Monday, August 27, 2012

Bloodwych: Dead Ends

Nowhere left to go.

Shortly after the last time I blogged, I ran into a literal dead end with Bloodwych. Even after retracing my steps twice and sketching a crude map of the dungeon, I could only find one door I hadn't opened, and I couldn't find a key for that door.

I broke down and looked at an online map offered by a gentleman named Alan Chapman at one of the few online resources for Bloodwych. I'm glad I did, because that dead-end pictured above is actually supposed to be a set of stairs. This is apparently a well-known bug in the game (reader Leszek Wronski alluded to it on my first posting), called the "Welcome Back! bug" after a sign at the top of a nearby set of stairs. Owing to a certain dearth of solid material on Bloodwych online, it took me a while to solve. Someone had created a patch, but it only runs on 32-bit machines unless you use DOSBox, in which case you also need another file. I don't normally supply tech support on this blog, but for future readers who might come across this entry while having the same problem: you want to find the fix file called WBFIX.EXE somewhere online (it actually came with the version of Bloodwych I downloaded) and another file called CWSDPMI.EXE. Open DOSBox, run the latter first, then the former.

All of this raises the question about why I struggled so hard to fix a game I didn't really like when I had a perfect excuse to stop playing. The truth is, I took to heart the "RTFM" exchanges from back in March. The guy had a point. I bailed on the second two Bard's Tale games way too soon. I may not finish Bloodwych--it's extremely long and repetitive--but I want to make sure I fully explore it before I come to that decision.

Yesterday was an odd day. I've had a serious back pain problem for a few days, and since I didn't have to go anywhere yesterday, I loaded up on pain medication. In addition to doing a great job on my back, the medication made me disoriented and yet oddly obsessive about the task in front of me. I ended up playing Bloodwych for roughly 12 hours straight. I had nightmares about the game when I went to bed, and today I can't remember half of what I did.

Despite the investment of time, I didn't get very far: I explored one tower and recovered one of the five crystals I need to defeat Zendick. Halfway through the day, I began to seriously regret not mapping the levels, but I persisted in not mapping until the end. If I continue playing, I think I'll have to change my mind about this, as the levels are extremely complex, and missing a single item can cripple your progress.

20% done!

Character leveling was also very slow. When I began yesterday's gameplay, all four of my characters were Level 3. When I finished, three were Level 5 and one was Level 6. I can't imagine how slow it goes if you're playing in tandem with another player/party. I hate to keep comparing this game to Dungeon Master, but I miss the other game's leveling system, where you leveled up fairly regularly based on what skills you used rather than your starting class.

I do confess to some enjoyment of the equipment-based leveling. I like multi-character games in which there are several things to buy and wield, so that every hour or so, you find an upgraded pair of gloves, armor, a shield, or a weapon. Unlike in Dungeon Master, statistics make it immediately apparent how each item relates to the others.

Finding mithril plate is cool, even if it's a bit odd that my mage can wear it.

The game also follows Dungeon Master's tradition of telling you nothing about the foes you face--not even their names. Some are easily identifiable, of course--a dragon, a giant crab, a skeleton, and beholders among them--but I have no idea what some the humanoids are supposed to be.

 
 
Some of the foes encountered yesterday.

The culmination of the day was the achievement of the Serpent Crystal at the top of the Serpent Tower. Fighting my way to the top wasn't easy. First off, I rescind what I said yesterday about bobbing-and-weaving during combat as "quasi-cheating." When I said that, I was still capable of winning combats without resorting to such tactics. As I soon realized, simply standing face-to-face with most monsters is a death sentence, no matter how well-equipped you are, and no matter what tactics you use. The game seems to assume that you'll use guerilla-style combat to win most battles, and it occasionally has some fun with you by designing the levels in such a way that such combat is impossible. The entire top level was like that, with lots of  linear corridors, dead ends, and enemies coming from multiple directions. Surviving it took a lot of work, and yet I can't say it was "satisfying" work, because it relied on lots of luck and reloading rather than any real "tactics."

This wasn't nice.

When I left the Serpent Tower, I had a key to the Moon Tower, and thus settled on it as the next port of call. I took a 20-minute video illustrating various gameplay elements.



For those of you who don't like to watch narrated video, the major sections are:

1. Some introductory stuff and a tour of the interface.

2. Combat against a couple groups of beholders, illustrating the bob-and-weave method, how the resurrection room works, and what happens when you die.

3. Trying to sell excess items to shopkeepers. This process has been very frustrating, and they usually insult me rather than buy anything. I'm looking forward to getting the "alchemy" spell, which automatically converts extra items to gold. Gold is important because you need it to purchase new spells from the spell fairy every time you level up, and to buy potions from the occasional (actually, only one so far) potion shop.

4. Dispelling some illusory walls.

The only accessible room in the Moon Tower has a couple of gem-shaped receptacles on the walls, and I assume I need to fill these before I can progress forward. Unfortunately, I don't have any gems to put in them. Clearly, I overlooked them somewhere in the main tower or Serpent Tower, meaning I have to retrace my steps (and probably map this time) if I want to keep playing. I am seriously considering quitting on it, motivated primarily by Trudodyr's report that nothing really changes.

There are two lessons that I've learned the hard way:

1. Both "archers/assassins" and "adventurers" are kind of worthless. They both have lousy spell points (less than half of the mage) and also do lousy in combat (my fighter routinely scores hits in the 40-60 range while my adventurer rarely gets above 15). If I was starting over, I'd play with two fighters and two mages.

2. The CPU speed determines how quickly hit points, vitality, and spell points regenerate, but it also determines how quickly you get hungry. I used up all my food and was still starving before I thought to lower the DOSBox speed from the default of 3000 cycles to a more reasonable 700-800.

On the subject of dead ends, I've found through some of my research that Mirrorsoft, the company that produced Bloodwych (through its label, Image Works), has an interesting history. Headquartered in London, the company was a subsidiary of The Daily Mirror, a daily tabloid published since 1903. Mirrorsoft was founded as an educational software publisher, but its educational offerings were soon outstripped by its games, of which it published more than 50 between 1983 and 1991. Most are action games; Bloodwych is the only CRPG.

Mirrorsoft appears to have been the U.K. distributor for Dungeon Master, which partly explains the similarity in interface, although the company doesn't seem to have any ties to the specific developers. The developers of Bloodwych are collectively credited as TAG and seem to be Peter James and brothers Anthony Taglione and Philip Taglione. They created the original world of Trazere, in which Bloodwych and The Four Crystals of Tazere (AKA Legend) are set.

Bloodwych might have been better known if not for a financial scandal and collapse of Mirrorosoft following the death of Ian Robert Maxwell in 1991. Maxwell owned The Mirror, Mirrorsoft, several Scottish newspapers, several book companies (including Macmillan), and The New York Daily News. He was the Rubert Murdoch of his day. In 1991, however, he died under mysterious circumstances when he fell off his yacht off the Canary Islands. After his death, a former Israeli Mossad officer claimed that Maxwell had been an agent for the service, even while he served in the British parliament.

More important for our purposes, it came to light that he'd been embezzling money from his companies' pension funds and that his companies were under water in debt. By 1992, the media empire had collapsed, its subsidiaries sold to pay off debts. Mirrorsoft was sold to Acclaim Entertainment, which had its own credibility issues and went out of business in 2004. Taglione and James had just begun work on The Four Crystals of Trazere when Mirrorsoft collapsed, and apparently it wasn't far enough along to be part of the Acclaim deal. Instead, they pitched it to Mindscape, and it was accepted. I'll be playing that game in a couple of years.

Tomorrow, I'll make a decision whether to continue with Bloodwych or move on. There don't really seem to be any walkthroughs or full-length LPs online, so I have an urge to finish it just to document the ending. On the other hand, it really is excruciatingly boring, repetitive, and linear.

26 comments:

  1. I miss Acclaim, if only because they created the Turok Dinosaur Hunter games on the Nintendo 64. The first game is still in working order, and was a very nice surprise for my 8th birthday.... memories...

    I gotta say, I am impressed that you play this game at all. Every time you move, there's no scrolling, just the screen refreshing... I wanted to tear pmy hair out when you were going up against those
    beholders.

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    1. First time the scrolling is better for the navigation but later when you have become used to it the screen refresh is faster method and the scrolling becomes annoyingly slow. At least this is my experience.

      Lord Hienmitey

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    2. I think the first game* of this genre that showed a couple intermediate frames when you turned or moved was Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos in 1993. Earlier games simply couldn't spare the processor power or memory - just having this dungeon made of static blocks with a visibility of 3-4 blocks ahead was all the computers of yore could do without melting down from the effort.

      The lack of such visual cues may make these videos hard to follow, however while you're playing the games it's usually very easy to keep track of where you are located and headed, because you have tactile feedback - you know that you moved because you pressed a key, and you know which key you pressed so you know which direction you moved.

      *) Obitus in 1991 and Phantasy Star in 1987 also showed intermediate frames, but those had greatly limited visibility and dungeon layouts to accommodate that. LoL:ToC was the first game that could do it with dungeon layouts of arbitrary complexity.

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    3. In turn-based it's not so bad (I guess this wear the redundant-seeming text scrall of movements taken in games like Ultima 4 comes in handy when it might seem like no matter which way you move the screen remains unchanged), but in real-time this feels extremely hectic to watch. I'll just stick to after video text from now on (if any more videos of games like this are made).

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    4. As the second anon points out, everything seems cool when you're actually playing, since you know what direction you just turned.

      Incidentally, the first game I played to feature continuous scrolling was Alternate Reality: The City, all the way back in 1985. I think probably the earliest was Dungeons of Daggorath from 1982, although the graphics on that one were otherwise nothing to sing about.

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  2. I say move on if you are not enjoying this at all. I look forward to Magic Candle. A game which I never played for reasons I can't remember. But pretty much everything I've read about it is positive. I did dabble with the sequel, but not enough to have strong opinions about it.

    As far as Bloodwych goes, I did play this briefly. Seems like you have played it more than I ever did, and I found it boring and bland. Even as a 12 or 13 year old, I could not manage to play it more than a few hours.

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  3. I remember these games costing upwards of $60 back in the day. If it's a boring game, then let it fade away. While it would be nice to document a walkthrough for the poor unfortunates who may follow you, does this game really deserve it?

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  4. It's the first time I watch one of your videos and I have to say I like it: informative and to the point. Definitely better than some vids I've seen from 'professional' game reviewers.

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    1. I always think I sound like an idiot, but I guess everyone thinks that when they hear recordings of themselves.

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    2. Your voice has a tinge of Rush Limbaugh but you sound all sophisticated n stuff

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  5. I gotta say, those random-generated insults look absolutely hilarious. "Thou art a zombie" indeed.

    My own experience with Bloodwych was about five minutes with the C64 version. Based on that it seemed like what I'd heard it to be - a poor man's Dungeon Master, whose main selling point was the swanky multiplayer option.

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    1. The multiplayer option is legitimately impressive. I wish I was able to explore it.

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    2. "Thou art a zombie"

      Is that even an insult these days? :-D

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  6. This site http://www.alanchapman.org/bloodwych/info.html seems to have all the maps of the game. As it look like a Dungeon Master clone you dont need much.

    I remember playing it a bit back in the day. But dismissing it very fast while I spent month on Dungeon Master.

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    1. That site is mentioned and linked to at the beginning of this article.

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  7. Like heaps of other game titles, Bloodwych has also loads of youtube videos, including endings (basic game and data disk) and multiparted longplay (complete?).

    There was also video containing clips from Book of Skulls, which turned out to be add-on that had been made on Amiga with editor (self-made?) and it was in the making between 2009-2010.

    Was it ever finished - only HoraceAndTheSpider knows answer but regardless what the opinion or rating turn out to be, there must be some merits in game if some people still spend time on it.

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    1. Quick addition, as noted that lack of longplays was mentioned - As said above youtube contains 14 parts of approximately 10 min. videos of playing Bloodwych. Can't say how complete, though.

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    2. Granted, my searches were a little limited since I was trying to avoid spoilers.

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  8. Regarding back pain: How's your posture when you're sitting at the computer? If you're sitting at all asymmetrically with more weight on one cheek than the other, then that's contributing to the back issues.

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    1. My posture generally sucks, and I suspect it will cause problems later, but in this case I think I can tie it quite solidly to carrying a bunch of heavy boxes up several flights of stairs earlier in the week.

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    2. Yeah, I know someone who needed surgery because he kept his wallet in his back pocket. After years and years of sitting on it he wound up with nerve damage as the base of his spine.

      Not to mention it makes you very easy to pick pocket.

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  9. Move on to Magic Candle, man!!

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  11. We (my uncle and I) played Bloodwych on the Amiga back in the early 90's and were addicted to it. Dungeon Master really is another game that has its own merits. Remember with Bloodwych you can chat, trade, and multiplay, these things made it very special indeed!

    We finished Bloodwych back in the early 90's and then went onto the datadisks. However as we were getting older (me into my late teens etc) I started going out more / working etc so never had the time to complete it.

    I want to say that I have yet to see another game that compares to Bloodwych, well I have just not seen one and its a shame that its not been ported over to the likes of Playstation / Xbox etc. I guess the kids of today though want a different experience.

    Anyway I read your blog and saw that you were getting stuck? You went the to the right place to get the maps from Alan Chapman, but if you need any help or guidance ask away :)

    I often read in a lot of dungeon forums etc (not that I am a big fan of them all) that Bloodwych is the game by which all dungeon crawler based games are rated against!

    Regards

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    1. So many people love this game that I feel like I must have fundamentally missed something during my time with it. I suspect the fond memories are tied primarily to cooperative play with a family member or friend, as in your case. Do you really think it holds up that well as a single-player game?

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