Thursday, August 15, 2013

Windwalker: Won (with Final Rating)

United States
ORIGIN Systems (developer and publisher)
Released 1989 for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and Macintosh
Date Started: 9 August 2013
Date Ended: 14 August 2013
Total Hours: 11
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 33
Ranking at Time of Posting: 54% (57/105)
Ranking at Game #455: 315/455 (69%)

Like its predecessor, Windwalker is a game with interesting ideas that doesn't take enough time to develop them. It's a simple action RPG masquerading as some kind of epic experience, and its uses of eastern themes are shallow and ultimately unnecessary to the gameplay. In this, it is characteristic of ORIGIN's 1980s "between-Ultimas" RPGs, almost all of which (Knights of Legend, Tangled Tales, 2400 A.D.) feel like half-hearted experiments designed to make the Ultima series look better by contrast.

Winning the game involved three major steps:

1. Defeating the Warlord in combat and sending him into exile.
2. Waiting until the night of a new moon and then "exorcising" the gate to the Astral Plane in the alchemist's house, trapping him there and ending the repeat possessing of the shrines.

3. Collecting a bunch of ingredients for an Elixir of Everlasting Life to awaken the imprisoned Emperor.

The first two steps are comparatively easy and could (I think) be accomplished by a knowledgeable player almost immediately at the outset of the game. The third involved exploring all the corners of the world.

Well...yeah. Why are you so surprised?

A key to winning the battle against the Warlord was finding the retired assassin on one of the islands. He told me a incense-burning chant that would double my speed for a few hours. With this active, I was able to defeat the two-bladed warrior with little problem (again using the analysis of the moves I'd made during training).

The amusing thing was that a single lost combat sent the Warlord packing. There was this whole animation in which he ran out of the palace, jumped into his ship, and fled the island. I suppose that's honorable and everything, but did it occur to him to just order his guards to surround me and kill me?

Oddly, the self-imposed exile of the Warlord doesn't change the disposition of the Palace Guards in the slightest. They still attack on sight and happily toss the character into the prison if he's defeated. Who do they think they're taking orders from?

Exiling the Alchemist was similarly easy. On the night of a new moon, I got a vision of him gloating that he'd summoned evil spirits from the Astral Plane to take over the shrines. I visited his house, learned about his plans (including the key fact that he'd paralyzed the emperor with a poison), went upstairs, and simply cast an "exorcise" fireball at the open gate.

It was nice of him to offer such a thorough villain's exposition.

Upon finding he's trapped in the Astral Plane, the Alchemist has an amusing reaction:

It's spelled "VENGEANCE," jackass.

The third step, collecting the ingredients, was by far the longest, but I had been doing it gradually throughout the game without realizing the purpose of what I was collecting. Probably the most complicated sequence involved visiting the Isle of the Dead during a full moon, navigating a series of caves, and speaking to the God of Luck to get a peach seed.

If you visit during a non-full moon, you just get an unhelpful panda.
The caves were full of "Oni" (a demon/troll from Japanese folklore) who the player cannot fight, only evade with magical protection. To get through the cave, I first had to bring my turtle shell and beggar's shoe to the shaman Ka Noh Bi in a nearby cave and get him to make an "invisibility" talisman, then use that to safely traverse the Oni cave. Bumping into an Oni or a wall removes the invisibility. The Oni can't kill the character, but if they strike him, he awakens in their cave, "confused" for a few rounds, surrounded by more Oni. I kept getting into a vicious cycle by which I'd get attacked by one, awaken in the cave, stumble around confused, and get attacked by another one.

Trying to avoid the Oni while invisible.

Perhaps the more annoying aspect was having to wait for a full moon. I ended up just sleeping days away until the right moon appeared.

While sleeping, the sleep restores body points at the same speed that the resulting starvation depletes them.

Another ingredient was some jasmine from Nubia, which I had to obtain from the imprisoned Princess. This was a multi-stage process of first learning some words of the Nubian language from a scroll in the monastery, then using them to convince the princess's guards that you're a friend, and then asking the princess for "pluumfir" (the jasmine flower). I learned the hard way that you have to talk to the princess while she's in her bedroom, not in her bath.

I'll spare you the details about finding the alchemists necessary to assemble the ingredients into a potion. Once I had the potion, I had to beat up some guards, sneak by the jailer, enter the Emperor's cell, and administer it to him. Once again, it's a bit baffling that the guards and jailer were still doing their jobs even though the Warlord was gone and the Alchemist banished. It sounds like the Emperor needs to do some serious housekeeping after he gets back on his throne.

See, "benevolence" is what got you in trouble in the first place.

Anyway, administering the potion resulted in the endgame and the closing screens seen above, including one by Greg Paul Malone's smiling face, telling me how proud he is.

Some part of me suspects he actually thought he had "disciples" out there, joyfully playing the game and absorbing his philosophies.

After winning, I consulted a couple of walkthroughs and realized there were aspects of the game I missed. I had been wondering why the training screen has you fight with a staff but a staff never appears in the game. It turns out I needed to join a monastic order to get both the staff and a robe that presumably would have offered some protection. I did find those monks, but I lost honor when I tried talking to them, which the game interpreted as me trying to force them to break their vows of silence. I didn't realize there was one monk that it was cool to engage in conversation. Anyway, no big loss: I preferred fighting hand-to-hand.

You can apparently enter the Astral Plane instead of closing it, though I can't find a description online from anyone who's done so, or what happened. I declined to keep returning to Ka Noh Bi with turtle shells and other ingredients to get talismans other than "invisibility" (immortality, water walking, levitation), but as we've seen, I didn't really need them. There are some water beetles scattered about the game from whom it's apparently possible to get some reagents, but I never figured out how to kill them before they attacked me. I probably needed to use "invisibility."

Before we get to the GIMLET, I need to rant about one aspect of gameplay that was so bafflingly stupid, I can't understand how someone didn't kill it in the production phase. As you explore the islands, the game occasionally comes to a halt to show you a storm. Rain comes pouring down and there are between one and five lightning strikes, spaced a couple seconds apart. You can't do anything--move, check your inventory, sleep--during this animation; I guess you're just meant to contemplate the majesty of the graphics. Late in the game, these storms come along with such frequency that you find yourself moving three or four steps, then having to stop and wait 10 seconds for a storm to pass. In the final hour, the ratio of playing to watching the storm animation was probably around 3:1. The whole sequence is horribly annoying and utterly pointless, and I have no idea what the developers were trying to achieve with it.

I also want to talk about the "honor" system a bit, because it was a good idea, poorly implemented, that anticipates the "karma meters" of later games (though of course Ultima IV did it first). It's vaguely fun to find all the different ways you can lose honor in the game: the ones I experienced were fleeing from combat, stealing from the houses of townsfolk or shrines, failing to liberate shrines seized by the forces of darkness, talking to monks who've taken a vow of silence, talking to the princess in her bath tub, and trying to slap the emperor awake.

The problems with the system are twofold. First, despite showing up as a "meter," the honor system is basically binary. If you have anything less that perfect honor, people won't speak to you and certain plot sequences won't work. Second, there's no way to incrementally gain honor. You have to get it back all at once, either by leveling up (which restores all the meters) or by burning incense and saying "restore my honor." If honor is so easily regained, it's not really all that valuable in the first place.

Oh, and all that I Ching nonsense spouted by the manual has absolutely no bearing on gameplay or any role in the game's plot.

Okay, on to the GIMLET:

  • 4 points for the game world. I can fault the game and its manual for a lot of things, but it does set up an interesting world and back story. It just doesn't implement them very well during gameplay. Consider the "three religions" explained in detail in a scroll I found in the monastery: shamanism, idolatry, and Khisanism. It sounds like the game is trying to set up an interesting system of balance and conflict among the three approaches, but in practice your interaction with them is extremely limited: talking to alchemists to explore "shamanism," doing the "tantric dance" in front of stone idols to engage "idolatry," and burning incense to reflect "Khisanism." The manual is full of philosophies and asides to suggest a depth to the game world that never materializes. The world also doesn't respond well to the actions of the player. After I defeated the Warlord, there were a few NPCs who commented on my victory, but in general things continue as if he were still on the throne.

The game does offer some interesting in-game text to flesh out the game world.

  • 4 points for character creation and development. Leveling is swift and satisfying, and I ended the game well short of the top level ("DRAGON"). There are no attributes and no way to customize the character beyond the name, but I like the way every NPC actually uses the name, which is an odd rarity in RPGs. I also give a point for the intriguing (if flawed) honor system.
  • 4 points for NPC interaction. This aspect is considerably improved from Moebius and involves the ability to speak to a large number of NPCs for keywords about people, places, and things. Doing so is absolutely necessary to advance the game's plot and find necessary clues. There is no flexibility in these dialogue choices, and no role-playing, but still better than most RPGs in this era. I found no value in the I Ching fortune-tellers, but others might.

  • 3 points for encounters and foes. Like Moebius, the game offers only four different unique enemies that you face in combat, though there are a few additional non-combat enemies that you have to navigate. Unlike Moebius, these enemies behave fundamentally different from each other in combat, and you have to study their strategies to find the best attacks and defenses. Still, there's very little depth to the game's encounters, and no challenging puzzles.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. Although I grew to master it after hours of study, I never found the combat "fun." I give it some credit for the turn-based "concentration" mode and the ability to re-watch combats when they're completed, but it's simply not RPG combat. The "magic system" consists solely of burning incense while chanting one of half a dozen restoration or buffing prayers.

  • 3 points for equipment. I missed out on the one weapon and one bit of armor the game provided. Beyond that, "equipment" consists of food, incense sticks, healing potions, magic talismans, and a few special items.
  • 2 points for the economy. The game has one, but it really couldn't be simpler. You get money randomly from combats and can spend it at merchants' shops for food, incense, and ink and parchment necessary to make permanent copies of scrolls. I always had whatever I needed, and I ended the game with the maximum cash possible (99).
  • 3 points for quests. The main quest is vaguely interesting, though with no role-playing options. There are quasi- side-quests in the liberation of shrines from the forces summoned by the Alchemist. I didn't cover these in my description of the game because they're so simplistic (cast "exorcise" at a possessed priest).

  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics look okay in these screen shots, but in general I think the attempt at quasi 3-D failed, especially in the limited game window. I never got used to the floating heads and remain astonished that anyone thought it made sense to keep them from Moebius. The interface was intuitive enough--I got used to the many combat options surprisingly quickly. The sound was much better than Moebius, particularly in combat, and definitely worth hearing.
  • 4 points for gameplay. Though the game world isn't very big, it does exhibit some limited nonlinearity: you can approach the islands in any order, and I suppose it doesn't matter whether you defeat the Warlord first or banish the Alchemist first. The difficulty level is about right, perhaps slightly too easy (though most players won't spend hours analyzing combat the way I did) and it doesn't linger.

I can't help but subtract one point for those stupid storms, giving us a final score of 33, considerably higher than Moebius's 24, but still lower than the threshold I'd use to suggest a game is "worth playing."

In the March 1990 Computer Gaming World, reviewer Dennis Owens completely disagrees. He calls it an "excellent" game and praises every one of its aspects, including the damned storm animations! He loved the "honor" system and says that "Origin's writers should be praised for their attempts to instill codes of conduct in their games." This is the third time I've consulted an Owens review after disliking a game only to find that he loved it. I'd like to know if he ever gave a bad review.

I don't know anything about how well the game sold, but I think it's telling that we never saw a third game in Khantun despite what seemed to be a setup for one.

The two walkthroughs I found are both lackluster and devoid of real fondness, encouraging the player to just get through it as quickly as possible. And the one user review on MobyGames (worth reading as a complement to mine) summarizes it as a "poor sequel to an average game." I'd reverse the two adjectives--I do think Windwalker is a better experience--but otherwise it basically describes how I feel.

And, of course, despite Mr. Malone's best intentions, waves of teenagers did not suddenly, at the turn of the 1990s, develop a craze for the I Ching.
With that, we're one step closer to the end of the 1980s. Next up is an RPG-adventure hybrid called The Third Courier.


  1. Huzzah! Congratulations :)

  2. I remember seeing an article on this game in a computer magazine in my early teens and being fascinated by it. Perhaps it was the oriental setting - something unique to my own video game experience up to that moment which was largely set in more traditional sword and sorcery type fantasy worlds. I definitely recall the floating heads catching my attention if only because it was so strange. I am glad to see that I was saved from misspending my money on this at the time though I can remember plenty of other games I loved as a kid that I see now were stinkers.

  3. And another one bites the dust. I note with anticipation that I recognize only Champions of Krynn among the upcoming games and I haven't played it before, so the next month or so should be an interesting run.

    Your posting frequency puts my own to shame. I've been averaging one post a week on my Morrowind playthrough and you're hitting well over a dozen posts each month. Great job!

    1. More importantly, Champions of Krynn is going to be the first game of the '90s.

    2. Well keep up the great work. I'm looking forward to reading through your play journal after experiencing the game myself. As for post frequency, I wonder too how Chet does it. Must be nice making your own work hours.

      I've never played Champions of Krynn myself, but I read part of a playthrough on a another blog and I got the impression it is rather long.

    3. I'm wondering how much time Chet spends on writing the actual blog posts in comparison to how much time he spends on playing the game.

      I too look forward to Champions of Krynn, as I have not played it myself. However, I also look forward to what he makes of Rings of Medusa.

    4. I can't speak for Chet (hopefully he chimes in as I'm curious as well), but for myself I spend about 3 - 4 hours getting a post together. Time taken from selecting screenshots, writing up a draft, placing screenshots, writing captions, and finally a quick edit run. I may do a second run after I let the post sit for a few hours or overnight as well. Trickster wrote about the time it takes for him to write, and it's about the same amount of time it took to play the game or more.

      Just imagine how much faster we could all play through our games if we weren't blogging about them, but where's the community in that?

    5. My time is about the same as Zenic's: it takes me 2-4 hours to write a post. It's hard to nail down a specific game-to-post ratio because it depends so much on what's happening in the game. I can sometimes get an entire post out of 1 or 2 hours of gameplay if they're particularly plot-heavy. With this game, almost all of the 11 hours I played is reflected in this single post, though about 5 of those hours was just fighting training combats to master the combat system.

      As for how I "do it," it helps to have a flexible schedule and no other hobbies. But I just came off of a long dry spell, so it's amusing to hear you praising my post frequency.

  4. The honor system sounds a bit odd to me (like most karma meters in games, actually). I mean although you don't go around killing people, you do punch them in the face until they flee and subsequently rob them of any possession they might drop. Trying to talk to monks who have taken a vow of silence is (at least to me) virtuous in comparison.

    Also, why is it that so many games have you restore the despotic rule of some deposed king or emperor? I'd like for the goal to be to depose the despot and institute republic instead.

    1. That gets me thinking. Why does talking to a monk automatically suggest you expect them to respond verbally?

    2. It's considered an insult, I guess. Sort of like eating a Big Mac in front of protesters in a hunger strike.

    3. That should have been an alternate ending to Ultima V. Instead of rescuing Lord British, you just defeat Blackthorn and replace him with a democratically-elected council.

    4. ...while giving British in the mirror the finger.

    5. Well, the Ultima realm is a constitutional monarchy, where the Great Council has the same power than the monarch.

    6. Joking aside, there is something vaguely disturbing about how the manual treats the Emperor. It calls him the "Harmonious Emperor" and says that he governs with the "mandate of Heaven." When Zhurong overthrows him, it's not bad because Zhurong is evil; it's bad because he lacks the "mandate of Heaven." You could easily read it as propaganda. Perhaps Zhurong actually overthrew an evil emperor in a popular uprising, but the emperor's old cronies, including Moebius, have just re-cast events to encourage the new emperor's assassination.

    7. Isn't this how all of history is written? The good guys in power are there because they have some kind of legitimate claim (even if founded in mysticism). Those newly trying to get power are doing so for selfish reasons and that is bad (unless they win and are able to make up a legitimate claim to rule).

    8. The thing about fantasy in that regard is that in-setting such claim to power because of some supernatural mandate may very well be true ;)

      That said, this backstory actually makes perfect sense to me. In Confucian worldview, from what I gather, everything must remain in harmony. It's a concept that links court ritual, politics and even the nature. Disrupting the harmony of any of these elements inevitably leads to disrupting it in all others - i.e. strife, disasters and cataclisms. And the emperor is the centerpiece of this puzzle. So calling him "harmonious" basicly meand that he's good. And the very act of overthrowing him, thus disrupting harmony, is an evil act in itself, and that alone makes Zhurong quite evil too.

    9. From a western view, wasn't The Divine Right of Kings still around, where the kind and the nobles were thought to have a direct link to god?

    10. Sure, but none of these games--western or eastern--are really trying to recreate history; they're using historical and traditional themes to tell a story that should appeal to modern gamers.

  5. Strangely enough, while it's clear that you didn't like Windwalker, your posts make it sound a lot better than it's actually is. If I hadn't tried to play it some years ago, I would probably get the impression that it's a fun game with some minor annoyances. But I had, so I know that it's not ;)

    1. I didn't like it and didn't hate it. I could see other people liking it more. So in that sense, your reaction flows well from my post.

    2. That is what impresses me about your blog. It seemed to me that you did not like this game at all, but you perservered and gave us a great sense of what the game is like and how it plays, and with a dose of humor too. Thank you again for your hard work.

    3. I didn't always do that. In earlier years, I felt less of an obligation to complete a game even if I didn't like it. Now, it's hard to see abandoning a game unless it's a truly painful and pointless experience.

  6. @Chet- I had wanted to point out that wearing the Amulet of Immortality allows you to sustain 0 damage in all your battles when you asked how to deal with the Warlord. But I saw that you had already won it and thought you already knew. =P

    The 3 different Concepts of Reality is similar to the 3 Major Religious Tenets in China, namely: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. It's a pity that Origins did not explore this idea further.

    Finally... is the princess using ROT13? XD

    1. That sounds like a bit of a game-breaker. I probably should have returned to Kah No Bi and gotten this and the other talismans, but I just didn't feel a pressing need for them. Thanks for clearing up that plot point, though.

    2. It's not only a game breaker, it basically just arse-wiped all your previous hard-won fights with it.

      If you could get the amulets early on in the game, you're basically a living god on steroids.

    3. Was there an Oh Bi Wan in the game, since they had a Kah No Bi? How about a Sky Wah Ker?

  7. You hit on most of the minor innovations that I had suggested you would find, although you missed out on experiencing the monastery fully (but noted it). Having someone go through a nonviolent, silent monastic ritual to gain powerful equipment is also relatively unique to Windwaker up to this point.

    You are spot on with the lightning, and GIMLET is probably about what I expected -- better than Moebius, and probably about average, nothing to write home about, but with a couple of minor points worth noting that make it somewhat unique in a good way...and some minor & major points that detract, unfortunately.

    All of this is warm-up for when you finally get to Darklands...I am anxiously awaiting your play of that amazing gem. It's not at all like my anticipation for this game...this game was just one that I played when growing up, so there is a bit of a nostalgia factor even though it is not a great game. Darklands, on the other hand, may require you to recalibrate certain ratings on your GIMLET..... :) Out of the games coming up in the (somewhat) near future in the so-called "Uukrul" category, I would be quite surprised if Darklands isn't at or near the top :) But there is still 1990 and 1991 in between, with some predictable gems of their own...and maybe a few dark horses as well!

    1. I expect Darklands will be the point he defines a value for the maximum amount of time he's allowed to spend on a good game. Doing a complete Darklands run has got to run you at least 100 hours, if not more.

    2. I played Darklands a year ago and only needed about 16 days to complete it. So it's not that long if you stay focused, even if you have never played it before.
      Of all the new (to me) games on my own chronological play list of worthy games, Darklands was definitely one of the best, along with Dark Heart of Uukrul.
      Brilliant character generation, very open ended, OK real time combat with pause combat and a unique setting. Graphics was sub par, though.
      It had some other flaws, but I will wait and see if Chet will mention them.

    3. Just to clarify:
      For me 14 days is average game length, 7 days or less is short, 21 days or more is long. Longest game for me so far has been Wizardry 7, which took me almost two months to complete.

    4. I remember Darklands. Pretty buggy when it was released.

      The game was also really slow. Made me doze off a few times (in combat!) and getting killed in the process.

      That said, I got pretty attached with each of my characters since I took a long time to develop each of them. If they were dolls, I'd probably be having a tea party with them.

      For a game that is set in the medieval age, it was pretty gutsy for the developers to make it so low-fantasy when the standard staple is all about magical dungeons and fire-breathing dragons.

    5. I can say I'm still playing Darklands: it's the ninth or tenth run and I still enjoy it.
      I still own the original disks (but I bought it again on GOG).
      I hope you'll like it too, but the game strength it's its setting, not its quests, so I'm really curious about your opinion.

    6. Whenever I have played, er tried anyway, Darklands I always got major bored major fast. Is it all just reading menus, just menu after menu? I hit a town and it's just menu after menu, walls of text. Buh Oh Ring.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. I agree about the graphics, but to me graphics don't matter much. When I look at GIMLET categories, too, I just see it blowing out of the water just about every other category, at least compared to other games of its time. In fact, I think only the graphics and questing will take hits...but I think they still rank at least average for the era.

      Petrus, one thing easy to miss on an initial play is that Darklands has surprisingly good replayability -- quest locations (even on the main quest) are randomized among a list of possible locations. The side quests are randomized even moreso (main quest has same basic components, but randomized places to travel). I'm not sure if you've tried it again since your first playthrough, but it is fun to see things aren't exactly the same every time you play.

    9. Yes, the ramdomness of quests (and starting town) is good, since you never know where your travels will lead you, but it is let down somewhat by the fact that you can only have finite number of quests open at a time. Not sure about the excact number, but it was quite low.

    10. That is true; you can always advance the main plot, but the number of side plots was limited.

      Darklands is one of those games screaming for an "Enhanced Edition", modernizing the graphics and interface, and adding to the questing (with a journal to help you keep track of the quest details as well), but keeping the same character development depth, economy, and randomness of quest details.

  8. I must say, I like the names of the next two games. Not sure about the rest of the games, but the names sound cool. Well The Third Courier sounds cool, Keef the Thief sounds silly, which might be a nice change of pace.

    Also, I think we should make Chet a better icon for Castle of the Winds, as he is going to hate the head and torso icons. However, there is an option to give it your own bitamp...hint hint.

    1. No, Keef the Thief is not a "nice change of pace." It's just dumb. I'm kicking myself for not just getting it over with back in the winter.

    2. I always used the suave dinosaur icon from Dinopark Tycoon for my Castle of the Winds avatar

      Never could beat Part 2 of CoTW though, the end boss always got me.

    3. Electronic Arts got a head start in publishing shitty games. Keef is one of them. Then again, I'm sure someone here will like it.

    4. Keef the Thief is what happens when a couple of high school kids make an RPG. ;)

    5. Oh, come on. Keef's goofy, has shitty combat and unfair letal puzzles - what's not to like?! It's just practically Quest for Glory's evil twin ;)))

    6. Raifield: Really? I beat him rather easily, it was anticlimatic. Just threw a bunch of spells into the room and killed everything.

    7. Eh, it was many years ago when I played Castle of the Winds, I should give it another go. Just need to find my Windows 3.11 disks to drop in DOSBox.

      As an aside to the aside, I pulled up Keef the Thief on MobyGames. Everything has a very 80's vibe to it. Dear God, the hair. The screens also look too full of stuff.

    8. The creator has agreed to give the game away for free: His webpage is down now, but you can get it and the game from

      I emailed him once, and he seemed like a really nice guy, who was very amused that people were still playing his game a zillion years later. I understand he gave the source code to a select couple of people to help them build remakes of it. I don't think any of them got very far though, as they were trying to make things exactly the same, but modern, whereas I think first you get a playable game, then worry about if it is exactly the same with every bug intact.

      Man, I don't get why people hate the 80s aesthetic. I love it. Man, I want to look like Knight Rider, or MacGyver, or even Mel Gibson in the first Mad Max movie. People weren't scared to look COOL then, they didn't have to be ironic or worry if a leather jacket was cliche; they just did it.

    9. Ah... the 80's... When it doesn't matter during summer to wear black leather jackets and a heat-retaining mullet set with stinky Brylcreem...

      For Castle of the Winds, it would be hilarious to use the entire tileset from Ultima V... and using the Avatar as your avatar.

    10. Sadly it just has an option for what you look like. It comes with two default options, one male, one female, and it is one of the only games where the female wears more cloths and is equally over-muscled.

  9. CRPG Addict wrote " This is the third time I've consulted an Owens review after disliking a game only to find that he loved it. I'd like to know if he ever gave a bad review."

    I find most reviews in computer magazines of the 80's & early 90's overrate games. Even completely terrible games usually get off with a "but if you like this kind of game I'm sure you'll enjoy it" etc. Later when star ratings or scores were introduced it became a lot harder to get away with this sucking up to everything.

    1. I don't think it has really changed, they still seem to give overly positive reviews for games. You will notice that on metacritic for a movie to be green (i.e. considered good) it has to have a score above 60, but for games it is 75. I'm not quite sure why it is that movie critics seem to be "allowed" to give 1 star ratings that perhaps go against popular opinion, but if a game reviewer gave say GTA5 a 1 star review they would be hung, drawn and quartered.

    2. I think that game audiences are just a lot younger, and people form a lot more personal attachments then they do to movies. I think this is a problem, but I can see how it evolved: A lot of game sites started as a bunch of teenage guys writing things and putting them online, even a lot of the big sites today. They often had a brash, silly, often offensive attitude (Anyone remember Gamespy before it sold out? Heck, check out some of the reviewers at Game Informer today). That means this snobby, literary culture that surrounds movies never evolved.

      Also gamers have this weird, passionate thing about expressing their opinion.

      Evidence: Dragon's Crown, and incredibly controversial action RPG prompted this Jimquisition:

      Also, I don't think number reviews help things; Penny Arcade put this up after Aliens: Colonial Marines came out:

      I actually like that Ars Technica doesn't use numbers, as they don't think you can accurately boil a game down to a number. Suppose I give a Mario game a 8 and then I give a Mass Effect game a 9: Does that mean the Mass Effect game is better? How do you compare an action RPG and a platformer anyway? They want a) to not be in metacritic, as that influences developer pay, and b) they wrote a three page article going over what parts are fun and what aren't, and what type of fun the game is or isn't, if they could put everything in a number, they wouldn't write three pages.

    3. Aliens: Colonel Marines is a good case study, universally panned as an absolute stinker, studios and publishers fighting over who was to blame for the disaster, and yet it still managed to get 45 on Metacritic. The reviewer that described it as "Half-cooked, bereft of ideas and technically despicable, this would-be triple-A production is an overblown movie tie-in to a flick you wouldn't want to see." still gave it a 40.

    4. Which reviewer was that? There were two sites that give it an 8/10, which is pretty screwed up, doubly so since there were no screenshots on the site that weren't from the press material, nor indeed anything showing they'd actually played the game. However, most of the reviews I saw were in the 2-3/10 range, pointing out that it did have some interesting asymmetric multiplayer ideas and other such.

  10. Guess because games are bigger money makers than movies are these days. The big publishers are like the mob.

    1. I don't think so. I mean, big publishers do what they can to suppress bad reviews, but it wasn't publishers who attacked Eurogamer for giving Uncharted 3 an 8/10. Here is one of my favourite takes on it, by comedy group Loading Ready Run:

      Also, while looking for this I found the following TVTropes page:

      Which lead me to this Penny Arcade comic: which I was smart enough to open in the same window, thus letting me escape TVtropes.

  11. Pity you didn't stick with sword of the samurai, seems remarkably similar (but much much better)

    1. Nah, it's different. Sword of the Samurai is an action-adventure set in actual medieval Japan. Windwalker is an action-RPG set in some pseudo-Oriental themed fantasy setting.

  12. I wonder if the author will show up and comment, and how he would respond to the pretentiousness we make fun of in this game. Would he just shrug it off as yea the 80's were a different time and cocaine is a hell of a drug. Or would he flip out as you dare to suggest he is not as cool as he very obviously is by the photo on the back of the game.

    1. He hasn't responded to my e-mail, but it would be interesting to hear his perspective. I have trouble with harsh criticism myself, and I'd probably be hurt if someone wrote things like I've written about my own works. On the other hand, I can't imagine getting too upset about criticism on something I wrote 25 years ago. I'd probably agree with most of it.

    2. My curiosity as to his reaction is more to see if he matured out of that level of narcissism or tells us some story behind why the marketing guys thought yea that's what we want, or if what we are seeing is just his personality representing itself in the medium.

      If he really is that self involved then it might do him some good to hear that, no he isn't really the light and the way and we are not weeping in gratitude for his sharing of wisdom.

  13. I felt sad reading through this. I quite enjoyed the game back in the old days on my C64, finishing it after many, many hours of play.

    I entered the astral gate, but the necromancer cast a spell at me on the other side, so things didn't turn out so well. And since it took so long to load the Astral plane on the C64, and I was so near the end of the game, I didn't bother trying again.

    A couple of years ago I actually emailed Mr Malone and he seemed like a very friendly guy. I told him I enjoyed Windwalker when I was younger, and he seemed quite pleased with that. I am guessing he didn't have too many of those mails.

    Oh well. It is a pity you didn't like the game, but if we all liked the same things, it would be an incredibly boring place to live. I am glad to see we at least share the same taste in liking the Goldbox games (though I enjoyed Buck Rogers quite a bit too).

    1. Well, now I feel sad. I don't mean to ruin anyone's memories, just offer my own perspective on how a game feels and plays today.

      You seem to have read my reviews of this game and BR as wholly negative, and I didn't intend that. I'd call them "mixed."

    2. Been almost 8 more years, so time to reply I guess lol. While I check your blog a few times a week, I rarely look back in my old comments here.

      No, you didn't ruin my memories, all good ;), I just have really good memories of this game and time. While my family was dirt poor, and I only got a C64 in the early 90's, it was my window to an amazing world, and I got hold of any CRPG's for it that I could.

      Ultima IV, V and VI (yes, I completed VI on the C64 lol), the Goldbox games, the Doherty brothers games (Legacy of the Ancients and Questron 2 being the first CRPG's I ever completed), Wasteland, Phantasie, Demon's Winter, Magic Candle and of course, Windwalker. Absolute magical memories on my trusty old second hand breadbox.

      Windwalker was a very different experience back then, and had a fairy tale like quality to it, along with a young guy's interest in the "Mystical East", martial arts, and the era of Karate Kid. The graphics were great on the 64 and really put me in the right mood for the experience.

      I was merely saying I was sad at the time that you didn't see what I saw when I played it, years ago. Very silly of me. I think your blog is a treasure, and I love reading your entries, and seeing how all the games I played (and didn't play) are filtered through today's lens.

      So thank you for doing what you are doing, and remember to consult I Ching, the Book of Change each morning when you wake up, fellow disciple ;)

  14. Dennis (former CGW reviewer)May 13, 2016 at 10:02 AM

    Hi. I'm Dennis. I actually did dislike a few of the games I reviewed back then--most notoriously Lightspeed, which MicroProse apparently had been pushing as the next big thing, and which I panned as a CGW reviewer on some big electronic BBS back in the day. That it once was ranked the 46th worst game of all time speaks to my opinion of that game.

    I did love Windwalker, which was a sequel to Moebius, and I still remember them both fondly. But my impression was that Johnny Wilson tried to match games to reviewers for a number of reasons, including that he was a big proponent of the still very new field, was appreciative of what it represented, and generally was an optimistic person. I for one in the 1980s was delighted that computer games existed at all, for only a few years earlier "computer games" consisted of ASCII marks on printed paper.

    Johnny never once suggested I should provide a positive review, though. His only rule was that reviewers had to finish the games before the reviews were written--which in retrospect was refreshing compared to so much of what passes for reviews these days.

    CGW paid so poorly, too, though, that any suggestion a reviewer would shill for a game is laughable--not that you suggest here I ever did. Maybe we just represent antonyms in gaming preferences.

    Also, it's probably difficult for gamers today to understand the zeitgeist at the time--games only had been published for a short time, and many of the conventions we expect these days were decades even from experimentation. We didn't expect as much from games back then. That games simply had graphics was such a major boost from what we'd known previously that we were willing to accept other types of shortcomings--because we didn't know any better.

    As for why there never was a third game, my understanding is that Sierra's relationship with Origin ended around that time; this may have been one of the last games Sierra published for Origin, so licensing issues may have been involved.

    In any event, the release of Might and Magic a few years earlier (while this game still was in development) utterly transformed the computer gaming industry--which also may have led to the release of this (and many other games) before they were ready.

    I haven't reviewed games for many years; however, based on what you say, at least I served one purpose as a reviewer: if I liked something, you could be reasonably certain that you wouldn't. So there's always that.

    1. Dennis, thanks so much for commenting. It really is hard to replicate or even envision conditions of the era, and I really appreciate when someone comes along to give some first-person insights as to how things were. I agree that from a certain perspective, without decades of other games in between, some elements of Windwalker were probably amazing.

      Only a few posts later, I start finding some of your more negative reviews, so I'm sorry I suggested you were such a Pollyanna in this one. I also criticized you a bit in the context of The Savage Empire, but there have been others along the way in which I highlighted our points of agreement.

      If you feel like commenting on anything else, I'm curious what you might have to say about your "dual reviews" with Scorpia that I discussed in the context of Eye of the Beholder. What led to CGW feeling like it had to have multiple perspectives on the same games?

  15. Kinda late to the show, but I just finished this and if you enter the portal the alchemist just claims he's all-powerful and kills you:

    1. Thanks. Part of me always wondered about that.

  16. RE: Entering Astral Gate

    If you enter visible, the guy spots you immediately and banishes or kills you. So, you had to use the invisibility to enter unseen. Then, the problem IIRC was the astral plane hallways had water floors. So, you had to levitate or use water walking. I think there was lava floors too, which needed levitation. You had to sneak through the halls to the main platform. Since invis and levitate were both eating your mana, you had to use whatever thing replenishes that a few times. So, you had to be really prepared. Once you made it to the main platform, you had to avoid him and two demons if I recall. You couldn't attack them or him or you'd just get banished or killed. Instead, you had to take some object off an alter. Then sneak back out. This trapped him in the astral plane forever.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.