Wednesday, August 9, 2017

MegaTraveller 2: A New Journey

The game's "full party death" screen really makes you feel like a loser.
A few days ago, I was convinced I was going to give up on MegaTraveller 2. I was particularly keen to get on to Might & Magic III. But on reflection, I decided the game deserves a few more chances. It is, after all, one of the few games of the era to offer a truly open world with lots of side quests. This is what I'm always asking for. On paper, I should love it.

A key problem is the repetitiveness and tedium of the various planets and cities. The cities have a variety of different skins, but each is laid out pretty much the same, with an equipment shop, recruitment facility, travel agent, casino, hospital, car rental, and bank in the same positions every time. Most of the rest of the dozen or so blocks are filled with generic gray buildings that you can't even enter. Yet you have to wander the width and breadth of each city if you want to find every NPC, as they could be toddling anywhere among the city's streets.
My party frantically tries to chase down the little green guy in the upper-left.
Most cities also have at least one building that you can enter for some more NPCs or side-quests. Every city has a building below the travel agency plus a university; sometimes these are enterable, sometimes not.
In some cities, you can enter the building to the right of this message; in others, you get this.
Beyond these, you have to wander the streets and look for the odd building that's usually gray but has some unexpected color in this particular city. Those might house bars or corporate offices or some other key location. They're all curiously massive inside given the small number of NPCs you're likely to encounter.
That purple-domed building is a drab gray in most cities. That indicates there's something to do there.
Thus, when you arrive in a new city with a clue like "talk to Professor Cooper," you end up running around each city's multiple screens, madly chasing down every green dot representing an interactive NPC, trying to click the right set of commands to get the jackass to stop moving for 10 seconds so you can make sure your own icon is facing him and then initiate a conversation. If you can't find who you're looking for on the streets, you have to look for buildings that you normally can't enter on most planets but can here, then search their cavernous corridors for the occasional little green man. If you only know the planet, not the city, of your quest target, you have to repeat this for every city. The whole process takes needlessly long, but without it you'd be playing the entire game mostly from menus. Paragon needed to take a lesson from the Ultima titles, which featured a similar approach, but which offered more interesting geography and gave the player reasons to explore it.

I started over in the middle of this session. I simply couldn't see how I would ever save up 2 million credits to purchase even the cheapest ship, and without a ship, there aren't many ways to make money. The game's whole approach to its economy is an interesting one. Since the characters are starting after long careers, they begin with quite a bit already saved. With some lucky rolls during the "benefits" process of character creation, you could easily start the game with $300,000 or more. I started with $250,000 for my second session. But you slowly bleed away this bankroll as you buy equipment, key plot items, and passage between planets or between cities on a single planet. The game's many "side-quests" are necessary to re-infuse your wallet so you can make it to the end of the game.
Although it turns out that a scout ship doesn't offer a lot of extra money-making options, either.
At first, I thought I could just roll a new character in the recruitment center, but it turns out you can only choose from pre-rolled NPCs there. So I had to start completely over. I got rid of the Vargr pilot and rolled a new human female pilot with a scout ship. I also took the time to replace my "law enforcer" lead character with one who spent more time in the service and built up a few interrogation ranks.

(In rejecting a Vargr character--which I hope doesn't become a problem later--I realized I have a strong related bias. While there's nothing wrong in my mind with anthropomorphic cats, such as Quest for Glory's Katta or The Elder Scrolls' Khajiit, anthropomorphic dogs are just wrong. Dogs should just be dogs.)
A new pilot character finally gets a ship.
Anyway, it took about 6 characters to roll one who got a scout ship as a retirement benefit. Once I did, I started anew on Rhylanor. Though I was determined not to start walking the same path as the previous party, I did have to reconstitute my "to do" list by revisiting the first Ancients expert and re-investigating some topics in the library computer.

I outfitted the new party by splurging on the best "TL12 hostile environment vacc suits" and purchased a med kit for my doctor, a forensic kit for my leader, and a hand-held computer for my computer guy. Everyone got swords, but I saved gun purchases for a store that sold laser weapons, which are apparently illegal on Rhylanor. 
Only the best for my guys.
Events kept me on Rhylanor for most of the session. First, I spent more time looking into the "corporate conspiracy" sub-plot that may or may not be related to the incident involving the Ancients site. A Tukera corporation executive, Kris Brunhild, cornered me in some bar and said that someone has been tampering with his company's shipments and that Imperiallines and Naasirka have also been targeted. He suspects agents from Sharushid or Oberlindes. I looked up each of these corporations on the computer, identified their representatives, and logged their planets for future visits. But it turned out there were some related NPCs right here on Rhylanor. I had missed them the first time. One, an Imperiallines pilot named Glen Oill, said that he thinks someone from Sharushid vandalized his ship. The second was a Tukera operative named Roald Bulolo who gave me a pass to Tukera's headquarters on Jundy.
An NPC I missed the first time. I don't even think I went to Liduka.
In Liduka, a guy named Kyle Dev offered to sell me a "bust of Emperor Strephon" for $5,000. I've basically made it my policy to buy every item offered to me like this because inevitably someone is going to want it. In this case that person was in the city of Hegra on the same planet. He bought it for $10,000.
That pays for one-half of one of my suits of armor!
I also solved something of a major sidequest. In the city of Leba, an NPC named Ven Bereen (I guess a play on Ben Vereen, but was Ben Vereen really all that famous in 1991?) said he was in debt to a loan shark named Cada Fed for $90,000. He wanted me to take Fed a note saying he needed more time. 
Giving Bereen's note to Fed.
I found Fed in his headquarters in the city of Hegra. He told me to tell Bereen that Fed was holding Bereen's wife captive; he gave me her wedding ring as proof. The wedding ring also serves as the only mechanism in-game by which I could convey the news to Bereen, since there are no dialogue options. You have to click the "give" button to advance plot points like this.
A fight breaks out with a loan shark.
Anyway, after giving me the ring, Fed for some reason decided to attack me. We had to kill him and all his thugs, and my characters only had swords. It was only my second combat in the game, and I only understood what was happening slightly better than the first time. Apparently, all but the lead character will attack on their own as long as the "React" option is turned on. Then, you just worry about who the lead character is attacking by choosing the "Target" and "Attack" options.
The ability to stop and use the unlimited-use medical kit in the middle of combat means that most combats are too easy.
As my characters took damage during the battle, I realized I could heal them at any time by going into the character screen for my medic (which pauses the action), clicking her medkit, choosing "use," and applying it to the injured character. This heals him fully. I thus started to wonder how I could possibly lose any combat in the game, even if my characters were armed only with fists. Certainly, it didn't take long to finish off Fed's crew. I looted their weapons and sold them for a nice profit.
The gauss rifle here isn't quite the game-breaker that it is in Fallout 4.
Back I went to Bereen with the ring, who told me that his wife would be in the clutches of Fed's ally, Syd Parnell, in the city of Liduka. 

It was in visiting Parnell's headquarters that I got the answer to my question about how I'd ever lose a combat. Parnell only had three guys, but one of them had a weapon called a "PGMP" that was capable of killing my characters in one blast--if they were close enough. Since all my characters had swords, they rushed the guy with the PGMP and got taken out one-by-one.
This situation did not last very long.
Winning this combat took forever. I first tried going to the weapons store and buying regular rifles for everyone so they could attack at range. The problem turned out to be twofold: first, none of my characters were good with slug-throwing rifles (they had mostly specialized in laser weapons), and second, they insisted on closing in on their attacker despite having ranged weapons.
Oh, we all will.
A few days ago, Commenter Buck noted that you can smuggle your good weapons onto a planet by avoiding customs and going through the Navy or Scout offices instead. (This only works if one of your characters served in those branches) Until I received the comment, I didn't realize what that selection of menu options did, but I figured out how to get it to work. Thus, for my next tactic, I returned to Rhylanor Starport, got my weapons back as if I was leaving the planet, then sneaked out the back door of the Navy station and returned to Parnell's headquarters with a couple of laser weapons to add to the arsenal.

It still took quite a while, again because my characters wouldn't stop walking towards the enemy as they fired. I had to keep choosing the "flee" option to get them to turn around and walk a few steps away. Bit by bit, though, I winnowed away his hit points and finally killed him without losing a party member.
Trading shots with this tank at the end of the hallway.
I freed Bereen's wife, who gave me a note saying she was going into hiding, then returned to Vereen and got $50,000 for my troubles. Perhaps even better, the "battle dress" and "PGMP" looted from Parnell's goon will sell for a whopping $225,000 combined--if I sell them. I still don't really understand whether lacking a skill to use an item (in this case, "Battle Dress" and "High-Energy Weapons") means that I can never successfully use them and never develop those skills, or whether the items are powerful enough that it's worth using them even if I lack the skill.
It was amusing that Bereen borrowed the money he paid me as a reward. I wonder if I'll have to bail him out of trouble a second time.
It was only at the end of this session that I finally boarded my scout ship, and now I'm not sure it was worth the trouble. Because it's a scout ship, not a trader, it only has a 3-ton cargo hold, which really isn't enough to make trading a possibility. Meanwhile, in traveling between planets, the whole process of taking off, going through jump gates, and landing is much more annoying than simply taking a commercial flight and selecting a destination from a menu. Because I suspect you can win this game without ever flying your own ship, I'm tempted to sell it for the $1.5 million I'm offered for it and use that to stake the rest of my travels via commercial flight. I guess I have a while before the rest of my money runs out and I have to make such a choice.
Getting ready to launch the ship.
For the next post, I'm going to try to visit all the rest of the Ancients experts, at least, and see if the main plot turns into anything interesting. If so, I'll finish the game. If not, well, we'll see.

Time so far: 19 hours
Reload count: 7


  1. I grew up in the 80s and Ben Vereen was pretty well known. I don't actually know _why_, though. I doubt very many people remember the TV show "Ten Speed and Brown Shoe."

    1. I agree. I looked through iMDb to see his films and TV shows (mostly the latter) and recognized only a handful. And yet, Ben Vereen was a household name, still is. I have no idea why. :-)

    2. I didn't remember TSaBS until you just mentioned it. I would have thought it was on for years, but I guess it was just half a season.

  2. Chet,

    Please take your time with M&M III. I'd like to see a handful of posts on it. I know you are gonna blow through that game quick because of the fun factor!


    1. I'll do my best to force myself to stop and write frequently.

  3. I seem ro recall that a PGMP is some sort of Plasma energy weapon, normally only used by elite troops in power armour so you're party dying in about 5 seconds doesn't entirley surprise me :)

    1. It stands for "Plasma Gun Man Portable" it's basically a plasma flamethrower.

    2. Oh, and Battle Dress is indeed a type of power armor.

    3. You need to be wearing battle dress to be allowed to use PGMPS (or their bigger brother). Battle dress can only be bought in one place I think, so I'd not sell that

    4. Again, though, I don't know if either really helps me since none of my characters have skills there. I guess I'll just have to try it in combat and see.

  4. "The ability to stop and use the unlimited-use medical kit in the middle of combat means that most combats are too easy."

    Hello Fallout 3.

    1. And the thousands of cabbages eaten during battles in Skyrim.

    2. Or the healing potions of 1000 other games. Sure. The differences, those resources are at least exhaustible, while the med kit in this game is not.

    3. Stimpacks were certainly technically exhaustible, but for most of the game you accrued them at a higher rate than you spent them (unless your approach to combat and exploration was particularly blasé) , they had 0 weight, and you had arbitrary amounts of cash with which to restock them.

      But yeah, hardcoded infinite stimpacks would have been another level of silly.

    4. Which is why most people when playing normally through FO3, FONV, or FO4 tended to horde massive ammounts of stimpacks, drugs, and ammo. Everything else had weight, but you could keep hundreds of thousands of caps on you that way.

    5. But anyone who complains about this need only make a few simple tweaks to the difficulty level.

    6. I found a mod that made stimpacks heal over time - there was no way to fix the issue out of the box. If you bought F3 on release day, then what you experienced was a game where the only threats were those that could one or two shot you (which I think was deathclaws and nothing else).

    7. I guess I'm just a suckier player There were times I didn't have enough stimpacks in FO3.

    8. I used a FO3 heal over time mod. Something in it broke and made me LOSE health over time with no end.

      How? Almost every store carries a few of them, and no one store carries enough cash and ammo for me to empty a full loot run into them, so I'd usually wind up getting a stack more of them every time I went into town.

      Of course, my playstyle is to go over every place I visit with a fine-toothed comb, fill inventory to max then discard items in order of worse $/weight ratio. Also, yes, this is in part a roleplay choice, I was influenced early on by Daybreak 2250AD by Andre Norton, where guns are almost unknown, so the scavengers focus on useful stuff like good wood, writing materials, good paper, and so on.

    9. This is a pretty common problem, only a few games do it right. I feel like Dragon Age has a pretty good damage to healing ratio. I just finished up Witcher 3, which does a pretty good job as well- you only have a handful of healing potions per battle, which have to be replenished afterwards.

  5. Ben Vereen, you say?

    Magic and wonder are waiting for you
    It’s as close as a dream
    And as bright as the brightest blue
    Welcome to Zoobilee Zoo

  6. I realize it can break a perfectly mapped out difficulty curve, but I love when RPGs let you cheese your way to some early high-quality equipment or a massive bank of cash through some risky strategy or lateral thinking. It feels like implementing an easy mode without going to all the trouble to modify the stats and tactics of all the enemies in the game. More congruous too, as it relies on the player's resourcefulness: something RPGs should be rewarding anyway.

    I'd love to see some M&M3 too, but I'm curious to see more of this game too. Something about its open-ended world, strict time limit and how much of the gameplay involves visiting new planets and establishing connections reminds me of Star Control 2, which is otherwise a very different game (and one I'm not sure will make your CRPG definition cut, unless you choose to make an exception).

    1. My 'problem' with thinking of that as an easy mode is that it requires a good understanding of the game to hit these points. So usually only applies to people who are actually quite good at it. Leaving you with an 'easy' mode for people that don't need it.

      In general I think especially RPGs should come up with better rewards for playing well (in a very broad sense) than making a game easier.

      In particular if you look at stats that barely anyone finishes games (explaining the tendency to smoothen out difficulty Curves in newer games) locking away ways to make it easier behind skill seems odd to me.

      Now don't get me wrong this is slightly different from 'game breaking' difficulty decreases which are more about screwing with the game engine than finishing the game. That is something that makes a good reward as it also can lead to different play styles. So I guess I more disagree with your wording than the entirety of what you are saying.

    2. I don't finish most CRPGs, but it's not because they get too hard. I just enjoy the simplicity, open world and novelty of the early parts.

      Later on, you are all weighed down with quests and things to remember, and it's too much like real life.

    3. That's true enough about the pointlessness of easy modes that are prohibitively challenging to find, Develin. I suppose the kind of instances outlined above are better suited for a "new game plus" type of player: one who is familiar enough with the game to find those shortcuts and tactics and use them to fast-forward to the game's highlights and/or any forks in the road (e.g. factions to join) they didn't take the previous time around.

      I'll agree that a lot of RPGs mess up their difficulty curve by introducing ways to make the game easier later on, not least of which is letting players get too overpowered through side-questing to squish the big encounters at the end of the game. (Though there's a few RPGs I'm aware of that will actually boost the final boss's stats if all the side-quests are done to give completionists a worthy challenge.)

    4. In some cases it could happen completely randomly - I remember one game of Fallout 2 where I stumbled across one of the "You see a group of x fighting a group of y" encounters very early on, and most combatants ended up dead, and thus I left the screen overloaded with high powered gear (and a fortune in surplus).

      It killed the natural, enjoyable progression of finding cool new gear, but I didn't mind at the time!

    5. One game in which it isn't necessarily skill, but either game knowledge or dumb blind luck, that can lead you to early overpowerment is Ultima Underworld. Since you can run from most combats pretty easily, you can quickly stumble across some high-powered gear if you're willing to leave the relative safety of the first level and venture downward into the dungeon proper. I still remember that thrill when I first ran across a nearly full set of plate armor on a tiny island on level three, where I had somehow wound up after running from a bunch of enemies into a stairway, then swimming for my life from a water monster. Was a nice upgrade from my badly worn leather... and definitely a bit of easy-mode after I had successfully made the stairs back up again.

    6. Don't think of that as an easy mode. They are rewards for exploration of any dedication to the game.
      Never found the power armor in the secret section of the first level of doom? Would you consider that an easy mode that's hard to find?

    7. A hell of a lot of gamers don't care a whit about the "challenge" part of the game. If they get the great gear early on, that's excellent. They LOVE blowing through combats and winning over and over again with little effort.

      You have to realize, there are a lot of people out there who don't play games for the reasons that we play games. They play primarily to experience a sense of control that is lacking in the rest of their lives. The more control, the better. This is why you see people playing Civ way past the point at which they won the game, or getting characters to level 100, or whatever. They're not playing for the fun of overcoming a challenge, they are playing for the deep sense of satisfaction they get from - at last - being in control of something.

    8. I play past ending of games, if allowed, very often. But not for control. More like... what else is there?

    9. I think the game-breaking item is a cool concept if it's genuinely stumbled upon by sheer luck (like the FO2 example,) or as mentioned above, some lateral thinking. Knowing you could have easily missed it adds some drama when you end up in a situation where you might not have survived without it. When I got to the end of Ultima 5 I was woefully underpowered, but I happened to have a single time stop scroll, and a single summon demon scroll, which allowed me to squeak by.

      Also, judging someone's life based on what they enjoy in a video game is a bit pot/kettle/black in this community, if you ask me...

  7. Trading and role-playing... hmm... Whale's Voyage?

  8. Thanks for playing this game. I always thought about it but never got there. The plot seems good even if you say it´s lacking in other ways. Great to see your postings regularly too, very much appreciated!

  9. "That blue-domed building is a drab gray in most cities."

    Its purple.

    1. Chet's not wrong - it is blue for him.

    2. Right. To him, I'm guessing that image looks something like this:

    3. I know what's up, I'm just letting him know.

    4. What if it's blue and only mutant freaks see it as purple? What if our purple is yellow? How can we ever know without being in the shoes of another?

    5. How would their shoes help us see like them.

  10. I don't remember the location, and I think when I played it back in the day I stumbled onto it by accident, but you can get an awesome ship for free. You do need to investigate The Ancients a bit first, though.

  11. The problem with both Megatravellers: They give you a large open world to explore, but few rewards for exploration, both in a material and aesthetic sense. The world is drab and your equipment soon as good as it will ever be. And the silly story on top of that!

  12. Bothered by dog-people in video games...does that include King's Quest VI (Alexander on the Green Isles), or is it limited to having you play the role of a dog-person? The dog at the castle was awesome (but was more NPC-like since it was an adventure game). KQ6 was also quite innovative for its time in the adventure game genre, as there were 2 separate paths you could take, voices, and even a sound composed as a CD track...all in 1992, which you are almost at in your playthrough.

    1. I never played that one, but in general I would object to any dogs standing upright like men or talking.

    2. If you have any desire to play older adventure games, I highly recommend King's Quest VI. Talking dog aside (which is only for a brief period although he does play an important role), there are some clever puzzles if you like Sierra's humor. It is squarely not a CRPG but an adventure game, so it would be a diversion, but it is one of the best adventure games of its era, and one of the best of the King's Quest series.

      I noticed just now looking through your posts that you did not have any dog characters in Wizardry 6, so kudos for consistency!

    3. Larry had GRASS, but GRASS is also a word for CANNABIS, which in turn is a kind of HEMP from which you can WEAVE a ROPE, so WEAVE GRASS and you have a ROPE.

      -- Sierra puzzle logic

  13. Reading about a "gauss rifle" here reminds me that 'Syndicate' is on the Master Game List for the 'current blog year' (1993)! I suspect even if it passes the 'character development' RPG test it probably won't score very high on the GIMLET as such, but it would still be fun to see Chet's take on it. And bring back nostalgic memories.


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