Saturday, December 29, 2018

Game 313: Black Crypt (1992)

           
Black Crypt
United States
Raven Software (developer); Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released in 1992 for Amiga
Date Started: 27 December 2018

Games of the Dungeon Master variety will never be my favorite of the CRPG subgenres. I like my RPGs to have meaningful NPC interactions, economies, more role-playing options, and less linearity. I prefer creative puzzles requiring some lateral thinking to purely mechanical puzzles. I want immersive stories rather than framing stories. If you've been with me through Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, Bloodwych, Captive, and the Eye of the Beholder series, you've heard all of my complaints before.

On the other hand, Dungeon Master clones rarely offer a bad experience. They particularly satisfy my need to map. And they do one thing very well--something that fewer of the Wizardry or Bard's Tale variants do, even into the early 1990s: they actually show enemies in the environment.

It's weird to think how long it took this feature to appear. You forgive its absence in Wizardry, when CRPGs were new and games had to ship on a single floppy. You got used to just stumbling on enemy parties while exploring featureless corridors. But as the years go by and the subsequent lineage of games--The Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, the entire Gold Box series--fails to give you any environmental indication of upcoming combats, it becomes less and less forgivable. I'm not looking for these games to adopt Dungeon Master's real-time combat system--just to show me when a party of dragons is 10 feet away. Fortunately, Might and Magic III and Fate: Gates of Dawn finally united the lineages in 1991, and actually being able to see your foes became the norm thereafter.

Black Crypt is a decent game in the Dungeon Master line. It preserves most of the things people like about Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder (it seems to draw primarily from the latter) and introduces a few new innovations besides. I'm curious what a true Dungeon Master fan thinks of it. I could see preferring Dungeon Master's action-based leveling systems to Crypt's reliance on more traditional experience points, and Crypt's spellbook-based magic is less creative than Dungeon Master's rune system. I'm enjoying it about as much as I enjoyed Dungeon Master the first time, but I suspect I'd enjoy a replay of Dungeon Master a little more than this.
         
A bit of opening narration explains why we find equipment everywhere.
        
The framing story, written as an eight-page novelette, hardly breaks any new ground. Estoroth Paingiver, a former student of the Cleric's Guild, went evil, raised abominations, summoned demons, et cetera, and attacked the land of Astera. (Hypothetical dialogue among the Cleric's Guild faculty: "Hey, do you suppose that 'Paingiver' fellow is going to be bad news?") Astera's four guilds united to face the threat and succeeded in banishing Estoroth to another dimension, but the guilds' four champions died in the process. The Black Crypt was raised to inter their bodies and enchanted weapons. Now, Estoroth seems to be in the process of tearing his way back through the dimensional barrier, so four new champions are needed to enter the Crypt and retrieve the magic weapons.
           
Creating the four characters.
          
The player creates four characters: a fighter, a cleric, a magician, and a druid. A pool of excess points is allocated among strength, intelligence, wisdom, and constitution. Names and portraits are chosen. Although some of the portraits are bestial or supernatural, they don't seem to have any impact on gameplay. The process is quick, and the player finds himself on Level 1 of the starting dungeon within a few minutes. Each character begins with a melee weapon suitable to his profession and a little bit of food.
         
Starting out. Right away, we find a shield and some food.
      
In defiance of any sensible rules of capitalism, the creators included 30 "cluebook" pages in the game manual. Each dungeon level is fully detailed. I'm avoiding these pages, naturally, but I glanced at them long enough to see that the Black Crypt is a whopping 28 levels, the largest occupying coordinates up to 40 x 40. Fortunately, there are a lot of small levels, too. The game adopts the "worm tunnel" approach to mapping (meaning that there's at least one square of "dead space" between adjacent walls), which also functionally shrinks the maps. Still, it's a big game.
          
Level 1 goes up to 26 x 21 but doesn't use anywhere near all those tiles.
        
The controls are okay. The game's primary strength is allowing you to map your own movement options. This is the first time I remember such a setting appearing, and I'm grateful for it. When you have to play with one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse, neither arrow keys nor the numberpad make for a comfortable configuration. I re-mapped movement to WASD, which works a lot better. But aside from this customization and the use of F1-F4 to swap between character inventories, there's no use of the keyboard. There are little annoyances like being able to enter a character's inventory with F1 but then having to right-click to get back out, or being able to enter the disk menu with ESC but then having to click on the appropriate option to leave. There are still no keyboard options for executing attacks, which is something I'm always hoping for in Dungeon Master games.

One particular issue is going to dog me until late in the game and then probably screw me up for the next Dungeon Master-style game. The creators made it so you click on the character portrait to execute the primary attack rather than the weapon. Since Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and just about every other game does it the other way, I'm constantly clicking on weapons, which takes them out of the inventory slot so you can drop or trade them.

On the positive side, the inventory screens are well-organized. The lower-right corner has options for various containers: a backpack, a small chest, a large chest, a bag, and a quiver. You populate these spaces as you find the containers, then click on them to view their inventories. For wearable items, there are three screens, toggled by clicking the torso in the upper-right corner. The first has items of clothing, the second wearables like rings and belts, and the third the actual armor.
            
I face a locked door as I look at my fighter's inventory. He has a chest, a backpack, and a bag. I have the chest open, and I'm looking at the armor screen that shows the outer armor.
          
There's a food and water system, and I suspect it's going to be an annoyance until the cleric gets "Create Food." The mechanic really doesn't accomplish anything except impart a sense of urgency. If you want to explore carefully, you have to make a save, do your exploration and mapping, and then reload and cover the level faster, "for real." But it's worse than that because there's only one meter to track both food and water, but the game clearly considers them separately in non-visible statistics. When you find a fountain, you can't just gorge yourself on free water until the meter returns to its maximum because you need food, too. And if you don't eat but only drink, the characters will start losing points for hunger even though the meter is nowhere near the bottom.

The first couple of levels were moderately-sized, going into the 20s on both axes. Combats were infrequent--maybe 15 enemies total on the two levels--and there were really only two types of enemies: giant worms, and giant worms capable of casting some kind of "Magic Missile"-like spell. Many of the classic Dungeon Master tricks work here, including attacking and then darting away before the enemy can respond, backpedaling down a corridor as you fire missile weapons, "waltzing," and so forth. The famous "combat waltz" itself (check the glossary) seems a little harder here, it might just be a matter of getting used to a new game's timing. Crypt keeps one annoying characteristic of Eye of the Beholder in which once an enemy casts a spell, you're frozen until the animation completes.
            
The animation for the worms has them opening and closing their mouths. I only ever got screenshots when their maws were closed.
         
What you can't do--and this was a serious shock--is smash enemies in doors. That's such a longstanding trait of Dungeon Master-style games that not including it borders on sacrilegious. I'm not sure if enemies can fall victim to other environmental effects or not. I haven't encountered any others yet.

Killing enemies rewards you with traditional experience points, and levels increase automatically. I got to Level 4 on the first two levels. Leveling increases hit points and spell power, but otherwise there aren't any choices. Attributes are increased by occasionally finding items that do so.
          
My druid levels up.
         
Each spellcaster comes with Level 1 spells for their classes. Further levels must be found in spellbooks; you don't get them upon leveling up. There are only 5 levels and only 4 spells per level. You can "prepare" up to four spells and then cast them by clicking on them in the slate. I find the system a bit easier than both Dungeon Master, where you had to remember runes in the middle of combat, and Eye of the Beholder, where you had to fiddle around with that little book. You also frequently find scrolls with multiple spells that can be cast in lieu of learning them.

Among the first two levels, I experienced a variety of navigation puzzles and other mechanisms that I'm sure will last throughout the game. These include:
         
  • "Alcoves" with treasure stashed in them. These go back to Dungeon Master. Items can appear on the floor, too.
           
I apparently found the Ogreblade here.
         
  • Messages in plaques on the wall. Some can only be read after the druid casts "Read Rune."
  • Scrolls that give you hints. But some of them are "false scrolls" and should be ignored. You can reveal these by casting the cleric's "Reveal Truth," which causes false scrolls to dissolve. 
         
This turned out to be a "false" scroll, but I think I could have figured that out.
         
  • Locked doors that only open with certain keys.
  • Pressure plates that open walls.
  • Spinners. There's an obvious "transition" animation when you step on them, though, so it's hard to get fooled.
  • Force fields that require you to cast "Dispel" to pass them. You don't have this spell at the outset, so you have to rely on found scrolls.
  • Teleporters. They also have a clear "transition" animation.
  • Buttons or switches that open secret doors or make pillars disappear.
  • Buttons or switches that activate teleporters
  • Buttons or switches that change the destinations of teleporters.
          
It's hard to tell what this will do.
        
  • Holes in the floor. Falling through them takes you to a lower level and causes damage.
  • One-way walls.
  • "Glyphs" in the middle of corridors that serve as traps. You have to cast "Remove Trap" on them.
          
Dispelling a glyph trap with a scroll.
          
  • Walls that open and close on a cycle.
  • Doors that won't open until you pass a copy-protection exercise.
          
The "copy protection" riddle breaks the illusion a bit.
         
The second level had a two-headed ogre who is impossible to defeat with regular weapons (they don't even hit him). A message on the first level warns you about him: "The one below is his own twin. Only a magic blade will pierce his skin." This refers to an "Ogreblade" on the first level, though you have to get there via a teleporter on the second. (A "false" scroll warns you not to pick up the Ogreblade.) Until you find it, exploring the second level is tough because the ogre is constantly chasing you and pounding you to goo every time you pause for a few seconds. Once you have the sword, it doesn't take long to kill him, and he drops the key necessary for the next level.
         
The ogre kills us as we try to crush him in the door. Apparently, you can't do that in this game.
        
Miscellaneous notes:
             
  • The opening theme, which you can hear at the beginning of this video, is catchy. I found myself chair-dancing to it. It's credited to Ken Schilder, who stayed with Raven and is credited on a couple dozen other titles. But it always surprises me that composers so often went with rock and techno themes for title music, when an older style would better fit the setting. There's a "special topics" post in here some day.
  • The fighter has an ability, activated by clicking on his "glyph" in the inventory screen, that tells your current coordinates. The glyphs are otherwise used to activate class-specific objects.
           
Checking my position.
         
  • A lot of the game's messages are delivered as scrolling text at the bottom. It's annoying and hard to screen-capture.
  • The manual brags about making use of the Amiga's "halfbrite" mode that apparently allows for more colors than normal. The Wikipedia page on the mode shows two photographs, and they look exactly the same to me. This is why I don't talk about graphics that much.
  • A trait that I wish the game hadn't adopted from its predecessors: I have no idea about the relative damage on different weapons. On the first two levels alone, I'm juggling hammers, warhammers, axes, and swords. Should I keep the Ogreblade--is it effective against non-ogres?--or dump it for a more conventional weapon? No clue. If the cluebook had that information, I wouldn't be able to help but look at it.
  • There's an auto-map, available with the magic user's "Wizard Sight," but it shows so little detail that I can't imagine not making my own maps.
            
Level 3 is patrolled by invisible enemies and a (true) scroll on the level warns you not to try to engage them until you've found the "Mask of Truesight" on a lower level. (A false scroll on the same level encourages you to attack the unseen enemies after removing all of your weapons and clothing.) Other than a couple of other locked doors, there wasn't anything to do on the level, so I pressed on to Level 4.
         
This message wasn't kidding.
         
Remember the annoying gigglers in Dungeon Master? Well, Level 4 of this game has similar creatures who steal your stuff. Worse, they teleport away after stealing it, so you can't chase them. I hope they turn up later in the level, or I'm out of shields.
           
Level 4 also has these monsters that walk on the ceiling.
          
In the end, I suspect I'm going to find that the game is too long and too confining. I mean this not just in terms of physical space but also in character development. To require that the player have four specific classes and offer so few options in both creation and development largely means that every player arrives at the same place with essentially the same party. But for now, it's fun enough, and with a dungeon crawler, you don't waste a lot of time puzzling over your next move. It's always the next unexplored square.

Time so far: 3 hours


71 comments:

  1. Worth noting that Raven Software went on to develop games like Heretic, Hexen or Soldier of Fortune, and is nowadays relegated to churning out Call of Duty DLC content.
    I don't think we'll see them on this blog, unless Shadowcaster somehow counts? I always had it pegged as more of a shooter than RPG.

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    1. Shadowcaster has character development. Bare bones, but it is there.

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    2. Raven Software's ShadowCaster ('93), Heretic ('94), Hexen ('95), Hexen II ('97) and Heretic II ('98) were all games that took id Software's engines and turned them into fantasy 3D shooters, some with light roleplaying elements. The Hexen games had different character classes, but they don't have experience points or anything similar.

      All the Raven Software games from the 90's that I played were consistently good games with fine artwork and flawless technology. But I thought they always had less fun combat than their id Software equivalents and lacked a little something to be really great games.

      - Black Crypt seemed to be a bit less atmospheric and had more fiddly inventory management than Dungeon Master (though I only played the beginning of the game).
      - Heretic, using the Doom engine, has less fun weapons and less dangerous (= more tedious) enemies in my opinion (in large part because none of them fire "hitscan" projectiles, so usually you can easily dodge most of their missiles).
      - Hexen, using an extended Doom engine, and Hexen II, using Quake's engine, have tedious combat and lots of backtracking to solve puzzles.
      - Heretic II, using Quake II's engine, had a third-person camera which didn't fit well for its style of combat.

      You could say that the 3D shooter genre provides an experience that is somewhat similar in parts to that of the Dungeon Master genre ("combat waltz" = "circle strafing"), so maybe there was less need for further Dungeon Master style games from then on. So Raven Software's choices for their games' genres are consistent from that point of view.

      But I wish that either they had made the combat in those games just as fast and action-heavy as in Doom & Quake, or that they had carried the complexity of RPGs like Dungeon Master (or even Ultima Underworld!) into their later games.

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    3. Another fantasy game they developed adjacent to the RPG genre is MageSlayer, made in the Dandy / Gauntlet mold.

      I think Heretic is the best from Raven's early period. It doesn't show the design mastery of classic Doom, but a somewhat worse Doom clone is still pretty good.

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  2. I was looking at the upcoming games list a couple of nights ago, and I almost tried this one out, but decided to look at Abandoned Places on the Amiga instead. It reminded me that I hate Dungeon Master clones - real-time combat is horrible.

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  3. The green parrot on the halfbrite mode pic has significantly more details on it. The other two don't look much different to me.

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    1. You can also see a big difference in the shadowed walkway and the shadow in the background.

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    2. You're also not going to necessarily see as dramatic a difference for a standard comparison photo being downsampled and dithered into something displayable by that resolution/colorspace. Hand-drawn pixel art is going to take much better advantage of the difference between 32 colors and 64 colors than a standard algorithm.

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    3. Yeah, photographs don't do it justice. However, that said, a skilled pixel artist can do wonders in 32 colour mode that less skilled needs the 64 colour mode for, so it's not that huge an improvement in graphics fidelity.

      But where the EHB mode really shines is special effects. It's effectively a 1-bit mask that lets you do lighting effects with minimal CPU overhead. Such as shadows and spotlights. (Granted, you can do similar things with other bit-plane modes, but in EHB you can do it and still have the full 32 colours available to you that you would normally have.)

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    4. Other than the green parrots chest I see no difference. The walkways are different but I don't actually see more detail just different.

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  4. Of all the DM clones this is the one I always wanted to play but never got around it, looks like a good game to finish the year

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    1. Same for me, this is the one DM clone I never played. Quite curios, but so far it doesn't look like a new milestone in the genre.

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  5. I like to think that Paingiver is pronounced Pan-GY-ver.

    Also, Eye of the Beholder had a large included clue book with near-complete maps as well, which is probably the inspiration here.

    I didn't think you could crush enemies with doors in EOB - am I misremembering? Traps, yes; doors, no - it just refuses to close, right?

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    1. What about Pain-McGyver, always inventing ingenious ways to torture people using everyday items?

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    2. Monsters occupy tiles in Eye of the Beholder, while doors close on the boundaries between tiles, so the two never meet. A door will just close in front of or behind the monster.

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    3. I like to think that Paingiver is pronounced Pan-GY-ver.

      No, it's pronounced pon-ZHEE-vair. It's a corruption of the French for "bread in Monet's garden".

      His first name, by contrast, is Spanish. It means "this lead singer of Van Halen [is acting up again]", with the last part only implied. Very popular name in the 1980s that's seen a recent resurgence.

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    4. If it's French, it'd be pon-zhee-VAIR.

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    5. Like I said, a corruption! Though an alternative etymology has it as "pon-zhee-VAY", meaning "to eat bread in Monet's garden with a bulette".

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    6. My copy of EotB didn't have a cluebook - I think that was bundled in later releases.

      I did get a box set containing PoR, CoK and GttSF, each with a clue book (presumably the clue book helps you finish the first game in each series so you buy the sequels).

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    7. "Also, Eye of the Beholder had a large included clue book with near-complete maps as well, which is probably the inspiration here." If it wasn't clear, what was unusual here is that the cluebook is part of the manual, not sold separately.

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    8. "If it wasn't clear, what was unusual here is that the cluebook is part of the manual, not sold separately."

      My memory is that the clue book for EOB came in the box. I don't think it was physically the same document as the manual, but it was bundled with the sale of the game (at least in some editions). Or at least, I had a physical copy of the cluebook when I was playing at the time of release, and that was way before the outlets that I got games from stocked things like "clue books" as opposed to gaming magazines.

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    9. Yes, I'm right, it was in the box, along with a somewhat vague poster-map of the first three levels. The Clue Book is visible in this unboxing at about 7:14.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcR1MMdBGKc

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    10. There was a time in the 90s when bundling a partial walkthrough with the game, often in the instruction manual itself, was pretty common.

      In those days, devs seemed to be pretty worried about players running into the "I never played this kind of game, so I wound up just running around, got nowhere, and gave up" problem, but didn't want to (or couldn't spend the resources to) include a lengthy tutorial in the game.

      Including a complete cluebook is a little much, but not that outrageous.

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    11. I recently had cause to go back to the Pool of Radiance documentation for research for a D&D campaign. Jeff Grubb's writing in the Pool of Radiance adventurer's journal remains a more interesting, complete and better written history of Phlan than the contemporary D&D module adaptation, novelisation, or any Forgotten Realms sourcebook released since!

      I certainly don't want modern developers putting all this exposition in documents outside the game today, but some of those printed supplements from back in the day really are gorgeous.

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    12. "I certainly don't want modern developers putting all this exposition in documents outside the game today, but some of those printed supplements from back in the day really are gorgeous."

      I remember how many times I read the Compendium that came with Ultima VI - my first RPG. It was beautifully printed on heavy paper that felt great to turn. The runes, the monsters, the history - I loved reading all of it, over and over again.

      I didn't even need to pull it out for the copy protection as I knew all those facts by heart! :)

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  6. As a true Dungeon Master fan (and even more Chaos Strikes Back fan) and having played virtually all real time blobbers except the Grimrock games, I rate it as the third best one I've played. There's a long way from number 2 to 3, though, and not much difference between 3 and 10.

    Back in the days, I thought it was rather bland and boring, having just played CSB, but I liked it much more when I replayed it some years ago.

    Amiga fanbois were wetting themselves over the superior graphics, especially the spell graphics, but it's all flash and no substance. The spell graphics may look better than DM's, but they are just screen effects and unlike a DM Fireball a BC Fireball has no physical presence in the dungeon, and does not explode against walls or smash through doors.
    Dungeon Master and CSB were the only real time blobbers that had any meaningful interactivity with the environment (some had NPC interaction and economy (wich is important for some), though), and in the end the only novel thing about Black Crypt was that it was Amiga only.
    But as I said I did find it quite enjoyable when I replayed it, so my experience with BC was the opposite of my experience with Eye of the Beholder.

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    1. So why not play the Grimrock games if you're such a fan of the genre? They've been out for a while and they're pretty cheap now, too.

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    2. Because like the CRPG Addict I play games chronologically. Presently at 1999 and playing HoMM 3: Armageddon's Blade.

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    3. With all the campaigns and fan-made scenarios, you could be stuck on Armageddon's Blade forever!

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    4. "Blobber" would mean more blob or one who blobs, both of which are meaningless. If you're trying to say consisting of blobs, the word you're looking for is blobby. I understand not knowing how suffixes work if English is a second language, though.

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    5. The -er suffix has a long tradition in denoting video game subgenres - shooter, platformer, dungeon crawler etc. And outside of video games you have words like diner or retainer that don't fit into your scheme. Generally, the meanings of prefixes and affixes is never very straightforward.

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    6. Oh no, we've got a prescriptive vs descriptive linguistics discussion on our hands. Take cover people, this can turn ugly really fast :)

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    7. I don't think you have to be a seconder to the English language to say blobber!

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  7. Honestly didn't expect to see Raven Software so soon. I've enjoyed a few of their more recent games - Singularity, X-Men Legends, Jedi Outcast - but I've never ventured further back in their library than Heretic. Be curious to see how Black Crypt fares, provided it doesn't wear out its welcome.

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  8. I have fond memories of this one - even without being prompted by reading this post I remembered the black worms on the first level (though the thing I remember most is that they were so damn silent), the invisible monster level and the mask, the creatures that walked on the ceiling. It wasn't quite as good as Dungeon Master, but it was pretty good.

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  9. Yes! I’ve been waiting for this one to show up in your queue for years.

    As a devoted Dungeon Master fan, this is my pick for the all-time greatest DM clone, and I can’t wait to get irrationally angry when you don’t like it because there’s no economy and some paper-thin gold box NPC doesn’t show up to offer you a “role-playing” choice where literally 100% of players take the obvious first option so what was even the point. Seriously, it’s going to ruin my whole week and I can’t wait.

    Also, the theme song isn’t “catchy”; it’s the second best early 1990s song ever recorded, trailing only Groove Is In The Heart.

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    1. OK now I want to know what song this is :D Is it on youtube?

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    2. I guess it's this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KynaS_FdCRk

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  10. A legend in its time. This game has been rated very highly by reviews. The enjoyment is in the encounters. The ending is a little brief, by contrast. I hope you take many screen shots Chet!

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  11. I'd guess that Paingiver was given that name AFTER turning evil. A lot of names like that are given to you by other people.

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    1. I was going to suggest this too. Like maybe his last name was "Smith" before he turned evil and then people started calling him Paingiver because of all the pain he gives... whatever, you get what I am saying.

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    2. The backstory says that he adopted it after turning evil, but I left that out because it would have ruined the joke.

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    3. Figures I'd miss your joke. Poe's Law and all.

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    4. If he was called Smith, Painsmith would have been better.

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  12. Speaking as a DM clone aficionado, Black Crypt is generally regarded as among the best in the sub-genre, frequently appearing in top ten lists of people who have played it. Its fame is mainly held back by the fact that it was only ever released on Amiga, late in the platform's life cycle when it was already on its way out of the market (a PC port was planned, but aborted).

    It IS weird that you can't crush enemies with doors though.

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  13. I thought the Amiga had only a fringe existence in the U.S. gaming market. Kind of odd to see an American developer make an Amiga-only game - especially since this is obviously not am amateur effort.

    The intro music is lovely. I wouldn't have thought it is your cup of tea, sounds pretty much like (good) video game music of its time.

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    1. As far as I remember from them days, the brothers who established Raven studio were artists, and their work machine of choice was the Amiga, a computer that had superior color graphics for the period. That's why they chose to develop Black Crypt for the Amiga, but they quickly switched to a more financially viable PC development.

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    2. The music sounds incredibly dated for 1992 - it sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

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    3. Well... the Amiga may have been on the fringe in the US, but it didn't stop some developers from actively pursuing it, and earning great fame and fortune from it. Remember Cinemaware?

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    4. The intro music is indeed very "Amiga-like". There is something in the Amiga's sound chips that makes me recognize them immediately.

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  14. I am not sure why everyone is so hung up on crushing enemies in doors? Wasn't that a bug in DM that they carried over to CSB? Honestly it doesn't make sense that creatures that live in dungeons are going to have these deadly things all over the place, but never use them on intruders. If enemy-crushing-doors are a thing, then enemies should constantly be using them on the heroes.

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    1. It was just a fun mechanic. It stops being useful very quickly because you still have to stand in front of them while the door is doing its work, giving them time to attack you. But at the time, it was unusual for anything to damage RPG foes that weren't direct attacks from the characters. Being able to "trick" enemies and letting the environment kill them was extremely novel.

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  15. >Wasn't that a bug in DM

    No. Nonono. That was a hundred percent intended feature. Just like dropping enemies down trapdoors and having them interact with teleporters, pressure plates, traps etc. All of it is to make the game world a more real environemnt with one set of rules that applies to the player and the monsters alike.

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  16. In regards to being able to attack with the keyboard, Eye of the Beholder 3 had an "all attack" button with a corresponding keyboard shortcut, and I felt like it massively unbalanced the game by giving absolutely no consequenses to just blasting the enemy with everything you had, where with the other games doing that meant you would either get hit, or would have to take more time and be more careful to avoid getting hit

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    1. Sure, but nobody said they had to do it like that. I'm not asking for a faster cooldown period or the ability to activate everyone's attacks at once. I just want the 1-4 keys to do the same thing that clicking on the character portraits does.

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    2. Four buttons can be hit almost as fast as a single one, especially if they are adjacent.

      I still think keyboard shortcuts would be preferable.

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    3. You could program a pause between individual character's attacks. I'm not asking for the moon here.

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    4. If they had attack buttons I might be able to play dungeons master clones, as is my mouse skills are sadly lacking.

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    5. A lot of the time DM was just 7 keys - each character attack,turn left, turn right, move forward. Prepared spells wouldn't add much to that.

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    6. "Chaos Strikes Back for Windows" has attack and spell keys and allows you to play DM, CSB and lots of user generated dungeons.

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  17. The issue of "show enemies while exploring" vs not doing it is actually a somewhat significant development headache. Not an unsolvable one by any stretch but still one that takes time and resources. Mainly because of pathfinding.

    Pathfinding isn't that complicated abstractly, but it still is an easy source of bugs and edge cases. Even contemporary games can end up with plenty of bugs in their pathfinding so I imagine in the 90s it was much worse. Grid based games have it a lot easier since it makes positioning simpler and I bet a lot of Dungeon Master-ish games barely had pathfinding at all (like maybe just pick a random direction to travel and favor ones closer to player). This got a lot more complicated off the grid.

    You can see this in the huge changes between Might and Magic 5 to 6 and Wizardry 7 to 8. It's a headache to get enemies moving around in formations and it isn't something you see often even in tactically focused games (usually they just get more clever in hiding it). So both games shifted from coordinated packs (minions protecting wizards and such) to just piles of roaming monsters. These hordes are a pathfinding nightmare in tighter corridors so that's also why both games shifted to wide open spaces even in dungeons. Most locations in Wizardry 8 are sized to giants so enemies have plenty of movement space. That gives a pretty different feel to the environments compared to previous games.

    I'm pretty sure that's why the old school hide-the-enemies style continues on in Japan where Wizardry style games are still made but generally low budget. If players accept separated exploration and combat spaces they can spend that development energy elsewhere. I personally vastly prefer the style where you can see your enemies, but I understand why some devs elected to avoid it.

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    1. Might and Magic 3-5 is a pretty great compromise between the problems and advantages by just enabling an unlimited number of enemies occupy a grid space. So enemies can move in and pile up on you.

      It would be way more awkward with 3D polygonal graphics and it also doesn't work off the grid, but that's probably why it's my favorite gameplay style from the period.

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  18. 'In defiance of any sensible rules of capitalism, the creators included 30 "cluebook" pages in the game manual.'

    The US release of Dragon Warrior III did this too. Kind of spoiled the early game, but the art was genuinely well-done.

    The first Final Fantasy took the opposing tack and had a full strategy guide released for it as part of the Nintendo Power subscription. Nowhere in the entire guide is it explained that sections of the game's code is utterly broken.

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    1. Indeed, there are parts of the guide that recommend using spells that don't work and weapon effects that don't exist. In their defense, it's very possible to play and beat the game without noticing those bugs, and I don't think it was widely known that such bugs existed until the GameFAQs era. Hell, some of the bugs actually made the game easier (well, once you learn that the Thief is garbage, which is also mostly due to bugs).

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  19. If you like catchy theme songs, you're absolutely going to love the themeof Dark Sun: Shattered Lands once that one comes up!

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    1. I liked the music and the game for Black Crypt. I loved the game for Dark sun: Shattered Lands but didn't think much of the music for it.
      Oh and I never noticed the same people who made Black Crypt made Soldier of Fortune (2) which I used to play so much.

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  20. Oh neat, Raven software made a dungeon master clone for the amiga? See, now that's why I love this site.

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    1. Yeah, I'll say. I was aware of Black Crypt as a reasonably good Dungeon Master clone, and I was interested to see what it was actually like. Now it turns out that it's part of a lineage that, in a way, connects Dungeon Master to Heretic and Hexen.

      Interestingly, Black Crypt really sets the pattern for almost all Raven Software games that follow: these guys have always been good craftsmen, producing well-received games... but practically all their titles are derivate in terms of design. They're either slightly soul-less clones or sequels. That's really no criticism of them, it just indicates they preferred to focus on other aspects than being original in their designs.

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  21. what about the character names, is there a reference iam missing or just random words

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    1. Normally I try to do something thematic, but this time I just made stuff up.

      Delete
  22. Ahh Black Crypt.. Now did you know the best joke in the game? The most powerful weapon in the game was a stone club. An unassuming stone item at the floor... on a level filled with stone junk. But there was only one club.

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