Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bard's Tale Construction Set: Summary and Rating

       
The Bard's Tale Construction Set
United States
Interplay (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS, 1992 for Amiga
Date Started: 20 November 2017
Date Ended: 25 November 2017
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 30
Ranking at Time of Posting: 155/271 (57%)
   
It turns out that Star Light Festival, the sample scenario accompanying the Bard's Tale Construction Set, is both depressingly unoriginal and horribly imbalanced. It took me more than three hours of grinding in the wine cellar before I made Level 2. Leveling up is free, but with most of my money going to healing, I'm nowhere near having the 2,000 gold necessary to purchase more spells.

Even Level 2 characters can't survive for very long in the wine cellar, but I survived long enough to map most of Level 2, which--like Level 1--turns out to simply use the same map as the beginning dungeon of The Bard's Tale, right down to certain messages on the wall. My enthusiasm for continuing with the scenario took a major blow when I ran into this inscription:
       
This was not cool, Interplay.
      
You'll recall that the "IRKM DESMET DAEM" message in The Bard's Tale is one of the game's most enduring mysteries. No satisfactory anagram or cryptogam seems to work. Speculation is that the developers were just trolling players, but I'm not sure if we've ever had confirmation of that.

In any event, this game changes one letter in the final word, making it "IRKM DESMET DAGM," which just serves to aggravate the issue. Was the original flawed and now they're making a correction? Can we derive meaning from the new version? I note that it makes GAME and GAMES possible in a new anagram. If it was just nonsense in the first place, then why change it? What are they trying to tell us?!
     
Here's another one. This one had a purpose in the first game, but I suspect the developers left it here just because they were lazy.
      
Meanwhile, the Level 2 encounters weren't offering more experience than the Level 1 encounters. They were riskier because the exit was farther away, but not more rewarding. For comparison, I fired up The Bard's Tale. There, an average in-town encounter offered around 100 experience points. When I played it back in 2010, I was able to grind up to Level 7 in a couple of hours, never leaving sight of the temple. In this version, an in-town battle gives an average of maybe 10 experience points.
      
This is a real encounter on the third level of the dungeon.
     
Once you're strong enough to reach the wine cellar in The Bard's Tale, you're earning several hundred experience points per battle; here, you earn maybe 20-30 on average. 

In some ways, the slow pace of character development is of course balanced by reduced monster difficulty. But easier monsters can only take you so far as you get farther from the dungeon entrance. The bard can only play one song per level before he needs a drink. Spellcasters can only cast a few light or "trap zap" spells. It's frustrating to go deep into the dungeon, map only a dozen squares, and then have to retreat for the exit.

Equipment upgrades are also nerfed in this version. I don't know if it's a consequence of the construction set or this specific implementation, but I never seem to find "random" equipment drops post-combat. Instead, certain fixed encounters always produce the same thing. The pack of 4 goblins north of the guild always have crossbow bolts. The fixed encounter just before the Level 2 stairs always produces leather gloves. Random encounters produce gold only. By this time in The Bard's Tale, I had dozens of magic weapons, armor, wands, monster-summoning devices, and other items to help me with tough encounters. In this game, I rejoice when I find a "medium shield" because the store only sells small ones.
     
My hunter's equipment 8 hours after he started doesn't look much different than when he started.
      
Discouraged from the default scenario, I started looking into some of the other games made with the construction set. I should mention that I was either wrong in my last entry when I said it wasn't possible to make your own title screen, or a couple of developers found ways to do it that the game doesn't support. Either way, both games I investigated had their own title screens after the main Bard's Tale Construction Set title.
    
Major points for anyone who can find this location in Sweden.
     
The first was The Bard's Lore: The Warrior and the Dragon (1997) by Swedish developer John H. Wigforss, who followed it up with The Bard's Lore II: The Dark Tower (1998). There are definitely things to like about it. Wigforss took the time to code a bunch of original spells--far more than exist in the default scenario. The town map is efficient and doesn't screw around with a bunch of empty residences; most of the key services are on one street.
       
The"MO" at the end is the first part of the password "MONARCHY."
      
The first goal is to get the password to enter the castle, which is found at the bottoms of four statues in town commemorating fallen heroes. With the password, you can visit the king and get the main quest: rescue the kidnapped queen. First, you have to find the stolen key to get out of the city. The ensuing game takes place over one level of a pub cellar, two levels of a dragon temple, several small wilderness areas, and four final dungeon levels with a lot of secret doors, teleporters, and spinners.
        
I suspect this is the author's own image.
        
Unfortunately, a lot of the game is just juvenile. There are spells that summon Princess Leia, Kalle Anka (the Swedish version of Donald Duck), and Captain Kirk. The author thought it was funny for every chest in the first dungeon to produce nothing but "rat shit." In the town, you can find a door to a brothel that offers a very explicit picture of services rendered (it would not have been allowed in Xentar), and the ultimate reward for winning seems to be a topless picture of the queen.
      
Funny the first dozen times.
      
Ultimately, what deterred me from continuing was the same issue as in Star Light Festival. Although I brought my Level 3 Festival characters to the scenario, it would have taken hours more grinding before I could have survived the rat hordes in the first dungeon.
    
18 rats is a little excessive.
     
The second game I looked at was The Bard's Quest: Dungeons of the Unknown (1994) by Alex Ghadaksaz and "VisionSoft." (It's subtitled The Legend of Isil Thania in the documentation but Dungeons of the Unknown on the title screen.) I want to be careful about accusing anyone of plagiarism, but what I can say is that from all appearances, it certainly looks like Mr. Ghadaksaz simply copied the default Star Light Festival that shipped with the construction set, re-named it, and sold it as shareware. Since you don't have to purchase the Construction Set to play games created with it, it's entirely possible that no one purchasing the game realized that it was plagiarized.
       
This took some guts.
     
Now, I haven't even finished Star Light Festival, let alone The Bard's Quest, so I can't say for sure that they remain identical throughout. What I can say is that the quest given in The Bard's Quest documentation is the same, including the fact that the party is in town to visit the "Star Light Festival." The name of the city is the same. The city map is the same, including all fixed encounters. The first two dungeon levels are the same, including all fixed encounters and messages. The documentation for The Bard's Quest is simply copied from a section of the Construction Set manual. Finally, the directories for both games have all the same file names and sizes.

The documentation for The Bard's Quest promises hint books and copies of two sequels in exchange for the shareware fee. These are given as The Bard's Quest II: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and The Bard's Quest III: Dungeons of Darkness. I haven't been able to find evidence that they were actually produced.

[Ed: Eight months after I posted this, I heard from one of the developers who worked on The Bard's Quest. He claims that while he and his colleagues--who were all aged 12-14 at the time--started with a "Starlight Festival" nucleus but created a full, original game from it. He also says that the two sequels were produced and sold, and that the trio made $12,000 - $14,000 in profit selling nearly 2,000 copies. As for my experience, I'll quote directly: "The one you claim as 'plagiarized' is different from the one that was sold and that was probably due to a mixup when someone downloaded the game from an Internet FTP site that the Tour de Force BBS sysop had uploaded it to, and then unzipped it and decided to upload it to CompuServe but rezipped a new archive instead of the original one from Tour de Force. I can only assume that maybe they were comparing it to the BTCS sample game and zipped the sample game, probably by mistake." I don't fully understand all of this, but I can't imagine that a real plagiarizer would take the time to write about a 27-year-old game to defend his friends' honor, so I accept his account. I asked for permission to post his entire e-mail but never received a response; If I do, I'll put it on my blog somehow.]

Back to the default scenario. Having decided it wasn't worth my time to do the grinding necessary to finish, I hex-edited my characters to higher levels and attributes so I could zip through the first dungeon and identify the fork where the game diverges from The Bard's Tale. Most of the messages on the sewer levels were the same, but when I got to the location where in the first game, I learned the Mad God's name, in Festival, I got a message that said "ROY G BIV." Later, in a place where the original sewers went down to a fourth level, here there was only a message in which a gerbil ran through the room saying "The Runt" had sent him. Even the lower levels of the sewers offered combats no more difficult than the town.

"THE RUNT" ended up being the answer necessary to enter the Obsidian Tower in the northwest corner of the town map. ("Who sent you?") The tower had different foes, including "Bramashavers" and "ytiruces," which is "security" backwards, but they weren't really much harder than the enemies i the sewers, and the number of experience points per combat still hovered below 50. I was looking at more than 80 combats to get to the next character level. The game seem determined to give them to me. Combat in the tower is a lot more frequent than the sewers--literally every step, almost every time I turned, and even if I stood still for more than a few seconds. Clearly, the developers learned nothing from the "grindfest" reputation of their previous games. I soon threw in the towel, but not before I verified that the Obsidian Tower, at least, seemed to use a map not found in the original game.
      
Do you think they were going for "Burmashaver"?
    
Ultimately, because of its limitations with encounters, treasure, and equipment, I suspect it would be impossible to replicate any of the original Bard's Tale games using the construction set. Even if you could get close, you certainly wouldn't improve upon them except perhaps a little in graphics and sound. Thus, even with an excellent plot and better-paced character development, the most a Construction Set game would earn on my GIMLET is the original Bard's Tale score of 37. (Today, that seems a smidgen high. It was the first game I rated with the GIMLET and I tended to be generous early on.) I just ran through my experience of Star Light Festival so far and got a 29, highest in "economy" (5) and "graphics and sound" (5), although the sound effects slow things down so much that most players probably play with it off. It earns the lowest scores in NPCs (1), game world (2), quests (2), and gameplay (2). It's simply too long and grindy and doesn't reward the player with a real plot.

I'm going to wave off the encouragement some of you have made to develop my own adventure. If I'm going to take the time to do that, it will be with a kit I really enjoy, like Stuart Smith's (1984) or the upcoming Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures (1993).
But in an era in which Smith's Adventure Construction Set was seven years old and no one knew FRUA was coming up, The Bard's Tale Construction Set clearly filled a hole. In the July 1992 Dragon, the reviewers gave it 5/5 stars and called it the "finest fantasy role-playing game construction set we've used." In the February 1992 Computer Gaming World, Scorpia was a little more tempered. She covers both its strengths and weaknesses (I mostly echoed her in my last entry), concluding that while it's "definitely rough around the edges and somewhat lacking in polish, it is still a good dungeon editor."
       
The problem is, I don't see myself as "the ultimate gamemaster."
     
I was curious how Amiga magazines rated their version, particularly since turn-based gameplay never seems to interest them. The best review (A-) comes in the July 1993 Amiga World, which praises the ease of the editor but predictably (and, to be fair, accurately) calls tile-based movement and "combats up the wazoo" relics of yesteryear. The April 1993 Amiga Format and the March 1993 Amiga Power both said essentially the same things while offering much lower scores: the kit is good for what it does, but The Bard's Tale is no longer an impressive game.

Of course, you know where I stand. I don't think that games get worse just because time passes. I don't think that an engine can no longer be fun just because new ways of designing engines have come along, any more than I think that Casablanca sucks in comparison to Avatar. My problem is that The Bard's Tale was never a good game in the first place. It was always too grindy, too limited in encounter mechanics, and too boring in plot. A kit based on a mediocre game was never going to produce anything but more mediocre games, which is probably why so few Construction Kit games have been completed and cataloged. The same will not be true of the Gold Box engine, but it will unfortunately be some time before we get there.
 

48 comments:

  1. I was hoping there'd be something intriguing in here, but yeah, the totally unbalanced leveling and unimaginative scenarios just leave a lot to be desired. By total coincidence the Bard's Tale 4 kickstarter sent out a Windows-friendly remake of the original trilogy about a week ago, and I've been playing some. While BT1 is and will always be the first and most nostalgic of games for me, I find I'd rather just grind on the street than go exploring in the dungeons, where I'd have to cross-reference a map, and I'm able to admit even the original is pretty grindy.

    At this point, I've stopped playing and just have some Renaissance lute music strumming in the background, and honestly that's scratching the nostalgia itch nearly as well.

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    1. Oh. Also:
      1) IRKM DESMET DAGM is clearly "Dimmest Dark Gem".

      2) A dwarf paladin named Ironpants? I don't know whether to scoff or wish I had a nickname half as cool as Ironpants.

      3) The king is definitely the same pic as in the splash screen, so 250% assured to be the author.

      4) If the Bramashaver minotaur is half Brahma bull, that's almost a decent pun?

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    2. I can't find anything recent about the remake online, and there haven't been any updates to the Kickstarter in months. How did you get the remake? (I backed the Kickstarter...)

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    3. Ironpants was one of the pregens from Bard's Tale 3.

      As for IRKM DESMET DAEM, I've always paired it with the other mysterious message of BT1, "Heed not what is beyond understanding."

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    4. Nathan, I was perfectly happy to do that, too, but Interplay had to go rock the boat by making that one-letter change. Now that Quirkz has identified a sensible solution to the anagram, I think it's even more likely that the original message wasn't just a red herring.

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    5. "Sensible." There's several dozen three-word combinations, according to an anagram solver, and hundreds if you allow four words. None of them seemed particularly insightful at a glance, but there are lots of choices. Then again, so does the original.

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    6. As for the BT4 kickstarter, I'm also a backer. Last week I got an email asking me for some preferences when it comes to some of the goodies (language for the novels, I think?) and then at the end they gave me a download link for games 1-3. The communication in the email and survey was sparse and confusing.

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    7. @Reiko / @Quirkz
      They seem to be sending those out rather randomly. There's a link in the comments of the latest BT4 update, though, if you want to demand a crowdox link for yourself.

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    8. @Imban Yesterday I got the crowdox survey and completed it, and then I got an email called "Digital Fulfillment" containing links to the emulated Bard's Tale 1-3 and the add-on novellas, but nothing about the remastered BT1-3 even though it was in my rewards list on crowdox.

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    9. The remastered version isn't done yet. Rebecca Heineman is at least the main person working on it, IIRC, and she occasionally posts vague stuff on her Twitter (@burgerbecky) about how it's going.

      It'll hopefully be done in time for BT4?

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  2. What can you do exactly, with the kit - apart from shops, password gates, treasure chests, random encounters and text messages attached to locations?

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    1. Antimagic darkness spinner mazes. Add NPCs to your party.

      I'm trying to remember if there was anything else, but the last time I poked around with this was when I was a small caltrop. I have fairly fond memories of it, perhaps because because I was more willing to put in the forever it takes to grind up levels then. (Or maybe I just cheated in a higher-level party, since that's pretty easy with the construction set.)

      Anyway, Chet, off the top of my head you missed Fred's castle, in which a fake and evil Fred sits on the throne and the real Fred joins your party when you find him. Also a whole "questline" around getting the keyword DRGN to cast an unlisted spell, which lets you summon a "Minidragon" (or was it just "Minidrag"?) that triggers some special encounters that you can't get to otherwise, because it can fly.

      The main goal of Starlight Festival, by the way, is to find the 7 passwords, of the form "RED 1" "ORANGE 2" "YELLOW 3" and then punch them in as 123 4 567 (because ROY G BIV, you see...), allowing you to find an alien spaceship(!) in Isil Thania and go beat up the alien invaders inside.

      I'd elaborate more, but I only remember games I played two decades ago so well, y'know?

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    2. Thanks for the exposition!

      ROY G BIV is the acronym commonly used for the various colours of visible light in electromagnetic spectrum in order of their wavelength.

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    3. I agree with Asimov ;)

      "It is customary to list indigo as a color lying between blue and violet, but it has never seemed to me that indigo is worth the dignity of being considered a separate color. To my eyes it seems merely deep blue."

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    4. I heard a rumor that it was added in order to have 7 colors in the list.

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    5. Oh, and don't forget teleporters in those mazes, with doppelgangers to swap out party members.

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    6. You can do very, very much with the kit.

      1. Make up to 100 Spells.
      2. Make up to 100 Items.
      3. Make up to 100 Monster types.
      4. Make an unlimited number of Town, Wilderness and Dungeon Maps.
      5. Most importantly, every Map can have up to 30 custom Special Events, and each Special Event can be made from **20** lines of code, which is A LOT, if you know what you are doing.

      I can only repeat this is a VERY powerful editor, and I am dead sure you could make a game that is AN ORDER OF MAGNITUDE better than the original Bard Tales.

      Yes, the game is stingy with Experience. But nothing keeps one from rewarding the player with TONS of Experience at plot points by a Special Event line.

      The designers of Isil Thania may have been lazy, but this does in no way reflect upon the Construction Set itself. With all respect, CRPGAddict, but about the perceived limitations of BTCS you are utterly wrong.

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    7. Well, I'm not "utterly" wrong because there are spell effects and weapon features that appear in the original games but not in the construction set. It also does not appear possible to randomize equipment drops, which to me is a HUGE negative. Thus, it would not be possible to literally replicate the original games.

      Nonetheless, I concede that with the right combination of puzzles, special encounters, and better storytelling, it might be possible to create a game that overcomes these weaknesses and offers a better experience than the original BT games. I'd have to see it and no one has thusfar shown it.

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    8. Sounds like a fun challenge. I can understand the company releasing a paired down version of their engine, as they wouldn't want to create competition, even with an outdated engine. Still, it seems silly to release a construction kit that can't mimic the first game.

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    9. Randomizing spoils of an encounter should be possible, like this:
      IF (25% random chance) THEN give Sword of Conan ELSE nothing
      IF (25% random chance) THEN give Ring of Protection ELSE nothing
      IF (25% random chance) THEN give Wondrous Cloak of Wonders ELSE nothing

      You could get one or 2 of the items, all of them or nothing. Use 10 lines with different items and a 10% chance each and 3-5 such events/map and your collection will be totally different each time you play.

      In the BT games, bad game design covered and obscured a rather sound system. But the BTCS happily removes the games and leave us with a structure that has very high potential. Think Pen-and-Paper RPG with a programmed GM.

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    10. Above post is me. This OpenId thing gets me. I always post as Coffeedragon, but half of the time it changes my ID to anonymous when I press Publish.

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    11. I concede that SOME randomization is possible that way, but you'd have to list every possibility in the event, and you still can't have equipment drop from random encounters. This is still a far cry from the actual BT games where you can get any one of hundreds of equipment items from both random and fixed encounters.

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    12. That was basically my biggest problem with the Construction Set - you couldn't actually create a game that worked exactly like the Bard's Tale series. You'd think that would be the bare minimum requirement.

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    13. Sure, that´s a valid argument. But i mainly compare it to FRUA, and it seems to me that BTCS is underrated. You can make your own spells and items, after all, # of maps/adventure is unlimited and arguably BTCS´ Event Editor is more powerful. Also, much more randomization is possible, again compared to FRUA.

      Ultimately the AI in FRUA is more like a bookkeepeer, and you have to tell it precisely what to do within limited parameters, whereas I feel the AI in BTCS has the potential to behave like a programmed opponent that may sometimes surprise its own creator.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I think you can be safe that Bard's Quest II and III are fictitious since Warlock of Firetop Mountains and Dungeons of Darkness are names of the old Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's "choose your own adventure" books.

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    1. If I was generous I'd suggest that perhaps the developers intended to convert the gamebooks into BT style dungeons. They probably just thought the names sounded cool.

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    2. Given what this looks like, I would use a less flattering word than "developers" here... ;)

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    3. We had these books growing up. There were also a few text adventure style games made based on them, as well as a Nintendo DS title for Warlock for some reason.

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    4. And Warlock just had a new (and much more action-based) videogame adaptation this past year! Not linking to it out of respect for Chet's rules, but you can find it on Steam. :)

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    5. I knew about "Firetop Mountain," but I didn't realize that "Dungeons of Darkness" was a "Fighting Fantasy" title, too.

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    6. It's not, it's a song from a 1992 Norwegian black metal album: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burzum_(album)

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    7. There was also a Warlock in about 1993 for the Genesis and SNES and Amiga (and maybe other platforms). It was a difficult jump and shoot platformer, but I don't remember much of it since it's been a long time.

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  5. Did you just discover the earliest known asset flip? Depressing to think the practice dates all the way back to '94.

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    1. The earliest known would probably be some of the plagiarized Eamon or Wizard's Castle variants that I've covered. At least for RPGs.

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    2. Nearly all the various published versions of Crowther/Woods Adventure were sold without permission of the authors (nor were they reimbursed, and usually they weren't credited). So that would be 1978 the first one was published.

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  6. In BT1's defense, I don't recall ever "grinding" in a sense of going back to the same tile over and over again (like I needed to with Might and Magic 1 and Legend of Yserbius). Creating the map required enough thoroughness that I was always the right level for any enemy.

    Even though Might and Magic 1 technically had more special encounters, I found it a lot more grindy than BT1 for this reason - I reached multiple times I got stuck and had to find somewhere to park-n-slay.

    While I'm at it, the other reason I enjoyed BT1 more than MM1 is the atmosphere: the day-night cycle, the infinite houses, the slow opening of a single map where you can see your goals but can't get there yet all gave me a sense of unity of gameplay and story. I enjoyed MM1 but it did feel like just a sequence of goofy events.

    This might reflect that I'm more the Adventure Game Addict than The CRPG Addict though.

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    1. You didn't have to throw yourself at the 99 berserkers repeatedly? I seem to remember doing that for hours, and people still said my level wasn't as high as it should be for the final dungeon.

      I perhaps used "grinding" a bit too much when I should have been saying that the games are simply too combat-intensive. Even if you fight most of them in the process of exploring and mapping, I'd venture to say that you fight a bit too many. You probably do in MM, too, but at least that game has a key you can hold down to blow through some of the easier battles.

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    2. I only fought the berserkers once.

      The final dungeon you can powerlevel naturally because of the level drainers. When you heal level drain at the temple (I seem to remember you never discovered you can do that) it has the side effect of bumping your XP higher than when it started. It costs a ton of gold but by that point in the game you have a megaton+ of gold.

      Even if you fight most of them in the process of exploring and mapping, I'd venture to say that you fight a bit too many.

      Agreed.

      You probably do in MM, too, but at least that game has a key you can hold down to blow through some of the easier battles.

      Also agreed.

      Some of this might just have to do with party composition. I had played (but not beaten) Bard's Tale 1 before so I knew to get three mages and not worry about a thief, whereas I'm willing to guess my MM1 party was suboptimal.

      I'm going to take a stab at Quarterstaff, BTW, although I'm only going to play the Infocom version. I'm really curious what differences there are with the earlier release, good luck!

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  7. I've been playing games since my first computer (VIC 20) and I do think that games can get worse with age. I now find it hard to play very old CRPGs that are based almost entirely around mapping and combat, with relatively few special encounters, storyline, etc. I completed MM1, Wizardry 1, and Bard's Tale 1 when I was a kid and enjoyed them all. But then I tried to play Megami Tensei a few years ago and I found that I was just tired of games that had mostly empty dungeons with combats. Having played the later MM games, Wizardry 6, and such, it was hard to go back to the primitive stuff.

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    1. I agree. I do video series for retro games on You Tube, and my attempts to get into Might and Magic 1 and 2, or the Bard's Tale trilogy, has been stymied by the sheer tedium of grinding, and the nonsensical maps and lack of real progression. Even some later games like Might and Magic 6 are just tedious in the sheer number of combats and how much you have to run back and forth to beat them.

      I did complete the DOS port of Phantasie 3, despite my eyes bleeding from the terrible CGA graphics. I never have found a way to get DOSBox to reliably use CGA Composite Mode instead of the terrible 4 color RGB mode that later EGA and VGA cards (and DOS Box) emulated.

      It's bad enough that quite frankly I don't know that I want to finish the similar-style RPG I've been working on, instead turning to other projects. I'm just not certain I can make the game actually fun without a much heftier investment into a tactical combat map (basically doubles asset costs on top of coding, balancing, etc).

      That said, it's highly dependent on what game too. Phantasie III wasn't too bad; it has a level cap of 21, and I was 14-16 when I finished despite grinding. I probably could have finished sooner, but poor memories of the C64-days led me to believe I needed tougher party members first before heading to the end game. Most of the Gold Box games are still fun. I only really didn't care for Dark Queen of Krynn and Pools of Darkness. And they weren't bad, I think I just didn't like the high level of the characters. Many action games remain fun as well; Pitfall II or Mega Man as an example, though outside the scope of this blog. And of course, games like Civilization and Sim City remain timelessly fun.

      I've taken to view excessive grind in a game to be a sign of poor balance and an effort to create 'filler'. The Bard's Tale does not have very much actual content in it; I imagine if you could play naturally without stopping to grind, then you would finish it in just a couple of hours. Much of the challenge came from mapping, and combats that sent you to earlier dungeons for a few hundred battles before you could reliably win them.

      I expect that FRUA will prove much more enjoyable. I've probably got a hundred modules backed up in my archives that I've played and enjoyed.

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    2. 80s RPGs were created by people who wanted to play D&D on their computer. The grinding was the whole point--you got to play D&D with your friends or by yourself and didn't have to worry about keeping dice, etc., and could watch your characters get more powerful and have a sense of achievement.

      That niche is now filled by World of Warcraft; solo RPGs now have to concentrate on plot and characters, like movies or books.

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    3. I never played these games growing up, I was too young- closest I ever came was watching my older brother and my dad play Ultima 7. Since reading this blog though, I've tried a few of the early dungeon crawlers and have beaten Wizardry 1 and 2 (without permadeath, currently on 3.) Although I generally tend towards stuff a bit more accessible, I've really enjoyed it. I listen to music while I play, you have to accept it more as a meditative thing, than a story experience. That being said, once you're in the zone, it's surprising what your imagination can do...

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  8. I actually cleared Star Light Festival – sort of. I remeber it had a game-stopping bug or two that I had to fix in the editor ;) The encounters give ridiculously low XP, but there are some event tiles later on that give huge amount of XP and allow a reasonable speed of characer progression. It's tedious and not fun nonetheless. Duotime all the way, and I hate it how reviving dead characters costs an arm and a leg, and the game and characters are automatically saved if you go to the inn, which happens if your party is wiped out...

    The game readme, if not the manual, details how to make your own title screen and replace some graphics, which consists of making a Deluxe Paint image to specifications and naming it appropriately. I did that for my game. Animations cannot be replaced, though. Ending pictures can similarly be made.

    Making an adventure with the set is tedious as well, especially for the lack of copy-paste options when coding encounters. One could do it so much faster if one could just write code, instead of picking commands from lists...

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  9. I bought this as a kid, and it was one of those purchases at the time I regretted. I was craving modern RPGs and was hoping this contained a VGA remake as a scenario. I guess youthful naivety got the better of me where the back of the box pointed out it includes actual dungeons from Bards Tale 1.

    After reading this, I remember the issues I had with the sound effects but most disappointing just the emptiness of the environments as a whole. It felt a step backwards even from the mid-80s Bards Tale. Limited spells, inventory and stock in stores, the lack of flavour buildings, temples, whatnot and just the tedious difficulty.

    I still have the manual, and it is surprisingly thin, but there wasn't too much to document.

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  10. There is an open source remake of the Construction Set in development called BT Builder:

    http://identicalsoftware.com/btbuilder/

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  11. In future if you want to prove two files are the same you can use a cryptogrpahic hash: If you are on a modern version of Windows you can just open Powershell and use the Get-FileHash command on each, then see if the strings it generates are the same.

    Alternatively you could run 'diff' on each which will go over them byte by byte looking for changes. Again, included in Powershell.

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  12. Anyone still following this thread, please note the edit I posted above in regards to The Bard's Quest. I received a long e-mail from one of the game's co-developers. He defended the game against my suspicions of plagiarism and gave me a lot more background about it. I didn't get permission from him to post all of his comments, but I wrote enough to summarize what he said. I have no reason to think that he wasn't telling the truth.

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