Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Spirit of Adventure, Flesh of Vulnerability

Life sucks so much that the adventurers turn to drugs.
       
Spirit of Adventure offers a nice challenge during its opening chapters, perhaps equal to the first Might and Magic. You start in a sprawling city and you have to find key services behind unmarked doors. You can only save at the monastery (at least, at first). Combats are rare, but challenging enough that you lose quite often--and reloading is no fun because there's no way (that I've found) to bypass the opening animation. You spend most of the gold you earn on healing, only occasionally saving enough beyond that for a weapon or armor upgrade.
      
You quickly learn the strengths and weaknesses of the base-level enemies, as well as what rewards they offer. Bats are to be fled--too much effort for not enough experience. Ditto skull spiders; curing poison costs too much. If you face a party of gnomes, switch to all-mental attacks. Cheer when you confront a group of dwarves; they have a ton of gold.
       
A combat with a dwarf produces an unreasonably large gold haul for the experience.
     
But you can't stay in the city forever, because the only place to level up is somewhere out in the wilderness. So are the only places to create spells, and without a magic system, it feels like you're still playing a demo. You load up on rations and reluctantly hit the wilderness, where combats are deadlier and more frequent.

The game walks a razor's edge. If combat was slightly more difficult or slightly less rewarding, I'd probably be lambasting the game for being impossible. It also helps that I discovered the level-up location fairly early in my explorations. If it had taken me much longer to find it, the balance of enjoyment may have tipped. I could easily see another player hating the game if luck had gone the other way.

A couple of things made the game a little easier since my last entry. First, I started over, declining to purchase the useless book this time, and spent the money on armor instead. It took some experimentation to figure out what armor each class could wear, but once I had everyone suited in ring mail, hard leather, soft leather, gloves, gauntlets, and boots, it made a big difference in the survivability of multiple combats.
     
Note how the encounter text is drawn directly from The Bard's Tale.
      
Second, I took the time to learn what the magic skills do and how to activate them. Magic skills are independent of the spellcasting system. Every character, every class, starts with one magic skill (selected randomly) and gets more while leveling up. Each does something beneficial while active, though some of them have a cost.

My Amazon, Orithia, came with "Wielder," which simply increases the power of physical combat, at no particular cost. Hanzo the Samurai and Aibell the Banshee both started with "Merge," which adds physical and mental attributes together when calculating combat rolls, but at the cost of 1 hit point damage for every successful attack. Titania the fairy has "Charm," which supposedly makes NPCs more friendly. Maugris the magician came with "Sealer," which reduces the damage from mental attacks, and Tapati the goddess started with "Mirror," which reflects magic attacks at the cost of 2 magic points. I wasn't doing anything with magic points at the beginning of the game anyway. Activating these skills made a big difference in combat.
     
My magician and his skills after a couple of levels.
      
As I started to explore the overworld, I decided that the number of pixels on the map was too many to try to explore systematically in rows or columns. Instead, I went with the hypothesis that key locations would correlate with obvious physical features on the map, like mounds or copses of trees. I was partly right, and I found the Castle of Attic, where you level up, almost immediately in a small forest to the west of Moon City. However, during the rest of my explorations, I only found two other locations--a dungeon called Rialdo's Castle and a rune temple--so perhaps there are more cities and dungeons in random locations than I thought.
      
It's hard to see, but little icons for castles and temples have appeared in places I discovered them.
      
The only thing to do at the Castle of Attic--named after the development company--is to level up. It takes 1,000 experience points to get from Level 1 to 2, and only another 1,000 to get from 2 to 3. It takes 2,000 to go from 3 to 4. It's Fibonacci leveling, maybe. Much of this session was spent grinding to Level 3.

Leveling up confers hit point, mental point, and magic point bonuses, a bonus to a random attribute, and a new skill. There are only slots for 6 skills, so that has to slow down or stop at some point. Among my new skills are "Armor" (increases protection for the party), "Trapper" (finds traps but also attracts monsters), "Compass" (puts a compass on the screen), "Infravision" (see in the dark), "Light" (same), "Booster" (slowly heals mental damage for the party), "Healer" (slowly heals physical damage for the party), "Regen" (slowly regenerates magic points), and "Sizzle" (prevents magic attacks by opponents but also the party). Switching among them as the situation demands feels very tactical.
   
Good job on Attic's part combating the "all game developers are dorks" stereotype.
     
This skill system, I should point out, is original to the game. I don't think they were influenced by Might and Magic II, the only similar game with individual character skills, just because the skills, the way you acquire them, and the way they work are so different. I quite like Spirit of Adventure's approach.

Beyond that, I didn't do much but explore, fight, level, and (quite often, unfortunately) reload. As I mentioned, I found a dungeon called Rialdo's Castle nestled in some mountains, but I didn't get too far into it before it became clear that the monsters were too tough for me.
     
It was a little too soon for me to be here.
     
I needed some magic, badly, so I concentrated on finding a rune temple where I could use my runes to create spells. I finally discovered it on the north side of the map's central desert.
      
At last!
      
The spell creation system is complicated. There are 18 runes in the game, with names like "Mind," "Fire," "Water," "Combat," and "Death." Each character starts with one, and apparently you can find more by searching, but I've searched dozens of times and found nothing.
       
Every time.
     
To create a spell, you have to specify one rune as the "source," one as the "path," and one as the "goal." When you select a rune for one of the slots, it removes it from your rune "panel" and places it there, making it unavailable for other slots, so I figured the maximum number of potential combinations was 18 x 17 x 16, or 4,896. But based on some info I got later (see below), it appears that the same rune can be used multiple times, making 18 x 18 x 18, or 5,832, possible combinations. I guess that's only possible if you have more than one copy of the same rune. Each character can carry up to 4 runes, or 24 for the whole party, so that makes some sense.

The manual only offers one example: with "Death" as the source, "Fire" as the path, and "Body" as the goal, you can create a flame-based damage spell. I was interested in a healing spell, so looking over the names of the runes, I figured it might go something like "Hardness" as the source, "Magic" as the path, and "Body" as the destination. Or maybe reverse the first two. Either way, I didn't have "Hardness" or "Magic," so that was a no-go.
      
Yeah? Well, your face doesn't make any sense!
     
I spent some time experimenting with the runes I did have--"Mind," "Combat," "Body," "Knowledge," "Fire," and "Water"--but I couldn't come up with any combination that did anything, so I left the temple dispirited. I'll of course return when I have more runes. It's not a bad way to structure a magic system--in some ways, it recalls Ultima V and its use of syllables--but it would have been nice if the manual had provided a couple more examples. Expecting players to suss out every combination on their own is a little unfair.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be so spectacularly unfair that the developers likely wouldn't do that. Instead, they'd have NPCs give you some valid combinations. Sure enough, when I returned to Moon City and asked the city's NPCs about SPELLS, the healer and the mage both offered me several combinations. I was wrong about healing; for that, I want "Life" as the source, "Hardness" as the path, and "Body" as the destination. There's a spell that will heal everyone that goes "Life," "Air," "Body." "Seeing," "Knowledge," "Earth" locates stairs in a dungeon. For a light spell, I apparently just want "Light," "Light," "Light," which was my clue that each rune type can be used more than once. I got other recipes for spells that heal minds, awaken slept characters, and create a compass. They all require runes I don't have, so I guess I"ll have to keep looking.
       
Saruman offers a recipe.
    
Miscellaneous notes:

  • Next to the "skills" list in the character profile is a "language" list. It also has up to six slots, but all my characters speak only "human." This hasn't been an issue so far, but I also haven't found any ways to learn new languages.
  • The half a dozen taverns in Moon City all have different names and sell different beverage selections, but they seem to have the same dialogues when talking to the bartenders.
     
This one had a unique drink.
    
  • There's a Thieves' Guild in Moon City, but every time I visit, they just kick me out.
             
Granted, there's no "thief" class in the game.
     
  • A "seer" in Moon City just seems to take money for useless platitudes.
      
Well, that sure was worth 300 gold pieces.
      
  • Overland exploration consumes rations quickly, especially in the desert. The game has an annoying message that pops up frequently as you move through the desert. 
    
I didn't know that spelling it "gawd" existed as early as 1991.
     
  • The "Booster" and "Healer" skills work in real-time, not based on your turns, so if you want to heal everyone cheaply, you can just park on a shop screen while the skills are active. (Unfortunately, this doesn't work on enemy encounter screens.) They work pretty slowly, though. I wonder if the effect is compounded if multiple characters have the skills.
  • The game gives you the opportunity to save as you enter dungeons or other areas on the outdoor map. It's nice not to have to trek all the way back to Moon City's monastery, but it still keeps a limit on saving.
  • The passage of time is maddeningly impossible to measure in this game. I don't see any way to bring up a clock. The only indication of the time of day is whether it's light or dark outside. You can advance time by 10 minutes with a "search," but I have no idea how fast or slow time naturally advances from just standing around, other than it's longer than it's interesting to stare at the computer waiting for it to turn from light to dark and back to light again.
      
Just the message you want to get when you're poisoned and dying.
      
  • There's an outdoor enemy called a "Teazerling," and the best I can tell, his only purpose is to be annoying. He never attacks in combat; he just screws around. He dies in one hit and supplies 1 experience point.
      
This guy is an utter waste of time.
     
  • The healer in Moon City charges more if you bother him in the middle of the night than if you show up during the day. He even grumbles about it.
          
There's been no real progress on the main plot, unfortunately. When I felt I had plenty of money, I wandered around the slums until I found Grishna the drug dealer again. I paid $1,000 for a hit of Opitar, hoping I could then use the evidence to turn her into Rowena or something, but nothing came of it. The game won't even let me "use" the drug. Maybe it'll come in handy later. Or maybe I'll get arrested for possession.

Time so far: 8 hours

23 comments:

  1. The seer is direktly ripped from Asterix

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    1. Hahahah exactly my first thought!

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  2. >I didn't know that spelling it "gawd" existed as early as 1991.

    As far as I know, that usage derives from the "Valley Girl" phenomenon in the early 80s. At least, that's the earliest I remember seeing it. I'm certain it was well established by 1987, when I first got onto BBSes.

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    1. That message feels so out of place, but at the same time fits right in with the other bits of silliness in the game--I love it. I also wonder if the German version had some similarly silly text in that place or if the translator(s) just had some fun.

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    2. It's been around longer than that. It was a clever way to avoid "taking the Lord's name in vain".

      You'll see a variation of it on 19th century English tombstones: G*wd, as if even spelling the side-step word out completely was going too far.

      Why it came back in the 80's...who can say?

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  3. The back of the game box had the map of Lamarge on it with cities included. The publisher made some errors - most notably the map is mirrored - but it gives you a good idea where to go. You'll find them soon enough just by walking around the map, though.

    http://www.mobygames.com/game/atari-st/spirit-of-adventure/cover-art/gameCoverId,250956/

    I played Rialdos Castle at level 3 without any spells. I guess the "wall" skill, which increases your chances of fleeing combat, helped immensely.

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  4. The Saruman guy's name also might be a reference. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barkas_(van_manufacturer)

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  5. My teenage self never though of asking NPCs for spell combinations!

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  6. Great post! That magic skills system is indeed interesting, I don't remember seeing something like it. It might have roots in the bard's tale bard songs, which were a parallel magic system.

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    1. It's really cool, and I don't remember seeing a system quite like it anywhere else, either. Now imagine if at some level milestone you'd unlock the ability to have two skills active per character, that would feel so rewarding.

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    2. Four Crystals of Trazere (aka Legend) from 1992 had something similar (or outright stolen) where you construct spells using runes and also reagents, but that was a real-time-with pause combat game I think. Fun to create room filling fire/healing spells though.

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    3. Dungeon Magic (NES) from 89/90, and Magician (NES) from 1990 both had a fairly detailed runic magic system, but the runes while related to the spells (all fire spells start with the same rune) didn't have the language construction aspect of this game.

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    4. While the rune system is cool (and reminds me of Ultima Underworld as pointed out), I was more surprised by the magic "skills".

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    5. @Andrew, Trazere magic is very different from other runic systems in CRPGs because it allows you to actually build your own spells by combining effects and behaviors, rather than trying to guess which combinations the devs thought to put in. It's closer to the one in Knights of Legend, or TES spellmaking, than UUW or SoA.
      Concerning the bard songs/continuous magic effects the recent indie blobber 7 Mages had a very interesting system where you could have several bards play the same song on different instruments, multiplying its effects.

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    6. Yes, the rune system in SoA is not for crafting spells, it just delays getting spells until you have both the formula and all necessary runes. But guessing should not be required, apart from NPC hints you can get formulas for spells from (very minor spoiler) fpebyyf lbh pna svaq naq ohl va fubcf.

      You can derive some formulas, though. When you know the healing spell for body, it's pretty easy to figure out the spell for healing mental damage.

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    7. Having magic in the name confused me. You're right, I don't think I've seen a system where you choose one from a large pool of skills to keep active. I know there are skill slot systems, but I can't think of a specific example at the moment. Most games I can think of that expand skills as you level don't limit which ones are active.

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  7. Really cool skill system for this era!

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  8. A couple of comments:
    - keep walking around for new locations, eventually you will bump into them
    - the map printed on the back of the box of the game (mentioned above) is from a beta version. It was placed on the box from the publisher without consent from Attic. I'd consider it as a mild spoiler.
    - keep searching on the map
    - ahead of its time, the game was built with hooks in the source code for future addons. Several of currently meaningless encounters/dead ends were meant to be used in those addons.
    - if you are in the city and you don't have your watch with you, but you need to know what time it is, what do you do?

    BTW back in the 1980ies Germany had very restrictive shop opening times. This made its way in several German RPGs from that time: Amberstar, Spirit of Adventure, the Arkania games all have strict opening times for their shops...

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    1. I guess thanks for the last hint. NPCs do respond to TIME. But it's a little annoying to seek them out.

      I remember shop opening times being a deal in Antares, too.

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  9. Saruman offers a recipe.

    Read my mind. Also, that Nosferatu somehow looks like Warwick Davis cosplaying as Max Schreck.

    I didn't know that spelling it "gawd" existed as early as 1991.

    I was going to make a Long Island tourism joke, but then found some 19th-century "Oh my gawd"s on Google Books. Who knew?

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  10. I like the idea of streamlining this 'trapper' skill by making it attract more enemies because I am imagining the character with the skill slowing the whole party down as they take point to search for traps every so often.

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    1. Sure, it makes logical sense. I just haven't run into any traps yet.

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