Monday, June 21, 2021

Abandoned Places 2: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

 
The book closes on another chapter.
       
Abandoned Places 2
Hungary
ArtGame (developer); International Computer Entertainment (publisher)
Released in 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 22 May 2021
Date Ended: 15 June 2021
Total Hours: 50
Difficulty: Hard-Very Hard (4.5/5)
Final Rating: 26
Ranking at Time of Posting: 203/428 (47%)
      
Imagine this. The only way down from one level to the next is a pit. You enter. You wait a couple minutes for the next level to load. When it does, it turns out you've been dropped into a lake of fire. You're not worried at first. Your characters have enough health that they can survive quite a while in fire. You've done it before. Plus, by now you have "Restore Party," a healing spell that brings everyone back up to their maximums. You've got this.
   
Except as you run around, you can't find any way out of the fire. There's a wall in every direction. The room is a huge 11 x 11, and there's nothing but fire everywhere you go. As for all that healing, it turns out that the area is anti-magic. You can't cast any spells. You can't even "Levitate" yourself up to the previous level.
       
How's your day going?
       
Hopefully, you saved just before you dropped down into the room. Either way, you have to reload. You're experienced with this game by now--you know its deal. One of those wall squares is going to have a button that opens the way out, or the way out is going to be an illusory wall. Either way, you have to face and test each of 44 wall squares to be sure. That's going to take a lot of reloads, and because only a lunatic saves in the middle of a lake of fire, you're probably going to have to reload on the previous level, drop down, and wait for the fire level to load again. That's a good six or seven minutes each time.
    
You persevere, and you eventually find a button on one of the south walls. Maybe you get lucky and find it early. You're home free. But after you push the button, you run around looking for the exit you presumed it opened, and you find nothing. (Remember, your characters are burning to death this entire time.) See, it turns out that the button changed one of the walls to an illusory wall, so now you can walk through it. Even if you intuit this answer, you still have to now check all 44 squares after pressing the button.
       
This has nothing to do with this section, but one level had enemies who walked on the ceiling.
      
Eventually, you find the right wall, four squares to the right of the button. Hopefully you adopted a rightmost search pattern. The corridor beyond is clear of fire, so you step in, looking forward to healing and saving. But the moment you step into the corridor, the square you stepped on erupts into fire. You step forward, but so does the next one. And the next. And so it continues for the next 47 squares. Every one you step in becomes a fire square. And you still can't cast any spells! There's no way out of this corridor that doesn't turn into fire the moment you step into it.
   
So after multiple more reloads, you start searching for more buttons and secret doors. You start at the exit to the original room and work your way along, taking damage the entire time. You can't last long enough in the fire to look at and test many walls, so you have to remember where you died and rush to that location the next time you reload. After you've tested 30 wall squares (if you're doing one side; 60 if you're doing both), you suddenly realize you're back in the original room. What the hell? It turns out that a spinner turned you around at square #15. You've been wasting time ever since then.
        
It's a different corridor, but I thought these demons were graphically well done.
         
Finally, at square # 32--if you avoided the other two spinners along the way--you find a secret door that lets you out of the fire corridor and into a place where you can cast a healing spell. You'll immediately be in combat with some demons, but that's a cakewalk compared to this nightmare. You've had to reload, I would estimate, between 12 and 20 times. If you're still having "fun," this is exactly your sort of game.
   
That level is the third-to-last in the game, and the 11th from the surface in the second dungeon. I had just finished going through the previous 10 levels using Ringo's maps. I thought I would map the last three myself. That resolve didn't last more than two or three reloads from the lake of fire. Even using Ringo's map, it still took me a couple of tries to get out of there. I have never encountered a more hateful dungeon level. Writing that, I got the sense that I had said it before, so I Googled the phrase, and it turns out I used it in relation to one of the late dungeons in the first Abandoned Places. The authors really know how to go with a theme.
   
But for raw, unbridled hate towards the player, the first Abandoned Places has nothing on this one. Consider three other elements equally as bad as the experience I described above:
   
1. Invisible buttons. We've seen plenty of examples of very-hard-to-see buttons in Dungeon Master clones. Eye of the Beholder had some. This game has had plenty. I've often called them out. But this is the first game I've ever experienced in which the buttons are literally invisible--completely indistinguishable from anything else on the wall texture, or from other walls without buttons. The game's justification for this madness is that your cursor changes when you hover it over the button. So not only do you have to turn and face every wall, you have to comprehensively scan it with the cursor (and even then, it's easy to miss one).
      
There is a button in the middle of this wall.
      
2. Keys hidden in fire. Most levels in Abandoned Places 2 require you to find a limited set of keys before moving on. Sometimes these keys are in chests; sometimes they're dropped by enemies; sometimes they're just on the floor. And occasionally--three times, if I recall correctly--they're on the floor in a square that's on fire. You cannot see the key amidst the fire. The only way to find it is to click around until your cursor grabs it. Items dropped in squares can be in any of the four corners, only two of which you can see from any vantage, so not only do you have to click around, you have to click around twice from opposite directions. In every fire square. It's safe to say that without Ringo's maps, it never even would have occurred to me to click around fire squares looking for objects.
      
3. Weapons that do no damage. You get no feedback from the game when it comes to damage done to enemies, and there is no statistic in the character sheet indicating your attack strength. The only way you can tell that a weapon isn't doing any damage is that you're not earning any experience from your physical attacks. And these cursed weapons generally sound like something good, like "Mace of Might" or "Sword of Power." There are suits of armor that have the same problem, but at least in the case of those, you can see that your armor class hasn't gone anywhere.
      
Plate mail that offers no defense.
       
Those are just the three worst things. On top of that, you have anti-magic squares, one-way doors (pity the player who saves on the wrong side), invisible pressure plates, and an utterly pointless economy, and it's amazing that more then one person said, "Yes, let's sell this to actual people." Even Ringo, whose maps are otherwise as complete as any I've seen, couldn't figure it out in places. He had to consult a "Polish guide," and bóg knows what lunatic put that together. I owe him a drink.
    
The game turns out to have only three dungeons: the two-level starter dungeon, the nine-level dwarven mines, and the 13-level "tower" (which goes down) that concludes the game. All maps are 30 x 30 except for three levels of the final dungeon in which the corners were cut off to make more of a circle. The final dungeon is no different than the previous ones in that it has several sections--four, specifically--each with its own textures and enemies. Each level has only two types of enemies, including the last, where one of the foes found on earlier levels of the same texture disappears to make way for the final boss.
   
Enemies got harder in the last two sections, as they were capable of casting spells. One of their spells was "Fireball," which hurls a fireball at the party until it hits, then creates a fire square that lasts for a few minutes. I not only had the same spell, it turns out the Dobelal Shield (which I found at the end of the last session) casts them infinitely, so most of the combats towards the end of the game occurred with both sides standing in fire. But my necromancer got "Restore Party" early in the final session, and then "Resurrect" in case I didn't cast it fast enough. He was never really in danger of running out of necromancy spell points, so the only time I had trouble is when combats took place in anti-magic squares. Even then, it was usually just a matter of running back until I was out of the zone. This is not a game in which monsters are the true enemy.
       
A typical late-game combat begins with setting everyone on fire.
       
I don't want to leave the impression that the navigation puzzles were all awful. There was one level in the final dungeon in which casting spells in empty corridors opened the way to new areas; you have to figure out the right spell from various clues. But aside from that one level, even when the puzzles were fair, they were always a bit boring. You weigh down a pressure plate or hit a button and run around trying to figure out what it did. People forget that Dungeon Master wasn't just a bunch of switches and plates. It had teleporters into which you had to throw items so they would weigh down pressure plates in their destination squares. It had pressure plates that you could only weigh down with monsters, forcing you to lure them into cells and lock the door behind them. It had alcoves into which you had to stick various objects based on clues. It had, in short, the sorts of puzzles that you felt really accomplished for figuring out. Abandoned Places' puzzles are more rote.
     
Ringo's map of the game's final level.
       
The final level of the game begins at the bottom of the stairs from the previous level. There's a short corridor and then more stairs. (This is in the northwest of the map above.) The game does this a lot. Even though you're going down stairs, you're still on the same level; you can tell because real level changes take a few minutes to load. At the bottom of the second set of stairs (at the far south-center of the map above), you're greeted by a horde of blue lizardmen--so many that the number overwhelms the default system's memory and causes many of your clicks not to register, particularly when they start spamming fireballs. But what would have been a memorably difficult combat is rendered trivial (if long) by the fact that they can't advance into the corridor you come from, so all you have to do is pop into their area, launch a few fireballs of your own, and step back into the corridor while they burn. When the spell runs out, you can just step out and do it again. It takes a while, but it's not like there aren't other things to do in the meantime.
       
The welcoming committee on the last level.
        
The lizardman area delivers constant damage to the party while they stand it. I have no idea why. It's just one of those things. So in your haste to hustle through it, you might miss the illusory walls at the north end of the area, where you have to find a button to open the door that allows you to move on. From there, you find yourself in a long corridor. It wraps halfway around the bottom of the map, then all the way up the right side, then halfway along the top. Offensive spells fly continually down this corridor, damaging the party. No problem--you just keep up with "Restore Party."
    
A room off this corridor has a locked door that can be opened with a glass key that you find on the previous level. It has more combats with lizardmen. One of them drops the sentient sword Kuhalk. It's the best weapon in the game. When you grab it, Kuhalk speaks in your mind, alerting you that Pendugmalhe is working on a spell that will destroy your party, and that you need to hurry.
          
"¡Oye, espada! ¿Hablas español?"
     
In my first attempt at this level, I continued along the corridor until it dead-ended at the north end of the map. Near the dead-end, I found a button. It wasn't clear what it did at first, but it turned out to open an illusory wall to a door that required a key. I didn't have another key. I turned around to explore my backpath, but it turned out that button had closed the path behind me. I was stuck. Fortunately, I had saved, but my saved game was from before the battle with the lizardmen. I had to reload and fight that again.
 
The key you need is back in the small hallway between the two staircases, behind a section of wall that only opens when you step on some square--I have no idea which one--in the early part of the level. I probably wouldn't have found that without Ringo's map; it wouldn't have occurred to me to go back to that corridor between the stairs.
   
The second door opens into a very large area full of lizardmen and fire squares. The fire squares form a demonic face when viewed from a map. Pendugmalhe--a tall, hunched, blue demon with a staff--is in the southeast corner of this area, but you have to fight through another army of lizardmen to reach him. The game has a couple of final "screw yous" here. First, the door closes behind you as you enter, so you're trapped. Second, almost all of this 17 x 27 area is anti-magic. I only found a couple of squares where you can cast spells, and Pendugmalhe doesn't come anywhere near any of them. Thus, no matter how much you've built up your spellcasters, you have to face the big boss in melee combat only.
         
This looks less like an evil demon lord and more like an evil demon lord's dumb henchman.
      
I fought both the lizardmen and Pendugmalhe the same way: fight until my characters' health got too low, retreat to one of the spellcasting squares to cast "Restore Party," and return. It only took me about four rounds of this to kill Pendugmalhe.
  
The game goes on pointlessly after he dies. One of the squares in this final area--again, I have no idea which one--lowers a pillar that has a secret door behind it. So you have to run around to all the squares, notice that the pillar has dropped, and then test the walls for secret doors. My idea of a fun time. While I was trying to figure this out (Ringo hadn't figure it out, either, and thus his map didn't annotate the crucial square), I found a teleporter that took me to a small area with two chests and a torch. Ringo's map annotates both chests as simply "locked," indicating he hadn't been able to get them open. Indeed, none of my keys would open them. It turns out that, nonsensically, the torch opens the chests, but only one of them. The chests are full of the major quest and magic items in the game, including other copies of the Dobelal Shield and the sword Kuhalk, as much sense as that makes.
       
So much for this being a unique artifact.
     
Once you find the way out of the final area, you have to fight more lizardmen in a final set of corridors. There are numerous chests in this area, heaped with riches and powerful magic items. Not only do you have no need of them, but you would have had no need of them throughout the rest of the game (see "economy" below). So although a couple of messages seemed to be warning me about something (Kuhalk says, "Beware; wealth could kill everyone . . ."), I didn't need the warning.
     
The final square has a few final items and a scroll. Picking up the scroll, I got a message that read:
     
The evil is forced to go back where it belongs -- back to Hell. But the scroll that would have allowed you to go back swiftly to your plane has lost forever. Suddenly the Master appears in front of you. You have no idea where he came from, but you know it is him. "You can destroy the evil several times, but it will reappear in different forms again, somewhere else. You have to fight the evil wherever it is, but you made the first step towards our final aim: to destroy its plane, and its very source of existence forever."
      
After this, the game asks whether I want to save and then shows a cinematic of Pendugmalhe morphing into several forms and being killed in each one. Finally, there's a bookend to the game's introductory screen showing an arcane book being closed. I have literally no idea what this endgame message and cinematic was trying to convey.

Pendugmalhe in another form, I guess.
      
In the GIMLET, I give the game:
    
  • 3 points for the game world. The backstory is mostly a framing story, referenced only a couple of times in-game. Although the manual tries to draw some connections to the first game, none of the proper names really line up, and I get the impression that this was originally conceived as a standalone title. The overworld didn't add a lot to the first game, but its loss is felt here. I have no idea why the developers didn't structure this one as four or five smaller dungeons, giving more of a reason to occasionally visit the towns in the outer world. As it is, they're almost entirely superfluous. The bits of text that pop up as you explore the dungeons do give some atmosphere to the game, however, and I wish more Dungeon Master clones offered something like that.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. Creation is better than the first game, since you're not so locked into a specific party composition and you can edit your characters' statistics. Development is satisfying throughout the game, with the party becoming noticeably more powerful. It's particularly fun to get new spells to try.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction. They should have expanded on what the first game offered, not cut it.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes, a combination of the unnamed enemies of various strengths and the puzzles.
      
Contending with lizard men in the final area.
      
  • 3 points for magic and combat. Too much of it seemed rote and simplistic: attack with your weapon and blast with your best spell. The magic system definitely could use some more (or any) buffing spells. Incidentally, the game pretends there are 8 spell levels, but you can't actually click on Level 8, and Level 7 only has one spell--"Resurrect All"--which is hard to imagine needing, and even if you did need it would only save you a couple of clicks from three individual "Resurrects." The spells are also poorly documented in the manual.
  • 4 points for equipment. You have slots for two weapons (or weapon and spell, or weapon and shield), armor, a helm, a cloak or robe, a ring, a necklace, and boots. You find regular and satisfying upgrades to these items throughout the game, some of which have special functions. But the game shares Dungeon Master's vice of really telling you nothing about your items, and as I pointed out, a fair number are simply useless.
     
If you could eat these gems, they'd actually be useful for something.
    
  • 1 point for the economy. It has one, and I did use it once to resurrect a dead character. But otherwise, and this cannot be overstated, there is no point in collecting gold and gems in this game. You won't visit the surface often enough, and even when you do, there's absolutely nothing useful to buy. I don't know what the game thought it was doing, offering me chests of diamonds and opals on the 11th level of a dungeon. Did the authors think I was going to hike back up 11 levels to sell the gems and buy a regular short sword?
  • 2 points for a main quest with no choices, no role-playing, no side quests.
         
Did I do something wrong? Was I supposed to use the scroll a different way?
       
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are quite nice for a tiled first-person game, and I never stopped enjoying how the graphic artist chose to depict pillars and walls on new levels. The sound is alternately too busy and too sparse. The interface is a mixed bag. It works well with simultaneous mouse and keyboard, but I would have liked more keyboard redundancy for combat, spellcasting, and inventory shuffling.
     
In place of "pillars," we get cages with skeletons on this level.
     
  • 1 point for gameplay. This is where it suffers for its length and difficulty (too hard on puzzles, too easy on combat). It's also quite linear--much more so than the first--and not replayable.
    
That gives us a final score of 26 against the 31 I gave to the first Abandoned Places. Gameplay in Dungeon Master clones is similar enough that I think that games need to do something to distinguish themselves. Unlike its predecessor, which was distinguished by a top-down overworld, multiple dungeons, a little nonlinearity, and a detailed plot, this one is distinguished mostly by gameplay choices that seem designed to punish the player. 

A note on the difficulty: I originally was going to give the game 5/5 for "very hard," a rating I'd only ever previously given to Knightmare, another Dungeon Master clone. My reasoning was that several of the navigation puzzles are simply impossible without help. But Knightmare had both impossible puzzles and impossible combat, whereas Abandoned Places 2 has only the former. Hence, the compromise.
    
Computer Gaming World and other American publications didn't take notice of this sequel. It was well-covered in British Amiga magazines, which are always reliable when it comes to a game's box and its first 15 or 20 minutes. The problem is that Abandoned Places 2 looks a lot better at the beginning than the end; you don't know at the beginning that the economy and towns are going to be useless and that navigation is going to become impossible. Hence, we have ratings of 77 to 87 from CU Amiga, Amiga Format, Amiga User International, Amiga Computing, and The One, all of which praise the game in comparison to its predecessor, Eye of the Beholder, Bloodwych, Knightmare, and Black Crypt. (At least they understand the genre. Certain American reviewers might have called it a "Might and Magic-style game.") At worst, some of them feel it's a little derivative.
   
Several reviews have something to irk me. The most interesting comes from Tony Gill's CU Amiga review in April 1993. We've long talked about the "combat waltz" inherent in many Dungeon Master clones; well, we weren't the first to coin a term for the maneuver, nor the first to use a dance. He calls it the "Purple Worm Two-Step," which is slightly inaccurate in that you only step once in the movement. I prefer "combat waltz" since it has three beats: turn-step-attack (or step-turn-attack if that's your bent, weirdo). In any event, Gill assures the player that it will be necessary in Abandoned Places 2. Maybe it was for him. I didn't even bother to investigate whether it would work.
      
"Just when we thought the Dungeon Master genre was dead and buried," starts Paul Tyrell's review in the April 1993 Amiga Format. Who thought that, exactly, and why? The rest of the review is no better. Tyrell thought it was "a massive improvement over the first game," a rival to Eye of the Beholder II. His glowing prose is almost entirely about the graphics, however, and he refers to the outdoor areas as the "later levels" in the game.

Tim Norris's July 1993 review in Amiga Power (58%) is closer to my rating, but . . . ugh. Read it here. The problem is that Norris isn't content to Review; he must also Write. Thus, his perfectly valid points about loading times and copy protection (which I didn't experience) are lost among some flowery prose about Why We Play Role-Playing Games. I suppose I could be accused of the same thing, but I dare say a blog entry of 4,000 words is better equipped to go off on such flights than a one-page review. A similarly insouciant review in the May 1993 Amiga Force also rated it low (40%).
   
There were consistently low ratings from non-English Amiga magazines, including Power Play (64), Amiga Joker (66), Pelit (74), ASM (75), and Play Time (75), and among them, there are quotes I like to see: "not for newbies"; "terrible story and horrible manual"; "lack of smooth response to keystrokes." I don't see any of them complaining about having to find a key in a square of fire, but I suspect no one made it that far.
    
ICE must have spent all the proceeds on those free t-shirts.
    
Whatever I think of the game, the developers didn't deserve what they got from their publisher, which was apparently nothing. The publisher of their fist game, Electronic Zoo, went out of business just as the game was hitting market. Its assets were bought by International Computer Entertainment (ICE), which published Abandoned Places 2 and Piracy on the High Seas. After forcing the developers to represent their names in Anglicized form (e.g., István Fábián became "Steve Fabian" and Ferenc Staengler became "Francis Staengler"), ICE rewarded them by severing all contact and never sending any royalties. An account written by Fábián tells how ICE representatives failed to show up for appointments and how the ArtGame team showed up at their offices for a scheduled meeting to find the place abandoned (irony!), with "only a few people packing boxes into a van." [Ed.: I guess I misunderstood the anecdote. The ArtGame team went to a computer show at which they expected to meet ICE representatives, not their offices.] Never having made any return from three games, ArtGames was forced to close. Most of its employees found work into the 2000s with other game companies. ICE published only a few more low-rated games before themselves folding in 1997.
        
Fábián notes that playtesting took three months. The playtesters "could only finish the game by using various cheats," which he attributes the playtesters having "never played an RPG before." As someone who has played plenty of RPGs before, I can tell you that probably wasn't the source of their problems.
    
I chose the games for my "upcoming" list at random, so it's an interesting coincidence that the next one, Perihelion, is not only another Amiga game, but it's also from Hungary. Let's see how it compares.
         

68 comments:

  1. After finishing the levels you've described, I hope nobody ever doubts your credentials as a "CRPG addict" ever again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think, it was set in stone after Mr. Addict finished Fate: Gates of Dawn.

      Delete
  2. "The playtesters 'could only finish the game by using various cheats,' which he attributes the playtesters having 'never played an RPG before.'"

    Ah, what I've come to call Hipster Developer Syndrome. Where any negative feedback must come from people who clearly know nothing about what they're testing or idiots who refuse to appreciate their genius. People who happily ignore decades of experience to create bizarre controls, unfathomable UIs, text you can't read, websites that look nice if they're printed out and unusable otherwise, and "databases" that look like a badly-sorted spreadsheet.

    There's a lot more of them around these days, but they've always been with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not saying there aren't developers who fall into that problem, nor that Fabian isn't one of those developers, but its not always that simple. Flaws that seem obvious to a critic can completely blindside a developer, and a legitimate complaint among a string of seemingly irrelevant ones can make a dev toss them all out as "by people who don't know the genre", as Fabian would put it. Remember, developers know the game pretty well by the time it gets to playtesters, so their opinion of their own work is going to be vastly different and deeply entrenched.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    3. Well, congratulations, Booobs, you've managed to change blog policy. Yesterday, I was willing to stand up for free speech, but you had to do it twice in two days. From now on, using developmental disorders, from which real people actually suffer, as slurs is banned on my blog.

      Between your constant use of the above and your constant nagging me to replay The Magic Candle games, I'd say your potential contributions to this blog have reached their natural conclusion.

      Delete
    4. I'll rather stay anonymous for this post: From my experience as a playtester for a then well-known publisher, a side job during my university years, I can tell you that was exactly part of my experience. I'm still appalled how much of the bugs we found were ignored or regarded as too unimportant.

      Delete
    5. I hope that this unscrupulous fellow hasn't forever damaged the reputation of Magic Candle fans (aka Candle-heads) on the web.

      Delete
    6. These are people who are high in the personality trait of Openness. They just like new things. They are easily bored and love nothing more than re-inventing the wheel, usually poorly. There is a good side to high Openness, but they can be really flaky people who are really good at starting things, but not so good at bringing them to a positive conclusion.

      Delete
  3. I wonder if Chaos Strikes Back set the precedent that for a Dungeon Master successor to triumph it needed to be several magnitudes tougher, as opposed to just having more ideas or an improved interface (CSB probably had those too, but the difficulty is all many of us remember). I'm impressed this didn't become Abandoned Playthrough with the amount of nonsense it threw at you.

    You've probably already started Perihelion by now, but that game's presentation and worldbuilding is some wild stuff. Some pretty vivid dreams the first time I played the demo as a kid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think CSB was kind of unique in terms of difficulty (and when DM2 was released years later, the difficulty was on the normal scale).

      The EOB series went more for ever-increasing size. And I think the usual ethos in these games - Black Crypt etc. - was along the lines of 'tough but fair' - maybe a little tougher than DM but not much.

      Delete
    2. Perihelion is absolutely beautiful. I love its two-color visual style.

      Delete
    3. Aesthetically, it is a unique and interesting game. I found the first city a bit empty and scripted, though, and I can't get anywhere with the first combat. My first entry will post later this week.

      Delete
    4. Perihelion will always have a special place in my heart. The artstyle and the story are really something special.

      That said the cities did feel empty and combat took me many tries (and many character generations) to master.

      Speaking of char gen I recall it as really intriguing but also with a lot of suboptimal choices available. Kind of like Realms of Arkadia: Blade of Destiny.

      But in my rose-colored retro glasses it was amazing :)

      Delete
    5. Chaos Strikes Back had tons of people dropping spoilers in the comments, so I don't think the game had many surprises in it. They ruined the Diabolical Demon Director.

      Delete
  4. I bet this is the blog entry with more occurrences of the word "fire" :)

    I'm playing Dungeon Master right now and I imagine the "Purple Worm two-step" refers to one of the first enemies you fight there, and the first one you cannot actually try tanking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also knew this was the Purple Worm Two-step, and I have the evidence to prove it!

      (old comment on the glossary)

      Delete
  5. This game sounds like absolute hell, but the fact that I'm not a big fan of mapping puzzles probably colors my perception a bit.

    The locked chests sound like a debug thing, so that testers can easily get anything important. I'm surprised it wasn't removed or anything, but considering this would be far from the first game to leave debug content accessible, I'm not that surprised.

    The Amiga Power review gives me vibes of trying to pad something out to hit a word count, which luckily isn't an inherent issue with blogs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was going to say the same thing: I suspect the chest was there to assist with debugging and playtesting, but either someone forgot to remove it or the game had to ship right now and it was never done.

      Delete
  6. This sounds like you’re ready to revisit Wizardry IV now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We need the Addict playing cool games... not being carted off in a nice little white jacket with extra long sleeves!

      Delete
    2. There won’t be one without the other according to blog policy ;-)

      All kidding aside, I see your point. It’s just that I’d love to read some more in-depth (and more current, seeing how much his approach has changed) takes on some historically important games he may have brushed aside too quickly in those early days. It’s just my preference, though, and it would be far beyond me to criticise the author of a blog of such a baffling quality and productivity for his ‘lead sheet.’

      Delete
    3. How about The Bard's Tale III? I actually played all the way through it as a kid and was sad when it went unfinished here.

      Delete
  7. The little spanish phrase you mentioned is correct in fashion but actually rudely put. It might work on the mean streets but you´d want to be careful. It´s more nicely put as "!Perdon! ¿Usted Habla Español?" That´s with the excuse-me and formal you. Or at least more casually but still without being rude, one would more often than not say !Hola! ¿Hablas Español?
    Have a nice day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm from Spain and Chet's sentence doesn't look rude. Also "usted" is pretty much out of fashion these days unless you're being addressed in a hotel.
      Personally, I prefer to have a more familiar treatment with talking swords

      Delete
    2. It was a stupid joke anyway. I just thought it would be funny if the mask started speaking to the characters, but the characters didn't speak the mask's language. You had to be there.

      Delete
    3. Sword. I don't know where "mask" came from.

      Delete
  8. Well it was fun to read about at least - cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Addict - I think you've misunderstood the thing about the dev team arriving at the publishers. From Istvan's link, it was at a trade show (ECTS) where the publishers set up their display in a pub opposite the main exhibition area. They set up a meeting at the next day, but according to Istvan, when they appeared at the scheduled time, that was when they had already packed up. It wasn't at their offices and generally feels like a weird way for Istvan and co to try and organise a meeting.

    All said and done, reading that link I would take things with a pinch of salt. Istvan comes across as really arrogant in that way that's common with developers where everything they've done is awesome and any failure is other people's fault. There's some large holes in his story, the chief one being that if they weren't paid at all for their games, why did they make three (with one being a sequel)? That costs money -- if they welched on the first game why would you then make another one for them? Don't get me wrong, a lot of publishers at that time were scummy as heck, especially on the Amiga. But what was their version of events?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Okay, thanks for the correction, I posted an edit above.

      We'd have to hear from Istvan or ICE, but my guess is the ArtGames team was paid some advance money and just never saw any royalties. Istvan's story on the one site I linked is not the only source that relates ArGames' woes at ICE's hands, although I suppose all sources go back to Fábián eventually. I find his account credible. I don't think it was a "weird way...to try [to] organize a meeting" if your mail and phone calls had all gone unanswered.

      If I have some time, I'll try to research some names behind ICE and see if I can get the other side of the story.

      Delete
    2. Unfortunately it wasn't such a rare occasion that developers got shafted and denied royalties from publishers repeatedly during the Amiga days. Especially during the waning years of the 16 bit era many a starry eyed bedroom coder fell victim to a scummy publisher. A (surprisingly common) tactic was to offer an inexperienced development team (that didn't really know yet what their work was worth) a small advance for the first game. Then, just about when the first game is due, the publisher "suddenly" finds issues with the title, threatening to pull the plug and either demanding extensive reworks or reimbursement for promotion expenses that such a small newcomer team could never afford. Then they "relent" if the team agreed to immediately start working on a second game, promising to pay for both when everything was done. And then, when THAT game was finally finished, they would suddenly declare the contract null and void, try to delay payment even further or other such nonsense. I know that Guido Henkel hat been pretty outspoken about the treatment of his games, particularly "Spirit of adventure" at the hands of publisher Star trek, who delayed paying the promised royalties for years until eventually declaring bankruptcy. Like I said, not that uncommon an occurrence at the time.

      Delete
    3. Also, after the Iron Curtain went down, there were many young, inexperienced and rather naive Eastern European programmers who felt they could now leave their mark in the capitalist utopia that was game development, not realizing that the Amiga, Atari and C64 platforms were already in decline in most countries, and who would often fall victim to dubious fly-by-night ventures who just took their work and ran off. Istvan's story is not the only one that goes in such a direction.

      Delete
    4. (the publisher of "Spirit of Adventure" was Starbyte, Not Star trek. Stupid autocorrect feature...)

      Delete
    5. A few months ago, I read an ebook (It's Behind You - The Making Of A Computer Game, Bob Pape) that describes how life was one of those so-called bedroom coders while working on a programming project. It is mainly about writing the shoot-em-up “R-Type” for the ZX Spectrum. In this book (p. 80) the author also cites part of a magazine interview where the founder of a company quite freely admits that he is ripping off young programmers. In case someone is interested, the author made the ebook available for free on his page http://www.bizzley.com/

      Delete
  10. "It's a different corridor, but I thought these demons were graphically well done."

    That's the spirit, Chet!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ad "lowers a pillar that has a secret door behind it" - I mentioned it in my old notes from playing game - pillar disappear after you defeat boss. Ad two locked chests, to which you can teleport from the eastern king´s eye (there is a note in my map about this teleport)- Yes, I haven´t find a way to unlock this chests, but I didn´t find it usefull to anything, because I finished game without opening this chests. Congratulations for finishing game. I think, that this game is not bad. The biggest puzzle was make maps and who like mapping, this game is ideal for it. I like also graphic and atmosphere, I like all dungeon crawlers. But it is true, that Dungeon Master and Black crypt is higher league.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd have to replay the room, but I'm pretty sure that the pillar did not disappear after I defeated Pendugmalhe. I had to systematically walk back and forth across the room before something triggered it.

      Although, come to think of it, there were still a few enemies in a corner of the room even after I defeated Pendugmalhe. I think I defeated them while I was criss-crossing the room. So if you defeated them BEFORE Pendugmalhe, it's possible that the pillar simply lowers when every enemy is defeated, regardless of which one is last.

      Delete
    2. Hmm, If there is any secret pressure plate, it´s impossible identify that square. Because I had to step to every squares for complete map, I probably had to step on this square. But I do not know, where it had happened. So I thought, that it opens if I beat boss.

      Delete
  12. To be charitable to the amiga power reviewer, I can appreciate trying to add some discussion, humour or something when you've got a page to fill and a game that perhaps you don't have a lot positive to say about.

    When there is so much competition of gaming magazines as there was back then, I think some of them were trying to experiment a bit in terms of prose to try and make things a bit more interesting! Maybe this time it didn't quite work out.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Meh... I also see Chaos Strikes Back as a conceptual ancestor. But this level of difficulty here seems to me like an artificial extension of playlength.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I feel vindicated regarding my rage-quit comment I made previously about this game. Chet's persistence is absolutely heroic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That credit goes to Ringo and Ringo's Polish source. When the chips were down, I had maps to look at.

      Delete
    2. There was some frustrating things, so I also had to looked cca three times to other players solutions. 1. invisible switch on wall in tower level. 2. false wall, which I missed, because all the game I had struggled with game bug - arrows had not responed always (pressed arrow to move onward and party didn´t move, so I had to press move again to make step) and in fire level it was fatal, because you must run quickly and alongside quickly search walls, so I missed one false wall. 3. consultation was with one map (Labyrinth lev 1) with many teleports. I had made this map, but I didn´t knew, if in right direction, so I had looked to solution, If I am right. Then I must rotate map in right direction :-) I was helped with this three solutions from one Polish gamer, but I tried find his site now and I can not find it.

      Delete
    3. Might the "Polish guide" in question be this one?
      https://www.ppa.pl/gry/abandoned-places-2-rozwiazanie.html

      Delete
    4. Yes, that's the page. So now I hope, that I should find there, what make pillar disappear in the final location. But no, Polish solution also tell, that he do no´t know, which square he had to press to open pillar :-)

      Delete
  15. That playtesting comment has me twitching my fingers in rage. That's not how playesting works! That's not how any of this works! If your testers are adult humans and none of them can finish your game, then your game is broken!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Are the cheats still on the code

    ReplyDelete
  17. That fire room is relatable right now. We've had 33-36 degrees Celsius every day for a whole week and even my house has heated up to the point where it's too hot. Whether inside or outside, there is no escape from the hellfire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Jarl, sometimes I like to play "summer theme" games (Dune or Fallout)in winter and vice versa, to play something about the nasty cold in summer (something like Transarctica, maybe Frostpunk, or even Holiday Lemmings). Sticking to RPGs, you may consider a round of Icewind Dale or ICY to get some relief from the heat.

      Delete
    3. You can try Syberia games, they are not bad from my point of view. At least part I and II, about III I don´t know.

      Delete
  18. PetrusOctavianusJune 22, 2021 at 1:18 AM

    Chaos Strikes Back was made by a Diabolical Demon Director, who was tough but fair.
    This game sounds like it's made by some Infantile Imp giggling with glee at the thought of the player wasting time on walking dead scenarios and being forced to scum save.
    Being forced to scum save is like the ultimate design failure IMO; there's nothing clever about, just brute forcing your way by saving and loading.
    I like the expression "hateful dungeon level". I think the only game I've thought about in those terms is Bard's Tale 2. But like CSB it's still fair, and no scum saving needed.

    I'm really glad now that I gave this game a miss. About the only thing appealing about it is the graphics which look nice.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Chester, if you are in mood to look to some other magazines about score of games you played and possibly some maps, if will be necessary some other time, you can try this website of one Czech magazine, which was IMHO in that time very good. https://www.score.cz/1.8-archiv

    ReplyDelete
  20. In fairness to Amiga Power, the WRITING was sort of the point. It styled itself as an alternative to other magazines of the day in that it tried to entertain as much as it informed, most often with a brand of surreal comedy; the level of idiosyncrasy would tend to increase as the review score dipped towards the middle of the scale, because there was less of interest to talk about in the 40-60% range. Truly awful or brilliant games would provide plenty of worthwhile content, so you wouldn't see as much of the WRITING.

    I remember one review of a shooting game that was done in the style of a violent film heavily edited for TV showing, with comedic substitutions for adult content. "Melon Farmer" or "Muddy Funster" instead of the other, more coarse, "MF".

    AP is part of a tradition in UK game magazines that also includes Your Sinclair and PC Gamer (and to a certain extent the website Rock Paper Shotgun) where humour and messing around with the format of reviews is as much the point as the game itself.

    I can see why it's not to everyone's tastes, and I can also see why it would go further and be annoying to some, but I thought it was worth explaining why AP is the way it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Zero was another mag that had a deliberate comic (and infantile) style, with Amiga and pc game reviews. Again, not everyone's taste, but I think the context is somewhat important. You knew what to expect from such mags. Readers would probably have complained if there wasn't enough Writing, Joking, Musing or Whatevering in the reviews.

      Delete
    2. Oh gosh, yes, Zero and CU Amiga both attempted humour but theirs was more cheeky and, as you say, infantile. I think AP fancied itself as more highbrow and alternative, in a first-year-of-university sort of way.

      Delete
    3. Pretty much all the Amiga magazines in the UK were like that. AP was designed to be more Laddish (as what was starting to appeal in men’s magazines at that time). They were fun reads back in the day but man did they usually tell you very little about the actual games looking back on them now.

      Delete
    4. Something that tickles me about their, as you say, "laddy" style, is that they would make fun of the console people as immature, yet Rainbow Islands was one of the best games as voted by the readers for almost every platform that it appeared on. Some of the anti-pirate rants you can find when attempting to crack games of this era also, if not very politely, point out (and make fun of) how much focus the teenage boys of the scene back then (and any time or place, really) put on showmanship of themselves.

      Delete
  21. Congrats on another win and thank you for suffering through that game. I'm sorry, but I call any game where you have to die repeatedly until you find the exact combination of where to walk and what to push is a design fail.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I was very tempted to get this.. back in 1993!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did get this, and even the T-shirt. In fact I got this at an exhibition, quite possibly the one mentioned in the publisher/developer row!

      Delete
  23. Now you pay the price for your addiction :-)

    ReplyDelete
  24. This one seems like it earned a rating with a quote from Erfworld: "Difficulty level: [Boop]'s on fire."

    ReplyDelete
  25. Three blog entries in two days? You are really spoiling us! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My general intention is to post a full entry every 2.5 days. It's hard to regard a 500-word BRIEF as a full entry, so I made the delay shorter.

      Delete
  26. A lot of folks have already covered a certain amount of 'gameplay lineage' coming via the Dungeon Master / CSB angle, and I think that's fair! They definitely focused on the idea of Puzzle Dungeons as possibly the primary gameplay loop; even monsters are just elements to introduce extra (and mobile) challenges, vs feeling like an organic home for these creatures. The equipment in the game sounds like it may have been lacking because it just doesn't have much to contribute to the gameplay focus.

    What I haven't seen as much are comparisons to the frankly brutal D&D dungeons from the early part of that game's history.

    Somewhat akin to my Xeen comments, I wonder if these designers were also drawing on their TTRPG experience. Those classic dungeons were thoroughly designed as challenges first. Devious traps that seem punitive, especially without a lot of telegraphing. It made players incredibly paranoid.

    This style of D&D saw the DM as not a 'storyteller' but almost as the opposition to the players. Not necessarily in an aggressive sense, maybe closer to a crossword puzzle designer... because generally there *is* a solution, even if it's incredibly hard to discover or realize.

    This isn't defending the puzzles encountered in this game... I mentioned before that a lot of other D&D puzzles may not telegraph beforehand but experienced (paranoid) players become cautious enough to move through the dungeon carefully enough and with enough investigation and attention that there is at least an opportunity to discover the danger before it hits. (Ah, the always-useful 10 foot pole...)

    Dropping into a dungeon level that is ON FIRE, with, from what I can tell, absolutely no way to know that's coming, absolutely no sense of what to do next, etc... that's just not a good puzzle. And this is near the endgame... where you'd want your very best puzzles.

    However, the 'flavour' of these traps strikes me as similar to those early D&D games. Punishingly hard without an obvious solution... it feels like they may have taken inspiration without fully examining the style. Perhaps they were players in such a game and so could only imagine replicating the tension and stress without understanding the fact that even these moments usually are still 'puzzles' and not 'grinders.'

    Caveat: I'm totally speculating just based on the flavour the game that has been described here, without any information to know if D&D or any similar game was inspiring the designers. But the "never played an RPG before" comment for some reason strikes me as a too-smug Dungeon Master, on top of the Designer/playtester/critic dynamic that others have explored!

    A lot of D&D players who read this blog probably either know all this or will offer some other interpretations!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an interesting consideration, and something that I wouldn't have thought of since I don't have a history of tabletop gaming. I can see how your thesis would explain the attitudes of some developers, such as the author of Moria, who said that he "patched" the game every time someone found a way to actually win.

      Delete
    2. I mean, it's a whole rabbit hole to go down trying to either document or speculate on the creative DNA that comes into the CRPG medium...

      There's also something here maybe about how early TTRPG was borne out of a wargaming hobby, so this sense of competition, opposition, and challenge are built into the earliest DNA which then influences CRPGs. Not to mention a wargame priority on statistics, probablity, and detail-oriented considerations.

      I remember when I really started to get into roguelikes, I noticed that part of the conversation around the appeal was specifically about the difficulty. That finishing was sweeter due to the incredible effort. Such ideas have also been applied to a lot of action-based games like Dark Souls, etc.

      Which I actually kind of get. I think about how brutally deadly some of the earliest TTRPGs were, and I can imagine players who had characters who survived a campaign were deeply invested in them due to the survivability. In fact, the epic stories they told about those campaigns made newer players hungry to join them! But as it got more popular, the difficulty became an accessibility problem. And though making the game 'easier' or more accessible allowed for more players, it did mean that value provided by that more difficult version started to get blurrier and less understood.

      For me, the gameplay aesthetic sweet spot is a mix of both... an eye towards accessibility with a focus on real challenges, so as to keep that excitement of resolution...

      Delete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.