Sunday, August 8, 2021

Revisiting: The Bard's Tale (1985)

The game's title screens shows--get this--the title of the game.
The Bard's Tale
United States
Interplay (developer); Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released 1985 for Apple II; 1986 for Commodore 64 and Amiga; 1987 for DOS, Apple IIGS, and Atari ST; 1988 for Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, and PC-98; 1989 for Macintosh; 1990 for NES
Let's get one thing straight right away: The full name of this game is not, was not, and was never Tales of the Unknown: Volume I - The Bard's Tale. Tales of the Unknown is the series title. Plenty of games have series names that are not part of the game name. The only place that Tales of the Unknown appears is the box and manual covers for some of the original releases of the game. On those covers, it is clearly distinct and separate from the game title. (By that logic, we should insist that Pool of Radiance's official title is Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Computer Product: Pool of Radiance - A Forgotten Realms Fantasy Role playing Epic, Vol. I.) Everywhere else--the manual text, the title screen, advertisements for the game--it is simply called The Bard's Tale
The manual and box covers make (to me) a clear distinction between the series title (Tales of the Unknown) and the game title (The Bard's Tale).
Still, the series title does give some support to developer Rebecca Heineman's later claim that the original intent was to offer multiple games featuring different character classes under the Tales of the Unknown series heading. She has claimed in interviews that the second game would have been The Archmage's Tale and the third The Thief's Tale. But principal author Michael Cranford has contradicted this account by saying that the first game was going to be called Tales of the Scarlet Bard until EA got involved and that there was never any plan to name the second game The Archmage's Tale. He has also said that Heineman (who doesn't appear in the credits for the first game at all) sat in the corner, didn't talk to anyone, and wouldn't have been in a position to know what the plans were for the series. Frankly, the developers have thrown so much shade at each other over the years that it's hard to separate fact from fiction with this series. It's possible to fuse the two accounts in thinking that the second game would have been called The Destiny Knight but with the Tales of the Unknown series heading. Whatever the case, EA (probably correctly) assessed that once The Bard's Tale was successful, that should be the series name, and Tales of the Unknown was dropped not only for the sequel but for later ports of the original.
What's clearer is that The Bard's Tale started with a Wizardry basis. Michael Cranford had grown addicted to the game while playing it in his dorm room at UC Berkeley. (Much of the following comes from Cranford's own recollections on the birth of the series.) Convinced he could do better, he began work on a title that would eventually become Maze Master. In the meantime, he dropped out of college and began working for a local company, HES, and sold them on the game. The limitations they put on development (in particular, requiring him to build solely for a 16K cartridge) ruined Cranford's vision, and the company was apparently inept at promotion and marketing. When Maze Master inevitably tanked, Cranford took what would have been the sequel, Shadow Snare, to Interplay, a company started by Brian Fargo, with whom Cranford used to play Dungeons and Dragons in high school. (While still in high school, they had released a text adventure called Labyrinth of Martagon for the Apple II.) Such began the partnership that not only produced The Bard's Tale series, but also the Interplay approach to combat that held through Wasteland (1988) and Dragon Wars (1990) and even extended to non-Interplay games like Antares (1990) and Escape from Hell (1991).
The Bard's Tale approach to combat influenced about a dozen other titles.
The Bard's Tale was one of the earliest games I played for this blog, my coverage starting in March 2010. It was the first game to which I applied the GIMLET right after playing. For years, I've remembered it and its relationship to Wizardry as if Wizardry was the cherished black-and-white classic and The Bard's Tale was the vapid color remake, so in reviewing my coverage recently, I was surprised to see that I had rated both games the same, and that I had said things like, "It's going to be hard to go back to Wizardry [referring to the sequels] after this." At the time, I think I was speaking primarily about The Bard's Tale's improved graphics and sound. Over the years, I would gradually come to realize how little I really valued those features--at least until they get really good in the late 1990s--and how much I valued Wizardry's difficulty and sense of tactics. A few years ago, in my entry on The Bard's Tale Construction Set (1991), I wrote that:
[The Bard's Tale] was adequate for its era but only adequate. It offers nothing on Wizardry except for graphics. More than any other series, I think The Bard's Tale benefits from a nostalgia factor that overpowers the reality of average games with minimal lore, goofy plots, and far too much grinding.
I now realize this paragraph was wrong in a lot of ways. The Bard's Tale offers a lot beyond improved graphics. The first thing is right there in the title. Cranford didn't invent "the bard" as a character class (it first shows up in the February 1976 Strategic Review, a TSR magazine), but The Bard's Tale is, I believe, the first game to put a bard in a CRPG, beating Ultima IV by a couple of months. You may protest that the PLATO Oubliette (1978) had "minstrels" and Ultima III (1983) had "larks," but that gets to my second point: The Bard's Tale doesn't just feature a part-thief, part-fighter, part-spellcaster of that title; it actually makes use of the bard as a bard by giving him musical instruments and attaching magical effects to his performances. Even better, those performances become the "background" music of the game, making The Bard's Tale one of the few games--and definitely the first--in which the game music is diegetic. 
The second major deviation from Wizardry is the ability to summon an ally. The Bard's Tale didn't invent this feature--it goes back to the PLATO Avatar (1979)--but what is unique here is the sheer number of ways in which it can happen, including spells of conjuration, spells of mind-controlling, magic items like figurines, and simply meeting friendly creatures. Any monster in the game can become an ally, complete with its special attacks and defenses. 
"You can join, but people in that position have a near-100% mortality rate."
The third major contribution of this series is in the conception of its spellcasting classes. Where most CRPGs offer only two sets of magic (divine and arcane), the original Bard's Tale offers four: conjuration, magic, sorcery, and wizardry. Each has its own spellbook, with remarkably little overlap in their capabilities. Fortunately, you don't need to enlist all four classes, since spellcasters can switch classes flexibly, working their way up to "archmage," master of all four books. Later, archmages would get their own set of spells.
Mabon has achieved the highest spell levels in three classes and is about to change to the fourth.
Lastly, I should mention the plethora of usable items. Wizardry has a rather restrained approach to inventory. At high levels, you might find +2 weapons and armor if you're really lucky. Usable items are mostly limited to potions and scrolls. The Bard's Tale introduced a lot more variety, including instruments (which only the bard can play) with protective, offensive, and summoning effects (e.g., Fire Horn) and weapons and wearable items that could replicate the game's spells, boost attributes, regenerate hit points and spell points, summon allies, and more.
I also like some of the interface improvements, such as the way MACO causes a compass to appear on the screen, and you have other indicators for light sources and magic shields.
Spell symbols and "flavor text" put this game a notch above its Wizardry roots.
To be fair, I mentioned all of these things in my original review and was very complimentary towards the game. It just degraded in my memory since then, influenced in large part by the sequels, both of which allow the party to get so powerful that there's no growth or challenge. Although Cranford was only responsible for this situation in The Bard's Tale II (he left the company after he finished programming it), it strikes me as a negative side of his game-design philosophy: "We want to be immortal and unbeatable . . . People want to grab the balrog and drag him into the abyss." Even to the extent that this is true, I think what the series forgot is that people want to throw the balrog into the abyss at the end of the game, not for its entirety. But this is really only a problem in the sequels; in The Bard's Tale, gameplay remains challenging throughout.
It's so challenging, in fact, that it's nearly impossible to get past Level 1. When your party of six hits the street and starts encountering orcs, mad dogs, kobolds, hobgoblins, spiders, and other creatures, the laws of probability take hold fast. You might not face 4 berserkers or 5 swordsmen in your first combat, but the chance of such an encounter exists, and it will almost certainly mean death. This game isn't quite as strict with permadeath as Wizardry--your characters' deaths are only saved if you go back into the Adventurer's Guild--but whether you clean out the dead characters, make new ones, and try again, or reboot and reload (there's no in-game reloading feature), you're talking about a big time investment. The DOS version and some of the others took the edge off the early game difficulty by allowing you to summon a stone elemental with a single key.
There are no healing spells on the first level, so you spend most of your gold at the temple, where it costs 10 gold to heal each hit point. As if earning experience without dying isn't hard enough, you also have to make sure to do it in a way that you can afford. If a group of enemies does 15 total damage but only delivers 60 gold pieces, you're in the red. You learn to prioritize enemies likely to offer a good return (gnomes, kobolds, orcs, hobbits) and run (which works about half the time) from others. As agonizing as this is, the flip side is that every victory is a real thrill, and you're practically ecstatic when you can train to Level 2. 
You spend a lot of the early game in the temple.
This dynamic never really ends. I recently finished Abandoned Places 2, where I remarked that the dungeon's navigation puzzles are a far greater obstacle to progress than the enemies. The reverse is true of The Bard's Tale. Each dungeon has only one or two items or pieces of information that you must find; the greater difficulty is surviving the accumulation of combats. Even a thorough explorer who maps every corner (as I did the first time I played) probably doesn't encounter enough enemies to avoid some level of grinding.
Let me back up and recap the game from the beginning. In The Bard's Tale, you control a party of six characters on a quest to save the city of Skara Brae from the machinations of an evil wizard named Mangar. The main quest is summarized nicely on the title screen, as a little ditty played by an animated bard:

The song I sing will tell the tale
    Of a cold and wintry day.
Of castle walls and torchlit halls
    And a price men had to pay.
When evil fled and brave men bled
    The Dark One came to stay.
Till men of old for blood and gold
    Had rescued Skara Brae.
This near-perfect iambic heptameter, not to mention the animation, is missing from the title screen of later versions, including the DOS version that I originally played. Although the DOS version had better graphics in general, this omission is a bit of a crime.
The party of six (or up to six) is all-male. (Heineman claims that Cranford said, "Girls don't play games." Cranford says that never happened.) Character creation blends Wizardry, which came indirectly from Dungeons & Dragons, with material from D&D directly, but it offers some original material in the class list. Races are human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, half-elf, half-orc, and gnome; classes are paladin, warrior, monk, hunter, rogue, bard, magician, and conjurer (wizards and sorcerers can be promoted from the latter two). Attributes are strength, IQ, dexterity, constitution, and luck. There are no alignments--I guess the nature of the quest presumes they will be good. 
Race, class, and name are the only options you get during character creation.
Gameplay begins in the Adventurer's Guild, which is the only place that you can save the characters. If the entire party is killed, it automatically returns here (and is saved), which is an expensive situation to rectify. The game only saves the character files, not any sort of "world state." All fixed encounters in the city and dungeon respawn when you leave and return, including the final encounter with Mangar. If not for the inventory items you collect, the game would have no idea that you'd made progress or hit key encounters.
Outside the doors of the Adventurer's Guild is a 32 x 32 city instead of the "menu town" of Wizardry. The city comprises streets with names like Emerald, Trumpet, Stonework, and, in a tribute to Star Trek, Corbomite. Sinister Street keeps teleporting you backwards so you never reach its end. From most squares you can access the doors to at least one building. Most of the buildings are generic empty houses, which like the street itself may carry a chance of a random combat. Fixed locations include several temples and inns, an armory, Roscoe's Energy Emporium (where you can pay to recharge spell points instead of waiting), a house where you can see the credits for the game, and the Review Board, unmarked on the game map, where you level up, change spellcaster class,  and buy new spell levels. The exit from the city is blocked by a snowdrift.
Skara Brae. The map shows some locations, but you have to find others.
Each of the city's corners and its center has one of the five dungeons that you explore: the wine cellars of the Scarlet Bard (the game's working title) in the southeast; the Mad God's Temple and Catacombs in the center; Harkyn's Castle in the northwest; Kylarean's Tower in the northeast; and Mangar's Tower in the southwest. The roads to most major locations are blocked by statues that turn into golems and must be defeated. Each dungeon provides the clue or item necessary to access the next one. 
Some of the level designs are slightly intriguing, but for the most part, dungeons are empty and boring, full of random encounters, navigation hindered by the occasional spinner, anti-magic square, dark area, secret door, invisible wall, or teleporter. In this, it doesn't grow much from its Wizardry base. It misses the opportunity to pack its dungeons with content, like Might and Magic (1986), or more complex puzzles, like Dungeon Master (1987). That said, I did appreciate the occasional bit of descriptive text and the riddles, which are an improvement over the Wizardry base.
For this replay, I allowed myself to use my notes and maps from my 2010 experience, making it even more grindy than the first time. But I also allowed myself to use the "warp" mode and save states of my C64 emulator, which took most of the edge off. I visited key locations in each dungeon, either to collect something I needed or check and see if it was the same as the DOS version.
Hey. Buddy. We're trying to save the city. Less laughing, more helping.
The wine cellars of the Scarlet Bard are just down the street from the Adventurer's Guild, past a statue of a samurai that you must defeat in combat. (Like everything else, it respawns when the map reloads.) You enter the dungeon by ordering wine at the tavern, something the bartender himself will clue you into if you give him a tip. The cellars are four levels, the first plausibly organized like a large wine cellar. A message about "fine wines" appears in front of one door, "rare wines" in front of another, but in neither case can you actually find any wine. There's a spinner in the middle of the level and a stairway down.
Level 2 has the mysterious IRKM DESMET DAEM message that has bothered players for years, a mystery that only got more puzzling when we discovered that The Bard's Tale Construction Set (1990) version of the text is IRKM DESMET DAGM, which provides a lot more potential anagrams. I confirmed that the message was the same here as the DOS version in which I originally experienced it. I can't find any information suggesting that Cranford has ever commented on it. In the room on the level below, in a nearly-identical position, we get the message, "Heed not what is beyond understanding," so I guess we may have to leave it there. Elsewhere in the dungeon, we learn that, "Thor is the greatest son of Odin," that we should, "Seek the snare behind the scenes," and that an ancient insane wizard named Tarjan declared himself a god.
After all these years, this still bothers me.
The name TARJAN is necessary to get past the door of the Mad God's Temple, where players find a three-level dungeon full of undead, including Tarjan's old high priest and high mage. The third level is well-designed to evoke a series of catacombs, culminating in a battle with King Alldrek, who leaves an eye when he dies. This eye is necessary to get through the third dungeon, Harkyn's Castle.
Harkyn's Castle is another three levels. By now, most parties have the conjurer's APAR spell, "Apport Arcane," which allows you to teleport around dungeons. This is necessary to maximize use of the game's best grinding opportunity: a fight on the third level with four groups of 99 berserkers each. They deliver 60,000 experience points. You can't hope to defeat them until your armor class is -10 or greater (at which point the game displays it as "LO") and your spellcasters' dexterity is near-18. Otherwise, with 400 berserkers getting a chance to swing at you first, almost certainly enough will hit that everyone is killed. Once the spellcasters have mass-damage spells like DRBR ("Dragon Breath") and particularly MIBL ("Mind Blast," which affects all foes in all stacks), you can start mining them for experience. Experienced Bard's Tale players will remember the routine: enter the castle; APAR 5 squares north, 12 squares east, and 2 levels up; engage the berserkers (keeping a handy book to read while the game describes the effects of your MIBL on 400 foes one at a time); APAR back to the exit; leave; and start the process over. I must have done this 50 times before heading to Mangar's Tower, and I was probably still a bit under-leveled.
The most famous grinding spot in CRPG history.
There are moments in Harkyn's Castle and the next two dungeons in which you have to answer riddles based on lore you've found in previous dungeons or the game manual. "Name the endless byway," one magic mouth wants to know (SINISTER).
The difficulty level of this riddle did not age well.
To get to Mangar's Tower, you have to go through the original wine cellar. A staircase on Level 4 takes you up into the southwest quadrant of the city (otherwise blocked by gates), and Mangar's is just a few steps from the exit. In the tower, you can buy a "master key" that not only gets you through the gates but also into every other dungeon in the game, obviating the other individual items. Level 3 of the tower has a series of messages that together spell out "LIE WITH PASSION AND BE FOREVER DAMNED," a passphrase you need to move on to Level 4. 
In the future, I'll be sure to lie in a monotone.
Level 4 has an interesting trick in which stepping on a square turns all the level's doors into walls and vice versa. Getting up to Level 5 is a bit cruel, requiring you to remember a command in the manual that you use nowhere else--hitting the "E" key to levitate upward (a "Levitate" spell must be active). I should mention that the keyboard commands are otherwise very intuitive in the game. The Bard's Tale avoids the sub-menus of Wizardry and adopts a more Ultima-style approach in which each command is mapped to a unique key.
The good wizard Kylearan greets us in his tower.
A treasure chest in Harkyn's Castle provides a silver square, and one in Kylearan's Tower (mercifully only one level) gives you a silver triangle. Level 2 of Mangar's Tower has a magic mouth that comments on the two shapes you've already found and asks you to speak the third. You can deduce the answer, CIRCLE, by just assuming that the three shapes are all the simplest geometric forms, or you can figure it out by studying the Electronic Arts logo. This isn't the first time that the EA logo will be used as the basis of a puzzle, although when it happens in Ultima VII: The Black Gate, its usage is less homage and more middle finger. You must put the three silver shapes in the wall before the final battle on Level 5 of Mangar's Tower.
If you go in the front way, you have to pass through anti-magic squares to reach Mangar, undoing your protective spells. There is a back entrance that I never found back in 2010. In the square "behind" Mangar, you're asked: "What can bind the mightiest foes?" The answer, SPECTRE SNARE, is discoverable only by tipping the bartender more than 100 gold pieces. A correct answer gets you the weapon, which can be used to draw any enemy into the party. 
Unlike last time, this time I end the game with the Spectre Snare in my inventory.
Mangar attacks with a few greater demons and vampire lords. I found that my fighters were mostly useless in the final battle, as they couldn't really hit the enemies. I had the bard use a Fire Horn every round. One wizard targeted enemies with DEST ("Destroy") or DMST ("Demon Strike") while the other kept up with BEDE ("Resurrect"), REST ("Restore"), and using his Exorwand to reclaim party members possessed by the demons.
Mangar looks like a hobo in this version.
Once you defeat Mangar, Kylearan appears to congratulate you and reward you with 300,000 experience points. He assures you that Mangar's "spell of winter" will soon unravel, but as discussed before, the game doesn't save any kind of world state. The town disk doesn't "know" that Mangar has been defeated, and the party remains snowbound in Skara Brae. They can keep returning to Mangar's tower and defeat him indefinitely.
This snow drift will never clear.
Miscellaneous notes on the experience:
  • I tried to design a party that I thought could carry me through all three games (if I chose to replay the others). I forgot that I need a thief for the third one.
  • You need a bard to get past a certain square in Harkyn's Castle. I otherwise felt it was important to have one given the name of the game. Mine was somewhat useless for the early game, since I had three other front-line characters and there are no missile weapons. I used him for his strengths--playing bard songs--until I found enough magical instruments that he could really contribute in combat by using them.
My bard became a lot more useful when he got a fire horn.
  • The utility of fighters (paladins, hunters, monks, and warriors) starts to drop about mid-game and is almost entirely gone by the end. I probably won't keep all three for the sequel. Another spellcaster would be a lot more useful.
  • I wouldn't mind if the game had been a bit more sparse with its use of both anti-magic squares and "dark" squares. Having to repeatedly recast exploration spells gets old. One of the two sequels offers a spell called BASP ("Batch Spell") that automatically casts all five of them at once, which is handy.
  • Mage's staves are supposed to regenerate spell points, but they never worked for one of my characters and only worked for the other one for a little while.
One of my spellcasters kills Mangar with a "Destroy" spell.
  • It's particularly frustrating to get stoned or withered because no spell cures those conditions. You have to take the time to backtrack out of the dungeon and visit a temple. It's tempting in those situations to just let the entire party get slaughtered so they all re-appear in the adventurer's guild. This gets expensive, though.
  • One random attribute increases by 1 each time you level up. By the end of the game, all my spellcasters were at 18s (maximum) for everything, and the other characters were close. My first four characters were at Level 26 at the end of the game. My spellcasters had cycled through all four spell classes and were archmages.
  • I'm not sure it's possible to level up enough to breeze through the encounters in Mangar's Tower. There are too many creatures that can just completely mess you up. Depending on enemy composition, you might have the entire party possessed by demons, pounded to goo by cloud giants, stoned by gorgons, crispened by dragons, or drained a dozen levels by vampire lords. An awful lot depends on luck, like a dragon deciding to make a physical attack instead of breathing, or a wizard deciding to cast a buffing spell instead of a nuke.
  • For most of the game, the developers stuck with familiar monsters from Dungeons & Dragons, with special attacks and defenses that every RPG player has memorized. Only in the next two games does the bestiary go completely bonkers, with all kinds of new creatures that you have to log and learn.
Admittedly, the developers' conception of a "balrog" is a bit odd.
  • Winning the DOS version automatically returned me to the adventurer's guild, whereas the C64 version allowed me to continue exploring. I was able to finish the map of the level and find Mangar's treasure chamber, guarded by two dragons, in which there was a magic ring that regenerates hit points. If I hadn't gotten the Spectre Snare before defeating Mangar, I could have gotten it immediately afterwards. When I played the DOS version, I never got it at all.
The party returns to the guild to retire and wait for the sequel.
Many of my readers are no doubt wondering why I've taken the time to replay this game, and if they can therefore anticipate replays of other games I've already covered. The answer is generally no on the latter question, although there will be one exception coming up. As for the former, there are a couple of reasons. I recently decided to thank my Patreon supporters by soliciting their desires for special topics and re-visits of abandoned games, and there were several votes for The Bard's Tale II and even a couple for III. I'll give at least II a second shot soon, but even thinking about it made me realize my coverage of the first game was inadequate, as most of my entries were during that first year. My secondary reasons are less important: I never finished mapping Mangar's Tower the first time; I never got the Spectre Snare; and I was annoyed enough about the Tales of the Unknown thing that I wanted to refute it.
I finally finished my map of Mangar's Tower, Level 5.
I'm not interested in replacing the GIMLET from my first experience with the game, but I was curious if my approach to rating had changed significantly. Running through it now, I decided that the game would earn a 39, or two points higher than the 37 I gave it. I was two points more generous with the "game world" (4 vs. 2), one point more generous with "character creation and development" (4 vs. 3), and one point more generous with "graphics, sound, and interface" (5 vs. 4) in 2021. However, I ranked the economy two points higher in 2010. I didn't start to look for "complexity" as an economic consideration until sometime after I designed the GIMLET, so that makes sense. Everything else was the same, which makes me feel good about how consistently the GIMLET has held up, even if readers continue to have problems with its specific categories.
The game's "winning screen."
The Bard's Tale was both commercially and critically successful. Scorpia was relatively early in her career when she rated it "not to be missed!" Compute! called it a "masterpiece." Dragon gave it 5 out of 5 stars. The basic engine, its arrangement of windows and icons, its combat system by which enemy and character actions scroll slowly by, would serve Interplay for nearly 10 years. It didn't have as many imitators in the U.S. or the U.K. as I would have expected; first-person games in those countries tended to favor Dungeon Master or the original Wizardry for their lineages. However, it was big in Germany, and we saw its approach in games like Antares (1990), Legend of Faerghail (1990), Dungeons of Avalon (1991), and Spirit of Adventure (1991). The Australian Citadel of Vras (1989) is also a clone.
I continue to believe that the series went off the rails in the sequels, mostly because they allow importing of already-godlike characters, but we'll check that out later. For now, this exercise has re-cemented The Bard's Tale in my memory as a titan of its year.


  1. I recall an article from a game mag, published before BT2 was released and did use the name "Archmage's Tale" so I suppose Heineman was correct.

  2. Back in the day, I used to hear this game summarized as "like Wizardry, only more so". I still think that's a fair assessment.

    I remember the sequel being tough as nails. Beating it entirely on my own felt like a great accomplishment at the time. Sticking anti-magic, darkness and spinner effects on the same square was probably a bridge too far.

  3. The Bard's Tale had really effective advertising; I spent every day of the summer of 1986 waiting for the mail to arrive so I could eventually read through the EA catalog and not buy any of the games. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  4. I'm glad you went back to this one. I played a lot of IIe/II+ CRPG games but this was the one I kept going back to, and have used emulators twice in the last decade to replay. There's something about creeping through the streets and cellars, firing off a few ARFIs and fleeing back to the Guild that was oddly compulsive. Still have the set moves from the Guild to Garths and the Board engraved in my brain. In the cracked Apple version we had, there were two high level spellcasters available to a low level party: "no effect!" and "re in Port Wyn" that we used to import when we discovered them to even things up.

  5. Of Cranford, I've only ever seen his GDC conference but it did nothing to endear him to me. I thought he was a self-congratulatory "Good job, me!" sort of guy. His snide little potshots at Heineman were obnoxious too, most people leave that crap behind in high school.

    1. Cranford went on to get a degree in theology and his interest in that area shows most prominently in BT2 (the city names).

  6. To you the 396 Berserkers is "The most famous grinding spot in RPG history.". To me it's one of the most memorable battles in CRPG hostory. Oh well, BT1 is the only CRPG I've played where I've actually considered grinding since the last couple of dungeon levels are so brutal.

    When starting out avoid exploring at night, since the amount of enemies you face are higher then.

    Of the fighters, the Paladin is probably the most useful, since if he's the leader it supposedly increases the party's saving throws. Give him a Stone Blade and he will insta kill one enemy per turn, if he can hit. Since the chance to hit is actually based on AC, a Monk may be able to hit enemies a Paladin can't, but a Monk can't deal enough damage to kill even one high level enemy.

    All above applies to DOS version.
    I think there's quite bit of subtle differences (and bugs) between the version, the Apple version looking to me like the most unique one based on screenshots I've seen.
    Amiga version may be easier, since I don't recall having such problems with the final levels. But it was the first CRPG I played, so I probably was very slow and thus grinded "naturally".

    BTW, why don use the recent Remaster when replaying?

    1. To you the 396 Berserkers is "The most famous grinding spot in RPG history.". To me it's one of the most memorable battles in CRPG hostory.

      By any chance, was that battle on a Tuesday?

    2. I don't mean to argue with you and the Addict on the point of "the most famous grinding spot in history" as it could be intended as a joke/hyperbole, but I would like to supplement that claim with a couple other famous spots.

      NES RPGs had multiple famous grinding locations and tricks. At the time, game worlds were broken up into an invisible patchwork of encounter squares, like a big quilt, where you would always encounter certain monsters. In this way they controlled the player's difficulty curve through the game.

      You can see how this looks in this map of Dragon Quest, showing these squares:

      In some specific areas of these NES RPGs, you could cross over into a late game square and encounter incredibly powerful monsters for your current spot in the game.

      The first one in Final Fantasy was so famous that it has a well known name, the Peninsula of Power. This stuck well enough that later games also had people searching for and naming other Peninsulas of Power.

      Additionally, Dragon Quest had some minor instances of a similar phenomenon. Using that map above you can see a tiny green strip of mountains south of the starting town (center NW), which is a great place to grind in the early game. I've used it many times.

      Dragon Quest is also famous for its far southeast peninsula which had Gold Golems for grinding money, and its southern area with Metal Slimes for XP. But those are less a "trick" and more developer intended.

    3. Japanese RPG are infamous for requiring grinding.
      In my 40 years of gaming I've only completed two JRPGs (Wizardry Gaiden IV: Throb of the Demon's Heart and Wizardry Chronicle, both of which did not have nauseating anime artwork), and Wizardry Chronicle is the only RPG so far where I've have actively grinded.

    4. Feel free to supplement. However, it should always be understood that I mean COMPUTER RPGs when I say things like that. I don't know famous anything in console RPGs.

    5. I always, and that includes the remastered version, grinded the 69 wights and the 99 skeletons. When I came to the berserkers, the game was already done.

    6. The remaster is a very good-looking game. It is quite a bit easier than the original, because the cost of healing at temples is much, much lower. On the other hand, the remaster won’t allow you to do the old “party attack, then bard sings “Badh’r Kilnfest” ploy.

      In the original “Legend of Zelda”, there was a path I took to “grind” for rupees, by moving east, along the coastal area, killing the monsters (like tektites and levers) that dropped a lot of rupees.

  7. It's kind of ironic in that I had reread some of your Bard's Tale 3 entries to kill some time, and then a few hours later this is posted.

    Which segues into one tip should you go on to Bard's Tale 2: you need the manual to be able to solve the final snare (the manual is not needed, however, to solve the snare in the Remaster). I also don't believe you can save anywhere in the C64 version of BT2.

    Another bug in the C64 version of BT2 is that somewhere around the 4th or 5th dungeon, your fighters will miss every single melee attack.

    One question: do you intend on checking out the Remastered version of these games? You may find the Remaster more tolerable.
    There's numerous features, but one you may like is the option to reduce character levels when transfering characters
    (I chose to do this when starting BT3; my characters dropped from around level 50 to around level 30)

    1. I too am very curious about your thoughts on the recent remasters (Sold as "The Bard's Tale Trilogy") on Steam and GOG). I imagine you might not be interested in looking at it quite so soon after replaying the original. Unless you're interested in just cheating your way through it quickly to look at a few things for comparison's sake.

    2. I've recently been playing the Bard's Tale Trilogy remake (2019) by inXile. I feel it is the best version available thus far. All bugs fixed, sharp graphics and decent music. The remake remains very faithful to the original along with options to revert to how the original was played as well. I mean if you're gonna experience BT1, 2 or 3 then why not do it in style.

    3. I totally support the remasters. I remember playing The Bard's Tale back in the 80s, and I played the remasters, they are 99.9% the same thing with the same old school feel, just without all the annoying interface and speed issues of old. For anyone who wishes to revisit those games for a spin, you should definitely play those IMO. Too late for this CRPG addict replay, though, unfortunately. Nice look back on the game, it's fun to see how much your perception of things evolved over the years, those revisiting posts are always very interesting to read.

    4. In general, remasters seem completely antithetical to the premise of this blog, no?

    5. I was beginning to think that no one understood me at all.

  8. BTW, which staffs did you have?
    The Mage Staff is supposed to regenerate spell points.
    The Conjurstaff doesn't; it reduces spell point consumption in half.
    The other staffs like the Sorcerstaff don't do anything like that.
    I may be wrong, but I honestly don't recall those staffs doing anything in the C64 version of BT1. I know they do in other versions

    1. Mage Staff must be equipped to work its spell point regeneration magic. Can't just be in the inventory. Maybe that is the problem?

    2. Perhaps. I honestly don't recall on this particular issue, though I would have definitely equipped the item.

      It's funny looking at the quirks on each version. I do recall the special members (summoned or joined) usually being helpful in the C64 version. They were utterly worthless in the Kindle (Apple IIGS) version, save for the Red Dragon and the Greater Demon/Demon Lord.

      (Regardless of the platform, the special members are largely useless in BT2, and outright worthless in BT3)

      I got ripped to shreds by the Jabberwock every time on the C64, no matter how powerful my party was. It was a breeze on the other versions.

    3. I had two mage's staves and both were equipped. For a while, only one character regenerated magic points. At some point, neither did.

    4. As a wild guess - what if anti-magic squares knock off effects from the staves, among other things?

  9. I'm glad you've taken another look at this one. I have fond memories of playing both the C64 and Amiga versions of BT1. I think the size and challenge vs reward of this first entry is just about right whereas the later games seemed too much of a grind for me. I always suspected that something about the C64 version of BT3 kept breaking my 1541 disk drive which didn't help.

    1. I have fond memories of the Spectrum version, despite having to load every level from tape when I went up or down the stairs.

  10. If you live on Sinister Street, how do you ever get your post?

  11. Hi, Addict. I know that entries about new games are more important, but I would love to see your post(s) about replays of Ultima I, II and III. Your original entries are really brief (you even didn't do GIMLET!). :)

    1. The Addict doesn't care about your opinion. He only cares about "muh Patreon supporturrrs."

    2. Wow. What kind of pathetic person would post a response like that?

    3. I hope that the average reader knows that I don't ONLY care about my Patreon supporters, but I do occasionally want to give them some input in exchange for their support.

    4. I'm just amazed that anyone would be mad about extra content being posted from the Addict, regardless of what prompted him to post it.

    5. Sadly, there's no shortage of sour grapes or resentment to be found on the internet.

  12. The Apple II ports of The Bard's Tale trilogy allow to transfer characters to and from games of other series. Provided that the emulator supports it, that is.

    The Apple II Bard's Tale games can import from Wizardry 1-2-3 and Ultima 3. BT3 can also import from Ultima 4. On the C64, characters can only be transferred from Ultima 3 to Bard's Tale 2.

    Dragon Wars can import characters from BT 1-2-3 on both Apple 2 and C64. The DOS and Amiga ports can only transfer from BT 1-2, because BT3 was ported later.

    Michael Cranford's Centauri Alliance can import characters from 8 different games, but only on the Apple 2 (BT 1-2-3, Wizardry 1-2-3, Ultima 3 and Might & Magic 1). The C64 port is limited to BT 1-2-3 and U3.

    The Amiga version of Legend of Faerghail can import characters from BT 1-2 (it was released earlier than the Amiga port of BT3) and Phantasie 1-3 (the only two titles ported to Amiga).

    Last of the list, Deathlord can transfer characters from BT1, Wizardry 1 and U3 on the Apple, but from BT1-2-3 and U3 on the C64.

    Anyway, good luck with the emulators! I only managed to transfer characters from Ultima 3 to Bard's Tale 1, and only once. For some reason, I was unable to replicate the action with the same emulator and a new copy of the same file.

    Here are my results, first about character attributes, then about character classes and races. I lost the file I noted the details, I am going by recollection.

    * U3 strength ==> BT1 strength & constitution
    * U3 dexterity = BT1 dexterity
    * U3 intelligence = BT1 intellect
    * U3 wisdom ==> BT1 luck

    * U3 lark ==> BT1 bard
    * U3 cleric & alchemist ==> BT1 magician or conjurer
    * U3 wizard & illusionist ==> BT1 conjurer or magician
    * U3 fighter & barbarian ==> BT1 fighter
    * U3 ranger ==> BT1 hunter
    * U3 thief ==> BT1 rogue
    * U3 paladin ==> BT1 paladin
    * U3 druid ==> BT1 monk

    Races correspond well.

    This conversion shows some quirks. For example, you need an unwise but intelligent cleric in U3 in order to make a decent spellcaster in BT1.

    1. Very interesting. I had no idea they were allowing for such things as late as Dragon Wars. I had always heard that such imports were possible but never saw it myself. Now I know why: I never played the Apple II versions.

  13. The biggest value in Bard's Tale over Wizardry 1 for me was the atmosphere -- the town with the oddly hidden Review Board, infinite corridor, day/night cycle, etc. gave a dollop of story element 1 was lacking. I never was convinced (in a primal, you-are-there narrative sense) Wizardry 1 had a story at all (even though it still, identically, involves slaying an evil wizardry).

    First five floors of Wizardry 1 had better encounter density, though.

    re: no thief in party, you might be better off playing BT2 (if you're going to do it) with a fresh party anyway (maybe pass on some of the better items), the beginner dungeon is the best part.

  14. If you replay Bard's Tale II (and I hope you do), I very strongly encourage you to create a new party and not import from BT1. The best part of BT2 is the very beginning when every level advancement is meaningful. The starter dungeon is also one of the best dungeons in the game. In fact, if you only play the starter dungeon and consider beating that dungeon to be beating the game, I think you would have a better experience than if you played only the remainder of the game with an imported party.

    For what its worth, I have the complete opposite advice for BT3. The starting dungeon there is just a chore compared to the rest of the game, and I think you will be much happier starting with an imported party.

    1. That's my experience and advice as well.

    2. Quest of the Cave Train, BTII style!

  15. My impressions on the name (based on tons of research).

    Cranford's original title was Master of the Seven Magics. The game was planned for 7 different types of magic, with weapons only as a last resort. Winning the game required at least one character mastering all 7 schools of magic and thus becoming an archmage.

    When they wanted to include buffing spells, they put in the icons and music to mark these. But music wasn't logical, until Cranford put in bards. As the rest of Interplay hated the idea of 7 different mages and no melee classes, at this point they persuaded Cranford to make the game more traditional class-wise.

    This made a name change required, and for a while it went as Shadow Snare. EA bought the publishing rights with this name. (Sales pitch:

    EA put a producer above Cranford - and he was Roe R. Adams III, of Wizardry fame. Adams gave the city the Skara Brae name, and he re-named the whole game. For a while it was called Tales of the Scarlet Bard.

    At this time Cranford was loving the bard class, so he had no problem with it appearing in the title. But he was already thinking on the sequel, which he wanted to be centered on a knight or paladin, so he thought up the series name (Tales of the Unknown), and named Volume I The Bard's Tale.

    Volume II lost its series title, but was called Destiny Knight as planned by Crawford.

    1. Laszlo, you're very reliable, so I don't want to seem like I'm doubting anything, but what is your source on "Master of the Seven Magics?" I've watched and read several of Cranford's accounts of the development of the series, and that's never come up. He also had already announced "Shadow Snare" as the title of his next game at the end of Maze Master.

      All of this does seem plausible, though. I'd just feel better with a couple of references.

    2. He talks about "maybe calling the game that" at the GDC presentation (, around 19:30).

      I seem to remember a print interview with maybe Adams or Fargo, that mentions several name changes before the Scarlet Bard era (not by name, but that suggested Shadow Snare wasn't the original title), but now I can't find it.

      Maybe I was hasty, but with the game concept and Cranford words, perhaps it was at least a working title?

  16. I never owned the Bard's Tale back in the day. I had an Atari Whatever and I don't think it was available. My friends had C64s, though, so I used to watch them play. While they loved the game (and I enjoyed watching them play), I definitely remember us doing other things while endless battles scrolled passed on the monitor.

    I bought the Bard's Tale IV. I don't know what the general opinion of it is, but I never really got into it. What WAS great, though, was the loving update of The Bard's Tale I that was included. They did a massive overhaul of the graphics and added mouse compatibility and wow, does it make a difference. I really enjoyed it (although I never came close to finishing it). And it wasn't just nostalgia, since I never really played the first game. It just kind of hold's up after all these years. Chester, you should give it a shot.

    1. I haven't played the game yet, but based off what I've seen on the inExile forums, they seem to find it mixed at best.

      To a lot of them, it doesn't feel like a Bard's Tale game.

    2. I got a lot of value from BT4. The puzzles and combats are good and the callbacks to the original series were fun.

  17. I hate to break it to you addict, but MobyGames, Wikipedia, and even the Bard's Tale Online ( say the name of the game is "Tales of the Unknown."

    1. Part of the reason I suspect our host spent a long time on this point is that he is stating "everyone else is wrong".

      Every source has been wrong before. One source often just get copied by all the others.

    2. You're not "breaking" anything to me. I'm well aware that most sites have it that way, which (as Jason pointed out) is why I spent some time arguing against it. There's no justification for calling it Tales of the Unknown unless you value the subdued lettering at the top of SOME of the game boxes ahead of literally every other piece of evidence.

  18. >The party of six (or up to six) is all-male. (Heineman claims that Cranford said, "Girls don't play games." Cranford says that never happened.)

    This is such an interesting comment to me because it reinforces something that I keep seeing in the comments (and really have encountered online for decades). Maybe this is because I started playing RPGs on consoles, but I have never felt that the characters in the RPG had to be based on myself, or that I had to be able to imagine myself as the characters. Even as a kid, having a woman in my party didn't seem that much different from having a magician -- I'm not a woman or a magician.

    I think this is also why the nature of console RPGs has never bothered me the way it does some people; in my mind I've always been accompanying these people on their adventure rather than the party actually being me.

    1. I agree. I'm male and I started playing female characters in RPGs pretty much from the moment the option became available. The idea that you can only empathize or identify with a character who is just like you seems so... limiting.

    2. When I play a multi-character game, I usually think of "myself" as the party leader, which leaves plenty of room for female companions. But even in a single character game, I'm not so invested in the idea of personalizing the character that I can't role-play a woman. If Cranford or anyone else ever DID use that excuse for not including female characters, I agree with you that it's rather silly.

    3. The problem I have with console RPGs is that I'm merely accompanying a party of people over whose decisions I have little control over.

      I usually play female characters. Often fighters, sometimes wizards. Sometimes I play dwarves. Sometimes a weird fantasy race like thri-kreen if the game has them.

      I have no problem role-playing as a diverse set of characters. I've played wizards, fighters, thieves, orcs, dwarves, spaceship captains, and women in pen and paper games - even though I'm neither of these things.

      But in console RPGs I don't roleplay. I only watch a pre-determined party follow a strictly linear pre-determined story. If CRPGs have dialog, it's either through typing or clicking keywords, or through list based dialog trees. Console RPGs have cutscenes instead, with zero player input.

      In a game I don't wanna follow a party of characters on their ride. I want to actively play that party of characters (or that individual character, depending on the game). If I just wanted to watch a bunch of characters not created by me follow a linear story in which I have little to no input, I would watch a movie or read a book, not play a game.

    4. I only played tabletop RPGs with actual role-playing after I started playing console RPGs, so maybe that affected my view as well. I never saw the games as an opportunity to do genuine roleplaying anymore than I wanted to roleplay Mario or Samus Aran.

      (To be clear, I am not criticizing anyone who doesn't like console RPGs -- I find it interesting the different assumptions or expectations we bring to the games.)

      "If I just wanted to watch a bunch of characters not created by me follow a linear story in which I have little to no input, I would watch a movie or read a book, not play a game. "

      This is how I feel when people say that their primary interest in an RPG is the story. But to me it does have a different feel from a book or movie because I am still accomplishing the deeds in some way rather than just watching them, even if I'm accomplishing a pre-set series of tasks.

      Maybe it's also that I don't find most computer RPGs to have all that much choice either -- Wizardry doesn't let you attack Trebor, try to join Werdna, or let you open a medicine shop.

    5. JarlFrank, I agree with most of what you say, but not the last sentence. I think the problem with JRPGs is not that I'm watching some premade party progress through a predetermined story, the problem is that the party members often aren't very interesting and the story not very good. But if the story is good, it doesn't matter much to me if it is presented in a book, a film or a game.

    6. If you want to watch a linear story with no control, why even bother with a movie? Why not go all the way back to books, or theater, or an oral tradition from the village elder?

      Saying any linear story makes something "just a movie" is an easy, disingenuous argument. Macbeth and Clifford the Big Red Dog are both "linear stories" but they're not really comparable, are they? It's the same thing to claim that a linear video game is "just a movie."

    7. I've always hated the "If you want story go read a book" sorts of arguments. I like books, but I like games more. Why can't I express a preference for having a story in a medium I like more without effectively being told that I'm wrong for wanting that?

    8. The problem with story in games is that the harder a game tries to make itself literary, or cinematic, or anything else relating to telling a linear story, the harder it rams itself into the wall of ludonarrative dissonance. The greatest video game story (Planescape: Torment, for the record) is still only about as deep and meaningful as a dimestore novel or a TV pilot, because the medium is just horribly suited for expressing any kind of literary themes or ideas. It's just not a good medium for conveying stories more complex than "those alien bastards shot down your ride and stole your chicks, go kick their asses while chewing bubblegum (while bubblegum supplies last.)" Video game stories should provide a reason for the player to be doing whatever the gameplay entails and then get out of the way.

    9. Because the whole point of games is player agency, where the player has control over what happens. If the player has little meaningful control, why bother with a game at all? Another medium would suit your idea better. It's like trying to make a landscape painting with lasers. Just get the Bob Ross oil paints out.

    10. This is the exact sort of thing I was talking about, dismissing the idea of stories in games as being inherently a bad idea. Thing is, I don't want to watch a movie, I don't want to read a book, I want to play a game. I also like having a decent plot in a game, and dismissing the medium as being inherently inferior for story just because it's a game just ends up feeling like I'm being told my preferences are inherently bad. It also just sort of reeks of... I want to say elitism, but that doesn't seem like the right word. It gives me a general "New media is bad" sort of vibe, saying that the medium can't be used for serious storytelling and that if you want that you're just wasting your time and should go to some other media instead.

    11. To me it just feels like a waste to focus on story in a video game, when books are movies are so much better mediums for stories (and I read a lot of fiction).

      If you want real _interactive_ story telling (or choices&consequences) a good live Dungeon Master is much better than a computer. There's even PBEM versions of Interactive Fiction, or at least it was when I used to play PB(E)M games myself.

      So why use a computer for something it can't do very well? Now the things a computer _can_ do very well is things like combat, exploration, immersion, level design and keeping track of thousands of NPCs, monsters and items. All this it can do much more effective than a human DM. A computer is good at computing, but is still far inferior to a human when it comes to creativity and improvising.

      Also, what Harland said.

    12. I agree with Twibat.

      PetrusOctavianus, a live dungeon master may be better at creating an interactive story, but I don't think there's anything wrong with a linear, non-interactive story that supports the interactive gameplay of an RPG. It only becomes a problem when the gameplay is good, but the cutscenes that tell the story aren't.

      Books may be better suited for telling stories, but that doesn't imply that games (= game developers) are bad at telling a story. It's more a question of finding the right amount of story compared to the amount of player interaction, and that is both heavily dependent on the type of game and the player's preferences. E.g. Wizardry requires little story, but Planescape: Torment can't do without. And even in Wizardry, I like how in W6 the gameworld comes alive through some text messages (limited as they are, they add something to the game; and yet they're non-interactive, linear and not exactly deep).

      In short, it's not about the medium, it's about quality.

    13. The mentions of films reminds me of a bit of American film history. Back in the early 1900s, there was a trend of local governments setting up review boards for films, requiring approval to be allowed to show them in whatever their jurisdiction was. Naturally, film studios eventually sued because these were effectively censorship boards and the government deciding what speech is and isn't acceptible in films, which violates the First Amendment. The case made it's way to the Supreme Court, which issued a unanimous ruling that films are a commecial venture with no artistic merit, and are therefore not protected by the First Amendment. This ruling wasn't overturned for close to 40 years and was a big reason for the Hays Code, which arguably stagnated American movies for years because they had to be clean family entertainment for the most part. The whole idea of games being inherently inferior for storytelling reminds me of this because that sort of mindset can easily end up being self fulfilling, where the right people sharing that line of thought can end up enforcing that mindset and ensuring it outright can't be used for good storytelling. Something similar happened with American comic books for a while, although I'm not going to get into that.

    14. I think you're confusing what content is suitable with which type of media to use for the content.

      We already have the Hayes Code mindset in the movie industry. Just like the Hayes Code had specific rules for what should be encouraged and what should not be allowed, the people with the same mindset today are enforcing their own rules. And if your movie is not "inclusive", you will be canceled in the name of tolerance. In the Hayes era people it was called blacklisting.

      But we had a good period of artistic freedom from 1968 to about 2010, before the moralists were back in control.

    15. In the past year, there've been two cries to boycott Nettflix. One from the left, and one from the right.

      Or perhaps you mean how people tried to boycott Ghostbusters (for having women), Thor (for having a black Heimdall), or Ghost in the Shell (for having a white Kusanagi).

      Of course, in all these cases, the boycotts failed, so were nothing at all like the Hays Code which effectively confined US cinema for two decades.

    16. If the above was addressed to me:
      I'm talking about people getting cancelled for having "wrong" values or not having enough "diversity" in their games or movies.
      Which is far more serious than consumer boycott (no matter how stupid the reason) of products.

    17. There are people who say that RPGs are pointless because why would you play a game where success is based on random numbers and not your skill? Where you can just grind levels instead of improving your gaming skill?

      This is how I feel about the "RPGs are pointless without meaningful control" argument -- what do you mean by "meaningful control"? As I said earlier, do you have meaningful control in Might and Magic 1? You can't win the game without doing a linear set of predetermined actions. It's true that you are allowed more freedom in the game, but in the end, the freedom doesn't allow you to avoid the set things you must do to finish the game.

    18. @petrus

      Well you mentioned ‘artistic freedom’ so that’s what I responded to. What are some examples of artistic freedom being impinged by people claiming the art represents ‘wrong values’?

    19. There are _some_ stories which can really only work in videogames(or maybe work best). Interactive fiction tends to do some of these. I agree that the _quality_ of the story isn't better than you can get in books, but there are _types_ of stories that only work this way, and I always appreciate when they do that.

      "Spider and Web" by Andrew Plotkin is an IF example(and a VERY good piece of IF - I highly recommend it)

      "Bioshock" (the first one) is an action RPG example.

      It's not a very good game but "The Bureau"(squad tactics) tells a story that works best because it's a video game.

    20. I think Interactive Fiction is a whole different hobby from video games, honestly. Obviously the quality of the writing is going to improve when you don't have any graphics or gameplay to get in the way.

      The best video game stories are non-linear breadcrumb narratives like Dark Souls, where the player is given a vague impression of what's going on and has to slowly piece together the details through their own exploration. That's a method of storytelling that you can't really do in a book or movie, and one that blends of gameplay and story in a way that feels a lot less awkward than cutscene exposition dumps. There's nothing I hate more than being in the middle of a good game and having to put down my controller because it's ~story time~.

    21. I agree 100% with anonymous here. That's the kind of video game storytelling i like best, too--where there is a deep, rich story, but you have to uncover it rather than having it fed to you.

    22. I can agree with that.
      While it's not very important for me in a game, I still appreciate good writing, a good background story or setting, and having to piece together things yourself.

      And I really liked the ambiguity in Morrowind where you never found out what _really_ happened with the Nevarine all those years ago.

      What I really detest are games like Heroes Chronicles that assaults you with pages and pages of inane fan fiction level drivel about what your hero does, thinks and dreams. Fortunately the text can mostly be skipped without losing anything of value.

      I think writing good prose (and writing good music) is harder than other aspects of game design. I'm often impressed by the quality of user-made stuff for various games, but the writing is rarely up to the same standard.
      Someone mentioned Ray Bradbury earlier. He actually had to practice writing every day for many years before he was able to write anything good enough to be published.

    23. @Tristan Gall

      Or perhaps you mean how people tried to boycott Ghostbusters (for having women), Thor (for having a black Heimdall), or Ghost in the Shell (for having a white Kusanagi)."

      There was no major backlash against Ghostbusters for having women as the major characters. The usual crowd of jerks was out there as always, but the biggest criticism was that the trailer was really bad, and they seemed to be relying entirely on crass jokes and the gender flip to excuse great holes in the quality of the movie.

      Indeed, when the film came out, it put in an abysmal box-office performance (once the cost of marketing is factored in, it lost a significant amount of money) and the planned sequels were cancelled.

      There is evidence that the studio was having comments with reasonable criticism removed while allowing hateful ones, and a pretty significant percentage of the people who were allegedly making hateful comments were doing nothing of the kind, if you look at what they actually were saying instead of relying on hearsay. It is very likely that the situation was largely manufactured.

      The situation with Thor was in many ways similar, except there's no evidence the studio spurred it on (probably because they had a solid movie instead of a ticking bomb). Most of the complaints came from a very small number of people, inflated only because the Internet gives everybody a megaphone.

      The situation with Ghost in The Shell is the one example you give that had a genuine controversy, and it wasn't really undeserved. Casting a white woman to play a character that has always been portrayed as Japanese and living in Japan genuinely does run into some extremely dangerous Hollywood practices. My understanding is that the final film justified it in a way that took a lot of the problem out, but that doesn't mean that there was no reason to be concerned in the first place.

    24. I agree with Twibat.

      I started playing role-playing and action-adventure video games because I was short on fantasy novels. The two medias give me different pleasures: good books are deeper, whereas the video games give me some degree of control. Both give me immersion in a fantasy world. Also, there is the Lone Wolf series of gamebooks (for free on the author-supported website), that is somewhere halfway between the two medias.

      Everybody is free to like any hobby in any way he/she likes (as long as it is legal and it does no harm to anybody).

    25. "The problem with story in games is that the harder a game tries to make itself literary, or cinematic, or anything else relating to telling a linear story, the harder it rams itself into the wall of ludonarrative dissonance. The greatest video game story (Planescape: Torment, for the record) is still only about as deep and meaningful as a dimestore novel or a TV pilot, because the medium is just horribly suited for expressing any kind of literary themes or ideas. It's just not a good medium for conveying stories more complex than "those alien bastards shot down your ride and stole your chicks, go kick their asses while chewing bubblegum (while bubblegum supplies last.)" Video game stories should provide a reason for the player to be doing whatever the gameplay entails and then get out of the way."

      Anonymous! When you write great stuff like this, you really ought to include a handle to get SOME kind of credit. :)

      Couldn't agree more here. PS:T was an amazing piece of storytelling for a videogame, and I think it held the crown until Dark Souls turned videogame storytelling on its head. But if you distilled PS:T to nothing BUT story, you wouldn't have all that much.

      But, so far, that's the best way to go about it. There are lots of problems with creating a complex story in a game (as opposed to a complex world), but I think the biggest is probably pacing. Game designers have horribly limited control over a game's pacing, and consequently can't complicate the story too much.

    26. Nowhere did I say that story doesn't matter in a game. But I fully stand behind the idea that it should either be interactive or non-intrusive. If a game interrupts my gameplay with constant cutscenes, I will hate it. Most JRPGs do that, and therefore I hate them. Zero player input into the story, but the story constantly pops up to tear you out of the gameplay.

      A video game story shouldn't be told in the same way as a movie or novel story. It should use the medium's strength, which is interactivity. Or it should take a background role that doesn't constantly shove itself into your face.

      One of my favorite games ever is Thief, and it's got a linear story and level structure. But the only cutscenes in the game are atmospheric briefing intros between missions, and the occasional more involved cutscene after you finish a mission followed by a big plot twist.

      The game never triggers a cutscene outside of the start and the end of a level. You get free uninterrupted gameplay from start to finish. And within each level, bits of story are placed and can be found through exploration. Diaries, letters, conversations you can eavesdrop on.

      That's how a game should tell its story. Let the player discover it at his own pace. Cause that's the strength of the medium: player agency and interactivity.

      If your story is presented like a movie of completely linear cutscenes that constantly interrupt your gameplay, that's inappropriate for the medium.

      Just like how books, movies and comics have storytelling methods of their own that can't be applied to every medium in the exact same way, so do games have their appropriate storytelling methods.

    27. This comment has been removed by the author.

    28. But that all sounds very prescriptive, and clearly a lot of players disagree with you because companies are making tons of money producing games that you feel are inappropriate and evidently shouldn't be made.

    29. I mean, if you think that Planescape Torment is the greatest story ever told in a videogame, you simply haven't played enough videogames to have a meaningful opinion.

      I don't mean to diss Planescape in saying that - it's a legitimately great game - but if someone has played Night In The Woods or Papers Please and still thinks that videogames are just inherently unsuited for intelligently expressing literary themes, or played Her Story or Return of the Obra Dinn and doesn't think that videogames can present new kinds of stories with artistic merit that non-interactive forms can't, or played Everybody's Gone To The Rapture or Journey and not seen that videogames can express a kind of genuine *poetry* all their own, then I just don't value that person's opinion.

      There's a fundamental mistake in looking at computer roleplaying games and comparing them to the heights of prose literature and cinematography, because that's not (generally) what they're trying to be. They're trying to be popcorn pulp. That's the genre that tabletop (simulationist) RPGs grew out of - their inspirations are (with the possible exceptions of Tolkien and Wagner) unashamedly cheap, vigorous, imaginative pulp. These games aspire to being a blockbuster, not Oscar-bait, and they judge their success by whether you were entertained, not by whether they pushed the boundaries of art. Which is not to say many aren't good, emotional, and clever - in much the same way as blockbusters can sometimes be more than just a blockbuster - but it's not their primary goal.

      To look at most CRPGs and say what games *can't* do is just wankery - and it largely ignores the plethora of games that *do* aim to push boundaries, and succeed.

    30. This just proves the point: games can be great at telling stories... if they use the unique aspects of the medium to deliver that story. Doing something that non-interactive media can't.

      A game that just drops regular cutscenes at you every couple of minutes is objectively a bad game. People might enjoy the story, some people just don't know any better and think that's a good method of delivering a story in a game, but that doesn't mean it's good or appropriate. It's objectively terrible. If you like it, you just have bad taste - nothing wrong with having bad taste, I have some of that myself as I greatly enjoy cheap 1980s barbarian movies. Yet I would never claim that they're great artistic masterworks, I just find them fun to watch.

      Maybe some of you find JRPG storytelling with its strict linearity and lengthy non-interactive dialogues that consist of dozens of lines of trivial back-and-forth banter where you can't even choose what your character says entertaining. That's okay. But just because you like it doesn't make it objectively good.

      Console/JRPGs in their typical form completely fail at using the strengths of the medium to tell their stories, and instead settle for a formulaic and awkward delivery system that feels more like a barely interactive movie or novel than an actual game. If you compare that against what the medium CAN do, it can clearly be analyzed as being objectively bad.

      The best movies use a visual language to deliver themes, story, mood in ways that written books can't. The same with comic books, the best ones use their combination of writing and art to deliver story/mood/themes in a way other media can't. The same applies to games: the ones that truly make use of the strengths of their medium do things in a way that can't be emulated by other media.

      If your game's story can be told in a non-interactive medium without making any changes to its structure or delivery, it fails at being a good game story. Simple as.

    31. Sometimes the story is better than the game and it should have been a VN or written story, sometimes the game is better and the story might as well be at the level of "You beat me? I am destroyed!" I think the best combinations of the two are when they run at the same time, without one slowing down the other.

    32. It's ironic, but the best game writing I've read was not in-game, but the short story The Dark Wheel by Robert Holdstock that was included with Elite. It really wanted me to find the mysterious planet Raxxla, but after months of playing I concluded that it didn't exist in the game. Ah, to be young and impressionable again.

    33. @JarlFrank: The problem with your argument here is that it is based on a tendentious, false description of JRPGs. You don't like JRPGs and you don't play them, so you should steer clear of making grand proclamations about what they're like and why people might enjoy them. Instead consider saying "I dislike games that [have particular properties], and many of the JRPGs I've played have been of that variety."

    34. stepped pyramid is absolutely right. To try selling ones own contempt for jrpg and everything else which is beyond a narrow western elitist mind as being clearly objective...just laughably redicoulus.

    35. That's why I'm stepping back from this discussion; I don't mind having discussion about what type of games people like. I'm not as interested when people start to claim that their preferences are objectively better than mine.

    36. Yeah, "I don't like games with interrupting cutscenes" is a fairly reasonable opinion that I can completely understand. Saying games like that are objectively bad is effectively saying that the millions of people that like that style of game are objectively wrong and that they have terrible taste, which seems... dumb. Personally my opinion on that kind of thing is that there are very few objectively bad games, just a lot of games that aren't to people's tastes and therefore think are bad

    37. There's a reasonable case to be made that the only time a media item is "objectively" bad is when the people who published it lost money. Everything else is a matter of opinion, and in terms of value judgments, there's nothing "objective" there at all.

      Obviously certain parameters can be objectively measured, like a game's frame rate, script length, or even its complexity (there are metrics for that). But when it comes to whether a game is "good" or not, those things are not necessarily predictive of my enjoyment -- and ultimately my enjoyment is just about the only thing that matters to me when I play a game.

    38. "There's a reasonable case to be made that the only time a media item is "objectively" bad is when the people who published it lost money. Everything else is a matter of opinion, and in terms of value judgments, there's nothing "objective" there at all."
      You can argue that this is also a subjective metrics to judge the quality of a media item. At least in my opinion :).

    39. Well, no doubt my post is a bit of a provocation (intentionally so), since things like freeware exist. :)

      But my point is that pronouncements about what's "objectively" good or bad -- or what level of experience a person needs to have in order to be allowed an opinion -- mean nothing to the companies and publishers that put out 90-99% of what we consume in the "game" category. To them, a game's raison d'être is to make money, full stop -- and total garbage that makes money is, in that world, definitionally a "better" game than a brilliant labor of love that no one buys.

    40. A piece of art may have a number of components which can be 'objectively' measured in terms of the skill they exhibit, but consuming art involves subjectively experiencing a whole.

  19. I have to say that "The Thief of Fate" is one of the best game titles ever.

    I wonder what the significance of "LIE WITH PASSION AND BE FOREVER DAMNED" was. It makes mention of "The One God", but that's certainly not a Bible quote.

    Some notes on the changes and censorship of the Nintendo version:
    -The drinks to refresh the bard are now Root Beer and Ginger Ale.
    -The wine cellar is replaced with "heirloom grape juice".
    -You now HAVE to beat the cellars. At the end of it, the dead acolyte of Tarjan you find doesn't just give you his name, but a "Heretic Proof" as well that you need to show the gatekeeper at the Mad God's Temple to get in.
    -The guard at the temple refers to Tarjan as "Tarjan the Great".
    -Tarjan is referred to as "The Mad Spirit" in the battle at Harkyn's Castle and (I forget where I saw this in the game) declared himself "ruler" instead of a god.
    -All magic mouth puzzles have been excised, the one in Mangar's Tower (where you learn the seven words od "LIE WITH PASSION AND BE FOREVER DAMNED" by exploring the level) being replaced with exploring the level to find out the correct order to press four buttons in (Dragon, Fire, Crystal, Sword).
    -Both mentions of The One God are excised due to the aforementioned removal of magic mouth puzzles.
    -Oddly, there are still several types of demons that you fight.

    1. The censorship of Nintendo of America is well known. No references to the good side of religions (God, crosses, David's star), but feel free to quote the evil side (demons). No references to drinks, but weapons and killing are ok (because a sober killer is sooo educational) :D :D :D

    2. That last part's been true of American media just about forever, though. All sorts of violence is a-okay but implying that people sleep in the same bed or gasp own toilets? Absolutely forbidden. Even nowadays it seems that a small amount of nudity will jack up your film's/game's rating way faster than any amount of gratuitous violence.

    3. Alex, you're suggesting that things are true about "American media" that haven't been true since the 1960s. The MPAA's policies might still be a little silly, but we do live in a world where anyone can call up all the violence and nudity they want in mere seconds, so I'm not sure why what they do is even worth worrying about.

    4. Anyway, P-Tux7 forgot to mention two big changes in the Nintendo port:
      - Paladin, monk, sorcerer, and wizard classes were removed.
      - The spellcasters are unable to change class. Thus, their spell lists have been heavily modified and now include several spells from the two missing classes.

  20. Very cool to visit the C64 version this time. I believe the Apple II version was the original code from Cranford, who did it in assembly language which helps explain the apparent "advance in tech" over previous games.

    The Apple II version has an even more brutal early game; you can encounter TWO groups in the streets of Skara Brae during the day time!

    When you revisit the sequel, make sure you have a version that isn't bugged. There are game breaking bugs in some major ports of the game. In one version of BT2, the monsters don't have any special abilities. I played the recent remaster to avoid those bugs.

    Oh, and saying hi again! I first started reading your blog 11 years ago due to your coverage of the Bard's Tale series. Grinding Fanskar's Castle was a fond memory of my childhood, but it doesn't hold up compared to other games I'm currently playing. Did the remaster recently which is a GREAT adaptation but got bogged down early in the 3rd game of the series because it paled next to some other recent CRPGs I wanted to try.

    1. I actually wanted to try the Amiga version initially, but I couldn't find one that worked. I figured if I couldn't play the most graphically advanced version, I might as well play one of the earliest versions.

    2. I imagine the ports were pretty much rewrites of the game if it was written in assembly.

    3. The differences in hardware, memory, and storage in this era mean that every port is a complete reimplementation of the game, whether it's written in Assembly, BASIC, C, or something else.

      Finding two ports of a game that that are largely identical in this era is much rarer than the reverse.

  21. "It's particularly frustrating to get stoned"

    I have to vehemently disagree... *cough*

  22. Also...

    because you half-remember a certain game being slightly different to another game of the same era on a different platform, wanting to replay and reassess it by a slight margin yields us another post?

    That whole 'Revisiting' business might evolve into an 'ouroboros effect', is what I'm saying.

    Just poking you a bit, Chet (amidst all the gushing posts) ;)

    1. I think in this case it's a quick prelude to finishing the later games in the Bard's Tale series that he gave up on? I'll agree, though, that an ouroboros effect would be good to avoid in cases that warrant it.

  23. I'm glad you revisited it and pointed out its merits. As I said in your old takes on BT I've very fond memories of the series. I've kinda doubted my own assessment of the games sometimes after reading your opinion. Was I clouded by nostalgia, because these were the very first CRPG I ever experienced and I didn't know Wizardry? I'm now more sure than ever that isn't the case, the games definitely have something going for them which hit a nerve back then. I remember all my other C64 games (all from other genres) suddenly pale in comparison. The level of sophistication was really high compared to them, such as experiencing an adventure in a whole city with buildings and dungeons you could enter. Also as has been said before such games in the 80s seemed so full of unexpected possibilities because no one had their manuals.

    I recently looked into the remastered versions, and I found myself still liking all parts of the series. But I also don't really care for linearity, sometimes a game full of endless encounters and dungeons is just what I need.

  24. There is one thing that always kept me from enjoying the Bard's Tale games and Dragon Wars: the perspective. The fact that more than two tiles away is "empty". That completely messes up my orientation, I could not cope with that in the 90s and I cannot now. So thanks heavens for the remakes.

    The gameplay loop in Bard's Tale, on the other hand, is pure addiction.

  25. The reason why Bard's Tale got so big here in Germany was, according to the German Retro Gamer and other magazines, the non-availability of the original Wizardry. The Apple II was simply not popular in Germany, the DOS version of Wizardry only available as super-expensive import version, and the C64 version did not appear until 1987. Thus, The Bard's Tale just too happily filled that gap.

  26. I know there are a host of bugs that are present in the DOS release that are not in the 8-bit releases. There was a thread in a forum that detailed all of them. Not to say there weren't bugs in the 8-bit releases, but I never looked into that. I believe, though it's been a while since I read up on this, that some of the DOS bugs were carried over to the other 16-bit platforms. It's interesting to think on how contemporary players were getting different experiences based on their chosen platform beyond sound and graphics capability.

    1. Divergence between different platforms' implementation of games was quite common, because of the frequency with which game developers used assembly language.

      Wizardry, notably, was written in UCSD Pascal, so could be more or less reliably transferred bug-for-bug to another host platform.

      By contrast, Ultima III was originally written in 6502 assembly language, so the C64 and Atari 8bit version were ports (same architecture, but different peripherals and ROM facilities), but all of the other versions were rewrites (completely different architecture = start almost from scratch).

      The result is that the 6502 and 8088 versions are not bug-compatible. A fault in the combat logic on the Apple version makes (IIRC) melee weapons ineffective, while the PC version has a nasty glitch in worldmap monster generation that makes pirates far harder to find than they're supposed to be.

  27. A little bit more fun with the game's title:

    This game came in the early EA folio packaging. The title on the spine is the full "Tales of the Unknown Volume 1 The Bard's Tale." Based on this, one would assume that is indeed the full title. However, if you look carefully, you can see that "The Bard's Tale" text is italicized, but the "Tales.." part is not. Since italics are used for titles, this would indicate the title is just "The Bard's Tale."

    The other two Bard's Tale games did not have any "Tales.." text on their spine (BT3) or box sides (BT2).

    1. That's interesting to hear, particularly since no one posts pictures of the spines online.

      I think the better evidence comes from the copyright inside the manual: "Tales of the Unknown, The Bard's Tale, and Electronic Arts are trademarks of Electronic Arts."

      If the title was Tales of the Unknown, Volume I: The Bard's Tale," then "Tales of the Unknown" and "The Bard's Tale" wouldn't be listed separately. Since they are, if the title of the game is "Tales of the Unknown," what is "The Bard's Tale"? The only way to reconcile it is that "Tales of the Unknown" is the series title and "The Bard's Tale" is the game title.

      Then you have the fact that "Tales of the Unknown" never appears at all in the text of the game manual. Instead, it starts off by saying, "The Bard's Tale is a fantasy role-playing game. First in the series of Tales of the Unknown, this one is set in the city of Skara Brae."

      It annoys me that Wikipedia and MobyGames have it listed as "Tales of the Unknown." Some pedants got hold of the submission and editing process, and they were the worst sort of pedants--the kind that are wrong but smugly think that they're right.

    2. I decided to be the change I wanted to see, etc., and I edited the Wikipedia page. We'll see how long it lasts.

  28. The original manual for the C64 tape english version (1988 copyright, and I have a note on my maps that says finished July 14/1989, so I think I have bought it a couple of months before) says only "The Bard'S Tale" and the insert in the case has on the spine "The Bard's Tale Vol 1" and The Bard's Tale on the front in the upper section and Tales of the Unknown at the bottom. I remember the loading times (you had to map also the tape to find the exact position of the dungeons) and I remember the difficult combat at the beginning. And run to the Guild at night. I replayed the game with the release at GOG and now it wasn't so difficult to break the 4th/5th level.

  29. Tiny correction: MIBL is Mangar's Mind Blade, not Mind Blast

  30. That picture of the temple has a certain cyberpunk vibe to it.

  31. This is serendipitous that you're playing these again. I was recently playing through the remakes, looked up your assessments of them, and found them a bit too brief and disappointing (no insult intended, as you've noted before, your style has evolved over time).

    Also interesting that you mentioned Abandoned Places 2 in this post, as your description of the horrors of solving that game reminded me directly of the snares in Bard's Tale 2. I tried to post to draw the comparison at the time, but my posts keep being eaten (I think I've figured out that I need to leave the URL blank).

    I don't think you reached any of the later snares in your initial try at BT2. I'm not even sure they're reasonably solvable without a guide. Trapped in rooms with darkness, anti-magic, anti-music, spinners, instant party death if you step into the wrong square, expected to navigate all this to find cryptic clues somewhere in the room to solve it. All with a real world time limit before instant party death, without anything to indicate how much time you have remaining. Turn down those CPU clock cycles, unless you're playing on Apple 2, which has a step counter instead of time limit.

    Sounds like there's also a legacy hit chance issue in BT2 that's easy to run afoul of (no spoilers):

    The series as a whole greatly suffers from overabundance of darkness, anti-magic, and spinners. After a certain point it's not fun, just tedious.

    Good luck with these games, looking forward to what you think of them now.

    1. Most of the cryptic clues are elsewhere in the dungeon.

      Snare #1 isn't too bad.

      Snare #2 is a simple truth/lies logic puzzle.

      Snare #3 I can't even remember what the puzzle was.

      Snare #4 is grounds to revoke the designer's gamedev privileges permanently, not because it's hard but because it's crushingly tedious.

      Snare #5's logic puzzle is fairly simple to begin with, and in the extreme you should be able to brute-force it in a manageable number of attempts.

      Snare #6 is pretty innocuous.

      Snare #7 is quite elaborate, but mostly it's a way to annoy people with illicit copies of the game who didn't think to photocopy the manual.

    2. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but at least one of your simple/easy examples places you in a location where if you step forward twice the entire party will die instantly with no warning. You won't know there WAS a simple puzzle to solve. And I would argue that most of the clues are not obvious.

      An analogy: Indiana Jones reaches the holy grail chamber. The movie shows us a relatively solvable puzzle, right? But now imagine he reaches the room, it is pitch black, the ground can shift and throw off his orientation. The grail knight is standing in a far corner of the room and won't talk to Indiana unless he makes it over to him, but Indy doesn't even know he's there. He stumbles forward in the dark, his hand accidentally brushes one of the wrong grails and he keels over dead. If Indy chooses to be cautious and maps out the room in the dark but takes slightly too long, he also keels over dead. That is what the snares are like.

      The puzzles only seem easy when you're reading about them in a guide.

    3. I must have been a genius when I completed BT2. I don't recall the snares being _that_ difficult, and the only help I may have got was the help columns in various gaming mags.
      I dunno, maybe I used expendable characters for the puzzles. After all, there is no final Game Over in the BT games, even if your whole party is wiped out.

    4. Petrus, you must have been one :)
      Honestly, I'm still not sure how people completed that game without help, though I suppose playing on a platform where you could save the game right at the entrance would help a lot.

      Martin, I think snare #3 is pretty similar to snare #4.
      The remaster, BTW, does make the snares a little easier by throwing in a few more clues and reducing some of the repetition. It also provides a timer.

      The lack of light is part of what makes the final snare so asinine. One puzzle I that I also think is asinine is the one to get out of the first level of the Grey Crypt. Let's just say the answers the clue book provided weren't particularly abundant.

      BTW, can someone explain why the answer to the 2nd snare is what it is? ROT 13 below
      V'z arire svtherq bhg jul gur qbbe va gur zvqqyr vf jebat. V zrna, V guvax V unir, ohg vg frrzf yvxr n fgergpu.

    5. Ether, you're exactly right, and that's part of my entire complaint.


      Bar zrffntr: "Sne evtug naq yrsg vf unmneqbhf, jura gvzr ehaf fubeg, lrg va gur sne pbearef vf xabjyrqtr..."

      V guvax "unmneqbhf" vf ersreevat gb gur gencf naq qnzntr ng gur fvqrf bs gur ebbz, ohg n cynlre pbhyq whfg nf rnfvyl vagrecerg guvf gb zrna gur sne evtug naq yrsg QBBEF ner unmneqbhf, naq gb gnxr gur pragre.

      "Cbaqre guvf: Gur juvgr funyy yvr, naq va guvf xabjyrqtr ersyrpgf lbhe bayl nafjre."
      Oynpx: "Gur qbbe ba gur evtug yrnqf gb fnsrgl."
      Juvgr: "Gur oynpx-pybnxrq bar fcrnxf gur gehgu."

      Gur fgergpu lbh'er gnyxvat nobhg vf gur vqrn gung vs "evtug yrnqf gb fnsrgl" vf n yvr, gura gur nafjre vf gur rknpg bccbfvgr, gung gur YRSG yrnqf gb fnsrgl. Ohg gung'f abg ubj yvrf jbex. Gur pragre qbbe erznvaf ha-pbzzragrq-ba. Vg'f n cbbeyl pbafgehpgrq chmmyr, yvxr zbfg bs gur fanerf.

    6. Thanks!

      V riraghnyyl svtherq gung "yrsg vf unmneqbhf" ersreerq gb gur UC ybff fdhnerf va gur yrsg fvqr bs gur faner.
      Ubjrire, V nyjnlf svtherq gur ylvat zntrf jrer fnlvat zrnag gung gur qbbe gb gur evtug yrnqf gb unez/qrngu. V ARIRE pbafvqrerq gung vg zvtug unir zrnag gung gur qbbe gb gur yrsg yrnqf gb fnsrgl

    7. "The lack of light is part of what makes the final snare so asinine."

      There was no lack of light on the C64, at least, because there was no Darkness! inside the snare and you could use (at least certain) light source items just fine even in antimagic zones.

    8. ... I'm a derp. I was confusing 6 and 7 in that last comment!

    9. Over a month later, but, I always figured that the weird phrasing was part of the intended hint.

      That is: "Gur juvgr funyy yvr, naq va guvf xabjyrqtr ersyrpgf lbhe bayl nafjre." = "Gur juvgr funyy yvr, naq va guvf xabjyrqtr ersyrpgf lbhe bayl nafjre." = "Gur thl va juvgr funyy yvr, naq gb svther bhg gur gehgu, erirefr gur qverpgvbany pynvz, nf jvgu n zveebe ersyrpgvba."

  32. For a couple of indisputable long titles, there's Road & Track Presents: The Need For Speed, and Disney's Action Game Featuring Hercules. I thought it was some bizarre quirk of the PSN re-release, but that was apparently its title all along. Heaven knows why Disney felt the need, but there was probably a reason.

    1. I'd throw in Golf Magazine: 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples for the Sega 32X. That gets us to 51 characters!

    2. (That's the title in-game, but the front box cover actually gives it as Golf Magazine Presents 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples. 59 characters!)

    3. The Sierra games had always good long titles, among my favourites "Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals"

      I googled for "longest game title" and it reminded me of the fabulous "Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People" saga. Telltale were also hard on this.

    4. "Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental"

    5. The award for most pointlessly long game title ever has to go to the recently released Japanese Switch RPG "Monster wo Taoshite Tsuyoi Ken ya Yoroi wo Te ni Shinasai. Yuusha Tai ga Maou wo Taosu Sono Hi wo Shinjiteimasu." or in English "Defeat Monsters to Get Strong Swords and Armor. We Believe in the Day the Heroes Will Defeat the Demon Lord."
      Yes, that is the title. No, I am not making this up.

    6. I take your picks and raise you

      Kids, don’t eat your Halloween candy without having your parents inspect it first because there are SICKOS out there who will put RAZOR BLADES in it and you will CUT YOUR MOUTH and GET A POISONED INFECTION and DIE, all from eating your candy early. So don’t do that.

      which is a real game, albeit a silly one written under very short time constraints for SpeedIF 2.

      (I'm sure if you get into indies there are some other equally silly options.)

  33. "There are no healing spells on the first level, so you spend most of your gold at the temple, where it costs 10 gold to heal each hit point."

    In the PC version, the "Badhr Kilnfest" bard song heals each injured character one point per combat round, so if you just initiate intra-party combat and sing your little heart out, you can save beaucoup bucks :)

    Of course, this further cements the pub as your haunts, so that even at level 1, you can start each fight with all party members at full health.

    1. Yeah, I tried that, but honestly, defending round after round and having to say yes that you want to continue the fight all to restore a single hit point per round, then having to go get a drink before you could do it again, was more annoying than just paying for healing.

    2. I use AutoHotkey to convert recurring many-keystroke sequences into a single keypress. In this case, after choosing party combat and setting up the bard song, each time I press my macroed hotkey, it automatically spits out a sequence of keys to say yes, defend 6 times, and say yes again, all in the course of a quarter of a second. It has the appearance of raising every injured party member's health by one hit point for each keypress.

      Autohotkey has a way of reducing any keyboard drudgery that is predictable and happens often enough to be worth the time and effort to create a macro.

  34. ... and intra-party combat doesn't really require combat. Everyone can choose whether to attack or defend, and in this case there's no reason to attack one another ... is there?

    1. There is if Doppelgänger have caused dissension in the ranks.

  35. I'll admit that I started getting weary of the first game towards the end and put the game on hiatus a little ways into the first floor of Mangar's Tower... although I imagine that some of that is because I've been playing the remastered versions. Even with the Legacy mode options turned on, there are some differences, one of the biggest being the fact that the first game keeps track of armor class values lower than -10, which allows you to completely avoid physical attacks from enemies that you couldn't do that against in the original game.

    That being said, I just jumped back into my old game today and watched half of my party get completely slaughtered by an encounter on the second floor of Mangar's Tower, so maybe I'm underestimating the endgame difficulty a bit.

  36. A while back I posted on one of the games here, Wizardry I think, that you had inspired me to do my own similar play through of crpg history. I'm definitely not as consistent with the idea as you are, but I do keep coming back to it in between other pursuits.

    So, I've made it up to The Bard's Tale! In re-reading your posts about it, I saw this:
    "but The Bard's Tale is, I believe, the first class to put a bard in a CRPG"

    That should probably read "the first game to put"

    Anyways, off to play!


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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.