Sunday, May 22, 2011

Game 56: Paladin (1988)


Note: I'm not done with Omega, but I needed a break from the game's ruthlessness, so I thought I'd explore another game. I wish I hadn't.

To me, certain computer game genres age better than others. I think CRPGs age very well, which is really the entire point of my blog. The stories, gameplay, and challenges found in titles like Ultima IV and Might & Magic rival or exceed most current releases. Adventure games, too, can provide delight well past their shelf lives because of the richness of their plots and the challenge of their puzzles. Anyone who eschews Zork or King's Quest just because they're "old" is as characterless as someone who refuses to watch Casablanca or listen to Benny Goodman for the same reasons.

But it's also true that other genres struggle to find relevance with age. First-person shooters are a good example. Doom was groundbreaking for its time, but it's hard for me to imagine finding a lot of fun in it now, with other shooters on the market that offer the same basic experience but with better graphics, sound, and controls, and the ability to look up and down. [Later edit based on comments: Oh, for #$*%s sake, people. Fine. Doom is the greatest game ever made. All hail the glory of Doom.] I imagine simulation games suffer some of the same problems, when each new release offers even more realistic simulation. I don't play many simulation games, so I could be wrong, but would anyone really enjoy the first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator today, knowing that a more recent version would offer a more realistic experience, more aircraft, more locations, hardware acceleration, and so on?

Even within the basic genres, certain sub-genres age better than others. When I was playing Sorcerian, I noted that action RPGs tend to age worse than regular RPGs, simply because action RPGs are more "about" graphics and animation.

Strategy games fall somewhere in the middle. Strategy games are fundamentally about variables, and if you really like strategy games, you enjoy weighing the probabilities associated with power, movement, and resources--just like a real war theater. The best strategy games are those that give the most useful and interesting variables, and this isn't necessarily dependent on age. I remember playing a Civil War strategy game when I was a kid that would have given Einstein a migraine. It took me months to figure out what I was doing, but once I had a handle on it, the game was a joy. Graphics are secondary in strategy games; some great ones (Reach for the Stars, Roadwar) barely have any graphics. I thought Warlords took a significant step backwards between III and IV because the latter jettisoned many of the strategic variables in favor of better graphics and animation. Did any Warlords fan really want that?

This brings me to Paladin, which is a strategy game without a lot of variables, which means that it didn't age very well. The game is a quasi-CRPG, and I admit that it satisfies all three of the core criteria that I establish in Rule #1. But I find it so little fun that I'm almost moved to spend the rest of my six-hour minimum staring at the opening screen rather than actually playing it.

Paladin has the least intuitive controls, of any game I've played so far. The game follows the opening screen above with a partially-rendered screen that makes it look like the game has frozen. No amount of clicking or typing seems to help. Only by a careful reading of the manual do you determine that the function keys are the way to control the game, and only by a more careful reading do you realize that the process of creating a new paladin involves opening up a different program and using more arcane function commands.

You control a party of characters moving through one of several scenarios or "quests," each with a different set of objectives. Only your paladin, the leader, can move from quest to quest, and as he does, his statistics improve. Each quest is made up of turns alternating between your characters and enemies, much like in Warlords, Heroes of Might & Magic, or any number of similar strategy games.

10 quests come with the basic game, but the publisher, Omnitrend, released Paladin Quest Disk: The Scrolls of Talmouth later the same year. The game also came with a construction set, and the version of the game that I downloaded contains several files that I can only imagine were constructed by fans.

The first quest I tried was called "House" and the game put my paladin (Drust) in charge of a swordsman and two mages. The quest instructions told me the back story:

A holy quest for real estate!

The "victory conditions" tell me that I have to find the scrolls and get off the combat map within an hour (all quests are timed).

During your turn, each character can move, attack an enemy, pick up an object, use an object, unlock a door, or cast a spell. Total actions and movement are limited by "movement points." In many ways, playing the game is like being perpetually on the combat screen in Demon's Winter or the D&D "Gold Box" games (which, incidentally, Paladin is keeping me from), except that I think you have fewer options in Paladin. You certainly have fewer spells: rangers can cast confuse, speed, invisibility, and detect door, and mages can cast those plus fireball and mind stun.

Targeting an enemy in a basement.

The biggest problem with the game is that without the ability to move diagonally, it takes forever to get around the game map, especially when you're walking through corridors and your characters can't get past each other. I also lost patience when the game decided that the SHIFT key was being held down permanently, and every time I tried to move to the next character (N key), it insisted on ending the turn (SHIFT-N).

Three characters trying to pile through a doorway.

I made three assails against the house, and did find one of the scrolls one time, but you lose the game if your paladin dies, and that kept happening to me.


Sigh. I suppose I can't leave this game until I win at least one of the quests, but I promise you, this game is tedious and boring. Don't look for a lot of postings here.

37 comments:

  1. PetrusOctavianusMay 22, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    I knew there was a reason that one of the few things about this game that I remember is that i bought it. I guess the idea of the game was far more compelling than actually playing it. :-(

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  2. Eh, if you don't like it then give it the 6 hours and be done with it.

    I disagree about FPS: Doom is still a lot of fun, as it is fastpaced, simple and has some cool mechanics, like making enemies fight one another. People are still holding tournaments and updating source ports. Sure some add improved graphics, but not all of them by any means. You can also play it on anything, from a decent cellphone to a modern computer, unlike more modern FPSs.

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  3. What's funny is that while I still enjoy playing Doom I and II, I never finished Doom 3, as it lost my interest fairly quickly. Too much style over substance I suppose.

    Not much to say about Paladin, never heard of it before, though I'm eagerly awaiting your playthrough of Pool of Radiance. I'm hoping you'll eventually complete the initial Gold Box trilogy with the same party.

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  4. I see others have already commented on the Doom issue. It indeed is a game I still probably play at least monthly. I think a tiny portion of subsequent fps games have such lasting appeal.

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  5. Hmmm, sounds like a horrible game. Onward, to Pool of Radiance!

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  6. Perhaps I made the wrong call on "Doom," then, but I suspect there's a strong nostalgia/familiarity factor at work here. I wonder how much you would enjoy "Doom" if your first FPS had been "Half-Life" or "Halo" and you installed "Doom" for the first time today.

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  7. Half Life was my first FPS. And I get headaches from games that use sprites in a 3d environment (such as doom and wolfenstein) everything keeps on turning to keep facing you.

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  8. I assume most people who's first FPS had been "Half-Life" or "Halo" would probably enjoy "Doom" as little as most people who's first RPG had been "Baldur's Gate" or "Oblivion" would enjoy "Ultima IV" or "Might & Magic". However, that does not mean there's mostly nostalgia at work for people who do enjoy any of these games. There's an article that examines some of what made and still makes "Doom" a great and unique experience at http://vectorpoem.com/news/?p=74

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  9. A better example: How many people go back and play "Rise of the Triad"?

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  10. I was just coming to that, Lame Brain. In addition to Doom, I used to play Duke Nukem back when it came out. I decided to give it a go a year ago or so, but could not force myself to play it for more than an hour or two, the game was just a clunky bad FPS, basically. Definitely I think there is more to Doom in my case than nostalgia.

    You would even think that IF games would stay fresh forever, after all the earliest of them look exactly like the ones released now, but in fact, by today's standards, the early text adventures more often than not had awful parsers, unlogical puzzles and stale writing. The few classics like the Infocom games are of course an exception to the rule.

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  11. Addict: I have vague memories of sitting on my Dad's lap as he played Doom. It was far from my first FPS. My first was Dark Forces, a star wars FPS. I'd played quite a number of FPS before I found my Dad's old Doom install on my hard drive, and it was quite fun, though I was terrible at it. This was only 5 or 6 years ago. The graphics had hit that 'Good enough' stage you talked about.
    I do think as a genre that FPS don't age as well, but my friends are I were playing Goldeneye well into the Gamecube era as it was just better then the other console FPS we had, even though it looked terrible. Really it is the gameplay controls that matter.

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  12. I would contend that FPS do indeed age more poorly than CRPGs because of the limited scope of their content. However there are some of them (like Doom) that have a certain measure of timeless innovation and charm that survives even to this day.

    As for Paladin it seems interesting to me from a mechanics perspective but it doesn't sound like a very good CRPG.

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  13. I appreciate all the follow-ups. I probably erred in trying to make a broad point about the relative playability of genres over time, and even if I didn't, I probably erred in using a seminal game like "Doom" as an example.

    My comments on "Paladin" stand, though. Strategy games are only fun to the extent that there are enough options to craft a real "strategy." The genre wasn't quite there in 1988.

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  14. CRPG Addict: I get the impression that you do not play a lot of FPS or RTS games. (I could be wrong, my impressions here have been before!)

    If that is true, then it is just bad luck that you chose DOOM as your example, and can be forgiven. If you ever have to choose an example like this for an RTS, do NOT choose Star Craft!

    The thing about DOOM and StarCraft is that they are elemental forms of their genre: Fast, pure, stripped of conceit and straight forward in their intent. There are probably other examples of this as well.

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  15. CRPG Addict:
    About this game, Paladin, I have a question.
    In the screenshot above that is captioned "Targeting an enemy in a basement." I see a whole bunch of Oil vats. What happens if you shoot a fireball in there?

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  16. Lame: 1) you are right that I haven't played many FPS or RTS games. I have played "Doom" and "Half-Life," but that's about it for FPSes. 2) If you shoot a fireball at the vats of oil, they explode. This does nothing in the map you see because they're in sort-of a dead-end, and there are no enemies up there. But I'm guessing they appear in other levels where they have more of a tactical use.

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  17. It seems odd that Paladin makes your list, when Breach apparently didn't (I suspect that some fantasy=RPG bias slipped into one of the lists you're relying on). Paladin is pretty much a straight conversion of the sci-fi Breach into a fantasy setting. All the RPGish elements that are there are in both. That said, personally I wouldn't classify either one as an RPG -- they're strategy games with "RPG elements".

    I still have a soft spot for these games even though I didn't play them too much at the time -- there were definitely some cool ideas, but I seem to remember the pace of play being glacial (and this on my screaming fast 12 MHz 286 box!).

    Breach 2 had a really cool feature where it would "interlock" its squad based tactics to Omnitrend's fleet-level strategy game Rules of Engagement, so if you boarded another ship in RoE, for example, you'd fight the boarding action in B2. It didn't feel like each was half of a game either -- they really did feel complementary. Unfortunately, using that feature just made the pace even slower.

    I'd say that if you don't ever feel like going back and giving it the six hours you'd be justified as writing it off as NARPG (Not An RPG).

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  18. Justin, there are probably a lot of oddities on my list like that. I didn't personally review every game of the era and try to decide if they were RPGs or not. I'm relying on the categorizations used by MobyGames, Wikipedia, and other lists, and basically if ANYONE thinks it's an RPG, I at least check it out.

    Anyway, I did give it six hours (including the blog writing), so I finished it off after the second posting. I don't really have the patience for the meticulous maneuvers required by strategy games, although I'll probably play other quasi-strategy games later in this blog.

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  19. Gah, stop with the unnecessary quotation marks people; what an eyesore that is. The proper way to type a game title would be italicized, though I do not know if this blog supports HTML.

    I guess this will show if it does.

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  20. Actually under some style guides quotes are a valid way of typing a title. Though I think single quotes are more common then double.

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  21. It bears mentioning that plenty of people will still enjoy Doom, but I doubt that Quake has any appeal left.

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  22. Agreed. I should have picked a less seminal game.

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  23. As a note: http://www.metafilter.com/104106/Doom-in-your-browser
    People still care enough to port it to the web.

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  24. I now have a tattoo on my left arm that says "DOOM IS THE GREATEST GAME EVER!" and has a picture of an imp giving the finger. Are you people happy?

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  25. It depends, have you seen the movie of Bill Gates in a trenchcoat with a shotgun in Doom that Microsoft made for a publicity event in the 90s?

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  26. I have now. Wow. "The PC is the entertainment platform of the future." Clearly, they weren't working on the X-box yet.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhTkZNrh7Vs

    If you watch this, make sure you watch at least until 02:07.

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  27. I don't know how I feel about the general argument. On one hand, I don't feel too bad about the idea that FPSs do not age well. Personally, I've always gotten nauseous from early FPSs, even though I started playing them.. back when they were new. I also get nauseous from Bioshock, oddly enough, but not really anything else I can think of. Regardless, beyond this issue, I still feel like early FPSs are just.. too old.
    However, maybe this is just my genre bias. Like, let's take 2d action platformers. I personally think two of the great 2d action platformers of all time were on the NES: Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2. (The other Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man games are all also classics, but these are the two standouts IMO). I also don't agree with your comment about action RPGs. The Legend of Zelda is still a classic in the genre. I mean, criminy, even modern action adventure games are INCREDIBLY derivate of the original Legend of Zelda. Play Darksiders and tell me you don't think LoZ the whole damn time.
    Still, I think RPGs do have one strength: combat based on statistics, instead of controls, is simply easier to do on older systems. As a result, you could simply do more.

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  28. Indeed mr.Addict Doom 1 and 2 are still VERY playable and personally I prefer them MORE than any other modern FPS.. Well, Serious Sam series deliver though ;) :)

    @killias2: First things first, I don't like JRPGs much, not my style, I don't play them a lot except major titles and you get the point.. I just wanna note here though, that hardcore JRPGamers do NOT consider Zelda as "RPG" in their books.. I also always thought of Zeldas JRPGs in a way..Btw I never liked the original but LOVED Link to the Past on my GB as a kid :)

    Also, someone who said about today IF and early text adventures, he's right in a way, excluding games as you said from Infocom and other's I would add like Hobbit and Magnetic Scrolls or Level 9 games, but on the other hand, I think from the I think 1995 era when modern IF arose with Inform and TADS, a 95 if is as playable as any today or future if..

    Cheers everyone :)

    p.s. Still catching up your GREAT blog :)

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  29. ^^^ Manolis 13 MnEmp ^^^ forgot to add :Pp

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  30. Hah! When I read that comment about Doom I knew there would be a backlash in the comments! As others have said many people still play Doom to this day, and new mods and maps come out every month, it still has a vibrant online community and there are many 'source ports' or modern programs that run the game engine on modern machines and the games can be played on almost any resolution and they even include things such as proper mouse look and jumping! Doom 4 lyfe, yo!

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  31. Last year I played an old FPS, Dark Forces mentioned before in the comments, for the first time and without having played a lot of old FPS:s before (although I do remember playing some when I was younger). I found it to be highly enjoyable.

    I think what makes a game age well is well implemented game play. If the game only relies on graphics it doesn't age well. And it is probably true that CRPG:s in general focus more on game play (even if that is less true in recent years).

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    Replies
    1. I guess my mistake was thinking that FPS games rely primarily on graphics for their gameplay. To many people, that's not true.

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    2. Oh man, I loved Dark Forces. Great game. Never did figure out how to get to the secret area on level one. We NEED a FPS addict.

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    3. I'm sure there's also an element of selection bias going on here. The people drawn to this blog will be those who *care* about games - with a capital C. These are the kind of thoughtful souls who recognise - as you so often have when considering the merits of a cRPG - any change developers make within their genre as it progresses can be for the better - or for the worse.

      A lot of people in a sub-section of the shooter community, for example, bemoan the trend towards things like 'persistent unlocks' - progression bars associated with your multiplayer account, that track XP awards for things like kills in game (with other bonuses for headshots, completing objectives etc) between individual matches and allow you to level up, unlocking new weapons and abilities. They prefer the pure challenge of each fight being dependent on the skill of the player, not admitting any advantages to be reaped based simply on how long they might have invested in the game. (I chose this example for the obvious irony of these mechanics clearly being inspired by the world of CRPGs - I personally feel there is a merit to both approaches, but take a much dimmer view of the next logical progression for the formula that publishers are showing an interest in - real-money payments to hasten your advance through these persistent mechanisms.)

      On the other hand, for maybe 95% of the millions purchasing the latest first-person and third-person shooters, there will be absolutely no interest in whether these games deviate from the purity of the canon - the main draws will be, as you mentioned, the fidelity of the graphics and other production values, the level of testosterone-fueled empowerment fantasy promised by the marketing, or even just the fact that the numeral after the franchise title has increased by one. So your only mistake was that while your point about Doom will be mostly true for the people you were talking about, it's actually the opposite for the audience of your blog.

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    4. Comapre/contrast: Bioware, after several experiments in sci-fi and action-RPG hybrids, indulging their fanbase to the tips of their +1 boots with a return to the kind of deep fantasy RPG that made them famous in Dragon Age - and their publisher, EA, promoting the game with a blood-spattered trailer backed by Marilyn Manson's 'This Is The New Shit'.

      Delete
  32. Needing a second program to create your character? That's a paladin.
    Not being able to move diagonally? That's a paladin.
    Dying in the first quest? Oh, you'd better believe that's a paladin.

    *flees, cackling madly*

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