Saturday, May 2, 2020

Planet's Edge: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Executive: "See, the game is called Planet's Edge, so maybe the box should have this guy standing on . . . you know . . . the edge of the planet." Artist: "Aren't we all by definition standing on the edge of the planet?" Executive: "That's not what I meant!" Artist: "Okay, okay, I'll figure it out."
         
Planet's Edge
United States
New World Computing (developer and publisher)
Released 1991 for DOS, 1993 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 5 March 2020
Date Finished: 1 May 2020
Total Hours: 55
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
     
I did not like Planet's Edge. I knew by the fifth hour that I didn't like it, and yet for some reason I forced myself to finish it, blasting through the rest of the scenarios in 20 hours spread over four days. Several times during those 20 hours--usually after my ship had been blown up for the fifth time by the same orbital defense platform--I resolved to quit permanently, but in the end I kept trying again. I have to confess that I used the cluebook more than a few times in the last 10 hours, and I took a lot of shortcuts. If I landed on a planet and some local leader said, "I have a [Piece of the Centauri Device that I needed]! I'll give it to you if you'll just--," I didn't let him finish the sentence before I decorated the room with his innards and looted the item off his body. Even then, the game took forever.
          
The device is almost together.
        
I'm going to do my best to summarize the game below, but one of its major weaknesses is that having finished it, I still don't really know what happened to Earth. The best I can piece together is that the Ominar were doing some kind of experiment and it was interrupted by their enemies, the Ipremi, causing it to go awry. That's mostly from random NPCs who otherwise weren't important to the plot. The game is mostly uninterested in its core mystery. Everything that happens is intensely local, and in the end I have no idea how many different races I encountered or really how they inter-relate. Because you never get portraits, only fuzzy icons, for the aliens you meet in the scenarios, I don't know how to reconcile them with the aliens I kept meeting in space. For instance, I don't know if the blue aliens who gave me so much trouble, or the orcish aliens, or the aliens whose portrait only shows one eye from behind a visor, ever show up on the various planets.
         
Is this species any of the aliens I met on the worlds' surfaces?
          
In broad strokes, the game seems like Starflight or Star Control II, but it fails in not being much like those two titles. There's no joy in exploration because there's never anything to find that isn't part of some interconnected plot. There are no meaningful dialogues with NPCs in which you figure out the character and motivations of the various races. There's no mining, no trading (not in the sense of the other two games, anyway), no economy. And while it's nice that there are several different paths through most of the scenarios, there are no ramifications to your choices. Kill the president of the Algieban Sector, you not only never hear about it again in other sectors, you don't even hear about it in the next room. 

The core gameplay mechanic is to rush around the galaxy looking for various keys, passes, badges, and other artifacts, killing the aliens guarding them, and then using them in the right places on other planets. A ton of backtracking is required. If there's a door on Rigel Three that requires a key to open, you can be sure that the key won't helpfully be on Rigel Three but rather Sirius Seven. And it will be behind a door that requires a pass from Rigel Three. This means you have a lot of plot points to keep track of, particularly because it's never clear where to start the interrelated episodes in each sector.
           
Will someone please tell me who these guys were?
        
You'll recall that the game's central plot involves the mysterious disappearance of the Earth. Since its gravity well doesn't also disappear, it seems that the Earth hasn't been so much destroyed as somehow occluded. At the same time, an alien ship crash-lands on the Moon, and scientists on the Moonbase determine that a device in the crash, which they name the "Centauri Device," was responsible for the vanishing of the planet. They identify eight crucial pieces that they need to get it working and reverse the effects. Studies of the craft allow humanity's remnants to make enormous technical leaps (including faster-than-light travel), and soon the player and his party of four are commissioned to head off into the galaxy and beg, steal, borrow, or barter for the eight parts, of which there is one in each of eight sectors. They also need to find six sets of ships' plans and four sets of technical plans to improve their ship and personal items.
  
As I said, the game is less concerned with the overall plot than the individual troubles of each Sector. Each one has four or five inter-related stories. You largely find them by searching random systems until you find one, and then following clues from that one to the others. (Or, you could be a lunatic and visit every system and every planet and record where they occur before visiting them.) But the game really starts at Alpha Centauri, where you find an observation base set up by the aliens performing the Centauri Device experiment. It was later attacked by another species. A brief summary of each sector:
              
  • In Sector Algieba, the saurian President Ishtao has been re-elected and is hosting his second inauguration ceremony. The event has been infiltrated by a group of terrorists called the Geal A'nai who you can either work with or foil. (Or you can just kill everyone.) But to get into the palace, you first have to solve some problems on a couple of Ishtao's constituency worlds until the leader of one of them passes you an invitation. The Geal A'nai are trying to influence events on those worlds, too. I thought they would ultimately become a presence throughout the game, but they're only in that sector.
  • Sector Alhena is in the midst of a civil war between the Scroe and the Evian, while a third race called the Dhoven try to mediate. Most of the episodes take place on war-torn planets in which the party has to fight both Scroe (look like Bossk) and Evian parties while obtaining help from Dhoven NPCs (white, gangly things). However, if you know what you're doing (because you read the cluebook), you can bypass three of the scenarios, go directly to the peace conference on Hyades Prime, and kill everyone to get the needed device part, the Krupp Shields. This option is quite evil because you end up literally massacring a group of envoys sitting around a peace table. One wonders if that ends the peace process or causes the Scroe and Evian to unify in their hatred of Earth.
      
"Good luck with that whole peace thing!"
       
  • Sector Alnasl is home to the Ominar, a species that looks like it has a bulbous red head. They reproduce by cloning and then uploading "standardware" into the brains of their clones, but this standardware has lately been sabotaged by a race or faction called the Ipremi Secundus (they look pretty much just like the Ominar), leading to rampant insanity among Ominar citizens. You have to help (or just kill) the Ominar to get the various items needed to invade the Secundus Base (easily the hardest episode in the game) and find the needed Algo Cam.
             
Fighting these enemy robot tanks on Secundus Base was the hardest melee part of the game. I must have reloaded 25 times.
            
  • Sector Ankaq has a few species, but the most relevant is the antlike Ethnys, whose queen rules from Ankaq Prime. You have to find four spheres among the other planets and bring them back to Ankaq Prime to, I don't know, bring the species back into harmony again and make it possible for the queen to continue laying eggs. These spheres are scattered about the other episodes, including one where the entire party dons wetsuits and visits a triton-like species called the Tschi Tai and another where they have to fight through an urban wasteland called Shadowside. The grateful queen gives you the Harmonic Resonator.
             
Placing the orbs around the hive.
          
  • Sector Caroli is the one with a plant-based species called the Eldarin. They hibernate for long periods, awaken ravenously hungry, and must eat immediately. But their food distribution system has lately been disrupted, so you've got to run around fixing tractors and stuff to save them from their own incompetence. The Ominar have been supplying the Eldarin with parts, and the scenarios end on an Ominar base, where you find the Gravitic Compressor.
  • Sector Izar is the most confusing. The way I understand it is that the natives are actually human. You visit one planet, Arcturas III, which feels like a fantasy RPG complete with archers, kings, princesses, and a castle. But the sector has been invaded by the Ipremi Secundus whose leader, known as The Concierge, has built a supercomputer called OMEGA to oversee the sector. OMEGA for some reason has ordered the kidnapping of the more primitive aliens from their planets, and one of those races, the Mizarans, are currently rebelling. You have to collect a bunch of Hataphas Gems from various worlds before finding your way through an invisible maze on Izar II to confront the Concierge and get the N.I.C.T.U. device from him.
              
Talking with the Concierge. I'm pretty sure he's just guessing about the "some helpful, some grievously harmful" part.
         
  • Sector Kornephoros is an anarchic part of space with a motley group of settlers, scavengers, and pirates. All the planets are being threatened by a species called the Cin Sae, which look like the aliens from Aliens. The central episode is an auction on Kochab II, where the auctioneer has the Mass Converter. You can run around the entire sector solving issues for various people and accumulate the things the auctioneer wants for the part, or you can just walk up, shoot him, take it, and beam away.
             
"Sure, but not in the way that you had in mind."
        
  • Sector Zaurak is another one that I barely explored. It is inhabited by a humanoid species known as Ranans. The sector has lately been threatened by the appearance of "white hole" (the opposite of a black hole, it spews matter outward instead of sucking it in). On Rana Prime, a leader called the Giate offers you the needed K-Beam if you'll run around the sector placing "grav buoys" to counter-act the white hole.
         
Unfortunately, the Giate made the mistake of telling me he had the K-Beam on his person.
           
As far as the main plot goes, the best I can figure is that the Ominar were the ones operating the Centauri Device. It was supposed to give them "transuniversal travel" capabilities, but the Ipremi invaded their outpost on Alpha Centauri, interrupted the experiment, and caused it to go awry. How this ended up affecting the Earth is not technically explained.
          
A random NPC imparts more information than anyone else in the game.
         
There's a lot of ground combat across these scenarios, and the annoying thing is that the team never really gets any better because there's no character development. You can keep re-cloning team members, but even at skill scores of 100 with their respective weapons, characters seem to miss an awful lot. Part of the problem is that you're always having to swap equipment in and out depending on the enemy. If you're facing an enemy wearing ceramic armor, you don't want to be shooting him with laser weapons because ceramic protects against those. So you switch to projectile weapons but have to remember to switch back if you meet someone wearing composite armor. Meanwhile, you're constantly changing your own armor based on the weapons the enemy is using.

It's not hard to figure out what armor is the best because it has a hit point value, but it's not always clear with weapons (until you look at the clue book, that is). And--oh, my god--looking at that table, I just realized that the "tac nuke rifle" is listed as a light weapon not a heavy one. That might explain why I had so much trouble, since I gave those rifles to my heavy weapon characters. Aaargh. Does that sound like a light weapon?! Anyway, the only good news is that weapons of the same type use a common ammo stock so you don't have to carry 20 different types of ammo around.

Other aspects of melee combat annoyed me. Enemies around corners always seemed to be able to shoot the party even when I couldn't hit them. They seemed to have a lot more success from farther away, often off-screen, than I did. And I was always getting into combats in the most uncomfortable physical environments, like narrow doorway openings where I had to have my lead characters advance under fire if I wanted my rear characters to be able to participate. I suppose there are other times and other games in which I would have regarded such scenarios as "tactical," but I'll tell you what: knowing that I'm not getting any skill or experience from combat really reduces my desire to fight it.
           
Occasionally, it works out for you. Here, I can use my grenade launcher (which does damage to a 4 x 4 area) to damage the immobile robots, while they can't even see me.
          
Space combat also remained quite hard for me, particularly in the Alnasl and Izar sectors, where just about every planet had an orbiting defense platform and a few ships. I had to use the cluebook to tell me where to find ship's plans so I could upgrade as quickly as possible, and even then I had problems. One thing that makes life a little easier is that your ship is fully repaired when you disengage from combat, so you can dive in, destroy one enemy, and escape, then repeat for the next one until all are dead. But even that's pretty tough. Sometimes, you can't escape because your enemies destroy your engines. And a lot of other times, two or three enemy ships is enough to destroy yours before you can even get their shields down.
         
It's never fun getting to a planet and seeing this.
         
The game offers several weapon types for ships. The success of beam, bolts, and projectile weapons is based on character skill. You can also mount missiles which just home in on targets and don't depend on skill. Either way, I assumed for a while that the key to success was a variety of weapon types. The last two class of ships allow you to max out your 10 weapons slots, so I'd do a couple of rack guns, a couple of megamissile mounts, a couple of quark lasers, and so forth. There are supposedly also a lot of tactics associated with whether you mount the weapons to face forward, left, right, or on a 360-degree turret, the latter taking four times the space as the former three.

When variety seemed to fail me, I spent a lot of time recloning my lead character to favor different weapons. In the end, I found that nothing served me better than loading up all 10 weapon mounts with quark lasers, putting as many on turrets as possible but facing the rest forward. That simple bit of advice early in the game would have saved me a lot of reloading.
         
My final ship configuration.
        
When you have all eight pieces of the Centauri Device assembled, the endgame commences. An animated series of screens shows Earth scientists re-activating the device, shooting some kind of electromagnetic wad towards the vanished Earth. It strikes, and the Earth dissolves back into view.
         
A bunch of scientist guys prepare to use the device.
There it goes!

This is a very accurate globe.
         
A ship heads from Moonbase to Earth, where there's some kind of big award ceremony. As each crewmember walks up and salutes a man who is presumably the Earth president, a bit of text tells you his or her fate. William Dean ends up marrying Katya Mershova, who later dies on duty. Osai Tsakafuchi becomes the World Health Administrator, and Nelson Ngatadatu simply retires.
               
Given that he's a clone, that's probably a euphemism.
          
After the characters get their honors, key personnel in the development of the game also walk up and salute the president.
           
Hyman's resignation letter. He was at ORIGIN the following year.
            
Finally, we get some scrolling text:
             
And so the Earth was pulled back into this, its proper universe. The U.N.F.A. team that had wandered the far reaches of a galaxy new to mankind returned home as heroes. Knowledge was gained that will forever alter the course of the Earth's destiny, and contact was made with a galaxy teeming with life. ["And much of that life was destroyed," it should have said.] Mankind finally grasped the heavens.
                   
But soon afterwards, the "The End" screen develops a question mark, the moon dissolves away, and a message appears on the screen indicating that "the exact time the Earth was released from its dimensional limbo, the Moon slipped through a rift in the time-dimensional barrier." This is a pretty stupid development, first because if it happened at the "exact time," the crew, who was still on Moonbase, never would have made it back to Earth. Second, if it's setting up the sequel, it's not only derivative but a little lame. Sequels should increase the ante, not lower it. The original game had 8 billion people on the Earth threatened, while the sequel deals with a few thousand on the moon? That's like Liam Neeson rescuing his daughter only to discover, to his shock, that the kidnappers have now targeted his second cousin, once removed.
          
Would the sequel have been called Moon's Edge?
          
A quick GIMLET:

  • 5 points for the game world. The plot is original, and there's some good world-building to balance out the stupid world-building. The game is definitely more in the vein of pulp sci-fi like Buck Rogers than the more grim, realistic sci-fi we've become accustomed to today. Nothing wrong with that; it's just not my particular brand of vodka. I'd give a higher score if the episodes had a greater sense of inter-relation, and the choices you made in one had consequences for others. Alas.
           
To see them decay?
        
  • 1 point for character creation and development, if by "creation" you count "cloning." After that, there's no development and you can't even choose their names. New World should have known better.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. There sure are plenty of them, and most of them have at least a half a paragraph of text. NPCs are vital for background information, main quests, and side quests. I just wish you could see them better.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. Enemies aren't really any fun, more distinguished by the weapons they wield than anything to do with AI or special attacks and defenses. But the game is relatively strong in other encounters and puzzles, only most of which involved inventory items.
            
My characters suss out a puzzle that involves pushing buttons to assemble elements into chemicals.
          
  • 4 points for magic and combat. I didn't like the system for the reasons I gave above. It would have been vastly improved by actions other than simple shooting. But I do recognize some tactics in both ship and ground combat.
  • 3 points for equipment. You sure do get a lot of it, although most of it is for puzzle-solving. Standard RPG fare consists primarily of weapons, armor, and medical kits. There are some interesting exceptions, though, such as a shroud that resurrects slain characters and a pair of boots that let you jump over some obstacles. I like the way that you can replicate any item that you find back at the Moonbase.
        
Preparing to don a wetsuit.
         
  • 2 points for the economy. It doesn't really have a monetary economy, but your ability to build ships and items is dependent on finding natural resources. These natural resources are traded by ships and used to pay admittance to some planets and extortion from pirates, so they functionally serve as an economy. It's still not very good, or complex.
  • 5 points for quests. I can't complain that the main quest doesn't provide alternate paths and role-playing options, and there are lots of side-quests that allow you to get better equipment or just information. My failure to follow all of these probably explains why I'm still confused about so many points in the game.
        
The "episode" title cards are always fun, but there's just too many of them.
      
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. This is going to prompt some arguments. It gets most of those points solely from the interface, which is very well done, offering redundant mouse and keyboard commands. However, it loses a point for the pathfinding of the characters on the ground. As for graphics, this is just the sort of 1990s title for which I would prefer black and white iconographic graphics to what we have. There's simply too much detail for the actual screen resolution, making it hard to tell what the developers were intending to depict on the alien figures, making it nearly impossible to tell objects from furniture, wall tiles from floor tiles, and NPCs from plants (admittedly, my colorblindness may have been a factor). My complaints are only from planetary exploration, though, and the graphics for the Moonbase, animated scenes, and space travel are quite nice. As for the sound, a few good effects are outweighed by an unnecessary piercing beep every time you scroll through a menu. I played with the sound off most of the time.
  • 4 points for gameplay. It gets some credit for quasi-nonlinearity (difficulty enforces a general order) and for some replayability given the different ways that you can approach scenarios. But it was too hard and too long. Five parts would have been better.
            
That gives us a final score of 36, technically just above my "recommended" threshold, but I don't know that I'd recommend it--not as an RPG. It just doesn't have enough RPG mechanics to keep itself aloft.
         
See, the "enjoy" part is where I had trouble.
          
Everyone else seems to like it more than I do. Computer Gaming World nominated it for RPG of the year for 1992. (It was up against Eye of the Beholder 2, Might and Magic III, Ultima VII, and Ultima Underworld; Underworld won.) Contemporary reviewers liked the episodic approach as well as the specific content of the episodes. "A solid, charming game with a few lumps in the dough," proclaimed an oddly anonymous Computer Gaming World writer in July 1992. Scott May, writing in the April 1993 Compute!, called it "a minor masterpiece of size, imagination, and diversity of play." The June 1992 Dragon gave it four stars but had hardly anything negative to say about it except a few bugs I didn't experience. No one seemed to be overly bothered by the lack of character development, although a couple of them groused about character creation.
      
I don't know if New World really planned for a sequel or if it simply designed every game with a potential sequel in mind depending on sales. Either way, I've never seen mention that a sequel was even begun. Outside of publishing several instances of the strategy game Spaceward Ho!, New World stayed away from science-fiction (except for that inherent in Might and Magic) for the rest of its existence. Lead programmer Eric Hyman went to work for the acquired ORIGIN systems but only has credits on the company's action games before he left for other technology jobs. Neal Hallford still has Betrayal at Krondor (1993), a train derailment (1995), Return to Krondor (1998), and Dungeon Siege (2002) in his future and has never entirely left game development.

It occurs to me that Planet's Edge has a lot in common with Challenge of the Five Realms, released by MicroProse the same year. Both games are episodic, featuring a bunch of side-quests and multiple paths through them, both with minimal character development and similar approaches to combat. Challenge scored 5 points higher at 41, and I see that I gave it 7 points for the game world compared to Edge's 5. I'm prepared to acknowledge that I have a small inherent bias in favor of fantasy games.
   
Moving on, a random roll of the open 1982-1992 titles produces 1983's Karkoth's Keep for DOS, a game that I missed on my first pass but which appeared on MobyGames in 2017. At the far end of the list, I have just added Might and Magic IV (1992), which of course I will play consecutively with Might and Magic V (1993).
       

68 comments:

  1. Mobygames seems to just list Hyman as programmer. Reading between the lines, it seems like the Eric Hyman Show, and I wonder if it didn't do well enough for him to stick around as a designer.

    That said, it's pretty impressive as a one programmer job, if that's what it is. What have I done to pass any judgement?

    God, I'm so old...

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    1. It doesn't take expertise to know whether or not you like something, is what I would say.

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  2. “If I landed on a planet and some local leader said, "I have a [Piece of the Centauri Device that I needed]! I'll give it to you if you'll just--," I didn't let him finish the sentence before I decorated the room with his innards and looted the item off his body.“

    So, Renegade path, eh? :)

    I still think it is impressive that the game allows it as a viable course of action, even if it ignores the possible consequences.

    I also find mildly amusing thinking of all these guys carrying on their persons, on a daily basis, what presumably are bulky and useless objects, waiting for someone to trade or kill them for it.

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    1. PLANET'S EDGE: A very very short film based on a playthrough by the CRPG Addict

      PLANETARY LEADER: Ah, hello, Earthlings! I have a piece of the Centauri Device you're looking for, and something needing doing in this neck of space! If you would just--

      WILLIAM: Katya. *Kill.*

      KATYA: Sure thing. (Cygnus Cannon whirs to life)

      PLANETARY LEADER: NOOOOOOOOO (explodes like a baked potato in a microwave)

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    2. Sometimes when I need to amuse myself with my mind, I imagine how certain movies or books would have gone over if the characters had been able to read an in-game "cluebook" to their universe. I always like identifying those that would be exactly that brief.

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    3. Totally off topic... but if you want the ultimate novels on characters figuring out they are characters, and if you like Star Trek, check out Redshirts. I think Scalfi is the author... it has some shockingly funny moments!

      (Not related or anything, just a good book!)

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    4. John Scalzi is the author, and seconding the recommendation. Good fun in the vein of Galaxy Quest, as I recall.

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  3. Congratulations on another one done! I'm seriously looking forward to Spelljammer now, the review has whetted my appetite for more space RPGs.

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    1. Was there a Spelljammer CRPG?

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    2. There is.
      https://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/spelljammer-pirates-of-realmspace

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    3. It was kinda mediocre, sadly. I love Spelljammer, but the CRPG was disappointing.

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    4. I actually liked it as a game....but as a CRPG I'd say it barely qualifies on the Addicts scale. (Spoilering this since I believe it is on the list still and people will probably want to discover it with him if he does it.) V zrna 3q fuvc gb fuvc pbzong, gur gbjaf jrer whfg zrahf naq qvqa'g cebivqr zhpu vagrenpgvba gb fcrnx bs, naq gur bayl hfr bs lbhe yvzvgrq punenpgre pubvpr jnf va gur 'obneqvat npgvbaf' juvpu hfrq fgnaqneq Tbyq Obk pbzong. Vagrerfgvat pbyyrpgvba...juvpu nf n ovt sna bs Cvengrf! jbexrq jryy sbe zr....ohg abg nf na ECT.

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  4. I always wonder with games of this scale, when a reviewer says "a minor masterpiece of size, imagination, and diversity of play." if they are basically saying they liked what they saw but didn't have time to finish before the review was due to be published.

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    1. Most of the times, yes. Also, never trust reviews of games that appeared in 90s magazines. Some of them ended in a sudden, cramped the good bits at the beginning or were just unwinnable and unless the game was really well known, those defects were barely shared because there was internet like today. As an example, this one being a cult classic, or the Infocom Battletech rpg.

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  5. PetrusOctavianusMay 2, 2020 at 6:41 AM

    Another game I'm glad I skipped on my own chronological play list.
    Science Fiction CRPGs are nearly always a disappointment, and although there's far more Fantasy one, I can't help feeling the percentage of good SF CRPGs is lower than for Fantasy CRPGs.

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    1. You're mostly right. Sci-fi RPGs are too far from the mainstream so there's fewer devs even attempting them, and when they do they usually have lower budgets than the average fantasy RPG.

      Which saddens me because I've been waiting for a good spacefaring sci-fi RPG all my life. KotoR is pretty decent, Mass Effect is good for what it is (but too cutscene-heavy for my taste), and we got Iron Tower's Colony Ship to look forward to, as well as the currently early access Stellar Tactics.

      But compare that to the wealth of good fantasy RPGs and it's barely anything.

      I just want a Fallout, Baldur's Gate or Elder Scrolls in space *sigh*
      And when I ask people if they know any good sci-fi RPGs, they will mention the Fallouts because technically post-apoc is sci-fi, but when I say sci-fi I mean cruising around in a spaceship.

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    2. Check out Star Traders: Frontiers. It has an immense amount of character development for your officers and crew members, the universe is very dense in its lore, the storyline quests are quite engaging, and you can customize your experience of the game.

      It plays a bit more like a roguelike than a "traditional" rpg.

      It's the best spacefaring game I've ever played, I think.

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    3. The problem is that making a sci-fi RPG that goes across multiple planets requires some thought put into having two different systems of exploration, and if they really want to, combat. Most of the ones that do exist heavily simplify either ship movement or ground movement. I think the only ones that don't are the Starflight games, and maybe a few others that Chet played I don't remember. I do remember the mecha roguelike Gearhead had multiple planets...although I could be misremembering.

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    4. Also, you have to think up aliens for a sci-fi game. You can't just slap elves, dwarves and orcs into everything like a fantasy game. Sci-fi games also always seem to be more than just rubber forehead aliens, but that could be me just only remembering games with weird aliens.

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    5. I think there's something to what Morpheus is saying. Science fiction is supposed to be plausibly set in the real universe, just in the future or with futuristic technology. When aliens come into the picture, they never seem realistic to me. They always have the same motivations, weaknesses, and even social systems as humans. There's never any good explanation for how we're able to speak to each other. I'd rather the creators just said, "Look, it's a different world. There are elves. There's magic. Get over it."

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    6. That said, such concerns never stopped me from enjoying Babylon 5 or Farscape or even some iterations of Star Trek, so it's not a "hard" barrier for me.

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    7. hey, nice mention of Gearhead! they are good roguelikes, and the 2nd one has multiple "planets" in the form of space stations. they're also interesting for the way plotlines are procedurally generated, with "fail forward" style plot advancement when you *fail* a mission.

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    8. I was actually thinking more of how games usually try to take advantage of not having their characters wearing make-up, masks or being puppets. In Farscape the only main character who isn't act by a human is the one who does the least action. I think that's literally the only series with a MC that isn't acted by a human. In contrast to Mass Effect, which has the krogan and...whatever Garrus was, which would have been difficult for humans to act. Or to Star Control, which would be very difficult to do.
      The society and talking to aliens thing hasn't been very difficult for me to believe as realistic, because you're talking about having broken our currently established laws of physics in order to talk to them. Plus, in Star Trek and Babylon 5, wars broke out before the series each started, and the current situation is usually an awkward peace period. And their societies (excepting one-offs) are usually just enough not like ours to be plausible alien societies without becoming unintelligible.
      What's more unbelievable about aliens is that they usually only have one opinion within their society with the exception of rogue troublemakers, rather than there being hundreds of factions and sub-factions each looking out for their own good. Make they have two once in a while.

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    9. See, that's why I prefer sci-fi most of the time. Even if the aliens are unbelievable or silly, at least they're not elves and dwarves *yet again*. There are so many fantasy worlds, especially in games, where the designers just slapped generic Tolkienesque elves and dwarves into a pseudo-European medieval-ish world and it's just boring. There's pages upon pages of lore but usually I don't even bother reading it because it's just as generic and derivative as the stuff you see with your own eyes.

      I love fantasy as a genre, but it's supposed to be... you know... fantastic. Show some more creativity, for god's sake! Elves, dwarves, orcs, wizards that throw fireballs, and a society and tech level that roughly covers the early middle ages to early modern age and everything in between without committing to a specific time period. Just generic, boring, derivative, seen it a thousand times and I'm sick of it.

      If you do elves and dwarves, at least put an interesting spin on it. Witcher uses them to explore racism. Arcanum explored what happens when a generic fantasy world enters the industrial revolution. That's new and unique and interesting. Some old dungeon crawlers add interesting new races besides the overused elves and dwarves, especially David Bradley's games (Wiz 7, Wizards and Warriors).

      In literature, fantasy is such a creative genre. There's the classic pulp era of the 1920s through 1940s, when sword and sorcery was all the rage. Robert E. Howard and especially Clark Ashton Smith wrote some great fantasy adventures featuring truly fantastic landscapes, creatures, and societies inspired by various ancient cultures. Modern fantasy often tries to go for weird ideas, too, with Brandon Sanderson developing a different magic system for each of his novels. The grimdark fantasy series Chronicles of an Age of Darkness by Hugh Cook, written in the 80s, focuses mostly on humans but also has some weird fantasy creatures - no orcs and elves though. In pen and paper settings, there's M.A.R. Baker's incredibly exotic Empire of the Petal Throne.

      But what do we get in CRPGs most of the time? Carbon copies of D&D's forgotten realms. Yet another slightly different interpretation of elves and dwarves (except they're not really different). Same old shit. Yawn.

      It's like fantasy stopped being fantastic and is just derivative lack of imagination in games. Nothing creative and interesting, just the same old stuff we've seen a thousand times before.

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    10. It's possible that there's some convergent evolution going on with any species that makes it off its own planet. Who know? And presumably futuristic computing could handle quick translations. This stuff is necessary for storytelling, but it might not be that far off the mark either.

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    11. I feel like exploring racism via fantasy species is almost the oldest trope in the fantasy book. Not sure I'd give The Witcher any special credit there.

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    12. Yeah but that should tell you something about elves and dwarves when using them to explore racism is one of the more interesting things done with them. Meaning, they're just not very interesting anymore and all the twists and reinterpretations you can think of have already been done before.

      It's time to retire those venerable old fantasy races. Unless you do a pure dungeon crawler with barely any story, where knowing which race is good at what before you even start the game is useful.

      Then again, even in pure crawlers it's more interesting to encounter new class and race options that you haven't played a dozen times before. (I usually go human only anyway :p)

      Just give me more fantasy games that do something interesting with their fantasy. More Arcanums, Planescape Torments, Morrowinds, even Numeneras (sadly that game ended up pretty mediocre). More Wizardry 6-8s that combine classic fantasy with pulpy scifi. More games like Baldur's Gate 2 which explores the more exotic parts of the Forgotten Realms (the southern realm of Amn, planar spheres, the Underdark, etc) than Baldur's Gate 1 which is set in the blandest, most generic region of the setting.

      As good as it is as a game, I couldn't really get invested in the story of Pathfinder Kingmaker because it's the same old high fantasy in a pseudo-medieval Europe setting I've seen a hundred times before. I'm still at the start of it but for now it seems more like a BG1 than a BG2, and I just can't drum up the enthusiasm for generic fantasy anymore. I find myself skimming through more dialog than I read attentively.

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    13. I feel like its a disservice to Tolkien to associate him with all the stuff that has elves and dwarfs these days. The modern ones are basically Gimli and Legolas with a few traits thrown in from their overall race. Like you said, everyone rips off that one part of Forgotten Realms, except ignoring all the weird sex stuff. I mean, elves and wizards in Tolkien were all basically angels and all the evil races were the "good" ones, except corrupted by Morgoth.
      Which gets back to the problem of societies. I'm designing my own fantasy RPG, and while I do have elves and dwarfs, I don't have the other generic DnD races. For all the good having a fresh species to fight against, it isn't going to matter one iota if you can point at them and say "That's an Orc; That's a Goblin; That's a Halfling." and so on. The society behind them needs thought. Take The Elder Scrolls, not just Morrowind. All of the races there are not clones except for major characters. All Khajit are not thieves and con-artists; All Dunmer are not xenophobic and deeply religious; All Nord are not running around naked bobbing people with axes. If we retired those races something like Morrowind wouldn't happen again.
      But even Morrowind just puts each race in their own little country. Compare that to the French-speaking people of the world, who to begin with are in their own nation, Belgium and Switzerland. There's nothing like that in any video game that I'm aware of, where there are two distinct groups of people within the same nation, who also share ancestry with another nation. There's nothing like the UK. With some wanting to return to the original nations completely, some staying as is, and some just wanting to break off solo and everyone else be damned.
      I guess what I'm trying to say is that people shouldn't retire generic races just because the people using them are bad at writing. Its not going to make their games any better if they suddenly use Indian or Mesopotamian mythology instead of European.

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    14. A lot of these limits we see in games are market-driven, unfortunately. I can't help comparing the relative success of Pillars of Eternity 1 vs Pillars of Eternity 2. The second is by far the more exciting and novel setting, and a lot was invested in good writing, art, and VO for it. But from what I gather, it got disappointing commercial results. Not exactly an incentive for game designers to stretch much beyond the same old, tired Tolkienesque fantasy settings.

      These games tend to require very significant investments, and even visionary world-builders have a hard time to make headway when caught between investors not being risky in their investments, and similarly audiences not being risky with their investment of time and money.

      The one bit of hope is that (as major studios often do), it can be possible to do some new weird things by bridging from old nostalgia or seeding the imagination with a long roll out. Numenera (referring to more than just the CRPG) wears its weirdness proudly, but probably wouldn't be commercially possible without precursors like Nausicaa.

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    15. Getting back to Sci-Fi RPGs, I think their downfall is precisely that of scale and ambition. They always try to give you a whole galaxy to explore, which always results in way too much abstraction and cut corners. But as e.g. Defiance (the TV series, I haven't played the associated games) brilliantly showed, you can have sci-fi on a small scale, with a variety of alien races and biomes concentrated in a much more manageable area. The show's premise would make for a pretty great sci-fi dungeon crawler.

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    16. PetrusOctavianusMay 3, 2020 at 5:05 AM

      JarlFrank said:
      "In literature, fantasy is such a creative genre. There's the classic pulp era of the 1920s through 1940s, when sword and sorcery was all the rage."

      Reading speculative fiction chronologically (just reached 1958), I'd say Fantasy was superior to SF until about 1937-9. By then Lovecraft and Howard were dead, and Smith mostly retired, and John W. Campbell becoming editor of Astounding SF marked the beginning of the Golden Age of SF.

      Fantasy was more broadly defined then, and the term Sword&Sorcery didn't exist yet. But Fantasy wasn't really very popular in the 1940's an 1950's, and all new Fantasy only magazines folded quite quickly.
      Even Lord of the Rings was not an instant hit, and it seems that it was in the late 1960's Fantasy really took off, with the infamous pirated versions of LOTR and the revival of Conan.

      Anyway, as literature I find SF superior to Fantasy. 99% of all post-LOTR Fantasy is very predictable and can be summed up as "war in an Ancient or Medieval world where magic works", while if you pick a random SF book, it can take place any place and any time.

      I used to prefer Fantasy (still do in games), but now I find SF literature much more interesting.

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    17. This thread gives me life.

      Yeah, the bar is so low that "fantasy dwarfs as an allegory of racism" is welcome as a change, even when it is a really old trope. Last time I commented that we needed a revolutionary change of tropes, like non binary characters as the main characters, some random anonymous told me that "no one is interested in that, mate". Maybe we have to accept that the video game players that want the same tropes, the same kind of characters, the same models, the same conflicts, the same universe, over and over again, are the ones that are ruling the pop culture in videogames. Unfortunately. Even when they are less. But they are noisier.

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    18. I think there's a ton of good fantasy literature. It's just that a lot of the popular stuff tends to be pulpy power fantasy.

      Sara Douglass, Isobelle Carmody, Katherine Kerr, Ursula Le Guin, Garth Nix, Pat Rothfuss, hell, even J.K. Rowling all created fantasy far more interesting than 'find the macguffin to kill the foozle in a world full of tolkien stand-ins'.

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    19. I already said that fantasy literature has more interesting stuff than games. I'd even say elves-and-dwarves Tolkien/D&D clones are less common than setting settings without them. It's just games that keep cloning the same thing over and over (and it's more based on D&D conventions than on Tolkien). One reason is of course investors playing it safe and wanting to make games of the same kind as those that sold well in the past. But indies also often go for the classic D&D style generic fantasy.

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    20. @PetrusOctavianus: "Reading speculative fiction chronologically (just reached 1958)"

      That sounds interesting. Do you write about this somewhere? Can you recommend a chronological "Must Read" list of essential speculative fiction works like the CRPGAddict has for CRPGs?


      Regarding the influence Tolkien's worldbuilding had on subsequent fantasy works, I think it has been that influential because it skillfully builds upon themes and elements from old sagas which, in turn, have endured because they tug at our strings successfully. It's kind of a survival of the fittest for building blocks of fantasy stories.

      I'd guess that the prevalence of generic D&D-derived fantasy settings in games is because they supply suitable pretexts for power fantasy heroes to go on genocidal dungeon crawls, served with some side dishes of typical nerd humor. Middle-earth is actually not as suitable for this because it's rather too serious (and beautiful) for conventional powergaming.

      I've played Planescape Torment and while it's certainly weird and in parts interesting, I thought it doesn't build upon anything recognizable, plus I can't say it's that suitable as a pretext for a typical RPG game structure either (which Torment doesn't have!). In Planescape, it feels like anything is possible at any moment, which is not that helpful for the reader/player's investment, I think.

      These might be some criteria to satisfy when developing a new, non-generic, imaginative fantasy world for CRPGs: build upon themes that are known to have survived in legends for a long time, and choose and adapt themes that match with RPG game structures.

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    21. PetrusOctavianusMay 3, 2020 at 2:09 PM

      @Bitmap:
      Good point about Tolkien. As I see it the difference between him and later writers inspired by him, was that he was directly influenced by the old sources, he had much of the relevant education needed, and he didn't write to fit any "formula" (must include minorities, women must be strong, must have a certain amount of sex scenes etc). It's a bit like pop/rock music where the old heroes of the 1960's and 70's had classical training but were also influenced by black music.

      I have thought about starting a blog about my chronological writing, but it sounds like too much work, and I prefer to keep it more informal and casual.
      I have written for several years in the books thread on the RPG Codex: https://rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/redding-is-teh-hard-how-about-a-books-thread.10334/
      Unfortunately the "public library" is not public, so you'll need to register to read it.
      Recently I've also started writing in one of the book threads on GOG: https://www.gog.com/forum/general/books_finished_in_2020

      As for a "Must Read" list, that would be very hard to make; much harder than a "Must Play" list. I read on average more than hundred short stories for each year, and like 5-10 novels (and I also read some of the mainstream classics in between). But I expect the ratio will slowly change in the favour of novels.

      Being interested in the history of SF (and to a smaller degree Fantasy), it has been a very educational project, and one gets a sense of history and progress that would be missing if reading in a more random order.

      But as I see it Edgar Allan Poe is the cornerstone of speculative fiction, unless you're a pretentious hipster and prefer things like Dante's Inferno and Paradise Lost.
      Also, most of the classics are classics for a reason, and I've found most of them worth reading.

      Delete
    22. I was a sci fi fan but cannot cope with the classic canon anymore. Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, even Silverberg have ideas that are not worth it comparing to what they do to characters. I can totally understand how reading them you feel like including minorities is the same as including sex scenes. Sci fi SHOULD be about including minorities, by definition. Sorry, that triggered me. Mostly because as a cis gay man (and I am white, which is better for me) reading sci fi means "you are weird. YOU ARE WEIRD. You are not even a real nerd. Your interests are not even part of speculative books where people fly to the moon and have heinleinan orgies".

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    23. PetrusOctavianusMay 3, 2020 at 4:16 PM

      I'm talking about SF, not Sci Fi (there is a subtle difference). SF is about ideas, not about the narrow focus of the skin colour, sex or sexual orientation of the characters.
      Anyway, read what I write before being triggered. I said I don't like "formula"; when certain things must be included and some things are forbidden. It's the same mindset that produced things like the Production Code for movies before 1968, only back then it was conservative prudes who decided what was problematic, sorry...controversial.
      I don't like creative straight jackets whether it's from conservatives or liberals, especially in SF which should embrace a diversity of ideas.

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    24. "As I see it the difference between him and later writers inspired by him, was that he was directly influenced by the old sources, he had much of the relevant education needed, and he didn't write to fit any "formula" (must include minorities, women must be strong, must have a certain amount of sex scenes etc). It's a bit like pop/rock music where the old heroes of the 1960's and 70's had classical training but were also influenced by black music."

      I agree, and this reminds me of Paul Graham's statement in his essay "Hackers and Painters":

      "In most fields the great work is done early on. The paintings made between 1430 and 1500 are still unsurpassed. Shakespeare appeared just as professional theater was being born, and pushed the medium so far that every playwright since has had to live in his shadow. Albrecht Durer did the same thing with engraving, and Jane Austen with the novel.

      Over and over we see the same pattern. A new medium appears, and people are so excited about it that they explore most of its possibilities in the first couple generations."


      I think that both of these explanations apply (though not in every field). First, the electrifying excitement that comes with doing something groundbreaking can cause the artists to push themselves extremely far. This must have been felt intensely by Jimi Hendrix performing at Woodstock, the guys at id Software when making Doom, or the developers at Square when making Final Fantasy VII.

      Secondly, pioneers in a new field or genre draw upon diverse inspirations from various older fields and create groundbreaking works that do not adhere to preconceptions. Latecomers in the field mostly draw upon these groundbreaking works, which makes it difficult for them to break out of the established grooves to invent fertile new works. So what is left is remixing, flavoring or subverting the original recipe.

      Drawing inspiration from other wells, wells that are off the beaten track, and drawing more deeply from them than anyone before did, will help to create an artwork that is not derivative.

      The alternative is to work in a fertile new field with new unexplored potential, which nowadays might be Virtual Reality, and to not just transfer old recipes to the new medium.

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    25. PetrusOctavianusMay 3, 2020 at 6:32 PM

      Bitmap, well said.

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    26. I don't think there are fewer artistic pioneers in 2020. I think there are more. They're just not necessarily well known because a lot of Avant Garde stuff isnt very approachable.

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    27. This theory doesn't hold even to a minimal scrutiny, sorry. Even discounting the notion that you can put an "invented on" date on something like dramatic theater or novel genre, you have Cervantes or Rebelais a good 200 years before Austen, or Chekhov 3 centuries after Shakespeare. On the other hand, something like (Western) opera has a very precise origin - late 16th century - yet up until fairly recently those early works were all but forgotten. Most of the "big" titles in today's repertoire still come from the 19th century.
      Cultural canons and hierarchies are very relative (note that I didn't say subjective), and get revised and rewritten all the time. They say a lot more about the people who use them than about the works they consist of.

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  6. I rate it a lot higher than you mainly because of my love for the setting and its rarity in RPGs. It feels just like Buck Rogers episodes as you said - pulpy sci-fi straight out of a 60s TV show. I love it. And considering the rarity of spacefaring sci-fi TPGs compared to high fantasy (which I'm getting tired of due to its ubiquity) it's a pretty treasured game for me.

    I wish someone would make a game like this today, except without all the issues and with proper character creation.

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  7. "There's no joy in exploration because there's never anything to find that isn't part of some interconnected plot."
    I found this sentence very bizarre to be honest. What's wrong with having plot tied to exploration? And what would you have preferred instead?

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    1. Speaking for myself I have the same issue with Skyrim: Everything you stumble upon either starts a quest or is part of a quest you haven't found yet. It makes the province feel like a theme park instead of a world in which normal, boring people live.

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    2. I'm not sure what you're talking about. There's a ton of boring stuff in Skyrim - it's choke full of generic dungeons and generic NPCs. I'm not sure how having even more of those would enhance the experience of exploration.
      Skyrim is also scripted as hell, the game takes great pains not to let you do things out of order, losing the point of having an open world in the process. My impression from Chet's posts was the PE's plots had multiple possible points of entry, letting the flow of narrative build naturally from your exploration. That, in my book, is something for an open-world RPG to strive for, which is why I'm surprised that it's listed as a negative.

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    3. My impression is that the complaint is about having all the exploration tied to plot i.e. that there's nothing which is purely there to be cool stuff to find.

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    4. I agree with VK. The sentence doesn't make a lot of sense. I don't know exactly how to explain it. Once you understand the scope of the game, exploration doesn't feel like you're pushing some kind of frontier, partly because fuel isn't a consideration, partly because there's no real danger in space, and partly because there are no mysteries in this universe. In Starflight or Star Control II, you had the colony worlds/rainbow worlds to find, and you had to worry about running out of fuel, and you had to worry about menacing alien species that might appear in some far corner of the map and give you a thrashing.

      I guess the point is that in Planet's Edge, "space" is really just the literal space between episodes. It doesn't have enough going on to make it worth exploring for its own sake. SF and SCII were more firmly set IN space, if that makes sense.

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    5. Ah, that I can understand. Lack of mysteries is sure to put a damper on exploration excitement.

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  8. Rather than the lost moon plot, which as you say is a bit underwhelming after the Earth has been restored, it seems to me that the obvious path for the sequel would be a side-story exploring what happened to Earth while it was "away".

    While the end goal can't be returning Earth to its proper place, because that's what the heroes of this game do, there's plenty of potential for all sorts of action and intrigue.

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    Replies
    1. That would be cool. Or if the Earth had come back but there were no people on it or something.

      Delete
  9. Planet's Edge seems to be a game which is somehow less than the sum of its parts. I wonder if using a scenario select model a la Sorcerian would have worked better, allowing you to select each race's "quest" for your party to solve.

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  10. M&M4+5 is on the horizon and I'm still finishing a replay of Lands of Lore before the Addict catches up. No time to relax
    BTW, what's the final decision on how to play the two M&M? Separately or combined as World of Xeen?

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    1. I'll probably play the bulk of the game jointly, but I want to at least explore how players of the time would have experienced it. I still need to do a little research.

      Delete
    2. A note regarding max levels in World of Xeen (I don't think this is in the manual, so I'll ROT13 it just to be sure I don't spoil anything): Gurer'f n engure ybj yriry pnc va pybhqf bs Krra, ohg gur tnzr'f onynaprq sbe guvf, fb vg'f abg n ceboyrz. Ohg vs lbh tb gb gur qnexfvqr bs Krra, lbh pna ernpu guvf yriry va gur svefg pvgl, znxvat pybhqf sne gbb rnfl gb rawbl.

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    3. While I am definately not a player of the time, when I went through it I basically went through 4, then 5, then did the combined game stuff. From what I had read, trying to do stuff in 5 early would result in you being massively overleveled in 4, while doing 4 first only results in you being moderately overleveled for 5, and in my case that might have been because I was deliberately trying to get everything done in 4 before moving on

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    4. I was late to the party in regards to XEEN, and it wasn't until several years later that I actually managed to finish it. I found that I had preferred to complete everything that was possible in 4 before moving on to 5, once I finally figured out how it all worked together. I think there's a bit more fun to be had doing it this way, then either the other way around or trying to do both games concurrently.

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    5. About how players at the time experienced them, my guess is they tried them separately given the difference in their release dates
      Then, not everyone bought both games, and the extra content you get would be a plus specific for those that did got both games

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    6. At least it's fairly easy to tell which side you're on and you can usually get back if on the wrong one. So you can easily play out 4 then 5.

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    7. The two worlds in the combined game are mostly separate, only connected by pyramid-shaped portals scattered around the land (there's one right outside the first town), so just don't use those and you'll be fine.

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  11. Hi Chester,

    I don't comment much, but I occasionally spend hours reading some of your writeups. You've got a really good prose, and this is a remarkable source of nerdlore.

    Also you'll be delighted to hear that I have a couple more roguelikes for you :D They are close variants of the original Rogue, called

    Super-Rogue (1982-84)
    Advanced Rogue (1984-86)
    Ultra Rogue (1985-86)
    XRogue (1991)

    I could even add Rogue Clone/LinuxRogue, but these are really more or less Rogue just without any dark rooms (i.e. for pussies).

    Binaries can be found at the Roguelike Restoration Project or here: https://britzl.github.io/roguearchive

    Ah, and then there's of course Rogue II for the Atari ST...

    No need to say thanks, I just like to be helpful :)

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  12. Hmmm, I'm mighty glad I got to experience it through your frustrations and not my own. I was impressed with the actual projection of Earth though. Much more realistic than Mercator!

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  13. Kind of funny, Lagrange Point for the Famicom released the same year as this game, but worked a lot better, besides the typical early Nintendo game wonkyness. (Lagrange Point has wonky balance and tons of glitches and exploits thanks to wonky programming.)

    But the story of trying to solve a mystery surrounding artificial monsters besieging the space habitats at Earth's Lagrange Points is still a couple steps about this one, in my opinion.

    Anyway, here's my idea for a sequel to Planet's Edge:

    -It turns out the moon disappearing shortly after Earth re-appearing is due to the superweapon of a transuniversal alien race. The forces pushing Earth into their universe wreaked havoc and now they think this was an attack and build a weapon to fight back.

    -Under threat of a weapon from another universe taking moon-sized chunks out of ours, the protagonists have to travel to the homeworld of the makers of the Centauri Drive.

    -After they get to there, they'll have to convince the makers to try again so they can make contact with the outsiders before they manage to hit something important (like Earth!) with their random shots

    -Second act, completely new universe: The protagonists must explore this second universe and negotiate with the defenders of that place to make a lasting peace.

    For extra hilarity, put all the old races from the first game into the first act, but let them be angry and hostile, because the CRPG Addict playthrough is the canon one.

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    1. I just finished watching a YouTube playthrough of Lagrange Point, which I'd never heard of until recently. (In Japanese, so my understanding of the plot is probably a bit hazy.) It definitely seems like a game that I would love to see remade as a modern open-world RPG, with a lot more detail given to the world and the various factions in it. The central plot didn't strike me as all that compelling, though, as far as I understood it.

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    2. There's a fan translation available, which makes the plot better understandable.

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