Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chaos Strikes Back: A Hint of Success

Man, do I wish this "oracle" had existed in Wizardry IV.

The other day, an anonymous reader reminded me of the "oracle" who, from the main screen, you can consult for hints. It was extraordinarily serendipitous. I had just figured out a puzzle on the NETA (priest) path by which I needed to war-cry a skeleton into a teleportation field. This process sent him to the other side of a locked grate, at which point some magic missile promptly killed him (I still don't know where that came from) and caused the grate to open (for reasons I don't understand), allowing me access to the final path to the Corbum Ore.

Since I knew the solution to the puzzle, I decided to see what kind of hint the oracle would give me while standing on the square just before the locked grate. I figured if I tested the process on a puzzle for which I knew the solution, it would be more useful for when I didn't know it.

Not only did the hint turn out to be extremely specific and not at all cryptic, which surprised me, but it told me something about the next path (the ninja) that I would never have figured out on my own. You see, once I passed through this area on my way to the NETA Corbum, I don't think it would have occurred to me to return during the ninja path and kill the skeletons a different way, and then hold up some object to the eye on the wall--an eye that did nothing the first time around. It especially wouldn't have occurred to me that this process would close a pit on an entirely different level. So if I hadn't decided to test the oracle on that one square, there'd be some cursing and spoiler-begging right now.

This kind of hint system is interesting and perhaps unique. There are other games that offer hints, but I can't think of any that read your current position and offer hints specific to the square your party occupies. In addition to these explicit hints, the game also gives you general hints about the monsters you'll face on that level of the dungeon, including their names. This is one of the few places I know where you can actually see what the game calls these creatures.

I've been calling them "debris monsters."

NETA, the second path I took, was much easier than the KU (fighter) path that preceded and the ROS (ninja) path that followed. As Amy pointed out, it's more about puzzles than monsters, and the puzzles aren't very hard. After the skeleton puzzle area, there was a series of corridors in which I had to avoid constant fireball traps, but that was just a matter of timing and stopping to heal when I got hit.

Honestly, who goes around writing this stuff on the walls?

There was a similar pressure-plate puzzle in front of the Corbum Ore, this time involving the timing of two pits instead of one. Like the first shot at the ore, it took me a lot of tries, but eventually I had my second piece, and it was back to the beginning.

This game would be so much quicker if you could a) jump, or b) just carefully balance along the edges of the pit.

ROS (the ninja path) seemed very quick. Oddly, I never found myself back in the area that I had originally mapped in my "Hard for Hard's Sake" posting.  I know you get randomly teleported the moment you enter a way, but I thought everything on a path connected back to itself eventually. But the "Give up; pull the lever" puzzle, the knife trap, and the death knights never showed up. Instead, I had a light throwing puzzle and another series of corridors with fireball traps and scorpions. Both the fireball corridors on this and NETA were brutal. The fireballs were apparently launched from far away and took a long time to get to my party. I'd wait for a while, finally feel I was safe, venture out into the corridor, and BLAM, roasted.

At the end of the path, things got really hairy. There was a large block of 1x1 rooms with secret doors on almost all walls and dragons roaming around among them. Because the rooms were so small, I couldn't really see the dragons while fighting and taking damage from them (they were behind secret doors). Rather than tax myself too much, I just ignored them, mapped as much as I could, and resumed from where I'd left off when I died. Time and patience. I'm glad I took time to map every square because I found a vital key on the last square I mapped.

This area led back to the Diabolical Demon Director level, and it's been interesting how that happens. While mapping both ROS and NETA, I suddenly found myself in a familiar area that I'd already mapped. The key is that certain corridors only open when you come from certain paths, so on the map below, the KU staircase comes up in the southwest, the NETA staircase comes up in the center west, and the ROS staircase comes up in the northeast, but connects to a secret door near the KU staircase that only opens from the ROS path. None of the stairways are accessible except from their respective paths; walls seal them off when on other paths. The game could have been really cheesy about this and had them come from four cardinal directions and meet in the precise center or something, but it didn't, and I applaud the irregularity.

I wonder where the DAIN path comes in. Maybe in that big empty area (although some of the other bits of this level I've mapped might fit in there).

I've been forgetting to mention that on this same level, near the stairs going up to the Diabolical Demon Director level, is a coin slot that produces valuables in a nearby alcove. This is the game's only version of an "economy." I've received miscellaneous food, water, and potions there. I don't know if they're random or fixed. Nothing spectacular.

Continuing with ROS, thanks to that hint above, I knew how to solve a key puzzle, close a pit, and continue along in the DDD level. I soon found myself in a corridor that had a bunch of teleporters in a row. They zoomed me endlessly around the hallways of the level, as in the screenshot below:

I'm not touching the keyboard here.

You can see salamander demons waiting for me at the ends of some of the hallways. I tried fireballing them while in motion but kept hitting my own party members, so I just concentrated on getting out. It turned out to be a matter of careful timing and finding the right corridor. Time and patience.

Just before finding my third Corbum Ore, I ran across an up staircase blocked by another of those energy fields--but it immediately lifted when I approached. Curious, I wandered up to the next level and immediately encountered a slew of salamander demons who killed me more or less instantly. Now I know what to look forward to.

Oh, there was also a bunch of pit traps before the ROS Corbum ore. It was an annoying puzzle. Usually in this game, pits are traps and you want to avoid them unless you know exactly where they go. But in this area, pits were the only way to proceed. Unfortunately, only one out of six or seven pits in each area moved you forward; some of the rest dropped all the way back to the beginning. It was more trial, error, and reloading to find the right path. Time and patience.

The Corbum Ore itself was easier to get than the other two, once I realized that a key pillar was a false wall. I grabbed it, returned to the beginning, and headed off down DAIN, the path of the wizard.

I don't know exactly what to expect from this path, but I expect it's going to involve lots of spells. It's interesting how the paths are aspected to their associated skills. The fighter path featured a slew of enemies and actively discouraged spell use by flinging them back into your face. The priest path featured undead and used a priest skill--"war cry"--to solve the puzzles. On the ninja path, I had to solve a few things by throwing weapons.

The game is progressing much faster now that I've given up trying to kill every creature I come across. Too many of them just respawn anyway, and I feel it's a bit of a waste of time, unless they're literally blocking the path. Oddly, this tendency comes at a time when I've finally, after a game and a half of Dungeon Master's engine, figured out how to effectively fight. A key breakthrough came with Georges's comment about fighting from the inventory screen. I knew this was possible before, but I never really thought about it, and never took the time to fully explore it. Now I see how it makes more effective use of the rear characters, who can mix potions and use special items while the front characters are catching their breaths from their latest melee attacks.

For those of you not really familiar with the game, I'm going to try to capture some video and talk about the combat and spell elements in more detail as I go through the DAIN path and (hopefully) win the game.

I'd like to finish this up by the weekend, and between my three pieces of Corbum Ore, my general comfort with the game, and my recent understanding of the use of the oracle, I think it's possible.


  1. What you're feeling is something so few people get to feel. Slowly getting a firm grasp on what at first seem completely unfathomable systems that operate in conjunction but opaquely so. This is what I like the most about this blog - besides your careful and witty writing - that you're enjoying understanding these games (or at least those that offer themselves up for understanding) on their own terms and in their own time. The blog is a service because many of these games could be looked at on a surface level on youtube or one could briefly play them and only scratch upon them. You're playing them like they came out today and you've nothing else to do. I really like that. My life is very hectic at the moment and I get a vicarious sense of relaxation from your gradual mastery of such an intimidating beast of a game.

    Godspeed with the rest of Chaos Strikes Back. I'll play along on Tangled Tales because it's completely new to me, perhaps. But I've completed Keef the Thief which - some arcane systems aside - you'll find much easier after the headrush of CSB. I won't spoil anything in the game, but I'll gladly provide hints when and if you need them.

    1. Thanks, Helm. I really appreciate what you say in the first paragraph, because that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

    2. "Slowly getting a firm grasp on what at first seem completely unfathomable systems that operate in conjunction but opaquely so."

      Did someone mention Dwarf Fortress?

    3. I agree with Helm completely. Your best postings are the ones that let people understand the game.

  2. You were lucky indeed with that hint! I generally admire the design of CSB, but in this particular instance (this ninja puzzle), I find it completely stupid to put something that opens the ROS path inside the entrance to the NETA path without any clue whatsoever. I played CSB since a kid a number of times and only found out about this very recently by reading a walkthrough. There's a way to bypass it by jumping down a pit to get to the ROS section from elsewhere and that's what I've been doing...

    As for the map you show, you should have a lot more stuff in that white space... all stairs and pits align perfectly from level to level, so the pits you fall through from the first level of the DDD should bring you there. The only thing that happens is that sometimes stairs "rotate", but you can double-check that with the compass.

    For the last level, yes... running around is definitely an option, way too much demons and other nasty things. Depending on which path you go up however, you'll end in different sections and not all are mutually accessible.

    Also, in the last level, the architecture is, hmm, how should put that... "flexible". You'll see.

    1. Oh, and one other thought: Chaos's sanctuary is heavily guarded. There's brute force, and then there's another solution which takes some time and thought to set up, but is very satisfying.

    2. I thought I checked whether the staircases aligned from level to level and I found some discrepancies, so I just assumed they were random. I guess I must have miscounted the squares.

      Having just won the game, I'm very curious what you meant by the last two paragraphs. I look forward to your comments on my posting tomorrow.

    3. All the staircases and pits align perfectly, which just adds to the awesomness of the dungeon design. First time I played I though I discovered one pit that did not align properly, but I couldn't find it again the second time I played.

      And congrats on beating CSB! And that even using the harder version without the Magic Map. Well done!
      You seem to have gained momentum the last half of the game. Hopefully that is due to enjoying the game more.

      What did you think of the room with wall to wall worms? That was one hell of a memorable fight last time I played.

      Looking forward to that "Won!" posting.

    4. I think that, even with my repeated not so subtle hints, he didn't get to the worm room to find the Dragon Fang sword. I confirm it was a memorable fight in my last playthrough too.

      But finishing CSB is really a enjoyable moment of looking at a walktrough/maps and going:
      - "aaah, that room was on level 3, not 7 like I thought."
      - "You're telling me I could have just stepped right one square instead???"
      - "THAT'S were that door was leading!"
      - "Ok. So putting the cheese in the south alcove while the skeleton was standing north of the pit, stepping back and throwing the dagger left on the pressure plate opened the secret wall? How the hell was I supposed to find that?"

    5. No, that doesn't sound familiar at all. I didn't deliberately avoid any such area or anything.

      Looking at maps online, I see that mine are a total mess. I somehow got the idea that the dungeon had 12 levels when it only had 10. I had them numbered backwards. I had bits of some levels on others, and had mapped some areas upside down or sideways. I missed bits of almost every level despite feeling like I was exhaustive in my searches for secret doors and such. Oh, well. I won anyway.

    6. Yeah, I miss that 'read walkthrough' post that you did a few times; you should do that more often.

    7. When I do that, it's typically in the "Rating" posting. I have a number of notes on that for this one.

      Often, I'll read a walkthrough post-game and find that I didn't miss anything, in which case I don't bother to comment on it. In this era, there aren't many games like this where you can miss enormous chunks and still win.

  3. Those dragons behing illusionary walls was one of the highlights last time I played CSB. I tried to use the spell that sees through walls, but it was useless for the purpose of killing the dragons.
    I couldn't see the dragon, but I could _hear_ it. So putting on my headphones, and listening to where the dragon went, I was able to do the dance-of-death without it getting a chance to fry the party. I think there were three dragons in all that I used this trick on. I wonder how many others used that tactic?
    I love it when a game uses other things than just to navigate by , which is why I dislike games, and especially stealth games, with 3rd person view (or behind-the-ass camera, as I like to call it) where you see more than your character does, and makes using other senses than the eyes irrelevant.

    BTW, did the pattern of the pits in the dragon area look familiar to you?

    1. That should be "uses other things than just _sight_ to navigate by"

    2. Ha, nice subtle hint about the pits pattern :).

    3. Oh, I'd also add that you can see pit shafts on the ceiling, this also helps to align maps.

    4. I assume you mean that the pattern aligns with the ceiling holes in the starting area. I didn't map them, but since the room is about the same size, I'm guessing that's it.

    5. I prefer the behind the ass camera for one specific reason. I have less of a chance to get motion sick in this mode than through the eyes 3d. I would also say it is more realistic to have a view around you to emulate peripheral vision and general head motion that gives you an idea of your surroundings as well as the information you get from your sense of touch and balance that tells you exactly where you are in a room/staircase/rocky hill. So until we can correct these things I prefer 3rd person view.

  4. "...But in this area, pits were the only way to proceed. Unfortunately, only one out of six or seven pits in each area moved you forward; some of the rest dropped all the way back to the beginning. It was more trial, error, and reloading to find the right path. Time and patience."

    I realize this is from 2013, but placing an item on the pit tells you if it's an illusion. Real: item drops into pit and disappears. Illusory: item hovers in mid air.

    Would have saved a bunch of frustrated reloading.

    1. I wasn't talking about illusory pits here, though. I was talking about having to identify the right pit to enter to progress forward. Dropping items wouldn't have helped with that.


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