Monday, October 31, 2011

I Can't Get Started with You

How do I avoid killing this innocent child?

seems like a game I could grow to like once I get comfortable with it, but right now I'm in that angst-filled stage of gameplay where I don't know how everything works yet, and every time I leave an area, I feel like I missed something. As much as I like CRPGs, I hate this phase of playing CRPGs--when I'm just on the cusp of familiarity, yet something still seems elusive.

Baldur's Gate gave you a nice, relaxing tutorial in which the monks taught you how to use the keyboard.

I suspect many other gamers feel similarly, because a somewhat standard feature in modern games is a limited introductory area combined with a tutorial. I don't know what game offered this first, but I first encountered it in Baldur's Gate and it was brilliant. There were a series of simple quests interspersed with characters who tutored you on how to use the interface. By the time you left Candlekeep, you could focus entirely on the story and gameplay. Neverwinter Nights, Oblivion, and Dragon Age: Origins are all recent games with good opening sections that ease you into the game world and interface.

The useful Oblivion tutorial.

In the pre-tutorial era, CRPGs had several other ways to get you going smoothly. One was by simply not being that hard to begin with. Anyone who sits down with Rogue for 10 minutes and then screams, "I just can't figure this game out!" probably shouldn't be at the computer at all. Another was to adopt conventions of other games; a Wizardry player doesn't have much difficulty figuring out The Bard's Tale. Certain series maintained consistency, and of course in the 1990s, you start to see commonalities in games that use the same engine. I don't think Icewind Dale had a tutorial, but most gamers were coming from Baldur's Gate and didn't need it.

This is why it can be so comfortable to slip into a D&D-derived game. You may not know the world, the quest, or the characters, but at least you know the rules. I can't remember the last time I fired up a D&D game and said to myself, "I wonder if the 'fireball' spell is going to be useful."

Of course, many early game developers relied on manuals to do the work of tutorials, and this is perhaps the least satisfying way to get involved in a game. I love the old game manuals for back story and descriptions of the world--I really need to do a posting on this--but not for descriptions of the interface. There's not much more painful than to read a description of a game screen you haven't even encountered yet.

From the Pool of Radiance manual: Each menu command described in detail. Easier just to figure it out while playing.

Stephen King has a pretty good passage in Hearts in Atlantis in which an older character is giving advice to a kid about reading.

A book is like a pump. It gives nothing unless first you give to it. You prime a pump with your own water, you work the handle with your own strength. You do this because you expect to get back more than you give...eventually.

He recommends that the kid read the first 20 pages or something, and if by then it's just not flowing, put it aside and try something else. This was largely the purpose behind my six-hour rule. I figured it would stop me from discarding perfectly good games that just take a while to get into. It has, for the most part. But, for some reason, in 1988, I've been allowing myself the luxury of blowing past games that confound me--BattleTech, Sentinel Worlds, Star Command--with the result that I have a whole list of games I've kicked to the end of the 1988, and I now I have to put in some serious elbow grease.

It starts with Wasteland. I haven't played it all month, so I really need to just start over with a brand new set of characters, focus, and devote the time until it starts flowing on its own. I think I'll have enough by tomorrow for at least a short posting. In the meantime, for any of you who recognized the title of this posting from an old Ira Gershwin/Vernon Duke song (it's really worth downloading the Bunny Berigan and Anita O'Day versions), here's a verse I wrote just for you:

I've led the arls of Ferelden to war
A whole world calls me its avatar
With demon lords I've a-la-carted
Still I can't get started with you


  1. Giauz takes the lead!

    On a more serious note, I am sorry to say that a few days ago I downloaded and "played" for about a 1/2 hour with Wasteland and then uninstalled it. I don't know if it's just my overall slump with games or if I am at odds with how the designers decided to implement the skills (that and I can't get the macro creation to work as holding control and a function button for 3 minutes didn't make anything appear in the upper corner of the screen as the manual said).

    Some things were done well, like the visual interface with mouse support, even if click-based movement was clumsy. Also, apparently you can't just start battles whenever, and couldn't the game have just listed keywords to ask? I know this might take a little away from the system, but it's always so disappointing (in this game and Ultima 4 I have tried it out) that most of what seem to be general knowlege words (KING, BRITISH, WEAPONS, DANGERS, etc.) almost always get you, "I do not understand."

    I don't know. Cheer me up with your writings of enjoyment, factoids, and prowess of these complex CRPGs!

    - Giauz

  2. just wanted to say you inspired me to replay games without saving all the time. It adds a new level of difficulty in games.

    great blog

    - rodrigo

  3. Happy Halloween! Wish you a good one.
    Keep up the good work :)

  4. Glad to see you back.

    As for the question about how to avoid killing bobby, maybe there is a way to do things without making him mad.

    This part of the game I always took as being ment to set the mood. What you do has repercussions that you may not see at first. Not that it did the best job of staying on that message but it was the first time I remember thinking "but I am the good guy I was doing the right thing, how dare the story make me into the bad guy". Granted I was young at the time and naively I still believed that doing the right thing always led to the best outcome.

  5. Good to see you back!
    The problem I have with Wasteland is that you basically do not know what to do. What is more, it is very hard to figure out whether there are cross connections and so on. Plus, the amount of luck necessary for some things to work. Only having high skills does not really help, you sometimes just need some luck.

  6. I played Wasteland on my Apple II back in the day. I am absolutely positive there is a way to avoid killing Bobby. It might be as simple as just running away from combat. But since Highpool also isn't a terribly important location, you can sorta get away with doing what you will.

  7. @scott

    I think it is more for his internal roleplaying reasons he wants to avoid killing bobby, not him worrying about the location.

  8. I do remember the early Battletech games; Crescent Hawk's Inception was the only RPG so I'll assume you mean that one. I don't recall that much trouble with it, but I think I was using a walkthrough heavily.

    Don't know how familiar you are with the Battletech system before this game; the main idea is giant walking machines are the weapon of choice. They are walking fusion generators, so power is not a problem. Instead, heat buildup is. Moving or running builds up heat; firing weapons builds up a lot of heat. Bigger weapons produce more heat than smaller ones; weapons that use ammunition produce much less heat but are limited endurance. Too much heat and your mech's computer shuts down(reducing accuracy); go further past that and the mech will shut down entirely and be unable to move or act until the heat sinks reduce down the heat level far enough.

    Smaller mechs are faster and lighter armed; medium mechs are much rarer and larger ones still don't appear in this game.

    I don't recall the combat system in much depth, but I do recall moving at high speed builds heat up more quickly. All weapons have a max range, so you can try to keep your distance and snipe away at an enemy; or rush in and try to blast them down faster. In most fights you will out-gun your enemies by a good margin. There is also an option to kick for a little extra damage if you are close enough. There is an option to let the computer fight for you, I don't recall the AI being too spectacular.

    Terrain can affect combat- standing in water helps reduce heat faster; forests can be set on fire by attacking the ground or near misses and that fire adds extra heat.

    Also thinking about it, they tried to set things up as a tutorial section at the beginning of the game; with letting you wander around and slowly ramped up training fights. Of course, after that you end up just wandering the countryside with no clear goals at all.

  9. I can share some of the advice that I remember at least.
    - Make sure you have a copy of the manual with images for the end-game.
    - At the beginning of the game, you get ~15 credit allowance every few minutes. It is worthwhile to let the game sit and build up some spare cash.
    - As for the stock market, it is pretty random, but over time your money will grow(i.e. between jaunts through the country). The high risk stock will spike up occasionally in value, and also lose about half its value. Generally good to stick a small amount of money in it before a long jaunt away from town; sometimes get a nice surprise when you get back. The others are slower but more steady growth.

    - I know this is against your rules, but the guide I read suggested reloading save games to try to get through as many training missions as possible. The more you do the higher skills you will end up with, which help a lot in combat. I don't think combat skills improve quickly at any point past this.
    - Second, it is possible to escape with your mech; without it the game becomes far far harder. Just try to plan a route you can fit through ahead of time(harder than it sounds).

    - You can recruit people to join you; the first should happen pretty automatically in the largest city with the arena and the spaceport.
    - People on foot in combat against mech's can be walked over to squish them, and tend to die in one hit from any mech sized weapon. You can have party members without mech skills ride passenger.
    - If you have high enough mech repair skill, you can scavenge parts to pretty much repair up any damage you take. Also, if you have a character with piloting skill who lacks a mech, you have a small chance to salvage one of the defeated mechs.
    - There are about 5 towns I believe; there are reasons to visit every one of them.
    - Some of the towns have skill trainers; they can raise skill in one of the main stats. Different trainers have different caps on how high they can raise it.
    - As for personal weapons: the rocket launchers(both the explosive and the heat rounds) are one shot kills against other people; they do very minor damage to mechs. No smaller weapon actually hurts a mech at all though.

    If you do want to try out the arena near the starport, there are some things to know.
    - Pretty sure you have to fight alone, not with your friends. Don't recall for sure.
    - If you use your own mech, you don't get a scavenge phase after combat to repair it back up for free.
    - If you take their mech, it will often be much weaker than you are used to.
    - There is a narrow portion of the stands, where it is possible to blow your way out and escape with a stolen mech. You will never be allowed back in the starport town, and will lose any mechs in the garage there. And trying to walk on foot between cities is not pleasant.

    As for the overall plot, once you have assembled a team, make sure to go and talk to people and explore the cities. That should start giving some clues on other places to look.

  10. @Giauz: If you're running in DOSBox, then Ctrl+F# are mostly used for DOSBox-specific functions and are not passed through to the game. You can use DOSBox's key mapper to change this, though.

  11. HunterZ: OK. So where did DOSBox put the buttons you can use to set macros in Wasteland?

    Heck, if I could figure out how to set a few macros to the row "z through /", that would instantly make the game much more playable.

    I don't know what to do with the keyword system, though. Any suggestions on "common" keywords for Ultima 4 and Wasteland that almost always get some information from every NPC (even if they repeat the same dialogue for everyone asked the keywords. You never know when you might need to ask, especially since I don't believe in taking more notes about in-game stuff than maybe drawing a few simple maps to keep myself oriented in a dungeon or world-map).

    Thanks for any help anyone would like to volunteer. I would indeed like to say that I finished and enjoyed playing Wasteland more than any other game CRPG Addict has blogged about.

    - Giauz

  12. Great Blog! I finally read all the entries, thankfully work does not keep me too busy. I eagerly await your play through of Wasteland, as it was the last game I played on my old Apple system. Keep up the good work.

  13. bobby innocent? nobody in the wasteland is innocent.

    as for clues.. I'm sure there are some clues on where to go next if you search carefully, that and you have few options in where you can physically go without getting nuked.

  14. Oooh ooh! An upcoming post about manuals!

    I have a comment!

    Long story version:
    So, with the upcoming Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 releases, I decided to finally give Diablo 2 and Torchlight 1 a try. I was a HUGE fan of Diablo as a child, and I was even accepted into the Diablo 2 Stress Test. However, for a variety of reasons I can't even really remember, I never ended up getting Diablo 2 and the rest of that little sub-genre basically left my life for the better part of a decade.

    However, about a year ago, I picked up a Diablo 2 battlechest at a Gamestop on sale for like 10 bucks. I also bought Torchlight for like 3 bucks or something ridiculous at one of Steam's sales. I decided, around 3-4 months ago, to finally give both games a spin.

    I played through Diablo 2, and it definitely had a lot of strong elements to it. Torchlight was better in almost every way.. but I just couldn't get into the same way. I think it all felt too generic, and it really lacked atmosphere. Say what you will about Diablo 2, but it certainly pulls you in. At the end of the day, I enjoyed D2 far more, and I think that says something about gameplay vs. immersion. However, this is really a sidetrack....

    In any case, while preparing to play Diablo 2 for the first time, I was all excited to read the manual. I remembered Diablo 1 (and Warcraft 2 and Starcraft) having an -awesome- manual as a kid, and I was all excited to experience something comparable but new. Sadly, I was really let down by what Blizzard did with D2. The artwork lacked a special touch; there was little background or story; there was almost no background or story for the enemy units; and it all felt more PC than I remember.

    Out of curiosity, I decided to revisit the Diablo 1 manual (which is easily accessible online). Wow. Boy. My memory was right on here.
    The artwork, even if technically deficient in some respects, was just SO. MUCH. MORE. FUN!!! It was so intricately detailed and had such screwed up imagery. There was also just a lot more of it. - Here is a gallery with a bunch of it. - Compare the Sorcerer with the designs for D2 (or D3 for that matter)

    The story background and enemy background is also far, far, far more in depth.. and twisted. Hell, some of the stuff in that manual is so out there that I'm surprised it made it in at all. But I'm also very happy that it made it in....

    For example, here's a PART (about half of it!) of the background for the Overseer demon:

    "When the Seraphim who followed the Angel Inarius into battle were made to pay for the destruction of an infernal temple by an outraged Mephisto, many were forced into unholy servitude to the Lord of Hatred. Inarius himself was bound with tremendous chains as the wings were slowly torn from his back. Great barbed hooks were then used to stretch out his once glowing skin and his features were distorted by the vile powers of The Three. Inarius was made to forever see his own downfall by placing him in a magnificent palace of mirrors. So that his once gloated ego could be contained. Inarius and his Angelic followers were turned into bloated, disfigured visages of their former selves. He and his followers eventually came to be known as the Overlords. Many of them rose among the ranks of Hell to command huge armies and wreck havoc on the Forces of Light. Besides being blood-thirsty warriors, they were skilled craftsmen and one of them, Hephasto, is the Armorer of Hell. "

    Yeah, it's twisted, but so is Diablo. Diablo 2's strength was entirely based on the universe designed prior to Diablo 1. That's pretty much the only reason I (strongly) prefer D2 to Torchlight. Somehow, while I'll still likely get and enjoy D3, I know all of that will be gone...

    Shed a tear folks.

  15. Giauz, I agree with you on the dialogue in this game; I've had trouble getting responses out of several characters. But I think Ultima IV is the exact opposite. I suspect you don't realize that NAME, HEALTH, and JOB always get some response from each NPC, and those always offer up keywords that you can use to continue the conversation.

    I don't really like the mouse interface in Wasteland, and it annoys me when I'm forced to use it.

    Rodrigo, I'm glad I got a convert. It makes gaming ever so much more fun. Last time I played Oblivion, I forced myself to only use the auto-save, and it created real tension when I'd been exploring a dungeon for 30 minutes and I encountered someone capable of killing me.

    UbAh, I couldn't figure out your hint and ended up killing the dog again. I'll check a walkthrough when I'm done playing. But I did find that Scott is right and you can just run away from him. He doesn't have a gun or anything.

    Kellandros, I'll try to remember to return here when I get to Battletech, but feel free to remind me if I seem to be doing things wrong. Thanks for the tips!

    Killias, I'm pretty sure the age of manuals is over, with more game makers putting what would normally have come in the "manual" in tutorials and in-game references instead. There was a transition period in which the technology wasn't quite good enough to accomodate all this material in-game, but developers produced uninspiring manuals anyway; I suspect Diablo II is in this era. It is too bad: There was a real art to game manuals.

  16. Did you try just not killing the dog and running? I honestly forget if that works but I remember you could run from one or both to avoid the child killing.

    Speaking of child killing can you imagine a developer allowing that scene in any game to come out now? I think they would cower in fear of how that would play out in the news nowadays, where you couldn't bribe a reporter or talking head to mention video games back when this came out.

  17. The dog was blocking a corridor that I had to pass to rescue Jackie, although I suppose I didn't technically need to rescue Jackie, since she turned out to be a bit of a loser and I didn't get any kind of quest reward or anything.

    That's an interesting if morbid question. What's the last game that allows you to kill a child? I suspect a CRPG would raise less outrage than, say, a first-person shooter.

  18. haha I can see it now, you gain national fame for this blog by posing that question. Headline reads "video game bloggers quest for games which allow the killing of children". The outcry makes legislation to make such games illegal and it becomes a talking point in the election race. Meanwhile nothing of actual substance is discussed or accomplished.

    Now I am "morbidly curious" as you say maybe one of your readers knows the answer to the question. though I suppose in the course of your blog you will find the last major RPG that has it.

  19. Well, I'm pretty sure children could be killed in Fallout 1. It was a bigger issue with Fallout 2, as I believe it was possible in the US version, though I seem to remember children being removed completely from any international versions. But I think there may have been patches to add them back to the game. It was even a Karma title you got in both games, "child killer", or something like that. Also, I believe Fallout 3 had children, but they could not be harmed.

    I realize this only addresses the Fallout games, but these are the last games I can remember where this came up, and was at least a little controversial with Fallout 2 and 3.

  20. I wrote about this in my posting today, because a battle in Savage Village had me facing "1 woman" and "3 children" along with some dogs. If I remember correctly, Jade Empire gives you the option to mercilessly kill a little girl; that's the last one that I can think of, but of course I haven't played many modern games.

    I wonder if this is why there were no children in Oblivion. Modifying the game to make attacks against children always "miss" or something would have been too much work. It is quite bizarre how you never see any children in The Elder Scrolls series, although various books and quests attest to the fact that they exist.

  21. This is specifically why they were not in Oblivion, based on what I read around the time Fallout 3 came out.

    I was a bit disturbed that one of the most popular early mods for Fallout 3 was one that made children killable.

    Would games where you play as a child and can get killed count? I think there were a number of those early on, though the first I can think of is Commander Keen from 1990. I know some NES/Famicom games had kids as the hero in the 1980s, and you could die in those.

  22. Oddly enough because FPS games make me feel motion sick Commander Keen is the only ID game I like.

  23. I started Wasteland twice and failed at getting into it on the fly. I admit to getting many old games through dubious sources - manual not always included... But next time, I'm going to make a real effort, right after I completed Baldur's Gate I + II & Icewind Dale I + II...

  24. Hm, I guess I kind of feel the opposite from you about how to learn the game commands and interface. To me, the easiest and most pleasant way to learn about the game's workings is from the manual; I find in-game tutorials kind of annoying. (I agree that a game's beginning area should be simple enough to ease you into getting comfortable with the game's workings; I just don't like tutorials where you're explicitly led through the game's commands and interface.)

    1. Yes, it's definitely a personal preference thing. I like old manuals for their back stories and lore, but I'd be thrilled if I never had to READ how to play a game again.


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