Saturday, November 12, 2016

Knightmare: A Few We've All Had

You've spent 8 hours on a task only to find that you're only 25% done.
Ugh. I don't know about this one. At first, I was looking forward to some classic Dungeon Master-style gameplay, but Knightmare isn't satisfying that urge so far. In fact, it's doing a good job living up to it's name. Let's take a little tour.

You're starving and there's no food

If you've ever thought, "I really like Dungeon Master gameplay. If only it existed in a world where food is so sparse that you have to chase rabbits around the map for hours just to survive," this is the game for you.
The blue-ish shading on the character's torso and legs serves as a food meter.
I started the first quest without understanding the importance of food. I didn't even notice the "food meter" (admittedly, because I didn't read the manual carefully), which is actually a subtle shading of the character's paper doll in inventory view. Apparently, when the meter runs out, you no longer recover health, stamina, and magic when you rest. Meanwhile, if your stamina bottoms out, you start taking hit point damage every few seconds. Thus, a starving character finds himself in an inescapable death spiral unless he can get to some food. I had made it about halfway through the first dungeon before I realized what was happening, and I had to hightail it back to the forest to kill some rabbits before I died.

Fortunately, rabbits continually respawn, so getting enough food is just a matter of time. I didn't return to the dungeon until I had backpacks full of rabbit pies.

You're in front of a bunch of people in your underwear

I've never met a game stingier with inventory. That's not a complaint. It's just funny. As I noted last time, the characters apparently start nude because their inventory slots are soon equipped with t-shirts and shorts. Later, I found some sandals, blouses, and skirts. There was one baseball cap. That's as good as the armor ever got.
Weapons weren't much better. Most games would give you swords and maces right away, but after scouring the first dungeon, I discovered that the final room produced, as the ultimate reward....a kitchen knife. It replaced a regular knife I'd been holding in my off-hand.

You try to fight, but all your attacks are useless

More than both Dungeon Master and Captive (and Eye of the Beholder, for that matter), Knightmare relies on tricks to prevail in combat--tricks such as the much-maligned "combat waltz" and crushing enemies in closing doors. A head-on battle is suicide. At first, not even the waltz served me well. It would take forever to kill a four-pack of trolls. For most of the first level, I led almost every pack of monsters back to the nearest push-button door and slammed them in it repeatedly to kill them. There was also a fun corridor where pulling a lever caused a fireball to roar down it and kill everything in its path.
Crushing gnomes in a door while I fight them.
(If you're just joining us, games using engines like Dungeon Master's let you damage enemies with parts of the environment, including closing doors and grates. This usually does more damage than regular combat. The "combat waltz" is when you attack an enemy from the side, then turn and side-step before he can turn and attack you. When he walks into your previous square, you attack again, then turn and side-step. You continually walk boxes around the enemy this way until he dies, denying him the chance to attack head-on. It works as long as your digital dexterity holds out.) 

My strategy didn't work in a few places in the game where enemies occupy islands and you can't lead them to a door. It took forever to kill them. At least, at first. As time passed, I began to re-acquaint myself with the combat waltz, and I realized I'd been doing it too gingerly. You don't swipe once or twice between side-step turns: you line up a row of weapons for your first two party members and sweep across it, right-clicking that mouse furiously, giving yourself carpal tunnel syndrome in the process. If you're fast, you can do 100 points of damage per turn instead of just 15 or 20. I did much better in later combats.

Nothing works the way it's supposed to

I end this session not understanding a bunch of aspects of the game, and it's beginning to annoy me. My two rear characters, for instance, regain stamina extremely slowly when they sleep. In fact, sometimes they lose it for the first minute. (Sleeping can take a few minutes to restore everyone fully.) If they're almost out, they might lose the rest of it, then start taking hit point damage while they're sleeping specifically to recover health and stamina. It's not because they have no food. I've checked that.
Sleeping as Armea's stamina refuses to budge.
My priest has a staff that allows her to cast various spells, but the healing spells only ever seem to target the character in Position 2. And one spell, "Aid," which is supposed to cure injuries, doesn't seem to work at all. A couple of my characters have red boxes around some of their body parts, indicating an injury that doesn't heal over time. "Aid" is supposed to help with those, I think, but does nothing. If you see anything I'm doing wrong, please let me know.

You're drowning--in piranha-infested waters

I found out the hard way that walking into water is instant death. There were a number of water squares in the first dungeon, and the only way to cross them is to find a boat. If you do that, you're in good shape--except for the piranhas (or whatever--the enemies aren't named) that rear out of the water and do massive damage. Fortunately, they die in a few blows, but they can easily kill you in the meantime.
A piranha jumps out of the water and kills my front two characters.
Let me cover the first quest dungeon briefly. Like Captive, Knightmare packs a lot of enemies and content in a small space. The map below doesn't look very big, and indeed if it was a Fate map, I would have traversed it in 30 minutes. But in Knightmare, it took nearly 5 hours. One in three or four squares has something that slows you down: a monster, a button, a door, a pressure plate, a talking head, or some minor puzzle to solve. At the beginning, I was annotating grates in the walls and floors before I realized they were just environmental features.
The major part of the fist dungeon.
The level was very linear, and in retrospect I didn't need to map it at all, since each puzzle simply led to the next immediate area. To say "puzzles" is generous. Given the nature of the show, I was expecting some mentally-challenging obstacles. Instead, the puzzles were of the trite Dungeon Master sort: find a hidden button, weigh down a pressure plate, and so forth. These can be challenging if done well (cf. Chaos Strikes Back), but they were very easy and obvious here. Maybe the later levels get harder.

I didn't expect so many combats. Again, I thought it would stress puzzle-solving over fighting. But the dungeon was swarming with walking trees, gnomes, and trolls (again, I'm guessing at the names), some of whom took a long time to kill even with the standard strategies.

The game began in a small corridor with a key. Throughout the first dungeon, I routinely found keys right before the doors that they opened, so I won't mention this every time. There was also some kind of dancing plant in the corridor that a talking head told me was "the Sprig of Life and Death." I couldn't find anything productive to do with it. Maybe it resurrects people? I didn't try.
When a sign warns you not to do something, don't do it.
Further on was a corridor with a lever on the wall. A talking head warned, "Do not play with fire." I pulled the lever and a fireball came roaring down the hall, killing everyone. I later used this corridor to kill some difficult enemies.
Dungeon Master had all these puzzles without the hints.
Further along: a pressure plate with a talking head that said, "Keep the pad down." I had to toss some random item on it to open a secret area. Later, there was another pressure plate that toggled a hidden door on a nearby wall.

The tunnels led to a place labeled "sewer entrance." They seemed to dead-end in a 2 x 3 area, but a pressure plate opened a hidden wall and a bunch of enemies attacked. After I defeated them, I reached a 3 x 3 dead end, where another pressure plate opened another hidden wall, and I had many more enemies to fight.
This is a "first" for a Dungeon Master-style game.
Past them was a corridor full of water and a boat. Moving in the boat is no different than moving on land, but the corridors tended to be more restricted, and I had to fight enemies without doing the waltz. There were a few patches of land ringing the water area, with numerous trolls. There generally wasn't enough room to waltz them on land, so I took to fighting from the boat, darting up to them, attacking a few times, and backing away. It took a long time.

Getting out of this area meant finding three buttons to open hidden walls, and some of the buttons are very obscure. You basically have to turn, face, and study every wall. Eventually, I crossed through a small corridor to another boat, which dumped me off by a portal.
Would you have noticed that button?
The portal took me to a large area labeled "the prison" with a gated area in the middle. There was no obvious way to open the gates. After I'd mapped everything and checked every wall twice, finding no buttons, I sighed and started testing them for secret doors. You can do this one of two ways: by walking into them (taking damage) or by throwing something at them. When I saw a dart sail through one of the walls, I knew I had a secret door. Until this moment, I wasn't aware that such secret doors existed in this game, and now I wonder how many I missed in the opening area. Looking at the map, I guess I can only see a couple of areas where they would have fit into the empty wall space.

The secret door led to a button, which opened one of the prison gates. For the next 90 minutes, I killed every troll, gnome, and walking tree that came out of the prison. This wasn't helped by the fact that they had a tendency to wander into the portal going back to the sewers. So I'd think I had everything cleared, and then "bling!" another party would blunder back through the portal.

In the prison area proper, another button opened another hidden doorway that led me to the final area. Here, through a gate, I encountered the first "new" enemy in a long time--some kind of cloaked figure with a sword. At first, I tried fighting him while the gate crushed him, but he was too smart for that and went wandering away after a few rounds. So I had to chase him down and waltz him to death.
After a level of goofy-looking trolls and gnomes, this guy was a little terrifying.
Then, I faced the final enemy: some kind of troll blocking a corridor. He refused to budge, so no waltzing or door-crushing possible. After exhausting my missile weapons, I walked up and took him head-on. I had to retreat and heal a couple of times, but ultimately I killed him in regular combat.
This guy won't budge.
Just beyond the troll was a pressure plate. Stepping on it rewarded me of an image of a shield. The actual Shield of Justice was on the ground nearby, where a talking head said, "Well done! Quest One completed." Finally, a pit dumped me back in the forest. The game is clearly copying Chaos Strikes Back here, where finding every bit of Corbum Ore was followed by dropping through a pit to the starting area. There, the geography made sense, but here it doesn't.
It's a nice graphic, anyway.
Other notes:

  • Spellcasting is weird, probably because Captive didn't have a casting mechanic. You have to find wands specific to the spellcasting classes. When you first acquire them, you can only cast the most basic spells of that class. Practice allows you to cast higher-level spells. You can also vary the amount of power that goes into each spell, from 1 to 6. I find I'm only able to cast a few spells with each rear character before they need to rest. My rear characters spend most of the game not doing much of anything.
Setting the spell power and type.
  • The more I think about it, the more I realize that Crowther pulled a fairly blatant ripoff of Dungeon Master for the character development system. Captive was clearly inspired by Dungeon Master but had a lot of its own mechanics; most of those are gone here, and the makers of Dungeon Master probably should have gotten a co-credit. In Captive, you had standard experience points that you spent on skills. In Knightmare, you advance in each of the game's classes as you use weapons and skills specific to those classes. Knightmare even copies Dungeon Master's hierarchy system: novice apprentice, adept, expert, and so forth.
My use of a variety of weapons has leveled me in several classes.
  • There is no economy in the game, and monsters generally don't drop anything at all.

I haven't tried yet, but I assume that the Shield of Justice is the "cover" that one of the trees is looking for, and the other two will be satisfied with the sword and cup. The final area will thus lead me to the crown, which makes sense because one of the squares in the outdoor area tells me to bring the crown there.

I really hope the puzzles get more complex in the rest of the quests, but perhaps buttons and pressure plates is all that this engine supports.

Time so far: 8 hours
Reload count: 8


  1. I can't see myself playing this one, or even you having much more fun on this one. Oiks.

  2. It might be unreasonable to expect a game based on a kids' show to get too brain-bending. It sounds maybe slightly less challenging puzzle-wise than the first half of Eye of the Beholder 1, but with tougher combats and less satisfying rewards and character progression.

  3. "My priest has a staff that allows her to cast various spells, but the healing spells only ever seem to target the character in Position 2"

    Most priest spells affect only the character directly in front of the caster. So you have to rearrange temporarily the party formation to heal other party members.
    The priest cannot heal him/herself, but if the REM spell is active (indicated by a Zzz in the lower right corner), the whole party recovers faster while sleeping.

    1. Oh, thanks. I completely misinterpreted that line in the manual. I thought it meant that if you were attacked while sleeping, you'd wake up faster.

    2. "you have to rearrange temporarily the party formation to heal other party members"
      "priest cannot heal him/herself"

      And here we go again with the retarded design decisions...

    3. It was probably done to make in-combat healing less effective. Come to think of it, this is a rather common approach in DM-style game, where UI nuisances are used to balance powerful mechanics.

    4. A useful thing to know is that some doors reflect spells back at you. This can allow a Priest to heal himself.

    5. What you today call "UI nuisances" players back then called "clever verisimilitude".

  4. Gotta say this one seems prime for a quick gimlet and then move on... seems pretty boring to play and I doubt the story will improve to make the grind worth while.

  5. I know some people love dungeon master and it's clones, and I can see the appeal in dungeon master, even in captive, even though neither are games I would enjoy, but I really don't get this game and it seems like it would be a boring slog. I hope it at least becomes more challenging for you.

  6. You'd think that a priest would avoid an REM spell for fear of losing their religion.

    1. Maybe this serves well for the purpose to strengthen their resolve, since at the same time they are choosing their confession.

    2. I think they become priests because they feel bad that everybody hurts.

    3. Oh no, you've said too much.

    4. Get into that corner under the spotlight!

    5. It's OK if they believe that there's a man on the moon.

    6. All right, we get it. Let's end it here.

  7. Thank you debo, that was a good one to start my day! :)

  8. Ironically, the food link makes a lot of sense to fans of the show, along with the inventory. Players in the show only get two items at once (each hand). Food is linked directly to health (which only drops due to time). Does this make for a good video game? Rather decidedly not, it seems.

  9. In DM, recovering Mana drains Stamina (and recovering stamina drains food). It was even possible for satiated high wisdom characters to lose stamina while sleeping only because of that. So maybe your rear guys don't recover stamina for that reason while sleeping.

    I find it curios that after creating a DM clone with Captive, you create another DM clone with the same engine, but closer to the original.

  10. Something that's not clear to me about these games that feature combat requiring techniques like the waltzing and door-crushing... Is this how the designers intended players to succeed in combat? Having never played one of these particular games, it just kind of seems like a cheap hack of the combat/game world interface rather than a legit strategy. Not to suggest it isn't the most practical method for progressing. I'm sure you'd prefer to rely on traditional combat methods (for role-playing purposes if nothing else). Just seems odd that these peculiarities would be baked into the games.

    1. Yes.

      And I agree, it is a rather unsatisfying combat system.

    2. 100% intended, especially in the clones.

      It is a thing you either enjoy or abhor, but it is just part of the system for these games. And yes, it is often cheese-tastic, but it comes with the territory.

    3. Almost every Dungeon Master clone, including the original, is balanced with the assumption that the player will pull every dirty trick they can to win. It's Dark Souls philosophy: "there is no cheese, there's just good tactics".

      Notable exception to this is EOB1, whose developers clearly either forgot about the square dance or simply didn't think the players would engage in it. Thus, EOB1 is completely trivialized by use of it. EOB2 ramped up the difficulty significantly to compensate.

      Speaking of difficulty, Knightmare is on the short list of hardest DM clones known (the others are Chaos Strikes Back and Black Crypt). Beating all three is something to brag about.

    4. The neat thing is that DM, CSB, and Knightmare do punish you a bit for using some of these tricks. If you kill enemies by crushing them in doors, that's experience that didn't go to your various classes. If you waltz enemies to death all the time, you're only developing combat skills and not magic skills. Captive eschewed this by giving everyone equal experience no matter how the enemy was killed, but KM, even though it uses the Captive engine, follows DM rules. So there is at least some penalty for not engaging in a stand-up fight: you're weaker in subsequent fights.

    5. I'd definitely agree about CSB and KM being hard DM versions, especially in the days before FAQ's / walkthroughs. I remember Black Crypt as being a really smooth gaming experience though, don't believe I even mapped that one, the levels seemed to 'flow' in a natural way.

  11. I don't know about what they intended back in the day, but it seems clear that the makers of Legend of Grimrock (an excellent modern-day Dungeon Master style game) expected the waltz and planned for it (they don't feature door crushing)

    Specifically, there are some later enemies that turn to face you and then move in front of you (moving sideways), so that you get a free shot as they come around a corner. You can still waltz them in a larger area (after they turn, move to the side and then hit), but not around a corner. Also - in Legend of Grimrock 1 these enemies are first introduced in an area where hitting them around a corner would work for normal enemies, but not for them.

    So yes, I think they clearly intended the waltz.

    Also they said they experimented with a turn-based combat option for the second game but found that without the movement, the combat just wasn't interesting enough. So they presumably found the waltz interesting and useful.

    1. Which is why gold box games are far superior to EoB/DM style games IMO. Sure, you have to 'self impose' rules that any decent DM would have imposed to make it challenging, such as only allowing rest in town or after the party has adventured at least 10-16 hours and has found a somewhat secure location and not allowing rest for more than 10 hours or so when in a hostile environment, but at least the potential is there. Any game that has any focus on combat and boils the option down to OOC/Mechanical 'tricks' is a failure, in my opinion.

    2. So basically every CRPG with real-time combat is a failure? That's a bit harsh, I think.
      You could also make the argument that shallow round-based combat is just like Excel - because honestly, how many different strategies/approaches to combat does gold box have? 3?

    3. I didn't say that. I said when combat boils down to OOC (OUT OF CHARACTER) tricks it's a fail. In my opinion dancing the death jig is not tactical real time combat.

    4. I think the detraction is specifically against manual dexterity-based games. Most RPGs don't restrict success based on the player's physical abilities or reflexes - 3d real time tile-based games and active time battle are the main historic exceptions. nowadays the line between pure RPG and rpg-action is pretty blurry, but even some third person games in the 'full' rpg category include pause features and/or tactical AI controls (dragon age, for instance) which allow you to succeed or fail purely on your planning, rather than on the speed of your fingers and reactions.

    5. I haven't played many of the games that were inspired by it, but I thought Dungeon Master itself did it really well to make this feel a natural part of the game rather than an OOC thing. If you had enough space, you could outwit powerful but slow monsters by continually moving around them, but it never felt wrong to me because it wasn't a gimmick -- it felt like what a real hero stuck in such a fight might want to do. Continually run away, hack at the nasty big thing when you have an opportunity, and pray to the heavens above if it catches you.

      I think it helped that it wasn't a universally applicable technique. Some monster (like screamers and rock piles) don't have a facing direction, so you can't do this kind of combat waltz with them. Others (like killer bees or gigglers) are too fast for it to be viable. And the dungeon environment is often quite confined and claustrophobic so that you can't continually run around your enemy. There was a real feeling of horror when you realized you had been trapped between two groups of monsters and had no choice but to stand and fight to the death.

    6. I don't think moving during combat is "out of character" at all. If anything, it feels very weird to me how parties in something like Wizardry glue themselves to the enemy instead of making tactical use of the environment. The movement _speed_ of the party is unnatural of course, but eh, that's just a videogame thing.

    7. The dance was a gimmick in DM, because it didn't depend on character attributes or items, just how nimble the player is.

    8. The dance was a gimmick in DM, because it didn't depend on character attributes or items, just how nimble the player is.

    9. CRPGs (all games actually) are about bringing OOC factors in the game, that's the whole premise. Otherwise, the player would be without influence and the whole thing could be simulated.
      Drawing a virtual line only serves to place yourself on the better side of it.

    10. All of these games make waltzing, door-crushing, and other tricks "necessary" at different levels. To me, Captive felt the most unplayable without those tricks and Eye of the Beholder made them feel least necessary. In no game are they absolutely required. Even here, I could fight head-on, make strategic retreats, and use healing and resurrection options to recover. The problem is that once you know how the tricks work, it's hard to force yourself to just stand there and take the damage when you know you can just side-step around it.

    11. RPGs (all games actually) are about bringing OOC factors in the game, that's the whole premise.

      I disagree.

    12. Games like the Gold Box series, Temple of Elemental Evil and Baldur's Gate don't require this kind of meta-gaming and are more focused on clever use of spells and positioning of the party members. ToEE (for all it's flaws, which are mostly corrected by the team at Co8) is probably the most true to D&D in terms of capturing the tactical combat that would occur on a table top session. I realize DM and it's clones are popular, but in no way do I feel that RPG's should in any way be about twitch/finger agility vs. understanding the magic system, properly equipping the characters and using the right tactics dependent on the terrain and enemies you're fighting.

    13. Well, RPG stands for Role-Playing Games, not Detailed Combat Simulator.

    14. Personally I never thought the "combat waltz" was all that unrealistic. It's what you actually try to do in a real fight in a large, open room to avoid getting backed into a corner by a stronger opponent.

      Were I programming the AI though, I'd have made stacks of multiple bad guys split up and try to surround you if they chase you through the same square within a few moves though. Wouldn't add much to the programming difficulty.

    15. I agree on the general comments regarding twitchy gameplay, player dexterity etc., and I believe that they apply to most Dungeon Master clones. But Dungeon Master itself doesn't require any of these techniques if you're willing to explore carefully and use the available opportunities for training (especially training up your magic skills) before diving too deep.

      It is perfectly possible -- and with a bit of experience, not difficult at all -- to win Dungeon Master without ever resorting to door-jamming, combat-waltzing or other techniques that might feel out of character. I dislike twitchy action-RPGs, but the only "player agility" skill Dungeon Master really requires is learning not to fireball yourself, and this is all about staying calm and *not* hitting keys rapidly without thinking.

      My guess is that many people's experience of Dungeon Master's gameplay is somewhat coloured by also having played Chaos Strikes Back, which is quite a different beast. Dungeon Master itself can be played and won at a leisurely pace.

    16. Going back to the earliest days of RPGs, some games have been all about tactics and are played entirely with the "mind" (Wizardry, Gold Box) and some have involved an element of player dexterity (Dungeon Master, a lot of early JRPGs, even Ultima to some degree). Both are perfectly legitimate forms of gameplay in RPGs, as long as at least SOME of the player's success in combat depends on attributes and probability.

      You or I might prefer one set of mechanisms over another, but neither is right or wrong.

  12. Q: Would you have noticed that button?

    A: As far as I can tell, there is no button in that screenshot :(

    1. My guess is that there is a button in this hole in a second brick from the right in the top row.

    2. Exactly. I want to say some other game offered something that looked similar. EOTB, maybe?

    3. Beholder series employs similar tiny buttons to conceal passages, and the ones in the last level of EOB1 (with the eyeball themed walls) remain the most impossible-to-see ones ever. They're literally one pixel in size.

      I don't think Dungeon Master had these, it preferred to use torch-holders or wall rings for secret buttons instead.

  13. I have to say I find it strange that that particular combat trick in these games has been dubbed a waltz as there's nothing 3/4 about it. I would say it's an, uh, Square Dance instead.

    1. The "Combat Foxtrot," maybe? The movement part is only 2 moves, but if you think of it as attack-sidestep-turn, it has three beats.

    2. Yeah, step-turn-swing, step-turn-swing, reminded me of doing the waltz at school. And just like school you'd have to navigate the dance floor :)

    3. Ah, yes, step-turn-swing, three beats. I am completely satisfied with this explanation.


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