Friday, March 25, 2011

MAG: Won!*

The "frakola" reference escapes me. Googling turns up some users on ebay and Dungeons & Dragons online.

First off, no congratulations. That asterisk next to the word "won!" means I cheated. I'm convinced I could have beaten the game fair-and-square given a little patience--the game is quite notably easier than Rogue--but with Might & Magic II on the horizon, patience is a distant fantasy. My cheating was of the simple type: I backed up saved games and reloaded when I died. While my rules say "no cheating," I'm going to allow it occasionally when it's clear to me that I won't keep playing otherwise, and I just want to see what the end looks like.

The basic gameplay didn't change. The dungeon turned out to have 25 levels, and the first 24 were randomly generated. The monsters got harder, and I should have mentioned that many of the monsters in MAG are unique to the game, including:

  • Kleptums, which steal your items and vanish, forcing you to chase them around the dungeon level (much like leprechauns in NetHack)

  • Reapers, which, unlike their benign counterparts in Ultima IV, "slice experience levels" from you. God, I hate that.
  • Polymorphers, who turn themselves into different monsters (with the associated powers) but who can also turn you into a different creature for a few turns.

Fortunately, this is sometimes awesome.

The game also has, much like its siblings, a gallery of monsters that can confuse you or sap your strength.

As I said yesterday, though, Mike made it a little easier than other roguelikes. In addition to the characteristics I identified in my first MAG posting, I discovered that strength drains are not permanent, there are only a few scrolls and potions that harm your character (and these are not permanent either). Sometimes scrolls don't disappear when you use them, so you might get multiple weapon or armor enchantments out of a single scroll. Hit point regeneration is fairly rapid, so you can often just run away from enemies. Even though they follow, you quickly heal, and then you can turn around and wallop them when you're feeling hale. An easy strategy is to lead the enemy back to a set of stairs, go up (they don't follow), pass the time and heal, and then head back down to strike a few blows. Repeat as necessary. This was the only way I could defeat blue dragons starting on Level 20.

The maximum experience level in the game is 20; I only achieved 11. Probably the only way to win the game fair is to level grind up to 20 before you hit dungeon Level 20 and start having to face dragons.

On Level 25, through a maze, I found a dragon kingdom, with an "imperial dragon" sitting on a throne, another roaming the room, plus other assorted bad guys, including a lich, a hill giant, and two white dragons.

I would never have survived this area, not even with running, not even with saving and reloading, except that I had two potions of invisibility. All I had to do was quaff one and chuck stuff at the imperial dragon until he got pissed and got off his throne. Then I ran up and stole the Sudbury Sapphire.

After that, just like Rogue, it was an easy matter to run from stairway to stairway and get out of the dungeon, at which point I got the message at the top of this posting.

Incidentally, the famed "pools of vomit" were, I guess, these little squiggles:

My guy looks awfully happy for someone surrounded by vomit.

I didn't realize they were supposed to be vomit until I accidentally overate and hurled a combination of beef jerky and stale bread. Why there's so much vomit lying around dungeons, I have no idea.

As for the GIMLET, it's going to be similar to Rogue. The game world gets a 1 because there hardly is one; most roguelikes aren't big on back story. There's barely any character development and no choices to make during creation (1). There are no NPCs (0). Encounters and magic and combat are traditional roguelikes, without much complexity (3 each), although some of the monsters are unique. Like Rogue, it excels in the variety of equipment that you can find, and how it makes identifying the equipment part of the challenge of the game (5), but there are no stores and no economy (0); all the gold you find just adds to your final score. The one quest is clear but very basic, livened only by the presence of the dragon kingdom at the end (2), in contrast to Rogue, which just has the Amulet of Yendor appear in a random place. The graphics, sound, and controls are good for the roguelike genre (5), and the gameplay is brisk. Call me a wimp, but I like that it's slightly easier than Rogue. The ability to retreat up levels and the relatively lesser risk of starvation are pluses in my book (6).

The final rating of 26 puts it slightly higher than Rogue but not extremely high. It would be tough for most roguelikes to achieve a particularly high score on my GIMLET scale because they often lack elements of CRPGs, like NPCs and stores. (NetHack is an exception, obviously, as are some modern roguelikes.)

I really have to hand it to Mike Teixeira. This would be a great game to introduce players to the concept of roguelikes without being as punishingly difficult as Rogue or as complicated as NetHack. Both of my e-mails to him bounced back. I hope he stumbles upon this blog someday so I can send him his $10.

Okay, let's talk about the next game. I had it listed as Mars Saga, but as some of you have pointed out in the comments, the original Mars Saga was never released for DOS, only the Commodore 64 and the Apple II. MobyGames lists it as having a DOS released, but the DOS release from 1989 was titled Mines of Titan. According to the Wikipedia entry on the game, in the DOS entry, "the game was completely fleshed out...[and] the setting of the game was moved from Mars to Titan, a moon of Saturn." It also notes there are plot differences and additional side quests. Despite MobyGames's ruling, all of these changes strike me as a fundamentally different game, not simply a "DOS version" of Mars Saga.

Thus, Mars Saga is removed, Mines of Titan gets kicked down to the 1989 list, and the next game becomes...Might & Magic II. It's going to be a good weekend.


  1. Are you going to import your MM1 characters to MM2? I seem to recall readign somewhere (this blog, maybe?) that it is possible, but that your characters will be reduced to lvl 7.

  2. Whoa, and now Pool of Radiance is just around the corner? I may have to quit my job. And hobbies. And social life. And family. But probably not, unless the posting pace REALLY takes off.

  3. I played Might & Magic II on the Apple II, back in the day, and in many ways it was the apotheosis of the open-world, turn-based party CRPG on that platform. One of the only games I can recall that actually used the Apple's double-high-resolution graphics mode, which made it look *fantastic* for the time.

    I have very fond memories of this one. I'm looking forward to seeing how well it stands up in your playthrough.

  4. You really need to do your postings on MM2 as a real "Let's Play" set of posts. Even more screenshots, a stroke-by-stroke tale of everything you do... EVERYTHING on video (Dbox rules!). Should only take about 8 or so postings, about 12 pages each. Piece of cake, really... for a REAL addict ;)

    No, honestly, really looking forward to this! I have loved (without playing 70% of the games themselves) the MM series.

  5. Petrus, I've since deleted my MM1 save files. I don't know why I did that, but I had to start over.

    Kyle, the game looks really good even in DOS. The sound is still abysmal, but the graphics are quite immersive.

    William, I know a lot of people like the "let's play" style of game review, but it's just not my style when it comes to either playing or blogging. Since there are plenty of LPs out there, I'm going to stick with my more verbose approach. I think you were kidding anyway.

  6. MAG is the most frustrating Roguelike I have ever played, hands down. Keep in mind, I have WON Rogue. I've also completed NetHack (versions 3.4 and 3.0), Ragnarok, and others. All without any bones levels or other shady dealings. I have yet to win a game of MAG and seriously believe it is impossible without cosmically good luck. Trust me on this fact. MAG is more unforgiving and just plain cruel than Rogue (and especially more so than NetHack!) Don't believe me? Then try winning it! (without cheating!)

    I have to comment about the scroll of genocide in MAG. The problem with it is, there will be about 30 monsters on your "absolutely must eliminate" list - including every monster represented by a capital letter - by the time you've had enough of this masochistic venture. There are too many creatures in MAG whose interactions with your character sap all the fun out of the game. There is an extreme imbalance between nasty encounters and ways to deal with them.

    I'm sorry if the author of this game ever chances upon my scathing review of it, but for the sake of your readers, MAG is NOT a good way to introduce the Roguelike genre to a new player. I recommend starting them off with modern NetHack and having them play as a barbarian (easiest class), or Ragnarok (from Norsehelm Productions) because it has graphical tiles, and you get into all sorts of wild and fun situations. I've heard Dungeon Crawl is great but haven't had a chance to get into it. ADOM and Angband should be reserved for experienced Roguelike players with a lot of time on their hands.

    By the way, "frakola" is the password needed to enter wizard mode.

    -Johann the Fox

  7. Really? I mean, I know I cheated to win, but I honestly got the impression I could have won it without cheating if I'd just given it a little more time. I thought the monsters were a bit easier than Rogue.

  8. I personally found POWDER to be the best introductory rogue-like.

    It's fairly short compared to classics and much easier in both terms of UI (mouse-driven, while still keeping keyboard support) and gameplay.

    In fact, it's the only rogue-like I have played for any length of time. Everything else is too hard for my save-scumming stroy-loving ass.

  9. "I would never have survived this area, not even with running, not even with saving and reloading, except that I had two potions of invisibility. All I had to do was quaff one and chuck stuff at the imperial dragon until he got pissed and got off his throne. Then I ran up and stole the Sudbury Sapphire."

    THAT is how a hacker does things. Right on.

  10. If I had made such a blog (a huuuge If), I would have omitted these shareware roguelikes. They all look like the same game to me (I probably need nice graphics and sounds.).

    1. I would have missed Omega, though, which is a fantastic game.

  11. Scroll of Genocide on the final boss? That'd make me laugh.


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