Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tunnels & the Ultimate Trolls

Good. Let them have it. The Dragon Continent sucks.

God, I've never been so mad at a game. I've played plenty of RPGs that sucked, but rarely have I played a game with so much potential that so completely squandered it. It has a solid character development system, a very open game world, and a decent combat system, but none of them can overcome the game's flaws.

A quick rundown of the game's major problems:

1. Its adaptation from a series of gamebooks means that the game as a whole lacks thematic unity. There are dozens upon dozens of independent encounters that feel disconnected and random, with no connection to the main quest except (occasionally), a throw-away line about Khazan, Khara Kang, or  Lerotra'hh.

Some interpolation about the main quest from an otherwise unrelated encounter, probably drawn from a gamebook.
         
2. The game is too in-love with verbose text-based encounters that eschew the main game interface for a more literal gamebook experience.

3. While these encounters have options, they lack role-playing options, or even any sense to their puzzles. They whisk you this way and that, with no consideration of tactics, roleplaying, or even fairness.

An example: Near a volcano, you're given the chance to explore a tunnel. This is another "text map," where instead of actually entering a tunnel, you get a narration of events on-screen. In a large cavern, you find a number of slaves being whipped by fire demons. One is killed and tossed into a furnace. Suddenly, a bunch of demons rear up behind you and block the way back. Your options are:

a) Fight your way back
b) Plunge deeper into the cavern
c) Surrender

If you fight your way back, you get into a combat with a shadow demon and 16 minor demons. I don't know what you need for "Speed" to act first, but the lead demon used "Blasting Power" on me for 263 points of damage (far more than my 60 hp) and killed my lead character. In subsequent rounds, I lost another character before everyone was able to kill the demons. There's no way to avoid losing at least one person with this option.

Okay, so try again. "Plunge deeper." You get into a combat with 6 minor demons. They're not tough. I defeat them handily. No one dies. But after my victory screen, the text says I'm overwhelmed by demons and taken prisoner. The demons "decide to make an example of me" and throw Stahr into the furnace, killing him. Then I'm enslaved.

Reload. Only by surrendering--the most counterintuitive solution--do I get a postive outcome. I try to escape during an earthquake and only have to fight a handful of demons to get out.

Many of the encounters are "Morton's forks," leading to the same outcome no matter what you do. On the top of a hill, you see a circle of ancient stones. You're given the option to climb or leave. If you try to leave, you get pursued by a hellhound, at which point you have the option to fight or run. If you fight, you face battle with two hellhounds. If you run, you face battle with a hellhound. If you climb the hill, you find an altar to a demon. You're given the option to cast it down, investigate a wooden cask, or run. If you run, you get pursued and attacked by a hellhound. If you cast down the altar, you get attacked by a hellhound. If you investigate the cask, you get attacked by a hellhound. Basically, from the moment you step into the square--which offers no warning about what's to come--you get attacked by a hellhound no matter what you do.

The moment you step on this square, you're screwed.
          
Compare this to how a real RPG handles such things, allowing the player to employ his skills and the game mechanics to sneak, assess things from a distance, cast buffing spells before combat, and flee if necessary. Here, every player faces the same options no matter how strong, skilled, or prepared he tries to make his characters.

Really? That's as much information as you're going to give me to make this decision?
           
4. There are a handful of miscellaneous problems with items and spells. The "Froststaff" is supposed to teach rogues the "Freeze Me" spell (yes, I looked up a spoiler), but it doesn't do anything. You can't "use" or "equip" it. Most of the potions don't work as advertised, and neither do a lot of the spells. The "Remove Curse" spell absolutely never works. There are a lot of miscellaneous drains in attributes that the game doesn't bother to explain and can't seem to ever be healed.

5. To win the game, you have to collect a series of specific items and passwords, which means solving various encounters in precise ways. If you don't "encounter scum" to make sure you get the optimal outcome, you can easily put yourself in a "walking dead" scenario very early in the game. For instance, I don't think there's a way to defeat Khara Kang without a "Death Wand" that you get from an encounter with some mer-people. But the mer-people claim the wand as their own, and you either have to successfully bargain with them (involving an attribute roll) or kill all of them (violating role-playing) to keep it, and nothing at that point in the game alerts you that it's a necessary artifact.

These gremlins pester you every time you leave Khazan. But you have to (counterintuitively) be friendly with them and offer them money to get a password necessary to win the game.
             
In another place, a demon gives you a quest to recover his jeweled eye from a dragon. If you solve the quest, you can't win the game, because you also need the eye to awaken Khazan. You'd better not use the Bag of Winds to escape from storms on the ocean, because you need it in the final area. There are a dozen things like this.

6. But none of the above problems compare to the most egregious: merciless adjusting of enemy difficulty based on the player's level and attributes. We've seen this happen subtly in other games in my chronology, and quite often in modern games, but never in the kind of game-breaking way that Tunnels & Trolls does it, where the escalation in monster difficulty ensures that the game gets significantly harder for every level or attribute you increase. It's so absurd, in fact, that the simple act of quaffing "Warrior Juice" before combat, which increases your character's strength, simply serves to exponentially increase the difficulty of the enemies in the following combat.

I didn't realize this last point until more than halfway through the game. I noted that the encounters were getting more difficult, but I thought it was because of map progression, not my own character progression. Sick of always getting my butt handed to me in combat, I settled in for a long grinding session in a map that offered near-infinite battles with dire wolves who seemed incapable of hitting me. I spent several hours in the area--mostly letting the game fight on "automatic" while I did other things--and rose about 6 levels. Little did I know how much I was dooming myself.

My meteoric rise in power meant that practically every fixed combat was a hellish ordeal, with most monsters capable of killing characters in one hit. If I got ambushed in the first round, forget it--my whole party died.

This turned out to be a really bad idea.
        
Since I last blogged, I've explored most of the rest of the maps, reloading about a million times. I found Khara Kang in his fortress and, after about 12 tries, killed him with the Death Wand.

My characters are invisible here. It's a handy spell.

Well, I killed him in combat, anyway. The script said that as he died, he called out to Lerotra'hh, who opened some kind of portal to allow him to escape.

Later, I found Lerotra'hh in a dungeon called "The Digs." Well, technically, I went there first, but when I saw that an encounter with the Empress was pending, I left, because I had been warned by a commenter that killing her before killing Khara Kang breaks the game.

To be fair, there's a subtle in-game hint about this, too.

Her chambers had a series of puzzles that would be too boring to relate, including a battle with someone name "Fisk" who you needed a pair of Winged Sandals to defeat. Otherwise, you have to sit there and "block" for 30 consecutive rounds before he just collapses. A walkthrough helped me with that latter part, but not where I was supposed to have gotten the Winged Sandals.

When I reached Lerotra'hh, I was able to kill her quite quickly with the same Death Wand I used on Khara Kang.


But again, she wasn't really "dead." She cried out to Khara Kang, who scooped her up in that same kind of portal. They threatened revenge if I didn't wake up Khazan.

Not much of a "defeat," if you ask me.
           
The endgame is supposed to take place on the Uncertain Isle, where the old emperor, Khazan, slumbers. I made it to the isle.


I made it through a maze of teleporters.

The game starts to try my patience.
         
Using some special boots I'd found previously, I made it across a sea of lava (because walking on lava is only dangerous to the soles of your feet). I made it past an encounter where I had to give up an artifact called a "Heart of Fire."

           
I made it past a herd of buffalo, where I had to know the name of one of them from solving a previous encounter a precise way, and through a garden encounter where I had to have a Bag of Winds and have previously gotten a password from another encounter (I didn't have it; I was using a walkthrough to help by this point).

Even the walkthrough didn't tell me where to get this; it just told me to say it.
           
At last, I reached a final set of corridors, the end of which leads to Khazan's tomb.

And there my game ends. I can't get through the corridors. They're full of encounters with groups of monsters who always surprise me (no matter what I do) and always get the first attack. Their sheer number and power results in an instant slaughter. If I could survive the first round, there are some spells that could help (unfortunately, you can't cast them before combat), but there's no way to even come close surviving the first round, as the GIF below demonstrates.

              
I've reloaded numerous times. Sometimes the specific enemies change, but there are always too many of them, and they always wipe me out in the first round. I've seen videos online of people surviving the same area. They have half my characters' levels, strength, and stamina, and they therefore face much weaker enemies. Basically, I screwed myself by leveling up.

Replacing my characters with weaker NPCs was a decent idea, but ultimately futile.
           
I reloaded a save from before I entered Khazan's tomb and tried to swap out a couple of my characters for lower-level NPCs. Unfortunately, NPCs cooling their heels in the various guilds manage to level up along with the active characters. Their stats weren't nearly as good, and this helped a little with some of the encounters, but I still can't do anything about that last hallway.

Dragons bathe my party in fire before I can even react.
           
There's no way to create new characters in the middle of the game, so if I want to get a winning screen for this one, I'm going to have to start completely over, minimize leveling, and hit only the necessary encounters. Since I didn't take extensive notes, this will basically involve just following a walkthrough.

Even if I do that, it's going to take a little time. So let's move on to Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire.

*****

A couple of modifications to our master game list: I checked out Ellak's Tomb for the C64. It was a little tape magazine game with a first-person interface. Although you can make four characters--warrior, thief, wizard, or priest--there's no inventory for the characters and no sense of character development. I'd call it a "half-RPG." It's not worth anyone's time and I dumped it.

Meanwhile, Operation: Overkill II looked really interesting, but it was a BBS game, and I'm not sure if it's playable offline. I downloaded it, but it kept telling me that it couldn't find certain files, even though those files were in the directories. I applied for an account in a bulletin board service that offers the game, but in general, online-only or multiplayer games don't appear on my list for a reason, and I'm inclined not to pursue it if it keeps throwing obstacles at me.

This means that the first 1991 has appeared in the playlist! For most of the year, like I did with 1990, I'll be selecting games at random. But I want to start the year strong, with a title I know I'll like. so I decided to put Eye of the Beholder there. (Death Knights of Krynn or Might & Magic III seemed too obvious.) We'll have an intermediate end-of-1990 post before then, of course.

76 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Over 20 years later I'm still frustrated by not knowing what that "teach a rogue to teach a rogue" nonsense was about, even after reading the official cluebook and a walkthrough. Gah.

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  3. So, one thing about the game isn't as bad as it appears, and that's that there are multiple copies of the necessary quest items. Like, I vaguely recall there being a Death Wand lying around The Digs. I know there are multiple Hearts of Fire all over the place, I think by the time i got to Khazan I had found three of them.

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  4. PetrusOctavianusApril 4, 2015 at 1:18 AM

    Glad to see you are about to escape the 1990 hell soon.

    For 1991 the correct chronological order for the games I put on my own play list should be something like this:

    Spirit of Adventure
    Eye of the Beholder
    Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2 - Martian Dreams
    MegaTraveller 2
    Gateway to the Savage Frontier
    Might and Magic 3
    Pools of Darkness
    Shadow Sorcerer
    Dusk of the Gods
    Knightmare
    Eye of the Beholder 2
    Magic Candle 2
    Planet's Edge

    Incidentally I must admit I felt a tiny little bit of schadenfreude that your grinding backfired, since I've always been opposed to the idea of hours of boring grind just so that you can breeze through the rest of the game. Too bad that it made it impossible to complete the game, though.
    Maybe there's a way to hex edit your characters' level?

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    1. PetrusOctavianusApril 4, 2015 at 8:28 AM

      Looked like part of my list disappeared. Here's the correct one:

      Spirit of Adventure
      Eye of the Beholder
      Death Knights of Krynn
      Disciples of Steel
      Fate: Gates of Dawn
      Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2 - Martian Dreams
      MegaTraveller 2
      Gateway to the Savage Frontier
      Might and Magic 3
      Pools of Darkness
      Shadow Sorcerer
      Dusk of the Gods
      Knightmare
      Eye of the Beholder 2
      Magic Candle 2
      Planet's Edge

      Should be handy if you decide to play chronologically within the year. If not going alphabetical is probably the best alternative, to avoid all the worst games piling up.

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    2. God, thankfully some good and great games in this list.

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    3. Normally, I'd agree with you on grinding. I only do it when I'm losing more than half my combats and I get sick of it. Little did I know that in this game, grinding when you're losing combats is like drinking seawater when you're thirsty.

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    4. Petrus, how did you establish the chronology? I tried, but most databases don't have exact release dates for games pre-2000, and magazines weren't great about offering reviews immediately; sometimes they came out up to a year later.

      I'd organize my 1991 list chronologically if I thought I could get at least 2/3 of them right.

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    5. PetrusOctavianusApril 4, 2015 at 9:36 PM

      I used Wikipedia and Mobygames, and reviews, ads, and top seller lists from Computer Gaming World. I also Googled release dates, but I don't trust sites that list dates as January 1 or December 31 of a given year; as that is obviously just placeholder dates.
      I agree it's hard to get exact release dates from this era. The only exact dates on my list are:
      Spirit of Adventure February 12
      Fate: Gates of Dawn May 1
      Gateway to the Savage Frontier July 22
      Pools of Darkness August 28

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  5. It's possible to get a BBS game to run locally, but it takes some effort with installing a BBS locally and messing around with files. I used to do it back in the day, but unless there's some compelling reason to play it might not be worth the effort.

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    1. Yeah, I was going to say that i remember playing Operation Overkill II locally, but I had a BBS so maybe that made a difference. I can't imagine that that game would have been the first BBS door game to qualify as an RPG, though.

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    2. So, I don't know a lot about BBS games. In general, the reason that I've excluded online games is that I don't want to play games that require the involvement of another person. I want a single-player campaign.

      If a game offers a single-player campaign even thought it's a BBS or online game, then I guess technically it should be on my list, as long as I can still get it to work. I got the impression that OO2 offered a good single-player experience despite its online nature. That opens the question as to whether there are any earlier BBS games that I missed that do the same.

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    3. BBS door games are in many ways the predecessors of Facebook games: you play in your own bubble, and interactions with other players are extremely limited. This is because only the largest BBSes had multiple phone lines + modems that would allow true multiplayer interaction; most had only a single line, so people got 1 cumulative hour a day to have exclusive access to forums, file downloads, and door games, and the interactions between players were often limited to seeing a high-score table. I'm not aware of any BBS door games that *require* multiple players, although there may be a few like The Clans that have features that you won't really be able to exercise without having multiple competing and/or cooperating players contributing to an overall struggle.

      With all of that said, I think very few door games are going to qualify as RPGs. Given the <1 hour-per-day limitation, most aren't complex enough to have player inventories and such.

      This also has me wondering if MUDs would qualify, as many could be played in a single-player fashion. There was a BBS MUD called MajorMUD, but there have been many more Internet and local network MUDs. That sub-genre of RPGs probably has roots back to the beginning of computer games too, as it was likely a multiplayer expansion of text adventure / interactive fiction games, and probably (if I had to guess) started on university mainframes just like other RPGs.

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    4. Got Operation Overkill going in DOSbox. Will post instructions when I have time.

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    5. Update: I sent an email with instructions on how to get it working.

      Honestly I think if someone was going to play only one BBS door game, I would probably suggest Legend of the Red Dragon (aka LORD) - not because it was the best, but because it was the most popular and therefore the game that most colors people's memories about that genre of games. I don't think it has an inventory system, however, and I think some of the role-playing may be cringe-worthy due to the author being a young teenager at the time.

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    6. Thanks, HunterZ. I got your instructions. I remember having a similar problem with LoRD a while back.

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    7. I could probably figure out how to get LoRD working for you too, although it may be better to actually find a telnet-based BBS to play it on (kind of like how you signed up with Cyber1 to play PLATO games).

      I've actually been thinking about setting up a telnet BBS with a bunch of door games for fun. Maybe even two of them: a Linux port of Synchronet for most door games, and MajorBBS running in either DOSBox or a Windows VirtualBox VM to host MajorMUD.

      I still have an archival copy of my own Synchronet-based BBS from the mid-90s, but I'd never try to put that online for various reasons. I might try to re-use the ANSI graphics that my brother and I created for it, though - most of which were based on image-to-ANSI conversions of console emulator screenshots since emulators were a new thing at that time.

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  6. I know there's a tendency for sympathetic readers to pick up on negativity and prematurely encourage you to quit a game rather than finish, but this one is starting to sound broken on several different levels. Scaling with (or faster than) the party and the adventure-game-style expectation that you'll know the right action or replay if you get into a walking dead situation are both contrary to things you expect from an RPG. All of this made worse by unsatisfying Morton's forks and the tell-instead-of-play faults, which are sort of the RPG equivalent of the ubiquitous "show, don't tell" critique in literature. Earlier today I was rereading the Faerghail entries, and to me it sounds like you're about one disappearing dungeon away from being able to call this unplayable.

    Most broken of all, though, is the use of the word Lerotra'hh. There's something frankly criminal about fantasy writers who come up with unpronounceable words, and the combination of inappropriate apostrophe (what letters, really, does the author thing are being hidden in there?) and double-H qualify here without doubt. For that alone I hope Drizzt Do'Urden chases them every night through the underdark of Menzoberranzan in their dreams. That'd be real justice, no?

    Also, excited to hear Eye of the Beholder is going to be the inaugural entry of '91. If I can finish Uukrul in time, I'll be playing along with you on that one.

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    1. I think I will play along with you for EotB as well. I have a suspicion that it won't sco highly on the gimlet scale though, being a dungeon master clone.

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    2. I remember EOB on the Amiga. I didn't enjoy EoB as much as Dungeon Master, but a D&D player would probably have liked EoB better. I considered both well balanced and not too hard or easy, with EoB being slightly easier.

      One thing that irritated me was that I was used to the way DM had 4 points per cell for spells. EoB only had one. So if you were in a corridor and a fireball went past the end of it, in DM you could see which direction it was going, whereas in EoB you could just see that a fireball went past.

      EoB2 was a huge game, also good, but I never finished it (not unusual with me and RPGs).

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  7. SO excited about seeing Eye of the Beholder coming up. I think I'll join the choir of people intending to play along with you here!

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  8. PetrusOctavianusApril 4, 2015 at 5:10 AM

    This is probably the ultimate EoB version: http://eob.wikispaces.com/EOB1+AGA+GAME

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    1. I'm curious in how this is better than the DOS version?

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  9. I think level scaling could be used to good effect as a 'time limit'. Imagine a game where you have a limited time to stop mon Evil Whatshisass, and instead of turn count or day limit the game simply makes itself unwinnable if you waste too much time grinding and not actually doing things. Cruel.. but I haven't seen something like that before.

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    1. There's a patch for Morrowind that makes some adjustments along those lines. I believe it was called "Darker Morrowind" and it put back in some early design concepts that got left out of the final game, including lower light levels so that you actually needed light sources for more than convenience, and randomly-spawning monsters that got more prevalent and more powerful as time passed instead of following the character's level. Left unchecked, they will eventually kill critical NPCs resulting in a near-unwinnable game. (Although Morrowind doesn't have mandatory quests, you can just go slay the big bad immediately if you're powerful enough and know where he is.)

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    2. the game simply makes itself unwinnable if you waste too much time grinding and not actually doing things. Cruel.. but I haven't seen something like that before.

      Then you haven't played Star Control 2 in a grind-y fashion! Waste your time mining and upgrading your ship, and the Kohr-Ah Ur-Quan go on a genocidal spree and eradicate most of your galactic neighbour races. The artefacts you require will still be obtainable from the small piles of ash that once were your critical NPCs, but winning in such a state is very much telegraphed as a Pyrrhic victory.

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  10. Interesting how much of a challenge this game has presented. This is your eighth post on the game (Knights of Legend had 10). I guess if you start again, this game will achieve some kind of record. However, I think you successfully described the experience of this game. And your gimlet score will accurately reflect the compelte game experience, if you feel like abandoning it.
    It's an interesting choice to start 1991 with Eye of the Beholder. It seems to me that it's the most "historically significant" game of 1991, and the good-to-crap ratio of 1991 is probably going to be the worst of all time. Seeing the game on your list evokes some mythical feelings for me, because I think this was the time when I, as a 8 or 9-year old, started to have an interest in games beyond watching colorful pixels move. I attempted to play it back then, or at some point in the early 90s but with only the most basic english skills and hardly any insight into D&D rules, I was doomed to failure.

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  11. Eye of the Beholder was the first PC game I purchased. It was also one of the first PC RPGs games which could throw down graphically with the other computer systems of the day, plus it had a great manual.

    I've got very little desire to replay it though. I resent the two-step that every DM clone forces you to adopt. I find it dumb that you can beat any single stack in a 2x2 room, but getting pinned by 2 relatively mild enemy stacks is basically lethal. I groan at the thought of frantically trying to get the optimal 10 or so clicks per round executed correctly.

    I wonder if one of the foes will make your 'most hated' list. Probably not. You're probably sufficiently better at navigating than 12 year old me was, but there was one enemy that gave me nightmares (and as a result, the whole level did).

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    1. My guess would be you're talking about Level 4.

      It's especially rough if you end up there via pit instead of the ladder.

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    2. It just got kicked down a bit because someone showed me how to make Operation: Overkill II work.

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    3. I'm figuring that my documenting OO:II on Mobygames is the whole reason it's washed up on your list, so I was thrilled to see its name come up here. (Hope you get more out of it than Braminar and Girlfriend Construction Set!) It's very much an action RPG, but the player-interaction elements are minimal, so you won't be missing out on too much other than having competitors loot your sleeping body out in the wasteland.

      If another commentator here hadn't already given you instructions, I was all prepared to send you a working pre-install of it. No need, happily. If it works for you, there's more of the same with the later Lands of Devastation ... which can even be played with a graphical front-end, hypothetically.

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  12. I've never played the first Eye of the Beholder, but I've great memories of the second one which I found impossible as a kid. I keep meaning to give it another go, but just can't seem to get into it yet. I'll definitely be playing EoB2 when it comes up here, whenever that is.

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  13. This level adjustment reminds me of Wizardy VII which has a similar mechanic and after certain threshholds substitutes other monster classes. I remember a game where I level too high in the initial keep and the game was throwing high level slimes at me which were almost impossible to damage. Instead of fighting I just ran and ran and ran to the first city while my characters were falling unconscious from lack of stamina. Only when
    I got to the city was the game playable again because characters were on a normal level again.

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    1. Daggerfall was another offender in this regard. I found the human NPC scaling was tough - monsters were not so bad. I dreaded seeing what Nightblades would be like every time I went up a level. Still, it was hardly as punishing as Tunnels and Trolls!

      All the Elder Scrolls had level scaling, but as time went on they did it in a better and more nuanced fashion. The same with Wizardry 8, where it was occasionally problematic but never overwhelming.

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    2. I hit this problem in Oblivion. Didn't min-max when levelling up or wait for +5s, so the enemies outlevelled me.

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    3. No real benefit in levelly up in Oblivion. I finished the main quest at level 5---the gates of hell opened and out charged scamps.

      Skyrim got it right though.

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    4. Oblivion's level-up system might have been broken, but there's no way to absolutely screw yourself the way you can in T&T. You just have to prepare yourself with better magic, more potions and poisons, etc. Systems that don't have a separate "combat screen" always favor the player.

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    5. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesFebruary 15, 2016 at 2:49 PM

      I preferred the levelling in Arena and Daggerfall to the later games, just as I preferred the earlier games in general, as it provided a good, consistent difficulty--unless you used the many exploits--whereas the later game were all over the map. Morrowind started ridiculously hard, as the random number generator was a complete mess at lower levels, and then became easy as you levelled; Oblivion only become hard if you hit high levels, which required hours of grinding useless skills--somehow the opposite of level grinding in most RPGs, yet just as tedious--and Skyrim mostly threw packs of easy enemies at you with occasional hard ones.

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    6. Chet: I reached a point that it was too frustrating to posses. Painted trolls were almost one-hitting me, and I could only do damage with the paint thinner you find, then I ran out.

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  14. As someone who played a lot of fighting fantasy gamebooks in the eighties, I remember oodles of walking dead situations, where you could lose or miss critical items. Only thing to do then, was play it over and learn not to do that again. It sounds like T&T took this type of mechanic too literally, what in the book would have been a ah dang, in a crpg would be a oh f%&*£$ hell, do I really have to do all that again.
    In other news, yay EoB!

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  15. For pure curiosity - does X-COM (NOT the 2012 remake) counts as rpg for you? Or semi-rpg at least?

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    1. I certainly hope it does... it features character development (multiple stats improve through use), combat effectiveness based upon statistics, and flexible inventory as well as a main quest.

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    2. IMHO it qualifies as much as space crusade for an rpg; being rpg only if you play it that way as the game it self is a classic laser squad clone.
      Just because your soldiers go up in stats and you can give them names doesn't really make it an RPG.

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    3. Whee.

      Petri R. - there have been games on this blog that qualify less as an rpg. Case in point: Times of Lore. Or The Valley.
      X-COM has an equipment system, a tactical turn-based non-trivial combat, level advancement (not player guided but still) and quests of sorts (raiding alien bases, capturing specific aliens to advance the story). Not wizardry grade rpg, but enough meat on the bones that I could make my point.

      I wish I would see an rpg where you are given high-quality weapons and armour at the very beginning, but at a loan you have to pay eventually. Imagine if diablo was like this - the smith in Tristram throws his best wares at your feet and begs you to save the town, but won't sell you anything untill you pay off his gifts first.

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    4. It's still a turn based tactical shooter with a limited story line and there's also absolutely 0 dialogue that would make it an actual RPG.
      If we define a RPG with simply being able to get more and better stuff with lvl up's to your hero(s) the we would have a very long list to fill.

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    5. There is no canonical definition of an RPG - Chet defined the one he was using. It's in the sidebar. X-Com satisfies those criteria. The definition he is using means that he will play a few squad-based tactical combat games and a few 4x games. Given X-Com's combat remains one of the benchmarks for turn-based RPGs, it seems totally appropriate, from a historical perspective, that he play it.

      Delete
    6. I think we're really stretching the definition of rpg here so that Chet can play a game that pretty much everyone loves.

      I'm not against covering Xcom, because it is an incredible game, but I think trying to justify it as an rpg is very misleading.

      Delete
    7. 'We' aren't stretching any definition. X-Com snugly fits Chet's own criteria, which, as I mentioned bleed a little into other genres; this is an inescapable feature of defining anything which exists on continua - you end up excluding what you want to include or including what you want to exclude. Fortunately in the case of this game, despite its questionable rpg credentials, it is of significant relevance to the genre.

      Delete
    8. Agreed with Tristan Gall. Chet played Mines Of Titan which is less fun than X-Com as an RPG but is a full-blown RPG.

      Delete
  16. There comes a time when no matter how strong your willpower, a game must be thrown across the room with great force.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It kind of annoys me that I can't do that anymore. I remember getting really frustrated with a game about 10 years ago, yanking it from my CD drive, and snapping it in half. Hitting the DELETE key on the keyboard isn't as satisfying.

      Delete
    2. I wonder if there's a world record for CD-throwing https://recordsetter.com/world-record/farthest-distance-throw-vinyl-record/6561

      Delete
    3. You could always burn the games to discs and play them from there, just to have the option of physically terminating them :)

      Delete
    4. How about first deleting the game and then... Emptying the Recycle Bin! There's no turning back now!

      Delete
  17. This game reminds me of Darklands, a game which has a cool storybook style inside of towns, but once you get outside, it turns into nothing but tedious wandering and horribly designed combat. Maybe I did not give it enough of a chance, but it just seemed to be a colorful wrapper around a lump of shit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could never get into it either. It was very discouraging because the game seems to be so well regarded.

      Delete
    2. I could never get into it either. It was very discouraging because the game seems to be so well regarded.

      Delete
    3. Never say an unkind word on Darklands! Without it, there'd probable be no Drakensang!

      Delete
    4. It's very much a matter of personal preference I suppose. I've just played it again recently, and I still love it as much as I did when I first played it. Apart from the great setting and general gameplay, I particularly like its approach to armour and health/stamina damage.

      Delete
    5. It's very much a matter of personal preference I suppose. I've just played it again recently, and I still love it as much as I did when I first played it. Apart from the great setting and general gameplay, I particularly like its approach to armour and health/stamina damage.

      Delete
  18. This game seems like a case of 'when good ideas go bad'. It's so player-hostile.

    Interestingly, Pilalrs of Eternity has a couple gamebook sequences, but in every case, they could not be replicated via the engine. For lovers of Infinity engine games, I confidently assert that Pillars of Eternity is the BGIII you've been waiting for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually it has a lot more than a couple gamebook sequences...

      I am curious to know how Chet will value a CRPG as Pillars of Eternity... where there is a ton of text to read (as in Torment) and several gamebook sequences are present at different levels. It also introduces some radical innovations in the common premises of crpg game mechanincs, such as removing the possibility to gain experience point from combat (apart first encounters), basically removing the "grinding approach" common in these games, and favouring exploration and looking for new things.

      Maybe it is worth nothing that even if I hate the infinity engine, in particular I hate a lot the hybrid real-time/pause approach in combat (it basically manages to take the worst of the two approaches, real-time and turn-based, at the same time), Pillars and Torment are two of my preferred crpg.

      Chet?

      Delete
    2. I don't mind lots of text to read. I mind the way that it's presented in this particular game. I guess my comments haven't really been clear on the specific mechanisms I don't like. I'll try to clarify in the final posting.

      Delete
    3. Not sure it's a radical innovation. Various games cap grinding, on either a per monster basis (which PoE uses and roguelikes had used before it) or by scaling xp rewards (my preferred method).

      Dead State, a zombie survival rpg from last year, awarded zero experience for combat.

      Delete
    4. Yeah. It's supposed to reward you for surviving, helping those around you to survive and finding things to help you all survive; not hacking zombies all day long like a lumberjack.

      Delete
    5. After playing Pillars some more I'll say it lacks a certain grandness to it. Mechanically it's mostly fine. Combat is a bit too exploitable, Crafting/Equipment a bit too fiddly, the keep bit pointless. The issue is more that the story and locations seem a bit bland. It's still one of the best modern party-based RPGs, it's just that after you play it for a while, you want to go do something else.

      Delete
  19. Unlike apparently everyone else here, I'm in favor of doing a walkthrough-guided replay to get the winning screen, mostly because such a replay ought to be very quick.

    The game's "leveling problem" does seem rather horrendous, though. Much worse than Final Fantasy 8 or Elder Scrolls Oblivion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually think I figured something out. If one character is dead, the game seems to consider his level as 0 for calculating the difficulty of the enemies.

      I can't kill off only one character in the last dungeon--they all die in every combat--but I can reload an earlier save, kill one of my fighters, and try the final dungeon again. You'll know I succeeded if you see a post on Monday.

      Delete
    2. So you beat the game with its own "logic" by killing off one of your characters, nice job! But - the game predicted that and makes it extra hard to kill off only a single character. That's... I don't know.

      Delete
    3. It's not so much that the game makes it hard to kill one character as...it's just where my final saved game happens to be. Anywhere else in the game, I could strip the one character of his armor and send him unprotected into a regular combat. It's only the ability to leave these specific corridors, at the end game, that makes it uniquely hard.

      I think this will work.

      Delete
  20. You have one unplayed 1990 game on your master list not in the upcoming games, citadel: adventures of crystal keep

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It turned out to be a 1989 game. I dragged it back to 1989 but forgot to update the "year" field in the list.

      Delete
  21. Just stopped in this post to say I am back. I have a bunch of catching up to do as I stopped around the gargoyle ultima due to crazy work demands on my time, and I should also see how the comment activity has been on older posts. Now, laid off, I have a bit of time to catch up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to hear from you again, but sorry to hear that you were laid off. Best of luck in what I assume is a forthcoming search.

      Delete

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