Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Summoning: A Laden Swagman

 
As if I needed another reason to think of Osama bin Laden yesterday.
         
As you scurry around pushing levers and balls, testing teleporters, fighting enemies, filling and drinking healing potions, and filling in the map, The Summoning gives you lots of time to think. And what I thought about during my most recent sessions was a typology for how games structure their worlds. This is what I came up with:

1. The open world. We tend to think of open-world games as recent, but they really go all the way back to the first Ultima (1981). In this model, the player has a fairly large space in which to operate, and that space is seeded with both safe and dangerous places--cities and dungeons, usually. The player may pick a particular city as a "home base" (and modern games encourage this by literally letting him buy a house), but he doesn't have to use a particular place. Excepting some episodes, he has full control over how long he stays in each area, and he can transition between them at will, using any number of locations to regroup, buy and sell equipment, level up, and rest and heal. Phantasie, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Baldur's Gate, Ultimas IV-VII, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion all follow this model.

2. The hub-and-spoke, also known as the "expedition-and-return." In this model, there's one safe place, often at the center of the kingdom, and the player does all of his adventuring from it. Each mission takes him to a new place, and he often has no control over how long he spends there, but when it's over, he returns (often automatically) to the safety and resources of the hub. Examples would be Starflight, Quest for Glory, Planet's Edge, and the two Buck Rogers games.
           
Here's a shot of an NPC named Khamillia warning me about gazers. You'll see why in a bit.
          
3. The airline dive. In this approach, you have a safe surface location, from which you repeatedly depart to explore the depths of a dungeon, keeping a constant tether back to your base. A key aspect of the game is how far and long you're willing to risk exploration before following your lifeline home; judge it poorly and you run out of oxygen. Almost all of the PLATO games fit this model, as does Wizardry and the Dunjonquest series. The goal is ultimately to get strong and skilled enough so that you can reach the farthest location, where you usually find the endgame.
     
4. The highway. The game is linear and one-way, with set "rest stops" (cities, leveling, healing, shops) at set intervals along the way. You don't always know how long it's going to be before the next stop, but you know it will come eventually. The Final Fantasy Legend and The Lord of the Rings fall here, although both allowed some limited backtracking. Icewind Dale II is another.
    
5. The "Waltzing Matilda." There are no "safe spaces," except perhaps the occasional dark corner after you've cleared an area of enemies. You have no "hub." All of your resources are in your tucker bag. You level up on the road and heal when you find a potion. It doesn't really matter if the game world is open or linear because you still have to travel the whole thing, and there are no rest stops. This is most roguelikes, Dungeon Master and its derivatives, and The Summoning
             
A partly-completed level.
          
Some of the most tense moments I have playing games is when I don't yet know which model a game is going to adopt. Games often begin with a constrained sequence, and until it's over, you don't know if the game is going to automatically move you to the next area or "open up." Then, if it does open up, you don't know until you start exploring if you're going to be returning to the starting point frequently or if there will be numerous potential hubs as you explore the world. It takes a few hours into Fallout 3 before you realize it's fundamentally a hub-and-spoke game (a player could approach it differently, but most use Megaton as a base of operations); when Fallout 4 began, I thought it would be the same, but it's much more of an open world. Often, a game surprises you by switching to another model for a particular sequence or expansion. Baldur's Gate II is a hub-and-spoke that becomes a highway in Throne of Bhaal. The Lonesome Road expansion to Fallout: New Vegas is a Waltzing Matilda tacked on to an open world.

Games also occasionally create tension and release by subverting their own designs. A common practice in airline dive games is to make you lose the line via teleporters or one-way doors. Hub-and-spoke games often defy predictability by sending you on a mission that turns into a Waltzing Matilda, straining your inventory space, exhausting resources that are normally renewable in town, and making you long for a place to rest or train. When you're finally able to break out and return, the sense of relief is magnified. 
    
I would have to say that the "Waltzing Matilda" is my least-favorite approach, partly because it's the hardest to pick up again when you haven't been able to play for a while. When you finally restore after an absent week, you're in the middle of a dungeon somewhere, with equipment you can't remember the reason for carrying, unsure if you were working on any puzzles and, if so, what they were. Meanwhile, the lack of a central depository means you have to anticipate what you'll need down the road. This is particularly difficult in a game like The Summoning, where numerous readers have warned me not to throw away any pearls or any spell scrolls (despite not needing them mechanically), and having been given the relatively useless advice to try to keep hold of at least one of everything because you never know what is going to be needed to solve a puzzle.
        
The reason for the game's name becomes clear.
       
I originally wrote, "The Summoning is taking long enough that I frankly wouldn't mind a 'walking-dead' excuse to wrap it up with a rating." The problem with that sentence is that it isn't taking that long--at least, not yet. I'm only into it for about 14 hours. It just feels very long because the nature of its construction is to never give you a break. I think this has less to do with its "Waltzing Matilda" approach (what seemed like a cute name is losing its charm as I keep typing it) and more because of its Dungeon Master paternity. Other games feature long corridors and large rooms just to fill in their grids, but games of the Dungeon Master line use all of their available space for puzzles. The Summoning is no exception. Any relief that you feel at finally getting a locked door opened almost immediately withers in the face of another locked door. It doesn't really make a difference that most of the puzzles are easy--which they are, far more so than DarkSpyre--but that they're endless.
     
My most recent sessions with the game involved the completion of a section of levels each named "Broken Seal." There were six of them, but a few of them had large basements, so it seemed like more. The ultimate goal was to find six wedges of a broken seal and assemble them to open the way to the next section of levels, which all seem to begin with the name "Elemental Barrier." A linear description of the levels would be boring and hard to relate given my fractured approach to playing and my recursive approach to exploration (more below), so I'll just cover the highlights:
         
  • Broken Seal Three had a puzzle that required me to rescue a man named Duncan from a prison. His friend Tristan rewarded me with a bunch of runes for the task, but more important, Duncan told me that Shadow Weaver intends to use the Staff of Summoning to bring the God of Magic back to the world, defeat him in combat, become the new God of Magic, and remake the world.
  • On Broken Seal Two, I found a woman dying of poisoning. The game strewed apple cores around her room, suggesting that she'd been keeping herself alive with Apples of Vigor, which was a cute touch. To cure her, I had to find a special antidote in Broken Seal One. As a reward, she gave me a magic mirror that protected me from the attacks of "gazers" (nothing like the Ultima enemies, but rather zombies holding decapitated heads that turn you to stone), which I encountered later in Broken Seal One.
    
The game brought up a little cinematic window as I administered the potion. It does that occasionally, which is a nice addition.
          
  • Later, I learned the hard way that you have to actually equip the mirror when you meet the gazers.
       
Another cinematic shows Jera turning to stone.
            
  • New spells found were "Poison," "Cure Poison," "Restore," "Fire Shield," and "Fireball." I also found additional scrolls for spells I already knew; it's nice that the game offers backups in case you miss the originals. The "Restore" spell is supposed to restore endurance; I've also found a couple of potions that do that, but so far nothing in the game has affected my endurance. Come to think of it, the manual suggests an entire "fatigue" system that if it actually exists hasn't been perceptible in gameplay.
              
This, alas, just shoots a small ball of fire.
     
  • The game is very fond of closed doors that you need the "Kano" spell to open. Some of them are very hard to see as doors. I assume they're walls until I later see them on the automap.
  • A common puzzle has been to need to push a rolling ball onto a pressure plate by using the temporary "Create Wall" spell to stop the ball when it gets to the pressure plate.
     
Like so.
           
  • An exit from Broken Seal Two went back to the Antechamber at the beginning of the game. This is where I would have appeared if I hadn't gone through the "beginner" levels. A woman near this exit talked about the importance of speaking to magic mouths, which would have been odd advice this late in the game but timely advice for some cocky player who decided to skip the beginners' area.
  • Gebo, Raido, and Thurisaz runes teleport the character to the associated "rune floor space on the level in which the rune was invoked." I've found a ton of them. I've been trying to remember to test them on each level in the event that I don't otherwise find those runes on the floors. I'm not sure I've gotten all of them, though.
          
Arriving in a secret Raido area.
       
  • Towards the end of the Broken Seal levels were a couple of puzzles that required me to use knowledge of the game's lore. Each had one skull that asked a question (e.g., "Chesschantra's offspring") and three skulls that provided different answers, each with a portal behind it. The problem was that the "answer" skulls were arranged so close to each other that it was often unclear which one was speaking. Since the wrong portals dumped me into an exitless room, I had to reload a couple of times when I knew the answer but chose the wrong skull's portal. My favorite of these puzzles is when the "riddle" skull said "what you want" and the answers were "world peace," "glory," and, practically, "to complete this part of the maze."
          
One skull gives the answer as I face and am closest to a different one.
        
The automap does a good job, but it's annoying to consult. You have to remove whatever you have equipped in one hand, equip the "palimpsest" instead, use it, and then re-equip the previous item. So I've mostly been approaching each level by following the right wall, bypassing doors I can't open or puzzles I can't yet solve. If I've made three loops through the level and still haven't opened some doors (or found the exit), that's when it's time to sit up straight and start taking notice of things.
 
The problem with most of the game's puzzles (or perhaps I should say "challenge," as it's probably intentional) is that the game deliberately obscures their complexity. To illustrate what I mean, assume you walk into a room with four pressure plates, one lever, and a door in every cardinal direction. The "puzzle" could be as simple as the lever activates the pressure plates, and then the pressure plates open the doors in front of them as soon as you step on them. Or it could be as complex as the lever opens a portal to another section of the maze, where you have to solve four sub-puzzles to find four boulders to bring back to the main room to weigh down the pressure plates, which open the doors on the opposite sides of the room, and only one door can be opened at a time.
       
This one is pretty straightforward.
         
I've found that the best way to approach the game is to assume simplicity and to not start going crazy with the mechanics until it's clear that simple isn't working. You have to be goal-oriented in the game. If a room has three levers and one door, and somehow you get the door open without touching any of the levers, it's best not to worry about what they're for. There are plenty of times in which I've left an area suspecting perhaps there was more to find, but happy enough that I found my way to the next level.

New enemies on these levels included centaurs and the aforementioned gazers. Combats have been so easy that they're mostly incidental. I usually welcome them because the game generally uses combats in lieu of puzzles, so a room with mercenaries or skeletons is probably not going to have a lot of lever-and-pit nonsense. Most enemies die in a few hits, and if they manage to wound me direly, I just need to cast "Freeze," run a safe distance, and use "Liquify" to fill and chug Jera potions until I'm healed. Since I found the spell sequence for "Cure Poison," I don't even have to worry about that. The only enemies that have been problems were some ghouls, which none of my weapons and spells would damage. I'm just realizing now as I type this that I never fully "solved" that area, so I must have missed something. Whatever it was, it wasn't necessary to get through the Broken Seal levels.
          
Fighting a couple of centaurs.

           
By far, the biggest issue with the game has been over-encumbrance. You don't want to exceed your weight limit because it significantly slows down movement, including combat. But between runes, gems, potions, wands, coins, extra weapons, extra shields, and quest items, there's a lot in this game that seems pretty essential. At one point shortly after the end of the last session, I took a hard look at what I was carrying, made some tough choices, dropped a bunch of stuff, and was five pounds under-weight. It felt great for about five minutes, until I entered another room and found it loaded with stuff that seems essential. In most games with equipment breakage systems, you spend the game hoping that your items won't break. In The Summoning, you spend the game praying that they will, so that you can shed 8 pounds and swap in the next item.
 
I finally gave up. My character's maximum weight is about 85 pounds, but I'm lugging around close to 115. As we enter a new area, I drop enough chests to get below the threshold, explore for a while, then return and pick them up. (This is similar to Tygr's solution of using the first room of each level as a "warehouse.") Although the system basically works, I keep hoping that I'll eventually use or break enough stuff to get back under the threshold, but that goal gets more distant with every item that I find.
    
A decent part of my encumbrance (in space, if not weight) is made up of gold coins. So far, the only place that I've found to spend them is at NPCs who offer to heal you for a donation. Normally, I'd welcome these NPCs, but self-healing is so easy that I can't imagine ever having to use them. I wonder if there's any other purpose to the game's "economy."

One of Shadow Weaver's warriors, encountered I think on Broken Seal Three, gave me a preview of the rest of the dungeon. He said that Shadow Weaver opens all the seals every six months to allow the horde to come and go from its campaigning, but between those times you have to really work at it to pass through the various areas of the fortress. Beyond Broken Seal are three Elemental Barrier levels, then a series of levels "controlled by the five ruling knights." Each has a medallion, and all five are needed to actually enter the citadel, which I assume also has multiple levels. 
          
Well, this is depressing.
         
As I entered the Elemental Barrier levels, I ran into an NPC named Duncan--a different Duncan than the one I rescued from prison. [Ed: I guess the first guy was "Dunstan."] He said that to open the "elemental barriers," I would need to bring him three spheres, which he would then somehow "activate." (Shadow Weaver drops the barriers whenever the horde marches to and from war, but that only happens every six months or so.) I don't know why spheres are such a big part of every game I play lately. Anyway, he said that in the years since "Balthazar" had placed Duncan in his position, no one had ever brought him a sphere, so he wonders if his job wasn't meant as a joke.
    
Anyway, that suggests that I still have a lot of game to go, which makes sense given the slowdown in leveling. Jera has reached "Adept" in edged weapons (7/10), "Skilled" in clubs and hacking weapons (5/10), "Average" in pole-arms (4/10), and remains a "Beginner" in missile weapons (1/10) because I haven't had any reason to use them. She is "Adept" in healing magic (7/10) and "Skilled" (5/10) in the rest. Her overall level is "Cavalier" (8/12). These all represent gains of only a level since the last session. 
    
I've given the impression of a game that I don't like, but it would be more accurate to say that it doesn't fit well with the available time I have this month. My enjoyment improves in long sessions when I can build a certain rhythm. I'd shelve it for a month except that strategy never really works. Even if it's a game I like (e.g., The Magic Candle III), I still somehow find myself loath to pick it up again. So I'm going to power through with The Summoning even if it means I can't post about it that often. Next up, we'll probably have a BRIEF on Projekt Ikarus because I can't make heads or tails of it.
    
Time so far: 14 hours

93 comments:

  1. Not only is "Waltzing Matilda" far too cutesy, it's impenetrable to anybody that doesn't get the reference. How about something descriptive like "constant danger," "no rest" or "no breaks?"

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    1. I think it needs to imply that all you ever will have is 'the clothes on your back and whats in your sack.

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    2. Waltzing Matilda is something of a second national anthem over here. Funnily enough there'd be very little sympathy for the swagman in modern Australia.

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    3. "Pure dungeon crawler" could also work, seeing as that's what those sorts of games usually are

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    4. Is it really impenetrable? I, an American know about it without much giving much thought about it. And I know "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" has been covered by quite a few bands over the years in addition to whoever did the original song.

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    5. Maybe not well known in some parts of the world. Feels like a fair few Americans would get it. Plenty of other options, though. Call it a death march or backpacking or something, I guess, depending on how intense you want it to sound.

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    6. I had to use Google to find out that it's a "bush ballad" (the existence of this genre was also new information) from 1903. A song from over 100 years ago, that isn't a symphony, opera or musical theater piece, that's mainly popular in Australia, is a fairly obscure bit of trivia in my opinion. I assumed it was a reference to the book/movie Matilda until a few minutes ago.

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    7. I thought it was about a girl who likes to dance.

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    8. It's just unfair to make cultural references that every reader doesn't immediately recognize. After all, not everybody can afford an expensive Wikipedia subscription, or pull the strings to get to the front of the Google line quickly.

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    9. Ouch. Such biting sarcasm.

      It's a term invented to describe a phenomenon. It helps for it to have an immediately recognizable descriptive name. That's why we refer to chemicals by their components. It's why romance novels are called "romance novels" instead of Austen-likes or Jane Eyre clones.

      Besides, knowing about the song won't help me know what Addict is talking about if he says "Oh, this game is being a real Waltzing Matilda right now" in a later entry with no context.

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    10. I vaguely remember that one of my school books (idk if history or musical education) mentions Waltzing Matilda under picture of some kind of "Hobo".

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    11. I knew about the song and the reference and I live in the others side of the world from australia

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    12. A quick google search turns up a website call Obscure Sound (ironic given its claim about the tune) which calls it 'possibly the most famous folk song in the world', and mentions 'enduring worldwide love' for it. All I really can attest to, though, is that it was on a CD of famous folk songs I listened to as a kid, and we had to perform it on stage in school, in 1980s rural Michigan. All that said, there really probably is a more concise metaphor to use here, fun though the song is.

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    13. I heard the song once played by Tom Waits and it stuck into my mind, but I cannot remember for the life of me in which context.

      It was harder for me to get the Seal Six reference :)

      BTW I agree with Stepped Pyramids, in 2020 it is kind of lazy complaining of reading a reference that can be looked up in a couple of seconds.

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    14. I would hope that any of these terms would be quickly defined on future usage, anyway. That seems to be the Addict's usual style, like when he uses the term "worm tunnel" to describe a type of grid map:

      https://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/search?q=worm+tunnel

      With that assumption in mind, I don't see any problem with him using a more or less whimsical name as suits his preference. I didn't get this particular reference myself until looking it up.

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    15. I think the word which should ring the bell in this phrase is "waltz", because in these games players usually use tactic which is called "combat waltz" by Addict and some other from the audience too, if I remmember well. So it was not necessary to know anything about background of Waltzing Matilda, whoever it is.

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    16. Althought the fighting tactics in The Summoning is more "hit and run" than combat waltz.

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    17. How about "Stick and Bindle"? It carries the same meaning without being quite as 'cutesy' or esoteric.

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    18. I quite like that The Addict is taking things in a cross cultural direction.

      It's educating some who may not know or immediately understand the reference, whilst highlighting and embracing how global his audience is!

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    19. I expected the worst that would happen is that some people wouldn't get the reference, it would cause them to look it up, and they'd learn something culturally relevant. I didn't imagine they'd hate me for it.

      Tygr, the "waltz" from "Waltzing Matilda" is meant in a very different way than the "combat waltz." Perhaps I should have anticipated that confusion.

      My intention was mostly to create a list of different approaches, not so much to cement the names for all eternity. I may not use these specific terms again.

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    20. I suppose Wizardry 7 has this vibe. There are no true safe places to rest. You can be attacked anywhere. The starter dungeon is the closest thing to a base. The wandering monsters are low level and there is a great healing fountain in the dungeon. New City has too many unpleasant random encounters, at least early on, to be a hub.

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    21. Aw, Addict, I don't hate you for it, I just didn't think it was a very good name.

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    22. "Valderi, valdera, valderi, valdera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha..."

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    23. This is the first time I heard about Waltzing Matilda. I'm from Germany and never heard it on the radio before (I haven't been listening to the radio for over a decade now but it's not like it's a new song so that doesn't matter). Gonna go on YouTube and give it a listen. I like folk so I'll probably enjoy it.

      Learned something today!

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    24. Vince - the Tom Waits song you heard would have been Tom Traubert's Blues, which borrows the chorus of Waltzing Matilda. It's a lovely song, although much as I like Tom Waits I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I prefer Rod Stewart's version.

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    25. Just go with Wanderer, if you need a name for the style.

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    26. I always called them 'survival dungeons,' because they're usually huge dungeons you can't leave.

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    27. Speaking as a bunyip, I'm personally a fan of any billabong-related nomenclature.

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    28. Though "survival" often refers to games that have hunger/thirst/fatigue clocks, injury and recovery systems, exposure to the elements, and so on.

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    29. 'Megadungeon' might work too. Though it could suggest that the dungeon is extraordinarily large, rather than that it is all there is.

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  2. I think a lot of open world games end up being 'hub and spoke on a highway' to varying degrees. It depends on how strict the level gating is.

    I think Curse is possibly closer to the hub (the overland) and spoke (the remaining four bonds) model. You can dip your toes in any of the spokes, but each bond requires a commitment point from which there is no return.

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    1. Indeed. If an open world game lacks convenient fast travel, it'll often be structured such that your "home base" moves along with the objectives in the main quest.

      In Morrowind you'll most likely operate out of Balmora to begin with, since most of your objectives are within walking distance. You'll eventually move on to more convenient locations as your goals get further away, although you can revisit Balmora at any time to resolve unfinished quests.

      Fallout 4's main quest has a general structure where you move from the top-left to the center of the map, then back to the bottom-left, with detours to the rightmost edge depending on who you side with and what other missions you take on.

      Of course, every MMO for the last few decades enforces this structure via "zones," areas specifically designed for a given range of character levels. You can theoretically visit any time, but getting there early is difficult and there's no point to returning once you finish everything.

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    2. Yeah MMOs are the worst offenders when it comes to 'hubs and spokes on a highway'. The level gating is so severe that you'll have random mook goblins in zone 3 that are more powerful than zone 2's storyline demon boss.

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    3. "Offender" isn't what I'd say. It's a way of structuring your game. It can be used well, or it can be used poorly. I've played MMOs that keep the action flowing well by use of cleverly designed quest structures that move you into appropriate zones without you ever realizing it, and I've played terrible MMOs where you die near-instantly for straying an inch too far from the expected path.

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    4. Another mechanic that affects this is loot. The main reason to continue returning to Megaton in Fallout 3 is that the game encourages loot stockpiling in a number of ways (the repair system, limited shop inventories, limited carry weight). Games with an airline dive structure tend to be more focused on a loot grind, while highway games are more likely to parcel out equipment as you progress; hub-and-spoke games end up somewhere in the middle, handing out big rewards at the end of spokes but often still featuring a loot-sell-upgrade loop alongside.

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    5. I don't object to hub&spoke on highway necessarily. I just want it disguised somewhat.

      "Ahh, the fabled land of level 12-19. Hark friends, observe the level 12-19 sheep in its natural habitat! Let us fix this poor lady's window for a level 12-19 reward! Remember when we saved the world for a paltry level 11 reward? Oh those were the days."

      That, is an offender.

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    6. What would Dark Souls be?

      It's not a "Waltzing Matilda", because you have a relative large number of safe resting spots, from which you do "airline dives" trying to reach the next one... but it's not an "Highway", since there is a large amount of backtracking.

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    7. I haven't gotten very far in Dark Souls, but it seems closest to an open world. An extremely small, confined one to be sure, but it best represents the freedom of movement between areas that the game allows as you advance.

      Of course, games like Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night pioneered this sort of "tiny open world," but Dark Souls is one of the first notable examples of such a design being used in a 3D game that isn't a platformer.

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    8. Personally, I think there are two different things here: world structure and progression - which is affected by world structure, but not exclusively. For example, a game with limited saving like DS or Wizardry 1 enforces the cycle of expedition-and-return irrespective of how the levels are connected. In something like Ultima 7, the plot progression may turn a fully open world (not even level gated) into a completely linear experience. On the other hand, in Wizardry 7 the world is open and the player can explore it in a multitude of ways, but because nowhere, including the cities, is safe it's effectively a dungeon crawler.

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    9. most of the From Software "soulsborne" games are surely "hub and spoke", with Dark Souls 1 being the loosest of these. They all have a fixed hub area (The Nexus, Firelink Shrine, Majula, Firelink Shrine again, The Hunter's Dream) and you progress out from there to various locations. Dark Souls 1 is a slight exception mainly because you can level up anywhere, but most of the NPCs you might want to talk to or buy stuff from are at the Firelink Shrine hub area or close by.

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    10. In Morrowind I tend to use Caius Cosades' house as my base of operations where I keep returning to dump books and unique artifacts. Mostly because I tend to get attached to the place, and I like storing all my stuff in one location.

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  3. Whatevet happened to the Magic Candle 3? That one just seemed to fizzle out of nowhere, unless it was mentioned in a separate post

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    1. Its the one that got away.

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    2. It's been a while, but I think Chet had some kind of showstopper bug happen that needed him to restart, and so he shuffled it to later in the schedule?

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    3. I took a break from it that ended up being so long that it was if I'd never played it at all. It will come up again before 1992 is complete.

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  4. Is there a reason why you picked especially Oblivion from the Elder Scrolls series for an example for Open World games, or did it just came first into your mind?

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    1. I think all TES games meet the definition, but of the three most recent, Morrowind does kind of encourage you to centralize in Balmora and Skyrim encourages the same thing in Whiterun. I didn't want to get into a bunch of quibbles, so I picked the one that seemed the most "mobile" to me. It depends a lot on what factions you join, but I remember using ALL of the towns as bases at one point or another.

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    2. Interesting, as far I remember I shifted from Balmora to Aldruhn in my playthrough.

      But yeah as you mention, in Oblivion it felt like you didn't have a real "home"

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    3. I think it's the fault of Oblivion's fast travel system. Not only is fast travel easy and convenient, but major cities all over the map are available as soon as you start the game. At least in Skyrim you have to find a place before you can warp there. Since Whiterun is likely the first major city you'll find, the first place you'll buy a home and the epicenter of many quests, it's a natural home base for the early game.

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    4. tbh. Oblivions fast travel system felt often like cheating. AFAIK you can use it also on escort quests like that early one with Martin

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  5. "One skill gives the answer as I face and am closest to a different one." - Skull text isn't aligned with their position, it always appears more or less at the center of the screen. What you need to be looking at are the three gray dots, which *are* placed on the skull that's doing the speaking. Your refusal to use the mouse kinda hurts you in this case.

    "It doesn't really matter if the game world is open or linear because you still have to travel the whole thing" - not necessarily. Even discounting the beginner levels, there are a couple of areas in the game that are completely optional, and as you yourself have noticed, you don't need to lawn-mow levels to progress.

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    1. I wasn't talking about The Summoning in that second statement, just the average game in the category.

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    2. Sure, but it also applies to other "open-world Matildas" like e.g. Legend of Grimrock 2 or Anvil of Dawn. So I'd still say that statement doesn't quite hold.

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    3. I haven't played those games, but I'd argue that to the extent that some areas are "optional" in such games, the fact that they are optional doesn't become clear until after you've played. The only way I knew the beginner areas were optional in this game is because there are literally two paths. Even then, I'm not sure I didn't find some pearls in those beginner levels that commenters insist that I need.

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    4. "the fact that they are optional doesn't become clear until after you've played" - but is it really any different in "regular" open-world games? You've just played Amberstar, where most "sidequests" turned out to be parts of the main quest. And even when main quest has MAIN QUEST written all over it in neon letters, there's no guarantee it won't take you through every nook and cranny in the end, like Ultima 7 did.

      Regarding pearls and stuff, IIRC, you can (almost) always find the items you need for critical path puzzles in the same section of the dungeon. They just might be hidden behind difficult puzzles themselves, so in some cases it's easier to bring them from earlier sections. Pearls are an exception because they are rare and you can sell them.

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  6. About weight management, there are a couple of items that drastically improve the situation.

    But they are optional items and you might miss them if not exploring in detail.

    I'll ROT13 what these items are and in which level they can be found below.

    Gurl ner oyhr "ontf bs yvtugarff" (onfvpnyyl Q&Q Ontf bs Ubyqvat).
    Bar pna or sbhaq va "Ryrzragny Oneevre Bar", nabgure va "Pevzfba Xavtug Qbznva" naq nabgure va "Bgurejbeyq Bar".

    In case you still have issues with it, you might want to check these levels with more attention than just passing by.

    Another item also helps a lot, even if in a more indirect way, but maybe it would be spoiling too much.

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    1. Concerning weight management, chests are a much-maligned object because their capacity is smaller (both in size and number) than bags, and even empty they weight 3 kg. It is always a happy moment when you find a new bag which lets you to drop one of your chests.

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  7. There is a cheat about weight management which you can use if you don't want to keep doing the "storage rooms" strategy. If you dont' want to know it, don't keep reading!

    When you left-click an item (to select it), the game ceases to take in account its weight (I suppose that it considers that item in a kind of "limbo" transitioning from its current place to the place in which you want to put it). So you can put your heaviest items in a bag, left-click on that bag (the cursor will become the selected bag), and keep playing. You can still move and use your action buttons for attacking and casting spells while that bag is being selected, and its weight don't be taken in account.

    I shamelessly used this cheat when I first played the game, and I'm using it again. I rationalize it as my character kicking and throwing that bag along the corridors.

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    1. I wouldn't call it a cheat so much as an exploit/clever use of game mechanics; but either way, I love that image, and would certainly use that strategy and rationalization if I ever felt like playing this game.

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    2. Haha... it brings to mind images of kicking my pack along the floor when waiting in airport check-in queues

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    3. That would help if I was only overburdened to the tune of one chest, but if I get that low again, I'll try it. I do remember one commenter saying he lost equipment that way.

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    4. Reminds me of the classic Fallout 3/New Vegas exploit of putting your items into a corpse, then dragging a body part of that corpse around using the physics engine. Makes some sense if you have a full torso (well...maybe), less sense if you're dragging a single severed eyeball that somehow has 300 lbs of weapons in it.

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  8. As I recall The Summoning was unique on its release in that it had (for the time) great VGA graphics, stereo sound that could be heard on a sound card (which most PC's didn't come with you had to purchase a separate card at retail and reserve your day to install it, there was no plug and pray back then) and it also used A MOUSE effectively -- still fairly rare for a DOS based game. Any retail box game that met all three criteria was a rather rare sight and pretty spectacular. Remember at the time Windows 3.1 was all there realistically was, and it wasn't a gaming platform at all. In fact it was notoriously difficult to run any game of substance on 3.1 beyond Solitaire or other simple stuff, you'd spend the better part of the day configuring the memory and IRQ and whatnot and prayed the thing would just work.

    I found The Summoning to generally be a well polished and finished product, another rarity for the time in early PC games. Since most other games at that time always had some crippling problem you'd have to deal with like popping sound, bad graphics, poor controls or jerky cursor, bad memory management or just crashes -- plenty of those. The Summoning had none of that, just a pleasant dungeon romp you could dive into with a relatively good story and moderate challenge.

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    1. Couldn’t agree more I am really surprised by Chets indifference towards it... and the carry weight problems get solved after you have access to the games central hub; namely the Astral Realm

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    2. Good grief. Let Chet discover what that is. I don't think I've heard one peep about the Astral Realm in the game so far.

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    3. It never really makes sense to worry about my tone in the middle of the game. It could easily change for the next entry. If this "Astral Plane" (which obviously I don't know about yet) turns out to be what it sounds like, then that complaint will probably evaporate. Then, the summary and rating will have my final opinion like it always does.

      Commenters often act like I'm playing the game for the second time. Please try to remember that a blind player doesn't know what elements are going to be introduced later or whether things he thinks are important in the early hours will still be important at the end.

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  9. Addict: Maybe this could be little contraproductive advice for your mood how you feel this game, but I think it would be better to not let not finished areas behind you or at least not for long. It could be just coincidence and really there could be some areas which are not necessary to clear completely, but I personally remember that in my game I had to return quite a long way in one point, because I missed one really important object in some previous area. Ok, it was not so hard, because enemies don´t respawn and puzzles are already solved but still it is little bothering.

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    1. Or maybe I can give you one more hint in this... my problem was, that I forgot to try to use that special runes for traveling to secret parts in one area. Sometimes you find there just some treasures, but sometimes there could be very important location.

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    2. I didn't mean to suggest that I've been escaping as soon as I find the exit. I've been taking several loops through each level, and I haven't left any obvious doors unopened. I just meant that I haven't been proactively hunting for puzzles for which there's no clear need for a solution.

      But thanks for the tip on the runes. I figured I should try them on each level, but like I say, I might have skipped a couple.

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    3. My comment was reaction specifically on this sentence: "I'm just realizing now as I type this that I never fully "solved" that area, so I must have missed something."

      And by the way, thank you for the honorable mention :-)

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  10. I like the small details (or "cute touches") like the poisoned woman having strewn apple cores around her, suggesting that she has been keeping herself alive with Apples of Vigor, the game has some amount of them, which helps making the place less boring.

    Some of those small details are that both you and the enemies can get damaged by closing doors. Or that you can fall through a stair if you approach it from the wrong a side. Some of the NPCs which can be talked can also be attacked and killed (you can attack and kill the Shadow Weaver warrior which gives you a preview of the rest of the dungeon). And a very niche touch is that the woman which explains you the importance of speaking skulls if you came directly from the Antechamber is playing music in a lute and that music not only can be heard, but that as you walk away from that character, you start to heard it lower and lower.

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    1. Yeah, I like how they made all those cute touches. Even though the levels look kind of samey so far. I don't know if they will get more unique-looking later, but similar to Wizardry it at least tries to be atmospheric even while reusing graphics. I guess it is a disk space limitation or would have required too much loading for the player's tastes to swap out the graphics often.

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    2. What does "approaching a stair from the wrong side" mean? Just walking off the edge of the stairwell?

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    3. There are pits with a ladder against one wall. Walking into it from the other three directions makes you fall into the pit instead of climbing down.

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  11. A sidenote: the man you need to free from a dungeon and explained the meaning of the title of the game is named Dunstan, not Duncan, so they are still keeping the "only one Steve" rule.

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  12. I'm surprised you bring up Fallout 3, because I think Rivet City also serves as a questing hub for a fair amount of the game. It is, however, true that that and Megaton are really the only places you ever have reason to return to once you leave.

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    1. There was some discussion of this above, but I think all the Bethesda RPGs do this to some extent - you start with a single main questing hub, but then as you play through you end up switching hubs as you progress through different factions and questlines.

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    2. But that's the point: the player roams the world and chooses his own "hub" based on where he is geographically. It's not forced, nor is it linear. And the nature of the quests isn't so much that you leave the city and then inevitably return to the city. These nuances distinguish most Bethesda RPGs from the ones I characterize as "highway" or "hub-and-spoke."

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  13. "I'd shelve it for a month except that strategy never really works. Even if it's a game I like (e.g., The Magic Candle III), I still somehow find myself loathe to pick it up again."

    What can an CRPG designer do to make a game radically easier to pick up again after one month? I'm not talking about merely a quest log, which makes it easier, but not necessarily easy enough. Which features would make it much, much easier?

    One way is to simplify some aspects of the game (while trying to not reduce the amount of gameplay depth too much), and another is to give the player more powerful tools to manage information.

    Some options that I can think of are these:

    * Split the game into many small chapters and just remove or reset all open quests from previous chapters. (Some players will hate this.) Quests that have been reset can be started again if the location of the quest can be revisited.

    * Inform the player in advance when a saving location is coming up that is a good spot to interrupt the game for a longer time. For example, tell him in advance that the end of the current chapter is at the end of that dungeon. (Some players will hate this too.)

    * Limit the number of abilities and items to a far lower number than usual, and above all limit the numbers of abilities that can be used in the current expedition (e.g. with spell slots). Make their purpose very clear. Maybe each character in a party of six can have only one active ability. For example: Barbarian, Whirlwind; Paladin, Bless; Druid, Entangle; Thief, Hide in Shadows; Mage, Fireball; Cleric, Heal. This means that after picking the game up again, the player just needs to understand these 6 abilities for the next half hour or so until the next resting place where the characters can change their active abilities. (Some players will... -- you get the idea.)

    * Remove all those limited-use items like magic wands that many players just keep unused in their inventory until the end of the game.

    * What if, instead of choosing a new ability on level-up, the player is encouraged to choose the new ability for the _next_ level-up in advance? The player that returns after one month then gets to see which abilities are marked for the next level-up, which is a relief because he couldn't make a good decision after being away from the game for so long.

    * Enable and encourage the player to write down his goals in a way that can easily be picked up again. Imagine the automap of Ultima Underworld with player annotations than can be collapsed or expanded, checked off and easily cross-referenced. This sounds like work, but I think it can be designed so it is easy and fun to do. For example, cross references could be created just by drag-and-dropping a connection from one annotation to another annotation or to a point on the map.

    * Encourage the player to annotate types of enemies in a monster encyclopedia with just one basic tactic that works against this type of monster. An example of an annotation would be, "Use 'Entangle' to avoid being swarmed by goblins." Or the other way around: encourage the player to annotate the purpose of the current abilities instead.

    * When saving the game, encourage the player to make an annotation for just the next two goals or so. For example, "Search for secret lair of deep lurker in NE of level 3. Enter level 4 via stairs in SE."

    I'm not too sure if these would be sufficient. An RPG is more unsuitable to long interruptions than most games, due to the accumulation of quests, abilities, items and clues. Can anybody see some significant ways to improve this situation?

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    1. When you load a saved game in the later Dragon Quest games a narrator NPC or members of your party give a quick synopsis of what the player had recently accomplished and what they were now trying to do. Helps a bit even given the linearity of all the Dragon Quests.

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    2. Later Pokemon games have a similar mechanic. Although typically very linear, they don't give a lot of overt direction and your objectives are all over the place.

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    3. I'd mention that color-coded pushpins or highlights are an easy thing for the player to put on the map... but Chet doesn't exactly play well with those. I guess shapes, numbers, or letters would be the next best. It would also be convenient to, if you click on one of these pushpins, that it can cycle between all the maps you put the same kind on. So for example you can set a star on the location of a quest object then click on that star to show the map and location that the quest giver is on if you also put a star on top of that location.

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    4. I don't really think this is something developers need to solve. I feel like the amount of people who will return to an RPG of the size and openness that it's confusing multiple months later and just keep right on going is probably relatively low.

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    5. I agree that it's probably a bigger problem for me than for other players. I like the theme of Bitmap's comment, and some of the suggestions have promise, but a lot of them would also probably interfere with enjoyable gameplay, especially for players who don't have that problem. Frankly, it's probably on me to design a better system for myself so that I can pick up a game after a hiatus with a few notes. I guess a better mapping/questing/annotation system might help with that, but I'm not holding my breath for such a thing.

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    6. Personally, even a DQ-style "the Story So Far" system only helps a little. It is partially a matter of investment - I have a hard time mentally rejoining something in mid-stream. There's often too much other stuff involved as well - what sidequests I've done, collectibles, advancement options, etc- that is often not part of the log or else is still too much to jump back into.

      I restart games a lot.

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    7. Witcher 3 does the "the story so far" narration when you load the game. The problem is, it's frequently inaccurate as to what you're actually doing since they don't include the side quests.

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    8. I tend to prefer the early parts of CRPGs, so if I ever return to one I dropped a long while ago, it's probably going to be a restart.

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    9. Phantasy Star IV on the Mega Drive had a "Talk" menu command which would make the current party members discuss the current objective.

      Combine this with clearly marked key items that you cannot drop and you're most of the way there.

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    10. Planescape: Torment had the option to ask Morte about your current leads. This dries up about 1/3 through the game, from which point he'll give a generic "I don't know" type of response regardless of current events. Often what you'll need is refreshers on the plot rather than your specific objective, though.

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  14. It never occurred to me to squirrel stuff away in games like Fallout 3. I usually just drop heavy stuff at random when it gets too heavy, knowing that I'll find something else to replace it eventually.

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