Saturday, July 20, 2019

Prophecy of the Shadow: Won! (with Summary and Rating)



           
Prophecy of the Shadow
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 24 June 2019
Date Ended: 10 July 2019
Total Hours: 19
Difficulty: Easy-Medium (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

Summary:
Prophecy of the Shadow is a "lite" RPG that takes inspiration from Faery Tale Adventure and recent Origin Systems games. A sole character, presented throughout the game from an axonometric view, is thrust into the world when his mentor is assassinated as part of a political purge of mages. As he grows in power and skill, he learns of a prophecy that foretells the return of an ancient enemy named Abraxus. In his quest to counter the prophecy, he kills an evil regent and restores a princess to her rightful throne. The world is small and easy to explore. RPG elements--including combat, inventory, and character development--are simplistic but effective for the scope of the game. Graphics are mediocre in quality but are thoughtfully drawn to create interesting scenes and scenarios.
             
 ****
         
Prophecy managed to pack a lot of stuff into its small continent, but the full game took less than 20 hours regardless. I had the most fun exploring the game's 10 indoor areas, all of which managed to accomplish some fun things graphically. It's still relatively rare to find a game in which the environment is hand-designed instead of rendered as "textures." Aside from notable pioneers in this area, like the Ultima series (and particularly Ultima Underworld), we typically see it in adventure-RPG hybrids like the Quest for Glory series.

It's taken me a lot of games and time to understand how I feel about graphics. I'm not impressed by them just because they're good. Textures, no matter how advanced, can only take me so far. Even well-designed monster graphics, like the ones in Crusaders of the Dark Savant, fail to impress me if their appearance and animations are all abstract--that is, when they jump and dance around the screen, they're just following an animation pattern and not specifically responding to my characters in the moment.
         
I consider these good graphics--not because of the raw quality, but because of what they clearly depict. Such "scenes" are uncommon in RPGs even in the early 1990s.
          
I want my graphics to be functional in some way. I want the monster animations to tell me something about their reactions to my attacks. Most important, I want environmental graphics to set a mood, to tell a story, to offer a certain ambiance. If they do that, my bar for what constitutes "good" graphics is very low. Most people probably wouldn't think that Prophecy's graphics are anything special, but they establish their environments better than any game I can imagine recently. As I walk through a castle, I can clearly pick out the kitchens, and the guard barracks, and the torture chamber without any titles specifically announcing those places.
            
Assaulting my way into Granite Keep.
         
In the first two sections, my orphaned character found the titular prophecy and brought it to the Guild of Mages, which was soon slaughtered by the forces of regent Cam Tethe, ruler of the land in absence of the missing princess. As I loaded, there were five major places I hadn't visited:
           
  • The city of Jade
  • The Fell Swamp
  • Granite Keep
  • The abandoned Silver Mine
  • The city of Malice and its temple
  • Abraxus's Castle (I didn't even know about this one until I teleported there for the endgame)
              
I visited them in roughly this order, albeit with a bit of backtracking. The City of Jade was mysteriously purposeless--just another city with a few services at the southeastern tip of the continent. I don't think a single NPC had anything new to say.

North of that was the Fell Swamp. I probably forgot to mention in previous entries that if you walk into a swamp in this game, you don't get very far before an animation shows you drowning.
        
Entering the Fell Swamp at my own risk.
         
For that reason, I had been circumventing the Fell Swamp, but I decided it must be there for some reason, so I took the time to experiment and soon realized that you could walk through the swamp on squares that depicted foliage. Following paths of these squares, I reached a hut at the center of the area. It was occupied by a powerful witch named Esme who said that she'd killed Tethe's mage hunters.

As by now I was wont to do, I tried giving her my various objects. She had an immediate reaction to Larf's head, saying that if she could assemble the ingredients for a potion of "Necrotelecomicon," she could learn from him the secret of the resurrection spell. Fortunately, I had already picked up all the ingredients on her list: the fruit of the Desert Pango, the tongue of a Torlok chieftain, some spider venom, and a vial of acid, which apparently every "black potion" is.
            
I give the ingredients to Esme, who looks like a young Anne Ramsey.
         
With these ingredients, she soon learned the "Respirare" spell and then immediately attacked me. I killed her in a few blows. I spent much of the rest of the game wondering what I would do with a resurrection spell since the game is single-player. I went back and tried to cast it on Larkin's grave, but I got a message stating that I didn't have a powerful enough catalyst.

I next headed for Granite Keep because I didn't want to deal with the eye tyrants up near Malice. The keep's front door had blocked me in the past, but some NPC had hinted at a side door, and sure enough, I soon discovered one. Using my Death Warrant got me inside, and I had to kill two guards right next to the entrance, a fight that occasioned about five reloads. The entire castle was very hard, with enemies whacking away 25 hit points per blow, and I began to wonder if there wasn't some armor I might have missed. I had to rest frequently and gulp as often as possible from my "Everfull Flask," a healing potion that regenerates every five minutes or so.
          
If the penalty for everything is death, then you leave me with no incentive not to kill you.
        
There were multiple levels to the castle, including a dungeon with a large locked door as well as two locked doors on the second level. Eventually, I found a servant sympathetic to the Resistance who gave me a key to Cam Tethe's chambers, one of the doors on the second level. He attacked as soon as I entered, and he killed me with his "ebon ax" in about three hits.
         
Killing Cam Tethe on my fourth trip.
    
To defeat him, I had to "door scum": enter, attack him a few times, leave to rest and heal, save, and enter again. It's worth mentioning that I had a "Time Stop" scroll that you're almost certainly supposed to use in this fight, but I had forgotten about it. When Tethe died, he dropped a copper key and his ebon ax--a magic axe that returns when thrown.

The copper key opened the door in the dungeon, which released Princess Elspeth. I thought this would be the end of the game, but I realized I'd forgotten about the city of Malice. Elspeth gave me a key (that she'd palmed) to Tethe's torture chamber, then fled to reclaim her throne. It's worth pointing out at this time that the game world is not dynamic, and after Elspeth left, she was nowhere to be found. All NPCs reacted to her name as if she was still missing and as if Tethe was still alive.
           
The young princess, looking a little worse for the wear. She is played by an actress enigmatically named only "Kelly."
          
The torture chamber held a set of "evil accoutrements," which turned out to grant me access to the temple of Abraxus in the city of Malice. Tethe himself wasn't the shadow of the prophecy but merely the high priest of Abraxus's cult.

After I left the Granite Keep and sold my excess equipment, I finally had enough money to purchase "acrobatics" training from Chester the Great and increase my agility. I also bought a potion that permanently increased my strength. Between these upgrades and the ebon ax, no combat in the game was really much trouble after this. Maybe some players manage to save enough money to get the agility increase earlier.
            
I admit, this guy looks like a "Chester." Sometimes, I wish I'd picked a better pseudonym.
        
On the way to Malice, I remembered the silver mines. I had a much easier time this time, and after some combats with gnomes, I found the Shadow Sword. The weapon negates magic when in your inventory and wipes your spell points if you wield it, so from the moment you find it, you have to go through an annoying process of dropping it and picking it up again every time you want to cast a spell.
           
Finding the Shadow Sword on the gnome king. This is not a weapon that you want any earlier than necessary.
         
Malice had a handful of NPCs who praised Lord Abraxus and whatnot. The focus of the city was a large temple, where I killed a number of evil priests and walked out with a mysterious "Fan of Shadows" and a gold catalyst. I should mention at this point that from the various dungeons, I'd assembled several other spells, including "Cremare Magnus" (volcanic eruption), "Lamia" (steal life force), and "Umbra" (invisibility), none of which I ever found a reason to cast. I almost always needed to save my spell points for "Curare" (healing). I also never got much use out of the "Oculorum" spell or the redundant crystal ball, which shows your position in the context of a larger area. The larger area wasn't really large enough to be useful.

The final area was reached via a teleporter north of the temple in Malice. I'd learned to watch for those pairs of rocks. They're scattered all over the main island, but most of them just warp you a short distance from the origin. This final pair sent me to an island somewhere. A new monster called a "morgoth" attacked a few times, but it wasn't very hard.
             
This is one mean-ass morgoth.
           
The island housed a large keep with four corner rooms and a pedestal in each room. Each pedestal had a riddle that discussed a certain element and prompted me for a particular object. I hadn't realized I was saving the objects for this purpose, but it wasn't hard to figure out where they went. The "Fan of Shadows" went on the air pedestal, the "Everfull Flask" on the water pedestal, the "Eternal Lamp" on the fire pedestal, and the "Wand of Earth" on the earth pedestal. When all four were placed, a door opened in a northern wall, taking me to the catacombs.
            
Interpreting one of the pedestals.
         
The catacombs had a brief battle with spectral priests before leading me to a bier on which the body of Abraxus lay in state. Even though it seemed like an absurd thing to do, since I couldn't do anything but cast the "Respirare" spell on him, that's what I did. The ancient sorcerer awoke, laughed at me, and attacked me.
        
I love how the hero's one dialogue option for the insane resurrected sorcerer is "hello."
       
My hit points had been reduced by the ritual to 30, and as I fumbled about with my ebon ax, Abraxus swiftly killed me and, I supposed, took over the world. On reloads, I both discovered that only the Shadow Sword could damage him and remembered that I had two "Time Stop" scrolls. Through trial and error, I settled into a pattern of action: drop the Shadow Sword, resurrect Abraxus, use a "Time Stop" scroll, gulp all my healing potions, use another "Time Stop" scroll, pick up the Shadow Sword, and start hacking away. This sequence ultimately brought me victory over the sorcerer.
         
Conserving those "Time Stop" scrolls was key to defeating Abraxus.
       
The endgame was slightly reminiscent of Questron as the game showed my character marching through the halls of Granite Keep, NPCs arrayed around me, before I finally came to Princess Elspeth. She named me her Champion, Hero of the Land, Savior of the People, and announced a seven-day celebration. The ending text, cribbing from Casablanca, suggested even more rewards to come for our hero.
         
Lord British never offered to marry me. Just sayin'.
           
All in all, a satisfying ending that leaves me feeling positive about the game. Prophecy won't rate nearly as high as an Ultima, but in adopting Ultima as its model, the game provides a perfect example of the adage that if you aim for the moon, you'll at least get over the fence.

In a GIMLET, Prophecy of the Shadows earns:
             
  • 5 points for the game world. It tells a story commensurate with its scope, has a few moments of originally, and does a good job drawing you into the world graphically and textually.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. Definitely not a strong category for the game. With only three attributes, each serving multiple purposes, there wasn't much to develop, and there was virtually no creation process at all.
  • 4 points for NPC interaction. While you do learn a lot about the land and its lore from NPCs, the system was very mechanical and featured no one with memorable personalities.
               
Um . . . where did that last line come from?
          
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. Enemies are mostly unmemorable, excepting perhaps the fireball-spewing gazers. But the puzzles were pretty solid, and I liked the large variety of what I call "contextual encounters"--when you're given a clear reason for the combat to follow, even if you don't get many role-playing choices in those encounters. I wish some of the lesser creatures had respawned because the economy is otherwise very tight.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. I'm being generous here because I feel I should have probably experimented more with the spells. I did particularly appreciate the "Mark/Recall" pair. Aside from spells, the combat targeting system works fine but doesn't give you very many tactics. Enemies rush into range so quickly that missile weapons are particularly useless.
            
Fighting a row of guards in Granite Keep.
            
  • 2 points for equipment. It's hard to countenance a title that gives you nothing to wear or equip except a weapon. But there are a few additional potions and scrolls, and lots of items useful for exploration and quests.
  • 4 points for the economy. Between regular equipment, food, potions, and agility training, you have plenty to save up for, and finding silver never becomes useless. You have to make some tough choices for most of the game.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no options, alternatives, or side quests.
                
The victorious champion walks past rows of NPCs on his way to his knighting.
              
        
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The sound is nothing special--a few scattered effects--but as I've indicated, I like the graphics and the interface is top-notch, with redundant mouse and keyboard commands for everything. My only quibble is how using any other object un-equips your weapon.
  • 5 points for gameplay. It gets half credit for nonlinearity. The game is mostly linear but not completely. I don't see it as replayable, but the level of difficulty was pitched about right. Some individual combats seemed awfully hard, but in the context of a short game they weren't too bad.
             
That gives us a final score of 35, right on the "recommended" threshold--a good score for a modest game of modest ambition.
          
Given what actually transpires in the game, the box seems to be depicting me waking up Abraxus.
         
Almost every contemporary review of Prophecy seems to be patting it on the head, marking it as an interesting direction for SSI--the first single-character title from the publisher, a game clearly for new players, and so forth. Jeff James's review in the January 1993 issue of Computer Gaming World praises it repeatedly for its simplicity: "no equipment to buy, no spells to memorize, and only one character to keep track of . . . no need to fumble with bizarre ingredients . . . byzantine game mechanics take a back seat to ease-of-use and an engaging storyline." Similarly, from the Malaysian newspaper (who knew that they were reviewing RPGs?) that I quoted in a previous review: "[A]ctions are simple to execute . . . Gameplay could not be better. It's just a question of taking things and bringing them somewhere." The review concludes, however, "Just don't give us any more recycled trash like Dark Queen of Krynn," which shows that this source can be excluded from future consideration.

Almost everyone praised the full motion video, but I'll let that go--it was a delusion that affected nearly everyone in the 1990s.

More recently, my colleague Saintus (who hasn't commented in 3 years--hope he's okay) completed the game in January 2012 on his "CRPG Revisiting Old Classics" blog. His review aligns with mine nearly perfectly. He liked the game world, the balanced economy, the short completion time, and the generally casual nature of gameplay. He didn't find any more combat tactics than I did, nor any use for the crystal orb, nor much use for a lot of the spells. He defeated Cam Tethe the same way I did. The game kept his interest to the end despite simple mechanics.

A lot of contemporary reviews suggested that Prophecy was a new direction for SSI, that we'd be seeing a lot more single-character role-playing adventures from the publisher in the coming years. Scanning ahead, I can't quite tell if this forecast comes true. SSI certainly offered a diverse variety of RPGs in its prolific 1992-1996 period, including the last of the Gold Box titles, the third Eye of the Beholder, new Dungeons and Dragon series based on the Spelljammer, Ravenloft, and Dark Sun settings, and a handful of one-off titles generally developed by other companies. But judging from screenshots and summaries, it's hard to find any that feature quite the same simplicity as Prophecy or that even make use of a similar engine.
            
Whatever else Dave Sayers went on to accomplish in life, he played "Lord Bitchin'" in a 1992 RPG. How do you follow that?
              
Although I suggested in my opening entry that Prophecy was part of a deliberate SSI plan to dominate all corners of the RPG field, it turns out that the game's development was less master-planned than that. It began as a project by independent developer Jaimi R. R. McEntire called Merchant's Quest, in which the character would be a merchant in a traditional RPG setting. EA rejected it but SSI agreed to publish it. Ultimately, McEntire, working with an SSI team, significantly changed the original conception. Friends and a local theater group served as models for the FMV characters.

An Amiga version of Prophecy was planned and made it all the way to the alpha stage, but the team had problems working out several bugs, and just about then, the Amiga market began to collapse. Rather than finish the port, they turned their attention to the sequel--which would have brought the son of the original protagonist to a larger continent--but unfortunately never finished that, either. McEntire turned his attention to developing a raycasting engine called 4DX, used in a MMO called Underlight (1998) and several other titles. A new engine called 6DX was used to develop a title that would have been based on L. E. Modessit's Recluce series, but it was never finished. Game development seems to have always been a sideline for McEntire: his c.v. shows primary employment in corporate software development, including banking software. Nonetheless, he told me in an e-mail exchange that he is working on a new RPG now, and making good progress. I trust he'll visit to let us know when it's ready.

It's time now to wrap up Darklands and then head into the predictable comfort of a Gold Box game. But first--a surprise!


37 comments:

  1. Nice review of an fairly obscure game. One question: if the graphics were, to your eyes, good, and the interface excellent, why only 4 out of 10 for graphics, sound, and interface? Surely sound is not worth 6 points out of 10, and given your indifference towards sound/music in general, it doesn't seem like it should count for much for the GIMLET.

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    1. I don’t have an indifference towards sound, just music. Most of my objectives in this category are about sound. I like good background sound, ambient sound, and sound effects, as well as some well-acted voiced dialogue. (Although, at the same time, I think it’s a bad thing when a game insists on recording voices for ALL dialogue.) A 6 is about as good as a game could possibly get in this category in this era, and if it doesn’t even have good sound EFFECTS, the max drops to a 4, maybe a 5 if the other two categories were perfect.

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  2. Looks like someone was a Discworld fan. Esme "Granny" Weatherwax is Pterry's lead witch character, and the Necrotelicomnicon (written by Achmed the I Just Get These Headaches) is one of his eldritch tomes.

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  3. Hooray for the predictable comfort of a Gold Box game! SO MUCH of gaming these days is about novelty. People don't want a good game, they want something to occupy their short attention spans. Once the game stops being something new and starts being a game, they dump it and go on to the next one.

    I used to get angry at people like this for being jerks who harshly criticize good games for the crime of being good. Of course said goodness needs to be played to be experienced, and their goal isn't playing games. Their goal is "ooh shiny". Then I realized that these people spend a ton of money in pursuit of novelty.

    They've got libraries of hundreds of games they play a few times and then quit. They keep the industry going. Whereas if it were completely people like me, games would be finely crafted works of art designed to keep you engaged for months or even years. The unit cost would be a lot more and they would come out far less often.

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    1. Speaking as someone with one of those libraries, I can say it's not novelty in itself.

      It's:
      (1) I care about videogaming as a hobby and an industry. I enjoy speaking about it and analysing it, and that requires a fairly broad engagement with the medium generally. Someone who plays a game a year, or less, no matter how *much* of that game they've played, simply doesn't have anything intelligent to say about videogaming beyond the story of what keeps bringing them back to that one game.

      (2) As someone on the autism spectrum, I enjoy interacting with processes and systems. Once the system becomes transparent to me - I can see how the bits interact, with predictable and easily manipulatable consequences - it doesn't scratch the itch. People who stick with the same game for a year or more seem, to me, like someone who keeps erasing and re-solving the same crossword endlessly instead of turning the page and solving the next one.

      There's probably some more reasons but they're mostly derivative of point 1 or point 2. There's a pleasure in re-reading the same book, but only so far, and a person who only reads one book can't be said to love books, plural, no matter how many times they read it.

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    2. I agree. Honestly, I am hoping for a long series of Pillars of Eternity or Pathfinder games. A good, functional engine combined with a well told, or even moderately well told story is worth my money. Taking two or three years to develop an entirely new engine every time just isn’t necessary.

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    3. "People don't want a good game, they want something to occupy their short attention spans. Once the game stops being something new and starts being a game, they dump it and go on to the next one."

      There's appreciating retro things and then there's being a dismissive snob...

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    4. For one, what you're saying (people want new things) was always true, even in the 70s.

      For two, on average, today's AAA games are much better designed and usually much longer than AAA games of the 80s. (I'm not talking only about RPGs here.)

      For three, which game of old was keeping your attention for years? Today you can do it in an open world game with mods, or in an MMO, but even an unnecessarily long game like Fate was "only" 250 hours long. (And 200 of those was really boring.)

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    5. As someone with 900 games on Steam (which includes old classics I bought for nostalgia, as well as plenty of bundle trash that was included in bundles containing one or more games I actually wanted), I tend to put a lot of hours into the games I enjoy a lot. But at some point, the game is over. All the content it offers has been experienced. Sure, I could replay my favorite games like Arcanum and Morrowind for the 10th time, but I already know how to game the system, what content there is to see and how to get to it, so there's neither surprise nor challenge left in it. I do replay them occasionally, as they feel wonderfully nostalgic and still offer good lessons in game design (useful to me as I work in game design), but ultimately I'm just re-treading old paths.

      The only games that truly offer hundreds of hours of gameplay to me are competitive multiplayer games, or strategy games with dynamic campaigns (Paradox games, Total War games, stuff like Rimworld and Dwarf Fortress). Other genres have a limited amount of content, and at some point you've experienced all of it and need a new game to scratch that itch of discovery.

      After all, RPGs are also about exploration, and it's not really exploration anymore if you already know the map by heart. Nowadays narrative choices are also a focus of the genre, but when you already know all the possible choices and their consequences beforehand, it's no longer interesting either. Even if the combat system is good, fighting the exact same boss encounter for the 7th time will feel a little stale.

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    6. Sure, I'm not talking about playing a game out and moving on to the next one. Every game has only got so much in it. Some games will be evergreen, always want to play. Others not so much. But certainly games get played out. I wouldn't want to play Dungeon Master or nethack again, for example, as I've seen everything they have to show and have overcome everything they have to throw at the player. Yet both are outstanding games.

      My meaning was that there are a lot of players out there who play games for the novelty. Buy a game, ooh and ahh at it for a few hours, then on to the next one. Great game, lousy game, doesn't matter as long as it's new.

      Too many people crap on a game if it's going to be solid and reliable, like Treasures of the Savage Frontier. It's not new, and therefore doesn't satisfy the reason that they play games.

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    7. As a game collector I know most games that I have will only get played for a limited time, this means that I actually appriciate some games for an halfhour and then move on and some games stay with me for years and I like both as equally, concidering my main goal in collecting is getting stuff really cheap or for free. If I had paid full price for the games it would have probavly influenced my enjoyment of it

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    8. I kind of agree with Harland. I see commenters all the time on Reddit who post memes suggesting nothing short of civil war if Bethessda DARES release The Elder Scrolls VI without a "new engine." These same commenters are the first to say that they never play the main quest; they just "walk off in a random direction."

      I mean, screw you. There should have been 4 more games since 2011 using the company's existing technology. Not everything has to be brand new.

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    9. "Once the system becomes transparent to me - I can see how the bits interact, with predictable and easily manipulatable consequences - it doesn't scratch the itch"

      One of the reasons I didn't like AD&D-based games as much. You more or less know what to expect in terms of character creation and progression, builds, spells, monsters. That doesn't mean an AD&D-based game can't be great, but it's one less thing to explore.

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    10. Yeah. You called it. It's being a game collector rather than a game player. There's a big difference there. Different motivations, different goals, they want different things from games.

      I first noticed this phenomenon in board gaming. There are people out there who will only ever play any game once. "Why play again when there are so many other games out there waiting to be discovered" is their battle cry. After watching them for a while (they're very active on BGG and tend to dominate the discourse) I noticed they loved novelty above all else. They'll go off about the wooden game pieces, the metal coins, the laminated board, and gush with praise about games that are stinkers. When I saw someone rush off with joy to spend on a kickstarter for a game that was well-known to have big rules problems, something clicked. Great games have great gameplay, and he just wasn't interested in that part of the hobby. What those kickstarter backers wanted was a new toy to play with, not a great game.

      When you understand the difference between collectors who want novelty above all else, and players who want to play great games, you start understanding the way the computer game industry is the way it is. Collectors support their goals with cold hard cash. They buy a TON of games. This gives them a lot of leverage, and explains why the game industry can crap out anything and it still sells. As long as it satisfies that desire for novelty, collectors will buy it.

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    11. That is a claim that would be a lot better if you had anything approaching evidence to back it up.

      You're basing your entire argument on a small number of people from a fundamentally different hobby - most board games are experienced almost fully in one or two play session. You don't get all the nuances, and players get better at the strategy, but your 940th game of Settlers of Catan is going to be extremely similar to your 1st game of Settlers of Catan.

      Computer games don't work that way. Virtually all require multiple game sessions to complete, and that alone means that any comparison to the sort of board game people you are referring to is a comparison that can be rejected without consideration.

      Most people don't finish most of the games they buy, because that game isn't enough to hold their interest. That does not mean that they have a terminal case of "OOH! SHINY! OOH! NEW SHINY!" disorder, but merely that some factor made them decide that a game was not worth playing anymore. There's a lot of reasons, ranging from "I got too busy to play for awhile, don't remember where I was, and can't stomach going through the beginning again" to "Well, I'm basically guaranteed to complete this without difficulty because I've gotten too good at it, and the lack of challenge has made it boring. I could force my way through to the end, maybe making up some sort of self-imposed challenge to make it tolerable, OR I could spend my limited gaming time on something else" all the way through "these systems looked great when I started, but they don't actually work that well now that the complexity's ramped up."

      Insisting that most companies are catering to gaming magpies with no attention span is nothing but elitism.

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    12. You didn't mention the most common one - "The devs clearly ran out of ideas halfway through and just padded the rest of the game with copy-pasted content". All games that last over 25 hours suffer from it.

      @CRPGAddict, I think you're misinterpreting the context of that discussion. TES games have been running on the iterations of the same engine since Morrowind. And it's an engine that comes with some obvious legacy limitations like e.g. separating interior from exterior. And although I personally never had any problems with optimization in TES games, many people seem to have them. So it's not entirely unreasonable to demand a change to a different engine after almost 20 years.

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    13. most board games are experienced almost fully in one or two play session.

      This could not be more wrong. We're not talking about Yahtzee or Settlers, we're talking about the real games. One or two plays just scratch the surface and get you familiar with the mechanisms. There's nothing wrong with being a collector. Collectors put a lot of money into their hobbies and keep the industry running.

      That is a claim that would be a lot better if you had anything approaching evidence to back it up.

      I recognize this argument. It is a dismissal, an instruction to go and find multiple peer-reviewed studies. And even if I do, you'll investigate the political background of the scientists involved until you find something objectionable that will allow you to dismiss the claim. Been down this road before.

      a comparison that can be rejected without consideration.

      I can't help but notice an emotional reaction. This isn't a personal attack, although you seem to be reacting to it as if it were. It's an observation I've made, and I believe it to be true. It explains a lot of behavior that was inexplicable before, such as why people buy so many games they don't play, or why they happily buy terrible games. I'll let you know when my funding for a study comes through. In the meantime, meditate on my theory of of game collectors vs. game players and start noticing when it fits observable behavior.

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  4. Speaking of RPGs where you play as merchants, Torneko (1993) is a Japanese spin-off of Dragon Quest that fits the bill, but I think I only played one of the sequels.

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    1. Spells of Gold has a merchant class, and the game is set up to make buying/selling a legitimate way to acquire currency.

      Most other games that have a merchant class (or in the case of Dungeons of Dredmor, a 'banking' skill tree =D) are roguelikes.

      Recettear is an ARPG about running an item shop.

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    2. In the PS1 game Merriment Carrying Caravan you control a family's caravan and try to make money for your daughters' education.

      In many of the Atelier games your main job is running an alchemy shop.

      Moby Games has the trader category (https://www.mobygames.com/game-group/merchant-trade-oriented-games), but of course that is filled with strategy games.

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    3. Tower of Doom for Intellivision lets you play as a merchant ("Trader") character, who starts out with a bunch of valuable treasures and ranks high in bribery/charm. Clearly the intention was that theoretically you could bribe your way through the game, or at least through most enemies (probably not all), but I've always just settled for hacking my way through.

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  5. The princess looks sweet...

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  6. I didn't notice it in the proceeding entries for this, but the graphics for the real actors seems very off. Like every single shot was taken by someone who had no idea what they were doing.

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    1. Considering the time, it wouldn't surprise me if the FMV parts were all done by people that had absolutely no experience

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    2. Possibly, but this is also 1992. Even in expensive studios most of the editing was analog. Local tv stations and such might have had boards with 4 video tracks. Source material was likely VHS, and in any case on tape. Considering you're going to encode the material to some digital format you probably want the source material to be as simple as possible.

      Yes, a lot of the 90ies FMV likely was pure amateur hour, but it also was a lot harder. Especially given the budgets.

      Kids these days with their fancy timelines have it so easy. Why I remember when (in my summer job) I first got my hands on an analog timeline editor. We had to rewind our tapes ourselves!

      Et cetera. It really is amazing how powerful and easy it all is these days!

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    3. I guess, but quite a few other games with photos of real people managed to look much better around and before this time. A-10 Tank Killer, for instance, looked much better with its FMV than this, despite coming out three years earlier at the dawn of VGA, and thus having nothing to compare it to. A lot of those straight FMV games looked better too. There's technical difficulties and just having a bad photography department. I think this one can be chalked up to the latter. I also don't think the source material was VHS, it was more likely that they just used a regular photograph camera.

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    4. You would be correct - We were really making it all up as we went along. The actors were captured with a video camera straight to the computer via a targa board - hideously expensive at the time. We really had no idea what we were doing.

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  7. So, this was a fun game that I had never heard of before. Thanks again, CRPG Addict, for bringing these little nuggets to light! You bring us many hours of enjoyment, both reading and playing along.

    “In the game's opening moments--so sudden as to be comical, particularly with the accompanying scream--Larkin is assassinated…”

    Your writing really captures this moment – it was very brief, but so unexpectedly funny (and more than a little puzzling) that I restarted a few times just to see it again. Maia’s supercilious head toss provided another humorous FMV :)

    “It's probably going to turn out that Cam Tethe is the Lord of the Shadows, but it would be nice if the game had some kind of twist on the standard template, like maybe it's me (I did kind-of come out of the wilderness).” Wow, nice insight!

    As mentioned previously, I made a run designed to maximize attributes. With only a few hours of practice, Magic reached its maximum value of 127. Then I labored at the inn, scrimping and saving for acrobatics training until Chester the Great could teach me no more (at the low 80s). Finally (thanks for the suggestion), I saved to buy the three strength potions in Granite.

    By the time I reached Cam Tethe's chambers, my health had risen to 116. Imagine my joy on discovering another potion of strength there! I quaffed it, but it had no effect whatsoever! This was a fairly big disappointment, given my focus on maximizing stats throughout the game. I wonder if it was a bug, or if, as with Chester the Great, stats simply could not rise above the 80s except through practice?

    I recovered the Shadow Sword fairly early in the game, and, as you noted, it was a real disadvantage. Beyond suppressing personal magic, it somewhat unpredictably inhibited portal travel. Eventually I dropped it at the portal in the Great Forest, only coming back for it much later, at the end game. Fortunately, the game has a comforting and reliable item persistence, without the sort of garbage collection routines you see in some games.

    ... (continued)

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  8. I found the crystal ball especially helpful in navigating the Great Forest maze. It seemed to double the field of view, quadrupling the visible area.

    After acquiring the gold catalyst, I wandered about the map trying to undo some of the damage that this era had unleashed upon the people of Ylowinn.

    “…a ghost wanders. I tried talking to him, but it didn't work.” I also tried a few things with this ghost, but nothing paid off. I tried to resurrect the ghost, and when that failed, to resurrect several of the gravestones in his vicinity. When that failed, I tried casting Umbra, becoming “but a shadow” much like the ghost, but I still could not talk to him. *sigh* I suppose he’s just there for ambiance.

    I was able to resurrect the bandits and the mage hunter in the northern forest and in Robin’s hideout. The newly raised wandered off without a thanks, but at least they no longer attacked on sight.

    In Larf’s tower, while skeletons strapped to tables could not be resurrected, the zombie remains could be … as zombies. Similarly for the zombie butler. Pity the poor townsfolk who can never return to their former lives.

    Recalling your comment, I really had high hopes for Ash and Elihem, the beloved son and wife of Berrin who had been killed by guardsmen, but sadly, just like Larkin’s grave, Larf’s skeletons, and the ghost’s graves, Berrin’s family’s graves seem to be tiles with no actionable content. “There isn’t anyone there” to cast respirare upon.

    Granite Keep’s guards resuscitated easily, except the peculiar one right outside the sealed entrance to the keep -- the one that had been dead when I arrived, without any agency on my part.

    Cam Tethe was particularly fun to resurrect. “Prepare to meet thy fate, worm!” he threatens, but it’s all bluster: his aggressiveness is gone, unless you initiate an attack. If you are fortunate enough to defeat him again, there is not another ebon axe to be found, but you can resurrect him yet again, with his aggressiveness gone again.

    The Dire Wolves, Torloks, Morgoths and Spectral Monks followed the by-now boring variation on the same theme, restored to their creature or spectral selves without incident. The real fun might have been to raise Abraxis (again!), but there is no opportunity to do so because once that struggle is complete, you go straight to the end of the game, with that pretty little princess in the painfully cute Li’l Rascals pose.

    I never found the spell, Nictare, which (according to the manual) would teleport to any location in view. Although I found the two “time stop” scrolls you mention, I also never found the Tempestas spell.

    I discovered an undeveloped stub in the Great Library. You can Enter the basement after moving three steps North and seven steps East immediately after entering the library. As soon as you Enter the basement, you are attacked by a Torlok and his pet Dire Wolf. There doesn’t seem to be anything else of interest down there, though.

    Did you happen to notice that "Cam Tethe" is an anagram for "Chet Team"? I mean, together with Chester the Great, it's amazing how Strategic Simulations, Inc. seemed to have foretold this moment in your blog!

    Thanks yet again for all the research and the very enjoyable writing.

    Until later, Rangerous the Second

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for supplementing my own experience. Resurrecting slain foes was a cute idea. I also never found "Tempestas" or "Nictare," and I just took a look at the hint book and it has nothing to say about either of them.

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  9. What would be your top 10 for computer game Storyline?

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    1. With the help of my ratings sheet, I think I'd go with:

      1. Starflight (1986)
      2. Ultima IV (1985)
      3. Starflight II (1989)
      4. The Magic Candle (1989)
      5. Quest for Glory I-III (1989-1992, ties)
      8. Pool of Radiance (1988)
      9. Ultima V (1988)
      10. Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989)

      Star Control II would be 11, or you might be able to convince me to displace one of the others. None of the Might and Magic games make the top of the list just because of how obscurely they unfold. The recent Wizardry games have detailed stories, but they're also needlessly complex and goofy.

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    2. I assume this shortlist includes only games you have played as part of the blog, correct?

      If not, it would quite damning for more modern games.

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    3. Yes, of course. I don't have enough comprehensive experience with more modern games. And in modern games, I tend to value the "storyline" (which by its very nature is linear) less than the overall game world. Sometimes the former even gets in the way of the latter.

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    4. By the way, Addict, have you played enough 3D games (especially action games) to know that you don't get simulation sickness?

      It probably won't be much of an issue in RPGs but then again I've played at least one that made me ill (Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm on Dreamcast). But if you're one of the lucky majority, and especially if you've played Skyrim et al. with no problems, you'll probably be fine.

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  10. "It's worth pointing out at this time that the game world is not dynamic, and after Elspeth left, she was nowhere to be found. All NPCs reacted to her name as if she was still missing and as if Tethe was still alive."

    I think this could be actually a point on the realism side too - the island didn't have news or social media. Realistically, it could take weeks for news - even as big as the princess being freed or cam being killed - to trickle down to their neck of the woods.

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