Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sentinel Worlds: Slogging

My enhanced "RECON" skills allow me to see armories and elevators on the map, but it still didn't help  much with this interminable battle station.

Games, like life, ought to make you work for your rewards. But there are different kinds of work. There's the kind where you work all day to build a shed, and then you get cleaned up and go out for a nice dinner, but while the dinner is the technical "reward," having a completed shed is the real reward. And then there's the kind where you have the same dinner after spending a day digging holes only to fill them in again. This isn't a metaphor; I've experienced them both lately. The holes were a result of my futile attempts to find my septic tank. I spent an entire day digging in root- and rock-filled clay and couldn't find it. I had dinner at the same place after both projects, but it sure tasted better after the shed.

Going through the dungeons of Sentinel Worlds feels like digging holes, mostly because, like my hole-digging project, I wasn't sure there was anything to find where I was digging. The dungeons in the game are unnaturally large and unconscionably empty. I spent most of the last two days trying to figure out the raiders' battle station, which has a succession of dozens of maps that repeat the same design, so you're never sure whether you're on a new map or revisiting an old one. I kept thinking the maps were doubling back on themselves, but suddenly I'd find a new exit or an elevator (in the same position as the elevator on an identical map) that went to a different spot.

This would have been only boring if I hadn't been constantly assailed by raider troops in every hallway. Games that do what Sentinel Worlds does--constantly re-spawn monsters at the periphery of the map, so you never "clear" an area or even set them back enough to take a breath--are mercifully rare. Ultima II is the first example I can think of, where every map seems to have a fixed number of monsters at any given time, and if you kill one in one area, a new one spawns off-screen. But Lands of Lore is the earliest game I can recall that was truly obscene about it. You'd kill six enemies ahead of you, backtrack for a few steps to get your bearing, turn around, and find six new enemies on the same path. Sentinel Worlds is like that.

Tigers line up to be slaughtered.

Now you might recall that I normally like re-spawning for the purposes of grinding, and indeed I might find some value here except that character development has effectively ceased. My characters are lieutenant commanders and commanders--13 and 14 out of 20 possible levels--but leveling no longer provides the same rewards. The skill system that I liked when I started the game turns out to have a maximum skill level of 7. Having achieved that a long time ago in every character's primary weapon class and major secondary skills (recon, observation, bribery, gunnery, etc.), I'm now just assigning random skills like blunt weapons and ATV repair.

Let me back up and explain how I came to the raiders' base. In my last entry, I had just found the Key of Thor, who filled me in one some of the back story related to the Sentinels. Armed with this knowledge, I began revisiting NPCs in the game and asking about the Sentinels. One of them, a guy in a bar on Caldorre named Ruawl, told me (after two bribes) that there were some folks on Norjaenn who used that name, and that I could get more information from a Jason Depard.

It took me a while to find Jason Depard; he was in a third bar that I had missed on my first visit. He agreed to help if I could settle the feud between ranchers and farmers. When I returned to the ranchers' and farmers' bars, all the previous NPCs were gone. A random farmer told me that their leader, Grayper, had formed a posse and taken it to Striker Rift to retrieve a kidnapped boy. It transpired that the ranchers had also lost a boy and were blaming the farmers.

Amidst a cave full of "dark gorillas" and "fire cats," the two posses were camped. I convinced them to stay put, explored the cave, and ran into someone named "Shadar the Cruel" after killing a bunch of his thugs. Shadar claimed that the kidnapping of the children was part of a "master plan" and confessed he was behind the crop-burnings and cattle-slayings that had the two factions at each others' throats. At this point, a weird "energy battle" ensued, and I have no idea what was happening or what I was supposed to do...

I can't even bring myself to make fun of this dialogue.

...but in any event, it was interrupted by Jason Depard. Seeing him, Shadar took off, and Jason explained that Shadar was actually his brother, Paul, and that Paul's "evil master" had given him the name "Shadar." Friends, if this is all sounding kind of stupid, it is. The game is starting to feel like a science fiction story relayed spontaneously by seven-year-olds. This is an honest-to-god quote from Depard:

Our paths will cross again someday. It is our destiny. When it does, I hope to be ready for him. For now, he fears me greatly although with his knowledge of the dark arts his evil master has taught him he could surely kill me. Yet he fears me. He tried to get me to go with him, to talk to this 'Master' of his, but I didn't. He said I had the Light or some such mumbo jumbo, but I told him I wasn't interested in hearing about it. All I know is that someday he's going to have to face up to the mischief he's created or face up to me, his brother.

When HBO options this, you all be sure to let me know.

Isn't this heartwarming?

In any event, the boys were returned, the ranchers and farmers made up, and Depard gave me the location of the Sentinels, who once healed him when he broke his leg.  I went to their caves and found them guarded by Koshols, the same Alien aliens I had previously met digging a tunnel on Caldorre. Their caves were a long maze, and I was infuriated after I got to the end and spoke to the Sentinels that I would have to turn around and walk the same path back out. I guess I got spoiled by Skyrim.

Says Apsae, as if it's something that we should have heard of before.

The Sentinels, who appear to be Native American, didn't have a lot to say. Being in the presence of the Key of Thor healed their minds, but they still needed their book of spells, which was in the possession of Malcolm Trandle.

"All new vigor."

The leader of the Sentinels, Kedro, gave me access to some powers--spells, basically--including healing, the ability to find other "energy users," mind-probing, and "erase attacker skill." The latter of which might come in handy if combat wasn't usually over before I could get the menu launched.

This is, I assume, the "magic" of the subtitle.

Kedro told me that the book of spells is on Earth(!), but I can get there through a teleporter in Malcolm's raider base. He recommended that I board a raider ship and use my new telepathic abilities to find the coordinates of the base. That part wasn't too hard, except that I had to disarm all of my crew members because they kept killing the raiders before I could read their minds. I found that I had to first fly my ship to one pair of coordinates and then hyperspace to another pair. Soon enough, I found myself on the raider base.

How handy that the raiders think in coordinates.

Now, all of the above took only about one-quarter of the game time since my last posting. The other three-quarters was spent wandering around the infuriating raider base. The maps were so confusing and enemy-filled that I had to leave several times to restock on ammo. The one good thing is that I found several armories and loaded up on the best weapons and armor in the game, as well as several random items that sold for a lot of cash and helped pay for further stat boosts.

It took me five visits and almost twice as many hours to finally find the spell book. Before that, I found Malcolm's throne room and looted his treasury. It was much deeper in the raider base than the eventual location that I found the spell book, and it was at the end of a large level that otherwise seemed to have no purpose. This should have been ominous at the time.

Apsae momentarily forgets that she's a public servant.

The book turned out to be hidden in a level that I had originally declined to continue through because one of the corridors was blocked by Taylor, one of the NPCs from Norjaeen, apparently a spy or traitor. She was standing at the end of a long hallway with a thermocaster--a very high-end weapon. She slaughtered my entire party before I could get close to her. Nothing I could think of (and frankly there aren't that many tactics in the game) would get me past her. I spent about 30 minutes trying, but I couldn't get any character to survive combat with her, let alone all five. Ultimately, I figured she must be guarding something unnecessary, or perhaps some place I had to visit later in the game.

What's her problem,  anyway?

After exploring the rest of the base, gaining several levels and better guns, I took another run at her but suffered the same fate. The ultimate solution would put the worst save-scummer to shame: I saved, moved forward just enough to engage her for one shot, turned tail and ran, and--if none of my characters died--saved again. If anyone died, I reloaded. About 18 rounds of this, and she was finally dead. I have no idea what the game was trying to prove by putting such an impossible boss there. I'm looking forward to reading some walkthroughs and watching Amy's "let's play" after I finish, so I can find out if there was another way to deal with her.

At last, I reached the book and, oddly enough, like the Key of Thor, it was sentient. It promised me new abilities if I could get it back to the Sentinels.

Yes, he's a congenial fellow, he is.

Fine. A long slog out of the raider's base. A long slog back to the Sentinels (not to mention the same slog back from the Sentinels). And what do I get?

That's right: I have to go back to the raiders' base, go through the billion screens again, and find Malcolm. At least I have a pretty good idea of where he is. And I've got some new "spells," including confuse, charm, and "count nearby lifeforms," which works exactly as advertised, to no possible purpose that I can see.

Feels like the end is near.


  1. It seems the "energy battle" is against Jack Nicholson!

    1. Looks like the evil wizard from Conan to me:

  2. Try mind probing all different people, and you might get interesting clues.

    1. Didn't sentinels teach some power which aided on homing in?

    2. Shoot. I just won, and both of my saves are at the endgame. I can't go back out and talk to NPCs again. Do you know for sure that this works (not just on the raiders when you board their ships), or are you speculating?

      To second anon', there's a spell called "look for energy users," but unless I'm missing something, all it does is tell you if any are on your current map. When you get to the final game map, it's pretty clear that's where you are, so the spell is of dubious value.

    3. Yes, it works. Well, the clue you might get is that people on Caldorre towers are not real.

    4. I wish both my save games weren't in a place so non-conducive to checking that out. That might have been a fun twist.

  3. Ha, at this point Future Magic sure is looking to *not* be the lost classic I thought it might be (really wanted it to be good, again because of my interest in sci-fi RPGs). Oh well, I have way too many other games on my to-play list anyway. ;)

    1. Tell me about it. I really hope I like Star Command because otherwise you're going to think I came back from my hiatus with a really bad attitude; I've disliked the last three games.

    2. I can't promise you too much on Star Command, but:

      - no late game abilities out of nowhere.
      But on the downside no super-powered guns to discover or loot(pretty much all you find is cash or loot to sell for cash); what you see for sale in Starport is mostly it for items(outside of the 'use a special item' command ones; those may get frustrating for solving the occasional weird puzzle/challenge).
      - no multi-level dungeons or confusing combination first/third person views. No seemingly randomly generated maps. But their exploration map has your party has an ~5x5 pixel block, so there is far more room on a single map to explore. Most of the time they don't use the whole screen; the one time they do, well, I'm sorry.
      - No dialog trees, to have to go back and re-talk to a wide range of NPCs with a new keyword. Because there are very few NPCs and a much more limited system to interact with them.
      - A specific series of missions with fairly well labeled endpoints and coordinates; no open ended discover the true path yourself challenge. No real side-quests either unfortunately.
      - No early maxing out of skills or abilities- training only comes after missions or at a fairly obscene price. The skill levels do cap at 8 though, but above 4 you tend to only get fractions of a skill level per training session (0.5 until about level 6, then 0.3 improvements I think).

  4. Sounds like the dungeons are like your septic tank project in another way: even if you do find something, it's crap.

  5. This really does sound like a slog. Back in early editions of D&D, a lot of modules would have a random encounter table for each dungeon or discrete area the adventurers would explore. I am not sure if it was a rule in the game or just how we house ruled it at the time, but once the DM rolled on the random encounter table (after a selected number of rounds after they had last rolled) and the encounter was fought and finished, that encounter would be crossed out with pencil on the table. Eventually all encounters would be crossed out.

    This meant that in our game at the time, eventually you would be able to clear out a dungeon of all the random encounters, and were you to also kill pre-made setpiece encounters, that would mean this dungeon or area was effectively pacified. Sure - perhaps after weeks or months the DM would decree the place had been re-infested with monsters, but that feeling of repreve and of domesticating the wilderness, as it were, I felt, was a big part of what combat-centric RPGS, both paper and pencil and computer simulated, were and should be about.

    Most videogames access that part of our brain that likes it when they fix a mess. RPGS also access the 'I am levelling up, I am better at fixing my messes' part of the brain. Those combinated are very powerful/addictive (for good or worse). It's a shame when some of these early RPGS, as inspired as they were from D&D, missed a few components of its formula. Cleaning out a monster site is a good feeling. If the players want to grind for levels they should hit the overworld/vast wilderness where the random encounter table never runs out.

  6. I was about to say that your character looks like a pissed-off Sigourney Weaver, but I see that other commenters have already pointed this out!

    Andy-- I thought that was Jack Nicholson, too!

  7. Good points, Helm. And don't forget the basic idea of realism.

    A raider base that spawns unlimited numbers of enemies make no sense.

    And what do these Sentinels do in their "home" anyway, and why do they hang out in such a dangerous place?

    1. As it is local Death Star there probably is more footsoldiers than single infiltrating crew could hope to deal with.

    2. That's an interesting point, 'Nym. Wikipedia cites an expanded universe source as saying that the original Death Star had 265,675 people on it I estimate that I killed only about 1,000 enemies in the raider base, so I suppose it is logically plausible that they keep showing up. I just don't understand why they didn't coordinate their attacks better.

    3. Well, sure, 265,675 people, but most of those won't be Stormtroopers. You also have pilots, maintince workers, Able-Bodies, janitors ( ) and so on.

  8. Per Gamefaqs, your approach to Taylor was the correct one:

    Move north. There's a guardian with a thermocaster that is very difficult
    to beat (Taylor, seen earlier in the game on Norjaenn). Here's how you'll
    do it: equip all members with long range guns - for example, thermocasters.
    Approach Taylor one dot below visibility, then press up and quickly press
    SPACE to target Taylor. Turn around 180 degrees and press UP arrow. When
    you have successfully targeted Taylor, repeat the procedure untill you can
    go through. This may be the most difficult moment of the game, so patience,
    patience please, and reboot your game if a crew member dies.

    1. You can actually just kill Taylor when she is in the bar on Norjeann, you have to do it before you get to the sentinels otherwise she takes off. She won't be at the Battlestation at all if you do that.

    2. That's an interesting bit of trivia, but you know..."role-playing" and all.

  9. Yeah, I know. The game can be a pain in the ass. You're welcome to watch my LP of course, but I did get rid of Taylor in the same fashion that you did. You may have a little chuckle at seeing me die over and over though. Misery loves company. ;P

    1. I just won, so I'm going to watch it in a little bit.

  10. Congrats on giving the game a second chance and winning! I'm not sure the Gimlet score will be very forgiving, but it should get a decent enough score.

  11. Same as in your examples about two different jobs, there are also 2 different types of gaming.

    One type is when I play GTA 3 and spend two days to get one more achievement because I hate 99/100.Or when I want to do every single quest in Morrowind. It’s insane but I love to do it. And as long as I have fun in doing it, it’s a time good spent.

    Second type is when I want to finish the game just because average Joe decided to have it on his list and said it is good. That’s a waste of time. That’s even worse than a job, because you don’t get paid.

    I am not going to congratulate you on finishing this game.

    Instead of that I am going to quote your rule number: ”5. I don't have to win every game, but I must play for at least six hours.”
    Well play it 12 hours if you have to but if you still don’t like it as you obviously don’t like this one and some previous games, then for crying out loud, don’t play them. Just leave them to people who will really enjoy in playing them.

    There are so many excellent RPG’s and I am looking forward reading your blog about them. So next time when you don’t like some game just tell yourself : “Life is too short to waste it on this crap.” At least think about it!

    1. There's a big difference in what I would do as a PLAYER and what I would do as a PLAYER/BLOGGER. As the latter, I do feel there is some value in finishing games even when I'm not having fun, because I get to blog about the ending, and I think the entire package reads better when I have a complete game.

      If I had decided I wasn't having fun at the six-hour mark, sure, even as a blogger it makes more sense to stop there than to continue. But when I make that decision and I know I only have a few hours to go until the end, quitting at that point would seem stupid. Even if I don't like it, I might still like writing about it.

    2. I appreciate sticking with the game even when it turned sour, it's fun to read about the bad stuff, and to get the complete picture of a game. I do hope you have more fun with Star Command though!


  12. As long as you don't burn yourself out again with slogging!

  13. Good to see you back! Sorry to hear about the gimlet trashing your old computer :(

    This is a very, very silly game. There's a semi-sequel called Hard Nova, which is supposed to be better.

    I played SW:FM....I want to say a little over 20 years ago, on my old Commodore. My ex-hubby had bought it for me. I got as far as the endlessly spawning ice tigers and gave up.

    You might try Planet's Edge from New World Computing when you get to 1992:

    Supposed to be pretty good.

    1. 1992? Star Control 2!!! That's an awesome game, I'm waiting for 1992 too! Let the time pass! (*turning on an over powered clock with over 9000 horse powers*)

  14. If we're to believe Wookiepedia (and why wouldn't we when links there all the time when regarding specifics about ships etc.), that number would have been closest to the amount of support and maintenance crew on-board (285,675). The whole list of people on board would be quite a lot higher, staggeringly so even:

    Full-time crew members (342,953)[1]
    Officers (27,048)[5]
    Troops (607,360)
    Pilots (167,216)
    Support and maintenance crew (285,675)[1]
    Support droids (400,000)
    Stormtroopers (25,984; depending upon deployment)[5]
    Gunners (57,278)[1]
    Starship support staff (42,782)
    Passengers (843,342)

    So yeah, still tens of thousands of Stormtroopers, and hundreds of thousands of regular troops. The scales of these things were through the roof, the first one was some 120-140 km in diameter, and the second one was supposed to be more like 900 km in diameter, so (had it been finished and fully staffed) would have likely had several times the crew aboard it as well...


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