Sunday, June 16, 2013

Game 101: The Land (1985-2009)

Presenting the worst font ever.

"One word more," Foul said, "a final caution. Do not forget whom to fear at the last. I have had to be content with killing and torment. But now my plans are laid, and I have begun. I shall not rest until I have eradicated hope from the Earth. Think on that, and be dismayed!"
--Lord Foul's Bane, Book 1 of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, Page 20.

My reaction.

I suppose I should give Stephen Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant another try. A lot of people I respect seem to like the books, they apparently deal with complex themes in a fantasy backdrop, and the idea of a protagonist with leprosy is fascinating. But wow, the writing in the first book was awful. That quote above came at the end of about three pages of awkward exposition that you have to read to believe. I half expect that at the end, when Covenant wins, Lord Foul says, "You beat me?! I am destroyed."

The Land is set in the world of the books, called by its inhabitants...wait for it..."The Land." The geography, city names, monster names, and character classes are all drawn from Donaldson, giving non-readers a slight disadvantage. The game gives you no clues as to the story and quest, although the manual says that the latter will become clear during gameplay. As I cover this game, I won't mind at all if those of you who have read the books chime in with a little context.

"Lord Osondrea" is a character in the books, but damned if I know what role she plays.

You begin by naming your character, distributing 20 points among the six standard D&D statistics (all of which start at 10), and choosing from among seven race/class choices that are unique to the game. There are starker strengths and weaknesses among the classes than in, say, NetHack, with certain classes unable to use certain magic or spells. "Ramen," for instance, fight unarmed and unarmored and can never ride horses. "Warwards" can use any armor and weapons except for artifacts. "Loresraats" can use anything, magic or spells, but advance very slowly in experience.

My first character.

The game is often classified among roguelikes, but the tag is slightly debatable. It has a vague roguelike feel to it, especially in the selection of keyboard commands and the inventory. I don't know if early The Land influenced Omega or if Omega influenced later versions of The Land or if they have a common ancestor, but they seem very similar. (Certainly, the didn't independently come up with the idea of an "Up in Air" slot in the inventory.) It also has a certain randomization to some maps, and you only uncover areas as you move through them. On the other hand, it has a nice graphic tileset and some bloopish sounds, and there's no permadeath. Like Omega, it has an overworld and multiple towns and dungeons. You can apparently get other party members to join you, though I haven't gotten that far yet. In general, the game feels more like Ultima I or Ultima II than a traditional "roguelike."

Roguelikes and other freeware games are often difficult to peg to a specific date because they undergo continuous development throughout their lifetimes. I "solved" that problem with NetHack by breaking it into six "editions" and planning to play each one in its appropriate year. But I'm not going to do that for every roguelike. In the case of The Land, version 1.0 was released in 1985 and version 5.0 was released in 1996. I'm playing it among 1989 games because MobyGames said it was released in 1989; I'm guessing they got this from the version 2.3 release date, which was the first release to the public at large. The release notes suggest that not much changed between 1989 and 1996 except for bug fixes and a conversion to VGA, so I don't feel like I'm playing it significantly out of order. 

Exploring "The Land."

Combats come upon you unannounced--enemies don't have icons that approach you while you explore. You're taken to a separate combat screen at that point (again like Omega, at least in its outdoor areas), where you can cast spells, attack with ranged or melee weapons, or flee.

Fighting a "cavewight type."

The game has a few other staples of roguelikes, including a hunger system and an encumbrance system. It's inventory system is a little confusing; removing items from packs puts them in the "up in air" slot, at which point you have to either put them back in the pack, use them, or assign them to an appropriate place on the body. I've found that if you hit the wrong key during this process, you can lose the item for good.

Shopping in town.

I don't know if all towns are like this, but the first town I explored, Revelstone, was huge and featureless, with multiple shops, NPCs selling equipment, and NPCs who would offer a bit of lore. Aside from buying things, the primary purpose of towns seems to be the accumulation of "lore" about the locations of various items and towns and the uses of various objects.

With a name like "Lord Foul," could he be anything else?

Revelstone also had a college with various "courses" you can take to increase skills, which is a nice use of the economy, although the economy is broken (see below).

Increasing skills in college.

The Land has a reasonably interesting skill system, with 16 separate skills for different types of weapons (edged weapons, pole weapons), travel and wilderness skills (scouting, hunting, riding, boats), and magic and lore. You start with 0 in all of these categories, but you can increase them by paying for training. As you level up, your skills increase randomly (an aspect of the game I don't like).

There are some other neat innovations in the game. Like any roguelike, it has good in-game documentation of icons and commands:


The main screen makes good use of its real estate. There's an odd "oath" system by which every class has to render a certain amount of "service" per year to his or her profession, done by returning to the home town. Characters age and, I guess, can die. The game keeps track of each piece of lore that you learn and displays them with SHIFT-L.

I'm not sure how the items in white (at the bottom) differ from the ones at the top.

Balancing these innovations are some "features" common to 1980s freeware games with only one developer. The manual is extremely scant (perhaps by design). You can't fully explore cities because you can't actually enter shops (they activate when you "open" the door), and because they activate automatically, you can't explore rooms across the way from them.

One of these doors has a shop. What's behind the other one, I don't know, because every time I try to (o)pen it, I end up back in the shop.

Hitting an unexpected key frequently produces an error and kicks you to the DOS prompt. This would have been rage-inducing in NetHack, but I suppose it's not so bad in a game that allows you to save anywhere. The font used in dialogue is absolutely unreadable, mitigated a bit by the game keeping track of what's said.

A lore staff is used with WHAT?!

Soon after entering Revelstone, I found an astonishing game-breaking mechanic: the gambling system at taverns and inns. There are two games: "dragon dice" and "die square." "Dragon dice" is a bad investment. You roll three dice, and some of the possible combinations pay out at different ratios. I calculated the rate of return at about 0.81 to 1.

It's not as bad as it looks, as the game organizes the rolls in order, so 6-6-3 pays out whether you roll that, 6-3-6, or 3-6-6.

 "Die square," on the other hand, would bankrupt any casino that tried it. You have a nine-square grid, and each square can roll one of two symbols. If the pattern of any one type of symbol makes an "X" or "+", it pays out 25 to 1; if it makes a square (only the one in the middle a different symbol), it pays out 50 to 1, and if all 9 squares end up the same symbol, it pays 100 to 1.

The economy-breaking gambling game.

We don't really have to work out all the probabilities to see why this system breaks the game. Pretend that the game only pays out on an X. The odds of getting an X for one symbol, which involves 5 squares, is 0.5^5, or 0.03. But it pays out if you get either symbol in an X, so multiply that by 2, and we get 0.06. That means you'll win on an X 6% of the time. If the game paid 100/6 or 16.67-to-1, you'd break even over the course of time. But it doesn't pay 16.67-to-1; it pays 25-to-1. The rate of return on this symbol alone is over 1.5 monetary units for every 1 spent.

The probability of a + is the same. Add to this the more remote probabilities of a square or full grid, and you're getting a ridiculous payout. The proof is in my pocket. Within five minutes, I went from 590 gold pieces to over 300,000.

This win gave me 250,000 monetary units from my 10,000 wager.

Questron II was bad, but not this bad. I think there might have been spending caps with that one. In this case, I was able to take my new found wealth and purchase some badass equipment and training.
My post-winnings inventory.

The obvious solution, if you want to play the game straight and struggle for your money, is "don't gamble." But I'm a big believer in the notion that it isn't cheating if the game gives you the ability to do it without resorting to obvious bug-exploiting. If the game seems a little too easy after this, I'll know why.

A lord in Revelstone seemed to give me the first quest: "go get the first ward of Kevin's Lore" in Coercri. Other characters told me that Coercri is on the east coast of Seareach, Seareach is northeast of Sarangrave Flats, Sarangrave Flats run along the east of Landsdrop, and Landsdrop separates the upper and lower lands. I suspect if I wander around a bit, I'll find one of these other features and thus get a bead on where to go.

I think that says "Ward," anyway.

I feel a little crippled without having read the books (the only wiki online is woefully incomplete), but I'll see what I discover in my initial six hours.


  1. Wow, that text is atrocious. Good luck suffering through this one. How far did you take breaking the economy: wide open or moderately overpowered?

    1. Wide open. Since I can't seem to progress with my current character as is, I was thinking about starting over and trying without gambling, just to see how it affects the challenge.

    2. Looking at the font you are complaining about, it looks squished vertically. If the letters were taller, it would be much more legible.

      Any chance it is something with DOSBox resolution?

    3. Should have read further down. Oops.

  2. I enjoyed the first two series, though I lost interest half-way through the most recent set of books set there. Interesting looking game, never heard of it before.

  3. It's not freeware, actually, it was shareware up to version 5.0.1, and IIRC that's why there's no manual in all versions online (the PDLand file is more of a readme). You should probably read the first, non-spoilerish part of the FAQ that comes with 5.0.1.

    Revelstone is actually better than most other towns since it's the only one with the questgiver. Some have dungeons in them.
    Maybe you've figured it out already, of course, but just in case: a lone tree icon on the world map also represents a town, just a different kind (can't remember what it's called).

    I really liked the setting of Donaldson's books, but only managed to get through a half of the first one. It's just too goofy. Which is true for the most of the early fantasy of course, but combined with the awkward attemps to deal with "serious themes" it was just too much for me.

    1. I'm a bit ahead of my blogging. I figured out the tree thing, but for the live of me I cannot find this place I'm supposed to go next: Doriendor Corishev. I'm in the area where it's SUPPOSED to be, but there are no entrances to anything. You sound like you may have played the game; any ideas?

    2. I never got that far, sorry :(
      Have you tried the mountains? Some of them are passable, but you can't tell from the look of it.

    3. Yeah, mountains are a huge pain in the neck, but I did figure out how to wend my way through them. I still can't find anything. The entrance is supposedly west of "Doom's Retreat," but I can't find that either. I may have to pause gameplay until I can get someone to offer a hint (the file that accompanies the game is no help).

    4. I remember getting a piece of lore sayin that Doom's Retreat is the best way to Southron Wastes, for what it's worth. I also remember (and had it just checked out) that a dungeon entrance may be a regular land tile with no markings on it.

      I believe the only authority on this game is the guy who wrote the FAQ, maybe try contacting him?

    5. Yeah, I found it. I had to test about 50 random squares before one finally "let me in." What a dumb game mechanic.

    6. Reminds of KoL a bit, doesn't it? ;)

    7. A little worse. In KoL, you had to wander around until you found the right place, but at least it would alert you when you were there. In this game, I have to keep hitting SHIFT-> on every square to see if it leads me to the entrance.

    8. I think I got the logic behind this mechanic: unlike KoL it's quite possible to enter a dungeon without getting a quest if you know where it is. So this is the way the game makes sure you don't stumble into one by accident. It doesn't make it any less dumb, of course.

    9. I guess that makes sense. I also noticed today that there's a small black square on the large map in the lower right-hand corner at each dungeon location (after you've uncovered the surrounding squares), so if you know the general area, it's not as hard to find the entrance as I thought.

  4. PetrusOctavianusJune 16, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    I loved the Covenant books 25 years ago.
    Seems I have to read them again, 'cause I can't recall the writing being bad. In fact I found it to be more mature than contemporaries like Edding, Weiss&Hickmand and Feist. Donaldson seem more like a "real" writer. But I was young and rather unexperienced then...

    1. I liked the Covenant books I've read as well. It might be a case where having English as a second language is a kind of blessing. I can see how the quote is bad, when it's pointed out to me. But when I'm reading it on my own I don't think that much about it.

      I did find the books "heavy" though. I think that had more to do with the pretty depressed state the protagonists are often in for huge parts of the narrative. And then the fact that honestly I didn't understand all of the plot. How Covenant defeats various obstacles and how his magic works etc is pretty... obscure.

      I thought the take on his disbelief in the Land and how he struggles with it was one of the best things about the book. Very different from other "visitation" stories I remember.

      Personally I'm quite looking forward to eventually reading the new series. Haven't begun yet, but for some reason I just really like the title of one of the new books: "Against All Things Ending".

    2. "In fact I found it to be more mature than contemporaries like Edding, Weiss&Hickmand and Feist." - that statement may be quite true, but not because Donaldson is any good, rather because those four are abysmally horrible ;) Comparing him to such contemporaries as, for example, Zelazny or Gene Wolfe is a wholly different matter.

    3. I'm a fan of the books, too. I read a lot of garbage fantasy books when I was young, and this seemed a lot more complex than other books. Covenant was an early "anti-hero", a seriously flawed (and some might say screwed up) reluctant hero. The writing is a bit uneven in the beginning, but it gets better later. Or, maybe I just got more used to it.

      Looks like the game takes some serious liberties with the setting, though. I don't remember winged horses and elementals in the books. And I certainly don't remember any gelatinous cubes!

    4. Donaldson has some great names for his books. My favorite is in his GAP series (Sci-Fi). It is, I think, the 5th in the series, and named "This Day All Gods Die"

    5. Yes, I did take some serious liberties, but let me ask you this, what game do you know of that is based upon a book or movie that did not take liberties?

      I had to take some liberties for a few reasons. First there were very few enemy types in the books, it would have been pretty boring (more boring?) had you just fought an endless supply of ur-viles and cavewights.

      Also the books only mentioned the locations of three of the seven wards, so I had to place the other wards in locations of my choosing, I at least tried to place them in places that are mentioned in the books.

      The Krill existed in the books, but it would have been no fun for the Lords to have just handed it to you, so I hid it away instead. Although if I remember rightly (Been a long time since I read the books) the Krill was found when the Second Ward was found. But I certainly did not want two artifacts found at the same time.

      The books do not ever mention Berek's Staff, but having been a Lord he must have had one, so I do not think this was too much of a stretch. Damelain's artifact was most definitely a fabrication of mine, mainly I just wanted to have something major for each of the important old Lords, which was the only reason this artifact was invented. And yes, Adant is a made up word.

      The Talisman of the Earthpower also does not exist in the books but allowed me to have a method to complete the game (Although extremely difficult) without needing Covenant to do it. The location where the Talisman is found is mentioned in the books and without giving spoilers its location does make a certain amount of sense why the talisman was there.

      Everything else pretty much comes from the books.

    6. I never thought much about it, but I'm guessing that the process of adapting a book to a game is much like adapting it to a film. You have to give priority to the needs of the medium TO WHICH you're adapting. In your case, when deciding between respecting the original material or creating a good game, you naturally have to side with the latter.

  5. I've actually read the first two Thomas Covenant trilogies within the last five years... but I don't remember that much of it.

    Using the glossary and what I remember I can provide a bit of lore though. I picked out what I judged to be key words on your screenshots and description of gameplay (and picked a few additional concepts I thought would be good to include). If there are more you'd like a short bit on do tell.

    Bloodguard: Are the non-aging bodyguards of the Lords. They fight unarmed (in D&D terms they are basically incredibly high level monks, with the additional ability of not aging at all. I think several of them are a few thousand years old).

    Cavewight: "evil creatures existing under Mount Thunder" says the glossary... one of the evil races serving Lord Foul, another being Ur-Viles.

    Earthpower: The source of power in the Land. So magic I guess?

    Forestal: A mighty nature spirit protecting the forests of The Land.

    Giants: Allies of the humans of The Land. They originally came over the sea and are still seafarers, but unable to find their way home.

    Gildenlode: Some kind of magical and powerful wood.

    Graveling: Enchanted stones that glow (enchanted by gravelingas, who are the people who know stone magic).

    Hurtloam: A healing mud.

    Kevin: He was the last of the old high lords, who caused a kind of cataclysmic event in The Land due to Lord Foul's influence (I THINK an attempt to destroy Foul, not sure).

    Kevin's Lore: Knowledge of magic basically. It has been split into the Seven Wards. The current Lords of The Land only have access to a few of these Wards and understanding of even fewer. Something like that.

    Lillianrill: The name for "wood-lore", ie. knowledge of wood magic.

    Lomillialor: Some kind of magic wood, "High Wood".

    Lord: "Master of the Sword and Staff parts of Kevin's Lore." They are leaders of The Land and use magic and staffs in combat.

    Loresraat: "Trothgard school at Revelwood where Kevin's Lore is studied." Not sure why it's a class, but I guess the idea is it's a "lord-in-training"?

    Oath of Peace: An oath the people of the Land have taken against "needless violence".

    Orcrest: "a stone of power".

    Ravers: Three incredibly powerful, incorporeal servants of Lord Foul. They often possess mortals and use their bodies to cause destruction.

    Ramen: A plains people who serve/live with a special race of horses called the Ranyhyn.

    Revelstone: Basically the capital of the Land I think. "Mountain city of the Lords".

    Revelwood: The seat of the Loresraat.

    Rhadhamaerl: "Stone lore", so stone magic.

    Rillinlure: "healing wood dust"

    Ritual of Desecration: "act of despair by which High Lord Kevin destroued the Old Lords and ruined most of the Land."

    Stonedownor: A person who lives in a stone-village.

    Ur-viles: Evil servants of Lord Foul who use magic in combat - they form "wedges" which empowers the offensive power of their magic. Related to Waynhim.

    Warward: "army of Lord's Keep (Revelstone)". Again, not sure why a class. There are a number of terms for various officers. The Warmark being the commander of the Warward, a Warhaft being the commander of an Eoman (a unit of 20 soldiers + Warhaft).

    Waynhim: Related to the ur-viles (shared creatores, the Demondim (I think)). Opposes the ur-viles, however. I think they are kinda pseudo-neutral, but semi-friendly to the people of the Land? Ish?

    Wild Magic: Supposedly comes from White Gold, which doesn't occur in the Land. Thomas Covenant's wedding ring is made of white gold.

    1. Thanks! That's a nice glossary. Whatever "Loresraat" is supposed to mean for a class, I just became one.

    2. If there are other names or anything you'd like looked up just say the word :)

    3. For Loresraat:

      Basically this is the central place where they train people based off the recovered old lore. They divide it into 2 schools, Sword and Staff. The Sword is the classical military, the Staff is the magical/research side of things. The Lords have to have completed training in both sides.

      Like above, I assume they are slightly misuing group names as class names. So it does sound like the Loresraat class is the hybrid sword plus magic, hence also the slow progression because of the wider range of abilities.

    4. Ramen: alternatively, a type of noodle dish popular in Japan and among poor college students in America.

      I'd totally be a noodle dish if I were playing this game.

  6. I wonder what they had in mind with that font, my eyes are bleeding.

  7. Covenant is a weird series and not exactly a likeable character. It's been a few years, but I had to force myself to read the first trilogy. A friend had loaned it to me, so I felt compelled. It's an interesting series and an interesting story, but I disliked the prose and the pacing. In a way, it's appropriate though. Covenant's self-loathing becomes this intolerable rot as it is delivered via the interminable pages.

    I have to say using The Land as a setting for a game feels very weird. The Land isn't (at least in the first trilogy) as much a well realized setting as it is a vehicle for the story.

  8. "Ramen," for instance, fight unarmed and unarmored and can never ride horses. Man, those are some real bad-ass Japanese noodles. :D

    And speaking of Japanese, I may not be a native English speaker, but the phrasing in that quote seems so broken to me it almost resembles the Engrish commonly encountered in cheap English ports of some 80s - early 90s Japanese games.

    1. I was half-expecting that to read "Ramen, for instance, fight with chopsticks".

    2. The author had traveled with his parents to India when he was very young; his father was a doctor who helped treat leprosy there. It seems he picked up a small bit of the culture, but not in great depth.

      A lot of the very foreign sounding words come from sanskrit or Buddhism.

  9. Short explanation why the font looks so bad:
    The font (this is a Turbo Pascal BGI font) was actually designed for low and medium resolutions and wasn't upgraded when they added VGA support in Turbo Pascal.

    Oh, and the game looked totally boring to me when I tried it.

    1. Thanks. I knew there had to be some explanation. I couldn't imagine someone did that deliberately.

    2. Let me guess: It was also designed for a different aspect ratio?

    3. This is correct. In the original CGA, TGA, EGA versions of the game the font is actually quite readable. It was only in the VGA version that the font became hard to read. I will most likely change the font to something better in a future version.

  10. I made it right up to the protagonist's first rape in the first book before Bradley Coopering it out my window. If it's possible to run into Thomas Covenant in the game, give him a few smacks for me, yeah?

    1. I know some people hate spoilers, but that tends to be the point that most people stop. While nobody should defend rape, it does make sense in terms of the story (a leper suddenly gets nerve regenerated and feeling back and has been frustrated by dealing with his ex-wife.) The series also doesn't let him get away with it, and it becomes an ongoing plot point through the books and causes all sorts of problems. It is also an event that prevents Covenant from just saying "fuck it" and embracing the land as a happy fantasy to live in away from his concerns in the real world.

      In short, the rape is something that Covenant has to deal with in every book, not some fantasy wank material.

    2. I feel much as Anonymous #2. I don't think the story deals with his actions inappropriately.

      Also Anon #1 makes it sound like there are multiple rapes. There are not, there is one.

    3. I was going to mention that as well as a slightly problematic writing style (it makes many readers clench), the Covenant series attracts a lot of rather overblown condemnation for this event, which is quite justified in terms of the story.

      Incidentally, the series is still ongoing!

    4. Of course, plenty of truly horrible stuff happens to people in George R. R. Martin's books, too. They may or may not be better written, but he's no nicer to his characters than Donaldson.

    5. Right. I think it says a lot about modern fantasy (perhaps an indictment of it) that when I read the thread, I thought, "JUST one rape?!" Heck, one of my favorite fantasy characters assassinated his king, had a longstanding affair with his own sister, and tried to murder a child. And don't even get me started on Karsa Orlong.

    6. This is why I don't read fantasy novels anymore.

      French director François Truffaut once said that it is impossible to make a true anti-war movie, because it is impossible to show war on the silver screen without glorifying it.

      In a similar vein, I question whether it's possible to graphically portray rape in books, movies, video games, or anything else without glorifying it. I haven't read any of the books listed here (and never will) so this is all I'll say on the matter.

      TV Tropes ( has an entry on this broader principle of creative media, titled "Do Not Do This Cool Thing". I highly recommend browsing it.

    7. Any idea how Grave of the Fireflies fits with that view?

    8. It's been decades, but I don't remember any graphic war violence (or rape, for that matter) in Grave of the Fireflies. Just a lot of misery, oppression, and starvation.

    9. First anonymous here: I'm not pretending to be an good judge of the series, just saying that reading the viewpoint character guiltlessly raping an innocent was where I happily tossed the book and moved on with my life. As a lady who's survived a pair of such assaults, it's just not someone I want to spend my time with. No condemnation implied of the author or his fans.

    10. I haven't read the books. I remember my mother was rather interested in them, and imagine I could find them were I to look into it - but if I never read them to begin with, I'll imagine it means that I simply never much liked the idea of them.

      That said, I'd like to state that you shouldn't be referencing it via Mr. Cooper. 'Defenestration' is a word that -should- be in today's vernacular.

    11. Covenant isn't thrown in jail due to his crime, though he would deserve it, but guiltless is far from the right word to describe how it is handled in the books. His crime has very serious consequences for both himself (including massive amounts of guilt) and others in the world for pretty much all of the series that I've read.

    12. I remember getting to this part in the book when I borrowed it from my High School library.

      I also could not get past this in the books not because of the event so much as the rationalization as to why it was ok. The way it is written made me think that the only reason the character or author didn't do such things in the real world were out of fear of the consequences. Also before that point in the book you are drawn in to the protagonist point of view and the author attempts to have you empathize with him. To take this empathy and turn it into someone saying its ok that I engaged in rape fantasy (he thinks its a dream) because I am feeling sorry for myself just angered and disgusted me.

      Maybe I magnified some elements due to being a freshman highschooler but that version of me would have kneecapped and curbed the author if he had the chance.

    13. @UbAh: I don't remember getting the impression at all that we are supposed to think Covenant's crime was "ok" or acceptable in any way. It's possible to empathize with someone overall without condoning everything about that person.

      And again the consequences and guilt of his actions, especially the rape, dog Covenant for pretty much all of the series - at least what I remember of it (having read the two first trilogies).

    14. It still strikes me as the kind of excuses and rationalizations rapist use in real life to justify not composting themselves or at the very least castration. The only proper response is removing such individuals from society permanently so they can do no more harm. Instead you hear excuses like, I was drunk, I thought it was a dream so it was ok to act out my fantasy, or I was feeling so sorry for myself because my life is so hard, and anyway it had been a while since *MY* needs were met so I just had to take what I felt I needed from someone else. Then to try to say well I am paying for what I did with guilt and other consequences so that evens things up and everyone should give me a pass for that unfortunate thing in the past.

      Making me think about this again has me thinking the author might have some dark history he is writing justifications around. If I only do this much good it will wipe away the guilt of what I did.

      Granted I was less than half my current age when I read it first, but do you really think I would feel differently if I read it again?

    15. Alright, I don't know how much you meant to imply with "some dark history he is writing justifications around." but that sounds like an incredibly harsh and unjust judgment of someone purely on the basis that he has written a story with elements of which you disapprove.

      Apart from that I have no idea what you think about the story if you re-read it. How far did you read it? I'm not sure if you're saying you only read that far (about 70 pages out of ca 1500? In the first trilogy), or if you read further but it kept bugging you.

      If you only read that far, frankly you're in no position whatsoever to judge how the story deals with Covenant's crime. You are however, of course, perfectly in your right to judge at that point that you don't want to read further. That's perfectly understandable.

      I still don't think the story in any way condones Covenant's crime. Again, there are consequences for the man, in addition to his guilt, even if they aren't exceution/suicide or gelding him. That doesn't make his crime "ok", it seems to me that that's how the story shows how nasty his crime was.

    16. Alright, I checked the page numbers. In my version of the book the crime takes place on pages 83-84. The first trilogy is 1152 without the glossary. I think my point still stands (if it was applicable).

    17. I read far enough after that part to get the sense that the author still wants you to care about the protagonist. Also far enough to see the rationalization the author uses to cause and effect away the crime.

      My harshness to the author stems from him building a world where such actions are "understandable" because of x,y,z list of reasons. Arguing things being understandable in context tends to be the tone of all the fans of the series.

      I do not think this is exactly the proper forum for this debate though as the subject matter starts ugly and could get uglier quickly because of being such an emotional trigger. So unless our dear addict would like us to continue, I think we should end this discussion.

    18. On that last part we agree :)

    19. Weird that the one rape in the first Covenant book is apparantly so much more morally apprehensible, even to the extent that one questions the author's motives, than genocide which is often described in fantasy, and sometimes even done by the "hero", for example in the Eternal Champion books.

    20. I haven't read the eternal champion series but this reaction might stem from the protagonist in the covenant series coming from a contemporary real world setting. The setting gives you a frame of referencing the culture and morals of the protagonist. The protagonist could be one of us or you could find yourself in his situation until he jumps to the world with magic. It is plausible that you could also find yourself living in a dream world as he thinks he is after an accident. Establishing those links probably makes his choices more real and therefore more inevitable to judge.

      If you start in a medieval world with magic and dragons or other insanity you don't have the same frame of reference to relate with, and you know the situation is unrealistic and unbelievable.

      In the song of fire and ice books you also don't have a writing style that invites identifying with the character on a relatable level and there is nothing suggesting a defense of anyone's actions or suggesting to put yourself in their shoes (At least in the first two book which I have read).

    21. PetrusOctavianusJune 19, 2013 at 2:05 PM

      Good points, but...
      I think many can relate to the healthy version of Covenant; he was an average Joe from contemporary America. But I think it's hard to relate to how it is to be a leper, shunned by society and then suddenly finding yourself in a pastoral world, with all your limbs suddenly working again.

    22. Sounds like he's the Raskolnikov of fantasy.

    23. Weren't his limbs working properly just not reporting correctly on the nerve endings? The big difference being he was no longer impotent?

      Not that it changes things from my point of view but I ask out of curiosity.

    24. PetrusOctavianusJune 19, 2013 at 5:10 PM

      Yes, I should have specified the impotence. In Norwegian _the_ limb is the penis.

    25. I think universally for men and, most women I know, it is *THE* limb and all others are secondary ;-p

      Unfortunately that reads to me even worse because it is like saying the only thing stopping men from engaging in rape is because they don't find themselves suddenly horny after a long spell of nothing. Equating the needs of lust as being enough to cause rape is even more objectionable than the understanding of rapist being mental deficits that just need to be removed from society.

    26. *worse to me* I hate not being able to edit comments!

    27. I seem to recall his rape victim eventually falling in love with him. The rape was the point where I was no longer able to empathize at all with a protagonist I already wasn't particularly fond of, and the above was just...yeah. I believe the second trilogy features a different primary protagonist with Covenant as a secondary figure, and I liked that one a lot more.

      His Gap series is also pretty rape-intensive.

  11. A good deal of the information that you learn from characters is stuff that anyone who had read the books would already know (although maybe forgotten). In particular a lot of it is geography, and there were maps in the books, so I don't consider knowing the layout as a spoiler. Here's a picture of one from the book: although Wikipedia's coloured version is easier on the eyes: .

    I played for a bit (I chose a giant) and was pleased as enough exploration revealed that the geography was familiar. On the other hand, I winced every time I read "Coerci" -- it's meant to be "Coercri". And the first town I entered was far too full of pointless empty buildings and people who mostly said things I already knew. Judging by your town experience it seems this is generally true; that's a bit disappointing and it feels to me like the towns should have been tightened up somewhat.

    It may be that the bits of known information that were considered different are things that are specifically needed for game progress, but it's not clear. The first word of power would, again, be known to people who read the books. The use of Melen, on the other hand, looks like the game creator's own invention.

    1. I had found the WIkipedia map. The game seems to take liberties with some locations, so I can't fully rely on it, but it has helped.

      "Coerci" was my error, not the game's. I've fixed it. Absolutely right on the empty buildings. The towns could have been a lot smaller.

    2. No, "Coerci" is definitely the game's error (although I won't rule out the possibility of the spelling being correct in some locations). The giant started near there so I was subjected to that name a certain amount. It was that I was complaining about, not your posting (as I assumed it was consistently misspelled throughout the game).

    3. The colors used in the message log indicate what type of message they were. The dimmer color mainly contained general information (Like geographical information), while the brighter color contained more lore related messages, words of power, activation words, locations of important items, etc.

      The new lords did not know Melenkurion as a word of power until they received the first ward from the giants, and since I was using the words of power to remove the forbiddings I needed another word to be able to access the first ward, so I took part of the first word of power to be able to access the ward. It is certainly correct that Melen does not exist in the books.

      Another actual liberty taken is related. In the books the giants had the first ward and gave it to the new lards when they returned to the land, whereas in the game you have to fight your way to retrieve it.

  12. A heads up to those who want to play this game.

    My DOSBOX with Save State feature will not allow me to load a game using the command line "Theland savegamename"

    I tried using a non save state version and it worked. :/

    Both were .74

    1. I've only ever used save states with the Apple II emulator, but does loading the save game really matter? I thought the save state saves all data, so you should just have to load the application itself and the load the save state.

    2. Your right, but I had not used the save state function at that time. I was just saving normally, as I do until I find it absolutely necessary to use the save state.
      The game crashes after the 1st screen when loading my 'legit' save game with this version. I'm pretty sure the save state function would have worked had I used it, but....

      Anyway, I'm just glad to see that someone attempted this would-be epic project. Perhaps one day another person will pick up the torch and try once again to create Donaldson's vision in a CRPG.

  13. I never liked the books -- tried reading them and I think I made it through the first book, and that was when I read basically any fantasy I could get my hands on (everything at my local library, my middle school library, and the local Crown Books). Years later (decades!), I came across a now-defunct site called Inchoatus that reviewed and rated fantasy and science fiction. Generally, their reviews were pretty credible, but oddly, they rated LFB as one of the best fantasy novels / series ever.

    I can't do the review/analysis justice, but the gist of it is that the book is essentially the supreme trolling of fantasy readers (maybe even moreso than Tehanu!) insofar as it takes a person (Covenant) from the real world whose life sucks even more than that of the reader (who is, presumptively, a school-age nerd), gives Covenant everything that the reader fantasizes about having (a beautiful girlfriend, an adventure in a fantasy world, a position of utmost importance), and then has Covenant shit all over it. The rape is perhaps the most dramatic aspect, but in some ways it's the character's pervasive refusal to enjoy himself or get into his own adventure that is so aggravating to the reader: I would kill to be Covenant, the reader screams, and all he can do is mope about!

    Not sure why trolling your readership makes for great literature, but Inchoatus apparently thought so.

    (FWIW, Donaldson wrote another fantasy duology -- The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through -- that was actually quite engaging, and his weird space opera based on the Ring Cycle has a kind of grotesque appeal.)

    1. I haven't read the books, so naturally I can't comment, but it seems like a lot of effort on Donaldson's part to write so many books with the primary intention of trolling.

    2. Well, I think it would be articulated more as something like "alienate fantasy readers from their stand-in protagonists to provoke a critical reflection on the tropes of the genre" or something like that.

      Here's the review, courtesy of the Wayback Machine (bless its heart):

    3. I do not see what you mean by trolling the reader.
      Donaldson took a gravely wounded and beaten man (physically as a leper, and mentally as a would-be successful writer/author who was abandoned by everyone and everything he loved because of his new found illness) and plopped him into a world which, to him, was only a dream to good to be true. His semi-constant swapping b/t the worlds does not help his overloaded mind cope with what his perceived reality must be.

      It may be a bit deep for you, but certainly not an attempt to troll you :)

      The struggle between his awesome power and his unwillingness to believe in the land is great. If he accepts the land is real and gives into his want/need to feel like life may not be as horrible as it is, then he leaves himself open to cataclysmic depression and apathy if it all turns out to be just a dream.

      Do not hurt where holding is enough,
      do not wound where hurting is enough,
      do not maim where wounding is enough,
      do not kill where maiming is enough,
      the greatest warrior is he who does not have to kill. - S. R. D.

    4. It sounds to me like someone would only judge the Covenant series to be "trolling" if you had a pretty negative conception of people who read fantasy.

      I can't believe that was Donaldson's intention - unless there is any kind of evidence of that outside the books?

    5. "It may be a bit deep for you, but certainly not an attempt to troll you :)"

      I assume the smilie is for irony's sake.

      My use of "troll" was itself slightly ironic shorthand, but I'm not sure I entirely understand your defense of the book. Is it that the book has a great deal of psychological realism and therefore even if the effect is to take every fantasy nerd's cliche dream (to be transported to a fantasy world where he is the greatest hero ever and has beautiful women fawning over him) and have it shit upon, one cannot accuse the author of being a troll because he's merely doing what realism demands? Or is it that Covenant is NOT rejecting and defiling fantasy nerds' cliche dream?

      I read the book when I was 12 or something, so you're entirely right that it could've gone over my head. I'm skeptical, though, that at any age I was unable to follow a book about a dude named Thomas Covenant wielding a magic ring to fight a villain named Drool Rockworm in the service of Lord Foul. I mean, it's possible, but I'm pretty sure even my doodles were more sophisticated than that. I'm also pretty sure that a down-and-out dude in the 1970s wouldn't run around exclaiming "Hellfire!" every time something went wrong, or that a depressive's ordinary psychological response to a fantasy is to rape someone, but then, I'm not a psychologist.

      Incidentally, given the way in which The Gap Cycle also centers around rape, I think one has to at least wonder for a moment about whether SRD is pandering rather than trolling, but simply has a different audience in mind.

    6. Totally in jest my friend :) I don't think this series is above ANYONE's head.

    7. I'm not going to judge at all whether the depiction of Covenant's psyche really is realistic. But to a large extent I found it interesting and plausible.

      He's not just depressive, he's also a leper, and apparently hasn't been able to feel aroused AT ALL for years (or something like that), in addition to his being convinced that he's imagining everything about himself.

      I think depression, general psychological damage, sudden return of feeling, and solipsism makes it relatively plausible that he might react the way he does.

      I understand why people drop a book because it contains a rape, but I don't think it's inherently wrong to include it in fiction. I haven't read more than the title of The Gap Cycle, so no comments there.

    8. It's fine to include it in fiction, but it's a pretty big bomb to drop and should be handled with care and used only when dramatically necessary. You should also not expect normal healthy people to empathize with or like the rapist character ever again.

  14. After playing this "game" for a couple of hours I am ready to make this prediction:

    This will not fall under your 'won' category.

    It has crashed a million times, the automap has reset everytime upon exiting and reentering a city, the UI is garbage at best, the towns are utter shite, and it just plain isn't any fun.

    This comes from a person eagerly awaiting the final book in the series, having read all the others at least twice. The Covenant books are easily among my favorites of all time in the genre. I wanted nothing but to love this game but it is bitch slapping me every time I almost start to enjoy it. It is sad, really. This could have been a great game. The amount of lore the books have created and the depth of the world Donaldson imagined in the books is immense and could easily be turned into a great game. This, however, is NOT that game.
    I HATE to say it, but this is one of the poorest games I have ever played. The potential for greatness is there, but the execution leaves me wanting to toss my laptop out of a window.

    I do give props to the author of this fine piece of trash, though. The time he must have spent on this project of love must have been vast, and I VERY MUCH respect his attempt. It is just too bad that it turned out the way it did.

    1. lol :) nice. I think it would *take* a CRPGAddict to beat this game.
      I really hope you do, really.
      I must be doing it wrong cause I have been dying nonstop.
      At one part of the 1st city I spawned by there is an NPC who asks if you would like to join the loorsaat (or something like that). Saying yes lets you choose a spell to learn. Talking to him again gives yet another spell after the same question is asked. A 3rd time and he kills you. lol nothing explained or mentioned about it, he just takes your head off...
      I'll give it another go, it deserves that at least.

      Love your attitude, btw. :)

    2. Is it certain that the game has a win-state that can actually be achieved?

    3. I met that guy. You get a spell to learn because you're changing classes to a spellcasting class. I can't imagine why he kills you the third time, though.

      Equlan, there's a FAQ that comes with the game that indicates there's a final quest, so I assume there's some kind of "won" message at that point, but you never know.

  15. Best fantasy series ever, you should definitely give it another go :) Final book to be released next year

  16. Your video clip captures my reaction to Donaldson's writing exactly. If I wanted to read about an ungrateful whiny bitch, I'd read People magazine. I understand that Donaldson's intent was to create an anti-hero, and he succeeds so admirably in the first 100 pages that I've never read anything by him ever again.

    1. Then you certainly don't want to read "The Gap" series. Angus Thermopyle is far worse. Good books, though.

    2. The difficulty is that he tied Covenant's character arc tightly to the plot of the book. Like with addiction, it isn't until he basically hits rock bottom that things start to change- and man do things go very far downhill.

      Covenant keeps looking for making grand gestures of apology (private oaths to try to moralize from his failures or fasting), or keeping himself held separate from everything and everyone else. And every mistake he makes comes back compounded, made worse and more painful each time he comes back.

      And most of the Land expects him to be a fantasy hero- a man of action and power, leading them into battle to triumph by righteousness.

      In the end, not only to those failures come back compounded, but also the charities. Small acts of help and kindness also grow and have a big benefit.

      And the actions of 3 different people- all emotionally hurt, all forced to live with their past failures, manage to find a way to reach out still with kindness to someone who needs them and only they can help. To be in a position where they should just give up entirely, but instead shoulder their burdens and push on.

  17. The Guild II: Renaissance has the same gambling problem. Your character can play a dice game at any inn, which pays double what you bet. Reloading a saved game resets the random number generator. I'm sure you see where I am going with this.

    1. I would think that any game that allows saving anywhere AND has a gambling game would suffer this problem. If the player takes steps to reload after a loss and save after a win, he's cheating at that point, and I can't blame the game. I think that's why we see so little gambling in modern games, and when we do see them, they have reasonable limits.

    2. If the game sets the RNG back to what it used to be when the player reloads, that won't work (at least not for the same game). It would mean that the player always loses his next try no matter how many times he reloads.

      There are some other ways of handling it as well. Spellcasting 301 kept the player from loading and saving within the casino itself, and New Vegas had a timer: after reloading, you had to wait a certain time before gambling, so savescumming became very tedious very quickly.

    3. Do games do that, though? Generate the random numbers for gambling before the player actually gambles? Even so, the player could suss that out, bet a tiny amount, and then try again on the next roll, unless the game generates a slew of random numbers well in advance.

      It sounds like preventing saving and reloading in the casino or making you wait is the best way to go to prevent "gamblingscumming."

    4. Computers work off a set list for random numbers. Pulling from the list on start-up will always give the same number. How that number is used is up to the current state. While it's not always the same random number for gambling it is the same random number for action #1.

      The randomness for these numbers comes from a seeded number. The seed might be the same for the entire game, a particular save game (contained within the save file), or any number of possible pseudo-random to random elements (e.g. current time, the current value of a memory address, CPU temp * available memory * bus time to page memory, etc.)

      Using the same seed with the same number from the list will always produce the same result. The key to randomness is to ensure the seed used is never the same. It's also possible obfuscate the numbers by using multiple random number lists, change the seed throughout the game, or fix the game by limiting random elements (won five games of dice in a row, then you're sure to lose the next).

    5. However it's done, there will always be a way to game the system if you reload, either through simply reloading and betting again (if the seed is random or re-generated on load) or varying the wager amounts (if they occur in a fixed pattern). I can't see any way that a game developer can out-gamble a player who can reload unless the entire system is fixed from the outset (e.g., the game will only let you win a certain amount in gambling in a certain time period, and every time after that, you lose).

    6. This is a mentality I'll never understand. If you are determined to cheat (and I don't think anyone would argue that save-scumming isn't cheating), why not save youself the tedium and use some memory editor or (if the game allows thst) console commands?

    7. You're talking about two different levels of "cheating." One uses mechanics available in the game to optimize the player's luck; the other inserts your own data to change the game. I would say the last two examples are cheating, but save-scumming is borderline at best.

    8. Civilization 5 actually has "new random seed" as an option you can turn on and off for each game, meaning with this option off if you attack a unit the same result will occur every time on reload. I guess it's slightly more polite than having the checkbox say "would you like to save scum?"

    9. @Zenic
      I fail to see the difference. In both cases you're doing something, that you're not supposed to do, to get a result, that you wouldn't get playing normally.

    10. I'm not going to convince you otherwise, but the difference is in what you're doing to make it happen. Saving, you're using a well known feature that doesn't have any restrictions inherent to it. Hex editor, you're using an outside program to directly manipulate the data in the game. Console commands, you're using built in debugging, macro, or other commands outside the normal game to change how the game plays (depending on what you change or use).

      There's a line that's crossed from playing the game to changing how the game works that is called cheating. Save/Load does manipulate the game in a small way (resetting the RNG in most cases), but you're going to have that same effect while playing normally and taking many breaks. What if someone saves, has a bad roll, dies, reloads, and gets a good roll? Oh no, they've cheated! You can't accidentally open an editor and give yourself 10k gold, or accidentally enter a console command to turn off gravity (if you can then that's a very broken game). So yes, there's a difference. If this hasn't convinced you there is, then I'm sorry for not spelling it out well enough for your understanding.

    11. Zenic, I think I understand your argument, but I don't agree with it. Saving the game, then reloading after losing a bet such that one is guaranteed a certain profit is no different from editing the game to get that profit. Whether you call it cheating or not is pretty unimportant in a solo game.

      Back in the late 1980s when it was first possible to save anywhere, there were a group of players who loudly proclaimed games too easy or broken if they could get an over-whelming advantage from save-scumming (either gambling or fighting) with the unfortunate result that few games were designed to be only winnable if one did save-scumming.

    12. The flaw with this line of reasoning is that it implies there's a moral issue with cheating in single-player games that needs justification. Like, the game is too hard, but cheating is bad, so what I'm doing to make it easier is totally not cheating because [insert reason]. But who cares, really, if you cheat or not? It's not like there's any harm to anyone in it.

    13. The only problem I have with cheating is that if I start doing it, even if it's some small and relatively inconsequential cheat, I quickly lose control of it and by the time I realize it, I'm a bigger cheater than an athlete on steroids :))

      Otherwise I don't see any issue with cheating. If that's how you like to play, then by all means do it.

      Of course, people don't even necessarily agree on what constitutes cheating or what represents too much cheating. For example, I don't like using cheat codes, trainers, editors etc. However I don't have a problem with looking up hints or strategy guides. Some see that as cheating, even though I'm OK with it.

      Same with save-scumming: I agree it can be a form of cheating, but there are certain games where I have absolutely no problem using it.

      Ultimately, as VK said, I don't think cheating in single-player games is something that needs to be justified.

    14. I definitely understand that save-scumming is outside normal playing if the purpose is to ensure positive outcomes instead of using saves as points to return to after a break from the game. I still wouldn't call it cheating, as that implies (to me at least) that you're going outside the game rules to gain an advantage.

      Save-scumming is an exploit. Much like finding a spot to gain unlimited gold, experience, or items. Exploits are loop holes in the rules of the game that breaks the game's original challenge.

      Call it semantics, call it wording, call it pedantic, it really doesn't matter. In the end you're removing the intended challenge. The method used is the difference, but it's difficult to start drawing a line when discussing intentions. Maybe the designer of the gambling game here made a mistake, or maybe it was put there on purpose to make the game easier.

    15. This is exactly the reason why I didn't allow saving the game during combat in Hero's Quest (Quest for Glory 1). I didn't want players to defeat a tough monster by saving every time they were lucky with the random numbers. More importantly, we didn't want to reward tedious game play, as that would encourage some players to have less fun.

      If the random numbers were truly in a fixed sequence, you could simply note down the order of wins and losses, restore, then bet varying amounts on each play. Bet small if you're going to lose, bet large if you are going to win.

      We did a lot of things in our games to make that difficult. I think one of the techniques I used was to generate multiple random numbers each time one was requested. The number was based on a modulus of the current system millisecond clock, so unpredictable to the player.

      When I developed an online real-money poker game in 2002, I used some other techniques. I shuffled the deck with a different modulus for each card, which reduced cyclicity. We also incorporated random noise generator hardware in our servers, in theory completely unpredictable. Obviously the standard is much higher in real-money gambling than in an adventure game. In fact, in the latter, you want the player to win in the long run. On a gambling site, you want to be perceived as fair and truly random so that players will stay on the site and keep contributing to the "rake".

    16. Ok, let's call it exploits, doesn't matter. My original question still stands: what's the point of using exploits (most of which require some extremely tedious activity) but avoiding cheats, if you're still breaking the game in the end? It's not that there's any virtue in that anyway.

    17. A few reasons:
      - Exploits are available to anyone that plays the game without any additional knowledge or software.

      - Some exploits are minor yet build up over time: grinding on Murphy's Ghost in Wizardry. How many times after fighting them does it become an exploit (free gold and experience)?

      - You have to make a determination and infer intention to decide if an exploit is truly outside the normal game. It's obvious that hidden codes, console commands, and hex editors are outside the normal game.

      At some point you break the game open and remove the challenge, but save-scumming to get out of a bind once (e.g. one hit point left and need to ensure you never get hit before getting back to safety) vs. always using it to ensure absolute victory has a lot of gray area in-between.

      My answer to your question is that exploits are inherent to the game as a system while cheats change that system. If you want to challenge yourself by limiting how you play a game (not exploiting) that is always an option, but that is what you're doing; imposing limits on a system that doesn't have them inherently.

      As an aside, I'd place file manipulation outside the game system; I'd call backing up saves of rogue-likes and Wizardry cheating, not exploiting.

    18. Even when it comes to save-scumming, there are degrees to it. For example, in a game like Football Manager, reloading and replaying a match over and over until you win it is an obvious way of exploiting the game mechanics.

      However let's consider a less extreme example. Suppose you're playing a game, doesn't matter what genre, and you're faced with two difficult enemy encounters in quick succession. Going back for more health, mana or ammo is out of the question; let's say all the exits from the area have closed and will not reopen until you deal with these two encounters.

      You win the first encounter and the game makes an autosave. Unfortunately you've barely scraped through and have very little health left for the second fight - around 10-15% health.

      Do you:

      (a) try to win the second fight with only the 15% health, even though this will mean dozens of deaths and reloads from the last (auto)save?


      (b) restore a previous save and try to obtain a better outcome for the first fight, something that gives you a much better chance of surviving the second fight?

      I would definitely go for option (b) without thinking twice about it. However it can be argued that this is also save-scumming: you're reloading a previous save in order to obtain a better result in an encounter you've already beaten. It would be let's say nobler and in keeping with the original intent of the game designer to keep at it until you defeat the second enemy even with those measly 15%.

      But what if you simply can't beat the second encounter with so little health. Perhaps you're not skilled enough. Perhaps it's simply not possible. Is it then OK to restore an earlier save or should you simply accept defeat and start the game over, hoping that the second time around you'll be better?

      It's just a scenario that came to mind while reading the comments here. It may not be a good one, but I think it illustrates how hard it can be to draw the line between a legitimate win and one which in some way circumvents the original intent of the game designer.

      This is just for the sake of argument, really. As I said, I don't think these things really need justifying; everyone plays the way they enjoy the game. Also, as Zenic mentioned, sometimes you can't really know what the game designer intended in terms of the challenge the game presents.

    19. Zenic, you're still explaining me the difference between cheats and exploits, but what I'm (unsuccessfully) trying to understand, is why some people view the former as less acceptable than the latter - up to the point of, using your example, spending hours on grinding Murphy's Ghost to get loads of free XP, when they could save themselves all that time and tedium by using an editor. I'm not talking about minor or accidental things, but if you're determined to make the game easier for you, why go the hard way to do it?

    20. VK, I've been following this thread with a lot of interest--in fact, it's prompted a forthcoming posting on this subject alone--but I have to say that I think the answer to your question is obvious: by grinding against Murphy's Ghosts (which I disagree is an exploit, actually), you're putting in the time and effort. You're paying your dues. When you ultimately win the game, you can legitimately say that you won.

      Grinding against MGs isn't the only way to win the game. You can take risks and fight higher-level enemies instead. You can rely on brilliant tactics. Or you can engage in hours of tedious grinding to level up the party. The player is free to choose his path, but all paths are legitimate.

      Using an editor utterly bypasses the game itself, relieving the player of the responsibility to choose ANY path provided by the developers and is thus illegitimate.

      If such a player wants to do that in the privacy of his own home, fine. There are a lot of things you can do in the privacy of your own home. But you don't talk about them in public. Online, we're a community of enthusiasts for this particular genre, and you don't come into a community of RPG enthusiasts and revel in using hex editors any more than you join a community of pastry chefs and explain how your approach to baking is to by Ho-Hos at the 7-Eleven.

    21. That was a generic "you"; I didn't mean you, specifically.

    22. I know nothing about Murphy's Ghost, I haven't played earlier Wizardries. If it's just a combat that you can engage in infinitely, but have no other advantages, than it's arguably no more an exploit than grinding on early levels. A clearer exapmple of what I'm talking about would be the Dragon Wars exploit some of your commenters suggested - when you restart the game, get the free skill points in the Underworld and repeat that ad infinitum. Or relying on save-scumming to improve the gambling odds ;) It's the exploits of that scale that I'm saying are no different from cheats.

      I'm not sayin cheats are the way to go, just asking why some people consider such game-breaking (that's the key point here) exploits a more legitimate strategy.

    23. The "time and effort" argument is in my opinion negated by the fact, that in such a case you're putting time and effort not to play the game, but to break it.

    24. For me it boils down to in-game exploits use the game and cheats change the game.

    25. Each person approaches games in such a way that attempts to maximise their experience.

      Not everyone wants to be challenged by their video games, many just want a comfortable romp through bad guys, exploring the land and progressing the plot. If an exploit, cheat, regular reloading, hexeditor or spoiler aids in this, then that's exactly what that individual should do. Each person gets to choose their own difficulty level.

      There are a lot of different types of gamer and each will have a different ethos when it comes to how games should be played.

      When I was younger, figuring out exploits and reaping their rewards was something I found enjoyable. It felt like a victory.

      Nowadays I go to considerable length to play games 'as intended', as I feel that game content is more likely to be interesting when you experience it the way the developer expects you to.

      Neither approach is better or worse than any other and we'd do well to remember that before getting too snobbish about how we play games.

    26. What's your opinion then, on the exploits before even the game starts - by which I mean character generation. Some examples:
      1) Baldur's Gate - reloading to get munchkin char (which takes a while) vs hexing (thus saving some time) vs using whatever you're given
      2) Wizardry series - same as above, but from what I know, reloading to get higher stats for your team at startup is actually suggested (by players)
      3) EOB - where you could if I recall correctly, modify the stats of the rolled char, as much as you wanted

      As for me, nowadays I'm trying to utilize whatever I'm given and using an approach which I tend to call "quasi-Ironman". This means, that I am no allowed to reload unless I'm killed, even if I do something in the game world which makes it harder for me (e.g. forgetting to holster my weapons in NCR in "Fallout 2")

    27. For me a lot of it depends on how much I trust the game to play fair with me. A good CRPG should at least feel like it can be won playing 'ironman' without too much grinding. If the game gives me that impression, I'm much less inclined to cheat, and if I have a setback I'll take my lumps rather than reload.

      If I don't trust the designer, or I just want to play through the story, I'll reload freely when things go even slightly wrong. (But I'm much more likely to do that in a shooter, because I don't care to play the sort of CRPG where I have to.)

      Another consideration is the amount of damage to the game. Even if I'm happy to reload any time, I won't exploit something like gambling even if the author seems like he might have intended it to be exploitable.

      Strategic use or preservation of scarce resources is one of the interesting parts of most CRPGs. Reloading spoils it a bit but does not destroy it (indeed, if you are a pack-rat who hates to use seemingly powerful items, reloading might not make much difference). But granting yourself a ton of money such that the economy becomes meaningless just seems to ruin the game.

      For me, anyway, some people like to play games in wizard mode.

    28. The term cheat in a singleplayer game is completely meaningless. Whatever you find fun is acceptable and if that means that you only watch the cutscenes of the game and not play the game at all then that is fine too. Although it is possible to "cheat" on yourself that is only with regards to your own set of limitation that you set for yourself.

      I frequently save-scum. But the intention is mostly to see if I can do a fight better since I like to see if I can do things perfectly. In the same vein I often use walkthroughs, because I want to make sure that have found everything worth finding in an area (I'm a completionist). And for me this is a better experience since I don't miss out on important lore etc.

      For gambing, save-scumming is in a few games "needed", since you get some kind of non-monetary reward if you win enough money from an NPC. And then it is just tedious to not do save-scumming. The Witcher is an example of this.

  18. I suspect 'Die Square' is bugged, either because the random number generator is flawed, or more likely because it pays out in more circumstances than designed.

    According to my calculations, if it pays out only when you get *exactly* one of the paying combinations, it will only pay 78% on average. By 'exactly' I mean that it only pays on 5 Xs in a '+' shape if the other four squares are Os.

    If it just tests for the 5 Xs without checking the other four squares, it will pay out 15 times more often than intended on either of the two 5-square shapes that pay 25. (The 16th time, all squares will be the same and it will correctly pay 100.) So the average expected payout will by 350% instead of 78%.

    1. Good supplemental analysis. I should have thought of that. Die square and the other game would have pretty much exactly the same payout under those rules, and you'd only gamble when you wanted to take a big risk for a big reward. Unfortunately, that's now how it was implemented.

    2. Implementations often vary from the original design. It's quite possible that the programmer did not understand the intent of the design (to pay off 78%) and didn't analyze different algorithms. Or the producer may have screamed, "Players are supposed to have fun! That doesn't happen when they lose much more often than they win."

      When I worked on Hoyle's Bridge, a non bridge playing programmer seemed to consistently guess wrong whenever the design was ambiguous. (He was otherwise a very good programmer.) So if the designer specified a bid required "a four card major", that might be implemented as "exactly four hearts or four spades", "four or more hearts or spades", "exactly four in one major, and *not* exactly four in the other", etc. All of these are possible and sometimes reasonable in bridge, and come down to the implementor understanding the exact purpose of each design element.

      The most dramatic way to implement a gambling game is with events. The player loses small amounts for a while, with an occasional win to encourage her. Then a very rich and poor gambler enters the game, and the player has a scripted opportunity to win a big pot that more than covers the earlier losses. That would be the opposite of the real-life scam in which the hustler intentionally loses before raising the stakes. Of course, you could also have that in a game, with clues that it's time for the player to bow out.

    3. That all sounds pretty cool, but have you actually ever seen it in a game? Randomness supplemented with scripted events?

  19. Mmmh ... I don't think I've ever read the Thomas Covenant series, though my sister did and her criticism echoed some of what has already been mentioned above. Weak writing, deeply unsympathetic character (the latter of which may be intentional, but does that truly save the story?).

    From what I gather here, it's an attempt to create some sort of 'deeper', more intellectual fantasy book by playing with the conventions. That's basically fine ... but I've always been a bit sceptical about that kind of approach. It's certainly fun to play with clichés and it's very good to make an attempt to be original - yet sometimes I get the impression that people who do this expect an immediate free pass to brilliance.

    E.g. everyone with half a brain can turn around the 'princess gets saved from a dragon by a gallant knight' scenario - but turning the dragon into the hero and the knight and/or the maiden into the villain is not exactly a perfect recipe to get a clever, ironic story (in fact this particular twist has become so over-used that it could arguably be considered more of a cliche than the cliche itself ;) ). Once you look past the 'novelty' of an evil white knight, though, you are sometimes left with a story that is in many ways basically the same, just reversed - or even more poorly constructed than that which it mocks.

    Getting back to Mr. Covenant, I have the - perhaps unfair - impression that the author tried to pull off something similar here. Creating an anti-hero isn't particularly ground-breaking or thought-provoking stuff on its own and shouldn't be given any kind of automatic bonus points. The crucial question, in my opinion, is if the writing is able to back it up. Is there a genuinely good story in there?
    And so far I'm not particularly impressed. It appears to be full of clichés, slightly silly names and bland descriptions that seem to fit with this apparently pretty bland game but do not provide an engaging background.

    (Sorry ... this has turned out to be a bit more of a general rant about a certain approach to writing. Of course I could be completely wrong about the game or the book because I never tested them myself.)

    - Knurrhahn

    1. I think the series (or at least the first trilogy) isn't about subverting the genre conventions or creating an anti-hero. The character feels justified: most anyone would feel somewhat insane in his shoes. Covenant, the titular Unbeliever, believes the Land is something he has imagined due to his illness and accident. And he hates himself and his life in the real world. All of that, I think, is established well enough.

      I do think the ideas are interesting. A wonderful setup for exploring solipsism, escapism and the effects of a terrible physical sickness on a person. I just was unable to enjoy the execution. A lot of people seem to like the series, so perhaps it isn't the crap it felt like to me.

  20. The only thing I really know about the Covenant series is that one of my favorite albums is named after (and vaguely based on) one of the books in the series.

  21. I wouldn't worry too much about giving the books another shot. Donaldson has built an entire career writing books about protagonists so stupid that common plankton seems like a Machiavellian mastermind by comparison. Unless you like "thrilling" to the depressing, needlessly destructive exploits of a moron you can safely bypass the entirety of Donadlson's writing.

    1. The extremes of opinion about Donaldson in this comment thread are amusing. I'll have to start a discussion about Terry Goodkind sometime.

    2. Goodkind? Better don't get me started on that one. :) With the Sword of Truth series I went through all those extremes of opinion just on my own.

      I absolutely loved it initially and thought it was witty, well written, full of good characters and spiced with just the right amount of darkness to create tension. I'm a bit curious what I'd think about them if I'd read them again because in my opinion this series dropped into an abyss so deep and abysmally abysmal that I have to wonder if there was ever anything truly brilliant about the series. Was I just deluded? O.k. I'll just stop here, before I venture into a rant about all that mercilessly sickly sweet romance-drama stuff (Let us marry, nothing can separate us! Oh no! A deep chasm opened in the world and trapped us forever on separate sides and we will never ever see each other again.), unneccessarily graphic torture scenes, questionable moral messages and many stupid, repetitive developments (E.g.: Every single one of the considerable amount of females that dares to try to seduce the hero seems to be doomed to a particularly nasty end as a just punishment for endangering the perfect romance.)and those especially stupid ... Damn! Too late. I just love writing about books. :)
      This was slightly off topic, I guess ...


    3. Haha, I had pretty much the same switch in opinion about Goodkind. I used to really enjoy The Sword of Truth-series. Eventually, however, I realized how they got more and more preachy, and increasingly more randroid-like. That's when I stopped reading and sold off my books.

    4. That was bad enough but it was the entire main series book that included the main characters only as a sort of afterthought at the very end that got me to stop reading the Sword of Truth. After that I was only going to read the rest once he finished. And then I realized the man himself was kind of a crazy person (for example, he gets livid about Wizard's First Rule, a book that contains multiple forms of magic, flying monkey-like creatures that talk, and undead, among other things, being labelled fantasy), so I never went back.

    5. Sword of Truth had two good books and then got really bad in a hurry.

    6. Doug S.: I want to agree with you, but a) in retrospect, some of the things I liked in the first two, are really dumb when I sit down and think about it, and b) I read up to Naked Empire or so. That would be the point where he started to retcon whatshisnames powers to fit with his new worldview and preachy message, and I gave up.

      I've assumed for years that his more preachy stance was related to September 11th, but Soul of the Fire came out in 1999, and I think it was one of the most preachy of all of them.

  22. College of the Land? Surely that should read, "The Land-grant University"!

  23. Addict,

    For some of the older games you've been researching, have you run into any that look interesting but are unplayable for technical reasons? I'm curious if there are any nearly-forgotten CRPGs with source code available that I could spend a few weekends bringing back to life. :-)

  24. Well, the threaded replies don't seem to be working for some reason. ClintK, the only games I've found that are unplayable through DOSBox have been the two D&D "action" games: Heroes of the Lance and Dragons of Flame. Based on the reviews I've found, I don't think either would be worth your time. Maybe I'll find more as I explore other platforms.

    1. But they look so good. =/

  25. There's a reason that opinions on the series are divided: the quality of the books themselves varies. "Lord Foul's Bane" is a mess that's not worth reading. Skip it and just read the plot summary of it that comes with the next book. The books that follow it, though, are worthy of the praise they get.

  26. I have a sudden urge to find a game based on Kushiel's Dart to see what happens when you play it, and when people read that you've played it.

    I expect my reputation has plummeted now that I've admitted to having read that book, and enjoyed at least 400 of its 850 pages (Possibly as high as 600). Listen, lets just say there was a really cute women involved, and when a really cute women tells you to read a book beacuse it is great fantasy and full of xvaxl frk, well, I needed a book for a 6 hour bus/ferry/bus trip I took last weekend.

    Other books I'd love to see games made off of, just to Chet has to talk about them:
    The Dresden Files
    The Blood Ties series
    The Sword of Shannara
    Anything by Mr Rape himself, Peirs Anthony (Note: Reading Xanth books as a kid wasn't creepy; it wasn't until I realized I was now older then the protagonists and it was still obsessing over panties it started getting odd. Then a couple years ago I read Bio of a Space Tyrant. Yeah. )
    Heart's Hope by Orsen Scott Card, aka why I don't read Orsen Scott Card unless it comes in a short story collection.

    1. Really, it's Hart's hope that causes you not to read them and not his repugnant personal beliefs?

    2. If I stopped reading every author whose personal beliefs I disagreed with, I probably wouldn't have any authors left. You have to take the art on its own merits, which is why we still read Card and still listen to Wagner.

  27. I just want to give a brief (hopefully) of why some of the design decisions in this game are as they are.

    The manual that comes with the game. This was originally released as shareware and as an incentive to register I would provide a more comprehensive manual (As well as the first trilogy of the books). The full manual contained an awful lot of information and background. Unlike many other shareware titles of the time, The Land was not crippleware, you were capable of playing the complete game without ever registering. Sadly, the original manual is long gone, otherwise it would have been incorporated into the document that comes with the game now.

    The programming environment this game was written in was Turbo Pascal 3.0, on a Tandy-1000 computer with two 360k floppy drives, no hard drive. TP3 did not allow for .exe files, only .com which were limited to 64k of code. TP3 allowed for 64k of base code, a 64k overlay segment and 64k for data. That 64k of data vastly restricted what could be accomplished in the game. That data segment had to hold the map (10k by itself) the monster/npc descriptors, item descriptors, spell descriptors, player data along with everything the player knew (map, messages, identified items, etc) as well as the graphic data for the icons themselves. In all the versions that were written using TP3, there was less than 10 bytes remaining in the data segment!
    Considering how much code is actually in The Land, it was like playing Tetris with code in order to make all the necessary pieces fit into the many overlays that existed in the original program. Luckily after the game was ported to TP5 (Which allows .exe files and greater than 64k of code) I was able to eliminate the overlays which improved performance.

    One interesting aspect of this is how magical item charges is dealt with. There was no variable space to be able to store the number of charges per magical item that may be laying around in a dungeon or in the player's inventory so I devised a way to simulate charges without actually having charges. I used the Magic skill as a basis for determining when an item ran out of charges. Every time a magic item was used a random number would be generated and modified by the magic skill. If that number fell above a certain threshold then the last "charge" was used and the item disappeared. The way I saw it, the more skilled you were with magic the longer your magical item would last, but ultimately would still get used up.

    + items are the same way. There was no space to store a +1 per weapon/armor and therefore an actual separate item was created, so for example a sword +1 and a sword +2 are actually two distinct items rather than a single item with different + values. This is why there are not a lot of + items in the game. I was limited to only 127 actual items and I wanted to keep some variety in the items and so could not devote too many item numbers to + items.

    All inventory items whether in the player inventory or laying on the ground was nothing but an index into the item descriptors, there was just no space to be able to modify individual copies of the items to allow for tracking of charges or + numbers or cursed status etc.


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