Sunday, September 29, 2013

Recent Interviews in European Publications

My desktop when playing a game: game, draft blog post, map workbook, and spell list. I mocked this up for the interview (I played Might & Magic more than three years ago), but it's a faithful re-creation.

Today, my blog was featured on Spiegel Online, one of Germany's premier online news sources. When the author first contacted me for an interview, I was aware that it was a pretty big deal but I didn't realize how big. In the 24 hours following its publication, my blog got more than 10,000 hits, dwarfing the previous record of 2,293, set in September 2012, when the blog was featured in Austria's Der Standard. Between these two sources and the recent interview that appeared in the Finnish magazine Pelit, it's possible I now have more European readers than North American ones. I don't mind this at all, of course, but why hasn't USA Today come calling yet?

Unfortunately, the publishers over at Spiegel put the wrong links to my "Master Game List" and "Game Rankings" lists in their sidebar. I don't know exactly how links to Google Drive documents work, but the links were apparently such that the readers didn't go directly to the viewable documents but rather to a page that forced them to "request permission" of me before they could view them. I received more than 400 requests in less than six hours, so I had to remove the documents so they'd stop coming into my in-box. I've asked Spiegel Online to remove the links. Either way, I'll put the documents back online again in a few days, when the article is no longer fresh.

The article worked in a number of the things I said during the interview, but I thought I'd offer the entire text of my interview below for English readers. The interviewer asked me a bunch of discrete questions, but I synthesized my responses into long paragraphs instead of doing a standard Q&A format. He began by asking a little personal information and later clarified that "Chester Bolingbroke" was, in fact, a nom-de-plume.

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Text of the Spiegel Online Interview

I'm 41 years old. As for my job, I deliberately keep it secret (I don't want people in my profession to find out about my gaming blog!), but in broad strokes, I'm a professional, and I work as a contractor in the public sector. The nature of my work keeps me traveling most of the time (about 3 of every 4 weeks). I do all of my game playing on my laptop, sometimes on the road, but usually on weekends at home in between trips. I prefer to play at home, when I can arrange the game window, the manual, my notes, my maps, and my draft blog post across multiple monitors.

I remember being first exposed to games on friends' Atari 2600s. I don't know the first, exactly, but I can recall spending inordinate time on Space Invaders, Combat, Asteroids, and all the other Atari classic games. They were fun, but none of them really gripped me. That didn't happen until I was visiting a friend who had a Commodore 64, and we played Questron. It was the first time I realized that computer games didn't have to be arcade-style games, and it was thus the first game I became addicted to. I can't say I really "fell in love" with a game until Ultima IV, which occupied a huge part of my life from ages 12-15. For years thereafter, I compared every game to Ultima IV and found it wanting.

I played a few sessions of tabletop RPGs, but I never really enjoyed it. They were too difficult to organize, they took too long, and if the dungeon master turned out to be a jerk, you were at his mercy. I respect the more open-ended nature of tabletop RPGs--something that computer RPGs will probably never be able to replicate--but I didn't like the other people.

I play an average of 10-12 hours a week, including blogging, but this is extremely variable. Last week, I didn't play anything at all, and this week I've probably put 20 hours into gaming already. It depends on my schedule and the other items on my task list.

My wife likes to play games with me, but not any of the games that I play for my blog, so every once in a while we head down to the store and pick up a few games to play together on the Xbox. (I prefer PC games, but it's easier to play console games with another person, on the couch, in front of a big-screen TV.) We just played Red Dead Redemption and we're working on Dragon's Dogma. Yes, I did get the Skyrim bug in 2011. I sank maybe 250 hours into that game between November 2011 and January 2013, when I finally sold my copy back to GameStop just to remove the temptation. For the most part, though, I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not playing many modern games. I often find them too frenetic and confusing, and I think role-playing games peaked in quality around 1995-2003. I'm looking forward to getting into that era again.

For the last few years, I've been losing time. It took me 18 months to cover 1988 and 14 months to cover 1989. So I'm not sure I'll ever arrive at the "present." Nonetheless, I imagine I'll keep playing and blogging as long as I'm alive, blogs exist, and the games are available.

Earlier RPGs were much more cerebral and challenging games than we have now. The player had to invest some time, effort, and intellect. He had to make maps, take notes, solve puzzles, and carefully plan his explorations. In the modern era--at least in the major commercial markets--all of this has been replaced with automatic dialogue options, automaps, quest logs, quest markers, and so forth. As much as I liked Skyrim, I didn't like the way it babysits the player throughout. Whatever we've gained in graphics and sound, we've lost in the thrill that a player gets when he solves a difficult puzzle or pages furiously through a notebook to find the answer to an obscure question.

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The interview for Pelit isn't available online. It's a much larger one, but if you're interested in reading the entire Q&A, I've pasted it below.

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Text of the Pelit Interview

1. The "Why We're Here" post details why you started The CRPG Addict. Was it a spontaneous thing that came out of your 72 hour Oblivion session or did you plan the project out carefully and well in advance before doing any writing? Did you have any idea in the beginning that you would actually keep going even after three years and 500 posts?

It was spontaneous, but not because of my “lost weekend” playing Oblivion. I was so disgusted with myself for that that I threw away all my games and decided to quit cold turkey, only to (of course) relapse several weeks later. Rather, it came out of winning Rogue. I spent 80 hours winning that game, and when I was done, I sat there staring at the winning screen thinking “I need to share this with someone.” So I posted it on Reddit, and that’s where someone suggested that I start a blog.

The funny thing is, for years I’d been mentally composing “articles” about things like game economies, combat tactics, and encounters, with this vague idea that if someday I wrote them up, I might be able to get a freelance job with a game magazine or web site. Somehow the idea of blogging never occurred to me. So when the anonymous Redditor suggested I start one, it meshed well with a desire to write about games that I’d been entertaining for a while.


2. The same post gives the impression that for you playing CRPGs is not only about entertainment or pleasure, but that it's also a some sort of compulsion. There's no way NOT to play them! Writing the blog has in a sense validated this obsession, but do you ever feel that it would be better to quit playing completely and do something else? Is it a waste to spend so much time on CRPGs?

Like everything else in life, the key is moderation. Every harmful compulsion or addiction has a point at which it’s joyful, even enriching. But just like an alcoholic who can’t stop at one drink or a compulsive gambler who can’t stop when he’s lost only $200, I often can’t stop playing a game after a reasonable amount of time has passed. I spend all day on it, when I should be working on other things, or I stay up until 3:30 in the morning and ruin the following day.

Almost all the time, I feel like it would be better to quit playing and do something else. I want to finish my PhD. I want to learn to play an instrument. I have a couple books in the works. And I’m self-employed, so every hour I spend on a game is an hour I’m not spending billing a client.

But as I’ve discovered, there’s no guarantee I’ll do all those other things just because I quit playing games. When I tried last year, I just ended up wasting time in other ways. Perhaps the game-playing is less a cause of my low productivity and more a symptom of some compulsion to burn a certain percentage of valuable time. I’m not even sure how to tell.

In some ways, my blog is an indulgence in my compulsion. It virtually guarantees that I’m going to spend too much time playing games. There’s no way I can crank out a blog posting every couple of days without spending four or five hours playing during that same period. And I have to spend time writing and responding to comments, too! But in other ways, it turns my existing compulsion into something valuable—maybe not as valuable as getting my doctorate or learning how to play the piano, but still valuable.


3. In 2012, you came close to putting an end to The CRPG Addict, but continued after a brief break. Have there been moments since then when you've felt that you can't keep going on or have you committed yourself to the task for good? How far do you think you are going to make it? Will we ever see a "Game 1189: Will Fight For Food"? :)

I think I’m committed at this point. Quitting and returning in 2012 was a bit of a catharsis. It was something I had to try, and I failed, and that’s the end of it. There will be other hiatuses in the future, when work gets too busy, or when I’m on vacation, or when I just lose interest (that never lasts more than a couple of weeks), but I can’t see any situation in which I’ll try to stop completely again.

As for how far I’ll make it, I find it best not to think about such things. I’m losing ground right now: it took me longer than a year to complete 1988, and it’s taken me longer than a year to complete 1989. Perhaps at some point, I’ll reconsider how I approach the chronology. But as long as I’m making some progress and I have readers, I’m not going to worry about it.


4. You obviously have dedicated readers who are very enthusiastic about The CRPG Addict. But how about people you know in real life, have you told many about your undertaking and what have their reactions been like? I remember reading that you even told your wife about it only when you were pretty far in your blog posts?

I don’t really tell anyone I know in real life. None of my friends are RPG fans, and my project is not the sort of thing that non-RPG fans really understand. Plus, almost all of my friends are associated with my profession, and the last thing I need is colleagues and clients noticing that I’m four weeks behind on a project but during the same period, I managed to make time for 22 hours of Keef the Thief.

5. Can you tell me anything about how CRPG Addict The Book is coming up? Will there be a lot of revised or new content that hasn't appeared in the blog? Any estimated release date?'

I envision the book as a first of a series, each one covering one of Matt Barton’s “ages” of RPGs—the first will cover both the “Dark Age” and the “Bronze Age.” As I’m planning it now, it will be half essays on RPG development, theory, technology, and game elements, and half condensed versions of my reviews. The first book will also have full reviews of the PLATO games, not all of which have appeared on my site, as well as a few others from 1980-1981.

The book is a struggle for me, because every time I write something in it that I think is good, I want to post it on my blog. My coverage of Dungeon Campaign and Wilderness Campaign were originally meant for the book alone, but I liked them so much, I went ahead and posted them.

Anyway, I’m shooting to have it ready for my fourth anniversary, in February 2014. My wife will turn 40 that year, and I have this dream that I’ll make enough from the book to take her on a nice trip. Or at least a nice dinner.

6. What are your thoughts on why you are drawn to CRPGs in particular, and not some other genre?

I think they manage to achieve just the right balance. They have a lot of logistics, but not to the mind-boggling level of simulation games. They feature tactical combat, but not to the overwhelming level of strategy games. They tell a story, but without the completely deterministic world of adventure games. They’re exciting, but without all the frenetic clicking of action games. I love the sense of progress and development in great RPGs, where every hour brings a new level, a new piece of equipment, more money, an upgraded ability, or a quest reward. There’s always something to give you a shot in the arm and keep you playing.

I also love the true “role-playing” aspects of RPGs, but these don’t really come to maturity until the 1990s, so I can’t say that they’re responsible for all my playing during the last four years. But I love entering a world in which I can define my character and express that character through dialogue options, encounters, and choices during quests. I really look forward to seeing these options grow as the years progress.

I should say that I don’t like CRPGs exclusively. I’ve had a lot of fun with non-RPGs, including Half-Life, L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption, and Assassin’s Creed. But I almost always find myself wishing such games were more like RPGs, offering more character progression, choices, and true dialogue options.

7. What makes a good CRPG? What is your favorite CRPG of all time and why?

My top elements of a great CRPG are a large, open game world, memorable NPCs, flexible dialogue options, and plenty of side-quests that offer role-playing opportunities. I can never fully enjoy RPGs that are completely linear, even if they feature good gameplay otherwise.

For my favorite, I can’t decide between Baldur’s Gate or The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Each has different strengths. I’ve never been so immersed in a large, open-ended fascinating game world as in Morrowind, and I despair that I ever will be again. (Oblivion and Skyrim are good games, but they both chipped away at what made Morrowind so great, and they significantly dumbed down the quest system.) I love the factions of the Elder Scrolls games, and the creators have done such a fantastic job developing the history and lore of the setting.

A lot of people prefer Baldur’s Gate II to Baldur’s Gate, and I can see why they would: the second game has better quests, more role-playing opportunities, and greater NPC interaction. But to me, the first game wins out for the open game world and the huge variety of encounters you find there. Yes, there’s a main quest, and it’s somewhat linear, but before, between, or after the stages of the quest, you have a huge area to just wander around, finding all kinds of fun and bizarre encounters. The dialogue system and NPCs are nearly as good as the sequel. And I just find it more satisfying to go from Level 1 to Level 6 than from Level 6 to Level 20. Finally, the interface is fantastic. I think the Infinity Engine is one of the best RPG engines ever made, and Baldur’s Gate was its best game.

But neither game is perfect; neither would score 100 on my GIMLET scale. There’s still plenty of room for a game that fuses the best of Baldur’s Gate, Morrowind, and host of other games in my top 20. Perhaps I’ll encounter it during my quest.


8. Could you share some of the best and the worst moments you've had while playing through over a hundred old CRPGs in the past 3,5 years? What games have really imprinted themselves on your memory, for better or for worse? Any big surprises?

There are good moments in almost every game I play, especially now that I’m blogging about them. Even “worst” moments are somewhat enjoyable because they produce enjoyable blog entries.

There have been a handful of games that everyone already remembers and loves, and all I did was confirm why they’re memorable and lovable. Ultima IV (1985) and Ultima V (1988) hold up well after all these years, and the D&D “Gold Box” games, starting with Pool of Radiance (1988), remain some of the best CRPGs ever made. I had never played the Starflight games (1986 and 1989), but I saw immediately why people remember them fondly. The early Might & Magics (1986 and 1988) are just awesome in their open worlds and variety of side quests, and Wasteland (1988) pioneered a unique setting and skills-based development system that we still see today. Hero’s Quest (1989; later Quest for Glory) might be the most literally “fun” game of the era; I think I grinned the entire time I played.

Of course, it’s always fun when a little-remembered game comes along and surprises you with how enjoyable it is. There’s a shareware roguelike called Omega which is just staggeringly good for its era. I just finished Sword of Aragon (1989), a game I nearly dismissed as a strategy game, and I loved how well it blended strategy and RPG elements. The Dark Heart of Uukrul (1989) is one of the best dungeon-crawlers of the era, and I think maybe a dozen people have played it. I just finished some retrospectives of the early Stuart Smith games, Fracas (1980) and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1981), as well as the Robert Clardy “Campaign” games (1978-1980), and while none were quite advanced enough to score high on my rating scale, I loved how innovative they were in use of elements we rarely see today.

My best individual “moments” can come from any game, even if it’s not a great game overall, and they generally occur when I’ve invested a lot of time and sweat into something and it pays off. Winning Wizardry was an early one. I played that game completely blind and completely straight; I accepted permadeath and didn’t back up a single character. I reached the endgame almost by accident, killed Werdna on my first try, and I was just thrilled to tell my readers. Ascending in NetHack after 262 hours invested was also a major highlight (if also a point where you start to wonder if you’ve been making the best time management choices). There were moments in Knights of Legend, an otherwise faulty game, that were enormously satisfying, such as when my last standing knight managed to track down and drop the last two enemies moment before he would have otherwise passed out from exhaustion.

In terms of worst times, they almost always come when the game is overly-relentless in its combat and doesn’t really offer much else. I was extremely disappointed in the second and third Bard’s Tale games. Everyone seems to remember the series so fondly, but for me they were just endless barrages of combat that provided little character progression or plot progression. Most other games that I’ve ranked poorly have at least been bad in ways that don’t take up too much time and leave me with something fun to write about. I thought Rance was horribly offensive, but I can’t say I hated writing the blog posting.

9. You play only CRPGS, that is, computer RPGs. I think you cited technical difficulties for not including  console RPGs: screwing around with emulators, cartridges, consoles etc. But how do you feel about console RPGs in general, since they tend to be a kind of genre of their own? Do you, for example, enjoy JRPGs like Final Fantasy or are you strictly about (western) CRPGs?

My experience with console RPGs is too limited to have much of an opinion, but I get why PC gamers don’t like them. I don’t think you could import the Infinity Engine games to a console: there are just too many interface elements that require the flexibility of the keyboard and the ability to see details close-up. I’ve never seen a great tactical combat system on a console, and I suspect this is why. The situation must have been even worse back in the 1980s, when controllers had fewer buttons and options.

That said, there are some games that work just fine on a console. I’ve found playing the Elder Scrolls games much more fun on my Xbox, where my 60-inch plasma TV really takes advantage of the games’ graphics and sound. In reviews of Oblivion and Skyrim, commenters say that these games were “dumbed down for the console crowd,” but I don't know if I agree. I mean, I agree that they’re dumbed down, but I don’t see why consoles have anything to do with it.

The same goes for JRPGs. My experience is quite limited, but in general I prefer nonlinear games with open worlds, and I get the impression that JRPGs tend to feature the absolute opposite. The few I’ve played, like Lost Odyssey and one of the recent Final Fantasys, I didn’t like for those reasons. Again, though, there’s nothing in particular about consoles that makes these games linear and deterministic. I’d rather talk about game elements than platforms, and all platforms have some great games.

10. What are your thoughts on the evolution of the CRPG genre? Have we gone a long way or are we still doing the same old games, only with better graphics? Are new games better, or are they too focused on linear gameplay or multiplayer? Do you have a favorite "era" of CRPGs or do you enjoy all of them equally?

You have to understand that I’ve only played about half a dozen games that were produced in the last decade, so my thoughts are biased towards a handful of them.

I do think we’ve come a long way in terms of the substance of RPGs. Throughout the history, things like story, NPC dialogue, and role-playing choices get continually better. Naturally, improvements in technology mean better graphics and sound as well as larger worlds. These are all things that I welcome.

At the same time, I think it’s too bad that players no longer have to do any real work when completing a game. If I just wanted something mindless, I’d play a first-person shooter. I like having to make maps, take notes, prioritize quests, remember keywords, hold onto key pieces of inventory, and solve puzzles. But as the years pass, games remove these investments on the player’s part and do everything for you, until we reach the modern era, when ever game has an automap, and automatic quest log, quest markers telling you exactly where to go, undroppable inventory items, and puzzles in which you just choose from a list of options instead of actually figuring out the answer.

I also think it’s too bad that so many RPGs have done away with turn-based tactical combat in favor of either action combat or concurrent tactical combat when everyone is acting at once. The former substitutes dexterity for intelligence; the latter means that you generally issue broad orders and watch what happens instead of plotting individual tactics. I don’t want to over-emphasize this feeling of regret, though, because the games I listed as my favorites—Baldur’s Gate and Morrowind—use concurrent tactical combat and action combat, respectively, and they do it very well.

On the whole, I feel that the peak era for RPGs was about 1996 to 2002. It was an era in which graphics and sound were good enough to produce very immersive games, and when plot and dialogue development had reached maturity, but before game developers started to assume that everyone had Internet access all the time, wanted to share their gaming with friends, and cared about “achievements.”

I have no interest in multiplayer games, and I do sometimes worry that most of the market is being driven by MMORPGs, but as long as there’s a reasonable number of fans dedicated to classic, single-player RPGs, I think we’ll still see game developers taking advantage of that market. If nothing else, independent creators can step in. The recent success of numerous classic-RPG-style Kickstarter projects has shown there’s still a market for them.

11. Should younger gamers try getting into classic eighties CRPGs or are they too cumbersome for someone who didn't grow up with them? That is, is their value now mostly historical or have they stood the test of time?

To me, that’s like asking whether younger movie-lovers should care to watch Humphrey Bogart films or whether younger jazz lovers should bother listening to Sidney Bechet. Sure, there will always be movie watchers, iPod-owners, and gamers who think anything made more than five years ago is too old to bother with. These aren’t the readers I’m targeting with my blog, nor are they people whose opinions I particularly care about. So I wouldn’t presume to speak to “younger gamers” as a whole.

What I’d say is that gamers of any age with intelligence, taste, and discernment should definitely try the classics from this era. They might require a little more effort in terms of mapping and note-taking (and frankly even this goes away by the late 1990s), but they offer a more varied and challenging experience, and they lead to a different quality of satisfaction. Most important, for gamers who think of themselves as hobbyists and not just casual players, playing these older games can provide a sense of history and context for games released today.

12. Anything else you would like to say to Finnish gamers?

I’ve never had a chance to visit your country, and I hope I do someday. I hear it’s lovely and that Helsinki has a nice jazz scene.

In the coming years, I understand I’m going to encounter a few games—SpurguX, IVAN, and the Hurvana series—released only in Finnish, so I suppose I should get started on my linguistics now. Kiitos käsittelyssä!



125 comments:

  1. Excellent interview! Very glad to see the well-deserved publicity :)

    I would just like to comment that, between your most recent completed 1990s game and this game, it seems like *if* you feel a need to speed up on games, you could take your 6-hour rule (or at least a 10-hour variant), where after a certain amount of time you do a mid-game GIMLET-like review up to that point in time and if the game is in the bottom 1/3 of games in the past 5 years, you set it aside. That might let you get to the point where you are keeping pace...the sheer number of RPGs in each era is only going to increase, and the length in general of each RPG is also going to go up. I'm not saying it's necessary...I certainly have some that I'm looking forward to more than others, but at the same time there is something to be said for putting serious effort into every game. That said, after 6-10 hours, if the game still is sheer drudgery, maybe it's worth setting aside and coming back to later?

    I guess it comes down to this -- has there been any game so far that you thought was a real chore for the first 10 hours, but ended up turning into a great game?

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    1. Maybe not after 10 hours. There were a few games that I didn't like starting out but grew tolerable after three or four, which was the purpose of the six-hour rule to begin with.

      The bigger issue is that the purpose of my blog is not just for me to "have fun." To the extent possible, I want to document the contributions of each of these games to the overall genre. I can't do that if I bail as soon as I stop enjoying the games.

      During my first year, I hadn't really internalized this mission, and I did end up quitting on a lot of games I should have stuck with. In the more recent years, I've erred on the side of finishing games even if I don't like them, and the only games I've quit before winning have been games that I was 100% confident wouldn't offer any more variations to gameplay, or any more contributions to the story, between where I was and the end. I could quit Bloodwych with no misgivings because I knew the rest of the game was going to be exactly like what came before. In contrast, it would have been inconceivable for me to quit, say, Dragon Wars even if I'd hated it (which of course I didn't), because the story was continuing along with the game and I wanted to see it develop and end.

      DarkSpyre was more like Bloodwych, and I could have reasonably quit at the six-hour mark. I didn't because I didn't want to break my streak. Now that that's broken, it's more likely I'll quit a DarkSpyre-style game in the future. But in general, you should regard me not winning a game a very, very rare exception from this point forward.

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    2. That is true; I think we are all very grateful for you documenting the contributions as well. I guess it can be revised as follows: after 6 hours (or 10 hours or whatever the right number is), do you get a sense for what the contributions of the game to the genre is, or are you periodically surprised by a sub-par game? Based on the above, it sounds like that is not necessarily the case from your first year experience.

      It all ultimately comes down to how concerned you are about falling further and further "behind" in the sense that it takes more than a year to get through 1 year's RPGs. The number of RPGs per year is increasing, and at least for the popular RPGs, the game length is also increasing (not sure if that is true for the not-so-popular RPGs as well). If it's not a big deal, then press as usual; if it is, then *some* mechanism for sorting should probably be invoked more frequently.

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    3. I do not think falling behind "done" should be a concern. Why does it matter if the games never get current, or the gap widens over time? First of all, the early years were covered faster than 1/year, so the gap has shrunk over the life of the blog. What matters is striking the right balance between the blog and the rest of life, so that the blog can continue. A better way to measure progress would be # of games covered per real year. By this metric I think progress is going great. I worry more about games that are giant time sinks coming along: 100-200+ hour monstrosities. Rather than not finishing the "bad" games which take 20-30 hrs to complete, it might be worth having a 40 or 60 hour "checkpoint" which determines whether the time which will need to be invested is really worth the result.

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    4. Yeah, I like the idea of a checkpoint time. I'd say 25 hours would be a good one, as I've heard some of the new Final Fantasy games don't get good until 20 hours in. However, at 25 hours NO ONE can say you didn't give it a fair shake, and honest, if you can't get to the point in 25 hours is the game really going to change much in the next 25? That might cut down on the thing I noticed, which is a few hugely long games take most of your time.

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    5. I never understood the need to play a game for more than 50+ hours. I don't mind RE-playing a game and have that playing time chalk up to more than 200+ hours. In fact, kudos to games that can make me do that.

      Those 100+ hours RPGs are games that are full of fluff and time-wasting "Achievements". I remember completing FF6 on SNES with characters around Level 20-ish and was having a discussion with my "geek squad" in school.

      A geek from some other faction overheard me about my "worthless party of level 20s" while he spent hours grinding them up to level 99.

      It's little wonder that I shut him up for good after telling him that I'm not big enough a pu$$y to put off a fight and it will help if he could grow some balls and just finish the game already.

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  2. I tend to agree that CRPGs peaked around the time of Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, but I hold out some hope for kickstarter projects like Project Eternity and Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition games. Hopefully crowdfunding will allow game producers to ignore factors like the MMORPGization of the genre and bring back some of the best features of earlier games.

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    1. I also would agree with this, but IMHO games went downhill in quality due to 2 factors (which disproportionately affect RPGs, and the adventure game genre):

      (1) Development of games has become primarily a graphics endeavor
      (2) Gamers in general tend to want "short", straightforward games, where the objectives are well-known and a pace of achievement is set; as Chet has said, the level of thought gamers invest these days has certainly decreased.

      Let me clarify -- by "short", I don't mean the overall game is short, but rather that once some portion of the game is discovered, it is easy to achieve.

      For an FPS, or for some of the hybrid games like Mass Effect, the two meld together in a complementary fashion. For RPGs (and adventure games), these two are somewhat contradictory objectives. I just can't put my finger on it precisely, but it seems to me the more I play, the more I realize the Infinity Engine brought RPGs closer to this than any other game engine that I've played.

      -- In addition to what Chet has mentioned, consider, for example, King's Quest 1 in the adventure game genre. Gamers in those days would spend forever to make marginal progress figuring out a single puzzle, but still find enjoyment out of the game. In fact, if you played a walkthrough, you would get through the game in a couple of hours. Analogously, for RPGs, you had to take your time going through areas in detail, mentally immersing yourself in the gameplay. That sort of level of *mental* immersion has been sacrificed to some degree for visual immersion. In fact, this may in part be driven by Chet's recognition of the Internet affecting RPGs, since players tend to have access to solutions more readily available instead of investing the effort for self-exploration and self-discovery.

      That said, I must admit that I have *never* played any of the Elder Scrolls series, instead preferring to stick with classic series like Might & Magic, BG, IWD, PS:T, and Ultima...I have wanted to start one of the entries, but never have broken down and bought one. That said, I am sorely tempted to try out Morrowind now. I may be completely off base with my observation when it comes to The Elder Scrolls series...

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    2. Very good comments, with which I fully agree. And please at least TRY Morrowind.

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    3. The number 1 reason why things went downhill after the Golden Era of ca 1997-2002 was the release of the X-Box in November 2002.
      Suddenly we could no longer have large, open levels in first person view games due to the consoles being too weak to handle them. Just look at the tiny, cramped levels of Thief 3 and Deus Ex 2 compared to their prequels.
      Games also had to be dumbed down for the more casual/younger console gamers, and due to the clunkier controls.
      Basically the X-Box and Playstation 2 were creative straightjackets.

      Things were better when the computer and console gamers were two different segments, playing different kinds of games .

      Delete
    4. Am I the only one here who remembers the time when "Golden Age of CRPGs" meant 1992-94? It wasn't that long ago...

      Delete
    5. Having done a selective chronological playthrough of CRPGs from 1984 onward (currently in early 1995) I can safely say that the Golden Age of CRPGs was 1992-1993, but then it went almost dead in 1994. There was also a "Silver Age" from 1988-1989.

      The Golden Age of _PC Gaming_ was from ca 1997-2002, though. Earlier most of the really good games (IMO) were CRPGs, but in the late '90s there was quality games right across the board from First Person Shooters, to CRPGs, to Turn Based Strategy, to action RPGs. And I'm sure most of the Real Time Strategy classics are from that era as well.

      Delete
    6. 1994 might be less golden than the previous two years, but it still has more classic titles than most other years: RoA: Star Trail, UUW2, System Shock, TES: Arena, Dark Sun 2 (once patched), Nahlakh (more cult than classic, I know, but still) and first release of ADoM, not to mention the underdogs.

      Delete
    7. The underdog was indeed the cRPG of the year for me, namely Aethra Chronicles. Best indie game I've played; so good in fact that I wanted to replay it right away.
      As for the others, I haven't played Star Trail yet (still waiting for the remake of the first RoA game before I play it) but it's pretty much the only major CRPG of 1994 along with Arena.
      Arena felt too much like an Ultima Underworld where quality had been sacrificed for quantity.
      UUW2 was released early in that golden year of 1993.
      System Shock is not a CRPG, but definitely one of the best games of 1994.
      Dark Sun 2 is supposed to be weaker than the prequel (which I liked) but I was pissed off by the fact that importing characters means enemies have twice as much HP.
      Nahlakh sounded promising, but I was unable to locate a manual. The sequel is supposed to make it rather redundant, though, IIRC.

      Delete
    8. It's decided, then: Morrowind will be my reward to myself once I pass my PhD Qualifier exam!

      Delete
    9. "I haven't played Star Trail yet (still waiting for the remake of the first RoA game before I play it)" - why? It's not like it's going to be better than original, even if they get it into playable state eventually (which I doubt). Also, plotwise the three games a completely unconnected (with the exception of the ork uprising going in the background), so Star Trail won't spoil you Blade of Destiny in any way.

      The version of Nahlakh at HotUD.org has all the docs (manual, faq etc). I'm not sure Natuk would be easier to obtain - when I last checked Proudfoot was still trying to sell the cds. I'm not sure it's worth the fuss over the freely-available Nahlakh. Also it has an 8 characters party, while Natuk only for. Since you seem to like tactics-heavy games, you should definitely try it out.

      Delete
    10. Hey, the CD version of Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness came out in 1994, and it was a big improvement over the floppy version. Many players consider it the best game of the series. So 1994 wasn't a total loss. 1995, on the other hand... :-)

      Delete
    11. If I recall correctly, there were voice acting in QFG 4 on the CD Version. Been a long time since I played.

      I'm replaying the series now and I am roaming lost and aimlessly around the horrible, horrible streets of Shapeir.

      Seriously, Corey, what were you huffing? XD

      Delete
    12. 1995: Chrono Trigger was a waste? Really? (OK, you probably meant PC CRPGs...and I've got nothing to disprove it...other than possibly Swords of Xeen, which I have yet to play...currently working through World of Xeen, then doing Swords of Xeen right after.)

      Delete
  3. A part of me is inclined to defend tabletop role-playing games. As much as I love CRPGs, I think a tabletop game can beat any CRPG if you've got a good group. It's true, though, as you mention, that it depends on the people involved; it sounds like you had unfortunate experiences with bad players and/or a bad GM, but from some of what you've written I think you might really enjoy tabletop RPGs if you found the right people to play with.

    So on the one hand I kind of want to encourage you to give them another chance... but on the other hand, you've clearly got a lot on your plate as it is, and any time you put into tabletop games would mean less time for CRPGs and for your blog. So maybe it's for the best that you never got into tabletop games...

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure tabletop RPGs could be grand fun with the right sort of people, and that as an adult, I'm far more likely to encounter the right sort of people. But I'm not going to explore it for the reasons you say. Too little time left in life, and I already spend too much of it on frivolity.

      Delete
  4. I love weirdness and varietySeptember 29, 2013 at 8:51 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. There's a lot of Zelda 2 that has influenced later entries in the series, for all it gets knocked. (Towns, Dark Link, & Magic are the most prevalent.) I think what annoyed most people is the side-scrolling action, not the RPG elements. I personally thought it was great; it was a different experience but still fun. In fact it is probably the most difficult game I can brag of having defeated (once and only once...now I call it good if I make it to the last palace). It's sorta like how people dis Mario 2, but I was glad to have a refreshing change that was still very enjoyable to play. Besides, who could imagine Mario games without Shy Guy, Birdo, Bob-Ombs, and POW blocks? And what is more cool to a kid than killing the main boss by feeding it vegetables? I just wish they'd bring back that hopping bird, bomb carts, and birds dropping bob-ombs.

      Besides, think about it here -- Ganon+Minions and Bowser+Wart are so much smarter than Eggman and other baddies. Most game sequels these days lead you to think the villains' thought process is something like, "How are we going to defeat Link/Mario this time? I know! Let's try exactly the same approach, just use different levels!" On the other hand, with SMB2 and Zelda 2, you are thrown in a completely different direction, but still immersed in a world you can enjoy. Those are the smart villains -- they don't try the same thing to defeat the hero, they vary their strategy AND tactics!

      Delete
    2. I don't normally censor or delete comments because I don't like them, but screw it, it's my blog. Maybe I'm just having a bad day, maybe I'm implementing a new policy, but no one gets to show up on my blog and call me "racist" just because I aesthetically don't like anime. Weirdness, feel free to never comment again.

      Delete
    3. I love weirdness and varietySeptember 29, 2013 at 10:23 PM

      I really apologize: I was very stressed and annoyed today, and I got frustrated by the inconsistency while American games were becoming increasingly generic and unsatisfying. I read too much into lines, and you can probably see how they can sound bad, like, "It's not a racial thing. I have known and loved many Japanese people.
      ...
      These images make me physically ill...they are incontestably Japanese," and "that this game was a major commercial release in any country...is simply jaw-dropping."

      You should try more Japanese games: I recommend Metroid, which is more of an action game, but has the exploration, mystery, challenge, item collection and skill development of an R.P.G. Metroid 1 is a flawed game, but Super Metroid and the Metroid Primes are nearly perfect.

      Delete
    4. I think people in the comments of that blog entry pointed out that Rance was in fact NOT a major commercial release (as indeed just about no PC exclusive games were at the time) but rather a niche product given more exposure then it ever needed thanks to the internet.

      Delete
    5. From what I gather, you can only get the original Japanese version of the game in some shady computer stores in Akibahara and not meant for widespread distribution.

      It is pretty funny that it gained a greater cult following outside Japan after it was translated (badly) into Engrish.

      Delete
  5. Hello,

    i am one of the 10.000 people who got here from the article in "SPIEGEL online" and i just wanted to thank you for this great blog!

    I admire your endurance on this project. Reading your reviews is very enjoyable and i remember playing alot of these games myself back in the days.
    As a kid i couldnt finish most of the CRPGS and now as an adult i simply dont have the time, but reading about them in your blog is almost as nice as playing them myself! Well, the last part is actually not true - i guess i gotta install a few of my favorites again... :-)

    Anyway, please keep on playing and blogging!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, mein freund. I hope you keep reading.

      Delete
  6. Regarding the google docs, in the sharing settings you can change to public viewing (and the link should "magically" work) or view by link without providing the ability to comment.

    ReplyDelete
  7. IVAN is (by default?) in English.

    Nice interview!

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  8. "But in other ways, it turns my existing compulsion into something valuable—maybe not as valuable as getting my doctorate or learning how to play the piano, but still valuable."

    How many people own a doctorate? How many know how to play the piano? Now, how many are playing and reviewing all CRPG in such great details? I prefer to value activities and creations based on rarity and what you are doing here is, I believe, very worthwhile. And who knows, maybe someday, when video game history will have merged with the rest of art history, you will be one of those somewhat obscure sources student read in specialized classes.

    Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is, keep up the good work!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ale Lord. It's a nice perspective.

      Delete
  9. As a "anonym" reader from Germany, I was quite surprised that you got an Interview from Spiegel Online. They have a kind of "History of PnP" Section but this small section from their homepage is quite dead after some interesting entries :-)

    Anyway keep up the good work so i have something to read in my working breaks :-)

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  10. You should try out Notepad++ Chet; It works pretty much like Notepad, but without the suck: It can open Unix files properly, does full UTF8 and can do stuff like subtly highlight the line you are on and put in line numbers, and you can have multiple files open in tabs.

    Other then that; it is awesome you are getting some recognition. How does it feel to have print magazines and journalists interviewing you?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Flattering, of course, but I won't be REALLY excited until I appear in the NYT.

      In a weird way, I use Notepad specifically because it doesn't have many options. Something about a bare-bones text editor appeals to me, and I don't know why. But I've been trying to force myself to switch all my note-taking to Evernote.

      Delete
    2. I think it would not be out of place for NYT to do an interview with you. They have done an interview with the Dwarf Fortress guys, for example. And NYT has a pretty nice video game section.

      Delete
    3. Instead of notepad++ I would highly recommend ZuluPad for game notes. It is like a wiki/notepad merge that will link words. Once you get a hang of it, you can easily keep track of people places and quests.

      I was using it recently for my Ultima V play through and it was as fun keeping track of my game progress with it.

      Delete
    4. Oh really...

      you should use ed for windows >;)

      Delete
    5. I was trying to keep things simple for Chet. If he really wants something fancy, the only choice is emacs. Just look up org-mode. You can now do everything that evernote and Zulu can do, and more.

      Delete
    6. I just knew one of you emacs infidels would chime in. The only true path is through vi.

      Delete
    7. ......So, Chet, now that you have a bunch of readers, I can murder UbAh, right? You won't miss ONE reader, right?

      Delete
  11. - Came fron SPON ( "Spiegel Online") .
    - read in your blog
    - was speechless
    very very nice work. keep playing and do not forget to have fun while youre playing...

    regards
    olli

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  12. I gather that you have multiple monitors at home, whereas your laptop that you bring with you when you travel probably doesn't. But instead of having multiple monitors you could just have multiple workspaces. I'm sitting on a Linux computer right now, and I have this window on my leftmost workspace, some documentation on another and some documents I'm working on on another. And I just switch workspace with ctrl-alt-arrow. Don't tell me that Windows, or Microsoft, still hasn't invented workspaces? I'm using 3 workspaces right now, much like the picture on top of this post, only difference is that I switch from one view to another with ctr-alt-arrow, instead of turning my neck.

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  13. "The Thucydides of computer roleplaying games", I like it!

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    1. This should have been a reply to Ale Lord above, I don't know what happened...

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    2. Not to mention that Thucydides is not an obscure source :-)

      Delete
    3. I don't know about that, I don't think most people associate much with the name at all. Still, I won't dispute that there are much, much more obscure ancient authors, of course not.

      Delete
    4. As a college graduate who has taken several history and literature courses it's obscure enough for me!

      Delete
  14. If you ever get around to trying Japanese RPGs, given your cRPG roots, I'd suggest you try these ones first:

    Shin Megami Tensei III (PS2) - this is a game which has the traditional (for jRPG) end of the world scenario happening in the first 10 minutes of the game. The PC has to choose in which way the world will be reborn (or not rebuild it at all) generally doing a lot of very mean dungeon crawling with characters from various world mythologies (and I do mean various, from Goddess Athena to Deity Vishnu to Norn Verdandi to Archangel Gabriel), who you can co-opt to your party either by negotiating, bribing or fusing two or more smaller demons together.

    any of many Akitoshi Kawazu games - SaGa Frontier 2 on PS1, Romancing SaGa: Minstrel's Song or Unlimited Saga for PS2 should do nicely. Kawazu is generally considered to be the David Lynch of Japanese RPGs - games he design are extremely open-worlded and unlinear, governed by a myriad of various weird, illogical yet somehow almost working together systems and are generally hostile to the player.

    Any of Yasumi Matsuno games - Final Fantasy XII on PS2, Vagrant Story on PS1 or Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions on PSP. If Kawazu is like David Lynch, Matsuno's games can be likened to prog-rock - baroque game systems all working together, games generally set in medieval Europe world type with various political intrigues and sub-plots in background, no black/white distinction between conflict sides and a lot of attention to detail put into both world and character creation.

    Valkyrie Profile (either on PS1 or PSP) - extremely unorthodox melange of puzzle platformer, monster breeder and combo based arcade fighting system, set in a Norse mythology backdrop for some reason. You are playing as a Valkyrie, sent by Odin to Midgard to recruit fallen heroes for upcoming Ragnarok - leveling them up in various dungeons and sending them to Valhalla after you deem they are worthy.

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    1. Wow! I've never seen anyone recommend Unlimited Saga. Can't the number of people who've completed that game be counted on one hand?

      Delete
    2. I'm not saying it's a great game - Kawazu games rarely are anything but a trainwreck. They are such charming trainwrecks though, and the game is such an un-JRPG, Chet might actually like it.

      Delete
    3. Leaving the Final Fantasy aside, I'd say that the best "canonic" JRPGs to play for someone as "uninitiated" as Chet would be, in that order: Dragon Warrior, Earthbound, Chrono Trigger and Xenogears.
      Dragon Warrior - taking its' cues from Ultima - is basically the template for the entire genre and the clearest divergent point from Western RPGs. As such, it's pretty much *required* playing for anyone who's as serious about CRPGs as our benevolent Addict-in-Chief.
      The other three I suggest not only because they are among the most well-known and critically acclaimed games of the genre, but also because they are, each in their own way, *atypical* enough to serve as a comment on JRPGs as a whole, and should suffice someone with no experience enough substance to figure out what it's all about, so to speak.
      Plus, they all offer what Chet's most looking for: Character progression and an open world - much more so than many other JRPGs. Heck, Chrono Trigger even features a non-linear storyline heavily influenced by player actions, which is *really* rare for JRPGs.

      Delete
    4. I don't know that I'd consider any of those games (Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears) particularly nonlinear, especially by CRPG standards. Honestly, of the three, only Chrono Trigger really seems like a must-play, and even it has the problem that FF6 comes from the same company and period and is just a bit better.

      As for the larger topic, he's already committed to playing DQ1/DW1 and FF1, so we'll see how those go. Honestly, I really wouldn't want to see him play a lot of games in the genre. The rare Western-style console RPG (like Rings of Power) would seem fitting, as well as a few particularly notable games. The problem is that we'll all disagree on the latter and voting would just lead to every FF game being on the list.

      Regarding the OP's list, FF Tactics is an amazing game, but I think it's far afield enough to be questionable for the website. Vagrant Story is fantastic, and it might be fitting. Valkyrie Profile.. I played some of. I can't really comment too strongly on it. The Shin Megami Tensei games I've never played, so I have even less to offer. The SaGa games might fit, if only because they tend to be a bit more Western in approach than their peers.

      Delete
    5. While it's true that FF Tactics is more of a tactical game in vein of X-COM: UFO Defense or Jagged Alliance, there's enough of RPG elements for me to consider recommending it - I mean, the Gold Box RPG series is also very tactical if Chet's writeups are to be believed. :)
      Vagrant Story would fit blog's profile better, true.

      Delete
    6. I think Vagrant Story would irritate Chet; combat is based largely on actively responding to attacks.

      Delete
    7. It's been a long time since I played Vagrant Story, but I seem to remember equipment being the heart of the game. Sure, there's an active component to the combat, but that's pretty much just a rhythm element. I remember spending most of my time worrying about finding equipment, upgrading it, figuring out what to specialize in, etc.

      Delete
    8. Yeah, Vagrant Story has Combo System that allows you to basically kill off any enemies in a single round IF your weapon's durability lasts longer that the enemy's HP.

      It's probably worthwhile to score a few hits but not when the subsequent hits are scoring less than a quarter of your initial blow... unless the enemy does an insane amount of damage.

      Delete
    9. Wait, wait. If we get him to play FF:T then we can make him play OGRE BATTLE! We don't have to worry about spoilers then: We can tell him ALL about Chaos Frame, and he STILL won't be able to get the good ending, since it is damn near IMPOSSIBLE. /rant

      Delete
  15. I'm another one of all those Germans who stumbled upon your blog via the Spiegel Online article. And I cannot help but add to all the flattery: Your blog really does make for some fascinating reading. The Bard's Tale, on my best friend's Amstrad CPC (called Schneider CPC here in Germany), was the very first video game I *seriously* played, back in the late 80s (I must have been seven or eight), and I've been an unapologetic lover of CRPGs ever since.
    I find your treatises on the more obscure games the most fascinating; all those game I might have some faint memory of, reading about them in zines most likely, but never played myself; either because they weren't available, or not available in *German*, seeing how I only reached anything even resembling a comprehension of the English language in the mid-90s or so.

    After all, everyone and their grandmothers remembers the Ultimas, the Wizardrys, the Wastelands - but who remembers delightfully strange shit like Drakkhen or Bloodwych? Your contribution really is invaluable, and I sincerly hope you keep on doing this as long as you can. I'll be along for the ride from now on :)

    P.S.: You write that you might now have more European readers than American ones - and I think in a way, that makes *sense* (not to be nationalistic or anything). After all, up until what is soon to be the old generation of consoles came around (i.e., ~2005), Home Computers were by and large the dominant gaming machines in Europe, while America - despite the Golden Age of PC Gaming that was the 90s - has always been more inclined towards consoles.

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    1. I'm glad to have you with us, Partisan. I didn't know that consoles lagged in popularity in Europe, so thanks for that information.

      Delete
    2. In fact, consoles took of in Europe, after the introduction, of the Sega Genesis (Sega Megadrive in Europe), in the late 80's / early 90's. Until that time, low cost 8bit home computers,
      (mainly of British design with a Z80 microprocessor, like the legendary Sinclair Spectrum, or the more advanced Amstrad CPC/Schneider CPC), were very popular. Even a Commodore 64 was consindered , a very expensive machine, and was not very popular.

      Delete
    3. It's more like 'up until Sony tried with PS1, Europe was largely ignored by console makers'.

      Delete
    4. @Captain Kal&Knurek:
      It's true that consoles became more popular in Europe when the 4th generation hit the market (there was a HUGE marketing war between Sega and Nintendo after the SNES was introduced), and that the publishers generally became less dickish (mostly thanks to Sony, and Nintendo's waning paternalism) at the time the fifth generation came around.(And it turned out that, yes, Europeans *also* like RPGS, thankyouverymuch.)

      But up until the early-to-mid 'aughts, the three most important European markets (The UK, France and Germany) all had people with home computers as their largest user base - "user base" as in "people who pay money for video games". And by then, "home computer" of course meant "PC", ever since the Amiga met its' quick demise in '93/'94.

      Delete
    5. Also, @Captain Kal: Even though the more obscure home computers weren't unheard of on the continent - like my best friend's aforementioned Schneider CPC - their success was mostly limited to the UK. The rest of Europe - *especially* Germany - was C= Country through and through.

      Concurrently, the Apple II in all it's iterations was mostly an American machine.

      Delete
    6. The CPC wasn't that big in the UK, The ZX spectrum was the dominant 8-bit micro for a long time, with the C64 in second.
      It sold better in France overall.

      But that's the nice thing about the european market - It had variety. Cheap development and medium costs made even a 10-20% format market viable at a national level. The heavily price-fixed cartridge format (Nintendo being the worst offender) required an economy of scale to return a profit, and a substantial financial investment.

      Short version;- HCs and PCs were (and still are) more indie friendly than the consoles.

      Delete
  16. Hello Addict,

    all i can say is that this is epic! I hope you can keep this thing going until you played them ALL!

    Greetings from Germany

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  17. I'd suggest not wasting much time on SpurguX - and definitely not learning Finnish just for its sake. It was fun when I was twelve, but from a grown-up perspective I can say it's a not very remarkable Rogue clone and quite full of juvenile humor, based on bad and often offensive stereotypes. The tone of the game can be seen from its name (spurgu is Finnish slang term for a homeless person who does nothing but drink cheap booze) and from the fact that the McGuffin of the game is a rumored bottle of cognac at level 50.

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    Replies
    1. I appreciate the intel. I've technically already bypassed it and it's on my "alternate" list, so it probably won't come up any time soon.

      Delete
  18. The majority of Final Fantasy games are indeed extremely linear (this is especially true very early on in the series when sticking in lots of sidequests and such required memory the NES just didn't have, whereas PCs did). That said, Final Fantasy XII for the PS2 is famous for being one of the most deep and sidequest-filled JRPGs ever made. Which still puts it near the bottom end of what WRPGs typically accomplish, but it's batting in the same league and you might consider giving it a shot. You can just play through the whole main plot straight and the game is perfectly fine like that, but within an hour or two of starting you can also just wander if in a random direction and sooner or later you will hit interesting little side-plots and sub-quests. They do a spectacular job of building the setting. There is no character creation and roleplaying choices are, so far as I know, completely non-existent, but despite that I think FF XII would actually do really well on all the other parts of your GIMLET.

    You mention that you tried one of the more recent Final Fantasies. If you're referring to Final Fantasy XIII on the PS3, this game is condemned /even by JRPG fans/ for being far, far too linear. For the first 3/4s of gameplay there is absolutely nothing you can do but walk down what is almost a perfectly straight corridor, fight the bad guys, and occasionally solve a simple puzzle. It's seriously awful. Also awful: The characters in that game. Man, that was such a disappointment. It opens with one of Square's usual spectacular cut scenes, Lightning and Sahz have some nice banter, and it seems like it's setting up a pretty cool Evil Empire plot. Not the most original thing, but Square has a track record for pretty spectacular execution of what is basically the plot of Star Wars retread probably five or six times by now. Unfortunately, within five hours the game had gotten monotonous and the plot turned out to be less "Evil Empire," and the character interactions Square relies on overwhelmingly to sell their plots is godawful. Characters are one-note and irritating.

    That kind of turned into a rant. Point here is, FF XIII is terrible. FF XII is not my favorite personally, but it is good and you would probably like it. The other Final Fantasies are most likely not to your taste. XI and XIV are MMOs regardless, which rules them out automatically anyway.

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    1. I honestly don't know what number I tried. I was playing a couple of characters on top of some giant moving train or something in a futuristic-looking world with literally no explanation or back story. I only lasted about 20 minutes.

      Delete
    2. You're probably thinking of 7, which is generally pretty well loved even if most admit it's a bit overrated.

      Also, let me contra Maldeus by saying that I rather despise FF 12, even if I'll allow that it's probably better than 13. I can't say that for sure, as I certainly didn't play 13 after playing 12. I'll admit that 12 gets a lot of respect, but I have absolutely no clue why. It's dreadful.

      Delete
    3. I stopped after FF7 because it was bad enough to see a scrawny kid holding a gigantic and totally unbalanced cleaver as a weapon and Squaresoft (before they bought over Enix) had to 1-up themselves by making $#%&ing gun-blades... Seriously, how badly do these emo characters wish to kill themselves?

      Delete
    4. If the train you're talking about looked roughly like this: http://application.denofgeek.com/pics/games/reviews/ff13a.jpg

      Then that's FF XIII. Which actually came with a big huge opening cut scene that teased at an awesome plot (which it did not deliver), so I'm guessing you might be talking about this:

      http://firsthour.net/screenshots/final-fantasy-7/final-fantasy-7-cloud-train-jump-fmv.jpg

      Which is from FF VII. FF VII is considered by many to be the greatest Final Fantasy ever made, but it wouldn't do very well on a GIMLET.

      @Killias2: I'm genuinely curious as to /why/ you disliked FF XII. Particularly in the realm of informing Chester as to whether or not he'd like to play it, just declaring that you don't like it does not especially contribute much to the conversation.

      Delete
    5. Yes, it was that first one. I knew it couldn't have been VII; it was too recent.

      Delete
    6. On the other hand there are only what, 15 Final Fantasy games? Less if we drop out all the remakes and MMOs?

      Delete
    7. If you're counting remakes, there's something like thirty Final Fantasy games, but if you drop the remakes and MMOs it gets you up to 12 mainline games, five or six spin-offs of individual FF games (like X-2 and all the sequels to XIII they're making), and a similar number of games in various spin-off series like Tactics and Crystal Chronicles, so about two dozen total. A fair chunk. Someone could make a list-based video game compulsion blog of their very own just hunting down Final Fantasy games and you'd squeeze a solid year or two out of it.

      Delete
  19. As someone who is playing through Morrowind for the first time right now, I have to admit that I don't see what all the appeal is. In fact, after playing for a few hours I had to raise my eyebrows whenever anyone said that newer Elder Scrolls games are "dumbing down", because it seems to me like they've improved nearly every aspect of the series since then.

    Morrowind is a more original location than Skyrim, definitely, but it doesn't feel as real or alive because most of the NPCs just repeat the same exact things, and shuffle around in one spot, not to mention they all look alike. Factions react even less to your presence than in Skyrim, the only thing I see affected by being part of a different faction in Morrowind is the disposition bar, and that's easy enough to change with some gold, whereas in Skyrim you get different responses from the Stormcloaks and Imperials even based on what clothes you wear.

    And let's not even get started on how clunky and archaic the combat in Morrowind is. Even when it was released we had games like Arx Fatalis that offered far superior spell casting and melee from a first person perspective.

    I enjoy the game, I really do, and it's cool if you or whoever thinks that it's the best game in the series, but from what I've experienced much of that seems to be based on nostalgia.

    Anyway, I apologize if that rant seemed a bit haphazard, I typed it up rather quickly and can always clarify things later.

    -BelatedGamer

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    1. Ah! Blasphemy. My thoughts:

      1. Yes, elements of combat are more primitive in Morrowind, but have you tried out throwing stars and knives?

      2. NPCs don't have any less dialogue than in Skyrim. The difference is that in addition to quest-specific dialogue, each NPC can be asked about a number of other topics. It's not true that they all say the same thing. Different NPC classes say different things, and you learn a lot more lore from NPCs in Morrowind than the later games.

      3. No quest markers or quest logs. You actually have to think, search, and figure things out.

      4. Also not true that the factions don't react to you in different ways. Try wearing some looted Buoyant Armiger armor around Buoyant Armigers. I grant you there is perhaps a little less.

      5. I particularly like the equipment in the game--how you have pauldrons and leggings and such as separate armor pieces.

      You gloss over a lot with "more original location." It's one of the most original locations developed for a CRPG, with giant mushrooms and houses made out of crab shells. Almost all of the creatures in the game are found in literally no other RPG. The utter FOREIGNNESS that I feel when I approach a Daedric ruin gives me chills, as does the sounds of machinery grinding away in Dwemer ruins.

      Screw it. I'm playing Morrowind next.

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    2. Oh, and LEVITATION. That's all I'm saying.

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    3. I spent the entirety of the game jumping while moving between places to level up.

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    4. Original locations? Chet, did you miss out playing Planescape: Torment?

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    5. It's amusing to watch how tastes shift over time. I remeber when Morrowind came out it was a huge disappointment to Daggerfall fans (much smaller world, much less freedom, dumbed down mechanics). And now it's a classic ;)

      @Kenny. PST's setting may look more bizarre, but in fact it only combines known fantasy tropes in a clever way, while Morrowind builds a whole new ecology and culture from scratch. It's not that it's trope-free of course, but much less so.

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    6. [okaaaaaay, seems like my comment got eaten by a grue...]

      It's amusing to see how attitudes on games shift over time. I remember Morrowind being a huge disappointment to Daggerfall fans: much smaller world, much less freedom, dumbed down mechanics. And now look - it's a classic ;)

      @Kenny: PST's setting may seem more bizarre, but it fact it's mostly a patchwork of cleverly subverted fantasy tropes. Whereas Morrowind build a whole new ecology and culture from scratch. It's not completely trope-free of course, but much less so.

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    7. Kenny, surely "one of the most original locations" doesn't preclude others from being in the top few percentage points, too.

      VK, my understanding is that DaggerfallM features a huge randomly-generated world, which doesn't quite appeal to me as much as a huge world that has been carefully designed. Nonetheless, it's possible that when I play Daggerfall, I'll find it even more compelling than Morrowind.

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    8. Other mechanical differences that make me prefer Morrowind:

      1. The old skill system with the miscellaneous skills.
      2. Magicka was a very precious resource. Many at the time complained that magic classes were not as nicely balanced, but playing a magic character presented a nice challenge for an experienced player.
      3. Everyone pretty much hated Oblivion's auto-leveling scheme, right? In Morrowind, progress has meaning and danger lurks everywhere.
      4. Fast travel is a pay-to-use privilege with in-world justification. Otherwise you have to be prepared for the random combats and so on.
      5. Many more factions, some of them quite obscure, and many of which take some work to find.
      6.Vampirism was in the game, but required some real exploration to discover. It was more of an easter egg than a touted feature.
      7. Unlike Oblivion, where Bethesda went to this notion that you should be able to join any faction, faction membership means something. There are skill requirements that force you into having a character build that makes some kind of sense for the faction. There's a conflict between the fighters' and thieves' guilds that forces a player to choose ideologically between them, unless they like to save scum or have a frighteningly high pickpocket skill. Players are expected to make choices in a given playthrough, rather than experiencing all the content.

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    9. IIRC Daggerfall's gameworld is not randomly generated in the same sense as, for example, NetHack. It's just when it was designed, the bulk of the terrain was generated and then key areas were added manually on top of it. But it doesn't change from game to game or anything.
      Morrowind's gameworld certainly has tons more character, I'm not going to dispute that. But Daggerfall on the other hand has much more gameplay features. For example, it's the only RPG known to me where you can defend yourself in court when arrested for some crime (and succeed too). Also the storyline gives you much more freedom, with six possible endings depending on who you side with. So I eagerly await your take on it ;)

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    10. Morrowind has one critical flaw in my opinion. It's is a beautiful world, but it's totally static. Every bleeping thing in the game revolves around the player character; there is no intereaction whatsover between any other entities in the game. NPCs stay put, and nothing, not even guards, ever attack anything but the player character.
      Apart from that I think Morrowind is superior to Oblivion in every respect, but the flaw is so huge that I actually have come to prefer Oblivion, with its dynamic gameworld and emergent gameplay thanks to Radiant AI (although not nearly as radiant as the lying hype machine of Bethesda would have us believe) and faction wars.
      At least in Oblivion you can mod away its critical flaw: the level scaling.

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    11. "3. No quest markers or quest logs. You actually have to think, search, and figure things out."

      Damn! I hated that! I bought "Morrowind Prophecies", just for the maps.

      "It's one of the most original locations developed for a CRPG, with giant mushrooms and houses made out of crab shells. Almost all of the creatures in the game are found in literally no other RPG. The utter FOREIGNNESS that I feel when I approach a Daedric ruin gives me chills, as does the sounds of machinery grinding away in Dwemer ruins."

      Or the first time you see the ash storms coming from the Red Mountain, or the Red Mountain itself. And the music is great

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    12. I couldn't have said it better than Petrus; I can't truly get involved in a games world unless it gives me the illusion it's a real dynamic place, and Morrowind's illusion is paper thin. I suppose it depends on what you want out of an RPG. This is probably why I love Ultima 5 but can barely get through 4.

      Also someone mentioned the fact that you had to have certain skills when joining guilds, which I personally disagree with. Many people don't have time to run multiple characters through the game, so I think it's a good thing they have the opportunity to get as close to 100% as possible with a single character. And if you think the random skill checks break immersion, maybe you shouldn't have your warrior join the Mage's Guild. Just my two cents.

      As for levitation; Might and Magic 6 let me fly AND use lazer guns, so I was already spoiled before Morrowind ;)

      -BelatedGamer

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    13. But are there any pre-2003 games that have truely dynamic world (with the exception of Ultimas of course)? I can't think of one.

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    14. @VK i highly recommend "Gothic" 1 & 2 - those were released pre 2003 and had the most "alive" gameworld i experienced so far!

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    15. I don't know about Gothics. They had some dynamic elements like NPC timetables as their main selling point but that's about it. On the other hand, the gameworld was always so small and so tightly tied to the main plot, I never got the sense of inhabiting the place.

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    16. I said "the illusion of a real dynamic place", which Gothic definitely gets down, even if there isn't as much to it as appears at first. Other games include Pirates!, Sword of the Samurai (which I still consider an RPG), System Shock 2, the earlier Elder Scrolls games, and probably plenty of others that I can't think of off the top of my head.

      -BelatedGamer

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    17. 3. No quest markers or quest logs. You actually have to think, search, and figure things out.

      Right, so I'm screwed if I don't play the game all in one go, or if I want to play it while not in the same location as I left off (ie if I don't have that notebook with me). That or I have to break my stride by alt-tabbing to another window. Screw that, I just want to play the damn game. I take note in class and maintain a lab notebook at work: I play games to relax, not to relive my day job.

      4. Fast travel is a pay-to-use privilege with in-world justification. Otherwise you have to be prepared for the random combats and so on.

      So if I want to backtrack I have to grind for the privilege, or do a bunch of boring, meaninless fights on the way? Why would I want a game to bore me? As least in Zelda you quickly learned that if you needed to travel at night you could ride Epona or run past the random, pointless fights in the main field, whereas in Elder Scrolls games I'm betting they are fast enough to run you down.

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    18. @Canageek, Unlike Skyrim Morrowind has a very detailed (if not very convenient to browse through) journal, which records every quest stage and everything you've been told by NPCs, so you have absolutely no need to take notes manually.

      You don't really need to backtrack too - most of dungeons are fairly small. And even if you do, there are lots of ways to avoid combat on the way: teleportation magic, alternative routes (through actobatics, levitation, waterwalking etc), stealth. Not to mention that there aren't exactly hordes of enemies in the wilderness, and nearly all of them are wildlife, which behave quite naturally i.e. they don't attack you if you don't get too close.

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    19. I do think Morrowind's journal is miles beyond anything Skyrim had, but a way to quickly find the things you're looking for would be a very welcome addition.

      Personally, I like quick travel. I don't use it often, but I would like having the option to use it if it's all that stands between me and fifteen minutes of killing cliffracers.

      -BelatedGamer

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    20. I used to play Morrowind with a notebook beside me where I'd write down the name of the quest and the journal page number on which I could find more information. It was the only way to use the journal effectively after the first few hours.

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  20. Congrats on the interview!
    I would suggest trying tabletop gaming again, with a group of friends. It's as much a social activity as a game that way. I've been playing crpgs, mmos, and tabletopping for years, and all my best stories are tabletop-based. (zombie veggies, paladin-riding, drugging the depressed druid, managing to survive the ICBM clone delivery via uncontrolled teleport, you get the idea)
    I love crpgs and mmos for these incredible worlds I can explore, but for plot and character development, give me a good DM and a bunch of dice. Plus, I have a Voldemort lunchbox full of dice, I need to use them for something, right?
    I've been reading for ages, but this may be my first comment. I'm really enjoying your saga and look forward to more!

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  21. Greetings,
    i am glad that i am not the only person who plays his games in...hm....lets say...in a very "special" order.

    A few Years ago i was reading some of my old Pc-Mags and saw that i missed some good games. And i could not decide which i should choose first.
    So i started in the late 80´s and play all the Games that interests me (PConly) in chronological order. Currently i reached 1995 (just finished Albion and starting Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness).
    You cant imagine the fun when i read the Article at Spiegel Online that someone does the same (for RPGs) and also posts his experiences in his blog. So you have found a new reader ;)

    Sorry if my english is not soooooo good, but i think its understandable

    Salute

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  22. Somehow (writing style?) I had the impression that you are from the academic community. Cool interviews anyway!

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  23. Herr Addict, if you should play other games than RPGs as part of your project, which games from before 1990 do you zink you would have played?

    Greetings from Peter from Germany.

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    1. Glad to have you with us, Peter, but I can't begin to answer the question. I don't know enough about the non-RPG market from the 1980s.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Oops, EDIT of my post:

      There is an Adventure Gamer version of CRPG Addict, his website is here: http://advgamer.blogspot.com/2011/11/adventure-gamer-whats-this-blog-all.html

      Between adventure games and RPGs, that comprises most of the notable pre-1990s games.

      Delete
    4. "Herr Addict, if you should play other games than RPGs as part of your project, which games from before 1990 do you zink you would have played?"

      Das ist einer der schönsten Tippfehler, dass ich je gesehen habe. :D

      (In English: that's one of the most wonderful typos I've ever seen.)

      Delete
    5. Sorry, that should've been "...was ich je gesehen habe".

      Delete
    6. Sam Butler: I don't know about that. There were a lot of odd games such as Elite, and a ton of strategy games coming out. Not to mention the golden era of Shoot 'em Up (Shmups), platformers and a few other ones I am forgetting.

      Delete
    7. Canageek: That is true -- so it probably isn't complete still, I stand corrected. That said, I think Adventure Game and CRPG are the two biggest genres from the 1980s for PC gaming...it isn't all-inclusive, but a lot of the other genres didn't flourish in popularity until the 1990s.

      As a matter of fact, I've been trying for a long time to find the game Valor, which I remember playing growing up on my dad's Osborne using 5 1/4" floppies. It was a shooter using the extended ASCII character set extensively, but had things like warp points, levels, etc. (I was lucky my dad worked in the computer industry before it was as popular...even though I'm only 33, I still remember a lot of the middle and later 1980s games...and even a couple from early on!) I can't find mention of the game Valor these days, though...partially because it is a hard name to Google, and partially because this was in the days of monochrome (meaning GREEN and black) screens and 5.25" low density disks with no hard drive.

      So, yes, point taken, I certainly overstated. That said, adventure games were probably the largest other game genre besides CRPGs.

      Delete
    8. "zink", yeah that's probably how most of us germans would pronounce ist ;-) A shame we lost the th, it was still there in ancient german tribal languages.

      Delete
    9. @PK Thunder:
      Correction - it should be "...den ich je gesehen habe." Sorry ;)

      Delete
  24. Chet, I am blaming you for all of the hours that I am going to dump into Morrowind. Finished up my qualifier yesterday, and my reward was Morrowind...and so far, really enjoying it after the 2 hours...and I'm just getting started!

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    1. OK, I am finding some definite similarities between Morrowind and Darklands! You might finally find out where The Elder Scrolls series got their inspiration when you get to that 1992 gem. In fact, I saw from the Wikipedia article this statement:

      "The main inspiration for The Elder Scrolls comes from games like Ultima Underworld, Darklands, and Legends of Valour. And of course, D&D." -- from an IGN interview of Todd Howard, July 9, 2009

      I admit, I have not played Legends of Valour, although now I am interested in that one, too...also from 1992.

      Delete
    2. Great! That's only a couple years away.

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    3. Legends of Valour is a strange thing to draw inspiration from. It's a very bland game that aimed to be a sort of UUW-killer and failed on all counts. Though now that it was mentioned I can see that the structure of cities in TES:Arena was kinda copied from LoV. Only TES somehow made it work.

      Delete
  25. Congrats to the interviews!
    I've first heard of you from derStandard, since them I read all your posts.

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  26. Read the Pelit interview... gonna be paying attention to your blog from now on. Its very interesting, after all I'm a die hard rpg fan too :)

    Btw I totally understand your "Top 2 RPG choices", but for me personally Baldur's Gate 2 was much more enjoyable. I remember spending like 300 hours on it when it first came years ago... sweet memories.

    I wish you strength for you ambitious quest of playing all the RPG!
    -RPG fan from Finland.

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  27. Greetings

    I also found your blog through Pelit interview, got interested and read it all from the beginning. For the starters, I´d like to thank you for providing me some great reading: man, I´ve enjoyed some of your posts. Provided, more when the game has been familiar, but you´ve given pretty good viewpoints to games I managed to miss back then.

    I´m an author myself and I love CRPG´s. Sadly I can´t support myself by writing yet, so I have a menial job. Which means limited time between the stuff I wanna do and the stuff I have to do.

    Anyway, I remember mapping in games. I remember joyfully sailing through things that would be horrible torture today. That was then. I admit. I´m degenerated. When you say "one save only", these days I groan. I couldn´t do it today. But I loved it then.

    Still I agree with you in many things: f.e. Morrowind being the best Elder Scrolls game. Such a variety and originality ain´t present in many games released after it. Loved BG´s, too. Tough nut to compare them.



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    Replies
    1. It's good to hear from you. What I found "horrible torture" back in the day was swapping disks and waiting for things to load, so I'm glad that's all gone. I still find mapping fun.

      While I hate to reload and lose hours of progress, I love the sense of tension and danger that a limited-reloading policy brings to the game.

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  28. Pelit reader here. I've now read every post from the beginning up to this point and it's been an enlightening journey. I'm glad that you've established a consistent and informative style for your posts, although I'm personally not too keen on the very detailed plot exposition bits which are basically a conga line of spoilers if it's a game in which I'm interested enough to play myself, or alternatively a very long and arduous read if it's a game I don't much care about story-wise. On the other hand, someone has to write about it, and a playthrough journal is half the point anyway.

    Good job, and may you never run out of games to blog about.

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    1. Then i'm slow... I had to read nearly a full year to get to this point. (incl. all comments) But on the other hand: I have now still a year to read and don't look forward to the point where i have to wait for a posting. ;-)

      Keep up the great work!

      Delete
  29. Here is CRPG Addict interview on croatian

    http://www.goodgame.hr/gg-interview-crpg-addict/

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