Saturday, November 4, 2017

Twilight: 2000: Another Wreck

Good . . . bad . . . I'm the guy with the tank.
        
Well, it looks like Paragon is 0 for 4 on its adaptations of Game Designers' Workshop adaptations. Or perhaps GDW is 0 for 4 on decent RPG systems. Either way, Twilight: 2000 repeats the mistakes of the MegaTraveller titles (and, to a lesser extent, Space: 1889). It starts off with a great character creation system, then falls apart with no character development and a horrid combat system.
     
The next mission.
    
My second mission to liberate Poland from Baron Czarny had me heading to Miechow, where there was supposedly some kind of hostage crisis. When I got there, it turned out that the NPC I needed to speak with spoke French, and none of my current party members did. Rather than return to Krakow and pick up a French-speaking character, I decided it was simpler to just reload.
   
We couldn't just use hand signals?
     
It turns out, however, that the second mission randomizes the location you have to visit and the language of the NPC you have to speak with. This time, he spoke Romany. None of my 20 party members had taken that language, so I reloaded again, wondering if there were any non-randomized encounters that would require me to speak a language I hadn't specialized in.

The third try, I had to go to Proszowice. On the way, the game told me that my journey was interrupted by "trouble to the south." The "trouble" turned out to be a tank, or at least something capable of firing artillery. As I hesitated wondering how to proceed, the enemy managed to blow up my HMMWV and kill all my characters, ending the game with the laughing face of (presumably) the Black Baron.
     
The Baron wins again.
     
I read in the book that while vehicle combat is a thing, it can't be done in the HMMWV (despite something that looks like a gun on the roof), so the next time I got interrupted mid-journey, I had the characters bail from the vehicle and engage in combat on foot. They lasted about as long as you'd expect four characters on foot to last against a tank.

The next try, there was no interruption and random combat, for which I was grateful. Many more such random encounters would come, and not once have I managed to successfully engage or even flee the enemy. He pursues relentlessly, and while I might be able to avoid some of his salvos by zigging and zagging, he always gets me in the end.

Anyway, I finally reached the next city, Bochina, with a character who spoke the NPCs language. He told me that Czarny's soldiers had taken the hostage to the city of Pilca, so I headed there.
     
      
The tactical map of Pilca showed me an NPC in a house with enemies scattered about the area. As I got out of the HMMWV, the game told me my party was taking fire. I hustled into the house and spoke to the hostage, but he refused to leave until I dealt with Czarny's men. Thus, I returned outside and entered combat.

The game offers three "modes" of combat, and they all suck. The longest is "interactive" combat, and by choosing that method, you specify actions for each character each round. You and the enemy fighters trade rounds based on order of initiative, and each round a character can fire his weapon (with sub-options for automatic or semi-automatic), simultaneously advance and fire (with small arms), reload, aim (to get a better chance of hitting next time), change equipment, move, or flee.
     
Choosing from among various enemies to target.
     
In "descriptive" combat, the computer decides what actions your characters should take, and you just watch them (and the enemies) run around and perform them. You still get a detailed account of what's happening and how much damage everyone is taking. It takes only slightly less long than interactive combat, as in both cases it takes much longer to watch the enemy's actions than to perform your own.
     
The computer chose the action and tells me the result.
     
"Quick" combat is the same as "descriptive" except you don't get any descriptions of what's happening. You still have to sit there and watch the characters run around the battlefield, shoot, and whatnot, but when someone drops, it's a complete surprise. I was never able to successfully finish a combat on "quick" mode because it inevitably froze at some point. It would have been nice of the game had offered a true quick combat option where the computer simply fights behind the scenes and you see the results, like Wizard's Crown or Roadwar 2000, but alas.

In between rounds, you can "break off" combat and re-enter with a different mode if you want.

I thus fought most of my combats "interactive" style. These are the many problems I had with the system:

  • Characters who mysteriously started combat with an initiative of 0 and never got a turn. I don't know what causes this. I'm not even sure what affects initiative. It doesn't seem to be correlated to attributes, weight, or health.
  • Enemy pathfinding is awful. They routinely get hung up on houses. Other times, they run madly back and forth right in front of a character (which admittedly makes killing them easier).
    
Can I . . . uh . . . help you?
     
  • My lead character, though skilled with small arms, almost never manages to hit anyone.

You were a cop?
The enemies love targeting the party's HMMWV and destroying it even though they're nowhere near it.
      
That was just spiteful.
   
  • Enemies take an incredible amount of small arms damage before dying.
  • Toss a grenade within 10 feet of them, however, and it's all over. The same is true of your own party members. That's realism, of course, but I'm not looking for that level of realism in an RPG, especially a turn-based RPG where the game doesn't give you any tactics to defend or avoid the grenades.
       
And that's a reload.
    
  • Enemies seem to get twice the action that my characters do.
  • Despite offering a relatively complex tactical map, there are hardly any actual tactics in combat. There are no defensive options and no stealth, for instance.
  • Although you can view a tactical map at any time, I find it very difficult to judge distance and direction on the main screen. I guess that's something that will become easier over time.
  • Some enemies aren't visible by some characters despite other characters able to see them from an equal distance.
  • The manual offers inadequate descriptions of combat and its options. It appears that anything besides "quick" combat was a late addition to the game, covered only (briefly) in the errata, and the errata suggests options not actually in the game.
  • As I'll cover below, enemies seem to scale in difficulty and equipment with the characters.
         
Nonetheless, after a few false starts, I managed to defeat the four enemies in a combat that lasted about 30-40 minutes. I picked up a few weapons and items of equipment from their bodies. The hostage said he was going to stay put for a while, but he gave me some papers to return to the NPC in Bochina.
    
It turned out staying here was safer than going with us.
     
I neglected to save at this point, and when I headed back to Bochina, I got stopped by one of those tank encounters and my party was destroyed.

By this time, I had received a message from a commenter who recommended equipping all of my characters with grenade launchers, saying it made combat much faster and easier. I was also concerned about my language deficiencies. So I started the game completely over with a new party and took care to give them all some heavy weapons skills, plus the weapons themselves, and also to ensure that among my 20 characters, every language was covered. I then went about solving the first two quests again, the first of which was that easy transfer of medical supplies.
      
During the second round of creations, I got this fantastic set of statistics.
     
I was in for a surprise, however, when I got into my first combat during the hostage rescue mission. As I marched into the field with my grenade launchers, I discovered that the enemies had also leveled up their destructive capabilities. They came at me with LAW rockets, RPG launchers of their own, and handheld grenades. They particularly enjoyed blowing up my HMMWV, a situation I only rectified (eventually) by hiding it behind some houses
      
The new party.
.   
My characters sucked at aiming their grenade launchers at distance. If I got close, the party members got caught in their own grenade blasts. All in all, it was a terrible decision, rendered worse when two of my characters simply refused to act, round after round.

But I wasn't going to going to start over again, so I persevered and won the combat after a few reloads. The commenter was right that the grenade launchers made combat ultimately faster. If I could land a grenade near the enemy's feet, he died instantly.
     
A lucky shot.
     
My reward for solving the quest turned out to be a new 2.5-ton truck back at the base. This game is giving me flashbacks, as I drove both an HMMWV and a "deuce and a half" back when I was a reservist. I crashed a deuce into an HMMWV at one point, if I'm being honest, from which point my battalion commander called me "Beetle Bailey" until he retired. But I digress.
    
I wonder if any mission requires me to carry 2.5 tons of cargo.
     
For Mission 3, headquarters wanted me to clear out a Czarny squad from the city of Skawina. It was basically the same story as the previous mission, minus the hostage. Again, I had to reload a couple of times to reverse character deaths as I tried to figure out the combat system. Yes, by having you create 20 characters the game tries to make it so that one character's death isn't a huge deal. Except that 20 characters is way too many, and I only really put any effort into about 6 of them.
     
Completing Mission #3.
    
My reward for Mission #3 was an M1A1 tank, delivered conveniently to the garage at headquarters. (I never got to drive a tank in the Reserves; that's a special MOS.) I figured that maybe now I can take out that bastard who keeps interrupting my travels, but my first few experiences with "vehicle combat" have not gone well and I'm struggling to master the interface.
      
Getting destroyed in a version of quick combat, but for vehicles.
     
Mission 4 asked me to go Pilica again, where Czarny's forces have inflicted casualties. Arriving in the city, I find that there are five Czarny soldiers running around and a bunch of wounded peasants standing in fixed spots. I keep accidentally injuring the peasants during the ensuing firefight, which affords me no reward from the city's leader even if I run around healing them afterwards.
     
Hey, man, those people were almost dead when I got here.
     
I leave you still trying to figure out this mission, hoping there aren't that many total missions in the game. Part of me likes that this recent one involves a medical skill. Just as with MegaTraveller 2 and it's open-world approach with lots of side quests, there's a nucleus of a good game here. A good approach to Twilight: 2000 would offer a variety of missions that could be completed different ways, using different skills and different vehicles. A hostage-rescue mission might give you the ability to bluff your way into the building with "Persuasion" or "Disguise" skills, sneak in with "Stealth," assault it with standard combat skills, or perhaps even breach the walls or tunnel under it with "Civil Engineering." I suspect that's the way the tabletop game works. Unfortunately, the developers weren't that creative or were incapable of programming a game that creative.
     
Does he refer to him as a "peasant" to his face?
     
Meanwhile, it appears that they've completely given up on any character development. Neither of the MegaTraveller games had good character development, but they at least pretended it was there. You could occasionally pay to level-up a skill, and sometimes you'd get a level spontaneously just by using a particular weapon. There was no consistency or logic to it, but at least they didn't ignore it completely. Space: 1889 offered skill and attribute increases as quest rewards, or a consequence of finding particular items. Twilight: 2000 doesn't even go through the pretense. Your characters are fixed from the moment they finish the character creation process. You suddenly need a skill you didn't take during creation? Too bad; start over.

I get far more annoyed with games that had potential but failed than with games that were always destined to be dreck. I guess that's a good segue for moving from the former to the latter.

Time so far: 9 hours

42 comments:

  1. For those of you older than me, is this one of those games that people played back in the day and said, "This is an intriguing concept to combat but the execution is terrible. We can do better." and then 3-4 years later we got Jagged Alliance? Or is JA's inspiration rooted elsewhere?

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    1. Elsewhere, probably. Namely, Laser Squad and X-Com. Those were much more well-known and well-received squad-level tactical combat games.

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    2. Laser Squad is one of my all-time favorite games! Sterner Regnix must die!!!

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    3. Woah, thank you for telling me about Laser Squad. And Gollop was a designer for it! You know, despite its popularity, I'd never heard of it, though that's not saying much. If a computer game came out before '94 there's a decent chance I've never heard of it. I'm trying to be better about that. This blog helps immeasurably. Anyway, I grabbed it from an abondonware site and started playing. I can absolutely see the influence so thanks again.

      As for X-Com... eh, I thought about that one but I'm not so sure of it as an influence since it and Jagged Alliance were released so close together. Within three months, I think, and definitely within the same calendar year.

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    4. Eric, you might also want to get the Sabre Team. It is a kind of spiritual successor to Laser Squad, only in (then) modern-day setting.

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    5. My first exposure to squad based combat was with real time systems like Strike Squad (which has oddly similar box art).

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  2. I remember playing the actual paper RPG with a friend when I was kid. It has a very cool setup, and character creation was fun as you picked previous military careers etc.

    I remember creating a former Apache helicopter pilot, mostly because I had been playing A LOT of Gunship on the C64.

    That might have been a rather cool role playing experience thinking about it now, but back then I think I was put out because basically my character was pretty naff at anything besides flying a helicopter, and needless to say fully refueled, armed and repaired helicopters don't just grow on trees in the lawless apocalypse.

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    1. I also played the P&P a lot in the 90s. I would have wanted to play the computer version too but couldn't find it anywhere. I wonder if the plot is from any of the adventure modules? Here are the TW2K books at DrivethruRPG: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/4/Game-Designers-Workshop-GDW/subcategory/21_23/Twilight-2000

      The combat system in the P&P game was slow and difficult. The initiative system caused that more able characters completely overpowered a bit slower ones.

      I too played a lot of Gunship - got a bit stuck to that as seen from my nickname there... :D

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    2. I'd like to have a look at a TL2000 module. Does it offer more opportunities for characters of varied skills to succeed in encounters?

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    3. Yes. Twilight modules were less dungeon crawls with maps and monster stats than they were a gazetteer for an adventure area and a description of the plot. It was up to the GM to design the actual encounters, so a typical adventure would be much more of a collaborative effort between the GM as the players. If you’re designing adventures for the A-Team, you know Faceman is always going to run a con, B.A. is going to want to hit something, Mad Dog will want it blown up, and Hannibal will have a plan that they can all do what they like best.

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  3. The grenade thing isn't even especially realistic. Hand grenades don't explode on contact and their purpose isn't to blow things up directly like RPGs. You toss them into cover where enemies are hiding to force them to choose between staying put and getting killed by shrapnel or making a break for nearby cover and getting shot by your rifles. Your odds of surviving the latter are usually better than the former, so grenades themselves relatively rarely kill enemy combatants compared to rifles.

    Also, the whole thing with hand thrown grenades is that you need to be close to toss them at all accurately. Like, sure, you can throw a grenade from well outside conversation distance, but compared to the range on a rifle they're very close range weapons. Realistically, squad tactics revolve a lot around cover and, if you plan on using grenades as a staple of your strategy, using covering fire to close distance in order to get close enough to huck grenades into the enemy position. They're not the unstoppable superweapons the game makes them out to be.

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    1. Well I'm glad someone stepped up to tell us computer games aren't accurate simulations.

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    2. Hey, many of them do wamt to be an accurate simulations and this seems to be one of them.

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    3. RPGs are not simulations and never will be. You want a simulation, go play Gary Grigsby's War in Russia or Microprose's F-19 or Gunship. Twilight: 2000 was an RPG from its inception.

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    4. Ok, ok, bit from Chet wrote it seems more like simulation than cRPG. But yeah, it was supposed to be an RPG so I guess you are right.

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    5. I appreciated Maldeus's post, and I'd be interested in more like them. I'm not sure what's wrong with contrasting the game with reality (as Chet also did in the article).

      And I agree that gameplay is what's important, but you could definitely design a better mechanic around what Maldeus described than what this game offers. Make cover matter, and give the target an opportunity to move before the grenade explodes.

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    6. A lot of RPGs blur the lines between RPG and simulation when it comes to combat.

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    7. RPGs are derived from tactial wargames, after all, though usually much simplified.

      But even simulations sacrifice realism for playability constantly. People hardly read manuals at all, noone would want to need months of training to fly a plane, or even start the engine. The only "games" that really put realism first are hardcore simularors like Flightgear and OpenBVE, and their commercial equivalents.

      With this game though I think it's pretty clear that it was rushed and released prematurely. Does it even have a cover mechanism?

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    8. RPG/Tactical Sim Hybrids are certainly possible. Brigade E5 is a good example.

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    9. However, there are hand grenades that explode on impact. This is to prevent the enemy from just throwing them back at you as well as preventing friendly fire from grenades bouncing back.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/RGN_hand_grenade

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  4. I was going to fold this into my other comment, but I forgot and hit Publish right after finishing my point on grenades. Re: GDW vs Paragon's incompetence, I think the problem is that GDW makes RPGs that are very hard to translate onto the computer. They have exhaustive skill lists, and in tabletop play that gives rise to a lot of creativity. "Alright, my only decent skills are Civil Engineering, Laser Weapons, and Deception. I have one laser pistol with six shots and I need to figure out how to save a hostage from eight heavily armed space terrorists. How'm I gonna pull this one off?" Translating that into a CRPG, though, requires specifically programming in uses for each and every entry on the massive skill lists in advance. That's a way higher programming burden than if you used a system like D&D, where every character class is balanced around combat specifically. Not always particularly well, but there's enough of an attempt at balance made to work.

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    1. Sure, I could see how it would be hard to translate the totality of the game rules to the computer, and I don't mind that the games can only use a portion of the tabletop game's skills. The problems are: a) the manuals always lie about which skills are actually used in the game, and b) even the non-combat skills that are occasionally used aren't used very often.

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  5. "Characters who mysteriously started combat with an initiative of 0 and never got a turn. I don't know what causes this. I'm not even sure what affects initiative. It doesn't seem to be correlated to attributes, weight, or health."

    As I stated before, there is a stat in tabletop RPG going by name Coolness Under Fire,. Implications, variations and exceptions are typical to RPG of it's era, but here's quick checklist from character creation sheet.

    Coolness Under Fire is calculated as (10-1d6-(TIME/10)), and lower is better.

    TIME stands for Time (Months) in Combat - (MEB)D6

    MEB stands for Military Experience Base - (120-TOT)/7.

    TOT stands for your attribute stats all added up.

    It is either this or then it is a bug.

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    1. This is quite convoluted if I were to judge.

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    2. This explanation is as good as any, but the manual doesn't mention anything about it. Give how many other things the manual omits, I can't rule it out.

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  6. I like how nonchalant you write about barely winning a 30-40 minute combat and then get randomly killed by some event. I can only imagine my own reaction, but I'm sure playing on wouldn't be on the table.

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    1. It's pretty small potatoes compared to some of the other stuff Chester's had to deal with.

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    2. You gain that ability around RPG player level 25 :)

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    3. I was pretty steamed, but I had largely resolved to start over anyway by then, so that was just another push to do so.

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  7. Ah, that's too bad, this game sounded pretty neat.

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  8. Okay, I'll take that as a cue to make with the hints:

    1. Initiative is on you character sheet, higher is better, spec ops jobs give the most initiative.

    2. Have 2 or 3 translators, have them learn all the languages, when you need one, radio them over.

    3. Have a heavy weapons team, when you encounter a tank, hop out of your vehicle and radio them in, blow up tank with ATGMs and switch back to main team and head out.

    4. *Big Exploit, ignore if you want to play normally* Vehicles are immune to attack from enemy troops while you are driving. To trivialize combat, drive your vehicle next to the red dots on the tactical map, jump out, enter combat, brrt brrt with SAW, exit combat, reenter vehicle, wash rinse repeat.

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  9. That mission where you need a random language skill is unconscionable. There's no reason why the game couldn't at least look at which languages your party has and pick one of those. And since the player has no reason to suspect that it's random and you can just reload, it's game-breaking.

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    1. If it worked like that, you could just make a uni-language team and never need to worry about the language mechanic.

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  10. These 3-D houses remind me of cute anime kitties for some reason.

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  11. It barely can be an RPG. It has too much of an action feel. I see it very sad. To paint, you have to study other painters. Same for rpgs if you ask me...otherwise you create a monstrosity of garbage like this.

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  12. Addict, it really makes my day when i can find your entries here, so good, to know about these lost games. If ever you reach the end and you aren´t tired, perhaps you can consider doing point n click adventure game reviews? They´re great fun too.

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    1. Well, there is an adventure gamer blogspot pretty much based on this Template in style If you want Check it out. I think Most of the contributors there also comment here.

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    2. If i ever reached the end,I supposed I'd consider anything, but I'm never reaching the end.

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    3. While we're in dream land, I'd suggest you'd enjoy strategy games much more than adventure games.

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    4. I ultimately enjoy strategy games more, but it takes hours to learn all the variables and rules, and I hate that initial period.

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