Saturday, October 12, 2013

Wizardry VI: I Capture the Castle

I was apparently wrong that this game gives no credit to the developers of the series.

Both Wizardry and Dungeon Master pioneered the dungeon crawl, but both suffer from a certain feeling of artificiality. Their dungeons are abstractions rather than real places: perfectly symmetrical, impossibly deep into the earth, with layouts that would make little sense even if it was possible to build them. Even the Gold Box games, which do a great job with world-building, have dungeons that feel overly constructed and unrealistic in their perfect 16 x 16 layouts.

Wizardry VI bucks this trend by offering an indoor area (at least during the opening) that feels like the ruins of a real place. The castle is of sensible size, with particular rooms--throne room, guard rooms, kitchen--in sensible locations. It has four small turrets in the corners, a barracks for the guards, and a belfry.

The first two options seem to produce endless encounters with bats, which I suppose is good for grinding.

We're still in the area of graphical minimalism, so we don't actually see the belfry rope or bell, the armory dummy, or the piles of rotted barrels. But the developers have made the castle come alive with solid in-game textual descriptions, at least as good as in the Gold Box games (and without requiring an external document). And while some of the puzzles and NPCs I've encountered have been a little silly, I was remembering Wizardry V and bracing myself for characters like the Duck of Sparks and Lord Hienmitey, so in that sense just a "little" silly is a significant improvement.

A few examples of the game's welcome area descriptions:

 

The game started me with a vague goal--go into the abandoned castle and see what's what--and hasn't gotten any clearer, though the unstated goal in this phase simply seems to be finding ways to open up areas and continue exploring. At this point, I've mapped about a dozen closed and locked metal doors that require some key or switch to circumvent.

My worst enemy.

Most of the foes in the castle have been vermin, including giant rats, bats, and hostile vines, but there are some inhabitants, too. There appears to be some kind of thieves' guild in the basement that's looking for a password to enter. A nearby NPC named Queequeg says he has the password, but he'll only reveal it if I give him the location of some buried treasure, which I  haven't yet found.

Queequeg, who hangs out in a dilapidated barracks, introduced me to the game's approach to NPCs. I've only encountered two so far, but both were capable of both conversation and trading. The conversations are similar to the system introduced in Wizardry V, by which you can type full sentences. The manual warns you to actually type full sentences and not just keywords, and even to make sure to put a question mark at the end of questions, but I haven't really noticed any difference between typing WHAT IS THE PASSWORD? and PASSWORD. Nonetheless, in the spirit of role-playing, I've been trying to pretend I'm having actual conversations. Here's one with Queequeg after I'd explored a bit of the dungeon.


M: Hello
Q: How may I be of service?
M: Do you have anything to trade?
Q: Possibly...
M: What do you have?
Q: What are you looking for?
M: Weapons, mostly.
Q: You can find items in the dungeon.
M: What dungeon?
Q: Bane of the Cosmic Forge
M: What is this "Captain's Den?"
Q: The local seedy hangout of ill-repute!
M: Who is the Captain?
Q: A rather ominous fellow.
M: Ominous in what way?
Q: I don't know about that.
M: Do you know the password?
Q: I'll tell you the password, but first I need information.
M: What kind of information?
Q: Where did the captain bury his treasure chest?
M: How am I supposed to know?
Q: No buried treasure, no password!
M: Tell me more about the chest.
Q: The captain buried a treasure chest somewhere far away!
M: I need a drink.
Q: Find a fountain.
M: You're a jerk.
Q: That's your opinion.
M: Bye

I'm not saying it passes the Turing Test, but it's pretty good. For fun, I decided to repeat the same conversation with Cleverbot, the latest in conversation-based artificial intelligence, and I got this.

M: Hello
C: How are you?
M: Do you have anything to trade?
C: I wonder if simon larsson likes me.
M: What is the "Captain's Den"?
C: An exam to get into grad school, but that is not what I am taking.
M: Do you know the password?
C:  To what?
M: To the Captain's Den.
C: You are not making sense.
M: Oh, and like you are.
C: Fair enough.

Queequeg also had a little store with him, and I bought some armor upgrades, though I didn't have quite enough money for his potions or magic items. As numerous commenters have noted, NPC inventories reset with every new conversation.


I'm still getting a handle on equipment. Armor is easy to figure out, since "assaying" it while in inventory tells you its protective value. Weapons don't automatically tell you their damage; I understand this comes later with the "identify" spell. The process of trading items among characters (or even switching from character to character) is a bit annoying, and there's an exhausting set of rules about which races, classes, and sexes can handle which equipment, some of them a little inconsistent. My Faerie bard, for instance, couldn't wear the cloth pants and shirt that she started with. I assumed that, being a tiny little thing, she couldn't wear regular armor or clothes, and was thus surprised when she was later able to wear a suede doublet and pants.

Nysra views her sword and its capabilities. Only fighters, valkyries, and lords can wield it.

I've found only a handful of magic items so far: a Sword of Striking, which I gave to my valkyrie; some kind of enchanted shield that disappeared after I "invoked" it (this "invoking" thing first appeared in Wizardry IV, I think, and I still have no idea what it's about), and an Amulet of Life that casts resurrection.

One nice addition to this series is the appearance of "extended" melee weapons--polearms and other weapons that allow characters to attack from the rear three positions. Between those and some missile weapons, all of my characters are able to attack in a combat round, which is particularly nice when you have an easy group of foes and just want to tear through the combat options. Another good addition is the ability to dual-wield certain weapons, giving an extra attack each round.

Most groups of foes stopped being easy after the main castle level. I was losing a character or two in about one-third of my combats for the first few hours of the game, a situation that--although against the spirit of my rules--generally caused me to reload because I didn't have any resurrection alternatives (and it doesn't appear that you can replace party members once you're already in the dungeon) (Later edit: I'm wrong about this. I just missed an option). The best thing keeping me alive was the bard's instrument-playing ability, which puts groups enemies to sleep.


My survival ratio improved as increased as I went up a few levels, especially once several of my characters got "Heal Wounds."

The screen that comes up after full character death.

Leveling in the game is an interesting process. As soon as you cross the threshold, you're jerked to a screen in which the game automatically levels you up. The character's attribute scores increase by a few points (randomly, it seems), and sometimes you get points to assign to skills. Whether you get any points, and how many you get, seem to be random. A couple of times, I didn't save after leveling, had to reload, leveled again, and got completely different results. Finally, for spellcasters you get to choose a new spell. As I write this, my characters are all Level 4 or 5.

Assigning skills while leveling up.

Some of the skills (like weapons skills) improve with use, so I've been avoiding wasting leveling points on those. Others, like spellcasting skills, only seem to increase when you assign points to them. I'm going to save a detailed discussion for skills and spellcasting for a later post, after I understand a little more about it. Suffice to say for now that there are six magic "categories" (fire, water, air, earth, mental, and magic), each of which has different spells depending on the "book" used by the caster (mage, priest, alchemy, or psionics). The "spell slot" system used by previous Wizardries is gone. Each caster has a different number of spellpoints assigned to each "book," which increase with each character level, but only after the caster has at least one spell in that book. When you cast a spell, you can choose how many points to put into it (above a certain minimum). Points regenerate over time or by resting.

My gameplay experience has mostly centered around mapping and trying to solve a few puzzles that would get me into new areas. I still don't have the password to the Captain's Den, nor any intel on where he buried his treasure, but I haven't mapped all of the castle's upper level yet. On the lower level, there was an interesting puzzle by which I had to use a block of rotten cheese at a mouse hole, causing an army of rats to blow through the wall and open up a secret passage. (Incidentally, this was the most difficult combat in the game so far. There was one giant rat that hit me multiple times per round and just wouldn't die.)

Each of the four turrets had some kind of special encounter and rewarded me with a (textual) view of something in the distance. Walking off the edge was deadly.


In a jail cell, I found an old logbook with coded scribbles, but I don't seem to have any way to decipher it. I don't know if it has anything to do with the location of the Captain's treasure, but I suspect it does.


A roomful of graffiti indicated that someone named L'Montes was looking for "Snoopcheri." When I asked Queequeg about it, it transpired that L'Montes was a mentally disturbed man who lost his "beloved" and had holed himself up in one of the turrets. I had previously found him there, but he wouldn't open the door and I wasn't sure what to do. When I returned and asked him about Snoopcheri, he asked me to find her. I intuited that "Snoopcheri" was actually a stuffed dog that I'd found somewhere else, gave it to him, and was rewarded with a key in return. Now I need to try the key on all the locked doors I've mapped.



A few miscellaneous notes:

  • The game only offers one save slot, which seems limiting, except in comparison to the permadeath of the previous entries in the series.
  • You can "rest" repeatedly to restore stamina, magic points, and health (though the latter regenerates very slowly). I don't know if there's any disadvantage to resting except that enemies can attack you. I'm not sure if characters age.
  • The game has an annoying copy protection system by which you have to match three runes to a long list and find an associated codeword. It's even more annoying because I bought this one, as part of the Ultimate Wizardry Archives back in 2010, and yet it didn't come with the documentation to enter the right code. I had to download that from an abandonware site like a criminal.

The icons on the screen don't exactly look like the ones in the book, either.

  • I find the sound in the game simply unendurable. An anonymous commenter clued me in that the game's use of Sound Blaster was "nonstandard," and that the PC Speaker option is better, and he's right, but "better" doesn't mean "good." Although the combat and door sounds are okay, they're not worth the godawful racket that accompanies the appearance of every NPC or enemy. I'm playing silent.
  • I still think the keyboard is the best way to navigate the game's options, but the game wasn't really designed for the keyboard. None of the lettered, numbered, or function keys do anything. Instead, you hit ENTER to bring up the menu and then use the directional keys to move around the menus. It would have been a lot nicer if, say, the function keys had brought up each character view, or some key like "L" took you right to the lockpicking screen.
  • At first, I thought the lockpicking screen was a mini-game, where you watched for all green values on the tumblers and then hit ENTER. Now I think the colors probably moved too fast even with era-specific hardware, and there's really no way to "time" when you hit the ENTER key.

It was worth a try.

So far, I'm enjoying the game quite a bit. Its liberal saving and reloading system lacks the first game's nail-biting tactical tension, but it makes up for that with (so far) a good NPC system, equipment system, economy, and--most important--interesting game world. I'm not exactly sure where it's going to take me next, as I seem to have explored most of the castle and I know there's still a lot of game left to play, but I look forward to it.

57 comments:

  1. Invoking an items means using it's Special Power to get an in increase in a stat. For the shield it should have been +1 Strength, which would have been very useful for your Faerie Bard (if he could even have used the shield, that is) if he ever wants to change class. A Strength of only 3 means it will takes ages to get the 12 Strength needed to switch to Ninja, for example. A good tactic in such cases may be to switch to an interim class with lower requisites, like Rangers who need 10 Strength.

    The one save only is annoying and potentially fatal. When I first played Bane 20+ years ago my party stepped on a fireball trap and I save the game and quit. When I loaded up the game next day the bleeping fireball trap went off again on my already near death party, and no matter how many times I reloaded my party was not able to survive.
    So be careful where you save...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Note that you can make backup copies of the save file outside of the game.

      Also, you can supposedly save to different files by entering names in the save path box, but I never got this to work in Wiz6. Wiz7 lets you do it for sure, though.

      Delete
    2. I think making back-ups of the save file is against Chet's rules or, at least, it's something he doesn't like doing.

      Delete
    3. I guess I didn't notice the attribute increase. Is it permanent, then?

      Making an occasional backup wouldn't be against my rules, particularly because the manual explicitly encourages the player to use different disks when saving the game. My intention in these cases is always to play at the difficulty intended by the original authors, and it doesn't appear that they intended the player only have one saved game.

      Delete
    4. Using backups to cheat sure is: Stopping a bug would probably be OK, if I understand his rules.

      Delete
  2. I'm finding your experiences with the games that started my addiction to CRPGs very interesting.

    I played Bane on a Mac the first time, and on a era-appropriate PC the second (I've played it though about a dozen times by now), and the lockpick thing CAN be timed. But it really requires a fairly slow PC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess the question is whether it was MEANT to be timed, or whether it's just like rolling dice or constantly-cycling random numbers in some other games where hitting ENTER freezes the number, but you're not really expected to time it.

      Delete
    2. From my memory I think it was indeed meant to be timed. The higher lockpick skill gave longer green lights. How your able to get it at all with your green/red color blindness is probably not something they thought about.

      Delete
    3. I think there is still a shading difference... Right, Chet?

      If not, it would be pretty terrible if Hellboy looks like the Incredible Hulk.

      Delete
    4. Yes, I can tell the difference. The red is clearly darker than the green.

      Delete
  3. Here's a helpful hint about ressurection. You *do* have an item that is relevant, if you'd like to try it instead of reloading after losing a party member.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're talking about the Amulet of Life? I ran out of that pretty fast.

      Delete
  4. Pretty sure the Ultimate Wizardry Archives version of the game is patched so you can ignore the copy protection and just hit enter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed.

      The GOG version is definitely patched, but I believe the UWA version is as well.

      Delete
    2. UWA is definately patched.

      Delete
    3. Yes, you can (I'm nearly certain; I saw a lot of people say the UWA version was when I tried to figure out if the GOG version was). The way to tell is to just press Enter to bypass it, and see if you can still hit opponents with melee weapons in combat. That's right -- from what I've read online, it sounds like if you failed the copy protection, your punishment was to never hit monsters with melee in combat. So, some of the Wizardry series' sadistic nature still survived!

      Delete
    4. The pre-mouse version that I have the original floppies for have you three tries to get it right and then dumped you back to the DOS prompt. I remember this distinctly because when I first played the game, I had to use an incomplete hand-copied list of codewords.

      It's possible that the later version with nice support changed this behavior though.

      Delete
    5. Sigh...yes, just hitting ENTER works. I can't imagine why it didn't occur to me to just try that.

      Delete
    6. Always try just enter on the copy protection. Next, try entering any garbage text. The crackers frequently changed the "if input matches the copy protection data, then pass" instruction to "if it DOESN'T match, then pass." Just requires flipping a single bit.

      Delete
  5. I dimly recall reading from a faq a month or so ago that the game has an automatic point allocation system for raising certain core class skills until they reach a certain threshold. If you roll lower than the autoraise threshold it spends all the points you did get automatically and silently, giving the impression of 0 skill points being earned that level.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Resting doesn't really have any disadvantages. Your characters age, but usually not in a meaningful way. They start at 18 (or 20?), and my characters were less than 30 when I ended Wizardry 6&7 each. Even with a party played through all three games there were no penalties for aging apparent. It's more of a flavor thing (a bit gone wrong maybe; wandering an abandoned castle for a few years? What are you? A ghost...?)

    As to the levelling. I don't know how many skill points you get, but for the attributes it works like this: You get one random attribute increased, then the game flips a coin, if you win another random attribute is increased, stop if you lose or when all attributes have been increased once.

    The invoking stuff has been already explained by another commenter. The only thing I would like to add is, that some items vanish immediately after invoking and others can be invoked several times before going away. I don't remember if Identify shows you how many charges are left. What I do know is, that it will not tell you what the special power is. Obviously this can be annoying. For example there is one item in Wizardry VII (Rubber Bear), for which I only found the explanation of its special powers a few days ago, although I had been looking for explanations several times over the years. I played that game in the early 90s...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, the shield vanished immediately. It's the only thing I've found so far that could be invoked.

      Delete
    2. You could use the item list here: http://www.tk421.net/wizardry/wiz6items.shtml

      It only gives you the stats and special abilites of the weapons (including invoke powers) but won't tell you where to get them (which is usually the most important thing to know).

      Delete
    3. Sure, and I could just use a walkthrough, or the maps in the hint guide sitting on my desk. My goal is always to play the game with the information, and at the difficulty level, that the developer intended. In this game, the developer intended that I use the "identify" spell if I really want to know the damage and abilities of weapons and armor.

      Delete
    4. Speaking of hint guides, I swear that some games (*cough* QFG2) are specifically designed to punish people for not buying the hint guide / clue book / whatever. As a result, it is not intended that the game be experienced at the level of difficulty resulting from just referring to the manual as an external resource.

      Delete
  7. Comments on the article:

    I believe there may be a spell that supposedly makes resting even safer. There are a couple of fountains in the game that are also very helpful.

    Turning off the sound has a hidden advantage: it removes a lot of delays, letting you navigate the game more quickly. I highly recommend turning off the sound during character creation, as you can distribute skill points much more quickly without the "ding!" sound playing over and over.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's been a long time but I think you've been able to invoke items from Proving Grounds. Definitely by Llylgamyn though, if I'm remembering incorrectly. Wasn't there a Thieves Dagger that you could invoke to become a ninja? I think that became a Butterfly Knife in Llylgamyn. And couldn't you invoke Wedna's Amulet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Invoking wasn't in the first game. For the Thieves Dagger, it takes effect as soon as it's equipped.

      Delete
    2. In the Apple II version of the game invoking did exist in Wizardry I, II and III (I can't say for sure for the other platforms or later games). Werdna's Amulet, Shuriken and Thieves Dagger could all be invoked in Proving Grounds.

      Delete
  9. Magic skills not increase by using, only oratory, which is the "sucess" rate of casting, except alchemist, who doesn't have it. Magic skills determinate the level what spell you can use, but not the spells' strength level. That's only limited by stamina if i am correct.
    Jammed door can be easily opened by knock-knock, but trying is useful, at least skullduggery increase.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't strength level limited only by caster level and available spell points? I don't think stamina is a factor, except that a caster with low stamina could fall asleep from over-exertion.

      Forcing, knock-knocking and needless use of keys is generally a waste of skullduggery practice. It's good to keep keys around, though, in case you accidentally jam a door and then save your game.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, correct, spell points, my mistake.:)

      Delete
    3. During my explorations, I've found a lot of special keys plus iron, copper, and "chromatic" keys. My sense is that the latter three only work on doors that you could theoretically open with lockpicking or force anyway. Is that the case?

      Delete
    4. Gates can never be lockpicked/forced/knock-knocked, and some require keys to open (as opposed to switches). There may also be some doors that require special keys and cannot be lockpicked/forced/knock-knocked at all (like the Spades door maybe?).

      Most of the iron, copper, etc. keys are for common doors that can otherwise be opened via lockpicking, forcing, or knock-knock spells.

      Delete
    5. Per the manual, if the door is *JAMMED* and not *FAILED* after casting Knock Knock then the door requires a special key.

      Delete
  10. Being able to save any time is both a boon and a curse. With only one save game slot, I've had a couple of close calls already, party almost destroyed, decide to reload, and almost saved my dead party. I've started backing up my save game file once every hour or two, just in case I do something stupid after five too many beers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's probably a good idea. This isn't the kind of game where you want a misguided save to force you to start over. In my case, I have my entire game folder automatically backed up every three days anyway, so that's there if anything horrible happens.

      Delete
  11. Tip for the lockpicking: I always set the CPU cycles of Dosbox to very low while I am picking a lock.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does that actually mimic the way the game would have played on an old machine, or is it just cheating?

      Delete
    2. I don't think it's cheating if you don't slow it too much. Try experiment with it (ctrl+F11 / F12)

      Delete
    3. iirc, the frequency of green lights is determined by the difficulty of the lock and skill of the thief(or ninja or....). With the right in game conditions it was possible time it on older machines*.

      So it's not cheating if you set the speed to a realistic level, but you won't know how to gauge that because you've no prior experience of W6.

      *and if not, this was the early 90s when the turbo button still worked.

      Delete
    4. I don't really remember being able to time it on my 8MHz 286, which was an average machine at the time of the game's release (although mobygames lists 8088/8086 aka the original IBM PC as the minimum requirement, so they may have tuned it for that?).

      I've noticed that the frequency of green rolls seems to vary with every pick attempt at a given skill level, such that sometimes you almost can't lose, while other times it's almost impossible to win. It's almost as if the game makes a skill roll to determine the frequency of greens - i.e. it seems to roll a random value based on your skill and then uses that as a maximum while generating random tumbler values while waiting for you to hit the Enter key..

      The number of attempts allowed before jamming also seems to be random, as it seems to vary each time I reload my save to try again.

      The lockpicking minigame is one of my least favorite aspects of the game, as it is way too random, requiring frequent reloading even when successful picking should be well within the realm of possibility.

      Delete
    5. I am playing the game on a 386 right now. There is no real way to time the lockpicking. It's just kind of a "hit enter and hope it's green when you do" type of a deal. I'd say slowing down DosBox is more than likely a cheat.

      In my experience the door JAMS on the 3rd unsuccessful try and the frequency of green depends on your skullduggery level and the level of difficult of the lock I suppose.

      Delete
    6. Oh, and I haven't thought of turning off the TURBO button and trying it at a 286 speed... HA! I will tho...

      Delete
    7. AFAIK, the lockpicking isn't in fact time-based, but is entirely randomised (based on skill, of course). If the attempt succeeds. 2 green lights show up, but you can't "make" that happen by waiting for the right sequence, no matter how fast or slow the lights blink. The frequency with which the green lights blink is simply meant as an indication of the lock's difficulty.

      Delete
    8. Yeah, despite what everyone else is saying, I think InnerPartisan is right.

      Delete
    9. It really does only unlock when the tumblers are all green, which is random.

      You *can* make it happen if you make DOSBox run absurdly slow (e.g. in the hundreds of cycles range IIRC), but it's almost certainly cheating.

      The best thing to do on a difficult-but-possible lock is to just keep reloading until you get a higher frequency of greens. I don't know why the overall frequency varies from attempt to attempt, but it definitely does. That's the part that really bothers me.

      Delete
  12. One of the few games I've actually played.. to completion too, although relying on a walkthrough at least in the final stages. I remember mapping quite a bit & taking notes & listening to dramatic classical music on the background (as I was used to jcrpg soundtracks). Good times.

    I remember being really annoyed at the short view distance, or rather that you can "see" farther than the walls draw, so a dead end doesn't look like one until you get closer.

    --Eino

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, where is the Milwa or Lomilwa or the light spell?? I have how Levitate costs 12 SP and lasts about 2 seconds.

      Delete
  13. "M: You're a jerk.
    Q: That's your opinion."
    I can't stop laughing :D

    ReplyDelete
  14. "I wonder if simon larsson likes me"? Is something going over my head?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's what I thought. But I Googled the name, and it doesn't seem to be a famous person. Why that was Cleverbot's response, I have no idea.

      Delete
    2. From the Cleverbot website: "It learns what people say, in context, and imitates."

      Someone, somewhere, wanted to know if Simon Larsson liked them.

      Delete
    3. Cleverbot is terrible. I said about 4 things to it before it failed the Turing test by replying with something nonsensical.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I said I had a big dick and it told me it had a big chocolate cake monster.

      Come to think of it, it probably thought I meant 'dick' in the British confectionery sense.

      Delete
  15. I tried it too!

    User: Hello.

    Cleverbot: Hi! How are you doing?

    User: Do you have anything to trade?

    Cleverbot: Not really.

    User: What is the 'Captain's Den'?

    Cleverbot: 42.

    User: Do you know the password?

    Cleverbot: The password of what?

    User: To the Captain's Den.

    Cleverbot: A pirate?

    User: Who is the Captain?

    Cleverbot: I am the Captain.

    ReplyDelete

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