Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

While I explore the game Moebius and gather material for my next posting about it, I want to stop and consider a question that's impossible not to consider while playing Moebius: can a bad gameplay element spoil an entire game?

I'm thinking yes.

In the case of Moebius, I refer specifically to the character icon that you have to stare at for most of the game: an enormous, cloaked head and top of a torso that stares creepily out at you. Your foes look the same. I almost can't bear the thought of looking at this for a couple dozen hours of gameplay. Didn't this bother anyone else during development?

This got me thinking about other games that have been ruined--or at least marred--by a particular element of the game. I'm not talking about substantive things, like Wizardry's permanent death or The Bard's Tale II's boring, interminable dungeons. I'm talking, rather, about peripheral or stylistic elements that should have been easy to change in the development stage. Obviously, a lot of them are going to come down to pet peeves, but this is the list I came up with:

  • Baldur's Gate: "You must gather your party before venturing forth." Seriously, once should have been enough.
  • Ultima II: Space travel, fine, I can deal with it. Being able to land and walk around on Jupiter, no.
  • Ultima VII: I always choose the black character portrait because the one white guy looks like a baked out surfer. Seriously, like 90% of their players must be white males, and that was the best they could come up with?

"Hey, dudes..."

  • Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. Cespenar. Yeah, he's cute at first, but having to cycle through all of his inane chattering every time I want him to examine my backpack makes me want to punch my cat.
  • Neverwinter Nights: The Stone of Recall. It utterly breaks the game.
  • Might & Magic VII: No respect from your own townspeople. You spend all this time upgrading your castle and building a peaceful Harmondale, and the guards still tell you to "move along."
  • Oblivion: When the main quest is about stopping an invasion from hell, it seems irresponsible to do any of the side quests. Morrowind got around this by having Caius Cosades tell you to go out, explore, build up some experience, but there's no good role-playing reason to do that in Oblivion. Also, the character creation process allows you to choose from a detailed and nuanced selection of facial features, body styles, and hairstyles (including size, shape, and color for all of them)--except that there's no "bald" option. Which I happen to be.

I'm sure I'll run across many more. What are some astonishingly absurd or obnoxious gameplay elements that you've found?

Finally, here's one about the industry: why do game companies make it so hard to buy their older games? Instead of bitching about abandonware sites, why don't copyright holders offer their own versions of old games for download at a minimal cost? I'd gladly pay $5 for Ultima IV or The Bard's Tale or Pool of Radiance from a legitimate seller, but the owners offer no such recourse. I realize that many of these companies are out of business, but surely someone still owns the copyrights and can create a basic web site. I'm frankly worried about what's going to happen when I enter the "games that require a CD in the drive" era and find that there are no more copies of Baldur's Gate or Might & Magic VII to be had.


  1. I think the main reason why companies don't offer their old games is that they would be forced to give support for those games, which they don't want. Anyone who knows enough to download an old game from an abandonware site probably knows how to run it on dosbox or set up a virtual machine, but if you put them for download at the official site you will probably get a long row of people whining about not being able to play it on Windows 7 and demanding the company to offer support for it.

  2. Do you know about Good Old Games ( They sell an assortment of old games optimized in Dosbox for modern systems. The selection isn't huge right now, but they are always adding more. Check it out if you haven't already.

  3. The worst thing for me about revisiting some games is the awful interface. There are many classic games that are either far too cluttered or that require you carefully read the manual. I've always wanted to play Megatraveller, but while the character creation is great, the interface just turns me off every time as the combat is tough going. It's also not helpful that the only manual I have is PDF.

    For a slightly more recent game though, the Temple of Trials from Fallout 2 fills me with rage whenever I want to play as a non-combat character. Tutorial sections should be optional!

    I'd second the call for you to check out Good Old Games, it's really a great place for older games. They have well over 200 games now, and I think I've bought about 50.

  4. *is* great, absolutely, and I have bought some few titles there, too (I already have most of their RPGs and adventures). So while I'm perhaps in good company here I've always had the feeling that vintage games players are an extreme minority and GOG doesn't really change that - they only make it more comfy for us (deprotection, patches & DOSbox configuration, documentation and occasionally bonus stuff).

    Good point about the companies not wanting to support older games! A good example is the giant EA where finding patches for older games they still actively *sell* is a downright PITA! For their support selector tool on they should be bitchslapped!

    About obnoxious game elements:

    - I hate having to feed my characters! I'm sure most of you will object but I don't want to micro-manage the bodily needs of my characters, especially not when I'm playing a whole party. What's next? Deciding when to take a dump?
    IMHO it's either a lazy attempt to make a game harder (they succeed here) or to more fully simulate life (where they fail as it really is only about keeping decreasing counters in the green).
    Characters that are about to save the world should be smart enough to feed themselved.
    Nothing against fishing or hunting mini games or buying drinks in a pub to gather information but that should be about it.
    Hooray for Eschalon 2 where you can actually *disable* the feeding frenzy before starting a new game!

    - Secondly, I hate badly localized games. You American gamers usually don't have a problem with that but some companies save a penny in Europe by hiring cheap actors or doing silly conversions. I remember quitting the localized Baldur's Gate because some characters sounded like bad impersonations of local German dialects. I later replayed the original english version which was much better.
    Granted, some older games are fantastically localized (the Dark Project and Lucas Arts series for example, Grim Fandango really is outstanding!) and now the level of quality is usually higher than ever but there are still things to lament on and I generally try play the original US or UK version.

    As for the Moebius avatar and enemy portraits - I _love_ them!
    I don't find them creepy but charming *because* of their simplicity and if one examines the abstract map they really do fit in there. The result is of course that it resembles more a board game than a highly-detailed world simulation sometimes but are the stick figures in some equally old games are really that much better?
    I remember an ad for Ultima III where one reviewer wrote that it resembles a "living tapestry - complex and beautiful".
    Of course not all people know today what a tapestry is let alone liking one but it fits Moebius, too.
    On the other hand, the feeding frenzy in Moebius drove me nuts ;-)


  5. Lots of games (I think the gold box ones did this?) used to track the gold held by each character separately, forcing you to pool their gold for large purchases. I've always hated that- later games like Baldur's Gate just use a party pool of gold. Perhaps less realistic, but realism can be the enemy of immersion if it forces you to spend your time on menial tasks (like which character has the gold, and forcing them to eat- I also hate that) rather than on the heroic and adventurous side.

    Heroes should be smart enough to remember to feed themselves, and keep track of their own gold. They should not need the user to hold their hand.

    Looking back, it seems that the best interfaces allow you to focus on the cool part of the game, and less time on the tedious minutiae. More slaying foul beasts, less management of 'restedness' as in Cavequest, so you don't collapse after a jog.

    I want to recover blades infused with fell magic from the hoards of dragons, without having to spend 30 minutes shifting inventory items so I can carry it all- a glaring flaw in all the Infinity engine games (all of which I enjoy, but still, this is a flaw)

    I'm not saying I want my options boiled down to a Diablo style interface with 'attack 1' and 'attack 2' as my only way to interact with the fantasy world- just that I want those interactions to be meaningful and interesting.

    Graphics are usually less important to me than interesting gameplay (otherwise I'd not be so interested in roguelikes). However, there is, once in a while, a case where the graphics are so distractingly bad, it keeps you from ever feeling immersed in the game. The 'Floating Heads of Moebius' definitely are a case of that. We've hit the stage where graphics can be 'good enough' as you've said, to allow a game to be enjoyed no matter how out of date the graphics are. But this is a case of them being 'bad enough' to keep me away.

    1. I'm playing the first wizardry game for the first time, emulating the SNES version, and it really boggles the mind how silly it is to individually distribute gold to characters and require a (P)ool gold command to make your purchases. There is absolutely nothing in the game that provides a reason for one character having more or less of a portion of the total gold your characters have acquired, it's completely useless now and it was completely useless then.

    2. This is not entirely true. If you suffer a full party death and go in with a second party to rescue them, sometimes a dead party member will no longer be recoverable, along with all the equipment and gold that member was carrying.

      Also, if a dead member is turned to ashes and then also lost forever, their equipment and gold is gone too.

      It's all fine and dandy to talk about having a pool of gold for the party, but that's just a convenience feature because someone has to be carrying it - it's not just floating behind the party in a big heap.

    3. While Ken has some good points, I think the issue goes back to a mainframe mentality. The authors of Wizardry came from a world in which there were multiple players and each "owned" one or more characters, so it made sense to keep everything separate and to save party members independently from the party itself. There are other artifacts of this thinking in the earliest microcomputer games, such as leaderboards or passwords on characters despite the fact that few players would be sharing disks.

  6. Andy_Panthro mentioned the archaic interfaces of old games. That's the biggest issue I have with going back to play old games as well. A lot of times there are some tedious, repetitive actions that you have to go through in a game.. or that the interface often does not tell you what it does, or offer some other crucial information.

    I'd love to read your thoughts on the subject - how much you feel the old interfaces are in the way of the playing, what areas of interfaces have especially improved, if there are good novel interface ideas in some old games that have been forgotten, et cetera. You are getting pretty good perspective by really playing through the old games.


  7. I hate the way journals and quest indicators. The way most games seem to implement journals, the game presents a puzzle or riddle, and the journal presents the answer. Quest indicators are kind of the same thing. Npc tells you to cross the river Zoodoo, scale the moutain Tomulas, and brave the forest of darkness. Open your map and there is big red x that says: right here stupid.

    Just got caught up on your blog, plan on being a regular reader! Awesome job and keep on truckin'

  8. Hmm group vs individual gold is an interesting one. Generally it is quite annoying having to go through each char trying to scrape up what you need. But having gold grouped all the time, makes your party seem to be a single entity which just isn't normally as interesting as a group of separate entities. Some games let you rp your party members differently, some..less so but it can be a fun thing to do sometimes (or even have a couple friends have control over a character each for turnbased rpgs)

  9. Pooled gold isn't realistic (as long as the party aren't followers of Karl Marx ;-) but individual gold isn't necessarily more realistic, IMHO.
    Think of party members as persons clinging to their pennies - and that in (mostly) dark times. They would very likely defend their gold fiercely and _not_ line up to pay for a shiny new battle axe for another member.

    About game interfaces and their progress: IMHO they have made big strides. While graphics & sound were more or less a direct result from improved hardware (which improved because of games) the interaction happens either with a gamepad, a keyboard and/or a mouse - since the eighties. The mouse is perhaps the most important peripheral for PC gamers and graphical user interfaces in general (as it was developed for them in the first place).
    The first mass market gaming platform getting really successful with a different kind of controller is the Wii and it shows: Both Sony and Microsoft copy the motion-based controllers now. I doubt that we will see drastic changes in the PC gaming world, though.
    I expect the content to change over the next years instead: More intelligent player characters (avatars) behaving more like human beings and being steered with even fewer commands. AI will help the player characters and critics will attack games as being so shallow that they already play themselves...

  10. Pooled gold vs individual gold.

    Individual gold is an attempt to make it feel more like D&D. Each person controls 1 character. There's a desire to make sure your guy survives and in a way the vanity of being able to get better than other people. Wheeling and dealing. "I found this, I'll swap you for that and x gold".

    As a CRPG, there is no individual attachment. You could just about play the game with 1 character that has 6 different abilities in a round of combat.

    The only way individual gold really works is when you play multiplayer.

  11. Mass Effect has the same defect as Oblivion: here you are, the faith of all sentient organic life in the known universe hanging upon your decisions... while you're off exploring planets for rare minerals. Uh-uh.

  12. Not a fan of the 'every time you start out as poor and nekid'. What if my party was put together by some spoiled rich kid? Or the son of a legendary hero who inherited papa's Hackmaster +12? I know people talk about the games intended balance, but options should always tend towards the maximum.

  13. I don't think I got a good answer on why companies don't offer their old catalogs. I don't buy the "having to support it" option. It seems like all they'd have to do is include a disclaimer saying the game isn't supported any more and that's why the price is so low.

    Mark, I gotta do some research, but I have my doubts that games you buy from are paying money to the original creators. Please enlighten me if you know better.

    Great comments on the gold issue. I have problems with that as well. In Baldur's Gate II, you can stock your party with an assortment of evil characters who barely complain when you give all the party gold to rebuild some peasants' homes after a flood. It seems to me that it would make more role-playing sense if characters squirreled away some of the gold you find, with evil characters hiding more. That might balance the fact that "evil" role-playing options almost always give you the ability to steal or coerce more gold.

    1. I would love to play a game where half the gold you earn would go to the individual characters and they would only use it on purchases for themselves, the other half could go in a pool available for all characters to use. Maybe with an option that good characters would pay for a fellow party members resurrection but that's it.

  14. Like other online stores, licenses all the games it sells from the rights holders, which is of course not the same thing as paying the original creators.

  15. Thanks for the clarification, Ben. I was worried it was like some of those abandonware sites where they charge you money to download games they don't have any right to be selling.

  16. I hate games that bombard you with varied loot. Don't get me wrong, variation, loot included, is important to me, and I like to be rewarded for my actions. But I'm thinking of the Diablos and their myriad descendents, where every monster you kill seems to cough up some new weapon/armour/glove/boot/helmet/amulet with new abilities that you're then expected to immediately compare with the other versions you're already wearing/wielding to see if it's 1% better at parrying some obscure elemental attack. In large combats it's not uncommon to pick up a dozen objects from the ground, and it can take a long while to pace through and compare. If they could keep the level of variation, but slow down the acquisition to, say, 10% the speed of what they have now, the games would be more fun for me.

  17. Love your blog ... this is my second comment - hope you find comments on older threads.

    I am a cynic at heart. You may be familiar with the "long tail" problem in that some things have a durable appeal and can last a looong time. Books and music are great examples.

    Now, if you are a gaming company, do you want to support a low-cost game that competes with your new-fangled ones? Whether or not you believe the older games are better than the new (hard for me to separate nostalgia from quality b/c I 'grew up' w/ Ultima and Wizardry) but either way ... why support cheap things that'll draw attention away from your million dollar franchise?

  18. Overly repetitive combat. "You kill a slime-mold, you gain 1XP" Yay, only 1500 more random encounters until I can level up and begin pursuing a quest.

    I'm not in the game industry, but my guess is that the game companies don't keep their old titles available because there'd be expenses (somebody has to manage it and be familiar with it, somebody has to strip the copy protection, make it run on modern platforms, scan the docs, etc.) but very little revenue compared to newer games. Those "resources" are of course more profitable if assigned to projects with higher profit margins, and possibly less legal issues and/or royalty expenses than some title that belonged to a company that was bought by a company that was bought out and nobody remembers where the contracts with the original development company are.

  19. I really hope that things like gog and steam can find a way to make it economically viable. But generally speaking... Consider a $5 'classic' game that might sell 1,000 copies next quarter vs your current hit-to-be with a $50 price point that might sell 100,000 copies. How many employee hours are you willing to divert from the $5,000,000 project to the $5,000 project? The employees cost the same either way (hint: 2 weeks for one employee and you've burnt the entire revenue of the $5000 project - even if it was 100% profit, it becomes a net loss). If you divert the employees to the old game, 1,000 cheap customers will be happy...but 100,000 customers with more money will see the release date for the game they've been waiting for slip yet again and some will lose interest and spend their money on the competition. Plus marketing will have to extend their expensive campaign.

    I could be wrong - I'm not in the industry, but it makes sense to me, even though I don't like it.

  20. Joe & Anon: thanks for commenting. You're right, of course. If there was an economic benefit to offering the old games, companies would. I just hate the idea that perfectly serviceable software goes "out of print."

  21. Actually, I am saying something a little different ... the companies are deliberately NOT releasing the licenses for old games b/c they don't want competition with their new games. Better to keep the "good old games" under lock and key. I wish they were like books ... after a certain period of time, they become "public domain"

    1. Okay, I know I'm writing this reply almost three years after the fact and probably no one will read this comment, but for what it's worth:

      Computer games are like books in that sense; the same copyright laws apply to both. The thing is that that "certain period of time" hasn't elapsed yet. By current U.S. copyright law, a copyrighted property passes into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author, or, for works for hire or created by corporations (as would be the case for most commercial computer games), 95 years after publication. Plenty of books were written by people who died before 1938, and are therefore in the public domain. No CRPGs, however, were published before 1918, for obvious reasons. Hence, in principle, all these games will eventually pass into the public domain. They just haven't yet.

      (I say "in principle", however, because there are certain interests that keep fighting to extend the copyright terms, so it's possible that by the time the 95 years have elapsed the time period will have been lengthened... but that's another issue.)

      (Standard disclaimers: I am not a lawyer, etc., etc.)

    2. Er... that should be 1943, of course, not 1938... wish there were a way to edit these comments. (If there is one, I didn't see it.)

    3. With the major caveat that they don't extend it AGAIN.

    4. In the case of computer games, of course, copyrights won't expire until long after the games become functionally unplayable.

  22. At least a few games on GOG are licensed directly from the original creators, as far as I know. Most of them are probably just from large, boring publishers, but it's all real licenses.

    Anyway, in a recent interview they stated that some rights apparently eventually revert from publishers to developers (or something like that) and they have experienced being apporached by these developers about offering the game on the gog-site. I believe their specifix example was the developers of Age of Wonders - strategy, so not relevant here. Still, thought I would mention it.

    I'm a huge fan of that site, so I highly recommend it. They are releasing the "Baldur's Gate era" D&D CRPGs these days, and have the first 6 Might and Magic games to mention a few that might be of interest here :)

  23. I do keep hearing about GOG, and I suspect I'm approaching the era in which I'll start using them. It's good to know I'll be able to get some of these CD-required games when I need them.

  24. Yeah, GOG is good. Too bad they offer so little from 1990 and earlier. I don't know if that is because the rights holders are simply convinced those games won't sell, or if GOG are simply not interested in games that old. Either option is sad, really.

    But what they offer is a heck of a lot better than nothing, and I don't think it's a coincidence that other digital distribution portals started releasing a lot more old games after GOG turned out to be pretty successful.

    On-topic: I've always been easily annoyed by games which tell me that because a character is a certain class, he/she can't wear a robe or wield a dagger or whatever. That's just nonsense. If they must limit the variety of equipment that my character can use, then they should do it by forcing me to have a certain amount of strenght, agility, et.c. to use an item. Not base it on class (really, classes should only be an aid for the player, nothing more).

  25. Great point, Anon. You have to wonder: in the game world, what actually happens when a D&D 2E wizard tries to pick up a sword? Does it cause him pain? Does it make him throw up?

  26. I disagree about the Stone of Recall in NWN. True, it provides something of an easy out when a player dies, but it also carries an XP and GP penalty which can stack up if you're a poor player. But even disregarding that function, I like the way it gives you a quick return to your current "hub" so you can sell loot and turn in quests. Granted, that would be unnecessary if they had gone a bit farther with the engine and let you cast teleport spells, but it's still handy.
    (And speaking of GOG, NWN Diamond Edition has recently been released for sale there.)

  27. I remember a GP penalty, but not an XP one. The GP "penalty" is so low it's hardly worth considering.

    I agree that the Stone avoids a lot of backtracking, so maybe they could have reduced its game-breakiness by not allowing its use in combat or something. But as much as I don't like backtracking, there is some gameplay value to those moments in Baldur's Gate or Oblivion where you have to decide whether to haul your load to the nearest store, sell it, and return, or just abandon some of your goods on scene.

    GOG is selling NWN? Man do they have a different definition of "old" than I do.

  28. "I'm frankly worried about what's going to happen when I enter the "games that require a CD in the drive" era and find that there are no more copies of Baldur's Gate or Might & Magic VII to be had."

    Shouldn't be a problem. Welcome to the "Warez Scene"

    Both these titles (I have them downloaded already) and many more can be found on various public and private torrent sites.. I'm not encouraging piracy here (ok, perhaps a little). But a lot of games would be lost to time, if it wasn't for (Hacking/Craking) groups like "Razor 1911" "Skid Row" and "Reloaded"


  29. The thing I hate the most in RPGs is level-scaling (or "Oblivionitis"). You go up a level, feel a momentary triumph, and then crushing dejection when you realize that every enemy just got upgraded to your level. Why? Why would anybody do this kind of horrible thing? It's like moving goalposts. It breaks immersion, and more importantly it takes away the single most important reward mechanism in an RPG: getting stronger.

    It single-handedly kills an RPG for me. No matter what its other merits may be, an RPG automatically sucks if it adjusts to your level.

    My second major peeve is lack of adventure game elements. Too many RPGs reduce themselves to combat simulators with shops and numbers that go up. An RPG is supposed to have so much more than that - item-based puzzles are a must-have, not an option!

  30. I never once used Stone of Recall in NWN. Didn't have to, when the game allowed you to recover all your health and magic by sitting down for fifteen seconds.

  31. Anon on "Oblivionitis": Can you think of any games that do this other than "Oblivion"? I don't think I've ever played any.

  32. Addict, I'm not Anon, but there are a number of games that use level scaling.

    Fallout 3 does, though slightly differently than in Oblivion. FO3 locks cells that you visit to the level you are as you visit them so revisiting cells will be roughly the same as you remember them. The level range of the scale also seems to be a bit wider as you can encounter fairly tough monsters such as Deathclaws early on (or perhaps there are fixed spawns in certain areas).

    Many (all?) Bioware games also use level scaling due to their structure and emphasis on story (since they don't want to interrupt their narrative by forcing the player to go elsewhere). I believe it shows up even in the Baldur's Gates' encounter tables - though I could be wrong. It shows up moderately in KotOR but is quite obvious in Dragon Age: Origins both when using the survival skill (mousing over on the minimap will show you an enemy's level with a high enough survival) and in general when noticing that the same Darkspawn you've been fighting all game start taking more of a beating to go down (mitigated somewhat/entirely by upgrading your gear and/or min-maxing your attributes).

    There are no doubt other examples, but those are what come to mind. If you play many modern RPGs, chances are you've encountered level scaling before but it was well done enough that you simply didn't notice.

  33. BG did not use level scaling. It did increase certain random encounters at specific plot points.

  34. Canageek: What I'd meant was that monster spawns could change in difficulty based on your level in the Baldur's Gates titles. Re-reading what you're saying, it may be that we mean the same thing.

    Anyway, since I was curious if I misremembered, I glanced around and found a few mentions of some random encounters changing based on level (not plot) in Baldur's Gate II, but this apparently doesn't happen in Baldur's Gate or Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal.

    For reference:

    "-As said before, in BG2, no unique fights are altered by the player level AT ALL, only random encounters.
    -Nothing is ever scaled DOWN in BG2 to match the player level. Only more difficulty is added.
    -It's pretty much non-existent in BG2" from

    A comment or two in these threads give further details on the off chance that you're curious.

  35. having character gold as opposed to party gold only makes sense if those characters are coded to react to certain amounts or otherwise make use of the gold they have..

  36. Ultima 2; Space travel, Dungeons and towers - Really, you could bypass them all as they had no purpose in winning the game.

    I find food use can add or detract from a game. I found Ultima 7 annoying with the party members always complaining about food, but Nethack seems to fit.

    I found Realms of Arkania annoying with disease where characters were catching colds or whatever after every rest.

    Origin's Knights of Legend was so annoying for two reasons that I actually quit playing early on. One reason was that it had way too frequent disk changes and the other was that if you fled a battle, your party members had a change to drop an item as they ran. After finally getting enough money together to buy a Dwarven character some halfway decent armor, it was the last straw when he took it off and threw it away while running from combat.

    And for gold, its been commented before, but how much sense did it make in Neverwinter where crates and barrels just laying around in the street had gold and items in them?

    What I used to hate in the Old days was money being useless after the first few levels. If you look at the Gold box series for instance, I remember having tons of gold and not much to spend it on. Bard's Tale also if I remember. Only the basic items were in the stores. After that the only money spent was usually on trainers or acquiring spells.

    The only classic game I can remember that did things right was Demon's Winter. You could find the same item of different quality, say a normal sword or one of high quality or gemmed.
    At one place in the world was a dwarven area that you had to fight to get to, but they could enchant your items. The better quality of the item, the cheaper it would be and the more you could do with it. They could add a plus to it, add a base power like 2x versus a monster type or put charges of apell on it (or all 3).They also had one of the best uses of gods in the game where you could call on your god in need and there was a chance he would help you ( the god of air would cast a speed spell on you). If you wanted more help, you would have to find a temple to your god, pray and donate. I alwayd wondered why no one else really use this. Neverwinter had hooks for gods in it, but the main game didn't use it.

    One of the other things that was annoying was sequels that wimped you out. After transferring your character to Azure Bonds or Silver Blades, you're stripped of all the hard earned equipment you had.

  37. "What I used to hate in the Old days was money being useless after the first few levels. If you look at the Gold box series for instance, I remember having tons of gold and not much to spend it on."

    Well, that IS an accurate simulation of the pen and paper D&D game, before WotC took over anyway. It was really rather curious how the experience system revolved around getting as much money as possible (1 gp = 1 xp), but there was never anything worth spending that money on.

  38. "Anon on "Oblivionitis": Can you think of any games that do this other than "Oblivion"? I don't think I've ever played any."

    Oblivion is the worst offender, but a lot of games, both modern and old, did that sort of thing. For example in Ultima 3 what enemies you encountered was based on your character levels, actually making it a good tactic to not level up until you were forced to. Wizardry 8 makes enemies harder as soon as you level up, negating any powerup you thought you gained. Fallout 3 and Dragon Age have been mentioned already. There are others.

    In my ideal RPG the enemies and rewards are completely fixed and player's own power level has no effect on them one way or another.

  39. Good points. Actually, I think Might & Magic II (which I'm just finishing) does it, too. I'm encountering a lot more difficulty in random encounters than at the beginning of the game.

    A good compromise might be for a game to adjust the MAXIMUM difficulty of random encounter that you face, but still leave a wide range. What makes no sense about Oblivion is that once you hit Level 15, every bandit has ebony armor and the land is suddenly rife with ogres where there used to be only goblins. Bottom line: you should still encounter rats occasionally when you're Level 50.

  40. But then you just have to hit 'kill' on a bunch of lvl1 rats which don't give out any treasure or XP worth caring about and pose no real threat. I just assume that any encounters that much weaker about you autokill or they automatically run away when they see the legendary warriors coming.
    I think this is mostly a problem in games were they don't tie it to the story: In Baulder's Gate there were plot elements explaining why the bandits on the roads got tougher over time.

    However I was still annoyed that since I had explored a *lot* of wilderness I was walking through the main plot, as I was too high level for it. If I wanted to see all the games content I got punished with a lack of challenge...

  41. Punished? Getting to slaughter previously challenging early-game foes effortlessly is a reward. It's always a treat to get to return to the goblins and rats of the starting areas at level fifty and rain meteors on them and their flimsy homes like a vengeful god.

    (The reverse can be thrilling too. I have many fond memories of invading late game areas much earlier than I was supposed to, skulking around and using every dirty trick possible to tip the odds my way.)

    Auto-kill and run on sight are fine as time-saving measure though. I liked the Diablo clone Sacred's idea: some equipment in it had a property called "kill on sight", which did exactly what it said to enemies that were sufficiently far below your level. It was morbidly hilarious to backtrack through earlier areas, just running and watching monsters explode on their own.

  42. I'm just thinking of flying along in Skies of Arcadia and constantly getting attacked by monsters that posed no threat to me, making every journy through old regions take 10 times as long. Once I got the ability to fly in the encounter free upper & lower skies it was much better.

  43. Random bit that just occurred to me reading this post--

    I'd gladly pay $5 for Ultima IV or The Bard's Tale or Pool of Radiance from a legitimate seller

    --actually Ultima IV got released as freeware. I don't remember if it was an anniversary or a whim or whatnot.

  44. "Oblivionitis", great term for awful game design/feature.

    As Father Ted said "Down with this sort of thing!"

  45. Hello again and wanted to say that I'm still going through your blog from the start and catching up, 2 month now.. Great one, again!!!

    Now, about the food thing, I agree too that in most games it probably is a BAD idea gameplaywise... BUT there is an exception, one game that I think I couldn't think without that, its game world.. Ultima Underworld.. Yeah that GREAT Game..

    GoG rules btw, spread the word..

    And finally, Oblivionitis as someone said is also very, VERY, irritating..

  46. I think food is a good gameplay element when it's a bit of a struggle. I don't like it when it's something you have to just buy. But when you have to design a fishing rod or go hunting to obtain it, that can add some fun to the gameplay.

  47. What if food gave buff instead of needing it to live? Or food as healing, like so many crpgs have?

  48. I'm sure there was an old CRPG where if you didn't eat, your modifiers (to-hit, AC, etc) would drop and eventually you'd start losing HP as you starved. Or it may be one of the newer FPS RPG mixes, like Stalker or similar...

  49. Addict- Did you ever finish moebius? Did you give it a GIMLET grade?

    1. No, I moved on and hoped no one would notice. It was one of a handful of games I didn't treat very well in my rush to get further in my list.

    2. If anyone comes across this later, I DID finish it in July 2013.

  50. Baldur's Gate: "You must gather your party before venturing forth." Seriously, once should have been enough.": The (Now unavailable except for the sketchy, publisher owned, Steam version) Enhanced Edition changed this so it would only say it once each time.

  51. "Oblivionitis" - I think this has to be blamed on the slight laziness of the programmers. I much prefer hardcoded enemies (and loot). But this takes tons of effort in such a big game.
    Currently, I am playing Baldur's Gate (well, I started to play a little and have paused for a while, but I want to continue soon). I hate how the chracters in my party are blocking each other.
    The issues with the inventory are terrible as well...though I also have to say that the ability to carry everything is too unrealistic as well. In Fallout, Ammo had weight, Fallout 3 had the choice for that as well, if I recall correctly. That was an interesting idea.

  52. I wonder why anybody didn't mentioned the Ghotic series as a prime example of (more) modern CRPG that DO NOT use monster leveling. For me that was one on the first games that do this. You were such a weak character at the beginning when every fight was a struggle and going to wilderness was just pure suicide. But when you expirence by the time wooo-ho! you could bring havok and despair to those poor wolfs :)
    Is Ghotic (a german game) rarely known in the US?

    1. Do you mean Gothic? It's pretty good. So is Risen which, I believe, is from the same maker?

    2. Gothic... double misspell, shame on me.
      Yup, Risen is form te same guys, they lost their rights to Gothic saga or something and started a new franchise based on very similar rules.
      Never played Risen but heard some good words about it.

  53. "I'm frankly worried about what's going to happen when I enter the "games that require a CD in the drive" era"

    Wait till you get to the "Steam Only" era, if you're still doing this in a few years. I was recently looking for a copy of Football Manager 2012 for my dad and couldn't find it through any trustworthy, legal means. It was Steam only and Steam no longer sells it. And we're talking about an extremely popular, mainstream game that is only 3 years old here.

    Sites like this are going to be non-existent in 20 years because there won't be anything like the Abandonware communities that we have now. And these communities of people who are still playing and talking about 15 year old games will be gone, too. You won't be able to get those 15 year old games because the money is in getting you to buy new ones. A lot of good games are going to disappear.

    Young gamers absolutely love Steam and sites like it, you can't say anything negative about it when they're around. But they're not going to like that system so much in 15-20 years when they hit middle age and start looking for the games from their childhood and adolescence.

    That post is a bit long... sorry. But this is my pet peeve. The thing I hate most about modern gaming.

  54. "Oblivion: When the main quest is about stopping an invasion from hell, it seems irresponsible to do any of the side quests."

    I always took this as a limited roleplaying opportunity.

    Sure, if you're a Paladin, there's no choice at all, but you can decide to play as the Reluctant Hero (TM) - think Han Solo, Hancock, or Costner as The Mariner or The Postman.

    When I play Oblivion, I just agree to the mission to get out of the prison - then I'm free to go back to my carefree rogueish life until events in the greater world compel my involvement.

    1. That works, lethargytartare--but as you say, it's pretty limited. If you want to role-play any other type of character--or if you plan to do the main quest AT ALL--it's hard to justify doing anything but heading right to it.

  55. Reading the end of this five-year-old post reminds me of how glad I am that Night Dive Studios exists today. BTW, since this is my first post here, allow me to compliment you on a pretty neat and informative chronogaming blog.

    As for the comment bashing Steam, I'm pushing 35 and I still love it. It's not perfect, but in a day where major publishers refuse to release PC games unless there's some sort of ridiculous consumer-hating copy protection, it's pretty much the best thing you're going to get. And Steam DRM is really easy to crack, so you're not going to have any more problem finding abandonware copies of those games in 20 years than you do of '90s games now.

  56. I was an Origin obsessive as a kid and I always wanted Moebius. I never owned it though and have only mucked around with it briefly in an emulator. I found it pretty inscrutable, but I didn't find the Apple II character graphics nearly as offensive as those of the 16 bit versions.

    Things that annoy me in CRPGs:
    - cringe worthy voice acting, like the jive-talking black stereotypes in Gothic games
    - fixed content that feels procedurally generated, like every dungeon or fort etc in post-Morrowind Bethesda games
    - level scaling, Oblivion style
    - game-breaking bugs, like those frequently encountered in release versions of Ultimas VIIp2 through IX
    - interminable intro tutorials - I didn't bother getting to the main game in NWN2 because I was bored half to death by the end of the prologue.

  57. I have encountered quite a bit of the false urgency of main quests in modern games like Oblivion has. If you are roleplaying a heroic sort of character it is, as Chet pointed out, morally irresponsible not to single-mindedly pursue the main quest to save the world or avert whatever the local calamity is. I played through Oblivion an embarrassingly large number of times, and in later playthroughs I just focused on the main quest until it was done, then was free to do as I liked (same for Skyrim). For this very reason I hate it when open world RPGs make the game end when the main quest is done. I want to treat the urgency of the main quest seriously and get it done, THEN explore the rest of what the world has to offer.

    1. The Elder Scrolls deserves some accolades in this regard. All have plenty of post-main-quest content, and at least Morrowind and Skyrim give you some organic reasons to do some faction quests and side quests during the main quest.

    2. I wish there were more games like TES. Games that A) present the main quest as urgent and then B) deny you the side content because you treated "A" seriously are really chucking immersion out the window and punishing you for roleplaying the rpg. Cyberpunk 2077 is guilty of this. If the nature of the main quest is that it is highly time sensitive and its completion means game over, then I'd like the option to put it off until I've experienced what I want to in the rest of the game. Instead, they keep most of the game locked until you've begun the main quest, at which point your options are to dismiss the seriousness of it even though it is presented as immediately life-threatening, or miss most of the game.


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