Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bloodwych: We All Have to Take a Bite

Stir 'em up and slather them on rye bread, and you have...a Bloodwych.

I've learned the hard way to be cautious about making proclamations on a game's overall quality too soon. It's sometimes easy to judge a game harshly when you're simply unfamiliar with it. My early posts on Dungeon Master and Wasteland, for instance, show little of the fondness that I would ultimately come to have for the games.

Thus, I was careful to invest at least six hours into Bloodwych before coming to this conclusion: it kind-of sucks.

The primary problem is the interface. There are too many buttons to click that are too small, and the overall arrangement of screen elements makes miserable use of real estate. For instance, to cast a "magic missile" spell, I have to:

  1. Double-click the "suit" icon for the character who's going to cast the spell. This can be tricky because if you accidentally jiggle the mouse during the click--something fairly easy with a Trackpad--you end up moving the character's position.
  2. Click small arrows to turn to the correct spell page (the game doesn't bother to take you to the last page you used; you always start at the beginning of the book).
  3. Double-click on the right spell. Spells are shown only by rune, so you have to memorize the correct runes or position for the spell you want.
  4. Click very small up and down arrows to adjust the spell's power.
  5. Click one of two "star" icons to cast it.

Try finding this arrow while playing with a Trackpad on a plane. Q: why didn't The Addict get a posting done earlier today? A: Turbulence.

Needless to say, trying to do this in combat while monsters are attacking you is quite impossible. Almost all the combat spells I've cast, I've lined up ahead of time. (More on this in a second.)

As another example, take the process of buying an item for a shopkeeper:

  1. Double-click the character that you want to communicate with (I've been assuming the one with the highest charisma is best).
  2. Click "Communicate."
  3. Click a down arrow that's very easy to overlook.
  4. Click "Trading."
  5. Click "Purchase."
  6. Wait until the NPC offers to sell something.
  7. Click on the inventory on the opposite side of the screen.
  8. Add gold to the free inventory slot, clicking as many times as necessary to stack the amount of gold you want to offer.
  9. Return to the left side of the screen and click "Offer."

Going through the cumbersome process of buying potions.

Equally onerous is the process, while in combat and taking damage, of shifting the focus between characters so you can track hit point and vitality levels. Dungeon Master at least had the decency to show everyone's status bars on the same screen.

I know you're sick of hearing me talk about keyboard shortcuts, but come on. Would it have been so hard to at least map each of the characters to one of the function keys so you can quickly switch between them? Why can't the space bar activate the "attack" button?

Ah, well. Moving  on. Since my first posting, I've collected a group of four party members--one of each major class--explored a good chunk of the starting dungeon, and leveled my characters up to Level 3. A few notes from my explorations:

  • Thus far, the dungeon hasn't been complex enough to bother mapping. Occasionally, a button will open a wall and allow me to re-visit an earlier area, but generally, the path through the levels is very linear, requiring me to find and use the right keys on the right doors. There are two types of keys in the game--common, generic keys that open a variety of doors, and special colored keys that open specific doors. The spell "magelock" seems to obviate the former, but I have a stash anyway.
  • You can try to talk with monsters just like any NPC. So far, I haven't found any purpose to doing so.

Funny, you don't look like me in my underwear in front of my ninth-grade homeroom.

  • Like many other games, Bloodwych requires you to feed your characters, monitoring their hunger level with a status bar. So far, food has been plentiful.
  • Banners on the wall give you hints. Banners outside shops tell you the prices of the goods that the shopkeeper offers.

"Slime" is actually a healing potion.
 
  • There are spinners in the dungeon. Always love those. Also pit traps. I haven't yet acquired the "levitate" spell that will let me avoid them.

The party avoids a large hole in the floor.
 
  • I've found two shops: a weapon and armor shop near the entrance, and a potion shop some ways into the dungeon. I accidentally killed the owner of the former, so I have nowhere to sell my weapons. In a helpful hint-filled comment, Inzimus Doto Zulen suggests I'll be able to convert items to gold with the "alchemy" spell when I get hold of it.
  • A lot of treasures are found within little alcoves or on the floor, but often the items are so small I don't really see them. I've adopted the habit of clicking on even empty-looking alcoves to make sure I haven't overlooked a pixel or two.
  • There have been a few button "puzzles," if they can be called that--basically, buttons on the wall that open sections of the wall. The "puzzle" part is just wandering around until you figure out what just opened.


Most of the game revolves around combat. As I indicated last time, it lacks the finesse of Dungeon Master. There are no special attacks, and you do not click combat options for each character. Instead, you choose a general posture--attack or defend--and the characters act accordingly. If you have spells queued up when you enter combat, your characters will cast them automatically. After that, it's all melee. But only the front two characters can engage in melee, meaning my two rear characters often have nothing to do. I've equipped them both with bows, but arrows are few and far between and they generally exhaust their meager supply in the first combat after I find any.

Character inventory with a few precious, precious arrows.

At first, I found combat extremely difficult and I died a lot. I had to keep returning to a resurrection room found near the entrance, similar to Dungeon Master's shrine alcoves.

As I got some experience, I realized that the game mechanics allow you to cheat a bit. Your opponent has to be facing you to damage you, so if you're in a big enough room and you're agile enough with the keyboard, you can dance around your opponent, hitting him from the side and rear before he has time to turn and face you. Even when the geography of the area makes this impossible, you can engage in hit and run tactics by darting forward, letting your characters strike a few blows, and then retreating to safety. Once I mastered these quasi-cheating tactics, progress became much more swift.

My characters pummel some kind of humanoid creature.

Leveling up happens when you sleep, and depending on the class, characters may be able to purchase new spells. Apparently, they're sold to me by the spell fairy.


I have very little sense of the size of the game or how far I've progressed in it. The manual suggests that I've started in a dungeon called Treihadwyl, and that I'll eventually need to retrieve four crystals from four towers before confronting Zendick in a fifth tower. So far, I haven't found any crystals, so I'm guessing I have a long way to go. I'm going to give it a few more hours to see if anything interesting develops. For those of you who seem to like this game, I have to echo what William said in a comment a few days ago: what do you see in it?

69 comments:

  1. "As I got some experience, I realized that the game mechanics allow you to cheat a bit. Your opponent has to be facing you to damage you, so if you're in a big enough room and you're agile enough with the keyboard, you can dance around your opponent, hitting him from the side and rear before he has time to turn and face you. Even when the geography of the area makes this impossible, you can engage in hit and run tactics by darting forward, letting your characters strike a few blows, and then retreating to safety. Once I mastered these quasi-cheating tactics, progress became much more swift."

    Are you being facetious now? The "two step dance" is the oldest trick in the book when playing Dungeon Master and its clones. You even metioned "dancing" so I'm not sure if I should smile at your clever jest or make fun of you for only discovering this now.

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    1. I've played Civilization so long now, that I've discovered many cheats and exploits. After a while a cheat starts feeling normal and I'm entitled to it, like it's the way the game is supposed to be played.

      If only real life had some cheap exploits. Or does it?

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    2. Just select the "Child of a wealthy politician" background on character creation.

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    3. I don´t see it as cheating at all. It is a tactic used to survive at all. After all, how many hundreds of opponents don´t you have to kill to win these games anyway ? It´s not a bug.

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    4. I don't think I ever used this in DM. I engaged in plenty of hit-and-run battles, and I used the door-closing exploit, but I don't remember dancing around opponents. I don't think I would have been dextrous enough to move with one hand and click all of the attack buttons with the other. This game, by comparison, has only one attack button.

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    5. How did you beat the dragon?
      I guess it's possible to beat him if you have enough Magic Boxes to keep him frozen, but unlike other monsters just one attack (breathing fire) may cripple or even kill the whole party. And he _will_ breath the moment the freezing effect wears off.

      Personally I try to not use the two step dance, since it's a cheap tactic. And in DM and CSB there is actually some tactics involved, with the above mentioned Magic Boxes and/or slamming doors and poison clouds.

      I remember actually rage quitting Eye of the Beholder 2 when I found out how easy it was to avoid the stares from Basilisks, and how hollow victory over them felt. In the Gold Box games Basilisk were scary if you didn't have mirrors, but in EOB2 there were no mirrors so you kind of were forced to do the dance.

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    6. The dance is, unfortunately, an element of the genre, Legend of Grimrock included.

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    7. I'm pretty sure CRPGA said that he used a whole bunch of magic boxes on the dragon. I use a combination of those boxes and "dancing" :)

      For some reason, the Basilisks in EotB2 never affected my characters.

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    8. Legend of Grimrock left me wondering if it's possible to have a game in this style without the dancing. The fact CRPG Addict made it through Dungeon Master without [boggle] suggests it might be possible. I'm not sure how I'd enforce the restriction, though. Maybe monsters get a free hit if you try to strafe around them?

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    9. No, Petrus is right. I remember now. I beat the dragon by running around the level, ducking behind pillars, and popping out to fire off spells and missile weapons. If I did that for the dragon, it stands to reason that I probably used similar tactics elsewhere in the dungeon. It was a couple years ago now, so forgive me if I'm a little fuzzy.

      I do remember WISHING I'd saved the magic boxes for the dragon.

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    10. Tristan Gall: "The dance is, unfortunately, an element of the genre, Legend of Grimrock included."

      Nothing unfortunate about that. It's exactly as intended. Being able (and expected) to move during combat instead of forced to sit there with your feet glued to the ground was a major leap ahead.

      Obviously hit-and-run tactics make battles easier. Good designers account for this; ways include limiting spaces to move, increasing the number of simultaneously faced enemies, and simply making the enemies tougher. Many games in the DM clone genre include enemies that are literally impossible to survive if you insist on standing in front of them and taking the hits like a man. I think DM itself is one - it's a while since I played Dungeon Master, but I'm pretty sure I recall beholders, demons and Lord Chaos himself being able to one- or two-shot your entire party if you fail to sidestep their spells.

      For some reason this makes some people instinctively uncomfortable - one of my good friends in good faith suggested "improving" Grimrock by removing the ability to move during fights. I find this likening of a basic game mechanic to cheating bizarre to say the least - it's like saying Mario shouldn't be able to jump, because jumping makes the game waaaay too easy.

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    11. Regardless of the mechanic being cheating or not, it's all rather hilarious when you picture an entire party of arcane warriors side-stepping the enemy as one.......................

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    12. In the games defence, everything I've read about swordfighting emphasizes footwork. I mean, even Olympic fencing has them moving back and forth.

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    13. Guys, girls, why did you mention Legend of Grimrock? I never had heard about it until now, and it looks like a dream come true tailored for me. There's way too much work to do with the back to school, that's not fair!! Curse you.

      Well, I have to finish Planescape Torment before anyway... (first time!)

      Delete
  2. Six hours should be plenty to evaluate Bloodwych. You acquire a couple of new spells over time, but overall the gameplay stays the same: Combat, combat, combat and the occasional light puzzle. The drab presentation and laborious interface made me shy away from replaying this game after all those years - and it wasn't even that much fun back then.

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    1. Well, that's depressing to hear. I thought there might be some plot element that opened up or something. I feel like I should at least try to find one of the crystals.

      Delete
  3. One of the things you've missed is the two player aspect of it, which was one of the other additions this game brought.
    I played this a lot on the Amiga and loved it.

    The two step is a classic tactic, and a limitation of this sort of game.

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  4. yeah the game isnt so good as a single player game, but two people is a lot of fun, the interface is clunky but it was designed for mouse + amiga screens above anything else. its a very 'light' crpg.

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  5. Sounds to me that if it's not a matter of pride, you might as well move on!

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    1. I understand. Hope you don't have too much trouble finishing this one.

      I feel it fair to warn you: "You'll need Magelock on Moon Tower 2 and Levitate Moon Tower 3. If you don't get these spells by the time you enter the Moon Tower you won't be able to progress through the game and you'll have to start over."

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    2. Thanks. I started with Magelock and got Levitate on my last level, so I think I'm going to be all right. My dedication to finishing is waning, though. This is a BIG game, and nothing really changes.

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    3. What gives you the motivation to finish certain games, while you abandon others after 6 hours?

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    4. I haven't abandoned any since the "RTFM" posting. It made me a little more sensitive to the issue.

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  6. Two-step tactic exists almost in every real-time based blobber. Be it eye of beholder, dungeon master (you did play it without two-step?).

    Recent one - Legend of Grimrock - you would spend like 99% time in combat while two-stepping. Considering how much popular game was - two-stepping is legit tactic and people enjoy it.

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    1. Ugh. Not saying it's not legitimate, but that kind of semi-meta gameplay has always turned me off. I truly, honestly don't get why people enjoy combat systems like in Dungeon Master or Grimrock. I'm not trying to start a fight, no one's a bad person for enjoying it, but it's an utter mystery to me why it's fun.

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    2. Should be personal preference I reckon. In one way it is metagaming, using system limitations to avoid damage. Another way of thinking about it, would Legolas, Frodo (hey even Jackie Chan) slog it out with a golem, no they would be ducking and weaving about. This second way of thinking about it does seem a bit odd if you reverse things, say with a party of ogres and dwarves against a bunch of pixies. Personally I don't mind the dancing game, but maybe it would be better if the party/enemies compared dexterity/speed should have an influence on how well you can do it ;)

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    3. Oh and at least it isn't using doors to kill everything! *coughs* I'm looking at you Knightmare (amiga game so not on crpgaddicts list I think)

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    4. It's a similar situation with Stonekeep: enemies don't chase you through doors for some reason, so you can just stand on the other side of the door and use ranged weapons. 1995 is still some years ago :)

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    5. Moonmonster, I feel the same way. I think our angst comes from a preference for tactical combat, and side-stepping is more of what you'd expect in an action game. It also feels like you're using a quirk in the game (enemies take longer to react and turn than you take to move) to gain an unfair advantage.

      Part of the angst comes from not knowing if the creators intended for players to use this tactic, or whether we're, in effect, "cheating."

      I remember feeling similarly in Might & Magic VI, where you can attack some enemies through doors and they can't attack back.

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    6. I like Boroth's suggestion, it'd feel less like gaming the system if there were integration between the rpg and twitch mechanics.

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    7. Dungeons of Daggorath had an interesting take on the 'dance'. I would say it's the focus of your combat tactics.

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    8. I always felt like being locked in place was an idiotic artificial restriction brought by technological limitations, and hit-and-run combat was much closer to reality and normal, expected state of things. I don't think it's comparable to glitching through walls at all. Sure, you're faster than the other guys. That's not unrealistic. It's just what makes you powerful.

      And I can assure you that every single designer worth anything totally _intends_ you to do that. Coding that mechanic is so much extra work over the simpler "Wizardry format" that they wouldn't put it in if it wasn't meant to be used.

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    9. Boroth: Your stats do affect your movement speed in most DM clones (specifically, the stat that matters is strength, since it affects how much you can carry without your movement being slowed down).

      And the Door Guillotine, in games that have it (DM/CSM/DM2, Captive, Knightmare, a couple others) is really more of a thing to make the dungeon feel more real and show of attention to detail than an actually beneficial tactic (it doesn't give experience in any game that I know of, so you're better off doing the hit-and-run). After all, logically you should be able to crash the doors on top of the enemy - inability to do so is just another of those arbitrary restrictions brought by lazy programmers or technical limitations.

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    10. Or, ya know, you could just be inserting real-world logic into a video game that the designers decided they did not want. Still, I don't presume to speak for game designers, so who knows?

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    11. I actually received a skill increase by a door falling on the enemy. I was preparing a spell or something, so hadn't hit the monster for a few seconds. ;)

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  7. If you're intending to leave Bloodwych alone, you might as well have a look at Alan Chapman's Bloodwych Resource Guide which delivers quite extensive package of information.

    http://www.alanchapman.org/bloodwych/

    Why don't you ask him what's good in Bloodwych?

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    1. One of his maps just helped me figure out I had a bugged game, so I owe him a note of appreciation for that if nothing else.

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  8. The Win remake of Chaos Strikes Back has keyboard shortcuts for everything, all 3 attack modes of all 4 characters + spells and moving around. It actually makes the game a bit too easy in "dancing" mode as it's way faster that keyboard movement & mouse attacks.

    By the way, CSB has very clever anti-two-step devices thrown at you, which clearly show the developpers knew about it:
    - narrow corridors/level design with holes appearing, doors closing etc, preventing you from turning around monsters or backtracking
    - automatic respawners if you retreat/move, forcing you to stand and fight
    - and my favorite: one cute 2x3 room where you get stuck with a dragon, with one tile having a devious counter - after like 20-30 steps on it, a hole opens and you either fall down or lose any maneuvering capacity. "Now that'll teach you to *cheat* with two-step!"

    I like the metagaming aspect of turning engine limitations and exploits into game design elements...

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    1. Georges, speaking of CBS, there is one area you are virtually forced to do the two step dance: the area with dragons behind illusory walls. One of my greatest gaming movements was when I did the two step dance against the dragons stomping around there, relying on the _sound_ of it moving to know where it was. Ear phones are recommended when playing this area!

      I love it when games make you use your ears as well as your eyes, which is why I love games like CBS and Thief, and dislike single character games with behind-the-ass camera giving you too much of an overview, and making listing for enemies obsolete.

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    2. Georges: "I like the metagaming aspect of turning engine limitations and exploits into game design elements..."

      I keep telling you, it was never an exploit and it certainly wasn't an engine _limitation_! Quite the opposite in fact, turning enemies into a real gameworld object and tracking their heading as well as location was a massive technological leap ahead - it represented the removal of the engine limitations of previous games (Wizardry, Bard's Tale and such).

      Delete
    3. Of course it's an exploit when the enemies can't use the same tactics against you, and your party (no matter how encumbered they are) can move quicker than the enemies can turn.
      The ability of the _party_ to move and attack instead of being rooted to the spot is just a natural consequence of the games being real time.

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    4. "Of course it's an exploit when the enemies can't use the same tactics against you,"
      Goombas can't jump. Is jumping an exploit in Mario? Not to mention certain enemies actively try to avoid standing in front of you (thief, Lord Chaos).

      "and your party (no matter how encumbered they are) can move quicker than the enemies can turn."
      That's not even true. Overloading your characters reduces you to a crawling speed. It's beside the point anyway - the Marine in Doom is by far the fastest thing in the game. Is him running and shooting an exploit? Or just, y'know, the way you're meant to play the game?

      "The ability of the _party_ to move and attack instead of being rooted to the spot is just a natural consequence of the games being real time."
      Nope. If you take Wizardry and make it real time, you're still stuck in one spot while you fight. The engine simply doesn't keep track of the monsters as an actual thing that can move around in the dungeon, instead of spawning out of thin air randomly or in a set map square as a bunch of damage statistics and a picture.

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    5. I sounded too harsh... I said "cheat" referring to the discussion in this thread. I've always played DM, EOB, LoL, etc. that way and find it natural. I just wished to point out that each engine has weaknesses that make it "too easy", and to having to plan around that and play with these aspects stimulates game desing IMO. (Or if not, you get a boring game.)

      Delete
  9. If the interface is what's causing you so much grief in this game, perhaps it deserves its own section in the GIMLET instead of being lumped in with graphics & sound.

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    1. Or perhaps allow negative score if a certain aspect makes the game almost unplayable. But crpgaddict mentioned he had a bugged game, I hope that explains why the interface is bad.

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    2. No, as far as I can tell, the "bug" just manifested itself as a wall where a stairway should have been. I think the interface was actually designed this way.

      Micko, I've thought about that, but most games generally get the interface "right enough" that you don't have to think about it much. It's fairly rare that an interface is notably bad.

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    3. Are you sure it's not just a thing where some later button or event removes that wall, or an illusion, or something?

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    4. If it was, I wasn't able to find the trigger anywhere, and it was oddly fixed by the patch.

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  10. I haven't played any Dungeon Master clones, but the "two-step" people are talking about reminds me a lot of what we used to call the "Underworld Shuffle", which is essentially the same thing but for continuous movement (as in Ultima Underworld).

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  11. Aren't most CRPGs that don't use menu-based combat rife with such unrealistic tactics?

    As an Angband veteran I became proficient with such nefarious tactics as "hack and back", when you move faster than a powerful but melee-only enemy so you can hit it then move out of attack range, or "shoot and scoot" where you use teleportation magic to break off combat and heal up between bouts with something that would easily kill you otherwise.

    Then there's "pillardancing", where the player is faster than some enemy, to the extent they can continually lead it around a pillar so it can follow the player, but not maintain line of sight long enough to respond to frequent punches in the nose.

    The downside with a lot of these tactics is that you can't just do them from the beginning, as a lot of them require obtaining a means of becoming faster than other things. This is dangerous and one reason why the vast majority of characters die at low-medium experience levels.

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    1. You are correct, of course. The key issue for me is whether the developer INTENDED you to use these tactics or whether you're exploiting the limited technology of the time. In the case of Bloodwych, I've become convinced that bob-and-weave tactics were intended by the developers. The combats would be functionally impossible otherwise.

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    2. Doomy: "Aren't most CRPGs that don't use menu-based combat rife with such unrealistic tactics?"

      No. They're realistic tactics. What's unrealistic is menu based combat.

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    3. I believe by "unrealistic" tactics, Roomy is referring to the entire_party_ side-stepping the enemy shoulder to shoulder, chest to back as if the party were some kind of quadruplet Cenobite.

      Delete
  12. STUPID SPELLCHECK! I meant Doomy not Roomy!

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  13. PetrusOctavianus: "I remember actually rage quitting Eye of the Beholder 2 when I found out how easy it was to avoid the stares from Basilisks, and how hollow victory over them felt. In the Gold Box games Basilisk were scary if you didn't have mirrors, but in EOB2 there were no mirrors so you kind of were forced to do the dance."

    Lots of weirdness going on in this post.
    * First of all, EOB2 does have mirrors and you should have seen at least a couple before you see any basilisks, as the game requires you to pick them up before you can proceed.
    * Secondly, long before you see basilisks you should have met Beholders that will destroy your party in seconds if you don't dodge their attacks (or "dance" as you call it). Why didn't your ragequit there?
    * Finally, the basilisks do NOT require you to dodge, because they're absolutely pathetic, never succeed at stoning, and die if you whack them once. The manual refers to them as "lesser" basilisks.

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    1. Well, quarrelesome little anon, my characters didn't know the basilisks were that pathetic. Anyway, the basilisks were just the final straw for me, and I'm sure the beholders contributed to it. Now that you mention it there may have been some mirrors, but not enough for the whole party. If not, doing the two step dance would indeed be rather pointless.

      I tried to replay Eye of the Beholder recently but now that I try to play real time blobbers without doing the two step dance, it was a rather frustrating experience. In a turn based game a couple of Flinds would have been little problems for a party of four neophyte adventurers, and they would have missed most of their attacks, but in EoB my party was barely alive after just one fight toe to toe with a couple of Flinds. And they they need to spend several hours resting after just one fight to recover.
      In the Gold Box games I can usually finish an area without having to rest.

      I liked Eye of the Beholder 1 back in the days, but now I felt it was clearly inferior (combat and puzzle wise) to the other real time blobbers I've replated recently: DM, CSB and Black Crypt.

      Delete
  14. Do explain "blobber." I tried to Google it, but there's an actual game called Blobber that overwhelmed the results.

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    1. The whole party moves as one entity (a blob) both in movement mode and in combat.

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    2. So Wizardry, Might&Magic and Bard's Tale are turn based blobbers, while the Gold Box games where you move characters individually in combat, are not.

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    3. BTW Chet, limit your search to rpgcodex.net and you will find lots of discussion about blobbers:
      http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&as_q=&as_epq=blobber&as_oq=&as_eq=&as_nlo=&as_nhi=&lr=&cr=&as_qdr=all&as_sitesearch=rpgcodex.net&as_occt=any&safe=images&tbs=&as_filetype=&as_rights=

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    4. Okay, I get the concept. I just hadn't learned the term before. Might & Magic VI-VIII are thus real-time blobbers?

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    5. Good question. The term is usually refers to tile based games, but I guess MM 6-9 would qualify too, since the party moves and fights and one entity.

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    6. In turn based it feels more like a blob, because everyone is "hopping" together the way blobs are represented as moving in games. In real time I think your more oozing in a fluid motion instead of move, stop; move, stop. So would those be oozers or slimers instead?
      ;-p

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    7. You're reminding me of all the confusion I had among the films The Blob, The Ooze, and The Stuff in the 1980s. Which is the one that took place in Antarctica?

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    8. The Thing. Wow, I remember The Stuff! It's been awhile. I used to have it on VHS, recorded from cable TV. Good stuff...

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    9. The Stuff was one of my fav 80's B.

      "can't get enough
      ...of the stuff"

      Sadly it didn't take a place in our cultural memory like some others.

      Not sure if I ever saw The Ooze though, was it any good?

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    10. I'm pretty sure my mind was making that one up. I couldn't find it on IMDB.

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    11. The Ooze is actually a videogame (non-RPG) for the Sega Genesis. Never played it myself.

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