Thursday, September 11, 2014

Captive: Final Rating

United Kingdom
Antony Crowther (designer), Mindscape (publisher)
Released 1990 for Amiga and Atari ST; 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 10 August 2014
Date Ended: 8 September 2014
Total Hours: 42
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 36
Ranking at Time of Posting: 109/158 (69%)
Ranking at Game # 431: 322/431 (75%)

Even bad games often have an enjoyable "hook." With Captive, for me, it was the satisfying combination of a burst of blood and an audible clack that accompanies each enemy's death. You get no indication of hit points or damage levels until an enemy dies, so it's almost always something of a surprise when it happens, especially when you've just spent a few minutes engaging the foe in the deadly side-step-turn dance in which one mistyped key can be fatal.

It's no secret that I didn't care for Captive--didn't hate it, just didn't care for it--but there are several ways in which I admire the game, starting with the one above. In few games is seeing an enemy die so satisfying. Another is in the programming that must have gone into the procedural dungeon creation. While this results in dungeon layouts that are overly linear and a bit bland, it's still pretty cool. The complex rules that must have gone into the procedure--no shops too soon, release buttons must always follow closing walls, enemies with clipboards must always precede computers or puzzle doors--execute flawlessly.

The procedural generation also results in a few oddities, however. First, there is no "final battle" in each base--no "big bad" or unique enemy. Given how difficult I found the combats, this was somewhat merciful but also somewhat bland from a story perspective. As we've discussed in the comments, it also means that the puzzles can only be of the most rote sort, such as password-protected computers preceded with clipboards that tell you the password. When generating random dungeons, it's harder (impossible?) to create crafted puzzles that require complex maneuvering, testing, or logical inference, such as Dungeon Master's pressure-plate puzzles or Might & Magic's wall messages.

The puzzles get slightly more complicated as the game goes on, but they always involve a clipboard that tells you the exact answer.
Captive is rightly famous for being the game that never ends. When you finish each mission, you're given the option to continue to the next one, and the whole process starts over. Technically, this process does have an "end," but even the low mission limit on the PC version (256) would take thousands of hours to complete--I estimate about three times as long as every other game I've played as part of this blog--and I would be filled with despair if anyone told me they'd done that. Since your droids continue to get better while the enemy doesn't (you encounter every enemy type in the first mission), it must eventually get boring.

I've been criticized for playing Captive "wrong," by not upgrading weapons fast enough. I maintain that taking this approach is hampered by a) always needing to keep enough cash to repair droids; b) the fact that only like one shop in each base sells weapons; and c) the game documentation not making it clear that the next class of weapons is always a good thing (although this can admittedly be determined with the "AG Scan" device). Contrast this with, say, Fallout: New Vegas, where a player using a handgun at a high skill is going to be more effective than a player using a machine gun at a low skill. 

But I also allow that my own RPG tendencies did hamper my progress. For instance, I have an aversion to purchasing equipment in a game that offers it for free. It's much more satisfying to loot a helm +2 from a dead orc captain than to purchase it in a shop. Since Captive offers copious found melee weapons, super balls, and handguns until all but the final levels, I tended to equip those rather than purchase expensive-but-better weapons in the stores. I also have a weird tendency to try to diversify the types of weapons I equip, perhaps ingrained by RPGs where enemies have weaknesses to different weapon types (which is not the case in Captive). Fallout: New Vegas offers the ability to break down ammo and use the resulting powder and lead to reload empty cartridges, meaning that if you want to go through the entire game with just a .45 pistol, you can still make use of the other handgun ammo that you find. Despite this, I insist on toting around a weapon that makes use of every type of ammo in the game, switching between them as I run out, ensuring that eventually I'll be taking on a swarm of deathclaws with a BB gun--a situation not so different than showing up in the final levels of Captive with magnums. Even after I understood how Captive worked, I insisted on replacing my superior laser pistols with "zlot" shotguns that I'd found, just to diversify my weapon selection.

Note that in this late game shot, I've replaced two of my lasers with inferior "zlot" shotguns just because, I don't know, they were free.
Nonetheless, even doing everything "right," I'd have to ding the game a bit for difficulty. Enemies encountered on the final levels are capable of blasting the droids to scrap, in just a couple of shots, even with upgraded parts and all shields blazing. Repairing droids is so expensive that you're essentially forced to play like a jackass--reloading every time you take significant damage, not just when you die--so you don't go broke and lack the ability to purchase the weapons and ammo that are so important. Yes, pushing through the final base with no weapons until I finally found a shop was satisfying, but it was one moment of satisfaction after endless hours of frustration.

Ultimately, my ambivalent feelings about Captive boil down to it not having enough of the elements that I truly enjoy about RPGs, something that I think will be reflected in the GIMLET:

1. Game World. A missed opportunity. Captive is nominally a sci-fi game that takes place in space, but it really feels more like a standard high fantasy game with sci-fi textures (the same way that Don't Go Alone felt like a standard fantasy game with horror textures). The framing story is essentially unnecessary and its conclusion confusing and uninteresting. In this, I must admit, it captures the spirit of other Dungeon Master clones perfectly. Score: 3. 

The space parts of the game were just time-fillers. They didn't in any way seem to be about traveling through space.

2. Character Creation and Development. "Creation" is limited to assigning names to the droids, which oddly determines their starting attributes. "Development" throughout the game is unsophisticated but still somewhat satisfying, as you spend experience points on skills and get random attribute increases every time you do so. Skill levels not only increase proficiency but unlock new weapons and armor.  It was nice to let a couple hours go by and suddenly realize I had 8,000 experience points to spend. On the downside, there are absolutely no role-playing opportunities, and development stalls in the last couple of bases, when you get paltry rewards for slaying difficult creatures and each new skill purchase costs thousands of points. Score: 4.

One character towards the game's end. I never got to use a "spaygun," and I'm not sure I even want to know what it does.

3. NPC Interaction. There are, alas, no NPCs. Turning the shopkeepers into NPCs would have significantly improved the game, as I'll discuss below. Score: 0.

4. Encounters and Foes. Captive has a variety of foes original to the game, though some clearly based on pop-culture references like Go-bots, Robocop, and Critters. Moreover, they are well-distinguished in power and attributes, such as whether they can shoot missile weapons, what types of damage they do (fire vs. physical), the speed they move, their relative hit points, and whether they can fly. These various characteristics determine the strategies you need to employ to defeat them, which is as it should be. There are no other satisfying "encounters" in the game, with all of its "puzzles" somewhat sophomoric and no role-playing choices. Some level of respawning would also have been welcome, to compensate for poor skill and money selections. Score: 4.

Didn't quite close that door fast enough.
5. Magic and Combat. I have to give Captive a lot of credit for being among a small number of games in which the player really makes use of the physical environment in combat. Between leading enemies in a "fighting retreat" along long corridors, smashing them with doors, laying mines, tricking them into shooting each other, freezing them in place by flooding rooms, and a variety of other tactics I outlined a few days ago, there are a lot of ways for the under-equipped player to (very slowly) whittle down the enemies. I maintain that for most of the game, you essentially must do these things to avoid taking too much damage.

The rest of combat was a little less interesting to me. The game offers Dungeon Master's basic mechanics but without the special attacks and magic system that allowed you to fine-tune attacks and defenses. And in general, I don't like real-time combat unless it's a bit more forgiving. I'm old and clumsy. Score: 5.

6. Equipment. In my opinion, the game's best category. Between weapons, armor (droid parts), devices and optics with special uses, cameras, and mines, you have a lot of options for outfitting characters. This game is (I think) tied with The Keys to Maramon to offer the first mines in RPG history, and I don't recall any previous game offering something as sophisticated as cameras that let you spy on what's happening in other parts of the dungeon--and to detonate them when an enemy approaches. I also liked that you could find limited-use versions of most weapons ("zlots") throughout the game. Considerations of weight (more weight saps more power) and item damage also added to the game's strategy.

Captive leaves it entirely up to the player to figure out what each of the items does and how it works. For instance, you have to purchase and test each "dev-scape" and "optic" to figure out its use, and even then it can be somewhat obscure (does the "Power Sapper" do anything but drain power?). To understand damage levels of each weapon, you have to run the "AG Scan" optic. I don't know any way to determine what ammo each weapon uses without just buying it and trying to reload. While in other games, I might appreciate the extra challenge afforded by all this experimentation, I generally felt Captive was challenging enough. Score: 6.

A late-game inventory illustrates some of the game's diverse equipment, including a dagger, a rifle, a shield, a die (to figure out door combinations), several clipboards with passwords, a battery, gold, three cameras, and several types of melee weapons and handguns.

7. Economy. Well, unlike many games, gold in Captive--as nonsensical as it is--remains valuable all the way to the end of the game, what with the constant need for upgrades, repairs, and ammo-refills. Because I was always on the verge of being broke, I didn't even fully experience all of the devices, weapons, and parts the game had to offer--perhaps the most compelling reason to continue on to Mission #2. Other than that, the economy isn't very sophisticated, and I didn't care for the fact that it was a closed system (since there are no random encounters), nor that you couldn't sell back unneeded ammo or zlots. Score: 5.

8. Quests. The game has a main quest, but it's so bereft of any real story or information that it's hard to regard it as much of anything. Even the final "choice"--whether to end the game with Trill's liberation or let him be re-captured and go on another mission--doesn't really make any sense thematically. No side-quests, no role-playing, not even the satisfaction of a real ending. Score: 2.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. I found the graphics reasonably good for the era--certainly above the "not distractingly bad" threshold I set for full score. Sound is about as good as you might expect for the era, and I definitely found gameplay enhanced with the sound turned on. I liked that the game had redundant mouse/keyboard controls for most things; didn't like that it didn't have keyboard controls for combat actions. Score: 5.

10. Gameplay. I would characterize it as very linear, overly hard, not very replayable, and too long even for the first mission. The ability to keep playing as long as you want is, I suppose, a "good" thing if you like the game, but for me every base offers the same bland experience punctuated with the occasional thrill of dispatching a particularly difficult foe. This is not enough to sustain the 10 bases that the first mission requires, let alone unlimited additional missions. Score: 2.

The final score of 36 puts it just above my "recommended" threshold. I think Captive could have elevated itself to something I truly enjoyed with just a little additional effort, such as a few dialogue options with the shopkeepers offering tips on equipment and foes, a few fixed encounters interspersed with the procedural dungeon creation (would it have been so hard to plug them in for the first mission, at least?), maybe a text screen at the end of each mission, or with each computer hack, that revealed a bit more about Trill and his crimes. Heck, if this story had been any good, I might have been tempted to go on to the second mission just to continue fleshing it out.

Players that don't care much about plots, NPCs, and role-playing choices would probably scale the score up to an equivalent of a 50. I understand if you're one of those players, and I admit the game's mechanics are good for what it does, but even you have to admit that a game purely about mechanics is not what people generally think about when you say "RPG."

MobyGames's review round-up shows that contemporary reviews were all over the place, ranging from 44/100 to 94/100, but each notes its Dungeon Master heritage and suggest that the game appeals most to fans of Dungeon Master-style games, with which I agree if what you like most about Dungeon Master is the real-time combat mechanics.

I always try, often unsuccessfully, to separate my personal enjoyment of a game from my admiration of the development. I didn't like Keef the Thief much, but I thought it was an impressive effort for a couple of teenaged developers. In this case, I think 25-year-old author Antony Crowther deserves a lot of credit for designing the game by himself (apparently after his brother, a Dungeon Master fan, suggested it) in an era in which most single-developer games feel like throwbacks to the early 1980s.

Crowther had been building up experience prior to Captive, as a developer of minor arcade-style games like Bat Attack (1983) and Zig-Zag (1987) and a programmer on several Starlight Software titles like Deathscape (1987) and Dogfight 2187 (1987). Since Captive, he's continued to be active in the gaming field, working most recently for Electronic Arts on the Harry Potter series. His LinkedIn profile currently shows him as a "Technical Consultant" at Sumo Digital, a UK-based game company that seems to specialize in board, sports, and fitness games.

In 1993, while still working for Mindscape, Crowther wrote Liberation: Captive II with a much bigger team. Judging by the screenshots, its a very different game, preserving some of the first game's elements (like a party of four droids and associated equipment) but set in a much less linear world and featuring an actual story. I look forward to giving it a try. We'll encounter Crowther again before then, however, with Knightmare (1991), based on a British children's show, which appears to be yet another Dungeon Master clone but with a simpler interface than Captive.

For now I return to Secret of the Silver Blades, a game so different from Captive that we must marvel that they're considered part of the same genre.


  1. A fair rating. Even though I have a soft spot for Captive, I would also only recommend people to play it for over a couple of hours if they're really into Dungeon Master clones. And I do agree the lack of story building is a big missed opportunity given that peppering a few logs about wouldn't have added much to development costs - neither would proofreading, while we're at it. All that said, I still am shocked at what Crowther achieved here by his lonesome, on the procedural end of things.

    1. This whole thing is more impressive when you realize it is written in assembly language, which is unreadable...even when you write it.Well, its a lot harder than C, lets put it that way.

  2. A small correction: Mission 2 does introduce a single new enemy type, and I can clearly see why said enemy was left out of the "main game" because it's a motherf*er even by standards where everything else in the game is absolutely fair. It's a palette-swapped version of the floating "orb" enemy you've seen earlier, given the same weapon the giant cyborgs have, with more speed, health, and showing up in groups of up to nine. So basically, bad news for pretty much any party.

    (Speaking of palette swaps, that would have been a fairly cheap way to add value to the missions 2-1000: randomly modify some aspect of an enemy and give them a different color to create a "new" enemy type.)

    Also speaking of fairness, I never felt that Captive was particularly unfair - challenging, sure, it demands full attention, but it always gave me the tools I needed in the end. A part of this may be attributable to my youthful reaction speed, but a huge chunk of it really came from the fact that I went through what I assume is the "default" weapon progression, buying new shootbangs as soon as I could find and afford them. This had the effect of turning my play experience into a rollercoaster of the following sort:

    Base 3: "Oh jesus help these R2D2 looking tin cans are ripping me to shreds"
    Base 4: "What's this? I can buy pistols? I shall look into these... 'pistols'"
    Base 6: "Oh god oh christ these floating hovercar things are ripping me to shreds"

    There's a huge satisfaction attached to seeing previously nightmarish enemies become trivial, and Captive's good at providing that with every new round of major acquisitions. It's a huge shame you missed out on that, as it's one of the main charms of the game, and a major reason why it's among my all-time favorites despite admittedly lacking in the department of story, puzzles, et cetera. But, fair's fair. Not everybody needs to like everything.

    I'll be curious to see how you handle Knightmare. It's got a hand-made dungeon this time, and talking NPCs even (not many, but they exist). It's also quite a bit more difficult than Captive. I consider myself something of a connoisseur of DM clones, and Knightmare's challenge level was uncomfortable for me, while Captive was juuuust right.

    - - -

    Power Sapper is just a trap, equivalent of a cursed item. It does nothing but drain your power. More useful devices that we didn't get to see include:

    Deflector (Dev-Scape Super): The most powerful defensive tool in the game, renders you immune to attacks and even bounces back most projectiles, but drains both power and durability so fast that it can't be kept active for more than a few seconds.

    Recharger (Dev-Scape VII): My favorite device of all. When used normally it merely eliminates power drain for a single droid (or slows it down so much that it might as well be eliminated), but if you leave it open and put the droids in sleep mode, it actually recharges your power. If you're patient enough and have access to a safe spot, a single Recharger device effectively eliminates the need for sockets.

    Fixer (Dev-Scape VI): Fixer will regenerate limbs up to 10% condition. Good for saving money on repairs, and useful "first aid" after you've been shot to pieces, as 10% is the threshold of being able to use a hand or move at full speed.

    Vision Corrector (Optic VII): Equivalent of a True Seeing spell. Lets you see through fake walls.

  3. I guess the DM clones will never do really well in the GIMLET system, but you will probably really like the Lands of Lore series, because it's exactly as fleshed out as you desired. I thought the two points in the gameplay section would draw ire, because this is where personal taste becomes important in this case. Some people really like the whole dungeon crawling experience, some people prefer the more holistic approach to RPGs.

  4. I have finally made it to what I think is the last section of Silver Blades. This game does give us a lot to talk about!

    We have to wait until 1991 to find out, but I am curious how Captive will compare to the (first?) FPS cRPG, Ultima Underworld. If I recall, I had to use some similar strategies to defeat certain enemies in that game.

    1. Ultima Underworld isn't very hard as long as you continually focus on improving your combat abilities. The unfortunate thing is that with such a variety of skills it can lead to a difficult late game if you're playing as more of a thief than a warrior, and some skills are borderline useless. Traps and Diplomacy come to mind.

    2. Ultima Underworld isn't very hard, period. The first one at least.

      UUW2 is tricky in the start where it lets you wander into the nests of several enemies that you're grossly underleveled to take on right near the beginning, and the correct play is to run away from most of the first enemies you find. But after that it's easy as pie - until the godforsaken hell that is the Ethereal Void. Whoever thought it would be a great idea to have the final area of the game be a garish, seizure-inducing psychedelic dream maze where your map is disabled, should be... sternly chastised at least. I never beat UUW2 because I couldn't navigate that place.

    3. I wouldn't say UU1 doesn't have some difficult parts. Did you ever try playing as a mage? Most of the game should go smoothly until you get to one area that, without spoiling anything, is quite large and anti-magic. A very rude awakening for pure mage characters, it really comes off as mean-spirited.

  5. I quite liked this game..until I met the first enemy that can blow away the droids in one shot. I simply stopped playing the game at that point because I didnt consider it to be fair anymore.
    If Captive could talk and read this review it would say : "Its a fair cop"

    1. What in the world is unfair about that? Just dodge their attacks. It's easy.

      If you refuse to play a game because it has enemies capable of an instant kill, you have barricaded yourself away from something like 90% of all games made.

    2. What in the world is unfair about that? - the fact that you have no way of knowing this beforehand. The game relying on you learning things by dying and reloading is just plain bad design. The only worse offenders are instakill traps that you even have no way of anticipating.

    3. I'm sorry, but that's total nonsense. It's obvious to anyone that getting hit by enemy attacks is bad for you, that cannot come as a surprise to anybody. It's equally obvious that you can avoid enemy attacks by moving. You're just complaining that the game punishes you too hard for your failure to play it well, even when the game gave you several bases of easy enemies to practice dodging with.

      And like said, almost literally EVERY game that exists has enemies capable of instant kills, including most of the RPGs covered here. Secret of the Silver Blades for example has Remorhaz, which automatically kill your character if they succeed in an attack - and in that game you can't sidestep the attack, you just have to pray it doesn't roll well.

      It seems that some of you are just opposed to the general idea that you are really not supposed to stand still in fights in this or any other DM clone, and that you can't have success if you don't fight mobile because the games are balanced around your mobility and expect you to make full use of it, instead of standing in place and taking the hits like a block of tofu.

    4. Bullshit. There's a huge difference between "getting hit is bad" and "got hit? time to reload, sucker!". The former is mostly a matter of resource management and there can be a variety of situations (I'm not talking specifically about Captive, which I've never played) where you can afford to get hit to reach some other goal. The latter is just the developer being a jerk. Or a dumbfuck. Or both.

    5. If you treat Captive as a game for the hardcore DM audience, then the combat may well be appropriate. If you treat Captive as a game for general consumption, then the combat seems pretty cruel.

    6. "Almost literally EVERY game that exists has enemies capable of instant kills, including most of the RPGs covered here."

      Different games penalize death to radically different degrees. From Final Fantasy, where you can carry around ninety-nine resurrection items and turn death into a minor nuisance, to Rogue-likes where dying ends the game and forces you to start again from the beginning. The quoted sentence may literally be true, but that doesn't mean that resource limitations don't make the situation more frustrating and unpleasant in this game then in many of the others Chet plays.

    7. VK: "Bullshit. There's a huge difference between "getting hit is bad" and "got hit? time to reload, sucker!". The former is mostly a matter of resource management and there can be a variety of situations (I'm not talking specifically about Captive, which I've never played) where you can afford to get hit to reach some other goal. The latter is just the developer being a jerk. Or a dumbfuck. Or both."

      Fascinating. You're throwing a childish feet-stomping tantrum over you being bad at a game you haven't even played. I don't think I have seen that level of scrubbiness before. I'm not sure how to reply to that, other than "get good". If you get hit by an avoidable instant kill attack and die, you are simply bad at the game and it's completely your own fault for being bad, and you need to stop whining and get good. That's it. The game (ANY game) is not required to allow you to be sloppy and make errors, and failure to do so is not unfair in any sense of the word. What IS unfair - and immature - is blaming the game and the designer for your own failures as a player.

      bd: In Captive, death of a droid is a matter of backtracking to the nearest shop (and not even that if you bought spare parts beforehand). And no, losing a few thousand gold does not render you "walking dead". Only way you'd screw yourself over through repair costs is if you get seriously hurt in every fight you walk into, and if you do, let's be honest here - do you think you deserve to progress in the game at that point? A player who gets hurt in every fight is like a student who answers every question on the exam wrong. That's a failing grade no matter how you look at it.

    8. I think that making One-Shot-Killers is lazy game design. Its much easier (and far less original) to create an opponent that kills you with one shot, than one that is difficult to beat, but has "fair" weapons. I would also add that for me is much less interesting to fight such a killer: Such a killer relies on you playing flawless - one mistake and youre dead. Its far more interesting if you are allowed to make mistakes, but have to find a strategy to beat this particular foe. A strategy that goes beyond the steps that you always so (but just flawless). Captives opponents do require (slightly) different strategies, but these killers dont: You use the same strategies, but you have to execute them flawlessly.

      I compare that to D&D (RPG) or Dungeon Master: Rustmonster or thiefes steal your stuff, allowing the other monsters to beat you - more interesting. Gelantius Cubes or Golems cannot be beaten by fire (or magic) - different tactic than -say- the black flames in Dungeon master, that have to be beaten by magic and grow back. Etc. While a lot of monsters in DM can be killed by standard tactics, a lot of them require different strategies. But that required a lot of creativity and (I suspect) playtesting.

    9. I'm not throwing a tantrum over a game I haven't played (and couldn't care less about), I'm just expressing (perhaps too emotionally) my disdain towards a game design practice that I sincerely loathe. For a more calm and constructive take on the matter see Peer's comment above, with which I wholly agree.

    10. RPGs aside, I'm reminded of action games. In the 80s, it's totally natural to die in a single hit (Super Mario Bros, Pacman & etc.) for action games. It's basically a test on your manual dexterity over strategic planning.

      I think what peeves the crowd is this game bringing in the hardcore cruelty of such games into an RPG. A decent RPG should:

      1) Make combat more reliant of the attributes of the character; not the player.
      2) If the character is supposed to be at a certain point facing a certain boss-level enemy/challenge, he/she should be strong enough to- at least- be able to stand toe-to-toe against it.
      3) If there are instant-kill traps/puzzles, there must be hints somewhere to avoid/disarm them.

      Failing to accomplish any of the 3 is just the creator being an evil asshole or trying to pad the game's length by forcing the player to replay portions of the game over and over again.

      On that note, I'm currently playing an action game called Bionic Commando Rearmed (there's a life bar!). I played the original Bionic Commando on the NES more than 2.5 decades ago and it was a lot more unforgiving (1-shot-skills!).

    11. I agree with Kenny and Id like to add: In an action/dexterity game like PacMan the whole point is to hold on as long as you can, but you die eventually.
      A RPG on the other hand normally has a clear goal and fighting enemys are just a mean to that end. Its not the main purpose of the game. By making me repeat fights until I get them right is turning a game into a chore. and thats when things turn sour. Its just not what makes RPGs (of Ego shooters for that matter) interesting. Its just a cheap way of increasing the difficulty of a game without making it more interesting. Its akin of giving a opponent in a real-time-strategy (say) just more speed or ressouces instead of making him smarter.
      Plus: To be honest what I really like is the tension of a fight: Can I come back and beat him? Does he has something up his sleeve? A one-hit-killer does not create this tension; either Im dead or I win.

    12. I don't know... One of my most enjoyable videogame, System Shock 2, an "action rpg", I think in the same vein of Dungeon Master or Ultima Underworld, has a lot of one-hit-killer encounters that bring the tension and immersion very high. I think it is a very delicate craft to be able to put effectively a very high difficulty, functional to the immersion and atmosphere, but it is possible. Another game that succeed in a similar effort was Thief (the 1999 one, not an rpg).

    13. Strange, maybe my memory of SS2 is fuzzy, but I don't remember any enemies that could outright one-hit you there, at least if you were healthy and prepared and didn't screw up your build. There were difficult enemies but they were difficult in a fair way, allowing for a variety of tactics to deal with them. Not to mention that SS2 allowed for playstyles that didn't require a lot of direct confrontations.

    14. Instant-kill attacks have a place in an RPG if used properly. The nice thing about instant-kill attacks in an RPG is that they can be completely independent of your character power, meaning that a given encounter can't simply be powered through. Just as an example, in FF8 it is actually quite easy to become extremely powerful just by utilizing in-game advice, so (ROT13'd from here because the game is on the Addict's play list, although he won't get to it for a very long time) gur Obahf Obff Bzrtn jrncba jbhyq or n chfubire jvgubhg gur vafgnag-xvyy Yvtug Cvyyne nggnpx (juvpu sbeprf lbh gb fcraq na npgvba erivivat gur qrnq punenpgre) be gur 1-yrff-guna-znk-qnzntr-gb-nyy-punenpgref Zrtvqqb Synzr (juvpu erdhverf lbh gb fcraq n srj npgvbaf gb shyyl urny fb gung gur cnegl vfa'g jvcrq bhg ol gur arkg nggnpx. Guvf xrrcf lbh sebz tbvat nyy-bhg bssrafviryl naq zbccvat gur sybbe jvgu gur obff hayrff lbh'ir tbar gb fvtavsvpnag rssbeg gb bognva gur irel ener Ubyl Jne (znxrf rirelbar vaivapvoyr sbe n irel fubeg gvzr) be Ubyl Jne Gevny (fnzr, ohg gb bar punenpgre) vgrzf (juvpu pna, VVEP, bayl or bognvarq ivn gur Cbpxrgfgngvba Pupbpbob tnzr (vagrtengrq vagb gur CP irefvba) be ol ersvavat n uneq-gb-trg pneq jba va gur pneq tnzr).

      Of course, in this particular example, ressurection is cheap and easy, so the only real effect is disrupting the action economy. Even then, outside of bosses and certain random encounters that are intended to function almost as minibosses, such attacks are generally defendable. When they're on almost every random fight, and it is a huge hassle and expense to ressurect a lost character, that is when you have a problem.

    15. Did Mega Man feature one-hit kills? (Other than falling off ledges)

      Neither VK nor MOZA is 'right', they just have different preferences. One woman's unfair fight is another woman's saturday evening stroll, as they say.

      Games generally have a difficulty demographic, and if you are not of that demographic, you probably won't enjoy the game much.

      A poorly balanced game is one where difficulty spikes or plateaus such that a player wants to change difficulty settings mid-game.

      My example is one I consider a masterpiece of RPGs, KotOR. There are several fights in the early to mid game that a player can find legitimately difficult, (the first boss is a ratbag) but from about the 50% mark, the entire game is a cakewalk (even on the hard setting).

    16. The thing is... Is this f*cking game an Action RPG? Can that Instant Kill be warded with Saving Throws because of your character's own attributes? No? Then f*ck this game and let's get on with the next one.

    17. I'm about to borrow some tabletop RPG terms for a minute, but you all should get my drift.

      Obvious facts: Some people are DEX monsters, some people are INT monsters, some people are CHA monsters, and so on. People like games that they are good at and dislike games that they are bad at. Certain games are geared specifically to challenge certain types of people, and the designers and players of such games shouldn't care that nobody else likes the games in question.

      Now, I think of myself as an INT monster, and I choose to play (or not play) certain games accordingly. I've played a fair number of mass-market platformers and acquitted myself honorably (note that they were mass-market, not hard-core). But I don't adore them, because they don't stimulate me in the ways that I care about. If I want nail-biting tension, I get it from games like NetHack, where I have to carefully rack my brains if I want to survive, and there's never the "WTF just happened?!" problem.

      You can claim till the cows come home that DM clones require brains too, but you can't deny that, all things being equal, difficult turn-based games will ALWAYS provide higher-order mental challenges than anything time-sensitive. I care about time-insensitive challenges, because I am not a reflex monster. Which is fine, and should not upset anyone.

      But if anyone dares to tell me that I am at fault for this, or that I ought to "get good" or else shut up, or that I have no standing to make any critique, then my first thought is "Your rhetoric oppresses me." What I think of next is too profane and vicious to write here.

      So you might want to rethink your sneering attitude.

    18. >>You can claim till the cows come home that DM clones require brains too, but you can't deny that, all things being equal, difficult turn-based games will ALWAYS provide higher-order mental challenges than anything time-sensitive.

      Well, intelligence is defined as brain output per time, so that isn't a real argument unless your dexterity is so low that you can't bring your thoughts into the game. In that case that's surely frustrating. But to be honest, I don't see that in DM which has a great interface and helps you playing bihanded. Not sure about Captive, though.

      >>a strategy game like Civilization or Simcity, even though I usually find those too slow and complicated.

      You can play Civilization quite quickly, it usually takes me about 3-4 hours per session of Civ 4/BtS, ended in a tank war (and I could be faster). There is a useful speed gaming guide by TMIT at the civaddicts board. That requires a lot of organization (setting reminders, using signs/waypoints/production queues, etc.), quick decission making and a profound knowledge of the game, but increases the fun a lot since you have more success/time. Also you get more experience with Civ and don't lose your strategy too easy by being distracted with micromanagement and tactics.
      That mainly works for Civ 4 and helps you handling the "specialities" of this game (lots of cities, large stacks of armies) very well. Not too sure about Civ 5, never played that since my brain isn't wired for hexagons.

    19. "intelligence is defined as brain output per time"


    20. @Bioware:

      I never said that I play only one kind of computer game. I tend to play CRPGs, text adventures, 4X/war games, nostalgic favorites (including console games), and "revenge games" (that is, stuff that I could never beat as a kid, or that I knew of, but never got around to buying back then; these come in all kinds of genres). The non-computerized games that I play are mostly TRPGs and Diplomacy. Other kinds of games tend not to have a high enough fun-per-minute rate for me to bother with them. It's not that I'm BAD at them necessarily, but they don't do it for me. I have no fear of burning out on what I do play.

      I acknowledge that action games can feature the kind of tension that you described, but turn-based games can feature the very same thing.

      As for save bottlenecks, my sense of the majority of JRPGs is that they are so pathetically easy that saving at inns (or whatever) is barely a challenge. But as bd and Noman noted earlier in this thread, instakills are trivial when the tactics are dead simple ("This screen has a fire monster, so I'll use cold attacks and buff my fire resistance" -- yawn) and cheesy resurrections are commonplace. Save restrictions are likewise trivial under such circumstances.


      I didn't deny that DM clones require some intelligence. By all accounts, the original Dungeon Master was the pick of the litter, partly because it incorporated great depth of play, including hundreds of little puzzles. This is partly because you get occasional breathing space wherein you have the luxury of avoiding continual random encounters from wandering monsters etc. (You get the same sort of respite in certain areas of Wizardry IV, NetHack, Dark Heart of Uukrul, Bloodstone, Gold Boxes, etc.)

      But note that I said "HIGHER-ORDER mental challenges". You yourself said that the individual puzzles in DM aren't horribly tough, but they enliven the proceedings by giving you something a little different to do, with a ding of satisfaction whenever you solve one. But as I said, fiendishly difficult puzzles are the hallmark of time-insensitive games (e.g. chess in its standard form). I happen to like those -- not because my dexterity and reflexes are garbage-stat level, but because those aren't my prime attributes. (For what it's worth, I've beaten Minesweeper on Expert level in 99 seconds or less, several times; so I'm hardly a klutz.)

      I'm not saying that DM clones just plain suck, tout court. But people are entitled to say that they don't much enjoy them, without getting treated like inferiors by fanboys. If someone says, "This is not the kind of game that I enjoy, for reasons X, Y, and Z", then there's no point arguing. But if someone says, "This game is fit only for sub-Epsilon morons" or "limp-wristed pencil-necked nerds" or "twitchy freaks on crystal meth", then it's appropriate to be indignant. Likewise, if someone says, "You just don't like this game because you're a [mouth-breather, or whatever]", then they should be smacked down.

      By the way, I love hexmaps. They're the gold standard for wargames, and I'm glad that Civ made the conversion. I'd love to see more CRPGs with hextiles.

  6. Well, Dungeon Master didn't have much of a story, either. It was all combat and puzzles with not a word said about Lord Order until he blasts you if you take the Firestaff to him instead of continuing the game. Sure, the book, but in my mind those don't really count because half the time they're written after the game was done.

    We're in the MIDI music era now. Games benefit greatly from selecting Roland MT-32 or other MIDI device instead of the booping bleeping Soundblaster. Here's how to get it running under DOSbox. I did it, it's not hard at all. The short version:

    1) download and install MIDI emulator "munt", it runs in the Windows system tray.
    2) The ROM files - they're actually legal! The EFF took the company to school in court.
    3) change one line in dosbox.conf
    4) tell the game's INSTALL.EXE or SETUP.EXE to use Roland.

    Easy peasy and games sound a TON better. 1990 was when it started to be widely supported. Every game I've tried it on is just plain better.

    Here's how to do a lot of other cool things with DOSbox.

    1. Someone just put out a recording of the X-Com sound track on the MT-32. WOW does that sound better. I'm tempted to put it in my OpenXcom install it sounds so good
      ) I'm going to give to updated Cydonia's Fall files a chance first though.

    2. You mean the Microprose one or the 2K one?

    3. I'm not sure the 2k release has MT-32 support ;)

    4. You don't know! There are people out there who enshrines the first Macintosh like a Mother Mary statuette! The lengths that people will go through to make sh!t like this happen! You just don't know!

    5. X-COM: Alien Invasion, the first one. There is an Open Source engine rewrite that copies the data out of your install file (Automatically if you use steam, with a little work otherwise) and adds a bunch of gameplay improvements. One of them is you can put in your own music. Someone recorded the original music playing on an actual bit of MT-32 hardware so you can put that into the game.

      This has just about every sound card you can imagine playing the music, the MT-32 recording, the inspired-by music Cydonia's Fall, and all the console versions:

    6. See? There's always some game devotees who would go to insane lengths to make weird stuff happen!

      What next? A real Shadowrun Cyberdeck? Oh wait... there already is one!

  7. You said that the economy is a closed system, does this apply to the dinosaurs outside the bases as well? Don't they respawn?

    1. I'm pretty sure the dinosaurs respawn infinitely. There are no electric sockets on the topside, but a Recharger takes care of that. The main thing limiting grinding on them is sheer tedium; they're weak, and the rewards are low. Still, it is an option for people who are completely stuck.

      There are five types of dinosaurs (Brontosaurus, Compsognathus, Stegosaurus, Pteranodon, T-Rex). I don't remember if the stronger ones drop significantly more gold or not, but if they do, it might be viable to land on different planets until you find one that has a lot of T-Rexes and grind there. Don't know - I never felt the need to grind in this game.

    2. As MOZA says, the dinosaurs are too infrequent and the rewards too low for me to regard it as a valid option for grinding, especially where you have to waste ammo (or take damage) fighting them. Nonetheless, technically speaking they ARE something of an option, and in that sense I'm wrong about the economy being completely closed--just functionally so.

      I generally agree with MOZA about grinding, at least when it comes to skills and experience. I think a player who a) is as klutzy and slow to respond as I am; and b) who plays straight, without reloading every time he takes significant damage would face a very difficult game, financially, unless he bought the "Fixer" early on (I'm not sure where it first appears) and was willing to explore/fight at 10% for much of the game.

  8. Just beat Silver Blades! And just in time, too. I was hoping I'd get it done before your next post to avoid spoilers.

    Not a bad game, certainly much better than its reputation barring a pacing problem in the first quarter or so. I look forward to discussing it as you get farther into the game.

    1. I should have a less busy week coming up, and I hope to get back into it. Congratulations on your victory.

  9. I did some play testing on dragon strike to refresh my memories and I ran in to a series of problems.
    1) WHdload installer doesn't seem to work or at least the one I found doesn't, so safe bet is to find original disk images which is what I did and used the installer from the discs.
    2) If you run the game on anything but a bog standard A500 the game will crash if you attempt use a secondary breath weapon from the dragon but ...
    3) using a bog standard A500 speed makes the game run like a molasses and it also seems to mess up the keyboard controls ie. numpad keys not responding etc.

    So something something somewhere glitches up but haven't found out what exactly.
    Odd part is that I used to play this on my A1200 without problems so it might something simple or something more complicated such cracking method used to break copy protection.
    Main difference is that I had the original game back with an original A1200 (though my A1200 also had all the bells and whistles ie. CD-rom drive, 68060 board, 56k modem, HD, 16megabytes of fast ram, the works).

    1. Why not go DOS with Dragon Strike? From mobygames screenshots it seems to be vga and we're in the era of sound blaster. Is it markedly worse in some other way on PC?

    2. Well aside from some idiot making originally green shaded 3D hills as white and red and having terrible sounds PC and Amiga versions seem pretty much the same.
      I got the game to run without crashing as long as you run KS 1.3 and 68000.
      The keyboard issue is something I haven't figured out yet but I think that it's a winUAE configuration issue.

    3. I appreciate the background investigation, Petri. I'll spend a minute trying both versions before I settle on one. Without the stuff you found out, I probably would have given up on WinUAE early.

    4. The colors look right here to me, am I missing something?

    5. In DOS version (and in some other videos as well) that I played hills were white & red, might actually be a driver or version issue instead of a bug.


  10. This crash can't be avoided like that but you can avoid the crash by simply not using the secondary attack but that would be playing the game pretty much hard core because some of the enemies you face are immune to your primary attacks and that particular mission can also be skipped in the game as it's is a part of a crossroads in story line but that aforementioned bug would still be there.

  11. Heh. This is funny. I have the exact opposite disposition to loot. I always try to buy the best weapon and armor I can find, while I often sell everything I find without really looking at it.

    This method of course has it's own drawbacks.

  12. Short review with guide and walkthroug found in polish game magazine Gambler #2 01/1994.
    Graphic: 80%. Audio: 75%, Playability: 85%, Concept: 90%, Overall: 85%. Atari ST version.

    We can learn that Captive is one of the best games in it's genre with good graphic, nice sound and interesting plot. Author praises game's s-f world for not using typical AD&D shell.


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