Monday, February 8, 2016

Disciples of Steel: Won!

   
All right. We got the kinks worked out from last time. It turns out that there are at least two ways--probably three--to win the game, and none of them are completely bugged. (Thanks to Peter, Nathan, and asimpkins in the last post for helping with all of this.)

  • First, you can defeat Variz in his dungeon. Yes, I encountered a bug where it incorrectly identified a storm giant as Variz, but Variz is still there, just in a room I didn't find. It's notable that if I had found the room on my first pass, winning the game would have come as a complete surprise, since I thought I was in the dungeon for a different purpose and the text doesn't give you any impression you're about to fight the final battle.
  • Second, you can wait until the "Armageddon" date when Variz leads his forces in an attack on Lanathor. For me, this was August 22, 1035; I don't know if this is fixed or rolled randomly when you start the game.
  • Third, according to a message board post, you can win by conquering the cities of Rathadon, but only if you do it with your armies, not by assassinating the rulers with your party. I wasn't able to verify this one.

I tried the second option first. I had been deliberately passing time, hoping that Variz would attack, but to no avail. Now, there are only a couple of ways to pass time in the game. One is to go to your quarters in the Disciples of Steel guild or a castle and rest the party. You can do this for 120 hours, or 5 days, at a time, but you have to keep doing it manually. The second is to take the party to a dungeon with no random encounters and weigh down the "S" (search) key while you take a shower or watch television or something. You have to acknowledge messages at the end of each month and the occasional birthday, but this method requires the least user input.

Doing it this way, I failed to notice for a while that the calendar wasn't advancing past August 22. The time would advance around the clock, but the date never changed. Only when I left the city I was in and returned did I get the messages that brought on the endgame.

I should point out that I started letting time pass in February, so that was six extra months I could have used to make money, improve my characters, and so forth. Since I did a lot of grinding and backtracking during the game proper, I feel there was plenty of time to solve all the quests before the game-enforced final battle. I just think the player should get a little more notice.

Armageddon begins.
    
As I tried to enter the city, this is the notice I received:

In the distance, you see a rider galloping toward you. You wait for him to approach and after several moments, he is reining in his horse to a stop in front of you. He is out of breath, but he speaks in hurried gasps, "The forces of darkness march across the mountains and spread into the plains northwest of Farnus. You must unite the people of Lanathor and march our forces to defeat this evil horde."

For several days, you send runners out to the various kingdoms to see who will join you and your troops as you head to the Farnus flatlands. As you prepare to meet the evil wizard Variz and his army, your runners return with word from the other realms.
   
Following this is a roll call of all the kingdoms that you didn't take over but did reach the end of their questlines. In my case, all of them--Kitari, Hollengard, Cartha, Aragual, and Pallasade--offered to send help. The game told me that I would make my stand in Pallasade.
   
    
As the battle began, I had 96 armies to allocate around the battlefield, which took long enough, but it turned out that the enemy had around 145. After allocation, the battle plays much like a classic strategy game, not terribly dissimilar to Sword of Aragon. You can charge enemy armies, fire bows, or defend, and for each unit you can take a detailed look at its equipment, training and morale. It's a pretty impressive system given that it hardly ever gets used in gameplay.

My units attack the enemy. Note the equipment, troop count, and training rank in the lower-right. I guess it would have made more sense to let them come through the gate.
  
I fought for a while, but with so many units, it takes a long time. Each unit had an average of 100 soldiers, and a single attack between units might kill only 15 at a time. Add this up for more than 100 units per round, and you're looking at a multi-hour battle of slowly whittling down the enemy forces.

An end-of-round report from early in the battle. I like neither my chances nor the amount of time this is going to take.
   
I would have stuck with it, but the early battle reports were grim. I clearly needed to enter the endgame with more parity between my army and the enemy's, which would mean reloading the February save and spending those intervening months building units and micromanaging funds. I found this prospect less interesting than taking my party back to Variz's dungeon and trying to find him again.

This is where the storm giant's speech would have made sense.
  
On the third level, behind a secret door that I'd missed the first time, I found him and his army of giants and hellhounds. Upon entering the room, the game told me only that I faced "Rathadon high command within the rifts." I started to defeat them without "Wrath of God," but when the frost giants decimated my party with "Ice Storm" spells and Variz knocked us out for a round with "Time Stop," I pulled out my nuclear option and ended things in one casting.

   
After the battle, I got a quick animation of a knight standing next to a castle wall in a rainstorm and a notice that "the forces of good are victorious!"

I suspect if we'd really put out minds to it, we could have come up with a more interesting and appropriate end-game animation.
   
After that, the game let me keep playing. If I exited and re-entered the square where I encountered Variz, I faced the same encounter again. When I exited the dungeon and visited some of the cities, the lords still spoke as if the big final battle was ahead of us. I suspect if I wait until August 22 again, the land will get attacked as if I had never defeated Variz in the first place.

Thus, a bit of a buggy, let-down ending to a long and complex game, although I do appreciate the ability to win the game multiple ways.

A GIMLET is up next. I'm going to have to do some careful analysis on Disciples of Steel, so I didn't want to conflate this post with the final rating. But because it's so short, consider this an "extra" post that doesn't count within my normal three-day rotation.

34 comments:

  1. Whoops, look like I spoke too soon re: the last update. Congrats!

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  2. I think I would have enjoyed playing Disciples of Steel if I had it for the Atari ST in 1991, but it would have been severely aged by the time it was ported to MS-DOS in 1994.

    Vengeance of Excalibur is coming up and I suspect the posts on that will be just as entertaining as the ones on Spirit of Excalibur.

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  3. Congrats on the win! Interesting that there are multiple ways to complete the game here, and with such different methods. Is that a first?

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  4. Congrats, glad you made it in spite of all odds. Didn't really expect it and dame by today morning more to check the comments on the "stuck" thread to see if there is hope in sight. Good way to start the day, off to work!

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  5. A couple of questions on your upcoming games list. How come you ditched Zyll? I thought it was one of the games you half visited first time around and you were looking forward to it. Similarly, how come AR: The City is getting another go when first time around you didn't see any way to win it and didn't seem to like it?

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    1. I played Zyll for about 2 hours and decided it wasn't an RPG. It has no stat-based combat and no character development and leveling. It's only slight more RPG-like than Zork.

      Alternate Reality is getting another look because a) I only played it for about 2 hours the first time and barely explored it; and b) now that I've killed my "DOS-only" rule, I'm going to be playing its sequel, which DOES have an ending, and I need a character suitable for importing.

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    3. It's a shame that Zyll won't make your list because it's actually a really good game, but I agree that it's not an RPG. It's an text adventure with some minor RPG style elements. I was pretty obsessed with it when it came out (played it on my friends IBM PCjr) and actually spoke with the authors at one point.

      If you want more information on the game I made a 'Zyll Shrine' on my webpage a few years ago. I need to get around to updating it and cleaning things up.

      http://www.atariprotos.com/other/zyll/zyll.htm

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    4. Very neat. I actually played it for quite a while, had almost won, and was planning to post on it anyway, but then I accidentally overrode my only save state right before I got killed, and I couldn't escape from the predicament. I didn't feel like starting over again, especially the thought of waiting through all those transitions again. Although I think it's a fun game, having to wait 8 or 10 seconds between screens (and jacking up the DOSBox cycles did nothing to solve this) was a real killjoy.

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    5. Yeah I don't know why they decided to do that. 'Back in the day'(TM) I didn't mind it because I imagined my character actually walking from screen to screen, and it gave me a moment to fill in my map a little. If you're playing two player it also gave you a chance to look over at what your friend (or opponent) was doing.

      There aren't a lot of games like Zyll (Beyond Zork is the closest I can think of), which is a shame because I love the genre.

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  6. Well this was a bit of a slough so I think congratulations are in order.

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  7. So: better than Goldbox? The world awaits with bated breath. How about the controls?

    Twenny friggen hours in the final dungeon. I don't think I would have made it.

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    1. Probably not better than POR, but very close.

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    2. Since you brought up Gold Box, I'll throw this is: The addict's posts on Disciples of Steel has motivated me to replay both Gold Boxes and Steel. The motivation to replay Gold Boxes was to make a pint of using more spell types. I'm replaying PoR now using the excellent Gold Box Companion. This includes auto-mapping, a fix command, and ability to reload spells. It makes the game easier, so not the original experience, but also far less tedious.

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  8. I'm going to have to give this game one more try. Where did you get this copy? It sounds like you had no probs with any cracking.

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    1. I don't remember--one of the first Google results, I'm sure. My version is 1.004.

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    2. It's available over on Abandonia.com: http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/814/Disciples+of+Steel.html

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    3. Thank you. I just want to make sure I'm not using a partially cracked version.

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    4. I recently reloaded the old floppies I have. Back in the day I played version 1.003. I found a patch online this time (no online world back in the day) so I can play the newest version when I get around to it.

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    5. I wanted to play also, but can't pass the copy protection. The crack is a temporary solution, and when I use de 1.013 patch I can't even start the game if I don't know the codes...

      thanks!

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    6. Just download a copy of the manual from mocagh.org and you'll be able to enter the codes.

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  9. It sounds like the game nearly all came together but floundered at the final hurdle - which you sort of prophesied.

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  10. You seemed to really enjoy the combat, but the dominance of Power Word Stun and then Wrath of God didn't seem too appealing to me.

    The Gold Box games have their Hold Person and Hold Monster, but it seems better balanced in that it works less against stronger opponents. It has Fireball, which can clear out hordes if you can get if off in the right place -- but it's not going to win the major battles for you on its own.

    This game is the opposite. Two posts ago you encountered a dragon. What is it like to fight a dragon? Anti-climatic, you stunned him and then hacked away. The final fight was won with Wrath of God. And worse, it seems like it would have been impossible otherwise.

    Yet, you really liked the game, so I'm wondering if I got the wrong impression?

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    1. I thought the same thing. The combat sounds meaningless. To be fair, most RPGs feature a fairly simple repeatable exploit but 'cast spell, everything dies' robs combat of any gravitas.

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    2. Seems to me that had Chet not toiled at the grindstone early on, and so severily, he might have found fault with power wording a dragon and hacking it apart as well. That feeling of hopelessness in the beginning and then slowly coming to power until you attain such near game-breaking tools for me make it different from straight cheezing a game.

      Top level combats in gold box games also could be trivialized. But it's the long road to getting the tools to do so that inform the experience.

      I see your side of the argument though, even within the frame I'm presenting above. D&D tried to solve this problem by giving even tougher meanies spell resistance/immunity.

      But is it really a more epic fight if you cast your power word stun five times until it the dragon fails their spell save? Or is it more epic if all your spells fail and you just have to go toe to toe and see who runs out of HP first?

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    3. What balances these powerful spells is the fact that magic points take a LONG time to recharge. You can't use them for every combat. But you're right that some of the key "boss" combats are underwhelming for this reason. Throughout the game, I hardly ever died from a boss combat and died all the time from the random combats in between. So while "Wrath of God" might have rendered the final battle meaningless, it didn't render meaningless the 60 combats I had to fight to get in front of that final door.

      Helm is also right: a lot of grinding and developing are necessary to get to this uber-powerful point. "Wrath of God" didn't come along until I'd drank every wisdom potion I could find and jacked my "karma" skill up to 250. I had the spell for the final 5% of the game, and even then, a single casting might take an hour of dungeon-crawling to recover the spell points.

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    4. Think of Wrath of God as the game saying, "you've endured enough combats by now, here's a spell where you can just skip the ones you don't like." Because that's basically it. I don't think it's a cheat or stupid overpowered spell, I think it's the game itself giving you a tool to only play the parts of the game you want, as a reward for doing so well.

      Also some of the later combats are super-hard. Wrath of God seems the only way to get past them. Unless your idea is to grind to get to even higher levels.

      In fact, beating the bad guy at the end with a single nuke spell may well have been something cool in 1991. How many other games had this mechanic? The bad guy in every game always seemed to have a "beat everyone" tool in his repertoire, it's about time you had a chance to do the same! Perhaps by our 2016 standards it seems like a lame come-down, but in 1991 it could have been a classic, memorable ending. Imagine telling your friends at school..."and then, I finally got to the last bad guy's room, and BAM! Nuked him! He didn't even get a turn! And then I won the game! Ha ha ha! So cool!"

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    5. It's the age-old "you'd suck at level 1 but you'll rip at level 9" thing going for the spellcasters.

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  11. A surprisingly complex and detailed game, with a lot of thought put in it. But I guess that there is just a slight feeling of disappointment, because of the tiny lack of balance. It would have been better if the player had had the ability to prepare for the strategic part of the game. The final battle comes a bit out of nowhere. And there's the high end combat, which is too powerful. I do think that Gold Box games have something similar going on once you can summon daevas, for example.
    And there were a couple of bugs...
    This reminds me of KotOR II, actually. The second half of the game basically needs just one spell, force wave. And there are the bugs as well.
    Nevertheless, I think this game might be unparalleled on this blog in width and depth so far. If Pool of Radiance still stays ahead in the rating, it is because it all comes together better.

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  12. Congrats on the win! I went the army route, and won the game back in 1994 or so but only due to the game's AI breaking horribly.

    When I found out about the attacking castles thing I became obsessed with getting my party strong enough to do this, so I spent most of my effort in the game trying to accomplish this. The Death Knight equipment was so crazy overpowered I spent the majority of the game trying to get every member of my party able to use a set to fullest ability. I never did get all of my party members this strong, but those that were could solo castle invasions with ease (I recall even making my magic users physical beasts for this purpose. I doubt I ever cast the top spells because of this.) I knew about the army mechanic but I was hoping my super strong PCs would help there.

    Having wasted away my time I had built up very few armies in time for the final battle but those I did have were very strong. Nonetheless I quickly realized I was doomed. They were whittling me down when something really weird happened. It was like the enemy morale broke and every single enemy unit started fleeing the field. I sat back and watched them do so and eventually got a win out of it. To this day I have no idea what happened. I had NO chance of winning that fight with any number of reloads but they took off.

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    1. Great story. Do you remember if the endgame was the same? (Animated knight inexplicably outside in a storm.)

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    2. Unfortunately I do not remember the ending at all.

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  13. I imagine kids back then who had beat the game once would go ape-shit when they compare notes with each other on how they beat the boss only to find out that one of them did the old-fashioned dungeon-delving way while another did it by raising loads of cash and amassing armies to do so with no idea that they could win the game either way.

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  14. I will not make mass effect three jokes, I will not...

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