the first CRPG that inspired me to keep a daily journal. The open-endedness of the world and the fact that you're constantly discovering new goals and getting sidetracked, made me want to record the "tale" of my adventure so that I could look back upon the experience.

    Thanks again for your blog! I'll get to MM2 soon, after I try to beat another childhood favorite for the first time, Ultima IV!

  23. I wasn't really surprised - in fact I was kinda expecting it - when I saw your rating for Might & Magic I was higher than that of Ultima IV.

    The way I see it - Ultima IV was a great accomplishment for its era, but, while it works as a 'morality simulator', it doesn't work as well as an actual game. On the other hand, Might & Magic I is probably the first truly great (and fun) PC RPG.

  24. Oh, nearly forgot to say this. Considering the links between Might and Magic and Star Trek, my personal theory regarding Varn is that it's some sort of giant Holodeck or Biodome/Holodeck hybrid used by an alien race - the Ancients - to experiment on various creatures.

    Thus 'magic', 'undeath' and other inexplicable things like this are mere holographic simulations, though with deadly realism. I believe the Might and Magic lore calls this technology Elemental Manipulation, but it's not a far stretch to think of it as the 'photons and forcefields' of holodecks. The holodecks basically did the same thing - manipulated matter to (re)create things - though on a smaller scale, right?

    As time progressed, the Ancients' technology also progrssed, leading them to create more and more elaborate and truly living worlds.

    Now, I know that Might & Magic I was released about a year before Star Trek: The Next Generation, but holodecks have actually been around since the time of The Animated Series from the 70s. There's an episode that features a holodeck-style 'recreation room'. And now I know I really am geek. I hope none of my acquaintances are reading this.

    1. It's an interesting theory, but doesn't it fall apart when we get to MMVI, which clearly takes place on a physical world?

    2. Maybe if they were capable of combining biodomes with holo-technology, they learned to do the same on a planetary scale ending up with something like that planet in Shore Leave from Star Trek TOS where anything can be made manifest. Or, of course, we could just forget about the whole thing :)

  25. Long time reader, first time poster.

    I conceived of the idea of trying out the games Chet has ranked most highly -- I started with this one, MM1, simply because I have the 1-6 package from GOG.

    I have to say this is not my thing. It is strangely addictive, and it's interesting that the compulsive "one more hour" aspect of this franchise existed so far back. But I have two problems, one minor but annoying, one I think pretty major.

    The minor but annoying problem is the lack of an automap. I don't mind mapping text adventures, maybe because I'm used to that genre and regard it as part of the puzzle (at least at times). But maybe it's an aspect of when I started playing computer games (late Nineties, the first rpg I played was Fallout), but I don't like mapping rpgs. I regard it as too "puzzly", too redolent of Zork, and I think of rpgs (evidently, this was the first time this ever came up in my head) as something else.

    So I probably wouldn't like the early Wizardry games, either, for the same reason.

    The deal-breaker for me, though, is that it's too random --MM 1 relies far too much on luck. If you have problems clearing out a square just reload and go back down there, there's a good chance that you'll have a different, easier set of monsters.

    I didn't like that. I don't mind hard, but I don't like randomly hard. I don't like luck contests (I don't gamble, for instance). MM1 is as hard as people say, but it seems unfairly hard to me, because of this. I guess I think of games as challenges you eventually overcome. I'm not sure how you overcome MM1 -- you seem rather to simply endure it, until the machine coughs up an outcome in your favor.

    I've loaded up MM6 for now -- one of many games I've never quite finished. If/when I ever get that done, I'll probably try Ultima 4 and then swing back to MM2.

    -- doug

    1. FWIW, MM1 actually shipped with a pad of paper that was a 11x11 array of dots intended for use with mapping. But I agree; these days, that's archaic.

    2. MM1 isn't that hard if you use the pregenerated party (they come equipped and with some money) and if you are very careful where you go.
      The game is area scaled, which means some areas have tougher monsters than other areas. The first city, its dungeon, the first outside area and the area north of it are the easiest ones. You can also teleport to another city from the first one which is also a relatively safe area.
      Once you reach lvl 5 you should be able to survive, if not win, most encounters. Avoid the north-western area until late in the game.

      If you thought MM1 is hard, try MM2 with a lvl 1 party. ;-)
      But if you prefer an easy Might&Magic with automap, try MM3 instead.

    3. Hi, PetrusOctvianus:

      Well, it's like I said, it's the randomness of the difficulty that gets me. I know Chet liked the balance between random and set encounters, but I got the feeling the random encounters were over-emphasized. Especially early on: it's quite easy to run into a pile of Sprites in Sorpigal, and if you do you might as well just start again, at Level one you'll never beat that.

      Maybe it does get easier. I made my own party generally, but at least once I took all the money/food/equipment from the set group. It helped a little. The farthest I got was a Level Four party that went through Sorpigal, the dungeon beneath, the immediate area outside, and I was just poking my head into the NE Cavern and Erliquin when I -- what's the rpgcodex term? -- "ragequit". I think yet another random party was getting close to home and got killed outside because of an unlucky conglomeration of monsters they just happened to stumble into and couldn't retreat from.

      -- doug

    4. Heh, you can beat that encounter on the first screenshot. It takes a lot of preparation, involving the fountain in C2 (drinking until every single stat of every character is 30), drinking skill and speed potions and then being lucky. It yields about 30.000 XP for each character.

      By the way, does anyone know whether you can encounter "X!XX!XX!XX!X" somewhere? The game has the monster coded in its data, and also his Sword and Plate as items, and he is mentioned once in the game, but I never got to meet him, neither has anyone written about it...


    5. That sounds insanely familiar, but I can't place it. He isn't the alien, is he?

    6. Nope. I actually met him a few days ago, in a random encounter on the astral pane. He's just a standard monster, and he also didn't have his sword and plate with him... I was a bit disappointed.


    7. Sorry, CRPG Addict, forgot to answer your question. XX!XX!XX is the original owner of the chest that you find after visiting Zom and Zam. It's the chest that contains the Ruby Whistle.


    8. Ah. Thanks for clearing that up!

  26. Concerning items: almost every item has a use, which in many instances casts a spell. If I remember correctly, the rope and hook casts the Jump spell.

    Also, load up on thundranium before the big fight. With a strength of 250 you can wipe out almost anything in one or two attacks.

    1. That was one of the things I really liked about the game. Almost all spells had some kind of physical object that did the same thing, which theoretically makes it possible to play the game without spellcasters.

  27. I absolutely loved this game on the C64 way back in the olden times. What I remember most was that it was just so immersive, even with the primitive graphics. Perhaps even it was because of the primitive graphics that more imagination was required on the players part.

    The other thing I remember was listening to Led Zeppelin IV over and over while I played (literally turning the record over and over). The Battle of Evermore etc. just seemed to fit the mood of the game so well.

    1. You can't discount the nostalgia factor when playing these old games. I took a hard look at my spreadsheet recently and concluded that I've probably been giving a slight edge to games I've already played. Except Ultima II. Screw that game.

    2. I think being familiar with similar games from the same area is what's most important. I only played Might&Magic 1, Demon's Winter, Ultima V, Dark Heart of Uukrul and The Magic Candle the last 1-2 years, and I honestly think they are better than many games I played back in the days.

  28. I originally found this blog while looking for information on Pool of Radiance, trying to decide if I wanted to give it a go. From there, I found it a treasure trove of fun, nostalgia, and camaraderie. I've also been meaning to get back to the early Might & Magics again, though, and was planning on starting with 2, because my recollections (from 20+ years ago) were that 2 was great and 1 not-so-much.

    However, given that you actually rank 1 higher, I've decided to give it a go, and do the whole kit & caboodle, all 8 games (or 9 or 10 if you count World of Xeen separately from its parts, and Swords of Xeen also separately). I don't count MM9, but I feel justified in this, given that neither does Jon Van Caneghem (official quote, had it been up to him: "[It] would have never shipped."). I've finished most of them already (including 9, and some some several times), but it'd be nice to have completion.

    I haven't mapped by hand for 9 years or so, when I did Bard's Tale 1. I really like your methods using Excel, so I'll try that out.

    1. I would hardly defend Might & Magic IX with much gusto, but as someone who played it when it came out without having read any previews, I was shocked to see that it seemed universally reviled.

      The game was buggy, and probably unfinished, yes, but it was not unfinished in the sense that you could not complete it, nor was it so buggy that you could not still have fun with it. I think it still would hold up fairly well compared to a lot of the crap masquerading as RPGs out there; it is still a first-person perspective party-based CRPG of relatively recent vintage, and that is a fine thing.

  29. Someone may have mentioned it here elsewhere but there's a nice looking NES port of Might and Magic by a Japanese developer, with a some anime-ish monsters. How closely it matches the original M&M I don't know.

  30. For me the series starts to shine with part II, but I can see how this can be enjoyed by ppl who like open world games more than linear level-grinders like "The Bard's Tale". Personally I think Ultima IV is the best game of those years.

    I recently played through Might and Magic Part I and can't help being a little disappointed. I knew the series from part III and liked it very much as a teenager, but after finishing the first part now I was glad how much JVC improved in part II which I played directly after this one. Downsides for me me was the randomness and missing story that only unfolds in the end and had a goofy way to it, as you said combining scifi and fantasy is very weird and for me it didn't work. Strangely, this didn't bother me in later parts of Might and magic nack then, I think I have forgotten them or never played through....

    However, the story in this one was more like a B-Movie ;-) The same thing can be experienced in Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System, I know you don't like console RPG but give this one a try, it's very crpg-like and it had the best graphics for the time.

    1. I generally agree with your comments. What takes me in about all the Might & Magic games are the variety of encounters and quests. Side quests in CRPGs were essentially unheard of when MM1 came out, and the game was absolutely loaded with them--sometimes multiple side quests on a single map. This made exploring a lot more fun in MM1 than other games of the period, even if the main quest was somewhat obscure and silly.

    2. I'd say that every game we've seen so far is B-movie plot quality *at best*, and that includes the adventure games on trickster's blog, and the ones on Zenic's blog. Wait, there was that one police serial, and the Deja Vu. All the NES games done on Chrontendo that aren't Portopia style visual novel, talk to people and read pages of dialog would also fall in the B-movie plots category.

      Reader's of Trickster's blog know this is a common complain of mine, as people go on about how much better writing was, and how publishers didn't restrict creativity, blah blah blah. So far all I've seen are puzzles that are 90% 'Rub X on Y', and lots of grinding for a vague, cliche story.

      These old blogs are invaluable historically, but damn, I couldn't play them. There has been...3 games or so I could imagine playing on this blog, and none of them I would finish. I can't wait for us to get to the 90s.

    3. I would be curious to see the B-movie whose central conceit is that the moral perfection of a human being is the most important thing in the world. I do not generally disagree of course, though I would also say Wasteland stands a good chance of having its plot hold up (generally speaking) as an A-list film.

    4. Quarex: If so then the plots of movies these days are worse then I thought. There are no plot twists (Well, wasteland had one, but the plot is so vague as to be incomprehensible from what I understand), and you couldn't easily spin either of them into a full length novel, not without a ton of filler anyway.

      To date I think the only plot in a game that I know that would stand up as a good, full plot would be the mass effect series. I've also heard good things about Deus Ex and some JRPGs.

  31. Heya CRPG Addict!

    Just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for writing about all these great games. I grew up playing these classic RPG games, but had forgotten how much fun and immersive it is to get lost in a game that you actually have to solve. I have really fond memories of playing Dungeon Master, Ultima VI/VII, Pools of Radiance, Demon's Winter, (and even that Battletech game).

    I do like a lot of modern CRPGs (working through Fallout New Vegas, Risen 2, and Dragon Age 2 currently) as well as console RPGs, but these CRPGs from the 80s are so immersive even now that it is hard to compare. Love reading the background/flavor text in their manuals, mapping out their dungeons, and generally figuring out what to do.

    Anyway, reading your site has got me in the mood for these kinds of games and based on your praise of M&M1 I started a game up last night and as soon as I started drawing out maps I felt like I was back home. Fantastic game so far, and I am looking forward to more mapping (and party kills) on the weekend!

    Thanks again!

    1. I'm glad to hear all that, Newt. I hope you have a good time with MM1 and keep reading the blog!

  32. Just started doing Might and Magic 1 myself, working through the quests.

    Realizing how much I /loathe/ mapping myself, especially now that I'm older and don't keep graph paper around like I did when I was young (yes, I'm a huge nerd).

    I'm about level 5-6 with my party and have managed to do the first 3 quests so far (Zam and Zom). Haven't really done any dungeons other than Sorpigal though. Can't wait until I get to where the game starts mapping for me though. ;)

    Also ,I beat MM3 at one point in the past.

    1. I'm not sure it's the "mapping" that I like per se so much as the careful annotating of items, encounters, and puzzles, all of which are easier when the game comes in discrete map squares. Anyway, I hope you end up liking the game despite the mapping.

  33. So, I'll throw out my dissenting opinion here. Normally I'm in synch with you on the rankings. Pool of Radiance, Starflight, Wasteland and Hero's Quest were four of my favorite games from the 80s, games that I have replayed and enjoyed years later, so I expected to love this one as well.

    Alas, that is not the case.

    Starting with the good:
    The magic system is speclacular: flexible and expansive. I also like the open world. Those are two innovations which really make the game stand out for the period.

    However, the downsides outweigh the advantages for me, and by a lot. I hate the die-and-grind system of leveling up (it's a real fantasy breaker for me when I have to reload constantly). I hate the fact that every sack in the world has a trap on it. I hate going back to the inns to save the game (this isn't a factor once you get the Fly spell, but it's a looong way to level 5). I hate that it is near impossible to avoid combat (until level seven), forcing you to fight when you know you are overmatched before the battle even begins. Every quest so far has been lame: "take", "bring", or "find" something without any other context. The NPCs have no personality whatsoever, they just tell you to do things. In all of the games I listed above, the NPCs and possibility of interaction are far more interesting, and while you scored those higher for NPCs, I peronsally would have scored this one much lower.

    My characters are at level seven, going on eight. I've played many hours to get there, explored large parts of the world, and just haven't had an enjoyable experience. I also thought I'd never played the game before, but when I first started playing, I realized that I had played it as a teen. But I must have not gone very far then, either, since it didn't make a lasting impression on me.

    So...just adding my thoughts to the discussion. This isn't a game for everyone.

    1. I do understand your point of view, and frankly I'm hard-pressed to answer why I didn't mind the constant reloading in this game. (I've complained about it in other games.) It's perhaps because exploration and mapping are almost independent of the ability to save your progress, so that half hour you spend mapping area A2 before dying isn't really "lost."

    2. Heh, there was a reason this game, along with Knights of Legend, is the only game for which I've used a DosBox version with the Save States function. With it I found the game a very enjoyable experience when I for the first time played a couple of years ago.
      Also, I used the pregenerated party which makes thing somewhat easier in the beginning.

  34. Ave Chester & readers.

    MM1 on Mac is black & white, but displaying events (texts on walls, statues) are handled the right way: triggered by simply entering to a map grid. (and not by turning to a specific direction).

    Mini vMac is the emulator, which runs it, its window can natively be zoomed in nicely, even has some fine digi sfx!

    Comparison of MM games:

    I also recommend the MM2 to be played on Mac, with Basilisk II emulator, though haven't played much. (some nice SFX, and a one-click Quick fight feature: ends auto combat when party: - won, or - got into great crisis)

    Zoom: on Win XP a program "Desktopzoom", or Win 7 said to have a built in magnifier with Win keys and "+"/"-".

    Also recommending Autohotkey as a good macro program for any purpose, like RPGs!

    Quite fine writings have thou, thanx for composing and sharing them.
    Quite unbelievable for me how you keep the quick pace of playing, writing (beside the 14 hours daily work - and the much exercise, mentioned somewhere).
    But thy Youtube demonstration made me believe it can be possible somehow. However, do not overestimate the upper limits of femine patience!

  35. This game seems like pure suffering.

    Encounters are unbalanced.
    Saving is a chore.
    You must map by hand.
    The plot barely exists and is anticlimactic.
    There are no meaningful characters.
    Facing matters in exploration.
    Some puzzles are very difficult.
    Some very difficult puzzles give very little return.
    The visuals are repetitive.
    There are very few immersive touches.
    There is very little role-playing, either via dialogue or multiple solutions to problems.

    1. Sure, you could spin it that way. My way of looking at it was:

      -The game doesn't hand-hold you. You can find extremely difficult encounters early in the game
      -Limited saving opportunities creates a real sense of tension as you play, and it becomes part of your exploration strategy
      -You GET to map by hand

      Many of your points--limited plot, no real NPCs, little role-playing--are perfectly valid, but there really weren't any games in this era offering those things.

  36. Like you, I don't need my hand held as much as modern publishers think I do. I like wandering into areas beyond my party's current capacity and like trying to figure out the safest routes.

    What i don't like is when the random encounters in every location range from 'lethal' to irrelevant. I like having nasty set encounters sprinkled throughout the game, but deadly random encounters are fun-terminating.

  37. Just finished MaMI the other day after about 9 months adventuring. Personally, I love mapping everything by hand on real paper. I collect classic crpgs, and I took the notepad from my copy of MaMI and photocopied it (numerous times!!) so I could map and take notes.

    Also, I love difficult puzzles, so I was happy with the inclusion of some here. I think I love them so much that I am always disappointed when a crpg features few or none of them. To me what makes MaMI so great is the variety of different things in which to immerse yourself. You have combat (both random and fixed), quests (main main and side), messages to assemble and decode, puzzles to solve (riddles, a magic square - which by the way to which there are more than 2 solutions, more like 8 or more, many of which I tried before solving it, etc.), maps to make (of outdoors, dungeons, strongholds, caves, etc.), and more. This makes it harder to become bored with too much repetition.

    It is interesting to hear different takes on this game expressed. It seems that one factor in satisfaction is the era in which one cuts one's teeth on crpgs. This will probably influence one's expectations of what makes an enjoyable or even tolerable playing experience. My first crpg was Wizardry I, which I started playing at the age of about 6. Also, I took a long break from gaming between 1994-2008, and have been playing 80s crpgs since then mostly, so I really haven't had much exposure to newer games. Although the sounds, graphics, persistent worlds, and role-playing choices have improved (to name a few), the lack of turn-based tactical combat and challenging puzzles (not to mention opportunities to map) make me hearken back to more old-school options. I plan to play more of the recent titles eventually. Maybe then I can develop a better comparison.

    Also, Mr. CRPG Addict, I have a few notes for you:

    1. I believe that monsters, special squares, etc. also respawn when you leave the particular 16x16 square area you are on by stepping off it or using the fly spell, not just when you arrive at the inn. A friend of mine would grind by defeating a set encounter near the edge of an area, stepping a few squares off the edge, then immediately stepping back into the original area and repeating the battle.

    2. One potential exception to respawning: In my playthrough, after I had completed the Soul Maze, but before going to the Inner Sanctum, I returned to King Alamar's throne room and was greeted by the true king himself (and, boy was the usurper's disguise perfect because the real and false kings looked exactly alike!!), telling me something to the effect that I was always welcome and that I should seek the inner sanctum.

    Still really into the blog. Keep it up, and raise a gimlet to JVC!!

    1. Thanks for your additions. I find #2 interesting. I'm SURE I returned to the castle and just ran into Sheltem again. Platform differences, maybe?

    2. I played the DOS version, from the GOG Might and Magic 6-pack. Did they perhaps update this interaction after the version you played?

  38. One more note (WARNING SPOILERS!!): I liked the way that, in some cases, in MaMI there was more than one option to solve a problem. For instance, some of the keys in the game are not really necessary (except for completeness sake). You can access the areas beyond the corresponding gates by simply using the Teleport or Etherealize spells. I was sure this wasn't possible and that the game would make you get the keys, until I tried it!! Of course there are areas where Teleport will not work and also sometimes coupled with anti-magic zones to prevent use of Etherealize. Another example of choice occurs on level 2 of the Warriors Stronghold. Because I didn't turn every direction on the right square to find the button used to stop the "conveyor belt" trap, I found another way into Lord Archer's room. I simply went to the NE corner of the level and Etherealized off the N edge. This took me to the S edge square directly opposite and on to meet Lord Archer. Finally, my answer to the ruby riddle was actually slightly different than the one I saw in a walkthrough. This occurred, I believe, because the game does not recognize any additional characters after the right answer (my answer added another word, but I believe yielded another correct answer: Crystal vs. Crystal Gate). I guess this last example was an unintended (by the game creators) additional opportunity for choice.

  39. "Honestly, how did this party of foes ever come together?"

    I'm glad that you asked!

    The first Cleric worships the Kathus, God of Pestilence. She summoned the giant ants and mutant larvae. They were protecting the other Cleric who is the charismatic leader of a gnomish demon cult. The second Cleric and his followers (the gnomes) summoned the two lesser demons when you came upon them and slaughtered them before they could do any damage.


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