Saturday, November 16, 2013

Legend of Faerghail: At Least I Have the Maps

The party makes it to Cyldane. That's as far as they'll get.

Since starting this blog, I have played good games and bad games, games that I thought were too easy and games that I thought were too hard, games that I wanted to continue and games that I wanted to quit. But rarely have I thought what I thought while exploring this game's multi-leveled dwarven mines: this game is completely wasting my time. I was all geared up to utterly tear it apart in this next post.

It started while I was visiting the "derelict castle" at the end of my last session. The game told me that the door closed behind me and wouldn't let me out, so I'd have to find another way. Interesting challenge, I thought, but no problem--except that I wasn't counting on what would happen in a game in which the characters need to eat every 24 game hours. Ultimately in my explorations, I ran out of food and couldn't progress. I had to reload from a save point outside the castle.

During my journey through the castle, I noticed something curious: there were no enemies. There were atmospheric flashes of lightning every few steps, messages, a button puzzle, some strange encounters with ghostly armor, and this weird little thing...


...but no enemies to fight.

The dwarven mines were the same. I spent hours mapping five levels of mines and annotating every treasure chest, trap, message, and special encounter. But I had to keep retreating to the surface to get food because there were no enemies to fight in the dungeon. Not in five 34 x 34 levels.

When I got done with the mines, I was steaming mad, partly because of all the effort required to slowly map, exit, get more food, and re-enter, only to find nothing of consequence, but mostly because of the ridiculously deadly traps that the game throws at you with absolutely no warning or any way to disarm.

There are about 70 of these.

About this time, Saintus from "CRPG Revisiting old classics" popped up and said that this game was one of his "all time favourites," a phrase that, combined with Legend of Faerghail, forced me to react with bafflement. In an attempt to understand what he saw in the game, since I'd already explored them, I took a look at his entry on the dwarven mines to see how he could possibly justify such tedious emptiness, and I was surprised to see his description full of combats--enough combats that he had all the food he needed, rose several levels, and presumably didn't die so easily from all the traps.

I found a crystal ball that allowed automapping in the mines, but not annotated enough to preclude paper mapping.
 
The mines were supposed to have enemies. Mine just didn't. After all the hours, all I had to show for my efforts were a magic staff, a steel key, a barrel of gunpowder, and a crystal ball that created a magic automap. My characters were all still Level 1 for lack of experience and gold.

It didn't help that Siegurd kept taking all my credit. Incidentally, he ditched me when we got to Cyldane with no reward or special encounter to justify having kept him around for so long.

I started Googling around and found my experience confirmed on this RPG Codex thread in which "TheDeveloperDude" notes, in the DOS version, both the lack of encounters in the dungeons (he mentions only the mines, but I haven't found them in any indoor area) and the negative experience point bug, which somehow allows for infinite leveling.

I've stubbornly stuck with the DOS version of games before, but usually the only consequence was poorer graphics and sound. For this game, it means no sound, greatly reduced character development, and who knows what other complications. There are plenty of other things about the game that it would be nice to hope is only present in the DOS version, including:

  • No way to actively search for traps or secret doors
  • Several encounters in which an NPC asks what appears to be a riddle, but there's no way to answer or otherwise interact with that NPC
  • Copious treasure chests that contain nothing or so little gold that it's not worth the loss of food necessary to travel to that part of the dungeon and open them

You and I have different definitions of the word "filled."

  • Torches and light spells that are never necessary because the mines are always bathed in perfect light
  • Stairs throughout the dwarven mines that do not return to the same place they came from
  • Inability to equip weapons and armor that the manual indicates the character class ought to be able to equip
  • Doors that the game presents you and then will not let you pass with any action

I could find no way to go through this door with any command, or even get the game to acknowledge that it was there.

  • Bumping into things hard enough to kill the characters
  • A keyboard so sensitive that it's very easy to accidentally move an extra space and bump into something

Thus, given my recent announcement, it would be silly to stay with this version of the game. It feels like I've wasted a bunch of hours--about eight already--but at least I have the maps.

I don't know if I'll jump right to the Amiga version of Legend of Faerghail immediately. There's nothing I hate so much as having to re-tread old territory right away, and in any event I need to learn the Amiga emulator. But whatever happens, I will re-start the game eventually, on the platform that everyone seems to love.

62 comments:

  1. Sounds like game-breaking bugs in this version. Put the Amiga version down farther on the 1990 list and give yourself some time to enjoy different, hopefully not buggy, games.

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  2. Maybe this version is bugged, but it's also possible the rip of the game isn't good. Possibly triggered copy protection? In any case, it's probably good to get the Amiga thing in order.

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  3. Bummer. That said, I'm curious to see your first foray into the world of Amiga. I've never played anything on an Amiga, but I used to have a C64 and later a C128. I'll have to look over your list to see if there are any notable Amiga-only CRPG's.

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  4. Ah the Amiga, perhaps the most tragic of computer systems. It was a great system in the late nineties, but being proprietary and having all of its functions embedded into the system meant it was fated to be eclipsed by the much more flexible ISA-based IBM compatibles, though it had a much longer shelf life in Europe than it did in the US.

    That and Commodore couldn't market their way out of a paper bag after the Commodore 64.

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    1. Ugh, should read 'late eighties', not 'late nineties', though I believe the Amiga was still rocking in Europe at the turn of the century.

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    2. Nah, even in Europe Amiga was dead with the advent of Win 95 machines. IBM-compatibles won when SVGA and SoundBlaster 16 became common - not exactly triggered by Microsoft's OS but around this time.

      (Blogspot ate my comment - ignore this if duplicated...)

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    3. Yes, with the advent of the WWW for everyone, the Amiga was pretty much dead in Europe as well. Mass-market-wise, at least.

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    4. I've always heard that the fact you couldn't use your C64 programs with your new Amiga or PET or whatever was a large part of what killed them...

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    5. Lot's of things killed Commodore, depending on who you ask :)

      The PET was long before the C64, part of the original trinity of off-the-shelf personal computers, along with the TRS-80 and the Apple II. Well, not that long before - five years, but between 1977 and 1982 lots of things had happened in the world of microcomputers.

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    6. In 1993, Commodore put all of its chips on the Amiga 1200 and CD32, both of which were overpriced and had no substantial advantages over contemporary PCs or the dozen other CD-ROM consoles that were launching at the same time. The Amiga 1200's games were mostly rehashes of A500 games, and the generation switch failed miserably. The Amiga 500 (which didn't normally include a hard drive, leading to the tragicomic practice of floppy disk juggling) got obsolete by the minute and faded away by 1996.

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  5. Sierra had an Amiga fanatic join shortly after I started working there. Every once in a while, he would announce "Amiga demo" and everyone would crowd around the Amiga to see a game with amazing graphics. I thought I remembered a Cinemaware game as being that first Amiga Demo, but I'm not so sure now.

    That became a schtick - Whenever one of us got something really cool working, or if we came across a really good game, we would announce "Amiga demo" even if it was on a PC or Atari ST. I probably did one the first time I got a full King's Quest IV scene to work on the Atari ST.

    Later non-Sierra games shown off as "Amiga demos" included Civilization, SimCity, Lemmings, LOOM, and Castle Wolfenstein 3D among others.

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  6. Large combat-less dungeons... Sounds like a dream come true! ;)))

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  7. It looks like this game should be added to the list of examples on the "Porting Disaster" page of TV Tropes.

    My first thought to the "no encounters anywhere" problem was "copy protection?" also. Since you didn't answer the copy protection elf family riddle, the game could have assumed itself to be an illegal copy and made itself unplayable in response.

    Or it could just be a contender for Worst DOS Port Ever. Either way, I'm glad you're not completely giving up on it yet.

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  8. There is no way that I know of to actively search for traps or secret doors but secret doors are always clearly seen in the environment when you look at them.

    Traps was not as deadly in the Amiga version. Just annoying.

    Regarding the graphical doors. Some are just for the atmosphere but many are meant to do some action in front of like using a key. You cannot just walk into them.

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  9. I recall there were several riddles in various parts of the game you needed to answer to proceed. Nothing about copy protection there rings a bell, but then again it´s been something like twenty years since I played this. And yes, it was on Amiga.

    I don´t remember food problems being that bad, either. Mayhaps this version just rides too high on speed.

    So, sounds hopelessly buggy, indeed. Better skip it for now and play something else until you got a decent version of it.

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  10. Seriously. Ouch. Great QA, publishers.

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  11. This looks like a badly cracked version that survives online, honestly. Some cracker probably removed the password checking by ripping out all question/answers from the code and there might have been secondary protection removing enemies/items, making the game a chore and limiting the capacity to progress.

    Cruel, perhaps, but effective in that crackers do not care about the quality of the games they open up and rarely play them through.

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    1. The successor game to Faerghail was famous for its, at the time, inventive copy-protection (gradually removed game elements to eventuall render the whole thing unplayable), so that's a very plausible explanation.

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    2. I think Helm is almost certainly right. There are multiple copies of the DOS game on Ebay, so if someone with a vintage computing rig wants to check on this and confirm whether these issues were caused by a bad crack, that'd be fantastic. (I'd do it if I had the machine for it.)

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    3. Cool to know my intuitive game designer sense works a little bit. I have to confess I really like covert cruelty in videogame code. The best example of this was in a recent indie game: http://www.greenheartgames.com/2013/04/29/what-happens-when-pirates-play-a-game-development-simulator-and-then-go-bankrupt-because-of-piracy/

      Poignant.

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  12. I was surprised to see you wanting to try the amiga version after those frustrations.

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  13. Could it be a copy protection problem as a result of not responding correctly to that question about elf-ancestry? I think someone mentioned in the comments of the previous post that this question was copy-protection related...

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    1. That doesn't seem to be it. The elven question is in a remote part of the first outdoor map, and you don't have to go through it to get to the dwarven mines--in fact, the only thing that a "wrong" answer blocks is entry to a specific dungeon.

      Just to be sure, I re-installed the files in a new directory, started the game again with new characters, and went right for the mines. As before, no encounters.

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  14. There were some pretty clever games during this period. QQP had a couple that let you answer the copy protection question, and then not even check it until you had been playing for a while. Then it would evaluate your answer and disable game functions if your answer was wrong. Crackers never bothered to play the game through after cracking, so they were fooled that their crack worked. I still haven't been able to play Battles of Destiny or Conquered Kingdoms to this day.

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  15. There is no copy protection in the game (at least the Amiga version) that would allow you to continue playing but with empty content. You should definetely avoid the PC version. In 1990, Amiga still ruled the games on any platform. The Amiga version features - apart from good graphics - also excellent sound effects and a very good title tune.

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  16. I'd like to see the amiga version next instead of skipping to a new game. First, you already are familiar with character creation and the beginning level. Second, since the PC version if fresh in your mind both graphically and sound-wise, the update can better inform us of how much a difference it is between versions.

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    1. What you'll see next depends entirely on my patience level when trying to learn a new platform and emulator, plus finding the appropriate files.

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    2. FYI, there is a Polish group called The Company that packages entire Amiga games as Windows executable files. The games run off the executables, without any unpacking. Pretty neat. The games run fine on my Windows 7 laptop, though I haven't gone so far as to save my game yet.

      They do not have this CRPG, but they do have some others like the Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder games, Ishar trilogy, and some amiga only games like Moonstone, Evil's Doom, Hired Guns and Heimdall. I'd link the site, but I'm not sure what your policy is in regards to doing so. Either way, you can just do an internet search for the page.

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    3. Searching for "The Company" is less fruitful than you'd imagine.

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    4. Not if you include some of the games Deuce Traveler mentioned in your search. ;) Found their forum in no time.

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    5. I paid for the Amiga Forever package. It seems to work.

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  17. I recall that the 'cruel' copy-protection philosophy was utilized in one of the Operation Flashpoint FPS games. Apparently using a cracked version of the game would silently cripple the player's equipment, making the guns have terrible accuracy and the enemies omnipotent.

    I found the genuine version of the game to be frustrating enough.

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    1. Serious Sam 3 recently included a similar copy protection method. Once the game determined that it has (likely) been cracked, it spawns a completely unbeatable enemy that constantly hounds you, killing you over and over and over and over again.

      As a guy who once programmed the copy protection for a game only to see it cracked within a month, I definitely appreciate this particular approach. :^D

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    2. If you want to read a great article about copy protection and the eternal game of cat-and-mouse:

      Keeping the Pirates at Bay

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    3. In one of the earlier "Settlers" games the copy protection causes the iron mine to produce pigs, quite funny ^^

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    4. I don't know why it's so hard. You just force the user to register him and give him a unique encryption key that's only good for a single install, verified online.

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    5. In those cases you have to pay people to man the phones to handle issues.

      "I lost my key"
      "I don't have internet access"

      Also you can rip out the code that check for a key fairly easily.

      Scuttlebutt is that even the CEO's of companies who use DRM agree (off the record) that it doesn't work but they have to cover their asses to the board and make it look like they are doing something about the perceived threat.

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    6. Yes, I was making a joke there. Obvious troll, etc.

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    7. Gotta love critically missing jokes online.

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    8. Yeah, the great thing about these is when you want to run them in a VM or a new OS and it thinks it has been hacked, and makes the game unplayable....

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  18. I have two boxed copies of this game on 5.25" and 3.5" floppies, and can confirm that there are no enemies is the Dwarven Mines.

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    1. Wow. So the PC port is just extremely buggy. Thanks for checking that out.

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    2. Wow, thanks to Killahead for that. And yeah, how ridiculous and inexcusable that they'd release the game in such a state!

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    3. I really appreciate the confirmation. Have you actually played through the game, or did you just fire it up to check that one thing? I was curious if there are enemies in ANY of the indoor areas, since I never found any.

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    4. That's extremely odd. That probably didn't help its popularity outside the Amiga community.

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    5. I still have my copy of the Amiga version. I will have to fire up the WinUAE emulator and check that area out..it seems like the Amiga version *did* have enemies indoors...but it's been years. I may be wrong.

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    6. Yes, the Amiga version did. The question is whether the DOS version only lacked them in the dwarven mines or in every indoor structure.

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    7. Just confirmed that there are no enemies in the castle either.

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  19. If it makes you feel any better, WinUAE is fairly easy to learn. I'm playing Pool of Radiance on it right now - I just tell the emulator to mount all the floppies at once and life's pretty easy.

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    1. I have regrettably not had that experience. But I paid for Amiga Forever, and it seems to make it easier.

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    2. Can you tell us the titles of the CRPGs that come with the Amiga Forever package you purchased? I looked to buy it but couldn't find any info past the amount of games.

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    3. There are a number of adventure games (e.g., Epsilon 9, Flight of the Amazon Queen, Lethal Formula) and some action, strategy, and simulation games that border on RPG territory (e.g., Hilt, Ports of Call), but nothing explicitly and RPG, and nothing on my list.

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    4. Unless I remember wrong epsilon 9 was a shareware puzzle adventure game that bugged badly on a third puzzle and it was HARD or at least for someone who was 14 at the time.

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  20. One thing I have found myself doing of late when playing older games is to head over to MobyGames. I know the new site layout is crap, but I usually do a search by title of the game I am interested in, then compare the user scores for the different versions to make up my mind on which platform to play on.
    Also, heading to Lemon64, Lemon Amiga, and Abandonia helps me a lot too. Here I will see if a certain title has been released on each format (C64, Amiga, DOS) and compare them to see which one looks best. Lately I have spent more time researching games than actually playing them lol.

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    1. At the risk of upsetting everyone, I didn't think the OLD MobyGames site layout was particularly good. The database still works okay, so I'm not sure what has everyone in a fit.

      That's a decent way to go about the process of choosing a platform, I suppose. I'll think about that for the future.

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    2. They reduced the number games that turn up when you perform a search. Now only three games will show up onscreen, and the rest are hidden underneath a "View All" button.

      Here is the result of a search for "Caesar 3":

      http://www.mobygames.com/search/quick?q=caesar+3

      The three games the site finds for you are Caesar, Caesar 2, and Caesar 4. The old version of the site had a much longer list of results, so it didn't matter if the game you were searching for didn't appear right at the top.

      The screenshots and cover art also take an absurd amount of time to load for such small files.

      The consensus on the forums seems to be that they optimized the site to be viewed with a smartphone and completely abandoned support for PC browsers.

      The old Mobygames site may have been vintage, but that suited its content in a way. I've been using it to compile a database of my own personal collection, and since the switch I've found it very frustrating.

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  21. The creature in the second picture looks like Gollum....Prrrrrecccioussss

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  22. I've never had an Amiga, but I have a massive amount of respect for it and for the C64, so I'm kinda excited that you've finally made this step.

    Commodore PCs were pretty much the best computers to have as far as gaming went for most of the 80s and the first few years of the 90s. They were so much better than the PC for that, particularly out-of-the-box, without special hardware add-ons, and they did it at a considerably lower price.

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  23. Those screenshot remind me a 1994 RPG: Disciples of Steel (http://www.myabandonware.com/game/disciples-of-steel-2ph)

    White text on gray background plus the overall UI. Plus the fact that DoS is the only game I know where you can play a Smithy as a class. I 'm curious if some developer worked on both title.

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