Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wasteland: Dry Bones Can Harm No One

I realize that there was no Internet in 1988, but couldn't the creators have bothered to research what an opossum actually looks like?

Brandon Sanderson had an interesting posting on the Tor/Forge blog a couple of days ago about the use of guns in fantasy. He reconciles his youthful belief that "if it has guns, it's not good fantasy" with the fact that he's included guns--"lots of guns"--in the post-industrial-revolution Mistborn: The Alloy of Law. He ultimately decides that it's the magic, not the technology, that makes the fantasy.

His post got me wondering, though, if whether my aversion to post-apocalyptic CRPGs isn't so much about the post-apocalypse as the guns. I've never been much of a gun guy. I was in a branch of the armed forces when I was younger, so I'm not afraid of them or anything, but I never found them particularly fascinating, and I never learned more about them than what I needed to learn to get through my enlistment. I can field-strip an M16, and I can tell you the difference between an M16A1 and an M16A2, and that's about it.

In reflection, the part I liked least about both Sentinel Worlds and Star Command was trying to figure out which guns I should arm my characters with. I'm having the same issue in Wasteland. I know what a LAW rocket does because I blew up a dumpster with one (for god's sake, make sure you yell "backblast area all clear!" before firing it, or you'll be doing pushups all weekend), but I have no idea how to choose between an AK-97 or a M1989A1 NATO assault rifle, and I really don't care.

So I've decided that my new Wasteland party is going to be hardcore--melee weapons all the way. If they pick up NPCs who use guns, they can continue to use them, but the core members are going to be like Batman: Everything gets channeled into the skills of pugilism, brawling, and knife fighting.

Guns are for pansies.

Creating a new party turned out to be a little more difficult than I anticipated. As many of you pointed out, Wasteland supports just one save file, which it constantly writes over whether you choose to save or not. Because you informed me about potential bugs associated with this, I've been backing up the file occasionally (I'm only going to access it if the game gets corrupted). But starting over completely requires deleting the file and then re-installing the original.

I rolled four new characters, focusing on high IQs, dexterity, agility, and strength. I spent a long time on this. There are some games in which the total number of points for all attributes is relatively fixed, so that if you get an 18 score for strength, you're unlikely to get a similarly high score in other attributes. Not so with Wasteland: Each attribute is mutually exclusive of the others, meaning it's theoretically possible to roll 18s in everything given enough time. I kept hitting "roll again" until I had four characters with at least 15 in the core attributes and at least 10 in everything else. When I say this took a "long" time, I mean I listened to almost the entire Smithsonian jazz anthology (I'm linking to it because it's an awesome buy) in the meantime.

These stats took about 250 re-rolls to achieve.

Now, on this subject: Has this ever happened to you? You're hitting the "re-roll" key over and over, trying to get that perfect set of stats, but you end up falling into a rhythm, and you accidentally hit the key a nanosecond before you realize the perfect set of stats was just right there in front of you. That must have happened to me 50 times.

Eventually, though, I had my party. And within short order, I had caught up to where I was when I decided to re-start: I went to the village of Highpool, looted the shopkeeper's bedroom, got the clues, found a building in which a pump needed to be fixed (my perception skill suggests that it needs a new engine), entered the cave, killed Bobby's rabid dog (I couldn't think of any way to get past him to rescue Jackie otherwise), and exited. After I left the cave and was attacked by the grief-stricken Bobby, I realized that it's quite easy to run away from combat. I was able to skirt the boy and get out of town without killing him.

A key early quest.

Heading away from Highpool, I found an "agricultural center," in which I discovered a bunch of farmers shaking their heads with despair. Here, I got my first reference to the adventurer's journal. Much like Pool of Radiance, Wasteland frequently refers you to a journal to read long descriptive paragraphs.

My first chance to be a hero!

This one went:

Closer now, you can hear the conversation of the men you saw when you came in. There is a short silence after each man voices his thoughts. They speak of varmints who are impossible to kill. The varmints are stealing their food faster than ever before and they seem to be massing for a major attack. The simple weapons of the farmers are not enough to stop them. They have no idea what to do. One of them jumps as he notices you and they all turn to face you. A stocky man they call Miguel approaches.

I agreed to help them and faced a succession of giant rabits, moles, and other murderous furry creatures, culminating in a battle against Harry, the Bunny Master. Unfortunately, he killed Jackie, the NPC companion I had just picked up. I hope I don't need her.

This was a bit goofy.

The game's diabolical AI seems to lead enemies to focus on characters with low hit points. As soon as one of my party members starts to dip a bit, he or she becomes the target of everyone's attacks. If the character's hit points reach 0, he falls unconscious. Less than 0, he becomes seriously wounded. Unconscious characters regenerate hit points as time passes and wake up, but seriously wounded characters get worse as time passes, progressing to critically wounded, mortally wounded, comatose, and finally dead. The "medic" skill can reverse the process, but I only gave my characters level 1 in the skill, and apparently you need a higher level to turn someone from "critical" (which Jackie was) to just "unconscious." Looks like I need to invest more in medical skills.

Aside from that, the all-melee party has worked out reasonably well. After my foray in the agricultural station, most of my characters raised to Level 2. You increase in levels by "radioing" back to Ranger Central for a promotion. One character remains stubbornly at Level 1 because the party gets experience from individual kills in battle instead of party experience. In this, the game is more like Ultima V than The Bard's Tale.

From my time in the armed forces, I learned that rarely do four privates go out on missions without any kind of NCO. The rangers must be seriously understaffed.

I explored a little of the outdoor areas and found the functional edge of the map. I also kept getting notices that it was getting hotter, but I'm not sure what effect that had on my party.


I bypassed something called the "Guardian's Citadel" and instead headed for the Rail Nomads' Camp because the game manual listed it as the third place I should try. The camp is a train yard whose denizens live in the rusted remains of boxcars and use railroad titles (Engineer, Hobo, Brakeman). The "Brakeman" gave me a Visa card to deliver to the "Head Crusher" in the town of Quartz. There were three tents I couldn't enter without some kind of password and an Engineer who offered some dialogue options, but only had anything to say about his fellow trainsfolk. A trader in the train sells an engine, which I could use in Highpool, but for $500. I only have $170. Funny how dollars still retain value in this post-apocalyptic world.


So at this point, I have several options for going forward: Find some folks to fight to earn the rest of the money for the engine (I have a bunch of guns I could sell, but I haven't found anyone to buy them yet), try to find Quartz, or just head out on my own. Whatever I choose, I am starting to get into the game a bit. I like the journal entries, and I'm finally figuring out how to watch the game's notes carefully for indications that I need to use an item, attribute, or skill.

20 comments:

  1. Re-roll rhythm is a terrible affliction. My first experience with this was in Wizardry VII, and I must have passed by near-perfect rolls a hundred times as I yawned and clicked. It's part of the reason I came to prefer virtually any system but random rolling.

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  2. I (re)started playing Wasteland about 4 years ago. (I'd also played it when it first came out on the Apple II, but never got very far.) I ended up using melee weapons almost exclusively. Not because I couldn't decide which gun(s) I preferred, but because melee weapons have the happy benefit that they do not run out of ammunition. Worked for me! I still have my 4 year old save game files, and my notes. I may start playing again and try to finish Wasteland before the end of the year.

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  3. I've seen in another Let's Play that Jackie is one of the worst characters in the game, so don't worry about her dying.

    The game manual doesn't list stats for weapons? I'd just pick one then.

    I hate games that don't have clear equipment systems. With BG and icewind dale I never had too much trouble figuring out what sword to use. Fallout 3 and Oblivion are also pretty good on that front.

    Then you get games like Torchlight where I have no clue what wepons to use, as each has a DPS listed, but that doesn't take into account certain bonuses, whether you are duel weilding or your stats. How many points of con are worth 10 DPS, etc? Bleh.

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  4. I believe another advantage of using melee weapons is double xp for kills? I think, someone correct me if I'm wrong. But that's what I remember. It has been over 20 years since I played this, and it was the C64 version.

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  5. I've played through Wasteland at least a dozen times, and now always start with melee skills as well. Your weapon skills are so pitiful at the beginning that you just end up wasting ammo without hitting anything anyway, at least with melee you have a good chance.

    Good choice, and it won't hamper you later when you do actually need to start using guns.

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  6. Reroll rhytm, I love it when something like this gets a name! Reroll dissociation is probably a more apt name though, because the neural program that is started for tapping at that speed makes cerebral control impossible at the split second level. So it actually can't be stopped properly. Anyway, I had my share of missed perfect rolls too and spent way too many hours getting it just right.
    About guns: I had a difficult time adjusting to the idea of using them in cRPG's, they somehow felt like cheating and more agressive than the standard fantasy melee weapons. Right, like if monsters were less dead when using a sword instead of a sword.....but it sure felt that way.
    I have been reading the excellent Dungeons & Desktops by Barton, what a great read! Thanks for that tip. He provides excellent insight into the forces which shaped the cRPG landscape and although I differ on some of his reviews of the games, overall he gets it just right. A must-read for us cRPG fans, I just wish his book didn't stop at 2008. I'll probably have to follow his blog to get his ideas of the last three years. Good luck with continuing Wasteland, I hope you play it all through.

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  7. I always end up passing good rolls that way. Its quite irritating and part of why I prefer point buy for computer games. The roll for stats method comes from D&D and it should have stayed there. As long as you have as many rerolls as you want the system is more of a time sink where the person who spends the most time wins instead of a valid system to randomly assign stats.

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  8. Kennon, you seem fairly confident that I WILL have to use guns at some point. Is it possible to make it through the game melee-only?

    Despite the tedium of re-rolling, I think I like it better than games where you have a fixed attribute point pool. It rewards patience.

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  9. Being melee-only may make the later parts of the game harder, such as that Guardian citadel you mentioned. I never tried melee-only, but that portion of the game was plenty tough even when I was using LAW rockets and such by the truckload. If you haven't noticed, your characters don't get vastly more powerful when you gain levels- especially in their ability to absorb punishment.

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  10. Where did you download this version of the game, my good Addict? I need a good copy of the game, and I would love to use the copy that you seem to be using. Please reply :)

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  11. I'm not sure if you can make it through the entire game with just melee weapons, I've never really tried it*.

    There is IIRC only one melee weapon in the game that can compete with damage at the higher levels once you get to the end game - I believe you can find exactly two of this weapon in the game (and they are relatively hard to find!).

    If you want to give yourself more of a challenge, by all means try to beat it with just melee - but I'm thinking that towards the end you simply won't be able to deal enough damage and you will get wasted just trying to get into range.

    Using melee only is super practical though as you won't burn through ammo, which IS limited in the game, especially ammo types that you use later on in the game.

    * - I HAVE beaten the game using just melee weapons, but I used the well-known "super loot bag cheat" to get 7 copies of the aforementioned melee weapon, and that's definitely off limits for Mr. Addict :-)

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  12. I eventually gave up on the melee thing when armed robotic gunners started attacking me from a distance. Oh, well.

    William, I honestly can't remember. It was more than a month ago. I just Googled "Wasteland DOS download" or something and clicked on links until I found something promising.

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  13. @William

    Bit of a plug for a website I've been involved with, but for older games that aren't available for sale, I'd recommend Abandonia.com, which has a download for Wasteland (amongst many others).

    Great website, has a forum to ask for help and to discuss old games and things.

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  14. i love post-apocalyptic games, and I loved Wasteland.

    I just think of 'guns' as essentially equivalent to magic spells in rpgs, though.

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  15. I have completed Wasteland using only melee weapons. In the beginning, it requires great patience, as you need to grind in order to get your pugilism and brawling up, but once you can outfit your party with decent armor and chainsaws, you're ready to rock.

    Melee has three advantages (at least on the Apple 2 version:
    -you don't need to worry about ammo
    -pugilism and brawling tend to go up much faster than gun skills
    -every 2 levels of brawling gives you an extra attack, eventually allowing you to out-damage most guns. By the time I finished the game, everyone in my party had 5 brawling attacks.

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    1. By the time I finished the game, I realized I could have stuck with my original plan if I'd just had a little patience. If I re-played it, this is what I would do.

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  16. That bit about weapon preference I find interesting. Personally I love guns, although I don't have any experience with them in real life. They're my favorite weapon in fiction however, and their usage in games like Wasteland and Fallout is probably why I've felt more inclined to play those games prior to checking out similar ones like Ultima or Baldur's Gate. I don't necessarily dislike traditional fantasy weaponry or magic; I've played other games like Zelda for instance, and even Dungeons & Dragons and enjoyed them, but if I have a choice between using guns or not using them in a game, I always go with them.


    I'm playing through Wasteland for the first time right now, and I think the usage of guns in place of magic is part of why I'm enjoying the game. I think it comes across to me as being more "plausible" than magic, so I feel more involved than I would be if my party was just using magic to fight enemies. It's something I'll have to think more about to realize why I feel this way, but for now that's my preference in fiction.

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  17. Jackie is actually an awesome character if you manage to keep her alive and bother to level her up. Keeping her alive is a difficult task early in the game, and Highpool tends to be the first location you visit. If you pick her up when your party is already leveled up a bit, it's far easier.

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    1. What is it that makes her particularly awesome? I frankly didn't notice many differences in the way NPCs behaved once they were in your party.

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    2. NPCs are mostly just the sum of their attributes and skills, so there's nothing particularly awesome about Jackie. But if you put enough levels into anyone they'll eventually be effective.

      (Ace's jeep repair ability is the only unique NPC special ability I can think of right now.)

      It's also worth mentioning that the Agricultural Center will buy things like Fruit and (I think) Jewelry at higher prices than other stores, which can help get your income going early.

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