Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Keef the Thief: A Bit Less Grief


The game's outer world.

Given the acid with which I started my first post on Keef the Thief, my opinion of the game had nowhere to go but up. I'm not saying it's become part of my soul or anything, but in the last session I found it, if not enjoyable, at least tolerable. The trick is to avoid reading as much of the text as possible.

Thank heaven for small favors.

The game features a character development system similar to Hero's Quest, where attributes and skills increase incrementally as you use them. It's not quite as good as Hero's Quest, I hasten to add, since there are far fewer skills in Keef, and far fewer ways to develop them. Still, I like games that in which character development is so smooth and consistent, in which every use of a skill exercises and bolsters it.


I enjoyed the process of mapping the outer world, too. This is the part of the game where you navigate by turning in the direction you want to face and moving forward, as in the standard dungeon crawler--in contrast to the cities where you navigate through static screens and the up arrow moves you north instead of forward. The switch between the two is often abrupt and I spent a few turns going the wrong direction before I remember the controls do different things now.

Anyway, I often settle into a comfortable routine with adventure games, or adventure-RPG hybrids, in which I first concentrate on mapping the extent of the world, noting its key locations, and annotating the puzzles I must later revisit. Then, in the second "half" of the game, I concentrate on those puzzles. You saw me approach The Third Courier through this basic process. The physical worlds of adventure games are almost always smaller than those of RPGs, and I ultimately find them a bit too artificially confining, but for the occasional game this routine works well, and I find it satisfying as a process even if I don't really enjoy the game.

One more square mapped in the game world.

As we started to explore yesterday, thievery is a big part of Keef. I had to shake off my role-playing paradigm of the "thief" as more of a master craftsman who helps fighters and mages with traps and sneaking and such, and recall that in its most basic sense, a "thief" steals things. Thus, I spent a long time cleaning out each house in Same Mercon and stealing various items from the shopkeepers.

In its thievery system, Keef seems to simply assume that you're going to do a lot of experimenting and reloading. Especially at the earliest stages, when your skills are low, traps are so difficult and lethal that there's no way (that I can see) to approach them without effectively save-scumming. It's easy to tell when an area or item is trapped because the "remove traps" command suddenly becomes available. When you click on it, you're presented with several options for attempting to remove the trap. Only one of them is effective--all the others damage or kill you in some way--and the game offers no clue as to which is which. Even when you select the correct disarm option, there's a decent chance that it will fail and you'll die.

Trying to choose the right disarm option. There's a second page of them, too.

Disarming the trap is only half the battle. After that, you must successfully steal the item, and no, its theft is not a foregone conclusion despite the fact that you're alone in an untrapped house. It's somehow possible to fall and sustain a fatal injury while trying to pick up a necklace.

This screen appears a lot.

Thus, through a long process of testing and reloading, I burglarized every residence in the city and sold most of the proceeds to a collector and merchant in one of the bars. The net gain--around 4,000 gold pieces--was enough to have every conversation in town but one. I should also note that the thefts merge well with the game's lore; there's a book on antiques that describes some of the most valuable artifacts in town.

The consequences of stealing from merchants are a little less severe. If you fail, you either injure yourself or get attacked by a single guard who's relatively easy to defeat once you've achieved a few levels. If you kill him, everything goes back to normal--no bounties, no more guards, no banishment from shops--but I've typically been reloading because I don't like the idea of having killed a guard. Anyway, through a long process of stealing, I managed to get a bunch of books and magic reagents. I even managed to seal a horse (a Clydesdale worth 9,999 gold pieces) from the Bavarian Horse Works. The game doesn't show you riding the horse--it just shows up in the inventory--so it wasn't much use until later.


As I indicated, the books and conversations started to uncover a little of the game's lore, and some of it is interesting except that you have to maddeningly separate it from the game's goofy interpolations. As I noted in my previous post, the game world is the remnants of an empire that collapsed when the "god-king," Telloc, disappeared. Much of the game's lore deals with the intellectual struggle over whether Telloc was fundamentally good or evil.

This is the kind of game where you don't know if a reference to "the Antichrist" is supposed to be a joke or what.

A book of lore says that Telloc was the son of a peasant farmer and rose to power through a mastery of magic, using it to assassinate the old king of Mercon, assume his throne, and rule for 666 years. The writer of the book notes that Telloc also had enormous charisma, and despite the way he started his reign, 665 of his years were prosperous and relatively peaceful. His disappearance occurred during widespread unrest brought on by a famine, but there's a rumor that his friends betrayed him, not the common people. His generals and mages retreated to the city of Tel Hande, where one of them, "the Magician King," seems to be on the verge of rediscovering the source of Telloc's power. All of this is interesting and handled relatively straight.

During my explorations, I found a mermaid bathing in a waterfall, and she told me that Telloc was "her love," and that because of their love, Telloc wasn't as evil as he otherwise could have been. Of course, the game manages to spoil what might have otherwise been an interesting plot point with a bunch of flapdoodle.

Not only do I know all the lyrics, I know that the song title doesn't have a comma.
 
Thanks to my theft of reagents, I was also able to start exploring the magic system. It's similar to Ultima IV and Ultima V in that you mix reagents of various properties to create ready spells which you invoke when needed. Casting a prepared spell costs a certain number of magic points.

Mixing reagents to create a healing spell.

The interesting twist is that there's no master list of spell recipes anywhere; instead, you have to find them on various scrolls and in books. The further twist is that even when you find them, the formulas aren't explicit. For instance, the "Scroll of Unity" indicates that the basic healing spell, called--groan--"Bandus Aidus," is composed of "the flower named for the Greek boy" and "the garden plant whose flavor is used so often to mask unpleasant taste." You have to do a little analysis of the ingredients to realize it's talking about narcissus root and a peppermint sprig.

This one seems to require dragon's drool, glow grass, and eye of owl.

There's a "Book of Bad Poetry" that seems to consist solely of spell hints, and I haven't fully parsed it yet. My progress is partly hampered by the extremely slow process of stealing reagents one-by-one from the herbalist; I may resort to simply buying them for speed's sake.
 
My exploration of the outer world featured plenty of combat, rendered easier by my purchase of good armor and my theft of a magic sword called "Charles" from one of the residences. The enemies are as varied as undead (skeletons, ghosts), goblins of various levels, anthropomorphic plants, and local fauna (bears, giant chickens). None are terribly hard, and there aren't many tactics to use against them except to charge up swinging. You can try to maneuver around the battlefield in such a way that you draw them out one-by-one, but I have trouble getting this strategy to work well. I've yet to encounter a single fixed or plot-relevant combat, but I haven't done much indoor exploration yet.

Maybe the baby ogre and baby eater could just go after each other.

Combats occasionally provide bits of equipment. I have a long list of weapons and armor in my inventory, ordered by power (easily assessable by viewing the resulting weapon and weapon speed scores), and as far as I know there's no way to sell or drop unneeded items. I guess it doesn't make any difference, since there's no weight score. I bought a decent selection of thief's equipment--lock picks, a rope, oil, a knife, flint and steel--from a shady character in the bazaar. I steal whatever I can and try to save my money for conversation options.

Equipping items requires double-clicking on them, but the mouse mapping is a bit off in this game, and you end up having to click slightly above the item you want to equip.

I'm just getting started on the puzzles. My conversations with the king's daughter suggested that she prized gifts. When I tried to give her some roses, she swatted them out of my hand, so I returned with the more expensive Mem Flower, and she was happy--happy enough to give me access to the palace treasury. The enemies there have proven too difficult to fully explore. Similarly, in the wilderness, I ran into a hermit named Al Handratta, who told me he was looking for a Clydesdale to replace his dead and fondly-remembered horse. Since I happened to have one, I turned it over, and was given a key to access to his maze.

In other areas, the mermaid wants me to recover a ring from a cave behind the waterfalls, the curator at the temple of Mem wants me to recover a holy relic. In general, most of the puzzles in the game seem to involve mini-mazes. You either get access to the mazes as a reward for solving the puzzles, or you must explore them to find items that the quest-givers want. Anyway, now that I've sketched my map of the world, it's time to get serious about these puzzles. I still don't have a thread on anything like a "main quest."

A location I've yet to explore.

A few other notes:

  • As you explore, you have to carefully watch three meters: health, sleep, and food. Health regenerates (slowly) as you walk around; you can use spells or pay for healing to get a quicker boost. Food can be purchased in only a couple of places, and it's annoying that you can't take any in your pack for the road, but the meter depletes quite slowly. You can sleep absolutely anywhere. I think when the sleep meter gets low, it starts affecting your performance on things like combat and disarming traps.
  • You can save just about anywhere in the game, but not in the indoor areas and mazes.
  • The game has no sense of time. You can spend hours wandering back and forth along a street to regenerate your hit points. You can sleep any time. It never gets dark. Shops never close. I guess most adventure games and adventure-RPG hybrids don't have day/night cycles, but it's been a long time since I played one that didn't. Hero's Quest, B.A.T., and The Third Courier all had time considerations.
  • There's a tree in the wilderness that seems to offer unlimited opportunities to improve disarming and stealing skills in an attempt to steal a "phoenix egg" (a spell reagent). Every time you climb up, there's another one there. It's pretty hard to steal without damage, though, so your quickly-declining health meter discourages you from spending too much time grinding at this one location.


I'll be surprised (and annoyed) if it takes more than one more post to win this one.

49 comments:

  1. Style suggestion: can you think about moving the mouse cursor off the side of the screen when taking screenshots? My obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies always want to reach up and move it. Unless it's relevant to the screenshot, of course. I just...aaah...have to move it out of the way!

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    1. A lot of people have mentioned that. I do try to remember, but I don't usually succeed.

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  2. Since you haven't finished a single dungeon yet, it might take two more posts. Or not. My memory on the subject is pretty murky, but I think they're all relevant to the main quest. Which is never explicitly stated, but hinted at in the manual's introduction ;)

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    1. I see what you mean. Nonetheless, it's just going to be one more post, but it's going to summarize a lot of gameplay.

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  3. Glad to see you're carrying on.

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  4. I too am glad to see you continuing. This is yet another of those games I have WANTED to play yet never have. That particular list is quite incredibly long. The humor seems quite... not humorous. Laborious. Etc.

    Play on, McDuff!

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    1. And damned be he who first cries, "Enough!"

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    2. Way to hose up the iambic pentameter.

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    3. I've read your comment several times, and thought about it, and I still don't get it. Explain?

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    4. An iamb is a metrical unit consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The names Marie, Collette, Eugene, and Jermaine are all iambs. Iambic pentameter is a popular verse form, used extensively by Shakespeare, consisting of five iambs in a row:

      This royal throne of kings,
      This sceptred isle

      Shall I compare thee to
      A summer's day?

      You common cry of curs
      Whose breath I hate

      To be or not to be
      That is the quest(ion)

      (It was common to occasionally add an unstressed syllable to the end of the iambic pentameter.)

      William paraphrased a bit from the Scottish Play, and Canageek followed him by quoting the rest of the phrase, but he left out the word "hold." The original is:

      And damned be he who first
      cries "Hold, enough!"

      By missing the "hold," the iambic pentameter is compromised, with two unstressed syllables appearing next to each other.

      It was an obnoxious thing for me to point out in the first place, but you asked.

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  5. Wow, didn't even notice that a Gold Box game is up next! Champions of Krynn! Coolio.

    Of course, it's going to be kind of hard to get back into that "Krynn" frame...enemies whose only purpose of existence is to be slain so that they can grab your sword...so that you have to carry two swords around with you all the time and then have to go to the equipment screen and ready the second one. Or the ones that turn into a pool of acid...why exactly? Because the whole world only exists to service the protagonists. Echh...oh well Gold Box games are always good.

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    1. Yikes. I don't know what you're talking about, but it sounds like I'll have to learn some new tactics.

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    2. Oh. Derp. Thought you'd played it. Anyway it's not a spoiler, it's in the manual.

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    3. Also, I'm not sure why no one has remarked on the list of games yet...

      Champions of Krynn - Great stuff! The first Dragonlance GoldBox game.
      DarkSpye - Horrible time-waster! But still, an RPG.
      Lords Of Chaos - Pretty to look at. But it's more of a strategy game than an RPG. There's a bloody turn counter to log your scores, if I recall correctly.
      DragonLord - This game has very little RPG elements. It's more like a dragon-breeding simulator. You don't even get to play as the character you have chosen. Rather, you use dragons to fight for you... like a Pokemon trainer.
      Wizardy 6 - A total makeover. The graphics, though not extremely impressive, is still rather contemporary. It is also rather non-linear and enjoyable.
      DragonSword - The graphics look like it's still stuck in the early 80s. The puzzles are quite good though.
      Dungeons of Doom - Never even knew it existed! Can't wait to see you play it.
      Dragonflight - If you think that the game has anything to do with the title, be prepared to be sorely disappointed...
      Escape from Hell - Er... I have a lot of good things to say about Wasteland... but this game using the same engine... sigh... Maybe you'd like to play Keef the Thief again?

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    4. Chet usually does an in-between year post where we take a long look at the list, but since you started it:

      Champions of Krynn - I've heard this is good. Never played a Dragonlance game myself.
      Ultima VI - Not sure how far Chet got into the series, but I'm looking for his take on the change of perspective.
      Secret of the Silver Blades - The original gold box series continues. I think this was the lowest reviewed of the four.
      Lord of the Rings Vol. 1 - This is more action than RPG. I don't even think there are levels or stat based combat, but I could be wrong.
      Buck Rodgers - I've heard this is good as well, but I've never played it.
      Quest for Glory II - Will Chet and Trickster team up again? It'd take some rearranging, but I wonder if it could be lined up again like last year.
      Uncharted Waters - It'll be interesting to see if this trading simulation sticks in the list.
      Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire - I've only just recently heard of this game.

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    5. You're certainly wrong about Lord of the Rings - it has turn-based combat and all the qualities of a full-fledged CRPG. It's just very linear and very faithful to the books, and thus not much fun to play.

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    6. And to continue with the trend:
      DarkSpyre - kinds top-down single-character Dungeon Master. Notable mostly as a prequel to The Summoning and as possibly the only RPG, that has more non-combat spells than combat ones.
      Quest for Glory II - the only Quest for Glory I couldn't play because of those horrible labyrinths.
      Tunnels&Trolls - an excellent game, but very unpolished. Great writing and lots of roleplaying options (it was based on a collection of PnP modules), but also quite bugs and annoying interface inconveniences. The most peculiar thing about TnT is that while PnP rules were developed as a streamlined and simplified alternative to DnD, their only computer implementation is arguably a more complex game than most DnD titles to date.
      Elvira: Mistress of the Dark - yet another RPG/Adventure, yet one more, that would do much better without the RPG part.
      Vampyr: Talisman of Convocation - probably the first RPG that can qualify as indie. In other words, a clusterfuck of poorly implemented ideas.

      I second Lords of Chaos not being an RPG. DragonStrike is also more of a flight sim than RPG, even though it's based on DnD. Kings Bounty is a precusor for Heroes of M&M and features similar gameplay, but since you played Sword of Aragon, it probably qualifies.

      I'm also not sure if you can acquire a working English-language copy of Dragonflight - the ones I found on abandonware sites were all in German and had game-breaking bugs.

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    7. Ah, I'm only familiar with Lord of the Rings Vol. 1 on the SNES also from Interplay, and assumed it played the same. Well, I'm definitely interested in seeing the differences. I wonder why they decided to change the game.

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    8. Ultima 6 is a vast improvement, IMHO. Extremely interactive (first RPG that lets you bake your own bread!) and melding the entire world into a single map without loading screens.

      LOTR Vol. 1 was a sleep-inducing mechanic. The graphics were passable but, gods, they stuffed everything in the books here. Even the boring parts (which was a lot).

      Tunnels & Trolls is not bad... but I think they might have went over-board with their cringe-worthy humor as well. The manual looked like it was written as a joke-book for pre-school kids.

      Fallthru is a single-player MUD. It does have some interesting features but pretty boring.

      Xenomorph is one of the few better Sci-fi RPGs out there with a very interesting premise that succeeded where Fountain Of Dreams failed. I highly recommend it.

      Galactic Empire is actually more of a space-sim. I can't recall if there were even any character advancements available. If there was, it was minimal.

      Secret of The Silver Blades is one of the less successful Gold Box games for a good reason. Can't disclose without spoiling it but it might be just my askewed view, since I had very high expectations for games using the same engine.

      L'Empereur is another historical strategy sim based on the shortest greatest emperor of France, good ol' Napoleon. The gameplay is very similar to Romance of the 3 Kingdoms. So, best to skip it.

      Uncharted Waters, even though it is also by KOEI (the guys who brought you Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, the aforementioned L'Empereur, Bandit Kings of Ancient China, Gemfire and Eye of Balor in your list), is DEFINITELY an RPG. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It is their first
      endeavor in their ReKoeition (giving their strategy games a more personal feel by making them into RPGs) efforts.

      The Worlds of Ultima series (Savage Empire and Martian Dreams) are basically Ultima-Lite built with the Ultima 6 engine. Still, they were passable and are actually better than most other RPGs in 1990.

      Elvira is one of the games I'm looking forward to you playing along Trickster, as well as QFG 2.

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    9. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh this is going to rock. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I can't wait to see Chet have to play a game with Elvira. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

      Also: The draconians turning to stone makes sense in world. I don't want to say too much, as I don't know if the games follow the plot of the books, but in world it makes sense that they do things like turn to stone and explode as they were made to fight in battles with normal soldiers, and even if it doesn't stop an army, having to equip each man with two weapons doubles your logistic expenses, breaks up pike lines, etc. I don't think this was actually said in the books, as they kinda gloss over the large battles, but yeah. Just remember they are meant to fight in armies against normal people, not mighty heroes.

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    10. The whole 'turn to stone' idea is pretty useless for an army - Attacks would grind to a halt, missile fire would make charges hilarious, Bodies would block choke points, and scaling castle walls would be fatal due to the falling rocks.

      It's not even any good for attacking pike formations because you create an wall of stone in front of them which blocks the follow up.

      It's just a stupid version of glue for blood really.

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    11. Fair point, but if you are on the defensive? Also they crumble to dust after a very short period (One minute I think?) so it wouldn't do horrible damage by chocking fallout up attacks.

      The Draconians were also discontinued for various reasons, one of which was they weren't as effective as hoped, though that had more to do with lack of discipline then anything else.

      Bu, naq gur snpg fbzr bs gurz rkcybqrq qvq qb fbzr qnzntr gb gurve bja nezvrf, ohg jnf hfrq gb terng rssrpg ntnvafg rarzl qentbaf, juvpu jnf pbhagrq nf jbegu gur ybff bs n srj rkcraqnoyr qenpbavnaf.

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    12. Turning to stone was just dramatic narrative mechanic. It occurs 'on death' - People rarely just drop dead when shot\stabbed\clubbed. Death isn't something you can combine with a time sensitive effect (stone\exploding) reliably.

      The writers just wanted a way to raise the stakes without thinking too much about it. It works fine a p&p gameplay mechanic (Red book D&D - Iron statues had something similar iirc) but once you try to explore \ justify the idea it ends up looking dumb.

      I always wondered why no-one just used a mace.

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    13. A fair point. To be honest, in the original three books, I only recall it coming up once, and then a few times in the Kang's Command books.

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    14. Its kinda funny that... imagining them fight in battalions and getting killed by missile attacks.

      They'd probably cause a lot of collateral damage and logistical difficulties among their own ranks.

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    15. Weren't they fairly arrow resistant in the books, due to the fact their hide is made of dragon scales? I mean, I recall some dying due to arrows in one of the very first Kang's Command stories, but I thought that was part of the thing that made them so hard to kill.

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    16. The logic behind dragons is that they're soo big that in places the scales have become thick armor plates.

      But dragons are big and Dracs aren't. At Drac size scales probably wouldn't be very resistant to direct penetration - No better than uncured leather.

      Stupid Drac question for the day:- When a Drac 'dies', does its clothes\weapon turn to stone too?

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    17. Vic: To be honest, I can't remember it ever coming up. I don't think so, otherwise where is the gold you get after beating them coming from?

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    18. @Canageek if RPG have taught us anything gold magically appears when you kill anything, sometimes you also get a magic item if your lucky.

      This is why jobs as exterminators are so sought after because those rats drop gold and magic wands of create booze.

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  6. Now that you are getting close to starting Champions of Krynn, here's some tips in case you haven't played it before or have forgotten it:

    If you intend to use the same party for the whole Krynn trilogy make sure you check out the racial level limits in the Dark Queen rule book. Generally demi-humans are not as useless as in the Pools series, and elves are powerful as multi-classed. Dwarves are good Fighters, Kender make decent Cleric/Thieves (mainly due to their special abilities and being able to backstab with a Hoopak). Half-Elves are useless, though.
    The damage dealt with a Dragonlance is the same as the wielder's current HP, so 2-3 single class Fighter types can be useful. A Knight is a must.
    Paladins are not available in CoK, but for some reason becomes available in Death Knights of Krynn.

    Each area has a finite number of random encounters, but they are reset each time you re-renter an area.

    The Krynn games are more hard core than the Pools games.
    If an Elf dies the only thing that can save him is Power Word: Load. Same with disintegrated or eradicated; in the Pools games only their possessions are gone, but in the Krynn games the characters is Gone.

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    1. I think I played CoK once. Am I correct in remembering it's quite linear? You have to proceed from map to map in a specific order?

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    2. Fairly linear, but you can do things somewhat out of order in the early game. End game is almost pure linear.

      As Petrus said, multi class is useful. Rangers do not have level limits if you are a Elf, so Cleric/Rangers are excellent choices for playing all three games. Multi Class Fighter/Magic users max out at 14 fighter for Qual elves, (Don't get Silv Elves) and they can continue to progress as mages all game (and thieves...) Honestly the only human I used was a Knight.

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  7. Bavarian Horse Works BHW, and that logo. Oh my ...

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    1. Yeah, now I know why people had good memories of this game.

      I let my 10 year-old-nephew try it out.

      He was chortling at all the horrible juvenile jokes.

      Guess if I was also a preteen back when I first played this game, I might have loved it too.

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    2. Great... anybody have any great ideas to pry off a 10-year-old from a computer game old enough to be his father?

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    3. It's impressive that your nephew could pick up the game mechanics that fast and wasn't turned off by the graphics.

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    4. It's the freaking kiddy humor. Also, his parents didn't give him the usual luxuries other kids have these days. They are really strict with him. The only "games" he's allowed to play were straight-faced educational ones and TV programs that he can watch are on Discovery Channel.

      Hmm... I think that's what we all used to have back in our childhood days anyway...

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    5. I was allowed 1 hour of TV a day, which I often used on an episode of Star Trek.

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  8. Ouch... I can understand how this sort of humour could really piss someone off. Personally, it doesn't seem that annoying as much as it seems very forced. The Captain Picard facepalm meme probably says it all. "Really? You actually went there? You actually think that's funny?"

    It's the sort of humour that could only be the product of a couple of teenagers desperately trying to be funny. It definitely reminds me of high school :))

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    1. Yeah, I probably wasn't any funnier when I was 19. Butt his is where you expect an experienced publisher like EA to help out, not make it worse.

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    2. I find the fact that you misplaced a space between 'but' and 'this' (forming 'butt his') in the comment about juvenile humor pretty hilarious. I mean, I almost smirked when I read that. ;)

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  9. "It's somehow possible to fall and sustain a fatal injury while trying to pick up a necklace."

    Am I the only one who was reminded of the text adventure part in Saints Row: The Third when reading that?

    You can see it here if you don't know what I'm talking about. The text adventure starts at 0:22 if you're confused when first watching the video. That flagstone...

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  10. I must try and work the word "flapdoodle" more into my day to day speak!

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    1. Just make sure you don't get the heebie-jeebies when doing so!

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  11. I have never in my entire life heard or read the phrase "Little Sushi Butt" until now. My life is either more complete or less, I am not sure.

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  12. It's interesting how you get so worked up over the bad jokes. Myself, I have more tolerance for a badly written comedy than a badly written serious piece. Especially in games. Badly written serious games are usually just too self-important, dogmatic, etc. to the point of being painful.

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    1. All of which are better than badly acted ones. Wait till games start using cinematic scenes, where they used some famous actor and could only afford one take.

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  13. I must admit I laughed at some of the jokes as reported by Chet. But perhaps if they were appearing relentlessly while I was playing they would not seem so funny.

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