Saturday, May 18, 2019

Game 327: Darkwood (1992)

               
Darkwood
United States
Published as shareware in 1992 for the Macintosh
Date Started: 15 May 2019
Date Finished: 16 May 2019
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at time of posting: 72/332 (22%)
               
You are an orphan named Derek who wants to join the elite city guard of Darkwood, the safest city in the kingdom. Anyone who defeats the toughest creature in the arena will become Captain of the Guard. You start at Level 1 with no experience, a dagger, and 10 gold pieces. In front of you lies a town with a weapon shop, an armor shop, a magic shop, an inn, and an arena.
           
Starting the game. You click on buildings to enter them.
           
Because it's all you can afford, you buy some leather armor for 5 gold pieces before heading into the arena. You are offered battles against 20 creatures, listed in order of difficulty from a giant rat to a red dragon. You choose the giant rat. You defeat him in a few rounds of combat and get 10 gold pieces and 75 experience points. You rest up at the inn, and with your newfound wealth, you upgrade your weapon to a short sword. Back you go to the arena to face the next monster.
                   
Over the next several hours, you kill successively harder monsters, buy successively better equipment, and level up. You can save at any time, so death is not permanent. Eventually, you make your way to the arena wielding a Sword +5 Holy Avenger and wearing Full Plate +4, and you defeat the red dragon. Then the game is over.
         
Battering away at an enemy.
         
As tempting as it is to go immediately to GIMLET and make this the shortest entry of all time, there are a few more things to talk about. The first is that I've played this game before, when it was new. Someone had loaded it onto one of the lab computers at my university, and I copied it to floppy disk and brought it home. (This would have been around 1993, in my only Mac-owning period.) The entire time I played, I assumed I was playing a prologue, and once I was named Captain of the Guard, the game would open up and I'd perform a bunch of quests in my new role. I couldn't believe that it was over when it was over.
                                                            
Dad would be so proud.
          
I mis-remembered a few things about the game. I thought I remembered that you could only fight each creature once, but not only would this make for a 10-minute game, it would be impossible. You need to grind relentlessly against low-level creatures to survive and build wealth. The game doesn't really encourage you to test your limits. Even with reloading, if a goblin gives you 25 gold pieces and 110 experience points, and you can kill him 100% of the time (which you can after Level 2), what is your incentive to move up to a bugbear, which offers 40 gold pieces and 250 experience points but a 50% chance of death? Just fight the goblin twice. It only takes a few seconds.

You have to be careful not to be lured by the ghoul (400 gold, 500 experience) or the wight (500 gold, 700 experience). They can drain levels, so their rewards aren't worth it. If you can get to the point that you can defeat the troll, he's a reliably rewarding enemy, offering 1500 gold and 1800 experience. He's the third-to-last enemy, so he should be a lot harder, but something isn't programmed properly. He almost never hits you.
       
Grind all those experience points again? Or just reload?
        
I bought the best weapon and armor in the game, as well as a ring of protection +3, before purchasing any healing potions (easier just to reload than chug a 1000-gold-piece potion) or tomes. The tomes cost 2,000 gold pieces each and allow you to increase your dexterity and constitution to 18 and your strength to 18/100. (I don't think intelligence, wisdom, or charisma do anything. They can't be improved.) After that, the only things to spend money on are wands and potions.
          
Using a tome.
           
I made it to Level 8. It was taking too long to grind to Level 9. I found that the red dragon was unconquerable with melee weapons, even with a full stock of healing potions. But it was vulnerable to the lightning wand that you can buy in the magic shop. Four or five blasts and I was Captain of the Guard.
          
I don't want to accuse the author of anything, but our past experience with shareware titles makes me suspicious of the provenance of these graphics.
         
In a GIMLET, it earns:
           
  • 2 points for the game world, featuring a basic backstory commensurate with the scope of the game.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. There's no creation, and leveling doesn't seem to do much more than confer extra hit points.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 1 point for encounters and foes. The bestiary is Dungeons and Dragons standard, and the level-draining attacks of the undead are the only special attacks programmed in.
                 
A few statistics help you determine what foe you'll want to defeat next.

              
  • 1 point for magic and combat. Your options are only to attack, use an item, or surrender.
                     
Using the Wand of Lightning in the final battle.
          
  • 3 points for equipment. Only one weapon and armor slot, but the magic item selection is decent.
  • 4 points for the economy. It lacks any complexity, but it remains relevant until the end.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. There are only a couple of sounds: hit, miss, and "you won!" Graphics are sparse enough that it might as well have been a text game. It's disappointing how all the monsters are represented by the same helmeted figure. I found the all-mouse interface annoying, as I do all all-mouse interfaces, but it was easy enough to determine what to click on.
  • 2 points for gameplay. Too easy, too limited, and not replayable, it's at least short.
              
That gives us a final score of 18. It's about as minor as you can get and still qualify as an RPG at all. Author Robert Chancellor returned to the setting with Siege of Darkwood (1993), a light strategy game that he published through Pointware. Based in La Verne, California, Chancellor would later go on to work for Blizzard and Amazon Game Studios.
              
He sure got a lot of mileage out of that graphic.
             
What Darkwood does best is raise uncomfortable questions about what makes it a "lesser" RPG. Imagine that it is the menu town of something like a Gold Box game. Instead of leveling up and gaining wealth by fighting monsters in the arena in 30 seconds, you have to spend hours questing in dungeons, only to ultimately return to the city to spend your money and level up. What have all those extra hours gained you? Are they anything more than sound and fury? In stripping away the frills of typical, more elaborate RPGs, does Darkwood also strip illusions about the value of time spent playing those games? Can I honestly say that the endgame screen is less satisfying than a typical era title that takes 5 times as long but introduces no extra plot?

Those questions might be more worth thinking about if the combat in Darkwood were a bit more elaborate, a bit more tactical. I feel like if you're going to set your title entirely in the confines of an arena, combat needs to offer something more than clicking the icon of a sword until someone is dead. (Has any good RPG been set entirely in an arena? I'm open to the possibility.) Perhaps an action-oriented approach drawing upon the underlying attributes. Perhaps the ability to team up with other NPCs. As it is, Darkwood leaves me uncomfortable and unsatisfied. Perhaps I can pretend it's a prologue to Darklands.


****

I've removed Dragons Shard from the list after playing it for a while, then realizing that the shareware version caps character development at Level 5. This is my third half-hearted attempt to play a Bit Brothers game, all of which seem to feature the same engine. Until I can somehow obtain a full-featured copy of the game, I can't get far enough to bother writing about it.

Also gone is Mission: Thunderbolt, which it turns out is not really a 1992 game but a 1991 Macintosh release of a single mission of a mainframe game called Doomsday 2000 (1987). The game has been moved to re-consideration in its appropriate year.

76 comments:

  1. At some point, all games are just bad UI for what should be a simple "Win the Game" button. There was Progress Quest, where you didn't even have to do anything, you got better just by having the window open. Now, there is actually a whole industry of "idle" RPGs derived from Candy Box or A Dark Room. Nothing makes sense anymore.

    TL;DR: The journey matters.

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    1. I definitely agree Iffy, and the decline in plethora of good quality challenge games, reminds me of the changes in cinema. CGI makes everyone lazy and there are too many remakes and some overpaid dominant actors. Though you know we can now say things like google playstore game apps are what really have killed depth and quality in gaming, especially for RPGs. I have nephews who aspire to be game programmers--and to them, yeah it´s a cool job but "game" doesn´t mean some long quest where you use ingenuity to up your levels. To them a game is touching the screen and collecting coins and paying with a credit card if you want bonus options. Quite sad. We need some sort of counter-movement against "ten second distraction" games. Whether we´re talking Monkey Island or King´s Quest or Ultima or Starflight or DM etc, things are just getting too dumbed down these days.

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    2. Dooooom!!!

      There are still plenty of good RPG games exactly like the "good old days." Maybe now they're coming more from the indie space or b-list developers, maybe they don't get as much attention as when they were the only good option, but they still exist. Phone apps aren't somehow invalidating or destroying all other genres just because they exist.

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    3. It does seem though that many younger ones aren't interested in these indie games because of the plethora of app games, or is that just the young people I know?

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    4. stepped pyramidsMay 18, 2019 at 2:25 PM

      The overall share of "serious" games (defined however you like) has certainly declined relative to the market for games, but mostly because the market for casual games is much larger than it used to be. The accessibility of games on social platforms and phones has meant that there's an actual market among people who in previous years mostly made do with Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Tetris on their kid's Game Boy.

      Games like those covered on this blog have always been a niche entertainment product. And, despite claims of "dumbing down", the RPG mechanics of popular games like Skyrim are at least as robust as the average game covered here, and it's sold over 30 million copies.

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    5. I think the whole casual games market is confined to mobile and browser/facebook games (are these even a thing anymore?). The PC is staying strong with decent indie titles in strategy, RPG, adventure and FPS genres, consoles still get AAA releases that are then ported to PC (even Assassins Creed turned into an RPG now), etc. The whole casual game free to play microtransactions stuff is primarily on mobile, and the audience that plays those is completely different to the one that plays PC games, so the two ecosystems don't really intersect.

      Recent RPGs that are great or at least decent: Divinity Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity 2, ATOM RPG, Age of Decadence, Underrail, Vigilantes... and plenty more.

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    6. The difference is what the designers were trying to do. With RPGs, the designers were trying to make an RPG. Today, they're trying to make a computer-based brain stimulator that releases pleasurable sensations. They employ psychologists who tell them exactly how to do it.

      You can shout DURR HURR DOOM all you like, but the fact is that things have changed significantly, and not for the better.

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    7. And the "fact" is based what? That games other than the specific kind you like are in vogue right now? They're remaking System Shock 1 and there's a System Shock 3 in development. Enhanced Editions of all the Bioware D&D games are coming out. Of course, Fallout and Elder Scrolls are still going strong, or are they too "brain-stimulator" for you? And of course that's ignoring all the games that aren't casual games but also aren't RPGs (yes, third, fourth, and fifth, etc. genres exist!)

      It's not like it was in 1992 when using a computer was a skill set all its own. Now significantly more people play games. It was inevitable that some genres would fall by the wayside while others rose to prominence. I'm curious if you have the same thoughts about the FPS boom following Doom? Or is it just popular to blame mobile games for everything at the moment?

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  2. On an unrelated note, I've been working on a little web app for taking notes and tracking quests in games that don't have that sort of functionality built into them. It's "officially" an exercise for me to get some practice with modern front-end development technologies, but I'm combining the useful with the pleasant and also using the app for my (long overdue) playthrough of Pool of Radiance :D

    If this is something you, or any fellow audience members, are interested in, feel free to check it out at https://github.com/ulrichsg/adjourn. At this point it saves anything you enter to the browser's local storage, so you can use it without having to sign up. You'd have to always use the same browser, though. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

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    1. stepped pyramidsMay 18, 2019 at 2:30 PM

      That's really neat! I'm working on a game-related browser-based TypeScript + React project myself right now, so it was interesting to see some of the libraries you're using. I'm fairly new to the ecosystem myself (well, I've been away for a couple of years, which these days is the same as starting from scratch).

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  3. I wonder if the art of Derek on the level up screen was borrowed from some other game or book.

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    1. Looks like a blurry photo of an action figure to me. A vintage toy expert might recognize him.

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    2. Nah, I recognize that art style from somewhere. I think I must have seen boxing-dude-in-a-cape on the book cover of a fantasy novel at one time.

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    3. I was just watching a video of the sequel game, and noticed the icon for Derek was changed, but I recognized it as being artwork of Gilthanas from Dragonlance.

      So I reckon it's very likely the image in this game was probably scanned from a fantasy novel (I don't think it's Dragonlance though)

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    4. The style of the image, and especially the brown shadow, reminds me of the character cards in the board game HeroQuest:

      https://boardgamegeek.com/image/356345/heroquest

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  4. I can't find a reference, but I remember reading somewhere that the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, was going to be a game played entirely in arenas. You would be a member of a group of fighters, moving from arena to arena, until finally you become the grand champion of the land. I don't know why the makers dropped that idea. Perhaps they couldn't make combat interesting enough. Such a game definitely stands or falls with its combat engine.

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    1. Arena was indeed designed to be a gladiatorial game with a party, but the developers kept adding sidequests and dungeons to this basic recipe, and this led to a total shift of the game structure. At the end, they entirely removed the gladiator parts as that didn't make much sense in the new storyline, and Arena became a game without arenas.

      They didn't change the title, because the print marketing campaign was already running, and stores were collecting pre-orders under the Arena name. This is also why the cover art has a typical gladiator team depicted in a Rome-inspired arena - the image was the key art which was featured in every magazine next to the news articles, previews and advertisements. Both the name and the image had too much brand awareness (or at least Bethesda marketing thought so), so they left it unchanged. As you can imagine, the reviews made fun of this.

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    2. stepped pyramidsMay 18, 2019 at 2:33 PM

      They tried to justify it by saying that Tamriel was such a violent and dangerous place that it was called "the Arena" by its inhabitants.

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    3. Funny thing is, I played Arena when it first came out, and I never realized there was anything strange about the name and the Roman styled gladiator image. So you could say Bethesda marketing wasn't 100% wrong ;-)

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  5. I praise your effort in playing this one and well, documenting it. It seems flimsy and doesn´t have the depth of any decent rpg. Seems amateurish but I suppose at the time it was made, mac beggars couldn´t be choosers.

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  6. This looks like a graphical version of my first Python project. I couldn't get special moves working or implement save games, but by God you could explore a cave, attack with a bat'leth or phaser, scan with the tricorder, and probably die because I didn't balance it at all.

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  7. There is a long running series of Finnish shareware titles called Areena, that focus solely on CRPG style combat on arena. The player manages a team of gladiators with the goal of becoming the champion of the highest level gladiator league.

    http://www.areenapelit.fi/

    I especially remember Areena 4 as a very fun game. There are no quests or NPCs, but the combat system is very good.

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    1. I also fondly remember Areena 4 as a very good and addicting game. I think that combat was implemented inventively with limited resources. For example characters could be slammed into each other and obstacles and accompanying splash effect I still remember from time to time when playing some modern games that are lacking in response to attacks.

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    2. Is there an English version of these? They look awesome but Finnish is incomprehensible if you know nothing about it

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    3. I have been regular reader of this blog for years, great work mr. Addict! It's quite awesome that my games are mentioned here. :) Areena games are mostly in Finnish only, but the latest version is a browser game that is also in English: http://arena-7.appspot.com/

      It was really fun to read about Star Control 2, I played it quite a lot in 90s. As many other reader, I can't wait to read about mr. Addict's adventures in Darklands. It is easily one of my all time favorite CRPGs.

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  8. and wasn´t Shadoworlds on the upcomming list?

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  9. Wow, we ticked off a lot of items on the upcoming list. Darklands is coming up, commence the deluge of comments! :)

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    1. Well, we got through the well-loved Star Control 2 without it being ruined by commenters dropping spoilers, the way they did with Chaos Strikes Back. We'll see if they can avoid ruining Darklands. I don't know what it is, but there's something in a certain kind of person that delights this kind of thing. Like Homer telling Colonel Klink that Hogan has tunnels all over his camp and tee-heeing about it.

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    2. Today I also learned of this gem: "For just $0.99 USD, Spoiled will anonymously and ruthlessly text [Game of Thrones] spoilers to your unsuspecting friends after each new episode airs. Afterwards, sit back, relax, and view your friends' responses."

      Now that's humanity for you. (Of course, don't look up that service if you haven't finished GoT, as it spoils the last episode right on the front page.)

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  10. > Has any good RPG been set entirely in an arena? I'm open
    > to the possibility.

    While not necessarily set entirely in an arena, there are quite a few "tactical RPGs", which feature very little outside of combat, i.e. no exploration or questing, usually somewhat linear plot, etc. The most famous examples come from consoles (I believe "Tactical Ogre" and "Final Fantasy Tactics" to be the classic examples, though I never got far in either, but liked PS1-era "Disgaea" and "Front Mission 3"). Of course, such games feature much more complicated combat than this title, or even than most "normal" RPGs, if only because there is nothing much else to do in them. And, well, better character development, too.

    A big question is, where lies the line between a "tactical RPG" and "tactical combat game".

    One can define the TRPG genre narrowly, as "visual novels with tactical combat missions", which would include all console titles mentioned above, and many more, as well as The Banner Saga, for example.

    But, say, what about Fallout Tactics? It certainly featured RPG elements, even some choices and consequences. More so, than Disgae, I'd say!

    But then, is Jagged Alliance a TRPG? It has named characters with back-stories, and even some NPCs and quests. But I guess we can disqualify X-Com and games like Incubation: Time Is Running Out for lack of meaningful playable characters.

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    1. Gladius is literally a gladiator school RPG, with tactical combat. Like if FFT was taking place in a fantasy Rome.

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    2. Dark Sun: Shattered Lands starts in an arena, with the goal to escape it though. I'm not sure what happens if you keep fighting - I guess the odds to survive get progressive worse. But take the opening part of that game, extend it slightly, and I think you would have a pretty good arena RPG.

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    3. Winning 5 battles and then defeating Scar is one way to escape from the pens. There are many others. Otherwise you can fight as long as you want, but the battles get unwinnable after a while (you get stronger enemies for each fight).

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    4. I don't know if random opinions help, but I've always thought of Jagged Alliance as a TRPG.

      It's interesting that X-Com definitely falls on the other side of the line for me, and the "lack of meaningful playable characters" is the difference.

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    5. stepped pyramidsMay 18, 2019 at 2:47 PM

      I think Intelligent Systems' series are a pretty good demonstration of the line. They started with the Wars series (Famicom Wars/Advance Wars/etc.) which are tactical wargames and definitely not RPGs. Then they developed Fire Emblem explicitly as a hybrid of Famicom Wars and Dragon Quest, the differences being: all player-controlled units are named rather than generic, you progress through a plotline rather than just a series of skirmishes, units have equipment and spells, units have dialogue and special interactions.

      (It's a shame none of the Fire Emblem games are eligible for this blog due to their platform. I think Chet would enjoy the gameplay.)

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    6. I am currently doing a strategy RPGs chronogaming blog (https://strategyrpgs.blogspot.com).

      My personal definition for the games I am playing is three criteria:

      1. The game has to be based around a set of fixed battles, not just random ones that happen to be on a grid.

      2. At least some of your force has to be specific unique characters you can develop (through an XP system or otherwise).

      3. There has to be a developing story, not just a frame story or a series of disconnected battles.

      But the definition isn't black and white since there are a lot of strategy games that have RPG elements to them.

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    7. stepped pyramidsMay 18, 2019 at 7:26 PM

      @Kurisu: your blog is really interesting! Thanks for linking it. And I agree with your definition, although I'm sure there's some edge cases (like, I think Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm technically fits, since you can buy new powers for Kerrigan).

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    8. As people mentionned, there are several gladiatoral management/role-playing games that could fit the description.
      One I've played is Age of Gladiators. Quite a tough game, but I don't know if it would quite make the mark as an RPG: https://store.steampowered.com/app/442500/Age_of_Gladiators/

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    9. Final Fantasy Advance Tactics for the gameboy advance had all the battles in different places but they were judged and watched over like a arena. Not sure if it stayed that way to the end though.

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    10. The recent Dark Eye titles Blackguard 1 & 2 are covering some kind of middle ground between a tactical RPG and a full RPG. They offer a somewhat decent story and very tactical combat in confined spaces, but the whole overworld is more or less one menu town after the other ...

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  11. Darklands will be here soon! It was one of my favorite games of the era, but I have a feeling you won't be really impressed, and probably despise its combat.

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    1. I think it will fare well in the GIMLET... Game World is immersive and open-ended. Character creation very deep. Inventory has not just standard gold balance but also quality and other factors to balance.

      That is, if Chet can ever stop being blown away with character creation and the manual with over 75 works cited, and instead get going in the game! ;) (And grind it out through the first few hours, which are admittedly not the most fun part of the game!)

      I am not sure what his take will be on "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style towns though. I personally enjoy that, it means they can (and do) make some things randomized between different playthroughs even including some quest locations, and also means you do not have to memorize where Shop A was in Town B but can just get straight to business...but on the flip side a counterargument could be formed that the towns do not feel unique enough (although there is uniqueness in quality, structures present, etc)

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    2. If Chet has trouble with Darklands combat, he's in for a rough ride going forward, considering its style of combat eventually became all-but-industry standard for a while - Darklands is one of the earliest incarnations of what would eventually become the basic gameplay for the Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate, after all.

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    3. As I rather enjoyed the combat in the Infinity Engine games, I guess I'm not concerned.

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  12. And the graphics look like they were stolen from a fantasy book of the era. A Google revere images search reveals nothing, though.

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  13. This game feels like more like some training an apprentice programmer would do, or maybe a tool to test the balancing of combat, than a real game. Sad.
    One of Baldur's Gate 1 expansion scenario is just arena combat.

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  14. In Beamdog's Enhanced Editions of Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II there is an addon called Black Pits. It plays very similarly to the game you describe in this entry. There's an arena, and you fight progressively more difficult tiers of monsters, from orcs to dragons, extraplanar creatures and finally bhaalspawn. But there's a good deal of NPC interactions (especially in sequel), and combats tend to be more tactical (although they can be cheesed if you use spell triggers and spell sequencers).

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  15. Mission: Thunderbolt and it's sequel Firestorm are awesome and absolutely should be played at some point. They are futuristic, sci-fi roguelikes with awesome items and world interaction.

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    1. As far as I know, Doomsday 2000 (the DEC mainframe version of which thunderbolt is a port of) is lost to time and not easily available on the internet. It's too bad because it supposedly has four missions, only two of which got ported to the mac.If you find it let me know! I'm the one who wrote the short Thunderbolt faq on game FAQs.

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  16. When I was like 12 years old I tried to write my first game in GW-BASIC which was pretty much identical in scope to this game, except it was all ASCII menus. It was too much to take on, but I did get most of it working well enough so that you could buy equipment, get healed, gamble at a casino, and fight one or two monsters in simple combat.

    I was inspired by an old BBS door game called The Pit, which is pretty similar to this, but crucially let you maneuver around the arena:
    https://breakintochat.com/wiki/The_Pit

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    1. Yeah! THEPIT! A great game. Nothing but arena combats. IIRC there was a function whereby another player or the sysop could take over the monster controls instead of the computer.

      I've tried to play it again on modern BBSs, but none of them have the registered version and thus your level is capped at 10. :(

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  17. Huh, Darklands is next now. Guess I'll have to delay playing Icewind Dale, because I thought I'd have more than enough time to do that before you started Darklands, and I wanted to play along with that one.

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    1. You and me both--I have been waiting for years for Darklands to come up in the queue. Its depth, different setting, and open world nature is likely to strike a chord at least as different, and probably as scoring pretty well in the GIMLET. I will find the reaction interesting, particularly as CRPG Addict loves The Elder Scrolls series, and this is one of the games cited by TES as a primary influence on those games.

      I do suspect it will take awhile for him to digest the game manual though so you may still have some time...all 107 pages, with something like 75 or so sources cited in the works cited section! That game is a dissertation...and certainly the most read and most fond dissertation in many people's minds!

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    2. Yeah, I figured I'd have about a week or so to get through Icewind Dale first, so I'm doing that for now

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    3. It'll take him a week just to create his characters...and he will have a blast in the process too I suspect ;)

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    4. I don't remember how much he enjoys elaborate character creation. But since Darklands allows you to freely swap out party members any time, it's much better to start playing and get a feeling for the mechanics, then swap out characters you don't like.

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    5. I like elaborate character creation when you really do have the freedom to create a tailored party, flaws and all, and still have hope of defeating the game. I don't like elaborate creation when it turns out to be a sham and you really need characters in specific classes and with specific skills to have any hope.

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    6. Haven't finished the game though I have had a lot of fun with it and I love the character creation. I believe though that you don't need any skills to win in particular, but some will definitely make the game easier. I'm looking forward to your take on the game and maybe it'll move me to actually finish it.

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  18. There is one purely arena based RPG that comes to my mind: Battles of Norghan. Bought it on Steam during a sale and it's pretty fun. You hire characters to join your gladiator group and have them face off against enemies in an arena, with gold box style combat. The gameplay consists of upgrading your dudes, hiring new dudes, and fighting tactical turn based battles.

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  19. Though it has very weak RPG elements, One Must Fall 2097's tournament mode qualifies as an arena game. It's a brawler game featuring huge robots fighting in arena matches. Between matches, you can upgrade your pilot's strength, endurance and agility, and your robot itself using the money earned. I normally don't play brawlers, but this "leveling" was a lot of fun.

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  20. I was happy to discover this, age 11 in the computer labs at school. Back then it was interesting enough to keep my friends and I coming back for a little while, probably helped by the fact we could only play in 40 minute bursts.

    A friend of mine made a more challenging version of this style of game for a piece of assessment at uni. You had level up decisions, more combat options, and there was no saving.

    If you take it a step further, by adding graphics, positional combat and a narrative, you get a game like 'Dungeon Rats', a tactical combat spin-off from the rpg Age of Decadence.

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  21. Interesting that the game uses a pretty well known AD&D image to represent the character image...

    https://media.mutualart.com/Images/2009_07/08/0020/234538/ebb4850f-7635-483b-a3c0-528b22fca9cc_g_570.Jpeg

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    1. I don't know; that seems like a stretch to me. I have no problem believing that the art comes from some other source, but I don't think this is it.

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    2. It could be the source of the character portrait, but it's definitely not the scared looking man on the level up/title/victory screen.
      I tried to reverse image search but found nothing (Mind you, I didn't try very hard)

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    3. I agree with the Enraged Geek that this seems to be source for the character portrait. If you flip the linked image horizontally, the man is front is extremely similar to the character portrait, including the lighting.

      By the way, is this image supposed to portray Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?

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    4. It looks the same image for me too (for the portrait, not the full-body image).

      And both Enraged Geek and Bitmap is right: this is an image of Gray Mouser. The exact image is from the AD&D world book they licensed from Fritz Leiber. It was kind of the first complete world in AD&D (1st) in 1985.

      I'm pretty sure the full-body image is also based on a Gray Mouser illustration (probably with the sword and dagger removed), either from a novel or a TSR book, but couldn't find the same exact pose.

      Delete
    5. I apologize to TEG for misunderstanding. Clearly that IS the source of the character portrait.

      Delete
    6. Funny... when first mentioned I did think that looked familiar. My brother had that very source book!

      Delete
  22. Quester: What have all those extra hours gained you?

    Anonymous: Time spent playing games. Meaning? Approximately none. Less and less approximately every day.

    Q: Are they anything more than sound and fury?

    A: Is the theater anything more than sound and fury? Isn't that what the people want? Why do people go to the theater?

    Q: Does Darkwood also strip illusions about the value of time spent playing those games?

    A: Is this a rhetorical question? An excuse for writing things, perhaps?

    Q: Those questions might be more worth thinking about if the combat in Darkwood were a bit more elaborate, a bit more tactical.

    A: More sound and fury it is. The people have spoken.

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  23. I also remember playing this when it turned up on university computers in the early nineties. Fond memories, but very little substance to the game. I'm glad you played this one, because I'd forgotten the name. :)

    ReplyDelete
  24. The whole game concept reminds me of the Fighter's quest line in Hillsfar. Although the combat there was a little more detailed than clicking one button, it lacked usable items during combat.

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  25. Oooh, I remembre that one...
    Back then, I had no other computer than my dad's who was a Mac-fan through and through. And it was HARD to find games on that platform (or it was hard to get my dad to get me games? I don't know). So everytime he bought a magazine with a CD filled with sharewares, I would bleed them dry...
    Back then, I had no problem grinding for hours on the same pointless task (kill goo, change screen, come back, kill respawned goo, change screen, come back, rinse/repeat).
    Now? Heh, not so much.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Like many people have mentioned so far, there are plenty of games out there that take place entirely in an arena, unfortunately most if not all are just a framework to have a sequence of battles with little to no plot or story. Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is probably best at this with its arena mode, at least there's some good dialogue there.

    Dark Sun: Shattered Lands probably comes closest to what you were asking for, the first act takes place in an arena setting and in between fights you have to contend with different slave factions vying for power and plotting an escape. There are different solutions for many of the obstacles that present themselves and even two completely different avenues of escape.

    ReplyDelete
  27. >> [It] still qualify as an role-playing game at all.

    It depends on the definition of role-playing game. In my book: (1) active dialogue: there is none; (2) freedom of exploration and backtracking: there is nothing to explore; (3) permanent upgrades: OK, but this is just one out of three points. Therefore, I personally reject it as a role-playing game. I would rather classify it as a bare-bones strategy game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's fine to have your own definition of an RPG, but you have to recognize that it excludes hundreds of games from the 1980s and 1990s that, at the time, no one disputed were RPGs.

      Delete

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