Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dragonflight: The Glass Ceiling

The best that Andariel is ever going to get.

For about 40 hours, Dragonflight offered a middle-of-the-road, inoffensive game. It was sometimes slightly interesting, sometimes slightly boring, sometimes slightly annoying, sometimes slightly amusing. It was never on the extreme of anything. Then it did the one thing that is 100% guaranteed, in every circumstance, no matter how good the game, to absolutely enrage me.

Experience caps.

More specifically, experience caps that are set well below the level that you would expect to reach in a normal game.

Until I hit the cap, leveling in this game had been reasonably rewarding. It happens so subtly, and at different intervals for the different characters, that you often don't notice. Then, suddenly, you realize your character has 100 more hit points than before, or has an extra combat move. The combat moves were particularly welcome, making tough combats easier and easy combats faster. My archer capped at the highest move total, with 6 (9 with the "Speed" spell), and it's been fun to watch her take out 3 enemies in different rows with a move-shoot-move-shoot-move-shoot combo.

But now I won't get to experience that any more, and I still have four dungeons completely unexplored. The last dungeon--12 levels--took me almost another 8 hours. I might have as much as another 40 hours of gameplay where I won't experience any character development at all. Screw you, Dragonflight!

There are two primary reasons that I hate experience caps:

1. They remove the noble, age-old process of grinding as a mechanism to make the game easier. The earliest RPGs, starting with PLATO and extending into games like Wizardry and Might and Magic, reached an accord with players, offering two basic avenues for completing the main quest. You could embrace the difficulty, meet challenges head-on, and triumph through tactics and strategy (with a little bit of luck), or you could grind against Murphy's Ghosts and triumph through over-leveled characters. You could, in short, choose a path of intelligence or a path of brute force.

2. They make you feel like the game world is completely determinate. Obviously, the plot is going to end the same way (or in the same limited number of ways) for everyone. The only choice you have as a player is who your character is going to be when he gets there. Then, you run into a level cap and realize that every character is going to be pretty much the same. Any individual advancement you felt you were doing was illusory; any grinding you did was wasted.

I guess there won't be any more of this, either.

There are two ways to get around these concerns. The first is to implement a complex system of skills and abilities so that even if there's a cap, each character is unique at the endgame in his strengths and weaknesses. Experience caps still piss me off in such games, but it's slightly mitigated. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age: Origins are good examples of this mechanism.

The second is to ensure that the cap is so high that a character is unlikely to reach it in a regular game. This makes grinding a still-viable avenue. Quest for Glory, the Ultima games, and most of the Gold Box titles follow this option. Skyrim implements both solutions (and then effectively removes caps entirely with the "legendary" option starting in some recent patch).

Without either of these factors, experience caps mar good games (Pool of Radiance, Baldur's Gate), make average games bad (Dragonflight), and make bad games absolutely horrible (Vampyr: Talisman of Invocation, Don't Go Alone). In the case of Dragonflight, I don't even understand the reasoning. The experience cap is set to 20,000, so it's not like it was about to experience a stack overflow. (Is that the right term?) And why are there extra, unused 0s in front of both hit points and spell points if the experience cap was going to stop any further development in those stats?


Okay, aside from the experience cap thing, I finally started to feel like I was making progress in the game. For the first three dozen hours, I felt I was just wandering around somewhat aimlessly, with no clues on the main quest to find out what happened to the dragons and restore magic to the world. But the last session was marked by the resolution of a number of side quests (or perhaps steps on the main quest) that offered a few pointers.

First, I found the two secret caves of "The Shadow" and recovered a couple of quest items. When I last blogged, I had just entered one of them in the dragon's tail. The other was at a bend in the dragon's neck. Based on that description, I started in the northernmost mountain square and determined to search my way southward, but I found the dungeon in literally the first square.

That was a freebee.

Both dungeons consisted of a long corridor with several rooms (the first one had a bunch of pit traps and teleporters, but it would be tedious to recount it) and an encounter with "The Shadow" in the final room. In both cases, "The Shadow" disappeared when I hit him one time, leaving his treasure unguarded. The first treasure was something called a "Staff of Stone" and the second was the magic sphere stolen from the elves, containing the souls of the elven high council.

I want to make fun of "The Shadow" for his pink cloak, but I'm not sure it's pink. Irene is away for the weekend.

With the sphere in hand, I returned to Nimraviel and gave it to the grateful queen, who rewarded me with another "Piece of Eltam" plus a magic bow for Andariel.

One side-quest solved in Brindil-Bun: I gave a few healing potions to a sick guy, and he rewarded me with yet another "Piece of Eltam."

My god, these people really have been deprived of magic.

The orc king wanted me to have the leaders of humans, elves, and dwarves sign his treaty. The elf queen and dwarf king signed it with no problem, but it took me a while before I realized the human leader was the king in Port Pylon. (I had expected it to be the town council in Pegana.)

With the treaty signed three times, I returned it to the grateful orc king, who loaded me up with gold.

After this, I stopped encountering orcs as wandering monsters. That was pretty cool.

This was good because it was clear I needed to buy a new ship. Three unfortunate things about traveling by ship in this game:

  • Depending on where you charter the ship, the crew will only go so far.
  • If you walk too far away from the boat, you have to give it up. There's no way to get back to Pegana, for instance, while retaining your ship.
  • If you crash it into land three times, the crew mutinies.

I had crashed into land twice, and I was getting sick of having to reload every time it happened a third time. More important, I needed to explore the continent to the east, Dorithannon.

I grew up in an orphanage in a landlocked city. Why are you letting me navigate at all?

I chartered a more expensive ship in Scatterbone and headed east, stopping at the antarctic continent on the way, but unable to get into the dungeon because I lacked the password (see below). Dorithannon was surrounded by impassable smaller islands, but I found a landing spot on the north next to a temple. While I was there, I decided to try the "Temple Teleport" spell, which I had recently acquired. You have to stand on a temple to cast it, and it will take you to another temple, as long as you know the name. I tried visiting one called FAROUT which I hadn't otherwise discovered. It worked, and I found out why I hadn't found it: it was on an island in a lake, along with a little city named Sotul. (There's no way to cross inland waterways in this game.) I figured something major would be there, but the only thing of interest was a store selling magic chain. I bought a couple of sets.

It's good they have this shop to sell armor and protect the inhabitants against all those enemies who have no way to get here.
Regrettably, I saved after this, and I returned to the temple on Dorithannon to find that the crew had sailed my 8,000-gold-piece ship off into the sunset.

There was a dungeon in the area, but I couldn't get in for reasons I'll describe below. So I explored south and found myself funneled into a narrow passage between the mountains with what looked like some kind of hut.

The moment I stepped on the hut, I got the "game over" screen with absolutely no explanation.

I guess that was like Sonny Corleone's toll plaza.

Okay. Using "Temple Teleport," I returned to the mainland near Nimraviel, walked from there to Scatterbone, and spent pretty much all the money I had left on another ship. This time I managed to find a way to the southern part of Dorithannon, to a city called Bagnol. There, the "mogul" gave me a magic crystal sword and two magic chainmails in exchange for 4 diamonds. I'm glad I hadn't sold all the diamonds because the crystal sword ended up being important.

I had two other missions in Bagnol. One was to deliver a letter to a guy named Grednak. He took it and gave me a package to return to Sonok in Luthag. The second was to visit Ostul at House #5 for a map piece. No matter how many times I banged on the door, though, no one would answer.

Yes, I tried moving around and coming back. Repeatedly.

At this point, I had almost run out of ideas. Aside from returning the package to Luthag, I didn't know where else to go. I had one note to give a poison potion to a woman in "Negame," but I hadn't found that town yet and didn't know where it was.

My problem with five dungeons.

There were five dungeons I hadn't explored because all of them wanted some kind of password right at the entrance:

  • In the desert on the main continent
  • On an island to the south of the main continent
  • On the antarctic island
  • In the mountains on Dorithannon
  • In a swamp on Dorithannon

I didn't know where I'm supposed to get this information. I'd been to every town I could find, knocked on every door I could find, solved every quest I could find, and I didn't have a single clue. I reviewed the documentation and all my notes to no avail.
I had just finished typing up a posting, ending with a call for hints. (Yes, I know the site that's been linked several times already has the passwords. I didn't want to know the passwords; I wanted to know how to get the passwords.) Just before I hit "publish," I decided to make one last quick scan of my inventory, and what do you know, I had something called "Note Dungeons" that had every single one of the passwords. I think perhaps it came from the elf queen; there was something in her speech about giving me "a list of the names of the old schools of magic," which I guess these "dungeons" are supposed to be.

Well, hell.

With this in hand, I decided to try a swamp dungeon on Dorithannon, and I ended up spending about eight hours there. It was 12 levels with lots of secret doors and teleporters to confound navigation. One level consisted entirely of logic riddles in the "one always lies, one always tells the truth" tradition, though I thought they were a bit too easy.

Imagine how easy the justice system would be if everyone either always lied or always told the truth.

The dungeon presented me with an enemy I hadn't fought before: a statue. Although the game indicated that it was taking damage from my attacks, no amount of damage I could do was enough. It just wouldn't die.

Previous experience with the "Staff of Stone" suggested that it was a missile weapon, but I couldn't get it to work. Fiddling around with it, I figured out that the staff has to be "loaded" with precious stones like rubies, emeralds, and opals (thankfully, I hadn't sold all of them), which it shoots like missiles. So charged, it was capable of taking out the statue in one blow.

Anyway, the entire dungeon only had a single unique treasure: a "Dragonring." It seems to act as a high-level ring of protection, but other than that, I don't know if it has a unique use. It was about this time that I noticed the experience cap, so I was pretty miffed during my long slog back to the surface. (Supposedly, there's a "Leave Dungeon" spell, but I haven't found it yet.)

Starbucks ought to adopt this classification: small, medium, large, dragon.
Back on the surface, I wasn't eager to go into another dungeon again, so I returned to Luthag and delivered the package to Sonok. He, in turn, asked me to go to Franklin in Scatterbone. I did. My "reward" was just a bunch of prattle about magic mushrooms in a nearby dungeon I hadn't yet explored.

But it was what happened between Luthag and Scatterbone that made me think the game might be finally coming near an end. At some point, I had discovered that going off the edge of the map would wrap me around to the other side. The shortest passage from Luthag to Scatterbone was this way, but I was surprised to find an island in between. (It's in a dark part of the world map.) The island turned out to be the Dragon's Vale mentioned in the back story.

An NPC finally has something useful to say.

It was on this island that I finally found the city of Negame, where I'd had a longstanding side quest regarding a woman named Cynthia who dabbles in poisons. I had a stack of poison potions I had no idea what to do with (you can't poison weapons or throw them). When I showed one to her, she was delighted, and she finally gave me some information on the main quest:

I'm aware of your great interest in the long-lost dragons! Yes, of course, you are! Listen: Should you be foolish enough to actually want to visit The Dragon Valley, the unicorn will block your way. Yes, of course I know myself that unicorns are the symbol for sweetness and beauty, you young fools! It's still beautiful, this unicorn, but it's condemned, corrupted by the Shadow's magic. A giant spellcrystal was necessary to change a unicorn into the valley's devil, but the Shadow managed it! And the only chance to free this unicorn and to get into the valley of the dragons is to destroy the crystal! So go and don't try to fight the unicorn, but displace the work of evil.

Great! Well, how do I do that? The answer seemed to come from a wandering NPC: "did you know that crystal destroys crystal?" No, I didn't! Thanks!

Thinking that the endgame might be near, I wandered west from Negame and found myself at the entrance to the Valley. I was taken to combat with a "banned unicorn" and a giant crystal. I figured all I had to do was maneuver Bladus, with his crystal sword, over to the crystal and attack it. Unfortunately, that didn't work. He couldn't get close enough, and the blade didn't work like a ranged weapon.

And that's where I am now. I figure there must be some mechanic that will allow me to destroy the crystal with the crystal blade, but I haven't found it yet.

In the meantime, I have four dungeons unexplored and several outstanding mysteries:

  • What are these Pieces of Eltam? I have three of them (out of four, according to the elf queen). If I look at them or try to "use" them, I just get a message saying that it's incomplete.

  • Does the dragon ring have a special function?
  • Which is more important: the dragon ring or the pieces of Eltam? I ask this because there's a guy in Negame who wants to trade me a dragon ring for a piece.
  • Why can't I get into House #5 in Bagnol? There's supposed to be a guy named Ostul with a map piece there.
  • Where are the rest of those map pieces? For a while, I was recovering a couple per dungeon, but they all dried up. I still have six to go.
  • What is the use of all these "common" spells like "Heal a Tree"? The game hasn't called upon them once.
  • In a city called Trolian, there's a long maze through water--the locals call it their "water garden"--that culminates at a house where a guy won't speak to me because he only "sees adventurers with an open mind." What does he mean? Do all of my characters have to be neutral in their magic position (e.g., not leaning towards black or white)? If so, I need to find some black spells for three of them.

Hey! I've been pro-gay marriage since the 90s!

I'll take light hints--not spoilers!--on any of the above. In the meantime, here are some other miscellaneous notes:

  • I didn't realize until hours after I had it that Dobranur's magic "battlehatchet" is a missile weapon as well as a melee weapon. This would have saved a lot of time.
  • In my descriptions of cities, I'm eliding a lot of time spent knocking on doors and being greeted by NPCs who simply say things like, "Welcome, adventurers! What do you want?" or "You should visit the blacksmith!"

Every city has a bunch of houses like this.

  • Bagnol had another "tribute statue," this time to fantasy illustrator Rodney Matthews
  • A lot of doors in the dungeons seem designed specifically to waste keys. You unlock them (sacrificing a key) and there's literally nothing on the other side. The 12-level dungeon near Bagnol required so many keys that I eventually had to "key scum"--reloading if I found nothing useful on the other side--so I wouldn't have to leave the dungeon to go buy more.
  • Creatures incapable of swimming or flying sometimes spawn in the middle of the ocean.

Poor bear. He must be tired out.

Though not too tired to climb onto the boat and attack us, I see.

  • I haven't talked much about potions. So far, I've found nine types: healing, magic restoration, imbue a non-magic weapon with magic, strength, spirits, wine, holy water, poison, and dispel magic (the latter seems to be a unique item for that one imp quest). You can theoretically mix them together, but I don't see how that really improves anything. I hardly ever use them anyway. It's easy enough just to wait in place to restore hit points and spell points, and enemies stopped being difficult enough to require strength potions a long time ago. They'd all be more useful if you could use them in combat.
  • I also find that I rely very little on magic, with the exception of "Dispel Undead" (pretty much the only way Rinakles gets experience), "Light," and "Healing." Offensive spells in combat like "Magic Arrow" just deplete spell points for little benefit over a regular attack. I haven't found a single use for all these "utility" spells yet (e.g., "Heal a Tree," "Moulded Stones," "Glowing Stone," "Stone Hardening").

Maybe a little more Fallthru while I wait to see if hints come in. If not, I still have four more dungeons to try.


  1. > The experience cap is set to 20,000, so it's not like it was about to
    > experience a stack overflow. (Is that the right term?)

    The correct term is "integer overflow".

    > I want to make fun of "The Shadow" for his pink cloak, but I'm not sure
    > it's pink. Irene is away for the weekend.

    Definitely not pink, sorry. Kind of dirty green.

    1. Oh, well. Still not a classic color for "The Shadow," is it? Or is green a symbol of evil in German culture?

    2. The color green conventionally signified weird magic in several European cultures, Germanic included, IIRC.

    3. Seemed more like a greenish grey to me.

    4. In ancient Greek literature, verdigris is definitely the color of weird magic.

  2. - I'm afraid you will have to explore at least three of the four dungeons you listed. Naq V'z greevoyl fbeel gb vasbez lbh gurer'f nabgure uvqqra qhatrba lbh unir gb qryir vagb.

    - The crystal blade is not used to destroy the crystal behind the unicorn. You yet have to find the correct item. Vg'f va gung uvqqra qhatrba (sbhegrra yriryf).

    - The four pieces of Eltam can be assembled into a magic wand. Gur sbhegu cvrpr vf ng gur obggbz bs gur qrfreg qhatrba (yriry avar).

    - An Eltam piece is more important than dragon rings (the latter respawn in dungeons). Lbh arrq guerr bs gurfr evatf gb jbex va pbawhapgvba jvgu gur fgbar fgnss gb bssre cebgrpgvba ntnvafg n pregnva rarzl.

    - You wrote in a former post where Ostul can be found, it's not Bagnol. Lbh pna ohl gjb zber znc cvrprf sebz n thl va Fpnggreobar.

    - I don't think these common spells are needed.

    - "Open mind" is not a good translation, "good heart" would be more fitting. Lbh arrq n zvavzhz bs punenpgre cbvagf (cnegl gbgny).

    1. I know I said I didn't want direct spoilers, but I said "screw it" and ROT-13'd your comments anyway, since this game is just dragging on and I want to wrap it up. Some comments:

      1. You may see me asking for another hint on that hidden dungeon, as I have no leads on such a thing and I don't feel like searching every square in the game.

      2. I don't know how my notes become garbled so that "Drombul" was "Bagnol." I found the guy and got the piece. I had actually overlooked the entire city of Drombul, so the NPCs there led to a few more hints.

      3. I got the two pieces in Scatterbone by showing the map to every NPC in the game. I wonder where the clue was to talk to that guy in the first place.

      Thanks in particular for the last item. I never would have figured that out. Reminds me of that poor riddle translation in Legend of Faerghail.

    2. To find that hidden dungeon, use the phial in/near the woods on the dragon's jaw. You will definitely have to do the antarctic one, too. Both of them contain items necessary for the endgame sequence.

      The other dungeon on Dorinthannon can be skipped; I'm not sure anymore about the desert one, I think it just contains another piece of Eltam. Hope you persevere!

    3. I don't know. I'm at the endgame, but I lack three spells: "Open," "Nameless Spell," and "Lightning." I'm so sick and tired of this game's dungeons that I can't bear the thought of randomly exploring them until I find those spells.

    4. If I understood the scans on the German spoiler site correctly, gur anzryrff fcryy vf sbhaq va Tbeanglx (?), "Qhatrba ireynffra" va Zbeglx, naq gur erznvavat oynpx fcryyf va Znfglx. It seems like the mouths in Mortyk and Mastyk were supposed to tell you this.

    5. I'm sure I had them at one point. I didn't know particular spells were needed for the endgame, and there was a moment I needed "character points" more than spells, so I just gave all the scrolls I had to the library in Pegana whether I needed them or not.

      If they occur in fixed locations, I suppose I can wait for the dungeons to respawn. I just can't bear the thought of continuing with this game right now, but I'm sure if I put a pin in it for a few days, I'll suck it up and finish it up.

  3. To repeat myself, I can tell you the number of dungeons, if you want to.
    You already know how to beat the game. You literally wrote it down.
    Indeed, keep an open mind, even if it messes with your head.

    1. I don't need to know the number of dungeons so much as if there are any I can skip. I don't feel like mapping 10 levels for nothing, especially since I'm not getting experience rewards any more. For instance, I just got out of the one on the island NW of Port Pylon, and all I got for hours of effort was a potion I can't seem to use. I assume it's a plot item for somewhere else.

      The dungeons I have left to explore are:

      -On the ice continent
      -In the desert
      -In the mountains on Dorithannon

      If I can avoid any of these, I'd appreciate knowing.

    2. As far as I can tell, you can skip the one in the desert and on Dorithannon. Did you complete the dungeon on the island near Scatterbone? Really complete?

    3. I don't know. What is "really complete"? I came out of it with a bunch of mushrooms and a "phial" that looks like a potion but doesn't allow me to drink it.

    4. Look at trudodyr's comment above. You are supposed to eat the mushrooms out of the phial at the Dragon's jaw, it changes the landscape....
      I treid to be extremely sneaky...asking you about the number of dungeons...that was a hint. And taking mushrooms messes with your head, and the dragon's head (a new dungeon appears). But this is what I meant when I said that unless there are in-game hints, the game really wants you to look for walkthroughs.

    5. Without spoilers, I wonder how you were supposed to know to eat that mushroom vial at that specific place. I don't remember encountering any suggestions about that in-game.

  4. "What is the use of all these "common" spells like "Heal a Tree"? The game hasn't called upon them once."

    I'll just spoil this one, since it's spelled out in the manual: some spells are more useful to commoners than adventurers.

    You're expected to turn those over to your mentor.

    1. "Does the dragon ring have a special function?"

      The manual does make a special mention of potent protective artifacts, that were gifted by dragons to those who were entrusted with dangerous missions.

      "Which is more important: the dragon ring or the pieces of Eltam? I ask this because there's a guy in Negame who wants to trade me a dragon ring for a piece."

      And what if both are needed?
      Maybe it'd be wisest to keep the ring on hand, at least for now.

    2. I read the manual. I just figured it wasn't telling the whole story on the spells or the dragon rings.

    3. The piece of Eltam is more important. There is more than one dragon ring in the game.

    4. I disagree.
      The piece isn't going anywhere, but having at least one ring is essential for exploration. The trade can wait until he's got more of them.

  5. I don't know what's up with the potion mixing, either.
    Maybe it's important later, since I didn't quite finish the game, but the only combo I ever discovered was mixing two types of alcohol together (spirits + wine)?

    And that, well... you should try it out if you already haven't. :/

  6. A completely unnecessary lesson in computer science! (Yay!)

    A "stack overflow" is when the amount of memory you have allocated for a stack gets filled up and you start scribbling on memory that you should not. This will frequently cause a crash, but savvy people can trick the system to make what is in that scribble-space valid. For example, in Pokemon Yellow there is a bug that lets you stack overflow your inventory. Crafty people figured out the internal item numbers and used it to code a song that the gameboy would play with a picture of balloons. It was a neat trick.

    00 00 00 00 00 de ad be ef <- four bytes of real stuff after a stack with max size five. You push the sixth item and the "de" gets overwritten. Oh no! Separately, there is a "stack pointer" to tell you what the next item on the stack should be so can always find the top.

    An "integer" overflow is just that you are adding and adding to a number and you are about to exceed its maximum size. So a 8-bit unsigned integer represents values from 0 (binary: 00000000) to 255 (11111111). Add one more to 255 and it TRIES to be 100000000, but the last eight digits are zeros so you are back to 0.

    Now, this gets WEIRD when you deal with signed integers. An 8-bit signed integer is from -127 to 127. Depending on the exact type of system you have, 127+1 could be -0 (negative zero) and 127+2 would be -1. But in another system 127+1=-127. It has to do with the way the sign is encoded in the binary since binary by itself does not have the "sign" the way we think of it.

    Fun stuff!

    1. Thank you for the little lesson. My terminology is improved for the future!

    2. To tell the difference, a stack holds a list of discrete items while an int (or other single-value type) is generally what you would put on a stack. (You could, technically, put a stack on a stack, but that gets into the brain-bendy parts of computer science that are why good programmers get paid so much.)

      Stacks are one of the computationally cheapest lists to use, but the penalty is that you can only access the very last item directly. If you want to get to a previous value you have to remove the last item and put it elsewhere. It's like a stack of plates in that regard, hence the name.

      "Buffer overflow" is the more general term that covers most other types of lists besides stacks. (Well, the ones that aren't capable of just finding themselves more space anyway.) The Pokemon example is almost certainly a buffer overflow, not a stack overflow since using a stack for player inventory would actually involve using two stacks and/or juggling your plates. Of course, gameboy games sometimes got a little weird as programmers tried to stuff all the content they wanted into such a constrained system...

  7. Well, he didn't want spoilers, just hints. Telling him that the eltam stuff IS a wand is kind of a spoiler, I think. I would have said, "they use eltam's in the Harry Potter books."

    But that's just me :)

    1. You have a point, though in this case, I think it's more interesting what the wand does.

  8. Eltam seems like an obvious anagram.

    Level caps and grinding both bug me. The best system in my opinion is that used in NWN and Spiderweb games: No level caps, level-dependent experience rewards and no random encounters. It makes deciding which areas to tackle first interesting.

    1. I guess. I wonder if it had an extra "l" in the original German.

    2. Spiderweb have moved to level caps in their recent Avadon games, I don't think it'[s a problem - unless you grind stupidly you'll be close to the end when you cap anyway. I guess the idea is not to trivialise combat, or make characters that can do everything perfectly.

    3. I'm not aware of a single RPG ever made that wouldn't have a level cap. It's really just a matter of how early you hit it.

    4. Although true, it should be made according to the SOFTWARE's limit. If it's according to the GAME, it should have a very, very good reason (Ultima) if the number of levels is low. Else, there really is no mitigating factor to not let it go up to 99, 255 or 999.

    5. I don't see the necessity of enabling infinite grinding. At some point it's fine for the designer to put his foot down and tell the player "No, you're powerful enough already; quit faffing about and beat the game".

      Admittedly that point isn't the middle of the game. Level-up systems are an integral part of the reward structure of any RPG, and reaching the cap effectively eliminates that whole category of rewards. Ideally you shouldn't reach the cap if you play through the game normally, or should reach it at the very end of the game. Demanding Disgaea style level 9999 ceilings in every game as standard practice "just because you could" is nonsense though. You don't put features in a game just because you can, you put them in only if they support what you're trying to do with the game, and most RPGs are not designed for the player to wander around the map endlessly, becoming arbitrarily more powerful even after every challenge left in the game has long since been left behind and the final boss wouldn't handle a single blow from your god-character.

    6. "I'm not aware of a single RPG ever made that wouldn't have a level cap." Looking at my list, I think that level caps are actually an exception. It's possible that some of these games HAD them, but they were high enough that you didn't have to every really worry about them, which is good enough for me.

      "I don't see the necessity of enabling infinite grinding." There's a difference between "infinite" and "as long as I feel it's necessary."

    7. Personally I like how early editions of D&D did it; They used a piecewise defined function for levels. At low levels you got 1 hit die for each level (So a d8 of hit points per level of fighter, for example). However, when you hit a certain point you stopped getting this and got a small, flat amount of hit points. Also, it when from taking a linear amount of HP to level up, to an exponential amount.

      So in an RPG you could easily say "I want the players to finish the game at about 9th level" and set it so that most players will get to 8th - 10th level in the course of play. But they CAN go higher, but there is less and less reward for doing it, without letting you accidentally over level and be totally bored by the boss fight. (HELLLO Skies of Arcadia: Legends.)

      (Yes, I know I'm something like a year behind now)

    8. Yeah, that would be enough. As long as I felt I was making SOME progress, no matter how minor, I wouldn't mind level caps so much.

    9. Oh, another option is to stop you getting more levels in one class, but let you start picking up the levels of another. You won't get much more powerful, but you'll get more well-rounded.

      Another option is let you trade out abilities each 'level' after the cap, so you can unlearn ones you've outgrown and try new things.

  9. Bah, it my reply the first time.

    Anyway, try thinking outside the box with that unicorn. think of things that are like crystals, without specifically being called a crystal. I might be wrong, but maybe not.

    1. I tried shooting gems at it from the staff, if that's what you mean. From what trudodyr says above, it sounds like I'm still missing something.

    2. You need to find the dungeon trudodyr mentioned above. It'll contain the item required to solve the unicorn riddle.

    3. Yes, I found it. Now I'm at the end game, lacking three spells. I'm trying to decide what I want to do, because I really don't feel like randomly exploring dungeons until I find them.

  10. Has any game before this one come across as being so tedious? There have been a few games that obviously were not well-loved, but this one just seems to be dragging on with no joy whatsoever.

    1. I think Chet has become addicted to winning. Bloodwych was similarly long and boring, but without an overworld or towns.

    2. No, Bloodwych was worse. At least Dragonflight lets you into the open air now and then.

      I wouldn't say "no joy whatsoever." I'm trying to be careful in my reviews. As I keep saying--aside from the XP cap thing, which makes my blood boil--Dragonflight offers just enough that's interesting and fun to make the game from being aggressively tedious---at least for the first half. Now that I know I have to explore 4 or 5 more dungeons with no experience rewards, it's crossed the line.

    3. There's a certain danger anyone who reviews or LPs games en masse should be aware of, and that is occupational impatience. For someone who plays for his own amusement, almost no game can ever be too long, since the player is in no hurry to see the ending. A reviewer OTOH is always thinking of his next project, and if a given game is longer than he expected, he will be quick to think of the game just being in his way.

    4. @Anonymous - I might agree with you on other cases but level cap at 60%-65% of the game length? Level Caps are usually made to cater for 90%-110% of the actual game length. Having it occur almost midway is just crazy.

    5. I agree on the point of early level cap, but I'm not discussing it here. I'm speaking of the general design-philosophical matter of game length. I genuinely don't believe that it's possible for a game to be too long. It's possible for a game to be too boring or too repetitive, but never too long; the ideal length of a game is infinite. Having more content is preferable to having less content almost as an axiom. If you can play a game all your life and never see the end of it, that is a magnificent thing, given that it maintains your interest all that time.

      This is from the point of view of a player, of course. Reviewers tend to develop a different mindset, where games are intended for flings, not marriage, and they become unsightly if they don't leave your quarters come the morning.

    6. He did go back to a couple of dungeons that had reset in his absence... That may account for him hitting the level cap so early...

    7. That was just a couple early dungeons. I hit the level cap halfway through the game.

      I simply can't agree on the virtues of an endless game, even if I was a regular player rather than a blogger working my way through a list.

    8. Just wait until they come out with virtual reality games that read a player's mind to build the world and events. Talk about an endless game.

    9. (Different anon here.)

      Speaking as a subclinical-OCD completionist, I strongly disagree that infinite "content" is some sort of ideal state, especially since branching inevitably closes off alternative quests/arcs/endings. Branching is great for choices and consequences, but dammit, I at least want to READ what happens in the other playthroughs.

      Infinite quests have to be AI-generated, which makes them bland and samey "content" -- "kill X", "fetch Y", rinse and repeat. Look at the quest-generation system for Skyrim; it infuriates people like me. There's no way to forestall boredom for long (unless you are twelve with Asperger's, maybe).

      Also, games don't all exist to serve the same hierarchy of values. Awesome content or plotting can mitigate crappy mechanics, but the reverse is equally true. And some games are meant to be played on a casual basis (Freecell, anyone?). If a game does exactly what it set out to do, whatever that might be, it's a success for me. So I'm equally at home with Diplomacy, TRPGs, Minesweeper, Trinity, and NetHack. Depending on my mood, they're all good.

      And consider Star Saga One (yes, that one). It's actually a favorite of mine, mainly for the thousand-page plot. Now, I don't want to play through the thing six times (Chet couldn't even get through once), but I can still read the book text ad lib, so I'm not missing anything. And yet, as good as the content is, not everyone likes Star Saga. So content isn't everything.

    10. FreeCell... that was an old addiction of mine. Once I hit 10,000 games, I called it a day on that one.

  11. Reason that games like pool and baldur's gate have xp caps is because those games use rules made for table top RPG's and unlike in a computer game, you don't charge headlong in to forest and start grinding XP (because your DM/ST would murder you in the spot in RL for trying to muck his campaign).
    Hence gaining XP is way way more slower then in computer RPG as it is I have never had a character that reached higher then lvl 12 or so in years worth of campaign in D&D 3.5 when starting from a lvl 1 (and we do play once a week).

    1. I get that, but the needs of the computer RPG should always be more important than sticking to the literal rules of the source. I don't care how they do it--offer more levels, make it take longer to get to existing levels, change the way in which XP is earned, offer less XP for each enemy, whatever. I realize that TSR didn't allow SSI to do these sorts of things, but I can understand WHY something happens and still criticize the result.

    2. This is one of the reasons why most players choose to dual or multi-class their characters in Gold Box games if they are going to explore the entire game in each series.

      Since you can export your characters, it makes more sense to have them not reaching their full potential in a single game than to send them over to the next game at a lower level than their peers.

    3. TSR required that the rules be identical to the tabletop game or at least near as could be implemented.

      It means that class/race balance is pretty much nonexistent. In the games that let you dual class, dual classing is trivially better than any other strategy.

  12. I thought long and hard about why not change the rules for CRPG and I think it's because we TRPG players (or fans) are very picky about changing rules be it gaining XP, for game balance or what ever.
    However I do agree that on some AD&D titles XP limit is set strangely low, though without random encounters I doubt you would hit XP caps in any of the myriad D&D gold box titles any time soon.

    1. No, Gold Box titles are a notoriously egregious case of level caps set too low. In Gold Box titles you often reach the cap - without conscious grinding - before you even reach the halfway point of the game.

  13. All right, I have seriously had enough of this game. I go to the dungeon in the snow-covered continent, KOLBRALON, and on the second level I encounter an impassable enemy called "Guardians" which kill anyone not wearing a Dragonring in the first round of combat. Only the Staff of Stone will kill them, yet there doesn't seem to be any way to load the staff with more than one gem at a time, and there are multiple Guardians per room. What the hell am I missing?

    1. I haven't played the game, but from some hints the game programmer published in some magazine (and republished on Gung qentba evat lbh sbhaq va gur qhatrba jvyy erfcnja nsgre nobhg guerr ubhef. Ur nyfb erpbzzraqf qbvat gur fbhgu cbyr qhatrba ynfg.

    2. The walkthrough I read said that you need (at least?) three dragonrings. There are four dragonrings in the game. One in the Mortyk dungeon in Dorthannon. One in the hidden dungeon. One you can get in exchange for a piece of Eltam, but the walkthroughs aren't completely clear on this, either in Negame in House 2, or at a collector on Port Pylon. Also, strangely, there is one at the end of the antarctica dungeon. Also, the dragonrings respawn, meaning you can get the one in Mortyk again and again.

    3. It wasn't so much the lack of Dragonrings that had me baffled but rather how to defeat multiple guardians (or statues) when the staff only accommodates one gem at a time. Turns it it accommodates one TYPE of gem, so as long as you have more than one in your inventory, it'll keep reloading in the same battle. You still have to recharge it between battles, and it's very annoying.

      On the Dragonrings, most of the dungeons that have them also have guardians. Your options seem to be 1) wait for the one dungeon that has the ring and NO guardians to re-spawn, multiple times; 2) get through the other dungeons with only one or two living characters.

  14. The level limits in 0D&D come from the race rules for non-human PC's. Since dwarves, elves and Hobbits are ostensibly better than human PC's, level limits were imposed to basically ruin the fun for anyone playing a non human. Those rules were easy enough to ignore at the table.

    1. It was to prevent munchkinism from taking over, which was a big problem even back then. I mean, who would even be a plain-jane human when you could be something special with super abilities?

      It's not like anyone lived long enough to hit the level cap in OD&D anyway. I'm going to go on record and say it never happened (for a PC).

    2. Especially for a magic-user.

    3. "It was to prevent munchkinism from taking over, which was a big problem even back then. I mean, who would even be a plain-jane human when you could be something special with super abilities?"

      Munchkins play D&D to collect ridiculous powers? Say it ain't so!

      TSR & WotC stopped fighting the battle against munchkinism a long, LONG time ago.

    4. "It was to prevent munchkinism from taking over, which was a big problem even back then. I mean, who would even be a plain-jane human when you could be something special with super abilities?"

      Munchkins play D&D to collect ridiculous powers? Say it ain't so!

      TSR & WotC stopped fighting the battle against munchkinism a long, LONG time ago.

  15. RE: The pink cloak thing, you might want to give this program a try. I'm not even colorblind and I think what it does is pretty awesome. According to it, the cloak is an olive color.

  16. I just went through Lemon64's short list of c64 RPGs and noticed two games not on your master list:

    - Ellak's Tomb
    - Twin Mork Valley

    1. All right. I added them. Twin Morg Valley is so obscure I can't even nail down a year for it. 1991 seemed to be a guess.

  17. This comment has nothing to do with Dragonfall, I just wanted to mention it and say a few things about it and the programs on it.

    I have a CD, 'The Ultimate WIZARDRY Archive'. On it is Wizardry 1 thru 7, with the dos version of 7 and the Windows 'GOLD' version of 7. It also has a DEMO of Wizardry 8. It includes, in 1 huge pdf file, all the manuals for all the games. It's... kinda cool, really.

    But after watching you, Chet, play through... #6 is it? I can tell you that I have lost ALL respect for the series, especially 1-thru-5. #6 still seems iffy, #7 might be okay (but after just booting GOLD, not so sure). I know that #8 is pretty AWESOME though having played it on my own before :)

    Having to use characters from game #1 to play #2 AND #3 is insane. Game #4 seemed just- dumb. Game #5 didn't seem much better. Now, for history I imagine they are important. But for playing, ick. M&M is SO much better in every way!

    I am not installing any of the games from this disk, btw :) I DID buy the package from GOG with the first 6 games from M&M though- Installed And Being Played :)

    Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment! :)

    1. Chet also inspired me to play through MM1 for the first time and it was a much better game than I expected. I look forward to MM2 when I have more time. These games are pretty long.But I agree with you: my opinion of Wizardry, and desire to play any game in the series, is pretty low.

    2. I wish I could find my comment on this blog where I announced I was mulling it over, but reading this blog inspired me to do my own sort-of Let's Play of the Elder Scrolls series starting with Morrowind.

      I'd be interested to hear what other people have been inspired to do after reading this blog. While my example may be a bit extreme, it can't be just the three of us that Chet has influenced unknowingly.

    3. I'm actually sorry that my blog made you feel that way. I had criticisms of a number of aspects of the Wizardry series, but overall I feel quite positively about it, especially the first one, where the combination of various game mechanics and permadeath creates a tension you rarely find in RPGs.

    4. I played Wizardry, and I have to say I don't like the tension it creates. Party death is rarely from a bad decision. More often it's a random roll the just decides on, and that kind of luck based instant death with no way to recover just isn't fun (for me).

      As for the blog, after reading the first few entries I realized just how shallow my previous attempt to play all console RPGs had been, and I decided to reboot it, giving more depth to the games. My blog wouldn't exist in its current incarnation (if at all) had I not come across this one. I'd still probably be attempting to play all the games, but less publicly and very little record of the effort.

    5. I don't think you need to feel bad about your blog entries on the early Wizardry games... as far as I could tell, everything you wrote about the Wizardries was accurate. Some people (like me) are just never going to enjoy such unforgiving gameplay.

      Might and Magic can be remorseless, too, but in a far less masochistic way. I would definitely recommend starting with MM1 over Wizardry, if one wants to experience some early CRPGs firsthand.

    6. @Raifield - Since finding this blog while playing Bards Tale I have been inspired to take up the following games:
      The entire Ultima Series (previously only finished 4 and gave up on 7)
      Pool of Radiance
      Tunnels of Doom (The best find as this started it all for me and I could never remember the name of the game)
      Nethack (tried but found out it's not for me)

  18. Regarding Pool of Radiance's level cap: If they were always planning on sequels, and I assume they were, they'd have to dial everybody's XP back at the start of every new game. I know I wouldn't have liked that very much, on several levels. One, because they're taking something away from me, and two, there's be no logical in-game reason for it, or they'd have to invent one.

    Its been many years, but as I recall Pool kept track of XP beyond level... 6, was it? And when you imported to Curse it let you level at that point? So that's something at least.

    1. Decent points, particularly about the cap being on levels rather than experience. Of course, that just ensured that I hit the CotAB level cap faster, though.


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.