Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ishar: Trophy RPG


A minotaur takes apart my party while I hit him occasionally for 2 hit points.
           
Aside from its graphics and sound, which I began my first entry by praising, Ishar feels like a "lite" version of every game that inspired it. It's like it took a bunch of other RPGs but only copied their most superficial features. It has the character attributes, skills, and leveling of a lot of RPGs, but not with any depth or complexity. It has the switches and keys of a game like Dungeon Master but none of the challenging puzzles. It has a combat system that looks something like Might and Magic III or Eye of the Beholder, but it doesn't really get it right. It's like a movie with great cinematography but bad acting and not much of a plot.

I don't know how to judge its combat system. Either the developers screwed up or they deliberately did something different but in doing so introduced new problems. On the surface, it adopts a Dungeon Master convention of giving each character an attack button and having them trade attacks with enemies in real time. It even does one better by mapping the attacks to the function keys. The problem is that there's no cool-down, so it hardly makes sense to have all your characters attack. In fact, it makes the most sense to have the character with the best combat skills attack exclusively, keeping the others up front only as meat shields, to spread out the damage taken from enemies. The attacking character has to eat more often to regain stamina, but otherwise there's no downside.

I'm not sure I understand the little combat formation grid that you can activate on the right side of the screen. Each character has a unique symbol, and you can arrange those symbols on a 5 x 5 grid to make ranks and formations. It's not a bad idea, but I don't think the game really makes full use of it. Characters not in the front rank can neither hit nor get hit in melee combat, but beyond that, I don't see where the specific position and arrangement matter. Someone correct me if you know more.
             
This arrangement doesn't seem to do anything different than putting one character anywhere in the front rank and the other characters anywhere in the other four ranks.
            
The worst part about combat is how the game treats missile weapons and spells. If a character is equipped by a missile weapon, hitting the attack key doesn't launch it; it brings up a cursor so that you can click on the specific enemy that you want to target. Why is this extra step necessary? Melee weapons don't target specific enemies. If combat paused while you made your selection, that would be one thing, but instead enemies continue to attack while you take your hand off the keyboard and move it to the mouse to point at a specific enemy and click.

Spells are even worse. To cast one, even in combat, you have to click the "Action" button, then "Cast Spell," then the name of the spell, and then target it, all while enemies are pounding away.
            
Casting takes too much time to do in combat.
         
Both missile weapons and spells are a god-send, however, when you encounter the occasional enemy who refuses to advance. I wasted a lot of hours trying to melee a minotaur guarding a bridge with a morningstar in each hand. After several full-party deaths, I realized I could stand a square away and pelt him with arrows (albeit expensive ones), "Magic Missile" spells, and daggers until he finally collapsed.

A lot of spells are defensive or healing spells, and party members are useful for their other skills, including "Lockpicking," "First Aid," and "Languages." But you need far fewer than the four companions you can choose to go on the adventure.

As for the innovations with NPC interactions, they've mostly been annoying. The one time I tried to kick an NPC out of my party, the other characters voted to overrule me and keep him. Meanwhile, NPCs that I want to retain have a way of disappearing in the middle of the night, with all the expensive stuff I've bought for them, when we stay at inns.
         
Coward.
        
I broke off the last entry by suggesting that I was going to try to map the island, which I estimated at 100 x 400 and concluded was "big but not unmappable." That's the problem with doing multiplication in your head. I had calculated it at 4,000 squares, which is the same size as a dungeon of 10 levels of 20 x 20. In fact, 100 x 400 is actually equal to 40,000--not Fate: Gates of Dawn, but still a few too many to map unless you really love the experience. 

Upon studying the map in more detail, I realized that a map might be superfluous anyway. Kendoria is a large place--much longer east-west than north-south--but it's mostly made up of small islands interconnected by bridges. It doesn't take a lot of effort to comprehensively explore an island. You just run around its perimeter and crisscross the interior a few times.
            
Kendoria is less a "land" than an archipelago.
        
The game begins on the furthest-west island, which is divided into Fragonir to the north and Angarahn to the south. Fragonir had the village on the docks, while Angarahn had the other village I explored last time. Between the two of them, they have a strength trainer and an agility trainer, but I still haven't felt flush enough to use them. Angarahn has some encounters with orcs that seem to respawn. Enemies typically leave bags of a few hundred gold when they die, but it costs about 1,500 gold pieces to have a meal and a night's sleep at a tavern.

East across the bridge from Angarahn is a large island with Lotharia on the west and Fimnuirh to the east. Lotharia has a small village to its north with a spell trainer. There were several encounters with werewolves or maybe bears, probably bears because later I fought somethings that looked more like werewolves. Fimnuirh is a huge, empty area where I keep getting attacked by something that I can't see. I suspect that this is the "invisible lizard man" named Brozl that I learned about in an NPC's hut. The NPC told me that to kill him, I would need to use a Mental Vision Helmet, wherever that comes from. I'll need to kill Brozl because he has some magic rings that "protect from the dragon's fire."
           
I have no idea what race this NPC is.
         
There was an interesting encounter in Lotharia with a floating head calling himself "Azalghorm the Spirit," the messenger of the "Silmarilian Gods." He told me that we "could attempt" three quests, all of which would help us "when you finally have to face [the] evil Krogh." He said the quests were called "The Magician's Talisman," "The Exhausted Witch," and gaining possession of all of the rune tablets. I have no bead on the first two quests, but I found one rune tablet on a pedestal in Lotharia and the other on a pedestal in the dungeon.
          
The main quest turns into sub-quests.
          
East from Fragonir and north from Lotharia is a small area called Osthirod. There were some encounters with tall, powerful werewolves plus a hut where a "medium" offered to give me medical advice for 1,000 gold pieces. I took a screenshot of some kind of tall sentinel in armor blocking access to some part of the area, but I neglected to mark where it was.

Most of my NPC companions were killed by the bears and werewolves, plus some bandits that I met in Osthirod's neighboring nation of Rhudgast. I replaced them with a weird monk named "Unknown," a warrior named Fragorn, and a priest named Kiriela, who I found standing around the wilderness of Fragonir. Soon afterwards, Fragorn disappeared when we stayed at a tavern for the night, so I replaced him with a terribly effective "spy" named Nasheer. Unknown is kind of useless except for his "Magic Missile" spell and Kiriela is useless except for her "Healing I" spell. Golnal is just useless, but the party wouldn't let me kick him out. Aramir remains the best melee fighter.
          
Who's your god? Hugh Hefner?
        
Osthirod and Rhudgast occupy the same island, separated by a large, impenetrable thatch of forest. You have to cross between them on a small strip of land to the south. A pathway leads north from this strip of land to a dungeon entrance--the first in the game. There wasn't much of a transition as I entered the dungeon, and it was small enough that I suspect it exists on the same scale as the outdoor map and could be mapped on the same piece of paper with it.
           
The dungeon had some keys and levers but no puzzles.
          
The dungeon was small and to-the-point. There were some doors I had to find keys to open and some barriers I had to lower with a lever. Monsters included skeletons, giant spiders, and some behemoth that took a couple of reloads.
           
The photographer didn't make it.
        
The rewards for the dungeon were a few treasure chests, an empty flask, and a rune tablet.
          
Primitive cultures. They're always placing rune tablets on a pedestal.
             
All geography ultimately funnels to the land of Aragarth, on the far eastern side of the Osthirod/Rhudgast island. A bridge leads from Aragarth to what is essentially the second half of the game, and this is where I got bottlenecked for a time by a minotaur, until I learned how to kill him from a distance. On the other side of this bridge, I found the land of Silmartil, a much less hospitable place than the western lands. After I died at the hands of some barbarians, I decided I'd better do another loop around the lands I'd already explored and grind a bit.

I mostly need to start spending some money. I've been very stingy. My characters would probably do better with some more armor (so far, I've only found leather), helms, and shields, and everyone could train a few points in strength or agility perhaps. I need to stockpile more rations to restore Aramir's stamina, since every attack reduces it by 1%. If the dungeon respawns, that might be an easy way to earn both experience and wealth.
              
This is probably the key to character development.
         
Aramir is Level 6 now, everyone else either 3 or 4. I guess leveling affects maximum health and stamina, but as far as I can tell, skills are fixed from the beginning. (Unless they increase when you pay for attribute increases.) I'd probably do well to try to find better party members, but then again maybe I should be grateful that I have four of them who seem to get along and don't bail on me at night.

To recap, Ishar is a pleasant enough game, but one that doesn't grip me with its mechanics or its story. At least it's pretty to look at.

Time so far: 6 hours

92 comments:

  1. If you don't like an NPC, you can order one of the characters to kill that NPC. There is a slight chance what it will turn out to be a mutual kill, however. That's some "interesting" role-playing option. Recruit an NPC, transfer his money to the other character and then kill him. But, actually, some NPCs are more or less evil or just thieves who run away with your money, so they kind of deserve it.

    Also a hint for the treasure at the beginning of the game that can be easily missed. (ROT13).
    Gurer vf n fgnaq-nybar ubhfr/gbjre arne gur fgnegvat ivyyntr. Vafvqr vf n purfg lbh pna pyvpx ba gb bcra naq trg dhvgr n ovg bs zbarl.

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  2. I've often wondered what it would be like to play a game that looked like a power metal album cover. I'd study the art for albums like Blind Guardian's "Follow The Blind" or Wildpath's "Nyx Secrets," wondering what would happen if those still paintings suddenly became a movie--or even better, an RPG. I'm very disappointed that Ishar is the game that made that happen for me.

    This seems like an unfortunate case of misplaced effort. Beautiful to look at with some interesting intra-party dynamics that you almost never see in an RPG of this kind, but a lame story in a lame world held together by half-hearted gameplay.

    Also: Warm tear, Addict....... May the Palantir Sages of the Lothlorienen guide your way......

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    1. I'd definitely play a game that would let my bard get his hands on that ludicrous-but-kickass instrument featured on the 'Imaginations from the Other Side' cover!

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    2. Blind Guardian actually made a song for Sacred 2, and the band were in-game characters with their own quest. I'd rather play Ishar again than Sacred 2 though.

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  3. Whoa, floating head spirit guy. Whoa.

    You don't get multiple tears. There's only one tear. We're not crying at each other.

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  4. Also, when you said it was possible to map 40k squares I thought: "...technically I guess"

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  5. Visually it´s a might and magic clone. Very much!
    I hope you get to complete this one.

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  6. "you take your hand off the keyboard and move it to the mouse to point at a specific enemy and click."

    Wait, so what is your other hand doing? Seems to me you're supposed to use your left hand to hit the function keys, and your right to move the mouse, a common setup in many games.

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    1. Isn't the right hand normally on the numpad for movement?

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    2. With these sorts of games where it looks like they expect you to use the mouse for everything with the keyboard being a bit of an afterthought, I usually keep one hand on the mouse at all times, while using the other for movement and anything else that works better on a keyboard. Tends to work better than anything else I've tried, although with the caviat that the only games like that I've really played are the Eye of the Beholder games

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    3. My default hand positions are left hand over the WASD cluster and right hand on the mouse. I play a lot of FPS games and other genres that use both mouse and keyboard (RTS for example) so that feels the most natural for me.

      I also dislike keyboard only interfaces like in roguelikes. The keyboard is great for movement, but if there are 20 different actions in the game, please give me a mouse driven menu to select them, rather than forcing me to memorize 20 different hotkeys.

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    4. If you're going to control movement with the keyboard in this game, you have to do it with the numberpad. It's the only way to control both turning and strafing. So right hand on the numberpad, left hand ready to hit any of the other necessary keys.

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    5. Maybe the use of an external numpad would be the solution...

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  7. "Casting takes too much time to do in combat."

    Correct, thats why you should use the "Write Runes" - Feature. When I remember correctly you can then trigger your chosen spell with one click.

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    1. Thanks, Lupus. I thought I must be missing something.

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  8. Replies
    1. So is it warm tear, like a teardrop? Or warm tear, like something has been torn? One is kind of pretentious, and the other is vaguely sinister.

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    2. A warm tear in the fabric of reality... You know where it leads, the heat is a giveaway.

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    3. I can't stop hearing it as the torn kind of tear. Grisly.

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    4. "...you buried your pearl of a tear in my goblet, but you could not be content with that - at once you shed a hundred; you uttered no more sweet words, and boasted of your sad life! And there was no need for you to grieve over it - the tear, the dew of heaven! It will come back to you with interest, your pearly tear, in the woeful night when cruel sorrow, evil fancies will gnaw your heart - then for that same tear another's tear will drop upon your warm heart - not a **warm tear** but a tear of blood, like molten lead; it will turn your white bosom to blood, and until the dreary, heavy morning that comes on gloomy days, you will toss in your little bed, shedding your heart's blood and will not heal your fresh wound till another dawn."

      - Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Crime and Punishment"

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    5. I have heard that whenever Chet reads a comment emphasizing a strange greeting in a French RPG, he silently sheds a warm tear ;-)

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    6. A warm tear gush'd, the wintry air
      Congeal'd it as it flow'd away:
      All night it lay an ice-drop there,
      At morn it glitter'd in the ray.

      An angel, wand'ring from her sphere,
      Who saw this bright, this frozen gem,
      To dew-eyed Pity brought the tear,
      And hung it on her diadem.

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    7. Lacrime amare... "bitter tears" in the italian translation of dialogues, that it makes a bit more sense.

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  9. Yeah, I could never understand how chardev works in this series either. I think I went through half of Ishar 3 getting a ton of experience points but not leveling up once. On the plus side, at least the sequels improve the puzzles part.

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  10. Ishar is almost exactly Skyrim of nineties: stunning visuals + simplified, primitive, casual-friendly gameplay. It's more enjoyable to watch than to play.

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    1. Ok, so Skyrim is simplified, primitive and casual friendly comparing to which rpgs of its era?

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    2. I thought Daggerfall was Skyrim of the 90s.

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    3. There are not a big number of examples (because cRPGs get, in general, worse and worse), but here are some good ones: Might and Magic X: Legacy, Pillars of Eternity, Age of Decadence, Gothic 2 (a bit older, but still much better as an open-world cRPG), Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar, The Witcher 1 (and only this part; 3 is just a Skyrim with better story and dialogues), Dragon Age: Origins (good, although mainstream RPG), Arx Fatalis (much older – but also much greater first-person RPG), Drakensang: River of Time (a bit childish atmosphere, but gameplay is strong – with good character development and some semi-good dungeons), Tales of Maj’Eyal, Expeditions: Conquistador, Lords of Xulima.
      All these cRPGs are much better games then Skyrim, although some of them have primitive visuals (as Grimoire).

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    4. Skyrim isn't the worst contemporary RPG by far (of the AAAs, Dragon Age and Witcher hold that title), and likewise Ishar isn't the most casual-friendly game of the 90s - that would be Lands of Lore.

      @Tristan, Daggerfall is way, way more complex than Skyrim. It has huge sprawling non-linear dungeons that are a nightmare to navigate - a far cry from linear corridors of later TES games - and a lot of simulations going on under the hood. Ultima 7 would be a more apt comparison - open-world, highly interactive, free-form gameplay mixed with very simplistic character development and boring combat. U7 however has much better writing and quest structure.

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    5. And here's another bunch of people (a) responding to an anonymous troll, and (b) getting confused between "games I like" and "better games".

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    6. Well the second Anonymous post mentioned Grimoire so it could well be Cleveland Mark Blakemore trying to pimp his game as obviously it's the absolutely best, most stunning RPG ever made since he wrote it and everything he ever makes must therefore be better than perfect...

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    7. I wouldn't call the original entry here to be an obvious "troll." But I do disagree that Skyrim is as shallow as most critics seem to think it is.

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    8. Well, Skyrim may be a decent game and I had some fun with it, but it's a worse RPG than its predecessors due to the severe dumbing down of its RPG elements. Nobody can deny that Daggerfall and Morrowind are the better RPGs, and even Oblivion (which is already severely dumbed down) is better at being an RPG than Skyrim.

      Note: being a better or worse RPG doesn't necessarily mean being a better or worse game. There are plenty of action games with light RPG elements that are great as action games but if you labeled them RPG, they wouldn't hold up to the genre they're labeled as.

      Skyrim has less complex character development than the previous games. It also matters less: you can play through the entire mage guild questline without having to use magic. In Morrowind, there were skill requirements before you could rank up in the guild. Equipment is also vastly inferior to Daggerfall and Morrowind - just count the number of equipment slots! Whatever you think of it as a game - enjoyment is subjective, after all - it is objectively inferior regarding core RPG features.

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    9. I'm not sure 'objectively' works here.

      Everyone's Gimlet is different.

      Let's say someone likes the way their character gets stronger throughout the game, but doesnt care to dive deeply into the mechanics. Their primary joy comes from the big set pieces, the landscapes, and all the ways in which they can modify their character's appearance.

      That person will evaluate RPGs on a completely different set of core criteria.

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    10. I consider combat a core RPG feature, and I think Skyrim's physical combat is better than previous Elder Scrolls games, though its magic system is arguably worse than Oblivion. While I agree that the character development system is worse in some ways, the perks are better than those from TESIV and of course the previous games didn't have any perks. It's far more complicated than saying one is "objectively" better.

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    11. Many RPG fans in the "Skyrim is dumbed down" camp conflate arbitrary randomness with actual strategic complexity.

      Compare a melee attack in Daggerfall versus Skyrim; the only real difference is that Daggerfall includes an arbitrary dice roll in the process. In theory, there's more numbers involved. In practice, it just means that you miss sometimes due to random chance. There's nothing special about advancing your "long blade" skill in Daggerfall versus putting your points in the "two-handed" perk tree in Skyrim.

      Also, I love Daggerfall but I have to admit that many of the skills are either worthless or game-breaking. The number of characters that can survive Privateer's Hold is many orders of magnitude smaller than what is actually possible. Is there anybody that made a strategy out of using all the language skills, when the majority of quests (both main quests and optional) require you to kill things? Is there anybody that thought "Oh man, I'm going to put Swimming, Climbing and Acrobatics in my major slots!"

      Complexity is in Dwarf Fortress, when your dwarves become depressed if they have no job or possessions, wear rotten rags and eat the same food every day. Complexity is in Kerbal Space Program when your craft becomes unstable at mach 1 because you left the landing gear extended after takeoff. Complexity is in Phoenix Wright where you have to use a combination of reasoning, intuition and evidence to see your way through a court battle.

      If rolling dice to determine success or failure is the definition of "complexity," then you can make any conceivable action "complex" by just flipping a coin before you do it.

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    12. While I haven't played too much of it, my impression of Daggerfall is that it's a game that tries to have a lot of depth and complexity, but the technology just wasn't there yet to really pull it off

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    13. That is my impression too: Daggerfall is not super complex but super convoluted. Even when I don't want to touch Skyrim again due to how exhausting its repetitive gameplay turns out to be after 30-40 hours (and I played it for 120, obsessed with the missions and scenarios) I consider it to be a very consistent game with a lot of roleplayey things to do. And Gothic 2, with a few spells, limited quests and a very straightforward gameplay is not what I think about when talking about complexity - just quite a bit of bad game design decisions in a interesting game.

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    14. In any case the list of examples is really weird, mixing a span of 20 years when I asked about contemporary. If only there was a spidersoft mentioned I would believe it :)

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    15. I can understand people who disliked the new Fallout and Skyrim. They are fun games but they don't have the feeling of the older ones. With the elders scrolls every iteration became more, well, causal (in the literally sense of the word, not the bad connotation it has today). And Fallout changed much with the jump to 3D. Now they are different but not worse because of this, but may they list that part people liked about the older ones

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    16. Well, for me the "real" Elder Scrolls died with Oblivion because it removed almost all of my favorite things from the series, so I have a personal bias against post-Morrowind TES games.

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    17. You have to define your terms, Carlos. To us old guys, “contemporary“ means anything in the new millennium.

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    18. In these kinds of conversations, I always wonder what the "less complex = not a real rpg" people would make of rules light or story-focused tabletop rpgs like Apocalypse World, Fiasco, Lasers & Feelings, etc? Are they not real RPGs? I find the definition of "real RPG" in these discussions to be how close a video game is to D&D, when RPGs are much more than that.

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    19. In some sense, a CRPG can occupy almost any point on the line between 'walking simulator' and 'interactive spreadsheet', much like it's p&p antecedent can be anything from a drama class to a math class :p

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    20. Tabletop games have a social and improvisational aspect to them that single-player video games largely lack. So sacrificing gameplay complexity (which doesn't necessarily mean more numbers) for story in video games necessarily leads to worse games, because it essentially makes them into very bloated movies. Skyrim is a worse game than Daggerfall not because it has fewer numbers, but because it actually takes away gameplay options from the player (like levitation or waterwalking that were there in previous games; the whole spellmaking thing) to make its scripted content possible. It's actually frustrating - the engine has a lot of simulation going on under the hood, so it would be possible to design quests around improvisation and emergent gameplay, but instead the game uses scripting to override everything, very rarely tapping into the systemic possibilities.
      A good counterexample would be Arkane's Prey - a game with very few stats, but a good number of gameplay systems that it actually makes use of in an emergent manner.

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    21. No, it doesn't 'necessarily lead to worse games', but it might lead to games which you personally tend to enjoy less.

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    22. No, actually, it's the other way around: them being necessarily worse games doesn't mean people can't enjoy them. Lots of people enjoy Barbara Cartland's books, but it doesn't make them good literature. Lots of people, myself included, enjoy funny cat videos, but it doesn't make them great cinema. There's enjoyment, and then there are basic principles by which different media operate - and then there are creative ways of breaking them. Gameplay is what distinguishes games from linear media, if it gets deprioritized in your game in favor of scripted content - then it would work better as a piece of linear media, simple as that.

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    23. VK that doesn´t stack up. While it may be uncomfortable for you, if you enjoy a book, film or whatever, it IS great. Unless you´re a sadist, you consume a product because you like it and because you think it´s wonderful. It´s delusion to tell yourself you consume it but don´t recognize it as quality.

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    24. No, I can definitely enjoy things I recognize to be of objectively low quality. I love dumb puns and stupid internet memes that make no sense (like YouTube Poop), but they're not great humor. Something like the old Robotnik Double N***er meme makes me laugh like an idiot, but I wouldn't give it a comedy prize if I sat in a comedy jury. I'm a huge fan of 1980s fantasy and action B-movies, but I'm not going to put the Deathstalker films on the same level of quality as, say, The Godfather or the LotR films. I enjoy the occasional McDonald's burger, but I wouldn't call it great food.

      Just because I enjoy something doesn't make it objectively great, or of high quality. There are plenty of low quality things I love.

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    25. There's even the phrase "so bad it's good" to refer to media you recognize to be objectively bad yet enjoy regardless (or even because of it) ;)

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    26. With fast food, there are measurable markers. Amount of salt and preservatives, fat content, nutrient content, portion size--all of these you can take out a figurative ruler and say "Hmm, this falls below XYZ example in quality."

      When it comes to entertainment, there is no "objective." There's just what it made you feel in the moment. I think Jackson Pollock paintings are glorified garbage. Monty Python and the Holy Grail never made me laugh once. Pride and Prejudice is among the dullest books ever written. If these things are "objectively" better then surely I would have enjoyed them, right?

      Saying "objectively" in any non-scientific discussion is just wanting one opinion or design philosophy to be the correct one, equating preference with unalterable truth. "This building is made of wood" is objective. "If a building is made of wood, it'd be better as a tree" is opinion.

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    27. I mean, Jackson Pollock *is* objectively trash, as is a lot (if not most) of modern art.

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    28. Our brains need to be challenged to develop (I don't mean challenging gameplay here, but challenge in a general sense - learning new things, tackling difficult problems, making sense of unfamiliar situations). They wither if they are not. So the kind of entertainment that is unchallenging and comfortable, that appeals to the lowest common denominator is actually very analogous to fast food in that it's easy to devour but it's bad for your brain.

      Also, that something isn't fully objective (and nothing is, not even the sciency stuff), doesn't make it fully subjective. That's a typical fallacy of thinking in binaries. There are personal opinions, but then there are values shared by a given community, a given culture, a given historical age. There are genre conventions, there's the way a given art piece relates to what came before it, how it drives the media/genre forward (or backward, or sideways). None of it is fully objective, but it's much more - and much more measurable - than a matter of subjective opinion.

      Modern Western culture tends to recognize individuality, authenticity and innovation as desirable traits of an art work. It also tends to value virtuosity - art that takes a visible application of artistic skill, that is not repeatable by people without special training and talent - unless forgoing that means gaining in authenticity and innovation (your Pollock example). These values are not "objective" (they are culturally determined) and they are not stable (they can and will change to something else over time) - but they are not subjective either, and they bear a huge influence on how the quality of art is judged.

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    29. I lost sight of the original argument along time ago. So all I want to know is what kinds of torture bespoke inflicted on his keyboard to get his apostrophes to come out like that.

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    30. People define games differently. Linearity exists on multiple axes. It doesn't really make much sense to me to look at Europa Universalis and Perfect Dark, and try to figure out which is more of a game.

      I'm not sure there's objectively good art or bad art. Just seems to come down to how many people within a given cohort like it or don't. There is however, a tendency for people to feel smug about liking stuff that requires a degree of prior knowledge to appreciate.

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    31. FWIW I like Pollock, and if you asked me to defend my preference I'd say: "Dunno, just like the look of it".

      I don't necessarily want art to challenge my brain. Sometimes I just want it to be the equivalent of a cookie. Some cookies (say, the Avengers?) take an enormous amount of that so-called 'virtuosity' to construct, to appeal to as many different types of movie goers as they can while remaining coherent in tone and story with 20 prior movies.

      FWIW, I don't like the Avengers, if you asked why, I'd say: I like tension in films and I didn't feel it, but at least some of the jokes were funny.

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    32. Addict, I'm guessing he used ALT+96 code to get that apostrophe. Slightly bizarre that that's what you're most interested in in this conversation... Hey, wait a moment! You're not trolling your own forum, are you?

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  11. Barely related discussion question since I’m just curious how people feel: do you guys prefer RPGs where you have a small group of characters who you keep the whole game but who are somewhat customizable, or games where there are a bunch of different characters who you can recruit and swap in and out of your party?

    I tend to like the first one because I like getting to name and create my own characters, and I like tinkering with their abilities.

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    1. I hate investing time and energy into anything and then having the game take it away from me.

      I don't mind having a surplus of characters, as long as they stay available to swap in and out. I don't even approve of what FF7 does with Aerith, let alone what's going on in Ishar.

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    2. I'm a bit conflicted. I love creating my own character, who is supposed to literally represent myself. However, I also like when the game creates a story that is, to a certain degree and in certain areas, out of my control.

      Planescape: Torment is an example. It lets you play The Nameless One however you like, but your party members are fixed and you have several opportunities to miss them or lose ones you've already gained.

      A more recent example would be the Mass Effect series. You play Shepard however you want, make their appearance and pick their class, but ultimately you inhabit the world the writers have laid out for you, which involves losing and gaining party members at certain points.

      At one extreme you have something like Gold Box or Wizardry, where your party members are all faceless, voiceless collections of numbers that you can tweak to your liking and dump at will. On the opposite end is Ishar, where you have zero control--not even over the leader of your party. The difference between Ishar and something like PS:T or Mass Effect is that Ishar's party members seem to have no personality or character arcs.

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    3. It's a good question. I think it really depends on the game. Like I love how Baldur's Gate handles this -- you can pick and choose your members, whilst the game tries to restrict the free reign. Yet most characters are with you for the long haul, as long as you don't have their enemy in the party. Nice, effective, moreso because a lot of the characters have personality (even if it's relatively shallow compared to modern games).

      Whilst games where you build the party yourself, that's more cool in the sense of developing characters. Like with Wizardry, it's more like the game is building each character up and swapping their classes. The dungeon is more there as the way to build them up. For it's time, the character system was interesting and so it was entertaining. Yet so many dungeon crawlers ignored this aspect, duplicating the dungeons but missing that character progression, and so they fell flat.

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    4. I have to agree with Deano that BG strikes a near-perfect balance.

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    5. It's nice having options for party members, but even when there are I usually stick with the first few I've recruited or played with because I'm used to them.

      If Ishar gave the opportunity to hunt down Fragorn, and take your things back, that'd be something.

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    6. I remember losing a character in one of the Baldur's Gate games because they tried to kill the party, after I had built him or her up (trying to avoid spoilers).

      Gah, that was irritating. I never found a good "replacement".

      I'm almost ok with what happens in a certain famous JRPG where a character just dies, but don't have the game take a character I actively spent time building up and have them try to kill me.

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    7. I like the party roster of Pillars of Eternity (and Tyranny) or Darkest Dungeon, where you can swap members in and out to adjust to quests - be it skillwise or because of a personal relation. Also you can use more of your loot.

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    8. The absolute worst is when the game has preset characters but you can only use a subset (say, 3 out of 7 available options in your party) - and then forces you to keep them all leveled up in order to get past certain points. There's nothing more frustrating than having to cycle through a bunch of characters or a party composition you don't care for just because the game wants to split the party and you better have 2 full sets of level 30 characters if you want to survive that.

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    9. Ultima 7 does this really well for me, as we'll hopefully see on this blog soon! You can meet many people to take on your journey, and they can sometimes have interesting things to say (more so in Serpent Isle, and as NPCs in Underworld 2). You can still level them up, but each has a particular strength and so you have to decide who to keep with you.

      With D&D CRPGs, the one that sticks in my mind for less good reasons is NWN2 (and BG1 and others maybe have this issue to an extent), in that there are so many classes that you get a drip feed of possible companions of various types, so early on it kinda penalises you if you want to make your main character a certain class. Let alone when those characters turn up and they are of opposing alignment...

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    10. In Dragon Age origins I lost 2 of my (I think 4-member) party in the final climax dungeon of the game due to story reasons.

      It was VERY VERY FRUSTRATING to have to go into the emotional and difficult final dungeon and story section of the game with two characters whom I had never played with, never equipped, and did not fit the "tank" and "dps" slots that I had lost.

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    11. Jason, I think I know what situation you're referring to (don't want to spoil it either).

      It happened to me too, and I really felt I was betrayed. It didn't frustrate me though that I lost a team member that way, and I think it is because BG gives you 1 character to personalise, while the others are predefined, with personalities and backgrounds that you have to live with.

      So as long as I have full control over my lead character, I don't mind if the game has its own plan with the supporting cast.

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    12. I sunk more effort into that BG character than any other besides my main. Built the party around them.

      It was quite a kick in the teeth!

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  12. In that first image of the minotaur fight, it looks like he hits your already-dead second character at one point. I can't tell if that's good or bad game design, but it's interesting. I don't think I've seen that anywhere else.

    Warm tear!

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    Replies
    1. Ha, you're right. I don't know how that works.

      Delete
  13. "If a character is equipped by a missile weapon, hitting the attack key doesn't launch it; it brings up a cursor so that you can click on the specific enemy that you want to target. Why is this extra step necessary?"

    It seems obvious to me that this serves the same purpose that the Shoot command did in Might and Magic I and II. It lets you specifically target a particularly annoying enemy.

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  14. I remember that playing Ishar sometimes felt a little bit surreal. Not like travelling through a fantasy world as in other RPGs, but more like wandering around in a dream, or on a foreign planet. Must be the graphics and the NPCs standing around in the middle of green meadows.

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    1. Lots of French games have that vibe

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    2. It's the Frenchness. Frenchity? That's the feeling I think most French video games set out to evoke, so in that sense, this game is a success.

      Delete
    3. stepped pyramidsMarch 6, 2020 at 1:13 AM

      If I didn't already know this game was made by Silmarils I would kind of catch on that it was French. It has that vibe -- pretty games with diverse and experimental mechanics that mostly fail to gel into a satisfying experience.

      Delete
  15. I wonder how the whole "Voting System" works from an "Immersive" point of view, if all are against kicking someone out of the Party who initiated the vote? :O

    Also if everyone is against voting someone out of the Party the next step is to have them stand alone in the front row while everyone watches them get beaten to a Bloody Pulp by some random Monster o.- Ho boy I´m sure they are glad noone voted them out of the party....

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. 'Enter the direction you would like to travel.'

      :North

      'The party votes to move East.'

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    3. I guess it's like in politics when a politician votes yes on whether to allow a bill or something to move forward and then votes no on the item in question itself?

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  16. I think a lot of what you say here is characteristic of Silmarils games in general. Their other (non-Ishar) games will be outside of your sphere of interests, of course, but if you were to take a look at the likes of Targhan, Colorado and the like, you would find they all follow much the same lines: wonderful visuals, but shallow gameplay, and lack of gameplay polish. Typically, many of the game's subsystems would be either promising, but too limited to be good, or good at first glance, but rough and unpolished after deeper contact.

    It all came to a head with Robinson's Requiem (which actually more or less fits the definition of an RPG, IIRC), which was this sprawling game of great complexity, but I'd be hard-pressed to point to a single feature in the game that could be praised without adding a "yes, but". Incredible promise, great visuals (although by then, you could already see the transition to 3d would kill them), great atmosphere, but... it just wasn't a good game.

    Also, their narratives always seemed like they were written as an afterthought. As I said in another comment under your previous entry, their storytelling style is very strongly visual - but ultimately, you can only use visual storytelling to create atmosphere and build an interesting world. A strong narrative really needs words. And the words they had in their games left a lot to be desired - both in quality and in quantity.

    Still, I would say Ishar at the time would have been considered nothing short of amazing. I remember playing it for the first time. Whatever flaws it had faded away at the vision of this beautiful, seemingly completely open world to explore. And even the thin and unimpressive story and backstory still wouldn't have bothered anyone, because they were entirely on par with most other games of the time.

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    1. When I think of "Silmarils games" I always think of Storm Master and Transartica. They have the same gorgeous aesthetic as this, and the graphics were made probably by the same artist.

      Robinsons Requiem was a 3D, and thus didn't have the same vibe.

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    2. Robinson's Reqiuem is a hardcore survival RPG before those became popular, and for that I like it. I'm a big fan of the survival genre, and while it's been killed by a flood of unfinished early access titles that all copy each other and focus on grindy crafting, RR is pretty interesting in its gameplay approach and a genuinely cool game. You can amputate your own limbs! Which other game lets you do that?!

      Of course, it suffers from clunky controls and a half-baked implementation of its systems, just like Ishar

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    3. Is there character development in Robinson's Requiem?

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    4. Character development in Robinson's Requiem? Well... I guess :). I mean, if a character loses his leg or arm, that's a sort of character development ;).

      Seriously, though. As far as I can recall, it didn't have skills, xp, or levels. Character changes went only in one direction - down. You could get ill, you could get infected, you could break or lose a limb. You could then cure your illnesses, infections and broken limbs (cut off limbs - not so much) to improve your performance again, but you couldn't actually get better than the default state. You did gain more equipment, though, and you actually had to craft it.

      Delete
  17. "Who's your god? Hugh Hefner?" While this one was good, this one was even better and made me laugh: "The photographer didn't make it."

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  18. If the party refuses to obey you when dumping someone, you can try to have them killed. This will probably lead to your party members trying to avenge their fallen comrade by killing the murderer in turn, and causing yet another party member to try and murder the second murderer, until you're left with a single party member standing in a pile of corpses. Remember that, if this happens, you can access the corpses inventory and strip them of their valuables, so long as you don't move from that spot. Once you step away, they (and their inventories) become one with the Force

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    Replies
    1. I've found it's easier to get rid of people by putting them at the head of the combat order with on armor.

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    2. Damnit! Dynaheir died.
      ....
      ....
      ....
      (doesn't reload)

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    3. While I did that a couple times, it always made me feel that I was 'playing like a jackass'.

      Delete
    4. That phrase deserves it's own entry in your glossary btw.

      Delete

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