Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wizardry IV: Paroled!

Yeah, screw this.

Call me a wuss, but I've had enough of Wizardry IV. The problem with this game is that it's not a game so much as a gimmick. I do like games with riddles and challenges; I do not like games in which literally every level tries to screw with your head.

Level 6 turned out to be not so bad, except for the spinners. Fortunately, a lot of foes dropped necklaces that cast the DUMAPIC (map) spell, so it was solvable if frustrating. There was even a bit of light "riddle" in which the answer to the question "What do you most desire?" (or something like that) was clearly AMULET. I got a robe for my troubles.

When I reached Level 5, I started to think, "Hell, CRPG Addict, you're halfway done. Might as well see this one through. Impress those jerk-offs over at RPGWatch who razzed you for bailing on Wizardry III so fast." Then I died about 30 times in a row and said...well, let's just say I had a different sort of reaction. The CRPG Addict is, after all, a family blog.

Fairly certain in my decision to pack it in, I risked a peek at a walkthrough--just a peek--and immediately felt even better about my decision. Take a look at this map for Level 4. I'm too old for this.

Map courtesy of John Hubbard (http://www.tk421.net/wizardry)

Reading through John Hubbard's walkthrough--most of which frankly terrifies me--I find I am sorry that I didn't get to see the finale. Apparently, there are several possible endings: one "good," three "evil," and one "grandmaster." The "good" ending occurs after you wander into a pool that changes your alignment; you can then pass a challenge from the various dukes of the kingdom to become their (benevolent) overlord. The three "evil" endings have you challenging the god Kadorto for the Amulet and becoming a god yourself (each of a different type depending on--of all things--the sword you choose in the altar room I described in the last post; I would have become a "greedy and opulent God").

The "grandmaster" ending, as best I can tell, involves having the right artifacts when you challenge Kadorto and ultimately revealing him to be a fraud and the Amulet to be a thing of pure chaos crafted as a cosmic joke. You determine to send it back to its makers and then wander off down a path, footloose and fancy-free. Isn't that nice.

If I hadn't quit now, you would have had a ranting, raving, psychotic posting from me in about a week, after I finally escaped the dungeon and tried to enter the castle above. Of this, the aforementioned walkthrough says:

The password is 'TREBOR SUX'. (There is a clue to this in the Oracle's pronouncements, but even with that you need to be intimately familiar with the original Wizardry to get this one on your own.)

Uh-huh. Apparently, this is some graffiti "carved in stone" (the Oracle's hint) in the original Wizardry. Well, it's not like I kept screenshots of everything in Wizardry I, so I would have had to go back and win Wizardry I again in order to progress in this game. And I would have had to start from the beginning, since it deleted my characters upon exporting them to Wizardry II. One thing you can say about the Wizardry franchise: it doesn't pull any punches.

The difficulty of the game is one thing, but what really killed my enthusiasm for Wizardry IV is that it doesn't include any of the elements that I like about CRPGs. Oh, it has an interesting back story, I grant you, and a very original approach. But there's virtually no character creation or development: you start off as the same Werdna every time, and you only "develop" by visiting successive pentagrams; there are no experience rewards for your eons of combat. There are no meaningful NPC encounters, no economy, only one pathological main quest, extremely linear gameplay, and an overall experience that's exasperating instead of challenging. It features some of the tactical combat intensity that I liked about the original Wizardry, but limited in that you can only control one character. The graphics and sound are an insult at this stage of CRPG development.

I'm giving it a 30 on my GIMLET scale and moving on to 2400 A.D., but I do so with some remorse. Actually finishing this game, without cheats or walkthroughs, would have felt like a real accomplishment. Unfortunately, I just don't have that kind of patience.

41 comments:

  1. Glad you moved on! This random instant death stuff would have turned me off in the first few minutes.

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  2. Yeah, I was hoping you'd make it through...but primarily because I never could. It's a neat gimmick, and fun for a little while, but definitely doesn't meet my standards for fun either--which are slightly different than yours. I don't care as much about story or rich characters. But I do care about character growth and progression, both of which seem oblique at best in this one, or totally absent at worst. Thanks for more quality entertainment. And have you considered a donate button or some such? I would happily give, say, one dollar for every quality playthrough (I might skip Tera, but all the others qualify!).

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  3. Werdna and now Trebor... These guys have a fascination for reversed words. Is it really so hard to come up with names?

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  4. I think they stole the idea from Rogue, with the "Amulet of Yendor". An Internet meme before there was an Internet.

    I don't blame you for quitting this one. Frankly, I've never seen the appeal to Wizardry. I tried to play the NES version and it was ridiculously complicated. What's weird is, Wizardry was a huge inspiration to Japanese gamers and game developers... enough there's even an anime of it!

    http://www.tk421.net/wizardry/movie.html

    (And yes, technically the Internet DID exist. If you feel the need to point that out, your geek/nerd metric is OVER NINE THOUSAND!!! And if you understood that reference, well, the scanner just blew up. *grin*)

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  5. I think that Wizardry 4 was inspired by the old D&D module, 'The Tomb of Horrors'. At least, both were famously unfair death traps, where people would think in terms of how far they made it rather than whether they finished the game.

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  6. You got farther than I did. I gave up at the bomb room. Congrats on getting as far as you did.

    BTW, not everyone was making fun of you at rpgwatch :) A lot of people think what you're doing is pretty cool. I don't have the patience to replay some of these older games. I tend to stick to the old classics or ones I played before and leave the rest alone.

    Keep up the good work.

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  7. Truth to be told I haven't had the time (and resources) to play the early Wizardrys back at the time.
    Then I got the Wiz 1-6 collection (and Wiz 7 + 8) but still had set higher priorities on other titles...
    Now I've read enough on your informative blog about these games that my worst fears were confirmed and my curiosity completely satisfied.

    While W4 certainly introduced a major innovation with the player taking up the role of the baddie (which has been adopted by several titles since then) the rest of the game sounds ranges from the absurd to the abominable! The primitive graphics being the least of its problems.

    But it's not just work with some devilish puzzles thrown in: It really appears to be an endurance test for expert Wizardry players!

    Yes, this game isn't meant to be easily digestible fodder for the average CRPG fan - but it's difficulty seems to be way over the top for even seasoned CRPG players.

    Had I bought the game back at the time I certainly would have been disappointed by it and I'm really glad that I spent my time with titles like Ultima 4 and 5 in that period of time...

    Thank you again and keep up the good work!

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  8. I guess my problem with the puzzles is that I like an immersive game, and they utterly spoil the suspension of disbelief. Who BUILT these mazes, and why? Why would they put a summoning pentagram on every floor? "Spinners" wouldn't work in real life, because in real life the dungeon walls wouldn't all have a uniform monochrome surface. That sort of thing. In the original Wizardry, you could imagine your party of adventurers creeping through dungeon corridors, but it's comparatively hard not to imagine a megalomaniacal genius too stupid to prop open a one-way door with a rock.

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  9. Don't feel bad. I never solved any of the Ultimas but I remain a fan of them. The only crpg I actually completed was "Pool of Radiance", and it's a fairly straightforward and linear game--just pure, unalderated gameplay.

    My favorite crpg of all time remains Telengard (I just bought a mint shrinkwrapped copy on eBay) -- the dungeon crawler that doesn't apologize for being a dungeon crawler.

    I like the first wizardry (only made it to level 5). Your description of W4 sounds horrific. Sir-tech really milked the W1 game engine for all it's worth.

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  10. Well, hell, ROQ, I wasn't feeling bad until I found out one of my most fervent followers, who has himself just finished designing a CRPG, has only ever completed one CRPG!

    I get what you mean about Telegard, but I still like playing games that have an ending. Otherwise, how do you know when to stop?

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  11. Oh, Aelfric, that's awfully nice of you, but I'm doing all right. Maybe I'll think about identifying a charity that people can donate to if they want to contribute something. What's a good charity that would have even a tangential connection to role-playing games?

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  12. CRPGaddict: the creative impulse is a strange thing. I lack the patience or attention span to solve a CRPG that requires 50+ hours of gameplay (Pool of Radiance being the exception, it's actually not a difficult game if you map the whole thing out and just solve it). I like the more 'freehand' concepts of Rogue/Telengard and old school 1970s CRPGs: create a party or character and then go out and adventure, fight monsters and seeing those characters grow more powerful. That is the basic concept of D&D at it's core.

    So instead of spending 50 hours of required play to solve Ultima IV (I've probably reached the halfway point quite a few times), I spent 1000+ hours last year making a retro CRPG for the VIC-20, lol. I think my reason for doing that is because every time I play a CRPG, I find myself wanting something changed the way it's done in the game. I really like the concept behind "Oubliette" which is really a party-based version of Telengard/DND, but the interface is horrible.

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  13. To be honest, I find it really disappointing that this game was designed so poorly, mostly because I really like the story concept. One thing I've noticed while reading this blog is that most old CRPGs are all nearly interchangeable in terms of story and setting. Why does it always have to be about a generic group of fantasy races with generic fantasy classes on on a generic fantasy adventure to stop a generic evil... generically? Why do all these games HAVE to have the same setting? I just find myself wondering if the designers of these games realized that they could make the setting -ANYTHING THEY WANT-. If they wanted to come up with some insane new fantasy creature, -they could do that-. And yet, they didn't.

    Sure, this game wasn't very original in terms of setting, but it seemed to have a level of... -subversion- to it. As if it being a generic setting was part of the point, with the enemies being generic heroes and all that. I liked how it was a huge role reversal, how you worked your way UP the dungeon rather than down and played as a villain. I bet the "summon your allies" gameplay could have possibly worked really well, too.

    ...Or maybe I'm just giving the game too much credit. Hard to say. I've never actually played this game, only read about it, so maybe the concept just looks a hell of a lot better on paper.

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  14. ROQ: Can't blame you for that. I often think what I could produce if I wrote something instead of spending time playing games.

    Zink: I agree with you. It was an interesting approach, and I wish they'd executed it better. Some players undoubtedly like it. I lose patience quickly with dungeon gimmicks like bombs, one-way doors, teleporters, and whatnot. They're fine every once in a while, but not when the entire game is based around them. It was that more than the difficulty of combats that led to my premature exit. (Well, that and the lack of meaningful character development.)

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  15. Zink, you basically hit on why Ultima games 4-7 were the only CRPGs I've been a big fan of. It seemed like everything else boiled down to, as Ultima's creator put it, being told we're Good and thus must kill/steal our way across the land in order to murder a wizard whose sole activity in life has been sitting there emanating Evilness or something.

    CRPG Addict, I think it's fitting that "Wizardry IV" can be shortened to W4, the name of a tax form. ;) Your comment about lacking patience reminded me of my recent attempt to replay a few Scott Adams Graphic Adventures... The !@#$ things had a tiny vocabulary and only allowed two words per command -- the results probably would have been hysterically funny had they not been so infuriating at the time, and I *really* can't figure out how I had the patience as a kid to get anywhere.

    PS. In case you didn't see it, there was an article last month on how today's college freshmen struggle with older games (to the point of finding ones like Ultima IV unplayable) as they lack auto-mapping & expect players to at least look at the manual if confused:
    http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2010/09/unplayable.html

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  16. Thank you for making more of an effort with this game than I did. It's an intriguing concept but the execution is poor and the lack of variety dull. I look forward to your commentary on the "Bradley" era Wizardry games.

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  17. Thanks, JJ. You summarize it quite well.

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  18. In response to Zink: When you ask, "Why does it always have to be about a generic group of fantasy races with generic fantasy classes on on a generic fantasy adventure to stop a generic evil... generically?" I think a large part of that is because with the limited graphics and audio available, it makes sense to refer to concepts that have already been well-described in other media. Sure, maybe there could have been long textual descriptions, but that would have interrupted the flow of the game (not to mention have been prohibitive on many platforms due to size constraints), so it makes sense to invoke known imagery instead. You build on prior culture, standing on its shoulders in a sense.

    Also, the mid 80s were the heyday of D&D culture. At that point elves and goblins and dungeons and quests were still interesting to people, so what is now 'generic' was then 'popular'. It's interesting when examining nostalgic games of yesteryear, because on one hand you have to avoid the trap of thinking "old games were better" because you know we were more forgiving of bad mechanics and tend to overrate old games accordingly, but on the other hand we must also look in the other direction and consider that what appears tired and trite now was still quite fresh 25 years ago in many cases.

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  19. Awesome answer, Ben. That's one of the most insightful comments I've had on this blog. Thanks!

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  20. To start with, what the fuck are those things in that top screenshot? Hand mixers made of swords?
    Beyond that, I like how your stats are at the top and enemies' are at the bottom. I'm not sure if that's laziness on the developers' part or intentional, but it's a neat touch. And it's almost a pity the game doesn't ask to see your save discs from previous Wizardries so you can fight your old party (or genericized versions thereof).

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  21. I think the "using summoned monsters to fight for you" thing is very interesting. Brings to my mind Pokemon without the obsessive-compulsive collecting.

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  22. well Jon, those hand-mixers are probably 'blade cusinarts' (one of the better item drops from wizardry 1) the stats are swapped top/bottom because the players role in wiz 4 was reversed (the player was the bad guys!) ..the wiz 4 enemy parties were actually based on recovered player data disks that were sent in to Sir Tech Software ^_^
    i didn't bother with wiz 2,3 and 4 (i did try them all but couldn't get into them) CRPG says it best about wiz 4 (a gimmick) i paid $89 for the wiz 1,2,3 pack on my apple ][+ some 20 years ago and loved part 1. i'm currently programming a similar engine.

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  23. The special thing about Wizardry 4 is that it's not about grinding like the other Wizardry games.

    The game tests the player's skill at exploring, fighting and solving riddles instead of the time the player is willing to spend for repetitive grinding to get stronger.

    But the missing success of the game showed that players want their grinding which became the main element again in the following wizardry game.

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  24. WIZARDRY 4 is THE BEST GAME FOR EVER!!!!! WHY ARE YOU ABANDONED IT???????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  25. I started this game several times, but always stopped at the same point you did. I finally printed out all the walk-throughs to see the ending. Even with the maps and all clues, you die a lot. It was frustrating. I like the game but it is not on my list of the best games.

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  27. Just found your blog about a week ago, and am loving it so far. Ironically, I found it while searching for blogs or Let's Plays on Wizardry 6, probably my favorite dungeon crawler ever. Admittedly, Wizardry 1-5 haven't aged as well, but I still enjoyed them all, though I don't think I ever beat the third. A bit disappointed you haven't really finished any since the first, but I do look forward to you doing the last three. I think you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of them. I'll try to give you a few hints when you do if you are having trouble.

    In any event, I'm still loving the articles. I've discovered so many new games I want to try, now - have to finish Skyrim first. I missed out on it at release.

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    1. Glad to have you, Tanuvein. Keep reading: I finished V.

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  28. I can perfectly understand why you didn't finish this. It was made as some kind of Wizadry fanboy only game, seeing how they included actual player's parties to serve as the main enemies you encounter. And it lives up to its reputation being the hardest RPG ever created, though they obviously achieved this through unfairness like a random instant kill, what the hell were they thinking. On the other hand almost all RPG's back then are regarded as too unfair by most gamers today, so I guess they only had the best intention to give seasoned Wizardry buffs a real challenge to the standards back then, which are already feeling quite difficult for us nowadays. Well, I'd rather wished you finished other real classics like BT but that's of course your choice. Maybe you'll find some time somehow. I have to say I'd find those way more interesting than some of obscure rogue shareware clones or Wiz4, but of course it's always your choice.

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  29. Ever since I started working my way through the archives of this fine blog, this is the game to which I've been most eagerly anticipating your reaction. I already knew about the game's infamous difficulty from one Alex Lucard (it seems the backwards name thing might be catching) of the site Die Hard GameFAN. You might be interested to read his rather more enthusiastic take on the game:

    http://diehardgamefan.com/2008/05/23/the-7-games-you-play-in-hell/

    I guess it makes sense that, having finished the thing (which sound like nightmarish task, from both your account and his), the game's worst offences would become the subject of fond boasts rather than vehemence.

    I find both perspectives on this already intriguing game fascinating; I'm much more sympathetic to yours, but the impulse to contradict the sympathies of saner men is probably the very thing that informs his more stand-offish style. :)

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    1. I've said it in other places for similar reasons, but when a game is one of 1,000 you have on a list, it's hard to muster patience for this kind of difficulty and screwing-around. If I was only trying to play the 7 games on Mr. Lucard's list, on the other hand, I might feel as he does.

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  30. I think Wizardry IV might be the first video game ever to have a hidden "best" ending. And boy is it ever hidden! For starters, you have to go to the rooftops of the town, walk on think air onto another roof with no indication of this invisible bridge existing, and then cast a spell which teleports you downwards a level until you reach the level *below* the one where you started.

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  31. It looks like the print ads for this game have that line, Trebor Sux, as one of the first lines of text.

    (http://i1191.photobucket.com/albums/z478/what_is_your_quest/Ads%20for%20Games%20and%20Stuff/Wizardry4_1988_ad_zps2540bccc.jpg)

    Wonder if that would have made that puzzle easier when the game was still new....

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  32. I played this game back when it came out and beat it (I got the good ending. I believe I actually replayed it (from a save in the castle level, probably!) and got one of the evil endings as well). But that was when I was young, lots of free time, and very few other games to play. The main problem with this game is that it's actually an Adventure Game and not an RPG. But I loved that genre too, and being that I loved anything Wizardry, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I think the Trebor Sux password is clued from the Oracle as "The Password is your ancient battle cry." Something like that. Die hard fans of Wizardry (you know, the few this game was made for because I guess Sir Tech doesn't like money?) would easily have recognized it.

    As an adventure game, I'd say this is a great game and a real challenge. As an RPG, well...I think the CRPG Addict pointed out its many, many flaws in that respect quite well.

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    1. Oh! The phrase "Trebor Sux" is found at the end of the long spiel you get in Wizardry 1 when you first drop down the chute into level 10. "Blah blah blah P.S. Trebor Sux"

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  33. My advice for finishing an incredibly annoying game like this is to literally set a timer each night you game, playing it for a half hour or so before playing fun games. You will inevitably make slow progress while diffusing the pain to manageable chunks.

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  34. I think the only way to sanely approach this game is to treat it something like I Wanna Be the Guy, which is intentionally hyper-deadly and requires nearly perfect precision. It also includes a kill counter, which you can watch roll into the quadruple and quintuple digits as you try to complete the game. In other words: embrace the lethality and accept that you'll reload constantly.

    As that's antithetical to typical CRPG methods (you ought to be able to figure most things without trial-and-error-by-death, and if you're not strong enough keep grinding until you are) it's unfortunate they wedged that kind of gameplay into an RPG sequel. The appeal is really for a different audience.

    It's also unfortunate they mixed such an unforgiving idea in with a potentially really good one, of the villain's revenge. That one could have easily merged with a more traditional CRPG and been something really enjoyable for other CRPG players.

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  35. Someone named "SJ" posted the following, which was unfairly marked as spam. I accidentally deleted it from the spam folder.

    *****

    Another late comment, Mr. CRPGAddict.

    I agree with you on Wizardry 4 being providing interesting premise yet disappointing.

    I remember being thrilled reading about Wiz 4 in a magazine. It looked great, being an evil wizard trying to escape his prison gathering monsters. I was really impressed that I made a custom scenario for some game years later based on Wiz 4. It's about post-Wizardry 4 where Werdna regained amulet and being a evil boss.

    When playing Wiz 4, I spent hours in that 4x4 dungeon room without seeing a way out! I knew there must be something, but I couldn't find a way. Yeah, it was the priests I summoned that finally showed the way out, but I didn't realize it immediately, and spent more hours trying to find the way out again once my party was destroyed. :<

    Anyway, what amazed me most is not the use of the same old game engine, but it took SirTech so long to make those sequels using the same engine. I know programming game code is not everything about making a game, but even then, it took quite long for Wiz 4 from the announcing its development to eventual release. And what we've got?

    Wiz 4 could have been another ground breaking game after Wiz 1, with a concept of an evil protagonist, summoning monsters for companion, fighting against 'hero' parties. But the design choices to make game difficult - invisible mine field, level full of traps - seems to make it to be quietly forgotten.


    By the way, I thought the tomb, or the prison where Werdna lies was his old fortress beneath Trebor's castle. The one you explored in Wiz 1 and defeated Werna on level 10. The back story of Wiz 4 tells that Werdna built his underground fortress under Trebor's castle for the ease of providing food for his minions. :p
    I thought that your (Werdna's) minions put you onto the stone bed for eventual awakening or something.

    Another thought, I was wondering, you start on level 10, the deepest part of the dungeon. And being so-called do-gooders, I must have been pretty advanced to make it deep in any dungeon. So, shouldn't you be seeing tougher hero parties deep down than as you make your way up?
    I think, your tomb has become a tourist attraction after your demise. The succession of do-gooders must have cleared the dungeon eventually. So, those weakling hero wannabes were on sightseeing when you came upon them with monsters! As the 'tourists' were reportedly missing from the lower part of the dungeon, the authorities decided to send parties to investigate. They sent more advanced parties after the previous ones also went missing, so you're seeing more advanced parties as you make your way upward.
    That mine field was to prevent your remaining minions from deep down to come up scaring tourists upstairs.
    The ziggurat was built to be a big visitor center/amusement park, but was not completed yet.
    The level with lots of traps were actually a kind of thrill rides, hurriedly converted for serious business after all those missing tourists in the lower level.

    Kind of funny to think up these things. :>

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    1. Your fan retcons are fun and make sense. Re-reading this post, I don't know exactly why I gave up on the game. This was back in the era when I insisted on playing one game at a time. These days, I'd probably spend a couple of sessions with a different game, cooling off, and then return to W4. Maybe I'll revisit it when I get to its year again.

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  36. I played the early Wizardry games about 10 years ago when I was in my late twenties. I think they were never very popular in Germany, so I didn't stumble over them when I was a kid. I have to admit that for every game I wrote a simple DOS batch file which would make a backup of the scenario disk image every now and then - preventing loss of game progress by that nifty every-step-auto-save feature in case of one or more characters being killed then turned to ashes then being ultimately LOST. Forgive me, but I didn't have enough spare time and/or patience to fight through these extraordinarily difficult games without this "cheat" back then. But I was able to completely map and win the first three scenarios without so much as a peek into a walkthrough.

    This didn't work out for Wizardry IV, though. For me, this game was one of the toughest CRPGs ever designed - battle survival most of the time depends on pure luck, and I had to look up a few of the solutions to the puzzles of the upper levels. With these, I didn't even have this "Why didn't I think of that?"-feeling. I still remember that when you needed a special item to get past a certain door, in most cases this was a special item obtained at a certain location in the game - but in one occasion it was an item which was a possible reward from fighting a certain group of heroes on a certain level of the dungeon. Before I looked that up in a walkthrough, I didn't even know the item existed although I already beat that certain group of heroes multiple times. That really sucked. If you haven't watched the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you were probably never able to guess what the item HHGofAuntyOck was supposed to do.

    I am fairly sure that I do not belong to the top list of computer role playing gamers on this planet, and if I can't beat a crpg by myself, that doesn't mean no one else can - but up to now I have never met anyone honestly claiming to have won this game entirely without help. The walkthroughs available on the internet about 10 years ago all seemed to have been copied from one another. I never saw the official cluebook, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was the sole source for these walkthroughs. And it is striking that all these walkthroughs contain the solution for all the different endings including the grandmaster ending. How anyone would come up with the only possible teleport destination of the hidden (!!!) 11th Level by himself remains a complete mystery to me - where in the game is the clue that such Level even exists?

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