Friday, April 15, 2022

Lands of Lore: Timing and Balance

A game that doesn't really have "acting" per se still manages to ham up a death scene.
          
My most recent session with Lands of Lore left me angry and frustrated, all the more so because I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. I continue to admire the various elements of the game, but this week they somehow didn't come together well. I nearly didn't even say anything about it because it could be that I was just in a bad mood. It's happened before.

As we continue into the 1990s, this is probably going to happen more often. During the formative years of CRPGs, it's not hard to pinpoint what makes a game fail to work. It's usually missing some key element or has implemented another one poorly. I can write something like, "There aren't enough tactics in combat" or "There's no economy," and you all know exactly what I mean. I don't really need to analyze it. But by this era, I have to say things like, "The animation that provides the illusion of continuous movement rather than tiled movement leaves ambiguity as to the exact moment the enemy enters melee range, leading to a frustrating number of missed attacks, only you can't be certain that they missed for that reason because accuracy against certain enemies is extremely low in the first place." I don't know--did that make any sense?
   
Writing this blog has given me a lot of sympathy for game developers. It has to be a tough craft. On the one hand, there's no purpose to a game that doesn't offer any kind of challenge. On the other hand, there's a fine line between the type of challenge that you delight in overcoming and the type of challenge that just pisses you off. The variables are subtle, often coming down to timing and balance, plus an x variable that depends upon the mood and energy level of the player. All I can say is that in the Draracle's caves, either Lands of Lore managed to seriously piss me off, or I was already pissed off from something else and probably shouldn't have been playing Lands of Lore.
          
This guy was a little easier than he looks.
        
The session started pleasantly enough in the forest. At the end of my first session, Conrad had been killed by some thugs guarding a cave. I spent about 20 minutes using the thugs to test out various combat options and how they differ from other Dungeon Master-style games. In doing so, I first noticed the problem I described above. Like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, the world of Lore is divided into fixed tiles. But where enemies in those games would advance a tile, pause, and then advance to the next tile, the creators of Lore managed to animate the enemies in a way that makes it look like they're moving continuously. This makes it hard to tell exactly when they've entered the tile in front of you and are thus vulnerable to melee attacks. It also means that classic strategies like the "combat waltz" are harder. Strike too soon and your attacks miss. Strike too late and the enemy has time to turn and strike you back.
  
The waltz also doesn't work for reasons I'll have to analyze later, but some other tried-and-true tactics are available, including the retreat in which you throw objects. Throwing in this game is completely independent of attacking, so you can do it during cool downs even if the enemies are right in front of you. In fact, you can pick up and throw the same item repeatedly, since it just lands at the enemies' feet. By the time I had three characters, it didn't seem to make sense to throw things in melee combat anymore, since the cool down for one character is usually lifting by the time you've attacked with the third.
   
Throwing remains useful when the enemy is far away, but wow is it slow. It takes a second or two for a thrown item to travel through a single square. If you're tossing something at an enemy at the end of a long hall, they'll likely advance a couple squares by the time it hits them. Fortunately, this is also true of items fired or thrown at you. You see crossbow bolts coming a mile away and can easily dodge them unless you're at the end of a dead-end corridor.
    
Using a key to open a chest in the thugs' lair.
        
Anyway, I killed the thugs and entered the cave they were guarding, a very small map that nonetheless had several mechanical puzzles. The game has Beholder's penchant for putting nearly invisible buttons on its walls, but the difference here is that such buttons show up on the automap. By checking the automap frequently, you can identify buttons and levers that you otherwise may have missed. Buttons sometimes open passages or sometimes just make other buttons appear. There was also a pressure plate that I had to weigh down with rocks to keep a door open. In the end, the caverns gave me a brass lantern, a lockpick, a "bezel cup," 15 crowns, and some salve.
       
Fortunately, buttons are clearly notated on the map.
        
I later found some oil flasks for the lamp. In general, the lamp seems to be optional. When it's newly-refilled and the flame is bright, it increases the detail that you see and the distance you can view, and it generally makes everything more pleasant. But even without it, you can see well enough to navigate and fight. I can't remember any previous games in which light has mostly aesthetic rather than utilitarian value. I suppose that may change later in some dungeons.
        
The dungeon gets momentarily brighter and more pleasant.
         
My inventory line started filling up fast, and I reached the end of this section without finding time to really organize it. Having it scroll left and right is a cute idea, but I wouldn't have minded if it had shown two rows at once.
  
I noted that Conrad continued to narrate even small things ("There are silver coins in here!" upon discovering a pouch), which I rather enjoy. Late in the session, when I had three characters, rarely did 10 seconds pass without one of them making some comment or another. These comments enhance the sense of individuality among the characters, which is often absent in classic "blobbers."
    
Back out in the wilderness, I met a young woman on the road. To his credit, Conrad was immediately suspicious. When she asked Conrad to escort her to King Richard's keep because she had "forgotten the password," he balked. I would have preferred that the game offer me the role-playing choice, but I would have done the same thing. Revealing herself as Scotia, she called me a "timid fool," turned into a jackdaw, and flew off.
       
I just had mandatory security training about exactly this kind of scenario.
     
I finished exploring the woods. In this game, paths often end at static scenes like shops, taverns, and dungeon doors. You can usually click around these screens to get individual descriptive messages, much like you can click around with the "eye" icon in a Sierra adventure game. If there are people, clicking on them will usually get you a line or two of dialogue. I really enjoy this aspect of the game. For years, I've been enjoying the mechanics of Dungeon Master-style games but wishing they would occasionally provide a little more lore, flavor, and NPC dialogue. Eye of the Beholder started the trend, but Lore realizes it much more fully. 
   
In the woods area, I found a lake called Lake Dread, a closed cave entrance, a few tree hollows with miscellaneous items, and a ferry terminal in which a woman accepted my writ from the king for passage to the "south lands." After a quick boat animation, I found myself in another wooded area swarming with orc-like enemies and giant lizards.
 
Cool animation of a ship.
            
Combat was a lot harder than the previous areas. When I started playing the game, I wondered if there was any drawback to simply resting whenever you can. Time doesn't seem to have any effect on anything, and there's no hunger/thirst mechanic. I ultimately concluded that resting continually between combats is possible but perhaps a bit abusive. By the end of this session, I had realized that it's essential. Spell points and mana deplete too quickly.
  
It was also in these woods that I came to realize that enemies respawn. I still haven't nailed down the exact rate at which they respawn or where they respawn, but they definitely do. I'm a bit torn on the issue, because as you know, I don't like games that have a fixed number of enemies and thus ensure that every player reaches the end in exactly the same place. On the other hand, the inability to ever clear an area and feel safe gets annoying. It wasn't so bad in these woods, but later, respawning contributed to my growing aggravation with the game.
        
This guy is about to give me a level up in "fighting."
     
My fighting and magic skills hit Level 2 in the woods, and throughout the game, I tried my best to keep them balanced. The game simply doesn't use thief skills enough that it's easy to prioritize thief development.
   
I eventually found my way to Roland's Manor, which had been invaded by orcs, or whatever they are; the game regrettably shares Dungeon Master's reticence to put names to the creatures you face. It was a relatively small map, made long by the sheer number of combats. I eventually killed what must have been the orc chief and found a magic axe called "Dominance," although it mysteriously contributed less to my strength than the mace I was already using. 
 
Creatures burst through a door in Roland mansion.
      
A burnt scroll in the fireplace held a message from Roland to Richard, explaining that something would have to be joined with the Ruby of Truth to combat the Nether Mask. This will surely be the Shard of Truth described in the texts in Richard's library.
       
A partial message.
     
Eventually, I found Roland himself, wounded and hiding in a closet behind a secret door. Before he bled out, he said that the Dark Army had stolen the Ruby of Truth. A nearby chest held some coins, a compass (which grafted on to the interface), and a saber.
     
Conrad, read the room.
      
I finished exploring the southern forest before returning to the ferry. There was a trapper named Buck who bought and sold items from his cabin in the woods. I sold some excess weapons and purchased some boots and a shield from him. 
      
Buck is uninterested in a rock.
       
Elsewhere was a tavern called the Grey Eagle, and it had more things to click on than any other screen so far, including several NPCs. One guy drinking at the bar named Timothy seemed important; he had a lot of dialogue and description, and he had some things to say about Scotia (nothing new), but I otherwise couldn't do anything productive with him.
     
The tavern screen had a message for practically everything.
     
When I got back to the ferry terminal, I was annoyed to find that I had to pay 100 silver crowns to return to Richard's kingdom. It's a good thing I didn't buy more at Buck's place.
   
I hurried back to Richard's keep and walked right into another cinematic. The king was kneeling on the floor while Scotia did something to his arm. The white-robed woman I'd seen in the king's chambers before was confronting her. Scotia called the other woman "Dawn." The two women exchanged spells, and Scotia once again turned into a crow and flew away.
        
Scotia spills her plan.
       
This scene transitioned directly to a small conference attended by Dawn, Geron Arbroath (the chamberlain), the herbalist, some knight named Paulson, and Dawn's apprentice, a Thomgog named Baccata. Dawn said that Richard was poisoned and near death. She cast a spell to put him in stasis until an antidote could be found. The group otherwise debated how Scotia got into the castle in the first place and what to do next. Paulson announced his intention to lead a force into the Urbish Mines (where Scotia found the mask). Dawn asked me to go to the "Draracle" and ask about anything that might cure Richard. Baccata joined my party.
         
Dawn puts the king in carbon freezing until he can be cured.
   
Dawn gave me an "album" to hold spell scrolls, and it came with "Heal." It appears in the upper-left corner, and you just click on the spell you want before casting it. I guess everyone in the party has the same spells. Later, I had cause to use "Heal" quite a bit, since characters never die in this game but rather get knocked unconscious. When they're unconscious, resting doesn't heal them; only the "Heal" spell does.

Baccata started as a Level 3 mage (Level 1 in everything else). He speaks in a deep, slightly slurred British accent, sounding more cultured than he looks, which I guess makes sense for a mage. He directed me to the entrance to the Draracle's caves, even though I had already found them.
    
Do you mean (bear east and then proceed north) as soon as possible, or (bear east) and (then proceed north as soon as possible)?
       
I've explored two levels of the Draracle's caves and found two types of enemies. The first are giant rat men, the second some kind of barbarians. Both are annoying in their own ways. The rat men simply will not be hit. At least four out of five of my attacks miss. Worse, they cause poison, which causes a loss of a hit point every second. Ginseng cures it, but I ran out of it fast. The only other thing that cures it is "Heal" cast at Level 3, but for some reason only by Conrad. A Level 3 heal takes most of my spell points, so every time I get poisoned, I have to find a place to rest until Conrad restores his mana enough to cast it. If Conrad himself is poisoned, I have to keep his health from draining too much (via "Heal" from Baccata) until Conrad can cast it. Adding to the problem is that I really need to save my mana for "Spark" spells to use against the rats.
       
Conrad is poisoned again.
      
The barbarians are a bit easier, but they hit so hard that you need to take them out as quickly as possible which also favors "Spark" over melee attacks. Inevitably, I end up having to rest a lot, which causes more enemies to spawn, ultimately keeping me trapped in a loop. I had hoped to finish this session with my triumphant exit from the caves, but I got so annoyed with the game the other night that I just had to stop playing.
      
The barbarians knock away Conrad's health in two hits.
       
At these times, of course, I have to wonder: What do I really want? An easy game? No, of course not. It's just that sometimes, a game's challenge feels like a vaccination needle. It hurts a bit, but you know it's going to make you healthier. And there are sometimes that a game's challenge feels like someone putting a wet finger in your ear. It doesn't hurt at all, but get the #$& away from me. Again, though, it might have just been my mood.
    
Speaking of disgusting things.
        
I did find a third companion in the caves. At one point, we descended to a chamber in which there were three disgusting sacs. Two of them had nothing but blood and gore, but one had a living thief named Lara. She said that her people had chosen her to serve the Draracle so he would continue to provide their farmers with forecasts. She starts as a Level 4 thief, but that hasn't been terribly useful so far. Mostly, her purpose is to suck up one or two hits from enemies before she gets knocked unconscious.
       
Lara's statistics are pretty bad.
      
One final note: it's becoming clear that this game is going to be linear a.f., as the kids say today. What I've described above is the exact reason I prefer nonlinearity--get stuck or annoyed in one place, move on to another. That's going to hurt it in the end.
   
As you can see, I have found plenty of things to like about the game, and I'm sure I'll like the combat again after I take a couple of days to cool off.
   
Time so far: 5 hours
  

92 comments:

  1. You've set the combat difficulty to "ferocious" in the last post; setting it to "normal" might make the game more enjoyable for you. Lands of Lore works well as a "light" RPG, but it doesn't have that much tactical depth, so making it harder will just drag things out. Especially when the player just needs to retreat, rest, and fight again.

    "One guy drinking at the bar named Timothy seemed important; he had a lot of dialogue and description, and he had some things to say about Scotia (nothing new), but I otherwise couldn't do anything productive with him."

    Huh?! I thought Timothy always joins the party. (But he would have left the party again after the cutscene with Dawn and Scotia.) Funny how this game has some unexpected variations in how events unfold. Another thing is that the player can play the whole game without picking up the compass, automap and lantern. Most other games would force these items onto the player in an unskippable event.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, right, the difficulty. I did forget about that.

      Delete
    2. A little mistery concerning Timothy is that he has very pointy ears and nose, which in other settings would suggest being a half-elf o having some elf ancestry, but I think that there are no elves in the "Lands of Lore" setting. One idea suggested by plasyers is that mnaybe he has some distant dracoid ancestry.

      Delete
    3. I'm always skeptical of changing the defaults on gameplay settings, difficulty in particular. Did they really test the balance and gameplay for every difficulty level? Oftentimes they didn't even test the game with the defaults very well!

      Delete
  2. Yeah, big surprise you did not take Timothy - looks like he only comes with you if you talk to him BEFORE getting into the manor. It certainly made the game even harder, though certainly you leveled up more.

    The game actually opens up significantely after the Draracle cave, which may be the second most frustrating part of the game (due to the poison, and the various puzzles with holes). You will enjoy the game a lot more after you have passed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Timothy was a pretty boy anyway. But I suppose that's one way in which the game is mildly nonlinear.

      Delete
    2. If Timothy joins the party, he stays in Glastone Keep while you and Baccata go to the Draracle Caves. As you left him in the tavern, now I wonder if it will appear later in Gladstone Keep or won't further appear in the game.

      Delete
    3. Yeahn same question for me. What happens to Timothy. Does the game pretends you know him well ?

      As you will see, "A mildly non-linear game" could have been a subtitle of the game :).

      Delete
    4. I thought you were instructed to seek out Timothy at the start of the game, but I might misremember this. Never occured to me to just go directly to the mansion.

      Delete
    5. It's possible someone in the castle said something like that, but unless they told me specifically that I'd find him at the tavern, how would I know not to go to the mansion first? Maybe I'd find him in the mansion.

      Delete
    6. I checked, the chancellor tells you that "you can find that rascal Timothy at the Grey Eagle if you need help" when you get the writ, so it's just a suggestion to seek him out.

      Delete
  3. As it was commented in ROT13 in your previous article, it is possible to do the Draracle Caves without rescuing Lora; I don't know if this harms you in some way other than lacking a third member in your party.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vg unf n irel zvabe rssrpg yngre va gur tnzr.

      Delete
  4. Are you sure about level 3 heal not curing poison when cast by characters other than Conrad? I'm 99% sure you can cure poison with all characters (as long as they have enough magic to cast a level 3 heal, that is).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe I'm mis-remembering and Baccata can only cast it at Level 2.

      Delete
  5. At least you avoided a Game breaking big, which is finding Lora after finding the Draracle

    ReplyDelete
  6. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 15, 2022 at 3:21 PM

    What does the book with white numbers above it (at the right-hand edge of the screen) signify? The numbers seem to change in almost every screenshot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's the current total of silver crowns. I think the image is supposed to look like a pile of them, but you're right that it looks more like a book.

      Delete
    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 15, 2022 at 11:16 PM

      Ha, thanks! Almost as bad as Piccolo vs. the waterfall.

      Delete
    3. Interesting choice to make the stacks so uniform. I feel like a little bit of variation and a couple of stray coins would have made it much clearer what was being depicted.

      Delete
    4. The three stacks of coins actually do grow and deplete when you accumulate and loose coins but only below 100 or so. Above that it's just three full columns ... Rather strange choice of axis range.

      Delete
  7. "The game simply doesn't use thief skills enough that it's easy to prioritize thief development."

    This is true as long as melee weapons are used for fighting. By using ranged weapons, the thief skill can be increased, as is the case for throwing stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't understand how it works when you have multiple characters and throw things. Do all of them get a thief boost or just the main character?

      Delete
    2. I was wondering the same thing, the increase by the somehow anonymous throwing seems strange somehow. However I had vivid memories of throwing stuff around to increase the thief skill. So I just tried it myself, and the answer is: the thief boost goes to one of the party's characters. To which character exactly seems kind of random for each fight, but it seemed like it is usually the same character for a few fights in a row.

      I did several fights just throwing a rock. Once all the skill went to the second character (the skill bar increased by several pixels), at another fight, all of the increase went to the first character.
      I tried to find out on what it depends, but it seems pretty random: it does not depend on which side of the view-window the item is thrown (left/right), it does not depend on which item is used, and it does not depend on which character is picked by the enemy for its attack.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for testing it out! I guess giving the skill boost to a random character makes as much sense as anything for this kind of interface.

      Delete
    4. I think it might depend on which character is highlighted by either clicking their portrait or their HP/MP bar. Pretty sure the person highlighted is also the one that needs to pass the lock pick skill check.

      Delete
    5. It depends on which character portrait has the bluish frame around it, that is, who attacked last. You can select/attackWith a character by simply pressing the F1 F2 F3 keys. Using these keys to attack and using mouse to throw things will get you increase both skills. also will make the fights a lot easier. I played the game several times on magicdosbox on my phone. I used to create i touch macros that automatically attack with all characters, ending with the character who I want to increase thief skill so that when I throw things, he always gets the skill increase.

      Delete
    6. There will also be times you want to select a character to interact with for example a locked chest.
      I previous comment I meant 1 touch macro.

      Delete
    7. Ah, I see. I probably was aware that a character can be selected, when I played the game a very long time ago, but I didn't notice that, when I just played it for a few minutes to examine the throwing-skill-mechanics. Dependence on selected character would probably have been the first thing to check.

      Delete
    8. I'm not exactly sure about that, but I think rogue skills also increase some random loot. There are also some locks requiring a certain rogue skill.
      You will also find proper ranged weapons later.
      All in all, grinding it a bit isn't a mistake, and if it's only for the extra HP.

      Delete
  8. I have not much to add that hasn't been said by others, it's a pity that you're torn between the positive and the negative at this early stage. Put difficulty on Normal, please.

    About the monster animations and entering squares conundrum: If you try to advance towards a monster and the message 'this passage is blocked' appears, then you're in striking range, it's a simple and quick indicator to gauge the distance.

    I'm equally surprised that Timothy didn't join you and agree with Narwhal, in that it must be tied to the Roland's Manor quest. I'm surprised as well that you survived the orc chieftain alone by yourself, kudos.

    You're a few hours into the game and already encountered five to six different monster types, all beautifully animated, I think that deserves a mention. Game is looking gorgeous as ever!

    (Regarding my play-along: Umh, I'm like four dungeons ahead of you an will hold my tongue, know this game like the back of my hand ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd just like to +1 on how gorgeous the visuals are. Best looking game covered here thus far, and stunning on its own right.

      I can see how the gameplay isn't exactly groundbreaking, but I imagine there were plenty of gamers wanting more of the same - but better.

      Delete
  9. I think there's a difference between challenge (something you need to overcome to make progress) and punishment (something that makes you lose progress). Basiscally, challenge makes you think, while punishment gives you stakes. In an RPG they are often intertwined, but it's not necessary for them to be. For example, Adventure games can be very challenging (obscure puzzles) but completely non-punishing (you cannot die). The worst thing happens when a game confuses punishment for challenge - which is seems like what you got with LoL on highest difficulty: the challenge is low (as there's no special solutoin to figure out; you just have to endure) but the punishment is high.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was something rewarding about the early punishment of Bard's Tale and Might and Magic... You could argue there were strategies to making progress in both those cases, but there was a lot of endurance, even so.

      Delete
    2. Good point about punishment systems providing stakes, which I think is important. Sometimes I find them really annoying though and I think the key is making sure the process of regaining your lost progress is compelling. The worst is when you are forced to replay sections that you've mastered or even memorized. It provides stakes, but the experience is miserable and often not worth it.

      On the subject of challenge, I think even absent punishment there's an important difference between a challenge where you have to reason out the optimum move from multiple plausible options, and that which you just have to guess until you get it right or do the obvious and wait for the RNG to go your way.

      Delete
    3. Not wanting to redo stuff is a major reason I despise games with limited continues and have trouble getting into traditional roguelikes. I don't want to have to learn a whole game I'll probably play once just to be able to beat it, I want to bash my head against the wall until I either manage to figure it out or I get bored and look it up.

      Delete
  10. Odd she would chose the form of a jackdaw, as the Scottish highlands is one of the few places in Europe where the bird is not to be found

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jackdaw, crow, same thing. Something of the corvus genus.

      Delete
  11. Like others, I would also recommend switching to the Normal difficulty. Having finished the game in Ferocious difficulty, it did not particularly feel like a achievement, just more hassle all the way. In particular, one or two of the later sections became frankly exasperating for no good reason.

    Paradoxically one level which is one of the most difficult, if played straight (ROT13: gbc bs gur vibel gbjre), was mostly unchanged in Ferocious difficulty.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Three hints:
    1.
    Respawning is tied to some specific tiles you step on. Once you notice the tile, you can avoid it or use it for grinding. You can also increase difficulty to give enemies more HP for grinding since skill experience is tied to damage you deal.
    2.
    If you don't use lantern, your inventory will be filled with oils.
    3.
    If a poisoned character geta unconsions, he will automatically cured of the poison. Then you can revive him with Heal 1.

    Also maybe it is a good thing you didn't get Timothy on the party. In your mood maybe you would get more angry when he suddenly disappeared with all the precious equipment.
    About party members joining and leaving:
    Ynen jvyy yrnir nsgre gur pnir. Naq gura lbh qba'g arrq gb jbeel nobhg yrnivat zrzoref.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lastly, the "/" key on keyboard switches between spells.

      Delete
    2. Very minor spoiler, rot13 just to be safe.

      Gurer znl or gvyr-onfrq erfcnjaf, ohg V'z cerggl fher fbzr rarzvrf arire erfcnja, juvyr bguref erfcnja nsgre fbzr gvzr unf cnffrq.

      Delete
    3. Thanks in particular for the note about the "/" key. That makes a huge difference.

      Delete
  13. Linearity is a way to attract new audience. Inexperienced rpg players need a leg up or else the genre can´t sell enough product to enough people. I know what you mean Chet about the nonlinear but personally I don´t mind if a game is predictable/easygoing or not. If a game is way too hard though, I give up on it because I do have an offline life to live.

    ReplyDelete
  14. If you go to the Grey Eagle first you can also get the compass there from the guy in the restroom.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I had this game as a kid and remember starting it multiple times and always being very excited about the opening and then never really getting that far. I'm guessing I usually got to about this point and then lost interest.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Looking at the shot of Roland in his stasis box, I can't help wondering if the developers had read the Elenium :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, good point! The timing would work. One of many lovely pieces by the late Keith Parkinson, one of the artists that primarily inspired my own artistic journey.

      Delete
    2. I wonder the same thing about Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist. There was a character who was poisoned and placed in magical stasis.

      Delete
    3. Space Quest V has the same plot point. I wonder if this is something from Star Trek?

      Delete
    4. Sleeping Beauty reference made me remember a short joke story by Peter Bormor, about prince finally getting to Beauty, kissing her, her awakening and speaking what amounts to "Ahhh, it's good to be awake again! So, what age is it now? Did they FINALLY invent a cure for a Bubonic Plague?"

      In an original story, though, Sleeping Beauty was neither ill or poisoned, if only in some esoteric psychological interpretations where witches are symbols of different internal figures, and the Beauty needed her quarantine, just like Kay from Andersen's The Snow Queen

      Delete
  17. Told you about the respawning!
    That's by far the worst aspect of this game.

    ReplyDelete
  18. It should be so much better than Eye of the Beholder, but I found that it was a lot less consistent.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I suspect that an ongoing theme with more modern games is going to be the mismatch between smoothly-animated graphics and discretely-simulated stats. With Ultima or Pool of Radiance, what you see on the screen is always an exact representation of what the game's internal logic knows, so there's no ambiguity about where you are or what you can hit. But when things are drawn as moving smoothly when they're really not internally, you get some amount of mental dissonance.

    I've been speedrunning Dragon Slayer Gaiden, which is a Game Boy title with smooth movement. Something that trips me up a fair amount is that your logical grid position doesn't update until the walking animation is completely finished. So if you have a plot item that needs to be used on a particular grid square to trigger an event, but you push the button while your character is still a pixel or two away from finishing the walking animation, you just get the "Can't use that here" message and lose a second or so leaving and re-entering the item menu.

    And I think a common complaint about recent sports games is that, despite the increasingly-realistic character models and animations, you still frequently get characters warping around and contorting in unrealistic ways as they try to represent the outcome of die rolls in the more abstract internal simulation.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Throughout the 80's, I was a huge fan of the "Hair Metal" that dominated the decade (gotta love that Aqua-Net). But then, something happened. I realised that the genre had stagnated badly and I was distressed by my rapidly waning interest in a genre I had loved. Lands of Lore gave me the same feeling. Dungeon Master was fun, Bard's Tale was fun, Eye of the Beholder was fun. Lands of Lore was...meh. It felt like this specific style of game had been done to death, and I just wasn't seeing anything very compelling here. New games were few and far between back then, so I did eventually finish it off. But, I could never shake the feeling that I was just playing "K-Tel's Blobbers Greatest Hits", repackaged gameplay with nothing new.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose that the logical extension of that analogy would be that hair metal evolved into power metal, where the first person blobber evolved into Elder Scrolls style FPSRPGs (first person stabber role playing game).

      Delete
    2. A somewhat more charitable interpretation was a maturity of the genre that was more accessible. I don't know hair metal, but many fans of, oh, say, Operation Ivy thought Green Day represented the decline of punk revival. And maybe it was from their perspective, but many times more people went on to enjoy even Blink 182!

      Less charitably, as far as I know, Lands of Lore did not popularize the Dungeon Master Clone genre, but was more of a last gasp as true 3D took over. If the 3D revolution was a few years later, it might have been different. But, the genre was never going to be as popular as Command and Conquer.

      I think a lot of things that hardcore enthusiasts might find detracted from what they loved about its forebears were positive changes for a broader audience. We can even set aside the great production values. Linearity can be a drag, but it's more accessible. Wondering where to go next was a problem in EOB1, I recall. More story and diverse biomes all were positive additions. And, yes, the Mechanics were streamlined and simplified. But I think that could be positive, too, for folks who found DM or EOB daunting or difficult. But, definitely at the risk of alienating those that liked it before it was cool.

      Delete
    3. I wish we could have saved that discussion for 'Anvil of Dawn' (1995) which was the true swan song for this type of sub-genre (tile-based blobber), alas...

      Delete
    4. Well I don't know about swan song, but I googled up a list of blobbers on Steam and there's actually quite a lot of them newer than Anvil... https://store.steampowered.com/search/?sort_by=Released_DESC&tags=10695,3839,1720&untags=4434&category1=998

      Genres die hard.

      Delete
    5. I dunno, beyond a bunch of re-releases of pre-1995 games, those all postdate Legend of Grimrock, which intentionally positioned itself as a rebooted take on a decades-moribund genre - I’m not sure that the success of a nostalgia-driven indie and its couple of followers is enough to say the genre didn’t go dark in the mid-90s. Though I think Stonekeep came out after Anvil, and that expensive flop feels like what really killed this style of game as a going concern until its indie resurrection.

      Delete
    6. Depends on what genre we're talking about.
      In terms of grid-based dungeon crawlers, there were only two games was released between Anvild of Dawn (1995) and Legend of Grimrock (2012): Demise: Rise of the Ku'Tan in 2000 and Devil Whisky in 2003, both very indie and niche. So it would be fair to call it the genre's swansond. Although if we're being more precise and only count grid-based blobbers proper (i.e. party-based games), then neither AoD, nor Demise count, and the last game before the gap is Dungeon Master 2 from 1994.
      However, there were quite a few continuous movement blobbers released throughout the 1990s: Ravenloft/Mezoberranzan, later Might&Magics, Wizards&Warriors, Wizardry 8... On the other hand, those didn't get much of a revival since Brenda Romero's and Guido Henkel's kickstarters failed and Bard's Tale 4 flopped hard.

      Delete
    7. Oops, forgot about Stonekeep. Though in my defence, everybody does.

      Delete
    8. Oops x 2, forgot about Gates of Skeldal. But since it was only released in Czech and didn't get a proper translation until very recently, it doesn't really count.

      Delete
    9. I don't think true 3D took over for RPGs until the late 90s/early 2000s, when games like MM6, Ultima 9, (Deux Ex, Gothic,) and eventually Morrowind came out. Before that you had Daggerfall, but apart from that? Fallout, the Infinity Engine Games, Diablo had an angled top-down view. The SSI D&D games like Ravenloft were still very much tile based, with a minimal concession of free movement between tiles (I think the Ishar games work the same way). I think there were a few non-tiled, 2.5D games (Arena being a prominent example). True 3D games like System Shock, Cybermage and Hexen (not sure about the last one) were pretty much shooters with RPG elements.

      If true 3D RPGs would have been the next big thing in 1993, I think we would have seen more than two RPGs with the Ultima Underworld engine. If anything, I think Lands of Lore came at a time when the popularity of RPGs was dipping (or, games becoming more popular in general, but RPGs getting little of that). It still sold pretty well, though.

      Delete
    10. It's probably the case that nobody outside Origin/Looking Glass could duplicate the UU engine for at least a couple of years.

      Delete
    11. The UU engine made many concessions regarding speed, window size, perspective, and still barely ran on the hardware available back then. And it wasn't a huge success commercially as far as I know, certainly not Doom territory.

      The techniques used by the engine were developed by academics decades earlier, and there were enough smart people availabe who could have written a similar engine. I think the industry just moved another way, giving priority to speed over true 3D until that became fast, too. After all, that's what sold most.

      Delete
    12. Re Hexen, it was Doom with blocks being able to move horizontally (there was a moving wall maze puzzle) and some more advanced scripting. It's still technically 2D.

      Delete
    13. “ And it wasn't a huge success commercially as far as I know, certainly not Doom territory.”

      I mean nothing else was really in Doom territory, but UU1 sold about half a million copies, which is roughly twice what LoL did (it also did better than Ultima VII). But as you say the market was moving on and RPG sales were very much eclipsed as the FPS and RTS became the dominant genres for hardcore gaming. At least things were better than for adventure games - Monkey Island 2 only sold like 25k!

      And yeah, Hexen was slightly-upgraded Doom; Hexen 2 used the Quake engine and came out much later.

      Delete
    14. (I should say, point and click adventures. Myst obviously was a smash though I’m not sure how well the legion of imitators did).

      Delete
    15. Much of Myst's sales came because it looked so pretty that it was a good way to show off the capabilities of your new and expensive PC. It was bundled with a lot of graphics cards and such for the same reason - the card manufacturers wanted to make sure you had something that would help you justify the money you spent, though those don't count in the official sales figures.

      Riven was a success, but not nearly on the same scale - sales were only about 2/3s of the first game's. Exile saw a further drop, at about half of Riven's. This was still over a million and a half units, but a far cry from what the first game did.

      Delete
    16. In general there was a problem for most of the PC gaming subgeneres at the late 90s, where showing 3D was the way to go. Right now there are games for everyone and (almost) all niches are respected, but I recall feeling sad seeing how puzzle games, hex based strategic games, naval battles strategic games, flight combat simulators, space combat simulators and what now they are called cinematic platformers were vanishing - point n click adventure games were not that bad in comparison. I agree with your analysis Gnoman: Myst was a smash because of the new technology, the rest of thousands of first person adventures (apart from 7th Guest, almost contemporary), not that much.

      But to go back to the point: I also got that feeling when I played Lands of Lore, that it was a cosplay of Eye Of The Beholder 2, which already was a cosplay of Dungeon Master. But I rolled with it. It does not have stats, it is focused on being beautiful, and you can feel the script gears turning? I lived with that. Now, when I got to Anvil of Dawn and Stonekeep I was already a bit tired of the blobbers and I never finished either.

      Delete
    17. Stonekeep wasn't a bad game, it was quite fun an i finished it. But if they put all the money they wasted on the intro into the game itself instead it could have been really great.

      Delete
    18. Did you finish it @JonathanQ? The reviews of Stonekeep at the time said that it was very well designed until half way they seemed to run out of time and money and it was all rushed, almost one linear hallway to the end.

      Delete
    19. One summer twenty years ago, while still in secondary school, I played Stonekeep and did not finish the game. It was quite a fun, especially the beggining - meeting characters and creatures, upgrading gear and getting companions. But I gradually lost interest and did not finish the game. I was a HUGE Fallout (1 & 2) and Might & Magic (VII) fan at the time and Stonekeep just seemed too constrained...

      Funnily, around that time, I also played quite a lot with Brány Skeldalu/Gates of Skeldal (which was also mentioned somewhere in this thread). I really enjoyed the game editor and tried to recreate some dungeons from our TTRPG. However, I never finished the main game, it got too hard and demanding in the final stages.

      Delete
    20. In my memory, both Stonekeep and Anvil are very linear. I maintain that Eye of the Beholder is one of the better blobbers out there precisely because of its nonlinearity (although its sequels are very linear too).

      Delete
    21. You're remembering wrong, Anvil of Dawn is quite open. There is an optimal sequence, of course (which RPG doesn't have one), and some levels only open after completing others, but for most of the game you have access to several dungeons at a time. There are also some optional areas/alternative paths through the world map.

      Delete
    22. I bounced from Anvil because I was getting enervated by its enormous dungeons, but it had plenty of positive points (I liked the monster designs, for one). Stonekeep I appreciated more for its surreality, since I never knew what it was going to throw at me next (and a bottomless inventory is a good way to win me over also).

      I'd say both being single-character affairs was the bigger issue. That always feels more restrictive and limiting than some linear dungeon design.

      Delete
    23. The beginning of Stonekeep was way more fun than the endgame. My teenage me didn't realize this, but they rushed the end. There would have been so much more potential. The visuals are still beautiful to me. By the time it came out, they were outdated and not so strikingly as the developers intended, but still... i fired it up recently, but didn't play far.

      Delete
    24. Looking over screenshots, I haven't actually progressed far in Anvil (I don't recall why) and regarding linearity I must have been thinking of some other blobber.

      Delete
    25. Talking about Stonekeep, I remember it VERY fondly, Myself being from a slavic country, where games often came not by the way of distribution, but rather by the way of "yo-ho-ho and the bottle o'rum", we here often had games translated by the very same piratey folk that delivered them. And, I must say, translation of Stonekeep was fantastic, fabulous, full of humour, and, I think, contributed very much to the game experience. It's so good, it's on par with "Do not believe in bad stuff" translation of Neverhood (called "Ne-ver-v-hoodo").

      Because of how lovingly game was translated and voiced, I remember it very fondly, even still today. I will never forget the song of dwarves about Big Bad, so humorous, silly, and totally UN-epic it was... ("Ti shto, Khuul-khuum, ti shto? Ti shto, sovsem ofonarel, ustroil polniy bespredel, ti shto, Khuul, Khuum, ti shto? (Hoir) Da, Khuul-Khuum, ti shto?")

      In any case, concerning the genre itself: yes, it declined until its indie revival, from some point of view...

      Yet then there is GRIMOIRE, no? I heard it was developed since 90s by one man team, until it was FINALLY released not so long ago?

      Delete
    26. Also, regarding Lands of Lore itself, I'm willing to forgive a LOT of it sins for its graphics reminding me of "Legends of Kyrandia" point-and-click adventure, and especially Dawn reminding of a wizard girl from "Legends of Kyrandia 2". It felt like a crossover between genres, it felt like a foray into a multi-genre franchise, something more than JUST a EoB-like game. It was a fun feeling!

      Delete
  21. There is also a 1989 game in the "Dungeon Master" style, but it is beyond the scope of this blog. It is the Japanese "Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements" for the NES. I mention it here because I think it is the first "Dungeon Master clone" with an overworld, cities, economy and characters you can talk to.

    Obviously, it is simpler than "Lands of Lore", but at least the combat dance worked smoothly (hit, step forward, pause, step back, pause, repeat; in that order because there is a delay between "hit" command and when the hit connects).

    ReplyDelete
  22. I really enjoyed LoL in the days back then. Butt regarding the difficulty i go with the other commmentars. Setting it on hard makes this game not more challenging but only more annyoing...

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hey, the game on your upcoming list should be dungeon master 2 instead of 3, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is the third one in the series, but the second one was unnumbered. There is also a Japanese exclusive in-between. Chester will sort it out when he will start playing it.

      Delete
    2. The Turbografx CD version was actually available outside of Japan. Perhaps you're thinking of the Sega Saturn title?

      Delete
    3. I appreciate Abacos's explanation, but it was just a typo. Unfortunately, it takes some effort these days to update that text block, so it will remain in error for a bit longer.

      Delete
  24. An NPC asks for something that's obviously a bad idea, and turns out to be the Big Bad in disguise... that reminds me of Eye of the Beholder 2 :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. I played this game back in the 90s when it came out and it was very impressive. Great graphics, great music, it had a slick interface, a super slick automap and actually had a story to follow along to. Most of the other dungeon master clones had no story other than "go in this dungeon and kill the baddie at the end." Though most of the people that weren't too impressed with it seemed to be veterans of various dungeon master clones and sequels. But as someone who up to that point had not played too many DM clones (except EoB) I thought the game was very, very impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Do you mean (bear east and then proceed north) as soon as possible, or (bear east) and (then proceed north as soon as possible)?

    And this is why Oxford commas are useful, despite all the haters - a well-placed comma could make this "bear east, and then proceed north as soon as possible" or "bear east and then proceed north, as soon as possible".

    ReplyDelete
  27. "I noted that Conrad continued to narrate even small things"
    So, via my circle of friends at the time, I had this game *ahem* "available", but it was the unvoiced floppy version. I had played the demo of the voiced version from a CD-ROM magazine and wasn't willing ot settle for less. My main memory of the demo was the voice actor responding to many things with "Whatever it was, it's garbage now."

    (Also, owning to my friends not being very bright and being deprived of the voiced version, they all insisted on pronouncing the subtitle of the game as "The Throne of Chows")

    ReplyDelete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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