Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Magic Candle II: The Four and Forty: Summary and Rating


I confess I never thought of the candle's prisoner as roasting in the candle. That makes what we did to Dreax seem cruel.
     

The Magic Candle II: The Four and Forty
United States
Mindcraft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS
Date Started:  3 April 2017
Date Ended: 21 May 2017
Total Hours: 71
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 43
Ranking at Time of Posting: 214/253 (85%)

The Magic Candle II is far from a bad game--it has most of the strengths of the first game, really--but I didn't enjoy it for reasons that are hard to quantify. It hits all the right notes in a technical sense, and should get a relatively high GIMLET score because of it, but there was something ineffable that made me not look forward to my sessions. Was I just in a bad mood during the last two months? Or are there subtle issues of balance that my approach to rating games doesn't address?

I'm inclined to think that it's more of the latter, and I addressed some of the issues a few entries ago. Combat is either too easy (with the appropriate mushrooms in your stomach, casting "Sense" as you explore) or too hard (no mushrooms, lots of ambushes), and unlike games in which you're at least rewarded with experience for battle after battle, The Magic Candle series imparts so little in the way of actual character development that it feels like you're fighting for nothing. As a consequence, there weren't many battles in the game that I actually enjoyed.
       
Ambushes like this were all too frequent and frustrating in the later parts of the game.
     
My overall indifference to the game can be seen in the numerous things that I didn't explore, do, or take the time to learn. For instance:

  • The game gives you "mindstones" to communicate with party members you've left in other areas of the map, but unlike the first game, it's so easy to get around the game world--and there's no time limit--that I didn't feel it was necessary to communicate over large distances.
       
The "mindstones" are a good idea that I did nothing with. I don't even know who the first two people are.
      
  • A new music system allows characters to learn half a dozen songs which are supposed to enchant or stun various types of enemies. I couldn't get it to work and didn't really care since it's easy enough to just kill those enemies.
  • I didn't wake up half of the gods in the game. It turns out that one of them would have demanded Brennix, and another would have demanded that the sorceress Somona was in my party, so he could kill her. I could have run around talking to NPCs a second time and ensuring that I had the gods' passwords, but the extra attribute points just didn't seem worth it.
  • I only bothered to use trainers a couple of times. Some skills advanced by use alone, and for others, the need just wasn't there. 
    
I honestly don't even know what "stealth" is for. Fewer wilderness encounters?
    
  • There was something called the "Horn of the Tundra" that I could have found in Maratul and used to call nomads to my side as allies. I never even heard about it.
  • There were a few other magic weapons that I could have found if I'd been more careful in my dialogue notes.
      
These issues are all the more notable given that I played with a sub-optimal party. I suppose the best way to make the game truly challenging would be to play with a single character, or just two or three.

The story is okay. This is an era in which most games didn't invest much in stories at all, so for that alone, I'm grateful for the detailed backstory, paragraph book, and NPCs. At the same time, aspects of the story didn't make any sense. Why did Zakhad's forces slaughter the forty guardians of the candle and kidnap the Eldens anyway? Why imprison the Eldens in magic candles? Why did Zakhad think that he had successfully led us into a trap when it depended on so many elements outside his control? Consider, too, that freeing the Eldens was only necessary to defeat Zakhad in the game's own Rube Goldberg plot. Otherwise, they were completely unconnected to the Orb of Light.
     
This didn't quite "ruin" the game, but it came close.
     
Before we get to the GIMLET, let's consider some of the paragraph book entries that I didn't find. I assume most of them are fake, but it's hard to tell; I might have just missed some. Unlike the fake entries in the Gold Box games, which are purposefully designed to lead you astray, most of the ones here could easily have been part of the game: a tavernkeeper calmly discusses his city's resources as a brawl breaks out behind him; the party frees some halflings, who immediately start looking for food; Zakhad taunts the party from atop Rebnard's throne (offering more text here than he does in the real game); the nomad king pretends to be enraged at the party but then turns out to be joking; a goblin tells the party about Deadwood.

There are only a couple that are directly misleading, and both would have you think that the elves of Llendora are evil. One of them depicts the party being captured by the elves and forced to survive for 7 days while the elves hunt them. Another has the sorceress Somona warning the party about the elves' treachery.
   
I never even found the "real" Somona in-game.
     
On to the rating!

1. Game World. I covered this above. The sheer amount of text is impressive, and I love when the backstory integrates well into the actual gameplay. It was just silly at times. The physical world is well-designed, with Gurtex separated into various logical sections. Score: 6.

2. Character Creation and Development. I loved the ability to import the heroes from both previous games, but there otherwise isn't very much to character creation. Development occurs in a few ways, by getting attribute boosts from awakened gods, by training characters in their skills, and (for some skills) by employing those skills. In all cases, the development is extremely incremental, barely felt in the game, and (for weapon skills) too-easily maxed. I suspect I could have won with the starting party even if they hadn't developed at all. I did like that there were a few places in which the party composition mattered to the plot, but in general there weren't any role-playing options related to class or race. Score: 3.

3. NPC Interaction. Definitely a solid part of the game. Talking with NPCs is vital to advancing the plot, and an impressive number of them can be recruited to the party. Even though party-splitting options were reduced for this one, it's still neat that you can spin off your party members to have them study, develop skills, or earn a wage--I just wish there had been more actual reasons to do this. It's also fun the way NPCs comment during exploration; we're almost at the "banter" era perfected in the Infinity Engine titles here. If the game overall were better, it would be fun to replay it with different party combinations. I have no idea why you'd ever favor a hireling over a regular NPC companion, though. Score: 6. 
     
The party learns about the final areas from some NPCs.
      
4. Encounters and Foes. This is one of the areas that sounds better on paper than in the actual game. There is an impressive array of original monsters, well-described in the manual, each with their own special attacks and defenses. But having your shields maxed, eating Gonshis and Mirgets before each combat, and using the "Jump" spell in combat work so universally that none of these special attacks and defenses really matter. Outside of combat, there really aren't any special encounters or puzzles that provide role-playing options. Score: 4.

5. Magic and Combat. Again, good at face value. You've got a tactical combat grid, different types of weapons and attacks, considerations of deployment, movement, and terrain, and an impressive variety of spells. Perhaps if the mushrooms weren't so effective, or if the party didn't always act first in every round, or if any number of other variables had been better balanced, I would have entered combat eagerly each time instead of groaning. Score: 5.
      
The pre-combat options were a welcome addition, but they almost always backfired.
     
6. Equipment. Weapons, armor, clothing, helms, mushrooms, utility items (shovels, picks), and quest items pretty much exhaust the equipment list. I liked that there were more artifact weapons and armor here than in the first game. The "wear and tear" system doesn't really add anything to the game since it takes a trivial amount of time to repair items. Score: 4.

7. Economy. As with most CRPGs, this category starts out well. You have limited funds and lots of things to buy, including equipment, mushrooms, spellbooks, and training. There's a real incentive to have some characters work an "honest" wage, or to engage in multi-city trade. But after a few successful dungeon crawls, the party is swimming in funds and can keep a stock of 99 of everything. Score: 4.

8. Quests. The main quest is relatively well-done. You start off with one mission (find out what happened to the four-and-forty) but soon find that it's dovetailed with another: help Rebnard conquer Gurtex. While there are no real role-playing options, branches, or alternate endings, there are enough optional elements that I would consider them authentic "side-quests." Score: 4.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The iconographic VGA graphics look fine; the bloopish sound effects are only okay. While I appreciated the keyboard interface, there were elements of it that continually annoyed me, such as the in ability to pool no more than 99 of an item (and thus make even distribution among all characters impossible), the cumbersome system of transferring items between players, and the need to save the notepad independently of the game (I almost never remembered). There were a number of oddities with the way that text scrolled and/or the way you have to read dialogue that continues off the screen that had me missing half of it most of the time. There were other quirks that I didn't talk about in my postings because I had a hard time nailing down what was happening, but I'd frequently use some pre-memorized keyboard combination to do something common, look at the screen, and find I was in a completely different section of the interface. I'd go to eat a Sermin, for instance, and realize that somehow we had camped and I was in the spell memorization screen. Overall, it was somewhat frustrating. Score: 4.
     
The notepad was a good feature. Losing it every time you reload was not.
     
10. Gameplay. I have to give it a lot of points here for being open and nonlinear. It's at least somewhat replayable (with different party combinations). But I also found it too easy and just a tad too long. Score: 5.

Add them up, and we get a subtotal of 45, but I feel the need to subtract a couple of points. One area that my GIMLET doesn't handle very well is the quality of dungeon exploration. When I've wanted to award points for the creative puzzles of a game like Dungeon Master, I've had to shoe-horn them into "Encounters and Foes" or offer bonus points at the end. Here, I have to do the opposite. Although I liked them in the beginning, by the end of the game, I thought The Magic Candle II's approach to dungeons just sucked. They're too big, they take forever, and they're a nightmare to navigate. To ensure you don't miss an important object or encounter, you have to hit every room, and because teleporters are so common in the dungeons, you have to step on practically every square, which involves a lot of "Repel" and "Walkwater" spells as well as creative party configurations. All the teleporters and ambushes got old fast, and the rooms are all relentlessly predictable--it would have been nice to occasionally enter one with no combats.

Thus, subtracting 2 points, we get the final score of 43, 6 points lower than the original Magic Candle but still not bad. There are enough good elements that it deserves to be in my "recommended" zone; it's just oddly unsatisfying.
        
        
More than usual, I was curious how the reviewers of the time felt about the game. I was gratified to see Scorpia, in the June 1992 Computer Gaming World, expressing much of the same angst. While expressing admiration for many of the game's elements, she found dungeon-crawling a "tedious chore," largely because of all the ambushes. She also found the music system "too complicated to bother with." Overall, she found it "an uneven sequel" that needed "more work...in some areas." It sounds like the original release was terribly buggy, too.

As we've noted several times previously, by the early 1990s, CGW wasn't letting Scorpia have the final word on anything, so they published a follow-up review by Stefan Petrucha in the August 1992 issue. His experience with CRPGs is so limited that the review is almost embarrassing to read, far too concerned with graphics and sound, annoyed that he occasionally had to break immersion by looking things up in a paragraph book. (An editorial interpolation helpfully noted that such attitudes are not universal.) This line is particularly irksome: "Those who want a great musical score and the capacity to push the limits of their new 486/33 boards with SVGA graphics will be sorely disappointed." What you mean here, Stefan, is that non-CRPG fans will be sorely disappointed. But even though he clearly didn't win the game, he expresses the same praise I did for the world-building and NPC contributions.

The series has been good enough that I'm curious to see how it evolves in The Magic Candle III (1992) and Bloodstone: An Epic Dwarven Tale (1993), which I understand use the same engine. 1992 year also saw the release of Siege, a strategy game set on Gurtex, which I'm hoping doesn't have a lot of plot elements necessary to understand the series. Magic Candle creator Ali Atabek moved to Interplay in 1994, taking more of a management role, and he seems to have departed the industry later in the 1990s, moving to the medical software field.

Up next on the 1991 list, we have our first Italian CRPG, Time Horn.

45 comments:

  1. "Up next on the 1991 list, we have our first Italian CRPG, Time Horn."

    An Italian CRPG ? Well that's bound to be interesting.

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  2. Siege is a decent strategy game focused on...sieges. The game's engine was also used in Ambush at Sorinor, another game taking place in Magic Candle's world. Neither game has much of a plot at all, you aren't missing much.

    Mindcraft later updated the engine to create a historical Siege-like game called Walls of Rome that I spent a ton of time with back then.

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  3. I'm really enjoying reading your game plays/analysis of games I will probably never play but wished I had. Keep it up :-)

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  4. I know it's quite late, but I just got the impression that "gameplay" is a bit undervalued in the GIMLET. Most of the subtracted points are more or less gameplay issues and I think this game should have earned even more, consisting mainly of hunting clues, boring fights and annoying dungeons.

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    1. It would actually make more sense if I had a 10th category for something else--puzzles, maybe--and "gameplay" was more of a multiplier against the total. There are a few things I could have done differently. I'm not interested in re-rating 250 games, though.

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    2. I don't think a rerating is necessary, the GIMLET isn't a strict fun-rating anyways. It's also different what carries a game, sometimes it's the storytelling (i.e. Baldur's Gate), in other games progress (NetHack) in the next game it's puzzles (Dungeon Master).
      But sometimes there's a weak spot or two which drags everything down, like here. That isn't fully reflected in the rating - but also the hardest to judge, since it depends a lot on personal preference.

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  5. Whatever it's flaws, Magic Candle II was a fun one to read about. (The existence of a plot probably helps!) Am I wrong in thinking that it also feels like a relatively early example of a non-Ultima title with modern structural sensibilities? In terms of plot progression, side quests, characterization and companions, and so forth, it doesn't look that much different from what we see today--but we don't see a lot of such games before this point, no?

    Also, I winced when I saw MegaTraveller 2 show up on the Upcoming list. I haven't played it--maybe it's great!--but I remember the pained cries for help that were the writeups for the first game...

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    1. MegaTraveller 2 is a much better game than the first one, though it does fall into the same traps a pen-and-paper game suffers during its digital transition. I remember the manual specifically instructing the player to ignore highlighted skills during character creation as they were highlighted due to not being any use in the game itself.

      Apparently there was hope of a MegaTraveller 3 that would utilize more skills, who knows?

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    2. I think a big part of it is trying to stay true to the system - being able to create a character that you could play in a regular P&P game. Realms of Arcadia, which is based on a German P&P RPG, does the same.

      There's another factor with MegaTraveller - removing a skill from the game is harder, as it would mess up the skill tables for character generation.

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  6. Good work as usual, I appreciated reading about the game ! I never played it or the first one, so these mushrooms intrigue me. Did they expected the players to buff as often as you did , or was the game supposed to be much harder. I I'd like to hear the opinion of other players who played it. I sure realized why I was getting my ass kicked so much in Pool of radiance on this blog... I barely buffed pre-combat.

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    1. Is hard to tell what level of mushroom usage was intended but I generally only used them in about 10% of the fights, generally if I lost it unbuffed a time or two first, the exception being nift and sermin, which i gobbled mercilessly. I most likely had the resources after first 25% or so of game to just use every single mushroom type in just about every fight and make them all trival though. Using mushrooms for every fight would be similar to resting and buffing haste,enlarge etc. before every fight in Pool of Radiance, you could do it for the most part, but it would make game very unfun. In Goldbox games i try to go as long as i can without resting and usually only used haste/enlarge for the very hardest handful of fights

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    2. There are a couple of key differences. With Gold Box games, you don't know when a fight is going to occur, and there's a major difference between the difficulty of the generic mook battles and the one or two boss battles per level. With MC/MC2, you know there's going to be a fight in every dungeon room, and the "Sense" spell tells you when there's going to be a fight in the corridors, and in almost all cases, it's going to be a very difficult fight unbuffed. Since you know a fight is coming up, and it's going to be hard, and you have a huge stock of mushrooms that's trivially cheap to replenish, you'd have to be deliberately masochistic NOT to buff most of the time.

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    3. I wonder how many companions are gonna go home and suffer withdrawal from sudden drop of "herbal" intake.

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  7. I find it interesting how you and Scorpia's views are converging. I wonder if that is her getting more experienced?

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    1. Well, I know they're going to DI-verge at one major point in the 1990s.

      Honestly, I'm not sure I ever had major systematic disagreements with her. I didn't think the quality of her prose or structure of her reviews was very good until around 1990, but for the most part, we've agreed on the quality of games. When we do disagree, however, it's pretty stark.

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    2. As an RPG and adventure game fan throughout the 80's and 90's, I found Scorpia's reviews to be by far the most reliable.
      Even if I disagreed with her take on a game I at least knew that she had played the game extensively and probably had completed it. I couldn't say the same for the vast majority of reviewers.

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    3. That's very true. When you reach an affinity with a reviewer like that, you can often tell if YOU would enjoy the game even if he or she didn't. And I agree that you can't question her integrity for a minute.

      I read every single review that Roger Ebert published between 1990 and 2013, and most of those (retroactively) prior to 1990. By the late 1990s, I knew his mind better than he probably knew it himself. If I saw a movie before reading his review, I could almost always tell what parts he'd highlight or what quotes he'd include. No matter how he rated a film, I could always tell from his review how I'd feel about it. I've never before or since felt so in-synch with a writer. I was devastated when he died. I probably haven't seen a single non-blockbuster in 4 years because I just haven't found a new reviewer who I trust with the same consistency.

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    4. Scorpia did appear to favor adventure games, and in that vein favored RPGs that were linear. That was her fundamental weakness, but it became clear to me that was the case. Her review of Might and Magic 2 is one example of this, and famously so. Her review of a couple of other gems in the 1990s (including Darklands, which is coming shortly, in addition to the one Chet hints at), also comes to mind. Her review of Darklands actually resulted in an editorial sidebar giving a more positive perspective on an open-world environment. That said, if one could realize when her review was criticizing an open world rather than linear, the rest of it tended to be somewhat fair...except for her Might & Magic 2 review, which included inexplicable, provable falsehoods, but hey nobody's perfect.

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    5. I loved Ebert's reviews, and got a sense of his love for the artistically ambitious, his willingness to go easy on solid popcorn fare, and his distaste for anything that straddled the line. I'll never forgive him for dismissing Fight Club out of hand, though (or for his eternally uninformed forays into discussion of videogames).

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    6. Scorpia gave a fair and accurate review of Baldur's Gate for which she was fired, like Jeff Gertzman with Kane Lynch and Twilight Princess.

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    7. A small number of early games you played where you and Scorpia seemed to be playing different games probably just stick in my mind.

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    8. Scorpia was the old crpg reviewer I had any time for back in the day. She also had a forum in the old GEnie BB, where she was very helpful and responsive. i often disagreed with her but her insights were useful. This was when the games cost real money, so getting an advance review was important. Later, after she was fired and GEnie died, I lost my review source unrik the Internet grew up.

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    9. Sorry for the typos, no way to edit. I will emulate our prez and pretend they were on purpose.

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  8. "Those who want a great musical score and the capacity to push the limits of their new 486/33 boards with SVGA graphics will be sorely disappointed."

    Man, I friggen hate people like this. Does it not occur to him that everyone playing the game might not have the latest greatest system? Top of the line computers cost thousands of dollars back then. Urrrgh and because it doesn't tax his CPU, that makes it a bad game. Gah gah gah gah gah.

    The worst part was reading reviews written by people like this who DID play a demanding game and gave it a glowing review, completely ignoring the fact that it was a crappy repetitive game. Well it made him feel good to know the CPU was operating at 100% capacity, what kind of review did the world expect him to write?

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    1. My hate simply stems from the fact that RPGs are not primarily about graphics and sound, so if that's the first thing you want to talk about, you should be writing about a different genre.

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    2. The thing is, I can't think of a genre where this isn't true. FPS are often graphics powerhouses, but people are still playing and modding Doom, and there are new games with great gameplay and weak graphics coming out like Devil Daggers. Adventure Games? Again, quality of the puzzles, which is why Tumbleweed Park is a thing.

      I guess it might be sports games? But even then, they just added an RPG mode to FIFA to keep people interested. (Don't worry Chet, I'm pretty sure FIFA doesn't meet your requirements so you won't have to spend 200+ hours playing European Football for your blog.)

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  9. I think that changed with morrowind... It was sold on the strength of its graphics

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    1. Perhaps. But I think Morrowind is a fantastic game today, despite the age of the graphics.

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    2. I'd argue that RPGs are as much about graphics and sound as any other genre, if not more so. CRPGs have historically pushed the boundaries of graphics rendering (Ultima Underworld, Morrowind) to create a more immersive world. Morrowind is still a fantastic and beautiful game, yes, but some would say the same of DOOM, XCOM, Super Mario Bros, etc.

      At least in CRPGs, there's a higher degree of immersion and interactivity in many, such that it lends itself to improvements in sound and graphics to create a more fulfilling since of interaction, exploration and immersion. I think people just see the venn diagram of "people who prefer pretty graphics" and "people who prefer shooters" and forget that CRPGs have traditionally been a genre that pushed new and more powerful technologies.

      Nowadays, I think decent CRPGs are harder to sell, so they have lower budgets and hence have less pretty graphics compared to AAA blockbuster money-makers like Battlefield.

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    3. I think only Action RPGs do that though. Then again, ALL action games require a certain level of visual aesthetic, at least to make the game playable and enjoyable.

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    4. Except my argument was that people still play old action games and like them in spite of their aged graphics. Action games were the earliest kind of video game: it's not all that hard to make an action game. Action games arguably don't need as much window dressing, since most of your time is spent PUNCHING windows, not looking out them.

      Lots of CRPGs, even action ones, have you walking around in fantasy environments, interacting with people, exploring, etc. It's more interesting, IMO, if that mountain looks like an actual mountain instead of a wireframe arrow. I don't mind reading, but voiced dialogue done right can help set the mood. I know some people turn the music off in CRPGs, but done well, it can help set the mood. Even Chet likes good sound effects.

      An action game? I guess more realistic violence is good. Make sure your environments don't look crummy. You spend most of your time hitting things, so you make that look good, and then what? Add environmental sound effects for in between punching/shooting/whatever guys? I mean, I love my 900p Battlefield 1 hyper-realistic graphics as much as the next person, but the only time I can stop to appreciate the decor is when I'm hiding in a corner without much of a view.

      (Note: I'm not saying that FPS games don't have decent environmental design. A lot of them do, and I appreciate the work that goes into that, but I maintain that it's less important to make a detailed looking table in a game that doesn't revolve around interacting with tables.)

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    5. Huh, I always thought that the RPG was a game that did not require graphics and sound nearly as much as any other genre. After all, the important part of the game is taking place in your imagination. If you're not roleplaying, then the RPG is doing it wrong.

      I also always thought that RPGs didn't really push the graphics. Sure once in a while there's an Ultima Underground, but the games that required beefy systems to play were always Doom, Quake, etc. Gold Box games, Wizardry, Wasteland, Might & Magic are technically undemanding and don't need to be. A lot of CRPGs can be played without sound and don't lose anything.

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    6. Harland, I get what you're saying but there are plenty of examples of where RPGs were really pushing their contemporary hardware. Ultima was well known for having a new engine that could really torture hardware with each cardinal release, each of the Elder Scrolls has pushed the envelope and even 2 years after release Witcher 3 is still seen as a major benchmark for new PCs to use, it's amazing that CD Projekt RED managed to get it to run on Consoles at all.

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    7. I believe the primary aim of this blog was to ultimately prove that an old classic can still be more enjoyable than a contemporary offering based on GIMLET scores.

      For one thing, just from years 1980 to 1990, there are already several early games that outdo some of those that are released a decade later.

      I mean, if every RPG can achieve the same amount of excellence as that of The Witcher *in their time*, we won't even be having this discussion.

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    8. Oh, don't get me wrong: Pool of Radiance was a GREAT game in 2016 (the year I first played it), and I probably liked it more than Fallout 4, despite the prettier graphics of the latter. Wasteland was still fun despite its aged graphics. I'm NOT saying that a CRPG needs to have cutting-edge graphics to be fun and playable.

      I'm just saying that I disagree CRPGs rely less on graphics and sound than other genres, but that they can benefit from graphics and sound more than a lot of other genres. As I said: many people still play old FPS, platformers, RTS, etc. just fine despite their aged graphics and sound, so I don't think CRPGs are as unique as people claim. I do think this misconception has to do with decent CRPGs having lower budgets than casual games like Madden NFL and Call of Duty.

      And while I'll admit that tabletop RPGs have little-to-no graphics and sound, they aren't VIDEO games. And other genres rely on imagination as much as CRPGs (see: everything with graphics comparable to the CRPG you try and use as an example).

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    9. It's all personal preference, of course. To me, strategy games depend the least on graphics and sound, action games and first-person shooters the most, and RPGs somewhere in the middle (but on the low end). I personally don't think I'd enjoy playing Doom today, but then again, that's not the genre I'm addicted to.

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    10. Yeah, I'd argue the fact that people are still modding Doom and there are still FPS coming out in that style indicates that is far from a universal opinion.

      Additional data point, Mara has been watching some retrogameing videos with me, thought it would be fun to try Wolf3D (well, thought it would be cathartic to shoot nazis), played the first two levels and still found it a lot of fun. That said, it was the first FPS she has ever played, though she has seen better graphics in gameplay videos of other games.

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    11. I've seen some Minecraft and Garry's Mod stuff with really dated and low-res graphics that seem to be pretty decent FPS games.

      So, I guess graphics are just that; it's not the core of any game. Playability and interactivity meets logic and artistry. That's what any great game is birthed from.

      Music and graphics are great but without gameplay, they are just songs and movies; a game they are not.

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    12. Graphics is a shitty term as there is so much more than technical prowess and a lot of that is utterly subjective (e.g. does the style appeal to you?). The other half of this is that at the time these games were released they were far closer to the state of the art. These days nostalgia, if not for the concrete game but for the games that were made at this time makes up for a lot of that.

      Without nostalgia, I would probably never ever play an old game as I can get a sufficient amount of modern games that hit the same notes, but have a better usability and technical prowess. Now that also depends which games you like.

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  10. Stephan was foolish to obsess over graphics and ignore the costs of new hardware, as many of the best games had simple graphics.

    He was, however, correct about the copy protection: Having to look up the dialogue in a manual rather than see it in the game really killed the mood, took me out of the game and ruined my suspension of disbelief. This may have been caused by technical limitation in the early Gold Box games, but those had been out for years by this point, games with large amounts of dialogue and graphics like Ultima 6, Legend, Lucasarts and Sierra's games and Wing Commander were becoming common and the graphics were simpler than in those games, so I seriously doubt that the dialogue had to be separated.

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    1. I wouldn't be sure about that. I mean, you are still on floppy disks, right? So you still have space limitations. Sure, text doesn't take up much space, but each thousand characters is a KB, and I could see disk space being at a premium on such a large game. Doubly so if you'd have to wind up swapping floppies for it. I suspect that they only stopped having to worry about space limits when CDs came out, and I remember my Dad having to swap CDs to play Riven and me having to swap between SEVEN CDs for Baldur's Gate.

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  11. I´d give the game a score of 50, personally. For me it was so great to see a sequel, but indeed I don´t think it could ever exceed the newness and greatness of the story and depth of MC1. It is a bit disappointing with repetitive enemies and the reliance on mushrooms. Still personally I found the graphics and movement around the game much better. Be warned MC3 disappoints a bit, it´s "less" of a game than the first two.

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  12. I hope this is not too late to post. Your blog entries on MC2 are a fascinating read. I'm amazed people still play these games. MC2 is close to my heart, being the only CRPG I played as a teen (until Baldur's gate), so I don't know the standard of competing CRPGs in that era. But I pen my critical analysis of your posts here, highlighting why I think your 70+ hour playthrough experience with MC2 was ruined by various factors, and things you missed that could have made this game more enjoyable.
    Firstly, I'm certain you started with a hacked version of MC2 to begin with. Not just the walking-across-oceans business. The NPC stats are also hacked. Sakar starts with endurance 7 (equating to HP = 59) and axe skill of 60 (according to gamefaqs), whilst your Sakar started with HP of 98 and axe skill of 87. Your main character is also seriously overpowered (a typical PC starts with HP of 51, and weapon skills of 30-40's). It should be of no surprise that you experienced a "flat" character progression, as your characters started with end-game stats. I found during my playthroughs with the proper starting stats, that the weapon / magic skill progressions were quite appropriately progressive. I agree that enemy encounters are a grind and get tiresome, but who play RPGs if they don't grind?
    Secondly, I think you neglected to digest the game manual properly, a necessary task for many games in that era. Games in the early 90's were all about the paperwork. The MC2 manual is quite well written and explains the game mechanics in an entertaining, lore-immersive way. Take for example magic. If you read that chapter, you would have realised how magic books worked, that casting teleport with a higher magic skill gets you further, how to navigate hidden portals in dungeons using the Detect, and how to highlight overland enemies using Locate. Also, I'm not sure if you noticed whenever you cast teleport, sometimes the grids contain odd-looking larger boxes? These are hidden elements such as enemy ambushes, mushroom patches, villages, etc, as the game doesn't allow you to directly teleport to these square; you must walk into them. I swept Gurtex by using the to cast Locate to see enemies, then Eflun cast teleport until out of energy to sweep an area for hidden stuff, PC cast energy on Eflun, rinse, repeat.
    The manual also explain that music works on enemies if and only if the right song is played with the right instrument I suspect you never got music to work because you used the wrong instrument? In my recent playthrough, I went to Llendora to hire an elf companion with high music ability, learnt a certain song from a certain someone there that stuns Fermigons. Then I went to Shann and basically every 2nd enemy there were Fermigons. All I had to do was to play that song at the end of each turn, and the Fermigons would all miss their turns, effectively halving the difficulty of the dungeon there. There are also songs for things like doombeasts! Music is worth using but requires a lot of exploring to learn the songs.
    What is crap about this game? I agree the mushrooms and economy is a bit broken, as a few trips to buy-low-sell-high will get enough coins you’ll ever need to finish the game. There are always ways to break a game but ends up being no fun. MC2 is a very lore-immersive game with many hidden secrets that are a joy to discover, and the many annoying elements (such as ambushes, hidden teleportals, etc) can be avoided by simple effective use of utility spells that are there for these purposes. If you have any spare time, I highly recommend you replay this with an un-hacked up-to-date version of the game from the start, use the default MC2 characters rather than importing from MC1, try to include an elf with music, and just immerse yourself exploring the lore of the manual and the game itself. With 31 joinable NPCs (compared to measly single-digit number of options for modern games like Divinity 2 or the Dragon age series), it's definitely worth replaying.

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    Replies
    1. Do those stats account for importing a character?

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    2. Ahh, good point. That might be why. The manual says: "ten Deruvian years have passed. You cannot expect your hero and his or her companions to have maintained their finely-honed skills, let alone the exact possessions they had ten years ago. But you'll recognize them just the same."

      Still my point stands. It's not an RPG experience if you start the game with end-game stats.

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