Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1984/1985


When I made my first pass through the 1980s, following my "DOS-only" rule and looking only at Wikipedia's list, 1984 didn't even register. I went right from 1983's Ultima III to 1985's Alternate Reality: The City. Later, thanks to the revelation that Wikipedia had only a fraction of RPGs, I discovered a couple of games (Caverns of Zoarre and DND) that I covered quickly in a "backtracking" series, but I still missed two that were available even for DOS: Adventure Construction Set (I had it in the wrong year) and ICON: Quest for the Ring (it wasn't in MobyGames yet). Thus, when I retroactively awarded "Game of the Year" titles in my 1988/1989 transition posting, I left 1984 blank.

Even though I've now gone back and played 17 games from 1984, it's hard not to regard it with the term I used in my 1978-1983 review: a "lost year." The early years gave us Ultima, Wizardry, and a bunch of fun branches like the Robert Clardy series and the Stuart Smith series, culminating in the genre-defining Exodus: Ultima III. 1985 feels strongly like it begins the next era, with The Bard's Tale, Phantasie, and Ultima IV all exploding onto the scene. 1984 is a gully between these landmark years, with a final sputtering of titles that feel like they belong in an earlier era (Dungeons, Dragons, & Other Perils, DND, Out of the Shadows) and knock-offs of Wizardry that don't perform nearly as well (Tyrann, The Standing Stones, Shadowkeep) and introduce elements that deserved to be left on the cutting room floor.

Still, we have to note two major trends that, for better or worse, defined 1984. The first is a quick flare of gamebook adaptations, two from the Fighting Fantasy series (The Citadel of Chaos, The Forest of Doom) and two from the Lone Wolf series (Flight from the Dark, Fire on the Water). It's easy to see why these titles didn't start a popular sub-genre: they were too literal. They offered a lesser experience than reading a paper book, and they failed to use the computer for its advantages.

The "player" reads text on a screen instead of a book (where it presumably wouldn't have been in ALL CAPS) and hits a number instead of flipping pages.
  
Second, we had the advent of the first enduring Japanese RPGs, including The Black Onyx, Dragon Slayer, and Hydlide. Although Onyx took a different approach from the others, together these games ignited the Japanese imagination and helped usher in the explosion of JRPGs later in the 1980s--most of which I'll be unable to play because they were console-only or only in Japanese.

Dragon Slayer and Hydlide are two early entries in the "little guy runs around and charges headlong into enemies" subgenre.
   
From among none of these titles will I be selecting my "Game of the Year." Instead, I look to a small number of games that represent none of the three categories already discussed--gamebook adaptations, clones of better games, and early Japanese games. For 1984, instead of looking for a game that defined the year, I'm going to look for one that defied it.

I have three worthy nominees:

1. Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set, Rivers of Light module. Rivers of Light is not only one of the best games of 1984; it caps Stuart Smith's career as one of the most iconclastic RPG designers of the early 1980s. His fun, fast-paced, frentic titles, all based in classical mythology roots, with their blurred lines between monster and NPC, deserved greater success. I'd give a lot to see what he would have come up with in the late 1980s and early 1990s if he'd found RPG development more fruitful. I haven't awarded the title to any of his previous games, so this is my last chance. It also deserves the award for introducing the first construction set to a classical RPG, something that certainly influenced later attempts. Finally, it was my top-rated game of the year overall.

With a full set of statistics, skills that increase with use, and a complex inventory, Adventure Construction Set is the least "Smith-like" of the Smith series and most "RPG-like."
     
2. Hack. I gave Game of the Year to NetHack in 1987, but that was before I played Hack and discovered that very little had changed between the editions. By moving this honor to 1984, it not only assigns the elements I liked to their proper era; it allows me to re-allocate 1987 to Dungeon Master.

3. Questron. It's tempting to give the award to the game that started my addiction. Although I complained about 1984 featuring knock-offs of better titles, I think Questron narrowly escapes this designation. The character development and combat are arguably worse than Ultima, but Questron has a much better sense of plot and pacing. Its gambling mini-games are some of the earliest in the RPG market, and of course there's that ending. 

Questron made Ultima both better and worse, but overall was good enough to start  me on the path to addiction.
   
Two other games are worthy of mention. ICON: Quest for the Ring had perhaps the most interesting plot of any game in the early 1980s, and Sword of Kadash set a gold standard for action RPGs. Unfortunately, they both lacked enough classic RPG elements for me to rate them high, and they fail the GOTY test for that reason.
 
While we wait for the verdict, I should note that the average GIMLET score for 1984 is 20.35, a decrease from the average of 1983 (22.94) and even 1982 (21.27) and 1981 (24.44). 1985 is currently at 34.63 (without the non-DOS titles), enhancing the sense of 1984 as a valley between better years. The lowest score I gave was 10, to the ridiculous Dungeons, Dragons & Other Perils; the highest were to my three nominees.

The highest individual category score went to Rivers of Light's game world (7) and Hack's equipment (6). Those were the only scores I gave above 5. The average GIMLET category score was 2.0. In particular, games of this era really needed to work on NPCs. Only one game scored above a 2 in that category and more than half scored 0.

1984 Game of the Year

  
As convenient as it would have been for me to award it to Hack (thus properly recognizing Dungeon Master later) and as satisfying as it would have been to award it to Questron, I have to do the right thing and give it to Stuart Smith. Adventure Construction Set is the culmination of his short but fantastic career, and the only game where he starts to make concessions to more classic RPG mechanics without giving up his unique approach. It is one of the few games of the era to break away from the D&D mold, and its Mesopotamian setting actually doubles as a learning tool. Finally, it's hard not to see Smith's considerable influence on the later Bard's Tale Construction Set and Elder Scrolls Construction Set, among others.

That doesn't mean I won't reconsider Dungeon Master when I make another pass through 1987. That's a weird year to have awarded the title to NetHack--neither the first version nor the best.

Looking Ahead
  
1985 is full of games that I played briefly in those early first months of my blog but did not give their proper due. Coming up, we're going to revisit a lot of them, including Autoduel, Alternate Reality: The City, and Wizard's Crown, probably for better platforms, as well as a host of non-DOS RPGs that I've never heard of.

There will be no suspense on Game of the Year for 1985, alas. I can't possibly imagine a game that would take it away from Ultima IV.

1985 gives us only one Japanese game that makes my list--Dragon Slayer II--and I think even that's only because of a fan translation. We have one French title--Mandragore--but France won't really take off until 1986. Instead, 1985 offers a surprising number of UK games: City of Death, Enigma Force, The Evil Crown, Fairlight, Journey into Darkness, Runestone, Seas of Blood, Shadowfire, and Total Eclipse. The ZX Spectrum is far from my favorite platform, but I guess I'd better learn to love it.

All told, I have 29 titles to look at for 1985, but of course some will fall to the definition axe. When I'm done, we'll have a much more robust picture of the era than we do with the 5 or 6 I've already played.

Here's something I haven't really admitted before: more than once in the past year or so, I've had to resist the urge to making my blog all about these earlier years until I catch up. The games in the early 1990s are only getting a little better while simultaneously getting a lot longer and more complicated. It took me two months to win Disciples of Steel.

A game needs to rate in the 45-50 range, at least, before I actually start to look forward to my playing sessions. That describes less than 15% of the total games I've played on this blog, and only five games have rated that high in the last 18 months of playing. Now, don't get me wrong--I still enjoy the process of cataloging and documenting these games, but if I'm not really going to enjoy playing, wouldn't it be better to blast through a series of shorter, easier titles than to keep trudging through the swamps of titles like Antares and MegaTravller?

I'm not going to do that, but you can see why it's been tempting. What I have done is fall in a predictable routine of one post on a 1991 game followed by one post on an earlier game, and I'm naturally moving through the latter ones faster. I completed Shadowkeep, The Standing Stones, Dungeons of Death, Sword of Kadash, Tyrann, and Xyphus all while Disciples of Steel was happening.

Let's get to work on continuing to close that gap, starting with Adventure: Only the Fittest Shall Survive, which is a decent metaphor for blogging about every CRPG that ever existed.

*****

Call for help: if anyone has a version of Alternate Reality: The City for Apple II, Commodore 64, or Atari 8-bit that they know for sure is successfully and fully cracked and works with AppleWin, VICE, or Atari800Win, respectively, please e-mail me. I've wasted a ton of time with the versions found on various download sites, and they're all either bugged or not cracked, meaning the copy protection eventually kills the character.

In other list news, I've moved the game usually called Amulet of Yendor (as we'll see, there's room for doubt) to 1986 after finding enough evidence that it was published in the same shovelware package as Swords of Glass. No great loss on that one.

100 comments:

  1. The "Lone Wolf" books very much almost could have been interesting; the idea of taking the gamebook experience and then adding a different combat mechanic around it isn't a bad one. Unfortunately, that isn't where the games went as the combat was terrible.

    Don't give up on 1991 just yet! You have two and a half more Gold Box games to go, plus MM3, any of which might be your GotY. ("Neverwinter's Nights" is only half of a game, unfortunately.)

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  2. Sorry Chet, I don't have a copy of Alternate Reality: The City, but I do have a working version of Alternate Reality : The Dungeon for C64. I finished it up last year with no problems.

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    1. Thanks. If I have trouble with a working copy of that game in 1987, I'll find this comment.

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  3. I really enoyed your posts on Disciples of steel. It seems that the way you blog\play was made for that game (sticking long enough to discover its many surprises). I'll try it after I'm done with Might and Magic VI and ADOM... by "done" I don't mean finishing the games. Anyway I like your current 80/90 format as it gives you more flexibility to play a game that benefits your mood better.

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    1. DoS makes one of the games I'd never heard of that I'm most tempted to play after reading the full review. Only the total duration of play time is keeping me from firing it up now. I'll have to wait for a week when the family is out of town to feel like it's safe to get started.

      On the other hand, I am also excited to get to Gateway of the Savage Frontier. I started playing that a while back thinking I'd play along with the Addict, and then I managed to finish before he even got to it. But now that I know it, I'm quite curious to see it played out by someone else, and to see how it rates.

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  4. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesFebruary 16, 2016 at 1:33 PM

    It is more fun to see you complain about terrible games than play good games and simply give dry descriptions of them. We can play good games by ourselves, which makes playing through them for us kind of pointless. Let's Plays of good games only work in two ways: If the games are really weird and so are interesting to see, or if the player adds his own distinct style and commentary to the dialogue. Most C.R.P.G.s are pretty straightforward: There are some weird ones that I will definitely be interested to see you play, like Anachronox, Albion and Planescape Torment, but they often use standard fantasy worlds and creatures and so straight playthroughs with no complaints are not that interesting. See Let's Players like the The Dark Id, Nine Gear Crow and Bormac for examples of guys who add their own style to their playthroughs: I might read their takes on good games because they have so much dedication to their craft.

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    1. Just a quick note to say that I completely disagree with the above poster. Not that either perspective is "right", but I certainly would rather see you continue with playing all the games and spending more time writing about the good ones.

      Even though there is more coverage of those good games by other people, I generally find their observations to be pedestrian and their grammar to be offensive to anyone with an appreciation of the English language. Thank you for your blog which continues to be my favorite. I wouldn't want to see it change!

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    2. No worries. While I appreciate all opinions, the general nature of my blog isn't going to change.

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    3. I also disagree with the OP. I enjoy the voice of this blog very much and I think there's real merit to narrated playthroughs of good and bad games alike, as long as the narrator is making an earnest attempt to understand how the game came to be and is analytical about what he likes/dislikes. Even in the driest runs through well-known good games, there's a lot of wit and personality to this project.

      And then, there's the comment section which is full of treasures and frustration itself. I don't care about Ultima IV much, but I care what people have to say about it.

      Funny LPs, raging LPs, I'll always go for the *informative* LP.

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    4. I appreciate the honest attempt to seriously explore all games within scope of the blog in the current tone, and feel that cataloging them is of great service to the retro gaming/history communities.

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    5. Definitely agree with the replies here- the problem with most video game writing is that even the best of it tends to lean towards the juvenile. It's nice to have an adult perspective.

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  5. If I remember correctly, you said earlier that you are (or were) playing through Fallout 4. I'm wondering if, just for poops and giggles, you ever decided to produce a GIMLET for a modern game that you've recently played, just to see how it compares with these hoary titles of many decades ago.

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    1. I've resisted the idea. I want to see the GIMLET scores evolve over time, not see the jarring result if I suddenly applied the scale to a modern game.

      Also, I tend to play modern games--including FO4--on a console. I look for different things in console games and I'm not sure the scale would best apply.

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  6. Hello. I'm not 100% sure this is "The City" , but at least these are "original disks" , (.g64)just toss them into VICE...

    http://www44.zippyshare.com/v/VHg6sRt6/file.html

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    1. No, I'm afraid that's the same version I already had, which claims to be cracked but isn't.

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    2. Good luck on the Alternate reality find. Playing that on the c64 was such a pain in the arse. I eventually just used an epyx fast load cartridge or another fastload that had utilities to hex edit my lvl 0 character. Can't say I finished the game as it really has no end but I mapped the game and took notes (which are easily found on the net by others). Kroah did a decompilation of the game. The best luck I had was the windows version and its lacking. There was an amiga version as well.

      It was like Realms of Darkness (another nightmare game for apple2 and c64 -- well the emulation that is).

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    3. Ok, sorry for the trouble.But would an original be okay if you got the manual for it?

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    4. I think so. I'm not sure what the game's copy protection deal is, but original images plus the manual should work as long as the GAME thinks they're original and not a copy.

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    5. Have you been here?

      http://www.mocagh.org/datasoft/arcity-refcard-c64.pdf (some notes regarding the disks)
      and
      http://www.mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=arcity

      (sorry for spamming your blog) :)

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    6. Yes, the manual isn't the problem. The problem is finding disk images that the game doesn't think are cracked.

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    7. Well it seems like your best bet would be making a file from the original.
      c64 is still popular enough that some crazies have actually made kits for it to use SD-cards and an USB-port (which about the max limits of c64) but Amiga is far easier to connect to PC via serial port.

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    8. Adding to above after a quick search:

      If some has a c64 with original game here's how to get c64 original floppies to modern PC:s http://dreamsteep.com/tutorials/general-tips-and-tutorials/251-transferring-commodore-64-disks-to-modern-formats.html

      Caveat is that those kits still cost you a 40$ or so.

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    9. Have you tried Gamebase 64? http://www.gamebase64.com/

      They have every C64 program ever made I think

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    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. I like the variety of alternating between posts on 90s and 80s games. I know it wasn't the original plan, but I think it's worked out well because they offer something different. So I hope you continue.

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    1. I agree with this sentiment, the switching of posts between old and a bit less old has actually worked out pretty well. I think that 1990/91 are the awkward years for RPGs where developers didn't have to worry so much about technical limitations so made games an unacceptable length without the required quality. Fortunately I think 1992 is possibly the best year ever for RPGs, so hang in there!

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  8. Atari version (below text):
    http://www.atarimania.com/atari-vapi.html
    This is original, uncracked version, in special, archival format. Should work.

    Use http://www.virtualdub.org/altirra.html as an emulator.

    Longer discussion about game, post #417 confirms that saving works.

    http://atariage.com/forums/topic/69356-alternate-reality-the-city-by-philip-price-links/page-17

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    1. It works, but it starts you diseased, which I think is a sign that the game thinks it's cracked.

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    2. If you ask at AtariAge, you'll almost certainly get worthwhile help from the Atari 8-bit aficionados there. (Everyone likes a mystery.)

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  9. With the exception of the Gold Box titles, I actually enjoy the relics of the 80s more. Good call on Stuart Smith. He deserves the recognition.

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  10. Guys, I appreciate the effort, but please don't respond on Alternate Reality unless you have direct, personal experience with a copy and you know it works. I can Google myself, and chances are I've already tried the version you're pointing me to.

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    1. I had previously tried playing this, and could only find versions starting you as diseased too. However the version at

      http://www.alternaterealityarchive.com/downloads/

      specifically the Atari 8-bit with character disk (from what I've read, this is the preferred port to play) does not experience this particular problem. I can't guarantee it is completable, because I have only explored for a few minutes. There didn't seem to be any obvious problems though.

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  11. How funny that the built-in adventure from Adventure Construction Set wins game of the year award. I always considered it a kid's playtoy and only played it briefly before diving into making my own adventures, and generating random adventures. Whoda thunk there was a real game there?

    It would be cool if the blog changed to all about the earlier years until you catch up. Chronological order, remember? Just set things straight and leave 1992 for later.

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    1. That was my belief as well and I regret not completing Rivers of Light.

      Ali Baba and Heracles were two of my favourite rpgs. Playing these games with two (or more) people was a blast.

      I agree that it is a real shame that Smith ended his computer gaming career after so few games.

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  12. I really like this blog and Matt Chat and one thing common between both is the effort made to talk to the authors or at least get infos on them. Nice hommage to Stuart Smith.

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  13. In regards to juggling the non-DOS games of 1985(+) and the longer 1991 games, I'm fairly divided on which I'd like to see more.

    I started with Dungeon Master on the ST as a kid (it's a great gateway, since there's relatively few menus to worry about) but with the occasional exception such as Drakkhen or Captive, it wasn't until the early 90s that I started really getting into CRPGs. I'm looking forward to seeing more names I recognize as you continue on with that decade. On the other hand, the more obscure 80s games you've been covering recently for less established systems have made for a fun read because I know so little about them.

    It sounds like you're going to stick to alternating the two to some degree, and I think that's for the best. I'm looking forward to your takes on Might & Magic III, Knightmare, Eye of the Beholder II and Obitus (in which I recall getting lost a lot), but I'm probably more excited about whatever strange ZX/C64/Apple-II games you dig up from 1985.

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    1. I actually like the oscillation between old and older games, as it keeps things interesting. I'd probably get bored reading posts about only one game.

      If Chet finishes the older titles, it would probably still be good to alternate between two of the same year.

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    2. That's probably what I'll do, plus the occasional special post on a console title or something.

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    3. Hey Mento (or should that be Mortu :) ) I mentioned knightmare on here ages ago, I am not sure now that it will do so well. The numerous walking dead scenarios and lots of things being nearly invisible on the floor is pretty annoying. Mr addict may also not get the cultural references, am guessing the tv show didn't make it to the usa :).

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  14. Good news: you'll find that most of those Spectrum games are not RPGs :)

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  15. 1984 was a good year for the Spectrum at least, with Lords of Midnight and Elite.

    As for the 1985 games I played and completed the following ones:
    Enigma Force
    Fairlight
    Runestone
    Shadowfire
    But I wouldn't call any of them a CRPG.
    They are all real time games.
    Fairligh is an isometric action adventure.
    Runestone is an Adventure game; it has some combat and IIRC it does not have stats.
    The other two are real time tactical games; very slick games back then, and I think Shadowfire was the first Speccy game to use icons (using a joystic to click on them).
    The main problem with these games today would be the UI (I couldn't get a gamepad to work properly with Shadowfire, for example). And when trying to replay Runestone the game ran much too fast, with two of my three characters captured while I had only issued a few commandes to the first one. So you may want to make it run as slow as possible if you play it.

    I loved these games when I was a kid, and (like Lord of Midnight), I'd love to you play them. But I'm afraid they will be culled in the end...

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    1. The Speccy had a lot of great games, including quite a few strategy-adventure crossovers - but very little in the way of what we would usually describe as CRPGs. I don't know why, really. It was perfectly capable of them, and there were ports - but the developers working natively on the Spectrum just seem to have been interested in other genres.

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    2. There's also a C64 port of Shadowfire (and Enigma Force) and the controls aren't a problem (the interface is another story...). But I'm afraid you're right about them not being RPGs, though I'd love to read Chet's thoughts about them.

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  16. BTW, on the picture on top of this blog post, which game is the one with the two horsemen to the right?

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    1. I believe that's Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark. http://crpgaddict.blogspot.ca/2015/05/game-188-lone-wolf-flight-from-dark-1984.html

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    2. That pic would actually make a great motif on a t-shirt. Or a mug. Or on the cover of a graph-paper pad. Just saying.

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  17. more than once in the past year or so, I've had to resist the urge to making my blog all about these earlier years until I catch up.

    For what it's worth I'd enjoy that (since I'm generally more interested in the 1980s games), while at the same time I'm glad you're not doing it. I'd imagine the shorter, simpler games will continue to be a much-needed relief to the longer 1990s game you need ("need") to play eventually.

    A game needs to rate in the 45-50 range, at least, before I actually start to look forward to my playing sessions.

    That -- the mental picture of your playing these games, but not actually looking forward to doing so -- is oddly disconcerting, though I'm probably imagining something worse than is the case.

    (And it's not as if I can't relate: my wife and I are working our way through a huge box of public domain movies, and there are plenty of movies we don't look forward to and aren't especially glad we watched beyond a "Well, now that's done" feeling.)

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    1. When a game is really bad (as in, it will score 20 or less on my GIMLET), I tend to look forward to playing them just so I think about what I'll say in the review. Also, such games tend to be mercifully short.

      What I can't stand are the crop of games in the 25-40 range that take 20+ hours to complete. We had a bunch of them in 1990. I just dread firing up the emulator for those.

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    2. Chet, as much as I enjoy your blog, the thought of you in boring agony is not good. I would be fine if you gave these 25-40 range games a time limit of play, just so we can see how it works, rather than playing to the conclusion. I know this is probably against your rules, but we are concerned for your welfare too. By the way, I downloaded Gateway to the Savage world. I hope to play along when you get there.

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    3. What I always thought would help a lot is if, after the play session in which you hit your six hour minimum, you stop playing, write the first blog post, and then ask yourself:

      1. Is this enjoyable?
      2. Am I curious to see where this goes?
      3. Can I get interesting blog postings out of this?

      If you answer NO to all of these questions, drop it. Very long serious of posts are great if there's something unique about the game or you're clearly having fun with it (Knights Of Legend fits both categories, for example), and posts on terrible games can be fun. However, your 8 posts on Dragonflight got quite dull since there didn't seem to be anything interesting about the game and you didn't seem to be having fun, and the 58 hours you put into it would have been much better served on a different game.

      You could even adjust your minimum time by subgenre, publication method, platform, or some other means to maximize both the number of games you look at without adding bloat. FOr example, you could add all console games, with the provision that you'll give them only an hour minimum to see if they grab your attention, while shareware games or fan-translated ones *have* no mimimum, and you can reject them within minutes if they're just a bland clone.

      Something like this would give you a framework to simultaneously have a "to play" list that allows you to find all the "gems" (hidden or otherwise) and still move through at a comfortable clip (probably faster than you have been, honestly). The only downside is that it would add a lot of "N" to your won column, which you (if nobody else) seem to care about.

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    4. Just wait 'til you get to the CDROM era of '94-95. Tons and tons of crappy RPGs with dozens of hours of repetitive gameplay.

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    5. I don't agree with Harland. I've played through 1994-1995 myself recently, and the total amount of CRPGs are rather low, and quite a lot of them are indies/shareware titles (a couple of them actuallt very good). Most of the crappy RPGs are sadly by SSI; except for the Dark Sun games, they lost their way after the Gold Box era. I couldn't even bring myself to play games like Menzo, Al-Quadim, Ravenloft and Thunderscape. Since I haven't actually played them, I may of course be wrong about the SSI games, but I doubt it.

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    6. I've been playing nahlakh this last week again which is a 1994 shareware rpg :) I never played thunderscape (I had a demo I think) Al-Quadim was meh, just way too simple for me. Ravenloft (strahds posession and stone prophet) and menzoberranzan I think are ok, but not really outstanding. dark sun: shattered lands is easily the best ssi rpg after the goldbox era.

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    7. Ravenloft and Menzoberranzan are essentially EotB in full 3D. IIRC they were notorious due to bugs rather than bad gameplay (Menzo at least). The gameplay is mostly what you expect from a 1990-s blobber - actiony combat, heavy on puzzles etc.
      Thunderscape is a solid turn-based blobber, it's main flaw is that the 3D maps are kinda like Daggerfall's - very hard to navigate.

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    8. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesFebruary 17, 2016 at 2:27 PM

      There are some great games on the master list in 1994 and 1995, though:

      Superhero League of Hoboken: An unique and absolutely hilarious game that mixes adventure game puzzles and R.P.G. puzzles even more successfully than Quest for Glory. Steve Meretsky's style and imagination make this one of the greatest C.R.P.G.s in history.
      Elder Scrolls: Arena: My favorite game in the series, with fun combat, a large world to explore and plenty of dungeons to conquer. Caveat emptor, however, as it is extremely buggy.
      Albion: An interesting, imaginative but incredibly flawed game. I had a lot of trouble with it due to the design flaws, but the addict should be used to those by now, and so he will hopefully be able to play through the game. I want to see his commentary on this one, because I really want to see the full world and story.
      System Shock: I only played the sequel, but it was an awesome classic, and if this game is anything like it, the addict is going to be very happy.
      Stonekeep: A fun dungeon crawler, not as deep as Arena or as imaginative as Superhero League of Hoboken and Albion but an entertaining time killer between more substantial games.

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    9. I picked up Thunderscape on sale from GOG and played it for an hour or two. If I remember correctly, it feels a bit like Ultima Underworld / TES: Battlespire exploration coupled with Wizardry-style combat, and an awesomely cheesy metal soundtrack. I guess Wizardry 8 is pretty similar to this.

      The exploration is a painfully linear slog up a mountainside or something, at least at the start, with only a few side areas hidden about. While I generally prefer tactical turn-based combat in CRPGs, it slows the game down more noticeably due to the exploration being similar to a first-person shooter.

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    10. @Obdurate: I'm curious to see how Chet does with Albion. I bought the game from a bargain bin in the early 2000s and have tried to play it a few times over the years. I think the game has a lot to offer, but is very unevenly paced and the transition back and forth between 2D and 3D is a bit jarring (plus the 3D sections are Wolfenstein 3D quality, which has aged worse than TES: Arena).

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    11. Albion is essentially a spiritual successor to Amberstar/Ambermoon, so by the time Chet gets there, he'd probably be already used to their constant perspective changes. Also it's funny how Thalion moved from giving the player an open world and full control over character development in Amberstar to somewhat more restrictive systems of Ambermoon and then to JRPG-like linearity of Albion. I felt that some things in Albion (e.g. languages) were legacy from previous titles and didn't work because of the game's linear nature.

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    12. 1994 has Ultima 8, which if nothing else should be a fantastic set of blog posts from Chet (and a lively set of reader comments too!)

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    13. @Mikrakov - I can only promise venomous vitriol and bellicose bile from me; just like what U8 had for all Ultima fans.

      I don't know what kind of praise one could sing to a chef if you paid 50 bucks for a t-bone steak but was served a steaming pile of rancid feces instead.

      I'll just say it like it is - Ultima 8 is a steaming pile of rancid feces.

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    14. I never had any problems playing Albion and completed it 3 times. Compared to Amberstar, the story is told much better and unfolds during the game. This works far better in a linear game, because the designer knows where the player is going. In terms of replayablitiy, Amberstar wins for me, because you can try more different approaches and visit places in another order. Some dungeons can be very hard or quite easy, depending on the order you visit them. There is no scaling.

      Albion is very good, even though there is a single dungeon quite close to the start, which is quite hard and long, especially if you are new to this kind of 3D. But after that, dungeons get more interesting (puzzles shift from navigation to actual puzzling) and the game much more enjoyable.

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    15. I actually really love Ultima 8... just like people have different Doctor Who's depending on their age, I was six in 1994, and Ultima 8 was my first hands-on experience with the series. I grew up watching my dad and brother play 7, but I hadn't played it myself. So when 8 came around, I didn't have the awareness or the knowledge to be offended, I just thought it was cool. I played through it as an adult, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, and yes it's tedious, it's buggy, it's poorly designed... but in terms of story and world-building I think the fans are off the mark. The main complaint that the Avatar abandons his virtues... is definitely an over-simplification of the plot, not to mention completely misses the moral nuance that the game is aiming for, exploring the question of ends justifying means. I also like the art style and setting- very atmospheric and evocative. Maybe I'll feel differently next time I play it, but I think most people were just upset that it was different than expected. Then again I didn't have to pay for it, so I can understand feeling cheated by a game with a rushed production.

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    16. See, "exploring the question of ends justifying means" doesn't work here IF we can dictate what "means" we can employ to further the story.

      But, there is none! A real Avatar would NOT abandon his virtue just to keep the "story" going! He would find another way or just die trying. I did the "die trying" and just used a divider to scratch the words "F*CK YOU" on the CD and then fling it out of my window for my neighbor's dog to play as a frisbee. He derived more satisfaction from U8 than I did.

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    17. U8 had some nice stuff, it still had the world where you could fiddle with a lot of things and talk to a lot of npcs (something many other non-u7 rpgs missed). But U7 plain annihilates it even before you get to the loss of virtues and the feel that half the game it seems they really wanted the avatar to be a certain italian plumber.

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    18. "U7 plain annihilates-" Sorry, lost me there already.

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  18. Regarding the interactive game-book digitization, I think the new ones released these couple of years are actually pretty well-done. I believe the devs finally hit that sweet spot where they exploited the best of both worlds instead of (as you have lamented before) being limited by them.

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    1. It seems like the genre might be a good fit for phone games, too. A little reading but not too much, with a fairly basic interface that's suited four touchscreen. At least that's where I'd be inclined to put them. Though maybe 6 years ago would have been better timing.

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    2. True. I've been playing the Lone Wolf series on my Galaxy Note.

      BTW, finally finished your book. Sorry it took that much time as the opening was not very arresting because the starting party was just so darn boring until you introduced the next party to subvert those tropes.

      Good job, mate, good job.

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    3. Thanks, Kenny. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    4. Pleasure's all mine. If there's a sequel, I'm throwing money at you again.

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    5. Us too (my wife loved The Eight-Bit Bard even though she never played a computer game in her life).

      Admittedly Chicagoland was a bit of a letdown after that, your writing definetely improved in between!

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  19. Many people love the original Atari 8 bit version of The City. It's Philip Prices original and I guess a lot of the games nuances got dumped in the porting. This forum goes into detail:

    http://atariage.com/forums/topic/69356-alternate-reality-the-city-by-philip-price-links/

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  20. I thoroughly enjoyed Rivers of Light way back when on the Commodore 64. It wasn't until college that I read the Epic of Gilgamesh and kept finding myself thinking, "This seems vaguely familiar..." until it all came rushing back.

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  21. It's funny how Rivers of Light came up again just at the time when you are heading towards two other mythologically-themed games.

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  22. I can understand your frustration at the longer excessively padded out games in the 90's. You only need to look at the bloat that happened in the space of two years on the Gold Box games - You went from the very tightly focussed Pool of Radiance, the at least on par Curse of the Azure Bonds to the terrible trudge through eons of padded out dungeons that was Secret of the Silver blades.

    Also, I'm 90% sure you can cross off Enigma Force. There is no character development, stats don't influence play. There is an adventure game style inventory of sorts. It's really a sidescroller / adventure game / smidge of RPG (mostly inventory) hybrid. I played it heaps on the C64 in my younger teens, mostly because of the music. I never really figured it out though. YouTube informs me you can actually finish it in 8 minutes!

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  23. I wonder if part of the reason 1984 had such a lack of CRPG's of note is the video game crash of late 1983... I was only 9 at the time, but I remember the general feeling was that the "fad" of computers was over and everyone was moving on from them.

    If you look at computer magazines at the time, the difference is striking. Pre-1983 had full-color ads and hundreds of pages of content. 1984 onwards was half the print size and all the ads became simple text and black-and-white.

    I could see a lot of developers in that era deciding to go back to their day jobs rather than finish up this or that game... at least until they knew the market would return.

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    1. I remember that it didn't affect the gaming arcades much. It was more like the exiting of a powerful but proud player (Atari) that rippled out to the entertainment media.

      Atari used to be one of the biggest advertisers with the some of the largest catalog of (crappy) games in their library. The end of their participation, of course, would definitely end a lot of those full page color-splashed ads.

      This also translates to lower income for these mags. The only way to sustain the employees was to raise cost of ad space, retrench them or just shut the company.

      In any case, 1984 was a lousy year for video gaming with many publishers rushing out games of sub-par value while demanding a king's ransom on them. And when they don't sell, these publishers disappeared into the night with Atari.

      I would go as far to say that it was PC gaming that had saved the industry from totally going bust and not the other way round.

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    2. PC suffered just as much from the shovelware problem as consoles did - the only reason the Great Video Game Crash didn't take down the PC market the way it destroyed the pre-NES console market is that PCs could be (and were) billed as a home office or educational device as much as a game machine.

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    3. That was hardly the end for Atari, though. Despite the crash, they didn't even discontinue the 2600 until 92. Probably the biggest problem for Atari regarding the crash was it made them delay the release of the 7800 until after the NES (and Sega Master System, but that's hardly relevant). There was no way they were going to be market leaders putting up their dated "new" system up against that juggernaut.

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    4. Dated system? The 2600 Double Dragon port looks just like the arcade! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk-WpmqqzTU

      (joking of course, and I still own my original Atari 2600)

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  24. Hey, I know you said you didn't want any more links without personal experience with the game, but AtariAge has run a contest before with this version: http://www.giors.com/video-games/downloadarwrappernow

    Plenty of folks talk about their characters, and no one said anything about diseases or crashes. Here's the contest thread: http://atariage.com/forums/topic/69487-alternate-reality-the-city-competition/

    One fellow, Jim Norris, apparently tore apart the game and found a lot of stats and probabilities and such. I'd suggest at least giving this a try if you haven't already.

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    1. Yeah, that one was promising, but not compatible with a 64-bit version of Windows. I was hoping I'd just find a better crack before attempting to solve THAT problem.

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    2. I just ran it on my 64-bit system just fine (Win 7). Is it giving you an error?

      I've been tentative about Win 10 because I know _most_ things seem to be compatible, but I like obscure stuff.

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    3. I have Windows 7, too. The main application starts okay, but then when I select "The City" and "Create Character," it gives me the error message.

      I seem to be okay on working Atari 8-bit versions now, in any event.

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  25. Thank God, it's over...

    I like your Game of the Year decision. Well-chosen, just like your 1982 pick.

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  26. I would second the comment about Jim Norris. I used to know him personally (the guy credited as Lord Scotsman in his Resurex project is still a buddy of mine). Anyhow, here's his online resume and contact info: http://www.rainbarrel.com/jresume.htm

    If anyone knows how to work around the protection, it's Jim (outside of Price himself, who frequently commented on Jim's disassembly project, I believe it's what is linked above).

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  27. I am not sure where to comment, or to look for the answer, but I was wondering why the Shining Force series is not on your play list.

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    1. Because it's a console game? Notwithstanding Sega Smash Pack for PC.

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    2. Ah, I thought availability on PC would suffice. I guess I am a sad panda then. :)

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    3. For what it's worth, the 2013 CRPG Addict's verdict on console-ported games was "Right, my understanding was that these games were "released for Windows" only in the sense that Steam packages them with an emulator. That's very little different from my downloading, say, an SNES emulator and playing all SNES games with it, which I'm not going to do. Thus, if the game wasn't specifically ported to Windows, I don't really think that counts."



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    4. Alas, that remains my stance. I'll play a game if it had a true PC port, but not if it's availability simply means it's bundled with a console emulator.

      I know it seems arbitrary to some people, but I need some way to trim down a list that is way too long.

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    5. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesFebruary 18, 2016 at 3:31 PM

      I think it would be funny if you played some terrible P.C. ports of great console R.P.G.s and complained about all the errors.

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    6. What, and have write one-liner posts like, "Sorry, guys. Nothing to see here today. Impossible to start the game because of the bugs"?

      No, thanks.

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    7. If only there were terrible PC ports of great console games the same as the reverse is true.

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    8. You can't make great soup with terrible shit, Zenic, you know that.

      Unless someone wants to port Ultima 8 onto Wii U as a Mario-inspired platformer.

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  28. Good news! You can yank one more from your 1985 play list.

    Dragon Side II (the sequel to Bronze Dragon) came out in 1987, not 1985. You can find information on both games here (http://www.runesword.com/bd.html), including a manual for the sequel which has a 1987 copyright date.

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  29. Atari 8-bit version is the way to go as it is the original and in my opinion best version.

    You can find working disk images here:

    http://atari.vjetnam.cz/index.php?frame=lett&dir=a&page=5

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  30. Great series of posts. I'm glad I'm catching up to you- with Trickster stopping Retrosmack I'm starting to get worried about ever catching up. Plus I see you've not been posting as much lately. I'll try to read faster.

    That said, I'm now wondering if you are secretly saving console RPGs for 1995 or such, so you can pull out another return to the 80s and simple RPGs. (Except without all the emulator and copy protection issues). (This is a joke. Please don't take me seriously and badger Chet about it.)

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