Monday, April 6, 2015

Tunnels & Trolls: Won!* (with Final Rating)

I'm sending that postcard. New World had better send me a freaking certificate for this one.

Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan
United States
New World Computing (developer and publisher)
Released 1990 for DOS
Date Started: 22 March 2014
Date Ended: 5 April 2015
Total Hours: 41
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 46
Ranking at Time of Posting: 154/181 (85%)
Ranking at Game #431: 386/431 (90%)

I was in the midst of starting over when a thought occurred to me: what if instead of basing the enemy difficulty on the maximum character level, the game used something like the average character level, and what if it reads a dead character as Level 0 instead of excluding him from the calculation entirely? I reloaded with my original party, deliberately got Stahr killed in some random combat, and progressed forward. Sure enough, where I'd faced 12 dragons or 12 cave bears before, I now faced 7 hobgoblins. The resulting corridor was still hard, but not nearly as hard as before, and I was able to limp through it to the endgame.

At the end of the corridor, I was teleported to Khazan's tomb, where I had the option to place the Demon's Eye in either of his statue's eyes or on his forehead. The "forehead" solution seemed a little odd, but putting it in either the right or left eye would have violated symmetry, so I chose the forehead and was congratulated by Khazan.

Why, thank you.

In the next room, I found another statue of Khazan. His staff, which I had previously recovered from the depths of a sea goddess's temple, began shouting to be returned to him. I put it in his hands. Then I had to run around a series of six squares and recite passwords I'd gotten from a ghost ship.

Khazan woke up, said he'd get started on "enforcing the treaty between the Death Empress and myself" and named me "Crusaders of Khazan!"

I rather thought we were already.

Kind of a pathetic ending. Empress Lerotra'hh and Khara Kang are still going to be around; they'll just have Khazan checking and balancing them. Anyway, Khazan zapped me back to Gull with enough experience points to rise three levels, and the game let me keep playing if I wanted to.

Oh, no. I learned my lesson on leveling up.

In total, a slightly unsatisfying conclusion to an unsatisfying game. There are some strengths to Crusaders of Khazan, which will come out in the GIMLET, but the fusion of literal gamebook text with a CRPG frame is something I hope we don't see again.

Let's see how it rates:

1. Game World. Tunnels & Trolls is somewhat famous for offering little in terms of a game world and back story, saying only that it takes place in "a world somewhat but not exactly similar to Tolkien's Middle Earth." The computer game had to assemble a world from a large variety of gamebooks, and none of it holds together very well, with numerous inconsistencies in themes and lore. Although some encounters reference previous decisions, most of what you find in the world is stand-alone text encounters. While the backstory offers a relatively clear mission, a lot of the game world seems to have nothing to do with it with references to Khazan and Lerotra'hh uncomfortably shoehorned into the text that the developers were adapting from gamebooks. Oh, it's still better than a lot of games of the era, but certainly not up to New World's usual standards. Score: 5.

2. Character Creation and Development. The races and classes don't offer much more than a typical D&D derivative, and I really don't like Tunnels & Trolls's approach to character attributes, by which what's "high" or "low" depends a lot on the attribute itself (e.g., 20 is a very high speed but a somewhat miserable luck score), and by which damage comes directly out of "Constitution" and spell points come directly out of "Strength." I also don't like that the attributes seemed to go up and down randomly in the game, even when they weren't cursed. Finally, the fact that the game punishes characters for leveling is simply unsupportable. Nothing is good about T&T's system. Even the character portraits are ugly. One redeeming feature: some dialogues, quests, and items are tied to race and sex, so different parties face slightly different games. Score: 4.

Only in this game is this an occasion for cursing.
3. NPC Interaction. "NPCs" don't really exist as interactive things in the game. They show up as part of encounters, but in such cases you just visit them once and then never hear from them again. There are no particularly notable personalities in the game, and most encounter dialogue is goofy. It's interesting that you can recruit some NPCs to join you in guilds, I guess to replace dead characters, but I'd rather just reload and keep developing the characters I made. Score: 4.

One of the few places in the game where you can ask questions directly of an NPC; in this case, an imprisoned demon.

4. Encounters and Foes. When I first started playing the game, I thought this category would rank very high. Oh, I suppose it still will. After all, this is one of only a few games of the era to offer such a variety of encounters in which the characters have real options for solving them. The problems are, as I've covered extensively, first that the encounters are too literally drawn from gamebooks, and second that the options aren't really role-playing options, or even logical choices to solve puzzles. In almost all cases, there's no way to predict which choice will lead to a positive outcome to an encounter.

And--it's hard to believe I'm saying this--there are just too many of them. You're trying to just get a damned dungeon mapped, and every two squares you have to read a wall of text, make some arbitrary choice, and half the time get yanked from wherever you are and deposited unceremoniously somewhere else. Finally, since the main plot depends so much on successful outcomes to a handful of encounters, you basically have to "encounter scum" to win the game.

As for foes, they're neither horrible nor great. Like any RPG, they have various strengths and weaknesses, and a few combats thus require special tactics. Score: 6.
Option 5 is evil and if you choose Option 6 you're just a cad, but none of the rest can be discerned by logic or role-playing.

5. Magic and Combat. I generally like the approach taken by Crusaders of Khazan to combat: a separate screen on which the party can plot tactics and (occasionally) use elements of the environment to their favor. Auto-combat is a welcome option even if I hardly ever used it. In execution, combat has a couple of problems--primarily that enemies seem either incapable of hitting you at all or, on the rare occasion that they do connect, killing you in one hit. Late game combats, especially, become a game of "quick draw" by which the side that goes first absolutely obliterates the other side.

The magic system is nothing special: a variety of spells with silly names (so you constantly have to refer to the manual to remember what they do) organized by level. A few of them are quite necessary to survive in the game and offer some important combat tactics. As we'll see in "Economy," I didn't have a chance to explore all the spells. Score: 5.

6. Equipment. A mixed bag. You find a lot of items over the course of your adventures, and it's often hard to tell what's a plot item and what's just a general piece of gear. The identification system, by which you pay a mage to tell you all about the item, is pretty good. The weird thing, at least by conventions of most RPGs, is the lack of enchanted weapons and armor. About 50% of the gear that my characters wore and wielded at the end of the game were the same things I bought in the shops of the first town. Score: 4.

One of the few magical weapons I found in the game.
7. Economy. This is a strong aspect of the game that I didn't cover in detail during the postings. You get money from combats and quest rewards, but most of it comes from finding gems and jewelry that you then sell to special shops. You can never have enough money. Between food, ammunition, ships, healing, and replacement equipment, you bleed money as fast as you earn it. A couple of the towns have beggars, and by god you'd better pay them, or you might see half your gold evaporate from thievery.

The most expensive commodity in the game is spells. Some of the higher-level ones cost tens of thousands of gold pieces, and I never even came close to being able to purchase all of them. In some ways, that's too bad, but in general I like an economy where you never run out of reasons to make money, just like in real life. Score: 7.
8. Quests. The main quest was a little nonsensical at times, but the game does, at least, have one. More important, New World is one of the few developers of the era that truly understands the concept of "side quests" and their importance to RPGs. We've seen a few in the "Gold Box" titles and an occasional focus on them in Interplay's games, but they're far from the norm, and more than 75% of the games I've played so far have rated 5 or less in this category for that reason. That said, none of Crusaders of Khazan's side quests are particularly compelling--most are inseparable from "Encounters"--so there's still work to be done. Moreover, Khazan doesn't offer many opportunities for role-playing in its quests, nor any alternate outcomes in the main quest. Score: 6.

I'm glad I didn't choose "put it out of its misery," but I frankly don't know what the horse god's blessing actually did for me.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The graphics in this game are godawful. I've criticized Khazan for putting too much text on the screen, but in some ways, I think they should have gone to all text. You can't tell what half the stuff on-screen is supposed to be, and even the cut-scene graphics are tiny and poorly-composed. Neither is the sound anything to sing about. The interface, on the other hand, is okay. Not great, but okay. The redundant keyboard and mouse controls work pretty well, and there's generally some on-screen hint as to your options. Score: 2.

10. Gameplay. Khazan deserves credit for highly non-linear gameplay (such that you can blunder into the endgame tasks in the wrong order!). Its non-linearity, the varying difficulty associated with different classes and races, and the different encounter options make the game fairly replayable. It's a little long, but not horribly so. Where it really falls apart is in the "difficulty" item. Combats are punishingly hard through most of the game, and they get progressively worse as you level up. Score: 6.

The total is 49, but I'm subtracting 3 points for all the bugs and dead-ends, resulting in a final rating of 46.

Normally, I regard the space between 35 and 50 as "I recommend you check it out, but it's not really what I'd call 'good,'" so basically that works. Nonetheless, I don't think a consideration of the individual categories really gives the proper sense of playing Crusaders of Khazan. Generally speaking, if a game is going to top 40 in my score, it's good enough that I don't want to stop playing. With Khazan...just imagine that you're trying to clear a map. A map of ugly colors that make it hard to tell what the terrain is actually supposed to be. You step on some random square and a text encounter appears saying you've been captured by an orc patrol. This happens no matter how powerful your characters because it's scripted like a gamebook. You're whisked to some dungeon where your party is forced to work the sulfur mines. Eventually, you escape, but every third step, without any warning of means of prevention, you step into a pocket of gas and two of your characters die. You have to keep reloading.

Eventually, you come to a chamber where a bunch of orcs are having dinner. One of them invites your party to join them. Since you were just their slaves and are trying to escape, you think this is a bad idea and decline. A text box tells you that the orcs, offended at your refusal, recapture you (again, there's no chance for your party, no matter how powerful, to shrug off this event) and you're back in the mines. You reload and counterintuitively join them for dinner. One of them asks you if you want the bread or the fish. You eat the bread and a character dies. You reload and choose the fish and it says that you "choke and gag" on a fishbone but everything otherwise seems okay. Later, you realize that your "Constitution" score is 3 points below normal and it never seems to heal all the way to the maximum.

Moving past the room, you find yourself in the chambers of the king of the mines, Lord Bozo. You cringe at the stupid name. His guards attack you and you kill them in a single round without taking any damage. Then Lord Bozo attacks. His speed is higher than yours, so he gets to go first, and he clobbers your mage to death before you can act. In the next round, he kills your rogue. Annoyed, you reload. You try to prepare for the next combat by quaffing some potions that purport to increase your attributes, but they don't actually go up. Lord Bozo kills you again.

You spend the next four hours grinding your characters in the mines so that you'll get strong enough to defeat Lord Bozo. You take him on again, and this time he has twice the hit points as before, and he kills all four of your characters in the first round. You stare at the "game over" screen and wonder what you're doing with your life.

That's what it's like to play Crusaders of Khazan.

Do you change the position of a lever? Yes! Nothing happens! Do open a curtain! Yes! You're automatically turned to stone!

I'm gratified to find my experience echoed in reviews. Oh, Dragon loved it, of course. Five out of five stars. Someone at that magazine, 'round about 1983, said, "Holy @$&%, guys! Look at this! A role-playing game on a computer!!" and got stuck on that note all the way into the mid-1990s.

But the February 1991 issue of Computer Gaming World had dual reviews from both Scorpia and G. Marc Clupper. (They said basically the same things, so I'm not sure why the magazine decided to go with a "two views" format.) They both note the weirdness caused by the out-sourcing of the programming to Japanese developers, and they both make the point that it didn't live up to New World's usual standards. Clupper's "it could have been so much more" echoes Scorpia's "Tunnels & Trolls could have been a good game."

Scorpia gives this rundown of the history:

[Tunnels & Trolls]...became popular in Japan and, as a result, the Japanese requested a computer version. Liz Danforth, who had prior CRPG design experience...and had worked with Ken [St. Andre] on the revisions of the original T&T system, did the initial design for the computer game.

The material was then sent overseas. The Japanese translated the text, and did all of the programming. After its release in Japan, the game made its way back to New World Computing, where it was re-translated into English, and released in the U.S. During all this, there was no communication at all between the designers and the programmers.

Scorpia's review reminded me--because I stretched out playing so long, I hadn't been thinking about it--of how many "clues" appear in the game that ultimately lead nowhere or turn out not to be true, such as one involving the need for the "Teacher" spell to defeat Khara Kang, or another that suggests you must have a female dwarf in the party. She also confirms my perception that:

Much of the design was taken from individual T&T scenario books and woven into one complete adventure. Ergo, the plotline and events are not as tightly constructed as they could have been, and the bugs make it much worse.

Scorpia concludes that she "can't, alas, recommend this to anyone" except hardcore T&T fans. I don't go quite that far. It's an interesting take on a CRPG with elements that we haven't seen before. I'd recommend it to both hardcore T&T fans and students of CRPG history. If you're not one of those, load up a Gold Box title.

None of this ended up having anything to do with anything.
I should note that New World published a pretty long cluebook for this one. The Museum of Computer Adventure Game History has it for download [59MB]. (I can't get over how great that site is; they even take the time to OCR the text so you can search it.) I consulted it for a couple of the late-game maps and I found it remarkably inept--almost as if it was designed by someone who didn't have the game in front of him. The book annotates only about half of the encounters on any given map, and there are no actual numbers on the maps to correspond with the text description of the encounters. In places, it tells you what item or artifact you need to solve an encounter, but nowhere else in the book does it tell you where to find that item. It's like when it came to Tunnels & Trolls, the company couldn't do a damned thing right.

We're not going to hold it against New World, though. Everyone's entitled to an occasional screw-up. They published King's Bounty the same year, and in 1991, we're going to get Might & Magic III. I'd rather get two great games and one flawed one than three mediocre ones.

With apologies for readers eagerly awaiting Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, I've re-elevated Wraith to the next game, since I've already played it. I won't have much time in the next week, and I want to have a block of uninterrupted time for The Savage Empire. I also kicked Flight from the Dark down a couple notches because I'm waiting for the book version to be delivered. Up next, then: a couple of early John Carmack games.


  1. "The material was then sent overseas. The Japanese translated the text, and did all of the programming. After its release in Japan, the game made its way back to New World Computing, where it was re-translated into English, and released in the U.S. During all this, there was no communication at all between the designers and the programmers."

    That makes we wonder whether there were actually some clues in the original materials regarding how to play encounters in which you seemingly have to choose at random, but they got lost in the above game of Chinese (or rather, Japanese) Whispers.

    1. My guess is that there wasn't. I think the bigger problem was the too-literal adaptation from gamebooks. Gamebooks are famous for these kinds of choices, with limited role-playing and random outcomes, partly because the consequences are less severe.

    2. I have to wonder how many gamebooks made a sudden trip to the nearest wall. I only read/played the Lone Wolf series of gamebooks and I don't recall any particular unfairness, though starting from the earlier books conveyed a massive advantage in the later ones unless you "cheated" and pretended to have equipment you didn't have.

    3. One of my LW books had a pretty bad typo, in which the effects of having max Nexus and no Nexus were switched. That was a bit awkward.

      One of my FF books had you start as a kid with d6 skill only, and one of the first encounters was with a 12sk 6st monster. The author later stated that it was supposed to be 6sk 6st, which would still be pretty damn brutal unless you rolled a 5 or a 6 for your skill (and even then could kill you, given you only had 2d6 stamina yourself)

    4. Most gamebooks had about 300-400 sections, so the number of insta-kill choices and length of a dead man walking scenarios is limited in the books. Save-scumming was as easy as just going back to the previous section. However, the Tunnels & Trolls CRPG combined so many gamebooks into one narrative that it just exacerbates these situations both in frequency and severity.

      I remember the early Lone Wolf books being among the better gamebooks in this regards, although I think they tended to have more instant deaths in the later books. I never managed to complete the FF book where you were a spaceship captain given how many walking dead scenarios were in that book.

    5. Vonotar, I think your first paragraph says it perfectly.

    6. Oh, great... now we have Vonotar here as well? Where's Grey Star when you need him?

      By the way, I remember some game books where the illustrations are window views of a spaceship that the reader is piloting. You could steer the vehicle or look through the left/right/front/rear window by turning to a specific page.

      I can't recall what's the name of the book. Space Assassin?

    7. Space Assassin was basically a dungeon crawler. Your description is familiar but not from a book in my collection - Was it simply a CYOA?

    8. I remember the book you're describing too Kenny - pretty sure it was Starship Traveller, but I'm not 100%:

    9. I was a big Lone Wolf fan when I was younger, so I started using Vonotar as my screen name for RPG related things a long time ago and it just stuck.

      Starship Traveller was the FF book that I was never able to finish, but that didn't have window views. It was just a Star Trek style story written as a gamebook.

      I think the books you're thinking about are Scarlet Sorceror or Emerald Enchanter. These were paired competitive multiplayer books (also by Joe Dever) that were basically a first person shooter / flight sim video game rendered in book form.

      There was also a melee combat set of books (Black Baron / White Warlord maybe?) Same idea but set as a dungeon crawler instead of space ships.

    10. You can find the actual books at Project Aon if you want to check:

    11. Kenny, there was a series of airplane dogfighting gamebooks that worked much as you describe --

    12. Aha! Thanks, guys! It was definitely SS/EE as I remember seeing it in the ads printed in one of the LW books. I've also seen the ads for Ace of Aces in a gaming magazine too (Dungeon?) but can't, for the life of me, remember what the heck it was.

    13. ! I've PLAYED Ace of Aces. It came in two leather books, wasn't a whole ton of fun to me. There was a lot of twisting and trying to find your opponent. Came in two nice leather books though.

  2. I'm guessing your reload count was about 100?

    This game seems to be an example of one that breaks the Gimlet system a bit. ie the sum of parts seems considerably greater than the game experience as a whole, especially when we're talking 40 hours of play time. It's also kinda weird that only 2 points out of 100 separates this game's graphics from Skyrim!

    1. I'm not sure what you mean about the graphics, but in general, graphics are the least important element in the GIMLET because, to me, they're the least important element in an RPG. It's really a 0-3 point scale, and I'm quite easily impressed by graphics. I think of the graphics of Might & Magic VII as "modern."

      I didn't track reloads on this game since I started over a year ago, but yeah, it was high.

    2. Yes, I also think this game slightly breaks the GIMLET rating. I seem to recall that Chet initially thought that the average rating of 1990 games would be in the 40-50 point region, so there was a bit of disappointment that hardly any game broke into the 40s. I think this game shows why the initial expectation was there: One expects that, by this time, game designers would have put a little thought into their RPGs concerning world building, side quests, at least a basic economy and so on... they should have had assimilated the innovations of the Gold Box games, Ultima and the like... In these circumstances, it would not be terribly difficult to get a rating of 40 points. And in this world, Tunnels and Trolls is just an average game receiving an average score. But actually, it is one of the few 1990 games to have this "complete" approach, so the final score is relatively high.
      And I think the fundamental weakness of every accumulative scoring system is that, in the end, it's all about the gameplay, and I think I would have used the 3 negative points created by the gamebook character of the game to have an impact on the gameplay category. And a game that offers a great economy, or a great backstory, is still a bit useless without an appealing gameplay. That's the "less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts effect".
      On the other hand, maybe it's better to say that it doesn't break the gimlet system, but shows why the score doesn't measure the best game (because in this case, gameplay is the only major category) but the best CRPG, and to measure that, the other categories are necessary to show the technical and conceptual development of the genre. So T&T so far is the first big case of a divergence between complexity and enjoyment.

    3. I think the gimlet was fair for this. Chet's first series of postings were overall quite positive and I think only a combination of being too long, the levelling up troubles, and his mistake in not finishing it the first time around have made these last few posts sound overly negative. If he had gimleted it a year ago I recon none of you would be noticing.

    4. I meant that if Skyrim looked as bad as T&T does, your 'enjoyment' of the game would be reduced from 85* to 82. Mine would be reduced a lot more! It's not just the aesthetic qualities either. When you have a first-person perspective and sufficient draw distance, you can see things a long way off and be excited for the moment you get to explore them.

      *pretending Skyrim scores 85.

    5. That's not really true. There's also beauty in simplicity. Pixel art is still very much a thing. Digital music in beeps and boops can still sound entertaining.

      As long as the game and interface calls for it, having a "non-fancy" graphic may actually increase the overall aesthetic value of the game..

    6. Can anyone truly ignore the aesthetics of anything? I certainly can't. Nor do I want to. Appreciating beauty seems like one of the basic joys of life.

      My first console was a NES and my first PC was an 8086 with EGA. Despite the hardware limitations there were lots of games I found memorably attractive (and I don't even like pixels - antialiasing all the way baby!)

    7. Sorry I didn't understand the first time, Tristan. I agree with you. But if Skyrim had T&T's graphics, it would have more consequences than just the 0-3 point "graphics" rating. With awful graphics, my assessment of the "game world" would probably suffer, as would magic and combat (since Skyrim's system requires being able to see things clearly). "Encounters" would fall for the same reason. And I'd probably think it was too long and tedious, and it would take a hit to "Gameplay."

    8. Also, if a game's graphics are notably outstanding, I think that would be worth some bonus points.

  3. It's fascinating what you had to do to beat this game from a meta-narrative point of view. The party would catch on the fact that their trials and enemies have been scaling to their rise in experience and at the last stretch, when progress seemed impossible they all looked at each other, then the strongest of the party, then to each other, then drew their weapons.

    The Demiurge laughs.

    1. The again, they'd probably only have noticed thanks to all the times they were wiped out, so there'd be some serious 4th-wall-breaking going on.

  4. Wow, I forgot that Liz Danforth did computer games in between illustrating Magic cards.

  5. "I was in the midst of starting over"

    The mind boggles.
    Also, a score of 6 for the Gameplay? With all the flaws of this game I thought the score would be about 2-3.

    Oh, and I see there's a game called Gates of Delirium coming up. Being a Yes fan that sounds like an intriguing title.

    1. I punished it for the flaws by taking 3 points away. It does satisfy most of the elements I look for in the "gameplay" category: limited linearity, moderate/challenging difficulty, length equal to its content, and replayability.

    2. Gates of Delirium?!? I hope Patrick Moraz appears as an NPC.

  6. Congratulations on finishing this particular chore.

  7. Since you mentioned Might and Magic III as being on the horizon, does anybody know if the PC version of III has the same sound problems (the Xeen games, until you jump through a lot of hoops, play a large number of inappropriate sounds such as ringing telephones instead of the intended sound effects) as the Xeen games (which share an engine) do? If so, it might be wise to emulate the (otherwise nigh identical) Mac or Amiga versions instead.

    1. I've played the floppy, the anthology cd, and the gog versions and I've never had sound issues. I don't mean to belittle that you had issues I'm just surprised.

      Speaking of sound though you should really consider getting a Roland MT-32 emulator for the next couple of years, I know that Ultima and Might and Magic inpartular will have much better music with one.

      Sorry this was also posted in the wrong spot below.

    2. Here is list of MT-32 compatible games

      I dont know it is complete or not, but I dont think that there is a lot of Chet upcoming RPG-s there...

    3. I'm not 100% certain that the problem occurs with III, as I'd already fixed it for Xeen by the time I picked up III on GoG. Since they share an engine, I considered it a possibility.

  8. I've played the floppy, the anthology cd, and the gog versions and I've never had sound issues. I don't mean to belittle that you had issues I'm just surprised.

    Speaking of sound though you should really consider getting a Roland MT-32 emulator for the next couple of years, I know that Ultima and Might and Magic inpartular will have much better music with one.

  9. So, anyone want to play psychic for me?

    Two 1991 games that I *want* to follow along with are the second Krynn game and Might&Magic 3, but I have not managed to play either the first or the second games in those series respectively... so I have some catching up to do. But my hours of play are few and far between.

    If you were a betting sort, which do you think would come up earlier in 1991? I should try to get its predecessor out of the way first.

    Alternatively, I *think* that MM2 is a hell of a long game and I perhaps should play CoK first since it's possible I will actually finish it sometime before the sun explodes.

    What do you think?

    1. There's no real need to play Might and Magic 1 or 2 to play Might and Magic III. The storyline connection is fairly limited (not to the extent of something like the Final Fantasy series, but it isn't strong), there's no party transfer, and the mechanics are different.

    2. Except you discount my own OCD and desire to play things in order. :)

      I'm thankfully not as bad as a certain Addict I know, but I really do want to play these games in sequence. (This is why I will never get to later Wizardry games, no matter how good they are, because I have to slog through all of the older ones first...)

    3. What if it's about games that have prequels and Episode: Zeroes? Like Lufia and Agarest? Doesn't that pisses you off? I know I did.

    4. Publication order is all that matters, my friend.

    5. Except that it's outright spoilery and really can't offer any plot twists since the future is already laid bare.

    6. MM1 and MM2 are nonlinear. They are quite long if you do absolutely everything, and much shorter if you skip the optional dungeons and quests.

  10. It's actually shocking how similar the Tunnels and Trolls graphics are to the PC98 Japanese releases of Ultima I - III. Were they created by the same company? Or is is just the anime influence?

    Also, unfortunately Savage Empire is probably the weakest to use the Ultima VI engine, and I see you rating it 5 - 10 points below Ultima VI. We'll see.

    1. According to Mobygames, the PC-98 Ultima ports were produced by Starcraft Inc, which is also credited with PC-98 versions of the Phantasie series, the Might and Magic series, and Tunnels and Trolls.

    2. Starcraft published (not necessarly ported) the early PC-98 versions of Ultima II and III, the later Ultima I-III versions were published by Pony Canyon, ported by Newtopia Planning. Maybe there's a connection between these companies. On the other hand, I find many of the early western crpgs of the 80s similar looking, it's the combination of the tile style with the platform limitations of the time, I suppose.

  11. I bought the tabletop Tunnels and Trolls way back in the early eighties? I think? I currently have the solo modules Buffalo Castle and Labyrinth sitting in front of me. I remember that the results of most choices in the game made absolutely no logical sense. I guess it was supposed to be fun because it was random and whimsical? The modules were more interesting to just read. Although I must have played them seriously enough since Labyrinth has a Nevada Club Keno 8 Spot ticket inside with character notes and things on the back. I guess this is what I did while the grandparents gambled at the casino?

    I had no idea Liz Danforth did the illustrations on Buffalo Castle or that she was involved in any Tunnels and Trolls related stuff. I also just know the name from Magic the Gathering.

    1. Yeah, T&T was basically a sort of spoofy D&D where they make fun of everything and subvert various stereotypes of "monsters" by having them invite bands of adventurers to stay for tea.

  12. Congratulations on getting through this one. It's too bad it wasn't really worth the effort. Encounters that scale with level seem counter-intuitive to the whole character leveling up system.

  13. In preparation for playing EoTB I would really like to get a dungeon mapping app for my iPad, and the only one that comes up in the search is Ye Olde MapMaker. Does anyone have experience with this or can recommend another?

  14. The game got good reviews in Germany (consistently around the 80% mark), and I have always liked that style -- 16-color hi-res EGA with windows! -- so I have been wanting to play this since 20 years. (No, wait, it's 30 by now :D)

    But reading through your ordeals with the game, I think I won't. Sure, there's some interesting stuff in it, and I could live with the CYOA stuff... but all these bugs (or, say, "unexplained phenomena"), the messy story, and especially that "exponential monster leveling" absurdity are really offputting. I never liked monster leveling because it just makes no in-game sense (except in a few situations), but to have to kill a character to be able to win a fight would just kill a game to me.

    That you still give it a pretty good rating is a sign for your integrity. Again, thanks for your great work of love and addiction :)


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