Sunday, October 17, 2010

Guess the Game

Note: originally posted on 10/17/2010, edited on 10/20/2010 with answers at end.

I'm on a little vacation with my wife this weekend. There was a bit of a fight involved, but I managed to bring my laptop along on the trip, on the grounds that I had assignments to finish up for some of my online classes.

She would surely notice if I was using this time to play games, so I can't make any progress on 2400 A.D., but I think I'm safe tapping out a "special topics" posting.

When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I would think about most of the games I encountered, but I had a decent idea (I thought) what I would say about certain games I'd already played. So in between postings on older games like Akalabeth and Wizardry I, I began writing little snippets that I could plug into my reviews of newer games when I finally got to them. How naive I was. I realize now that I'm years away from playing any of these games, and by the time I get there, I'll likely have a very different perspective.

So I'm offering these snippets to you here. See if you can guess what games I'm talking about from the brief descriptions.

1. I have attempted this game no less than four times previously, each time giving up in disgust after about 16 hours, and each time--some months or years down the line--thinking to myself, "How bad could it have been? After all, it was made by the same people who made the Gold Box games and it has the same type of combat. Give it another try." The particularly annoying thing is that each of my rage-quits has been accompanied by a fierce hurling of the game disks into the trash, with an equally fierce determination never to play the game again. This means that I've actually bought this absurd game four times. I probably account for 15% of its total sales.

2. This game starts off right, with a mystery about your missing equipment that gives you a de facto side quest list in the first five minutes. You then almost immediately encounter a location that makes an obscure but delightful reference to a much earlier game in the series. The first act is fairly linear, sure, but also very interesting, with numerous plot twists and memorable locations. But as you journey from place to place to place, you start to notice something: the game takes forever. It's about six times as long as its predecessor. More important, it involves about six times as much combat, which is particularly annoying because they haven't changed the combat engine, under which enemies respawn the moment you travel 50 feet away, and under which your characters are equally likely to run off screaming into the woods, or stumble into the path of one of your own ranged weapons, as they are to do anything useful.

3. The game engine might be the same as its predecessors, but the creators have done simply delightful things with dialog options. When speaking with any of the town's many NPCs, your choices vary considerably depending on race, class, intelligence, and charisma. There are even places when some characters can comment on what other characters have done--for instance, if your thief burgles a home, your paladin can apologize to the owner and promise to punish him. And speaking of paladins: don't let them speak to anyone who gave you a quest if you want to get paid!

4. Although the extra material tells an interesting story, this is one game for which an expansion pack was utterly unnecessary. The game world was already huge, and by the time you're strong enough to explore the expansion material, the last thing you want to do is fiddle with new weapon types, new spell ingredients, new types of companions, and new methods of transportation. Your character will probably already be maxed out by the time you visit the new locations, reducing the game to a tedious exercise in walloping dozens of enemies with the best weapon you can find just so you can advance to the next plot point.

5. The game is a worthy finale to one of the greatest CRPG series of all time, but it's not without problems. First, it's disappointingly linear, requiring you to finish off your foes in a very specific order. Second, to get the most out of the game, you must visit a location and solve a series of quests that you have absolutely no in-game excuse to visit or solve. Finally, it introduces a seemingly-good character who turns out to be the game's arch-villain, only anyone with an IQ of a doorknob would see through the character's guise during the first encounter.

6. The game has all the great gameplay elements of its two predecessors, but it falls apart in the third act. After spending most of the game building your characters, you find that with a combination of flight, speed, and invisibility, you can simply blow past the enemies in each of the final dungeons, solving the game without a single fight. This is anticlimactic to say the least.

7. This is simply the greatest CRPG I have ever played. It has everything: solid character development, a fascinating backstory, thoroughly-described weapons and armor, memorable foes, detailed dialog options with both friends and enemies, interesting NPCs (each with a unique story, and some with a quest to go along), great graphics and sound (including movie-quality voice acting), and a mostly non-linear approach that allows you to explore nearly the entire game world immediately after the prologue (although the main quest progresses in a fairly linear fashion).

I'll name my next protagonist after whoever gets the most.

Vacation will be over on Monday, and I'll head back to Nova Athens then.


10/20/2010 edit with answers:

1. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. It could have been so much better. Truth be told, I find it tolerable at the opening stages, but the hundredth time you're trying to get through a dungeon and you suddenly find yourself in combat with zombies moving at the pace of drunken sloths, you rip the CD out of the drive and break it in two. Good job to Adamantyr on that one. Based on some of the other comments, I'm really not looking forward to Spelljammer.

2. Ultima VII, Part 2. There didn't seem to be any confusion about this. I like the game, but it way overstays its welcome.

3. Icewind Dale II. Good job to Anonymous and Elzair. I love the beginning stages for the dialog options and a lot of humor and intrigue in the quests. It becomes much less interesting and more linear later.

4. Morrowind: Tribunal, although I agree that this could just as easily refer to Blood Moon or the Shivering Isles expansion to Oblivion. Well done Calibrator, Acrin1, and Elzair. By the time I made it to this expansion, I would have been happy if they'd just summarized the plot in one of the game's books.

5. Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. The dungeon I refer to is Watcher's Keep. There's never a point in the game in which it makes sense to delay your intercession in Armageddon to go wandering off on this side quest. It could have been integrated better in the rest of the game. And honestly, was anyone fooled by Melissan?

6. Might & Magic VIII. I loved VI and VII. By VIII, the game engine was a bit stale, but the game was still fun. But you hardly have to do anything in the final third of the game except run from one place to another.

7. Baldur's Gate, the original. No one got this, but I suppose these qualities could easily apply to a few other games. Even 13 years old, BG1 is the closest to CRPG perfection as I can imagine. But, of course, I haven't played all the others yet.

Bonus point to Zink for knowing that none of my snippets referred to Oblivion.

Looks like I have my whole roster for Phantasie III.

mprod, please feel free to post when you're sober.


  1. My only guess:

    No.2: Ultima 7 part 2: Serpent Isle.

    I'd like to know what no.3 is though, sounds very interesting.

  2. #4 is likely Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion

  3. #4 could also be Morrowind. It's expansions were, though colorful, not really that necessary either.

    #7 is "The Real Life" ;-)

  4. Big problem for me here is that I suspect most of these games are more recent than most CRPGs I've played - like less than 15 years old :)

    #1 Buck Rogers???

    #3 I thought might be one of the Baldurs Gate / Icewind Dale type games but I've only played a little bit of the first Baldur's Gate so just a wild guess.

    #4 Tribunal or Bloodmoon

    Would like to know what your #7 is...

  5. 1. Shooting in the dark here, but bad and obscure post-Goldbox SSI game, Prophecy of the Shadow?

    2. Serpent Isle was mentioned, seems right

    3. Icewind Dale 2 had the overdone starting town to compensate for the hack-slashiness of the rest of the game.

    5. Guessing Wizardry 8

    6. Guessing Might & Magic VIII (two predecessors could refer to the M&Ms with the free movement 3D engine)

    7. Baldur's Gate 2, but I'm probably projecting here.

  6. I'll add my guesses:

    1 - Spelljammer. This was similar to, but not part of, the Gold Box series and it did not perform well.

    5 - Throne of Bhaal. I loved the game but I always wondered why I couldn't just go after whomever I wanted.

    I'll echo IWD2 for #3, U7:SI for #4, and Dragon Age for #7 (I would have said BG2 but the graphics/sound comment doesn't add up). #2 and especially #6 sound so familiar but I can't guess them at the moment!

  7. 1. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor
    2. Ultima 7: Serpent Isle

    I really hope #7 is NOT Dragon Age because that game is terrible. Mass Effect was a better CRPG than that.

  8. I think that either 4 or 7 must relate to Oblivion, and 4 could be about its expansion.

    "mostly non-linear approach that allows you to explore nearly the entire game world immediately after the prologue"

    This definitely sounds like an Oblivion moment here, the second you step out from the prologue dungeon and sewers.

  9. No, 4 most definitely does NOT refer to Oblivion. Since the world levels with you in Oblivion, it is very difficult to become "over-leveled". The Shivering Isles did not introduce new weapon types, new modes of transportation, or new types of companions.

    And, trust me, I KNOW Oblivion. I'm pretty sure none of these are referring to it.

  10. How about Knights of the Old Republic for #7? #2 is definitely Serpent Isle..

  11. These are my guesses.

    1. Menoberannzan

    2. This is probably Serpent Isle, but Andy_Pathro beat me to it.

    3.Icewind Dale II?

    4. Tribunal & Bloodmon? Shivering Isles?

    5. Baldur's Gate: Throne of Bhaal

    6. Fallout 3?

    7. Baldur's Gate II or Fallout 2

  12. My guess is #1 is The Ruins of Myth Drannor. And #7 Baldur's Gate II?

  13. I'm not going to guess any of the games, but I am going to say that this is a wonderful blog! I've read all the entries now, and I just can't wait for more descriptions of games I have - or better still, haven't - played. I'm waiting to see the comments on Phantasie III, further M&M games, Ultima V, Wasteland, etc etc...

    Awesome work, and I definitely hope that the blog will continue for years and years.

  14. Since I don´t have any guesses that haven´t already been proposed I will here by state tgat since this blog is about the foundations of computer roleplaying you have obviously gone to the real source the game that constitutes western crpgs

    ...and now I have said my drunk piece for this time hopefully you won´t have to see another one for a while


  15. Nr. 7 can't be Dragon Age because of this: "interesting NPCs"! >;)

  16. Hey Karj, Are you the same guy who made Spandex Force? Great Game. Reminds me of Puzzle Quest. Would love to see it on Impulse one day.

    As for the games:

    1. Spelljammer (horrible game)

    2. Ultima 7: Serpent Isle (Only game I know where your equipment disappears right away).

    3. Temple of Elemental Evil (although I don't remember apologizing, but I had issues with that freaking paladin. Dropped him real quick and restarted with a proper cleric)

    4. Shivering Isles

    5. Wizardry 8 (There are only three great CRPGs legends I know of and that's Ultima, Might & Magic and Wizardry. Both Ultima and M&M ended with a whimper. Wizardry went out with a bang)

    6. Not a clue. Proabaly one of the M&M titles like someone already mentioned. Never played much M&M.

    7. This one throws me. I want to say Dragon Age because of the "movie quality acting", but you can't explore everything right away. The only two games I know of that allow that are Fallout and Fallout 2.

    Fallout 2, final answer. Just for the fact that Michael Dorn's acting in that was absolutely sublime.

  17. I'd guess that 7 is probably Planescape: Torment or maybe Morrowind. Mind you, 4 sounds like Morrowind...

    Like skavenhorde, 3 made me think of the Temple of Elemental Evil and as an anonymous commenter said, 5 could well be Throne of Bhaal.

  18. I agree with Adamantyr that #1 is Ruins of Myth Drannor, and #2 is Ultima 7: Serpent Isle.

    #3 I really, really want to say Icewind Dale II, but I just am not sure.

    #4 You know what this sounds like to me? World of Warcraft.

    #5 is Might and Magic IX, I think.

    #6 Really not sure.

    #7 Planescape: Torment

  19. Hey, everyone, I edited the posting with the answers. Thanks for your guesses! I like it when this blog is interactive.

  20. I would tip nr. 7 is Oblivion. It almost fits the bill except for solid character development and that the main quest backstory isn't so great. But Oblivion would definitely a better guess than Dragon Age!

  21. Oh hell yes all those bonus points are MINE.

    I am going to put them all evenly into Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, and Agility but not Luck and Charisma because those are always useless. Always.

  22. So Baldur's Gate is your all time favourite game?
    Personally I think Baldur's Gate 2 is better. Combat it too easy in BG 1 and there is not the same level of banters and NPC interaction.
    But two mods elevate BG 1 to perfection and makes in almost endelessly replayable - The BG1 NPC Project, which adds lots of content in almost the same style and quality as the base game, and Sword Coast Stratagems, which makes enemies much smarter and deadlier and makes combat a nail biting experience sometimes.
    But I have a feeling your are too much of a purist to use mods in your Quest...

  23. Actually, I've played both BG1 and BG2 with just about every mod created by the Pocket Plane Group and the Gibberlings 3, including the NPC project and the BG1 Tutu mod that ports the BG1 game to the BG2 engine. It may be that my fondness for BG1 is influenced by these mods.

    I agree that the gameplay in BG2, including the NPCs and banters, is much better than BG1. However, I like the comparatively open-ended exploration better in BG1. In BG2, there aren't so many screens that you can just explore.

  24. Ultimately, I find that open ended exploration isn't worth very much when all you're finding is another screen full of wolves and gibberlings with maybe one three line NPC dialogue or a simplistic quest. There's less scope for roaming about in BG2, sure, but there's cool stuff tucked into every last nook and cranny of the game. It is quite literally the most detailed CRPG I have ever played, or expect ever to play. BG1 has its moments, but mostly feels very...sparse. (It probably doesn't help that I hate low level D&D.)

  25. That isn't what BG1 is like at all, though. There are little mini-quests like the basilisks and their victims (some of which you can de-stone) and the kid looking for his dog (who turns out to be a demon) and all sorts of things.

  26. Baldur's Gate is my all time favourite RPG as well. I've recently decided to play through it again for the first time in about ten years. I know all about the Tutu thing but decided to play it on the original engine for the authentic experience. I did add a few mods which, after looking around, seemed to be 'required'.

    I've not started properly playing it yet, got it all installed and ready to go with a character rolled up and ready to go (a bard, which makes a change from my usual warrior ways). I guess I should stop reading your old blog posts for a bit and get some gaming done ;)

  27. Hm... Curently I'm playing BG2 for the first time, being at Chapter 6 and really loving it and the hype is worth it really.. Although I didn't like the spoilers.. Now, as for BG1, I never really liked it THAT much and thought it was good for its time, but it has a lot of flaws by today's standards.. I'm talking about the unmodded original and not TUTU or anything else here..

    Icewind Dale 2, linear as it was, it was a really GOOD game in what it was, a blend of puzzle solving in a lot of dungeons and hard fights in tight places! And I never played it in HOF mode which really is a different monster based on what I've read..


  28. Funny that no one got #7 when thats the only one I was able to guess. Maybe its because I'm reading all these way after the fact and much more quickly than they were originally posted but your love of BG1 has been evident.

    1. Yeah... I was about to post pretty much exactly the same comment. Apparently the one that was the hardest for the people who read this entry when it was first posted is the easiest for people who come through and read the archives later...

  29. I also cannot imagine anyone being fooled by Melissan. If they had not wanted a significant amount of players to not instantly assume she was up to no good, they should have had her actually succeed in stopping two Bhaalspawn from killing each other at least once. After all, if she has already successfully convinced who-knows-how-many to kill each other, what is a failure or two to keep up the ruse?

    I love it when games actually have the gumption to acknowledge the suspicious activities of their villains-disguised-as-non-villains. Pretty rare, though. In fact, has that ever happened? I feel like it has.

  30. Good stuff - wish I'd been around to have a few guesses, although I guess a party member called 'Anonymous' would have been a hard sell from an RP perspective! I only managed to nail TOB, but I did have an answer that felt 'right' for every one. I wonder if you might have identified some overarching CRPG tropes here?

    Currently playing through Icewind Dale again at the moment. First time with the expansion installed. I'm struck by how applicable the criticisms contained in 4 and 5 are to the Heart of Winter content - as it is in just about every other infinity engine expansion. As you say, the main plot lines simply never afford a justifiable reason to go dicking about on these unrelated sidequests. So for all their merits, these additions get sandwiched into their respective host games with all the elegance of an Ettin in a string tutu.

    On the plus side, I'm now REALLY stoked for my first-ever playthrough of Icewind Dale 2!


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