Monday, November 12, 2018

Game 309: Sandor (1989)

This game alas has nothing to do with Sandor Clegane.
      
Sandor
Germany
Motelsoft (developer and publisher)
Released 1989 for Atari ST
Date Started: 10 November 2018
Date Ended: 8 December 2018
Total Hours: 10
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 28
Ranking at Time of Posting: 155/310 (50%)

Sandor is another game from Motelsoft, the developer that previously brought us Seven Horror's (1988), a game I didn't hate but couldn't figure out how to win. On the game's official page, Motelsoft offers only that the game is "self-explanatory," which it isn't, at all. But I'll do my best to muddle through.

The top-down perspective has a party of six adventuring over a landscape dotted with towns, cathedrals, and dungeons. I gather that the land itself is called "Sandor." The dungeons are also in top-down perspective--a shift from the previous game, which offered first-person views.
            
A traveling merchant approaches the party in the land of Sandor.
       
The game draws some of its races from Seven Horror's, although it seems to merge races and classes into a single list. Attributes are agility, strength, intelligence, endurance, and skill, rolled between 1 and 20 during character creation, although certain classes seem to get bonuses or weights to some attributes. It's worth spending some time on the race/classes, partly because I don't have a lot to discuss otherwise, and partly because they're so weird. I'm hoping they make sense to German readers in a way that they do not to me. They are:

  • Megrim. In English, this word means, "depression." It's a variant of migraine. Some dictionaries give an alternate definition as "low spirits," and I wonder if some developer didn't try to translate that exact phrase, thinking of the other kind of "spirit." Or maybe someone bungled an anagram of "Grimm," as in the fairy tales. I'm otherwise out of ideas. If it helps, Megrims get their highest rolls in intelligence and skill. Motelsoft got a lot of use out of the word. It was a race in Seven Horror's; it appears in a title of a 1994 game, Escape from Ragor II: Megrim's Rache; and it is the name of an NPC in Trauma 3D (2002).
  • Hunch. From "hunchback," maybe? They get high roles in strength and skill.
  • Glonen. Maybe a play on klonen, "to clone"? Also appears to be a last name. They get low rolls in all attributes, making me wonder what they're good for.
  • Psychonaut. This term has been around from at least the 1970s to describe people who "explore altered states of consciousness." Google suggests that the term has been used in numerous RPGs as a specialty class. I'm not sure if Sandor did it first. The class gets high rolls in everything but strength.
  • Exane. I don't even have a guess on this one. Attempts at Googling are overwhelmed by an investment bank of that name. The race or class gets high rolls in everything but endurance.
  • Mensch. This is the only obvious one. It literally means "human" in German, and the race gets very balanced rolls with almost everything around 10.
        
Character creation. This guy's a true mensch.
       
After character creation, the party lands on the game map, with options to open, look, take, drop, investigate, use, read, and camp. The game begins near a city called "Kolono," where you can visit a markeplace, pub, or healer.

I took some time to buy starting weapons and shields. It seems that you can wear a piece of armor or hold a shield but not both. Weapons are restricted by strength, but not (as far as I can tell) by class. Fortunately, attributes can increase during leveling up.
          
I was lazy and went with anagrams for party names.
        
I set out exploring the land and spent most of this session mapping it. The explorable part of the world, at least at the outset, is around 50 x 50 squares. Rivers and walls block further progress to the east and south, although I can see some towns and other features there, so I know it will somehow be possible to explore further. Towards the eastern edge of the map, there's a little walled compound with a gate, and stepping up to the gate indicates that I need some kind of gem to pass.
         
The land so far. I screwed up one column or row somewhere, but it basically works.
         
In a potentially ominous note, visiting the pub at a town near that gate brings up a message that "this is where the world ends for the freeware adventurer" and that to explore further, I need to order the full version by sending DM25 to Harald Breitmaier (one of the two listed developers) in Stuttgart. I got the game directly from Motelsoft, who doesn't offer any option to register it on their web site. They didn't respond to inquiries I sent about Seven Horror's, so I don't have a lot of optimism that they'll respond on Sandor. I guess I'll play until I can't.
           
DM25 in 1989 would have been $13.30, or about $27.00 today.
        
Combat is far more advanced than Seven Horror's, showing perhaps some of the influence of some SSI games. It doesn't seem to draw from any previous European inspiration. After you're told the composition of the enemy party (both type and level), you're brought to an 8 x 10 grid, where every character has the ability to move, attack, cast a spell, use an item, get information about the enemies, pray, or pass. The entire party acts first, in some kind of initiative order, followed by the enemies. Each character has a number of points that he can use for both movement and other actions, so if you're right next to an enemy, you can put all the points in attacking. This is quite similar to SSI's Wizard's Crown and Shard of Spring series.
           
For this fight, I face a dervish, a hellhound, a fire imp, and a brigand.
         
This early in the game, I don't have any spells or items, so it's just been attacking. There have been some light tactics in anticipating the enemy's movement and trying to get him to come to me rather than wasting all my action points approaching him. I've also learned to target spellcasters quickly because they have a tendency to summon other creatures.
         
My party members taking on four foes.
       
Combat hasn't been overwhelmingly common--maybe once every 30 moves. It has been quite deadly, however, and I've had to reload after about half of them. The difficulty of enemies is tied in part to the area of the map that you're exploring, and I've been attacked by numerous parties that I was nowhere near ready to take on. Fortunately, the rarity of combat means that you can just reload and get out of those dangerous areas. It also means that you rarely face more than one combat per game day, and sleeping at night restores most hit points for a Level 1 party.

There are a variety of schools scattered around the land, where characters can literally spend intelligence points (and money) to learn skills like hunting, lockpicking, healing, and spellcasting. Some of the schools are duplicated, and some of the skills are offered in towns, and I'm not sure if there's any difference among them. I haven't found near enough money yet to get any of these skills.
         
A school. I can learn healing at this one.
        
It's the skill system that convinces me that the direct inspiration for Sandor is SSI's Demon's Winter (1988), which not only had the combat system from Shard of Spring but also had the same schools around the map. There are some analogies among the skills themselves. There are a lot of other little similarities, including the way markets offer one item at a time, the way you can get lore in pubs, the way that different towns offer different services, the various temples that try to convert your members, the spacing between encounters in the wilderness (Demon's Winter had one every 43 moves, precisely), the requirement to find a guild to level up, and in general the top-down interface. Even some of the tiles and icons look similar. Demon's Winter was a decent game, so no complaints there.
         
Unlike Demon's Winter, Sandor is clear about how you advance through the items.
          
Across the map, I found:

  • Three dungeons. None of them have obvious names. I haven't really explored any of them yet, but they use a top-down interface just like the outdoor areas. 
           
What dungeons look like from the entrance.
          
  • Six towns. They all have three syllable names, and five of them (if I'm getting the pronunciation correctly) are dactyls: Kolono, Ulono, Nihili, Nalosa, Okokat, and Pelinos. Services vary by town, but among them you can find marketplaces, pubs, guilds (for leveling), skill schools, inns, and healers.
          
This one town had all the services.
            
  • Nine skill schools: spellcasting, hunting, "opponent estimation" (analogous to Demon's Winter's "Monster Lore", I imagine), healing, resurrection, fighting, and locksmithing. There are some skills offered only in towns, and I'm not sure I'm translating them right: fallen-beseitigens ("fall-eliminating"?), schiffskunde, waffenkunde, and kartenkunde. I get the first words ("ship," "weapon," and "maps," in order), but every dictionary I consult suggests kunde means "customer," not "skill," which you'd really expect there.
  • Four "faith communities" (Glaubensgemeinschaft), three dedicated to the god Sunlot and one dedicated to Cenobit. Each gives me the opportunity to convert to that god; if I try to pray without converting, it says "you do not believe in this god!" I've kept the party neutral for now.
  • Two weird places where a title screens says: "Holy Blood. Say no to evil." Each character has the ability to "renounce"; if he does, a message says, "You are not in league with the devil." Weird. I can't remember if there was anything similar in Demon's Winter, but I remember I never really understood churches and religions in that game.
          
I'll be happy if I end the game knowing what this is about.
       
  • Three gates that I need some kind of "mage-gem" to pass, although one just lets me walk around it.
             
I'll be back, I guess.
         
  • An old man's hut. He wants the Wand of Urakus and threatens dire consequences should I return without it.
           
I think I'll refrain from asking what the hell he's laughing at.
          
  • A bunch of icons that look like collapsing castles or towers, but with nothing obvious to do there. Maybe they're just visual.
           
During my explorations, I rose to Level 2, which comes with a satisfying increase in hit points and attributes. There are two guilds, on opposite ends of the map, for leveling. I almost have enough for Level 3. My finances are very slow to grow, however, and I hope that dungeons offer more in that area.
            
Leveling up.
       
On the plot, I've got nothing. The best I can go on is rumors from the pubs. A guy in Kolono told me about two caves in the west, and that I should not enter the first unless I have the Ring of Arcan, which I can get in the second. (I apparently need it to conquer some creature in the first.) Unfortunately, he didn't tell me how I could distinguish the first and second caves.

Out in the wilderness, a "lone wanderer" named William Bacon said that his castle, "across the river," was attacked by a "Jonge priest and his hordes." His children were murdered and his wife imprisoned. He asked for my help and I said yes, but nothing else happened after that. This might go with another pub rumor about "hordes" to the east surrounding a city called Habata.
         
Can you imagine attacking him? "Sorry, buddy; this just isn't your week."
         
I started this game hoping that it would be a quick one-off like Seven Horror's, but it has a lot going for it. I just wish we could dig up the manual.

Edit: I kept playing for about 5 hours after this initial entry, grinding my party to high enough levels to defeat the dungeons. Unfortunately, I kept running into these copy protection screens that had codes I couldn't answer. I got around them for a while by simply reloading: they seem to come at random intervals, but more likely as the game goes on, and pretty soon I couldn't avoid them. Until a cracked version of the game emerges or Motelsoft responds to my inquiries, we'll have to put this one on hold.
            
The copy protection screen.



Here are some additional screenshots:
              
I put a lot of wasted work into grinding and leveling up.
 
Finding a chest n the dungeons.

    
A "best guess" GIMLET based on what I experienced came to 28, but this could easily improve with more knowledge of the backstory and plot, and more experience with mid- and late-game combats, equipment, and other features.
   
*****
If you've been looking at my "Recent and Upcoming" list and wondered how we got all the way down to Sandor, here's the rundown:
        
  • Legends of the Lost Realm: Still can't get anywhere with it. I'm basically waiting until I've scheduled several postings so I can spend time on it without worrying that I won't have anything to blog about for more than a week.
  • Le Maître Absolu: Weird French game based on the engine to Le Maître des Âmes (1987). It loads up the first time, but then every time I load it after that, it sits on a black screen. I might have something misconfigured in my Amstrad CPC emulator, which I don't use all that often. Still comparing versions, testing, etc.
  • Paladin's Legacy. Ultima clone for the TSR-80 Color Computer. Gets stuck on the loading screen after character creation. There's a web site where the creator says he had trouble with MAME (which is what I'm using) and recommends a different emulator. Have to download, test, etc.
  • Sea Rogue. It's an interesting simulation game about searching the seas for valuable shipwrecks. A commenter wrote 4 years ago and made an impassioned argument for the game as an RPG, and I admit it has some RPG elements. "Characters" (basically, people assigned to ship's stations) get better through training and experience, and you get a kind-of inventory to make your explorations easier and more valuable. Combat, on the other hand, is all ship-to-ship (and not even a necessary part of the game), and overall it's not really an RPG. I'd play it if I liked it, but I'm not much of a simulator fan. I gave it an hour and decided, with apologies to P.H., to scrap it.
             
Numbers and gauges typify the simulator approach to Sea Rogue. This is one of about nine stations on the ship.
        
Lower on the master game list, I rejected Sleeping Gods Lie (1989; only GameFAQs thought it it was an RPG) and, predictably, 1989's Soccer Star. The others remain on my list but will requires some extra work. Advice welcome if you already know what the problems are.



35 comments:

  1. Well ship or spaceship - what's the difference?

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  2. There is no further meaning behind the names. They're just as stupid as they sound.

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  3. I emailed you some assistance for Paladin's Legacy. (And Seventh Link, as it's also coming up and you may have similar problems.)

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    1. Awesome. Thanks, Adam. I was hoping not to have to learn a new emulator, but I always seem to have problems with MESS.

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    2. Fortunately this is the same as MAME, it's just the earlier version when they split MAME and MESS into two separate programs. So it shouldn't be TOO bad to adjust to. I imagine you won't be spending much time on either game anyway.

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  4. I just sent you some disk images for Le Maître Absolu that should work on the winape Amstrad CPC emulator, along with the manual in case you don't have it. Let me know if you still have issues.

    Good luck with it, the user interface and font choice are, uh, rather dated.

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    1. Received. The manual is particularly appreciated, since it doesn't seem to be online anywhere.

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    2. It's a bit of a pain to browse but the most comprehensive archive of CPC stuff is probably http://cpc-power.com/ That's where the manual (and possibly the disk images, I can't remember at the moment) come from.

      Here's the page for Le Maître Absolu: http://cpc-power.com/index.php?page=detail&num=1336 Among other useful things they have review scans (only French mags but I don't think this one was released outside France).

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  5. In a compound noun, "-kunde" translates to skill, art or lore. For example, "Heilkunde" (~healing skill, the art of healing) is used in German as a synonym for medicine.

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    1. Oh, and the literal translation of "Fallenbeseitigung" would be trap removal - so something like find & disarm traps.

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    2. * grammar nerd mode on *

      "Kunde" is actually two different nouns in German, one masculine ("der Kunde") and one feminine ("die Kunde"). The former, much more common one, means "customer". The latter, which feels somewhat dated nowadays, can mean things like "knowledge", "news", "lore" or indeed "art/science of" when applied to another noun.

      Similarly, the "Fallen" in "Fallen beseitigen" is not the verb "fallen" (to fall) but the plural of "Falle" (trap).

      * grammar nerd mode off *

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    3. Yep, Fallen Beseitigen would be "disarm trap" and Schiffskunde would be something like "seafaring", so it's very likely dungeons will have some kinds of traps (maybe trapped chests?) and you will find some way to cross rivers and/or seas by boat at some point.

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    4. In German a word that has two totally different meanings is called "Teekesselwort". "Kunde" is such an example. The "Artikel (der, die, das)" makes the difference, which is not possible in English. "der Kunde" the male customer, "die Kundin" the female customer, "die Kunde" the lore/the science of (is used like -logy in geology ="Erdkunde","Geologie").
      I greatly enjoy your blog. This game is clearly inspired by Demon's Winter. I'm looking forward how this one plays out...

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  6. As for the names of the different races, Motelsoft seemed to be quite creative with those as they don't resemble anything I'm familiar with in fantasy. Doesn't help that they aren't described in-game... a manual would help, but I guess that's lost to time.

    As for the "Heilig Blut - Sage Dich Los von dem Übel" screen, it seems like these are holy places where you can renounce evil if you have joined it. I'm not sure what this is about, but it might become apparent later on in the game. It does imply that you can worship dark gods or something like that, and that you might come into a situation where you'd want to renounce this choice, so that implies some interesting role playing options.

    If this is really only the shareware version, I guess that means the full version is lost, since Motelsoft have uploaded full versions for all their games on their website. Those where only the shareware demo is uploaded are games where they no longer have the full version. You'll encounter that with one of their later Dungeon Master style games.

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  7. I´d say the "Heilig Blut" is about removing curses from your party/party members. (If you can get cursed in this game, which I don´t know...)

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  8. The race descriptions make absolutely no sense for me as a native German speaker, except "Mensch"...
    Strange "denglish" translations like "hit-Punkte" (clearly translated back from hitpoints, but the right German word would be "Lebenspunkte") indicates that they were copying from some English RPG...

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  9. Looking at the screenshots Feuernimp (fire imp, I guess) also appears to be some sort of horrible Denglish creation of a mad wordsmith.

    And then there's 'Mage Gem' ... which makes me shudder. Ugh! You can't just randomly include English (or Denglish) words like that in a German fantasy setting...
    I can more or less accept stuff like 'camp', 'party', 'level' or the 'attack' option ... which look weird but at least could be defended as common RPG terms.

    By the way: Heilig Blut is a bit of an odd term as it should read: Heiliges Blut. Sounds more like a phrase from a poem or old text with this weird reduction.

    But that doesn't fit at all with the Denglish and the English. I'm not particularly impressed with the overall style of this game. Yes, I know, it's a shareware title, but still ... this sort of inconsistent stuff really hurts the atmosphere of a game for me.

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  10. Sandor 2 has a (very short) manual. Maybe the games are similar enough. I don't see much helpful information in there though, except maybe that on the landscape and in caves you can push the right mouse button to get a submenu (waiting, hunting (landscape), open doors (caves)). Also, in Sandor 2 King Salinos tells you the object of the game.

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    1. I think maybe it was from the Sandor II manual that I got the idea that the land was called "Sandor."

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  11. As people have noted before, those race names don't seem to make any more sense to a German than to an English speaker; possibly less.

    "Megrim" having an English meaning might just be a coincidence. But then, the internet tells me that it can also be a kind of flatfish, or a --ahem-- "Butt" in German (compare with "halibut"). Maybe they found that funny and looked for an English translation? Although megrim refers to a very specific type of fish whose German name I hadn't personally heard before, so who knows.

    "Glonen" probably isn't based on "klonen", as including the verbal ending "-en" in a noun or name sounds very strange. If anything they would have called them "Glon" (plural: "Glone") if they'd been trying to do something like that.

    It's hard to tell how familiar the average German player back in the day would have been with the term "hunchback" (pretty sure I didn't learn that word in school), but it seems plausible enough.

    "Psychonaut" and "Exane" look like they were just supposed to sound cool, and in the case of the former I'm inclined to agree. Even if they didn't invent the term itself, seeing as you haven't come across it in any other game so far, they just might deserve honorable mention for first usage in a CRPG. Maybe.

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  12. Some additional notes:
    - "Schnem" is a great name. I'll have to borrow it sometime.
    - The town names could be pronounced as dactyls, but I tend towards stressing the middle syllable, making them amphibrachs (yes, I googled that) except maybe for "Okokat". I'm not really sure why, it might just be personal preference. I'd be interested to hear what other German speakers think.
    - I can see how those uncommon (outside of a fantasy setting) constructions with "-kunde" would cause some confusion. However, I'd also like to point out that my preferred online German-English dictionary does list "lore" in third place after "customer" and "client" as a translation for "Kunde" (https://www.dict.cc/?s=kunde)
    - Those weird English-German bastardizations or straight up English words like "Hit-Punkte" or "MAGE-GEM" do feel out of place. And what the heck is up with those "Feuernimps"? Are they supposed to be "Feuer-Nimps"? Because "Feuern-Imps" doesn't make any sense at all. Unlike another commenter above, I don't take offense with the word "Imp" per se. It's certainly been used in plenty of German localizations in more recent years (possibly also because its German equivalent, Kobold, is often used alongside it and many other various names for relatively similar mythological beings), but it may have felt different in 1989.

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  13. Sad to see you pass on Sea Rogue, though your reasoning is certainly sound. As someone who spent most of their 20s working as a diver for a commercial archeology company I was looking forward to seeing just how many ridiculous things they'd get wrong. If anyone else knows a good source for covering the game, and if you don't object, it would be great to see it shared.

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    1. The way Chet described his reasoning for passing Sea Rogue has me worried about the fate of Uncharted Waters and its sequel.

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    2. Well, NOBODY makes a case for Sea Rogue as an RPG except my one commenter, whereas UW is listed as an RPG on several sites (although not MobyGames). There's a big difference between a simulator an an adventure game with some logistics like Pirates!

      I mean, Sea Rogue has you simultaneously scanning seabeds with a magnetometer, checking speed and sonar on the bridge, positioning people at stations, managing finances and making payroll, controlling divers as they dig through silt, cleaning barnacles off encrusted valuables, and doing historical research to identify the name of the wreck. It's all those niggling aspects of a simulator that I never really like. I suspect it's to Uncharted Waters what Flight Simulator is to Wing Commander.

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    3. I don't quite remember how heavy the orginal Uncharted Waters was on this, but I have a hard time seeing the sequel not qualifying as a RPG. At Moby it should at least have the new "RPG elements" genre. That probably should be applied to a ton of more games.

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  14. I remember back when the world was young and you started this blog, one of your big things was how you were "wasting time" playing crpgs that you could be using to better yourself. Now look at you go! You are playing a crpg, entertaining the internet, and learning german all at the same time!

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    1. When I stated this blog, I was still leveling, and thus opportunities to earn experience points were still valuable to me. I'm not sure I've reached max level since then, but the experience point requirements BETWEEN levels have grown so much that I'm pretty much resigned to using the attributes and skills I've already developed.

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    2. You may be almost at your max level but you still have to kill all the other blogspawn before you beat the game.

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. Thank you everyone for your help on the German language. I'm grateful to have so many readers in that part of the world, and the comments have been extremely educational.

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  16. I'm glad you have the hang of ST emulators. I remember my awkward attempts at being helpful back when you were struggling with them early on (still on Steem? I haven't tried to emulate anything ST-related myself for a while).

    At any rate, I'm glad this German game remains just on the right side of undersandorble - our Teutonic friends produce the European RPGs that seem to agree with you most, given France's weirdness and the UK's insistence on making everything an action game.

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  17. Some kids are smarter, some kids are stronger, but German kids are kinder, and that is just the way it is.

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  18. "I'll be happy if I end the game knowing what this is about." in regards to that caption about the screen shot, it looks like it was lifted from an Alex Grey painting, who is known for his DMT inspired paintings. Which with a class called Psychonaut in the game only makes me wonder more about what the story and connection is supposed to be.

    https://goo.gl/images/fiDgmF as an example

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    1. The art is all made by one of the two designers/programmers, and he seems to be quite fond of creating art in that style.

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    2. Thanks, sorry for not reading the posting rules before. But I am still curious if the psychonaut class will play a bigger role in this game speaking as a psychonaut anyway. I am a fan of the blog even though I found out about it recently and there is a lot of reading to do! Thank you @crpgaddict for this. It is nice to see all these games I had missed out on and I am enjoy discovering all these games and trying them out myself. And thank you JarlFrank for replying.

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