Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wizard's Lair: Chasing Leads

This is intriguing...
           
I'm having authentic fun with this obscure little game, though not making a lot of progress. When I first started it, I thought I would like it a lot less than UnReal World, to which it seemed passingly similar, but now I think I might enjoy it more. It doesn't have a roguelike's "sandbox" feel in which anything can happen, but it's well-crafted, making up for a certain graphical paucity with an interesting narrative and set of encounters.

A few months ago, while playing some roguelike, I noted that I've come to dread top-down games with large game worlds. This is still true. I've found no good way to map such games. If they come with at least a sketch of the outlines of the world, that's enough to help, but I hate starting a new top-down game ignorant of the size and configuration of the land. This caused a bit of frustration early in the game, as it took me a while to find the major cities and get myself oriented. The "wilderness," which seems to be one of several outdoor maps, occupies a 80 x 160 grid, but frequent encounters and impassable mountains make it seem bigger. The navigation window is almost unforgivably tiny, but a "Map" spell helps a bit if you're willing to sacrifice the spell points.
            
The "Map" spell alerts me to a shrine at the end of a mountain pass.
         
If the game has one major flaw, it's the frequency of random encounters in the wild, which creates a frustrating experience when trying to explore. I also wouldn't mind if the day/night cycle had been extended a bit more. Day can turn to night and back again, with 12 encounters in the meantime, while your party is poking down a dead-end mountain pass.

Nonetheless, combat got a lot easier once I hit Level 5 or so, and in particular once my sorcerer could cast more than a couple mass damage spells in between sleeping. By the time everyone was Level 8, I could blast through most wilderness encounters by holding down the ENTER key and accepting the default options, taking charge only when light on hit points.
           
The "HARPIES" spell helps a lot against large groups.
           
Outdoor foes include bandits, giant humans, rock trolls, mountain trolls, lesser trolls, berserers, black orcs, gray orcs, high orcs, goblins, giant boas, and something called a "cuspis" (I wish the game had monster images). Perhaps the oddest is the (presumably giant) turtle, which hits pretty hard. You'd think fighting turtles, giant or otherwise, would be pretty easy.

Eventually, I had explored the other cities: Oceanview, Mountainview, and Forestview. Only Forestview offered a service not present in the other cities: an herbalist where anyone skilled in "Alchemy" can mix potions. You have to pay for the privilege, so it's basically the same thing as buying potions in most games, except that you have to have a character with a high skill level.
           
I have to pay 463 gold and you want me to mix it myself?!
            
More important, NPCs among the towns gave me a number of new hints:
        
  • I had been previously told to ask a guy in Oceanview about ELVES. His hint was some kind of password (HRYLYM), but I don't yet know where to use it.
  • A sorcerer named Gerrmy once created a magical amulet to enhance his abilities. He disappeared in the Wasteland.
  • To defend against lycanthropes, I should find wild wolfbane, which grows in narrow river valleys. I should check southwest of Forestview.

A very descriptive hint about surviving werewolf encounters.

  • In the ruins, I'll find the Decrepit Castle, which has a secret about the Amulet of Callus. But before I enter, I'll need "certain safeguards," including the Ring of Stef, which protects against undead attacks. I'll also need three holy words to enter the Crypt of Callus, which I'll find on Level 4 of the Grey Dungeon.
  • To survive combats against demons, I need the Blessing of the Elders.
  • To solve the Ice Castle, I will need the Rings of Ghen from the Demon Castle.
        
In addition to these, I chased a group of hints that led me to Thieves' Hollow, a hidden town on the northeastern coast. I had to get its location and the password (ERESTHENES) required to enter. The small town had two vital services that the other towns didn't offer: training in lockpicking and trap-disarming for my thief, and a store selling a set of lockpicks.
             
My thief finally gets some training.
           
Another group of rumors had to do with the Shrine of the Ancients. A grotto on the north coast, behind a dried waterfall, gave me the mantra: UL GURA SANCTORUM. The Shrine itself was along a mountain pass that included a gap where I needed a rope to cross. Fortunately, I had bought one.

Speaking the mantra at the shrine caused a scroll to appear, and reading the scroll led to the images at the top of this entry. I don't know if they refer to the game's quest as a whole, or just a part of it, or even a side quest.
          
Speaking the mantra at a holy shrine.
           
My explorations had shown me the locations to the Grey Dungeon, the White Dungeon, and the Ruins. I got the idea that I wanted to explore the Grey Dungeon first. The levels are relatively small--about 20 x 20, I think--but just as with the outdoors, frequent encounters make them last longer and seem bigger. Enemies increased in difficulty the moment I entered, and I only got through the first level for the purposes of this session. 

The dungeons have Phantasie-like dots to mark special encounters. There are doors to unlock and traps to disarm. Secret doors are revealed with the "REVEAL" spell, but my conjurer is only capable of casting one of those between rests, so I have to use it judiciously. 
            
Encountering a locked door in the dungeon.
Note the special encounter to the northwest of the party.
  
          
I had been hoping to find a lot more gold in the dungeon, because my primary problem right now is that my characters are ready for a lot more training (not to mention equipment upgrades) than I can afford. There are 10 skills--swords, axes, pole arm, bow, picklock, trap disarm, cast spell, languages, magic sense, and alchemy--and you can train any or all of them up to your current level. I don't have enough money to train even a single skill past 5 or 6 (most of my characters could go up to 9 now), let alone multiple skills per character.
            
Lining up training.
           
Fortunately, the cost of training does not increase as the skill increases, so if I just stand outside Angston and grind for a while, I should eventually make enough money. I was just hoping that the dungeons would start delivering treasure chests or something.

A few other notes:

  • Every major location has a metal-walled chamber outside it. Clearly, these are teleporters of some kind. I assume I have to learn the codes to use them. I think there was a hint that a hermit in the Grey Dungeon would tell me about them.
  • There's a "steal food" command that I haven't explored. You can only use it while standing near the food store, and if you get caught, you spend 2 weeks in jail and have to pay a fine. I'm guessing this is an homage to Ultima II, where you had to steal food to survive. Here, it's easy to forage for it and cheap to buy it.
  • The equipment store sells furs, but I don't yet know why.
  • The developer did a good job programming shortcuts for commonly-used sequences of commands. ALT-H automatically has the druid attempt the HEAL spell and ALT-M automatically has the conjurer attempt the MAP spell. The function keys also offer shortcuts to check the entire parties armor, weapons, encumbrances, and health status. I also like how, when you're in a shop, you can easily change characters without backing all the way out. Few games have offered that so far.
                 
F5 brings up a quick summary of party health.
          
Wizard's Lair feels like it's going to last about 20 hours, maybe two or three more entries, which is about as long as it should last. It's not earth-shattering, but the authors at least blended elements from previous RPGs in an original way.

Time so far: 8 hours

*****

I might be reaching down pretty far in the list for the next. I'm having trouble finding a full set of 2088: The Cryllan Mission disks that don't have a virus attached; I'm on the cusp of rejecting Advanced Xoru as an RPG; and the obscure Stone Mist (which may also fail the RPG test) seems utterly unplayable. But I have to spend a little more time with all of them, so we'll see what happens.


32 comments:

  1. I would say Advanced Xoru is an adventure game and not an RPG. Feel free to drop it.

    (Also, I think the comment got buried in moderation, but I finally finished Quarterstaff and wrote about it.)

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  2. Is it just me or it sounds not unlike Deathlord?

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    1. I was going to say there are parts that sound like the Magic Candle series, but the Deathlord comparison seems apt also. It seems this game has a healthy amalgamation of the RPG tropes of it's time.

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    2. There are some definite similarities. The lack of permadeath is a positive for this game, however, as is a more reasonably-sized game world.

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  3. Have you tried here for Cryllan Mission disks? They should be 100% clean.

    http://www.whatisthe2gs.apple2.org.za/cryllan-mission-2088

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    1. I swear that when I went there yesterday, the download link didn't work. Must have been a temporary problem. Thanks.

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  4. Your experiences are jarring memories loose. When I played, I found I had to spend the first few levels replacing dead party members while the survivors leveled up. I also found the rate of random encounters far more tolerable once I could just hold down the key.

    I found the map spell critical, well worth the points to see farther. You will definitely want those furs later, but of course that's not a spoiler.

    I was never able to complete the game, and I was never sure if it was because I missed a clue, or if there was some sort of obscure shareware registration clue that was needed to win the game. (other shareware games, like Nahlakh, would do that sometimes. Nahlakh's developer basically made the endgame prohibitively difficult without the hints available only through registration, which he later regretted and made the hints freely available) I hope your notes are better than mine were, because I never figured out what was missing, and I really wanted to see the ending. Possibly if I replayed it now as an adult I would catch what I missed last time.

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    1. Turning the delay way down helps the random encounters become less burdensome, too.

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  5. The version of Stone Mist on https://archive.org/details/stone-mist seems to work - at least I was able to create a character in the online emulator and to move around on the overland map a bit.

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    1. I didn't mean TECHNICALLY unplayable so much as...well, let me just copy the comments of the one YouTube player I watched: "The game isn't easy to pick up like most RPGs. I can't even get anyone to say anything except for 'Hmmph!' or 'Leave me alone!' You start with no weapon, so you do virtually no damage until you find a weapon...I still haven't found any shops, so I just wander aimlessly and pick up gold here and there."

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    2. Don't you need to find the King and get a quest? That might explain why everyone treats you as persona non grata -- you don't have your lanyard yet.

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    3. It turned out that the YouTube player's problem was not having enough "comeliness." And he didn't try very hard to find the shops, since they're just a bit west of the starting area. Still, the game has other issues as we'll soon see.

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  6. Try HRYLYM on one of the teleporters?

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  7. It's always satisfying when you get over a hump and find your groove. Glad you're enjoying it.

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  8. I've been playing this as well, and I find it oddly satisfying. I think it's just difficult enough, with enough mysteries, to keep me wanting to play. I'm a bit further than you - level 11, explored the wilderness, and have almost mapped the entire Grey-Walled Dungeon. A couple notes:
    - Dungeon maps seem to be 20x40
    - There is some more gold in Grey-Walled Dungeon. You can get unlimited if you want, but it's a bit cheesy
    - I'm not entirely sure, but I seem to find more magic items as I raised my Magic Sense skill. I've only found one magic weapon, but a fair number of consumables and some decent misc items.
    - There are a couple other special encounters and places in the wilderness I've found, some I haven't figured out yet. Not sure you've found them.
    - Torches are cheap, and seem to last a surprisingly long time. I suggest using them over the light spells, as they're rather expensive spell point wise.

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    1. Oops. I got the axes for the dungeon size switched. Dungeon maps are 40x20. I've also found some magic weapons and armor. Some useful info, considering the limited inventory for your characters, is that the rating for +1 weapons is 10 higher than nonmagical ones, and +1 armor is 2 better.

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    2. I appreciate the tips. Hold the if you get too far ahead of me, though, please.

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  9. I really enjoy hearing about these obscure shareware programs - I played a number of them back in the day when my childhood budget didn't allow for more commercial games.

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  10. Bethesda's conference shows that it is going to completely bastardize all of its series, Bioware has not made a good game and CD Project Red is the only other company that still makes C.R.P.Gs. What will you do with your free time once you finish Cyberpunk 2077 and the genre is dead: Read books, watch movies, television?

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    1. Even if you are correct in this absolutely ludicrous assumption, there are plenty of new CRPGs released every year. Even if you narrow the field down to "wRPGs available on Steam", there's plenty coming out regularly.

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    2. We'd be so lucky if the blog survived that long.

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    3. Look at indie or mid-size studios instead of the AAA industry. There are still plenty of RPGs made by those.

      Underrail is going to receive an expansion pack soon, Iron Tower (the guys behind Age of Decadence) are working on a sci-fi RPG called The New World, the husband-and-wife team behind Serpent in the Staglands is working on a cyberpunk RPG called Copper Dreams, Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software just kickstarted a new game, a Baldur's Gate style game called Black Geyser has been kickstarted recently, and I'm also part of a small indie studio working on a classic RPG called Realms Beyond.

      That's 6 RPGs to look forward to in the near future. That's not what I'd call a dead genre.

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    4. I'll be happy when too FEW RPGs is my big problem in life.

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    5. Not to mention that I don't agree with your interpretation of recent events.

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    6. Cyberpunk looks amazing... Fallout looks disappointing, but so what? It's not Fallout 5, it looks like a multiplayer experiment, probably meant to grab a bigger demographic for their next game. Not everything needs to be aimed at us. Elder Scrolls 6 doesn't have any real info so there's no reason to be concerned... Anthem looks weird, but who knows? Doom and gloom is so boring...

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. I tried to reach out to him. I guess I won't describe what happened for privacy reasons, but it didn't go well.

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    2. Ouch, that's unfortunate...

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    3. If that's the case, you might want to redact that Facebook link. Either it's someone random, or it's someone who doesn't want to be contacted (or both).

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  12. I don't mind you redacting the comment with FB link. I'm sad that he didn't want to discuss the project. I messaged him a while ago and got no response. Not everyone wants to live in the early 90s.

    Of interest when I've been looking at the EXE files for Wizard's Lair - V20.0 has all the items spells, etc, in plaintext in the EXE. V2.20 & 2.22 have them obfuscated.
    I haven't tried to decode the text files that are in the directories. They probably use a simple XOR or inversion algorithm.

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