Saturday, August 16, 2014

Captive: Penned Up


All the bases have these dinosaurs wandering around outside. I guess you can grind against them.

As we discussed last time, Captive is about a convicted criminal who remote-controls a hit squad of four androids as they invade a series of bases and blow them up, killing everyone inside, all with the ultimate goal of freeing the convict from prison. 

As I closed my first post, I had finished exploring the first base and had found a probe that would lead me to the second one. As instructed, I tossed some explosives into the base generators. But I was stymied trying to get out of the base. It turns out there's a weird mechanic for exiting the base via the front door. You have to click on the door, which takes you to a little 2 x 1 room with the same door but facing away from it. To normal perception, it looks like you've gone through the door and are now facing a blank wall. But it turns out you have to turn around and enter the same combination in the second (same?) door that you used to get into the base in the first place. Then you can leave, run to your ship, and blast off before the base blows up.


I remain slightly mystified as to why it's necessary to blow up the entire base--killing all those shopkeepers, among (presumably) others--after you already have the information you need for the next one. In what way are my androids not terrorists?

Once in space, you put the probe onto your space map. It heads out and finds the next base in your mission.


When I landed on the second planet, I realized I was in trouble. For some reason, I had assumed that droids heal in between dungeons, but this isn't the case. Two of my droids had very low health, and I didn't know how long it would be before I found a shop to purchase repairs. I kept dying at the hands of the level's denizens (and at my own hands, as it turns out; see below), and for some reason my lead droid got into a situation where he was taking damage every round. I don't know what caused that.

As far as I know, the only way to heal droids is to purchase repairs at shops.

Thus, I decided to start over and use the experience to go for better statistics. I had some pretty lousy starting attributes for my first party. In some odd, behind-the-scenes, non-obvious manner, the characters' names determine their starting statistics. The algorithm is impenetrable to the casual player; a one-letter difference in names produces wildly different values, and there doesn't seem to be any way to game the system except to try a bunch of different combinations. Some examples (numbers are, in order, dexterity, vitality, and wisdom)

CHESTER:   5 - 10 - 13
HESTER:     5 - 3 - 15
CHESTED:  13 - 15 - 12
CHESSER:   14 - 3 - 5

No famous foursomes produced terribly great combinations of attributes:


Not even androids:


So I rolled up 20 names on my random name generator, tried them all, recorded the scores, and chose the four best for my new party. I prioritized wisdom, which lowers the experience cost necessary for new skill levels.

I got 15/15 wisdom with three characters, so I did pretty good.

With my new party, I replayed the first dungeon and found it much easier (partly because I better understood what I was doing). I found that I could avoid melee combat entirely and just use the electricity-throwing trick.

The second dungeon was also much easier, but it was in the midst of exploring it that I realized why my droids were taking so much damage: only the two droids in the front rank can attack with a punch. If you punch with droids in the back rank, they punch their colleagues in the front rank. I was taking massive damage in each battle and I didn't know why. Not having 50% of my party attacking their fellow party members made the level a lot easier.

I thought this was a ridiculously tough enemy until I realized that my lead character was killed by the guy behind him, not the enemy.

The second base had one of those four-button code doors at the beginning and another a few rooms into the dungeon. There was no script offering me the combination here, but there are only 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24 combinations of four buttons, so I just tried them systematically until I found the one that worked.

This is a map I've made of the second dungeon:


Seem a little small? Well, I haven't found the generators or probe yet, so I'm clearly missing something, but I can't figure out what. I've faced every wall, tried to walk through it, tried to push it, checked for buttons and levers, and can't find anything at all.

So once again, I have to end a Captive posting pleading for help. What could I be missing? I also can't leave the dungeon and return; apparently, you need to blow up the generators in each dungeon before the entry door will open again.

A few other things I discovered while playing:

  • "Swords" became available as a third skill the moment I reached Level 9 on the previous two ("Brawling" and "Robotics").
  • Every time you increase a skill, a random attribute goes up by one.

My character is significantly more powerful than when created.

  • Experience rewards were lower on the second base.
  • Crushing enemies with the door is effective, but it has the side-effect of destroying the enemies' gold.
  • The game occurs in real-time, and (just like in Dungeon Master), enemies can attack while you're on the inventory screen or buying something in a shop.
  • You take damage from running into walls, something I keep doing because I forget that the 4 and 6 keys strafe instead of turn.

Other than not being able to find the way through the second dungeon, I'm particularly annoyed that my body parts seem to take damage even when I don't do anything. I'll simply walk down a corridor, and suddenly I notice that one of my limbs is flashing "0%," and I've got to pay some shopkeeper for repairs. I don't mind being challenged by games, but I hate being confused by them. I don't like it when things happen for reasons I don't understand. Give me a game that kills me over and over, like Dark Souls, over a game that kills me rarely but leaves me saying, "Wait. Why did I just die?"

Captive seems determined to confound me all over the place. The manual, indeed, is so sparse that I suspect figuring out every aspect of the interface is deliberately intended as one of the goals. Just one more example of how Captive really isn't my sort of game.

60 comments:

  1. I used to name all of my droids Jonathan. Simply because that got 15/15/15..

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    1. Way to spoil it.

      But yeah, that was a commonly circulated cheat code back in the day. I still didn't have the heart to actually use it because having four Jonathans in your party was so lame. Instead I spent hours testing cool-sounding names until I found ones that had all stats in the double digits.

      Your starting stats don't matter that much anyway since you'll be gaining a three digit number of levels in the process of this game. Addict's strategy of maximizing Wisdom is undoubtedly the correct one, it's the most useful stat to have high early.

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    2. Finnish game magazines at the time advised the use of the name "Johannes Paukku" - the name of a popular TV comedy character at the time. This gave you 15-14-15. Coincidental, but cool.

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  2. There's an another way of healing your droids. Sell the broken parts and buy replacements. From what I remember, that's sometimes cheaper than simply repairing them.

    As for those 24-combination locks? There's something in the game that can help you out with those, but I'll leave that for you to figure out. I'm not sure when it becomes available, might be a couple of bases later..

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    1. No, I'm pretty sure you get the first one in the base he's in right now. Not immediately though.

      Outright spoiler: Qvpr, jura hfrq va unaq, yrg lbh frr gur pbzovangvba sbe nal pbzovangvba ybpx. For some reason, this doesn't work on the outer doors of bases.

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    2. I finished the second base and didn't find dice, but it's possible I missed something. As for selling broken droid parts, shopkeepers always seem to tell me they don't have the part in stock. Perhaps that changes later, too.

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    3. Shops that sell droid parts are rare; IIRC there's typically one per base, at least in the early game. Usually they're in the farthest corner of the base. I can't recall exactly when you get the first class of bodyparts that's better than what you start with, but already you should have found stores that sell higher levels of Humanoid/Tindron parts. Higher level parts provide an invisible boost to your physical stats, are much more durable in general, and drain more electricity (I believe higher level chests also store more electricity).

      About the parts you start with: Tindron parts are tougher, Human parts have better base agility. Also a Tindron head has a terrible camera, which you can test by assigning one of your insectoid robots as the leader (the icon with the crown on it).

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    4. Ah, thanks. I was wondering why the screen went all blurry when I switched to one of them. I figured the head was damaged in some way I couldn't discern.

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    5. Having the leader droid's head damaged to critical level also messes with your vision, but in a different way.

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    6. The "bad camera" mechanic is actually pretty interesting idea, though a little Amiga-like.

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  3. "If you punch with droids in the back rank, they punch their colleagues in the front rank."

    That's pretty stupid design.

    Fallout: Tactics has similarly stupid design. If you fire at an enemy who disappears before the shooting animation completes, the shot instead hits one of your own party members. One thing that causes enemies to disappear is, unsurprisingly, death. So your 6 guys will open fire with their rifles, the baddie gets killed by the first three bullets and the next three bullets hit your own team in the back of the head. Oddly these stray bullets do minimal damage, and the result is slowly degenerating health throughout a mission thanks to friendly fire. With careful placement, you can avoid this, but it's almost not worth it. It's less fiddly to stimpack your guys every now and then.

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    1. At least it makes more sense here, since the player is remote-controlling the droids and they do exactly as told..

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    2. The back rank can't really do anything useful except throw bouncy balls until you get guns. Which is soon.

      Balls cost almost nothing (I believe it was 10 gold) and hit decently hard; they also bounce from walls, and you're prone to hitting yourself with them if the enemy dies at an inopportune moment. You can also get a ball stuck flying between two walls.

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    3. Having guns won't hit the guys in the front. Why? Does the trajectory of the robots suddenly change just by switching their mode of attack from melee to ranged?

      Unless...
      A) The front rank robots are 5-ft tall and the rear rank robots are both 8-ft tall.
      B) The rear rank robots can only perform Hammer Fist (downward-windmill smashes) punches so they will only hit the little guys in front.
      C) When equipped with guns, the rear robots can aim over the front robots because they're tiny and adorable, albeit murderous.

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    4. I imagine them doing the redcoat thing where the front rank kneels.

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    5. I was going to say that 'back row attacks damage the front row' was a phenomenally stupid idea, right up there with the old games that did 'moving forward when facing a wall does damage', but I kept reading and, lo, running into walls damages you too.

      If the internet was widespread in those days, I bet we'd have people complaining on newsgroups that removing these so-called features would be 'dumbing things down'.

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    6. Why shouldn't running face-first into a wall deal damage to you?

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    7. Because it's not sensible to imagine that the droids are charging down the corridors at full speed.

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    8. Actually, I think they really are. In a turn-based game like Wizardry or Might and Magic I'd assume the motions on-screen aren't meant as literal facts but rather a visual shorthand for a party moving down corridors like, well, normal humans. Captive is a real-time game though, and a game where physically running around enemies and dodging gunfire is a large part of the gameplay. In order to do that, they'd really need to run at the blinding pace the game allows.

      (Besides, like somebody above pointed out, they're a bunch of dumb robots. If you command them to walk into a wall, they don't know any better.)

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    9. ACTUALLY, I still don't like the mechanic. It turns every dungeon-crawling session into a game of "Operation" where you have to carefully thread your way down the hole lest you be electrocuted by the sides. I don't consider this a good element in a CRPG, but I guess it's just one more reason I don't take to this particular branch.

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    10. What is your deal with 'actually?'

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    11. I @#$&*G hate it. When used at the beginning of a sentence, it suggests to me, "That may be the way it is in whatever fantasy YOU'VE concocted, but in the real world--and in contrast to everything you just said--here's the truth."

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  4. In Captive II you need to load your drones from a wall socket from time to time as their energy depletes.
    Not sure how it works in captive I as Captive II also has a repair skill IIRC.

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    1. Recharging works the same way in the first one.
      Though energy has other uses than just recharging, and I recommend that The Addict experiments with that. It might be one of the reasons why he's getting 'randomly' hurt.

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    2. Protip for charging droids: instead of taking electricity out of the socket and touching the chest, you can take the chest out of your droid and touch the socket. That way a misclick won't blow up an arm.

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  5. Captive may really is not your sort of game but it is very interesting to read your post about it.

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    1. I agree. He may not have much fun playing it, but I'm having a blast reading him play it. It's like watching somebody else play Dark Souls for the first time.

      Our gracious host is still very much in the "training wheels" part of the game, getting used to mechanics. It is not until the next base when he'll face the first enemy type capable of outright wiping the floor with his party. And then there's the motherlovers in base six. You know the ones.

      Such a good game.

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    2. Oh, I'm thrilled I have so much to look forward to.

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    3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSy5mEcmgwU :-)

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  6. "In what way are my androids not terrorists?"

    Mostly in the way that they're actually worse. Terrorists commit mass murder to inspire fear to get populations or governments to comply with them, but at least they have some kind of ideology they're fighting for and they'll stop hurting people if they get what they want. That's still better than your androids, which are blowing up planets basically just for the Hell of it. They already have what they came for, and they blow the place up because hey, why not?

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    1. From what I remember, the bases lock down once your droids enter. Destroying the generator is the only way to escape. 'course, that's not much of a justification for actually doing it.

      And you'd think that the shopkeepers would catch on after few bases have been destroyed, and stop selling the explosives...

      Maybe they're just holograms or droids.

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    2. It's not for the "hell of it" - it's to escape. The space station where Trill is held isn't accessible until the forcefield around it is lowered, and to do that you need to blow up the generators in ten bases. Granted, the game doesn't communicate this in any way, but that's how it works. Maybe it's mentioned in the backstory in the manual.

      (Aside: Captive came with a really cool set of two manuals. One of them pretended to be a user's guide to the remote control thingy you're using, and another was the protagonist's diary after waking up.)

      The space station can be found near the upper left corner of the starmap. You can visit it immediately if you want, but not land on it until all generators are gone.

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    3. Hmm, maybe Trill is a terrorist, is that ever made clear?

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    4. My headcanon is that Trill's unspecified crime is prison escape and blowing up ten planets during said escape. It all comes around.

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    5. The space station generators are powering my prison across space from light years away?

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    6. I would have liked to be a shareholder in the wire & cable company that got that contract.

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    7. Perhaps you are a prisoner of an oppressive regime; it did say you were falsely imprisoned. Thus when you blow up military bases you are fighting to free the people. The shop keepers could be war profiteers ;)

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  7. I played up to the point where you're stuck, and... ahem, I'm not sure how you managed to miss it. Unless you mistook it as a ceiling decoration.

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    1. Is that decoration either red or green by any chance ? ;)

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    2. Mostly metallic grey, though it does have some small red bits. I guess that explains it.

      @Addict: If you still have trouble finding it, it's in the exact middle of that map.


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    3. I'll lay it down bare: there's a ladder that takes you to the upper level. It uses the go up/go down icons.

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    4. Frigging thing doesn't look like a ladder. Looks like the handle for a periscope or something.

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    5. It's a weird thing, and weird things are almost always something you can interact with.

      I hope you've already realized that the large square "decorations" on walls are closets that hold items, money or switches that open walls.

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    6. I had tried clicking on it and hitting it, but for some reason it didn't occur to me to try the up and down buttons. I think I was expecting stairs, not ladders.

      Yes, I figured out how to interact with those walls. There are others that look like they have huge buttons on them, but they don't do anything (as far as I can tell).

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  8. Addict: Be aware that if you walk with a broken leg or foot, you will take damage with every step.

    Ways to repair droids are a) Shops (repair), b) Shops (buying new bodyparts and selling the old ones), and c) the Fixer aug (only repairs up to 10% condition, barely enough to take you out of critical state - and it cannot repair the chest. Still good to have). Shops, and thus money, are super important in this game.

    If you're taking too much damage, consider buying Shield augs (Dev-scape II). They massively lower damage from hits and bullets, and multiples stack. I believe they're available as early as the first base.

    Another useful aug to have is Optic III (Mapper). Does what it says on the tin.

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    1. One super cool thing you could do if your party was shot to pieces was to assemble a single healthy droid from the wreckage of four crippled ones. Had to do that more than once.

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    2. "Another useful aug to have is Optic III (Mapper)"

      Quick tip on the use of the automap: RIGHT-clicking on the map screen centers view on party. This isn't immediately obvious. Left-clicking centers on whatever spot you clicked, and the "pause" button places a marker or removes one.

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    3. Okay. I didn't realize the different "Optic" and "Dev-Scape" numbers were different pieces of equipment. I figured they were different "levels" fo the same thing.

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  9. Interesting game. But it also seems to take some time to learn the mechanics, mostly by trial and error. From the comments, I'd say the learning process is rewarding, but then I'm not playing the game.

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  10. "Crushing enemies with the door is effective, but it has the side-effect of destroying the enemies' gold."

    Only the huge rising walls (the ones with a handprint scanner) do that. Normal doors destroy nothing, they slide past any items. The rising wall "doors" destroy all items underneath them when they come down. Yes, they will destroy mission-critical items such as clipboards with passwords; don't kill science dudes with them.

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  11. Robotics allows you to wear better droid parts, but is not needed to get new skills. You just need a level 9 battle skill, starting with Brawling, to make the next battle skill available. And since leveling up a skill improves a random attribute, it's probably worth to keep leveling the cheapest one; hopefully you'll gain more wisdom, so that you'll get more EXP and can level up the other skills quicker.

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  12. It's amazing how every comment here - even from people who clearly know and love the game - makes it seem more arbitrary and unappealing in its internal rules, mechanics, ethics, whatever.

    One thing the Addict's system doesn't allow is something that would have also been a very real part of computer gaming in 1990: giving up early and trying to get an exchange or store credit for something less lousy. "Oh, uh, yeah, I guess it isn't compatible with my graphics card or something... tried a boot disk and everything... my kid's pretty disappointed..."

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    1. Call me crazy but there was a lot of that back then, especially in Amiga. You had to be inside the designer's head otherwise you'd be lost. No explanation in the manual, just bizarre mechanics that apparently everyone but you understood. I don't know if it was due to the Euro connection or what, but that's how I felt. And it was just me - everyone else apparently was having a rollicking time with games like Captive.

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    2. It's true, that was a tactic ... except where I was, it wasn't even considered shameful. Stores were very understanding of this excuse, since so many games simply wouldn't run with your version of DOS/Windows/etc., and just freely took games back. You only got store credit, but that's all you really wanted anyway. In an age when demos were far less prevalent, it was not uncommon to play a game for a couple days, discover it wasn't your cup of tea (or was buggy, or was just bad), and return it.

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    3. EB Games always advertised that their store policy allowed for 1-week takebacks for any reason, except it was actually pain in the ass. You had to fill out a form, explain why and the staff got grouchy the only time I did it.

      I took back KotOR 2, because it was, compared to the first game, unpolished, uninteresting rubbish. Later I found out about the immense pressure the devs had been under on that title and it all made sense.

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    4. doctorcasino: "It's amazing how every comment here - even from people who clearly know and love the game - makes it seem more arbitrary and unappealing in its internal rules, mechanics, ethics, whatever."

      YMMV clause aside, there's not really much arbitrary about Captive's structure. That's one of its high points (and one it shares with DM/CSB), all the parts fit together into a smooth (mostly*) consistent clockwork. Confusion mainly stems from the fact that the game doesn't communicate its systems to the player; it, like most games of this era, relies on the player actively experimenting and finding things out on his own. This hands-off approach obviously doesn't suit the sort of player who has no real enthusiasm for the game and only plays it to fulfill an obligation for a website challenge, but it's hardly the game's fault.

      For example, when I first found a shop in the game, I saved and took a few minutes to buy everything I could afford, experiment with it, note the effects and reload. The game clearly assumes you do this; there is no other way to find out about things like Optics/Dev-scapes or cameras, etc. And when I found the next shop, I noted that it had different items in stock and realized I would need to check every single new shop's inventory in case it has items I haven't seen before. This is how I found ways to upgrade my droids to better bodies, cover them in weapons and augmentations that block or deflect attacks, increase my speed, nullify energy drain, etc. And that's the game. It doesn't tell you to do any of this. It assumes you do it because it assumes you're legitimately interested. And if you're not - well, you're not going to get very far.

      *) There's a certain environment interaction later on that deeply disappointed the ten-year-old me by not working the way it seemed like it obviously would. I'll bring it up when we see it. Also, leaving a base never stops being disorienting with the way it rotates you 180 degrees (well, technically fails to rotate - it stores your exact position and direction from the time you entered the iris door and simply restores it without factoring in the fact that you're going out, not in).

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    5. Things come around: Steam and GoG are now giving refunds on games withing a certain time after buying it.

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