Saturday, December 12, 2020

Legends of Valour: A Man of Means by No Means

My character very slowly works his way up in the world.
Legends of Valour does about as well as a 1992 game could do in simulating the experience of a hayseed in the big city, trying to solve a quest but also having to attend to the base levels of Maslow's hierarchy. The character needs to eat, drink, and sleep before he can find Sven, and to do that, he needs to work. If he brings a lot of money with him from home, he might be able to survive for a couple of weeks, but he won't be as prepared to deal with the threats of a semi-violent world. It's a great setup. Everything about this game has been great in setup.
Valour is somewhat realistic in its use of variables, too. Your need for sleep drops faster the longer it's been since you slept. Thirst drops more quickly than hunger. All of them deplete at a sensible rate, which means that you can survive for a night or two without sleep and a day or two without food. When it comes to replenishing those bars, this is a city, after all. Your biggest obstacle is more likely to be an inability to pay than an inability to find what you need.
An inability to digest most of the food is a secondary problem.
As I began this session, I was a bit fatigued and hungry from my first day, but nothing that was an emergency. I decided to leap right into my second quest for the Guild of Men at Arms, which required a contribution of 36 gold just to get the quest. The guildmaster told me to go find Orlak the Warrior at the Casino, and that he would give me my next task. I had to return to the guild within three days.
As usual, I began by asking NPCs where I might find the Casino. My cousin Sven had told me he'd leave word at the Troll's Arms, so I asked about that, too. I eventually learned that the Casino was 103 poles to the southwest and the Troll's Arms was 93 poles west. This took several conversations, because NPCs often claim not to know or say something unhelpful like "none of your business." This gets rather infuriating when it happens several times in a row. It can get extra frustrating because you usually have to ask multiple times: once to get the initial direction and rough distance, and at least one more time as you get closer to the location. At first, I had some fun recording the names and professions of each NPC: Akura of Sogu, a student surgeon; Zelig the Unfortunate, a retired builder; Denby of the Valkyries, a manic bear trainer; Conan of the Norns, a journeyman bear trainer; Elvis the Terrible, master of the marines. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter what their names and professions are because they're just interchangeable puppets offering directions (or not).
A bash a woman with my axe. She attacked first.
You occasionally find discarded items on the ground of the city, like potions, throwing daggers, or a few gold pieces. I developed a small inventory. You also get attacked occasionally, usually by someone who wanders up and delivers a stinging insult: "You remind me of a deranged boil"; "You look like a satyr's armpit"; "Your mother was a half-blown swamp leach." Fortunately, none of them have been very good. A couple of whacks of my axe, using any of the motions (although I gather that certain weapons and certain enemies respond better to certain attacks), was enough to kill them. They sometimes leave a few gold pieces when they die.
Some of this game's NPCs just look for trouble.
I found the Troll's Arms first, but it was closed, and it needs to be open to read the message boards. So I headed south until I found the Casino. Orlak greeted me the moment I walked in. He gave me the quest: go to the Mermaid's Rest and find the "salty captain." Follow him until he leads me to "contraband," then return the latter to the guild.
Finding the Mermaid's Rest wasn't hard. A few inquiries indicated that it was in the southeast corner of the city. The first NPC I spoke to inside was named "Captain Birdseye." I assumed he was the "salty captain." Problems began there. The game is not really well-designed for "following" an NPC, partly because NPCs cross the screen quickly, but it takes you 4 seconds to do a 180-degree turn, which is a lifetime when your quarry is scurrying down the street. NPCs enter and exit doors before you even notice what's happened. And if you're unlucky enough to lose one in a crowd, good luck picking him out among several identical-looking NPCs. Fortunately, I had met the captain in a tavern, and was thus able to save just before attempting the quest (you can only save in taverns, hostels, and inns), but I kept losing him on the street.
Thomas Crown'd again.
Ultimately, I solved the problem by just systematically exploring nearby houses until I found the one with the "contraband." I brought it back to the guild and was promoted to "trooper," which apparently entitles me to a wage. It was only 1 gold piece to start. I don't know if I get paid daily or weekly. The next promotion was going to cost me 48 gold, and I figured I needed to attend to some personal needs first, so I declined.
I had replenished my food and water meters in a couple of taverns, but my fatigue meter was getting dangerously low. I thus headed for a hostel near the entrance called The Traveler's Inn. I was dismayed to see that they charged per week, and the worst room cost 140 gold pieces, or about 30 more than I had at the time. They were even more expensive at the Dead Man's Inn, a hostel I'd noted near the Stone Circle.
Never stay in a motel with this name in real life.
I decided to see if I could get there through gambling. I'd previously tried my luck with a dice game at the Mermaid's Rest. Each die had only two symbols, and they seemed to have a 50% chance of coming up. You lose unless all three symbols are the same, which happens 25% of the time, at which point you get 4 gold pieces for the 1 that you bet. (Technically, the game doesn't take the 1 gold piece unless you lose, so you really only "get" 3, but the math works the same.) That means that the game has completely even odds.
Cockroach racing at the Hanged Man is more complicated. The amount you win ranges from 2 gold pieces to 11 gold pieces depending on which cockroach you bet on. The one with the least favorable odds (1:2) is the first one, but it almost always wins. Roach #4 is the underdog, but he pays 11:1. I tried to work out the win percentages of each roach, but the game would only let me bet about 10 times before the bartender announced that gambling was closed for the evening. I suspect the odds are about 1:1 for this game, too. Later, I found a three-card Monte game that also had 1:1 odds in the long run. I suspect that's going to be true of all of the city's gambling. Normally, in such situations, I'd try a Martingale strategy to ensure that I won repeatedly, but this game doesn't let you determine how much you bet. You can only bet 1 gold piece per round.
Nobody beats the Monte.
My character got so tired he passed out for a while, and when he woke up, he was so hungry and thirsty I needed to spend some immediate funds on sundries. Around this time, I remembered the game's "commodity" system, by which gold isn't the only type of wealth you carry. I had a couple of chunks of ore and a couple of hides from previous combats. I took them to the Customs House and sold them, and was thus able to afford a room for a week at The Traveler's Inn. When you rent a room in this game, you don't just rent a generic room. You choose specific one from a map. Each room has a container in it, where you can store excess money and goods, but I imagine you don't want to leave that container full when your rent runs out.
After 8 hours of sleep, my next priority was making sure I had enough money to afford to stay another week. The surest way to make money in this game seems to be taking odd jobs from message boards. I headed back over to the Customs House, where the current work notice said I should pick up a box at The Armoury and take it to The Thespians' Tavern (which, confusingly, is a hostel) for 24 gold pieces. During this mission, I noticed that my health was slipping for no apparent reason, so I ducked into the Temple of Aegir and saw the healer. "You have dehydration and combat injuries and weakness and vampirism and severe poisoning," he said. The cure would be 104 gold. I guess those random street combats aren't so harmless after all. I didn't have anywhere near that amount, so I reloaded to an earlier save that was hopefully before I had any of that stuff and repeated a lot of this session.
Making an honest living.
I spent the next few hours doing my best to put some money together. Five ways became apparent to me as I did so:
  • Odd jobs. They change almost every day, but they all involve picking up an item from one random place and taking it to a second random place. Doing a few of these helped me learn the layout of the city. Unfortunately, these missions are sometimes bugged, with the receiving location refusing to acknowledge the item when you arrive. Fortunately, you can usually just go sell the item in a shop if the recipient won't sign for it.
Unfortunately, I dropped it, I dropped it, yes, on the way I dropped it.
  • Killing and looting. The game is specifically designed not to allow you to get very rich doing this, but every time you slay someone, there's a chance he drops a few gold pieces, an item, or a weapon.
  • Scavenging. You can find some pretty valuable items just sitting on the street, including bundles of unidentified "treasure." Once I figured out how to sell items to shops (which unintuitively involves clicking on empty boxes in the shopkeeper's inventory), I made a decent amount of money on a few items. Even rocks will sell for 3 gold pieces.
A bar of gold just sits on the ground.
  • Commodities trading. I started recording the buying and selling prices of the various traders, and I identified a few places where I could buy low and sell high. Unfortunately, the traders don't often have a lot of an item in stock, so you can only buy a few things at a time.
I start an import/export business.
  • Stealing. Stealing is just like finding, except that the items are in houses.
At first, I tried to avoid stealing for role-playing reasons. But I kept running into situations where I needed to wait a few hours for one shop or another to open, so it naturally made sense to poke my head into random buildings while I was trying to kill time. Near the entrance to the city, one of these incursions got me a pair of "Seven League Boots," which appeared in my inventory as a magic item. They make movement a lot faster when I hold down the SPACE bar. Unfortunately, this increase in speed does not apply to turning. If the name sounds familiar, Seven-League Boots are common in European folklore and have previously appeared in Hellfire Warrior (1980) and Omega (1988).
Powerful magic items, just sitting around.
I figured that since I was now a full-blown thief, I might as well go grab those special gauntlets that I saw in The Armoury during my first session. They appeared in another "special effects" window, so I guess I was right the first time, and the one "armor" item is the only type of equipment you get.
These missions took me to a lot of taverns and shops with notice boards, so I got a lot more messages from Sven even though I lost the specific thread of which message was supposed to lead me to the next. The messages started indicating that Sven, though he may have started as an opportunist, was starting to take a more active role in city affairs. "The only way to bring order back to this town," one said, "is by gaining power in the guilds. If I'm arrested, you'll have to take my place." Another was more directly helpful: "You must become a high priest as well as a guild master. It's the only way."
The source of yet another Elder Scrolls trope.
My travels also took me to the Fellowship of the Asegeir, one of the magic guilds. I spontaneously decide to join, as I wanted to check out the spell system. The initiation quest asked me to recover the Potion of Judegment [sic] within two days. There was no more information, but fortunately the first NPC I stopped outside knew about it: "It was stolen from the guildhall by Aldic the Illusionist prior to being committed to the asylum."
Some random passer-by knows the whole story.
I found the asylum through the usual method of asking directions. I didn't find Aldic, but the potion was on a table in an empty cell. I returned it and became a "spellbrewer's assistant." I still need to join one of the temples, apparently. I did wander into the Temple of Odin, but they didn't like that I belonged to the Guild of Men at Arms. I can still try the Temple of Aegir or the Temple of Set. The Temple of Freya won't have me because I'm a male.
I wonder what would have happened if I'd drunk it.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Everything in town closes on Sunday.
  • There are a lot of special buildings that sound important but the game doesn't really do anything with them. The "theater" is just a large room leading to the Thespian's Tavern. The "Brewhouse" is completely empty. The asylum doesn't seem to have any patients. 
Maybe they haven't invented brewing yet.
  • I've found at least one "dungeon" entrance. It leads to something called the Labyrinth with a minotaur prowling the corridors. I suspect this is a quest, though, and I don't want to do it prematurely. I took some shots and reloaded. 
This is not a game that fills me with confidence that they've anticipated players doing things out-of-order.
  • Towards the end of the session, the Temple of Odin told me that I had mild poisoning. I don't know how this keeps happening.
  • When you first load a game, the meters are all wrong. They're set for the default character. You have to immediately load the game again to see them for your character.
  • Some of the shops have a picture of me on a poster that says "Wanted: for crimes against the state." I don't know if this is a joke or if I'm in honest trouble. Maybe I shouldn't have taken those boots.
How does a medieval society reproduce color graphics with such fidelity?
Messages come and go too fast. It doesn't help that the game regards every keypress as an acknowledgement of the message. I had to turn off CTRL's mapping in DOSBox because every time I went to take a screen shot (CTRL-F5), I would accidentally acknowledge and dismiss the message I was trying to capture.
I still like the setup of Legends of Valour, but I'm starting to see through it. It appears that the developers populated this map with a lot of buildings but then didn't stock them with anyone or anything very interesting. When all NPCs are procedurally-generated and none are special, exploration becomes boring quite fast.
I'm also concerned that the manual has outright lied about both inventory and skills. The only "character sheet" that the game offers shows only your status in the various guilds. It does not offer a place to change armor, and none of the shops I've visited so far have sold any armor. Worse, I don't have a lot of confidence that the game really has any skills. If it does, they're hidden behind the scenes with no way to track them, and I doubt they actually improve through use. That means the game isn't even really an RPG by my definitions (though I admit it's hard to identify another genre it belongs to). It's as if all the development money went to the open world and continuous movement, and there wasn't anything left for decent RPG elements.
I want to see how the spell system works, so my next goal is to save up enough money to buy spells in the guild. We'll see how it continues to develop.
Time so far: 10 hours


  1. I have no experience with this game, but your constant poisoning jumps out at me.

    Is it possible that you're being poisoned by bad food?

    1. I mean he is eating bug burgers after all...

    2. That's what I was thinking, too. And those "bugs" look suspiciously spider-y to me...

  2. I'm curious what the main quest is, or if there even really is one. It seems entirely possible that you never find Sven at all, and his notes guide you through most or all of the game.

    Arena is seeming less "inspired by" this game and more of a direct homage. The method of getting directions to different businesses is especially familiar. I wonder if NPCs will mark the building on your map if you ask them enough times?

  3. Sven sounds like the Elizabeth and Abraham of this game.

    1. Or the princess who's always in another castle.

    2. My money is on Sven already being dead before the game starts, and/or turning out to be the main villain manipulating the hero.

    3. Or he turned his excessive writing and bar-hopping into a career as a professional novelist.

  4. I used to salivate over the screenshots of this game. Probably for the best I never got it, since it would have been the Amiga 500 version!

  5. Wow. It's been a long time since I heard that song. Roger Miller's: King of the Road. Going off memory to see how bad I can butcher it:
    "Rooms that let for 50 cents. No phone, no pool, no pets. I ain't got no cigarettes.... Two hours of pushing broom, nets a 8 by 12 [poor lit]? room.... I'm a man of means by no means, King of the Road"

    1. Solid! It's a "four-bit" room, I think --- another way of saying "fifty cents." They must have been some pretty basic accommodations indeed.

      The song would make a passable basis for some kind of RPG or sim game, I think, especially if the world is built out with ideas from Miller's other hits. "Chug-a-Lug" for a saloon mini-game, etc...

    2. You forgot the best part--the first two lines of the second stanza.

    3. I've read too much Stephen King to want to go anywhere near Maine.

      King Of The Road is a great song. Good lyrics and a strong dynamic - I think it could be a hit!

    4. Stephen King has to be Maine's worst publicist. We have the lowest violent crime rate in the nation, and yet he manages to make it seem like you wouldn't survive a night here.

    5. And thanks to you that song has kept popping into my brain for the last two days!!

    6. Angela Lansbury has got to be Maine's worst publicist, every single resident in Cabot Cove has been directly affected by murder in one way or another.

  6. I live how Sven just leaves these messages for you on random billboards. What keeps other people from reading them?
    Maybe they aren't real? Like Tyler Durden in "Fight Club"?

  7. I think it’s hilarious that the main character is a muscle bound Conan Fantasy-type and everyone else looks like they work for Dunder Mifflin.

  8. The way fatigue, hunger, thirst, disease, poisoning, and poverty all work together, is it possible to get into an inescapable downward spiral that no amount of clever gameplay can climb you back out of? It appears to take a remarkable amount of effort just to exist.

    1. Kinda like real life!

      I was going to say!

      No doubt somewhere in the game there's a magical bootstrap, fabled by legend to allow the bearer to teleport themselves out of any difficulty, if only they pull hard enough. Problem is, the item will only teleport you to the exact same place you already were...

    2. Yes, but only if you did something stupid, like only use one save slot and then save when you're on the brink of death. Otherwise, it's easy enough to make a few gold pieces to afford food and drink, which keeps you out of immediate danger. You can break into an empty house to rest. The harder part is getting healed of all your conditions, but I think that might be a lot cheaper if you join the temple.

    3. You need to invest in ye olde health insurance

    4. You need to invest in ye olde health insurance

      "Thy claim hath verily been denied on the grounds of:

      Condition that doth exist in prior manner - Original Sin"

  9. You can get vampirism just by engaging in street combat? These are some hillbilly vampires.

    Did non-Christian cultures have Sundays off? Especially Nordic ones.

    Also you or someone else, please, PLEASE take a picture of the King and Jack cards. Those Queen and Joker cards are so cloyingly sassy.

    1. Someone could have bitten the character when he fainted

    2. Why do you consider Nordic cultures non-Christian? They were Christianized like the rest of Europe in the middle ages and they do have free Sundays.

    3. I think he meant pre-Christian Nordic cultures. And some things do work on Sundays in the Nordics (i.e. supermarkets and some bigger stores), it's nowhere near the German Sunday madness.

    4. Probably considered the culture represented here as pre-Christian Nordic because of the Norse gods mentioned for some of those temples (although, oddly with at least one Egyptian god thrown into the mix).

    5. Yeah, that's why I asked.

      Stmp, you've given me the mental image of a vampire trying to drink off someone who's fainted in the street but yuck, he tastes awful due to being drunk! I wonder if any vampire literature has addressed how someone's blood alcohol level affects feeding off of them. A vampire "pub crawl" where one can just get drunk for free off of drunk people's blood at bars sounds like something out of Discworld.

    6. buffy and angel tv shows addressed vampires feeding off drug users deliberately to get high or sometimes accidentally

  10. This definately feels like far more of a fantasy city life sim than an RPG. It seems interesting, but it also sounds kinda half baked, which is a shame because the idea of a fantasy city life sim is one that could definately make a good game.

    1. One of the best Skyrim playthroughs I ever saw was some dude roleplaying a townsman who did town stuff. Had to eat meals, work a job, etc. None of that dangerous adventuring!

    2. Then he took an arrow in the knee and was unable do his day job, so he became a bandit (as they call NPC adventurers).

  11. Sounds like it should score decently for economy at least.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. It really drives the game.

    2. it could fall apart in the end game if you get more and more pay but then again, it would be easier to focus on finishing quests quickly if you have a decent salary.

  12. Iirc, the card game has a tell on the back design. Though that might only be in the Amiga version?

  13. It appears that the developers populated this map with a lot of buildings but then didn't stock them with anyone or anything very interesting. When all NPCs are procedurally-generated and none are special, exploration becomes boring quite fast.

    This happened SO MANY TIMES in this era. I am forced to conclude that they started with grand plans of having the biggenist game ever. Then, when they had to actually do the work, they found they didn't feel like doing it. Work is hard! Instead, just whip up a script to procedurally generate NPCs and quests, and grab dialog from a file you sentenced the intern to write. Done, ship it. What, some of the quests are unfinishable? Hey, that's what you get for being fooled by us into playing our crappy game. Onward to the next project...hey, I've got an idea. Wouldn't it be cool if we made the biggenest game ever?

    1. I've always been under the assumption these sorts of games ran into deadline or budget issues, as opposed to sheer laziness from the devs. Hell, releasing unfinished games because of running into those issues still happens, it's just that now patching games is normal

    2. It's frequently the case that doing something impressive at a large scale is more likely to sell your game than doing a lot of routine things competently - particularly in the era of games that this comes from.

      If I'd been aware of this game in the day, I would *definitely* have wanted to buy a game with this many NPCs, randomly generated or otherwise.

      Richard Molyneux and Bullfrog/Lionhead basically built their entire career on this idea - big ambitions, big promises, a couple of neat mechanics, and a giant mess all around them.

    3. Adults can make plans and execute them. We see it all over the place in our culture. Deadline or budget issues are excuses, they had time to put in the parts of the game they wanted to put in. It's not laziness as such, but rather a disinclination to doing the hard work of finishing a project and the wish to discard it and do the exciting work of starting a new one.

    4. Trying radically new approaches as a developer often runs into this sort of problem. And in my experience, the delimiting factor in fixing the fallout of such design problems is definitely not laziness, but lack of money and/or time. At larger companies, that's often represented in unrealistic deadlines; at smaller companies, that's biting off more than they can chew and releasing to market because they simply don't have more resources to expend. This seems more likely the latter, and so a flawed experiment that led to better efforts at balancing procedural vs hand-crafted design elsewhere.

    5. Molyneux' early games Populous and Powermonger were pretty great. It was after that that the over-promising started, and only got worse over time.

    6. Doing novel creative work and sticking carefully to a schedule and budget require different skillsets that are naturally somewhat at odds with each other. People who are able to effectively manage a creative staff in a way that maintains an adequate balance are rare. It's a quality of many great film directors, for instance.

      This game was developed in an era when game development was still largely treated as a special case of software engineering. One of the credited game designers is also a credited programmer; the other is a credited artist. The industry hadn't yet developed the big innovation that allowed games to increase in actual scope (taking density into account), which was the development of multi-purpose game engines with standardized tooling. This enabled the massive, specialized "assembly line" game studios we see today. The development of games has been professionalized. Of course, this also means that games cost much more to make, which means they have to be designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, which tends to mean simpler and easier.

      On the other hand, maybe market forces don't actually matter, and games are late or bad or incomplete because of a lack of Pure Strength of Heroic Will. That's a more fun explanation, because it means that you can call people lazy idiots.

    7. Harland,

      While not setting deadlines can make a great game (like some early Blizzard titles), it's also not making money. Many games have been unfinished because the company went bankrupt due to not having a product. Or the game is rushed in order to simply have a product.

      Plus, the corporations will often insist on advertising and releasing a game at certain times, like Christmas. Even if the game still needs work. This has also lead to incomplete games. Especially since games can now be patched later.

      This corporate stance has lead to more games being released, but often inferior ones.

    8. A lot of crowdfunded projects have gone either belly-up, been half-finished, or switched focus mid-development.

      Project management is hard, no matter how dedicated and competent the team, and unforeseeable hurdles happen.

    9. It doesn’t help that coding is inherently complicated and notoriously hard to foresee how long things will take to implement. You’re dealing with complex systems which can interact with each other to cause logical bugs, even before you add in human error. Plus gameplay ideas might read good on paper but then be underwhelming when actually implemented. With this game it looks like they put these systems in place to make a virtual world but without really thinking what would be fun and what the greater point is. Ultima Underworld was more the opposite where the gameplay elements were developed in tandem with the virtual world which means you might have a less complex world going on, but interacting with it is fun and makes sense as part of the greater gameplay. All the choices made are in service to giving the player interesting and meaningful things to do. Something a lot of developers don’t put enough thought into.

    10. "because it means that you can call people lazy idiots."

      Please point out the part where I did that. I didn't. You imagined I did, now you're unloading on me for something I didn't say. I literally said it's not laziness. Man, what a world. I have to learn how to use this new super-power to compel people to hallucinate in my real life. I wonder what my superhero name will be.

      Other industries seem to do just fine. Including those that do novel creative work. They make money, too.

      Here's a rundown of a major title this year, The Last of Us Part II and they're still doing the same thing. Having a blast starting, and being disinclined to finish. The article is about overwork, but if you read it carefully you can detect the theme over and over:

      "A dramatic reboot midway through development"

      "And it’s always difficult to resist the urge to add good ideas as they come up throughout production."

      "Every day, the game grew bigger"

      "What they probably underestimate is that when you work for two to three years on a game, you want to change things sometimes because you’ve seen them for a year"

      All of these statements support the assertion that they like starting things and are not inclined to finish them.

      "nobody is there to keep the developers of The Last of Us II communicating or stop them from changing things for the sake of change."

    11. It does seem to me that there's something wrong in the gaming industry that isn't wrong in, say, the film industry. I can't imagine that making films is that much easier than making games, and yet we don't see the same industry-wide systemic delays in Hollywood that we do among game developers.

      I need to research more about the business, because I don't understand why the game industry doesn't seem to have the equivalent of, say, Walt Disney Studios--a massive outfit that employs thousands of people and can reliably turn out at least several crowd-pleasers per year without missing six target dates first. I don't understand how Bethesda can make a billion dollars on Skyrim and yet not manage to get a sequel finished in 10 years.

      The other day, I wanted to download and play something on the console. I was in the mood for a cookie-cutter western fantasy RPG. I searched MobyGames for Xbox One releases for the last 3 years and couldn't find a single thing that a) wasn't questionable as an RPG in the first place; b) didn't have an anime teenaged girl on the cover; and c) didn't seem like a poorly-ported PC game (I came close to trying Pillars of Eternity but for the reviews). That really makes me think something is fundamentally broken with the industry.

    12. I don't understand how Bethesda can make a billion dollars on Skyrim and yet not manage to get a sequel finished in 10 years.

      Please don't encourage them, I might need another ten years to finish my Skyrim playthrough!

      I came close to trying Pillars of Eternity but for the reviews

      Aw :( I liked Pillars of Eternity, but the final Act was clearly rushed. It's cousin, Tyranny, is a better game than PoE, but even more unfinished and rushed. Shame all around. I haven't tried PoE II yet though.

    13. It strikes me that the games industry is doing precisely that (having the equivalent of Disney churning out crowd-pleasers, or at least games that sell well), BUT these studios are mainly making (1) casual games, (2) sports games, and (3) first-person shooters; not RPGs.

      Like, if I google up best selling games of 2019, I end up with five FPS, two sports titles, and some miscellaneous franchies. And all from familiar-sounding big studios.

      So maybe you'd have to do research why those studios aren't making RPGs.

    14. I feel like the big reason RPGs seem to take forever and a day to come out is that a lot of the non-JRPG big name ones are open world games, and filling an open world with content takes time, especially if you don't want to have a ton of it be procedurally generated. Add in most game companies working on more than one thing at once, and it gets easier to see why these games take forever to come out

    15. "I came close to trying Pillars of Eternity but for the reviews."

      I assume you mean reviews of the Xbox port? That game and its sequel are pretty close to flawless recreations of the Infinity Engine 'feel', and both (2 more so than 1) found interesting things to say as stories, I think. Highly recommend.

    16. Yes, reviews of the Xbox port. I'll eventually try the PC version, but I was looking for something I could doze off to while playing on the couch.

    17. "I need to research more about the business, because I don't understand why the game industry doesn't seem to have the equivalent of, say, Walt Disney Studios--a massive outfit that employs thousands of people and can reliably turn out at least several crowd-pleasers per year without missing six target dates first."

      There are a few examples of that in the industry.

      Ubisoft has been churning Assassin's Creed games to the rythm of one each year or two, for the last 10+ years, using multiple development teams in different locations. Usually it has at least 1 or 2 major releases from other IPs every year.

      Activision with Call of Duty, has been releasing a new title each year like clockwork.

      EA has been doing the same for decades with its sports games.

      The closest thing to your example is maybe Sony, which through its first party studios or agreements with third parties, usually manages to release 2/3 major AAA platform exclusives each year.

    18. "I have to learn how to use this new super-power to compel people to hallucinate in my real life. I wonder what my superhero name will be."

      That sounds like a supervillain, not a superhero.

  14. "It does seem to me that there's something wrong in the gaming industry that isn't wrong in, say, the film industry. I can't imagine that making films is that much easier than making games, and yet we don't see the same industry-wide systemic delays in Hollywood that we do among game developers."

    The fundamental difference between movies and games is that even the most linear game has an uncertainty due to player action that no movie has. A film is by definition a fixed sequence from a fixed viewpoint.

    Even a simple "run down the corridor and shoot everything in sight" game isn't that restricted. They don't know what you're going to shoot in what order, and any kind of monster AI means that the position of the enemies will not be fixed.

    Expand that to even a basic RPG, and the variables you have to account for (and thus the potential bugs and conflicts) expands dramatically. Make it open world, and you're basically making a hundred or a thousand films at once.

    There is the fundamental issue of game developers having a really awful view toward labor, exacerbated by an endless pool of recruits who think that game development is their dream job. That doesn't change the fact that the very nature of the business means unique challenges.

    1. All good points, but to add to that last one: when your business model is to churn through and burn out new developers on the regular, it's probably going to cause a loss of quite a bit of institutional experience that could go towards fixing some of the common problems that game releases experience. Film, by comparison, probably due to extensive unionization, doesn't seem to have the same problem.

    2. I think another element overlooked here may simply also be just the differences in the means by which game and movie studios interact with the public. From what I recall, for the most part, it's pretty rare that films even have a release date *set* before they are more or less complete. Even so, there are a couple big high-profile films that have been perennially delayed (Avatar 2, for instance).

      I think Bruce makes a very good point re: the extensive unionization of the film industry as well.

  15. " I was in the mood for a cookie-cutter western fantasy RPG. I searched MobyGames for Xbox One releases for the last 3 years and couldn't find a single thing that a) wasn't questionable as an RPG in the first place; b) didn't have an anime teenaged girl on the cover; and c) didn't seem like a poorly-ported PC game"

    These are very high requirements, unfortunately.

    If you waive the "3 years" one, my main suggestion would be Divinity: Original Sin. Although developed on PC, its combat is strictly turn-based, so playing with a controller should not be terrible.

    In general, most of classically inspired RPGs that came out in the last few years are "indie" games coming out of kickstarter or early access on PC.

    If you waive the "Fantasy" requirement, you could do worse than "Outer Worlds" from last year, given how much it is inspired to Fallout.

    The newly released Cyberpunk 2077 is amazing on PC, but apparently an hot mess on consoles.

    1. Those anime girls are getting old.

    2. That would make them anime women.

  16. I loved this game when I played it back in the day. The promise of having the freedom to wander around a big, fantasy city living another life was just amazing for the time. Never really lived up to its promise, but I still have fond memories of it. I must have spent weeks and weeks just wandering around Mitteldorf, filling in the map, avoiding the city guard, drinking in the taverns, occassionally doing a quest or two. I played it again a year or two ago and it was like returning to a place of my childhood.

    That said, it is a deeply flawed game - unfinished really. I think you're right about it not meeting your criteria for an RPG, though I really want you to keep playing it.

    As far as I can tell, the stats you roll at the start of the game have no bearing on the game itself, and they don't improve. You can pay to train in combat levels, and that does make fighting easier, plus advancing in the temples or mages guilds will give you new spells, but there's no levelling as such. Same with the armour. There is none to buy, and I am unconvinced the stuff you buy at the start of the game has any impact on combat within the game itself.

    There is a main quest though.

    Also, I know you prefer keyboard to mouse, but the button in the bottom-left of the panel of movement buttons makes you do a 180 turn, which is handy for following people.

  17. "The other day, I wanted to download and play something on the console. I was in the mood for a cookie-cutter western fantasy RPG. I searched MobyGames for Xbox One releases for the last 3 years and couldn't find a single thing that a) wasn't questionable as an RPG in the first place; b) didn't have an anime teenaged girl on the cover; and c) didn't seem like a poorly-ported PC game (I came close to trying Pillars of Eternity but for the reviews). That really makes me think something is fundamentally broken with the industry."

    At the risk of sounding like I'm ragging on Skyrim too much, I think Skyrim is incidentally responsible for this in a lot of ways - not because of any intentional action on Bethesda's part, but because Skyrim was such a bold statement of what a "western RPG" *could* be, wide swaths of the market - notably including all the PR people and investors - expect everything to be "the next Skyrim" and so you frequently see western RPGs getting savaged by critics and fans alike for not being enough of an open world sandbox. Heck, when you filter out all the news about Cyberpunk 2077's terrible console port problems or wacky bugs, one of the enduring complaints I see about its actual substance is that it isn't cyberpunk Skyrim.

    We're only barely starting to see the first hints of a resurgence in turn-based western RPGs over the last couple of years or so, with releases such as the Divinity games, Pathfinder: Kingmaker (which was originally RTWP like the Infinity Engine but added a turn-based mode option in its enhanced edition release), and Solasta: Crown of the Magister (an early-access release that isn't actually finished yet), but most of these games are primarily targeted at the PC market.

  18. I'm thinking this revival will probably fizzle, Microsoft (the company behind Xbox) recently bought Beteshda after all (and already own the company behind Pillars). One possible alternative for old school crpg gamers might be solitaire roleplaying, but it does need some imagination (and also discipline and structure).

    1. Wait, did you seriously just explain to us who Microsoft are? :D

  19. It seems to me that a Manic Bear Trainer might not last long... I don't know if that is the best character trait for that profession.

  20. " I was in the mood for a cookie-cutter western fantasy RPG. I searched MobyGames for Xbox One releases for the last 3 years and couldn't find a single thing that a) wasn't questionable as an RPG in the first place; b) didn't have an anime teenaged girl on the cover; and c) didn't seem like a poorly-ported PC game"

    You want Operencia: The Stolen Sun.

  21. In your first article about this game, P-7ux commented that "That first NPC portrait when you commented on their digitization, that looks like Patrick Stewart. He'll truly sell out to anyone, won't he?"

    I also noticed the resemblance to Patrick Stewart, and I was almost sure that the image was taken from "The Next Generation". Looking through "Captain Picard memes", I found this image, which seems to be from the same scene from which the digitized image was taken.

    1. I don't know, man. The hand is in a different position and I don't think the face looks much like Patrick Stewart. I think more likely all the NPCs in the game are digitizations of members of the production team and/or people they knew. I haven't seen anyone else who looks like a celebrity.

  22. Chet, I am curious as to how you determine your play-through approach to open ended games. I see a clear distinction between this one and how you approached Ultima 7. In the latter, you did not seem to care about following the main quest and doing things out of order, but in this one you mentioned you don't want to risk it.

    Nothing wrong with any approach, in my mind, but I am just curious as to what makes you take one path or the other (I tried to figure that out by going back to Ultima 7 and reading it again, but I am unable to come to a doubtless conclusion).

    1. That's a good question, and maybe worthy of a topic by itself. I think it comes down to the level of trust I have with the game and its developers. That trust comes from experience with the same developers in other games or, in the case of U7, the same game (I had played it before). I knew that Origin developers were experts in open-world game design and probably would find ways to reward nonlinear exploration. I didn't have that level of trust with a new developer, particularly a British one.

    2. That's funny, because from a technical standpoint you got it exactly backwards. Ultima 7 keeps so much information about the state of the world, and is so buggy about it, that it's a miracle it can be completed at all if you deviate even slightly from the intended order of doing things. (Remember how you complained that quest items exist statically in the world from the beginning instead of being placed there dynamically based on your progress; I suspect the developers wanted to do the latter but couldn't make it work reliably because of all the bugs in the game engine.) In contrast to that, LoV keeps so little information about the state of the world that I don't think it's even possible to get into an unwinnable situation. And when I say little, I mean absurdly little. Suppose you enter a dungeon room with a troll in it, kill the troll, and exit the room. The game immediately forgets that happened, so you can enter the room again and kill the exact same troll again; the game forgets it again as soon as you leave the room. You can repeat this indefinitely, though I don't know why you would want to; it's not like you get rewarded with XP or anything.

    3. Yeah, I'm not claiming that I was right, just what my thinking was. Breaking the main quest is a bit of a different issue, though. U7 DOES reward random exploration and LoV doesn't.


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