Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Dungeons of Avalon II: Summary and Rating

This door brings our explorations to a finish.

         
Dungeons of Avalon II: Island of Darkness
Germany
Zeret (developer); published by CompuTec Verlag (German) and Amiga Mania (English)
Released in 1992 for the Amiga
Date Started: 7 January 2020
Date Ended: 26 January 2020
Total Hours: 29
Difficulty: Average (3/5)
Final Rating: 30
Ranking at time of posting: 199/360 (55%)
        
Summary: 
Dungeons of Avalon II plays exactly like its predecessor: a multi-leveled dungeon crawler that looks like Dungeon Master but plays more like something of the Wizardry lineage. In a vague quest to investigate the evil that has taken over the city of Isla, a six-character party (drawn from a variety of common class types) explores nine 32 x 32 dungeon levels, contending with fixed encounters, spinners, locked doors, teleporters, switches, pressure plates, and other staples of RPG dungeon navigation. For a diskmag game, Dungeons of Avalon II is slick, with commercial-quality combat and a unique graphical style. But it goes on too long, past its level caps, and the tightly-controlled, linear nature of exploration leaves plenty of occasions for "walking dead" scenarios.

****

Well, Hakan Akbiyik did it to me twice in a row. I found Dungeons of Avalon unwinnable because of its final combat (which failed to trigger the endgame even when I cheated). I couldn't even make it that far in Dungeons of Avalon II. Here, the problem was the extremely linear nature of gameplay. Although the game has 9 32 x 32 levels, at any given time, "forward" is narrowed down to one or two sections of those levels. Everywhere else, you're waiting for a key to open a door or another "kill magic" scroll, or an item that someone wants. Just as one area closes off, you hopefully find the item necessary to open another.

Well, I ran out of items. There's a web site called "Exploring the Dungeons of Avalon" that seeks to disassemble the two games. In consultation with the site, I see that the three problems I face are:

1. There are fewer Keys #2 than there are doors that require Key 2. I still have one to open and I used up the others.

2. I still have a magic barrier that's blocking my progress, but I've run out of "Kill Magic" scrolls. The web site says there are more scrolls than barriers, but I must have messed something up somewhere. I've looted all the chests that supposedly have them.

3. My party can't open a door in the Tower of Roa that's supposed to be opened by picking it, despite my thief having the highest level. This is the most important of the three. The other two items are only keeping me from getting to some high-level equipment, but this damned door is blocking progress to the final levels. (And no, there's no spell backup to lockpicking.)
            
My thief has come a long way since his 13 strength and dexterity, but he's still not good enough to open a door.
        
I'm not blaming the game, yet. It's possible that I just accidentally discarded something I was supposed to keep, and that I'm misinterpreting the disassembly page. But trying again will take at least a dozen hours of going over the same territory, with no guarantees, so I'm not going to do it right now. Plus, I'm hoping the anonymous author of the "Exploring" page gets in touch and helps me out.

In case that doesn't happen and you're really itching to know how it ends, I've already received messages that Lord Roa, the putative "mayor" of Isla, is actually the son of the Dark Lord from the first game, and everything seemed to be channeling towards a final confrontation with him that would mirror the original game. I even found an "anti-aura" spell scroll to cancel his spell immunity. If I was successful at the final combat, I would have gotten the gratitude of the king and 20,000 gold pieces.
             
I gave the original game 31 points on the GIMLET, but I'll rate this one without checking the individual scores or logic on the first one:
         
  • 2 points for the game world. There's a bare-bones framing story, but that's about it. The game doesn't even really justify it being set in a dungeon when the backstory deals with a city and the subtitle references an island.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. There's some good stuff in the selection of character types and some tough choices to make about the classes. Character development is steady and rewarding, until you hit the unforgivably low level cap well before the end of the game.
            
Taliesin levels up for the last time.
           
  • 1 point for NPC interaction. I think I'm being a bit generous. The few NPCs in the game are more like "encounters" in which someone happens to speak.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. Monsters are reasonably well-described and have their own strengths and weaknesses. The non-combat encounters and puzzles are nothing original, but they scratch the dungeon crawler's itch.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The Wizardry/Bard's Tale system is old but venerable, and the selection of spells creates a reasonable number of tactical scenarios. The big problem is how fast spell points go, making most combats a slow matter of slugging it out.
  • 4 points for equipment--a decent selection of weapons, armor, scrolls, potions, helms, shields, rings, and missile items. I think the game offers more equipment upgrades than its predecessor.
              
I always like a game with lots of inventory slots.
            
  • 2 points for the economy--famine at the beginning and feast at the end.
  • 3 points for quests. There's a main quest, which automatically gets two points, but also some side quests, such as recovering the "dragon stone" for the dragon. 
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The interface needed more keyboard shortcuts, but I appreciated the automap, the background sound, and in particular the imaginative graphics. If we were judging games just by their monster portraits, I'd have to put the Dungeon of Avalon titles in the top 5% of games played so far.
  • 3 points for gameplay. It earns those mostly for its moderate difficulty and a slight amount of replayability with different classes, but for the most part it's too linear and too long.
             
That gives us a final score of 30, which is a nice validation of the GIMLET. Reviewing my scores for the original game now, I'm not sure why I gave so much (4 points) to the game world, but the rest of the scores are very similar.

In my wrap-up of the first game, I covered the futures of each of the developers. It mostly worked out well for them. Sorry that it didn't for us.
   
*****
 
A reader named LanHawk investigated the problem thoroughly (see his comment below). It appears that a door was placed where there wasn't supposed to be a door. LanHawk finished the game by defeating Lord Roa:
    
       
And getting the gratitude of the king:
         
           
Based on the problem he described, it is likely that that winning screenshot has never been seen before, unless the previous player hacked the game the same way that LanHawk did. Either way, thanks to LanHawk for figuring it out and giving us some closure.

Edit: See this comment for an alternate explanation.

46 comments:

  1. I could cop it if it came down to a matter of role-play choices that not every area/item could be attained, but for it to leave you walking dead... it speaks volumes of your dedication to the cause (and perhaps experience) that your post wasn't simply a bunch of expletives!

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  2. I guess these games were barely beta-tested (if at all), or the testers were all friends of the developers who were involved to some degree in the design of the game (and if it was only to listen to the dev's ideas and give feedback).

    That would explain why you can get stuck so easily and there are so many design issues. When everyone who playtests the game is intimately familiar with its workings, they're not going to notice issues like that.

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    1. wasn't it possble to be walking dead in dungeon masters also if the giggler stole an essential key and you left the level then when you came back and killed it the key wouldn't spawn as loot.

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    2. That's an issue with a LOT of games. Even those made by "professional" companies.

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    3. I never heard of that. Maybe it was the case, but I think it would have happened very rarely.

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    4. it could have been that this was only a problem in the original ST version of DM

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  3. >I'm not blaming the game, yet. It's possible that I just accidentally discarded something I was supposed to keep, and that I'm misinterpreting the disassembly page.

    I think the game is worthy of being blamed, if you have to use disassembly pages to find out how to win, and if discarding an item can make the game unwinnable.

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  4. It's interesting to think about how easily one could really mess up their progress in a game from these days, compared to games nowadays. It's almost impossible to do so. Remember the big controversy over having non killable npcs?

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    1. That's one of the things I like best about the hand-holding that happens with modern games. I sometimes miss having to make my own maps and take my own notes, but I really appreciate that I never (or almost never) have to worry about a "walking dead" scenario.

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    2. Totally agree with what you say. As for that controversy, I don't specifically remember it. Anyway, for some games non killable NPCs or something like that are a necessity. Elder Scrolls games (at least Oblivion) have a mixture of non killables and warnings when you're in a walking dead situation. Imagine you could kill an NPC who would become essential 50 hours later... I realise it's unfair to compare a more modern AAA game (yes, Oblivion, modern... I'm old, OK?) to a 30 years old diskmag game, but I'm certainly grateful for such improvements in game design.

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    3. I think Morrowind and Fallout offer the two best approaches to this problem.

      In Morrowind most essential characters are fairly obvious, and there's a warning message for those that aren't. Thus you CAN kill everybody you want, but you're never in the dark about "walking dead" scenarios.

      Of course, in earlier Fallout games, they accounted for most NPCs in the entire game being killed; I imagine it's possible to lock yourself out of the main story, but only in a few isolated situations.

      I couldn't stand how many random NPCs in Skyrim are unkillable for reasons my character may never know; I finished the Imperial campaign long ago, why should a random Stormcloak in the woods still be invincible?

      Games that allow you to trap yourself like this are just a symptom of lazy, inattentive development. At BEST, they might be trying to pad out the game time in the worst and most obscure manner possible.

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    4. Morrowind's approach is infintely superior to Oblivion's. In Oblivion, you can't kill main quest relevant NPCs. You can hit them for over 10 million damage, but they won't die, they'll just fall down and get up again after a few seconds. It breaks immersion and restricts player freedom.

      In Morrowind, you can kill everyone. Every single NPC. No restrictions. Plot relevant NPCs put the message "With this character's death, the thread of prophecy has been severed. Reload an earlier game or persist in the doomed world you have created." on your screen when you kill them. And the best part about it is, you can still finish the main quest with an alternate backdoor solution. The devs even thought of a hidden way to finish the game for those who accidentally (or purposefully) screw it up! How cool is that?

      And there are some NPCs who pop this message whose deaths don't completely screw the main quest. There's a woman at the Pelagiad harbor who will transport you to a secret temple later in the mainquest, if you kill her you get this message (and if you haven't reached that point of the storyline, you really have no clue what's up with that, she's just some random chick with no connection to anything!). If you know where to find that temple, though, you can just walk there. She's not absolutely necessary to complete the game.

      You can experiment with this and see how many plot-relevant NPCs you can kill and still finish the main quest the normal way. It's a lot more fun than simply being blocked from killing them entirely.

      Arcanum also handles it greatly. Most plot-relevant NPCs can be killed. There is usually an alternate way of getting the information you need. And if you really don't have any other alternatives... you can learn the second tier necromancy spell that lets you conjure the spirits of the dead to interrogate them.

      Overall, this approach makes the game world more believable (everyone operates by the same rules, even questgivers aren't immune to a sword hitting their face) and offers the player more gameplay options and more opportunities to mess around.

      Most importantly, this is an approach that puts more trust into the players. The devs assume that the players are smart enough not to kill every neutral NPC they come across. They also trust the player to know what he's doing, and allow him to screw up his game on purpose if he really wants to.

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    5. The key there is that either they need to alert the player they’re entering a walking dead scenario, or provide alternate solutions that basically doesn’t rely on you taking to certain NPCs. Really cool when that works but I can imagine it gets difficult to design as you have more NPCs and more complex stories going on. I like that Arcanum idea though. Give the player the tools to get out of that situation which feels organic and requires the player to think out of the box. Nice!

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    6. JarlFrank, since you mention Arcanum, do you know if a tech oriented character can learn necromancy? Otherwise you can still get stuck. But even so, this is a great way of handling NPC deaths.

      Morrowind's warning is mostly good for when you want to experiment or during a second playthrough. If you're trying to win the game, the only safe thing to do is reload when you see that line about the prophecy. As such it I don't feel it is better than immortal NPCs - who, rather unfortunately, never realise they're immortal and thus don't try to defeat the enemy themselves. No no, let that to the very mortal PC.

      Gothic also has unkillable NPCs, but if I remember well most of them are only unkillable at specific times, e.g. when you follow some guy to the swamp camp, he is unkillable as long as he is your guide. It's not really realistic, but the mechanism helps to advance the game without totally breaking immersion.

      I like that devs put some thoughts in these things, no matter what solution they choose. Anything is better than walking dead scenarios.

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    7. Tech characters in Arcanum can't use any magic effectively, so necromancy isn't an option for them. But usually, if a quest requires you to retrieve information, there might be a locked filing cabinet containing a document you can read (with the key being on the body of the important NPC you just killed), or something similar like that. I haven't attempted a playthrough where I tried to kill everyone as soon as I met them, so I don't know if you can do that and still win the game. Guess I'll have to attempt that one day.

      Also, issues only arise when your story relies on specific NPCs being alive. That's not a matter of story complexity but of story structure. It mostly becomes a problem when the player has to follow a linear arrangement of quests that don't allow for alternatives and don't allow skipping ahead. But if you structure your main quest in a way that's more goal-based, you can easily allow for all NPCs to die and still let the player progress.

      Sure, just slapping invincibility on the main NPCs is a lot easier, but it's also a lot more boring.

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    8. I agree that Morrowind is better than Oblivion in this regard, particularly since Oblivion applies its "no kill" rule to any NPC involved in any questline. However, as I don't generally role-play a character bent on killing everyone in the game, I don't know that I mind THAT much.

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    9. The one time a quest character is killable is when you really DON'T want them to die--when Martin bravely leads the troops into an Oblivion gate, he is 100% killable. Him dying causes an instant game over. Very frustrating.

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    10. 100% killable and not scaled to your level - unlike the Daedra coming out of that gate. I think I had to cheat to complete that mission, not because those Daedra were too strong for my character but because Martin was far too weak when I finally got to that point in the game. I wonder how many people play TES games like me, completing all side quests before advancing the main plot.

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    11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    12. It's been a while since I played Oblivion, but as I recall there are some ways to get some immortal NPCs as followers and some will fight your enemies. That was always my strategy for the Bruma fight, since having a couple of immortal meat shields helps a lot when you're trying to defend Martin.

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    13. Martin is the best example of this until the end of the game. I used to pick him up in Kvatch and then play for hours with him as a constant companion, never delivering him to Bruma. He'd get lost all the time, but he'd always pop up again somewhere. Having him around as a friend for so long made it sad when he had to leave to assume his duties, and heartbreaking when he died.

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    14. Martin is among the most human characters in the Elder Scrolls series. The overwhelming majority of characters in the Elder Scrolls universe are tired archetypes played 100% straight--lots of wise sages, maniacal wizards, grim soldiers, noble knights, uncouth bandits, etc.

      Martin was the first character since Yagrum Bagarn in Morrowind that vaguely tugged my heartstrings. Sean Bean's performance helped a lot.

      What really helped me sympathize with Martin is that half the time after he goes to Cloud Ruler, you find him reading books. Even after he resumes his responsibilities, he's a scholar at heart, and he helps you with knowledge--not mystical wizardly knowledge, just honest research and know-how.

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  5. Wut about Zelda tho?

    ��

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    1. Assuming you're not just stirring the pot for no reason, Zelda 1 let you buy keys at any point. Later games where you can't are meticulously designed and actually very linear, such that you never have too many or too little keys for the given dungeon.

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    2. Yes, Nintendo have always been very good about this sort of thing. I can't think of any of their games where I've encountered a walking dead scenario or a game-breaking bug.

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    3. Skyward Sword had nintendo go out with a warning about a game-breaking bug.

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    4. Huh, you're right. I missed that one completely. Lucky, because the thought of having to replay Skyward Sword is not a pleasant one.

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    5. The original Game Boy LoZ: Link's Awakening had a spot where you could get stuck, but it required you to move in a non-intuitive way and save in a specific spot, so it wasn't particularly likely (you could jump to a locked door you were supposed to swim to before you got the item that unlocked swimming, so if you did that and saved after opening the door, there weren't enough keys to get the item you need.) They fixed it in the remakes.

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  6. I suppose you get what you pay for with diskmag games, but it's still a shame to put this much effort into something and forget to make it beatable. As others have said, it's probably a matter of having insufficient testing. Or maybe they were saving the conclusion for a planned Dungeons of Avalon III: Now With An Ending! (which, fittingly, was not completed).

    I also like how half of your current upcoming games list are space/sci-fi-themed and the Bungie game on there isn't one of them.

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  7. My alternative rating: 25 points. For each aspect Chet mentions, I´m deducting half a point.
    I´ll also note here that Lemon Amiga gives it a score of 6.43 out of a possible 10...so not so good.

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    1. 6.43 out of ten is still solidly above average though, at least if the magazine uses the ratings properly (5 out of 10 would be somewhat disappointing but still average, while 6 would be average but decent enough for a playthrough, 7 is quite above average, 8 is good, 9 great and 10 out of 10 would be reserved for the best of the best).

      But magazines often have rating inflations, where too many games get top scores, so the rating kind of loses its meaning.

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    2. 50% is a failing grade in most places. A 6 out of 10 is like a D-.

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    3. But then, what's with the really low grades? Would you ever come into a situation where you'd use 4/10 or less when 5/10 is already a failing grade?

      Different reviewers use scores differently, but I always preferred those who use the full range of numbers available to them. On Goodreads, book reviewers tend to give 5 stars only rarely. Most worthwhile books are rated 3 stars, great ones 4, and only the best 5. Even a 2 star review might say that the book has some redeeming values. I like it when reviewers use the entire range of available ratings rather than only sticking around the higher numbers. It makes high ratings more meaningful.

      Besides, if you have a rating system of x/10 but 5 is already considered bad, you might as well cut it down to a 5 star rating system instead, since you'll rarely use the numbers below 5.

      That's why I like Chet's Gimlet. It's an out of 10 system, but he doesn't gravitate towards the top numbers whenever he likes something, but gives fair ratings to each category that take all good and bad points into account.

      I play a lot of Thief fan missions, and whenever I finish one I write a little one-paragraph review for myself and rate it in comparison to all the others I played. In my rating system, 1-2 is bad, 3-4 is meh, 5-6 is solid, 7-8 is good, 9-10 is great. There are only 3 or 4 fan missions out of hundreds I played that got a 10,and I rarely give out 9s,too. Most of the ones I enjoy get rated 6 or 7, depending on overall quality.

      In my view, "5/10" means plain average, since 5 is the middle value.

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    4. In business, a lot of companies say that 9 and 10 are positive, 7 or 8 are "neutral" (and as such are largely ignored as customers who provide this are unlikely to be able to be swayed up or down) and 1 to 6 are "negative". This means that people who look at a 5 as "perfectly alright but nothing special" are considered actively negative. EBay is similar - they rate by percentage of 5/5 star reviews, meaning that a seller which has 90% 4 star reviews by people going "This was really good! I just save 5 star for 'absolutely spectacular'" will have a really negative search algorithm etc.

      I'm not saying you're wrong by any stretch of the imagination, Jarl - but I guarantee you that 50% is not perceived as "50% of 100" by most. It's actually "anything under is an abject fail" with more like 70-100 being different shades of passable to good to great. If a magazine rates 70%, there is likely a big problem with the offering.

      Please note that I am not at all judging the gimlet here which works in a very transparent fashion. Just saying that most magazines etc would consider 65% a scathing criticism.

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  8. Another semi-competent, partly broken, derivative, diskmag game. When do diskmags stop being a thing? I seem to recall they were still around in the early 00s.

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    1. Great question... I also remember seeing the mags through the late 90s at minimum. The last actual (freeware-distribution) disk I recall putting my hands on and using I think was in 2002, and it was in a Cheerios box of all places - not even a mag :-)

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    2. I remember that promotion -- but those were full commercial games (albeit several years old) rather than amateur productions. I got the PC version of Atari's Greatest Hits in a box of cereal.

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    3. In Germany, we would have PC gaming magazines coming with a CD that contained an older big name game and several demos and indie games well into the 2010s. I haven't bought one of those in years, but I wouldn't be surprised if they still came with DVDs.

      The games on there weren't made specifically for the magazine though.

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    4. Yeah, they had DVDs and later double layer DVDs with 2 games on it.

      Before the whole steam sale and other digital distributors that was a valid way to get slightly older but good games on a budget.

      There were also the "software pyramids" full of old budget games, but many of them were duds...

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  9. I went and played DoA2 up to the point were I am guessing Chet got stuck. (at the door whose lock can't be picked) If you look at the disassembly project page, you will see that even they don't know what to make of this door. That is because it is so out of character and not consistent with any other doors in the game. You can reference the map here: https://tetracorp.github.io/dungeons-of-avalon/maps/doa2-tower2.html The location in question is at 7E,19N from the bottom left.

    "1c" is the square we are talking about and from what I can tell is present in all versions (German and English) of the game. My thief is level 16 and can't pick the door. (that is the max level) I have no doubt that this was an accidental map creation bug.

    So the question becomes, what should this square really be then? The hex codes for each square are two bytes. First byte is the subtype "1c" and the second byte is the type "12". "12" is the code for a door.

    So I first tried "0c 12" and my thief could successfully pick the lock. I then tried "0f 12", still successful. Then "10 12", no dice. So it certainly doesn't seem intentional for this to be a "1c 12" door. The highest "pick" door present in the game is "06 12".

    Then I looked at the "what if it wasn't supposed to be a door" possibilities. What makes the most sense is if instead of a door "12" it was to be a trap "02". So I then tried "1c 02". This is a higher level trap that my thief can't disarm just like he couldn't pick the lock. Well that one was rather interesting when I tripped it. The message said something about screaming Banshees and it killed two of my characters.

    This high level of trap is not found elsewhere in the game. So it is most likely incorrect. The game has been rather easy everywhere else concerning thief abilities and overall in general. But if you look at the map I referenced earlier, you will see several "0c" traps.

    So my best guess is that this was supposed to be a "0c 02" trap instead of a "1c 12" door. Any one else have other ideas?

    Additionally, at least two of the four NPC encounters (fetch quest) that are required to progress in the game are broken in the English version of the game. The German version was patched at one point and I am betting that this is the part that was fixed as Chet successfully played past it using the German version. I have been playing the English version and then moving my save file over to the German version to complete the NPC interactions. Then moving it back to the English version. So the save files are compatible between versions.

    Map squares hex codes: https://tetracorp.github.io/dungeons-of-avalon/data/dungeon-format.html

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    1. Thanks, Lance. I definitely appreciate the verification that I didn't screw something up. I suppose this means that no one has actually ever won Dungeons of Avalon II--not unless they analyzed it the same way you did and fixed the problem.

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    2. Has a patch been created? Seems like a good thing to share with romhacking.net or somesuch site.

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    3. Well I finished the game, but had to complete the final level using the German version. If you are going to attempt to play and finish this game, here is what you need to know.

      German version: seems to work start to finish except for the one map tile mentioned above.

      English version: in addition to the map tile and NPC encounters mentioned above, here are the other things I found that didn't work:
      1) on the final level a new kind of Switch was introduced, these new switches can't be flipped and will prevent you from progressing.
      2) seemingly all combat encounters freeze the game

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    4. Hi!

      The locked door has a level requirement of 0x1c (28) which can only be met by the NPC thief (which for some reason is level 32).

      Sadly the manual does not even state how NPCs can be added to the party: You need to free a party slot by leaving one character in the tavern, then click the NPCs skull item in the inventory and then the free party slot.
      Now the slot is filled with the (still dead NPC). Go to the temple, have him resurrected and healed.

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    5. The plot thickens! So perhaps the locked door wasn't an error after all. The developer just expected you to resurrect every NPC, even if you were perfectly happy with your own party, hoping to find one whose level exceeded the theoretical maximum of the game.

      I think I'd feel better if it was an error.

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    6. A random NPC is mightier than your carefully grinded personal character? What an insult.

      Delete

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