Friday, September 21, 2012

Magic Candle: In the Wind

The lands of Deruvia are large and varied.

Going to The Magic Candle directly from Bloodwych throws into sharp relief the difference between these two fundamental categories of CRPGs. We call the latter the "dungeon crawl," and its virtue is its relative simplicity. You get a backstory--quite frankly, it can be almost anything--and then you're released into a terrain limited in both geography and plot. The point of the dungeon crawl is hack, slash, heal, move forward. No one fills a journal playing Dungeon Master. Please trust that I'm  not saying this in a negative way. There are times that such a game is exactly what you want.

I don't know that the other type of game even has a specific name, but it's what you get with Ultima IV and V, The Elder Scrolls, Might & Magic, and The Magic Candle: games in which you don't simply map, but discover. While I'm always up for a good dungeon crawl, exploring a new CRPG land that really demands exploring is one of the better experiences of being a CRPG addict. When you enter a new level of a dungeon crawl, you wonder how tough the monsters will be and how many navigation obstacles the developers will throw at you. When you enter a new town of...whatever you want to call this type of wonder who you'll meet, what they'll say, what kind of quests they'll have for you. It's a wonder that we even think of them as the same genre.

Over the last couple days, The Magic Candle showed me a few more of its innovations and a lot more of its lore. I still don't have quite enough experience to give you a thematic posting on combat or magic, so I thought I'd just recount my experiences in chronological order and we'll see what unfolds. Next time, I might be able to organize the posting around something.

Giauz prepares to die.
At the end of my last entry, I had resolved to walk overland to Soldain, just south of the Royal Castle, where I had a number of people to meet. Fairly soon, I discovered that heading to Soldain in The Magic Candle is not like walking from Britain to Trinsic in Ultima IV; Deruvia is a lot more dangerous than Britannia. After getting bloodied several times by the Forces of Darkness, I turned around and went back to Port Avur to spend my last bit of gold on a bigger arsenal and brawnier characters.

It turned out there wasn't much I could do about weapons. Most of my characters already had the best weapons that their strength allowed them to carry. One exception was my ranger, Nehor, who was able to buy a "brom bow" (I have no idea what "brom" is). Thus, I decided to concentrate on a little training and a bigger supply of mushrooms. Checking my cash (which had been bolstered by a few successful battles and a little gambling), I found that I had just enough for one day of combat training for everyone. I split my party into three groups--three melee fighters, two archers, and the wizard--and sent them to respective schools.
Lest you think I'm rich, this was before I remembered to split up the gold.
It turned out the wizard didn't have quite enough... I sent him to the inn to sleep and memorize spells. He was sad.

With the money I had left, I invested in every mushroom I could afford, focusing primarily on Sermins, which restore energy, and Gonshi, which increase combat movement speed. I couldn't afford much by this point, but the training had done its job.

In my mind, I heard, "Huh-Huh-HOO-ah!"

My party reunited at the front gates (I really am enjoying this party-splitting thing) and I headed out.

"Hey, Eflun! How did your training go?...Why are you looking at me like that?"
Bolstered by my training, mushrooms, and Delmoko's tip that I could pre-cast magic shield spells on my characters, I returned to my journey to Soldain. The game is nice about giving you an image of a skull and crossbones just before you're about to stumble on a pack of enemies. Inevitably, this happens in a chokepoint that you can't get around without some magical ability to cross mountains.
I had to fight six battles on the way to Soldain, and not one of them was easy. I had assumed that Gonshi mushrooms increased movement speed throughout combat, but they only last for one round, so I can't blow through them too fast.
Using a mushroom. And to answer the obvious question: sometimes he gets cold at night.
The biggest combat difficulty was the Zorlim spellcaster that always appeared in the back of the orcs, wolvingas, or whatever other footsoldiers occupied the front ranks. I lined up my archers and tried to take him out as quickly as possible (it generally took too long to get someone in melee range), but he usually had the chance to blast the shields and stamina (i.e., hit points) of a few of my people. Annoyingly, they just vanish when they die and don't leave any treasure.

Also on the way down the coast, I ran into a new kind of encounter and interface:
Fortunately, I had a rope:

Was this really the safest way to do this? Eflun is pretty old.
At length, I arrived at Soldain, home of the dwarves, and began exploring. It was a small town. Other NPCs had primed me with the names of several doors to knock on (as I mentioned previously, you can't just barge into houses; you have to know who lives there), and I learned a little more about the hoyam essence I need to lure the White Wolf who carries the key to the vault containing the Zirvanad which tells how to restore the Magic Candle.
But here's where there was another neat thing: I had been told to visit a scholar named Rabbonkar, and he offered me "knowledge of the dwarfish tongue." I would have guessed my dwarf already knew that, but whatever. I expected to get some sort of attribute note, but instead I got an actual list of words in dwarfish. Clearly, these will be useful for some puzzle in the future, so I dutifully recorded them in The Book of Flame and Wax.
When I see "YOZU UMEN GRU DAHAR," I'll know to turn around.
I had to wait until 18:00 to enter the council hall and visit with the dwarf councilors, who told me they'd be happy to give me some hoyam essence if I would return the Hammer of Thorin, an artifact of the king who ruled the dwarves during the age in which Dreax was imprisoned. It had recently been stolen from Soldain, probably by orcs, and one of the dwarves thought I should ask the orcs imprisoned in Port Avur. Dammit, I just came from there!

Isn't that racial profiling?

I was going to have to return to Port Avur to get passage to Keof--my next major stop--anyway, but on the way back I thought I'd try to find the dungeon of Dermagud, where a god named Valon is rumored to sleep, and to which I had just gotten the password needed to get in. I don't really understand the "gods" issue yet. Apparently, there are eight of them, they're all sleeping, and I need passwords (or "prayers") to wake them up. I'm not sure if the places they're sleeping are the same as "temples," or whether the passwords to get in are the same as their "prayer words."

Dermagud was said to be an old dwarven mine in the mountains of Uberion, through which I had to pass on the way from the Royal Castle to Soldain. Since Soldain is a city of dwarves, I went with the idea that it might be close to the city and started to explore the mountain range just north. Anyway, I never found Dermagud, but I did find, guarded by some evil thugs, a Sermin mushroom patch. Warned by Petrus, I picked, but not too greedily. My understanding is that the mushrooms only grow back if you leave a few.
And I just learned the term "mycologist" today.
My plan now is to head back to Port Avur and see if I can get a bead on the Hammer of Thorin, then take the boat to Keof, where a monk knows more about the vault containing the Zirvanad. Finding the Zirvanad seems to be my biggest main quest at this point. I also want to get to the halfling village Bondell (also, I think, reachable by ship from Port Avur) so I can train up my charisma, but I think I need to grind up some gold first. All my explorations so far have taken place in a tiny sliver of the northwest corner of the map.
Lest I give you the impression that it's all roses, there are a few things I don't like about the game. Movement is extremely slow, both because of the combats but also because there's literally a pause after you press the movement key before your characters actually move. These add up. I find it very easy to accidentally waste a turn in combat because I think I'm still moving one character when it's switched to another. NPC dialogue is a bit annoying in that every time the NPC tells you something useful, it kicks you out of the dialogue and you have to re-initiate it. Since each party member can only carry 99 of a lot of things (mushrooms, arrows, food), it's difficult to equalize everyone's stuff by having one character pool it and then divide it. The sound is piercing and awful. Most of all, I don't like having to continuously worry about each character's "energy," which depletes every movement, combat action, and spell (though, to be fair, the Sermins help with that).
But this is also a game that has left me eager to see how the plot unfolds and palpably nervous every time I step into new territory. It is, more importantly, the first game since Wasteland--almost a year ago--that I'm playing because I want to, and not because it's on a list. This wick is going to burn for a while.


  1. "Brom bow" might be a nod to fantasy artist, Brom. Interesting article, and this seems like a good game.

    1. My first thought was Brom Bones from Sleepy Hollow.
      Apparently Brom the artist was literally just starting out in 89, so who knows how well-known he was in gaming circles at that point.

    2. Either way, it's more expensive than the Yew bow, so I'm sure it must be better. That's how stuff works in the real world, anyway. Right?

    3. Well, in a lot of cases, yes. I have a lot of friends who buy really cheap dollar store stuff, because we are students and its cheap. However, it lasts almost no time and breaks quickly. Whereas I go and spend more on a brand name and it lasts for years and years.

      Example: I got a set of pocket knives at an auction a few years ago. With some very light use almost all of them are missing rubber, or have bits broken, all within a year or two. I spent the same amount on a single leatherman five or six years ago, and the only flaw with it is the paint is getting worn from so much time in my pocket.

      True, you have to do a bit of research, but getting decent quality stuff almost always costs more.

  2. I played this a bit last year and I remember thinking it was very slow to move - I wonder if a different speed setting on dosbox might help. I'm enjoying your posts though and might give it another try.

    1. Other games have given me the heebie-jeebies about cranking up the cycles, but since everything in MC is turn-based (time doesn't pass unless you make a move), I guess it's harmless here. It does ruin the graphical animations, though.

    2. Why don't you turn it up partway then? Have a look at
      it documents all the config options.

      You can turn it up and down on the fly:

      I'd try turning it up a couple of hundred cycles at a time and see what a good balances it between graphics and speed.

      I can write you out the relevant lines of the config file if you don't feel like writing out documentation.

  3. I really like how the "iconographic" interface is implemented. It's a nice mix of traditional Ultima I-V -like top-down perspective, and many other screens that feature a nice diagonal viewpoint.

    Especially the mountain range & bridge screen is cool!

    1. The bridge encounter reminded me of Rings of Zilfin, which of course was the developers' first game.

  4. Crossing the makeshift bridge actually made me curious if it actually is possible to fall from rope. Strength and endurance seems to vary from pic to pic and if those stats were sufficiently low , below 10 or so, that might be possible.

    But mostly I'd suspect it for why there would be such a screen and animation be done.

    1. It would be terrible if someone fell and went splat, dead. Can you even revive dead characters in Magic Candle 1? I've only played a little bit of 3, I think.

    2. I remember a revive spell.

      I doubt that something could happen at the bridge. The game was detailed but I think that would be a bit much detail for such an old game.

    3. That isn't hard to do though.

      IF{Crossing Bridge} AND {STR < 10} THEN SPLAT.
      I mean, it is a bit more complicated then that, but if they were coding in BASIC then I could actually write the code pretty easily.

    4. I'm not a programmer though I don't know. Space for code was limited and it brings more problems in regards to design. E.g. is the char forever gone? Is he still visible in partyscreen and marked as death? Can you revive him? When you can revive him how do you get him back from the bottom of the mountain when he isn't Gandalf? What about his inventory? If possible it would be pretty cool of course!

    5. Most of that could be reused from a normal death however, which I am assuming is possible given the existence of combat.

    6. You can resurrect dead characters in the game, but I don't know if you can retrieve "lost" ones. My suspicion is that it's not possible to fall from the bridge--that the encounter was simply mean to be an inventory puzzle. The business with the characters going hand-over-hand across the rope was probably meant to be a simple graphic for a more complex mechanical operation involving pulleys and stuff.

  5. I am very glad that finally you have a game to play because you WANT to play instead of "HAVE" to play. The difference makes all the... well, difference... in the world.

    I is gonna haveta fire this up pretty soon. Sounds better and better all the time!

  6. I'd like to state that the mushroom patch thing was in the manual. *cough*

    Yeah, I read the whole thing as a kid, then again as I scanned it. Make sure you read the advice section.

    1. Indeed. The manual is a good read and gives you valuable information.

    2. I like the fact most of it is written in character. I'd still read game manuals if they were written like that.

    3. I DID read the manual, but there's a lot of stuff in there! It's had to keep track of it all, and at the outset of the game, before I encountered anything, a lot of it didn't make sense. I'm a fan of reading the manual about 1/3 of the way through the game.

    4. I ideally like to read the manual before starting an RPG and entirely rereading it at least once after playing for awhile once I've got a feel for the gameplay.

  7. The menu is sometimes tedious and no proper loot is unfortunate. Having passages to read in the manual like Wasteland would have been nice, too. Other than that it's a perfect game for me.
    I actually liked the energy drain. It forced you to plan ahead and you could use the camp option. A carpenter and blankets allow you to restore more energy in the wilderness btw.

    1. I agree on the loot. It's also tough to "grind," because it doesn't appear random battles are common (or existant at all?).

  8. Ahhh the old 'rope across the gap' trick. That's the one scene I remember most about this game (don't know why, but it stuck).

    Glad to see you're genuinely enjoying a classic despite the inevitable warts.

    This has to be one of the most underrated rpgs of all time. Can't wait for you to bring back more memories!

  9. I called it from the start -- GOTY.
    Played this game in 1989 and didn't put it down for a half year. Addicting.

    1. I hear you.

      This game had the one thing that all the other legendary rpg's of that time didn't have - charm.

      It felt cute, which isn't what you're always looking for in an rpg - but somehow, for once the gameplay actually dovetailed with the feelings I got from reading the manual. It was a great, believable world filled with quaint villages, great characters, lots of exotic locations....and the ability to separate party members was the kicker.

      Absolutely in my top-5 worlds of all time, up there with Wasteland, the Ultimas, M & M, and Wizardry.

    2. The mythical merging of the best of both worlds (W and J) already upon us?!!?

    3. I must be to tired but I cant for the life of me get your reference Giauz

  10. Dermagud is not easy to miss I suggest you go back and do it before you travel on!

    -stu .. who can't login right now

    1. Thanks. I'm in Bondell right now, but the battles have gotten so tough that I think I might make my way back to the starting area and pick up some of the things I've missed.

  11. Addict,

    I was just over in the Bondell area and yes, the encounters are MUCH tougher. It is good to have your wizard (and everybody else for that matter) partake in the LEARNING classes, if you know the guy's name to get in. That makes it so when they go to learn a different skill, say Archery, they will get +8 points from the training as opposed to +5 (just an example).

    I recently sailed back over to the island that has Keof on it (near where you start). Lots of easier set encounters, so I'm raking up some gold and getting some good skills (as in +1 Magic or +1 Sword Skill here and there). There are SOME random encounters in this game, but not a lot. According to the manual, when you clear a set encounter they are gone for 3 months time.

    As far as the manual, I have now read through different parts of it 3 or 4 times. It is one of the most thoroughly written manuals I've come across for a game. There is a lot of stuff you can do here.

    My main complaint (although complaint may not be the right word) is that it does take a while to explore. Being OCD, I like to check every space on the map... it can get downright tedious in this game! I just found a whole patch of NIFT plants though, so I guess it paid off. Back to it!

    1. Thanks, D. I just found the learning guy in Lymeric last night. I'm like you with the exploration, but it is a lot slower-going in MC than in the Ultima games.

  12. How come I skipped this game? I thought I was on-par!

    Nobody commented about the role-playing games "not Dungeon Crawl"? I call them "open worlds". They are the "only" (as if they were few) role-playing games I like, because I am less a player than a reader.

  13. One reason for the relative decline of cRPGs might be, that tabletop RPGs have transitioned to skill based systems which don't translate well into a computer game. You can't know in advance what skills the hardcoded game path might require, a tabletop GM can be more flexible. If the cRPG is "open world" you have can alternative paths to focus on your skills, but this typically comes at the cost of an engaging background story.

  14. I guess you could call the second type an open world RPG, but that's more of a specific sub- or super-type of game which happens to have a great deal of overlap. There are limited world RPGs which are primarily about exploring rather than delving, and there are open world games that are not RPGs.

    If the classic distinction was between Ultima vs Wizardry, growing up a decade later my comparators were Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate. I'm not sure what kids these days are raised on. For exploration games I guess it's still Minecraft. I'm not sure there *is* a dominantly popular dungeon crawler on the market at the moment - maybe Path of Exile, or Slay the Spire?

    Of the open world RPGs I've played there are also a few which specifically play like a single-player version of an MMO, rather than the traditional exploration-focused RPGs.


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