Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hey, Everybody

Sorry for the lack of postings lately. Some of the people I work for are actually insisting that I "finish" some of the things that they "pay me for." I've started Sentinel Worlds but I've had trouble getting into it, and I don't really have a lot of time to devote over the next few days. I'm afraid my next posting won't be until Thursday or Friday.

Sascha, thanks for the Tandy sound link. I'll play the game as-is for a few hours, just so I'll be able to notice the difference, and then install your fix.

More at the end of the week.

More, at the end of the week: I'm sorry, everyone, but I'm going to have to extend my break a little longer, probably until Tuesday (July 5). You didn't read all of my past postings all that carefully anyway, right? Go through the archives--there are some real gems in there.

I'm a bit baffled by the 26 of you who voted this posting "good."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Scavengers of the Mutant World: Still Scavenging

For a moment, I forgot what game I was playing. By the way, it turned out to be a weapon. That's so wrong.

It would be such an incredible waste of time to continue playing Scavengers of the Mutant World that, for all our sakes, I'm going to stop. But man does it grate to have this game beat me.

As I noted in previous postings, the game's primary objective is to return various scavenged goods back to the vault at the city of Lau. Well, I've done that. I've stocked the larders, armory, and tool shed:

Yeah, that's a shotgun and a .45 in the shirtless guy's possession.

But I still don't have enough parts to build a car or boat, which I think--actually, I know, since I read Scorpia's review after I decided to stop playing--is the key to "winning" the game. Apparently, just before the nuclear war, there was only one car and one boat in the immediate area, because each permutation of the game features only one battery, one motor, one exhaust system, and so on. I've collected most of these parts. For the car, I lack gasoline and an axle, and for the boat, I lack gasoline, a propellor, and patches. Meanwhile, I do have all kinds of extra parts: pedals and chain, liquid oxygen, a heater, uranium, an ivory rod, thumb tacks, handlebars, and a hubcap. Clearly, there are some blueprints for a nuclear-powered, pedal driven space shuttle that I've yet to stumble upon.

(Oh, by the way, correctly identifying the parts in the blueprint depends on the character's intelligence attribute, which is why Homer thought my car needed an anchor.)

You'd think I could just keep exploring ruins until I find the missing items, but there are a couple of reasons why I would go insane first. The primary one is that instead of a character development system, this game features a "punish-characters-for-developing" system. You see, it turns out I was wrong about no levels or experience. You don't see those things, but your characters apparently do increase in levels as you slay mutants and monsters; this is evidenced by slowly increasing maximum hit points and radiation points. As you increase levels, however, the game starts throwing harder and harder monsters at you, including some who irradiate you with every attack. You eventually get to the point where it's easier to return to base and dump your high-level characters in exchange for low-level peons just so you can go back to fighting rabid bunnies again.

Wasn't kidding.

The monsters don't just get harder in the amount of damage they do; they also get more annoying. They eat my food, leaving me to starve, steal my items, and poison me. You can't escape them; they move faster than you, and even fleeing combat just puts you five or six spaces away from them, and they promptly attack you again.

Second, the further you get from home base, the more the ruins suck. Many of them are completely dark and require lamps to navigate--lamps last about 10 moves. Some are filled with radiation zones. I've counted about 19 ruins in the game map I've already explored--you have an automap, incidentally....

...and since each part exists only once, in one square (possibly darkened), in one ruin, it'll take me many hours to explore them all, even with the occasional dungeon map that you find:

This would be the one ruin I didn't really need a map for.

I'm not sure I have hours and hours, because I only have about six scavengers left. The others have all died from monsters, radiation storms, starvation, or poison. I don't miss them. This game teaches you to not think of your characters as a real "party" but as interchangeable bags of meat that you simply send out to find loot. However, none of the remaining characters have a very high intelligence score, and I suspect this is necessary to correctly assemble the parts, should I manage to find them all before the rest of my characters die.

I have found some reasonably cool weapons, including handguns, shotguns, and spear guns. But missile weapons are hardly worth it because they burn through your minimum supply of ammo so fast. You have to keep a backup hand weapon and notice when your ammunition runs out in combat.

I've also found a lot of tools in the game, and I wish I could figure out how to get most of them to work. Jackhammers bore holes through walls--that's easy enough--and teaching machines raise your stats. Decontamination and healing kits do the obvious. I wish I knew the purpose of ladders and shovels. Late in the game, I found a couple of "flying mounts" which refuse to fly over anything.

Anyway, I'm not starting with a brand new party and map, so I'll play these characters to victory or death. But I'll give you a quick final rating now in case it's death [later edit: yep.].

In my first posting, I talked about my visceral reaction to the game world, but I can't deny that it's fairly original--this might be the first post-apocalyptic CRPG (I don't know if Wasteland from the same year is before or after). The state of the land and your quest is fairly clear (4).

For a game with such limited character creation--the game rolls their stats and picks their portraits and names when it generates the world, although you can change them--it's funny how this game gives you the option to edit the portraits pixel by pixel. Hardly any other game offers this level of visual customization, yet it's hard to imagine anyone taking the time to do it. Character development, for reasons I've said, is maddening (3).

There are no NPCs in the game (0). Encounters feature foes with different strengths and weaknesses (3), but there are far too many of them, and combat offers so few tactics that you can't really adjust well to specific enemies. The combat mechanics are quite awful, with all of the turning and advancing--one turn or step per round--that you have to do (3).

The various types of equipment--weapons, armor, food, tools, and parts--that you can find, wield, and use is probably the game's strong suit. A numbering system suggests which weapons and armor are better (4), but there is no economy in the game (0).

The game fakes you out a bit on the quests. The manual suggests that you'll be rewarded for returning food and weapons and such to the vault, but I saw no sign of this, and the only real quest seems to be the collection of parts for a vehicle. I wish I knew what happened after that--does building a car end the game?--but I doubt it offers any role-playing options. Still, it gets one point for originality (3).

The graphics, as you see, are pretty terrible. Aside from the colors, there are only four or five monster icons; one for water creatures, one for insects, one for humanoids, and so on. There is some bloopish sound that you immediately turn off, and the keyboard commands are cumbersome. There are only 29 possibilities, and I suspect through consolidation they could have mapped each one to a letter (like Ultima IV) instead of requiring me to type D-A for "date," D-F for "distribute food," D-I for "dismount," D-O for "don armor," and D-R for "drop" (1).

I suppose in the gameplay category, I should give some credit for replayability. If you really love this game (you loser), you could keep generating new maps and play all 4 million possibilities. And I allow that movement is fairly linear throughout the game world. But, man, does it drag. If they'd just put two of each part on the map--and maybe made the encounters a little harder to compensate--it would go more quickly and be more tolerable (3).

Against my better judgement, I'm going to add two bonus points to the final score to reward the game for its original use of radiation. Whether through storms, walking through radiated areas, or fighting radiated monsters, it's fun to see the various negative (stupidity, blindness, instant death at the next irradiation, attribute drains) and positive (laser eyes, attribute increases, double speed, radiation immunity) effects that radiation confers in the game:

This brings the final score to 26, the same as Questron II, which was bad for different reasons.

Word from reviews at the time suggests that Scavengers was originally designed as a board game. It feels a bit like that. Barton (p. 122) says that "it's almost worth seeking the game out just to see how badly developers can bungle a promising concept." True words. I'm glad I sought it out, wish I could have finished, but not enough to roll a new game world.

If one of you would like to download and play the game until you can assemble the vehicle, and send me a screenshot and description of the ending, I'll give you 1 million points and the right to name my next main character or party leader. In the meantime, I'll be playing Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Well, I Don't Know What I Expected

Every bloody online review that I read mentions being able to use stop signs as shields. I don't think any of these people have actually played the game. As far as I can tell, this occurs only on the cover. I have yet to find any shield--stop sign or otherwise--in the game, and the manual doesn't even mention shields.
Fair warning: this is a light one. I'm still trying to find enough automobile or boat parts to win Scavengers of the Mutant World, and I won't have much to post until I do. If it drags on much longer, I'll start Sentinel Worlds. 
I thought every famous TV clip was posted to YouTube, but I guess the producers of Arrested Development have issues with that, because I couldn't find the clip I really wanted to lead this post with. In it, Michael opens up his refrigerator and finds a bag with "Dead Dove. Do not eat!" written on the outside. Curious, he opens it up, looks inside, grimaces, and says, completely deadpan: "Well, I don't know what I expected." TVTropes.org calls this trope "Exactly What It Says in the Tin." The entry leads off with a great quote from Roger Ebert:
Moviegoers who knowingly buy a ticket for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are going to get exactly what they expect: There is a mummy, a tomb, a dragon, and an emperor. And the movie about them is all that it could be.
Other famous examples are, of course, Snakes on a Plane, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and my favorite, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. They have a few entries for video games, but the best possible example--Scavengers of the Mutant World--isn't one of them. This is an outrage, really. You don't get any more literal than that: in the game, you play a bunch of scavengers, who--and this comes as no surprise--live in a mutant world. It doesn't try to fool you like, oh, Star Command. What the hell is that about? Do you get to boss Bruce Willis around? Are you the head of a public works team on Hollywood Boulevard? Do you utter lines like, "Evacuate?! In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances"? Ultima? Isn't that a Nissan model? Phantasie--oh, that helps. You jackasses can't even spell it right. But this game: It's set in a mutant world. You scavenge. Don't like the sound of it? Don't buy the goddamned game. I could go through the list and identify games that are good examples of this trope (Rogue Clone is particularly notable), but I was actually more interested in the opposite: games that have utterly baffling or inappropriate names. Here's a sample:
  • Baldur's Gate II: Sure, it's a sequel to Baldur's Gate, but it doesn't take place anywhere near the city of that name.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Arena is notable for not having an arena, nor having anything to do with an arena (not to mention any scrolls). The story, apparently, is that the game was supposed to be about gladiatorial combat but it changed in the development stage. No one told the marketing department.
The cover even has a bunch of warriors in an arena. I'd like to see someone try to battle in that outfit, incidentally.
  • Pool of Radiance: As I noted in my review, the eponymous pool is never well-explained and really plays no role in the game. As in Arena, one senses changes between concept and execution.
  • NetHack: Doesn't it sound like a game about, I don't know, hacking? Over a network? Yes, I understand the history of the name, but that doesn't make it any more sensible.
  • Neverwinter Nights: The first word has no problem--it's definitely set in the city of Neverwinter. The problem is the overall title, which sounds like it's suggesting you get to explore the seamy underbelly of Neverwinter when the sun goes down. Instead, the city is in the grip of a plague, and there's nothing special about the night
  • Faery Tale Aventure: Book I. Awfully cocky, weren't you?
Yeah, so I didn't really have a lot of time tonight. What are some of your favorites in either category?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scavengers of the Mutant World: Flying Fish and Laser Vision

Nice outfit, gimp.

Scavengers of the Mutant World is not a good game--I know this without question--but somehow it's got me in its vise. God help me, I want to win this one. It feels like it shouldn't take that long, either. It's just hard. I've restarted three new games since I last posted (and no more naming my own characters or swapping portraits--it takes too long).

My understanding of the "quest" is that I need to bring various items and parts back to Lau and to assemble the parts, using sets of blueprints, into working machines. I don't know how many items, parts, and machines I need to collect, but I've barely gotten started.

Note the wheels and the drive axle in the storeroom.

In two of the scenarios, I found some blueprints early on that listed the parts needed for a car:

An anchor?

The parts are scattered about the different ruins, and I don't know if they're randomized or fixed in the game world. I also don't know if there's just one of each or more, but I've only found one of each so far. In my last scenario, I had the shaft, oil, axle, and exhaust system, but my main party died in a radiation storm--a bolt of lightning killed them instantly--and my relief party was slaughtered by junkyard dogs while trying to retrieve their stuff. I could have continued, but I had lost 8 out of 20 scavengers, and since I was still mostly just exploring the game, I decided to start anew.

Frermynd gets her hands on a shaft.

In addition to weapons, armor, parts, and food, you find several usable items scattered about the world. One, a "teaching machine," increased attributes for my characters the two times that it worked. Another, a "decontamination unit," was helpful for restoring my radiation points.

I'm not sure how a "teaching machine" increases strength. Perhaps it's a shake-weight.

The manual had warned about radiation storms. Generally, they're dangerous and cause loss of attribute points, or death. But in one memorable storm, one of my characters mutated to shoot laser beams out of her eyes. It was useful in the next few combats. If The Day After had featured such plot points, I'm not sure I would have feared a nuclear holocaust so much.

Knowing the exact distance and direction to the nearest ruin is important for when radiation storms come along.

The monsters turned out to be the type you would expect in a post-apocalyptic nightmare: mutants, scavengers from rival tribes, giant spiders, insect abominations. They seem to start off easy and get a lot tougher as the game progresses. I'm not sure if this is because I'm getting farther from Lau, or because the game senses you're approaching the completion of a goal and ramps up the difficulty.

I took video of a brief bit of gameplay below. Despite its brevity, you see a lot of gameplay here: wandering around Lau, engaging some mutant fish, finding some food, weathering a radiation storm and getting laser vision, using a decontamination unit, and starting to explore a new ruin called Ceniste.

The game, I should also mention, automatically saves every couple of turns. There's no quitting and reloading if something unpleasant happens.

I'm determined to keep at it until I can at least put together a car. I've also noted, in my quest for original reviews and ads for the game (mentioned yesterday), that there are few sites that have any detail about Scavengers. No matter how much I write, other sites will probably always have more information about Ultima IV and Pool of Radiance, but I can still be the authoritative source on obscure games like Scavengers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Game 59: Scavengers of the Mutant World (1988)

Scavengers of the Mutant World
United States
Interstel Corporation (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for DOS
Date Started: 20 June 2011
Post-apocalyptic films and games have always held a certain joylessness for me. I grew up in an era in which the threat of a thermonuclear war, while waning, was very real. No film has ever scared me as much as The Day After, which I saw when I was 11. I remember a teacher speaking about the TV movie afterwards, and his basic thesis was that a) having already discovered and built nuclear weapons, the world would never not have them again; and b) although the odds were low in any given year that a nuclear missile would be launched, every passing year increased the cumulative probability, making it ultimately inevitable. (My schooling in these years, if it is not immediately clear, was in Texas.) Thanks to him and the movie, I was not only convinced that a nuclear war would happen in my lifetime, I desperately hoped I would die in the initial blast. Other films like Def-Con 4, The Road Warrior, and The Terminator were equally bleak in their promises of a a grimy, radiation-poisoned, brutish aftermath.

For years, thinking about nuclear war was my personal version of The Game (sorry, everyone). I would go as long as possible, try to muster some enthusiasm about life, make plans for my future, but ultimately my brain would remind me, "Oh, hey--nuclear war!," and I would descend into a depression that might last several days or several weeks. Fortunately, when I was a sophomore in high school, I read a horribly uninformed newspaper column about why we shouldn't worry about nuclear war, and it was somehow enough to convince me to stop thinking about it long enough for the Soviet Union to collapse. I now occasionally worry about a terrorist using a nuclear bomb, but I no longer worry about dozens of ICBMs cris-crossing continents. It would be kind of you to refrain from postings explaining why I should, in fact, still worry about such things.

Anyway, this is hardly the stuff of fantasy, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was play games set in such worlds. I'm just coming to realize this now. Some remnant of the horror of The Day After must have always stuck with me, because I never bothered to play any of the Fallout games (despite liking Interplay's and Bethesda's other titles) or Wasteland, or any post-nuclear CRPGs. (I did play the strategy game Roadwar 2000 as a kid, but that occurred after a plague, not a nuclear bomb.) This is my first.

I typed much of the above while I was waiting for the game to create a "world disk." The manual says that it randomizes the world (choosing from among more than 4 million possibilities) each time you start a game.

Scavengers takes place after a nuclear war destroys most of humanity and leaves the surface world a mutant-ridden, radioactive wasteland. Descendants of survivors live in an underground city called Lau, actually the remains of a fallout shelter. Its founding documents note, mythologically, that "the First Ones, having a considerable source of wealth known as 'Government Funding,' built this shelter."

Every year, a group of colonists--winners of a contest--journeys to the surface world to scavenge for loot for the colony. Battling mutant creatures and radiation storms, they hope to return with furniture, armor, weapons, food (?), and pieces of vehicles. I am to lead such a party.

The manual is quite extensive, 60 pages long, and it meticulously describes the types of weapons, armor, terrain, medical issues, and creatures you're likely to encounter on the surface. In an amusing bit of tautology, the manual warns of ants large enough to eat oxen. Then, in the mammals section, it notes that there are few mammals left and hardly any have been seen. But, it reasons, "if there are ants that can eat oxen, there must certainly be oxen, too."

Editing and selecting characters.

The game vaguely reminded me of Dungeon Master in the opening stages. You command a party of four characters, but you don't create them yourself; rather, you choose from a list of 20 pre-generated shelter-dwellers. You can modify each character's portrait (with a pixel-editor, even!) and name, much as you can when you "reincarnate" a character in DM, but you're stuck with the attributes. These are the standard D&D list, minus constitution and plus "observation." In addition to hit points, you have "radiation points" that you want to keep above 0, else you suffer disease and mutation--although some mutations, apparently, can be helpful.

In naming my characters, I chose two commenters, a fictional reference, and one name from Karnov's random name generator.

The game starts you in the ruins of Lau and allows you to scavenge some items nearby, including weapons, armor, parts, and blueprints (I got plans for a car, for instance). Right away, it hurts its own mythology by having you find bows and armor like chainmail--where would this have come from, either pre- or post-apocalypse?

The number pad moves you around, but other commands are chosen from a list of 29 through a somewhat cumbersome means of typing the first two letters, then hitting ENTER, then specifying the character to perform it. So picking up an item requires a sequence like: G-R-[ENTER]-3 (the "GR" is for "Grab"). There are shortcuts but they work in combination with CTRL, SHIFT, and the function keys, which doesn't work so well in DOSBox.
Fighting "Walking Grass," which looks like a mutant dandelion.

Combat takes place on a tactical map that initially seems a little like Pool of Radiance. Each character becomes a distinct person and moves separately from the others. But the differences soon become apparent. First, there are only four options in combat: move one square, turn and face a different direction, attack, and parry. Second, you can only do one of these things each round, so getting from the starting location to actually stand face-to-face with the enemy might take five or six rounds. After combat, hit points regenerate fairly quickly.

Today, I explored Lau and a little of the environs, but almost immediately I ran into a radiation storm and one of my characters got slaughtered:

Radiation storms have both positive and negative effects.

You do have some warning of said storms, so I guess the trick is to always know where the closest shelter is.

This game could go either way, but I'm leaning on the side of not liking it much. There doesn't seem to be any character development in the game; battles don't get you experience and there are no "levels" (at least, the manual doesn't mention either). You're not limited to sticking with the original 4 party members, and there is some suggestion in the manual that you will eventually have to use all 20 for various purposes. But I am interested in finding out what all these parts and blueprints do, so I'll stick with it for a while longer.

In the meantime, I'll owe a drink to anyone who can find me either an original ad or an original review for this game. I want to start looking these up for each game that I play, but Computer Gaming World doesn't seem to have reviewed it, and the game doesn't otherwise have much of an online presence.

"Radiation storms" are just the kind of thing I used to fear. If I really "role-played" this one, I'd just have my characters opt for a blissful death in the sea.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Questron II: Final Rating

This game has the least effective copy protection of any game I've ever played. You can figure out the answers without even glancing at the manual. Another one said something like: "Which of these creatures lives in a dungeon?" with answers like "1. Cloud Soarer; 2. Wood Nymph; 3. Giant Shark; and 4. Deep Dweller."
Questron II
United States
Westwood Associates (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1988 for Apple II, Apple II GS, Atari ST, Amiga, and DOS
Date Started: 12 June 2011
Date Ended: 18 June 2011
Total Hours: 7
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: 26
Ranking at Time of Posting: 17/59 (29%)
Ranking at Game #453: 233/453 (51%)
I honestly hadn't intended to play Questron II beyond my six hours, and then I found that six hours was almost enough to win (I said I was under six yesterday, but when I tallied it up, it actually came to seven). 
Here's the GIMLET:
1. Game World. Well. Questron II gets some points for originality for sending me to another planet, even if that doesn't really make sense. The time-travel angle is also unusual, but again poorly implemented. The world itself is a collection of towns, castles, and terrain features no different from Britannia or Ymros. You do have a lengthy history and lore in the manual, they're just not all that interesting; "stop the evil wizard" had already become a cliche by 1988. And the looting castles and slaughtering guards bit bothers me. Didn't Ultima IV teach us anything? Score: 3. 
2. Character Creation and Development. The only real option you have when creating your character is the name. Leveling occurs at fixed intervals and in response to progress on the quest, not slaying monsters or building experience. You have no choices when leveling. You can increase some of your stats in dungeons or by purchasing training in castles, but basically every player ends the game with the same character as every other player. Score: 2. 
3. NPC Interaction. No games are really rocking us yet with NPC interaction, but Questron II still feels like a throwback to a few years prior, when NPCs gave a single line of exposition. It's even worse here because most wandering NPCs say something worthless ("Me not like you") as if they were straight out of Ultima II. You do get some plot points from barbers, innkeepers, and publicans, but not enough to really advance the plot--most of the stuff they tell you, you'd figure out anyway. There are no dialogue options, not even when dealing with the main quest NPCs. Score: 2.
And if you're going to make a Treasure of the Sierra Madre reference, at least put it in some kind of context.
4. Encounters and Foes. We just came across a game--Pool of Radiance--that advanced the concept of "encounters" light years, and in this game, we might as well still be playing Akalabeth. Despite descriptions in the manual and interesting names, the monsters are utterly unmemorable, and there are no episodes in which you have to make any kind of real decision. Usually I like games that offer random encounters and respawning, but only when there's some point to fighting, and there's no point to fighting in this game: you don't get any experience, and you get more gold from gambling and dungeon exploration. Score: 1.
This kind of encounter wasn't even fun the very first time.
5. Magic and Combat. Combat consists of hitting "F" over and over, and the magic system offers exactly four spells. I'm seriously contemplating giving this game a 0, but the only game I've done that for is Braminar in which you literally make no decisions in combat. I guess that here, you at least have to pick the best out of four spells. Score: 1. 6. Equipment. We've seen lots of games with limited equipment, but this is the only game I've played in which your available equipment is tied to your character level, which makes no sense even on the surface. The best I can say is that at least you can tell, based on the price, when you're getting an upgrade. If I consider transportation as part of equipment, though, I have to give the game some points for the flying eagle. Score: 3.
Keeganac's gear at the end. The game's best weapon, as far as I can tell, is the broadsword.
7. Economy. There are quite a lot of things to buy in the game--stat upgrades, healing herbs, weapons and armor, spells, hit points, food, transportation, information. And I like the gambling mini-games; there aren't many games that feature mini-games in this era. But the game unbalances itself with high returns on gambling, making it pointless to accumulate treasure through combat or dungeon exploration. Having tens of thousands of gold pieces likely made the end game much easier for me than the creators intended. Score: 5.
Gambling is not supposed to absolve you from actually playing the game.
8. Quest. There is one relatively boring main quest but no "side quests." There is only one outcome to the main quest, and no opportunities for role-playing at all. Score: 2. 
9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. I'm almost scared to rate anything in this category now. The graphics are a nice upgrade from Questron and Legacy of the Ancients, but the sound is still primitive and I mostly kept it off. The keyboard commands were mostly intuitive enough, but there's no excuse, in this era, for disallowing diagonal movement--especially when your enemies can both move and attack you on the diagonal. I'm going to give it an extra point for the automap, probably the game's only innovative feature. Score: 5.
10. Gameplay. Questron II is completely linear. You have to visit each dungeon and castle in a particular order. Towns are an exception, but the game's dozens of towns are essentially interchangeable. Although I admire its quick resolution (again, I think the creators intended more monster grinding and less gambling), the game is a bit too easy. (Among other things, resurrection is immediate and guaranteed upon death.) There would be absolutely no reason to replay it. Score: 2.  
The final score of 26 almost seems too high. I think I might revisit my system soon to allow for a "discretionary" category where I can add and subtract points based on particularly well-done (or hated) features. It's time for an updated GIMLET review anyway; the one I keep linking to is from over a year ago and it talks about The Bard's Tale in the intro. 
    Note: Nothing this ad says is actually true.
Earlier today, reader Macnol was kind enough to link to the issue of Computer Gaming World in which Questron II was reviewed. The review's last sentence (p. 50) sums up the game perfectly: "Bottom line: Not equal to the original; best for the beginner, not the experienced." Next up: I couldn't find a working version of the 1988 edition of Rogue Clone (which, by all descriptions, was pretty much a clone of Rogue; who would have guessed?), so it's on to Scavengers of the Mutant World.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Questron II: Won!

And boy are they happy about it!
Well, I'll give Questron II this: it doesn't wear out its welcome. It's the first game I've played since Akalabeth in which I won before hitting my six-hour minimum. It never got a lot better, although it did unveil some interesting features towards the end. Let me take it chronologically. When we last left the game, I had been transported to the other continent on the planet of Landor, called the Realm of the Sorcerers. It wasn't much different from the first continent except that the random encounters in the wild were more frequent and did more damage. Fortunately, this didn't last long. I set out exploring the continent--I already had a rough map from the Room of Maps in Castle Redstone--and got some slightly better weapons and armor. One of the "travel" shops had a boat for sale, which I bought and sailed back to the first continent to make sure I wasn't due a level up from Mesron. The boat, oddly, didn't seem to have cannons, so when I met a creature I was still attacking it with my melee weapon.
Presumably, I'm hanging off the side or something.
It was a good thing I returned, because I was due a promotion, which got me some stat bumps and a new key: As before, when I reached the new level, I not only got a new hit point maximum (600), but new weapons (axe), armor (chain mail), and transports became available to me.
What a "camalon" is will have to remain a mystery.
One of the transport options was a "trained eagle," on whose back I soared! Not only did this take the place of the boat, but it prevented me from having any random encounters in the wilderness. That fact alone did a lot to get the game back into my good graces. The Realm of the Sorcerers turned out to have four places to explore: a tomb in Twilight Cathedral, a "great fortress," an unnamed dungeon, and the Dungeons of Despair. At first, I thought the game was opening up its linearity, but it turned out I needed keys to enter both the tomb and the Dungeons of Despair, and my initial raid on the fortress was aborted because I couldn't get through locked doors, so it really turned out that the map was completely linear, requiring me to visit the unnamed dungeon, the fortress, the Twilight Cathedral tomb, and the Dungeons of Despair in that order. Fortunately, at least, there wasn't a lot of backtracking.
Who is actually telling me this?
The dungeon was three-dimensional, and exactly as I remembered from Legacy of the Ancients. There are traps, and you have to search every hallway to make sure you don't hit them. Chests provide food, gold, and items. Occasionally, you find a healing potion or a coffin that effects a statistic increase. And of course there are monsters, but far fewer here than I remember from Legacy.
For god's sake, just call it an "umber hulk." That's clearly what it is.
Then something unexpected happened: I found something called a "Scroll of Scalna," which provided an automatic automap on the right side of the screen. It's the most sophisticated automap I've seen in a CRPG so far, showing doors, traps, coffins, and potions (if you don't pick up the latter two) as well as pits to go up and down. And it's integrated to the main screen--you don't have to call it up with a separate command. It remembers levels (which do not respawn items) after you leave. Well done, Questron II!
The Shape Shifter, oddly enough, does not actually shift his shape.
Anyway, I found an Agate Key and an Onyx Key during my exploration of the eight levels of the dungeon. It wasn't a tough dungeon to explore. There were a few areas inaccessible unless you went down and back up again, but nothing tough, and rendered all the easier by the automap. When I got out, I headed for the fortress and, resignedly, launched into an attack of another castle's worth of luckless guards. Looting the castle gained me some other keys. I left and returned and was able to march on in to see the king. I was about to remark that the guards have very short memories--they don't attack if you just leave and return--but I guess since I slaughtered them all, the more remarkable thing is how fast the castle is able to replenish its staff. Just as in the first Questron, instead of ordering me executed for my needless massacre, the king--Kelfar, which is one letter off from Legacy's Kelfor--respected my power, increased my stats, gave me 5000 gold, and appointed me his champion.
I meant to reload and find out what happens if you say "No."
I figured that meant yet another level bump, so I got on my eagle and returned to Castle Redstone. There, an interesting thing happened: Mesrom told me that Mantor was attacking one of the cities. I couldn't remember where Cramford was, so it took a while to find it. When I did, it was properly destroyed. All the people had turned to piles of bones, and the whole place had a red tinge. It reminded me how the sorceress had destroyed towns in Shard of Spring, and I wonder if, had the game taken me longer, Mantor would have hit other towns. With the key from Kelfar's fortress, I entered the Twilight Cathedral tombs, which were almost exactly like the tombs in the other continent. Fortunately, I had that map, which made the exploration of the very maze-y (but curiously monster-light) dungeon much easier. The only plot item was the discovery of the Black Key.
I read this as "ASS OF PAIN" at first.
Returning again to Redstone, I was informed Mantor was attacking another city--Seaside--which, fortunately, I remembered where it was. When I got there, Mantor sicced the guards on me, but all I had to do was fling one fireball at him, and he fled like a bitch. The town reverted to normal and everything was cool. Mesron promoted me to knight and sent me on the final quest to the Dungeons of Despair. Before heading into the dungeon, I went shopping and found I could buy 2000 hit points! (More on this in a minute.) I got a fauchard as a weapon and ribbed plate mail for armor. The Holy One at Twilight Cathederal sold me 30 loaves of that healing bread. I loaded up on spells and headed into the Dungeons of Despair, which were also 3D. As I explored the dungeon and drilled downward, I noticed that the healing potions I was finding kept adding to my hit points. Before, they wouldn't allow me to go over a maximum, but at this level, I kept going up--3000, 4000, 5000--and so I wasn't even particularly worried when a trap destroyed my armor and I started taking massive damage from monsters. I got all the way to the bottom and into a fortress (no longer 3D) where Mantor and the sorcerers were creating the book. But the damned place hit me with 40-50 hit points damage for every step, not to mention what the guards were doing. I soon died.
This shot is from my second visit.
I realized the game had changed the rules on me. Where before there was a hit point maximum, in the endgame, the goal was to get to Mantor's place with as many hit points as possible. With that in mind, I reloaded and checked out the hit point store again. It turned out that the 2000 hit point offer wasn't a one-time thing. Every time I entered the town, I could go to the store and buy another 2000. I spent all the rest of my gold. In the dungeon, I cast "Time Sap" every time I saw a monster and killed him before he could even hit me, and I took advantage of every potion I could find. By the time I reached the bottom-level sanctuary again, I had over 15,000 hit points.
The video records the last couple levels of the dungeon and my assault on the wizards in Mantor's sanctuary. When I reached Mantor and the Evil Book of Magic, I was able to kill the six insane sorcerers, but none of my attacks or spells would do anything against Mantor himself. Nor could I pick up the book. I bumbled about a bit, trying to use different objects I had aquired (I still have no idea what the Unicorn's Horn or Crystal Goblet were about) before I finally hit upon using my copy of the Evil Book of Magic, in which there was now a "Destruct" spell. Mantor "flickered and vanished" despite the game's assertion that destroying the book wouldn't change the past. The end game sequence wasn't as good as I remembered in Questron, but I did get a nice promotion on both planets. And the last screen promised a sequel that never materialized: I'm glad it didn't, because the plot already sounded stupid--why is a child playing in dungeon ruins? This posting is already too long to do the GIMLET here, so look for that tomorrow. For now, I'll just say that Questron II helped cure my guilt for not playing Questron last year, since it's pretty much the same game. It's harmless enough, I guess--a good option for beginners--but I'm looking forward to moving on to something meatier.