Monday, January 31, 2011

Zeliard: Not Enough Dexterity

A giant chicken ("Pollo") is the third boss fight.

The CRPG Addict does not have very good hand-eye coordination. It is for this reason that I play CRPGs and not platformers. So when Zeliard started offering up series of complex jumping puzzles, I knew I was in trouble. And when I failed at the same jumping puzzle literally 47 times in a row, I knew that this was not the game for me.

I'm no good at these things.

It's too bad because Zeliard is a cute little game. Every level is comfortably similar. Levels feature pairs of interlocking maps. The first level had two caves: Malicia and Peligro; the third had two forests: Madera ("wood") and Riza ("crimp?"); the fourth two ice caverns: Glacial ("icy") and Escarcha ("frost"). The two maps are accessed through a series of doors. I had a hell of a time mapping these before I realized that the doors are color-coded to help you create your map. I am color blind. I can't stand games that rely on color for key elements, especially subtle variations like red and green and blue and purple, which this game uses (my wife helped me out). Seriously, would yellow, blue, white, and black have been difficult?

The ice caverns on Level 4.

Anyway, each level also has doors leading to a town, with names suitable to the levels' features. The ice caverns led to a town called Helado ("ice"), for instance. In each town, NPCs give you clues as to how to beat the levels.

To win this level, I somehow needed to find my way up to these shoes.

To get through the levels, you have to follow a deceptively linear path by going through the right doors, picking up keys, negotiating platform puzzles, and finding special items like the Hero's Crest on Level 3 and the Ruzeria Shoes on Level 4. At the end of each level is a boss beast. I fought a crab, a squid, and a chicken, and I understand the rest include a fish head and a dragon.

A shield I never got to buy.

Each town has a slightly more powerful weapon, armor, and potion selection, and each visit to a new town rewards you with a new spell; my last was the Fuego ("fire") spell. I never got very good at casting those. I kept accidentally pounding CTRL when I went to hit ALT (the spell key), which meant that the Google Desktop search box would pop up and as I frantically tried to close it and return to the DOSBox window, the monsters would kill me. Remember: bad hand-eye coordination.

I'll try to remember that.

Dying causes you to resurrect with no gold (unless you deposited some in the bank) back at the first level. Fighting my way back through the first three levels was too much even for my draconian rules, and I generally reloaded when I died.

If you want a good laugh, you can watch me try and fail to get across these platforms a bunch of times before ultimately dying. Notable is how at 00:58, I manage to miss the blob with two Fuego spells and how at 1:22 and 01:40, when I'm trying to frantically jump out of the spikes, I keep swinging my sword--the "jump" and "attack" keys are nowhere near each other. But the crowning moment comes at 02:55, when having finally managed to make it across the platforms, I then still manage to just fall off. I really am this bad.

The game, coupled with a comment that PetrusOctavianus made in my review of The Bard's Tale has prompted me to think a lot about the relationship between dexterity, strategy, and probability (or luck) in computer games. RPGs almost always have a random element--that's what the polyhedron dice are for--but mostly they depend on the strategies you pursue (character development and battle tactics) to affect the probabilities in your favor. A good CRPG need not require any manual dexterity, but if it does, I guess that's what we call an "action RPG." Games that feature only manual dexterity are platformers.

I can get through most action RPGs because the dexterity part generally just involves pointing and swinging and maybe executing some kind of combo. But even if you're inept at that part, you can balance it through weapon and character improvements. If I can't seem to coordinate my attacks in Diablo II, I just need to level grind for a while and then my clumsiness is offset by greater power. But there's just no way to compensate for lack of dexterity in a jumping puzzle.

Anyway, I tried a lot more times than you saw in the video, and there were similar puzzles that kept me occupied for an hour or so prior to this. I can't imagine that they get easier as the game goes on, so I'm going to move on to the familiar comforts of The Bard's Tale III, which requires no manual dexterity at all. If you're really interested in seeing the end, a YouTube user named saberkitty119 has uploaded a full playthrough; the final two sections are here (this one includes the last combats with the dragon and Jashiin) and here (the end game text). Duke Garland saves the princess, of course, and for some reason he just saunters off into the sunset even though she clearly wants to express her gratitude in a Cinemax After Dark sort of way. And yet another game bails on the chance to feature the first CRPG romance.

Game world: Not outrageously original, but it's got a decent story (5). All character development follows the same path; you don't get to create or customize the character, there are no choices to make, and leveling basically just increases hit points and spell points (2). There are lots of NPCs who teach you about the world and your quest, but no interaction (4). Encounters and foes are of the Mario variety with no role-playing, but they do respawn so you can level-grind if you want (3). Magic and combat are action-oriented with few tactics involved even against the bosses (3). You can buy weapons, armor, and magic, and upgrading any of them is satisfying; you can find some equipment in dungeons. The descriptions that shopkeepers give of the items is a nice touch (5). The economy, based on "almas," helps you buy needed stuff, and I never hit a point where I didn't need money (5).

It'll be a while before I can afford that honor shield.

There is one main quest and no side quests nor any way to roleplay it (2). Graphics and sound are quite good, and the controls are fine, although I wish they'd made ESC something other than "pause"; I kept hitting it when I was trying to get out of a dialog window (5). Gameplay is very linear and non-replayable. Ultimately, I found it too difficult because of the manual dexterity issue. Younger players with better wrists might find it too easy (2).

The final score of 36 isn't too bad for a game that really isn't a CRPG. But seriously: this is the seventh game in a row whose CRPG creds are a little fishy. Time to cross into 1988 and try one that no one doubts.


  1. You're actually pretty good at the game, I'd say. Platforming is difficult enough with a robust pixel-perfect engine. It's just torture with everything moving at 8x8 pixel tiles at a time.

    Think about it: If you timed your jump wrong in a say, sonic game, you might land 2-3 pixels later, but still be on the platform. And if you overshot, you could fix your trajectory with pixel-perfect air control. The possible joys and frustrations of platforming action depend on this 'fine grain' element to the movement engine, and the really great games have physics stuff like simplified inertia coded in robustly enough to allow for creative, analog play, on the fly.

    In Zeliard if you overshoot and you try to fix your trajectory mid-fall, you move another full 8 pixels to the direction you're pressing towards, which is too large a brush for what the scenery demands. It's just frustrating.

    As I've mentioned before, PC gaming couldn't yet do smooth scrolling. It'll be a little time yet until Commander Keen is released by iD software, which is historically one of the first games to successfully do platforming on our platform.

    Thank you for playing and blogging as far as you did into it, however. Onwards to Bard's Tale III... the first game which I'm tempted to play along with you.

  2. A quick party creation hint on Bard's Tale III:

    Lbh zvtug jnag gb cnl nggragvba gb gur gvgyr (naq fhogvgyr) jura perngvat lbhe cnegl.

    or more explicitly

    Lrf, lbh'yy jnag n guvrs va lbhe cnegl gb orng Guvrs bs Sngr. Naq gur oneq vf nyfb rkgerzryl hfrshy guvf gvzr nebhaq (zhpu zberfb guna va 1) naq va snpg V'z abg fher gur rneyl tnzr vf fheivinoyr hfvat n sebz-fpengpu jvgubhg n cnegvphyne oneq fbat.

  3. Helm, I appreciate the support, and I would take your words to heart if I didn't suck at platform games on the X-box, too. But I agree that the scrolling limitations probably exacerbated the problem.

    I appreciate the tips, Jason. I started BT3 yesterday and I did include both characters, partly for role-playing reasons and partly because the manual warns you that you need a thief. I assume you're talking about "Sir Robin's Tune," and I agree that the game was lethal until I figured out that with the tune playing, I could choose my battles.

  4. It's interesting: I know some people (those who enjoy action and arcade-style games, especially) who won't touch turn-based CRPGs and JRPGs for the exact opposite reason. They argue that such games are either not challenging or boring or both simply because reflexes and manual dexterity don't matter.

    Such people are, of course, objectively wrong.

  5. @thebard: (Before reading know that I am lovin' this blog and rpgs are one of my preferred types of gameplay)

    I honestly can play either type of game. Now I am not saying that you are wrong, but most rpgs on this blog and ones I have seen elsewhere seem to require little more than patience from the player. Occasionally using tactics can have a large effect on your success during the game (maybe some strategy across the entire game like in games that you need to carefully control resources, ex. Nethack), but often grinding is the most obvious and/or required way to progress. Even then, combat (especially in these older CRPGs that give you much harsher statistical odds) allows for no more player involvement past selecting an action and hoping (a) that it works and (b) that it doesn't get you a game over.

    As for "not challenging" and/or "boring," the second statement is purely opinion and entirely depends on the player and what they feel like playing at any given time. The first statement is hard for me to judge because of the pressence of elements like random dice rolls and whether the crpg emphasizes/requires grinding in order to progress.

    Do you have any thoughts on this, Crpg Addict (and yes, I did get your point that manual dexterity requiremnets in games are a bit of a detractor for you)?

  6. Giauz, I think we're making the same point, although perhaps I should have said that CRPGs THEORETICALLY require strategy, because some of the early ones are very rote.

    CRPGs are fundamentally about probability: the likelihood that a weapon will connect, how much damage it will do, the chances of a critical hit, the odds that you or your foe will or will not resist a spell, and so on. Measure success or failure in X number of battles against foes of different levels, and I bet it looks like a bell curve. The entire goal to CRPGs are to influence the probabilities in your favor by achieving greater levels, getting better equipment, learning more powerful spells, and so on. Grinding against low-level monsters is one way to ensure this.

    As you say, "challenging" and "boring" are more subjective statements. A game can be based on strategy but still be easy and boring. It depends on how much the game stacks the odds against you, and whether it allows you to take on challenging enemies from the outset (Might & Magic) or forces you to progress on a more linear path that ensures you're almost always evenly matched in battle (Phantasie III) or scales the enemies to match your strength (Ultima IV, Oblivion).

    I guess my point was that I simply don't like platformers regardless of their level of challenge. Part of it has to do with the integrity of the gameworld, as I wrote about a few weeks ago in "On Roleplaying and Roguelikes." You can't construct a sensible narrative that includes platforms hovering over pits of spikes (at least, not so many).

  7. CRPG Addict,
    In your post on this game, you mentioned a complaint based on color blindness, and then offered some colors that would have made it easier for you.

    As an amatuer game designer, I would be interested in knowing the full effect of color blindness... what colors can you differentiate?

  8. Thanks for covering Zeliard, CRPGAddict. I'm glad you enjoyed it reasonably well. There was a lot of things I had forgotten already.

    My playthrough ten years back halted on a level that involved (a) invisible updrafts that threw you back across the level, (b) an insanely difficult jump where a monster would jump at you mid-air and knock you down and (c) the ungodly amount of backtracking (a) and (b) caused. I decided this was too sadistic as far as level design goes.

    Despite this, I recall the game very fondly. Up until that level it was fun to explore the levels and also challenging enough. I'm also a sucker for good video game tunes and Zeliard did deliver.


  9. There are different forms of color blindness, of course. For me, there's no one color that I can point to and confidently say what it is. Similar hues (if that's the right term) confuse me. So I often can't differentiate yellow from orange, orange from red, red from green, green from brown, brown from black, black from dark blue, blue from purple, and so on. If you show me two colors and tell me one is yellow and one is blue, I can figure it out, but that's about the best I can do.

    There's this one puzzle in Baldur's Gate II that requires you to put blue, purple, and red oils in containers of corresponding colors. I basically had to try every combination to get it to work. This is what I can't stand. If they had made the oils yellow, blue, and red, I probably could have gotten it.

    I guess the lesson is maximum contrast?

  10. @CRPG: You've played much farther into the game than I've ever had the patience/determination to delve! I've found myself less and less interested in action games now that I'm in my 30's, which has me worried that maybe I'm losing my gaming dexterity and that I should thus play them while I still can...

    Part of the problem with Zeliard, though, is that you really do need to start mapping it out once you get a couple levels in. I've found it hard to convince myself to do this in the Internet age where someone else has or is likely to do the mapping for me at some point.

    Are there any good computer-aided RPG mapping tools?

    @Eino/CRPG: I think I've heard that red-green color blindness may be the most common form, but as CRPG Addict said there are many different ones. Game designers that are sensitive to this tend to make sure that puzzles and other clues rely on more than just colors for differentiation (e.g., symbols, sounds, shapes).

  11. You've seen that I'm not shy about mapping, but I couldn't figure out an effective way to map the levels in Zeliard. I did it mostly through trial and error, though I did write some notes like "the door next to the slanty thingy in Glacial comes out by the double-vine place in Escarcha."

    I just use Excel for all of the grid-based maps. Doing it right now, in fact.

  12. I'd say changing the colors just avoids the issue; there should be a means of differentiating beyond color if it actually matters.

    And as far as CRPG romances go, I don't think I've ever seen one that wasn't embarrassingly bad.

  13. Jonothan:
    "And as far as CRPG romances go, I don't think I've ever seen one that wasn't embarrassingly bad."

    Modern CRPGs, especially those made by Bioware sound like dating simulations...
    That, coupled with the online registration for a single player game, means I haven't bought a new game in several years, the last one being either Oblivion, HoMM V or Dark Messiah of M&M.

  14. I know it's goofy, but I like the romances in BGII. It adds to the realism. I mean, I'm this 20-something son of god with growing power, and I'm surrounded by beautiful companions. No way am I not going to get some drow action.

  15. Yeah, I liked the romances in BG II,since they were but a small part of the game, but I get the impression that too much revolves around the romances in newer Bioware games.
    Or maybe I have spent too much time at the RPGCodex and become part of the Hive Mind?

    1. You have. Haha. There are a lot of problems with the way BioWare makes games, but "the romances being too central to the plot" is hardly something I would cite. In fact, the romance with Subject Zero in Mass Effect 2 was the most interesting romance I can recall, at least until it reached its apex and the game was like "oh, uhh, out of dialogue, sorry"

      The real reason BioWare is evil is because they took the Mako out.

  16. Given the discussion here I thought some of you might be interested in the following:

    It talks about some of the problems colourblind gamers have, and how game designers should circumnavigate them.

  17. I can't tell the difference between the side-by-side images in that article, so I guess it really is a problem!

  18. The newer Bioware games offer the option to pursue romances. People act as though they are required. It *is* entertaining that some people accidentally ended up in a gay romance with Anders during Dragon Age:Origins.

  19. The first time I played DA:O, I wasn't paying attention and my male PC ended up having a threesome with Zevran and some female pirate captain. I couldn't even look at my PC after that. I had to restart the game.

  20. Really? It seems we have very different sexual moors... I would probably give my character a high five for that unless it was the characters he slept with you are objecting to.-

  21. Here's a little colour blindness story in gaming for you.

    A while back I was working on a truck racing game and one of the cab models had a small glitch. The problem was raised with the lead artist who had made it who asked which truck was at fault. He was told the Blue and Green one.

    It was at this point he had to admit he was blue green colour blind and he'd thought it was two shades of blue when he'd textured it.

    I always tried from then on to think of colour blind gamers just in case one were unfortunate enough to pick up one of the shoddy titles I worked on.

    1. Huh, that seems like an odd career choice for someone who is partially colourblind. On the other hand, they think that Vincent van Gogh may have had a certain form of colour blindness, and it didn't hurt his work at all!

    2. I have to make maps a lot for my job. I can't tell you how many times I've published something with purple water or red grass. I have to call someone over when I'm making them now to ask if everything is okay.

    3. Why don't you get one of those colour sampling tools then check the RGB value of it? It would let you be a bit more independent.

    4. I wouldn't have any amusing stories to tell like the one above.

  22. So I feel particularly confused that no-one got to this in the last two years of comments, but ... Zeliard comes with an adorable multi-page-fold-out map of every single level of the game world. The maps are not exactly super-easy to examine, given that each one fits left-to-right on an 8.5"x(?) folded piece of paper, but I honestly have no idea how my friends and I would have even gotten as far as we did in Zeliard (farther than you, though not by much) without being able to check the map to see where we had not gone and to ponder how to get there.

    1. Yes, that's a bit of a revelation. Not having purchased the game, I naturally didn't have the fold-outs. I wish that back then, I'd know this and could have looked for PDF versions somewhere. Thanks for giving the tip to later players.

  23. I understand how a color blind person would disagree heavily, especially seeing this particular combination is the most common form of color blindness, but to someone with working color sight it just sounds so weird to hear anyone say "similar hues" or "subtle variations" like "green and red". Yellow and orange, purple and blue, green and brown, many of those I can understand, but green and red are so antithetical and clash so harshly against each other that in my head it sounds similar to saying "subtle differences like black and white". And yet it is indeed the most common form of color blindness and obviously gives people a huge amount of trouble. Just goes to show how different we can be from each other.

    On the games at hand, I have over the years gotten the impression that the Japanese do seem to have a bit of an affinity towards action RPGs as opposed to more traditional RPG combat, and they seem more fond of having the player be a specific character in a story rather than creating their own "generic" one to fill the hole. This kind of reminds me of Japanese entertainment I've seen in my life as a whole. The impression I've always had is dexterity, agility, speed and skill above raw strength and brute force (and even the heroic characters who have brute strength also tend to be magnificently skilled at using it), and stories being heavily character driven instead of event driven. Action RPGs that require you to be good at playing them to succeed, and most of the time forcing you to play the role of a specific character, to tell a specific tale where the characters aren't as replaceable, both also fit well into this mindset.

    Well, this is the impression I've gotten at least.

  24. I appreciated your explanation of your color blindness, because that's exactly how it is for me: colors that are adjacent on the spectrum are indistinguishable. Intensity of colors (dark orange vs light red) has a part to play, and I've also had to conscript my wife to complete some puzzles!

  25. The company that made this game has a survey offering to port this to the PC over [url=]here[/url]. I don't know if anyone is interested, but choosing Zeliard may mean that you will have to play 1 RPG less when you reach the modern era.

    Alternatively, you could choose Grandia 2 since that is on your play list already, albeit in a very buggy state (and choosing Grandia 2 may cause the developer to fix the bugs in the PC version, giving you a more enjoyable experience). It'd kind of be a shame if you'd miss out on what is probably the best and most tactical turn based battle system ever created due to bugs obstructing your enjoyment.

    1. Whoa... looks totally... non-legit. If you want to key in your email address, that is compulsory, for a website "survey" provided by an anonymous commenter... Hey, it's your arse.

    2. Anyway, here's Game Arts official site:

      No mention about this dodgy survey at all. Don't be fooled.


      I figured it'd be apt to post this here since I mentioned it previously. You might want to add a note to get the Steam version of Grandia 2 since the porters promise that version would be less buggy, Chet.

  26. enny, I understand your caution, but the survey us real. It has been reported by legitimate gaming sites like .
    A representative of the company stated that they are watching the thread regarding this survey on NeoGAF as well. I really have no ill intent.


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