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.


  1. If you're going to play SWFM, remember you can download my Tandy sound fix for DOSBox here ... It'll make the music sound better.

  2. I'm glad it's over. Some games seem specially sadistic, and wouldn't be worth the huge amount of time to finish them without any cheats today.

    I do look forward to Wasteland, though. From everything I've heard about that game over the years, I hold some hope that it's an example of a post apocalyptic setting done right.

    Still, before leaving Scavengers behind I must ask - did you ever find a damned stop sign shield or was it just a symptom of lazy reviews?

  3. @Macnol:
    Without revealing too much inadvance, Wasteland is a totally different affair than this game seems to be. I am really looking forward to when the Addict tries it; I like it very much, and from the humour alone you cansee that the Fallout games (well, the good ones, not FO3) are influenced by Wasteland.

  4. I actually will try your challenge. How many hours do you think you spent on it?
    It's a shame the game was so punishing, because there's something about those graphics that seems charming, believe it or not. And the story definitely had potential.
    Sascha - thanks for that link, I'll have to see how that works.

  5. Hmmm. In my search for the manual, I found that has gone offline. That's a shame. (But I did find the manual, so I will see how far I can get in the game.)

    I also want to recommend the use of DBGL as a front-end to DOSBox. In addition to ease of use, attractiveness, and total control over configuration, it has (for me) the immense advantage of being cross-platform, since it's written in Java. I can use the same GUI front-end on both Windows or Linux.

  6. @duskfire:
    The website for seems to be up and running for me. They mentioned something about malware attacks.

  7. This is an excellent idea, also give this challenge for previously unfinished games.
    I for instance have no need whatsoever to try and finish this game.
    I am however extremely curious on how the end screen looks like.

  8. The graphics actually look decent to me - for 4-color CGA. The lack of variety described sounds bad, though.

  9. As the first commenter wrote, the Tandy sound is far superior. I would follow the instructions at the link provided in that comment. THEN... in case you're having a hard time getting Future Magic running, I also found the following advice on a YouTube video:

    In order to run this with tandy sound, you will need to run dosbox manually and set in the config the following:

    Under where it says [Dosbox]

    Under where it says '[Speaker]':

    You also should put the SW1 directory at the root of your drive. (I know, who does that anymore?)

    It still didn't work for me, and kept asking for a game disk. I did more researching and found that the game files should be located at c:\sw1\sw1\ In Dosbox, you mount your C: drive as c:\sw1\, then change to that drive, and then change directories to sw1 (cd sw1), and then run play.bat

    I found the pdf manual at replacementdocs, but the paragraphs section was missing. (The game instructs you to read a certain paragraph at certain parts of the game.) I found this at

    You can change the frame rate within the game, but I find that the text still runs by too quick at only 8 FPS, and that speed may slow the rest of the game down too much. I guess it's better to mess with the cycles setting in Dosbox.

    Just in case your long absence is due to your inability to get this darn thing running! Good luck. :)

  10. I've seen a lot of people playing Wasteland, and both Micheal Stackpole & Ken St. Andre seem like cool guys from the little I know of them.

    FO3 is in fact a good one, and I have to laugh at the 'it isn't real fallout' attitude people have to it as the guy who created Fallout I is a fan of it, thought he thought it was *too* true to the original & should not have included Supermutants.

  11. @Canageek: I'm a fan of all 3 Fallout games (never got into the spinoffs, which are considered mostly non-canonical anyways) and I have to agree that Bethesda did a decent job of capturing the Fallout universe in a new format, but that they tried to pull in too many things from the previous games (probably either to appease fans, or to save Bethesda from having to come up with more new, original ideas).

    I've tried to get into Wasteland, but I think I missed the boat on it by a few years. Maybe this blog will either get me interested again or scare me away completely :)

  12. Judging by the fan reactions to how non-cannon the game is, and how many good ideas there are in it, I would say it was almost certainly to appease fans.

  13. I am a HUGE fan of Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tacticts. I love both Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and just can't get on the whole "its not real fallout" bandwagon. To me, these titles deserve their place in the franchise.

    Of course I am also somewhat of a Bethseda apologist... I have played and beaten all the Elderscrolls games, and even enjoyed Terminator: Rampage and Terminator: Future Shock.

  14. I know, I know, New Vegas is Obsidian, not Bethseda. I still like New Vegas.

    Actually, I liked SW:KOTOR II as well, right up until the end fell apart...

  15. Bethesda:

    Just finished Fallout 3 and all of the DLCs and enjoyed it quite a bit. I think epic exploration (and nonlinear if not sandbox) RPGs are probably my favorite video game genre, although Fallout 3 was the first Bethesda RPG I've managed to actually finish.

    I also recently re-played Terminator: Future Shock and Skynet. They're still fairly fun, although being XnGine games meant they had some overly-complex maze-like levels.

    Currently I'm playing TES:Arena on my laptop as my play-while-watching-TV game. I've actually made it farther this time than in any of my previous attempts, so wish me luck :p


    I'm waiting on a discounted GOTY version of New Vegas before picking it up, primarily because it's ridiculously cheaper than buying the main game plus each DLC as it comes out (and secondarily because I'd probably burn out due to having played a lot of Fallout 3 this year).

    I also also recently finished KOTOR 1 and then made it halfway through KOTOR 2 before burning out. I'm not sure if I'll ever manage to finish KOTOR 2; I've heard that it gets dicey later on (rough edges due to cut/unfinished content, etc.), and I'm also now conflicted as to whether I should install the fan-made "restoration" patches.

  16. Hey Addict, if you aren't currently playing Sentinel World, how about moving Wasteland up the list? It was one of the first games published in 1988 (according to some sources it was released as early as 1986), and since I am currently playing Wasteland myself it could be interesting to "compare notes".

  17. @Amy That's a lot of info about SWFM! ;) The game runs flawless here without any install/launch trouble. Let's see how it's setup here:

    In my DosBox VirtualHD folder is a folder named SW1 and in that one are the folders D, DOCS, FM and two files PLAY.BAT and READ_ME.1ST. No two SW1 folders needed here.
    The PLAY.BAT looks like this:

    cd fm
    cd ..

    There's also a scanned manual, incl. paragraphs available at It's for the C64 version but that shouldn't be much of a problem.

  18. Hello, Sascha! That's actually just how I had it, and it kept asking me for a game disk. Once I added another SW1 folder (leaving an SW1 folder, with nothing in it but another SW1 folder, which had all the game files inside), it stopped pestering me. ;)

    Thank you so much for the link! I had a typed version of the Paragraphs booklet, which had a spelling error right in the first paragraph. I prefer the original scanned version, natch. :)

  19. "this might be the first post-apocalyptic CRPG (I don't know if Wasteland from the same year is before or after)."

    I'm pretty sure Autoduel is older.

  20. duskfire, sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. I think I spent about 9 hours. I'm curious if you or anyone else wins it.

    Macnol, no stop sign shields--no shields at all. There wouldn't even be a way to equip one, nor really any graphical way that the game would represent the stop sign. So I'm sure it was just lazy reviews taking a cue from the cover.

    Petrus, it's tempting, but I've already mucked with the game order a lot for 1988, and if I keep doing it, I'll end up with a situation in which all the games I've been avoiding are grouped together at the end. I think I'll just try to push through Sentinel Worlds after this weekend.

    Ben, I don't think Autoduel is post-apocalyptic, just dystopian.

  21. Really all post-apocalyptic books are really just dystopian. If they were truly post-apocalyptic then they would either be very boring or about mutant cockroaches or such.
    I was always under the impression that the Car Wars universe was pretty post-apocalyptic, but I can see arguments each way.

    There is more information at in particular a very good series of articles on the world in the old magazine they put out which is now freely available on that site.

  22. I was inspired by the game idea (and the manual / survival guide) when I was younger, but found the game frustrating.

    I've swiped the basic concepts and setting for an tabletop RPG (or more accurately a Play-by-Skype RPG) and have been running on online game called "Tempora Mutantur":

    It's been reasonably active for about a year now.

  23. One last thing about post-apocalyptic games: I've always wondered during the Fallout games if really the WHOLE world was involved in nuclear war. Surely Australia, or, say, New Zealand, or Switzerland etc... stayed neutral and would continue existing at the current technology level. But in all these post-apocalyptic worlds civilization is destroyed completely.
    The leveling in this game is in fact a big mistake. Maybe there should always be one main character who must be kept alive and whose level determines the strength of the enemies. Or the whole idea of a 20-character-team is just wrong here.

  24. Hmm... it would be sort of cheating, and would definitely be against your rules for the site, but I think I see a way of winning this game, or at least having a better chance at it. The world is just generated once, at the beginning, right? Not each ruin generated from scratch as you enter it? What you could do, then, is save the game as soon as you start, and then explore one ruin, letting the chips fall where they may as far as character death and whatnot... then, when you've thoroughly explored that ruin and found anything of import there is in it... reload to before you explored it. Then do the same with another ruin, and so forth. Eventually, in principle, you'll know where all the parts are and be able to run around with a fresh party and gather them all up without having to take the time to explore every city. (If ruins get more difficult the farther you get from home base, that may throw a monkey wrench in the plan... I guess you may have to pick up some weapons and armor from the explored cities, too.)

    Like I said, obviously this would be against your rules here, and even without those rules I think it would pretty clearly be a sort of cheating, but it sounds like it may be the only way this game could be winnable at all without a heck of a lot of luck.

    1. Yes, you're right. That would work. If I'd thought about it back then, I might have tried it just to see what the ending looked like. Not worth it now, though.

  25. I'm bummed none of the commentators followed through to finish it--I'm curious what happens when the car gets built! In a post-apocalyptic society, you'd imagine it would be of limited value to the tribe unless they happen to have uncovered a gas station . . .

    1. Yeah, without an oil refinery, a car is useless. Even under perfect conditions gas won't last much more than about 2 years.

    2. Well, it depends; Suppose we finally move to ethanol powered cars or hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen is pretty easy to produce chemically, as long as you don't mind dumping out some nasty side products or don't mind if your process is rather inefficient.

  26. I'm finally back. I took a couple of years hiatus (!) from this blog, much as I loved it, because damnit, I really WANTED to play through Pool of Radiance for some old-school CRPG cred (I've never beaten anything older than an infinity engine game before).

    But I just.. I just couldn't. I could deal with fighting with the interface to go through the 'heal, memorise cure, rest, heal, memorise cure, rest, heal..' routine every time my party got too beaten up. I could deal with spending 5 agonising minutes mopping up the last fleeing critter at the end of each combat because they got stuck in a corner trying to escape. I could deal with getting out into the world only to find (or rather, not to find) that none of the locations I could travel to had any obvious means of progressing the story. Progress was slow for all the above reasons and more, but I was enjoying the game - and I was frankly amazed something so old could have so many forward-thinking ideas that are conspicuously absent from many modern titles - so I wanted to see it through.

    What I couldn't deal with was the level drainers. That is the single most irritating, time-wasting, player-contemptful idea that anyone has ever implemented in a video game, I'm sure. And it got to a point where I couldn't find any quest that didn't involve fighting those wretches.

    So I had to throw in the towel. But at least I get to start reading the blog again! (Having skipped the Pool of Radiance entries because, well, you never know...)

    This game seems like a really interesting premise that the developers just completely fumbled when it came to difficulty balancing. It's a classic problem for small studios who don't spend enough time (or money) observing how play-testers and new players experience the game.

    When you're constantly playing the game yourself as a part of its development, it's all too easy not to notice how you've invisibly become the best its best player in the world: by dint of constant practice while testing and debugging, having 100% knowledge about things ordinarily hidden from the player, and so on.

    This fatally results in many small games being way too hard - and you can still see it in indie releases today. At least now they can listen to early feedback and try to quickly patch the game before too much damage is done. Rain World is a recent example of this.

    "(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.)"

    Just taken in isolation... how cool is that! Crafting so often feels wrong in RPGs: superfluous to the fiction, bolted-on to give the player something to do, and completely immersion shattering, because why is my 8 INT/12 WIS paladin suddenly a master blacksmith, alchemist, fletcher and apothecary?

    But here, not only does it make sense to the setting and tie gameplay back into the theme, it also ties the role-playing side of a character and their game-y stat values together. Rather than the immersion shattering Sir Blockheade crafting a wicked sick +7 lightning claymore, you have the immersion amplifying Homer hanging an anchor off the back of the teams' pickup because 'well we need SOMETHING to make it slow down!'

    I'll always welcome developers who put some thought into novel ways to punish players who try to get away with using certain stats as dump values - but stepping away from just that particular problem, it's also a surprising and funny thing o include in a game, and indicates that the developers were really putting some serious thought into tying their theme and setting together, as you might expect from something that started as a board game prototype. A shame then that they got so many other things wrong (boring combat in particular sounds like a classic board game vestige.)

    1. Well, welcome back--after almost FOUR years, I should add.

      This is a good example of a game that was pathetic for me not to win. There's no way I would have given up that easy today. Maybe I'll try again when I come back through 1988; it would be worth documenting the winning screens for this one.


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