Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Game 358: Ishar: Legend of the Fortress (1992)

            
Ishar: Legend of the Fortress
France
Silmarils (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST
Date Started: 22 February 2020

I've been wanting to play Ishar for a while now, partly because I bought the entire series in 2014, and partly because while I thought Crystals of Arborea (1990) was pretty awful, I also thought it had some lovely graphics. Until they reach a certain point, I don't get excited about graphics. I mostly want them to be functional--show me where the enemies are and help me figure out what door I need to enter. If your graphics are just repeating textures, to me they're not much better than wireframes.
             
Walking through some pretty BIRCH trees.
      
When we get to the era in which graphics actually establish an ambiance and pull me into the setting, that's when I get excited. And Ishar's are almost there. Like Arborea's, they border on impressionistic. The opening screen shows a field lush with grass and flowers, a tree filled with branches and leaves, wispy clouds on the horizon, and other trees, dimmer, further away, partly hidden in a mist. I'm not prepared to say that they're the best graphics we've seen, but they certainly come close.
             
Some of the best water graphics we've seen so far. They don't move or anything.
           
Ishar is first of a trilogy for which Arborea was a kind-of prologue. In that game, you play Jarel, Prince of the Elves, and your goal was to find four crystals and use them to raise the island of Arborea--the only land left after the gods destroyed the world. Along the way, you had to kill the fallen angel Morgoth. You were aided by five companions.

The backstory of Ishar tells us that Jarel renamed the land Kendoria. He ruled for a while but was killed in a hunting accident. After his death, the land fell into anarchy. A "shady and powerful figure" named Krogh took advantage of the chaos, gathered wealth and power, and built a temple on the borders of Kendoria. The temple's name, Ishar, means "unknown" in Elvish. Your mission is, I guess, to stop Krogh. Honestly, the backstory took the bloom off the graphics almost immediately. Aside from being overly derivative of Tolkien (I don't know what I expected from a developer called "Silmarils"), it explained essentially nothing, including who the main character is.
             
The starting character.
          
There is no character creation process. You start as a human warrior called Aramir, presumably the third son of Denethor. He carries a sword, 2000 gold, and has no other inventory. He has 16 strength, 14 constitution, 16 agility, 12 intelligence, 11 wisdom, and 12 vitality. Temporary statistics are physical power and mental power. Statistics for "level" and "experience" at least assure me there will be some character development. Clicking around, I find that I also have skills: lockpicking, orientation, first aid, one-handed weapons, two-handed weapons, throwing, shooting, and languages. Aramir is best at the two weapon categories and worst at "Languages."

The game comes with no kind of map or even description of the world. Am I on an island? Are there towns? There's a guy standing in front of me in the field, so I head towards him. He greets me with a nonsensical phrase ("Warm Tear!") and tells me about a village to the south, "in Angarahn country," where there's a tavern called "The Thirsty Barbarian." I try to recruit him and it works. His name is Borminh, and he comes with a dagger, single-digit attributes, and strong skill in lockpicking. The manual suggests that micromanaging the relationships among my NPC companions is a big part of the game. They can reject and dismiss each other and apparently murder each other.
           
The first NPC has a nonsensical greeting.
         
Following Borminh's instructions, I head south and soon come to a town. In the first shop, my 2000 gold suddenly doesn't seem all that much. A light helmet sells for 1,200 and a suit of leather armor sells for 1,800. Even a loaf of bread is 320, which makes me think the economy is really out of whack. The shopkeeper also bids me "warm tear" when I leave the shop. What the hell.
            
These prices don't make a lot of sense in proportion.
          
Orcs attack as I explore the village, and I'm disappointed to see that the series has changed the flawed-but-intriguing tactical grid used in Arborea for real-time combat in the style of Dungeon Master. There's nothing particularly wrong with Dungeon Master combat, I hasten to add, but it's not well-adapted here. The spell menu is harder to get into than it should be, and cool-down periods are not made obvious by the graphics. I also soon find that the famous "combat waltz" doesn't work at all; enemies don't even appear if they're not facing you.
             
First-person combat means hitting the "attack" buttons repeatedly.
             
Nonetheless, I successfully kill the orcs and loot their gold, spending some of it to rest at the tavern and recover some lost hit points. The tavern serves as a location for rumors; this one tells me that one of Jarel's companions lives in the village. You can also recruit NPCs in taverns; this one offers only one, a warrior named Kyrian. When I select him, Aramir and Borminh both "vote" and agree to let him into the party.

The town has a place where I can train strength, and later I find another one where I can train agility. I also find a hut occupied by Akeer, who seems to give me the main quest:
          
My name is Akeer. I am one of Jarel's mates, who once braved, then destroyed the evil dark lord Morgoth. But today, we have to face a brand new danger . . . This threat has a name: Krogh. He murdered our good prince Jarel [so much for him dying in a hunting accident] and sat on his throne in Ishar, an evil temple unleashing hordes of monsters all over our beloved land. Now the time has come for revenge. If you manage to destroy Krogh, you'll be able to use Ishar's tremendous powers, and soon you will reign over the whole kingdom . . . The companions are old, but they still may help you. In Lotharia, near the Four Birches, Azalghorm the Spirit could give you some advice . . . Warm tear, my friends . . .
            
When I'm king, I'm going to abolish that stupid phrase, whatever it's supposed to mean.

I spend some time trying to get oriented. The "action" menu allows me to bring up a map of Kendoria, but it doesn't show our current place on it. It does show the starting position, on the far west side of either an island or peninsula crisscrossed by rivers. It looks like the starting area has two bridges that cross an eastern river to new territories.

I soon find that one of the bridges leads to another town, and this one is guarded by a hulking barbarian. But my party of three manages to defeat him.
            
A tough enemy, but it was three-on-one.
            
The town consists of a bunch of buildings situated on docks. In the tavern, I learn that Krogh may be Morgoth's son. As Morgoth was a withered skeletal creature, ick. This tavern has five NPCs to recruit. I first try a lizard-looking thing named Xylaz but everyone votes "no." I'm not sure how I feel about my own characters overriding my orders. I try again and everyone agrees to a mage named Dorian and a warrior named Golnal. 
             
A bunch of damned racists, that's what you guys are.
           
I explore the area a while longer, killing some orcs and bandits and bears, finding loose gold strewn in bushes and empty huts. I walk into a teleporter at one point, but it didn't take me very far because I soon found myself in the same basic area. I lose some characters in a fight against werewolves and then I suffer a full-party death against some bandits.
            
Is that supposed to be Krogh? That's messed up.
          
Dying has significant consequences in this game because you have to pay 1,000 gold pieces to save. We just left a game where it cost experience points to save (Blade of Destiny) and I'm concurrently playing another game with saving limited by turns (Ragnarok). It's interesting to see three different approaches in three consecutive games. I'm all for making things more challenging in this way, but it cuts particular deep here where things cost so much and you start with comparatively so little gold. From what I can tell, monsters do seem to respawn, so at least there's some way to keep earning money.
          
Ouch.
          
I can also report positive things about the interface. The developers clearly want you to use the mouse, but unlike Arborea, they've given an analogous keyboard command to every mouse click. The commands aren't as intuitive as some games, but they're there. I've complained repeatedly about having to click the buttons in Dungeon Master-style combat, and here finally is a game where you just have to hit a series of F-keys in quick succession if you prefer not to use the mouse.

Also, the sound complements the graphics superbly. I'm a sucker for a game that offers good ambient sound, and here we have it: the chirping of birds, the swell of water near the river, the croaks of frogs, the murmur of background conversation when I enter the tavern. Even if I don't end up liking gameplay much, Ishar at least looks and sounds pretty.

I think I'll start over and see about mapping the island. A rough estimate based on the map would put the island at around 100 x 400. That's big but not unmappable. I want to be able to annotate what I find and what I don't understand. After the first few hours, it's clear that it's more of a game than Arborea, but I don't know if it's necessarily a better one.

Time so far: 3 hours

151 comments:

  1. I think that 2nd image there should be Beech trees, not beach. Feel free to delete/not actually let this comment post after you fix it.

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    1. I was wondering if I was missing something, but if it's a mistake, then it should be birch trees. Feel free to delete this as well.

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    2. You are absolutely right, those are definitely birch trees and not beech.

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    3. Boy, you know how much he likes commenters to point out typos.

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    4. Commenters can be real beeches sometimes ;-)

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    5. Considering his "Ten Years Of Comments" post says (paraphrasing) "you read a better version of each post because of the first readers who tell me about typos," I'd say he does appreciate it even if it's annoying in the moment.

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    6. If you'd ask me a week ago, I would have said that there are only three varieties of trees that I can tell by looking at their trunks. I guess it was only two.

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  2. Talking about graphics, was there a discussion below some blogpost in the past, how graphics like this were created at that time? I mean, did they use some scanned drawings, which were then further processed digitally or did they create it with some imaging software from scratch? I have been wondering about this for quite some time.

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    1. A popular drawing program for Amiga and PC was Deluxe Paint. Game artists used it to pixel paint sprites and backgrounds.

      Some had access to digital scanners and photo equipment, e.g. Attic used a scanner as early as 1991 when they developed Realms of Arkania.

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    2. A hallmark of the infinity engine games was hand-drawn, digitised backgrounds. It's why they still look nice today (especially compared to say, never winter nights). Drawings don't really age.

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    3. Thanks for the answers and clearing it up!

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    4. The Infinity Engine games did not have hand drawn backgrounds. They had 3D rendered backgrounds that were touched up by hand. You can see the early 3D-ness of the graphics especially in buildings.

      Pillars of Eternity and Tides of Numenera did the same, but have even more hand-painted touchups.

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    5. That would be interesting to know for me as well. I am currently reviewing Shadow of the Comet at The Adventure Gamer and they appear to have the same technique with graphics. It looks as if they digitised analog photos in some houses and the forest, as some commenter noticed there.

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    6. They had the technology to digitise art into a (blocky, pixellated) form of the original.

      But at this point in time, art generally looked better when it was hand-created for the specific resolution and colour depth of the system it was intended for.

      In this era you can usually tell the difference between digitisation and hand created by the depth and saturation of the shadows, and by pixelation effects. (Digitising colours that the system can't perfectly create often produces odd distribution of pixels of different colours, which you can see, I think, in the roofs of the huts in the orc combat screenshot. That pixelation suggests to me these were drawn by hand and then digitised.)

      The user interface here is (obviously) hand created with a fairly gorgeous and hand-picked use of colours.

      The PC portraits appear to be created digitally but possibly with reference to existing art or photos for some. Aramir's head looks very much like it's a recreation of a photograph, whereas Borminh has clearly been created for the specific graphical capabilities they were working in, and the woman in the top left of the "Team vote" screenshot clearly has no relationship to any actual human.

      Not sure about the landscapes but I'm leaning towards some level of digitisation. I think they've all been hand-drawn and scanned.

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    7. Warm tear, Jarl.

      You're right. My brain merged 'retouched by hand' and 'pre-rendered' and gave me 'hand drawn'.

      It is the pre-rendered aspect which gives the graphics longevity. Donkey Kong Country still looks remarkably good for the same reason.

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    8. Thanks for the detailed explanations. This was great help!

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    9. It's interesting to see this technique confronted to the one that will happen in the years to come of prerendered 3d graphics on 3d studio

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    10. @Tristan Gall - This is a matter of opinion. I hated DKC graphics back in the day, and played the game recently and they look even uglier now. I hate that prerendered look.

      On the other hand, Demons Crest looks absolutely gorgeous.

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    11. Warm tear, everyone!

      I thought it was maybe representing a hug and a tear of love/compassion. I don't see it as a particularly odd greeting. Just an arbitrary thing that became cemented in culture.

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    12. @ruysan

      Aesthetic preference is absolutely a YMMV thing. The point I was trying to make, was that there are graphical styles that age more than others. Well drawn 16-bit pixel art still has a big audience. Blocky polygons with low-res textures - not so much :)

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    13. Hey, I love blocky polygons with low res textures, and there are plenty of people who do, too! There have been several low poly retro FPS games in recent years and a lot of people dig the look. Look at Dusk, Ion Fury, the upcoming Wrath...

      I'm also an active member of the Thief mapping community, and there are some guys there who can create absolute magic with the low poly architecture of a 20 year old engine.

      As always it's all about artstyle rather than pure technical flash.

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    14. Fair enough.

      Btw, do you think Thief is something Chet should cover prior to Deus Ex?

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    15. I am a YUUUUUUUGE Thief fan and would love to see him play it, but it is by no means an RPG. It's a pure stealth game with no equipment upgrades, no stats, no skills, no character progression.

      It's like Chet playing Doom before playing one of those FPS-RPG hybrids.

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    16. Yeah, it's not at all an RPG except in the sense that it has a similar 'feel' to stealthing about in FPRPGs - because it's the feel that so many FPRPGs have tried to replicate!

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    17. I feel like it's important enough to Deus Ex to play, not to finish it but just to appreciate the bridge between System Shock and Deus Ex--it's one of Warren Spector's most famous credits besides DE itself, and the connection between the two is too great to ignore despite not being an RPG.

      I don't advocate for finishing the game, but at least one post as a sort of preamble. To ignore it completely would be like going to NetHack without playing Rogue first.

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    18. I agree, I don't think you need to treat it like a review, but a preamble is a great way to put it.

      You play the first two levels to get the idea, and then play Deus Ex.

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    19. It's not unusual for an RPG to be significantly influenced by a game from a different genre. You can't play them all. Why make an exception for Thief?

      It's a fantastic game that he might enjoy very much. That's a good reason to play it.

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    20. Thief is truly one of the best designed games ever. It's one of those games that is so good it doesn't matter if it's an RPG or an FPS... It's just damn good. Also, I'm still catching up from old posts, I very much hope that warm tear continues to be a thing...

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  3. Warm Tear, Addict and fellow commenters!

    I thought it might mean something like "May you cry tears of happiness!", but it doesn't seem to be the case as tears get warmer the more you cry.

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    1. I'm definitely opening every comment on this game with "warm tear," starting now.

      And you're telling me the plot is about a party of mercenary adventurers delving into a dungeon to stop a magical for that has thrown the land into chaos? Hmmmmmmm....

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    2. Perhaps it means: "If you shall ever find yourself with reason to cry, may you at least not be freezing your ass off whilst you are doing it!'

      Hey, as good as any, right?

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  4. Ah, Ishar. I remember almost drooling over pictures of this game in the magazines. I knew only a few RPGs at the time, all set underground, so lush scenery of Ishar looked amazing. ... I am looking forward to your coverage of this game, although I suppose it won´t get a high GIMLET score. But it has a certain atmosphere which is really unique.

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    1. I remember being very excited about both Ishar and Crystals of Arborea based on screenshots when I discovered them on abandonware sites in the mid 00s. The graphics are really atmospheric, these games are perfect examples of why artstyle trumps technical effects.

      Too bad the gameplay isn't so great compared to many of their contemporaries.

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  5. Replies
    1. If we had Ishar graphics with M&M gameplay, that would be a game I'd pay for even today. Sadly, it ain't quite so, as we'll likely read about soon enough.

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  6. I find it fascinating that I was looking at the first three screenshots before reading anything (and having never heard of this game), and I immediately thought "That must be Silmarils". The studio has a very unique, and very enticing, artstyle used throughout most of their games.

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    1. That they did! And a very unique (but not very enticing) narrative style used throughout most of their games. These two aspects are two sides of the same coin, as basically these games tried to concentrate on visual storytelling.

      I love Silmarils games. They're so beautiful. The trouble is, every time I start playing one of them, sooner or later I run into gameplay annoyances and issues, and I give up. But right until the last moment, they're gorgeous.

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  7. The grid sorta makes a comeback with the way you set up your party formation.
    I'm looking forward to further coverage. I've never been able to get into the game - it's very poorly documented and characteristically French i.e. weird.

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  8. I didn't like the mechanics of depleting physical & mental stamina bars and granular drop in performance. They came across as a more annoying take on Dungeon Master's food & water, since you need to have them topped up to get the best results. Maybe you'll do better at managing them, though.

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    1. Warm tear
      As I commented before, that mechanic is the big problem of the game. You need a lot of bread for some sections game but inventory is not that big and only stacks up to 5 units per slot.
      Either that, or suck it with the tired characters

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  9. I remember so little from when I played this ages ago (and I never did get far).

    The party vote thing could potentially be interesting, but I dunno if this game actually does anything with it. There are other games (Baldur's Gate springs to mind) where mismatched characters (by alignment or such) dislike each other and can cause problems.

    Of course in something like Baldur's Gate it mostly means you have to decide if you want a "good" party or an "evil" one, but it's sometimes nice to have the choice.

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  10. The store menu is very reminiscent of console games of the era, both graphically and in the random nonsensical pricing!

    Also, whilst it seems an absurd that the cost of saving is monetary. I don't mind the limitation on saving, however who collects this fee? Is it a tithe to a god (would make more sense), or do you pay to hide in a brothel for the time out of the game (a by the hour rate could add up)?

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  11. I gave this game a try a while back, and it was not a pleasant experience.

    The grid-based navigation/exploration in wide open spaces was really confusing. For example, take a look at the second image in this post, with the trees. Taking a step forward from that location might give you another image of trees, now in slightly different formation. Are these the same trees, or did I take big leap forward past the previous trees? Same thing with turning (in 45 degrees, according to the manual, but that is probably an error). Very disorienting, at least for me it was.

    Grid movement in first person perspective works in dungeon corridors, where the visuals match your movement. Also the Dungeon Master type combat works better in dungeons.

    The dealer breaker for me, however, was neither the confusing exploration nor the unfun combat, it was the ridiculously high tax for saving your game. I have a habit of saving my game constantly, and not being able to do that was the last straw that made me drop the game, only after a couple of hours of playing.

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    1. I do believe the concept of limited saves has its merits - most of my memorable gaming moments come from games where failure had real consequences.

      However, I don't think much of the specific implementation Ishar seems to be going for. Either the price remains constant - which trivializes it past the early game, or it scales - which encourages degenerate gameplay, focused on grinding low risk enemies for cash.

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    2. I think limited saves are a very good idea. There's that quote, players will optimize the fun out of the game, and save scumming is exactly that. Effective but hollow.

      What's interesting to me is that each game has a sweet spot for how often you should be able to save, a certain portion of the game that exists as an atomic segment. Being able to save during that segment ruins the challenge, but not being able to save across several segments introduces unfun, repetitive grinding.

      For some games, these segments are really short, like a room in Celeste. But in other games it needs to be much longer, but ideally not too long because you don't want failure to be too annoying.

      I'm not sure what I think about having the player choose where to save. I think it generally works better for the designer to designate those checkpoints so that they happen at those segment transitions.

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    3. Smart design separates out the idea of "saving position" from "saving progress".

      Saving position needs to be, as far as possible, available anywhere, anytime. Players should be able to quit out of the game whenever they like without losing progress. If you want players to sit down to your game for long sessions, you need to make them want to do that, not prevent them from leaving.

      But there are *sometimes* valid gameplay reasons to take progress off a player under some circumstances. The Dark Souls "walk back to your corpse, or else" is a core part of that experience. You don't generally want to let players save progress in the middle of a boss fight because it will trivialise the experience. Etc.

      You need to be careful with it, because humans generally *disproportionately* hate losing something they thought they already had - hate it more than failing to gain it in the first place - and also because this is a hobby for fun, and if a player wants to trivialise your game, that should be a decision for them, not for you. Developers who insist on deciding how people are going to experience their fun do so at their peril.

      I can't for the life of me see how a game like this gains any benefit from taxing the player for saving their game, though.

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    4. Yeah, save on exit should always be a thing, but respawn points have a lot of merit.

      Bard's Tale 4 has this feature, and like Ishar, rewards you for saving less - but it flips the mechanic. You receive an XP reward for making the game harder on yourself, rather than being charged XP for making the game easier on yourself. It induces a lot less angst.

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    5. Some players out there play games not for the narrative, or the challenge, or the storytelling, or any other motivation out there. They play games primarily for the sense of control they get.

      They are the frequent savers, the save scummers, the sequence breakers, the hex editors. To do anything again is not being told you failed a challenge and must get better, it is interpreted as frustration. They have a low tolerance for frustration and will ragequit rather than lose that pleasing sense of control.

      Sure, none of us like a dull grind that puts you in the position of Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill only to have it roll back again. But when control gamers can't do whatever they want - whatever it is - they won't play the game because that's not why they play games.

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    6. Yeah, I tend to be an obsessive saver and limited save systems really annoy me. I don't often savescum by reloading when something bad happens, but I hate losing progress and having to repeat the same thing I've just done, so games with limited save systems always make me feel on edge in a bad way.

      The most reasonable save limitation is that of the Infinity Engine games and others, which don't let you save during combat but otherwise allow free saving everywhere.

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    7. Yeah, a limited save system that's too limited and makes you redo content you've already finished sucks (most classic NES game). But if your game is designed well the limited save points will be just right, directing you to repeat and complete a single challenge in one take.

      A combat is a good example of that. If you can pick it apart with saves then you can manipulate the RNG and never be required to predict what will happen next. A segment in an action game is sort of like trying to play a new riff on a musical instrument -- and it's ruined if frequent saving turns it into a one note at a time affair. The point is to get in the flow and bang out the entire piece in one take.

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    8. I play games entirely to have fun. If a game is too difficult, it quickly becomes stressful, and thus it fails to serve its intended purpose.

      If I can "optimize" the game so that it better meets my needs, I will do so without hesitation, else I move on to the next title on my list.

      (Yes, I sometimes use walkthroughs and strategy guides, too.)

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    9. But what is "fun"? For most people, some degree of challenge, even if only a moderate one, is a necessary component of having fun. That's why options to tailor the game's difficulty, including the save mechanisms, can offer the best of all worlds; at least as long as the game is designed well enough to maintain balance for different playstyles.

      Of course we will only start running into highly variable difficulty options in about 20 years of gaming, which is 40 in Addict years.

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    10. I had a problem with the graphics, too, but I don't think it was really a problem with outdoor environments compared to dungeons. MM3-5 had outdoor environments with relatively primitive 3D graphics, and I never felt it was an issue. Dungeon Master 2, EOB2 and Wizardry 7 also coped with the issue, though admittedly the first two brought you back to plain old dungeons sooner or later.

      The problem with Ishar was that even though the graphics were beautiful, there was something really 'flat' about them that took me out of the 3D world.

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    11. I tried Ishar back when it was new. I soon tapped out, and the specific reason I gave up on the game was the fact that saving progress costs so much money. A thousand gold is a LOT, in the early game at least - enemies drop only a dozen gold or so, per head. On top of that you have to keep wolfing down expensive food just to be able to fight, so you might end up looking to grind an hour just to gain the privilege of saving.

      If I played this game now, I'd cheat with emulator savestates and not feel an ounce of guilt over it.

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    12. For the record, I'm always in support of an options menu that lets you adjust anything with the game to tailor it to what you want. I'm more talking about what the default design should be, the "normal" difficulty, to guide the typical player towards the most rewarding experience.

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    13. I wish more games had difficulty options like System Shock 1. Rather than a linear scale of easy-medium-hard, the game was divided into its component parts and each one could be set on a scale from 0 to 5. It made for a very customizable experience.

      Two more games that had good difficulty scaling, though not RPGs, were GoldenEye and Perfect Dark for the N64. In those games, each subsequent difficulty level adds additional goals; the easiest version of a level just has you get to the end, while the most difficult has you explore the entire level and complete four or five objectives along the way.

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    14. Goldeneye has the best level system in video games, imo.

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    15. Thief had the same kind of difficulty settings, which is why I usually play Thief fan missions on expert and never bother with normal. Higher difficulties tend to add additional objectives, change the amount of guards, and sometimes even add entire new level sections. Of course, it differs from level to level because the mission author has to set these differences himself

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    16. Good discussion. I'm just happy to see games of the era experimenting with something. 1000 gold pieces seems a bit dear, but still perhaps better than allowing saving at will.

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  12. Warm tear.
    The pricing may seem inflationary to a modern day westerner, but if you imagine the currency as something Eastern European, or maybe Southern European pre-Euro, it seems pretty normal :p

    I was in Armenia two years ago and one Euro equals roughly 500 dram, so paying 250 bucks for bread is normal there.

    It seems weird and inflationary to us, but for people whose countries have such weak currencies, it's completely normal to pay 1000 bucks for food, to earn 50k or more as a wage, and to be a millionaire with average middle class savings.

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    1. I think the weirdness isn't so much in the inflated prices but the relation between them. If a loaf of bread costs 300 guilders or whatever, then a sword should cost much, much more than that.

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    2. That's probably the "in proportion" part of the original criticism, and a quite reasonable criticism as well.

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    3. After a devastating war usually weapons are in abundance and food is scarce. also could be that in that "state of anarchy" the land is, foraging weapons from fallen bodies is like foraging mushrooms?

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    4. I think the problem is with the currency being "gold"... which was actually worth so much that it was rarely used for direct payments IRL. So if you take that literally (bread costing 250 gold coins) it breaks immersion a little.

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    5. perhaps the gold coins are so mixed with other metals that they are quite cheap? or perhaps just very small... or maybe even gold is plentiful in this world and not used for anything else but currency.

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    6. Gold was in common enough circulation that Henry III of England (1216-1272) tried quite hard to produce a practical English gold coin to get the country to stop using gold coins from the ERE and Arabic countries, failing only because the gold penny didn't have enough gold in it. Usage was fairly common among merchants, traders, and landowners. The sheer quantity of coins used in CRPGs is unrealistic (primarily as a result of simplifying the more complex coinage systems found in older D&D editions), but using gold in the first place isn't.

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    7. Would a dragon that sets up a mining, smelting and minting operation, be perceived as a cheat by other dragons?

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    8. That sounds more like an Shadowrun dragon to me

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    9. Maybe they just linked price to in-game value, without paying too much heed to micro-economic realism.

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    10. Well, RPG currencies are usually pretty silly anyways. A gold coin in Roman times was worth a lot, an entire month's worth of wages or more for most people. You'd use gold to buy a horse or a house, not to buy a sausage at the local street vendor's.

      Also, no civilization in history called their currency "gold", "silver" and "copper". Some did initially name currency after the metal, but as time went on coins would get their own names. So you don't pay "10 gold" for something, you'd pay 10 denarii or 10 crowns or 10 thalers or 10 florins.

      I'd really prefer if RPGs stopped calling their currency "gold" and gave them actual names instead. Even RPGs with the most detailed worldbuilding, like Morrowind - an absolute masterpiece of worldbuilding - call their currency "gold pieces". Everything in that game has a weird dark elven name to give it a local touch, but the currency is just "gold"? Not "Imperial Dragons" or something like that? Come oooooon.

      Delete
    11. Just to be clear, I realize that we're not dealing with gold but with fantasy "gold." Still, it was the COMPARATIVE prices that bothered me, not the absolute ones. Somehow, it feels like leather armor ought to be worth more than four loaves of bread. That must be really good bread.

      Delete
    12. The currency in Tamriel is the Imperial septim. The dunmer of Morrowind often call it the drake, because it has a dragon on one side. Both are mentioned a few times in dialogue in Morrowind.

      Delete
    13. JRPGs love to give currency weird names. Final Fantasy has Gil, Etrian Odyssey has En and my favorite is Phantasy Star's currency: Mesetas. It sounds like a real currency! Just precious.

      Delete
    14. You mean, like the old Spanish "pesetas"? :D

      Delete
    15. Or like today's patacas! (currency of Macao)

      Delete
    16. Exactly! My thought back then when I first encountered Phantasy Star was that someone really lazy must have crossed out the "P", replaced it with a "M" and gone "Mesetas, Mesetas? Eh, sounds good enough." :V

      Of course being Japanese games, the reason for the currency's name was probably a bit more complicated.

      Anyway, I always privately call the Phantasy Star currency "Meseten", because it rhymes with "Moneten" (a German slang term for money)

      Delete
  13. I played Ishar 2 or 3 on the Amiga back in the day, and I remember thinking that the graphics were beautiful, but did not make you feel they were there. There was something 'flat' about what you would see, compared to games like Dungeon Master.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ah, this game. So weird.

    I thought it would be interesting to do a run where you line everyone up in a straight line then let each one die and replace them in turn. See how far you can get until you run out of characters. It's not a long game.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Warm tear, Chet.

    In the abstract I really like this mechanic where your companions get to vote on who joins. It makes sense that if you've got two basically decent people in your party and you're like, "Okay, peeps, our next recruit is Zyzlax the Undying, I caught him murdering some children and I like his moxy," that there might be some pushback on that.

    The alternative approach to the same idea, of course, is something like Baldur's Gate, where incompatible companions leads to bickering and eventually someone maybe abandoning you. That's deeper, but the Baldur's Gate implementation was imperfect, in that sometimes you could make these crazy matchups work, and sometimes you couldn't, and without consulting a walkthrough you really couldn't be sure until it was too late. I often would have preferred Jaheira or whoever to just straight up say, "You can't have him and me in the same party, and there's no working around that."

    There are also issues around having enough relevant information to make that choice. If you're motivated by story, it's hard to tell if the new guy is going to have a more interesting story than (eternally bland) Jaheira if you're blocked from even recruiting him. And if story isn't as critical, but stats and combat effectiveness are, you again need the ability to weigh that up at the time in order for that to be a meaningful decision.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the implementation of social dynamics among your recruits in Jagged Alliance 2 (a game whose coverage on this site I'm very much looking forward towards... in 15 years' time). Individual mercenaries have individual morale ratings, which is influenced by a lot of things, but can be very heavily impacted by who else is on your roster - and morale comes into a lot of things in the game in little ways.

      Some mercs naturally like each other (resulting in morale boosts), some dislike, even hate each other. Two of them are a recently divorced couple... do the math of what can happen here among unstable psychopaths with heavy weaponry.

      The whole system also works so well because you can have several squads working in different sectors. Two people like each other? Put them in the same squad, see their morale and performance soar. Two others hate each other's guts? Put them in separate squads, and don't let them cross paths.

      Nice solution.

      Delete
    2. Yeah JA2 will be a treat to read about.

      Delete
    3. JA2's team interactions are great, you really need to pay attention to what your team is telling you. I remember losing my team's medic because she didn't want to prolong her contract after having to do a few missions with a guy she hated. Later I could rehire her, so I put her in a different team than that guy - no complaints anymore. Another guy was clearly in love with one of my mercs, so having them in one team made him happy. Until she got shot and he simply lost control and ran of, guns blazing, right into a room full of enemy guards. Seconds later, I reloaded.

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    4. Reading about this makes me think I should start JA2 again...

      Delete
    5. This sort of thing might have worked better in the really old-school games where you hire players from the Adventurers Guild - maybe some would be incompatible. I don't know if it was ever used in those.

      The HOMM series are strategy games with a touch of RPG, and they use a version of it in terms of morale - your 'good' troops will have lower morale and perform worse if you have undead or demons etc. in your army.

      Delete
  16. Warm tear.
    I remember reading about this game in an Amiga magazine as a kid, and the title of the article was something like "Ishar - Cup of tea?". Confused ever since, still don't get it. I hope your coverage will somehow clarify it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A pun with "Ishar" = "Is yours"?

      As in "Is Ishar your cup of tea?" (your kind of game)?

      I have seen worse.

      Delete
    2. How does Ishar sound even remotely like "is yours"?

      Delete
    3. I imagine that's the exact pun they were going for. Was it a British Amiga magazine by any chance?

      Delete
    4. @Jarl - Particular accents from the British Isles say It's/is like 'ish' and your like 'yar', and don't put much emphasis on the pause between the words.

      So Ishyar cuppa tea?

      Delete
    5. Wow, never thought about it like this! Yes, British Amiga magazine, probably CU Amiga or Amiga Format.

      Delete
    6. Maybe if Sean Connery pronounced it..

      Delete
    7. Zero went with "Ishar a nice game" ("It'sa a nice game"), to which editorial replied "Shuttupa your face", so they were going for some comedy Greek/Italian accent thing that didn't quite work in print.

      Amiga Format got in one joke about "Ishar" sounding like a sneeze, which works a little better.

      Surprisingly for a comedy magazine masquerading as a computer game publication, Amiga Power seems to have avoided any puns. At least I couldn't find any here: https://amigareviews.leveluphost.com/ishar1.htm

      Delete
    8. I browsed through my Amiga magazines and found it! It's not as I said. They write: "Ishar tea all right? as they say up North". This was CU Amiga, Ishar 3 review. See the scan of the first page here: http://amr.abime.net/review_16840

      Delete
    9. Good find! We'll keep it in mind for when the Addict gets to Ishar 3. ;)

      Delete
  17. As I value the exploration part at an RPG probably more than average, I like the approach of having a coarse map that shows the land without an indicator of the current position. I mapped the whole game when I played it and I remember that I frequently compared my map with the game-map to know where I am within Kendoria. Checking the position on an automap feels just like basic work, but looking at maps and using them for (large-scale) orientation is something that never gets old for me (also in real life).

    ReplyDelete
  18. This is one of the games with the serious "Ship of Theseus" problem, mentioned when you played Mines of Titan back in 2013. You can easily get rid of Aramir then you recruit Borminh, then recruit someone else and, in turn, get rid of Borminh. And the party will still be on the same quest. As if the player is some kind of extra character, a non-combatant, who always stays with party, issues orders and keep track of everything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's interesting. SOmehow, I figured Aramir had to stick around.

      Delete
  19. Ah yes, a Silmarils game. Pretty, unique graphics, and a really rough translation from the original French. Humain? PO? Warm tear? Hopefully at least the story clues are properly translated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, looking at screenshots from the French version, it doesn't seem to be a translation problem. It's just French fantasy writing is weird. It's not just game writing either, I've read some of French sci-fi stories - same feeling of WTF.

      Delete
    2. @VK
      Indeed. I learned about the French sci-fi when watched all three of René Laloux's animated feature films. I liked them, but they were still very much the WTF material.

      Delete
    3. I have always thought that French games of the period are kind of weird in general.

      Not necessarily in a negative way, Alone in the Dark and Another World were awesome in their weirdness.

      Others like Eternam, Drakken, B.A.T. were mostly, well, just weird.

      Delete
    4. It's not like French games from later periods were any different in that regard. Think, for example, of Soulbringer or, god forbid, E.Y.E. And even the latest crop from Spiders or Cyanide, while having their gameplay mostly tamed to what is a standard action-RPG formula nowadays, have some pretty bizarre settings and stories.

      Delete
    5. @Vince
      AitD was good because it was based on the Lovecraft's works. Another World also had the definite American sci-fi feel in it. Their developers did not fall in the "originality for originality sake" trap and displayed competence in the game-making in general.

      Delete
  20. Oh gosh, I've been both anticipating and dreading this one. I would see the Ishar series pop up in Amiga magazines of the time and it looked like just my sort of thing, but I never played the games for some reason.

    The Amiga is part of my gaming DNA so I'm hoping the Addict has a good experience with this series, but I suspect that will not be the case.

    ReplyDelete
  21. My experience of the series is from Ishar 2, where I remember beautiful graphics but very obtuse puzzles that I got stuck on leaving me unable to finish it. I'm very intrigued as to how this pans out, I don't feel like the ingredients for a high Gimlet are here but it could surprise.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "Warm tear" would be "chaude larme" in french, which I've only ever heard in an expression translated as "crying with warm tears", meaning cry A LOT.
    I can't find a let's play in french to see the original greeting. Only a german one where it's "Glückauf" which would apparently mean "good luck".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Glück auf" ist an odd choice too, as it's a Miners greeting

      Delete
    2. Could tear be translators idea of a warm alcoholic drink? Sort of cheers or prost.

      Delete
    3. I can't help think that an English speaker would probably not interpret "gluck auf" as "good luck".

      Delete
    4. Well it means essentially good luck, but only Miners use it.

      Delete
    5. I don't see what the big deal is. It's just a made-up greeting to add color to the setting. Like "umbasa".

      Delete
    6. Yeah, it's like the Valar Morghulis of this world.

      Delete
    7. That may be, but that doesn't change the fact that it's silly and doesn't make sense. Valar Morghulis sounds like cool fantasy lingo, "warm tear" is just a sentence fragment. Even if there is an explanation somewhere in the game, it probably won't make sense.

      Delete
    8. The French version of the game indeed went with "Chaude Larme", so the English greeting is the literal translation here. And yes, I can confirm that it is fully nonsensical in French. I remember being troubled with that as a kid :)

      Delete
    9. More on that: the opening scene of Ishar 2 started with "Chaude Larme et Dwingelindildong", so: Warm Tear and... Dwingelindildong?

      Midly disturbing French surreal humour.

      See a screenshot of the opening of Ishar 2 here: https://classicreload.com/sites/default/files/styles/game_image/public/msdos_Ishar_2_-_Messengers_of_Doom_1993_0.jpg?itok=5IEFrXTx

      Delete
    10. Looks like the German translators went for a less literal translation for the sake of more easily understandable text

      Delete
    11. I have no idea what to make of "dwingelindildong" except that "Ding-a-ling-dong" is the sleighbell song.

      My best guess on "warm tear" was that maybe in this world, "Tear" is one of the months or seasons. People are saying the equivalent of "may you have a warm April." But that's not in any documentation.

      Gerry, your comment cracked me up.

      Delete
  23. I was never tempted to play this game, even when I had a pirated version back in my Amiga days.

    But I still have some good memories from it. One of the funniest screenshot captions I've seen was in one of the British Amiga mags. It showed a picture of some very angry orcs and the caption said "Oh no, it looks like Millwall lost again".
    (Millwall is a football team who was infamous for their hooligans)

    ReplyDelete
  24. Warm tear, everyone!
    I can remember the graphics from magazines back in the day, but didn't have an Amiga so could only marvel at them second hand. Definitely looks like another very peculiar French offering.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Warm tear!

    I kept seeing this in Atari ST magazines, and then when I had money to buy a new game (finally) I bought B.A.T. II instead, as it had a hardware dongle for anti piracy purposes and I figured I could probably find it cracked somewhere.

    Never did find it though, so I'm super excited to see how it goes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A hardware dongle for a 1992 game is crazy. What port did you plug the dongle into? Parallel?

      Delete
    2. Elite and Shadow of Unicorn for the ZX Spectrum had hardware dongles already in 1984-85.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, but those were esoteric times in computing, even if those times were coming to an end by 85 or so. I could see something strange like a hardware dongle being released then.

      My view of computing in the early 90's is a general homogenization of platforms and practices, so it's bizarre to me that a company would release something like that then.

      Delete
    4. Hardware dongles were common in industrial software as late as 2005, and likely still are. It isn't all that unreasonable for any software developer of the period who thought they had a piracy problem to snag the idea.

      Delete
    5. In my experiences lately, the dongle is still alive and well. But instead of being a specialized piece of hardware connecting to a serial or parallel port, it now utilizes the ubiquitous USB port. Ones I have seen utilize an encrypted USB flash drive.

      Warm tear!
      (makes me laugh every time I see someone use that in this thread) I envision Chet plotting a way to replace all "warm tear" with a strikethrough font. Or maybe he ROT13's all of them. :p

      Delete
    6. Some CAD Software could only be registered to the an network card(Mac address?). So in our company we registered it to a WiFi dongle so we were could use it on the laptop and on the desktop. Today it's going through license servers, but I'm not that into the IT technic side anymore

      Delete
    7. On the Spectrum there was a system used on a few games that gave you a plastic lens that you would focus some dots on the TV screen with, in order to see a code that you would then enter. It didn't work very well, given TVs being different sizes and all that.

      Delete
    8. Warm tear.

      @Raifield If I remember correctly it plugged into the serial or modem port (but maybe they were the same?), it was just a little nubbin - I wonder what was in it...

      Delete
  26. "Aside from being overly derivative of Tolkien'.
    I assume also Aramir and Borminh are derivatives of Faramir and Boromir.
    Maybe the Warm Tear greeting also comes from Tolkien (LOTR or other works).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it did, I can't imagine someone wouldn't have reported so by now.

      Delete
  27. I also bought the trilogy on GOG, but I guess I will never play, as I still wanna have classics to play like Ultima, Gold Box games, etc...

    ReplyDelete
  28. Supposedly best way to play Ishar 1 would be with the Amiga 1200 graphics and the Atari Falcon sound! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes the Amari Fa1c0n was an amazing machine! XD

      Delete
  29. This is really an odd number of comments for this game. I'm not complaining or anything, just noting. Usually I have to trash a fondly-remembered console game to get this much discussion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how many of the comments are "warm tear" silliness.

      Delete
    2. This game is relatively well-known among the CRPG players, even if not well-liked. I guess, it explains better than average amount of comments. And the "warm tear" too, of course.

      Delete
    3. Ishar while having a DOS version, is pretty much an Amiga game, and we Amiga fanboys can be a bit protective of our godly beige artefact.

      Delete
  30. Silmarils were one of those software houses that had an immediately recognisable graphic style. Westwood before C&C was the same (I think it is link to one designer that died prematurely), and Coktel too. If I miss something from the 90s, apart from being young, is how every software house looked for uniqueness.

    Never liked Ishar though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From memory all their games were bad but beautiful. Warm tear!

      Delete
    2. The only Similaris game I ever played was Robinsons Requiem. It wasn't beautiful at all, in fact I remember the voxel 3d graphics (and FMV bits) as pretty ugly.

      I wouldn't call it a bad game either. The survival simulation bits were fantastic, just too brutally hard for a casual player. I never made it far so I can't judge story and gameplay.

      Delete
    3. If you're talking about Westwood, it had Rick Parks to thank for it's signature art style.

      A few years ago, I tried to gather the scarce info about him I could find on the web. If anyone's interested, here's a link to my post at Vogons.

      https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?t=45499

      Delete
    4. Yes that is the guy. A decade ago I started to investigate about Westwood to do the Definitive Article and even got to find some of the other artists via email, but life got in between and I left that.

      Delete
  31. Now that the RPG Consoler doesn't post any more, can we start bugging you to play those RPGs again?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have it on good authority that he'll be back during the last week of April.

      Delete
    2. Was I informed of this? I guess now that it's written I'll have to prove it true.

      Delete
    3. Sorry, man. I was just trying to buy another 6 weeks of peace.

      Delete

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