Sunday, August 25, 2019

Treasures of the Savage Frontier: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Reminder: It is possible to play this game with "evil" characters.
            
Treasures of the Savage Frontier
United States
Beyond Software (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released in 1992 for Amiga and DOS
Date Started: 20 July 2019
Date Finished: 2 August 2019
Total Hours: 31
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 51
Ranking at time of posting: 318/343 (93%)

Summary:
One of the last Gold Box games, this one is competent but not terribly memorable. All of the Gold Box strengths (variety of enemies, combat interface, character development, interface) and weaknesses (bad economy, no environmental graphics, limited sound) are present, with a few minor additions such as weather affecting combat, the ability for enemies to join combat in subsequent rounds, and a romance between the lead character and an NPC.

*****

If the Gold Box series was a political dynasty, its founder, Pool of Radiance (1988), would be like a bold, innovative president whose genius and integrity are remembered for generations. Curse of the Azure Bonds would be like his son who only ever made it to vice president. Every other game would be a bunch of descendants who had served as cabinet secretaries and representatives--each perhaps distinguished when considered individually, some even more physically attractive than their famous forebear, but none rising quite to his level of prominence.

Treasures of the Savage Frontier added a handful of tweaks to the Gold Box experience and told a competent story. It was in no way a shame to the family--not like those Buck Rogers cousins. But neither did it offer anything, in real terms, that we haven't experienced already. Since what we experienced already was pretty good, this isn't exactly a problem, but in some ways it's too bad that the lineage didn't continually improve over its lifetime the way that, say, the Ultima series did. Perhaps the comparison is inapt because Ultima used different engines for every release.

I said that Treasures told a "competent story," but even that is only true up through the end of my last entry. The Zhentarim/Hosttower/Kraken plot didn't keep me on the edge of my seat, but it did at least keep me interested. The final battle of this segment was a worthy challenge. Then, all of a sudden the Lords' Alliance leaders started talking about The Gem and the importance in keeping it out of the hands of the Zhentarim. I promise that The Gem had never been mentioned at any point in the story before, but all the journal entries acted as if everyone already knew about it. "It was this magical Gem that was used to destroy [a white dragon named] Freezefire centuries ago," King Steelfist said. "The powerful magic item may still be there, awaiting adventurers with the strength and courage to come find it in the barren wastes."
         
I expected him to turn on me, but mostly I forgot he was even there.
        
And thus the last chapter of the book had the party traipsing through villages and caverns of the frozen north. Accompanying us was an NPC fighter named Kriiador, servant to the human leader of Mirabar. A previously-unavailable dock in Neverwinter now sold passage to the northern city of Fireshear.

When we arrived, we discovered that the city (which occupied two levels with multiple ladders) had already been sacked by the forces of evil. We slowly retook it from the various yeti, ice hounds, remorhazes, and umber hulks that had made homes in the former shops and businesses of the residents. Umber hulks--which look weirder here than in any other game in which I've seen them--did their usual "confuse" trick.
          
An umber hulk, looking very cartoonish.
         
The hardest battle--and this became a recurring issue--was with a large group that included about half a dozen yeti chiefs. I guess the creatures get a chance of "terrifying" each party member when the battle starts, and with so many of them, it was common for every one of my party members to get terrified. Terrified characters flee the battlefield. They ultimately return, but only after four or five rounds in which the remaining characters have to hold out. There seemed to be no way to protect against the effect, and so the battle occasioned several reloads before I got enough party members to stick with it.
           
This is what finally frightens my party?
         
Even after I finished this battle, I had to immediately fight another one with a beholder and more yeti. Fortunately, my characters were under the effects of "Haste" (I used it so often that the party ended the game in their mid-30s having started in their early 20s). Resisting the beholder's more serious attacks, my three lead fighters ran up and pounded him until he was dead.
            
This guy wasn't as hard as he could have been if the dice had gone the other way.
         
Once Fireshear was clear, the shops and services opened up again, including a boat offering passage further up the coast to the Ice Peak. This area consisted of four maps, including three interconnected towns: Aurilssbaarg, Bjorn's Hold, and Icewolf. The areas featured numerous encounters with tribal northerners, and I regret to say I was done with the game at this point, so I stopped meticulously recording everything that happened.
           
The type of encounter I got in the final maps. I probably didn't even read the entry.
          
The tribesmen were nice and didn't give me any trouble about pronouncing "Tempos" as "Tempus," and there were more battles with ice creatures. Ultimately, I found my way to the passage that led to the final area.
            
My ranger gets impatient.
          
The final map, Freezefire's Lair, had a lot of secret doors but not a lot of special encounters. One exception was a combat with a creature I'd never encountered before (in any game) called a "gorgimera"--a cross between a gorgon and a chimera.
             
These guys were pretty bad-ass.
         
The penultimate battle occurred when we stumbled into a cave containing Freezefire's corpse. A bunch of mages, spies, and priests had beat us there, and fighting them was about as hard as the last battle in Mirabar. It all came down to who drew first and paralyzed everyone else with "Hold" or negated their spellcasting abilities with "Ice Storm" or "Fireball." I'd gained a level or two since the final battle in Mirabar, however, and this one had fewer enemies suddenly appearing in later rounds.
           
My ranger is taken out of the action, but we were victorious in the end.
       
When it was over, there was a scripted scene in which the party drooled over the piles of treasure in Freezefire's chamber before remembering that their duty was to collect The Gem. (The game never gave any indication of what, exactly, it did.) Ghost pried it out of the dead dragon's claws, which somehow caused the dead dragon to come back to life.
              
I like how the game tries to make the dragon scary, as if we hadn't been fighting dragons since Level 2 in Gateway.
          
The actual "final battle" with Freezefire was laughably easy, as battles with single dragons tend to be in Gold Box titles. He had a few dozen hit points, which the dancing blades of my hastened fighters depleted before he could even breathe once.
          
I swear his name is spelled "Freezefire" everywhere else.
            
The endgame screens then commenced. A group of dwarves carried us victoriously back to Icewolf, where we had a feast. The two rulers of Mirabar showed up to lay plans for dividing Freezefire's treasure among the Lords' Alliance cities, plus the northern tribes.
          
Yeah, that's going to pretty much ruin the local economy.
         
The party was offered 40 jewelry, 250 gems, and 15,000 platinum pieces (but why)? The Lord's Alliance took charge of The Gem, and the Zhentarim, Krakens, and Hosttower forces all slithered back to their homes. After the final screen at the top of this entry, the game allowed me to keep playing.
             
That's nice, but just once I'd like someone to call us by our names.
        
As I noted in the last entry, the ending felt tacked on. On the other hand, without it, the title didn't make any sense, as the game preceding it wasn't about any treasures. On yet another hand, it still doesn't make any sense, because while the ending is about treasures, the treasures are not "of the Savage Frontier." Then again, hardly any of the game took place in the Savage Frontier. 

There are more than a couple hints that the developers were setting up a sequel to occur in High Forest. First, there was the mystery to do with Siulajia and how the Axis of Evil knew her family. Second, the mages and priests we encountered at the Ice Peak appear to have been sent not by the Zhentarim conspiracy but by "the Masters of Hellgate Keep," as one captured enemy squealed. Hellgate Keep is on the edge of the High Forest. Even the cover, showing Siulajia holding a magic gem, seems to be from a sequel more than the current game.

After I won, I took a few minutes to create a new party out of my massively-overpowered characters from Pools of Darkness. These were characters so powerful, you'll recall, that at the end of Pools, they were basically sent into exile. They were all around Level 30-40, some of them in their second classes, and the mages among them had Level 9 spells. Treasures read their character files, including all their equipment, as if they were native characters.
          
The imported party. Look at those ACs!
        
The game wouldn't let me outside until I won the big battle in Llorkh. There were a lot more enemies than the first time, but I'm not sure if that's because Treasures "read" my party as being more powerful, or if it was because I didn't clean up the side encounters first. Either way, the large party still went down quickly to "Delayed Blast Fireball."
          
A lot more foes than last time, but that's just more fodder for a "Fireball."
         
I immediately brought the party to Luskan and attacked the Hosttower. Despite the level of my characters, the defending mages still mostly acted first, suggesting that the initiative rolls are rigged for this battle. It didn't help them much, however, as they mostly cast "Ice Storm" and I had "Resist Cold" on every character. Although multiple new enemies joined each round, my vorpal swords and spells like "Meteor Swarm" cut through the masses faster than they could replenish them, and I won with minimal damage in just a few minutes.
            
I forgot how much I like vorpal swords.
        
The battle earned me 19,751 experience per character. When it was over, I was taken back to the 3-D screen where a message said, "The great gates slam shut!" I then had the option to bash them again for, presumably, another battle. So much for that. I'm sure this combat could be won with native characters, particularly late in the game. "Resist Cold" and "Haste" would do most of the work.
           
The whole point of fighting that big battle was to get through those gates.
         
I always like to check out the uncircled journal entries to see which are likely to be fake. There aren't many here. Out of 88 entries, I checked off 73, and at least 5 of the remainder fit known story developments and events, so it's likely that I just missed them. Of the few obvious "fakes," one has the dwarves of Llorkh betraying and imprisoning the party. Another would have the party waste time looking for a beholder in Port Llast. There was a fake map, and a misleading entry about the pirate Redleg. That's about it. I miss some of the older games' fake entries, which often had an entire fake sub-plot running through them.

With all the corners explored, it's time to get on to the GIMLET:
          
  • 5 points for the game world. It makes good use of Forgotten Realms themes, adequately continues the story from Gateway, and does a reasonably good job evolving the world as the game progresses.
          
The Forgotten Realms campaign setting says Mirabar is ruled jointly by dwarves and humans, and that's how the game presents it.
         
  • 5 points for character creation and development, which is essentially the Gold Box/AD&D1 average. Only the Dragonlance games do significantly better with their unique races and classes. Here, I thought some of the level caps were a bit low.
  • 6 points for NPC interaction. This series has never featured classic NPCs (with their own icons, independent existence, etc.) so much as "encounters" with memorable characters in them. But this game does better than most by allowing so many characters to join the party, including one who will engage in a romance with the lead character. The romance is a bit dull and progresses mostly in the background, but it has actual consequences for statistics and behavior in combat.
  • 6 points for encounters and foes. Most of that goes to the foes. I really do like the AD&D bestiary, with its incredible variety of special attacks and defenses that constantly change up combat tactics, and this game had some creatures I'd never heard of. Non-combat encounters aren't as thick or memorable in their role-playing options as some of the earlier titles, but the game does feature at least a few.
         
Monsters are introduced in memorable fashion . . . 

. . . and the manual tells you what you need to know.
         
  • 7 points for magic and combat. Few changes to a very good combat engine and magic system. I didn't feel strongly enough about the two additions--consideration of the weather and the ability of enemies to join the combat midway--for it to affect the rating either way.
  • 5 points for equipment. I like the variety of equipment, but I don't like that every item is predetermined and fixed in location.
  • 2 points for the economy. There's more interesting stuff to buy than in the typical Gold Box title, but it's so cheap that you end up with the same problem as every other game: too much gold, not enough to spend it on. A party could easily get through this game with its starting allowance.
            
The party defeats six orcs.
           
  • 4 points for a main quest and a fair number of side-quests and side-areas. I never finished whatever the dwarves wanted me to do.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics and sound effects are both adequate, though I'm getting sick of empty environments. Most of the points here go to the extremely intuitive interface, which manages to accommodate keyboard, joystick, and mouse users.
  • 5 points for gameplay. I like the quasi-nonlinearity, and I thought the challenge and length were about right, or maybe just a tad too easy. I don't see it as very "replayable."
            
The final score of 51 is about middle-of-the-road for a Gold Box title. I'm surprised to see it only two points higher than Gateway, but I can't pinpoint where I expected Gateway to do worse. At this point, it's clear that no Gold Box game is going to outperform the first entry, Pool of Radiance (1988), which got a 65. It has the most interesting world and story of the series, the most memorable and challenging battles, the best non-combat encounter options, and the best variety of quests.
             
           
It doesn't appear that Computer Gaming World even bothered to review this one. Scorpia offered some hints in the July 1992 issue but not a full review. In an October 1993 summary of CRPGs on the market, she said that the game had "a couple of twists" but was "otherwise pretty much a yawner." Dragon gave it 4/5 stars in an August 1992 review and said that while it was "enjoyable" and "satisfying," there was "nothing really new."

(A couple of weird things about this issue of Dragon: 1) it features a screenshot from SSI's Sword of Aragon from 1989 but labels it from Treasures; 2) it has a joint ad for Twilight: 2001 and MegaTraveller 3, neither of which were ever released.)

I would venture that Treasures is more fun today, when the player isn't really expecting innovation, than in 1992, when the Gold Box engine was 4 years old and players were excited by more immersive environments as in Ultima Underworld or even Eye of the Beholder and its sequel. Such attitudes surely pervade the horrid series of reviews that the game received from European Amiga magazines, the best being the 69 in the June 1992 Power Play and the worst the 34 afforded by the November 1992 Amiga Power. Amiga magazines, and particularly the British ones, never really "got" the Gold Box, and it annoys me that the reviewer (Les Ellis) seems to define "playability" as the ability to immediately start playing without reading the manual. Otherwise, the review is oddly forgivable in its historical context, opening with the rhetorical question: "After the likes of Eye of the Beholder 2, is there really any need for games like this?" I rated Eye of the Beholder II lower than Treasures, but even I kind-of get where he's coming from.

In my ignorance as a non-programmer, I have to wonder why the Gold Box couldn't have evolved better than it did. For instance, why couldn't a player exploring the tiled maps of Neverwinter be treated to some of the same menacing background sounds, perhaps growing when enemies were near, that he receives in Eye of the Beholder? Why couldn't the graphics have featured more environmental clues? Why was it so important to stick to 16 x 16 maps? I know some of my helpful commenters will try to give answers, but I suspect they'll sound to me more like excuses than explanations.
           
"Players can now interact with NPCs--they can even have romances!" is a bit misleading.
          
Ah, but it's too soon to bemoan the loss of the engine--we'll do that after Dark Queen of Krynn. For now, we say goodbye to Beyond Software, soon to rename itself Stormfront Studios. It will develop one more RPG in the near future (1993's Stronghold) and nothing again until the 2000s. SSI, the most prolific RPG publisher of the period, will continue to entertain us with RPGs of all types until 1995, when it will suddenly get out of the RPG business for good.

I move now to The Magic Candle III, of which I know virtually nothing. My entries may continue to be a bit spotty for the next few weeks (though hopefully without any more very long breaks) as I adjust to a new job and schedule.

143 comments:

  1. "In my ignorance as a non-programmer, I have to wonder why the Gold Box couldn't have evolved better than it did."

    Having neither used Pascal (IIRC, the language Gold Box games were made in) nor programmed a computer from the era, I can only suspect a few things.

    1) The limitation is so inherent to the Gold Box code itself that it wasn't worth their time to upgrade it, especially once they started to be outdone by games like Underworld and EOTB. I kinda doubt it, but again I don't really know either way.

    2) In licensing out the engine, SSI only gave other studios the right/ability to make content for the games, but not to modify the engine itself. They could make levels, dialogue and graphics, but not add any really new features themselves.

    3) They wanted to make sure the games ran on as many systems as possible, maybe filling some kind of niche for gamers on a budget that couldn't upgrade.

    God, the Amiga reviews in your wrap-ups never fail to grind my gears. Did Amiga reviewers just not have any taste at all?

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    1. I think it's just more about a different sort of game with a different focus. Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder etc. were *about* immersing you in a realistic dungeon. But the graphics here, even if they make gestures towards animation and 3d, are really just 'playing cards' whose job is to make the tactics clear. Same as lots of roguelikes have tiles, but fundamentally they play the same with ASCII.

      It's also true that they would have had to make a new engine to change very much. Maybe they could have hacked in wall-switches, say, but if anything an addition like that might seem out of place if it is not supported by other 'graphically immersive' features.

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    2. When anything is limited in a game to 16 anything (or 8, or 64, or 1024) it's because it's assigned a limited amount of room in memory.

      You can store 16 different values in four binary bits, with zero being 0000 and 15 being 1111, but to be able to contemplate a 17th number (00001) you need five bits.

      So the player's map position is stored in a total of eight bits of memory (four bits for X axis, four bits for Y axis). If you're going past 16 x 16, then your maps can now be 32 x 32, requiring ten bits of storage, but we're still in an era where the difference between 8 bits and 10 bits can meaningfully impact your ability to port your game to different platforms.

      But most importantly, it's likely that the Gold Box engine was designed around that 8 bit limitation in map size, and multiple layers of code at multiple points were written with an assumption that a player's X and Y coordinates could never be higher than the 16th binary value. Changing that would require a substantial engine rewrite, possibly including a rearrangement of how the engine uses memory (which is possibly highly optimised).

      As with all things, it can be done - but SSI would have been looking at how much they expected to make off yet another game in the same engine, versus the cost of improving the engine. Was there really a value in enabling 32 x 32 maps versus, for example, just having four linked 16 x 16 maps?

      On your other points, there's a good chance there's no reason they couldn't have done contextual environmental sounds beyond either not thinking of it, or not wanting to spend the time and money to do it.

      Environmental details, I don't know.
      Some games store their visual art assets in a memory-efficient way that makes for very fast processing, but makes it difficult to arbitrarily add additional assets once that optimisation has occurred. I.e. they may have been limited to a maximum number of different tiles they could use across the entire game.

      It may also have been a limitation in memory related to how many disks they could afford to ship the game on, or how much memory was available on a system they intended to port it to.

      Or it could have just been that in SSI's opinion the cost/benefit equation in creating and implementing the additional art didn't work out, and it was good enough for the number of units they expected to ship.

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    3. Should probably have also said that eight bits is a byte, and the difference between one byte and two bytes can still be a big difference in this era.

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    4. From a programmers point of view, the problem here is usually global state. Maps and positions are stored in globally accessible variables, so every bit of code could potentially do something with them (and break if you change them). So you need to check every bit of code and the change needs to be thoroughly tested. And if your code is hacky enough, the compiler won't help you one bit with catching errors. Such a change also affects file formats, all supporting software (map editors, etc.), and it has to be done for all ports of the engine.

      Technically, this could surely be done. But in a real project you have additional problems. The engine would have to be tested if it runs on current hardware anyway. This is hard to do while someone is making a breaking change. There might already be a team of scenario designers allocated to the project, who would have to wait until the new editor is ready and fully tested (or risk losing their work). Just to name a few examples.

      It's still possible to do all this, but someone has to decide that larger maps are needed (ideally before the start of a project) and that the change is worth the effort, and this just never happened.

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    5. To add to other replies: the Gold Box engine was basically made for the Commodore 64, which was still the top selling system at the start of development (the NES would basically "destroy" it a year or two later, and computer gaming moved to MS-DOS, mostly). That explains most of its limitations (map sizes, events described instead of shown, the journal entries, etc.) -- in terms of technology, this is closer to early Wizardry/Bard's Tale than to Dungeon Master or EotB. Even when they finally stopped supporting the C64, the limitations remained -- and, as GregT said above, they probably figured the engine was on its last legs, and wasn't worth investing in.

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    6. Yeah, it would have been easier to just write a new engine than extend the existing one very far. But even that wouldn't have been as daunting as it might sound if they were going to stay within range of the modest scope of the Gold Box games. They definitely could have done it.

      But they probably just figured it wasn't worth it. They had a product that was selling, so why bother? Just focus on the minimum of new content. Did anyone else come out with a similar-but-better engine and prove them wrong?

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    7. It's also very likely that SSI were already working on Dark Sun at the time, so no reason for them to bother with updating the Goldbox one.

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    8. @VK: The CEO of Stormfront Studios (who made the Savage Frontier games) says that SSI "handed over the keys" in 1989 when they started working on Dark Sun.

      http://www.gamebanshee.com/interviews/28317-stormfront-studios-interview/all-pages.html

      It makes a lot of sense as a business decision. Unfortunately it ended up not working out in practice, since Dark Sun was such a buggy mess. Of course, SSI was about to run into the mid '90s RPG crash anyway.

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    9. The Amiga reviewers were primarily concerned with novelty, above all else. They luxuriated in it. They didn't really care what it was, as long as it was new. This is why they gushed over mouse-only games despite mouse + keyboard being the best. The mouse was new, and any game that let them use it was highly rated.

      You'll find these people with an addiction to novelty are high in a personality trait called Openness. People high in Openness value novelty and new experiences very highly, and are offended by anything that's not. They also have stronger experiences with such novelty, and get more absorbed and emotionally reactive. People lower in Openness often feel that high Openness people are flaky, flighty, and capricious, and too readily throw away good solutions that have been found by the test of time to be positive.

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    10. Harland: I'd describe Amiga reviewers somewhat differently: since the Amiga was (and it was indeed) the "next big thing" in terms of multimedia (although that word didn't exist at the time) -- average PCs only surpassed the 1985 Amiga in 1992 or so -- they were obsessed with graphics, sound, and whether a game used the Amiga's capabilities. Gameplay was secondary. Also, they were mostly into arcade games (sometimes they gave a page to an adventure games reviewer, but not always), and weren't typically interested in reading manuals or learning complex systems. Therefore, for both technical and gameplay reasons, games like this didn't appeal to them.

      Also, it was a time when British magazines competed on "edginess" (something that actually began at the end of the 8-bit era, but it got *way* worse in the 16-bit era), and so many reviewers (and, I assume, a number of readers) thought that reviews where the writer not only clearly didn't play the game, but dismissed an entire genre, were "cool".

      I enjoyed British gaming mags (about 8-bit computers like the Spectrum and the C64) in the 80s, but in the 90s/16-bit era I mostly moved to a couple of French ones, as the British ones' immature "edginess" didn't appeal to me (and I liked more complex games, anyway). American magazines weren't mostly available in Portugal, those days, sadly (I would have loved something like CGW).

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    11. Another reason for the Amiga's focus on more arcade style games was that it was rare -- in Europe at least -- for the more popular Amiga models to have hard disk drives so large games like adventures and rpgs were not as popular as disk-swapping was a pain.

      If you had one of the Amiga "thousand" models you probably had a hard disk, but the A500, A600, and A1200 didn't have them as standard.

      As such, a game that came on one or two disks was going to be a better sell.

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    12. Dehumanizer: your first paragraph isn't really disagreeing with me. ;)

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    13. Being An Amiga Gamer in late 80's and early 90's, I think that Amiga Power targeted a more younger audience, that's why it focused on arcade and coin up conversions. I always preferred Amiga Format. A more all around magazine, but its gaming section and its reviews, was more accurate than other "pure" gaming magazines. Although in the case of this game, its a rather hit or miss review. Praise for the packaging,
      but not for anything else. (http://amr.abime.net/amr_popup_picture.php?src=amiga_format/magscans/af041_1992_12/111.jpg&c=33363)

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    14. If the Amiga focused on arcade games, it was probably in part because the Amiga tech was really suited to this. Even in the late '90s, while the Amiga was incapable of DOOM, and Windows had started multitasking, the Amiga could do a smoother 2d platformer thhan the PC could.

      The 16-wide levels were a holdover, honestly. At one time they saved memory. Later, they were efficient. But for at least a decade after, most coders couldn't bring themselves to believe that it didn't really matter.

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    15. There's a C# version of the Curse of the Azure Bonds source code on Github, if somebody wants to give it a try. It was apparently reengineered from the original binaries, so it should give you a rough idea of the original code. Although not completely, as apparently some refactoring into OO-style programming has already been done.

      (Not giving a direct link, as the author unfortunately included at least some of the data files of the game)

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    16. Actually, in the late '90s the Amiga was capable of using Doom, there were a few ports after the release of Doom's source code.
      https://doomwiki.org/wiki/Amiga
      I've also heard that there were ports of Quake and Descent: Freespace, but I haven't seen those myself.

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    17. Well, yeeeessss, but anything like Doom required hardware most Amiga users didn't have, like new processors, extra memory, hard disks. Such expansions were easy to add to the more popular models, but were expensive and little used.

      My 2mb 14mhz Amiga 1200 could run clones like Alien Breed 3D and Gloom but the game window was tiny.

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    18. Yeah, Gloom was more of a Wolfenstein clone (original pre-DOOM Wolfenstein, not the new one). And 17-Bit Software did a true DOOM-a-like (can't remember the title) but on a standard Amiga it ran at about 320x200, with pixels upscaled to fill the screen.

      [The upscaled pixels are reminiscent of Heavy On The Magick, though that one did it due to Spectrum memory limitations. Though I read today on Ars Technica about a new game called Control that uses a form of supersampling to upscale ray-traced scenes, so I guess everything old gets new again sometime. When's my turn?]

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    19. I am a programmer. I don't know the code of the gold box games but it seems like they packed their data-structures really tightly.

      1- the 16 * 16 grid: this really is a sweet-spot, memory-wise. This grid has 256 cells, so if the cells are stored in an array (they probably do that), the cells can be indexed with a single byte. Moreover, since 16 is 2^4, the x-coordinate can be encoded in one half-byte and the y-coordinate in the other half-byte. With this encoding scheme they use every single bit and can access everything with an offset on the starting-point of the map and a simple bitmask. Classical old-school techniques.
      The next obvious step would be 16-bit indexing. This would allow a 256 * 256 grid: 65536 cells. This would probably consume too much memory for the older platforms they targeted.
      2: the empty environment: I guess they actually store very little data per map cell. They need an index for the wall type. IIRC there are 4 different kinds of "edge" between cells: wall, open, arch or door. That can be encoded in 2 bits. For 4 edges per cell, that makes 8 bits. Again a byte.
      They do differentiate between doors that open automatically and doors that have to be picked/bashed. That takes a single status bit. If there can be 4 doors on a cell, that means 4 bits. There are also illusionary walls. Another status bit per edge. Together a byte.
      The cell also needs an index into a table of "special" cells (encounters, hidden treasure, flavour text, journal entries). If they use a byte for that, every cell can theoretically be a special cell. If that is all, they only have to keep 3 bytes per cell, and use every bit of it. Possibly there is actually one or two bytes more, but I guess that already in the first game everything was used.

      If they access all this by doing byte offset juggling from a pointer to the beginning of the map data, which I suspect they do, it becomes technically hard to expand the storage per map cell. They would have to rewrite all the indexing code, which would be very error-prone. If the original programmer left, it would also not be trivial for someone else to understand what's going on in the indexing code. That would take learning time that could also be used to crank out another game.

      You will notice that in gold box games monsters don't actually move (except in combat mode). They are always in the same cell. The data-structure does not allow for monsters moving. Also there is probably no spare space for an index into a table of context-driven sound. All these limitations are dictated by a very compact map storage. It would be technically much easier to increase the resolutions of textures, icons etc and they actually did that. They gradually improved stuff that could be improved without breaking the basic data-structure of the maps. In the end that was also the main thing that made the engine old-fashioned. In Might & Magic 3 monsters could move over the map and they could be displayed on the environment. Same in EOB. These games undoubtedly used map representations that allowed for more storage per map cell and also more flexibility. On the other hand, it would be more challenging to run those games on a Commodore 64 with very limited memory. But in 1992 the C-64 market was not important anymore.

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    20. Having programmed 8-bit microcontrollers (8051 & 8032), I must that is a great analysis Theo, and probably pretty close to spot on why they had trouble modernizing the Gold Box series. I'm sure it's one of those financial decisions where do I spend the money to revamp the engine or see what more money I can eke out of the system with just new artists, developers, and testers.

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    21. I remember this discussion when our host was playing Secret of the Silver Blades. The ruins of Virdegris were largely empty, because of the teleporters in the Well of Knowledge area. You need the teleporters to get around fast, but that means only three real genuine encounters in
      a very large dungeon. Cramped space makes for featureless games. Thank God for the combat system!

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    22. The engine was made for the Commodore 64. Every other platform had a 'port' of this engine. The C64 being an 8 bit computer, thus the 16 x 16, etc, etc. I would say SSI didn't want the hassle of having to rewrite the engine when they wanted the games to run on both 16 and 8 bit machines, and by the time they were not bothering to port to the 8 bitters (BR Matrix cubed, DQoK, PoD and TotSF) they were already deep into making the darksun engine.

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  2. The Savage Frontier is a fairly loosely defined region. The current definition on Realms Wiki restricts it to a fairly narrow corridor that's exclusive of both the Sword Coast and the High Forest, but doesn't offer a citation for that definition.

    However the D&D sourcebook "The Savage Frontier" (1988) that these games would have been drawing on defines the frontier as basically everything north of Waterdeep, inclusive of Luskan, Mirabar, Silverymoon, the Sumber Hills (including Yartar and Triboar), Longsaddle, and Icewind Dale.

    The thing with Freezefire is weird. The first picture you show makes the dragon look quite dead, so I assumed when he came back to life that it was going to be a dracolich, which would indeed be a scarier enemy than the generic dragons you'd fought previously. But that's clearly blood spilling out of the corpse when you kill it, so no idea what's going on there.

    Can't remember if you already discussed this, but the Tempus / Tempos thing appears to be R. A. Salvatore's fault. The name of the god is unambiguously Tempus, but Salvatore wrote it as "Tempos" throughout the entirety of his novel The Crystal Shard, set in Icewind Dale. It appears that out of a desire to not contradict Salvatore (who is far and away the best-selling of the Realms novelists), future writers have made it canon that the barbarians of the Dale say "Tempos" rather than "Tempus".

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    1. I was referring to Icewind Dale with the Tempus/Tempos thing. I didn't know the backstory, so thanks. The point was that the northerners didn't have any of the personality that they have in IWD and its sequel.

      Also thanks for the clarification on the "Savage Frontier," which by including all those cities is neither savage nor a frontier.

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    2. As far as I can tell it's the "Savage Frontier" because Ed Greenwood gave it that name because he liked the sound of it (and possibly that he thought at an early stage that it *would* be a frontier, before he fleshed out places like Silverymoon and Longsaddle), and then later writers have tried to retroactively justify it:

      * It's "savage" because travel between cities is relatively unsafe compared to the area between Baldur's Gate / Amn / Elturgard / the Caravan Cities.

      * It's "savage" because the area is co-extensive with the ancestral lands of the Uthgardt Tribes.

      * It's "savage" because it was named that way by Waterdeep and lands south, to denigrate the "uncivilised" northerners by contrast to "cultured" southerners.

      * It's "savage" because the *northerners* named it that way, as a way of lionising their own pioneering spirit and endurance in the face of the elements.

      * It's "savage" because bards are a big thing in the Realms, and no-one wants to hear a song about "the civilised and tame north".

      Re: Icewind Dale, if we ever get to it, I'm going to have some things to say about how hilarious it is that the game's clearly trying to cash in on the popularity of Salvatore's books but then goes out of its way to use basically none of his locations or characters.

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    3. I always thought that the Tempus/Tempos thing was a nod to Latin and Greek, in that second declension masculine Latin nouns end in -us whereas second declension masculine Greek nouns end in -os. That "tempus" is a Latin word itself probably set me off that path. Of course, to make the analogy really work, the barbarians would be using the -us ending rather than the -os ending.

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    4. Considering "tempus" is Latin for "time", which is not a fitting name for a god of battle; and that the Greek equivalent is "chronos"; I really think this is a coincidence rather than an intentional nod.

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    5. It would be a reference to morphology, not vocabulary.

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    6. Amusingly, in Azure Bonds, the first novel associated with Curse of the Azure Bonds, at one point in a bar two never-named minor characters get into an argument over whether Tempus is a corruption of the name Tempos, or the other way around.

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    7. Tempus: "THESE are my pronouns!"

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  3. "it has a joint ad for Twilight: 2001and MegaTraveller 3, neither of which were ever released."

    Was Twilight: 2001 meant to be the sequel to anything, or at least reuse an engine (i.e. PoR -> Buck Rogers)? Or was it a whole new thing that didn't even get off the ground?

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  4. I'm looking forward to you doing MC3 (I'm a big fan of the series).

    I was never able to complete it, because both my retail floppies back in the day and every copy I've laid hands on via the magic of the Internet has exhibited the same fatal bug regarding the non-availability of one particular quest item.

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  5. Hi,
    retrospectively I think Pool of Radiance appears a bit overrated. In context of its time, it was groundbreaking for rpg-players.

    After getting the hint to Gold Box Companion, I fired it up recently, as it was sitting idel in my GOG account anyways.

    I was a bit disappointed. The evolution of the GoldBox series was maybe marginal from title to title and the same time a constant improvement.

    Comparing the screenshots from this playthrough with my screens fom PoR, it becomes more obvious how primitive in comparison PoR appears. This mayx not alter the complete gaming experience. It does, however, make it a bit more enjoyable and approachable.

    And there are significant differences between the releases on the different platforms. The Amiga versions definitely have a better appeal. Even for PoR already - or especially?

    You might wantr to cross-check here http://amr.abime.net/review_49354 .

    So to praise PoR as the over-father of the GoldBox RPGs seems a bit of a far stretch for me. it paved the ground and deserves credit for that.

    At the same time, SSI always seemed to be able to identify the "good enough" spot to bring a product to the market. This seems valid even for PoR.

    In any case - I can say I have been there and back then played through the Pool - series as well as the Krynn-series. The combat design is still one of the most transparent ever.

    Never played the two Savage frontier games nor the Buck Rogers ones.

    At that time, I have had enough already. Time to move on.

    Overall it is a bit unfortunate that the GoldBox series didnt get something like a triumphant finale. It feels more like they sneaked out of publicity which less than these games and their developers deserved.

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    1. Personally I'd rate Azure Binds higher than PoR.

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    2. Yeah, I made the same argument that CotAB is better than PoR back in one of those old threads. I think it has better combat due to the higher character levels that offer more variety and options.

      PoR probably has better role-playing aspects though (story, world, and story choices), so I suspect it probably comes down to what you are primarily looking for in the game.

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    3. Pool of Radiance was, I believe, the only Gold Box game whose scenario was designed by a genuine D&D module creator—and was, in fact, created *as* a module, as well.

      Curse of the Azure Bonds was somewhat more tightly plotted as a story, and definitely benefited from having a more complete implementation of the D&D ruleset (things like having Paladins and Rangers). However, it did have a bunch of bits that really just seemed tacked on—many of the "Search Area" dungeons had no realm point to them, for instance. To the best of my recollection, everything (besides fight wandering monsters) you could do in Pool of Radiance was associated with an actual questline of one sort or another.

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    4. I think that Curse and PoR are clearly #1 and #2.

      I think Curse has better maps, UI, presentation and a tighter story, but PoR has a much stronger sense of place. Rather than a handful of mostly disconnected maps interspersed by menu towns, PoR really hits the 'hub + surrounds' feel, as a lot of the game is spent traveling through the connected maps of Phlan, and it manages to convey the sense that you are reclaiming it from the invaders.

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    5. I would only like to point out that the first person 3D engine used through the goldbox series was the work of Westwood Associates (EotB) as Louis Castle, co-founder of the studio, mentioned in this interview: https://steemit.com/gaming/@badastroza/interesting-people-20-louis-castle-on-developing-dragonstrike-and-other-d-and-d-classics

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    6. Delvin, I wouldn't call dungeons that aren't connected to side quests "tacked on", necessarily. I do like some pure dungeon crawling in between the questing,and it never feels tacked on to me. If you went out exploring a fantasy world as an inhabitant, you'd probably come across several monster lairs and bandit camps that don't really have much to do with anything, too.

      A believable game world also needs some places that are just there.

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    7. I can certainly see that. However, I would argue that a) the extra Search Area dungeons don't even really feel like a "pure dungeon crawl"—they're just another place to find wandering monsters. I would consider a dungeon crawl to, at the very least, have the possibility of some interesting treasure, and probably an end boss of some kind.

      And b) while it's certainly true that if you want to shoot for real verisimilitude, you want to have areas that are "just there," without any specific plot- or quest-related purpose, CotAB doesn't really feel like that kind of game at all. It doesn't have little vignettes of the people of the Dalelands going about their lives or anything.

      Really, (some of) the sidequests in PoR feel more like that, because they seem to be a part of the world where Stuff Is Happening that may or may not have anything to do with the main plot...whereas in CotAB, they're just "a random cave" where nothing particular is happening.

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    8. At least CotAB had a module as well.
      Back then, I had a copy.

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    9. I like CotAB better, but I do agree that most of the Search Area content is pretty weak. (Except for Oxam's Tower, which is fantastic.) It's too bad that more effort wasn't put into it.

      But there's more than enough content in the game that I don't really think it should count against it much. You can just pretend it's not there. It's a missed opportunity, but it's completely optional and not essential to the game.

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    10. I have read over these arguments and am still convinced of the superiority of PoR to any other Gold Box game. It had a more open world, a better story and atmosphere, more interesting role-playing encounters, better quest design, and better use of NPCs (how did NO other game offer hirelings?!). Those factors for me are far more important than slightly more primitive graphics.

      And McTrinsic: linking a BRITISH AMIGA MAGAZINE in support of . . . well, ANYTHING . . . is the equivalent of full-out trolling on this blog.

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    11. It's not the graphics, it's the combat!

      Managing a full spell book. Maximizing two attacks per round. Setting up a more potent backstab. Having enough HP to tactically take damage for an advantage. Prioritizing and disrupting enemy spell casters.

      I get why lots of people like PoR better, and of course that's fine! But the 6th-12th level combat offered by CotAB is arguably much deeper. Which matters a lot if that's what you're looking for.

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  7. Stronghold (1993) isn't really an RPG, it's a city building strategy game using the D&D ruleset. The reason it got the RPG label is a bit bizarre, though.

    You do start the game by creating a party of D&D characters, up to five. Creation is extremely simplified: you only roll attribute scores and choose a class (fighter, cleric, mage, thief, elf, dwarf, halfling). Only the lead character has an alignment, and the choices are only lawful, neutral, or chaotic (good). Alignment only determines the objective of the game: get promoted to Emperor, kill all monsters, or both.

    The truly strange thing is that the characters are never seen in-game. Instead, every single one of your citizens are essentially male or female clones of your characters, having the exact same attributes, but their own experience levels and inventory, the latter of which is automatically updated for everyone based on the level of services built in the town.

    It's a pretty good game though, so maybe it's worth a look and a single post if you can spare the time.

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    1. Indeed, Stronghold is certainly not an RPG, but it can probably be done in 6 hours (let's say 2x1 hour to get the game right, then a winning game of 3-4 hours) so maybe worth one entry due to its AD&D legacy ?

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    2. The simplified alignment and classes suggest that Stronghold is based on D&D rather than AD&D. That's unusual; the only other game based on the former that I know of is Warriors of the Eternal Sun on the Mega Drive.

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    3. It proclaims itself to be an Official Dungeons & Dragons(TM) Product, trademarks owned by and used under license from TSR, Inc. No reference to Advanced anywhere. But everything is so utterly generic that it probably can't even be discerned.

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    4. AD&D: The Treasures of Tarmin and AD&D: Cloudy Mountain for the Mattel Intellivision also proudly proclaimed themselves as officially licensed games. They had absolutely no actual mechanics from either D&D or AD&D, nor did they utilize any content from the Greyhawk setting (or any other setting). Cloudy Mountain was a top down Rogue-like lacking in any actual RPG mechanics. Treasures of Tarmin was a first person Dungeon Crawler with rudimentary RPG mechanics, but not D&D or AD&D related. Since the Intellivision wasn't exactly a powerhouse even when released in '79.

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    6. (Comment above removed because editing isn't enabled on this blog, sorry. This comment is the edited version.)

      Stronghold (1993) bears the logo associated with the 1991 re-release of the D&D Basic Rules, also called the "New, Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons Game".

      (Context for non D&D nerds, Basic is the simplified ruleset, by contrast to Advanced, published between 1977 and 1996. Its distinguishing features were a conflation of race and class - you didn't have an "elf fighter", you just had an "elf" - and (eventually) an association with the "Mystara / Known World" campaign setting.)

      This particular version of Basic is the one that follows on from the famous red box (with the Elmore dragon cover) and its supplementary blue/cyan/gold expansions. It's the one that's contemporaneous with the Rules Cylopaedia, and it's the box that had little cardboard standees for monsters and PCs in it.

      That suggests that to the extent Stronghold is actually based on any D&D, it's looking at Basic. Neither the game nor its manual make any reference to the game's setting or any named locations or characters other than the villain, Mindark.

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    7. I think there are a few more video games based on Basic: Capcom's arcade brawlers Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara, and Westwood's Gold Box-like Order of the Griffon for PC Engine.

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    8. Argh. It was NOT called "AD&D: Cloudy Mountain". That is not the name of the game. The name is "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge".

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    9. It wasn't originally called that but it's come to be called that to distinguish it from Treasure of Tarmin, like how Star Wars is now A New Hope.

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    10. It was also advertised using the "Cloudy Mountain" title, e.g. this Mattel catalog from 1983 (at the lower right):

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/jbellanca/27328713216/in/album-72157669022752316/

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    11. The name of the movie is STAR WARS. That's what went into theaters and that's what we saw. That "new hope" business only appeared in one place briefly at the beginning. Don't assume everyone is a rabid fan like yourself and cares about such minutiae. That's the problem, the crazy obsessed fans crowd out everyone else. It was a mass market summer blockbuster that appealed to *everyone*.

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    12. "Minutiae" like the title of the movie? Imagine your comment being about literally any other film franchise.

      "I wanna watch The Godfather."
      "Okay, which one?"
      "Only rabid fans care about such minutiae!"

      Also, mentioning Star Wars as isa commonly-known example is hardly a "rabid fan crowding out everyone else." A much more common trope is being single-mindedly obsessed with "the original" and "back in the day" and refusing to accommodate anything that happened afterwards.

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    13. Man, now I really feel like trying that Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Cloudy Mountain game.

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  8. A minor note: in D&D, your level does not affect initiative. So whatever the defenders of Hosttower do to get high initiative works equally well against your normal party as against your maxed-out import characters.

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    1. Initiative in Gold Box games appears to be 1d20 + Dex initiative bonus.

      As far as I can tell there's no spell or item in all of Gold Box which will give you a Dex bonus (or for that matter an initiative bonus), except for one pair of gauntlets in Curse of the Azure Bonds.

      But if you've reloaded the battle several times and you never seem to win the initiative, probability would suggest that the devs have their finger on the scales.

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    2. When designing an encounter in Unlimited Adventures (the design kit for Gold Box accessible to players), you have the option to specify if the monsters are surprised, the party is surprised, or neither. If a side is surprised, then the non-surprised side gets a free turn and an initiative bonus (quantity not specified, probably +3, equivalent to "an extra 18 Dex") on subsequent rounds.
      There are, however, several situations in every Gold Box game that are impossible to recreate exactly in vanilla UA, without hacking.

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    3. I always wondered if the GBGs use Haste as another way to get bonuses to party (and rarely, monster) initiative. But the point about surprise is well taken - often I would wonder why I never seem to have any characters capable of acting in time in them (particularly in Pools of Darkness).

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    4. Ad&d also had the whole speed factor associated with weapons and initiative. Larger weapons attackes slower and added to your initiative role. Certain spells we're just faster. If I remember correctly a long sword (5) was as fast as casting fireball (5) but slower than magic missile (1)

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    5. In practice nobody used speed factors but maybe the computer games did

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    7. Speed factor was one of those Gary Gygax brain farts. Evidently he'd come up with something, dash off a few rules that made sense to whatever mental state he was in at the time, and then never refer to it again.

      Freaking segments? Weapon vs. AC? Gygax needed an editor, someone to tell him when he was being an idiot. But he didn't have one, and just spewed whatever he thought of into the sourcebooks and then didn't use it in his own games. Jerk. He can take his Bohemian ear spoon and stick it where the sun don't shine.

      Here is a fully annotated complete combat between two adventuring parties, with Gygax's rules followed to the letter. It is a catastrophe of complexity.

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    8. I completely agree, and laugh at what used to seem streamlined in comparison to what I play now, both table top and crpg-wise. I was recently playing in a Palladium Rifts campaign, and remembered 2 things after I started playing:1) how awesome the setting is and (2) how shitty the system is. I actually found this blog as I was recently playing through my hopefully last PoD game. Everyone ended as level 40 dual classes mages and clerics with at least 15 levels in fighter, pally, or ranger and six restarts for the plus 4 gear and girdles of giant strength. But reading through Chester's backlogs has made me pretty damn nostalgic. Until I spent about 150 hours at work playing through Wizardry 8 again

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  9. While Stronghold uses D&D rules, it's a pure strategy/simulation game. There's no party to move around, and units are not controlled directly. More like "Settlers" really...

    (Unrelated: the beholder in the screenshot looks like he just remembered he forgot to turn the gas off)

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    1. Or maybe he/her/it just has gas?

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    2. Thta would make it a Gas Spore then ;)

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  10. I'm impressed by your female character wearing sleeveless metal armour while traipsing through the icey north in that final screencapture.

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    1. There's a dwarf next to her with a torch to keep her warm.

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  11. Great review - thanks! Someday I'm going to make it through all the Gold Box games.

    I just finished Champions of Krynn this weekend. A really excellent entry. I noticed our host played through it without knowledge of the Krynn books; I have to imagine that took a bit away from it. I was a big fan of the novels when I was a teenager, so confronting Draconians in the game was kind of a gas.

    I imported my party to Death Knights of Krynn once I was done, but as good as they are, a little Gold Box goes a long way. I didn't make it out of the first battle. In any case, I couldn't figure out how to turn undead, which I gather is pretty important in that entry.

    Anyone else have that problem? Usually it's press "T", but there were a ton of skeletons in that first battle, and the combat command never appeared.

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    1. Those skeletal knights can't be turned, it may not even give the option.

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  12. Treasures of the Savage Frontier is an okay game. It seems less than the sum of it's parts. I still prefer the original four games of the Pool Series better. While I appreciate graphic and interface upgrades, the Moonsea region in Forgotten Realms seemed to yield better stories than either the Krynn or Savage Frontier entries.

    There is an organic thread running through the Pool series. Such connections do not exist in the other entries or at least not as strong.

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  13. I am so proud of you Chet!!! Life goals!

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  14. You know what the most notable thing about umber hulks is? They are umber.

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    1. My thought also. The Blue Hulk is surely a different beast.

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  15. Was looking at the Treasures Mobygames page and at the end it says:

    'The game box's cover features a painting, "The Jewels of Elvish", by artist Clyde Caldwell, earlier used as the front cover to Nancy Varian Berberick's 1989 novel of the same name.'

    That may explain why it doesn't match the game particularly well. I guess they knew well enough ahead of time to take the lady and make her a portrait of a character in the game.

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    1. I did not know this! I mean, I knew it was a Caldwell, but not that it was for another book. Which I should have guessed, because every other Gold Box cover is reused from (or for) a novel, but I think what threw me off here is that the novel in question is published by TSR, but isn't D&D branded - which I didn't know was something they even did.

      Googling suggests the character in the picture is actually "Nikia, daughter of the Elvish king", and the gem she's holding is "the Ruby of Guyaire".

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    2. All the SSI D&D licensed games, including but nots exclusively the Gold Box games, had covers that were from D&D books. AFAIK, Jewels of Elvish is the only one that isn't. TSR briefly published non-D&D fiction including a murder mystery set at a sci-fi con called Bimbos of the Death Sun, and published the classic scifi magazine Amazing Stories from 82-97. I've wanted to post a list of the sources for the cover art of every game SSI produced under their license from TSR with commentary, some of them are interesting but the comment would be massive and I don't want to hijack Chet's blog. I'll do it if it's ok with him and there's sufficient interest.

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  16. In addition to another very entertaining review, you’ve delivered another Gold Box first by screen-shotting a Gorgimera tea-bagging your deceased party, before tea-bagging was a thing!

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    1. It is not a deceased party, it is Gorgimera or another 2x2 creature dying.

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  17. Playing the Krynn series and Planescape: Torment more or less side-by-side, I can't help but feel that what DND games gained with presentation and graphics, they lost in the combat. Infinity Engine games always feel clunky and somewhat unfair to me, a trait that would continue to many Aurora engine (Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR) games.

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    1. How are you defining unfair here?

      I tend to feel games are unfair when they kill me despite my caution - I found that pretty rare in IE and Aurora games, and pretty common in GB games. I expect many more reloads in the latter. All it really takes is a high initiative roll from an enemy cleric or dragon, and a missed save or two.

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    2. In Infinity/Aurora games, it never really feels like I'm in control. My characters always get stuck on scenery, or an animation takes too long so the enemy gets a free shot, or they refuse to do something until I move them half a pixel closer. This is especially bad with fleeing enemies, as your characters will sprint to close the distance... Then do nothing because the invisible round timer in the background says they can't act yet, while the enemy keeps moving.

      In GB it's always clear exactly whose turn it is, and you're never stuck cursing the pathfinding because your fighter got caught on a chair.

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    3. Fair enough, but I wonder if its just that you know the rules better for the GB games. There are a handful of fiddly fights in IE that I can think of - a dwarf bounty hunter in a bar springs to mind, and Aurora games can be a bother specifically when disengaging, but then again, in GB games you can't really disengage at all most times.

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    4. I remember being a bit frustrated with Baldur's Gate back in the day, but I've played through them all in the last couple of years in the Enhanced Edition format so it's hard to separate my memories of the original interface from my recent (very good) experience of the upgraded versions.

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    5. For me, 'fair' in a CRPG means you can start the game for the first time and with a reasonable chance go on to win, if you are clever and alert. In reality you'd maybe have to be preternaturally clever, but it must seem possible.

      My examples: Dungeon Master. Wizardry 8.

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    6. One of my friends beat KotOR 2, on 'difficult', no reloads, first time he played.

      He is not a pro-level gamer, but he is cautious and has very high level math.

      I think a no reloads run on any of the NWN 1 or 2 campaigns, or either KotOR game, would not be out of reach for a typical gamer. I think GB has too much variance though. PoR might be your best bet cos there are less dragons and clerics. I tried once, using the cluebook iirc, and survived til I encountered driders in the wilderness.

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    7. I played KOTOR2 when I was a preteen, before I even knew it was based on DND let alone how to play such games effectively. I agree it seemed rather easy, aside from some mandatory combats that use characters you may not have levelled as carefully as others (cough Atton).

      Personally I like to be surprised by a game. I agree that the hold person quickdraws kinda suck, but sometimes it's satisfying to draw out a win through sheer practice or experimentation when the deck is stacked against you. This is where action RPGs shine IMO, due to the real-time elements of positioning and movement free of awkward round-based timing from "real time with pause" systems.

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    8. It's very easy on normal difficulty.

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    9. There are some things I don't like with Infinity engine, like how you can't reliably keep the enemy away from your spellcasters because the characters have no real zones of control, and enemies can just squeeze through. This is offset by the fact that the enemies usually attack the melee characters, but that's like a handicap given by the weak AI. Managing aggro instead of really preventing the enemy from moving bugged me in Dragon Age, as well.

      The other thing is how hard it is to use area of effect spells effectively without hitting your own characters, having the enemy move out of the way during the casting time or just misjudging the area. Gold box games never had that problem.

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    10. Since no one has mentioned it, I"ll give a quick shout out to Troike's Temple of Elemental Evil. It was a buggy mess on release, but now it has the best tactical combat in a D&D licensed game (imho).

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    11. Yes, in terms of tactical turn-based combat ToEE is the best game AD&D game I ever played.

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    12. Interesting. I haven't played ToEEE, so claiming it's the best tactical turn-based combat intrigues me. I consider XCOM (the original) the best tactical turn-based combat in my experience. It's greatly enhanced by the OpenXCOM remake that fixed the bugs, and even further enhanced by OXCE+ (OpenXCOM extended plus). Still the plain XCOM is amazing, and I would imagine a similar system would make other CRPG's with better game world elements and NPC's even more incredible. If anybody has played both ToEE and XCOM, how does it compare tactically?

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    13. I think everyone qualifies "the best tactical combat" by adding "in a D&D gam".
      ToEE and XCOM are really different, and different kind of tactics. TOEE is ruleset tactics (using skill, spells, special powers and whatnot), while XCOM is realistic/environmental tactics (using cover, positionning).
      The old XCOM is probably one of the best tactical combat games without qualifiers, along with Jagged Alliance 2. Actually, I don't see any game that compares with those in "Tactical Turn-Based Squad Ranged Combat"

      You could try Xenonaut for a more modern XCOM experience, or Mutant Year Zero.

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    14. I actually have Xenonauts installed, but I just haven't gotten around to playing it. I'll take a look at Mutant Year Zero. Thanks for that.

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    15. D&D Tactics for the PSP was a really good game that gets overlooked a lot. Wands we're broken(had 0 charges when found with no way to recharge them), but other than that was a really good game. The music was excellent too.

      ToEE's npc mechanics killed me. They could and would take their own treasure, which you couldn't control, so after I had to kill one to get one of the two best swords back I stopped using them. Also, limiting my pc's to level 10 but forcing them to fight high level demons and eventually the big bad didn't strike me as solid balancing of the D&D rule set

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    16. @Narwhal: Your distinction and naming of "ruleset tactics (using skills, spells, special powers and whatnot)" and "realistic/environmental tactics (using cover, positioning)" is really apt! I didn't have good descriptions for these different styles of tactical combat before.

      I think I've always preferred intuitively understandable realistic/environmental/fuzzy tactical combat. Trying to fully utilize ruleset tactics often requires the player to read verbose descriptions in tooltips to compare and precisely calculate the effects of different skills.

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    17. Is what you're talking about simply a diversity of battle maps/conditions?

      Goldbox wasn't great on this front, but you could still get utility from walls and trees from time to time, or use stinking cloud/hold person to limit frontage.

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    18. Different battle map conditions are not essential. I'll give some contrasting examples according to my conception of this distinction. Note that this train of thought might not be what the above posters had in mind.

      Realistic/environmental tactics: Realistically calculated missile trajectories result in many small, fuzzy, intuitively understandable positioning tactics, such as moving one step left before firing to slightly reduce the chance to hit a friendly unit.
      Ruleset tactics: Every attack is either impossible or hits 100% under normal circumstances. Friends or foes in the missile trajectory are ignored.

      Realistic: The damage of the attack has a large random distribution.
      Ruleset: The damage is predictable.

      Realistic: Higher ground allows farther attack ranges.
      Ruleset: Ranged attacks from lower ground towards higher ground have a 50% chance to miss. A simple ruleset-based approximation of the higher ground advantage that StarCraft uses.

      Realistic: A small armor upgrade has no guaranteed effect on a single attack due to randomized to-hit chance and damage values. The effect averages out over lots of battles, and the player attains a rough estimation of the size of this effect through obervation.
      Ruleset: A tiny armor upgrade may guarantee that one more attack is required to kill this unit. E.g. a StarCraft Siege Tank always deals 35 HP damage and a Zergling has 35 HP, dying in one hit. One tiny armor upgrade means that the Zergling will take 34 HP damage, requiring two attacks, a huge difference. The player needs to read the tooltips and do some calculations (or read a Wiki) to understand this. Observing the battlefield will not be enough to deduct these tactics.

      Contrasting examples of realistic vs. ruleset-based games: the real-time battles in the Total War series vs. StarCraft. Original Xcom vs. Advance Wars. Tabletop wargames like Warhammer Fantasy Battle vs. collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering (maximally ruleset-based).

      Turn-based ruleset-based tactics games can lead to analysis paralysis when the player tries to understand and predict all his options (disadvantageous in board games), unless maybe when a lot of information is hidden. Realistic tactics are too fuzzy for this kind of analysis and lead to playing by intuition, regardless of whether there is a hidden information component.

      I can't think of any clear example for a turn-based realistic/environmental tactics RPG right now. In real-time RPGs the gameplay might tend toward realistic/environmental tactics even when damage calculations are rather ruleset-based.

      The term "realistic" is actually a bit more restrictive than I'd like. A combat system that has no relation to reality can still have these fuzzy/intuitive characteristics.

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    19. Excellent breakdown, Bitmap!

      The other things you can add to "realistic/environment" tactical based games like original XCOM are destructible terrain, overwatch capability, fatigue and wounds affecting abilities, and multiple actions in a turn (too name a few more).

      The one thing that stood out to me in the original XCOM that shined the most was the multiple actions in a turn where each action costs a certain amount of time units where each soldier had a different amount compared to the other soldiers (varying ability). You could do as much as you wanted on each soldier's turn so long as you could afford the time. The time units for each action also depended on what kind of action the soldier was performing. Trying to get a very accurate shot (like a sniper shot) cost a lot of time, but taking a less accurate snapshot would cost less and could be performed multiple times in a turn. The overwatch was tied to how much time a soldier had left over at the end of his or her turn, so that he or she could react to what the enemy was doing during the enemy's turn. For certain strategic considerations, it was important to have enough time units left over for certain soldiers you needed to react to the enemy. This is what they did away with in the new XCOM games which feels dumbed down in comparison but more streamlined like a virtual tactical boardgame. I'm not saying the new XCOM (2002+) is bad, but it just isn't as rich a tactical experience as the original. I do like what they added in XCOM2 with character development though.

      Having loved the GoldBox series style of tactical combat, I was blown away by the original XCOM's style of tactical combat. I really don't see why this form of combat could not take place in a more traditional CRPG or a hybridized version (like get rid of bullet/arrow physics to some degree or extrapolate from a ruleset) with a AD&D game.

      I really can't wait to see what CRPGAddict has to say when he gets to the XCOM series. It's going to take awhile though, since it came out in 1994 :(

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    20. I feel like lot of what you guys are describing is talking about continuous vs discrete design.

      Continuous design does feel more 'realistic' for obvious reasons, and forecasting outcomes feels less like counting and more like estimating probabilities.

      It's a case of different strokes for different folks to a degree, but to use the X-Com example, if you made it even more continuous than it is, by replacing the finely grained turn-based gameplay with real-time, you'd lose a lot of that strategic layer permitted by the imposition of 'my go, your go'.

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    21. I think it's more about complexity. Gold Box games are based on tabletop rulesets, which must be simple and can't have too many variables. Rulesets made for the computer can have complex calculations, many rules with many variables. Many of the features mentioned above (multiple actions, coverage, interrupts, ...) exist in tabletop rulesets, but they are simplified and if you combine too many of them you get into "rule crunch" territory.

      XCOM and Gold Box are also very different tactically because ranged combat plays a much bigger role in XCOM, and it is pretty deadly. Gold Box games have much more melee combat, and a single strike usually doesn't kill you.

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    22. Have a look at the original rules for tabletop Battletech sometime. A lot of games that attempt to go down the simulation route have a ton of variables and 'if-clauses'. It's true that having a computer handle such things makes them a lot less fiddly and time-intensive - part of what I like about digital ports of board and card games.

      Subset Games have developed two strategy roguelites - One is a lot more continuous, has more rules, more options, more variance, and as a result feels hectic and exciting. Their other game is an almost strictly deterministic boardgame on a small grid. I love both games, but can appreciate that for some people, one would appeal a lot more than the other.

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  18. You started your new job in mid-August? That's crazy! I thought you were on holidays, like a normal person. :D :D :D

    Well, best of luck. If you happen to be in Anchorage (Alaska), I might visit you.

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  19. I'm actually looking forward to Magic Candle III. Way... WAY back in the day, I got for Christmas a software pack called Fantasy 5, which included Magic Candle III (and Populous, Might and Magic III, and... two others that I've forgotten), and all of them had copy protection without any paper manuals. But of them, Magic Candle III was the most interesting, because I think the version on the CD that I installed from was bugged, and would spit out garbage text at me all the time. There were a few other issues, too, so I'm looking forward to seeing what the game was supposed to look and play like.

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    1. I too am looking forward to MC3; I played it back in the day and remember being completely flummoxed by the time limit. It probably wasn't nearly as bad as I remember.

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    2. The other two games were King's Quest 2 and The Summoning.

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    3. That was one mean package, in both senses of the word. Copy protection aside, playing The Summoning without the manual is a whole new challenge in a certain area.

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    4. Ah, yes. Thank you for reminding me about the other two games. I remember now trying to play The Summoning, but I couldn't do the copy protection because of the electronic manual. I ought to look that game up again sometime...

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  20. On the topic of Gold Box games: Do you plan on covering Unlimited Adventures? IIRC it came with a brief introductory adventure, despite not being a game as such.

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    1. It also has an adaptation/remake of the Neverwinter Nights MMO you attempted to cover. I have no idea how faithful it is and I suspect nobody ever will, but it might be interesting for a one-off posting or as part of your coverage of Unlimited Adventures at large.

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    2. Yeah it would be a crime to cap off Goldbox without a quick review of FRUA. I asked Chet to design a short module for it, but he wasn't interested at all. A pity. He started designing a module for Adventure Construction Set.

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    3. It's the Addict's right to do whatever he wants--it's his blog--but a lot of the best mods involve hacks, which can be technically challenging to employ.

      From Hans, one of the FRUA artists, asked about vanilla mods:

      Grey.zip (Challenge of the Grey Company) by Starrbolt. Created early in the community's existence, it's an epic-sized GoldBox-style mod. I didn't get all of the references, but I still really enjoyed it.

      Paddi.zip (A Rich Man's folly) by Glen Sprigg. Arguably the best, most perfect example of a mini-mod. Very short, but very, very entertaining. It showcases one of the greatest characters birthed in FRUAdom, Paddi, the gnome.

      Roguesin.zip (Rogues in the House) by Surge Protector. A nice conversion of a Robert E. Howard Conan the Barbarian short story.

      Zerot.zip (Zero Tolerance) by Jacek "JudgeDeadd" Dobrzyniecki. Quite short, but one of the funniest mods ever written.

      If he's willing to mess with hacks, 'The Sect' IMHO shows the most you can do with FRUA.

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    4. I think its precisely because he started designing something for the Adventure Construction Set that he wasn't interested in doing the same for FRUA. He probably realized all the work he'd have to put in coding and doing graphical work, both things I believe he said he's not a fan of doing. Plus, with FRUA, there are some standards to the modules, so if he did do something and it was terrible, a lot of people would hold that against him.

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    5. Game design is *hard*. I actually think he could make a great mod if he wanted to--he has more XP (heh) with RPGs than just about anyone else on the planet--but that would be a big investment of time that would take him away from playing different games.

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  21. Oh yeah, forgot to comment about something I noticed... I never managed over the years to learn a whole lot about the monsters that can be found in Dungeons & Dragons and related works, and as such, I never realized the existence of Otyughs, though the description makes me realize that way back in the day, they actually included the monster in Final Fantasy, but they mangled the translation back to English and called them "Ocho". They never regained their original name, now forever known as Ochu, though this was probably fortunate, since they also stole the design of the Beholder, but had to change the graphic design and name for the English release to not more or less infringe on copyright of the day.

    Interesting what you learn...

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    1. Final Fantasy 1 actually had a lot more than just that if you look at the original names of all the monsters in the Japanese version. The slimes go Green Slime, Gray Ooze, Ochre Jelly, Black Pudding, the undead zombie-palette-swaps go Zombie, Ghoul, Ghast, Wight, the R.GOYLE is a Horned Devil, the GrPEDE is a Remorhaz..., the ANKYLO is a Bulette, the JIMERA is a Gorgimera... FF1 was basically Japanese fans' way to play D&D on the computer, much like a lot of early CRPGs. In a lot of ways it's fun to see how the cultural differences led to different RPG genres. I wouldn't be surprised if the cultural distance led Japanese fans to enjoy the 'weirdness' of our culture just as we enjoy the 'weirdness' of theirs... knights and dragons surely seemed as exotic to them as samurai and oni do to us...

      The Ahrimans (big yellow floating eyes with death-gaze attacks) seen in various incarnations later in the series are basically increasingly distant relatives of the beholder.

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    2. The Monk job in FF games (aka Black Belt/Kung Fu) is sort of an East-West-East reimportation. Kung fu movies popularize the idea of a fighting monk in the West, that idea gets incorporated into D&D, and then the D&D class gets pulled into Final Fantasy. One artifact of this history is that the Japanese name for the FF job is モンク, which is just the English word "monk". (It's sometimes also 空手家, "karateka".)

      I suspect something similar happened with the Ninja job, since there was a ninja class in Wizardry, but for obvious reasons that's a little harder to demonstrate.

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    3. Final Fantasy was programmed by a North American named Nasir Gebelli, who had gained some renown as an Apple II programmer a few years prior.

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    4. Technically he was an Iranian living in North America

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  22. When I played this with my Pools of Darkness party, I had a bit of a funny experience on the final boss where it died instantly on the first hit due to a vorpal blade induced beheading. Left me laughing for about a minute at the time.

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  23. You can beat the Hosttower guards with a native party (endgame of course)--it's tough but can be done, and gets you quite a bit of XP. however, I was unable to repeat the fight, so not much good for grinding. I have *not* done a Pools of Darkness full playthrough--I may try that one of these days, it will probably go pretty quick!

    For those of you fond of silly playthroughs, I have a complete Let's Play up on RPG Codex where I beat Pool of Radiance with one character.

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    1. I need to check out that playthrough!

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    2. https://rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/lets-play-pool-of-radiance-with-one-character.129308/

      Here's the thread if you don't want to go digging...

      There are no slurs or questionable content in the playthrough. I know some people on there like to troll, but I kept it clean.

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    3. Pretty impressive run! That was entertatining :)

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    4. Wow, there are a lot more considerations in that exercise than I would have thought, including counter-intuitive taking of spells, early acquisition of the Manual of Bodily Health, and leveling at precise timings. I love how "Fireball" is still the pivot point. Very well-analyzed and played.

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    5. Glad you liked it. ;)

      If I have time again I may do it with a F/M/T, try to do it with Curse if I can keep it from crashing, or do Pools of Darkness party in Treasures as an 'opposite'.

      Keep up the great work, Addict!

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  24. How long should we wait...? now its been another terrible week without updates... Hopes everything is good and good luck on your new employment.... and still eagerly looking for your next blog entry

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    1. Agreed. New to blog and now I wonder if there is a term for CRPGaddict addict :)

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    2. He just started a new job, entries will be spotty until Christmas at least. This has happened before, so keep your pants on. Just go into the archives, there is tons of stuff there you've forgotten about. Go read Magic Candle 1 and 2 since 3 is coming up soon.

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    3. Somebody mentioned doing a crpg addict addict blog. Would have been a great platform for talking about the looooong waaaait.

      Also the Fate: Gates of Dawn posts should see you through this long dark teatime...

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    4. Yeah, I hope the blog isn't due to be renamed to ReformedCrpgAddict without further updates. :(

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    5. I announced on my Patreon page that I'd be back on 8 September and I beat it by 2 days. I've decided my patrons get regular status updates as a reward for contributing their dollar. Everyone else can sweat it out.

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  25. Hello, is this on your list?
    https://www.mobygames.com/game/revolt-of-dons-knights

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    1. I'm not Mr. Addict, but I can tell you it is on the list. A link to the master game list is on the side tab, just after the "Recent, Current, & Upcoming" part.

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    2. Whoops, thanks. I always read these on mobile so I forgot about the sidebar

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  26. Not sure if anyone else posted this yet, but I wanted to reply to this comment:

    "Even the cover, showing Siulajia holding a magic gem, seems to be from a sequel more than the current game."

    In this case, much like Gateway, the cover art was essentially just TSR "stock art" and was not commissioned for the game. In this case the cover art for Treasures was also the painting used on the cover of the 1989 novel "The Jewels of Elvish". So the cover art doesn't really represent this game, or a potential sequel, as much as it just represents the novel it was originally commissioned for.

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