Friday, August 4, 2017

MegaTraveller 2: Treasure Hunt

The party plays the most boring craps game in the universe.
As we wrapped up the first entry on MegaTraveller 2, I had left the starting planet with a long list of places and people who might have clues about the Ancients, the device wreaking havoc on Rhylanor, or the plot against several corporations. The closest of the planets was Zivije, so I booked passage on a commercial transport.

I arrived in Zivije Startown. (It appears that when a planet has multiple cities, the port is called the planet's name and "Startown.") I went to the travel agent and hopped a plane for the city of Kafka, the residence of my quarry: Karim Flored, a member of the Ancients Collector's Society. As we discussed last time, the game has a time limit, and messing about on the planets' surfaces, trying to find my own way to their various cities, seems an excellent way to waste that time. The travel agencies are faster and cheaper than renting my own vehicles, so I'm reserving such occasions for when I actually do have to explore the surface.

Dr. Flored was found outside his university, although I had trouble talking with him. NPCs scurry around so fast that it's hard to shoulder up to one of them and hit the "Converse" command before he runs away. It would have been so much easier if I could just walk up and hit "C" instead of having to take my hand off the keypad, move it to the mouse, click the menu button, and finally click the command. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it many times in the future: if you have less than 26 commands, there's no excuse for not mapping each one to a letter key instead of forcing the player to click through menus and sub-menus to get to them. This game inexcusably doesn't use the letters on the keyboard at all.

Anyway, the only help Dr. Flored could offer was to sell me an Ancient shield for 75,000 credits--more than half of my stash. I reluctantly bought it. He recommended that I visit Rahjel Dramahern on Moughas to get the writing on the shield translated.
I don't suppose you could just give it to me, since I'm trying to save the world.
At this point, my suspicion is that the game is going to become a huge treasure hunt in which my crew has to run around from planet to planet piecing together various clues and items. But they're going to run out of money pretty fast if they don't find a way to make some.

This approach isn't that different than the one used by the first game, where money-making options included trading, gambling, bounty hunting, piracy, and solving small item-based quests for various NPCs. Trading and piracy aren't options at this point, since it will be a long time before I have the $1 million necessary for my first ship. I'm up for bounty hunting, but the police stations only tell me on what systems the fugitives are wanted, not where they can be found. The random NPC quests so far look as if they'll result in paltry rewards.
Passage between planets costs more than that.
For now, that left gambling. I finally figured out how to get into the casinos--you have to hit a very non-obvious pixel--and started exploring my options. The manual makes a point of mentioning that, unlike the first game, gambling has nothing to do with the character's "gambling" skill (making me wonder what that skill is actually used for); instead, it's based on the player's skill and luck.

Casinos offer three options: a variant of craps with limited bets, blackjack with standard casino rules (including splitting and doubling-down), and slot machines. I messed around with craps and blackjack for a while, and they seem relatively fair, with close to 50/50 odds. The problem is that the house has a limit of $1,000 per bet, so even if you reloaded after every loss (which of course I'm not doing), it would take a while to amass any serious money.
Dealer busts.
I then tried the slot machines for a few rolls and noted that the payouts were higher than I expected. This sent me into a multi-hour project of figuring out the actual odds. The slot uses 9 symbols ($ sign, one bar, two bars, three bars, apple, cherry, lemon, lime, plum) in three positions, for a total of 729 combinations. Each roll costs $25. Getting three separate symbols (504 total combinations) results in $0. Getting two symbols of one type and one of another (216 combination) pays off 68.98% of the time and pays $0 the rest of the time. There's not a lot of logic to the payoffs. The highest is $7,290 for $-$-$, but the lowest is a measly $10 for 3 cherries.
It took a long time to record the payoffs for hundreds of combinations, but that's how dedicated I am to statistics.
I recorded the payoff for each combination and determined that if the odds of each symbol coming up in each slot are truly random (1/9), the average payoff per $25 spent is $73.84. As good as that sounds, even if you hold down the ENTER key on the screen, it takes about 3 seconds for each roll. If you make an average of $50 per roll, it would take about 10 minutes to make $10,000. I held down the key for 10 minutes, and that's about how much I made. Of course, I'd made a lot more in the hours I spent recording the payoffs and calculating the odds in the first place. I got kicked out of the Zivije casino after I won about $130,000, but I continued the experiment on the next planet and had turned my initial $61,000 to over $240,000 before I was ready to stop. So the good news is that if I run out of funds, I can always visit a casino and hold down the ENTER key for a while. The bad news is that if all casinos have similar limits, it's not going to get me a ship anytime soon.
At least guards didn't attack me.
When I was done on Zivije, I headed for the starport and hopped a ship for the next planet, Inthe, which actually has some Ancients ruins. As I arrived, the customs folks stripped me of my guns, which is the norm upon arriving at planets (apparently, a character with high "Stealth" can smuggle them through). This made it all the more startling that I immediately found myself in combat as I exited the terminal.

I thought combat was confusing in the first MegaTraveller. Here, I had no idea at all what was happening. My 4 non-lead characters acted independently and had soon run off the map chasing their opponents. I had no idea who the opponents were. As my lead character figured out what was happening and gave chase, it looked like my characters were shooting despite not having their guns. I kept hearing what sounded like death screams and hoped they weren't from my own people. Within a few seconds, combat seemed to be over. Three NPC bodies were strewn on the ground. How did I kill them? Did Highway defeat them all with his sword?
Maybe this explains why I was attacked.
Whatever the case, I was able to loot guns from all three of them. My first thought was to keep them and use them while still on the planet, then sell them before I jumped ship for the next place. But it turned out they were all out of ammo, and the weapons shop didn't sell the type of ammo they used. I ended up selling them and just buying everyone melee weapons.
It's nice to know that swords are relevant in the distant future.
We were on the planet to visit the ruins, so we rented a "grav vehicle" and headed out to the surface. I spent some time freely exploring (allowing myself to reload afterwards) just to get a sense of the size of the planet. This one appears to be about 10 screens east-west and maybe 8 north-south. I don't know if they're all the same size. Working across the surface systematically, I found three other cities-Kuurim, Udur, and Iracka--before finding the Ancients site outside Udur.
Roaming the surface of a planet.
As I entered the ruins, having to pay 30 credits to do so, some text screens related that the site consists of a number of staircases that lead to "nowhere." As we ascended one, we were teleported to an unexplored section of the ruins.
The ruins consisted of a maze through rock, with a bunch of interesting-looking structures I couldn't find any way to productively interact with. The only thing I found in the ruins was one of the Ancient "coynes," of which I currently have 7. Examining them indicates that a full set of 36 will allow me to see the future.
A large ruin produced just one object.
Spoilers welcome if there was more that I was supposed to find there, but for now I returned to the Startown and scouted for my next stop. The most convenient turned out to be Moughas, where I knew I wanted to find that Rahjel Dramahern but didn't know which city he'd be in. It turns out the planet only has one city, which was handy.

While I searched for him, I ran into Mayor Jim Dandee, who offered me $5,000 to find a missing agent on Porozlo.
Agent "700" instead of "007." Ho, ho. On the same planet, an NPC in a tavern recommended a vodka martini, "shaken not stirred."
I found Rahjel Dramahern wandering the streets. When I gave him the shield, he said that the text translates as "Grandfather's proving ground of intelligence, wisdom, and cunning," with a map indicating a location in the Regina subsector. He also offered to pay $75,000 if I found an Ancient statue.
Next up, we find some intelligence that Grandfather was also known as the "mad overlord."
Miscellaneous notes:

  • Every city has a hospital, but every time I visit, I just get a message that "visiting hours are over."
  • Similarly, every city has a university, but so far the NPCs have been hanging around outside the universities, and I'm unable to actually go inside.
  • The little party icons are already so absurdly small that I haven't been availing myself much of the "zoom out" option, which would otherwise afford faster exploration of areas.
Zooming out lets you see more of the terrain, but at the expense of not being able to see your party or nearby NPCs.
  • I still don't understand how character development occurs in the game. All that time spent gambling didn't afford me the ability to improve my "gambling" skill, apparently. Every time I go into the training facility, it just tells me that my characters haven't done enough.
My whole party ought to be eligible for training in flipping you off, then.
So I guess I'll move on to the next planet for which I have some notes. I'm already starting to get a little bored of the repetitive cities and the "treasure hunt" nature of the main quest. With such limited character development and such baffling (at least, so far) combat, MegaTraveller 2 doesn't really offer what I like about RPGs.

Time so far: 12 hours
Reload count: 2 (both to avoid wasted time)


  1. There's obscure mechanics, and then there's baffling ones. Never played this one, but I recall a lot of DOS top-down action games having some auto-combat that moved way too quickly to follow or react to. At least your party appears capable of taking care of itself.

    The game seems interesting from the outside, but it sounds like it could have used some playtesting.

  2. Yeah, there's some cool stuff going on here but it doesn't seem like the core mechanics really support it being a fun game. It does make me wish there were more full on science fiction RPGs though - like, classic CRPG style rather than the shooter hybrid of your Mass Effects. (And don't get me wrong, I do love those games.)

    1. I thought the recent Shadowrun games were excellent. They're not "open world", which I think is the preferred style around here, but they have an excellent story, characters and a superb setting.

    2. They really were amazing. It's hard to believe that a game in that franchise had such terrific writing. The combat wasn't the best, but it was entertaining enough. I wish people had done more with the game editor.

    3. I always thought the Shadowrun franchise had excellent writing, at least in the FASA days. Mixing fantasy and cyberpunk could go wrong in so many ways, but the setting turned out really interesting. I mean, it is a rather dystopic, but I was almost dissapointed when the scheduled events didn't in fact happen ;)

    4. I backed both Kickstarters and have enjoyed two of the three so far (haven't quite finished Dragonfall so haven't started Hong Kong yet). But I still want more - and ideally some straight SF, as well. I love the fusion of fantasy and cyberpunk but it's not quite planethopping with lasers and robots. :)

    5. Going through my old game boxes, I came across Whale’s Voyage II which is a science fiction RPG with space travel and trade elements. It got good reviews back in the day but I never got far with it. Maybe that would be worth a try.

      But yes, space / hard science CRPGs seem to be extremely rare.

    6. Sci-fi CRPG is something that I desperately wish for myself. And preferably one that does not include waving any lightsabers around. Exploring a planet where your spaceship crashed would be fine. The usual, really: meet the natives, help the natives with their enemies, pull the native civilization into XX century, get the natives into an exclusive trading contract with your company, fight the other company over who gets to ~~exploit natives~~ help the natives to fit into the interstellar trade federation...

      Alternatively, I want a game set in full-on Utopian Communist society, where there is no point in loot and/or money, and characters' motivation is all about solving some engineering mega-problems or helping other civilizations to reach Communism.

    7. Ambrosia Software, the Mac shareware company that first made itself with the beautiful Asteroids remake Maelstrom, released a series of sci-fi almost CRPGs in the 90s called Escape Velocity.

      The only thing missing is character stats. It's basically an open world (well, galaxy) where you travel around discovering star systems and make whatever career you want. Trader. Courier. Rebel. Imperial. Pirate. Xenophobe. Xenophile. You start out in a shuttle and move up from there. There's a very large variety of ships to purchase and tons of ship equipment that you can use to customize your ship. There's factions and quests, and the decisions you make affect your standing and which factions will let you land at their stations and which will shoot you on sight.

      Loved that series, so, so much, although the last entry EV: Nova, which was the first built to be cross-platform, was too long in the making and overwritten IMO.

      The engine also came with some mod tools that made for some really excellent content. The EV: Override total conversion Frozen Heart was deeper--albeit more linear--than the original and completely engrossing.

      They're still available for purchase, but unless you have a Classic capable Mac, you'll need to play around with some pretty bad emulators to get them (at least the first two) running.

    8. I played EV:Nova on windows and can confirm it was well written and great fun. I think it's a non-RPG that RPG-lovers would like.

      It was horribly unbalanced of course, you can get infinite funds by spending 20 minutes on the first map.

    9. Has anyone completed Escape Velocity with no deaths? If so, how many tries did it take? After spending hours over the last several days, I'm getting OK at it, but I just can't get there on strict mode (death means death). ...and it's less than satisfactory to do otherwise: oops! yeah I died but I'm still here with all my accomplishment and value! Play on! LOL!

  3. "At this point, my suspicion is that the game is going to become a huge treasure hunt in which my crew has to run around from planet to planet piecing together various clues and items."

    The game wants you to become a ...mega traveller...

  4. It's been a few years but I'm amazed how little I remember of this game. I thought it would come back to me after reading your posts.

    I think there's another way to skip customs and keep your guns. If you have a character with the appropriate career/membership, you can exit the starbase through TAS/Navy base/etc. if one exists at the starport.

  5. Sounds like a step below Ultima 7's combat. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

  6. The paragraph describing combat nearly killed me.

  7. So...just gonna ask...does everyone think the guy he's playing blackjack with looks more like the Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, or the bad guy from No Country For Old Men?

    1. With the square pattern in the background, the jumpsuit-like attire and their serious demeanor, both the craps and the blackjack images look more like visiting a prisoner than playing in a casino.
      (So if you replace prison with asylum, the Chief is the closer choice.)

  8. I must admit I always enjoy it when you thoroughly dissect gambling mini-games. I've always been very wary of gambling, as too poor a reward and it's pointless and too good can mean it breaks the economy. I'm struggling to thing of an example where it actually adds to the game, Borderlands perhaps.

    1. The gambling in Red Dead Redemption is quite fun.

    2. True, if every game just had a full scale Texas holdem mini game implemented I'd probably be happy.

    3. best gambling has to be the bazaak in KOTOR I even managed to beat that one guy who was "unbeatable" and he actually admitted that he was cheating (so I couldn't possibly had won legally!)

    4. I never really bother with these mini games. If the game is a crpg your ch. should do a gambling check and that's it.

    5. Witcher 3's and FFVIII's card games beg to differ!

    6. Yeah, the witcher card game is good and would have sold full price as individual game in 1988, but personally if I have 2-3 hours per week for playing witcher I do not spend it on card games. Whatever, nickname reminds me of Red Baron or am I wrong?

    7. I wouldn't consider Gwent as gambling really, it's a full blown side game, besides I seem to remember that the monetary aspect is fairly pathetic. Isn't the max you can wager like 100 or something?

    8. Red Baron? Sorry, cant recall being related to that game...

    9. Guess there was a historical ace with a similar name and was reminded of this. Thought you maybe played it. Have rb on my gog replay list but when I fire it up, despite the fond memories a 1990 wwI flight sim is an acquired taste...

      As to minigames, gambling or other, still do not really see the point. In a real crpg as in a pen&paper Session you do a skill check;-)

    10. Maybe you meant Max Ostermann, that sounds pretty close to Kontermann ;)

  9. Never played this one, but could character development be gated behind plot advancement? Maybe you'll be able to level everyone after some story milestone.

  10. For those who may think that the combat issues are due to dosbox etc, I can confirm it was exactly this obnoxious when it was released, on a standard 90s 386 pc

  11. As far as I remember Star Trail, the enemies scale to your level. But you should pack everything for disease prevention, otherwise the game can get a pain in the ass with constantly sick party members ��
    In the starting town at the market you can earn lots of money if you sell just some of your herbs from Blade of Destiny.
    I loved Star Trail for the back-then good graphics and the interface changes, but for me Blade of Destiny will always be the best of the trilogy, because of the open world and freedom to explore and the enormous amount of dungeons and little encounters throughout the map.

    1. The only thing I had about Blade of Destiny are the distance weapons/magic shooting only straight lines.

    2. There are HD remakes of Blade of Destiny and Star Trail now!
      They really are a lot of fun.
      I invested > 150 hours in BoD ;-)

  12. I've tried to have a crack at this game a few times (the last of which was about an hour ago after reading your last post on it) primarily because I really enjoyed the 1st one when I bought it on it's release on the Amiga 500 at the time (I know, I'm mental). A few things to observe;
    (1) I'm fairly sure when I last played it on my historic 486 10-ish years ago, the cursor changed in "length" depending on how close you put it to the edge of the screen and that made you move around the cities faster or slower. I'm not getting that emulating it on dosbox but I don't know why that would be the case.
    (2) You say in one of your captions that the chap might want to give you the shield as you're trying to save the world - that's one of the things I remember enjoying about this game, you aren't trying to save HIS world. NPCs don't care about other planets - it makes sense in the feudal style future Traveller depicts.
    (3) You complain about plot important people moving around (agreed) - did you know you can HAIL them to stop them moving?
    (4) In all my attempts at playing this, I never ever found that pixel to enter a casino...!

  13. The Regina sector will be filled with nuclear powered mosquitoes, flat planets, and wheat.


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