Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Bard's Tale: Not Quite As Fun as I Thought

Dungeon-crawling in The Bard's Tale

My praise for The Bard's Tale over the last couple of posts may have been a bit too effusive. I was taken in by the graphics and character classes and other trappings of the game, but now that I'm a few hours into it, the gameplay is very repetitive and frankly not distinguishable from Wizardry.

Since I last posted, I finally advanced my conjurer high enough to obtain a healing spell, but it wasn't the breakthrough I had hoped for. Healing takes so many spell points, and spell points regenerate so slowly, that really the only way to survive in the game is to pay for frequent healing at the temples. This isn't that crippling because gold is plentiful and there's very little else to spend it on, but it makes dungeon-delving problematic. You can't risk going too deep lest you find yourself unable to make it out.

Things I've done and discovered since last night:

  • You shouldn't start the dungeons too early. The first dungeon to explore is the wine cellar (I'm blocked from the others for now). When you go from street to dungeon, you go from facing one party of monsters at a time to sometimes four or five parties at a time. It's a huge leap. After dying a couple of times, I decided I'd better stay in Skara Brae a little while longer and build up my characters.
One wonders what brought such a diverse group together

  • There's not much in Skara Brae. Most of it is marked on the map that comes with the game. The bulk of the city is composed of interchangeable houses which, when you kick in the door, sometimes offer up monsters. From a role-playing standpoint, it somehow seems wrong barging into houses and slaughtering the denizens, many of whom are innocuous-sounding creatures like hobbits and dwarves.
One of many interchangeable streets in Skara Brae

  • One thing I did find: a temple of the "Mad God." Instead of healing me, the clerics ask for the name of the Mad God. There must be some adventure here later.
  • Tougher critters come out when night falls.
  • The Bard's Tale tried to catch me pirating. At one point when I leveled up, the Review Board asked me a question that I was only able to answer by looking at the game map.
1980s DRM

  • Since there seems to be an equal chance of encountering monsters every time you enter a house, there's no reason to march all over the city looking for battles. I set myself up near a temple and just went back and forth between two houses across the street from each other, killing monsters for hours. As you can imagine, it was a bit boring, so I watched an episode of Lost while I was doing it. Last night's episode was pretty good, incidentally.

"Death itself." From a zombie. Get it?
Once my characters were up to Level 7, I entered and mapped out the first level of the wine cellar. Not much here: one trap, one spinner (a square that when you land on it points you in a random direction, confusing your mapping), stairs down, and two doors marked "fine wines" and "rare wines" but which, as far as I could tell, had nothing but monsters in them. A lot of the squares aren't used, and I'm wondering if there isn't some other way of finding secret doors other than running headfirst into them the way you do in Wizardry. I didn't find any secret doors on Level 1, in any event.

I do still like mapping.
I'll keep plugging away. In the meantime, I'm mulling over a comment that Gooberslot made on my first posting. He or she called me on only playing PC/DOS CRPGs, noting that not only am I missing games, in some cases I'm "missing out on playing the best version." Downloading Apple II, Atari, and C-64 emulators would mean going back to pick up Space, Space II, the Dunjonquest games, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Return of Heracles, Questron, and SunDog: Frozen Legacy, and Adventure: Only the Fittest Shall Survive.

Should I do it? Or should I stick to my original plan and cover DOS/PC CRPGs only? Any fond memories of any of these games?


  1. I might be biased as all I played these on were non-PC systems, but you should definitely give those a try. I know from personal experience that Questron was fantastic and SunDog (Atari ST version is the best) was my personal obsession for a long time. Hell, even going back and futzing around with Alternate Reality on the 8-bit Atari might be worth an hour or two, simply for the better graphics and effects.

    By the way, absolutely loving the blog. Found it today, killed time at work catching up, now you're in my RSS feed. Thanks!

  2. There's something oddly sleazy about that Mad Dog. I imagine him being voiced by Cheech Marin.

  3. I think you ought to give a shot to those non-PC versions as well. Interesting to see what was on the C=64, as I didn't get a chance to play much on that.

    As for BT and the dungeons, I'm pretty sure that some of the only dungeons in the entire game that don't allow access to every single space in the 22x22 map are those at the very beginning and end of the game. Later on, you'll get spells that let you dissolve a wall in front of you (basically, old-school no-clipping!) and gain access to those areas, though.

  4. I think you should open it up to all computer platforms. That may not only allow you a better version than the DOS one, but will allow you to play some gems you might otherwise miss. I don't think it would add *too* many games to the mix.

    I guess one thing to keep in mind is that these games will begin to get looooong. Hopefully you'll be blogging your way through them, but I can't see you beating Might and Magic 3/4/5 in 10 hours as you did with Ultima III.

    What's the longest time spent on a game you've beaten so far?

    You should think about having a summary page or something like that. A page where you've listed all the games you've played, the time spent, whether finished or not, and maybe a 2-4 sentence blurb about it.

    It would require a bit of a site reorganization though. I think it'd be cool.

    Love the blog,

  5. Andrew, thanks for the suggestion on the summary page. I'll do that when I finish "The Bard's Tale."

    Longest time spent so far was on "Rogue," which took me four months playing a few hours a week. Read those postings to understand why.

    As for the other platforms, the feeling seems to be unanimous. I'm still not sure I'll do it, but I appreciate your input!

  6. i'd say you should stick to the plan for the time being. it's bold enough as it is now, let alone straying into 8-bits, consoles and whatnot (that's not to say those games are bad or anything).

    diverse groups and death itself in the form of 1 zombie made my day here though ;))
    stalwart band~!"

  7. Well, I would say a compromise. There are LOTS of games for you to play already, but why sit and play a game with CGA graphics, when you can play the beautiful, colorful ST- or Amiga-version? :-)
    So, if a game has a DOS-port, play the game, but use the best version available.

    And perhaps another brave soul will take on the non-DOS'ed games (not me, though) and blog it for the world to enjoy! :-D

  8. I'm still not ruling it out, but even though 4/5 of you voted for me to check out these other platforms, I remain un-excited about the idea.

  9. I don't know if this is still a relevant question, but I'd go with the compromise TorbenB suggested. Stick to games released on DOS, but go with the best version.

  10. If your not used to setting up different emulators and download kickstart roms and other required BIOS roms etc I'd not bother with other platforms, as much as I love the miggy/c64/st..

  11. I kinda agree with TorbenB. Like Bard's Tale has a way smoother touch to it when played on the Amiga. On the other hand.. now that you reached the "Good enough"-games - are you really willing to try out those games that came before?

  12. I'm not sure what you mean, Napkin. I'm doing my best to play EVERY PC CRPG, whether it came before or after "The Bard's Tale." I'm just not willing to expand to other platforms. I've got over 1,000 games on this one, and I'm only at #25.

  13. Oh, sorry for that.

    I meant that I agree with TorbenB to better stick to the list of PC CRPGs and not include even more games (consoles, c64, atari/amiga). But if there is a more technical advanced or nicer version of a PC CRPG on another system, I'd say use it to make the experience as pleasurable as possible :)

    Also, you and some comments hinted for older CRPGs released on older systems before PC became popular. So, if you decide to include those in your conquest, I'm just saying it might be tough because those games would clearly fall again in the "Not good enough"-category of games. I wouldn't be motivated to head back into the dark ages after already coming this far.

    Love your Blog! Cheers!

  14. Did you ever setup a summary page as mentioned above?

  15. Not really. I did the spreadsheet that's in the left-hand navigation bar towards the top of the blog.

  16. The wine cellar!!!

    Argh. Ugh. ARRGH!!!

    I tried so HARD! But I just could. not. do it.

    What's so liberating for me about reading your blog is realizing that these games were (and are) EXCEPTIONALLY hard. With some of them, as a child, I just decided I must be too young or too stupid to figure them out. I can let that all go now.

    Thank you :)

  17. SunDog: Frozen Legacy!! I've been following the creator's occasional interest in reviving this beloved game of mine (his too...). One of my all time favourite Apple games. I'm keen to play it again, but I do remember the ship combat graphics being bad, and whilst effective, you were represented in the cities as just a circle... Still, alleyway shootouts with muggers were tense! (I understand if you stick to your PC only plan, but if you switch, check out Sundog, Autoduel, Moebius.)

  18. Thanks for the great blog. I'm really happy that I found this and it works for me that I get to read these in a row. I love cliffhangers, but when you don't exactly know when the next part comes out it's not that fun. You're doing great job! For years I have wanted to revisit these gems, but didn't think I had the time. This is the next best thing.
    although I just got Ultima IV from and firing it up tonight when the kids go to sleep. There's allways time for Ultimas
    Thanks, I'll keep on reading.

  19. I remember playing The Bard's Tale on my Apple //GS (graphics looked mostly like the Atari ST version). I had a hint book, and I STILL couldn't finish the game, because the hint book didn't even include maps of the final levels, and I was really not patient enough to map the final tower out myself.

  20. Y'know, since it's a journey, why not make it in the form of Milestones?

    1st. All RPGs on PC.
    2nd. All RPGs on Commodore64.
    3rd. All RPGs on Macintosh.
    4th. All RPGs on video consoles.

    And if you happen to die before the end of the quest, you just hope for someone to find your corpse in a dungeon and carry on for you the quest you set off on. =D

    1. It's hard to see going back to the 1980s after finishing The Elder Scrolls VI: Akavir, but I'll think of it.

      I was actually considering playing some of the classics of the non-PC list in between regular games, like I started to do with the PLATO games, but I want to get my blog back up to regular speed first.

  21. Personally I'm planning on kidnapping the Addict at the end of his life and uploading him into a computer.

  22. That was one of the differences between BT1 and Wiz1. In Wiz1 once you finished mapping level 1, you were strong enough to hit level 2, and so forth. BT1 had more mindless grinding...not too much though. Early on that samurai statue gives you huge exp and will respawn if you enter the inn (or adventurers guild or whatever) which isnt too far away. You can grind off of that pretty quickly. Later on you can grind the 4x99 zerkers rather easily. I don't remember grinding on anything else. For the zerkers, teleport directly there from the stairs, make sure to summon a dragon (and hope it breathes), cast your aoe spells, and msot importantly hold down ctrl-f12 (or is it alt-f12) to instantly fly through the combat spam in dosbox, i can't imagine how slow and awful this was back in the day.

  23. I imagine you remained unconvinced to go back and play every CRPG ever released regardless of platform. Though this is probably a good time for me to say in regards to your ending aside that my "good enough" point in CRPGs probably was Return of Heracles. It is obviously primitive to a point of hilarity from a graphical standpoint, and yet it actually had gameplay and even writing(!) good enough to hold up to modern gamers (if they have some patience, anyway). Even the obviously limited musical score (and sound effects) were expertly done given the technology. I still get chills thinking about some parts of the game. It even had a full-screen graphic as an end screen, way better than most games of the time! Haha.

    A shame the only videos on YouTube are of someone playing a pirated copy on the Apple, as "disktributed by der fuhrer" does not really add to the ambiance of the gameplay. And the music is not as good.

  24. 1980s DRM

    Who always insists on putting in copy protection? The publisher. Now, look at the shapes carved in the background of your screenshot there... then, look for analogous shapes in the Bard's Tale title page heading the previous posting.

    The review board are Electronic Arts! You also see this logo in a later Ultima, after EA's uneasy relationship with Origin sours, as well as several references in various games to its apparently wretched CEO of the time Trip Hawkins.

  25. More differences from the console port. Healing is much more useful, and a good way to save money is to burn through all healing spells before restoring MP at the temple. Spell points don't regenerate on their own. Combat is limited to three groups of monster, and only one monster from each group can act per turn. Slight change to the Mad God temple is you need a key item from the sewers rather than Tarjan's name. There's no day/night cycle. There are no traps in the dungeon, and no spinners. There are teleporters and one-way doors, but that's as complicated as it gets. The maps are different. The sewers is only a single floor.

    Also I think you should start a Patreon, and do this full time. Or just start a Patreon to supplement, or fund that book. ;)

    1. Finding money isn't the hard part. Extricating myself from my existing jobs is the hard part. Imagine I do fundraising for charities or counsel drug abusers or help improve vehicle safety or something like that. I'm good at what I do and it makes a difference. If saying, "yeah, I'm going to stop doing this to spend more time on video games" doesn't cross the line into actual evil, it comes close.

    2. As much as I love playing RPGs, and I do usually spend my rare days off playing them, the thought of doing it all day every day fills me with horror.


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