Saturday, January 19, 2019

Black Crypt: Core of Corruption

The game's take on "Medusa."
         
What I surmised in the last entry turned out to be the case: Level 13 was a hub, with four teleporters leading downward to four collections of levels, each culminating in a battle with one of Estoroth's lieutenants. Defeating each lieutenant provides the keys necessary to enter a secret area and collect one of the four artifacts necessary to defeat Estoroth himself. At the beginning of the game, I had thought that the collection of the artifacts was the game's sole quest, but eventually it became clear that the whole thing would end with the party employing the artifacts in a battle with Estoroth.
           
Each teleporter brought me to a hero's tomb--eventually.
         
I had already defeated the Ram Demon last time. Choosing another teleporter at random, I next found myself in the domain of something called The Possessor. I had to run around collecting three crowns to place on a kind-of skull mural. This gave me the key necessary to get into The Possessor's lair.
              
Crowning the skulls.
        
The area was full of flaming golem-looking creatures, and when I finally encountered The Possessor, I just thought he was another one of these. The other flaming golems had been difficult, so the moment I saw him I just blasted him with my most damaging spells until he died. I thus didn't even bother to grab a screenshot of him. After defeating him, I learned that his name comes from his ability to possess party members, a fate that I didn't experience.
          
Not The Possessor, but he basically looked like this.
        
The next teleporter led me to Level 21, which was entirely underwater. Characters take damage every turn while underwater unless they can breathe it. Fortunately, I'd found a few items that let characters breathe water, including Helms of Triton and Rings of Water Breathing. There were also numerous Potions of Water Breathing scattered around the level. The bigger issue was that a lot of spells--particularly fire-based spells--didn't work in the environment.
            
The tritons were easy but numerous.
          
Enemies were tritons and some kind of weird fish. The party had to find a number of magic pearls and stick them in clamshells to open the paths to the Water Lord, a fish-looking creature with a devastating blow. By this time, I was trying to burn through a number of magic items I'd collected, including a horn capable of casting the "Quake" spell. It only took a few blasts and a couple of melee attacks to kill him.
           
Those memorized fire-based spells aren't going to do much good.
             
Although I didn't plan it this way, I saved the most difficult for last. The Medusa was the last lieutenant. It roams a large area of Level 24. It has a magic attack that can stone characters and that seriously damages them otherwise. It is also impervious to any weapons or spells that you have when you arrive. Other creatures in the area are ghostly skulls that disappear and reappear behind you in the middle of combat. They respawn like mad.

Other adventurers preceded me.
            
To kill the Medusa, I had to find my way to a lower level and get a Mirror Shield, then--and this took me a long time to figure out--employ it as a weapon rather than a shield. The Medusa died in one blow after that.
               
I didn't think you were supposed to kill medusa with a mirror shield. I thought you were just meant to look in it while you beheaded her.
            
When I had collected the final items in the Medusa's lair, I realized I had a problem: I had no idea which of the many items I had were the four "artifacts." I had collected a bunch of things that sounded like they could be, including the awesome "Doom Hammer," a weapon that takes a long time to cool down but does about 10 times the damage of a normal weapon when it connects. It turned out that the four artifacts are a staff called Soulfreezer, a shield called Protector, a hammer called Forcehammer, and a sword called Vortex, but I had to look it up.
           
I had forgotten that they were all listed in the backstory.
           
While I was trying to figure this out, a worse problem emerged: My game somehow got corrupted. It started insisting that the disk on which the saved games were stored was write-protected. I decided to try to push through to the end using emulator save states, but unfortunately the game insists on saving when transitioning between certain levels, and I can't get out of the Medusa area without triggering one of those saves. It's somehow the game itself that's corrupt, not the disk. If I try to start a new party on the same disk, it works okay. If I try to create a new save disk, on the other hand, the game-in-progress still won't save to it, insisting that it's write-protected.
           
            
I thus now face a decision between starting completely over with a new party and hoping it doesn't happen again and just looking up the endgame from someone's "let's play." I'm inclined to start over because I have this idea that with the maps already created, I can probably shave a lot of time off of a replay. Also, I peeked ahead to the final areas in the hint section of the manual, and it appears that there's more complexity than just a final battle.

While I ponder that, two more notes:

1. The puzzles got a little annoying. Too many of them seem to rely on hidden pressure plates (i.e., they're invisible and make no sound or message when you step on them). I had to dip into the hint section a few times to verify that what I had mapped as a wall was really now open because of a hidden plate, and I wasn't just crazy the first time. There was one area that required walking over a hidden pressure plate 7 times before an exit would open. As far as I'm concerned, that's just an unfair puzzle.

2. I continue to be irked by the lack of item descriptions and statistics. This is one issue that Dungeon Master variants seriously need to solve. If I'm already carrying a sword called "Evil Smiter" and I find a new sword called "Demon Basher," there ought to be some way to tell which does more damage (and what else the swords do) other than experimentation, which may or may not tell you anything useful. Yes, yes, I know--every time I say that, commenters come out of the woodwork to say that they love recording thousands of attacks to figure out which sword has a higher "to hit" rate and which does 1d6+2 damage versus 1d8+1 damage. They love it because it's so "realistic," because in real life you wouldn't be able to tell the value of a weapon numerically, never mind that you wouldn't be able to tell your attributes or hit points either, nor that the entire point of an RPG, going back to the first tabletop editions, is to carefully manage a set of statistics.
            
Estoroth continued to taunt me.
        
The next entry on Black Crypt will either be the rating, based on video of someone else winning, or a recap of a new party's adventures.

Time so far: 26 hours

55 comments:

  1. I'd say don't bother. You've played enough of the game to give it a rating.

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    1. I'm enjoying this one and want to see the end, particularly if you've got enough energy left that you're thinking of restarting without it driving you mad.

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    2. Yeah, might as well look up the ending and start on another game.

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. "Yes, yes, I know--every time I say that, commenters come out of the woodwork to say that they love recording thousands of attacks to figure out which sword has a higher "to hit" rate and which does 1d6+2 damage versus 1d8+1 damage. They love it because it's so "realistic," because in real life you wouldn't be able to tell the value of a weapon numerically, never mind that you wouldn't be able to tell your attributes or hit points either, nor that the entire point of an RPG, going back to the first tabletop editions, is to carefully manage a set of statistics. "

    I support this rant.

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    1. I don't think it's very realistic either. I suspect that someone that constantly trained and fought with weapons could evaluate two weapons and make an educated guess about which one would perform better. And that knowledge would only improve as you spent more time with it in combat.

      So I'd say a realistic system would give you at least a fuzzy rating. Maybe a tier system or something.

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    2. Right.... in most parties, some of your characters have devoted their entire professional lives to learning how to stick pointy bits of metal in bad guys. Their opinion on a particular piece of metal, just looking at it, would probably be pretty darn good. And they'd probably be able to tell you a lot about any enchantments it had after using it for awhile, particularly if it was a weapon type they were especially good at.

      Really weird weapons, materials, or spells might not be easily identifiable through use, but that's what bards, sages, and mages are for.

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    3. Also, there's something funny about our hypothetical commenter advocating "realism" and then role playing his warriors as data analysts, recording the results of thousands of attacks and crunching the numbers through a spreadsheet... just like a real warrior would.

      Anyway, I don't think there's much justification for giving you no data at all. It's just bad design.

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    4. Realistically speaking, you're going to test a sword's balance by giving it a few practice swings in the air, and you're going to test sharpness by taking a few swings at a tree and comparing the depth of the cuts for sword A vs sword B. This will take like five minutes and the only resources required is a stationary target that's resilient enough not to be cleaved through entirely but fragile enough to still be vulnerable to swords at all. Granted, the most ready source of such targets is trees, which are in short supply underground, but if enemy flesh is a good substitute, as our hypothetical commenter implies with their hundreds/thousands of tests against actual living enemies, then you can just prop up a corpse and use that as the target. And if you couldn't even do that for some reason, a warrior is far more likely to just test balance and rely on that rather than carefully track the number of blows to death on various monsters across a hundred fights.

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    5. Nice rant. Here's another weirdo who likes games that leave it to the player to find out how good a weapon is or what an item does. Not because of realism, but for these reasons:

      - The combat in DM (and in many other RPGs) isn't always interesting, so trying to estimate a new weapon's properties gives you something to do while bashing the pile of rocks in front of you.

      - I don't examine the weapon systematically, I just do a fuzzy estimation. I know that lots of CRPG players start gnawing at the keyboard when they don't get their precise numbers fix, but I like doing fuzzy estimations from only a little bit of information.

      - There's some mystery that stays in the game, instead of being vaporized by the harsh light of objective statistics. Maybe in another run through the game, I finally find out what item X does, or I notice that weapon Z has a special attack that only a ninja at master level can use. It's really nice when a game still has some secrets and open questions left even after playing it multiple times.

      - Simply comparing the openly given statistics of two weapons is just plain boring to me. If at least the characters had an estimation skill with some potential for errors, it would be a bit less profane.

      Now here comes a bit of pop psychology...

      Maybe there are more people like this than you might think. For example, this quote from Brad Wardell sounds similar:
      'In my strategy games, I like what is called "fuzzy math". I'm not alone in that. I don't like games whose game mechanics are so crisp that there's no intuition involved. But I also know that reviewers generally prefer strategy games to be almost like board games where every number in the game has a simple, straight-forward source.'
      Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131062/postmortem_stardocks_galactic_.php?page=3

      This might be the split between the "sensing" MBTI type and the "intuitive" type, which are three quarters vs. one quarter of the population, respectively.

      The thing is, whenever a player who wants his precise numbers doesn't get them, it is obviously a flaw of the game in his view. But when a "fuzzy" player plays a game with precise numbers, it's a far less obvious mental step to think that he might enjoy the game more if it had a bit more fuzziness and mystery. So the number sticklers always complain when their preferences aren't served, while the fuzzies mostly don't. That makes the fuzzies seem like a smaller group than it is.

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    6. Interesting thread. My first RPG was Dungeons of Daggorath, which offers the player no stats of any kind, though the strength of a weapon or item can be inferred from a few things (whether you can REVEAL it, what level you find it on, and obviously how it performs).

      Maybe that's shaped my tastes, or made me more tolerant. Or maybe those choices inherently tend to shape a game's design, and steer it towards a type of game that feels more exploratory and mysterious to me (and less like a Skinner box, or an accounting simulator, where numbers go in and out and none of it means anything).

      I'd have to think hard about when I'm comfortable having no visible stats, and when I'm not. One thing that's often felt strange, though, is when you know exactly how many HP your enemies have. Somehow that tends to strike me as immersion-breaking -- except there have also been times when it's felt totally natural, and I can't quite suss out why. Maybe something as small as using a life bar instead of an actual number makes a difference.

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    7. This is a good way for games to use wisdom and intelligence stats besides determining spell points. Items get just a visual description when found, but having a character use it for a period of time will fill in additional details, with time and details determined by stats. Maybe you don't want to saddle your primary fighter with 3 INT 5 WIS after all.. I'm pretty sure some games did at least the latter part. Addict, have you checked descriptions of items you've used in BC for a while to see if anything changed?

      I do feel the game should have a failsafe way for players to fully ID things, whether it be identify scrolls, using lore skills, shopkeepers, etc. Make it expensive if you must, but at least have it available.

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    8. I concede that you could construct a good approach that leaves some mystery as to the specifics of a weapon or other item. I would still say that this is the wrong sort of game in which to do that. By the time you get any inkling of what a sword might do, you've found another sword. You need to be able to quickly assess relative strengths and weaknesses and then discard what you don't need.

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  3. I'm sure there's a goof about en-crypt-ed save files that could be made, but I'll demur out of respect of those lost.

    I hope someone in the comments can figure out a fix. Could a different version of the game access the same emulated save disk? That is, if other dumps exist. I'm just concerned about you hitting this same issue again after another 20 hours (or 10-15, with the boost).

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    1. Yeah, if something that odd happened once, it's fairly likely it will happen again, unfortunately. Could you keep backups of the save disk?

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  4. The save issue should be easy to fix, I'll e-mail you.

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    1. Zardas came through! He not only fixed the corrupted save, but he restored a lost item. I was able to win shortly after that.

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    2. Zardas is the MAN! *Looks at picture* or Woman? *Shrugs* Zardas is the PERSON!

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    3. I'd like to know more about this save issue: what causes it, and how it's solved, please.

      My instinct would be of a very delayed, very frustrating copy protection check trying to ruin your day.

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  5. If Raven was going to copy from Eye of the Beholder, it's too bad they didn't incorporate the second part's Improved Identify.

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    1. I know I said as much in the first entry, but upon further research, I don't think they were influenced by Eye of the Beholder. The beta version of BC seems to have been ready before EotB was published.

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  6. I have to wonder if the reason so many Dungeon Master clones share the same basic faults is due to the devs being more artistically creative than mechanically creative and simply not being able to think of improvements to the formula, and how much is due to them thinking "Dungeon Master did it and was successful, and if it ain't broke..."

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    1. That's a good question. I'm going to discuss this theme a bit in my final entry. We're nearing the end of the era of "real-time blobbers," as Jimmy Maher calls them, and it doesn't look like any of them, ultimately, are going to out-perform Dungeon Master.

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    2. Their era was relatively short because PC games with real 3D superseded them - realtime blobbers were really a tech suited to the Amiga and similar systems. (Of course the turn-based blobber has a long history.)

      The aesthetic still has fans, as Grimrock et al have shown.

      I think the thing of not labelling items or monsters was mostly intentionally done, in the interest of immersion. I can get it, honestly, even if the lack of item knowledge is a little frustrating.

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    3. Certainly I'm in the market for "Dungeon Master wasn't broken" games. (Or rather, Eye of the Beholder wasn't broken, as I'm one of those weird people who prefers that franchise.) Legend of Grimrock and its sequel were pretty much perfect for me.

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    4. Legend of Grimrock left unpleasant aftertaste when it occured to me that given how combat works it absolutely makes sense to create party of four throwing characters. And it totally worked, which was both ugh and yeah.

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    5. Yeah. Lands of Lore is a pretty good one coming, but I agree that no RT blobber equaled Dungeon Master until Grimrock. (Grimrock 1, mind you, Grimrock 2 was "more", but not better IMO).

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    6. Personally I kinda wish the blobber renaissance had taken M&M or Wizardry as its inspiration, rather than DM and EoB,because I never liked thw combat in the real time blobbers, but thanks to Grimrock almost all the new blobbers have RT combat

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    7. Star Crawlers and M&M X are both turn based blobbers. I don't know why, but they feel more like card games rather than proper cRPGs.

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    8. Another good modern one is Lords of Xulima.

      As for the party of four throwing characters, it has to be said that the bayonets on modern rifles are a bit of an afterthought, so it probably can't be called unrealistic...

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    9. That also means I have no more reason to comment how Dungeon Master is the best DM-game ever? :-(

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    10. Oh, there are still quite a few to come. Off the top of my head: Abandoned Places 1-2, Dungeon Master II, Eye of the Beholder III, Dungeon Hack, Lands of Lore, Ishar I-III, Stonekeep...

      Lands of Lore is probably the best of these, and the rest should at least provide a tolerable experience, but nothing really innovative.

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    11. I can't wait for the Lands of Lore entry, a game which has always struck me as more fun to read about than play

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    12. I suppose when you list them like that, there are more ahead of us than behind. Zardas, are all of those tile-based?

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    13. Yes, they are all tile-based and next to Abandoned Places, I played all of them. DM still stands out, it's simply the tighest gameplay experience.
      But after the argument for DM will be done on the blog, I have no reason to repeat it any longer ;-)

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    14. @Doust19 Lands of Lore is super streamlined, probably the most streamlined DM clone of them all. With automap, barely a handful of spells and shared inventory, it was obviously done to avoid the annoying interfaces of previous games. Also, it is beautiful.

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  7. "We're nearing the end of the era of"real-time blobbers," as Jimmy Maher calls them"

    She didn't invent the term.
    Google suggests it originated on the RPG Codex in 2012.

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    1. I didn't meant to suggest he coined it. I was just calling back to the article that I linked about DM variants. Now I realize that I linked that in the NEXT posting, not this one, so no one would have gotten the reference anyway.

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  8. Regarding the Possessor Demons, I have never seen any charm effect on party members. Either there is no such effect or it's probability is extreme rare.

    And I even tried multiple times to get one of my characters charmed (all of them simply resulted in beating the party to normal combat death).

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    1. It's possible they had intended for party members to get possessed but never found a practical way to implement it.

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  9. BTW: If the medusa petrifies one character, it can be cured by casting "Stone to Flesh" on the character's extra generated statue in the "Petrified Heroes" hall.

    If I remember correctly, the inscription next to the statue referred to the character's name...

    Might not be obvious at first time. But is a very unique approach to restore the petrified condition in a RPG.

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    1. Forgot to mention: The game does not show the petfrified state in the character view.

      That means petrified characters are presented with the same graphics as dead characters. Only way to distinguish is to check normal medusa attack damage range vs. deaths to get a clue.

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    2. Since I never got petrified, I had no idea. I thought those were just previous adventurers. That is an interesting variation.

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    3. Well, your first screenshot with the first two characters dead in front of the medusa suggests otherwise. ;)

      The statues already in the room are really previous adventurers, but you probably noticed the empty slots as well, and this is where your petrified characters get placed.

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    4. Ha. I only died there because I was getting the screenshot. I reloaded right after without checking anyone's condition.

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  10. The underwater level also was really great and way more realistic than the underwater level of Eye of the Beholder 3, where you only took damage due to breathing issues if you walked. But in Black Crypt, breathing damage was really real-time.

    I also liked that 3 characters find water breathing tools by helms and stuff and one is constantly hoping to find the next water breathing potion. This gives a nice thrill!

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  11. It reminded me of the underwater level of the Dark Queen of Krynn, which is yet to come here.

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  12. Funny enough that the mighty (and very different styled) Ultima 7 suffered from the same issue of not knowing what weapon did what damage. There's a "lore" book ingame that covers basic weapons but not magical/special ones.

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    1. The lore book you are mentionning includes about half of the magic weapons ; the other half in another book which, while not giving numerical value, gives enough information to proxy their capacities (at least comparatively, even if you cannot give an exact "point value" as the lore reference book).

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  13. Actually, most weapons in U7 are given in in-game books. Besides Vetron's Guide, there is also Alagner's Book, which, although it doesn't provide stats, actually gives descriptions that offer a pretty good idea of what most items do. There's just a very few items (Juggernaut Hammer, Lightning Whip, and some unique weapons) that you don't get stats for. Just remember to equip everybody with Juggernaut Hammers (or the Scythe of Death), and you're fine ;-)

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    1. IIRC when I used Juggernaut hammers my party would kill each other as they'd get in each others' way :P

      There are indeed some descriptions but still no way to compare them, as Chet said in regards to saying whether the Hoe of Destruction is better than the Scythe of Death etc

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  14. For some reason, I always thought there was only the one possessor demon that was hounding you throughout the level(s), retreating back to his lair if he got a hold of a party member's soul or if you hurt him too much.

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  15. 'So realistic'...wtf?!
    Some people take their gaming WAY too seriously.

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  16. Dungeon Master 2 had a nice compromise by showing a Bar under the item depicting it´s relative strength (Different Symbol for different Items) when you examined it.

    Could have been enhanced like a Fire Item showing 2 Bars one for the Normal Damage and one for the Fire Damage but yah...

    But yeah ... even though I´m breathing and bleeding Dungeon Master I do think seeing the Numeral danage Values for the Weapons would be a huge benefit, heck if you click on a Heroes Eye you see their stats in Numerical Value, Oh Noez Ze Immersion is ruined! o.-

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