Saturday, May 23, 2015

1990/1991


As a whole, 1990 really started to challenge my CRPG addiction. I took several long breaks while getting through it. I told you that it was because of work and my house, and while both those things were true, my usual M.O. is to find time for games regardless of how busy I am otherwise. A lot of times this year, I just didn't want to play.

CRPGs were new in the 1980s, and hardware and software were primitive. This meant that even a mediocre game has the virtues of brevity and simplicity. You know what the game wants from you, how it's going to play, and how to win. I don't particularly want to play something like Shard of Spring or Questron II again, but if I had to, I know I wouldn't have a lot of trouble with it. I think what we see in 1990 is an increase in complexity without an accompanying increase in quality. When I think back on 1990, my mind is filled with games like DarkSpyre, MegaTraveller, Tunnels & Trolls, and Dragonflight--games that have...I was going to say a "sharp learning curve" but that isn't quite right. More of a sharp interest curve. I just couldn't bring myself to get excited about them.

But perhaps there's a simpler explanation than improved technologies that developers didn't quite know how to use. I suspect that by 1990, it became clear that RPGs could make some serious money. A lot more people wanted in on the action, leaving a lot more mediocrity to slog through. "Cashing in" would be a good theme of the year. How else to explain such a sudden increase in:

1. Adaptations of tabletop RPGs. Where before we'd seen only Dungeons & Dragons licensed for the computer, in 1990 we suddenly got MegaTraveller, Space: 1889, Tunnels & Trolls, and Buck Rogers--none of which were very good.

2. Licensed properties. In addition to license of tabletop RPGs, we have games based on Elvira and Lord of the Rings.

3. Spin-offs and re-use of engines. These included Escape from Hell, Fountain of Dreams, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, and three Gold Box titles: Champions of Krynn, Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday, and Secret of the Silver Blades.

Not all of these pursuits resulted in bad games, of course. The Gold Box titles still hold up remarkably well, and Lord of the Rings, Tunnels & Trolls, Escape from Hell, Elvira, and The Savage Empire all had good points. But in general, the 1990 emphasis seems to have been quantity over quality, and it was tough to find a game that got out of the 30s on my GIMLET scale.

What a gloomy way to start the year-end review! Let's segue to some good things:

Game of the Year Nominees

As I'm always explaining, "Game of the Year" isn't just the highest-rated game. In the choice, I look for something that exemplified the themes of the year, that showed originality and courage, and that had a lasting influence. Just like last year, therefore, I have to eliminate several of the titles near the top of the "highest rated" list--Champions of Krynn, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Quest for Glory II--because they didn't offer enough that was different from a predecessor that already won "Game of the Year." Still, several worthy titles remain in 1990.

1. Escape from Hell. Though flawed, deeply in places, this might be the most starkly original game of the year, with a solid recreation of the Wasteland engine and a clever plot lifted from Dante and other classical sources. We'll have plenty of orcs and trolls in future games, but I guarantee we aren't going to have another RPG in which we can team up with Stalin and Hitler to overthrow Satan.


2. Ultima VI: The False Prophet. Whether as good as V or not, there's no question that the Ultima series continues to innovate and delight. VI is the first true "sandbox" RPG, with an open world and plenty of things to do in it.

       
3. Lord of the Rings, Vol. I. It took me a while to warm up to it, partly because I'm sick of Tolkien references throughout the entire genre, but the game ended up being surprisingly excellent. It offered an open world, a veritable army of NPCs, true role-playing challenges with multiple solutions, plenty of reasons to backtrack, and a plot that wasn't afraid to diverge from canon. I really look forward to the 1992 sequel.

        
4. Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge. The third highest-rated game of 1990. I may not have liked every element (my comments about the nudity are apparently destined to haunt me for years to come), but it was a solid leap forward from the first five games of the series, and it was the only game of 1990 to offer a quintessential map-making, multi-character, dungeon-crawling experience.

        
Though I can't justify putting any other game on the nominee list, there are a handful that I'll always remember fondly for one element or another. In retrospect, Captive was a much better game than I gave it credit for at the time. The story was absurd, but the mechanics were quite good, and I often found myself wishing I could fire it up and play a few more levels rather than try to figure out MegaTraveller or Hard Nova. Elvira was a very decent adventure/RPG hybrid and might have made a nomination in an earlier year with better RPG elements. King's Bounty was just a fantastically fast, fun strategy game, and I wish it had more RPG elements to make it worthy of a nomination. Quest for Glory II was one of the few games of the year that I found myself "playing around" in--I finished it four times!--but there was just no way it was going to get the title after I gave it to Hero's Quest (AKA Quest for Glory I) for 1989.

I'll announce the winner in a minute, but first let's talk about...

Year-End Superlatives

Total Games Played: 33

Highest-Rated Games: Ultima VI: The False Prophet (68), followed by Champions of Krynn (56), Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (53), Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire (50), and Secret of the Silver Blades (50).

Lowest-Rated Games:  Saga (15), The Stone of Telnyr (15), Dragon Lord (22), Crystals of Arborea (23), and Dragon Sword (23).

Longest Played: Dragonflight, at 58 hours. It rated a 36.

Longest Between Start and End: Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan, at 379 days. I took over a year off in the middle of it.

Percentage Won: Of games with a winning condition, 30/32, or 94%. I'm still working on Operation: Overkill and may not win it. I couldn't win Legend of Faerghail because of bugs. I counted Dragonflight as a "won" even though I technically didn't see the endgame screen because of a bug.

Highest Category Scores: Ultima VI got a 9 in "Gameplay" and 8s in "Economy" and "NPCs." Quest for the Unicorn got an 8 for "Economy." Lord of the Rings, Vol. I got an 8 for "Game World."

Lowest Category Scores: A ton of games got 0s for "NPCs" and "Economy."

Best Games with a Bad Category: Champions of Krynn and Secret of the Silver Blades with 2 and 1, respectively, in "Economy." The Gold Box games will never learn.

Other themes from the Year

1. Independents' Day. We've seen plenty of independent games in earlier years, but 1990 feels like the year in which they really took off. While few of them came close to rivaling the best commercial titles, they're certainly improving. John Carmack's Dark Designs titles were both satisfying and offered solid RPG experiences in their short lengths. The Dragon Sword did a good job mimicking Wizardry, if making things a little too big, and Quest for the Unicorn offered an excellent adaptation of D&D rules in an open-world, roguelike setting.

And here's something I can't even say about many of the top-rated games of the year: I will remember Fallthru (technically a 1989 game, but I played it in 1990) until the day I die. It was staggeringly original, and if the developer had possessed even the slightest awareness of other contemporary CRPGs, it could have been staggeringly good.

One of the few text RPGs. Not a text adventure, but a text RPG.
        
2. Sex Sells. Either Escape from Hell, Wizardry VI, or Quest for Glory II offered the first nudity in a western RPG, depending on which was released first. In the case of Quest for Glory II, it was fleeting and only on-screen if you took some special effort. The other two games, in particular Wizardry VI, were far more blatant. Even when tops and bottoms didn't come off, developers used improved graphics to offer titillation in Elvira, The Savage Empire, and a few others, and nudity or quasi-nudity are destined to be a part of our lives from now on. While I don't have a problem with it, too much of it presented too artlessly makes me roll my eyes, and the entire trend makes it harder to play games in public.

I don't know which deserves credit for the first, but Wizardry VI definitely gets the award for the most.

3. Over There. The USA is still clearly the king of computer RPGs, but we're starting to get more interesting stuff from the continent. Legend of Faerghail, Dragon Lord, Dragon Flight, Crystals of Arborea, and Lord of Chaos were all interesting misfires, demonstrating enough competence that I think we're going to see some true European contenders in 1991. That brings us to...

1991 Preview

It took me 21 months to finish 33 games in 1990. Granted, I was still picking up early 1980s games at the same time, but I'll be doing that through 1991 as well. My list has 56 games from 1991, and even if I end up rejecting 25% of them as RPGs (about my normal rate), we're looking at 27 months to finish the year if I progress at the 1990 rate.

DOS had clearly stopped sucking by 1991, and a lot of titles had only a DOS release. The next most popular platform, primarily among European titles, seems to be the Amiga. We're going to have two Commodore 64 games (Twin Morg Valley and The Ormus Saga) and a single Apple II title (Dark Designs III). I'll have to dig up a Mac emulator for Shadow Keep, but that should be the only new one I have to learn.

About one-third of the 1991 games are from outside the U.S., including an unprecedented 8 from the U.K. and 4 from Germany. Japan is still mostly staying away from western personal computers, and only a single Japanese title appears: Dragon Knight III: Knights of Xentar, a 1991 game that received a DOS release in 1995.

1991 is solidly in my personal "dark ages," when I was occupied by school, the Army Reserves, and a girlfriend, and not really playing RPGs. Of all the titles on the list, I've only played four: Eye of the Beholder, Death Knights of Krynn, Pools of Darkness, and Might & Magic III, and I don't really remember any of them. (I think that of the four, I only won Might & Magic III.)

We're still in the heyday of the Gold Box series, and in addition to Death Knights and Pools, we're going to see Gateway to the Savage Frontier and Neverwinter Nights. Although I'm sure that I'll like some of these more than others, I know that all will deliver a solid RPG experience, so I'm going to spread them out evenly through the year as cornerstones.

Might & Magic III is definitely my most anticipated game of the year. The bits I can remember, I remember enjoying a lot, and the series really never makes a wrong step until IX. I'm also sure I'll have a good time with The Magic Candle II. As for the others, I'm completely in the dark. I'm vaguely curious whether Elvira II, MegaTraveller 2, and Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams manage to improve on their predecessors, what HeroQuest (which forced a renaming of Hero's Quest) looks like, and whether Paragon does any better with Twilight: 2000 than the tabletop RPGs it adapted in 1990. There are a handful of games that I'm looking forward to for their titles alone, even though I suspect that some of them will turn out not to be RPGs: Bones: the Game of the Haunted Mansion, Dusk of the Gods, Heimdall, Jones in the Fast Lane, The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt, and Rescue of Lorri in Lorrintron. I know nothing about any of them.

If you had to guess a 1991 Game of the Year right now, what would you put your money on?

Game of the Year

It's Ultima VI. I mean...come on. Seriously. Did any of you read that list of nominees above and think that any other game even had a shot? Did you actually buy my nonsense about "the top-rated game doesn't  necessarily win the prize"? That isn't a lie; 1989's GOTY was the third-highest rated game. But when the top rated game is 12 points higher than its competition...yeah, it gets the prize.

         
More important, it deserves it based on all my criteria. Ultima VI technically ranks lower than Ultima V in my GIMLET, but they're so close that the difference doesn't really matter. I mentally think of VI as the better game. This is the first true "sandbox" game, with a wide-open world ready for exploration in any order you want, lots of side-dungeons and optional areas, NPCs and lore that aren't strictly necessary to win the game, items that do nothing but provide realism to the world, and spells that are good for nothing but messing around.

In this, Ultima VI not only exceeds every game that came before but also every game that I know about that came after except for its own sequel. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 might offer bigger game worlds to explore, but they don't equal Ultima VI in the depth of interactions with objects. As I wrote in my final post on the game:

As much as I love the last three Elder Scrolls games, do you know what I can't do in any of them? Destroy a chair. Play an instrument. Batter down a door. Throw a wine bottle across the room and have it shatter on the floor. Row a boat. Start or douse a fire. Lock a door.

I say "every game that I know about that came after" because of course I haven't played every game between 1990 and today. I will spend the rest of my CRPG career hoping for as much freedom to explore and mess around that I had in Ultima VI.

The game's story and quest are a little less impressive than its mechanics, but as I noted repeatedly, it's only because Origin offered such detailed back stories and game worlds that we're able to nitpick them and create nutty fan theories. There are other games, even in 1990, with better economies, combat systems, magic systems, character development, and equipment, but Ultima remains one of the few series that while not always doing everything best, never does anything really bad. I wish I could say the same about the Gold Box series and its economy or the Quest for Glory series and its combat, or Tunnels & Trolls and its character development.

Okay, it occasionally does something really bad. But such moments are rare.

Unfortunately, Ultima VI was over a year ago. Since then, I've worked through a dozen mediocre titles and handful of okay ones. Only a few--Lord of the Rings, Quest for Glory II, Secret of the Silver Blades, maybe Escape from Hell--felt more like fun than work.

At this point, I'm not looking for great things from 1991. I don't want some highly-original setting that turns out to be a little goofy. I don't want a game that thinks it's being clever by eschewing traditional experience and leveling. I don't want to play a pre-named character and act out a complex plot. I'm sure I'll do all of these things in 1991, and at some point I'll enjoy them, but right now I don't want to take a chance on whether an original-sounding game is good or awful. Right now, I just want to make a party, descend into a dungeon, make maps, find equipment, kill orcs, level up, find better equipment, and kill stronger orcs. Is that too much to ask? Can I hope for that from Eye of the Beholder?

139 comments:

  1. FATE GATES OF DAWN approaches!

    Hoping you can swallow it, as it is an interesting game and also huge as no other RPG can be. Just make sure to add twice as much time to dedicate to 1991, as you'll need 27 months just to play this one ;)

    That said, with more RPGs coming from the Amiga, or the Amiga offering their best version, you might want to reconsider what you use to play there.

    The best option is to have a version of WinUAE, set up an hard disk within it so that you never use (slow) floppies, and then configure WHDLoad. This is what people use for the Amiga.

    WHDLoad is a system that recodes at a low level most (basically all) the Amiga games so that you don't have to switch configurations or ROMs or Workbench versions. You just click on the game and it starts right away, directly running from the hardisk, quickly, without copy protections and everything working perfect. Games are usually well tested.

    When you want to exit you press a key and can launch a different game without any issue or need to reboot the emulator and switch configurations.

    Setting this up might be a little tricky, but I can provide (if needed) just a zip you can unpack and run straight away.

    Or I could write down a guide to explain how to set up everything properly.

    But at least please take some time to do this the right way. And emulating games on the Amiga the right way depends on setting up WHDLoad properly :)

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    1. For example... I was reading about Dragonflight you couldn't make it work.

      But it's available as WHDLoad, so it should work pretty well: http://www.whdload.de/games/Dragonflight.html

      Once you have the emulator set-up you'd need simply to download the game, unzip and launch. As easy as possible!

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    2. Hmmmm, I've never heard of WHDLoad, but it sounds intriguing. I've long since wanted to give FATE a spin, ever since I read about it in Amiga Joker Magazine. At the time it looked almost unbelievably beautiful. If you could write up some instructions and post them I'm sure a lot of readers could benefit.

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    3. WHDLoad itself is fairly easy.

      Once you have a working hard disk within the emulator with Workbench installed you just grab the file from the site:
      WHDLoad_usr_small.lha

      .lha files can be opened by something like Winrar. So you just open that and make sure to copy the files into the C and S directory of the Amiga hard disk. That's all.

      At that point you only need to get the game files. And they can be found here:
      http://eab.abime.net/showthread.php?t=61028

      (hosted on Mega)

      The only complications are that you need for certain games also the Amiga roms in a certain directory, but usually what you need to do is explained in the .info files that come with the game.

      Example:
      The game requires an installed A1200/A4000 Kickstart 3.1 image. The kickstart image must be located in the directory "Devs:Kickstarts" and must be named "kick40068.A1200"

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    4. Fate - Gates of Dawn... Possibly the first really good german RPG? I feel strangely sorry for Dragonflight and Legend of Faerghail.

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    5. I'll bet on Might and Magic III as your game of '91. Since it has an economy and the Eye of the Beholder games don't, it's virtually guaranteed to score higher.

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    6. Oops, I meant that to be a general comment. What I meant to say in reply to this thread is that someone on the RPG Codex put together packages of many Amiga RPGs that are set up to use WinUAE and WHDLoad. Google ""Amiga dungeoneering" and you'll find them. All you need to do is extract the files and double-click on the game's icon, though I'd recommend changing some settings after that as well.

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    7. Antares is coming up on my list, so I downloaded it and tried to get it to run in WinUAE and Amiga Forever and couldn't get past a blank black screen with a red triangular cursor.

      I agree that I'm going to have to figure these things out, but using the word "easy" in the context of anything to do with the Amiga makes me want to reach through the screen and punch you.

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    8. Ha, using the good ol' Amiga 500 was pretty easy once the growing pains had been ironed out. Well, apart from the occasional Guru Meditation error.

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    9. >but using the word "easy" in the context of anything to do with the Amiga makes me want to reach through the screen and punch you.

      Man, it's gotten a lot harder in the last five years or so. I was just recently fooling around with WinUAE, and holy cow, it's gotten ridiculously complex. Once upon a time it was pretty easy, and probably each of the options that has been added since seemed easy at the time, if you were familiar with the Amiga and with the pain points in emulating it, but holy crap... these days, it's just an impenetrable snarl.

      I used to be a mighty Amiga expert, and modern WinUAE is really hard even for me. I was trying to set up what I thought was a very straightforward environment, a basic 2.5 meg A500 with a single, bootable, hard drive image file, and getting that thing working was a freaking science project. I never did get it fully working.

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    10. (A comment was eaten, retying)

      CRPG Addict,

      it IS easy. As easy as downloading a .zip with the game from a site I give you, unpack it and launch the game.

      If you contact me privately (like abalieno "at" the site domain you see when hovering my nickname) I can give you a private link to get an already set-up emulator. I'm wary of putting the link in public because distributing ROMs and similar things is not exactly allowed.

      That said, Antares seems to be a german only game. Isn't a problem playing a game without english translation? If not I can look into making sure it runs. It is available on WHDLoad.

      Delete
  2. PetrusOctavianusMay 23, 2015 at 5:36 AM

    Yay, finally 1990 is over! Even though it's firmly in the Golden Age of CRPGs, IMO it was the worst CRPG year because as you said "quantity over quality".

    Only five of the 1990 CRPGs are good games IMO:
    Wizardry 6
    Ultima 6
    Champions of Krynn
    Secret of the Silver Blades
    Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday

    And of those five the Gold Box games are among less good GB games, while Ultima 6 I could only enjoy using the Dungeon Siege remake. But I did enjoy that remake very much, so I agree with your choice of GOTY.

    1991 should be a slight incline, even though the total number of games are probably higher.
    I predict Might&Magic 3 will be GOTY. It was the first and best of the second generation M&M games, so will have a higher novelty factor than Pools of Darkness which is my personal favourite of 1991.

    When it comes to quality over quantity, 1988 was probably the best year, with eight good (any game that keeps me interested long enough for me finish is "good") CRPGs released.
    Even 1985 had five good CRPGs released!

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    1. Given your comments on MM III I think it is a strong contender, although if the magic candle II is as enjoyable to you as the first one was that could be too (I've not played it). Death knights of krynn was my first goldbox so will always hold a special place for me but pools of darkness is generally considered better. Gateway to the savage frontier seemed a bit short to me, didn't seem to be much story. I think you will like eye of the beholder but not enough for it to be game of the year. HeroQuest is nice enough but it is a boardgame more than an rpg (I sometimes just boot up the amiga version and have the music on in the background though). I played heimdal but my memory of it is hazy, it might count as an action rpg. Most of the other games of 1991 are unknowns or known to be a bit meh.

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    2. I thought the quality ot quantity ratio is even worse in 1991. However, your personal playlist, which you showed here once, condensed it very well. There will be 10-15 good games.
      As for the game of the year, nothing stands out to be. I guess it "should" be Eye of the Beholder.

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  3. Yes, I think you can find what you are expecting in EOTB.

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    1. Actually, IIRC EOTB1 it doesn't have any orcs.

      Would goblins be sufficient to you?

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    2. No goblins either.

      Plenty of well-worn critters though.

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    3. Don't worry. He'll get all the Kobolds he needs.

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  4. Knights of Xentar is going to be bit of a culture shock for you. Especially if you play the uncensored version.

    I've never understood why topless nudity is such a big deal in America. Women are seen topless in public all the time over here in central Europe, and everyone's used to it. No different from topless men. Breasts are for feeding children, not for sex appeal.

    As for the other upcoming games... I'm most worried about Fate: Gates of Dawn. It's a ridiculously long game and you really shouldn't try to complete it.

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    1. "Breasts are for feeding children, not for sex appeal."

      Wow! You just killed me there.

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    2. Hmmm, I'm from Central Europe, too, and I've never noticed women running around topless all the time. We are certainly a bit more forgiving than (parts of) the US, but come on, we find breasts as sexy as everyone else.

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    3. I don't think the "breast thing" is only an USA issue.
      Brazil is a highy sexualized country. Women there go to the beaches using very, very, very short bikinis. Yet, nipple exposure is a serious offense.

      I suppose that's related to America's high exposure to christian religion (catholic and protestant). Europe has been seeing topless women for thousands of centuries in Art (sculture, painting, etc). America, not so much

      I think that US citizens still struggle to find a balance between their cultural extremes. For too many years they had these two extremes: they still have large areas of extreme religious fanaticism and puritanism ("Bible belt") while at the same time being the world's center of porn industry. This sort of duality can produce a terrible culture shock in a society.

      I know that this is just a simplified explanation, because there are more complex issues at stake.

      Personally I don't care if a game/comic/movie shows female or male nudity of any sort. I'm really indiferent to it.
      I've been seing sex and nudity in media since I was a toddler and I honestly think I'm more balanced than some "prudish" people I know.

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    4. As the graphics get better, the nudes appear more frequently, I guess... Also funny how it messes with the Addict's way of playing at conferences...

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    5. I'm from Europe and I don't see women topless in public all the time. It's not as if topless women roam the streets :))

      However, something like topless women at the beach is indeed common and it's definitely not something that will shock anyone.

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    6. Alex, that really is my primary concern about it--and on airplanes, in hotel lobbies, and so forth.

      Anonymous, I'm guessing you're from the U.S. if you have some fantasy that women appearing topless in Europe is "no different from topless men." Sexualizing women's breasts may be a slightly goofy thing that human beings do, but let's not pretend that we don't do it. It's near-universal and it's definitely a "thing," whether it makes logical sense or not.

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    7. In the 1980s Australian beaches were covered in topless women, nowadays, lifeguards will tell you to put your top back on. It's kind of weird, given how much more sexualised absolutely everything has become since then.

      I'm unbothered by nudity of either sex, or sexualisation of either sex. I only care when its lopsided, because then it's reinforcing gender roles. Has John Thomas ever made an appearance in a CRPG? Maybe in statue form, but even then I'm drawing a blank.

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    8. Another AnonymousMay 24, 2015 at 8:17 PM

      Tristan, you can see the Avatar's winkie in Serpent Isle (if you play as a male Avatar anyway). I don't remember if there was something similar in U7 or not.

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    9. "In the 1980s Australian beaches were covered in topless women, nowadays, lifeguards will tell you to put your top back on."

      A tragedy of cosmic proportions! We needeth the Avatar to rescue us from this moust foully perverted sense of virtue!

      Delete
    10. Ultima 7 has *that* couple in it... :)

      Delete
  5. I know several games from 1991, but didn't play all of them (of course). I can imagine that M&M 3 is a hot contender for the GOTY. It's a really good game even today.

    Eye of the Beholder is overrated imho - it has a few elements that Dungeon Master doesn't have, but the dungeon itself is far monotoneous and the combat is more of a nuisance. I can't see it beating the original in terms of gameplay, even if the total rating might be higher. Still, it's a good game.

    Knights of Xentar is surprisingly good. It's a bit linear, but the gameplay is fine and the story might be... unique..., but works in itself and does its job to motivate you finishing it.

    I heard a lot of good things about Fate: Gates of Dawn, but it's also long and complicated. Since I never played it by myself, I'm not sure about it. Could be GOTY as well as a boring slog like Dragonflight. In every case, it might be a game to show where exactly that difference lies.

    Dusk of the Gods is a good game which I enjoyed playing, but I didn't like the controls too much.

    Altogether, I think it's a better year than 1991, but leaves some room for 1992.

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  6. Congratulations on finishing 1990! Sounds like you're in the perfect mood for Eye of the Beholder!

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  7. The obvious choice for game of the year, but also the correct one. For me the disappointing thing about 1990 was that you didn't uncover any hidden gems like you did last year with thinks like Uurkul or Aragon. All your top rating games were sequels, and games you probably knew you were going to like before you started them. I hope 1990 didn't cure your addiction though, I don't want to lose the best site on the Internet!

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  8. Given what I understand from your tastes, it'd be difficult for MM3 or EoB1 to not scratch your itch. Not sure which one's going to be the best of the year, there's a few dark horses in the race that I've not spent too much time with but seem intriguing nonetheless.

    Magic Candle II is not as good as I, sadly. Looks miles better (my favourite EGA art, possibly) but some of the charm has faded away, I bet due to faster implementation to meet demand for a sequel.

    Both MegaTraveller 2, and Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams are indeed improved.



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  9. I just started playing MM2 so that I can play along with you when you play MM3, and I agree that there is just something satisfying about the progress loop in those games. I still haven't even left the first town and WOW am I having fun.

    I personally hope to play along with you on MM3, all of the Gold Box games, and Martian Dreams.

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  10. Moonstone will be fun to write about I think.

    I'm looking forward to your impression of Shadow Sorcerer, it's quite unlike any game you've played so far.

    You'll enjoy HeroQuest even if it doesn't score that well.

    Jones in the Fast Lane is a legitimate classic. Not much like an RPG though.

    Moraff's World might be the ugliest game in existence.

    When you play Quest for Tanda, choose 'Hard'

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  11. First off, due congratulations for finishing another year! Even if you were to stop blogging today, you'd still have contributed an incredibly valuable piece of game scholarship.

    1990 definitely had a quantity over quality issue, and I suspect 1991 will have the same problem--if not worse. Like some other folk here, I'm REALLY looking forward to 1992, which has (at a glance) at least a half-dozen absolute classics... which isn't to say 1991 won't have gems.

    Since you mentioned spreading out the gold box games evenly, note that Neverwinter Nights is probably unplayable. Even if you can find some hack-y way to run it single-player (I've never tried), don't expect it to scratch the same itch as the other gold box games. It's VERY much intended for multiplayer, and not all that interesting otherwise. (I quite enjoyed it at the time, though.)

    While it's not exactly a dark horse, I'd put Eye of the Beholder II in the running for 1991's Game of the Year. Hard to believe it came out the same year as EOB1, as it really is a vast improvement.

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    1. Thanks, A. I appreciate it.

      I don't know why, but I got the idea that Neverwinter Nights had an offline campaign. I'll have to search my past comments. But your overall point is taken that it will be a different experience than the others.

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    2. Blogger ate my comment. Always copy comments into the clipboard before clicking 'publish'!

      Neverwinter Nights does have single player, and does have content to explore. I found it interesting as a one-character challenge.

      Delete
    3. I believe they are talking about Neverwinter Nights (1991) - a gold box game that had an AOL - online experience. From my research, the game will run offline, but I don't know if it is winnable in this mode. I believe someone may have re-created it as a single-player scenario using Forgotten Realms Ultimate Adventures construction set. Chet, you may want to check that out as a backup option.

      Delete
  12. "only a single Japanese title appears: Dragon Knight III: Knights of Xentar"

    Chester, what about Warsong/Langrisser? That was on your master list at some point with the date "1991" attached to it (and I can affirm it meets your three criteria). The Windows version had a translation patch, so maybe that is why you rejected it from your master list? (It' possible to get the game from http://langrisser.info/forum/index.php?topic=1386.0 but you'll get some trash that was included in the torrent along with it).

    Informative read, by the way. It's enjoyable to read about how the genre progressed throughout time.

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    1. I see from MobyGames that it has a 2004 Windows release; is this really the same game as the one developed for consoles 13 years earlier?

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    2. I can't say for certain as I've only ever played the Windows version, but the graphical disparity between that version and contemporary games of the era lead me to believe so.

      I've attached a few between Langrisser 1 (running from a vritual machine for Windows XP) below. I would add other games from after 2000 for comparison to show how much better they look, but the majority of games moved to 3D graphics (and a comparison between 2D and 3D wouldn't be fair).

      http://imgur.com/yk95FYD

      Compared to other games released for the DOS in a similar time period (Hero Quest, Might and Magic 3 and even Savage Empire from 1990) you could probably argue that it looks worse or at least on par and that could be a sign of it being a straight port rather than a remake of the original game.

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    3. I'm probably waffling too much, sorry.

      Also, typo in your article: "rally bad"

      Delete
    4. That's definitely not a 1991 game. My rule is generally to play a game in the year it was originally released, regardless of when the version I'm playing was released...but when THAT much time passes, it's more of a remake than a port.

      Delete
    5. It's probably one of the laziest remakes I've ever played then, but your decision was probably for the best (it's possible to get stuck in the game, forcing a restart since there's no grinding involved and class/level upgrades make a significant difference). You might not have been in the mood for it this year anyway, judging from the comments you made about wanting to kill orcs and descend dungeons (which this wouldn't provide).

      Delete
  13. I seem to recall that Heimdall was described as an ActionAdventure when it was released. HeroQuest also looks a little like that.
    ZZT looks like a more archaic version of the old classic Boulder Dash, but with a little more refined gameplay. X-Men II apparently doesn't have an inventory... Hmm... I bet your playlist will shrink significantly.

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    1. That won't be so bad. I already kicked off The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt.

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    2. Heimdall is a somewhat strange game, but definitely an RPG: you have a party complete with stats, non-puzzle inventory etc. Funnily enough, Heimdall 2 is a completely different game in almost all of the aspects (still an RPG though).

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    3. Indeed VK, the game I had in mind was Heimdall 2, I just checked the screenshots. While MobyGames has it as an RPG, Wikipedia has it as an action-adventure. I haven't played it myself though, but remember wanting to play it in 1994.

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    4. If you want to knock another one straight off the list, you can get rid of Cadaver: The Payoff, which is an expansion to Cadaver which you already rejected in 1990.

      Delete
    5. I knew that name seemed familiar. Thanks.

      Delete
    6. Heimdall is not really like HeroQuest. HeroQuest computer game is a conversion of the titular board game where you control all 4 characters (or, as suggested by the manual, have 4 players in hotseat).

      I would reject it as there are no character advancement in HeroQuest. You get stronger through acquisition of magical artifacts obtained throughout the campaign only.

      It'd be interesting to see you play through it and comment about it though, since it's a rather fresh entry of a board game (with very interesting an innovative gameplay mechanics) receiving an electronic porting.

      It's definitely not the first board game to receive such treatment (i.e. chess, Monopoly, Snakes & Ladders, Tic-Tac-Toe, Risk, Civilization & etc.) but it's the first to receive, at least some, RPG credentials.

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  14. Echoing what the anonymous commenter above said, Knighrs of Xentar is solidly a Japanese hentai game. Given Chet's stance on inartful nudity, it'll be interesting to see how he reacts to a (frequently juvenile) sex romp from Japan.

    As much as I absolutely love Jones in the Fast Lane, it's not an RPG at all. Maybe it could be shoehorned into Chet's definitions, but it's more of a time management board game. Playing single player is not much fun, and really meant to be a hot seat game with friends.

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    1. I never really intended to develop a "stance" on it at all. If nudity is Xentar's entire raison d'etre, I'll probably find it less objectionable than when it pops up in a game all of a sudden, for no reason, as in Wizardry VI. Of course, if the game is about sexual violence, that's a different thing.

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    2. It's been a long time since I've played it, but I seem to remember that the Snow White sequence treaded a very fine line...and may only be non-rapey due to the English translation whitewashing it...

      Maybe a more recent player can confirm my memory?

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    3. And, yes, as a Japanese-H game, the sex is pretty much the reason it exists -_-

      Delete
    4. Knights of Xentar has an entry in the visual novel database:
      https://vndb.org/v723

      If you click on sexual content, you'll see it includes such niceties as rape and wooden horse, so sexual violence is definitely the focus.

      If you want to see Chet's reaction to this kind of game, Redleg, check out his entry on Rance.

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    5. Good call - I'd forgotten about Rance (though, I suppose that's not a bad thing...)

      Granted, Knights of Xentar is a MUCH better quality game than Rance, and a legit RPG.

      Delete
    6. It has its' fair share of "villain raping woman- quick, save her!" type moments. But overall it's a much less cringe-inducing game than Rance was, if only because it takes a lighter tone. It's shooting for "bawdy comedy", and I think it hits the mark, though admittedly I was fairly easily impressed when I played it. And it does a few legitimately interesting things with its' combat system.

      One piece of advice, though: shut off the voices. The actors' delivery is awful, and it ruins many of the better gags,

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    7. I bought Knights of Xentar back in the day(it seemed like an interesting game...), and from recollection, my retail boxed copy was the censored version, and you had to send them money to get the uncensored version. Pornographic or not, I remember it to be a decent RPG with interesting characters and occasionally funny dialog. I found the manual to be particularly well-written.

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    8. I love Jones in The Fast Lane. I have the Android App and play though the browser version, which is very much upgraded (http://www.play.vg/games/150-Jones+in+the+Fast+Lane.html), once in a while.

      Still, it is definitely not an RPG, though you can "level-up" your character through education. LOL

      Delete
    9. As I recall from what little I had the patience to play on a computer that couldn't run DOSBox fast enough to be usable, the player character is cast as a decent enough fellow who doesn't hesitate to start bashing heads when encountering rapists... I may be wrong, I really didn't get very far, it could be different later.

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    10. As a fan of Hentai and a connoisseur of RPGs, Xentar sucks and all three of the other Dragon Knight games are better. Yes, I've played all of them multiple times XD. Also, the protagonist is a bit of a perve, but the rapists are all the bad guys.

      Delete
  15. Game of the Year prediction? Gosh, probably M&M III. Or Magic Candle II, if it throws in another crossword puzzle. I don't see anything else on the list jumping out.

    I should add that 1991 is smack dab in the middle of the MIDI sound era. Games will sound better - much better - with MIDI music (Roland MT-32) and it's easily added to DOSbox. Here's some music in Soundblaster, and here it is again in MIDI. No contest. (The Amiga version is still better than both IMO.) Say something if you can't figure out how to get MIDI running in DOSbox, I'll give the necessary tech support.

    LOL Jones in the Fast Lane as an RPG? I guess so! It matches the criteria. There are random encounters, an inventory, NPCs to encounter, and character development. I liked this game, actually, and I just wish it had been a bit more detailed. It could have been a cool Sim City at the individual person level. It came out more like a board game, which is good, but it could have been so much more. Still, a fun way to entertain visiting friends on your computer, it had that Sierra charm that appealed to the masses. Play a game of Jones right before pulling out You Don't Know Jack. Even the ones who weren't computer people could still play Jones and YDKJ.

    All right...King's Bounty made it in there as an honorable mention. Not as an RPG, but as a fun game. That is awesome. It's replayable, you know. The setup shuffles the villains, treasures, creature huts, etc. It's not too terribly long of a time investment. You could play it...right now...

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    1. I definitely agree that the MIDI music is better. I'll make the configuration changes, but as you know, music is the least important part of a game to me. I don't even evaluate it in the GIMLET.

      MobyGames still lists JitFL as an RPG, so that's how it made my list. It'll be a fun diversion in any event.

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    2. JitFL is can be fun once you figure out how to play it effectively (which can take a few hours of repeatedly failing miserably) but it's definitely not an RPG. No combat whatsoever. I have no freaking clue why MobyGames lists it as an RPG, besides the fact that you play a role, and it's a game. (If you can, play the CD version, or the flash version. The voices add a lot to it.)

      Jones in the Fast Lane ported to Flash: http://home.broadpark.no/~kboye/jones/jones.html

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    3. No combat? You have to beat out Jones from snatching away that coveted Monolith Burgers Clerk job right in the beginning!

      Delete
    4. Everyone knows that true RPG combat is a simulation of what most of us will have to do at some point in our lives: compete in the job market.

      On another note, I want my $51 an hour factory manager job that JitFL taught me I can get with just 45 weeks of higher education and work experience, thank you.

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    5. "You are only 10 short lessons away from your next certification!" - Dean of High Tech U

      Seriously, what kind of crazy-@$$ inflation were you facing to get that much money for that job? The highest I ever got to was $35/hour.

      I remember in one game where depression hits so hard that a Factory GM only earns $8/hr - which was just a dollar more than that Clerk job at the default market rate. That said, rental for the security apartment only went for $102/month.

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    6. There was only one newspaper article about inflation, but the security apartment was going for $990ish. It was the flash version which I went back and played earlier today because y'all reminded me of it. (It did take several tries to get that much for the factory manager job, and the offering rate promptly went back down to the mid-40's.)

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  16. Some random comments on the upcoming '91 games:

    Planet's Edge is the game I am looking forward to. Hopefully the space fights are playable.

    Spirit of Adventure is a rather tedious Bard's Tale rip-off. We will have to wait until 1992 for the real German gems: Amberstar (by the Dragonflight team) and Realms of Arkania (by the Spirit of Adventure team).

    I always found Eye of the Beholder a lot less interesting compared to Dungeon Master.

    Fate: Gates of Dawn will test your stamina. Hopefully in a good way.

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  17. My prediction is definitely M&M3 to be GOTY. They took the same great gameplay from M&M1 and 2 and gave it VGA graphics, mouse controls, music, and kept the whimsical tone and focus on exploration and discovery from the previous titles. Though I think you remarked that you weren't a fan of some of the reference humor from the previous titles (Monty Python and Star Trek jokes, for example) but I think that's a great aspect of the M&M series.

    I'm looking forward to EoB, it's basically a Dungeon Master clone in VGA but I never played Dungeon Master so I really enjoyed that one.

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    1. IMHO, EotB is only passable with really good graphics in its time. Again, IHMO, Stone Prophet is a very much stronger game with an exotic setting seldom used by CRPGs.

      Delete
  18. Thanks for the kind words about Quest for Glory 2. This way we don't have to chafe about inevitably losing to Ultima 6. :-) I'm not sure I played that one - I played 2 and 4, then soured on the series with 7, mostly due to the graphic style.

    Sadly, QG2 does not win the "first nudity in a Western CRPG" crown, as the game came out in late November. I'm sure at least one of the others was earlier in the year. In our case, the nudity/semi-nudity was essential. The entire game was inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights, a set of stories told by a concubine, and frequently involving references to the harem. Without a harem, we would have missed a major trope of the setting.

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    1. I agree that in your case, the various states of undress were more thematic than the others. The only actual nudity is very brief, only seen with the x-ray specs, and not very discernible in any event.

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    2. Not to mention that it wasn't forced either. You had to do something specific and (when you did it) apparently pointless to "earn" it. I never wasted my dinars on that item until I realized it actually did something.

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    3. Ah, I was thinking about the harem (semi-dressed, not full nudity) rather than the x-ray glasses. The latter were originally a joke item inspired by 1960's comic book ads for "real x-ray glasses" among other gag items. I needed to write a description for them and came up with "Everything is blurry, like looking through a veil."

      That might have been the end of the joke, but someone pointed out that we actually had veils in the game. Amid much laughter, we decided it would be hilarious to make the glasses actually work, but only in one location in the game. There was a lot of that stuff going on during QG2 development - the "silly clowns" mode and the "saurus repair shop", for example, both ideas from programmer Brian Hughes. Unfortunately, the saurus garage had to be cut at the last minute because of lack of disk space - We couldn't justify adding another disk to make it fit. AGDI (now Himalaya Studios) talked to Brian and brought back the repair shop in the VGA remake of QG2.

      So, no, I can't claim "high art" and appropriateness to the 1001 Arabian Nights source material for the completely gratuitous nudity of the x-ray glasses. They were a joke taken to its logical conclusion. ;-)

      Delete
    4. Oh my! That's so naught! I totally cannot approve of that! To redeem yourself, I suggest there be some form of nudity in Hero-U. XD

      Delete
  19. I can't wait untill you get to 1992, I've been waiting for it for a long time... Ultima 7, Wizardry 7, Darklands, Might and Magic 4, Realms of Arkania (well, 1992 in Germany), Fate: Gates of Dawn, Ultima Underworld. After that it's going to take years again untill we get into the interesting stuff, though there's some interesting titles in the between zone (Dark Sun 1&2, Realms of Arkania 2&3, Ultima Underworld 3, Albion etc)

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    1. oh and how could I forget Quest for Glory 4, probably my favorite Sierra title!

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    2. I'm concerned that Darklands might break the blog completely. It's an incredible RPG, but an unfinished one without any "true" ending. Some sort of goal for that game is required for this blog prior to the playing of it.

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    3. Jeez, spoilers. "Luke, I am your father"

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    4. I agree that 1992 is probably the best year in CRPG history (also includes Amberstar).

      Delete
    5. Darklands does, in fact, have an ending. I know this because I got all the way up to the final battle before I lost patience with it. You can keep playing after that, but the storyline is over.

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    6. @Raifield - Meh, he can stop anytime after the 6-hour mark. If he has to complete every freaking CRPGs like Darklands, I'd be more worried when he reaches the UnReal World.

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  20. In regards to Neverwinter Nights, there are three different ways you could approach playing it:

    1) You can run it in a version of DOSBox that allows you to save your emulated state. Without that, you will not be able to get very far in the game, as it has no option to save in the version that was released to be played in single-player mode.

    2) You could play "Forgotten World," which is an online remake of Neverwinter Nights. I don't know if it's still up, but when I played it a few years back, there were people online playing.

    3) You could play the FRUA (Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures) version of Neverwinter Nights, but that might break your rules since FRUA didn't come out until 1993.

    Just some thoughts.

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    1. Ugh. I don't like any of them. #2 and #3 wouldn't be giving me the original game, and for years I've been resisting downloading a "save state" version of DOSBox for the obvious temptation issues. I'll make a decision when it comes up.

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    2. Your NWN review might well be served by asking those who'd seriously played it during the day to give you an email about their experiences. No matter what you do, you wont be able to recreate that feeling for yourself.

      Delete
    3. Just leave DOSbox running, minimize the window, and put your computer to sleep instead of shutting down. Even desktops can be put to sleep, it works not only on laptops. Problem solved.

      Delete
    4. ...but what if the computer crashes? That's a very real risk.

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    5. 4) Play the 2002 version instead.

      Delete
    6. How about a compromise: play it as a FRUA mod when you get to FRUA?

      There are better FRUA mods, of course; I'd cite Ben Jockisch's 'The Sect', which has an epic storyline, takes you from level 1 to 15, and has an international angle, being made by a German.

      Delete
  21. Great post. I've been a long-time reader, but I don't comment much. This was a great read. It's funny because I've never really liked the Ultima games. I mean, I like them... it's just something about them that keeps me from ever finishing them. Now that you've given U6 the game of the year for that year, I've got to go back (for probably the 15th time in my life) and really try to play and finish it.

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    1. Sometimes things just don't work for some people. No matter how good everyone tells me it is, I can't finish Lord of the Rings. Ulitima might be like that for you.

      Delete
    2. When I saw the review of the amiga version of ultima 6 (possibly even in amiga power) I thought I must have this game. It was not to be, and then after a while it became almost impossible to find (pre-internet). I got a PC a couple years later and ultima 7 was one of the first things I got on it. The combat kinda sucks in that (which makes me sad) but practically everything else was amazing. I've since got ultima 6, but I've never really got anywhere, I don't know if it was my original expectations and then memories of ultima 7, that just make me think meh, but I will try it again one day..

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    3. I had Ultima 6 for the Amiga, but it was so slow to the point of being unplayable. I suspect it was one of those hard drive only games.

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    4. I think my biggest problem with Ultima is that the combat is so easy to the point where it's a nuisance. I also have a problem where I have to buy all the equipment or I won't feel complete, and lots of the equipment in Ultima is unnecessary because the combat sucks. I wish I could just talk to NPCs. I'd rather play a visual novel than some of the Ultima games.

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  22. http://www.caribbeanleadership.org/en/group-specific-content/public/blog/charisma--in-the-eye-of-the-beholder-

    (Not exactly what I was looking for)

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    1. Yeah. There are no unicorn/dragon hybrids in EotB which this website kept going on about. And is there really a CyberNinja class available? That's not how I remember it.

      Delete
  23. I am one of very many looking forward to Might & Magic III. I may be the only one looking forward to Bard's Tale Construction Set.

    I played around with BTCS once, and it's a "make your own RPG" toolkit. But it does come with a playable sample scenario, "Star Light Festival", which qualifies as an RPG.

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    1. I was curious if I'd have to dump that one. Glad to know it came with a sample.

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  24. I'm very curious too see your take on Hero Quest and Heimdall. I played both games a lot in my childhood.

    Keep in mind that while the Hero Quest DOS version has much more colours than the Amiga's (it's VGA), it actually looks worse. Game designers just didn't know what to do with so many colours, i guess.

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  25. On Mac emulators:

    There are 3 -miniVMAC, Basilisk II, and SheepShaver. These correspond roughly to the first 3 generations of Macs. minivMac emulates only the original black-and-white models, Basilisk II covers the later Motorola 68k ones, and SheepShaver the PowerPC ones. vMac works flawlessly (other than the hassle of setting up a System 6 install), but is colorless and limited in what it will run. As far as I can tell, Basilisk simply doesn't work, and SheepShaver works quite well once you get the OS installed (which is a bit of a pain.) Fortunately, most of the 68k stuff seems to work fine in SheepShaver with an appropriate OS.

    Mac emulation may come in handy in the future for multi-platform releases - you're going to be running into several Windows compatibility problems in a few years (mostly from the Win 95/98 era), but games from that period with a Mac release can be easily emulated in SS.

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    1. I had head that Mac emulation was going to be a bit of a pain. It sounds like SheepShaver (what a name) is the way to go if I want to be sure I can emulate anything for the Mac? If so, I guess it's worth the effort to get started.

      I don't suppose modern Macs have backward compatibility all the way back to the 1980s OS versions? It might be easier to just buy a Mac.

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    2. One of the great ironies is that DOS game essentially became "forever". You can play DOS games, even the ones that were god-awful to set up back in the real DOS games like U7, on every modern OS. In retrospect, DOS/VGA/SoundBlaster is a perfect little enclosed box that is relatively easy to emulate.

      Windows games? Mac games? No and no.

      Windows dropped 16-bit support back in Windows ME, so you cannot easily play Windows 3.x games on modern systems. Pre-OSX Mac support has similarly been dropped for years and there you have TWO challenges because not only are pre-OSX games no longer supported, post-OSX applications written only for PPC are also unplayable.

      I also am trying to solve this problem because I am trying to play the original version of "The Manhole" which was for old classic Macs. Good luck!

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    3. I don't thing SheepShaver is 100% compatible with the first-gen mac games - it's run everything I've tried except Might and Magic I, but that may be an OS issue.

      Fortunately, for first-gen stuff, miniVmac is easy enough to set up - you just need an OS 6 (not the only option, but what I use) boot disk (I was wrong about this being a pain), a hard drive image to store your games on, and the games themselves (which present a bit of a problem themselves, as most of the distribution sites use the Mac-only Stuffit expander filetype, I just use my SheepShaver OS9 install to take care of that). It's all drag-and-drop.

      Sheepsaver is about halfway between a console emulator (nearly all of which are easier to operate than Excel) and the Amiga emulators - the setup interface is complex, but not too difficult, and the only pain is getting the older Operating Systems for install.)

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    4. Windows up to 3.11 will run in DOSBox. I probably still have a disk image somewhere that I could let you borrow. Windows 95/98 and onward are pretty well covered by the Wine project. There was a build of it made for Windows at one point for precisely this situation, but it may or may not be available anymore. I can probably find time to make you a bootable USB drive with Ubuntu or somesuch on it if you get stuck on making an old game run.

      Delete
    5. You can also follow the path of virtualization. Virtualbox, for example, allows you to set up a Windows 3.11 machine that will work 99% the way it does in a real computer

      Delete
    6. I played around 70% of Might and Magic 1 under Basilisk II, for whatever that's worth. That emulator isn't super well maintained, but there are other options.

      Delete
    7. Incorrect above: Windows dropped 16-bit applications only when it moved to 64-bit. I used a 16-bit version of Visio on Windows XP. It wasn't until I moved to Windows 7 64-bit that it stopped working.

      No, modern OS X has dropped support for older mac versions. EARLY versions of OS X did include a virtual machine (not an emulator, better) that would run Mac OS 9, but it was dropped as the number of people running old Mac apps.

      Delete
  26. Interesting to see both Eye of the Beholder games released the same year. I've only ever played the SNES version, and that was many years ago. I'm looking forward to seeing how the PC version compares, and how the sequel turned out.

    Heimdall is also on my list, and after trying it out I think I'm going to include it even if the inventory management seemed light. Obitus is another that seems to have shaky foundations for a CRPG.

    Pools of Darkness was pretty fun, but there are some bugs that make the late game harder than intended.

    Like many, I suspect Might and Magic III will take top spot. I'm still waiting for the year that may never come: one where a mostly unknown game completely enamors and surprises you.

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    1. I'm betting that will happen in 1992, actually (although maybe we will be pleasantly surprised in 1991, I am not a CRPG expert).

      1992 has Darklands. From what I've read, it sounds like CRPG Addict likes freedom to go any direction, deep character creation, rich economy, and novel ideas that aren't just the standard tropes. Darklands fits all of those. It is not a perfect game, but I would be surprised if it isn't at or close to the top for 1992...and certainly the best one he hasn't played. (Ultima 7 and Ultima Underworld, along with Might & Magic 4, are also 1992...there is a great year of games coming up soon-ish!)

      Delete
  27. '...Destroy a chair. Play an instrument. Batter down a door...'

    There are still games today like this...but the ones I can think of aren't archetypal RPGs from big development studios - they're games like Nethack, and Minecraft (I don't know if you can bake a cake in Nethack, but you can do it in Minecraft).

    So just what happened to the sandbox dimension of RPGs? What were the last RPGs to do it? When and why did it die out?

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    1. Immersion balance I think. Adding these things increases immersion. However, so does making things break in realistic, physics based ways. However, the more objects you have, the more work you have to do, the harder that is to program.

      Delete
  28. I played Might and Magic 3 and Eye of the Beholder on SNES back in the day, and still have the carts. I disliked EotB because I hate the non-turn-based, Dungeon Master-y gameplay. MM3 was my first experience with that franchise, and I disliked it because the pacing felt bad to me - there's a weird flat part at the beginning where my advancement was limited by not having enough money, and then later that problem went away, but advancement was then limited by absurd XP requirements. I also didn't like how easy it was to "step off the path" and get into encounters that were way beyond my capabilities. All in all, I never got anywhere near finishing it, which is probably just as well, because I probably would have flipped out about using laser blasters to fight Orc Gods and using computers to operate space ships, etc.

    Fond memories of getting in trouble for running the family's AOL account over the monthly time limit playing Neverwinter Nights, even though I didn't get very far at it (because of that time limit).

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  29. For what it's worth, some of the Elder Scrolls games do let you lock doors. But only via magic, not via lockpicks.

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    1. I don't know about the 3.0 series, but NetHack 3.4.3 lets you lock doors, chests, and boxes. I can think of three locking methods (and nine unlocking methods) off of the top of my head.

      Delete
  30. Hello! I'm new. I've been reading this blog for awhile, and I decided to start commenting because I can't wait for you to play Dragon Slayer! Dragon Slayer is friggin' impossible and I would love to watch someone else struggle with that thing, as well as Hyllide (shudder). The JRPG is my personal favorite genre and area of expertise. You're in for lot's of grinding, that's for sure. Also, why all the MegaTen hate? Is the once a week limit a per-person thing, or is it for everyone?

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    1. Dragon Slayer isn't *that* bad once you figure it out- while it has the elements of an RPG, the flow is almost more like a strategy game. It really comes down to powering up efficiently, and managing what monsters the game spawns so they don't spawn until you're ready for them. (I don't think Chet will actually like it, but I am very much looking forward to seeing him play it and his perspective on its... unique... mechanics.)

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    2. I guess the SMT joke has run its course. I deleted the reference from the comment instructions.

      I don't hate SMT--don't know anything about it, really--but some absurdly pathological commenters were managing to work some reference to SMT into every single game I played. I'm sure it's a great game, but I can't believe it exemplifies every positive characteristic of every other game I discuss.

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    3. Shin Megami Tensei should be your GOTY for 1991, despite the series having no entries that year. Apparently it's just that good. :P

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  31. Wait, what platform are you gonna play Dragon Slayer and Hyllide on? There's no DOS version, because DOS couldn't handle Japanese characters. You'll have to use MSX or PC-88, which are no fun to emulate (I'm speaking from experience). There's a gameboy version of Dragon Slayer, which is actually quite atrocious, even more so than the original. There's also the Falcom classics series for Saturn, which is probably the best version. Hyllide had an NES port, which was actually released in the U.S., to the confusion of gamers accustomed to the likes of Zelda and all the other games that Hyllide directly inspired.

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    1. MSX isn't that bad, and Chet's already played one game (Black Onyx) on a PC-88 emulator. But if you do go the MSX route, be aware that there are two different releases- the tape release, which has the levels (or "phases) in their original order, and the cartridge release, which completely reorders them, and has an even worse difficulty curve for it.

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    2. I'm going to play--actually, have already played--Hydlide on the PC-88. Haven't looked into Dragon Slayer yet.

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    3. Just reread my comment and saw it was unclear which game was being referred to. Dragon Slayer, not Hydlide has "phases" (really, more like stages or levels in a non-RPG sense) in a different order in the two MSX releases.

      Also, it seems like the vast majority of people here remember Hydlide from the NES version, which was "enhanced" (therefore the Japanese title of "Hydlide Special". It added a few things like a magic system and the music from Hydlide 2 (which is a good deal more annoying).

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    4. Yes, I talked about those differences a bit. If I can find a PC-88 version of Dragon Slayer, I'll go with that. The PC-88 emulator I'm using is very easy to use. I'd rather keep going with it than try to learn another emulator.

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    5. The PC-88 version has better graphics. My MSX emulator has a horrifying icon that seems to be some kind of sick perversion of the linux penguin, and I don't like to have him leering at me from my desktop... The gameboy version of Dragon Slayer has some surprisingly bad music, though: a horrific chiptune adaptation of one of Dvorjak's Slavonic dances, so there's that.

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    6. Game Boy Dragon Slayer (which is probably the most familiar to those in the US, since it commonly appeared on pirate multicarts) does show your character in a tent when you pause the game, so there's that. But the controls are so stiff and slow, and even worse it only has two (!) phases, compared to... more than two for the computer versions.

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    7. There's Dragon Slayer Gaiden for the Game Boy, as well, which is an action RPG similar to Zelda or Final Fantasy Adventure. The company that did the Dragon Slayer port decided to cash in on the name, and the result is actually pretty competent and worth playing, but I digress...

      My favorite game in the Dragon Slayer Series has to be the fourth installment, which was released in the U.S. for NES as Legacy of the Wizard, minus all the dialogue, and pretty much all the text and instructions (there's only so much room on an NES cart). It's a crazy platformer that features 5 characters with differing jump heights and abilities who have to run around an enormous dungeon with lots of hidden blocks. With no instructions, the only thing that kept me going was the classic soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, but I digress once more. I talk to much; maybe I should just start my own gaming blog instead of monopolizing your comments XD.

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  32. I tried Dragon Slayer Gaiden once or twice, but found it unplayable with the language barrier. Did Dragon Slayer IV ever have any text or dialogue? The NES and MSX games are the same size (256KB) and it seems like the NES version only replaced the character portrait intros with an attract mode (not getting into the layout differences, but that's another issue unrelated to space.)

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  33. If it didn't have dialogue, I would hope it at least had item names or something. I'm still not sure what most of those things are supposed to be...

    Yeah, I was able to get through Gaiden with my own limited facility with the language, as well as some help from a friend who is Japanese. I'm not sure if he appreciates me using him as translator for every game that doesn't have a fan translation, but my Japanese is getting better. Kanji is hard :(. I got my iphone onto the Japanese app store and downloaded a bunch of games, and there's this RPG about cats that is still giving me a lot of trouble XD.

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  34. Also, did someone say Dragon Knight? Ahh, yes, the third member of the triumvirate of seminal JRPGs that start with the word "Dragon". I don't think we share the same tastes, and you probably won't enjoy it as much as me, but at least it isn't Rance...

    You really should play one of the first two, though. The third entry is the weakest in the series. Xentar is the only one released in the west, but honestly, it kind of sucks. It replaces the solid formula of "Wizardry + Hentai" with a poorly executed Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy kind of thing.

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    1. The anime is pretty good too, although I'm sure you're not interested . Actually, lots of the games you play have animes worth watching, especially Ultima and Wizardry (I know you don't like anime, but still). There's Japan-only Wizardry games too. You're going to see a lot of JRPGs from here on out. Also, I'm not sure what your policy is on suggesting games, so sorry if I'm out of line.

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    2. I thought Ultima only had a one-off anime promoting the Famicom release of U3?

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    3. P.S. while I'm suggesting games, what's your policy on games with fan translations or games that were later published in English on consoles? Dragon Quest was originally a CRPG, as were the most of Enix's early games.

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    4. Oh yeah, maybe. Sorry, I'm thinking of the mangas. There were three Mangas: one for Exodus, one for Quest of the Avatar, and one called Fall of the Magincia

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    5. Or actually the Codex of Editable Wisdom lists four. There's one I heard of called "The Maze of Schwarzchild".

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  35. Having just played through Bard's Tale 2, I have to say there's a LOT of manflesh on display. Plenty of nipples and pecs with glossy finishes. It's interesting that this is not generally considered sex selling, because men are burly heroes or whatever. I mean I'm pretty sure they weren't trying to present the images as sexy, but they do register on that axis for me.

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