Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Questron: Game Change

I've made some unfortunate enemies since the last post.

The Dougherty line (Questron, Questron II, Legacy of the Ancients, and Legend of Blacksilver) isn't shy about changing the rules in the middle of the game. Take hit points. At the beginning of the game, you can only have between 500 and 600 at one time, and you can only reliably replenish them by buying holy water at 75 gold pieces a bottle. Later, you get promoted, your hit point cap simply disappears, and you can buy them directly at one of the temples.

Then, you reach the Land of Evil and find that hit points are sold in regular shops at a rate of 100 per 70 gold pieces. Moreover, when you start descending into dungeons, you can get thousands of them simply by opening coffins. In most games, hit points are a measure of a character's overall power, and increase incrementally; in Questron, they jump from 500 to 5,000 to 25,000 in a few major plot-driven lunges.

In the last post, I said that I hadn't discovered a magic system. Well, there is one. In the Land of Evil, you can buy five spells directly from shops: "Magic Missile," "Fireball," "Stone Spell," "Armor Enhance," and "Wall Pass." But, taking a page from Ultima and Ultima II, they only work in dungeons.

Every town on in the Land of Evil sells magic.
        
The Land of Evil is about the same size as Questron but more sparsely populated. I've only found 6 towns and 3 dungeons. Just like its sequel, you can't enter all of the dungeons right away. You first have to explore the Mountain Catacombs, which gets you an iron key to the Dungeon of Death. I assume in the Dungeon of Death I'll find whatever I need to get into Mantor's Mountain and the endgame.

The creatures on the Land of Evil are a lot harder than Questron. They're kind of a pain in the ass, really. It doesn't make sense to fight them, because I found I lose about 100 hit points for every 40-50 gold pieces I earn from killing them. But you could easily lose that much just trying to escape them, too. As I explored the land, I kept having to duck into the cities and replenish hit points, which of course diminishes all the gold I brought from Questron.

Wasting time.
      
As I visited the towns and their casinos, I settled comfortably in to a Martingale betting system. I'd set out to win about 200 gold pieces at a time. So I'd bet 100. If I lost, I bet 200. If I lost again, I bet 400. Eventually, I would win and end up 100 ahead of where I started. Then I'd scale back to 100 and start again. Such a system wouldn't sustain more than 4 or 5 losses in a row, but I didn't have that problem yet.

Unfortunately, you can't win too much. Not only do the guards attack you if you do, just like in Questron, but the moment you kill a guard, a gate comes crashing down around the city, preventing your escape. I don't know how this is lifted. The guards in Evil are harder than in Questron and I don't think it's worth fighting them for a couple thousand gold.


After I explored the cities and it became clear that no new weapons and armor were forthcoming, I decided to check out the Mountain Catacombs. The game uses quasi-wireframe dungeons, but with irregular lines made to look like caves. The levels were all 14 x 14 with thick walls, so I didn't see a huge need to map. The game continues the Ultima tradition of traps in the corridors, and you have to (X)amine each corridor before walking down to identify and avoid them. It's surprisingly easy to forget to do this.

Levels contain coffins, which boost your hit points (something about the ash), treasure chests with gold, food, and items, and urns with clues or special benefits like an increase in attributes. I had intended to only explore the first level, but it seemed remarkably easy. The enemies weren't too hard, a handful of coffins boosted my hit points by over 3,000. On the second and third levels, I also had a major net gain in hit points, and I had soon topped 10,000 gold. I didn't see any reason not to go all the way to the bottom--which turned out to be Level 8.

Don't question it. Just go with it.
   
This was a mistake. Chests and coffins respawn when you leave the dungeon and return, so I should have spent more time mucking about on Level 1, building up hit points and gold, and using the gold to buy spells. Instead, I kept pressing downward, and on Level 5, I started to encounter some unfortunate facts. Higher-level enemies can drain intelligence, drain stamina, steal gold, steal food, and destroy armor. And you can't save and reload in dungeons to avoid these fates.

I'd only purchased a handful of spells, and I wished I'd brought more. "Fireball" does about 2-3 times the damage of a normal attack, and with no chance of missing. Even more useful is "Stone Spell," which freezes all nearby enemies for about 10 rounds--more than enough to kill one or two. I don't see the purpose of "Magic Missile"; it does about as much as a regular attack. Spending more on "Fireball" is a better investment.

I'd be a lot more angry if I knew exactly what stamina did for me.
       
Eventually, I made it to Level 8, but by the time I found the iron key, my hit points were drained to almost nothing, my few spells were exhausted, my intelligence and stamina were drained to less than 10, and my armor was gone. I never would have made it back up to the surface, particularly without any more coffins to replenish my hit points.

Where is the "Kill Self" command when you really need it?
       
So I kissed a couple hours' of gameplay goodbye, reloaded, and did it smarter this time. I built up my money first, bought some spells, and descended with plenty of "Stone Spells," which freeze enemies. That way, if I saw an attribute-drainer or gold-stealer come along, I could petrify and kill them before they could attack. I brought a couple of extra suits of armor to replace the ones that got destroyed. On the second try, I managed to get out with everything intact, the iron key, and over 30,000 gold pieces.

When I returned to the surface, there were a couple of welcome new items in the shops: a short bow, which does allow ranged attacks (but you have to switch to a melee weapon when the enemy comes adjacent to you), and an eagle, which replaces both lamas and ships. Eagles fly over the landscape fast enough that you don't get attacked by random creatures unless you stop and wait for them. This is a nice benefit, because I was done with those random wilderness encounters.

With my riches from the Mountain Catacombs, I stocked up on more hit points and spells and headed for the Dungeon of Doom. It was pretty much the same as the Catacombs: 8 levels of 14 x 14 squares each, full of the same types of objects and monsters.

This bastard can steal thousands of gold pieces. He gets fireballed.

It took me about 3 hours to navigate, but it would have taken me longer if I'd tried to map every level. On the bottom level, I found a diamond ring that I assume I need to enter Mantor's Mountain.

         
When I got out, I found that lances and magic shields had become available in the weapon and armor shops.

A few other notes:

  • You need a rope & hooks to climb and descend the holes in the floors and ceilings. At least, you need them to climb safely. At one point in the Dungeon of Doom, I forgot to search a corridor and ended up falling through four consecutive levels.

And that's why you always search before walking down a corridor.
       
  • Early in my dungeon explorations, I found a compass. (H)olding it makes navigation a little easier.
  • Enemies don't drop gold in the dungeons.
  • I'm pretty sure enemies respawn in the dungeon levels. I was never able to clear them. They get stuck behind walls easily, but some of the more open dungeon levels were a nightmare. I might face stacks of 6-8 enemies at a time.
  • You can't flee from enemies by going up or down stairs and pits. They follow you.
  • (R)ob exists as a command in dungeons, but it doesn't seem to do anything different than "unlock."
  • When entering the towns on the Land of Evil, the game occasionally says, "Please wait. Entrance inspection" and loading takes longer. I have no idea what this is about.

I suppose the next step is to take on Mantor. At least, that's what Mesron says:


But I remember doing this prematurely in Questron II and finding that I didn't have enough hit points and other resources when I reached the endgame area, so I'm going to spend some time looting Level 1 of the dungeons for gold and hit points before heading off to face Mantor. I hope 50,000 hit points is enough; I'll set my target for that, and 99 of each spell.

My character at the end of this session.

Time so far: 11 hours
Reload count: 10


33 comments:

  1. This game sounds much better written than others of its time! The plot is sensibly divided into parts that have gates, and the experience seems to change during gameplay instead of being the same monotonic grinding mechanic all the time. If I did not see the graphics, I could believe you were writing about a very recent game in gameplay experience.

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  2. " I was done with those random wilderness encounters."

    I still have to wonder why you like Ultima 5 so much :D ;)

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    1. I know you're kidding, but there's a huge difference The random encounters in U5 actually provide experience and help level the character. You also need the gold from them more than you need the gold from random Questron encounters (particularly since, in Q, you don't make enough gold to compensate for the hit points you lose).

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    2. You can also avoid random encounters in U5 pretty easily, even without the magic carpet.

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  3. Hey, you've met Acid Jelly! The distant cousins of Acid Peanut Butter (I'm not freaking joking, by the way)!

    Also, I remembered looking at that God Of Thunder art and thought to my young self back then that I could do better than that.

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    1. I'm a horrible artist, but yes, I think I could probably improve upon the "God of Thunder."

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    2. The God of Thunder looks like an early-era Kingdom of Loathing enemy.

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  4. Questron is interesting in that, while it's like Ultima 1 and 2, it also feels sort of JRPG-ish from your description. The classic JRPG is basically a series of gated areas, where each one has better weapons/spells/items, higher exp/gold rewards, and tougher enemies. I don't really have any theory connecting the two or anything. Just mildly interesting I suppose.

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    1. That's probably a useful designation for RPGs. Whether one is hard-gated, soft-gated (usually via hard foes) or not really gated.

      Most games employ some sort of hard-gating, but when used sparingly it doesn't feel intrusive.

      Some games have such severe soft gating that it takes away a lot of the immersion - MMOs are probably the worst offenders, but also games like Borderlands and certain JRPGs

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    2. Obviously, the best JRPGs avoid making it too painful or obvious. But I can remember a few... Lufia 2 being a great example, where it was literally, "Enter area, explore town, upgrade stuff, explore local dungeon, get THANG dude-from-town needs, enter new area...."

      Thing is, Lufia 2 is actually a pretty great game, but it's just ridiculous on that front. It definitely knocks a few points off.

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    3. Gothic and Gothic 2 did a great job with soft-gating. An area might have a few obvious ways to get into it, and typically a foe of a certain caliber guarding each entrance. Once inside an area, however, the challenges varied. If you could power through a single tough opponent, you might be rewarded with higher tier gear than you would otherwise have access to. The Witcher 3 recently took a similar approach.

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    4. Yeah, Witcher 3 seems to have done a great job with this.

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  5. picture of god of thunder is really unfortunate, because i can't think any other one word description than "cute"

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    1. He looks like a very angry Moomin.

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    2. still cute

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    3. More like an electrified moomin IMHO.

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  6. Here's a free tip: buy a huge pile of hit points before the final dungeon and then skip all the hit point coffins on the way down.

    -j

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    1. Yeah, I learned that the hard way. (My blogging is a bit behind my playing.) I entered the dungeon at 40,000 hp, got down to Level 5, opened a "booby trapped" coffin, and was reduced to 10,000. I had to reload. I'm not even going to touch anything in the final dungeon this time--I also encountered a succession of urns that destroyed my weapons.

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  7. Maybe it's the music I'm listening to, but the dungeon visuals look pretty trippy - When the 'magical' ashes wafted out, did your characters inhale? What exactly do these 'urns' look like I wonder.

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  8. I think "Speak N Spells" is a pretty legit joke name for a magic shop in 1984.

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    1. I didn't even notice that. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  9. Hey Chet have you decided on what to do with MMORPGs, yet ?
    As they take too long to be played and many are not around any more, yet I feel they should have a mention at least, then how a bout a short essay on what the MMORPG for the specific year was about and what contemporary reviews have to say, why the game tanked at launch or why it was a rocket like success and so forth.

    i don't assume you would actually play the games but they really should get at least a mention since they are new breed on RPG gaming genre after all and (especially the early ones) a way of socialising with people around the globe.

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    1. I concur with a short essay of sorts, Chet. Can't expect you to play them if they don't exist any more. But it'd be cool to get your thoughts about those that you DID play, including the earlier BBS games that you've gone through.

      Come to think of it, I wonder what happened to Meridian 59, the granddaddy of modern MMORPGs. I heard it's now free-to-play. If it is, I think it'd make a good contrast-&-compare with Ultima Online.

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    2. I eliminated MMMORPGs from my list a long time ago. If any are still there, it's an accident.

      They don't really interest me, and I don't know how I could possibly do any coverage justice if I can't actually play them. I'll think about it, but you'll probably won't be satisfied by my efforts in this area.

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    3. Based on your preferences, there is one MMO (EvE Online) you would probably like, and one possible (Pirates of the Burning Sea). Even then, you'd probably find much more pleasure expanding your knowledge of single-player RPGs - there's whole genres of these that are only now coming to one of the platforms you use (the vast majority of non-action RPGs are Nintendo or Sony exclusive because developers decided they wouldn't appeal to the testosterone-overdosed FPS addict that is the stereotypical PC/Xbox user).

      In other words, you aren't missing much by ignoring MMOs.

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    4. EVE Online is pretty much a cesspool of scammers and sociopaths. It's glory days are long behind it and its extremely (for a MMO) advanced age is really showing. It's a difficult game to recommend to anyone nowadays.

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  10. As many commenters have stated, it's really interesting to see these older games looked at in their time and place and seeing what sorts of RPG systems they had. The creative ways programmers got around memory limitations on early games, design choices, innovations, and things we take for granted now. I just wanted to send some appreciation to you, as well as the hobbyists, developers, and enthusiasts who contribute to a very interesting corner of the net.

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  11. The number inflation in this game might seem odd, but it's also a good counter to grinding. You can still grind, but it's far more rewarding to press on and try to succeed in the next area. So you really only grind as much as you have to.

    Buying HP directly with gold is a nice simplification. Basically you do that in every crpg with a working economy, but it's more painted over: you buy potions, pay priests to remove ailments, buy rations to rest. You have to spend part of your income to keep going.

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  12. I'm impressed by the wall graphics in the dungeon screenshots. The first 6 Wizardry games all had sharply-defined walls as far as I know (although Wizardry 6 at least textured them instead of using wireframe graphics).

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  13. Enjoying reading your Questron posts. I played this back in the day and loved it.
    I remember being quite surprised by the dungeons: how the game changed suddenly to wireframe 3-D, which was pretty cool-looking in the late 1980s.
    My memory was always that the dungeon graphics were white lines on a black background, yet in your screenshots they are yellow on brown...you mentioned that the game seemed to you to be more colorful than you remember, maybe this is true?

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  14. Enjoying reading your Questron posts. I played this back in the day and loved it.
    I remember being quite surprised by the dungeons: how the game changed suddenly to wireframe 3-D, which was pretty cool-looking in the late 1980s.
    My memory was always that the dungeon graphics were white lines on a black background, yet in your screenshots they are yellow on brown...you mentioned that the game seemed to you to be more colorful than you remember, maybe this is true?

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  15. "Please wait. Entrance inspection." is Questron's way of stalling while it reloads the TOWN program since it was swapped out by the DUNGEON code. You won't see this message unless you just visited a dungeon.
    Dungeon monsters can also destroy weapons.
    Yes, the diamond ring is to enter Mantor's Mountain. It glows brightly and makes the boulder vanish.
    Correct, almost all monster combat is useless. You lose more HP than you can replenish with the gold you get. It's best to flee and GAMBLE for the gold you need (on Questron). Questron I sets no limit to a single bet. You can literally crash the game by doubling your gold too many times. Of course, if you have 0 gold, fighting a few creatures is a good way to get some $ to gamble with.

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