Sunday, July 7, 2019

Darklands: Getting Medieval

The party has gotten strong enough to challenge a demon.
Darklands introduces a combat system that I find hard to call "good," and yet it's perhaps a necessary stopover point to a truly good system. It probably took an RPG outsider like MicroProse to think of it. Every other U.S. title, if it had any complexity to combat at all, showed slavish adherence to a very few precursors: the abstract turn-based system of Wizardry, the action-oriented attack-and-cool-down system of Dungeon Master, and the tactical grid of Ultima IV-V and the Gold Box series.

Still, the Darklands system has a few antecedents. It is perhaps closest to Drakkhen (1989), which had a "studio" perspective. The moment combat began, characters carried out actions as previously set by the player. The player could change actions in the middle of combat, but he had no way to pause and think while doing so. Ultima VI also offers some hints of the Darklands system, with the player able to set computer or manual control, as well as general combat strategies, for each character. We should also note that the British Legend (1992) had characters mostly act on their own. The player could pause to consider new tactics but could not issue commands while paused.

Darklands is the first game to combine all of these elements: a) independent character action in the absence of specific orders; b) combat in which the player sets general strategies and targets but otherwise mostly watches the action; and c) the ability to pause combat to issue new orders. I believe the style would reach its zenith in the Infinity Engine games, although there are so many titles from the post-1990 period that I haven't played that I'm open to the possibility there are even better ones.
Assessing my enemy, which in this case is a bear.
Combat begins paused, with the party grouped in a standard formation and the enemy often off-screen. The player can choose "Enemy Info" to see what types of enemies he faces, but I don't think there's really any way to gauge how many there are. It also doesn't tell you anything about their hit points. At the outset of combat, characters don't do anything on their own unless an enemy attacks them in melee range.

Once you see the enemy, you can select each character and then issue an order: walk somewhere, flee somewhere, throw a potion, fire a missile weapon, or perform one of four types of melee attacks: a defensive parry, a standard attack, an attack that tries to seek vulnerable areas on the enemy, and an all-out "berserk." You can cycle through the characters, assigning a different action to each. Hitting the SPACE bar then un-pauses combat and the actions execute.
Bianca is in the middle of reloading her gun as I switch her to a melee attack. Note the symbols in the lower left of each character. Maximian is executing a regular attack; Lambert a vulnerable attack, and Viridia is walking to her target.
Characters have minds of their own, both fortunately and unfortunately. On the positive side, they're smart enough to switch to a melee attack if an enemy comes into melee range, and they usually choose the best one based on their current endurance and strength, their weapon, and the enemy's armor. For instance, if the character has a short sword, a "berserk" attack would be wasted on an enemy in plate armor. Instead, it makes more sense to restrain yourself and wait for a vulnerable spot. Characters are also smart enough to target a new enemy once the current enemy is dead.

There are times I don't even need to participate in combat. If I get attacked by thieves in an alleyway at night, I just let them come to me, activate my characters, and my characters' AI does the rest. Enemies, for their part, never seem to concentrate attacks on a single character the way it would make sense to do. They always try to engage everyone.
Two groups of witches. Viridia is about to throw a potion on the group to the west (off-screen).
At any point during combat, you can enter the characters' sheets, switch equipment, pray for saintly aid, and drink potions. Those don't even seem to count as actions.

So far, this doesn't sound too bad, but there are numerous problems with Darklands' nascent approach.
  • Characters don't obey. If I want a character to leave his current opponent and run across the battlefield to engage a different opponent (for instance, to save a weak character), I'm out of luck. Characters might accept my choice of two targets within melee range but they almost never leave melee range to go fight someone else. Sometimes I have luck getting them to "flee" in a particular direction, then re-engaging, but that's a lot of micro-managing.
  • There's no way to select all or multiple characters at once. This was a major benefit of the Infinity Engine games. If you wanted all six of your characters to fill a particular target full of arrows, you just had to select all of them and then execute a joint command. Here, everyone has to be tasked separately.
  • Actions unselect characters. Let's say I want a character to walk to a particular point, then turn around and throw a potion. I can specify the first action, but then hitting SPACE de-selects the character and I have to select him again to perform the second action once he gets where he's going. Another way to say this is that the very act of selecting a character pauses the action. In the Infinity Engine, pause was separated from selecting and issuing orders.
  • The game is very literal about vision paths. You can't toss a potion above the heads of other characters or fire a missile weapon just over a companion's shoulder. Any use of a ranged weapon has to have an absolutely clear shot to the enemy. This makes missile weapons a lot less useful than they could be. For instance, you can't have your lead character block a doorway, fighting oncoming enemies one-by-one while your rear characters fill them full of holes. They'll refuse to shoot with the lead character in the way.
Viridia can't target this potion because Winchester is standing in front of her.

  • The game is equally literal about movement paths. In the Infinity Engine, characters had no problem nudging each other out of the way. Here, you get tangled up into clumps all the time and you have to carefully pick them apart so everyone can move.
  • Everything is really slow, especially when there are a lot of enemies on the screen. You can crank up the DOSBox cycles to speed things up but then you run the risk of the game over-reading key inputs and accidentally drinking two potions and such. 
  • There's no way to keep a character completely out of combat. Enemies will lock onto him and chase him to the ends of the world. In such cases, you hope that your endurance runs out before your strength. If your endurance runs out, you just collapse and are revived at the end of combat. If your strength runs out, you die.
  • Potions are not exactly spells. I'll cover this in more detail in a minute.
I also don't particularly like the system by which current strength and endurance serve as your pool of hit points and stamina, respectively. It hardly seems worth micromanaging the characters' armor to avoid encumbrance when losing a few hit points in combat knocks down their strength and leaves them encumbered anyway. In fact, although encumbrance supposedly hurts weapon speed and skill, I'm beginning to think that it's worth having encumbered characters (even at maximum strength) just to gain the benefits of the better armor.
Targeting a demon with a pistol.
Let's talk more about magic. It's a pain in the neck. If I want to mix up a batch of five "Thunderbolt" potions, which act a bit like fireballs, it's a long process. First, I have to know the formula. If I don't know it at the start of the game, I have to purchase or trade for it with an alchemist. Alchemists are irritable bastards who frequently tell you to buzz off every time you ask for anything, and if that happens, you can't visit them again (in the same town) for a couple of days.

Assuming you get the formula, you then have to get the ingredients. Although a lot of places sell them, I always seem to be low on one reagent or another. In particular, "Aqua Regia," which almost every potion uses, seems to be in short supply.
I was lucky to find it here.
Then you have to take the time to mix them. You can mix a couple of potions per day depending on skill, and there's a chance that the mixture may fail. There's also a chance that it might blow up and damage you.

But assuming you get past all this, congratulations, you have three "Thunderbolt" potions, which will last only about five minutes in a tough combat (assuming you can even get a clear shot) and will collectively do as much damage as a first-level casting of "Fireball" in a Dungeons and Dragons game. Yes, I know that the potions get more effective as your skill goes up, but training skills is a pain in the neck, too. You have to get a trainer to agree to train you, then take the time each day and pay the fee, and you maybe get a 1 point increase every 4-5 days that you pay, and the trainer disappears after a couple of weeks, forcing you to enlist him again.
Getting ready to toss a potion at a group of Templars.
Having used a lot of potions in combat in this last session, my considered opinion is:

1. You're better off just buying potions instead of buying ingredients and then trying to make potions. Yes, they cost a lot of money. That's what all the quests are for. Plus, it gives you a reason to keep looting equipment from the battlefield.

2. You're better off focusing on defensive potions. I've found a lot of the buffing potions helpful, such as "Deadly Blade" (improves weapon damage), "Strongedge" (improves penetration), "Great Power" (increases weapon quality), "Hardarmor" (increase armor quality), "Ironarm" (increases strength), "Quickmove" (increases agility), and "New Wind" (increases endurance). Most useful of all is "Essence of Grace," which restores endurance and strength, and is thus equivalent to the standard "healing potion" of other RPGs.
"Truesight" is particularly valuable for dungeon exploration.
I should mention that potions are also often used from menus, as a solution to various puzzles and to get you out of various situations, so it's good to have a few bottles of just about every potion for that reason. "Thunderbolt," for instance, works as a kind of demolition spell if you need to destroy a pagan altar or break the wall of a crypt.

I began this long session continuing my movements around the landscape, solving quests and engaging in random combats. Everyone's "Impact Weapons" skill neared 99. I made fortunes in florins, spent them, and made them again. I've learned dozens of saints, but I still can't find any place to teach me of St. Wenceslaus, which means I still have to deal with the Wild Hunt practically every time I'm outdoors.

I think I got a bead on the main quest when I visited a random hut and found a woman performing satanic rituals. After defeating her pet wolves, the party captured her and had various options, one of which was to "reveal the time and place of the witch cult's next High Sabbat." She told me it was on 26 December, south of Salzburg. It was 31 October at the time. I checked the map and saw that Salzburg was pretty far to my southeast, but I figured I could just make it.
I think I see the loophole in the first one.
When I got to the area, snow was on the ground. South of Salzburg, the only structure I could see was a castle. When I tried to approach, I got a message that "The First seal is intact. The Castle of the Apocalypse is secure," and I was unable to approach closer than that. Nothing changed on 26 December itself.
We're just here to listen to the music of the night.
I wasn't sure if the witches were meeting somewhere else nearby or if I just didn't have some precursor item to get into the castle. I reloaded to before 26 December and dithered around looking for it for a while, but I have a lot of trouble picking out structures on the overland map even when the ground is clear. Finally, I had my party mess around for three months until the snow cleared, at which point I could see some kind of building or monument to the west of the castle. Reloading, I headed for that area on 26 December.

Pretty soon, I had infiltrated the large gathering of the witch cult. I got there early, and there were a couple of days where I had the option to investigate various witch activities like cannibalism, flying broomsticks, and participating in a mock baptism ceremony. I could participate in these things (for a loss of virtue) or try to sabotage them; for instance, by freeing the captives intended for the evening meal. There were a lot of skill checks during this process, and I confess that I reloaded a few times just because I wanted to see how different options played out.
Different options for messing around with the witches.
On Christmas night, the party had a vision in which someone said, "You must find the location of the fortress monastery. This is the next step of your quest."

The next day, the gathering culminated in the summoning of a demon. We tried to sabotage the altar but it didn't seem to work. We decided to let the demon appear and then attack it. I fully expected to have to reload, but the demon was actually pretty easy. A lot harder were the waves of witches that followed. We must have killed 50 of them. When the battle was over, we purified the site, found an evil book, and destroyed it to break the first seal.
Solving the quest came with significant virtue rewards.
As for the "fortress monastery," its location was given during the ritual when the high priest made reference to it, and someone else shouted out, "The Great Monastery--isn't that northwest of Flensburg?" The funny thing is, I had already found it, way back in my first session with the game, when I got attacked and slaughtered by some Templars.
There it is just to the northwest of the city. It couldn't be more obvious.
Flensburg was at this point at the opposite end of the map, so I headed that direction on a round-about route, turning in quests as I went. On the way, I finally solved one of the mine quests, near Breslau. Unlike the one I failed, which involved a demonic gate deep in the mine, this one was much simpler: the kobolds were rebelling against their dwarven slavemasters, and the conflict had boiled up to the upper levels.
Both parties wanted my assistance. I chose to help the kobolds for some reason. Probably because I found the entrance to the dwarven region first. After I killed a bunch of dwarves and subdued the leader, the kobolds gave me a bunch of reagents and my fame went up by about 30.
The dwarven king had a poetic surrender.
As I noted in a previous entry, indoor exploration is like being in combat mode permanently, except that when no enemies are on the screen, you are able to move the party as a unit. There are also other exploration-related commands such as open door, pick lock, and disarm trap. The latter only works on chest and door traps; it appears that the floor traps cannot be disarmed and simply have to be avoided.

Such indoor exploration is used in a lot of places in the game, including some of the minor crypt/altar quests where you have to retrieve an item, and the robber knight quests when you decide to just attack the castle rather than sneak in or call the robber knight out.

As I made my way to Flensburg, I started to notice that combats were a lot harder. Battles against enemies that hardly damaged me before were now leaving me laid up for two weeks in the next town. I'm not sure if the game kicks up the difficulty after the witch quest or something.
Approaching the Templar fortress.
Whatever the case, I thought I was prepared to take on the Templars, and boy was I wrong. The fortress is very large, with numerous staircases up and down, and I'd barely explored a fraction of it before I exhausted my potions. Even with plate armor and 99 skill with his weapon, my lead character got torn apart by the Templars, and my other three fared even worse. It's clear that I'm going to have to do a lot more grinding before taking on this fortress. In particular, I need to improve my missile weapon skills; I bought everyone pistols and shot, but they suck with them. I bet if I get those to 99 and fire off a few volleys before the Templars enter melee range, it will make a difference.

I also need to build my finances and buy a lot more potions. I'm thinking that every character is going to need 50 "Essence of Grace" potions or more before I try the temple again, plus lots of other buffing potions. Until now, the game had lured me into thinking that combat was easy, but now it's clear that I'm going to need to take another review of the tactics.
Each one of these guys is at least as hard as a robber knight. They all have plate and two-handed swords. And there are multiple rooms full of them.

Before I go, I have some information for Jakub Majewski, who asked me to visit Thorn and Bromberg on the far east side of the empire. Thorn is ruled by a vogt under the Teutonic Knights. Its political area is called the markt, and there's a fortress overlooking the city called the Altes Schloss. The Rathaus is the central market, and the inn is the Gasthaus. There is a dom plus a church of St. Jakobi and a monastery called the Deutschherrenhaus ("German men house?"). I didn't see any other special locations.
Approaching Thorn.
Bromberg is "a small city with a population mixture of Poles and Germans." It is ruled by a burggraf for the Teutonic Knights. The political center is called the stadtplatz and the fortress is just "the burg." The central market is the markt and the inn is again the Gasthaus. Churches are just a generic kirche and a kloster.
Main street options in Bromberg.
That's all probably disappointing in its non-specificity, but at least it's fun to see your hometown in a game. I never get sick of the "Far Harbor" expansion to Fallout 4.

Time so far: 48 hours


  1. I never noticed combat getting harder after the sabbat. Maybe you accidentially switched to Expert mode, or your armor quality got reduced by potions? (If it's zero, it's broken).

    Potion quality depends on the formula (there are three for each potion type, for 25, 35 and 45 quality). I don't think your skill or level of philosophers stone plays a role. I never used offensive potions that much, but I guess sunburst can be helpful when fighting against many enemies? I always write down all ingredients and saints for each city I visit when I start a new game, in order to know where to buy them later when I need them.

    Good to see you're making some progress with the main quest. I've never really made it far into the monastery - by that time I've usually had enough and rather start a new game a few years later.

    1. Yeah, I think it was a combination of things, mostly the armor getting degraded by witch potions. I think I had also purposefully downgraded some armor to reduce encumbrance.

  2. The "Deutschherrenhaus" would be the house of the "Deutscher Orden", also called "Deutschherrenorden" or "Deutschritterorden", which is "Teutonic Order" or - using its full name "Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem" - in English.

    1. And unlike the Knights Templar, they still exist (in modified form).

  3. Real time with pause in Darklands was still rather crude. It wasn't exactly a joy in the Infinity engine games either, at least in the early ones. I thought the slower pace of Darklands combat was a plus, but a "speedup" button would have been nice.

    1. Even in later games it's not really my favorite c9mbat system, mostly because most of them try to force turn based mechanics into a real time system,and the result is slow and awkward. Neverwinter Nights is probably the worst of them all, giving you only a single character and having extremely slow "rounds", turning trash encounters into huge timewasters.

      Good thing Cheat Engine exists and lets you apply a speedhack to pretty much any game.

    2. I can't react fast enough even in the infinity games without pausing every round to give new orders, wish all games like these were just turned based, but I know that's a pipe dream.

  4. You can also recruit a fifth member, Hanse or Schulz from a quest. They're good fighters and stay with you for a year even if you have no intention of finishing the quest.

    Never let the Templars surround you. Fight them 5v1 in a doorway whenever possible.

    Buffing potions last for an entire day and are extremely effective.

    1. Yeah, I've had NPC companions on and off, but naturally when I really WANT one, no one seems to be offering.

      "Never let the Templars surround you. Fight them 5v1 in a doorway whenever possible." I can't seem to arrange things for a 5 x 1 fight. I can block the doorway with 1 character and have a 1 x 1 fight in which the rest of my characters are useless, but if I back up from that, the Templars come freely spilling out of the doorway. I'm sure there's a "sweet spot" in between, but I can't seem to hit it.

    2. I found it hard to do that as well, but there is a line between fighting them 3-on-1 versus your PC in the doorway and backing off too far. It's hard for me to explain in text how I managed, but you can keep them from swarming out if you stay close. It doesn't always work. I generally had my alchemist lob in a potion - Eater Water, IIRC, was my favorite - since I didn't care about loot but only about winning. Unlike you, though, I made a maxed-out fighter type and a maxed-out alchemist, so I was able to stockpile a lot of elixirs and tossed them freely at the templar's castle. It's interesting to see how it's been playing out for you.

      Going back to your comments about the combat system, I actually really like the "don't always obey" aspect. It realistically should be hard to disengage from a melee with someone pressing you; just because you'd rather attack someone else doesn't mean you can. So while it can be frustrating, it's also part of the challenge not to depend on tactics being possible to execute.

    3. A lot of combat mechanics in pen&paper RPGs come with "engage" effects (such as attacks of opportunity in D&D, or having to take a "withdraw" action). I've seen them in very few computer games, though. Medieval: Total War comes to mind. Accidentally charged your knights into some halberdiers? You better get rid of those guys fast, before they tear down the whole regiment. You can flee, but will eat some bonus attacks, resulting in more losses, before being able to do so.
      I think this is highly realistic and actually like it in principle - pity you have such limited control over engagements in Darklands.

    4. "I actually really like the 'don't always obey' aspect. It realistically should be hard to disengage from a melee with someone pressing you."

      Sure, but I presumably have a good reason for doing it anyway. PCs are supposed to be aspects of me--extension of my will. I'm THEM, not their coach. To have non-obedient PCs fundamentally damages the concept of role-playing.

    5. I've never had any problems disengaging from combat by using the flee command. Something that does happen is that the way to the target is blocked for the character (e.g. too many enemies around him), or Darklands doesn't know how to get him there. The movement target is then removed and the character starts fighting again. That's more of a pathfinding problem though than characters not obeying.

      Jagged Alliance had characters intentionally disobeying orders as a negative character trait. In particular, refusing to disengage from an enemy after taking aim.

    6. Have your best longbow users (with trueflight potions) stand in the courtyard and your most agile character can open the doors of the monastery while he goes back the center of the courtyard, throw in a Stone Tar and Sun Burst potion at the incoming Templars; they should go down in 2-3 shots or be badly injured by the time they engage in melee
      While the military hammer is an awesome weapon try to mix it up by damaging the enemy first with long bows since guns are too slow

  5. I like the fact that you may support either Dwarves or Kobolds, with benefits from either choice. The combat system also sounds very good, with just some interface issues standing in the way of being excellent.

    How about a squad-level tactics game in which you play the squad leader and have direct control over that character, but you have only general control over the squad members? You would assign each character a role which they will generally follow. Then, during combat, you can at best shout out an order which will affect the AI, but not directly control anyone except your character. I think that could make an interesting, fast-paced combat system. The player is in control, but can't micro-manage the squad members.

    The idea could be expanded to a larger-scale operation - You're a colonel or general of a larger force. You can assign units to an objective, but the details of how each unit handles its assignment are up to the AI.

    1. Final Fantasy XII kind of does that, except you can change which character is the leader at any time (except KO'd characters can't be the leader). The AI controls the other characters, including following certain rules you can set, like "heal any ally with less than 40% HP."

    2. That's pretty much Final Fantasy XIII as well, I think. Shouting new orders to the AI at the right moment during combat is pretty much the whole gimmick of its combat system.

      12 had the additional complexity that you were able to basically program your own AI for the situation. And I think you could override it with a specific command at any time?

      Whereas in 13, your control of the AI was just giving each character general roles to fill and switching between different combinations of those roles. There was no way to override a character's role with a specific command. Meaning, for example, if you wanted a character to stop what they were doing and heal you, you couldn't just tell them to heal once and go back to what they were doing; you had to switch the whole party into a formation that placed that character in a "medic" role. (Yeah, I found the FF13 combat system kind of silly.)

    3. That's kind of the Ultima 6/7 approach. Although you CAN set all the characters to manual, the default is to control only the lead and let the others behave according to script. I don't think it works particularly well in U6/7, mostly because the other characters don't actually do what you tell them to do, but the approach could work well in a better game.

      In general, though, I think that good tactical combat requires a coordination of the actions of the entire party--or, at least, a few characters. I think of situations I've set up in the Gold Box games where I've used my own party configuration to force the enemies to form a straight line and thus become vulnerable to "Lightning Bolt." Or in Baldur's Gate, having a thief swallow a "Fire Resistance" potion, hide in shadows, and sneak up and backstab a member of the enemy party. Then, while all the other enemies swarm around the thief, cast a couple of "Fireballs" into the whole mess. You need control of everyone for those types of tactics.

    4. Some of the Dragon Quest games (at least IV) had AI combat. It was pretty infamous in IV because once the cleric learns the instant death spell he starts trying to use it all the time, even against bosses who are immune to it.

    5. Thankfully, the combat in U7 was easy enough that you didn't really need to control your party, as long as you stuck to melee weapons. I still remember giving Iolo a triple crossbow and him immediately murdering the Avatar by shooting him in the back.

    6. Sounds a lot like Maniac in Wing Commander, your 'wingman' who would happily destroy you from behind if you got in front of him!

  6. Supposedly excess skill in missile weapons increases the ability to shot past members in front of you, at least according to the cluebook, which is really more of a better manual. I never really noticed that myself, since combat went to melee so quick I usually got off just 1 shot, (Really liked firearms for that.)

    I agree that combat was a bit lacking, in particular since I really can't recall a single really memorable battle in the game, in contrast to the gold box games. Tough battles really meant getting tons of potions ready. One thing to consider is that you can make money by making and then selling potions, if your finances are in a tight spot you can cycle around several towns (I never found a town that sold ALL the components to a potion) buying ingredients, making the potions, and then selling them.

    The armor degrading really got annoying. Particularly when you had extra quality armor that was only sold in one or two places.

    1. When you do find that high quality armor again, buy extra sets, they are safe in your inventory.

    2. "Supposedly excess skill in missile weapons increases the ability to shot past members in front of you." You know, I did notice some of this towards the end of the game. It wasn't a HUGE change, but there were a few times when I was surprised that the game was letting me aim at a particular target. I guess that must have been a result of improved skill.

  7. I'm curious how much time has passed for you, I think my games often went past 20 years or more.

    1. It took me a little over 10 years to solve the main quest.

    2. I'm curious, have you played a game yet that had side-quests and let you keep playing after beating the main quest? I'm just wondering if your policy is to stop playing after beating the main quest, or if you have continued a game as part of this blog after finishing the main quest. To actually play it and do side-quests, I mean, not just to see if the game reacts to you beating it or to try out alternate endings.

    3. I don't really have a "policy." I suppose if I enjoyed the game enough, I'd keep playing beyond the main quest to clear up some side quests, sure.

      There have only been a handful of titles that allowed playing after the resolution of the main quest, but only a few of them have offered any side quests or other post-game content: Tunnels & Trolls, Disciples of Steel, and Keef the Thief come to mind, but in neither case was I motivated to take the opportunity to keep playing (and I don't remember having any side-quests outstanding).

      Because of the nature of the random and dynamic quest generation, I think Darklands is the first game to offer essentially endless post-game content, though it gets a bit repetitive.

  8. In my experience, pistols are garbage. They're extremely slow, fairly heavy, and the ammo is fairly expensive, and is the only one where there's no possible chance to reclaim it after the battle

    1. I remember javelins being much more effective than firearms.

  9. "I believe the style would reach its zenith in the Infinity Engine games, although there are so many titles from the post-1990 period that I haven't played that I'm open to the possibility there are even better ones."

    Actually, I can't remember a single game with the party-based real time with pause combat in-between of Darklands and BG1.
    "Tegel's Mercenaries" and "Strike Squad" may qualify, but I'm not sure if there is an active pause system. And they are tactical games, not CRPGs.

  10. "there are so many titles from the post-1990 period that I haven't played that I'm open to the possibility there are even better ones"

    Faerie Tale Adventures 2 did it perfectly imo, but it wasn't well documented.
    Basically the game was real time as long as you kept your mouse button pressed. As soon as you released the mouse, the combat went turn based. If you simply clicked orders/character movement, the game would remain turn based, But if you pressed mouse button again it would slowly accelerate to real time.
    Original and brilliant.

    1. That sounds interesting. Might and Magic 6-8 had a togglable approach, too, which i rather liked.

    2. Pedro, are you sure about that? From what I remember (and from what I can see in Youtube videos), in FTA2 you would only control one character at a time. So yes, as long as you weren't doing anything, the game would autopause, and release back once you give an order to your selected character. But you couldn't issue orders to other characters. At least that's the way I remember it.
      Also, you couldn't pause out of combat, which, combined with a rather bizarre dialog UI, made it really annoying to interact with NPCs.

    3. VK you can select which character you're controlling. If you're going "real time", you control one, the AI (or whichever orders you've given) controls the others.

    4. That's what I'm talking about - I don't remember actually being able to give orders to other characters, beyond putting them in and out of combat mode. Any other action - attacking a specific enemy or casting a spell - would immediately start real time.

  11. Ranged weapons are worth the trouble of practicing, especially when you’re about maxed out in melee. High level gunshots can take down an enemy alchemist immediately, preventing the witches from throwing their thunderbolts and eater water. Templars are hard targets but susceptible to itching powder and eater water. Penetration and quality increase potions are much worth the expense. Skill and philosopher stone increase the success rate of higher level potions and batches.

  12. St. Wenceslaus was a prince of Bohemia. Try visiting Prag.

    1. It's a good idea, but the game doesn't work that way. Saints are just allocated to cities randomly. I finally learned about him in some city in Poland.

  13. Ooo, thank you so much for your visit to Thorn and Bromberg, Chet! It sounds like Bromberg is very generic indeed, but I'm not sure about Thorn. Some of the places included are accurate, but not to the point where they would prove that the designers had done any research.

    Let's break that down a bit...

    - The Alte Schloss would of course correspond to the very large castle of the Teutonic Knights that overlooked Thorn until it was devastated when the burghers rebelled against the order in 1454. Lovely bit of irony - while the ruins are preserved (you could almost say, lovingly preserved, because it's hard to explain otherwise why a prime piece of real estate near the centre of the city stayed in place for 500 years, with no attempt to rebuild or clear for new use), one building to this day remains in perfect shape: the dansker, or castle toilet. The dansker is a peculiar concept - it's like an outhouse, built over the moat so things can flow away, but it's... you know, a massive, massive outhouse, because it also serves as the tower of final defense, where the survivors can hold out if the rest of the castle falls. Anyway, so, while there is indeed a castle in Thorn, the trouble with Alte Schloss is that typically, the only reason a castle would be called "old" is because there is a new castle in the same city - and this is not the case here.

    - Similarly, we do indeed have a church of St. Jacob (or James, as English speakers may prefer), and it's quite famous as an excellent example of Gothic architecture, but it's certainly not *the* most significant church of the city (indeed, it was actually a part of a separate, but completely adjacent "New Town"), so its inclusion seems like a lucky guess with a generic church name. In fact, in the timeframe of the game, this church would still have been in its final stages of construction (probably that means the interiors were still being decorated).

    - The Rathaus as the central market square, however, completely checks out. The rathaus (or town hall) does certainly dominate the central market square, and remains one of the most impressive buildings of the old town.

    - Finally, the Deutschherrenhaus... well, as -thhh noted above, this refers to the Teutonic Knights themselves... but it's also a case of evident confusion. The Teutonic Knights were, after all, a knightly order. They lived in monastery-like discipline... but their castle was their monastery. There were a couple of monasteries in Thorn at this time, but this name doesn't make sense.

    So, that about covers it - it looks like they tried to give some sense of historicity, but didn't get very far. And I can understand that, and sympathise with them, given the vast scope of the game. They couldn't have very well travelled all over Germany and Poland to examine these different cities. They would have struggled to find literature, because literature is *always* a massive problem for historical reconstruction - people who write histories of nations and cities don't usually consider reconstructors to be a vital audience, so it's not like you're going to find a catalogue out there showing all these different cities as they looked in the 15th century. And the instant acccess we have, via the Wikipedia, to detailed descriptions (with photos!) of key historic buildings anywhere in the world, obviously also didn't exist at this time.

    I wonder what resources they could have actually used, come to think of it. Maybe things like Lonely Planet guides...?

    1. The Darklands manual contains four pages of bibliography, sorted by category (political, social, folk tales, ...), including recommendations on what to read. Most of it are books written by historians (including a book on medieval prostitution...), but for details about cities, you were very close: "For specific details about specific cities, the Baedeker travel guides are quite useful, especially the rare pre-WWI series kindly lent to us by Bruce Milligan."

  14. The term “herrenhaus” has been bothering me. It’s oddly familiar, yet I could place where I heard it before.

    And then it struck me—the REM song “Disturbance at the Heron House”. Clearly a corruption of the former term, and a potential clue in decoding the typically impenetrable lyrics.


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