Monday, October 14, 2013

Wizardry VI: King of the Mountain

Fighting the Gryns brothers at the top of a mountain, which suspiciously looks just like the inside of a castle.

For a while, I thought that the entirety of Wizardry VI might take place in the confines of the castle. Yes, I'd heard in various places that the game takes "200+ hours," but I've learned to regard such estimations with skepticism, or at least inflated by all of the hardware and software headaches that early players had to endure. When booting the game takes 10 minutes, reloading means swapping disks, and maps have to be made by hand on graph paper, that really pads the time. So I hear something like "200 hours" and I figure subtract 40% for publisher's hyperbole, cut the remainder in half to account for today's better efficiency, subtract a third of whatever's left given that--let's face it--I'm a pretty experienced player, and you've got basically a 40-hour game. 

Thus, when the 20-hour mark came into view, my characters were 2/3 of the way to their max levels, and I was still messing around with castle doors, I figured this was how it was going to play. It wasn't a crazy idea. The castle consists of about 1,500 squares, or roughly half the size of the first Wizardry. The developers had done a pretty good job making it feel nonlinear while still restricting access to certain areas until I solved certain puzzles. I had just discovered a kind-of sub-basement that promised to open up into a larger area. And, after all, the manual's back story didn't promise anything but the castle.

So I was surprised when I followed a route in the castle's dungeon that led me into an enormous area fully of twisty passages and at least four levels of mines with several dozen up and down stairs. It was then, just for curiosity's sake, that I rapidly flipped through the pages of the hint guide JJ sent me--not to look up any spoilers, but just to get a sense of the scope of the game--and I saw like a dozen more large maps. I guess my estimation was a little optimistic.

The game had me follow these mysterious "black women" to the new location, but then I never heard from them again.
The remainder of the castle had very much the feel of an adventure game in which a solved puzzle led to an item that allowed me to solve another puzzle, and so on, all the way to the castle's exit. In reverse order:

1. To get out of the castle dungeon, I had to cross a chasm with a rope and hook.

2. The rope was only available from a locked room in the castle belfry, the key for which was found in a secluded part of the basement.

3. To get into the secluded part of the basement, I needed to go down some stairs that were behind a locked grate on the castle's main floor.

4. To get the grate to open, I needed to perform a ritual at an altar in the living chambers involving something called the "Book of Ramm."

5. To get to the Book of Ramm, I needed to open a door and solve a puzzle in the castle's lowest level. The door only opened with a gold key.

6. The gold key was in a hidden area near the king's bedchambers.

I had to follow a similar flowchart to get the hook for the rope & hook, involving translating a diary with a decoder ring to find out where the Captain buried his treasure (Giant Mountain), give the location to Queequeg for the password to the Captain's Den, and enter the Captain's Den to find the corpse of a pirate with a hooked hand.

"Giant Mountain" is the mountain right outside the castle so, yes, I guess you should have known.

The culmination of all the effort was to find myself in the new area: a land full of chasms in which I had to thread my way carefully lest I fall to my death (which I did repeatedly by just mashing the wrong key).

In real life, I think it would be hard for six people to "accidentally" walk into a chasm.

This area was dominated by a mountain in the center and a series of "mine" entrances on the east side. The mines are multi-leveled, they feature several areas of darkness that you have to map by bumping into walls, and they're connected by a series of maze-like stairways that took me a long time to map. At the bottom of the mine, a wizard is imprisoned in some kind of giant diamond, and the manifest goal of the area seems to be to get him out, though I apparently don't have all the tools for this yet.

One major puzzle here involves the repair of a catapult, which I needed to block a pit so I could proceed to one side of the mountain. To do this, I had to collect several rubber strands from "rubber beasts" in various mine rooms and use the "merge" option in the inventory screen to braid them together into a rubber band. (I'm not sure the author of the game understands how catapults really work.)

"Merging" items in inventory. Two merged strands make a braid, two merged braids make a band.

I also needed to take a broken sprocket to a smith, found in one of the mine rooms, and have him repair it. Finally, I had to scale one side of the mountain (an annoying process because each climb carries the risk of falling for heavy damage) and slay a mountain giant to collect his boulders.

Funny how the "face of the mountain" looks just like a brick wall.

Throughout this process, the game has occasionally provided a role-playing choice. When entering the Captain's Den, I had the option to challenge the rogue leader to a drinking contest or just attack him, and in the mountain area, I had the option to pay a troll to cross his bridge or just kill him. I fear that I chose violence in both cases. The game hasn't been full of these types of encounters, but they're welcome when they happen.

In real life, I would have taken him up on it, but in this case, my party is all women.

"I yare?" How do you not kill this guy?

The game continues its dedication to vivid textual descriptions of the areas, which almost but not quite makes up for its lack of any variance in the graphics. I mean, the graphics in the Gold Box games are sparse, but at least they try to simulate different textures appropriate to the areas. This one has the same brick walls whether you're supposed to be looking at a castle, cavern, mine, or mountain. In this sense, the game is hardly more advanced than the wireframe graphics in the first five Wizardry games.

Goats or rams have emerged as a major theme. I found several artifacts "of Ramm" in the castle, the altar ritual involved goat symbology, I found a goat head's mask in a treasure chest (it seems to drain my hit points, so I just put it in a sack), and I hear bleating behind a door I can't enter. As a little side note, until I was about 30 years old, I thought that goats were male sheep. In my defense, you always see them together and they kind of make the same noises. Yes, I'd heard of "rams" and yes, I'd heard of "goat's milk," but I thought they were different names for the same things, like bulls and steers and oxen and whatnot. Irene and I were at a state fair when I said something that made my ignorance apparent, and she explained things after a good laugh. Anyway, I finally have it straight, so this game needs to get its act together on whether it wants to use ram or goat symbology because it's screwing me up again.

A goat's head mask and a "Dagger of Ramm" in the same chest. Make up your damned mind!

There are some other bits of lore that suggest the game might be developing a story. The logbook that described the location of the Captain's buried treasure also had a long account of a party's demise on Giant Mountain, describing the giants but also "dwarf men" who were building the mines and "digging for something" (my guess is the trapped wizard). I've encountered the dwarf men, and they're not friendly. I assume the wizard is either the king or his ally who disappeared more than a century ago while fighting over the Cosmic Forge. I like the idea that a narrative might be building here; I hope the game doesn't disappoint me.

A bit from the logbook. I don't know if this heralds things to come.

In this last session, I've encountered far more trapped chests than before. The game's system for handling traps is reasonably interesting and fun. Just like the first five games, the traps can consist of poison needles, noxious gas clouds, prismatic sprays, and so forth. When you "examine" the trap, it doesn't tell you what the trap is; instead, it gives you a few letters of the trap's name. You have to use those letters to deduce the name. So if it says "ON" on inspection, it could be a "poison needle," but it could also be a "noxious gas cloud." If it says "NOX," then you're certain to pick the right one when you go to disarm.

The letters are basically the game's way of simulating the process of examining a trap and trying to figure out its nature from its "components." It's a fun and innovative way to do it. I just wish my bard was better at it. I've jacked her "skullduggery" score (which covers lockpicking and trap disarming) up to around 40, but she still typically identifies two or three letters at best. I set off as many traps as I disarm.

I also wanted to mention the game's secret doors. Unlike the previous installments in the series--or, really, almost every other dungeon crawler--you don't have to go bashing headfirst into every wall surrounding an unmapped square. There are secret doors, but they don't work that way. Instead, you open them by finding a button to press, or through some kind of puzzle-solving, like using a miner's pick on a recently-built wall. The "scout" skill occasionally clues you in to the presence of such puzzles.

Good thing I found a shovel nearby.

In playing games like this, my normal strategy is to map as far as I can go in a particular direction. Then, if a locked door or puzzle defeats me, I mark it on the map with a yellow square, head back, and try a different direction. Almost inevitably, I'll collect some item (like a key) that will cause me to return to the yellow square, solve the puzzle or open the door, and move onward. I figure as long as I still have open paths, I'm doing all right. But I start to get nervous when I leave too many yellow squares too far behind me, and in my case a couple of them are back at the castle. Here's my full list right now:

  • In the castle's main hall, the portcullis leading back out the way I originally came in. I assume that it's just closed permanently until the end of the game.
  • There's a stairway from the main hall of the castle that takes me up to a small corridor ending at a locked door. Behind the door, I can hear bleating. I don't have a key for this door.

Goats bleat, right? Goats?

  • In the dungeon level of the castle, there's another stairway that goes up to a locked, grated door. (For those who really care, the stairway is about five squares to the east of a room where searching some bones produces an undead enemy who laughs at you. It's exactly two squares north of another stairway that goes to the main hall.)
  • On the lowest level of the castle, consisting of a long corridor, there are two doors I can't open: one grated door (the first you come to), and a door at the end with a mask on it that seems to want a pair of jewels.

The obvious thing would be to find the jewels, but I haven't encountered any yet.

  • I found the "king's journal" in the castle, but it's encrypted and I haven't found any way to decode it.
  • Near the mountain, there's something that says "drawbridge control panel," but I can't open it because it's rusty.
  • On the first mine level, there are two locked, grated doors beyond one of the areas of darkness. They don't open with the only key I've discovered here (the "Key of A Miner"), which seems to open all the other doors I've found.
  • The wizard trapped in the prism. A "miner's chisel" seems to have some effect on the prism, but not enough to destroy it completely. 

  • At the top of the mountain--the area that I went through all the trouble to fix the catapult to access--is the "Guardian of the Rock." He takes one of my boulders and happily munches it and lets me talk to him, but he won't contribute anything useful and if I tell him I'm there to "take the rock," he engages me in combat and absolutely slaughters me.

Calm down, bro. No one said you weren't.

If any of these locations seem like something I should have been able to get past based on my location in the game, a very light hint would be appreciated. But I'm not in any way "stuck"; there's still an entire area of the caverns, labeled "Wizard's Cave," I've yet to explore, as well as some stray passages near the mountain.

My current map of the mountain area.

As I close, all of my characters are Level 8, and development has slowed considerably. I can understand why people start looking forward to changing classes. 

The next post will be my big combat and magic review, but due to some business, I might not be able to play again until late in the week. In the meantime, if I can find time to clean it up, you'll get a post on another old game.


  1. Be thorough about attacking the prism. It won't do to attack it from just one direction -- or even two.

    1. I thought about that. I figured I'd have to approach it from all four directions and use the miner's chisel. But that didn't do anything. However, I'm concerned that maybe I had a reload in there at some point. I'll try it again.

    2. I too did it at all 4 points and nothing... I kept messing with it (which was a pain) but finally it worked. Not sure if there is a correct order or a certain number of tries at each point? Just one big pain...

    3. I also thought I had done it from all 4 sides and it didn't work, but as I recall, I had made an error.

    4. I'm assuming that this game doesn't allow attacking on the diagonal?

    5. No. The only "attacking" is done in combat. In the case of the gem, you approach it and "use" an item to affect it. Whatever you use applies only to what's directly in front of you.

  2. I really like your writing style, especially the goat part was hilarious. It left me laughing out way too loud for beeing in an office with several co-workers.

    Here are some light hints:
    - Maybe you wanna lay eye on one of your open puzzles again. And maybe another bit from your open puzzle list could help you rocking it. (hope that's not to obvious)

    - You should definitely map the whole wizard prism area. This should ring a bell ...

    - Also it might be helpful to know, that i didn't open all crates in the castle, when i finished the game. I don't know if it is even possible.

    1. No, you cannot open every grate in the game.

    2. There were over half a dozen unopenable grates that I didn't tag as "unsolved" because whether I could open them or not, I was able to approach them from both directions. So the better question is whether there are any areas BEYOND grates that you can see, but you can never visit.

  3. bulls and oxen are not the same thing, there is a small but significant difference ;)

    1. I thought there was a pair of differences :P

    2. They're the same animal is the point.

    3. Marc and Giuseppe - You're thinking bulls and steer, I think.

    4. @Anonymous
      I think this is a UK/US English issue
      steer is US, oxen is UK

    5. It's not always that clear-cut, Marc, at least in zooarchaeological literature. These days "cattle" is the generic term, but they used to use oxen for anything bovine. If a British archaeologist can actually identify a castrated male, they go with steer. Of course, people who actually deal with living animals might use the terms differently.

      Oh, Chet, I've met quite a few people who've made the same mistake about goats, so don't feel too bad. Actually, didn't that come up on the Simpsons once?

    6. They're only called oxen after they're finished with their training, which can take years. Oxen are actually very well trained animals. Without the training, they're just steer.

    7. Wow, all these years I thought an ox was an entirely separate species from cows.

    8. From my experience with women, I think you're on the right track, Jonothan.

    9. *sigh* City folk...

      A steer is castrated before the onset of puberty. An Ox is castrated at maturity. A Bull is not castrated at all. A Cow is a female.

      Allowing the animal to mature with the full dose of testosterone results in greater muscle-mass and strength, after which removing it yields better temperament and endurance. The creation process is more difficult, however, hence why an ox is kept for work and a steer is kept for food.

  4. Good post. The repetiveness of the background is only partially allievated by the florid text and the colorful pictures of your NPC/monsters. Wizardry 7 does improve on this with forest, dungeon, and above ground building backgrounds.

    I find persistence to be the best ally in a wizardry game. You have to keep exploring all possible leads usually until come up with the correct set of items with which to move forward. Still, I find it a bit of a pain, like an adventure game mashed into an RPG.

    I confirm your 200+ hour observation. Mapping and runing in circles to collect junk make up much of the time in playing this "game". I still cannot say what the right balance is in a game between fights, NPC encounters, traps, puzzles and the like.

    Wizardry VI does usually do Giants right. Often they hit for hideous amounts of damage that kill outright. Do be careful. Also they are typically resistant to damage type spells. Usually I had to hit them with aliment type effects to reduce their attack and defense.

    1. I found some of the bats that you encounter on the mountainside to be way worse than the giants.

      Capable of doing insane damage, and worth almost no XP.

    2. Is it just me or did MM and MM2 do backgrounds quite a bit better, compared to this game?

    3. Yeah MONSTROUS BATS do serious damage, have a ton of hit points and you only get 33 exp points each for them. Thanks Wizardry...

    4. Yes! I was going to add a note about them and I forgot. The bats sucked.

    5. Bats and Rats - what would CRPGs do with them!

    6. Get overrun by colour co-ordinated slimes?

    7. MM3 onwards probably had better backgrounds. I wouldn't say MM2 was any better than this.

      MM3-5 had colourful stepwise backgrounds, while MM6-9 went 3D.

      Wizardry only really got a major graphics makeover in the final 3D instalment Wiz8, though Wiz7 had some improvements compared to 6.

    8. I would argue that ALL the Might & Magic games, going back to the first one, were better than constant grey brick. Yes, in Wiz6 it's nice-looking gray brick, but even MM1 had differentiated textures for the walls: mountains, forests, dungeons, etc.

      With that in mind, Might & Magic 2 definitely surpasses Wiz6 graphically, imho. It's got snowy areas, desert areas, forests, etc. Its cities had blue bricks but many dungeons had grey walls with green mold/lichen growing on the walls. MM2 does a lot more with 16 colors than Wiz6.

      But that's just my perspective.

    9. I think Wiz7 had, unlike Wiz6, pretty decent looking graphics for the time of it's release.

    10. Yes, I fully agree with Gamma Leak. Variance in graphics is much better than a single "good" graphic.

    11. Ultima V had different tiles for dungeons two years earlier.

  5. Queequeg can help with one of those... Also, you're correct about the way you originally came in.

  6. If something is rusty, what do you put on it to help it move?

    Also, I don't know a correct way to get what you need from the Guardian of the Rock. Perhaps steal it? My Ninja sucks at skullduggery so I just fought him. Took a few resets but I won. Apparently the MISSLE SHIELD spell helps to protect you from him spitting boulders at you, but I didn't have it. I love it when my Monk or Ninja CRITICAL hit a boss!

    I also left several gates unopened back at the Castle. I'm unsure if at some point I'll be able to get back there, Also the mysterious "black women" (wtf?) do show back up... and I think you'll be surprised how they're dressed.

    1. Oh, bloody hell. I need to trudge all the way back to Queequeg and buy his damned "mystery oil," don't I? I should have realized it was a quest item and not just an unidentified potion.

    2. Yeah, I think at one point L'Montes even mentions making sure you purchase it...

    3. I couldn't decide if I was more surprised by the racism, or...yeah. Nowadays, the ESRB slaps the M label on a game if you can mod in boobs...and other stuff.

    4. What racism?

    5. Speaking of boobs, Wiz6 has them. I found this mainly annoying when playing the game as a teenager in the '90s because it was just one more "feature" that my religious parents wouldn't have been happy about - had they known.

    6. See, this is all the kind of thing I'd rather have discovered with no warning.

    7. I assume Sheila's talking about the "very strange looking black women" (the game's words, not mine), which I would label more as insensitive and narrow-minded more than blatantly racist, since it doesn't imply that ALL "black women" look strange, just these ones (imho, the r-word gets thrown around way too much).

      But it occurs to me that there's another possibility here. The game does have Drow elves, which in combat are depicted as female. Those may be the "black women" it's referring to. I'm not sure if that makes the statement any "better," really, but it might take the edge off since it would then be referring to a fictional race that looks "strange" in comparison to human blacks.

    8. I took the implication that they looked like ordinary black women but were strangely attired, though what that means to a Wizardry 6 party is hard to guess, given that the game world of this and other typical CRPGs is surely the apotheosis of multiculturalism.

    9. I thought they were just description of the NPCs. It's not like that game world has the same history of racial exploitation as Earth. You don't want to have your fantasy RPGs littered with real-world politically correct references do you?

      "To pass my Portal of Immortality,
      Three lethal traps you must not trigger.
      Learn which path has the best security,
      seek out my wise and all-knowing... African American friend."

  7. The game is not geographically linear, so don't worry about the castle. Also, if you ever *do* need to grind a little (changing the monk to a samurai and getting back up to speed quickly, or whatever), that hallway in the dungeon with the stairs and the locked gate is a great place to rest. You can't go through the gate yet, but things can come through from the other side. It's much better place than the belfry.

  8. Some comments:

    Game length - I used 18 days to complete Bane of the Cosmic Forge, which is about the same time I needed to complete Ultima 5 and Might&Magic 2. So it's a large game, but not really huge. Wiz 7, now _that_ is a huge game.

    I mapped every nook and cranny of Wiz 6. I was impressed how it seemed to have been possible to make a virtually "3D" map of the whole game, if you had large enough paper sheets and stacked them on top of each other, one for each vertical height. At least in the castle all the stairways correctly matched up with each other.
    All in all excellent level design, IMO, especially the whole castle area.
    I even liked the mines. Speaking of which, I don't think the Scout skill works in darkness, so if you haven't already done it, try moving through the mines with the Detect Secret spell active.

    I liked that fact that some doors will take a long time to open, some even from the other side (and some never open at all). Coupled with the puzzle/Adventure game aspects it actually reminded me of Chaos Strikes Back.
    The puzzles aren't too far fatched, so they don't detract from the enjoyment, IMO. Wiz 7 has some pretty bad puzzles, though.

    I really liked how the background story is all integrated into the game in a meaningful way and you'll even meet most of the characters as well as things mentioned in various journals.

    Hint: if a Miner's Chisel has _some_ effect, maybe some other tool would have more effect...

    1. Disregard that last sentence. You are using the right tool.

    2. Wiz7 does have some bad puzzles, some of which will even screw up your party members pretty bad if you do anything wrong.

  9. Regarding the sound problem, read this:

    1. I believe that this may have also been fixed in the DOSBox source, so recent SVN builds may also be an improvement. Check out EmuCR or DOSBox SVN Daum links here:

    2. I might explore this, but as someone pointed out in another thread, in this game having sound turned on simply increases the game time. In my opinion, if the sound isn't either a) good, or b) necessary to the game, then it's not worth having it on at all. In this game, I'm having a hard time believing that any amount of tweaking will render it "good."

    3. That was me :)

      Note that Wiz7 also uses the same sound engine. It does add sound card support, but in a way that sounds worse in DOSBox than if you choose PC speaker (so I recommend choosing PC speaker or nothing).

      Wiz7 also has music, though, which may be worth leaving on unless it gets too repetitive for you.

  10. "(I'm not sure the author of the game understands how catapults really work.)"
    I can understand, There has been so much ambiguity in movies and games over the years as to what a "Catapult" really is.

    The Greko-Roman catapult was more akin to a Ballista or giant crossbow, the name roughly translates into shield-piercer or skin-piercer. The ancient Chinese may have even built some that could break the sound barrier with their projectiles.

    The medieval catapult, the one everyone thinks of, is actually a Mangonel, lever arm attached to a cup or bucket that is filled with stones, Greek fire or even diseased corpses, and powered by torsion from twisted hemp or horsehair rope (but not rubber braids).

    The bad boy, the "super weapon" of it's time was the Counterweight Trebuchet, these could be 20 meters tall, and fling a 200kg stone hundreds of meters.

    When I came across the "Hvy Stones" in wiz 6 I let out a groan, here I am juggling around single arrows and such so that no PC is overloaded, and surprise! have these giant hvy rocks with no known purpose (at the time) that I get to carry around for hours. Times like that I don't know if the Devs are playing with my "pack-rat" nature or not. I can't remember what game, but I came across a dead cat in one the first areas, I hauled that thing around for the whole game, never found a use for it, but I read a hint book that revealed it was just a red herring, just to mess with the PC.

    1. I learned something new today! I knew about ballistae and trebuchets, but not that the catapult that everyone thinks of is more rightly called a mangonel.

      I think I know the game you mean: a certain game in a icy, windy, location? I hauled that cat around too!

    2. Icewind Dale! Thank you, now I have a urge to boot that one up! But need finish Wiz 6 first.

    3. It was Icewind Dale II, and there's like five dead cats in the game. One character even asks why you're carrying around a dead cat. Every time I'd play, I'd carry them all, hoping for some Easter egg at the end.

    4. The IWD II Prologue contains some great moments.

    5. They may have been thinking of simple hand-catapults, as sported by Dennis The Menace [the UK Dennis, not the American milksop].

  11. You might consider reading this faq, which explains some bugs near the start and game mechanics further down. It is not a walkthrough, and it is pretty easy to skip over anything spoilerish without ruining the game. At least read the bug related stuff.

  12. Not sure if goats bleat... but they sure do bleed. XD

    Anyway, easy way to separate goats from rams...
    Aries = Ram = Have swirling horns
    Capricorn = Goat = Have rather straight horns


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