|My new goal is to be referenced in a CRPG.|
I made my first Magic Candle posting shortly before midnight on Sunday evening, and Monday morning at 06:00, I was still playing the game. Two days later, I'm still trying to get my sleep schedule back to normal. I suspect that with this game, this is going to happen a lot.
Since I last posted, I read the manual in detail, finished exploring the Royal Castle, fought and won a single battle, and explored the nearby town of Port Avur (both the manual and most of the NPC dialogues seemed to be directing me there next). I've done enough to realize that note-taking for this game is going to be quite an enterprise. Not since Ultima IV and V have I encountered a game so packed with history and lore. If The Magic Candle doesn't have as inspiring a quest as those other games, it seems to have more back story. I began organizing a little encyclopedia of characters, places, and other lore items in the game, and I was up to 11 pages before I even got out of the manual.
See my in-progress Magic Candle encyclopedia. (Yeah, you come up with a better name.)
The manual goes into a lot more detail about the history of the Magic Candle and the demon Dreax, including the major characters in the war that led to his imprisonment millennia ago. In its recollection of dwarf and elf kings, great wizards, magical artifacts, and a horde of dark forces from the east, it's impossible not to think of Lord of the Rings. Certainly, the archetypes of elves, dwarves, men, and wizards remains unaltered from Tolkien.
|Belazar introduces me to a bunch of items of lore at once.|
The complexities of this game don't end with the narrative; it is also very logistically complicated. A lot of games, of course, provide small logistical challenges to keep things interesting. As far back as the first Ultima, you had to keep a stockpile of food. Ultima V introduced NPCs who kept schedules, so you'd have to explore a city multiple times to make sure you spoke to everyone. In Faery Tale Adventure, the PC gets tired and periodically needs to sleep. I can't remember if any game to date has featured wear and tear on weapons and armor, but it would become a staple of the Elder Scrolls series. Pool of Radiance was the first D&D-based CRPG to make your magic-users memorize spells before being able to cast them. Larn had a timer continually counting down the amount of time you had to win the game. Demon's Winter had you specify your party formation. And Wasteland allowed you to split your party and have different groups doing different things at the same time.
|The spell system is fairly complicated. Most CRPGs have spell points (i.e.,"mana") or a memorization system. This game has both.|
What makes The Magic Candle special is that it includes all of these logistical considerations, and a few more besides. I haven't mastered it all yet (particularly spellcasting, which seems to involve acquiring various spell books, then "learning" a certain number of each spell over the course of hours of studying, then "recalling" the spell to memory, and then, finally, casting it). The party-splitting option is probably the most difficult thing to master because it's an integral part of the game, not a one-time deal needed to solve a puzzle, as in Wasteland. Not all characters tire at the same rate, so it's silly to have them all sleeping at the same time.
|Bedding down for the night.|
At one point in Port Avur, I had my characters split into three parties: one resting in the inn (some characters sleeping, one memorizing spells), one taking archery lessons, and one wandering around speaking to NPCs. Generally, I suppose the trick is to assemble everyone again before moving to the next down, but it isn't necessary. You could leave one character working a day job as a metal smith, earning gold, while the rest of the party pursues the main quest.
|As the rest of the party sleeps, Min sneaks into the local jail and chats up some orcs.|
The "jobs" system is another oddity to the game. Characters can work as gemcrafters, carpenters, tailors, and metalsmiths and earn a consistent wage. If you have someone skilled in a trade, he can make some money while the rest of the party explores the town. Unfortunately, the party I chose only has one character with a trade--my halfling, Min--and he also has the highest charisma, which means I really need him to explore.
|Many characters won't speak to you if your charisma isn't high enough.|
(As we often see in CRPGs, it's a little ludicrous that I have to work for money in the first place. My party is on a quest to save the kingdom, after all, and you'd think the treasuries would be open to us. Nonetheless, the manual makes it clear on Page 21: "His Grace, Lord Banas, emphasizes that the companions will be required to fund their own endeavors.")
I'm going to save further logistics discussions for future postings and concentrate for the rest of this one on the character interaction and plot-development system because I can already tell that they're fantastic--on par or better than the Ultimas.
At the beginning of the game, you have a very broad quest--stop Dreax from escaping the Magic Candle--and few clues how to succeed at it, or even where to go next. The manual suggests that the quest is going to involve completing a ritual described in the "fragments of the Zirvanad," apparently a text written by the mage, Zirva, who originally imprisoned Dreax. The text mentions the need for three artifacts--a white amulet, a green ring, and a blue ring--to enter the hall in which the Magic Candle is kept, and then a series of chants to restore it. These are mostly fragmentary.
|The key passage from the game manual, courtesy of Canageek.|
The king directed me to speak with Belazar, an old, dying counselor. This first involved getting access to Belazar's chambers. The game has a unique system by which you can't simply barge into private homes; rather, you must (K)nock on the door and state the name of the person you're looking for. Some NPCs are only accessible this way, and based on various conversations, I have a host of NPCs to call on when I visit various towns.
|Visiting the king's uncle in his chambers at night.|
I spoke to Belazar in his bed, and he gave me several clues about the nature of the game, including the religious system and modes of magical travel (I'll have to save both for later). He also told me to ask Father Orbonn, a monk in Port Avur, about the Zirvanad. Since Banas, the king's uncle, also wanted me to visit Port Avur (something about a dungeon beneath the castle that he's not allowed to talk about), I made that my next stop.
In Port Avur, I learned about the game's focus on libraries. I guess there are several dotted about the game world, and you can use them to ask about key pieces of lore, with the monks serving as reference librarians.
|A monk gives me intelligence on the Royal Castle's dungeon. The king's uncle wants me to know something about it but can't tell me. Castle denizens report they're hearing screams coming from it at night. The plot thickens..|
Father Orbonn told me that the Zirvanad was placed in a stone vault after Zirva's death. I have to both find the vault (there's a rumor it may be in Lymeric) and a star-shaped key needed to open it. Elsewhere, Belazar's grandson advised me to visit the old man again after I have a chance to look at the Zirvanad.
Oh, there were so many more conversations between the Royal Castle and Port Avur that I don't really know where to begin. I started my little encyclopedia after I visited the two towns, so my tentative plan at this point is to restart the game (I lost a couple of precious days screwing around) and revisit the NPCs now that I have a better system for note-taking and task management. One key insight I gained is that although NPCs keep schedules like in Ultima V, they don't walk from one place to another at appointed times. In Ultima V, every NPC could always be found somewhere, if only sleeping in a bed. In The Magic Candle, when an NPC isn't at his usual location, he generally ceases to exist.
A lot of readers have remarked about the size and length of the game, and given the size of the game map--plus the sheer number of towns and locations mentioned in the manual--I suspect I'll be playing it for a long time.
|The game world. So far, I've only explored a tiny area of the northwest. The game manual describes all the major areas of the map and really makes me want to visit them.|
A few other discoveries:
- Skills increase both with usage and through paid training.
- When exploring, you often enter "rooms" in which the interface changes a bit. Your party members move individually instead of as a unit, and you exit with a command instead of by walking out the door. Shops work this way, and each party member must approach the counter separately (or trade items later).
|Outfitting my party in the weapon shop.|
- Monsters seem like standard D&D fare, with orcs, ogres, trolls, and such. There are a few original ones, such as wolvinga (corrupted elves) and various types of demons.
- Combat (about which I will have a much longer posting later) seems to draw from SSI games like Demon's Winter for its inspiration, as you maneuver individual icons around the battlefield, and attributes affect your movement speed and number of attacks.
|With bow and blade, the party lays waste to a group of orcs.|
- Fatigue is something that I'll have to manage carefully. A couple of times, my characters got so tired that they were unable to move. Fortunately, I had some mushrooms that restored their energy fast. I assume if you don't have any mushrooms, you have to split them off from the party and leave them sitting there until you can buy a mushroom and return. (You can't simply hole up and camp anywhere in town.)
- Cubes, pyramids, and spheres (sold by traveling merchants) somehow allow teleportation at magic gates. I'm still collecting notes on this.
|The Bay of Meric is pretty far away on the map, so I suspect magical traveling is going to become necessary to avoid wasting too many game days.|
- There was a gambling game with dice in Port Avur. I recorded my wins and losses over about 25 throws and I've concluded that the odds of winning are almost exactly 50/50. I can't expect to make much at gambling.
|The rest of the party is exhausted while Min cheerfully gambles.|
I suspect my approach to this game will mirror what I did for other long games like Ultima V and Might & Magic: Each post will recap what I discovered about the plot and then cover some particular aspect of gameplay, such as attributes, party management, exploration, combat, and magic. This game has a steep learning curve, but it looks like it's going to be worth it.