Thursday, May 21, 2020

Game 366: Abandoned Places: A Time for Heroes

Or A Tinne Fot Hetves if you go by a literal interpretation of the font.
       
Abandoned Places: A Time for Heroes
Hungary
ArtGame (developer); Electronic Zoo (publisher)
Released 1992 for Amiga and DOS
Date Started: 15 May 2020
         
It's nice to see a new country enter the CRPG fray. We're going to have four games from this country in the early 1990s (including Abandoned Places and its sequel) and then nothing for a decade. It's also nice to see a new take on a familiar template. I had a fun first session with Abandoned Places, and I'm looking forward to my next one. I just wish Ultima VII hadn't gotten bungled, because this would be a near perfect game to trade time with that one. 

Abandoned Places is based heavily on Dungeon Master, right down to the framing story, which has a benevolent mage going to a crypt to resurrect former heroes rather than create characters from a living population. This was the least satisfying part of the game, as I was asked to choose two warriors from a selection of six and one mage and one cleric, each from a selection of three, based on nothing more than their character portraits. I was assisted in this endeavor by Saintus's 1992 coverage of the game, in which he tried all possibilities and analyzed their strengths and weaknesses. I chose the fighters Lianon and Cromer, the cleric Felius, and the mage Pomphis. My primary concern was that I get a cleric with the "Create Food" spell because I hear that the party gets hungry fast in Abandoned Places.
         
Assembling a party.
        
The game manual has nothing on the backstory, so we have to rely on the opening animation. Information is scant. It is told from the perspective of a mage who awakens the deceased heroes.
            
The ancient scrolls have led us to the location of the Heroes, the Champions of Kalynthia, turned into living stone, waiting for the time to once again fight evil. The council emissaries will travel across land and sea to the Temple of Heaven's Fight. There, far below the surface, the Heroes are to be found, but our powers are waning and we only have the power to turn four of the heroes back to flesh and bone. No one can tell what the effects of 900 years as statues will have on them. But they are now our only hope to stop the cursed Bronakh. May luck be with us all.
     
An unnamed mage restores life to some statues.
          
The game begins as the four heroes wake up in their crypt with no equipment and a couple of gargoyle-looking things prowling the rooms. Fortunately, it's sufficiently like Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder to figure it out in a hurry. You right-click on hands to attack, after which there's a "cool down" period. Only the first two characters can attack in melee range, but the rear two can use missile weapons and cast spells, and the mage comes with a useful "Magic Bolt."
              
Almost immediately, the game thrusts you into combat.
        
The interface is fairly intuitive. You left-click to move objects and right-click to use them. Everything is contained in one window. The developers sacrificed exploration window space to keep the inventory and character sheet always visible. You click on the character portraits to cycle through their inventories. The character with the active inventory and character sheet is different from the character with the active combat options; you change those by clicking the number buttons right next to them. Because of the nature of the interface, you really need a mouse so that you can drag items from the floor to the characters, operate switches, and so forth. But it does offer keyboard options for commands such as movement and--thank you!--attacking. You can also specify the direction of attack with the little pad beneath the character portrait, but I haven't played with that yet.
    
The gargoyles dropped a couple of keys, and the room was scattered with rocks and torches. One of the keys went to either of two doors at the south end of the room, both of which opened the way to the same area of a higher level.
          
My map of most of the temple.
         
The temple ended up being five levels, but with only three of them taking up any substantial space. The goal turned out to be finding the exit on the bottom level, which was the largest, taking up 16 x 29 coordinates, but using nowhere near that much space. (The game uses a "worm tunnel" approach, which automatically cuts out a lot of squares.) Standing in my way were things that looked like gargoyles, skeletons, and maybe fire elementals. They were all pretty easy to kill even though I never found any armor and the only weapons I found were minor ones: clubs, daggers, and one short sword.
          
This thing looks like it ought to be harder than it was.
       
I like the way the game allocates experience, which is by successful action rather than simply killing someone in combat. Fighters get experience for each hit. Spellcasters get experience for each spell successfully cast, including noncombat ones like "Create Food." Nonetheless, by the end of the dungeon I did have a rather large experience imbalance in favor of the fighters. No one had reached Level 2 yet, though. I need to spend more time casting spells, since magic regenerates relatively quickly. As in Dungeon Master, a full spell point bar is just wasted potential experience.

Navigation puzzles were easy in the introductory dungeon, consisting of just a few keys, buttoned doors, and levers that opened new sections of hallway. Towards the end of the level, I had to avoid fire squares and water squares, although you can try to cross them quickly if you don't mind a little damage. The only thing that bothered me was that I left four locked doors on the lower level for which I never found any keys. There was also a stairway on an upper floor that was blocked somehow. Maybe these were red herrings, or maybe we'll be back to the temple later.
           
A skeleton comes out of a buttoned door.
          
There was a chest full of food on one level, but it barely did anything. If I didn't have the "Create Food" spell, my characters would have been starving for three-quarters of the expedition. Starvation causes a periodic loss of 1 hit point. I also noted that the game told me the characters were "exhausted" quite early in my explorations and torches didn't last very long. (By the way, to use a torch in this game, you have to hold a "firestone" in one hand and the torch in another and then right-click on the firestone. That took a while to figure out.) I suspect this all means that I have the cycles set too high in DOSBox. Discussion question: Is there ever a good excuse for a developer to base such considerations on CPU cycles rather than real-time or number of moves? It feels like authors in this era never considered the possibility of faster machines.
     
When we found the exit to the dungeon, I was surprised to find myself on a top-down overworld map. Well, not completely "surprised" because I'd read the manual, but still--this is an unusual addition to the Dungeon Master sub-genre. The rest of the game takes place over a reasonably large map with one large island and three small ones. The map is dotted with towns, castles, and ruins, and I assume most of them have some kind of dungeon to explore. (The overland map is similar enough to Legend from the UK that I wonder if the developers weren't influenced by it.) I like the approach, as long as the dungeons are of modest size. If they're each as large as the typical Dungeon Master clone, the game will wear out its welcome quite fast.
          
Boarding the boat from the starting island.
          
My first goal was getting off the southern island that houses the Temple of Heaven's Fight. From atop the mountain, I could see a ship making daily trips from the large island to our small one, so we headed for that ship's port of call. Along the way, the game said we found some horses. There's a button that lets you switch between various modes of transportation. When we reached the boat, we switched to that, and it brought us to the "continent."

I headed for the nearest city, which turned out to be a quiet little town called Frampton. It was home to a priest whose services I didn't need. There were no other shops.
               
The town was pretty, though.
           
Lacking any guidance about where to go--Why didn't the mage who awakened us stick around? Or at least leave a note?--I decided to work my way roughly counter-clockwise around the continent. A fortress in the middle of a lake with a long bridge leading to it looked promising. When I arrived, the game told me I was at Pedroc's Abbey, but that it was closed.
            
The overworld map has a lot of interesting-looking features. There just isn't much to do when you get there.
            
I continued moving over mountain and river until I came to a small town called Timberville, where "most of the villagers have some kind of weapon in their hands." Timberville had another healer and a tavern, where we spent the 15 gold pieces found in the temple on a meal (2.0) and lodging (2.5). I'm not sure if either did anything for us, as I stopped getting messages about hunger and fatigue the moment I reached the outdoor map.

You occasionally have to fight wilderness combats, which take you to a small 3D map crossed with bushes and rivers. The only enemies I've had to face so far are giant bugs, which drop no gold. You can't leave the fights until you've killed all the enemies, and it can be annoying to find them sometimes.
          
Fighting a giant bug in the wilderness.
          
I couldn't even find the entrance to a castle (called "Twilight" on the map) across the lake from Timberville, and two villages further along the coast, Hyde and Trailcross, had the same options as Timberville. Something called the Tower of Scions was destroyed and offered nothing to do. Cities called Iron Home and Tol Al Nerak wanted 10 gold pieces to enter, which is all I had left. I saved and tried anyway, but both just had shops that had nothing I could afford.
        
It's nice to know such things exist. I'll be richer someday.
      
I ultimately spent the gold getting into Kal Kalon, the capital of the country, where I found a guild. The guild leveled up my first fighter and mage--fortunately, for free--and said I need a few hundred experience points more for the other two. I couldn't take advantage of the other services and left.
         
Not so much "bad luck" as "uneven distribution."
       
I finally found something to do at Souls Abbey in the southwest of the main island, nearly a full loop back to where I'd started. A monk told me he might have a job for us, but he'd need us to prove our skills first. He said his guards would take us to a "place full of monsters," and that we would prove our worth by destroying all of them.
         
Our first quest.
       
We agreed, and soon found ourselves in a new, dark dungeon--the only problem being that we only have one torch left and it's hard to see in the dark. Hopefully, we'll find some more.
          
Dropped off in my second dungeon.
       
Aside from that hour where I was wandering around the land experiencing nothing, Abandoned Places has started relatively strong. To many players, Dungeon Master is perfectly satisfying on its own, but I'm rather glad to see a game that adds an overworld, an economy, and NPCs to the template. And while I always enjoyed Dungeon Master's approach to leveling through action, I'm glad to see it quantified (or perhaps I should say quantified in a way visible to the player) here. My major concerns are whether it will introduce more interesting puzzles than it has already, and whether the game world will open up a bit. It would be a waste of the overland map if you had to hit all the dungeons in a particular order.

Time so far: 4 hours

77 comments:

  1. I headed for the nearest city, which turned out to be a quiet little town called Frampton.

    I hear it really, ah, "comes alive" if you catch it at the right time.

    (Maybe someone will show you the way, because something's happening there.)

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    1. You should be ashamed of yourself. I love it.

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    2. You just need to make sure the townspeople feel like you do. Maybe you could try asking them.

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  2. "I like the way the game allocates experience"

    That's almost a deal-breaker for me. I really don't like the 'distributing XP among the party' minigame.

    It doesn't even make things any more realistic. XP is just an abstraction of learning - and it's not like a mage is really just twiddling their thumbs during combat.

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    1. Indeed.

      As i see it, a good xp system is one that supports and reinforces the key gameplay loop.

      In a traditional dungeon crawler, (And this applies both to tabletop and computer ones) the key loop goes by this:

      1: Search for an encounter

      2: Beat encounter

      3:get xp and loot

      4: Repeat.

      ----

      Now xp per kill is hardly perfect - it reduces step 2 to one single ideal method, instead of rewarding beating encounters by stealth etc - but at least it ensures the loop works.

      Xp-per-action systems, though, work completely at odds with the loop - completely breaking it in particulary bad cases.

      It can lead to sillyness like using weak weapons to take more time killing monsters, so you get more xp, or even to heal the monsters yourself so you can farm more, if the game allows that.

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    2. Word. In a single-player game like Elder Scrolls it works, but in Dungeon Master and clones it gets obnoxious. Giving everybody a shot at every single task at all times is way more micromanagement than I care to do in a real-time action RPG.

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    3. It doesn't work that well in the Elder Scrolls games either. At least it promotes skill grinding and doing stupid things, like standing there getting hit by a weak enemy while periodically casting healing spells.

      I think Wizardry VI & VII did this reasonably well, with their combination of use-based skill increases and XP based leveling.

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    4. Easily 90% of my time in a playthrough of Morrowind is min-maxing my skill gain by doing ridiculous nonsense like standing in one place and repeat-casting the same spell to make sure that I get my stat gains in the right place. It's an obnoxious system that runs a little way on its novelty before quickly becoming tiresome.

      I think there's ways to do "develop skills from using them" systems that don't suck - Quest for Glory is less bad at it than Elder Scrolls, for example - but they're very tricky, and difficult to write content for, because the natural tendency is to either (a) deter experimentation because strength naturally collects in the first thing the player tries which is reasonably effective or (b) encourage the player to grind ineffective skills in immersion-breaking ways.

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    5. PetrusOctavianusMay 21, 2020 at 6:57 AM

      That's just sad, when you can easily level up to 20 just by fending off cliffracers while exploring.

      I found Morrowind more fun when choosing as major skills skills I hardly used, in order to level slower.

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    6. Morrowind is perfectly playable without cheesing the skill system though. I replayed it a dozen times since I was a teen, and never abused such methods. You gotta stop thinking like a powergamer and just play naturally.

      But with a party based game it's different cause it feels wrong to have the two frontliners heavily outlevel the casters. Makes you feel like you're not doing something right, or like you'll be disadvantaged at the challenges to come.

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    7. I don't think that a system itself is bad if it allows these kind of skill-grinding. It would probably be bad if it required it though.

      I am undecided about the uneven distribution of xp. I would say it's not a problem as far as it does not make the slower characters totally useless.

      Although I am from Hungary, and I know this game and its sequel, I have never played it. As far as I remember it got good reviews back in the days in our local press.

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    8. I've played through Morrowind a half-dozen times and the only time I've felt the need to grind skills is when you're a couple points short for a guild promotion. Even on a replay, you get a lot more mileage out of just going for the easily obtainable broken items right off the bat rather than bothering to min-max skill points.

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    9. The practice-based systems can work if you use them naively or semi-naively, without min-maxing everything. Role-playing a bit, you might say. I remember in Dungeon Master I worked hard to get my fighters started in priest skills, but I didn't level everybody in everything, and the game was easy enough that I didn't need to. (I remember when I imported the same party into Chaos Strikes Back, my fighters started shooting up in ninja levels from kicking worms in the first room, and I was genuinely surprised.)

      I wonder if the mage and cleric in Abandoned Places get exp from throwing rocks or whatever other ranged weapons you find?

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    10. What becomes frustrating is when one of these practice-based systems is combined with poorly balanced encounters and bosses.

      The Romancing SaGa series (for Super Famicom) is notorious for this, with final bosses that are basically impossible to beat if you have just played the game through with no assistance or grinding.

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    11. Aren't many JRPGs designed so you have to grind to beat the bosses, regardless of use based or kill based XP gain?

      Enemies being too hard for reasonably leveled characters isn't a flaw of the system itself but of encounter design.

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    12. Bad ones, maybe. Or ones like Disgaea that I swear are made for lunatics.

      Most well-regarded JRPGs only "require" grinding for optional super-bosses that basically amount to bragging rights. In every JRPG I've played for any length of time, I only became underleveled if I ran away from combats and zoomed straight to the next boss encounter.

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    13. "Betrayal at Krondor" was another game with practice-based skill improvement. I haven't played it in decades, but I remember it working rather well. If I'm not confusing it with some other game, each playable character could tag certain skills to make them quicker to level up, and you could change the tags as you went on. It was a 1993 game, so I supposed it'll come up here in the not-too-distant future.

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    14. No, it's not possible to play Morrowind not to mention Oblivion without power gaming. And I think we have some kind of amnesia on the most annoying stuff of our favourite games, as how much the levelling up and the survival on Wizardry VI or Morrowind depends on luck and loads of save restore, power gaming or not. And how many times you have to start a game again after 5 or 10 hours because you didn't power game and your build is useless in the non stated rules of the game.

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    15. Morrowind is ok in that regard. It's not too hard (unless you decide to go with an unarmored and unarmed custom monk class without putting any points in those skills...). And I kind of like the system in general, it's just not very well balanced. Some skills are hard not to level, others I don't know how you'd increase without grinding (enchant, alchemy). Spells are worst, because a mage with powerful spells will have a much harder time becoming competent than a mage who kills with a thousand needles.

      But Morrowind lets you train skills as much as you want. Oblivion restricts training per level, plus much more level scaling. A poor sod who picks the warrior class will level very quickly and inefficiently, and will be punished for it by the game.

      (Darklands had a similar problem. Poor alchemists.)

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    16. The last time I played Morrowind was only 2 years ago so it's still pretty fresh in my mind. I didn't powergame in it. Neither did I powergame the first time I played it as a teen in 2002. I never used any of the exploits like pumping up alchemy to get massive stat boost potions, casting spells 100 times in an empty room to raise my skill, putting a weight on my move forward key and leaving the PC to train up athletics, etc. The first time I played it I didn't even use magic nor did I put much thought into raising the proper skills before levelup to get max stat increases, yet my character managed to get through the game just fine.

      Morrowind isn't hard, except in the beginning when your skills are low and you barely hit anything, but you can pay trainers to raise your skills which is very cheap at low skill levels. And if you really have to powergame, there are very easy and non-tedious ways to overpower yourself with exploits, like alchemy or abusing the strength gains from corprus.

      Oblivion is a terrible game with the worst level scaling ever. But the level scaling means people can finish it without leveling up once. I've seen speedruns like that. It also means you're screwed if you make a character focused on non combat skills because enemies scale only to your level, regardless of skills, without exception. It's just fundamentally broken and has little to do with powergaming, it's more about having to deal with one of the worst systems ever created for a CRPG.

      Still, back in the day I played and finished Oblivion without powergaming, too. I just picked a few focus skills and played normally and managed to beat the game without any major issues.

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    17. PetrusOctavianusMay 22, 2020 at 6:37 AM

      "No, it's not possible to play Morrowind not to mention Oblivion without power gaming"

      And yet people do.

      Morrowind can be hard in the beginning, but it doesn't take long before you have to actively un-power play to get any semblance of challenge out of it.
      And it's far too easy to abuse the game mechanics, especially with alchemy and Fortify potions.
      Oblivion was better in that regard.

      I'd say MW and Oblivion are among the games where you can mostly forget about power playing and just role play (or "LARP") any character you like.

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    18. I mean, for me Morrowind is pretty tedious before you get fast run speeds and reliable travel magic, and to get that to its best level you want to exploit the skill system, and so...

      Or alternatively, the game places such a mechanical and interface premium on skill improvements that it's hard to treat the game as not being ABOUT skill improvements...

      Or alternatively, despite everyone who gets a lot of value out of Elder Scrolls lore, I've personally never been able to find it remotely compelling or immersive, and thus had very little interest in basing my decisions on anything other than increasing my mechanical aptitude and ticking quests off my quest list. Subjectively, to me, the characters act like machines that exist for gameplay reasons, and it's hard to treat them any other way.

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    19. PetrusOctavianusMay 22, 2020 at 10:42 AM

      I agree about the lore, but to me at least the TES games are to a large degree about exploring, which is perhaps Morrowind's main attraction, and which can be fun in Oblivion with the right mods.

      This mechanical approach to games is what leads to things like quest compasses which in Skyrim, from what I've heard, kills exploration.
      I mean what's the point of having a large 3D world played in 1st person, if not to explore it?

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    20. There is exploration to be done in Skyrim, it's just a lot easier because the world is smaller and much more dense, and they don't let you get lost very easily while actually following a quest. I think of it sort of like an "easy mode" of Morrowind's exploration. At least you don't have every city available for fast-travel from the beginning, which I found incredibly lame about Oblivion--a game I otherwise generally liked.

      I'll also throw in my hat and say that I've beaten both Morrowind and Oblivion without power gaming. I was just so bad at games that a strategy like that never occured to me (and alchemy and enchanting are boring.)

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    21. Far fewer JRPGs require grinding than people think. I'm doing a blog playing through old Super Famicom RPGs that weren't released in the US (thanks for the sidebar link, Chet!). I'm on game 46 and only a small number of them have really required grinding, not counting the common situation where you have to do a little bit of grinding right at the beginning because you only have one guy to start.

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    22. I vehemently disagree that spamming a skill or a spell to raise it is "immersion-breaking" at all - it's literally practice. It's the same exact thing you'd do in real life, practice the things you're bad at until you're no longer bad at them. It may be difficult to balance, which is a game design concern, but it's much closer to how real life works than gaining general, abstract "XP" until you suddenly pop up a level, getting better at something which you may have never actually done before, with no rational explanation.

      And JRPGs bosses "requiring grinding" is a myth. Barring rare exceptions of legitimate misdesign (or the optional "superbosses" which the genre is fond of), if you can't beat a story boss when you reach it, the most plausible explanation is that you're simply playing the game wrong somehow.

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    23. Dragon Quest/Warrior is the most popular example of JRPG required grinding, but like others have said, I haven't experienced that with the majority of JRPGs I've played. Another popular one, Phantasy Star (at least the first two) also comes to mind for necessary grinding.

      It's possible that it comes down to not realizing optional strategies than pressing the attack button and healing as necessary that gets through most common battles. As a kid, grinding for levels seemed the obvious option when hit with a boss we couldn't beat.

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    24. I think a lot of reputation of JRPGs being grindy just comes from their random encounters, which are typically very frequent and lacking in variety. It doesn't really make much of a difference whether you have to fight the same three slimes over and over again on purpose, or it just happens "haturally" over the course of your exploration.

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    25. No, most people who insist that you have to grind massively in all jRPGs specifically talk about "walking in circles to fight constant battles" and "you get flattened if you just follow the plot, because you'll never have the levels".

      Most of these same people will follow it with "jRPG combat is boring because all you do is mash the "attack" option continuously, and all the other tactics are worthless".

      This translates to "I couldn't be bothered to put any effort into learning the system, so I tediously overleveled myself to where I didn't have to engage with it, then criticize the game because it's too easy".

      There are, of course, games where excessive grinding is critical - the first Dragon Quest game being the iconic example. These are generally games with poor reputations, or else the grinding is generally accepted as a blemish on the product (as with Secret of Mana's need to grind up the level on the final spell to beat the final boss).

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  3. Except for the font this game looks really good.

    Sadly I've never heard from it, but at the time I played with dad's Amiga even Dungeon Master was too high for me anyways.

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    1. I love the font! Makes me nostalgic for Eye of the Beholder just looking at it...

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    2. Oh wait, you meant the dialogue font, not the system font. Yeah, that's awful.

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    3. the lower-case "w" looks far too similar to the lower-case "m" or lower-case "ro". Slightly annoying to read.

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  4. Good to see you play this CRPGAddict. This is Saintus from crpgrevisited. The Amiga version had fantastic music at the time which I still listens to. It will be nice to see how far you get in this game.

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  5. The Apple ][ had no RTC at all, and I vividly remember having to set the clock on a PC with each power-on because it had no battery or CMOS RAM to store the date between uses. By 1992 I am pretty sure we had clocks that survived power cycles, but I have no idea how much timer resolution was available,


    Still, by 1992, the idea that PCs came in a variety of clock speeds was well-established. But it hadn’t been for very long,

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  6. PetrusOctavianusMay 21, 2020 at 3:57 AM

    I tried this game twice without getting far before losing interest.
    The starting dungeon is reasonably good, and IIRC it's one of the more complex Real Time Blobbers when it comes to game mechanics, but Dungeon Master and CBS was (and still is, I guess) unsurpassed when it comes to interaction with the dungeon.
    But the overland was just too tedious to me. The towns I visited were all empty. No rumours, no NPCs, no quests.
    And the random encounters were mind numbingly boring, fighting a giant insect on a huge map (after first having to find it).
    So I'm looking forward to reading about your experiences with the game.

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  7. "Is there ever a good excuse for a developer to base such considerations on CPU cycles rather than real-time or number of moves"

    I think many games that fall into this trap don't actually "count" CPU cycles, but are just trying to run as fast as possible due to pushing the limits of the hardware at the time.

    There may be other reasons. Working with timers isn't trivial, and relying on CPU cycles might just have been easier (and potentially more reliable in the IBM compatible area with its many clones).

    Actual cycle counting is still a thing in embedded software with very hard real time constraints.

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    1. BTW if it's just the starvation/exhaustion happening too fast, and the rest seems fine, I don't think it's a CPU speed issue.

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  8. Yeaaahheeehoooo new game and an interesting read

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  9. And finally Hungary enters the fray! I've played this one for some time on the Amiga, but never gotten very far. My command of English (and attention span) was quite rudimentary back then, and there was no Hungarian version.

    Anyway, the game was originally created for the Amiga (and the sequel is Amiga exclusive), which also included the backstory of the game in a separate 40-page book called The 23rd Chronicles of Kalynthia, should be easy to find on abandonware sites.

    The publisher was actually called Electronic Zoo, which was the predecessor of ICE.

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  10. Most games that just ran as fast as the hardware allowed were probably done that way simply because it's easier to program. If the game was developed primarily for a system where most of the userbase would have the same hardware, this isn't usually a problem, but if it gets a quick and dirty port to a system where that isn't the case, you can quickly get timing issues. It also wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't much thought put into futureproofing because the devs figured no one would be playing it by the time issues would crop up.

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  11. In the era, hardware was fairly non-standard, some systems didn't have internal clocks at all, and the idea of a computer being "too fast" was laughable. How much you could wring out of the hardware was something that your game would be judged on heavily - many games were tech demos as much as actual games - and you didn't want to artificially limit your game if the hardware could go faster.

    It wasn't until at least the advent of Pentiums (I think) that we started really being aware of older games suddenly being "too fast" without programs to manage that effect. (Although I could be wrong. I remember encountering this with the versions of Wing Commander 1 and 2 that were released in a package alongside Wing Commander 3, and I think that was something I played on a x486...)

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    1. All PCs have internal clocks, it comes with the BIOS.

      But yeah, during the early PC days, the difference between the fastest and the slowest commonly used computer just wasn't large (e.g. 12 MHz vs 16) so it was usually ignored. Several years later the difference was more like 40 vs 400, and that is a big deal.

      Funnily, games from that ear would often base their speed on the monitor's refresh rate, which had a standard of 60 retraces per second. Of course, a decade later, different monitor frequencies became commmon, so that ended up backfiring again.

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    2. Really? About what time are you speaking?

      60Hz refresh rate seems to more common nowadays after the LCD display became common. Even my shitty CRT monitor at the early 2000 had refresh rates above 100Hz with small resolution

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    3. I remember console games did this, as the refresh rate was standardised there. Which already caused subtle speed differences in their time when the same game run on a NTSC or an PAL device

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    5. Yes, you could always base it on VSync, even on the Spectrum. But I suspect developers of arcade and action games were more likely to do this than RPG developers.

      With the Amiga the PAL vs NTSC thing was well known - but if you were using pixel-based sprites there wasn't a whole lot you could do about it.

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    6. @GregT

      The possibility of a program being too fast was a consideration with many 286-powered devices which featured a "turbo" button to switch the 286 down to 8088 speed. By the Pentium era they had mostly disappeared, as few developers made that mistake anymore.

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    7. @Marc St: I'm talking the nineties here, not the early 2000s. Yes, a decade later, monitor frequencies had become more diverse.

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    8. Ah, the turbo button! I remember that!

      And by "not all systems had internal clocks" I was thinking outside the PC space for the purposes of porting but that may not be super relevant to this discussion.

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    9. There was also a DOS program that would chew up CPU cycles in order to show down older games that didn't do this right. It was a TSR, so I imagine it did some kind of poor man's multitasking by setting a timer and running through a for loop for a bit. You had to figure out your duty cycle, I believe, based on your particular computer's speed and the desired speed of your game. Not dissimilar to tweaking DOSBox config cycles.

      The existence of such a program indicates that there was kind of a problem here, but a lot of software didn't account for this at all.

      This seems like almost entirely a DOS problem. Most other computers had little variance, but PC clones can vary in almost every possible way. It's pretty much why that architecture won in the marketplace, because it could be everything to everyone (with enough care and feeding).

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    10. Mostly all common systems have clocks in one way or another, and usually more than one sync. type available for the programmer.
      Around this era up to the early 90's, the most common game loops where:
      - No sync. easier to program, no need to account for half-states if the game wasn't able to process some action in the allocated time
      - Use the monitor sync. IIRC it started around 50-60Hz matching PAL/NTSC, of course higher freqs. were common later
      - Use the PC speaker timer. Quite reliable, IIRC it gives you a freq. of 18.2Hz? also I think you were able to change this frequency via int calls
      - Sync. with the sound card

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    11. The problems you're experiencing may also be of another matter and not for the game to blame.
      Because of the way dosbox runs instructions and its cycles don't really correspond to real machines of the era cycles.
      Maybe someone has a 486/Pentium around that should be overkill for this game and see if it also does this in real HW?

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    12. BTW, all systems that we've seen or will see used in this blog have clocks of some kind to use. Rule of thumb, if it has any chip that says it runs at X hertz, it has.
      Async. computing is a different beast altogether and quite interesting imho. Probably people that work on embedded systems can tell better

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    13. Sorry for the spam, I just got into a rabbit hole of reading on the matter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asynchronous_circuit#Asynchronous_CPU

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    14. I used Mo'Slo to chew up CPU cycles, which seems to have been first released all the way back in 1990!

      On the flip side, when you are playing games via emulator, turning up the speed makes a lot of games a more palatable experience.

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    15. Pretty sure when they re-released Wing Commander 2 at a budget price in the pentium era they packaged mo'slo with it :) I seem to remember not switching it on and slamming straight into an asteroid as soon as I took off in one mission.

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    16. Yeah, MOSLO was what I was thinking of! I couldn't remember the name.

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    17. Digger was one of the first games to have such issues. It was unplayable on a 80386 without using moslo or other slowing methods.

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  12. Regarding considerations on CPU cycles rather than real-time: it is very common for small and independent game studios to never consider different types of computer when programming a game. This is still true today; e.g. any 320x200'ish game on Steam that runs slowly on an 1 GHz system is likely an example.

    It is simply easier to write a loop than to consider how a computer's various timing mechanisms interrelate. So it's an easy mistake to make, and the programmer will never notice since it doesn't occur on his computer.

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  13. Isn't there another game from the era that uses that character select screen? I can't help but think I've seen that before and I know I've never played this. At first I thought it was Hexx or Bloodwych, but it isn't...

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  14. If I recall correctly, the majority of the dungeons are rather compact, with just 1-2 levels each, and only the final dungeon is comparable to Dungeon Master dimensions.

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  15. "The ancient scrolls have led us to the location of the Heroes, the Champions of Kalynthia, turned into living stone, waiting for the time to once again fight evil"

    How much it must suck to be waiting for 900 years and NOT being among the chosen ones?

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    1. I mean, the whole thing is kinda dickish: You guys saved the world? Wow, thanks! Now would you please step into this alcove? We're gonna turn you into stone statues in case we need you again in a few centuries.

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    2. And then you get stuck like that forever, because the wizards forgot to buy batteries for 900 years and now they only have enough juice left for four people. Thanks, guys.

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    3. One would hope that they're not conscious during their stone state.

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    4. Even when you're not conscious, being awakened 900 years later is gonna be a big culture shock at the very least.

      Then again, most fantasy settings are in medieval stasis, so probably not a lot has changed societally and technologically in those 900 years.

      If we go with our history, however, that would be like... the amount of time between the foundation of the Roman Empire and the moon landing.

      "The Roman Empire? Oh yeah that fell apart, and there were about half a dozen successor states claiming the title of Emperor but all of those are gone too, and the language you speak has evolved into half a dozen other languages. Meanwhile technology and society have developed to a point where they're completely unrecognizable to you. Nobody except for scholars of Latin will understand you, there are no more temples where you can practice your ancient faith, there is almost no country left in the world where the political system resembles anything you're familiar with, and many things you consider normal - like slavery - are now immoral or straight up illegal. We still need you to save this world, though, so get to it!"

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    5. I don't think that math is quite right. Roman Empire started just a bit BC (I think) and existed as a republic for centuries before. Also, 900 years is much less significant the farther back you go. 2000 BC to 1100 BC would be much less dramatic.

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    6. Even in those ancient times, 900 years would mean a shift of political organisation, cultures coming and going, religious practices changing, languages dying out, etc. 900 years could make the difference between Sumerian being the language spoken by everyone, and Sumerian being an ancient language only spoken by the elite priesthood. You'd definitely have some communication issues when you're resurrected after 900 years.

      And sorry for the Roman Empire to moon landing comparison, my brain derped out for a moment there and for some reason turned 900 into 1900 years. It's more like Roman Empire to William the Conqueror. Still significant enough to be a huge culture shock.

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    7. Well East Rome fell something around 1450

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  16. Wow, i have to say the graphics are simply beautiful and this isn't even an AAA publisher from the US! And the gameplay also looks surprisingly polished. It's funny that the first RPGs from much richer countries seem so much less accomplished than this...Finding games like this is what I love about this blog...

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    1. Indeed. That greenish screen in the intro looks quite lovely

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  17. In 1992 programmers knew that a) different PC’s ran at different speeds, and b) every 18 months the speed of a new PC would double. The game you are playing came out within a few years of when I started programming for a small video game studio. I always included logic to scale the game to the speed of the computer it was running on.

    The primary reason old games exhibited speed dependent bugs is was the inability to test the game across the wide spectrum of PC performance that would eventually exist. Even though we knew we had to compensate for, and test for, the speeds of the different machines, it was easy to overlook errors that only become obvious when a machine is significantly faster that the fastest machine we used for testing.

    For example, I once worked on a game where all animation and game world updates were scaled to the speed of the machine. Faster computers would redraw the screen at a faster frame rate (~20 frames/sec on our best system), and on older hardware the screen would redraw more slowly (about 5 frames/sec on the machine nobody wanted to use).

    Thinking about the game logic 20 years after the fact, I suspect that I got the damage calculation logic wrong. If a player was in contact with a fire-spout, I probably did 1% damage to the player per frame. On the fastest tested machine, sitting in fire would kill a player in 5 seconds. On the slowest machine, they would die in 20 seconds. Both cases would have passed QA testing, and contemporary players would not notice that small variation in game-play mechanics. However if you were to run that game on a modern system that is 25x faster that that fastest machine I tested with, touching a fire-spout would cause near instant death, and would be unfair.

    To correct some misinformation shared by others above:

    - Every PC computer, from the original IBM PC model 5150, to the laptop I am tying this post on, has a software accessible clock (The 8254 channel 0 clock). DOS used it to track file timestamps, most 80 and 90’s games used it for all game timing, and Linux still supports it today.

    - A few commenters said programmers omitted speed control logic to make their games run faster. I disagree. The two major strategies are speed governing (Do XYZ exactly 10 times a second, and no faster), and performance scaling (Do XYZ as fast as you can, but adjust what XYZ does so it looks like game time is always flowing at the same speed for all players on all systems). The extra computation for the bookkeeping for either technique is trivial compared to just about any other logic in the game.

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    1. stepped pyramidsMay 22, 2020 at 9:29 PM

      The IBM PC came standard with a realtime clock, but there were still platforms in use in the late '80s and early '90s where you couldn't rely on the presence of a clock. Game consoles didn't have them until the 6th generation (PS2, GameCube, XBox), and the C64 had a "jiffy clock" based on hardware refresh rates.

      I agree that by 1992 it's poor engineering for a PC/Amiga game not to adjust for clock rate, but it's not totally boneheaded.

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    2. I should have used the proper name for the 8254... it is the programmable interval *timer*, I was sloppy when I called it a 'clock'. That device is responsible for the timing of nearly all MS-DOS based software. Today the 8254 timer still runs at the same speed it did on the original PC... 1,193,181 Hz.

      It wasn't until the IBM PC/AT that the battery backed 'CMOS Real-Time Clock' was added. This device allowed the computer to keep track of the date and time when the computer was off. Games did NOT use this. The real time clock's job was to set the software clock's initial time when the computer was first turned on. Ticks from the 8254 were used to update the software clock while the system was running.

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  18. Speaking of hungarian games, can we also look forward to Perihelion: The Prophecy?

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