Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mines of Titan: Won. (With Final Rating)

What is it that I'm watching set? I'm pretty sure the sun doesn't look that big from Titan.

Mines of Titan
Westwood Associates (developer); Infocom (publisher)
Louis Castle, Brett W. Sperry
Released as Mars Saga for the Commodore 64 in 1988; re-released for DOS and Apple II in 1989

Date Started: 29 June 2013
Date Ended: 01 July 2013
Total Hours: 10
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 40
Ranking at Time of Posting: 75% (79/105)

Goddamned Westwood Associates did it to me again. You remember how I raged at the ending of BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception? Well, the ending of Mines of Titan was only barely better. In broad strokes, the developers screwed up both games in the same way: by ruining a promising skill system, by overloading the player with combats that ultimately mean nothing, by making all plot-developments verbosely-scripted text encounters with no choices or role-playing opportunities, and by featuring a final third that's just a long, boring slog through a maze, culminating in an abrupt, unsatisfying ending.

I was just beginning the final area when I was last posted, and I was stuck at a point where the way down was surrounded by trap vents. The "solution" turned out to be just bumbling around the trap vents until they nudged one of my characters onto the passage vent. It then asked me if I wanted to go downward, and I said yes. I can't believe this was actually the solution to the puzzle, but I couldn't find anything else.

The items I was finding in certain areas turned out to be weapons, and I ultimately sorted out what types of weapons they were so my characters could take advantage of them. They rendered combat a little easier. I was reluctant to avail myself of the items labeled "Armor?," though. They didn't seem to perform better than my existing battle armor, and I was wary of the question mark.

Is it armor or isn't it? Do my characters not know?

For the next several hours, I navigated the five or six levels of the caverns, fighting a ton of random and pointless combats, and repeatedly getting the same three psychic messages from the balloon-sack aliens. In a sequence, they showed the aliens psychically carving the corridors, a control panel at the end of the corridors, and a combination necessary to open the panel.

This is perhaps the 12th time I got the same message. I get it already.

Navigation in this area was frustrating and annoying, with little protrusions and bumps constantly tripping up my party. The inability to move diagonally made maneuvering through the tight corridors especially irksome.

It was only late in the process that I discovered I could change my party formation. This is labeled "combat formation," so I had overlooked it before. I only figured it out when I reached an area that was impassible in the default formation.

Here.

I had been assuming that when I reached the city of Proscenium, I would be able to explore it, talk to NPCs, and unfold the plot. But instead, I just got a series of scripted narrations. Upon reaching the city, the game told me I saw a "smoldering hole" where Proscenium had been, and a pile of human corpses before a "grotesque mutation": a giant spidery thing eating the corpses and ejecting eggs.

My party continued on the only path given to them, through some old mines and another set of caverns. The mines held boxes of dynamite that I expected would later become important. At last, I came to the control panel of my visions, where I automatically entered the code and progressed. Too much stuff happens automatically in this game. It's not that I particularly want to manually enter a code, but I don't want a game to take over and "play itself" at all the important moments, either.


The control panel turned off an "ancient machine" in a "lab" that the sentient Titanians had used to play god and create new life forms. The Proscenium miners had accidentally broken into the lab and released the monstrosities (which had been what? Living in there for centuries without food?), which proceeded to destroy the city. This contradicts the information given earlier in the game, including the information that the Titanians had no tools and did everything telepathically, but whatever.

As I was absorbing this, I got attacked by four of the "abominations": four slimes capable of significant melee damage and able to heal themselves. In my first attempt, I tried throwing all the dynamite I'd picked up at them, but it just engulfed my entire party in shrapnel and killed all of us.

In retrospect, I guess you can't throw dynamite less than 10 feet away from your own party and expect to escape the shrapnel.

In the second attack, I tried more conventional firepower, with regular healing, and I won with three characters alive. Gideon died, alas. In the sense that the game had a final, fixed battle, it's better than BattleTech, but not by much.

The winning version.

The end-game message read as follows. The game presents it solely in multiple blocks of text--no images. My commentary appears with it.

After a heated battle, you defeat the grotesque masses! The Titanian machinery can no longer create any genetic abominations. You have saved the remaining human colonies from the horrors which destroyed Proscenium! [What happened to Proscenium having been destroyed because humans killed and dissected the sentient aliens?]

You survey the damage done to the laboratory and guess that the Titanians would still be capable of repairing their machine. Its existence is too dangerous to allow any human settlements nearby, for some people would want to reactivate it for evil purposes. You decide that this chapter of your adventure is too dangerous to tell.

The long journey to the surface is interrupted occasionally by groups of monsters still lurking in the tunnels. [Thankfully, the game didn't make me slog back through them.] The long-range effects of this disaster start to flood your thoughts, but you force them out of your mind to concentrate on the here and now. When you pass the spot where the Proscenium miners broke into the Titanian tunnels, you decide to seal the tunnel with a few well-placed shots and some explosives. You move on toward the lift.

At the lift, you connect your remote terminal and instruct the lift to carry you to the surface [I guess that's what it was for]. While the lift rises, you prepare yourself for a fight with the creatures you saw earlier. Upon reaching the top, you discover that the strange arachnid and its minions have departed. [Seriously? What was the point of all that, then? Why set up an epic final battle with some spider-creature and then make the real final battle with four random slimes?]

With no distractions, you plug your terminal into what remains of Proscenium's computer complex and discover that the controllers knew exactly what caused the destruction of Proscenium all along. [Is this where I was supposed to open the secret packet? It's not very clear.] They delayed telling the public to ensure their unopposed escape from Titan. To give the remaining humans a chance for survival, they hired individuals like yourself to discover, in time, what they already knew. Their passage to Earth was purchased with the lives of many innocent people.

When you get to Progeny, you will inform the people in each city of your great adventure and the terrible coverup. You imagine they will make you a hero and leader of sorts. It will be nice to get recognition for your efforts. [My characters are starting to get a bit deluded here.]

During the trip, you formulate a plan to unite all life on Titan. Without formal government, the human colonies are currently in anarchy. With the knowledge of another race, you will unite the human colonies with a new goal. Perhaps even an agreement with the Nomads could be reached. [It was obnoxious how the game introduced them as an interesting faction and then just abandoned any plot having anything to do with them.] Eventually, you hope to communicate with the Titanians and make peace with their race.

Coming over a rise, you sight the Progeny elevator and can almost taste the fresh air inside the city, hear the cheers of joy and shouts of anger when you tell of your epic adventure. [Do we have to imagine all of this? Wouldn't a good game actually show such an ending?] The people of Titan will depend on you to lead them to peace and you won't let them down. [Extremely deluded. We're a bunch of mercenaries and ex-military. What qualifies us to be political leaders? And why wouldn't the controllers return the moment they hear the threat is over?] You feel a wave of triumph! You have saved Titan!

Show, game, don't tell.

Well, great. Never mind that the elements in the final third contradict everything else in the game, or that the game abruptly turned into a book at the end.

Let me cover three more complaints:

1) The graphics are decent throughout the game, but it's notable that you never actually see the sentient balloon aliens or any of the cool-sounding aliens described in the text.

2) There's some documentation that comes with the game in a "sealed envelope" with instructions not to open it until instructed in the game. I never got such instructions. The documents seem to be what the characters would have seen in the paragraph starting with "With no distractions" above, I guess it tries to fuse the plot conflicts I describe. The destruction of Proscenium is presented as a different problem than the attacks on other cities, caused by killing and dissecting the intelligent aliens. The package includes a letter from the president of Paramount Mining condemning the scientists as "idiots" and ordering the abandonment of Titan and the destruction of all evidence. The president acknowledges that the civilians will all be slaughtered but says there's no way to evacuate them all.
This was a lot of build-up for nothing.

Again, I don't know where I was supposed to get instructions to open this. It contains some maps of the tunnels, but those would have only been useful before reaching the endgame, so I look forward to someone telling me what I missed.

3) What the heck was the dynamite for? I ran around picking it up and never got to do anything with it! 

Let's GIMLET this thing and get out of here.

  • 4 points for game world. The game gains points for an interesting premise and loses them for epically bungling any promising gameplay and story evolution with that premise. It's painfully obvious that something got hosed up the development phase, especially in the way the game just abandons the Nomad plot.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. Again, it's very original, with the party interviewing and recruiting party members in bars, and the ability to directly spend experience on skill and attribute upgrades. But you hit a ceiling on upgrades extremely quickly, and there's literally no point to the experience you amass fighting the cavern denizens in the final third of the game.
You reach this point just a little too fast.

  • 3 points for NPC interaction. They exist, and you have to talk with them to advance the plot and solve quests. But there are no dialogue options or role-playing choices.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. The only real role-playing choices you have in the game are whether to attack innocent people, beggars, and police officers, and scanning a walkthrough at the end of the game, I see that killing weak (but innocent) "enemies" is an easy way for new characters to gain experience, and killing police officers is the only way to get the powerful "golum armor" that I won the game without. The alien enemies are unique and bizarre, and if you play with tactical combat, you have to spend some time plotting your attacks against them to deal with their special abilities. Other "encounters" are scripted with no role-playing opportunities.
  • 3 points for combat. There's an interesting tactical combat screen, but there aren't actually many tactics to use on the screen: basically just use your most powerful weapon, throw a grenade or some other area-effect item, or heal yourself or someone else. The option to allow the game to fight the combats was welcome; there were far too many to fight them all myself without going crazy. But I don't like that the computer almost always did a better job than I did.
They were reasonably fun to watch even when the computer was in charge.

  • 3 points for equipment. There's a pretty solid variety of weapons and armor in the game, and when it's not clear which is "best" by sale v6alue or skill rating, you can just watch which one the computer chooses in auto-combat. But there's not much beyond weapons and armor.
  • 6 points for economy. Money is precious throughout the game, to the point that I was picking up and selling ever last bit of looted equipment until the moment I left for the caves. You need the funds to buy equipment and to train characters, and since character turnover is so common in the game, that need never runs out. The gambling system might be a little broken; I didn't keep trying it, so it's not affecting the rating.
  • 5 points for quests. There is a main quest, obviously, but with no choices. I have to give some credit to the limited number of side quests, which are useful primarily for getting funds. I think the only things you have to do to win the game are do the interface card quest and visit Cain in the university, but I could be wrong; all the bounty hunts and other quests are just interesting gameplay. But none of the quests have choices or allow role-playing.
Solving a side-quest. Too much is dependent upon text scenes and not player choice or actual dialogue.

  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are decent, and it's fun how all the stores have their own little animations going on in the upper-left corner. Sound is nothing special but nothing offensive, either. I did have some interface issues. Transferring items and navigating other sub-menus was needlessly complex and easily led to the wrong choice. Maneuvering in party formation was a bit of a nightmare. I did appreciate the automap.
  • 3 points for gameplay. The game is mildly non-linear, allowing you to develop in any order, go back and forth among the cities until you accomplish everything, and even explore around the surface on your own (though to little purpose). It is also mildly replayable, in the sense that you might not solve all the side quests the first time (I didn't, but I wouldn't replay it). But the pacing of the game is just bad. You have to do all your character development in the first two-thirds, and the last third is just a boring trek through featureless hallways. Too much is done through (textual) cut-scenes instead of player action.

This gives a final score of 40, which is frankly higher than I want to rate it, but I can't think of any reasons to lower the score that I haven't already used in one of the categories. I rated BattleTech at 37, and I did like this game marginally more than that one, so in that sense it works. In fact, if you look at he entire range from about 35 to 45 in my list, you'll see a host of games with intriguing elements but, ultimately, significant flaws that keep me from fully recommending them.

My feelings about the game are generally not echoed among other players and reviewers, but I also find some of them a bit mysterious. In 1990, Dragon magazine, rating it 5 out of 5 stars (really?) noted that it was "a great Infocom game, an example of how a company's tried and true text adventures have expanded to include well-conceived graphic and animation elements." Dragon doesn't seem to understand the difference between a developer and a publisher, and the idea that Mines of Titan somehow "grew" from Infocom's text adventures is just absurd. It has an utterly different lineage.

Current MobyGames reviews are also mysteriously positive. "gametrader" couldn't find a single bad thing to say about it. "dave c" sees some kind of thematic connection to the Grand Theft Auto games, and the only "bad" element he could mention was that people haven't heard of it; in fact, he explicitly claims that "it won't get boring once." Right.

To be fair, the first two-thirds of the game are pretty good, when you're exploring the cities, building up skills, making money, trying to establish a stable party, and getting hints on the main quests. But it falls apart in the third act, and the third act is what audiences remember when they leave the theater. BattleTech had the exact same problem.
 
So far, Westwood has managed to produce a BattleTech game in which you don't actually have to fight any combats, a Dungeons & Dragons game in which you can't fight any combats, and a science fiction RPG that abruptly abandons the story and gameplay it spent a while to build up. The company is going to get plenty of chances to either redeem themselves or continue to disappoint me. We've got Circuit's Edge coming up in 1990, the first two Eye of the Beholder games in 1991, Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun and Order of the Griffon in 1992, the Lands of Lore series later in the 1990s, and the Nox series in 2000. I can only hope their approach to both role-playing and story-telling improves at some point.

As for the next game, well, I've already played and won Rance, and I'm debating whether to a) post nothing; b) offer a post explaining why I'm going to post nothing; or c) try to discuss why it's a horrible game and no one should ever want to play it. I'm going to see what Irene thinks and make a decision.

76 comments:

  1. Congrats on winning this. I had fond memories of it because, as it seems, I'm worse at the game than you and never finished it or actually capped the progress on any of my dudes, that also kept dying.

    I noticed you have a Helm party member! Thanks! Or was I in Total Recall and have been mindwiped?

    Circuit's Edge is more of an adventure game but with some RPG elements but I do think you'd enjoy it a lot because of its unique setting and feel. Also a telltale sign that it's more of an adventure game than an RPG is that it can be finished in an afternoon, so you won't be putting in a huge time investment.

    I've never finished a Lands of Lore game, the first one looks beautiful (as with most Westwood products, both in the EGA and VGA age) but there's something that rubs me wrong with Dungeon Master clones where enemies just endlessly respawn and come at you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seconded on Circuit's Edge. I found it pretty enjoyable and the setting is pretty unique: Middle-Eastern cyberpunkish, the game being based on 'When Gravity Falls' by George Alec Effinger. Apart from a few random combat encounters and the presence of stats however, it's more an adventure game than anything.

      Delete
    2. I've played through the first Lands of Lore game and found it pretty enjoyable. I had no issues with the amount of respawning - I believe it's very mild to non-existent in most areas of the game.

      Delete
    3. PetrusOctavianusJuly 4, 2013 at 7:41 AM

      It's insane in one particular area...

      Delete
    4. Circuit's Edge is set in the universe of When Gravity Fails but is not an adaptation of that work to a game. It's actually an original plot written by Effinger himself.

      Delete
    5. I'm looking forward to Circuit's Edge since Trickster skipped it.

      Delete
  2. Also I'd love to read your thoughts on Rance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ^Same here, so a "vote" for option (c), or at least not option (a). If you think the game is horrible, that sounds likely to be an interesting piece of writing.

      Delete
    2. Always fun to read a bad review, Chet. Lay it on us!

      Delete
    3. Rance series is trash until Sengoku Rance (something like 8th game in the series) which all of a sudden is an astoundingly good strategy/RPG hybrid. Pornographic of course, every game in the series is, but that one is legitimately well designed and fun to play.

      (Mileage may vary based on how allergic you are to drawn boobies and a neverending stream of rape jokes.)

      Delete
    4. A game whose sole goal is to get you to drop your pants will certainly be an interesting read one way or another.

      Delete
    5. Well, I vote for (c). Though there's really not much to say about it.

      And I think this is probably one series where "play every game in order" works very badly. It's probably not the way most people including the Japanese got into the series (which is playing 7, then deciding to maybe play some of the older ones), since it took such a long time before the gameplay became legitimately fun.

      Once you get to 2006, I hope you still consider playing SR. I guess it will still be extremely offensive to you, but it's probably more interesting to read your thoughts about it than an experimental game created by 3 people fresh out of college.

      Delete
    6. Just make sure that you don't post anything that gets the site blocked by the filters at my work!

      Delete
    7. Regarding Rance, I feel like (c) would basically digital atrocity tourism. You played a disgusting game and were appropriately disgusted; what else is there that needs saying? The idea of discussing "why it's a horrible game and no one should ever want to play it" is probably Quixotic; "I was going to download and play a twenty-year old game about raping people, but then I read a blog post telling me not to be gross, so I didn't" is not something I expect to hear terribly often.

      I mean, obviously if you [i]want[/i] to do that for whatever reason, it's your blog, and your posts are always entertaining.

      Delete
    8. @Aperama

      I think you mean "a good review of a bad game". Bad reviews are never worth the read.

      Delete
    9. Also, I vote for option (a) unless there is something you feel is interesting about the game worth discussing. Just stating the obvious "the game is trash" seem to be a bit pointless to me.

      Delete
    10. I'll read the post about the game, but I hope at least open b) is chosen. No post at all would be a pity I think.

      Delete
  3. "This gives a final score of 40, which is frankly higher than I want to rate it, but I can't think of any reasons to lower the score that I haven't already used in one of the categories."

    A sign of how artificial your scoring system is. You really should just decide on a number that reflects your impressions best instead of having the final score be a product of your arbitrary subcategories and complaining how your own review disagrees with your true opinions (as if you're somehow powerless to change that fact).

    Or here's another idea: don't make up a number at all. Make a ranking list. This game is better than that game but worse than those games.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think this is a failure of the scoring system. Rather he is disproportionally negative after a final third of the game that is pretty bad. Also that there are redeeming things with the game.

      The scoring system would be a failure if he frequently scored games he liked very low and vice versa.

      Delete
    2. The only thing that would improve it would be to increase it to 20 per section, giving more wiggle room.
      I think everything else is at least as ideal as anything I could imagine.

      Delete
    3. I think GIMLET could benefit from making the catergory scores relative and not capped.

      Delete
    4. The central failure of GIMLET is that it pretends a game is equal to the sum of its parts. This is never true in any art (and games certainly are art).

      I have witnessed countless games where every individual aspect is competently made, but which are soulless, hollow and unentertaining. I have also seen games where every individual aspect is terrible and amateurish, and which nevertheless somehow collapse upon themselves into something glorious (Deadly Premonition, if you're curious).

      Delete
    5. Eh, I think the GIMLET thing works well, and if the Addict doesn't like how the numbers come out, he has a bonus/penalty modifier that he uses fairly liberally.

      (I think you may want to reconsider the mindset that leads you to write things like "the central failure of GIMLET", which reads awfully high-and-mighty, at least to me. Treating quantitative ratings of art or entertainment objects as Very Serious Business is almost always a bad idea.)

      Delete
    6. I think the GIMLET is a great method of ranking the CRPGs and I hope Chet never changes it. Of course, if I were doing it I would do things a bit different (probably bundle the economy in with items and have a separate category for exploration), but we have to remember that it is Chet's personal take on the game.

      Delete
    7. Oh come on, what's the big deal? It's good to disagree with yourself a little bit once in a while.

      Delete
    8. Ragnar's comment is what I intended from that paragraph. The end of the game left me feeling sour, but the GIMLET better reflected the totality of the game.

      The "Central failure" anonymous has a decent point about a game not necessarily being equal to the sum of its parts. I've come across some games that were better in totality than the sum indicated and some that were worse, and as PK points out, I've been able to use bonus points to make slight adjustments. But in total, I think the GIMLET might be more valuable in the individual categories than in the final score.

      Delete
    9. I agree that the GIMLET is probably more valuable in individual categories than the total score. But that is also a strength of this scoring system. Now you can compare games in more detail (even if a single number for each category is not all-encompassing either). And people can remove categories they are uninterested in and see how that changes the overall score. I much prefer this above a single score.

      Delete
  4. PetrusOctavianusJuly 3, 2013 at 9:52 PM

    Well, I'm glad I skipped this game myself.
    I guess Mines of Titan is among those games that just aged badly, and that those Mobygames reviews are based on nostalgia, just like 99% of the GOG reviews.
    I certainly enjoyed Battletech back in the days, but it was painful to play it a couple of years ago.

    I think Infocom as publisher must have had _some_ influence on those two games, since they do have some elements that feel like Adventure games, and all the text telling you what you do reminds me of their game Journey: The Quest Begins from 1989 (incidentally co-prorammed by a certain John Romero).

    ReplyDelete
  5. The packet should have been obtained mid-game in one of the administrators offices. You go into the office and steal it. The game then tells you to read it.

    I don't remember any final boss battle in the Apple version I wonder if they were different or if it was just so long ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for clearing that up, anyway. I went to the controller's offices, but they were never in, and when I tried to force my way in, I got repelled by robots. I'm not sure exactly how I was to solve that one. The maps would have come in handy.

      Delete
    2. I actually do remember the final boss battle in the Apple II version. I remember because I couldnt beat it. But oddly, I didn't have to -- simply retreating from the battle gave me the wall of winning text. Convenient bug.

      Delete
    3. Veramocor is right. At a certain point if you do try to force your way into one of the offices, the game does tell you to open the envelope that came with it. I don't remember if other events had to be done first or if you just needed to have enough experience and skills.

      Delete
    4. To leave such important documentation up to a fairly unintuitive choice is not, to me, good game design.

      Delete
  6. I always thought that the question mark after stuff like "Armor?" or "Weapon?" is just short-hand for "unidentified" due to character limits for names rather than some kind of "Watch out, this is suspicious!" type hint. In other words, your characters can tell what the general item type is, but not what the specifics is (e.g is this chain or scale armor?).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. That would make sense, and it's what Wizardry used, but the "Armor?" Is the only equipment in the MoT to use that code and there's no mechanism for actually identifying it like there is in Wizardry.

      Delete
  7. "When you pass the spot where the Proscenium miners broke into the Titanian tunnels, you decide to seal the tunnel with a few well-placed shots and some explosives."

    Think that's what your dynamite was for.

    Maybe the money ran out that they decided to just wrap up what was left of their scenario design in a big text cut scene.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The problem with that idea is that the event is scripted but finding the dynamite isn't. I could have declined to pick it up, and I'm 99% sure I still would have gotten that ending.


      Your last sentence actually makes a lot of sense. It's what both MoT and BattleTech fundamentally felt like.

      Delete
  8. I'm pretty sure that Order of the Griffon was a TurboGrafx 16 only game. My brother and I owned 3 games, it among them. The Japanese version of the system, however, is deceptively called the PC Engine.
    For what it's worth, it was great for the time on such a limited system (1st "16" bit, and I use that term lightly) It is based on D&D rules, not AD&D, and was pretty simple, but was restrained in to many ways. Many bugs, boring story, and the worst, and imagine this, a save system using (what I remember) a 20 or so char pass code using a 40ish or so character alphabet which included MANY 'letters' that looked very similar, at least on the TV we played it on. We RARELY got save games to work. He claims to have beaten it...... :) i dunno

    I'm sure you can scratch it off of your list.... unless they made a DOS version I and wiki are unaware of, or your wanting to touch on a fairly rare system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Warriors of the Eternal Sun is also Sega Genesis only, although it's very much a PC style CRPG, and I remember generally quite liking it.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I have these two games on my list; they're console only. I'm pretty sure Chet made a search of Westwood + RPG on Mobygames to get the list of upcoming games because those two aren't even on his master list. ;)

      Delete
    3. You are correct. I forgot to filter by non-console games. Wasn't paying attention.

      Delete
  9. Ah...that's a classic. The weapon whose blast radius exceeds its throwing radius. That gets 'em every time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paranoia had one of these: The thermonuclear hand grenade.

      Delete
  10. That's funny - I read that ending spiel completely differently and thought it was a great ending (the text, not the battle - that was awful). I read it as ominous that the mysterious mutant arachnid had disappeared, and that all the overly positive wishful thinking (you imagine you'll be a hero, you can almost taste the fresh air and hear the cheers...etc.) was hubris setting you up for a massive fall. In my mind, what really happened was that by breaking through the mines and into the mutant's chambers, you'd effectively opened a way for it to escape - that's why it wasn't there when you came back. And where did it go? To the next dense human population; to Progeny. All those high expectations of your hero's return were going to be dispelled immediately on stepping through the airlock and seeing that Progeny had become a second Proscenium - the mutant arachnid and its minions had arrived before you and decimated the place. Those weren't cheers you imagined hearing. They were screams.

    ...anyway, that's how it seemed to me! It sounds like I enjoyed the game a whole lot more than you, though, so maybe I was in a better frame of mind when I finished it and read that ending.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you're reading a level of subtlety and complexity into that end-game text that just isn't there. But I could be wrong. It's certainly a more interesting way to interpret it, whatever the developers originally intended.

      Delete
    2. Well I too expected the text to end with Progeny destroyed, all that conjunctive really builds up to something like it.

      Speaking of disappointing endings, it seems to be something of Westwood's specialty. I recall one of the Eyes of the Beholder (don't remember which) didn't have an ending scene at all, because developers decided that no one will really get through to see it anyway ;)

      Delete
  11. Westwood was one of my favourite sources for RPGs for a long, long time! Sadly I - together with my sister -only ever managed to finish Eye of the Beholder II, but we really loved it. We nearly finished Lands of Lore I - but had to give up trying to win the final boss battle(apparently because of a bug, this was before the days of the internet ... so a massive obstacle).

    Nevertheless Lands of Lore was even better than Eye of the Beholder - a truly beautiful game with great sound, an engaging story with memorable characters and a good magic system.
    We also played quite a bit of Eye of the Beholder 1 and Lands of Lore II - enough to recommend them. Eye of the Beholder and Lands of Lore are very similar series - the latter one is more polished and original (though this sadly also means that they did exchange the Ad&D rules with an interesting, but ultimately simpler system ... and abandoned party creation).
    For us especially the Eye of the Beholder series was some sort of multiplayer game (I was the navigator, she was the general and handled combats as well as inventory tasks) ... which, of course, is not necessarily the way those games were supposed to be played - but still great fun!
    Anyway - I guess you could regard the combat system as flawed and exploit it, just as it is apparently possible in Dungeon Master. I found a video on youtube were someone managed to defeat the villain of Eye of the Beholder II by constantly turning, moving and attacking - basically without getting hurt at all. Which is a damn shame - for us this final battle was tense and fiendishly difficult, just the way it's supposed to be. :)

    -Knurrhahn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm actually impressed that you finished it using the 'stand and fight' method. I used to play eotb (and DM) that way when I was a kid and never made much headway unless I got lucky (read; reloaded a lot) due to the clunky interface.

      Delete
    2. Well ... not exactly "stand and fight" - that, too, would be kind of boring. And suicidal. ;) Dodging fireballs, for example, is perfectly legit behaviour as I think the combat system was designed in this way. I'm also not against moving during combat and attempting to evade some of the attacks.
      But figuring out the perfect timing to evade each and every attack the enemy makes and learning to exploit exactly how he moves ...

      I know, this is a grey era - I forgot how the crpg addict would rate this one ... he made this interesting post on cheating just a while ago ... Anyway:
      It may not be cheating and exploiting an enemy's weaknesses is part of the fun of learning a game ... but if you can just avoid EVERY attack by hopping around like a crazed bunny while restricting yourself to repeatedly hammering on the attack button of a single character ... may work wonderfully - but in my opinion it's just lame.
      I don't think this guy used a single spell. It's probably partly the fault of developers that this tactic was even viable - but on the other hand if you truly search for weaknesses you can probably find similar stuff in most other games.
      Anyway - it's ultimately a question of taste. Some people love to break the system - and see this as a fun challenge. It's not wrong ... it's just a completely different approach that I've trouble understanding, I guess.

      -Knurrhahn

      Delete
    3. It's designed to be possible to complete regardless of your initial party choice. No spells should be an option, just like no thieves or no clerics.

      You can't punish a player without warning for their initial party choice 10+ hours into a game.

      Delete
    4. Hu? I didn't mean to imply that! Not at all ... I think he had magicians, though. Anyway, what bothered me was the way this guy was able to trick the big villain by exploiting the AI weaknesses and the combat system. Basically it seems like it was completely irrelevant what kind of party this guy had. Or if he had a party at all. He just needed someone with a weapon. Probably not even a good weapon. With this tactic, a toothpick would have been enough - because all he needed was time.

      Which IS remarkable ... but, in my opinion, also slightly sad. Because - to me - fighting like that is no fun at all.
      It's like it is in some action games - particularly 3D shooters - when someone figures out just the right spot for the hero to sit in - where the extremely powerful and utterly evil planet-crushing mutant of doom that wants to gobble up the universe ... just can't see or touch him. Meanwhile the hero can pick him off at his leisure.
      It's anti-climactic. Now this particuar guy certainly had to do more than that ... but still, I think a final boss needs blood, sweat and tears. At least a tiny bit. I hope it WAS at least a bit difficult to learn. Because if one CAN fight in this way ... and it's perfectly easy and fine to do so ... doesn't this mean that all those who struggled to win the final battle look a tiny bit silly (not that I care that deeply about it ... after all, we had fun :) - but still ...)?

      -Knurrhahn

      Delete
    5. The best way to look at it is the saying;-
      'We might play the same title, but we all play different games.'

      His actions shouldn't cheapen your victory and visa-versa.

      Delete
  12. My ex and I never finished this one, though the other day, I recalled that this was called 'Mars Saga' for the c-64, and had the same plot, though less of it. The PC version got a makeover and extra stuff, along with a new title and setting. What a shame MoT turned out to be so bad.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh! Also wanted to say that telling us why Rance is so terribly (given it's an H Game from the sound of it, I can make some guesses...) would be entertaining, to say the least.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Regarding Rance, I would encourage you to post about it only if there is actual value to the game. If your review will result in another post that is primarily a commentary on the underlying misogyny and misdirected anger at women that exists in some games, then perhaps just a paragraph in a post would suffice to explain why the game doesn't merit playing.

    I hope we will NOT see a review of every game that is essentially a platform for the player to express misdirected anger at women through misogynistic behavior.

    Games that are essentially "strip poker" with a thin veil of role-playing, also don't seem to merit a full review.

    It's amazing and wonderful that you ARE being so thorough in completing a task that would be incomprehensibly daunting to most people. But I would not like to see your blog cheapened by the need to devote a full entry to garbage games based on a desire to be encyclopedic. The decision criteria for what fails to warrant a full entry are subjective though. So ultimately I think it must fall to you as the blog's owner to make sure the content remains aligned with your vision.

    Best regards.

    ReplyDelete
  15. You may find that Sword of Aragon and Sword of the Samurai are much, much more strategy games than they are CRPGs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm waiting for Sword of Aaragon, I played that game to death when I was younger, and still brought it out now and then for years to come. in fact It's one of the few games I have all the original packaging and manuals for. I agree tho, it's very much a strategy game with light RPG elements.

      Delete
  16. Damn... Another gilded memory destroyed. Though I've only played Mars Saga at time, I would've bet it being rated higher.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I still have my copy of Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny buried somewhere in a box of old CDs/DVDs. I never did finish it (got stuck despite resorting to a strategy guide near the end!). This was back when walk-throughs were on printed paper though. ;-)

    I may fire it up and play along when you get to it in a few years! I name all my RPG characters "Luther" still to this day because of that game.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hmmm, this game did beat Sentinel Worlds, but not by much (40 vs 36). I bet people are wondering why I'm even mentioning Sentinel Worlds. I did see quite a few differences, but rest assured, I have no inclination of playing this game.

    D&D: Warriors of the Eternal Sun is quite an awesome game, but, sadly, for Genesis/Mega Drive only, as others have said. I'd actually love to hear your views on that one.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I'm catching up, I'm catching up. You've been very prolific since I got a job and a gaming group and don't have nearly as much blog reading time!

    Also: 'sale v6alue or skill rating'

    ReplyDelete
  20. I remember thinking even at the time that Dragon magazine's computer game reviews were of limited value - the Lessers were a family who I got the impression did this mainly as a hobby; their output certainly didn't have much connection to the rest of game journalism at the time. It was an AD&D-focused magazine so the CRPG coverage was a sideline. The Lessers' ratings were sometimes all over the place and they tended to single out peculiar aspects of gameplay for praise or blame. It's really strange that they seem to be one of the most regularly cited sources about the contemporary reception of games on Wikipedia.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Re: "What is it that I'm watching set? I'm pretty sure the sun doesn't look that big from Titan."

    The original release of this game was as The Mars Saga; the subsequent versions were re-titled Mines of Titan and had the text updated to place the game on Titan. The ending art is probably supposed to represent the vista on Mars -- that's certainly why it's all red deserts outside of the domes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fair enough, but I'm pretty sure the sun isn't that big on Mars, either.

      Delete
    2. That's true. It shouldn't look bigger than what we can see from Earth since we're so much nearer to the sun.

      Delete
  22. CRPG Addict,

    *** SOME SPOILERS WARNING ***

    Thank you for this nostalgic walk down memory lane. I was a teen in high school when this game came out for the Commodore 64 (as Mars Saga) in the late 80's. I started out as an Infocom text adventure junkie who later became captivated by CRPGs, starting with Ultima III in the mid-80's. By the time I had picked up this game, I had already completed Ultima's III through V and was also tackling Wasteland.

    As a kid, I loved Mars Saga for its atmosphere. I could almost imagine myself walking through this futuristic mining colony solving mysteries. In retrospect, that was the best part of the game for me. Imagine, too, my disappointment when I first reached Proscenium only to find there was no one to talk to or compelling plot device to continue the story. Imagine my shock when I finally defeated the 4 blobs at the end only to find that was the end of the game. I think this was my first case of truly loving a game all the way up to the end only to find the story had run out way earlier. As an adult, I can see that Westwood probably ran out of time or ideas and had to get an unfinished product out to market. Some of the skills included with Mars Saga (and removed in Mines of Titan) didn't even function or do anything in the game.

    I recently picked up Mines of Titan just to see if you can "go back home" and let nostalgia do its trick. So far, I find that my memories of playing this game are far happier than I am with it today. Many adventure/CRPGs of this time were also like this game. Not a lot of roleplaying freedom so much as increasing stats, grinding levels, and the like. For it's time I can see why some game magazines gave it a 5. I think The Commodore 64 Gazette magazine gave the game its highest rating. By late 80's standards its a great game, but not so much today.

    In closing, I would love to see a game maker return to this setting or something like it. Many CRPGs today seem to be Tolkien retreads in the world of fantasy, yet Sci-Fi or Space Opera routinely gets ignored.

    Thanks again for the recap, I enjoyed reading it!

    Rand

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your recollections. It's interesting to hear that a 1989 player was just as disappointed at the rushed ending.

      Delete
    2. Hey CRPG Addict. Thanks for replying.

      *** SPOILER WARNING ***

      From what I can remember with Mars Saga (for the C-64), the game started off very strong for me. I made a group of PCs and eagerly started investigating Primus. The best moments of the game were those involving any sense of story or plot. When there wasn't a plot line to follow the game did feel a little empty. I ran Cybil's mission, found the Nomads, visited the underground caves, discovered Golum armor and a need to get to Parallax.

      My first moment of sheer disappointment was after walking onto the surface from one of the cities (Parallax?) to get to Proscenium. When I arrived there, I entered the game's code-protection (Mars Saga's code wheel was different from Mines of Titan's gun stats in the manual) to enter the city only to find the game freeze on me. In other words, it let me attempt to enter the city, but acted like the city didn't exist on the disk. If there was no city to load, you think they would have returned a message to the user that the city was in ruins and could not be entered... but maybe a portion of my game was corrupted? I repeated this trip 2 or 3 times just to make sure I did everything correctly, but nothing changed by doing this. I originally figured there were more people or places to visit in Proscenium and this city was merely just cut off (communication-wise) from the rest of the Mars, not invaded or destroyed.

      I gave up and somehow found out about the mines underneath Proscenium. I was also disappointed to find out I couldn't enter Proscenium from underneath the city. I trudged along and somehow made it to the end with the blobs. I figured this was just a big fight towards something bigger until the game ended and told me I was a mega-hero for stopping an alien onslaught.

      What was weird about Mars Saga was that the plot points in the game never properly connected together to meet the same conclusion that you did with Mines of Titan. In Mars Saga you don't find out what you really stopped/ended until the ending game text tells you. Up until the very end I thought I was there to discover or maybe rescue Proscenium. Instead I came across the ending "boss" battle and then it ended with a long text about what was really going on all this time. You do get a clue about ancient aliens (the balloon alien creatures), but you have to wait to the end to find out what was happening all along. With more exposition from the game, it would have managed my expectations a lot better. As it stands, I left the game feeling satisfied enough, but hollow that it could have ended better. That was what disappointment me the most about the game. A pretty good 1st two-thirds of a game in search of a strong final third. Overall, Mars Saga was a fairly good CRPG for 1988/1989, but one that was obviously rushed to market too quickly.

      Best,

      Rand

      Delete
  23. I played, and finished, this game close to its release (don't remember the exact year) on the LASER 128, an Apple ][ clone. This game, along with Bard's Tale, was one of the few CRPGs I managed to finish. I was younger - probably ten to twelve years old at the time.

    I did get the instruction to open the secret envelope, and remember it being a pretty dramatic moment when I did so (I hadn't peeked). Also recall enjoying developing & training characters, finding new equipment, and the strategic aspect of combat seemed a lot better than the mundane (F)ight or (R)un of Bard's Tale. IIRC, I started killing cops to get the golum armor once I opened the secret package and realized the government was lying to the citizens and was evil.

    I also recall that the ending was a long, slow slog. Wandered for a long time in those passages before I realized that I was going to have to make a map...and that at that point I was lost. I realized early on that party formation allowed one to bypass obstacles and actually used that to "shimmy" between some broken walls...this shortcut serendipitously lead quite near the "slime-fight", and I believe that's the only reason I finished the game - I was tired of it at that point. The ending was kind of lame, but I had no Nintendo until '93, and a lot of other games I had played at the time didn't have fixed ends - they went on forever, unless they were adventure games like King's Quest. It wasn't until I got into Game Boy / NES that I realized games should reward you with closure and a nice animated ending.

    I think RPGs at that time didn't do stories with cohesive plots, so abandoned sub-quests and whatnot aren't surprising. They were all stat-acquisition games, which the Japanese picked up on, eventually creating their train-track linear stat-acquisition "story" games that really should be movies. It wasn't until (IMO) Fallout and Baldur's Gate in '97-'98 that things started to change, and RPGs became more story-driven and less driven by stats and random fights, although maybe some niche game preceded it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Appreciate your first-hand recollections of playing this game, Calthaer, but I have to strongly disagree that it took until the late 1990s for strong stories to come through in RPGs. I don't know if you're reading the other posts on my blog--particularly those about good games--but I think you'll find plenty of other examples in the 1980s and early 1990s.

      Delete
    2. I'll admit my enjoyment of this game is mostly my rose-tinted glsases of playing the game at 4 to 6 years old, and never actually completing (or even attempting to find the volcanic vents) that form the "crappy back third" of the game, but I think it compares somewhat to one of the other games I played on the Commodore 64 at that time, Ultima IV and V, which had basically crap final dungeon parts I never really got to because I was too busy enjoying the fun parts of just running around towns and exploring worlds. The combat, barring magic, is actually a bit more advanced. The game isn't X-Com, but I wouldn't rate it so harshly.

      Playing through it again through the magic of DOS Box, I find it FAR easier than when I was little, and fleeing to Progeny out of terror of hitmen, or gambling like a lunatic to make back the money on all the characters who got completely wiped out from the last bad fight. Like Ultima, the magic of the game was in the open world, and letting you imagine your own characters, and honestly, it could have done with even less text, yes, and more points of general interest to make it more "Elder Scrolls-y", but even in it's unfinished state, a good first 2/3rds of a game is still a game that's enjoyable if you don't try to finish it.

      Delete
  24. Oh, and one more thing:

    Dynamite is simply a non-purchasable throwing weapon, notably more powerful (and larger in blast radius/longer in "burn" duration) than hand grenades, and don't take any skill to use.

    Basically, the shitty side quest system they have didn't really give them a chance to flesh out the mines and volcanic vents too well with real side-quests, so they just stuffed some boxes with random treasures in there.

    Incidentally, the best weapons of each type are non-purchasable, but you can get, for example, synapse beams (handguns) from some of the on-the-surface nomads.

    Also, I'd have recommended getting a full party of six to enjoy the game more. You get more enemies at a time, and the crowding makes you have to actually think more in combat, which keeps it from getting so old hat so fast.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh right, and one more one more thing:

      The balloon aliens are in the game, they're "Titanians", and they're just regular enemies near the end of the game, in the volcano vents. (Actually, they're very damage-resistant, but surprisingly weak, offensively, relying upon a purple arc gun attack that causes 'spasms'. They tend to pop up with the beetle enemies whose 'death ray's are significantly more powerful.)

      In spite of the whole, "oh, how stupid to fight an alien race!" in this game, the instant you see one, it's forced combat to the death, and you can only learn anything by absorbing their shed shells...

      Delete
  25. Am I the only one who found this game similar to "Total Recall"?

    I fondly remember it as my favorite "RPG" and replayed it numerous times. I completely agree that the ending levels during which the automap failed were the worst.

    **Spoilers / Tips**
    However, when starting a game, once you realize that only a couple stats and skills matter, you can ignore the rest.
    Auto, Medical, throwing, programming (for Golum armor training), and maxing might/agility/stamina are the only ones that matter.

    Knowing this, just select recruits with "Auto", lower charisma, higher intelligence (to allow for max sta/agi/might. One is able to obtain a party of 6 and maximize them within 2 hours. From there, it's story and maze driven.

    BTW, the gambling system was bound to be exploitable. In this case, you would save before entering the casino. Play Keno and record the winning numbers. Restore your save and play the winning numbers. Lame, yes... but it just saves time grinding, since you would attack thugs and sell their flak jackets.

    There's a lot of potential to this... if only they would update it again to 2015 and fix the plot/game mechanic gaps.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) THIS ALSO INCLUDES USER NAMES THAT LINK TO ADVERTISING.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

NOTE: Spam has gotten so bad lately that I've had to turn on comment moderation for posts older than 10 days. I apologize if it takes a little while for your comment to appear.