Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Wayward Windwalker

I'm having flashbacks to my honeymoon.

Windwalker has provided at least one unique experience: I have rarely in my CRPG-playing career been so baffled as to what I'm supposed to do. In a change from the small, closed, linear world of Moebius, Windwalker's world is quite large, and the game gives few hints as to any order of progression. I've spent the last few days just wandering around the various islands, fighting guards, assassins, and thieves, amassing equipment and gold, and finding the occasional special item. If I wasn't increasing in levels at such a good clip, I'd think I was just wasting time.

Leveling up.

Before I began playing in earnest, I spent a good four or five hours in training, trying to master the combat system. The game's opening menu gives you the ability to fight a cycle of combats with both staff and fists against each of the game's enemies. I found it so difficult that I started keeping an Excel spreadsheet of each enemy, my weapon, his position, his distance, the combat move, and the outcome.

This, right here? This is the definition of "nerd."

After these hours of practice and data analysis, I was able to distill strategies against each foe and win the entire cycle of training combats, which meant that I started a level higher, at BADGER. More important, all this experience has made the combats in the game comparatively easy. Enemies behave predictably and fall to the same strategies repeatedly. When I'm attacked by a royal guard, I know to advance one step, which invariably causes him to advance one. While he's mid-stride, I make a high kick followed by a punch, then cartwheel away and repeat until he's dead. Similarly, for assassins, I know to simply dance around them until they attempt their flying kicks. Then I back up while they're in mid-air, causing them to miss, and respond with a high kick to their heads as soon as they land. For thieves, you wait until they try to stab, then respond with a spinning roundhouse kick to the face.

Combat is frequent in the game, especially around the palace, where royal guards respawn constantly and provide plenty of grinding opportunities. But despite the heavy focus on combat, the game is strangely pacifistic. I've found no weapons so far, and based on the introductory training, I suspect that even when I do, it'll be a staff instead of a sword. The game is careful to mention that you don't actually kill your enemies and loot their corpses; instead, they "flee" when you beat them, discarding their equipment behind them.

He didn't "flee," dammit! I knocked him unconscious!

There is absolutely no indication of enemy damage during combat, so you just have to keep punching and kicking until they finally collapse. Even when you seem to beat the foe, there's a small chance that he'll be "determined" and rise again for a few more hits (this can also happen to the PC). Much of the game consists of sailing between islands, and enemies can sail up and attack from their own ships.

Imperial warships discharge four or five royal guards in sequence before they give up and sail away.

Aside from combat, the gameplay is inoffensive but underwhelming. It isn't a clear improvement over Moebius. Yes, there are more extensive NPC dialogues and an actual economy, but the series has lost the need or ability to hack through trees and rocks, the magic system is simplified, there are no animals (at least, none that I've encountered yet), and so far there haven't been any complex puzzles. The interface consists solely of directional movement, speaking, and using items from the inventory (even sleeping involves selecting the "straw mat" from the inventory, something that took me forever to figure out).

The economy is a nice addition to the game, though I don't know what a lot of this stuff is for.

Perhaps the biggest change since Moebius is the introduction of a clearly Ultima-inspired virtue system, represented by the "honor" meter. You don't have to achieve avatarhood or anything; the honor bar starts full and it's yours to lose. You can lose honor by stealing from cabinets in private homes and probably a few other things I haven't discovered. Stealing incense from a shrine causes you to lose all your honor, and no one will talk with you after that. I don't mind admitting I just reloaded when that happened. Anyway, it's there, but it lacks any of Ultima's complexity.

Gideon loses an eighth.

As I said, I've been wandering the islands, trying to figure out what to do. Some of the encounters I've experienced are:

  • Visited a couple of shrines and learned the "incense" system. Basically, you find "common incense" throughout the game on enemies and in shops. You need a priest to "bless" the incense to use it, at which point you can invoke it with prayers like "heal my body" and "empower my spirit."

  • Talked to a lot of townsfolk about the Warlord and the Emperor. The consensus seems to be everyone hates the Warlord and wishes the Emperor would be freed from prison, and that the Alchemist is a jerk for helping the warlord. The Nubian princess is being held in an unknown location.

Speaking with one of the Warlord's concubines.

  • Found a cave with a stone idol and instructions for performing a "tantric dance" of 14 steps. Going through the steps in front of a couple of idols rewarded me with healing elixirs.

That's what it's all about.

  • Discovered the house of an explorer named Di Ahn Jon. Notes left behind indicated that he went to the Isles of the Dead to investigate the recent appearance of evil spirits on the nights of the new moon. He left behind a helpful map.

I don't know if this is the whole world or just a part of it.

  • Di Ahn Jon's journal also indicated that "by bringing a turtle shell and the shoe of a blind person to Kah Noh Bi [really?], I was able to get an invisibility talisman that makes it much easier to explore the island." I haven't met Kah Noh Bi yet, but I was able to get a turtle from a fisherman and a shoe from a beggar, so I'm ready for when I do.

In one of the few combats I lost against a royal guard, I was captured and thrown into the Palace Prison. Rather than reload, I decided to roll with the punches and see what happened. It took me a few days (in-game) to figure out how to escape, and during this time, the Warlord paid a visit and kicked my butt with his double swords.

Everyone seems to know my name in this game.

I eventually got the woman who delivered food to the prisoners to agree to leave the door unlocked. I escaped, defeated the guards outside, retrieved a key from the jailer's office, opened the cell next to mine, and had a lovely conversation with the Emperor's wife, who seemed in no hurry to escape. I didn't find the Emperor himself, but there was another cell that wouldn't open to the key.

I fought dozens of guards getting out of the palace, but not before looting the throne for a box of jade.

Is it really necessary to have the disembodied head a second time in this message?

As for next steps, it's clear that I have to visit the Isle of the Dead and see what I can do about the raised spirits, but I probably also need to visit the Alchemist on his island. I'm sure I'll have to rescue the Nubian princess at some point, but I don't know how. And I have some rumors about a legendary retired assassin on one of the islands.

I realize this posting is a bit disorganized, but then again so is the game--though I do think it's interesting that within the first hour of gameplay, you can just wander up to the palace and fight the Warlord. He defeated me so easily--I didn't land a single blow, and his one hit vaporized all my health--that I don't imagine there's any chance of winning this early. (Does anyone know otherwise?) If the game has one virtue, it appears to be a certain nonlinearity, though I'm hoping by next time, I have some slightly better direction towards the main quest.


  1. Some of these old games do seem to waste a lot of screen real estate, in this case about 10% of the screen at the top portraying the title, presumably there in case you forgot the name of the game you were playing.

    1. Something about today's post suggests that this game is unforgettable, but not necessarily in a good way

    2. There are two reasons for displaying the title of the game on-screen:
      First, it was some kind of tradition by the early to mid-eighties as *many* RPGs did it.
      Secondly, there's a technical reason: The CPU power of the 8-bit platforms of the time was very limited and the easiest way to make a game more playable was to reduce the amount of graphics rendering. This can be easily achieved by reducing the area of the screen you are drawing on - and this is exactly what they did.

      Keep in mind that the platforms - and especially the Apple II on which most Western RPGs were developed on in the early eighties (it also was Origin's premier platform until Ultima 6) didn't have *any* kind of graphics acceleration we take for granted today.

      The Apple II was especially complicated to program as hardware wizard Steve Wozniak designed the Apple II very economically (= with low production costs in mind) and cut every corner possible to reduce the amount of chips used in the computer. This led to several hurdles when programming the screen memory directly, which was of course the thing to do at the time. There were no APIs like DirectX back then...

      This screen memory was the reason practically all RPGs with tile-based graphics at the time had tiles with an even-width in bytes (mostly two or four bytes), especially those from Origin.
      Also: As the Apple II couldn't change it's character set like the C64 (which was lauched several years later) everything had to be done in hi-res graphics which used eight times as much memory - and thus everything was four to eight times slower!

      Given the weird Apple II hardware it's a wonder, IMHO, how good Windwalker functions on that platform, with its mild 3D effect, tiles of variable width, a horizon and weather effects. One way to achieve this was to throw away lots of screen estate to *not* use it for the map windows...
      Of course the PC platforms had much more CPU power so this wasn't an issue - but the games were ported relatively conservative by Origin or their contractors so the ports didn't make use of the additional power and stayed more or less the same, albeit with a better screen resolution and more colors.

    3. I remember several three-dimensional maze games with real-time movement on the Atari 800XL...with the play area being about 15% of the entire screen.

      Alternate Reality: The City has the same smooth 3D movement and on the Atari 800XL, dedicates a tiny, tiny area of the screen for the world display, leaving the rest for command prompts, character status, etc.

    4. Doom actually had a thing where you could make the screen smaller, so it could run on more computers.

      Also, if you are going to make a comment that awesome you should make an account so we cna thank you by name. :D

      Also, while they waste a lot of screen space, I find games today are too focused on being 'immersive' and junk like that, and don't give me thing on screen that are actually useful, like minimaps, or a map overlay right on screen (DOOM HAD IT. DOOM. 1993!) Heck, now they aren't even putting how much ammunition I have on screen or health meters! *snarl*

  2. "then respond with a spinning roundhouse kick to the face." - this reminded me of all those Chuck Norris jokes...

  3. LOL at "honor". Eastern cultures don't have honor, they have "face". Honor is what you think of yourself, but face is what the world thinks of you. Typical Westerner self-centric thinking. Completely goes along with the douchey narcissist author profile from the first post about this game. The sea serpent on the map is a Western thing, too. Not even going to mention the non-character that is standing in for "money" in this game.

    1. That character is not the symbol for "money". It looked like the yen symbol to me.


    2. The serpent looks like an eastern dragon to me and there are plenty of representations of "Asian Serpents" that's not out of place.. The money appears to be an upside down yen symbol, close enough. Face and Honor are 2 different concepts and honor is most certainly a feudal Japanese value, it's integral to Bushido and the Samurai code.

      Also keep in mind this is not supposed to be an historical adventure in the real world, it's an Asian flavored adventure.

      Harland needs to do a little more research, and lose the smug attitude while you're at it.

    3. Looks like the character for 'heaven' to me.

    4. The yen symbol is ¥‎. The character for 'sky' is 天 but the top bar is clearly shorter than the lower bar. The only character that comes even close to that is 夫 fu 'husband'. Neither have anything to do with money.

      Putting sea serpents in the oceans of a map is a medieval European thing. Ah, yes, "Asian flavored adventure" is pretty much what I called it. Why bother putting any actual "Asian culture" into a game if you're just going to make stuff up? Better to make your own fantasy world unrelated to any other - but then the author wouldn't get to exercise his narcissism and educate the public about "Asian culture" at the same time.

    5. Harland, you're being unnecessarily argumentative. Plenty of games, books, films, and other art forms take samples of themes from various cultures and blend them with others in a melange. It's silly to say that to include any Asian themes requires the author to go "full Asian." We don't make that kind of demand on the inclusion of elements from other cultures, so why make it here?

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. Harland, did you seriously think that Origins doesn't know what Yen looks like? They are flipping that symbol upside-down on purpose to mark this game as an alternate universe from the real one. Chill out, man.

      I don't see you coming out, blasting the other CRPGs based on Tolkien's works.

  4. I think I remember an old Computer Gaming magazine hint page that mentioned this game.

    From my vague recollection, if you spend the night at a temple, you get both a robe and a staff. I just can't remember any other details.

    1. You had to join a monastic order. I won the game a little earlier without ever getting the robe and staff, but a walkthrough explained what I missed.

    2. Whoa! You won Windwalker already? Holy cow! You, sir, are probably a Level 99 CRPGamer now. XD

    3. See? I told you games would get shorter and shorter now: He beat NETHACK. Nothing is going to give him any trouble from now on, or at least until the early 2000s when a wave of new roguelikes come out, some of which decide Nethack is too easy (and almost all of them are based on other parts of the RL universe, not the Hack tree)

    4. It'll be nice if all the remaining 1989 games go this fast.

  5. RE: Sword of Aragon

    I don't use an email based RSS reader, so I can't send you a copy. However, if it's any use to you, there's a cached copy from August 8th here, on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

    1. Oops, sorry, I see you've already solved the problem, so just disregard this.

    2. This is what I get for not reading through the rest of the feed. I wonder how many copies of the post Chet will receive by end of day.

    3. About 11. Thanks to them, I was able to reconstitute the posting. Thanks, everyone!

  6. I was just about to send one as well. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to try to open the request article to look for comments, only to find that it had been deleted.

    Ironically, those of us who have cached copies of Chet's deleted Aragon article also have cached copies of his deleted request article :p

  7. That Excel spreadsheet. That, right there, is dedication. XD

    It is just kind of weird to even have a Hit Ratio when the attack had definitely connected. It's like punching someone repeatedly in the face and being told by him that I missed 66% of my attacks.

    That would either make me punch 3 times harder and faster or run the hell away while contemplating where the heck 2/3rd of my punches went to.

    1. The "hit ratio" is actually the percentage of times in which I tried that action in those circumstances and it resulted in a hit. The other times, I either missed or the enemy was able to successful counter-attack.

      The variances aren't necessarily due to any inconsistencies in the game. Minute variances in distance probably make a difference (I only used three categories for distance), as do what happened in the previous round. For instance, I found my attacks connected more often if the enemy just attempted his own attack than if the enemy was simply advancing. I later developed a "feel" for these additional variables, but the analysis I did in the spreadsheet at least got me started.

    2. Ah... I see. From my gameplay, it usually connects if it was a counter-attack. Good thing is, it works both ways.

      Also, it's very disturbing to see your character looking like he was mounting the monk while he screamed, "Such an act defiles the Purity of your Honor!!!".

    3. I disagree; Don't think of it as a hit, think of it as a hit that dealt damage. Houdini was famous for being able to take any punch by clenching his stomach muscles; I've got to imagine experianced fighters have similar tricks.

      He died when a prizefighter hit him when he wasn't expecting it; Probably not the worst punch he took, but the one he wasn't prepared for, and thus did the most damage. Just because a punch lands doesn't mean it does the same damage.

    4. I didn't even see that until you mentioned it, Kenny. That...that's definitely a screenshot in which including only the heads leaves too much to the imagination.

    5. "Such an act defiles the Purity of your Honor!!!". And thus went the first line of the very first Windwalker slashfic ever written.

    6. I thought that punch also burst Houdini's inflamed appendix or is that folklore?

    7. According to Wikipedia it appears the punching may not have had anything to do with it:

  8. Made me laugh at your response to the inclusion of the "Jedi Knight" NPC, when it's fairly obvious to me the explorer is none other than Indiana Jones.


    1. THAT's what it is! I spent too long reading the name and trying to come up with some variation of "Dianne John."


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