Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Shadows of Darkness: Nuages (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday's narrative:

Together, Wherever We Go

In the last entry, I told of the old Nikolai, futilely searching around his house for his lost wife, Anna. Olga told me that she was lost in the forest and "eaten by something terrible."
  
I found Anna's ghost while wandering through the forest. Unaware that she was dead, she begged me to lead her home but was incapable of following. The game forced me to encounter her a few times before I could finally clue her in that she was dead.
       
How did Nikolai even die?
     
After she accepted her fate, the game allowed me to tell Nikolai where he could find her. Nikolai went hobbling off into the forest. The next time I visited the square where I'd seen Anna, I found both of their spirits. (There was no indication of how Nikolai died.) They both expressed their love; Anna said they could now be together forever; and the spirits united and disappeared. 
   
This is a touching scene. Honest.
    
Another way to look at it is I used an addled old man's grief over his lost wife to convince him to wander into the woods until he died of exposure. Paladin!
  
Let Me Entertain You

Returning to the inn one evening, I sighed to note the presence of a gnomish jester standing on a table and telling jokes. He introduced himself as Punny Bones. (He's voiced by prolific voice and character actor Hamilton Camp.) His jokes were terrible, but he suggested that wasn't his fault. He'd somehow forgotten most of the good ones.
      
Punny gets a review.
    
At his invitation, I later met him in his room. He related that his lack of humor was a curse from Baba Yaga. Having no sense of humor herself, she got angry when Punny Bones told a joke about her, and she cursed him so that he would have no sense of humor, either.
      
Don't try to make sense of it.
      
The gypsies later told me where I could find Baba Yaga, but I can't figure out how to get past the magical bushes that block the path. If she has a weakness for food, it's not for any food that I'm carrying.
    
I would imagine that's true of a lot of bushes.
      
Punny Bones is pretty goofy, but the character basically works in this world. There's nothing particularly wrong about the idea of an itinerant gnome that makes his money as a comedian. He didn't bother me as much as I would have thought.
        
Wax On, Wax Off

The part I like most about Quest for Glory games is watching my statistics increase as I successfully employ them. I had been returning to the adventurer's guild daily to use the strength machine (you can only use it once per day) because I thought I needed improved strength to get the bonsai tree in the swamp. I later became convinced that I needed to improve my climbing skill for the same reason. Fortunately, there's a ring on the ceiling of the guild that you can use to practice climbing, by tossing your grapple up to it and shimmying up and down the rope. The only problem is forgetting to grab the rope and grapple when you're done, which I only do every single time.
    
It looks to me like I'm doing okay.
   
Again, I thought I had to buff up so I'd be strong enough to push the squid obelisk out of the way of the bonsai tree, but it turns out that all pushing does is knock it over so that you can climb back up to the cave (the path you originally come down is too slippery). Clicking around with other solutions for the bonsai tree, the game suggested I needed to climb up to the ledge above it. It took me a while to build my climbing skill to the point that I could do that with the grapnel and rope. But that was a dead end, too. I suspect that's simply the thief's way back up to the cave.
      
Man, I could have solved this hours ago.
  
Essentially, I had misinterpreted the scene graphically. The only thing stopping me from getting the bonsai tree was a pile of rocks creating a dam in the river of goo in which the tree sat. By knocking them apart with my own rocks, I broke the dam and the tree came loose and flowed down to the end of the rocks next to me. Saving the tree from goo is a requirement to get help from the Leshy.
      
Well, now it feels more like I'm playing an authentic version of the game.
       
Unfortunately, I can't figure out how this ends because the game crashes if I pick up the tree or try to leave this screen. I don't know whether this is a temporary problem or a permanent one, so I'm going to continue playing and solving puzzles until I know for sure this is a "walking dead" situation, then figure out what to do from there. The error is #47 ("not an object") if anyone has ever seen it before.
 
All I Need is the Girl

It was Olga who first clued me in that the residents of Castle Borgov might be vampires. As for their "Master," I know it's Katrina, the woman who met me outside the cave when I first arrived. I remember it from playing the game in the 1990s, but even if I didn't, I think I would have figured it out by now. Any woman who only hangs around at night despite insisting that it's dangerous at night clearly has something going on.
  
Katrina was waiting for me after I climbed over the town gate one evening (it took me a few tries). She chastised me for wandering around at night and gave me the "Frostbite" spell to protect myself. We flirted a bit, and she gave me some generic answers to questions about Mordavia, magic, and the like, but she abruptly departed before I got through the rest of the keywords.
   
What game are you playing?
  
My first attempt to get into Castle Borgov was to climb the gates at night, when Boris was off-duty. That got me promptly eaten by the two necrotaurs guarding the other side--which I don't understand, as I can defeat necrotaurs in regular combat.
   
Things are about to take a dire turn.
  
Later, after freeing Igor and getting the key to the Borgov crypt from him, I found the secret way into the castle through the crypt. The key opens the way into a dark mausoleum with statues against the walls. Some of the statues conceal hidden doors, but the ones I initially tried just brought me back to the crypt. The one I needed to get to the castle was locked, the key hidden under a seal on the floor.
      
A cool crypt.
    
The seal was another puzzle, and from my perspective not a very fair one (cf. our recent discussion on color-blindness). I intuited what needed to be done almost immediately: spell out the name BORGOV in colors that begin with the same letters; that is, blue, orange, red, green, orange, violet. Someone like me has to solve this kind of puzzle like a logic puzzle if Irene isn't immediately available to come over and help. Looking at the six colors (on the left side of the crest) in order:
   
  • The first could be red, orange, or green
  • The second could be red, orange, or green
  • The third could be yellow or orange
  • The fourth could be green or brown
  • The fifth could be blue or purple
  • The sixth could be purple or green
     
How I love color puzzles.
    
Since I only had one candidate for blue, that meant blue was definitely #5. That left me with only one candidate for purple, which was #6, which left only green as #4 (brown isn't in the puzzle at all). Yellow (although not used by the puzzle) had to be #3. I couldn't figure out red and orange by elimination, but at this point I was down to only two possible sequences, so I tried both and one was right. Later, while typing this, I realized that the colors are presented in the standard ROY G. BIV order (minus indigo), so I could have saved myself some time and angst.
   
The correct combination opened the seal, which contained a key. That key led me to a passage behind one of the statues that ran all the way to the basement of Castle Borgov.
      
A typical castle room.
     
Castle Borgov is a large series of rooms with two or three doors, sometimes concealed behind bookcases and operated with hidden switches. One required me to spell out "EXIT" in letters on the spines of encyclopedias.
      
The extra letters confused me. I tried AX TIME and EXAM IT first.
     
There wasn't anything in most of the rooms. Some of the doors opened to stairwells leading to towers. I had to kill some giant bats in one of the stairwells. There were two places that I couldn't pass. One was a door that opened into the castle's main hall. I blundered into Katrina and Ad Avis, who immediately killed me with blasts of magic. (This was a bit of a spoiler. The game should have just had the character die when he opens the door without showing explicitly what happened.) The other was a downward staircase that ended at a door guarded by two goons. Their conversation indicated that the door led to the dungeon, but that no one was in the dungeon. Trying to get anywhere near the goons led to instant death.
   
I meant to get a shot without the text, but I screwed it up.
    
At the top of another tower, however, I found a room occupied by a giant apelike creature and a little girl. The giant ape, which the girl called "Toby," slammed the door in my face if I tried to enter, but I could stand on the threshold and talk to the girl.
      
Do you play a little Harry Belafonte on the radio?
    
She was a vampire. In a long conversation, it transpired that she was Tanya, missing daughter of the innkeepers. Toby used to visit her at the inn, and one day brought her a doll that she named Vana. When her parents found the doll, they freaked out and forbade her from seeing "Toby" again. Tanya ran away with the creature instead, and he brought her to the castle. At some point, Katrina (who Tanya calls "Aunt Trina") must have turned her into a vampire. Tanya misses her parents but think that they wouldn't want to see her now that she's a vampire. Yuri and Bella must have been aware that vampires were a threat, as they used to make Tanya wear a garlic necklace. Now she wears a choker that Katrina gave her. The relationship between the two is weird ("Aunt Trina says she will be my friend and take care of me . . . She says that I'll be her little girl for ever and ever"). Tanya does not like Ad Avis, who she calls the "dark man." Neither does Toby. Maybe that's something to exploit. Anyway, Toby was clearly barely tolerating my presence, so I eventually left after suggesting to Tanya that she keep my visit a secret.
  
This is probably some anagram.
     
For now, I couldn't find anything else to do in the castle, so I left. I'm looking forward to learning more about Katrina and what she's trying to get out of all of this.
 
You'll Never Get Away from Me
    
Back to the Rusalka. The gypsies told me that to free her, I would have to:
  
  1. Remind her who she is and how she died.
  2. Weave her hair into a broom.
  3. Beat the broom three times against her murderer's grave.
  4. Kill his ghost.
  5. Give the spirit "what she truly desires."
     
I had already found her name on her gravestone: Elyssa. When I had re-visited her before, the game wouldn't let me tell her. It did now, though. She remembered her death. She had gone skinny-dipping with her fiancé. She refused his affections, so he drowned her ("he always did have a low frustration point"). She gave me her hair, which I wove into the hand broom I had previously bought from Olga.
          
Did previous games allow you to use one inventory item on another like this? I can't remember.
      
Elyssa's fiancé, Janos, apparently got to live out his life with his fellow townsfolk thinking that Elyssa had drowned. They buried him next to an empty grave for her. I beat at it with the broom, and his ghost appeared and promptly killed me. Reloading, I cast the gypsies' "Aura" spell first, and this time I was able to defeat the ghost.
    
When do I avenge all the people that the Rusalka has killed over the years?
     
When I returned to Elyssa, her comely features had faded, leaving a rotting corpse behind. I sucked up my revulsion and gave her a kiss, which put her to rest at last. Paladin!
       
Does she have to be hugging me at the same time?
    
Some common themes and other notes from this session:
   
  • You really have to talk with people multiple times. Almost every time I swung through town, people had something new to say. I've been trying really hard to improve my "Communication" and "Honor" statistics by ensuring that I click on myself and greet the NPCs, then click on them to talk about various topics, then click on myself to say goodbye, but it's more annoying to do this than it was in Wages of War because you can't do it from the same screen.
  • If "Cask of Amon Tillado" wasn't enough, there's another clear Poe reference in the cemetery, where one of the headstones is to "Ligeia," another Poe short story. Ligeia's body comes out of her crypt if you open it during the day, and the animation has you shove it back in and close the door. If you open it at night, you get attacked by Ligeia's ghost.
      
I don't know. That looks like Rowena's ghost to me.
      
  • I'm really sick of getting poisoned. I started this session poisoned, probably by a wyvern. I continued to get poisoned by wyverns and giant bats and a trap in the mausoleum. It wears off eventually, but it's annoying until it does. Dr. Cranium will only give me one antidote per day.
  • I'm running out of money fast. I haven't found any way to make more. No monster drops any. There isn't even a "sell" option when talking to Olga.
  • Wandering the forest at night carries the risk of running into a wraith. Wraiths automatically drain all your life force the moment you see them, then continually drain after that, so not even a healing potion can help you. Neither can the "Aura" spell, which is supposed to protect against undead. I honestly don't know how to defeat them.
    
Protected with what?
      
  • It's been fun watching Dmitri's opinion of me grow throughout my quests. When I first arrived, he barked at me that they didn't like strangers. By the end of this session, he was saying things like "Good to see you!" when I spoke to him.
   
Don't gush so much, Dmitri. You're embarrassing both of us.
    
  • I keep waiting for that hawk to be involved in a puzzle somehow.
         
As I wrap up, I find myself with only a few puzzles. I have to figure out how to get to Baba Yaga, the end of Erana's dream message, how to explore the castle without dying (I'm thinking I want to oil the hinges), where to find the other rituals, and how to communicate with the will-o-wisps. I'm sure I have a few more in my notes. I really enjoy the characters in Shadows of Darkness (at least, most of them), and while I don't think voice acting is necessary to an RPG, having professional actors involved in this one does add something to their personalities. 
   
Just as I was readying this entry for publication, however, commenter ATMMachine alerted me to a "walking dead" scenario that I've almost certainly already experienced. Coupled with the crashing issue reported above, I think this means I'm going to have to start over. Hopefully, progress will be quick through the areas and puzzles I've already solved.
    
Time so far: 12 hours

59 comments:

  1. When I played this a few years ago, I had the same crash with the bonsai tree. I solved it by saving before trying to pick it up. I think some memory is being corrupted which wasn't happening right at load. This was the buggiest game overall for me, but the rest of them were dialogue related. Stuff like a few screens of dialogue being out of order or the wrong voiced line playing.

    On the Frostbite spell, it totally trivializes nearly all the combat in the game maybe even literally of it afterward. I leaned on it very heavily with wyverns since they're so annoying, deadly and plentiful. It gets changed to a "breath" spell with an area effect in V, but it's so ridiculously overpowered that I ended up avoiding it for the most part.

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    1. The bonsai tree (and that whole screen tbh) has been a recurring problem for me every time I've played QFG4, usually with the exact error Chet had.

      There are alternative solutions to getting the bonsai, and I think I would try a few different ones to get past without a crash.

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    2. I always turned the 'Detail' setting of the game to the lowest setting if I was in a bug-prone screen, that usually prevented crashes, though I don't remember why.

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    3. Somehow I don't remember having any bug problems at all on the (disk-only) version I played when it first came out.

      Every time since then always seems to get more difficult unfortunately. I remember tuning down the Detail years ago, but I think in my most recent playthroughs I had to restart both after getting the Domovoi bug, and again for the Bonsai bug.

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    4. Turning down the detail, but also turning up the game speed to max, will resolve most bugs in my experience. There is a specifically tricky one involving one of the rituals that sometimes requires some extra work va gur fjnzc jvgu n pbhcyr znq zbaxf.

      I've played this many times and never been forced to restart due to bugs. There's always a way around it. Post patching, that is! Way back when we had a copy of the original release which we had to give up on.

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  2. http://www.sierrahelp.com/Games/QuestForGlory/QfG4Help.html

    This is a great reference for all the different bugs/problems you might encounter. The site also has patches, which should solve most of the problems. Unfortunately, it might be that the patches require a restart, as saved games are not affected.

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  3. Surprised you got the Frostbite spell, I thought that was Wizards only?

    Also I'm pretty sure the "Aura" spell *should* work for the Wraiths, the rate of health loss was always too much otherwise (although I think this is another place where DosBox gives a slightly different experience, because it seems like time-based things which cause health or stamina loss in this game seem to happen very quickly when using that emulator, and I don't recall it being quite so bad back in the day. Mind you, this could just be my faulty memory!)

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    1. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, but I've had no luck with "Aura" for the wraiths. Which is too bad, because I don't think there's any other solution. I wonder if it's just a level issue. Maybe I need to keep grinding it.

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    2. I believe the Aura spell is the wizard solution, and other classes fubhyq trg n zntvpny zrqnyyvba sebz gur tlcfvrf gung cebgrpgf ntnvafg raretl qenva.

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  4. Aura should be working against wraiths. Are you certain you had it active while fighting them? Jenvgu oneebjf unir ybgf bs zbarl.

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    1. A few more notes on the money problem:
      Juvyr zbfg bs gur zbafgref qba'g pneel zbarl, ng yrnfg bar be gjb bs gur haqrnq glcrf qb, cnegvphyneyl gur jenvgu zbhaqf naq phygvfgf. Lbh pna nyfb svaq n yvggyr zbarl uvqqra va gur Gbja Tngr naq Renan'f Tneqra fperraf.

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    2. I'm pretty sure CPU cycle speed in DOSbox matters a lot. The faster your PC, the more quickly the Wraith's drain seems to kill you.

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    3. Yeah, that was the solution. GOG's configuration was all wrong. I had to lower it to about 10%.

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  5. I haven't played any parts of the series, but I have read most of the blog posts about the QfC series. I don't want to argue for the game not being an RPG. But just looking at the screenshots it certainly "feels" like an Adenture. I'll probably just have to give the game a try and convince myself.

    Keep on posting, I've learned so much about the games that I've somehow missed playing. :)

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    1. The beautiful thing about the Quest for Glory series is that it doesn't follow the (arbitrary) conventions of what a CRPG should look like.

      Besides the obvious point&click interface, it has meaningful non-combat-related inventory items which can be used to solve minor problems, something fairly common in tabletop roleplaying but not a significant factor in CRPGs. Having interesting *stuff* to pick up and use helps connect the player to the world, I feel.

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    2. I think it definitely is an adventure game. But it's an adventure game with sufficient RPG elements to be covered by this blog.

      I don't think the RPG elements are particularly strong, but they're serviceable enough to add a sense of tension and heroism to what would otherwise just be a game of pointing and clicking.

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    3. It strikes me that for every QFG game except the first, your stats are largely irrelevant except in the combat mini-game, and the thief and wizard classes can mostly avoid combat.

      What matters is whether you HAVE a skill or spell (at any non-zero value) or NOT. And to be fair, having three distinct playthroughs for the three classes is rather unique for adventure games, and does add to gameplay a lot.

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    4. Quest for Glory was largely inspired by our tabletop RPG experiences. Lori and I were both lucky to have storytelling gamemasters for our early D&D play, rather than ones who relied on hack & slash.

      My "stump speech" at the time ran something like, "Both adventure games and CRPG's came out of tabletop RPG's. Since early computers had very limited memory, each focused on one type of play. Adventure games emphasized story-telling and puzzle-solving. CRPG's focused on character progress through leveling and stat development, and on combat. Both also featured exploration."

      Lori and I originally came to Sierra because Ken Williams wanted to add RPG's to their adventure game mix. Sierra was the publisher for Ultima II, but Richard Garriott decided to break away and form Origin. Ken expected a game similar to Ultima, but their previous attempt, Wrath of Denethenor, wasn't very successful.

      As a meaningful aside, Ken first hired me as a systems programmer to make Sierra's SCI games (such as King's Quest IV and Leisure Suit Larry II) work on the Atari ST. That gave me an inside look at SCI's strengths and weaknesses before we started on Hero's Quest (the original name for Quest for Glory).

      I suggested that SCI was poorly suited for making a top-down map exploration game like Ultima. But it was a great system for storytelling, puzzles, and animation, all of which could dramatize an RPG like the tabletop games Lori and I had played. So I proposed that we make a game with Sierra's standard adventure game interface, but take advantage of the extra memory in 16-bit PC's to add a stat and skill system, and a combat system.

      Rather than being "not an RPG," this made the games much closer to the tabletop experiences we loved - mostly storytelling and talking with NPC's, with occasional combat to add challenge and excitement.

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    5. (By "closer to," I mean closer to them than the experiences of early CRPG's such as Wizardry and Dungeon Master. We liked both of those games, especially Dungeon Master, but felt they were incomplete.)

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    6. Over in the Pool of Radiance comments people are discussing training in D&D. When I was playing Hero U (and replaying the QFG games) a couple of years ago, it struck me how the rhythm of the games is defined by time management; you spend a certain amount of your day training your skills, and a certain amount of time socializing and building relationships. Both are necessary, because you need to be trained to pass certain skill checks (and to survive), but you usually need help from people in town to understand what you need to do, and how to do it.

      That rhythm is very unlike an old game like Bard's Tale, where NPCs are perfunctory and training means grinding through monsters. It strikes me as a bit more similar to the later Elder Scrolls entries though, and maybe even more like certain Japanese games like Persona, where PCs spend the day attending school and building friendships so that they are better equipped to fight monsters at night.

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    7. I've found the QfG experience to be one of the only videogames in history to capture that particular element of the roleplaying campaign - the initial exposure to a new place giving way to familiarity and routine as it evolves with the story.

      Persona 3 and its followups do that to an extent, it's true. Elder Scrolls has it to an extent, although that series is still much more about consumption of content than life and time management.

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  6. As I recall, it's pretty heavily implied that Nikolai was heading into extreme danger by leaving the town and shuffling slowly into the forest. Eaten by something or other, no doubt.

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    1. I always figured he was carried off by a necrotaur. A grisly end, but at least he was reunited with his wife afterwards.

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    2. I always assumed he found his wife and had a heart attack, but a grisly end is probably more likely, considering we never find a body.

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    3. What I would have gotten from this is that Nikolai was some sort of ghost himself.

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  7. Sierra being themselves again, I counted at least three unintuitive insta-death situations: reloading as a game mechanic?

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    1. I didn't feel like any of them were unfair. For the most part, you can avoid instant death with the careful use of the eye, talking to NPCs, or other resources. Reloading is so trivial that I'm apt to live dangerously, but that's not the game's fault.

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    2. As many places on the internet will tell you if you bother to look, QfG is not a typical Sierra series.

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    3. Not trying to be the smart aleck in this situation, but to quote the addict himself:

      "That got me promptly eaten by the two necrotaurs guarding the other side--which I don't understand, as I can defeat necrotaurs in regular combat."

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    4. Granted, you're facing only one Necrotaur in actual combat.

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    5. Emphasis on not understanding why ;)

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    6. I don't really see why reloading as a mechanic would be a bad thing, as long you can quickly save and load whenever. If you have limits on saving or if reloading takes more than a few seconds I can definately see it being an issue though

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    7. A loading mechanic breaks story immersion, to some players. In adventure game design, it's often considered bad form to have a puzzle that you cannot figure out without dying first, because your character could never have figured that out without metagaming.

      Unless of course the game has an in-story explanation for why your character can do that, but that's pretty rare.

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    8. Lori had a semi-formal debate with Ron Gilbert (Secret of Monkey Island) at one of the first GDC's (Game Developers Conference) on "death in adventure games." Ron argued, as does the Anonymous poster here, that death in an adventure game breaks immersion.

      Lori agreed, but pointed out that the *possibility* of death raises the stakes. It adds challenge, drama, and tension that make the game feel *more* immersive. If you know that nothing you do has consequences, you feel that you are "just playing a game," rather than role-playing a character in a dangerous environment.

      In any case, RPG's have never had qualms about the player character dying. The average character life expectancy in the first D&D campaign I played was 2-3 weeks. Despite that, or partly because of it, Jack Eilrich's game was amazing. It taught me the importance of setting a scene and collaborating with the players in creating a unique story.

      Our goal with Quest for Glory was to make the games fair - and maybe err on the side of "too easy" with the adventure game puzzles - but challenging. Your character could fail or die, but hopefully the clues and tools were there so that a careful player could avoid both.

      That doesn't mean that there were no bugs, or that we occasionally missed an issue in the game design or writing. For example, the "instant death to Necrotaurs" issue could easily have been improved with another line of text, and perhaps preventing you from entering their room. Possibly that line would be, "Despite your immeasurable fighting skills, the two Necrotaurs are also powerful fighters. They keep you occupied long enough for the castle's master to arrive and end the battle with dark magic." Or simply, "You look at the two monsters and decide that a pitched battle during a stealth mission will end badly."

      That's one of the things that a hybrid adventure/CRPG or a tabletop game does best - Use text and dialogue to convey more nuance than can be expressed solely through action.

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    9. If you can guess that something will kill you that's one thing, but a lot of deaths in Space/King's Quest just felt like the game was trolling you, especially if you count "walking dead" moments. Dying for stepping on the wrong pixel or missing an item three hours ago isn't challenge or role-playing, it's just checking to make sure you saved recently.

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    10. I know that personally, immersion's not really what I'm looking for in a game, I'm just looking for an enjoyable experience. That being said, there's not much I can say about how adventure games in general handle death considering I've only ever played 5, and one was Monkey Island, one was the Back to the Future Telltale one, two of them were Pajama Sam games, and the last was a Blues Clues one, and while I never actually beat that last one as a kid I get this strange feeling that's not going to have any death in it.

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    11. And I agree with Lori that the possibility of death raises the stakes. As adventure gaming history has shown, it just wasn't all that easy to implement...

      I mean, it's not like we *don't* reload after our main character dies in a pure crpg.

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    12. I think finding ways to mess up and/or get your character killed in creative/stupid ways is part of the fun, at least in less serious games like Space Quest. There's a reason people upload "Every death scene in ..." videos.

      I agree that if they are done well, they can even make the game more immersive. I recently replayed Conquests of the Longbow, where you repeatedly enter Nottingham in different disguises, and there are some very subtle ways to slip up. Even if you can quickly reload, it adds some tension. But I was especially impressed by the attention to detail - it had some "wow, the game remembered this" moments.

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    13. I agree that the possibility of death adds to immersion. What's not immersive is puzzles that can ONLY be figured out by dying first.

      E.g. Larry 2 has a bobby pin (that you need) hidden in a pie. The ONLY way to know this pin is here is by eating the pie, and eating the pie kills you (because you choke on the pin). I get that Larry is a less serious series and this puzzle is just trolling the player, but it does break immersion.

      Aside from that, walking-dead situations (i.e. that you can no longer win the game but are unware of that, e.g. because you lost a key item) are just frustrating. But yeah, death in general is good in adventure games

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    14. To return things to the necrotaur issue, when you first arrive on the screen, a message says: "Death waits beyond those gates (at least for those not tough enough for the challenge). It comes in the form of two slavering necrotaurs." If not for that parenthetical, I would think that would be enough of a warning.

      In general, I agree with Corey that the Coles' approach errs on the side of being fair. I should probably highlight that more than I do. On the other hand, the death animations and messages are often fun, so unless you're really trying for a sense of immersion, you're continually tempted to do the "wrong" thing.

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    15. Ref CRPG death and reload, I do "raids" (typically 10-25 players) in World of Warcraft. A typical progression boss experience is: Pull the boss, someone screws up a couple minutes into the fight, everybody dies, reload, run back to the boss, try to do it a little better the next time.
      A raid boss to which we never wipe is considered undertuned.
      Over the course of multiple deaths and failures, we learn the fight mechanics and individual responsibilities. Then we do better. Eventually we get to the point where we *do* expect the boss to go down on the first pull of the night (but far from the first pull of the content).
      We had a similar distinction in D&D games in different groups. In my first groups in Chicago, we constantly tried new things, or fought too many enemies, and characters died. We rolled a new character for the following week, otherwise listened to the rest of the group play.
      In the group I joined in San Jose, California, permanent death was unacceptable and mostly unimaginable. The enemies mostly hit like wet tissues. If somehow a character died, the rest of the party hauled them to a nearby temple for an easily affordable resurrection.
      Both experiences were enjoyable, and we were able to build up high-level characters in the latter group, but it also often felt like a no-danger loot pinata. The Chicago group had more drama and tension due to the constant danger.
      Puzzles might be a different matter. A puzzle that you can only solve by dying is a bad puzzle. One that might kill you if you ignore in-game clues - That seems more reasonable.

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    16. Lori is so wise. Her words sound very close to what I myself thought some time ago: a game that shows the reality of death, the reality of danger, is a game that shows you how high the stakes are. This allows for unique immersion! As Clive Lewis once said - you're just playing with meaningless counters called Life, Death, Suffering and Hope when you're building your philosophy abstractly; only when the stakes are raised horribly high, do you realize what matters to you, what your faith is, what is true to you. But when reading a book or watching a movie about heroes experiencing those "high-stakes situations", you get the sense of danger and despair and hope translated to you through emotionally-charged images and words, if it's literature or movie. But how do you do experience those feelings in the game, where it's all playing pieces and dice? By letting you see the RESULT of failure, the death (or worse - the scene of Shaitan destroying Shapeir in QfG2 is utterly horrifying!) that happens - and then letting you reload and try again, this time feeling sincere suspense. (Stairways from King's Quest come to mind).

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    17. I always found the QFG games to play incredibly fair with death by the standards of the genre. Yeah, there might be a few unfair deaths here and there throughout the series, but nothing like, say, King's Quest. (I adore King's Quest; don't get me wrong.)

      I still think the adventure game that handled death best was the first Gabriel Knight. There are only a handful of ways to die in that game, and they're all incredibly obvious. (If a zombie rips out your heart, you're going to die.) But just having them around increases the stakes dramatically when the game needs to juice the drama.

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    18. TIL Corey Cole plays WoW, and ahead of the curve too! :)

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  8. Also, you noted that being poisoned is annoying, but (I think) didn't specify in which way it hampers or hinders your character. Just curious...

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    1. Ah, it's not so bad. Your health drains very slowly. As a paladin, I can keep up with it with my healing spells, but other classes might have more of a problem. Like I say, it's more of an annoyance--always having the bar a different color.

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  9. Do you take notes while you play for the entry or do you write the entry while you play? How much slower do you have to play games to write the blog?

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    1. You'd think I'd have a consistent system by now, but I don't. I alternate among three approaches:

      1. Take short notes into a notepad while I play, and turn them into paragraphs a few hours later.

      2. Play for about 15 minutes, write a paragraph, repeat.

      3. Don't take any notes at all but instead take copious screenshots and reconstruct my experience from those.

      QFG4 has mostly been #2 so far. Which I choose depends a lot on how much plot and dialogue the game has. There are other minor considerations. for instance, when I play with an emulator that supports automatic screenshots that I like, I have to take more notes because the screenshots are named generically (e.g., "sierra_015.png." When I'm using an emulator for which I have to take screenshots manually, I can tell by what I named the screenshot what I was trying to highlight, so there's less of a need for a note.

      WHERE I'm playing also makes a big difference, including whether I have an Internet connection and/or my second monitor.

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  10. I suppose Katrina is playing "Quest for Power: So you want to be a femme fatale". I honestly wouldn't mind playing that game.

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  11. About that sentient bush:
    Cnynqvaf/svtugref arrq gur zntvp cuenfr cebivqrq ol gur tlcfvrf, V guvax, va beqre gb cnff.

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  12. You might want to talk to an expert in (the) bushes again. And again. And again.

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  13. One thing that has always been kind of funny to me is that invading the castle always FEELS like it's dangerous, but it's really not. There are a couple of wraith fights, and you have to avoid Katrina and Ad Avis at night, but otherwise it's mostly just big and empty. I still feel a bit nervous when I first go there though.

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  14. Ah, the rusalka. Because I hadn't played QfG3, I didn't have the option of being a paladin here. I remember being somewhat irritated upon discovering that the only way the rusalka quest could be resolved is by being a paladin - it felt unfair to be missing out on part of the game just because I hadn't played the previous one. But of course, even if I had played the previous one, who's to say I would have been a paladin?

    Looking back, I can only admire the guts it took to say - no, we're leaving a part of the content for just one select group of players (@Corey Cole - was there any internal controversies around this? Did some people on the team disagree with this idea, or was everyone pretty much onboard?). At the same time, I definitely think the implementation was flawed. I really wish the game had more clearly communicated to non-paladin players that there's nothing you can do. Having to find it out online (which would have been even harder when the game first came out) just isn't a good solution. Still, it's a fun thing to do, and I wish there had actually been more class-limited content in the game.

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    1. I agree. If I wasn't playing as a paladin by default, I'd be tearing my hair out trying to solve this quest. It's hard to believe there isn't a non-paladin way to solve it.

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    2. I do like the IDEA that certain quests can only be solved by a Paladin, though.

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  15. The Rusalka story is one of the most heartwarming parts of QfG4 for me, if not of the whole QfG series. It was a chance to do an act of pure compassion and kindness, something akin to what an Avatar (from Ultima) could have done were Ultima an adventure game. (Ultima being a CRPG, there were only some mechanics-
    enabled standard ways to show Compassion Virtue).

    Perhaps it is even more so for me because of the long dialogues with Rusalka I have had from time to time, coming to visit her every day - not pigeon-boxing her as "an obstacle to be conquered" or "monster to be get rid of", but seeing her as a person.

    Love that is actualized as compassion is not discriminative - it is kind to those who are suffering, their suffering being the sufficient reason for help; no matter if they "black" or "white".

    Because of this - compassion is ever the same, no matter if it is felt to Julunar the suffering tree girl, or Elyssa the suffering rusalka girl, to Erana or to Katrina.

    The questions of revenge and vengeance do not get in the picture from the perspective of kindness. "...but to ease the others of greater pain" is the motto of Paladin, after all. Not "to hurt and to punish".

    That is part of the reason I love QfG series so much, perhaps more than Ultima, in this aspect: here Paladins are neither "lawful stupid" nor "lawful merciless" goody-two-shoues we meet in so many DnD tales.

    Rakeesh is not like that, and neither is our hero - the game gives you the privilege to live the experience of doing something meaningfully good, something ethically relevant.

    It's just not one and the same - putting up your revulsion only to "get rid of the monster obstacle", with "yeah, yeah, let's get this over and good riddance" attitude - or doing it to help a suffering soul being put into watery hell because of her lover's cruelty, kinda sending the message "you're still beautiful to someone who looks with their heart, despite appearances; I feel sorrow for your suffering; may you be now freed from it".

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  16. This game is one of my all-time faves. It embodies the kindheartedness and sense of magical fantasy in its story, graphics and sound.

    I never finished it as a kid, and when I replayed it a dozen years later, I fell to the qernqrq NIBBMY oht va gur nepujnl. Another dozen years later and I'm happy to replay it once more through your blog.

    I share the same sentiments with you about character selection: always the Thief, and for the same reasons: explore every hole. I guess that's a prerequisite of mapping, isn't it? :)

    I also like the idea of reaching "exclusive" content, but every character has that. I haven't played the Paladin, but I didn't feel short-changed in this regard when playing as a Thief. IIRC, there's an entire NPC available only to that character.

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    1. The ROT13 refers to a bug, though you might have (hopefully) passed that point.

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