Sunday, August 10, 2014

Game 156: Captive (1990)

I'm using the DOS version welcome screen, but I'm playing the Amiga version.

RPGs inspired by Dungeon Master make up a unique and weird subset of the overall genre. While they are inescapably RPGs, they have such particular characteristics that it seems unfair to rate them against other RPG titles. I admire what Dungeon Master offered, but I don't love it the way many players do--players who look for things I don't look for in RPGs. I know that Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, Bloodwych, and Eye of the Beholder top many players' lists of best RPGs, but with my own preferences for an engaging plot, NPC interaction, tactical combat, and a robust economy, I'll rank most of these as average and many of them as below average--while at the same time understanding that some players prefer them for their lack of such things. More than any other sub-genre, I want to take Dungeon Master clones by the hand and explain, "It's not you; it's me."

Captive fans are going to be disappointed with my coverage. If you tell me you love it, I won't judge you the same way that I would if you told me you loved Rance or Ultima II, but it simply doesn't do anything for me. It rubs me wrong in just about every way, from the goofy framing story to the pseudo-sci-fi setting to the unnecessary reliance on the mouse and the furious clicking that has to accompany every combat. Every time I start it up, I audibly sigh. Yes, it's an impressive development effort from a small team. Yes, it has nice opening music, pretty graphics, and decent sound throughout. But I'd honestly get as much from watching someone's YouTube video of the game as playing it. I realize it's not the game; it's me.

A typical Captive screen. I face a couple groups of enemies beyond a door, with more buttons than a 747 to master.
  
Just like Dungeon Master, the Captive player controls four characters who wander dungeon mazes in real time, gather equipment, solve navigation puzzles, and fight monsters. The creatures often appear suddenly in passages, and you have to click quickly on your attack buttons to defeat them and watch them disappear in puffs of blood. Meters monitor health and power, and the damage system includes a separate meter for each body part. You find bits of equipment that go on your various body parts. As you kill monsters and solve puzzles, your experience and skills increase. It is, in short, very much in the Dungeon Master mold.
  
That isn't to say that it doesn't have plenty of its own innovations, though. Perhaps the most notable difference is that the game takes place (nominally) in space, the four characters are androids, and the monsters you fight are aliens. Captive's wall-moving puzzles are a bit different than Dungeon Master's pressure plate puzzles, skills are assigned by player choice rather than use, and the characters collect money and visit shops in the dungeons. But the way some of these elements fit in the plot, as we'll see, are frankly absurd.

Like just about all Dungeon Master descendants, the creators felt the need to come up with some kind of weird framing story to explain why one player is controlling four party members. In Dungeon Master, the idea was that "you" were the spirit of Theron, influencing the resurrected bodies of four heroes. In Captive, "you" are the imprisoned human named Trill who is remotely controlling four robots via a briefcase that, when opened, makes up the game screen.
 
The back story begins in 2542, somewhere in space, with Trill being convicted on "all counts" of an unspecified crime he didn't commit. Hoping for community service, Trill is shocked to find himself sentenced to 250 years of suspended animation. (I guess the sentencing guidelines allow for a lot of flexibility in the future.) Some "men in coats" show up and give him a shot.

500 years in the future, medieval styles will come back into fashion.

Trill wakes up 248 years later in his suspended animation chamber on a space station with a feeding tube sticking out of his arm. Looking out his window and seeing the wrecked nature of the place, he intuits that the station was attacked and the damage to the computers caused him to awaken prematurely. In his cell, he finds a briefcase computer that, when opened, allows him remote control access to four droids on a ship. The goal of the game is to use the droids to systematically explore space stations and ultimately find the one containing Trill.

The opening screen's depiction of Trill. Game designers: if you're going to decide what the main character looks like without any player input or choices, please don't make him look so stupid.

The game stats with the droid ship somewhere in space. You have to navigate to a flashing planet, hit a button to "Orbit" it, and then "Land" on the space station there. This involves a lot of zooming in so you can make sure you have the planet selected before you hit "Land." If you accidentally hit "Land" when space is selected, which could just be a pixel off the planet, you land in water and start taking damage. As there's only one way to get this sequence right and no skill involved in it, the whole "space" part of the game seems a little superfluous.


The meat of the game comes after you land on the space station and start exploring a randomly-generated dungeon in 3D view. It took me a long time to get used to the controls, and I must say that the manual is woefully inadequate in its elucidation of a fairly complicated interface. I had to use Pierre Fournier's Ultimate Captive Guide to help me figure it out. I tried not to look at spoilers, but given the random nature of the dungeons, I'm not sure this game can really be "spoiled" in the traditional sense.

The interface is contained in a panel to right, and consists of movement keys, a group of indicators showing the droids' current health and power levels, and a group of "hand" icons that show what the droids have in their hands. Icons respond differently to right-clicking and left-clicking; left-clicking on items in the hands actually removes them and puts them in the active "up in the air" inventory, while right-clicking activates them (empty hands punch). There's a non-intuitive process of clicks to get to the droids' inventory and characteristic screens, though thankfully (unlike Dungeon Master) the game has a keyboard analogue to all of these buttons except--maddeningly--the hands, which means that combat still involves a lot of carpal-tunnel-inducing clicking around.

The four screens at the top correspond with various monitors, tools, and cameras that you can find or buy. I bought two in the first dungeon. The first, an "Agscan," displays the specific hit point damages my characters are doing. The other is an "anti-grav" which turns the party upside down and has them walk on the ceiling, which I assume must be the solution to a puzzle somewhere. I don't yet know what devices correspond to the other three, but one is labeled "camera."

Combat comes frequently in the corridors. In the first base, I faced little things that look like garden gnomes and other little things that looked like something out of a swamp. As they get up close to you, you frantically right-click on the various droid hands to punch them. As with Dungeon Master, after you execute an attack, the icon fuzzes out for a couple seconds as you recover. Later, I assume missile weapons will allow me to shoot them at a distance, but in the first base, I only found a bunch of brass-knuckle-looking things.

There are a couple of strategies to make combat easier. The door-smashing trick from Dungeon Master is present here. It does more damage than in Dungeon Master, and unlike that game, this one gives you experience rewards for enemies killed in this manner.

Preparing to crush these swamp things in a door.

You can also use electrical sockets to power up the arm of the lead droid and shoot electricity at a distance. It's only good for a few shots at a time, and I find it hard to aim them (like Dungeon Master, positioning of enemies is important here; characters on the right cannot strike enemies on the left), but when it works, it's a satisfying way to kill foes without taking any damage. You have to be careful not to touch anything else while so charged, as you'll automatically destroy it.

Grabbing some electricity to throw around.

Enemies nonsensically drop gold when they die, which you can spend at various shops throughout the dungeons, both to purchase equipment and to repair body parts. In the first dungeon I explored, there were four or five shops--far more than necessary for its size. There were also various items hidden behind wall panels.

It'll be a while before I can afford batteries, but for now re-charging at wall sockets hasn't been a problem.

Killing enemies by any means nets the party experience points, although I'm not quite sure how they're distributed. It's not simply based on who makes the kill, but it doesn't seem entirely even, either. The player can then use these experience points to level-up skills. So far, I only have "brawling" and "robotics" as skills, but the manual promises more will become available as I get more experienced. I got enough experience points in the first dungeon to level everyone from Level 1 to between Levels 7 and 9 in both skills, so the rewards are fairly rapid.

Leveling up robotics.

I remain a bit mystified as to the general goal of dungeon exploration vis-a-vis the main plot, so let me back up a bit. When I first landed on the first indicated base, I found my party standing next to their lander in a small area surrounded by water and weird things that I guess are maybe bushes or trees.


Clued by the manual, my first action was to open each droid's inventory and insert its chip into its brain. At this point, I was prompted to enter a name for each droid. I used the random name generator LordKarnov42 made for me a few years ago and came up with Ammi, Olla, Heras, and Choun. I guess (the manual isn't clear on this) the droid's name somehow determines its starting attributes (dexterity, vitality, and wisdom), through some kind of complex behind-the-scenes formula. I had scores as high as 15 and as low as 3. Among other things, these attributes seem to affect the number of experience points needed to move between levels.

My newly-created droid party.

The starting area featured a large door with buttons in each corner--some kind of combination lock. A square nearby turned up a "message from Ratt" that had the combination of the door, which I soon entered and found myself in the main part of the dungeon. "Ratt" is developer Antony Crowther's nickname; I don't know if these messages are breaking the fourth wall or if he's actually a character in-game.


One square after the entry was a bundle of dynamite and another message from this mysterious Ratt: "You will need this to destroy the generators." I remain confused as to why I would want to destroy the generators, but I took the dynamite. One step later brought me to a dead-end in front of a blank wall.

Putting my new items in the droid inventory.

Only it wasn't just a wall! It was a wall on wheels, which allowed me to push it and reveal an opening in the next passage. This was one of several wheel-walls on this level, and I guess the wall puzzles get even more complicated later on. In this case, I just had to be careful not to push the walls somewhere that permanently blocked a passage. I found out the hard way that this is possible.

Note the rollers at the bottom.

The level wasn't very big, and I didn't bother to map it. I found the room full of generators almost right away, but of course I took pains to explore the entire thing, killing monsters, getting fixed up at shops, and finding treasure. The only unique encounter was with a scientist at a computer. He was non-hostile when I first approached him, and I thought he might be some kind of NPC, but there didn't seem to be any way to interact with him. When I attacked him to get past him, his head turned into this freaky screaming skull.


He took a lot of effort to kill. He had a clipboard on him with a password to the computer, which in turn produced something labeled "Map Basic." I assume this helps me figure out where to go next.

Getting my rewards on the other side of that lunatic.

In the rest of the level, I found some kind of device called a "Planet Probe," which another message indicated I should put on the "Hola map." I assume that's back in the space view.

At last, I couldn't find anything else to do and it was time to leave the dungeon. The door back to my ship was unresponsive, so I guess that's why I have to destroy the power generators--perhaps to free the door. I took the explosive bundle to the room, tossed it into the generators, and watched everything get enveloped in a sea of fire.

I'd rather be tossing dynamite in New Vegas right now.

Moments later, I was dead. I guess this process causes the entire base to eventually explode. That seems a little mean to the shopkeepers.

So has your punctuation.

Reloading, I threw the explosives into the generators, then ran for the door. It opened, but on the other side, I found myself facing a blank wall. As I futilely tried to bash it down, the world exploded and the game ended again. Thus, my first post is also a cry for help: what am I missing?

I even tried the anti-gravity thing.

While I'm asking for help, here are a few more questions:

  • The space map indicates the location of the base you should go to, but you can theoretically land on any base at any time. Is there any reason to do them out of order like this, or is it just wasting time?
  • Are all the dungeons one level and relatively small, or will I eventually need to map?
  • Shopkeepers are willing to pay hundreds of gold pieces for those messages from Ratt. Any reason to keep them?

Again, I can see why people like this type of game, but it just isn't my idea of a good RPG experience. The plot and game world--with all of these bases infested with aliens but containing human shopkeepers who trade in gold--is even more absurd than Chaos Strikes Back, which is really saying something.

71 comments:

  1. Ultima 2 still strikes me as a game that was started, Lord British got the idea of U3, and everyone rushed out an imcomplete game so they could work on building the next one. It's not as terrible as some make it out to be, but it is pretty bad.

    I sorely home that this brick wall is a game-breaking bug so you can just say "screw it" and go on to the next game without feeling like you "lost". :)

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    1. Ultima 2 solely exists because LB was obsessed with the movie Time Bandits during that time in his life.

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  2. Japanese games are the bestAugust 10, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    Having a goofy-looking main-character can be fun: I enjoyed making the most ridiculous outfits in Dragon Age and Xenoblade Chronicles and covering my character in facial scars in Mass Effect. They looked silly, but it was funny to see how far I could go.

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    1. It can be. I prefer making myself serious looking characters, even in Saint's Row, but I like a lot of options. I really liked all the options in Saint's Row (The most of any game I've found), but they really emphasized gang stuff in 2, and silly stuff in 3 and 4. The two games that I think do this the best are Sleeping Dogs (Open world game made in Vancouver and set in Hong Kong), and The Last Story (Not-Final Fantasy we swear by Square-Enix).

      The last story was really cool in that each armour upgrade unlocked another bit of armour on your characters that could could colour and turn on or off. So level one armour would come with a shirt and some belts. Level two would add a jacket, level three would add a bit of armour on one arm and shoulder (Roman gladiator style), the next would balance it out and so on. Each bit could be made invisible or coloured, so each level you got more options on how to customize your characters. The only problem is that it is on the wii, and looks grainy even for a wii game. I have no idea why it is a wii exclusive, considering it doesn't use any motion controls.

      Anyway, the other game is Sleeping Dogs. In it you can reach any clothing store at any point in the game, and quickly get enough money to buy a ton of clothes, however, you need to get enough face from advancing the plot and finishing events to buy and wear them; you can't wear clothes above your station. Which solves the problem that the Saint's Row games had for me; I pretty quickly found outfits I liked, and stuck to them for the rest of the game (Well, I found one cool clothing store much of the way through Saint's Row 3). It also added a roleplaying element in that you could decide if Wei would start wearing fancier cloths as he gained more respect, to match his new station, or if he would stick with his roots.

      Are there any other games that offer cool clothing options like this, that aren't dictated by game mechanics?

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  3. I had the amiga version, i dont remember this blocking wall.
    The probes are used to find the locations of the bases on the planets so i think they are necessary. Eventually the probes will lead the robots to trill but i dont know how long that rakes. Later on tne dungeons may have to be mapped. More to keep track of the power outlets though.

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  4. Im pretty sure you can sell ratts messages.

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  5. Are you sure you didnt push a wall in the way?

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    1. Yes. This is OUTSIDE the doors to the station, where there are no walls to push

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  6. It's been a while since I played Captive, but I think you just have to turn around 180 degrees after you exit the base. The outer door deposits you back into the same position as when you entered.

    The game isn't strictly speaking "random", even though the dungeons are algorithm-generated - level X of mission Y will always be the exact same. PC PORT IS KNOWN TO BE BUGGY and sometimes the algorithm fails in it, creating an impossible level (these are thankfully always at the beginning of a new base, so just reload a past save if that happens - or, preferably, play the Amiga or Atari version).

    Messages from Ratt can be safely sold, as can any clipboards with passwords (write them down first obviously).

    Planet probes are mandatory. Put them on the map back in your ship to find the next base. Sometimes you get more than one probe; I don't remember if it's possible to skip bases or not.

    The four mini-monitors don't correspond to specific augmentations, they correspond to specific droids; switch around augs between them and you'll see. The fifth is for remote-controlled cameras.

    Antigrav is mandatory to complete the game. It does a whole bunch of things, including letting you avoid mines, enter holes in the ceiling and alter the firing height of certain firearms.

    Another extremely useful tool is "Root-finder" (Optic II). All it does is guide you to the front door, which is handy as the bases increase in size and complexity.

    You get new combat skills as you reach level 9 in a previous one. Robotics grants no new skills, but is instead used to determine which droid parts you are permitted to "wear". A tiny S next to a weapon or bodypart indicates you lack sufficient skill to use it.

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    1. Oh, and it is possible to grind for exp/money between bases by landing on random planets and beating up dinosaurs. This is not really necessary or even that useful though, and there are no electrical sockets outside bases so you run risk of starvation while doing that.

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    2. Thanks for the tips. No, simply turning around doesn't do the trick; the base door is there.

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    3. Oh, I've got it. You have to turn around, then re-enter the door code, then finally exit. That's very unintuitive.

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    4. Yeah, I guess the door is added twice to avoid casually bumping in the exit and trigger a long load time, but what you see is actually the same as when you got in the first time.

      A better solution could have been about putting the door image also on the inner wall so a player realizes there are two of them, instead of just a wall.

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    5. I would rather say there are two doors to simulate an airlock, since it's a spaceship connecting to a spacestation, if I understand this game's logic right.

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    6. That would make more sense if the game had you actually face the second airlock door after passing through the first one, instead of facing a blank wall and having to turn around to find the second door. But I agree that maybe that's what they were going for.

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  7. I fail to see why anyone would play captive on anything but Amiga, though.
    I never played captive 1 but I did play it's sequel Captive 2 a lot and while it has better game play, the actual game it self seems endless and had some puzzles that I could never solve.

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    1. I forgot to mention in the post, but I am playing the Amiga version. I heeded the advice that said the DOS version was buggy, and I couldn't get the ST version to work.

      As for why I would play it on any other platform:

      1. I have grown to hate the Amiga.
      2. Even if I didn't, I like Steem (the ST emulator) much better than WinUAE.

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    2. You could try FS-UAE:
      http://fs-uae.net/

      If you use its database feature (you may have to create an account for that), and use a game image that the database knows about, then it should automatically configure everything for you with the best settings for the game in question.

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    3. woooahhhh, the Additct hates the Amiga :D the most unexpected thing from his blog I have read so far :)

      I am a bit amazed about the choice of emulators. On the one hand, I prefer WinUAE over Steem, but even on the ST, I use Hatari instead of that. Hatari is very convenient to configure, and WinUAE is so extensive, I am really sad that there isn't something like that available for the ST...

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    4. Whyyyyyy would anyone hate the Amiga ;) Until the quality VGA RPGs (Ultima 7, QfG3, Ultima Underworld, etc), the Amiga had the best experience on graphics, sound* and interface accounts.

      * - unless you had a Roland MT32 or SCC1 on your PC

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    5. The Amiga is the second hardest machine to emulate in my experience (the hardest being the Macintosh), and the current fanbase (and the fanbase of the era that was prominent enough to be memorialized to this day) has a huge percentage of arrogant, elitist twits, making it even more difficult to get an emulator working (and likely contributed to the problem in the first place, which is why all console emulators and most computer ones are much more user friendly). Those two factors combine to make it more comfortable just to avoid the platform as much as possible.

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    6. Ha! Yes, exactly what Noman said. I would add to that that the virtues fans are always spouting about the Amiga--graphics and sound--are the two characteristics that matter least in RPGs. Every game I've played so far that was developed primarily for the Amiga or only for the Amiga has been a triumph of style over substance.

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    7. The Amiga bashing seems a bit harsh. WinUAE can be overwhelming, but when emulating games from the 1985 - 1989 era it isn't that difficult as long as you don't go crazy with the memory setting and all that. When you get to 1990/1 you can switch to DOS box since that's when the Amiga started to fade. I held on for as long as I could, but switched over to a PC in 1991. VGA and Ad-Lib/Soundblaster basically put the Amiga out to pasture. Still some fond memories of that machine. But even I wanted to play Wing Commander and there was only one way to do that back in 1990 :) As far as the Fanbase...We're not all that bad :) And I like STeem as well, as it was the only way to play a 16 bit version of Phantasie II since there wasn't an Amiga release.

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    8. Oh, it's fun to have irrational prejudices about things that don't really matter. Harsh, maybe, but take it all with a frost of triviality, just like everything else on this blog. I wouldn't refuse to help an Amiga-phile out of a burning car, for instance.

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    9. Hopefully Amberstar will "turn the tables" on your views of the Amiga. :)

      While I agree on the emulation front (I once had some deals with people who worked on WinUAE and it wasn't pleasant), having a spare cm somewhere to have a real A1200 (I have mine on top of my PC, and one of my PC monitors supports 15KHz natively) is the way to go for the real experience - of course, NOT for taking screenshots and blogging about it ;)

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    10. Might also add that most games violate "basic principles" of Amiga programming and hence work only on specific configurations that existed at the time.
      Those were done 'properly' tend to run slow but work on any chip set, ram or hardware configurations.
      Add in the fact that 99,9% of ADF images found from the net are from pirated copies that had problems working even during the Amiga's hayday and you have recipe for a disaster no matter how perfect an emulation.

      Also most amiga fan fanatic comes from the "lol kiddies computer buy a PC"- attitude that was prevailing even through the 80's and early 90's.

      Amiga was a fantastic machine on it's day with all mouse driven UI, true Unix-like multitasking (that windows still doesn't have), excellent graphics and sound system.
      It lacked only one thing and that was a hard drive which costed about the same as an Amiga without a one, hence it was given that no Amiga ever had a one.
      So by the time we got monkey island 2 you had 12 disks to swap, so yeah PC ran past from the left and pretty fast actually.
      Naturally the decline wasn't helped in that 680x0 Motorola were being out performed left and right by x86 series from intel and later AMD.

      Fun fact some Jurassic Park scenes were made with Amigas along with effects for Babylon 5, TNG and some others.

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    11. @Pedro Q - Agreed with Amberstar. Very good RPG. Thing is, it has a PC version and it sucks balls. Chet, I know you prefer to tackle games by prioritizing them on the PC version. But, seriously, Amiga does this game way more justice.

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    12. To be fair, Amberstar has a ST version that is quite fine. (Amiga vs. ST - fight! ;) )
      Ambermoon though...

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    13. If you have problems with emulate in WinUAE,try packages from this web http://hobring.esero.net/ see http://hobring.esero.net/games.htm#how_to_run and its like PC gaming,click on game icon and play.

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    14. Not sure why you picked Amberstar as an example, the differences between the Atari, Amiga and PC versions are neglectable.

      Actually there are very few games which actually made use of the Amiga, most games were simple Atari ports (like Amberstar), only sometimes the graphics got a bit improved.

      Maybe Black Crypt or Ambermoon are proper examplse to showcase the Amiga since they were exclusive for it.

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    15. Amberstar and then Ambermoon and then - though it's not a sequel - Albion, some of my favourite RPGs ever

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    16. "I would add to that that the virtues fans are always spouting about the Amiga--graphics and sound--are the two characteristics that matter least in RPGs."

      Something I notice a *lot* on gaming forums, not limited to PC vs. Amiga ... hosts of gaming wisely declaring that graphics aren't that important, and that it's a shame that AAA companies are so focused on them, while the rest of the forum nods along wisely. Comes a cross-platform release that looks better on that forum's favorite system, and suddenly it becomes *very important* that the PC version has prettier graphics then the version those stupid consolites play, or whatever.

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    17. I'll bet the guy who wrote the screenplay for Avatar had played and was inspired by Albion.

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    18. One of the problems with emulating the Amiga is that you need to know so much about it. It was an incredibly complex system, for the time, probably the closest to a modern operating system of anything until NT. Further, there was a lot of underlying physical complexity that you had to know about.... types of RAM being one of the most important. (Chip RAM, slow RAM, and fast RAM being the three major types, but then there was also the really-fast-RAM in the 68020 boards, but games didn't usually target that anyway.)

      So, you've got the sheer physical complexity of the hardware to be emulated (MUCH more advanced than anything else of the era), the complexity of the OS (which had many modern features, albeit in primitive form), and then the complexity of the hardware scene... what specific target was a game written for? A1000? A500? A2000? Will it take advantage of more modern CPUs and RAM totals, or will those just make it crash? A modern emulator will have about a billion options for models of Amiga and various possible RAM totals and configurations, and you have to figure out which one is needed for any given title.

      And, of course, early Amiga OS versions were crashy as hell. The Amiga did preemptive multitasking, but all programs could read all the memory on the machine, so a subtle bug in any of the programs you had loaded could take down the whole computer -- and often did. Emulation can't improve that... in fact, it can only be worse. Multiprocessing is prone to race conditions and deadlocks, and bugs that didn't show up often (or at all) on the real hardware could easily pop up in an emulated environment.

      Back in the day, you could look on the box, to see what the hardware requirements were, but that's not so easy, twenty-five years later.

      So, yeah, I can totally see why someone would hate it. Honestly, I'd say that emulating the ST is going to be much easier. It's a far simpler system, basically a 68000, some RAM, a video frame buffer, and a primitive sound chip in a box. There's so little going on that it's a very easy system to emulate. The 68000 itself emulates at crazy speed, because of its nice clean instruction set, and the rest of the hardware on the ST is simple and straightforward. Emulation should be just about perfect.

      It's sort of like comparing a passenger car with a racecar; the racecar can do amazing shit, but it takes a heck of a lot of operator expertise, or you're going to end up in a ditch. The Amiga was an unbelievably powerful machine for the time, but if your sole purpose is running RPG-style games, it's not well-suited for purpose.

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    19. I'm still utterly baffled by how you can easily solve obscure convoluted puzzles in RPGs, but are having trouble with the Amiga emulation. In most cases, you don't even need to touch the WinUAE settings. Defaults work fine for most games, just insert a disk and play...

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    20. With a few games I've tried to emulate in WinUAE with ADF files, the screen flashes a few times and then turns completely black and nothing else happens.

      Even with Captive, for which I am using WinUAE, the opening screens are all screwed up--just a bunch of random flashes and lines. Only after I pound ENTER a few times and the game starts can I see anything useful. That's why I used the DOS version for the opening screen shots.

      But as the old saying goes, "If it works for Zaltys, everyone else must just be a moron."

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    21. I guess you are using cracked version with cracktro.
      Here is loading screen from original Amiga version:

      http://imgur.com/xqsSeVM

      "True" copies of orignal floppies are stored in .ipf files, for example "Captive (Europe) (v1.2).ipf"

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  8. "left-clicking on items in the hands actually removes them and puts them in the active "up in the air" inventory, while right-clicking activates them (empty hands punch)."

    This is the same input Eye of the Beholder uses. It means when you have a shield equipped, you left-right-left click that hand, which serves to put the shield in the 'air' inventory, punch, and then re-equip the shield. Captain America eat your heart out.

    I also find this lineage of games to be outliers. They're first-person maze/puzzle games with a fairly joyless combat mechanics thrown in. When correctly applied, the combat waltz makes leveling and the acquisition of new gear considerably less relevant anyway.

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  9. I hated this game even worse than Dungeon Master. Never get past planet 3 or 5. It become very very tedious to navigate the advanced dungeon (many twist and corner, up and down stair, etc)

    So it become a DM like dungeon for every planet!
    The wall at the end might be a bug that happen some time. I remember experiencing it.
    Or you just didnt run fast enough. You have limited time to go out (even more tedious for latter big dungeon).

    Experience seems to depend to your wisdom stat. It's stated in the doc somewhere. I raised that stat first I do remember.


    1. I tried to explore planet without probe (out of boredom in the dungeon). I dont remember finding a Door without a probe. But you can kill some dinosaur to vent your anger for the game :]

    2. It become bigger. You can get a camera with a mini map on it. Had to use it almost every time (and it drain energy, which become scarce sometime).


    3. sell it.

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    1. Well, that doesn't bode well. I was hoping that every dungeon was about the same length as this one.

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  10. I had almost predicted this kind of negative reaction to the game but then I saw that Dungeon Master received a fairly high GIMLET score. Captive is one of the games I remember not from browsing the internet in a fit of nostalgia, but actually from back then, i.e. I knew it existed back in 1990, when I was 8 years old (or actually, I think I knew it was very popular in 1991). It probably has to be given a fair shot for this blog even though it is the opposite of the holistic RPGs that combine combat with character development, quests and world building, like New Vegas...

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  11. I understand how you feel. If I can explain the fondness for this game that some of us commentators share, I'd say it's less to do with design choices that lead to great gameplay and more with ones that lend the game world with a sense of place and situation.

    If you may, think on how in Dungeon Master does little things like allowing you to see the monsters on the other side through door slits, or having dripping pools of water and other bits breaking up the monotony of the wall tileset, or how the game's light/visibility system works, or even discovering the physical quality of door slamming to hurt opponents.

    These attributes lead to taking Dungeon Master more seriously as a "simulation of being in a dungeon" instead of a high-abstract Ultima symbolic representation of a fantasy realm & fairytale quest. You are correct in identifying the dungeon crawler as a vestigial subgenre to regular RPGs.

    Try to think about this in a pre-Doom, pre flowing 3d engine world. This is the closest you'd get to getting sucked in a computer world. In your modern experience with it I feel you are underestimating how novel and captivating even the 3d viewport still was.

    Ultima-like games are much more about surveying from above as some god-being, slowly pacifying the wilderness and cleaning up all chaos, until every square's been explored, everything's put in its right place, you're all-powerful and so on.

    Dungeon Master and Captive and good games of this type are much messier, more confusing and give a sense of being alive in an always perilous place. You try to get stuff done as fast as possible, sometimes running away from enemies, always battling the feeling that you've missed out on items and story bits - it's an unsettling, almost survival horror-esque experience.

    Little bits that help sell Captive in the way I am describing above:

    The screen being inside the briefcase of the trapped protagonist. He is looking in it, WE are looking in it. The sense of claustophobia that it invokes that our only change of escaping from our cell is by squinting our eyes at this digital display, where our droids are in some far away world.

    Inactive monitors at the top of the screen that later find their uses.

    The whole spaceflight aspect of the game which you correctly find is not very skill-based, but builds tremendous atmosphere in juxtaposition with our trapped protagonist.

    The overtly complicated interface makes the game feel a bit like 'hacking'.

    Robot names leading to stats was tremendous at the time, as I played it along with a friend who played it at his own computer and we would have robots in common, it really felt like his and my "Arnold" (hey, we were 7-8 years old) were the same model of droid.

    The feeling that the game's universe is endless and full of mystery.

    If you're juxtaposing this game to the experience of playing New Vegas, of course it's just clunky and slow and unfair (because it was never tested, a single person made it). "Dungeon simulators" are contrived in a world where we can simulate a fuller RPG experience like in New Vegas. But back in 1990 it was either the one or the other. The design had to hinge on portraying certain aspects of an experience and sacrifice others. Captive was so amazing because it felt - at the time - like it was going way beyond Dungeon Master's simulation.

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    1. Thanks, Helm. That's a good summary from a fan. More important, the only way to really understand how it felt to play the game in 1990 is to hear from someone who played it in 1990. My blog has never been primarily about recreating the experiences at the time because I simply don't think I can.

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    2. I don't think you can do that very easily, yes. I know you agree that these games need to be tackled on their own terms because you're doing this manual map making thing and not you're not looking up walkthroughs and so on. And I know why you're not going through the paces for Captive.

      There are old RPGs with good enough flow where they will measure up to something as rich as New Vegas but they're very few and they'll probably be the ones that are balanced in a way you would enjoy as a particular type of RPG player. It seems to me you like chartographing finite, hand-crafted content with a UI that doesn't get in the way too much and where combat's reasonably fun to break up the exploration. If the setting's mythos unfolds as you hunt down clues from talking to NPCs and cataloguing bits and pieces, all the better. Captive's not really like that (much), it's more an RPG carapache over procedurally generated guts, miraculously and ever-precariously holding them in.

      You hit the nail on the head by noting that games like Dungeon Master are not really RPG in the sense of what you enjoy as RPGs.

      If you're going to keep playing the thing, I wonder if you can get anything out of it that you haven't already tasted. I know the streak is important and a good incentive to give the whole quest you're on extra meaning (aside from the book) but nobody wants you to be miserable either. People say Captive's pretty long? Can someone verify that?

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    3. |"You hit the nail on the head by noting that games like Dungeon Master are not really RPG in the sense of what you enjoy as RPGs."|

      I made the recent discovery that those type of game lean toward being pure FPS.

      They existed before the 1st FPS (Wolfenstein is from 92) and had all the major element of FPS:
      -You dont kow the precise stats of your weapons.
      -You have to move constantly to dodge foes
      -You have to navigate a very claustrophobic labyrinth with secret door.
      -I's not even really turn based cause you have to clic non stop to shoot

      The only element taken from the RPG convention are food(energy) management, (cosmetic) multi characters, and level-up. And even level-up is downplayed: you can win with very low level character cause the most important is to dodge foes ( player skill based).

      Yeah I cant help but see DM and Captive as FPS.

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    4. You can separate your drones to move independently from the rest of the group in Captive II though.

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    5. I'd buy the proto-FPS analogy if only ranged combat was a bigger part of DM and DM clones and you were trying to line up shots. I'm certain Carmack was well aware of DM and Eye of the Beholder when he was making his 3d engines, of course, and Catacomb Abyss is slighyly RPGish in its milieux and conventions.

      To carry your analogy forward to an even more absurd place, these games are proto-First Person Brawlers, what with punching and weaving, countering and dodging in the dance of death.

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    6. "People say Captive's pretty long? Can someone verify that?"
      I played it back in the day. Very fond memories. To destroy the forcefield surronding your prison, you will have to destroy 10 generatores. So "10 planets", but you can keep on playing after that.

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    7. Helm: "If you're juxtaposing this game to the experience of playing New Vegas, of course it's just clunky and slow and unfair (because it was never tested, a single person made it)."

      Correction: Captive certainly was tested. The sole tester was Tony Crowther's little brother Chris, credited as "SuperCC", and apparently the primary reason for the game's existence is that Chris asked his older brother to "make a game like Dungeon Master" (awww).

      I would also never call it slow (the pace can get blindingly fast in the later stages - stacked Greaser augs allow you to not just literally outrun bullets, but actually run so fast you can catch your own punch and hit yourself in the back with a melee attack (!)) or unfair (Captive has one of the best difficulty curves I've seen in games - it's a sawtooth where most of the time you're playing catch-up to the enemies, but after every new acquisition you can dominate your foes for a little while and feel good about yourself, before being thrust right back into the role of the underdog).

      The algorithm that creates the bases was a small miracle because if you weren't told about it, you would never know that the levels are not handbuilt - at least not on the first time through. By loops two and three one begins to see recurring structures.

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    8. Thanks for the info. It's a touching story, but the idea of a single tester - as a game developer - makes me grind my teeth. Still, better than nothing.

      And thinking about it, boy, did Tony Crowther do one better than just make 'a game like Dungeon Master'. Coolest older brother ever.

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  12. I never played this, but it was well received at the time (I tend to prefer fantasy games, so I don't go out of my way to play robots, even if the games are structurally identical). As others have said, there's a special DM genre which is not forgotten even today by those who enjoy it - see for example Legend of Grimrock.

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  13. The extremely little information I can find on Super Quest suggests it has another Middle Eastern theme, but I cannot even find as much as a screen shot. Looking forward to a post on that soon! (Hope it is not another disappointing 1980s game. Your hit rate on those hasn't been stellar.)

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    1. No, it doesn't have any kind of Middle-Eastern theme. I've already got the first posting done. It's like dozens of other games of the early 1980s: some interesting ideas, but not very fun today.

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  14. I played this game decades ago! Didn't really like it then, wouldn't like it now. Lousy UI and boring plot.

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  15. According to wikipedia you only have to beat 11 dungeons to get trill.

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    1. I'd like to know from wikipedia how you can rescue Trill!
      I just got to start another mission (10 bases and the space station): anyway I think that completing once the space station can be considered like winning the game.
      I played this game on Amiga and I really liked it: I finished two missions, but the lack of a real ending made me lose interest in it. I still play it on WinUAE sometimes.
      What I liked in this game was the optics/dev-scapes/camera concept: I think it's on of the few things the Addict could enjoy.

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  16. I always felt these games were sort of proto-action-rpgs. They feel similar to Diablo & ilk to me because the combat is a real time click fest. There's rpg trappings (levels, equipment, skeletons), but it's a very, very different moment-to-moment experience compared to classic Wizardy-style rpgs.

    Personally, I always hated them with a passion. It seemed more like an extended mouse-click-accuracy test than a game of any sort. But I'm glad that you can still get games like this (Grimrock is this style, I think) because it's always good to see a niche market get some attention.

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    1. To each his own. Dungeon Master clones are my favorite sub-genre.

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    2. Yeah. I prefer top-down open-world.

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  17. I just realized the main character bears a startling resemblance to Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    It cannot now be un-seen.

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  18. "though thankfully (unlike Dungeon Master) the game has a keyboard analogue to all of these buttons except--maddeningly--the hands, which means that combat still involves a lot of carpal-tunnel-inducing clicking around."

    It just struck me that there may actually be a design reason why so few games of this sort offer shortcuts for attacks - namely, the real time used to move the cursor and click on the combat icons/weapons is a kind of a resource. It's time that the enemies can spend to attack you. This occurred to me when I played Eye of Beholder 3, designed by a crew not accustomed to the genre, and that game added an "all attack" button, which did exactly what it says on the tin. This seemed like a straightforward convenience feature on the surface, but what it did was completely trivialize the game's combat. The enemies had no chance at all. Turns out being able to deliver 6-8 attacks in zero seconds as opposed to five-or-so seconds is ludicrously overpowered, even if the cooldowns of individual characters remain the same.

    Just something to think about.

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    1. It's a nice theory, but the "cool down" time prevents you from delivering attacks any faster than the developers intended, so I don't think that's what's at play here.

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    2. In case I didn't explain that well in the post, after you click an action, the button grays out for a few seconds before you can click it again. This prevents making attacks too rapidly with the mouse, and would presumably do the same for the keyboard.

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    3. No, I think I didn't explain myself clearly enough. There's basically two time-based restrictions at work in these games, the actual cooldown mechanic (represented by the weapon being grayed out), and the invisible added delay of moving the mouse from character to character and going clickety-clickety-click. I'm saying that removing that latter, invisible delay would make you vastly more powerful, and would have to be compensated by making the enemies vastly more powerful as well, even if the explicit cooldowns aren't touched at all.

      The EOB3 All Attack option didn't reduce cooldowns at all: after executing an All Attack, all your characters would have their weapons grayed out just like after a regular attack, for the exact same length of time. However, actually executing an All Attack took 0.1 seconds, while attacking manually six or seven times (lead characters dual-wielding, middle rank with polearms, possibly Cleric with an auto-returning missile weapon) takes maybe four or five seconds - seconds where the enemy is still alive and free to attack you. Furthermore, you can't easily maneuver while you're doing manual attacks since they won't connect unless you're actually right next to the enemy. Now, after six or seven attacks, the enemy would invariably be dead. The All Attack button, which did nothing whatsoever to mechanical cooldowns and merely eliminated the invisible mouse-moving delay, and which was intended as a simple harmless UI user friendliness feature, was in effect a "kill any enemy instantly" button. The cooldown wasn't gone, it just didn't matter since any enemy would be too dead to retaliate during the cooldown - and in case it did somehow survive a single All Attack, it was trivial to juke-and-jive yourself in position for a second 'broadside' since all your characters had their cooldowns at the exact same time. Overlapping cooldowns were a tactical benefit.

      Now, obviously an All Attack button is an extreme case (it's telling that to my knowledge no other game of this genre tried it before or since), but suppose there was a convenient shortcut for attacks. Doesn't matter which, just something that can be mashed out more quickly than the mouse allows. It would do the same thing at a smaller scale. It would reduce the invisible attack delay that mouse manipulation causes, and make you more powerful, which would have to be compensated via making the enemies more powerful too (at least strong enough to withstand multiple 'broadsides'). This would definitely have an effect in mid- and lategame Captive where you'll have eight weapons in use simultaneously and the cooldowns aren't even the limiting factor anymore because by the time you have managed to physically click the eighth gun in the rotation, the first one will have gone through its cooldown already.

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    4. The Legend of Grimrock developers had an interesting blog post about exactly this (which for the life of me I just can't find at the moment), in short it said: the difference of having to click or having a shortcut is HUGE (with the added complexity of spells in LoG).

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    5. I would have though the difference was larger in terms of feel ratherthan difficulty. It doesn't take anywhere near five seconds to exhaust your attacks. Because the buttons are always in the same place, you can use the 4 main hands in about a second. Besides which, the difficulty would be balanced for whatever system was employed. If it's easier to mash a single 'attack all' then give then enemies more HP. What changes is the perception of action.It certainly feels more interactive/frantic to have to click 4 times, and it's satisfying to get faster at it. The frustrating element in both EotB and LoG is the spell casting, because it's fiddly. I played a great deal of EotB and rarely cast spells despite always having a wizard. I'd just use the wands.

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    6. Talking about an "All Attack" button just confuses the issue. If I have to wait for a cool-down period regardless of whether I use the keyboard or mouse, I don't understand how the keyboard makes the party "vastly more powerful." Either way, the party can only make X attacks in Y seconds.

      My overall problem--and this comes up repeatedly--is that the mouse is a clumsy instrument for game control. It glitches, gets stuck on stuff. A stray hair messes up the optical mouse, and back in the day, ball mice were always getting gunked up at the most inopportune moments. A little twitch of the hand sends them the wrong way. And it prevents you from playing the game when you don't have a desk or table in front of you. (If there's a hell, when I get there, I'm going to be forced to play Captive with a trackpad.)

      I really wish people would stop trying to defend developers who made the decision to go mouse-only when a perfectly good keyboard was sitting right there.

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  19. When this game was published all the magazines (there were maybe three) in Finland that reviewed this game here extremely positive about it. I played it for quite a while but couldn't get interested. I was a kid and felt bad about it, maybe I just didn't understand the game well enough? I'm a fan of story driven games and don't like puzzles at all so after reading this article all those mixed feeling I had about this game 20+ years ago make so much more sense. Thank you.

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  20. I could be that "gold" is simply the name of the currency they use; It makes as much sense as any other name.

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