Saturday, June 27, 2015

Elvira II: Gonna Search and Find that Preacher Man

This dead cleric might be a good candidate for a "Resurrect" when I'm able to cast it.

I liked the first one better. Elvira, aside from being about Elvira, was a decent adventure game that offered some sensible, moderately-challenging puzzles, cool graphics, and an interesting setting. Its RPG elements were introduced a bit ham-handedly, but it seemed to understand that and it didn't overemphasize them. Elvira II tries to go too far as an RPG for a game that isn't an RPG. One section, in which I'm currently mired, has a six-level dungeon crawl, which would normally be a nice RPG nod in an adventure/RPG hybrid, but not when you're so restricted in combat tactics and afraid to cast most of your spells.

That doesn't sound very much like someone who wants to be rescued.

Since the last post, I've explored most of Set #2 (the House of Horror) and I think most of Set #3 (It Came from Beyond the Grave). I haven't been able to fully explore anything, because inevitably I run up against some puzzle I need (or think I need) a higher level or some unfound reagent to solve.

My favorite puzzle was in the haunted house. In a basement room, I found a mad scientist who yelled that I wasn't his assistant and ordered me out. Since the game offered the dialogue button in the room, I figured there must be some way to talk with him. Later, in the hands of a corpse, I found some stills of the various movie characters, and I realized their costumes and makeup were identical to the items I found in the second-floor offices. I chose the one that looked most like a lab assistant and applied the right set of facial hair, a wig, teeth, and a lab coat.

Pictures of the cast of the various films.

Checking myself in the mirror as I apply the items. Looks like I still need eyebrows and teeth.

When I was wearing the "disguise" of the film character, the mad scientist talked to me, though the only thing I got out of it was a poison potion that I don't have a particular use for.

Maybe I was supposed to choose one of the others. I only had a recipe for a poison.

This dynamic became my least favorite puzzle in Set #3. I battled all the way down six flights of catacombs (more on that in a minute) only to find a wizard who attacked me (and turned me into a frog) after noting that I didn't "look anything like his assistant." Clearly, I have to dress up as another character again--the only problem being that I left all the costumes and makeup six long levels above me. I have to drag myself all the way back to the top and all the way back to the bottom again.

That's the major problem with this game. For every satisfying puzzle, there's one that grossly tests your patience. Most involve dying in some horrific manner before you even know there's a puzzle to be solved. To take one of many examples, there's a series of rooms among the 6 levels in the catacombs on Stage 3. Each of the rooms has a chest, and most of the chests are trapped in some way. Until you try to open the chest (or, in some cases, leave the room), there's no way to tell that there's a trap to be solved (I couldn't get the "Detect Trap" spell to do anything). You just have to let it kill you, then reload, and then try various things to keep the trap from going off. In some rooms, that means closing the chest after you open it; in others, you have to move some ornamental weapon on the wall or move the chest itself.

Another example: simply entering one room causes you to fall asleep and wake up to some buxom ghost leaning over your bed:

But the ghost soon turns into D. W. Bradley's worst nightmare and kills you:

The only way to survive this, that I could find, was to have "Courage" spell active before entering the room, but of course you'd need to die at least once to know that you had to do anything before entering the room.

And yet another: Stage 2 culminates in a vampire attack in the house's attic. There's no way to anticipate it; you just walk up a ladder and within seconds you're dead with a couple of puncture wounds in the neck. Once you know the vampire is there, you can plan for it (the solution involves using a tuning fork to vibrate and shatter a window, letting in sunlight and killing the vampire--I had to look it up), but it takes at least one death to know it's there.

A satisfying animation accompanies the vampire's immolation.
I like that a lot of the puzzle solutions depend on the right spell; I don't like that you face such draconian limits on some spells. It's much better than the first game (although the first game, being short, could be restarted without a lot of pain), but still problematic. There are only a few spells you don't have to worry about running out of; for instance, "Ice Dart" and "Healing Hands" require no ingredients and there are dozens of ingredients to use for "Fireball," so you're mostly set there. "Fire Resistance," on the other hand, requires fire extinguishers, and I've only found two. Together, they made 4 spells. "Mindlock" requires a padlock; I've only found one, and it only made 1 spell. I counted at least half a dozen locations in the catacombs in which both of these spells would have come in handy, and not being able to cast them ("Mindlock," in particular) meant I had to leave a lot of potentially-useful items behind.

(Someone's going to say that "Brain Boost" allows you to mix more spells than normal and I should have used that more often. Great, but I only found a couple of items capable of mixing "Brain Boost" in the first place, so I couldn't use it every time I mixed spells.)

As the witch dies, her eyeball comes popping towards me. I need it for the "Fear" spell. This has been the only witch in the game so far, so I hope I don't need more than one "Fear" spell.
The limited availability of some spells isn't the only problem with the magic system; another has to do with the amount of time it takes spell points to regenerate. In an earlier post, I said it was 22 seconds per point, but I must have mistimed it then, because it turns out to be closer to a minute. When I was exploring the catacombs, my spell point maximum was around 42, and I could easily burn them all in 3 or 4 combats. That meant I had to let my character stand still, twiddling his thumbs, for almost an hour sometimes. There were a few potions that allowed me to bypass the waiting period, but not many. It was like playing Bard's Tale III again.

Combat never got any more interesting, although I did learn that a status bar to the right tells you how much damage you're doing. This allows you to experiment with different areas of a foe and figure out where he's most vulnerable. Skeletons, for whatever reason, are most vulnerable on the legs.

A skeleton hacks at my weakened character while I click on his legs.

The catacombs in Stage 3 offered the most RPG-like experience of the game so far. There are six levels, mapped on roughly a 20 x 20 grid, full of skeletons, rats, ghosts, and little troll-like creatures. I haven't made a determination as to whether there is a fixed number of these enemies or if they respawn. Between killing them and finding various treasures (healing potions, attribute-boosting potions, weapons), this area has offered the most character development of the game.

Attacking some little troll thing.

Ghosts come screaming along the corridor, do a ton of damage as they pass through you, and move too fast to attack. Only having the "Courage" spell active keeps them from hurting you.

It still isn't good. The limited combat system isn't fun enough to support as many combats as the game throws at you. Like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, there's no information about the relative damage levels of weapons, so I don't know which of the many items I've found--two swords, an axe, a hatchet, daggers of different descriptions--do the most damage. And there's an incredible amount of randomness in combat; a skeleton that kills me in one blow might miss me four times in a row on a reload.

The dungeon is full of traps that you have to click on and "avoid." Otherwise, this happens.

I made it to the bottom level without having to map, but now I need to go all the way back up to the top level and get the various makeup items to impersonate the wizard's apprentice. I can't seem to find my way out without mapping, so I'm settling in with some graph paper. I always get irrationally angry when adventure games want me to map corridors. I have no problem doing it for RPGs, but RPGs are what I'm addicted to. Having to map in an adventure game feels like someone who isn't your boss telling you that you have to work late.

Lots of other miscellaneous notes and encounters.

  • The haunted house had a library with about 15 readable books making up almost 50 pages of text. I dutifully screenshotted every one. It's a lot to read, but there are clues to defeating various monsters, as well as a process for binding and killing Cerberus in there.

One of the many, many book pages.

  • One of the books had a long screed about the "Resurrection" spell, which I won't get until Level 10 (I'm currently Level 8). I've found a couple of bodies that I might want to cast it on; the most likely candidate is a slain preacher in the Stage 3 chapel.
  • I'm wearing a hodgepodge of armor right now: the security guard's jacket from the beginning of the game, a helmet and gauntlet from a suit of armor (I couldn't take the breastplate, alas); a pair of boots found on one of the bodies in the pantry; and a shield taken from a chest in the catacombs. The game does a poor job indicating what's currently equipped.
  • The game is inconsistent as to how items are used. For instance, there are a lot of keys in the game, and you might use one by clicking on it and choosing "Use," but in another place, you use it by physically dragging it to the lock, and in still another, you use it by clicking on the thing you want to open and choosing "Unlock." To fill a test tube with water, I had to click on the water and drag it to the tube.
  • Choosing AdLib for sound did indeed provide some basic sound effects, but there's no way I can play with that jarring music score playing incessantly.
  • I keep encountering a bug where my icon gets stuck on the "attack" icon permanently. This wasn't so bad at first, but then it got stuck on "inactive attack" permanently, and I couldn't fight anything. I had to reload an earlier save.
  • This game is going to suffer in my GIMLET for not allowing any keyboard controls. Navigating 6 levels of catacombs by clicking the navigation buttons with a mouse gets old very fast.
  • Nudity in several places in the game--just not anything that anyone would want to see. I believe TVTropes calls this "Fan Disservice."

  • I still can't figure out how to get this key. You wouldn't think it would be too hard to outsmart a fish. Can't I just smash the tank? (Apparently not.)

At this point, I really have no sense of the endgame. I guess I'm supposed to be recovering those magic items for the janitor, but I haven't found any of the three so far. The various puzzles in the three stages aren't manifestly leading to anything yet, or opening up any clear plot points. Then again, I haven't finished fully exploring any of the stages yet.

As much as I'm ready for the game to be over, I can't stomach the thought of two more runs through the catacombs just now, so you might see me start on Antares before wrapping up this one.

Hours so far: 12
Reload count: 29


  1. Is there a way of making a fishing rod (or just fishing line and a hook)?

    Also, now that you've been playing for a while, how do you feel that the initial character choices? Do they make much of an impact, especially as it seems you have no option but to use plenty of spells and there are lots of combat sections. Unlike QFG for example where picking a different class gives you different options on how to complete puzzles.

    1. The initial character choices don't matter at all. You get several points added to each attribute at each level increase, so by the time a few levels have gone by, everything's evened out. MAYBE choosing one of the higher-strength characters could have let me kill the witch a little faster, but I think by Level 3 or 4, the variances are trivial.

  2. None of your comments on this game seem to indicate that it works as a role-playing experience. You "earn" experience for wandering around, and most of the deadly "battles" require you to lose first or use hints. If this meets your basic criteria for a playthrough, shouldn't there be some criteria for rejecting games that may basically meet your standards, but certainly don't work as RPGs? Especially with hack-n-slash fare like Dragon Slayer and adventure games like this somehow blocking up the queue for other games that may be undiscovered gems.

    1. I don't think that Chet's criteria have anything to do with the quality of the game itself, so much as the fact that it does, in fact, have these criteria. A historian cannot ignore something that they do not like.

    2. He rejects stuff all the time. But earlier, he said he was in a rare mood and could do with an adventure game for a change. So he's playing it through.

      And yeah, it is pretty brutal to play these games through all the way. When I replay games these days, I play until I start to get frustrated and then leave them. I just finished a run-through of Darklands where I ybfg vagrerfg gur zbzrag V tbg gb gur xabpxre pnirf naq gur qvssvphyg evqqyrf ortna. V qvqa'g srry onq nobhg nonaqbavat gur tnzr, V rawblrq gur sha fgntr bs punenpgre qrirybczrag naq hctenqvat rdhvczrag. As soon as Master of Magic looks like it's turning into a midgame slog, the savegame never gets reloaded. A strange and bitter pride it must be, to have done them ALL. The RIGHT way.

    3. I'm not picking on the quality of the game as a game. I'm curious as to how these non-RPGs with RPG "elements" keep making the cut despite their numerous failings as RPGs.

    4. The only time I reject games is when they don't satisfy RPG criteria at all. This one undoubtedly does, even if it doesn't supply a good RPG experience.

      I DID say, when I started playing, that I wanted an adventure game experience. I guess I didn't really mean it. Adventure games are exhausting. You have to think all the time. You never get to settle in a mindless RPG groove--except in cases like the 6 levels of the catacombs, which only make you wish you were playing a real RPG.

    5. Anonymous, it's because it's not a non-RPG. By my criteria, once a game assembles enough elements, it's an RPG, even if it's not a particularly good one.

      It's possible to be a hybrid and also a good RPG. This one just isn't.

  3. Hmm, I guess the creative deaths of the first game motivated the designers of this one to add a lot of frustrating deaths. I mean, usually, you have the chance of avoiding death, in adventures and RPGs, by making the right choice at the beginning. Here, there's not even the chance, you MUST die. There's no chance to influence the outcome.
    You still call the game an adventure game, not RPG or hybrid. Seems like the adaptation of RPG mechanics was a bit artificial.

    1. Reminded me of (the adventure game) Shadowgate that used the Uninvited engine and added about 500 insta-Deaths...
      I loved Uninvited (and replayed it in 2 days last year), but when I restarted Shadowgate I just stopped after I died about 20 times in the first hour, most of them without any warning or sense.

    2. Shadowgate comparison is apt. Before making everything too dark to see, the go-to solution to horror in games was frequent, gruesome instant deaths.

    3. Speaking of which, the designer of the Elvira games; Mike Woodroffe, was also responsible for creating the only Dragonlance PC game that has absolutely no RPG mechanisms at all: Heroes Of The Lance.

    4. I have fond memories of Shadowgate. It might have been the first game in that genre that I'd played. I think I had previously watched a bit of SpaceQuest and boggled at the complexities. By contrast I found Shadowgate fairly intelligible, and other than a hint with the dragon, I'm pretty sure I solved it myself. Then I spent several boring health classes in high school remapping and optimizing the game path on note paper instead of learning about infectious diseases. I thought that was a double win.

  4. I totally don't get your sub-title.

    1. You're probably better off ignorant, but here it is:

    2. When I was in second or third grade, my entire class was taught how to "sign along" to "Elvira" in American Sign Language. When we got good enough, we did it in front of the local Kiwanis Club. It's one of those things that you just go along with because you're a kid, but later, when you think about it, the whole thing makes no sense.

      I wish I could remember how we signed "oom-pa-pa-mow-mow."

    3. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I think I agree with Kenny. A buddy of mine once told me a story about a elementary music teacher who would leave the classroom and then come back in dressed as a superhero, playing two flutes at once, and tossing candy to the children. Halfway through recalling this treasured childhood memory my buddy paused, looked at me, and admitted, "Okay, I guess I never realized how weird this actually was."

  5. So it did have Adlib sound effects! Awesome. A pity that the music looped like that. I will never understand the Let's Play people who are seemingly not bothered at all by an endlessly repeating sound track. It's caused me to turn off some otherwise promising series. :( I just can't stand it, it gets on my nerves, I have to turn it off - and in a youtube video, I can't turn it off. :'(

    Does the game support MIDI sound? It's only one line in dosbox.conf, just go to the MIDI section and write "midiconfig=0". It should work right off the bat, as long as you enable it in the game's configuration options. It's lightyears better than the alternatives and lots of games of this era support it. :D Besides everyone should get in the habit of using it instead of the old clunky soundblaster. :) :) :)

    Ah, the curse of mouse-only navigation. Luckily it never caught on, but this era is infested with games like this. They were just in love with this new input device and we were all going to have the pleasure of using it for an entire game, even when there were better input methods available. Just the love of novelty for no other reason than it's new, with no thought to how it could actually improve things. Lying in ambush ahead is the 1996-7 era of "multimedia". Shudder.

    1. When Betrayal at Krondor came out on floppies, all of the music looped. When they re-released it on CD with the music re-recorded in orchestral style, the new music didn't loop. The change was pretty much universally lamented by fans of the original.

      (It probably helped that the game had a gorgeous, professionally done and thematic soundtrack and the looping sections were pretty much universally over 60 seconds in length, generally even over 90)

      To this day I still prefer to play with the old chiptune-y sounds, or turn music off altogether and listen to something from outside the game.

    2. Turning off the sound on your own computer doesn't prevent the sound from recording with the game, so I assume that's what the LP-ers do. Unless you're talking about recordings in which the LP-ers are also narrating the game, in which case I agree that it's a bit mystifying.

    3. Yeah, the person has the video game music on, records the LP while narrating, and publishes the video with the horrid music, apparently not noticing or not bothered at all by the endlessly looping, tinny songs. I, on the other hand, can't freaking stand it.

      Usually, I just turn off the music and play with sound effects only. If the silence bothers me I'll put on my own MP3s. But with a recorded video I can't do this. :( Ruins the whole experience. LPers don't even use MIDI music, they use the crappy soundblaster's toots and beeps. :( :( :(

    4. Recording the narration onto a separate track and mixing them together when you're done is almost trivially easy.

    5. Do people actually do that? Everything I've seen has just been done in one take and uploaded as soon as it was finished.

    6. You can also tune down the music and match your speech level to it that is you combine two separate audio tracks with a video.

      Sometimes it works and sometimes LP'er has messed up the sound levels and you can't hear anything from actual game music or sounds or sounds are at a very low level compared to actual speech.

    7. And when you remove the Music as a LPer then you get people complain how you can do such a sacrilege since the Music is the best thing ever created, yadda yadda yadda ... speaking from Experience, you can't please everybody o.-

      I prefer having Music on, it's part of the game and when you have some "quiet moments" at least something is playing.

    8. i used to lp. [i really should start doing that again, in fact.]

      my take on it then was: i want to preserve /as much/ of the experience of playing the game as possible. in some cases, that also meant having the sound and music on so that people could have a sense of what playing _this_ [ie: the game i was currently playing] game may have been like in the 80's/90's/etc.

      in some cases - like for infocom games - that meant that there was a lot of just silence other than the clacking of my keyboard and my rambly thoughts as i played through that game.

      in other cases - like with king's quest 5 - part of playing that game WAS being exposed to - for example - the town theme. [even as i type this, i can hear it in my head, because it's just such an unmercifully short music loop that's FAR too chipper for it's own good.]

      so, for me, it was part of the aesthetics of presentation and less to be straight up annoying.

      and yes. as @elanarae suggests: you absolutely WILL get someone passing through the comments saying "how could you leave out the music?!"

      i had a problem with lost eden's soundtrack, where - of all things - the creator swung by and claimed THE ENTIRE lp because i was playing the music for that when my EXPRESS INTENTION was to showcase how beautiful that soundtrack was. so, starting in episode 2, i turned the music off. had comments that i never published lamenting the lack of sound all of that lp.


      @harland: for me, that's a presentation issue. i wanted to present the games authentically, but authentic to what /i/ specifically remembered. i never had the money for a mt32, so i never played games that way. from that perspective, soundblaster seemed the way to go.

      [though, i broke my own rule for a while to hear - particularly - what space quest 3 sounded like on better hardware because i'd never heard it before, and that game has a FANTASTIC soundtrack.]

  6. "Having to map in an adventure game feels like someone who isn't your boss telling you that you have to work late."

    This is an awesome quote, but I feel this way anytime any game makes me have to pull out the ol' graph paper. Or if any game already tricked me into pulling out the graph paper and then has spaces on the same "level" overlap.

    1. That last bit is pretty rare, isn't it? I can only think of one game--Keef the Thief--where I've seen it.

    2. I remember getting a new graph-pad when M&M 6 first came out. And when I started walking around, I went "hmmm...." then "ummm..." and finally "mmmm..." and chucked that graph-pad to god knows where.

    3. Heh, OK, that was the one I was thinking of, too. I guess I assumed there were others. It's kind of a pain to model, so the developers really had to want it...

    4. I remember trying to map my way through these catacombs in Elvira II, and giving up - they seemed like a random, fragmented jumble of long dead-end corridors. Maybe you will have more luck.

    5. It is rare.

      Phantasy Star 1 has a bit of overlap in at least one spot. I think the actual solution is that one stairway operates inconsistently to the rest in the game, but you get the collision all the same when mapping.

      I really enjoyed mapping in that console style, mostly-on-rails RPG. It was a nice change of pace to finish an RPG in less than 40 hours. I was sad when the sequel lacked a grid.

    6. Most if not all early "true 3D" games have over lapping maps/game areas that spiral on top of each other due to memory and storage space constraints.
      Wheel of time CRPG is one glaringly obvious example of the sort, though it's "levels" are short and small they are set like a literal maze.

    7. It's probably too late to ask now after more than a year, but there really has been a WoT crpg? I'm wondering if you meant the game which I would rather consider a first person shooter, the one where you play as an Aes Sedai.

  7. I remember pleying a hybrid that sounded a bit like Elvira from the setting, but was much better. I think it was "The legacy" but its difficult to google a game with a title like that. Can anybody remember this game and remember if it was enough of an RPG? I cant remember if it has stats (I think so, at least Hits and magic power?), but it definitly had weapons that worked different against different monsters.
    It was a DM-like game set in an old house. The basement was a normal house, inhibited by zombies, the second (or third?) level was an asylum with different monsters. There also were an astral plane (which I discovered later in the game than I should have - I discovered the exit, not the entrance- resulting in a constant lack of potions) and a egyption-inspired level.
    It was very decent, but I cant remember details, like the year or even which computer Ive played it on.... It doestn seem to be in the addicts database (yet)?

    1. Yes, I remember that one. Definitely an RPG. Published by Microprose, I think?

    2. Hey mate, I'm 90% certain you're talking about this one:

    3. YES thanks thats the one. So its been 20 years... I think I might replay it - I have very fond memories...
      It wont turn up here until Chad does 1993... Too bad thats still some way down the road.

    4. Ah, yeah, Legacy: Realms of Terror. Sadly, it's the only good adveture/rpg hybrid that isn't Quest for Glory (or the recent QfG-inspired Heroine's Quest).

    5. Legacy's pretty great, but hard as stone. Never made too much headway.

    6. But it makes sense - it's a horror-themed game after all, desperation comes with the territory.

    7. The Legacy's less hard than it feels at first (it's one of those games that pretend to be more difficult than they actually are), but still hard enough that I feel the need to brag about beating it fair and square.

    8. I remember that game. It's the only one where I opened the box and went ,"WTF was that?!". I wish more game publishers would put as much attention to detail on their packaging as this game.

      Why? The box laughs like I just released something evil or if I were, you know, opening a cheesy Halloween greeting card.

  8. About Antares: If you have problems with the German, I can offer you a translation service. All texts seem easily extractable from the game and I (and maybe other volunteers) can translate them for you and put them in an online document. Then you only have to look up the translation.

    1. Thanks, Jan. I want to use this as a learning experience, but if it becomes too onerous, I'll take you up on the offer.

    2. Count me in as well, Mr. Bolingbroke. Glad to be of service.

    3. Deutsche Sprache schwere Sprache ;)

    4. We are quite a few German fans of Mr. Bolingbroke ...


  9. Ahh, Elvira II. I have an irrational liking for this game. It's mostly because I love the way you can pick up everything that isn't nailed down. It feels a bit more immersive when e.g. you need a piece of food or some paper to make a spell, and you can find one simply by going to a place where, in the real world, you'd expect such junk to be lying around.

    And that haunted house feels really cozy somehow -- the way the rooms are pleasantly decorated, it's like the house I'd love to inhabit in real life. After you clean out all the murderous monsters and put out the eternally flaming room, of course.

  10. "You'll need both brain and braun to survive"

    Shades of Escape from Hell's third level. (Don't mention the war!)

  11. Why is that monster "D.W. Bradley's worst nightmare?"

  12. The bullet point -like for "nudity" is getting both complicated and distracting. I'm not trying to tell you what to talk about, but just telling you it makes my eyebrow twitch...

    ...with questions! Like "anything that anyone would want to see." If people got a kick out of it, that would be titillating and prurient, therefore an objectification of the jumbly bits, wouldn't it? But it's not, and I agree it's not, unless you also find that topless, lobster-headed thing (Blibdoolpoolp) from the old D&D "Deities and Demigods" manual sexy too.

    So then it's just there, as an expression of the artist's desire to show meat and viscera and skin, as it is, honestly, without the lie of arbitrarily covering it up just to cater to the Puritan instinct. Isn't that a good, laudable thing?

    1. Nudity is a popular tool to make images more horrifying. It can be used to depict once living, breathing humans as dead meat or to represent taking something sacred/vulnerable/intimate and desecrating it or to confound the psyche by presenting the erotic and the monstrous together (eg blibdoolpoolp, buxom ghost).

      I'd expect a hefty dose of sexualisation in an Elvira game though. That was her shtick.

  13. I'm with the addict on not liking games that force you to fail and reload before being able to progress, because you don't get any clue how to solve it beforehand. In the text adventure Corruption it's even part of the gameplay. You play against time and have to certain things at the right moments. However you can't possibly know at that time, you only then get the clue what you were supposed to do (if you're in the right place). It's absolutely necessary to save and reload in this game.


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