Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Beneath the Clouds of Xeen

Walking around the edge of the world.
          
I ended my last session wondering how I should begin my explorations of Xeen, and it took me an hour or so into this session to come up with a solution, which turned out to be the most obvious solution, but that often happens in life.
   
I began by finishing the clean-up of Rivercity. I hadn't been able to beat the Yang Knights mid-way through the last session, and they were still tough at the beginning of this one. I could only hit them about 1 time in 15. I ended up using a lot of my gems on "Fantastic Freeze," the best offensive spell that I have at this point, plus burning through a lot of the magic items I'd collected. Their leader, "Captain Yang," was particularly difficult. But I eventually got through them and was rewarded with a couple of chests, one of which had 50,000 gold. My financial worries seem to be temporarily over. I stashed about half of what I had in the bank, along with a couple hundred gems. I don't know if you earn interest on gems, but I'm going to find out.
     
If I were "captain," I'd demand the more colorful armor.
     
After this, the outdoor explorations began. My first thought was to go "organically"--to simply role-play the party. I was in Rivercity, near the lake in which Darzog's Tower resided. One "Walk on Water" spell could take me across the waves to the tower. The tower was the site of my main quest. Why not try it?
        
Ah, right. That's why.
       
I soon came across a small island with a fisherman in a hut. He complained of "lake beasts" ruining the fish supply and wanted me to kill them. No problem; I probably would have done that anyway. I soon ran into one of those "lake beasts," looking like the Loch Ness monster. It looked back at me briefly and casually tossed off some kind of missile attack that killed everyone immediately.
   
So much for the "organic" way.
   
All right, I decided, if I'm going to be exploring the central lake last (which seemed suddenly likely), then there was an obvious exploration pattern that would get me there last: start at the outer edges of the map and work my way inward. I thought I'd make a run around the perimeter to start. I reloaded from Rivercity and took the teleportal mirror to Vertigo, which is in area F3, on the edge of F4 (maps go from A1 to F4). I walked east from there to the eastern edge of the map and then started making my way south. As I explored this literal edge, I thought of some things my characters might do in real life, like lie down and poke our heads out over the edge to see how "thick" Xeen is. I mean, it has to be thick enough for dungeons, right? I started to ask the same questions I asked in Ultima VI. If you take a dungeon all the way through, do you experience a gravitational shift in the middle? Where does the water go? Since it seems to leave the planet, how is it ever replenished?
      
We caught that bottle just in time.
      
My exploration worked okay for a while. I finished the eastern and southern edges of F4, fighting some toads along the way, then cut through the southern boundary of E4, fending off skeletons and zombies. D4 became a problem, though. There were clusters of deadly insects called "stingers" that I could kill if I really threw everything into it, but that got exhausting quite quickly. Even by then, however, I realized this was no fun. I was losing any sense of theme to the various map areas. Even though they're comically small, the creators did take pains to give them some kind of theme.
   
Thus I changed my mind and did the most obvious thing. I returned to F4 and set about exploring the entire 16 x 16 map, minus a few squares to count for the ragged edges.
   
On the game map, F4 comprises Toad Meadow and the Witches' Tower. Toad Meadow deserved its name: it was full of giant toads, as well as giant snakes. The toads were capable of inflicting "sleep" with their tongues, but they otherwise weren't hard to kill with melee attacks. There were several locations where I could find Phirna Root for the healer outside Vertigo, but the game would only let me take one at a time. There was no one monstrous toad as the graphic on the game map suggested, which was a little disappointing.
    
The one non-hostile resident of Toad Meadow introduces herself.
     
An old woman named Valia lived in a house in the south of the meadow. "Before I die," she said, "I wish to see the witches of Toad Meadow destroyed." She went on to explain that she has spent her life hiding a unicorn named Falista from the witches, but now the unicorn has disappeared, and Valia fears that the witches have "killed her for her alacorn's magic." She gave me the key to the tower.
   
(Before researching this word just now, I didn't know that alicorn has been used since the 17th century to refer to the horn of the unicorn. There was a similar quest in Might and Magic III, with that spelling, but I just kept referring to the item redundantly as an "alicorn horn," thinking that alicorn was just some variant on "unicorn." The game's spelling here is a bit unorthodox and is often used to describe a unicorn-pegasus hybrid in other games.)
   
We found the tower in the center of the meadow. As we approached, a brief cinematic took over in which some weird guy with runes on his face said, "I see you have the key to this tower.  You may pass, mortals." A few things mildly annoyed me about this. First of all, that's not how a key works. You don't show it to someone; you insert it into a lock. Second, every time some RPG being calls me "mortal" with a sneer, I feel compelled to show him exactly what mortality means. How do these witches--who, as we're going to see, were charitably maybe Level 1--have the ability to summon an "immortal" guardian for their tower?
          
What is this guy's story?
       
Beyond that, the tower itself was easy. The witches had spells, but for the most part they didn't even damage us. They died in one hit. As we explored the four levels of the tower, we freed their prisoners from cages and opened various chests; opening the cages and chests did far more damage (and disease) to my party than the witches or their various goblin minions.
    
One of the more colorful enemies so far.
        
There were also skulls in various alcoves who provided hints and spells for gems. "Don't forget to use the levitate spell before you enter the cloud world!," one said. I didn't know what that meant until I got to the top of the tower. The roof was a small area of stone from which clouds went off in all directions. The automap indicated that I was looking at an entirely new map, not a variant of the surface map. I cast "Levitate" and walked around a bit on the clouds, and it appears that you can even move between maps up here--that the game has an entirely separate, second "map" with the same number of squares as the surface, but this one above the clouds. (Never mind the absurdity of a four-level tower poking above the clouds.) I either never knew or completely forgot about this. The subtitle makes a lot more sense.
         
On a particularly sunny day, I guess you can't get around this way.
        
One of the freed children told us the password ("Rosebud") that opened the door to where the witches had stashed the alacorn. We snatched it and returned it to Valia, who gave us all the "Crusader" skill plus experience.
    
     
F3 was next, starting with a return to Vertigo for healing (I don't have "Cure Disease" yet). Dorcas had also gotten cursed somehow. On the way, we found a bottle floating in a pond with a message from Crodo: "Help! I am in Darzog's Tower!" I believe messages-in-bottles are making their appearance here for the first and only time in a Might and Magic game. 
       
When psychic projections failed, Crodo resorted to more classic methods.
    
I had explored F4 from the outside-in, but I did F3 in east-west strips, moving north. It was a temperate region, with forests and lakes and mountains. Special encounters included:
 
  • A fountain that raises you five levels (in addition to the already-discovered ones that raise your hit points and armor class). I'd mention here that walking costs 10 minutes per step, so it doesn't take long to pass a day and for the fountains' effects to wear off. Fountains don't really benefit you while you're exploring; they're for visiting later, using careful timing to maximize their effects before difficult combats or indoor areas (where time passes more slowly).
      
      
  • A hermit named Orothin asked me to find his lost bone whistle, which activates two statues in the area that teach "Cure Poison" and "Cure Disease." He lost it in Pitchfork Creek, which is in E3 or E4.
  • A ranger named Derek, living in a wagon, searching for his fiancee, Celia. Zombies kidnapped her and took her into the Forest of the Walking Dead. That appears to be in E4.
  • A shrine that conferred +50 poison resistance. These shrines and fountains are useful, but I wish the creators had just made them apply to the whole party. Instead, you have to activate it and then specify each character. Who visits and only applies the bonus to one character? This is a flaw in the otherwise excellent interface.
  • Myra the Herbalist, already encountered, who mixed up several Potions of Antidotes for each Phirna Root we brought her. These were swiftly obsolete.
  • An orc outpost that I burned for experience. Not burning these outposts doesn't seem to infinitely generate more monsters the way it did in Might and Magic III. That suggests the number of experience points in this game is fixed, except perhaps for the arenas.
     
There were a few orcs, but I'd killed most of them in earlier sessions. The Red Dwarf Mines were the only "dungeon."
   
F2 showed lava, and I didn't think I was ready for that yet, so I moved down to E4, a forested area full of skeletons and zombies. I did it in north-south strips moving west. The enemy "camps" were "shrines to the undead," which we could desecrate for experience and items. I found Orothin's bone whistle among a pile of bones at the top of the map. We went back and gave it to the hermit and got 15,000 experience points plus the two spells taught by the statues.
        
I had to laugh at "destroy the furnishings." I pictured the party slashing couch cushions.


How, precisely?
        
The area's dungeon was called the Temple of Yak, continuing an unfortunate Might and Magic tradition that began with the Temple of Moo in III and will move on to the Temple of Baa in VI. Once again, there was a door guardian--some kind of orc. I had the entry item, a Stone of Yak--a cursed mermaid gave it to me while I was exploring the edge, saying she wanted me to recover a potion that would restore her tail.
 
A pit trap opened beneath us soon after I entered. I wasted some time with the "Jump" spell before I remembered that the "Levitation" spell would let us walk over them with impunity.
       
A pit trap flanked by boxes I'm too weak to open.
     
Regular enemies varied from easy skeletons to moderate Yak clerics and priests to tough Yak liches--the latter only coming out if I disturbed their coffins. The Yak liches were immune to magic and had a powerful "Sleep" attack. If I could keep most of my party awake for a few rounds, I could kill them with physical damage, but a couple of times they rendered all but one character comatose and then made short work of him.
        

Some of the enemies in this dungeon.
     
Other aspects of the dungeon were a bit tough. There were a bunch of crates that even my paladin couldn't open, so I'll have to come back when I have more strength (or identify a fountain for a temporary boost). One special lich, called the "Yak Master," just wiped the floor with me. I'm not entirely sure I figured out a puzzle that involved turning some switches. There were some pools to bathe in that just seemed to disease me (one gave me 25,000 experience points and then immediately killed me). I had to leave about half the dungeon for later.
        
This would be a good name for one of my cats.
       
Whoever you designate as the "opener-and-searcher-of-things" (boxes, doors, beds, piles of rags and bones) takes some serious abuse. In my party, it's Suss the Ninja. Open the door--boom, trap removes half her hit points. Search the pile of rags; she gets diseased. Open that sarcophagus; she's cursed. Search that chest--now she's unconscious and her armor is broken. 
   
But I did find the mermaid's Elixir of Restoration, plus a couple of coins called "King's Mega Credits." The resulting experience was enough to get us to Level 11, after which the next level seems laughably far away.
 
I'm enjoying Xeen, but its weaknesses seem somehow more apparent to me this time than in past games. In some ways, the world feels like a giant "to do" list, with every square a task. You just kind of mow your way through the world, accomplishing everything there is to accomplish, leaving a barren square behind you. It's almost as if you start the game on a world teeming with life, and you slowly kill all of it. Even the NPCs' huts are usually empty after you've solved their quests. Plenty of games have featured a similar approach, of course--tiled movement, nothing living in the environment except enemies, plot progression tied inextricably to geographic progression. Maybe it's the lack of any respawning that makes this one feel so extreme. Or maybe it's just become clear that it's time to move on; that Xeen is clearly the end of the line for its type of gameplay.
 
The ugly mermaid departs, leaving another abandoned hut on the landscape.
      
Man, I have got to snap out of it this week.
  
Time so far: 13 hours

165 comments:

  1. PetrusOctavianusMarch 3, 2021 at 1:01 AM

    It sounds like you are becoming overly analytical lately. Personally I prefer to treat blobbers like World of Xeen more like the abstract or "gamey" games they are, like crosswords and chess, instead of as a simulation or "immersive sim", or as a book or movie, where one excepts more "realism" to suspend one's sense of disbelief.

    I don't know if you have asked yourself this before, but do you approach every game with the same mindset?

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    1. Yeah, I enjoyed Xeen as a game and never dared to think about it as a realized fantasy world. Personally, I find the gatekeepers in front of towers and dungeons charming. The absurdity of the game is like a fun shroom trip seen through the eyes of a high fantasy nerd

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    2. Same. Xeen is one of my favorite DOS RPGs because of its fun gameplay and I never considered any of the worldbuilding issues you raised. It's a pretty generic and silly fantasy world filled with various thematic enemies to kill, and it's got good graphics and a fun gameplay loop.

      I also find the lack of respawning a positive thing, as it reduces the tedium of backtracking (once you cleared a low level area you won't be bothered by those enemies ever again; a game with respawns would always throw parties of level 1 orcs at you whenever you return to the starting area). And it does feel more realistic than respawns if you think about it. After you genocide all the orcs, where would the new ones be coming from?

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    3. I agree with you all above. Even though the world at end indeed feels kinda empty.

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    4. Indeed, all those inconsistencies are a bit silly and it's fun to laugh at them once in a while, but you sound overly annoyed and make a point of mentioning everything that doesn't make logical sense. You need to take it more for what it is, a game with a vintage nonsensical charm.

      And there's definitely more "organic" ways to explore than crossing quadrants row by row, you'll definitely not get a lot of exploration fun that way. Even if at some point you need to do that, I always start by respecting rivers, roads, forests, mountains and other natural boundaries when first exploring an area, it feels much more immersive. Then in a second phase I do a meticulous pass square by square to get remaining treasure and items.

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    5. I don't disagree with you. I hope it's a temporary problem.

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  2. The pools in the Temple Of Yak can have another effect, but I don't remember if they give you a message.

    Ng yrnfg fbzr bs gur cbbyf obbfg fbzr fgngf hagvy gurl ernpu n pregnva guerfubyq.

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    1. Perhaps he didn't test those particular ones on characters for which they'd be relevant?

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  3. Note how the clerics of Yak in this game even look extremely similar to the clerics of Moo in the previous one (and if I recall correctly, both use the same attack as well).

    What bothers me about this game is how FAST everything goes. Like, it sounds interesting that you need skills like mountaineer or swim to enter certain squares; but it's largely irrelevant since you can get all of those skills in the first ten minutes of gameplay. And yeah, you can all-too-easily trivialize areas (like the witch tower) by visiting a higher-level area (Rivercity) first.

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    1. One of the M&Ms (or maybe even two) had the Temple of Eep, populated by rat cultists.

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    2. I agree. It would have been more interesting to be forced to explore the first few areas only by path or open area, then slowly acquire the skills necessary for full-terrain exploration. III did it that way.

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  4. My problem with Xeen is that it feels very mechanical. All the quests and npcs just feel like text on top of basic tasks to the point you can utterly feel the data structures within. There doesn’t really feel like any sense of wonder, thinking what the developers might do next. Instead it’s talk to npc #31 who tells you to go to square F4 and kill the foozle within - a foozle with 128 Hp and 60% chance of hitting each round. This is a typical problem with CRPGs of course but usually they hide it better.

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    1. That's a very good point actually. MM3 at least tries: it opens up with the menacing face of Sheltem the Guardian, and then the town of Fountainhead has been overrun by slime monsters and removing the monsters cures the fountain of slime... it's not the most believable of fantasy worlds either, but at least it's reasonably coherent.

      By contrast, MM4 doesn't even try. It opens with a cheesy intro scroll that's basically "LOL here's a foozle" and opens up with the stupid bit of Joe the Exterminator who was hired years ago and somehow nobody noticed he was breeding the monsters? Plus money on trees? The dwarf mines being announced like a theme park? As you say, there's no sense of wonder here.

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    2. What if you *like* the mechanic of adventuring around, overcoming challenges? Nethack and Diablo made a whole franchise out of it.

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    3. There's something to what Deano and Anonymous say, but I usually find ways to look past it. I think in this case it's 50% me, 50% the game.

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    4. stepped pyramidsMarch 3, 2021 at 4:50 PM

      Nethack doesn't even pretend to be anything more than a death maze (apart from the quests, which IMO are the weakest part of the game and feel very tacked on). Diablo's story is pretty simple (in the original, at least), but it takes itself seriously. Xeen tries to have a story, but doesn't successfully manage to tie it to gameplay at all. And also it's just aesthetically very intense, with cartoonish graphics, garish colors, giant heads suddenly jumping up and yammering at you, etc.

      Frankly, where Nethack is goofy it's often successfully funny, while Xeen feels like an endless series of jokes that never land, or a Saturday morning cartoon in a language you don't know.

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  5. Reading through your play sessions for the years of 1992/1993 definitely gave me a better understanding why the CRPG genre entered a decline in the early 90s. It's not like the games were bad, and graphics and sound in particular continued to improve. But as you describe it, it just seems like everything had already been done before... Aside maybe from the Ultimas (VII and Underworld) there hardly seems to be any innovation, any sense of wonder left. And if something like Darklands tried something different or seemed unfocused and scattershot.

    If I'm not mistaken, it was around the same time that console RPGs started to explore things like plot and world building in greater depth, which these CRPGs really seem to lack. So I can kind of see now how console RPGs also started to gain popularity around the same time, with more accessible (if immensely watered down) mechanics but more interesting worlds and characters...

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    1. It's funny, because console RPGs are completely off-putting to me with their strict linearity and completely hands-off story (no dialog choices, no keywords, no picking and choosing which quests to do, not even character creation - just linearity and lengthy cutscenes). I tried several but couldn't get into them. Meanwhile games like Might and Magic are fun in their simplicity.

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    2. This wasn't supposed to be a "what's better, computer RPGs or console RPGs" kind of comment. The mid-90s are generally considered as the "Dark Age" of CRPGs, where the genre was considered in decline. I had always wondered why that would be the case (I mean, CRPGs never went away entirely, and even the supposed "Dark Age" only lasted a few years). But reading up on the latest posts for 1992, in particular with the ongoing Magic Candle III and MM4, I can not kind of see how people back in the day must have felt about three state of affairs: when every new release starts to feel like the same, rote affair, and that situation has gone on like that for quite a while (and would still continue to do so for the following year), they would probably find it hard to muster up much enthusiasm for the next game in the starting block, but rather yearn for more variety. It doesn't make MM4 a bad game, and there are always grand pleased to get just more of the same, but I can understand when most would've started to yearn for more depth and variety by that point in time.

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    3. Basically what I'm trying to say is, if you look at the games chronologically like this, you can't help but feel that there is a certain staleness setting in into the CRPG genre as a while at that particular point in time. Luckily, it'll get better soon enough. ;)

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    4. Early 90s were basically the pinnacle of classic RPG series - Ultima, Wizardry, Quest for Glory, Might&Magic all had their most ambitious and most influential installments released in 1992-1993. There was quite a bit of innovation going around too. Dark Sun from 1993 with its isometric view and dialog trees is basically the forefather of modern RPG; that it didn't quite take off has more to do with bugs and a hugely unconventional setting. And then of course we have Arena from 1994, which started The Elder Scrolls.
      The decline of RPGs in mid-90s has more to do with technical developments: 3D, which made shooters the hottest thing to make, and CD-ROM, which led to the unfortunate FMV era.

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    5. Oh, and also Lands of Lore from 1993, which basically invented the casual RPG with its simplistic mechanics and focus on story and visuals.

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    6. ...and Betrayal at Krondor, a blueprint for story-heavy RPGs.

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    7. I wouldn't say Lands Of Lore has much of a story focus; it's a pretty standard foozle plot. Its visuals, however, are amazing.

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    8. I'm not saying that the plot is very original (although in some ways it is) - but it develops throughout the game - the state of the world changes as the game progresses. It also has a cast of well-developed recurring characters, including the villain that regularly interacts with your party and tries to foil your quest instead of waiting patiently at the end of the final dungeon. These things weren't very common for PC RPGs of the era.

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    9. I wouldn't call any character in LOL anything more than flat; but yes, it IS nice that the bad guy moves around and menaces you. In fact, one of the few earlier games that did this is EOB2 (by the same authors).

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    10. I mean, well-developed by RPG standards of course. They had some personality to them - though of course a large part of it was courtesy of their graphics - rather than simple dialog dispensers the way NPCs tend to be in RPGs.

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    11. I don't know, nothing I read here really does much to dissuade me from my opinion. True, Wizardry 7 and Ultima 7 were kind of the highlights of their respective series, but if anything that proves my point - with them the genre plateaued and tool quite a while to really improve and innovate again. Yes, QfG4 and Dark Suns are considered gems in the genre NOWADAYS - but back then, at release, they were quite buggy (at least in the case of QfG4 to the point of being unable to complete) - not much of a problem these days, but back then patches were hard to come by, and not many gamers would'Ve seen the greatness that is now perceived about these games.
      The combined MM4&5 certainly was an ambitious and mindblowing idea, but the games themselves just feel very "samey" to what came before - staleness had indeed set in. And Arena certainly started the Elder Scrolls series - but that series didn't really start to shine until Morrowind, and while Arena certainly was ambitious with it's procedurally generated dungeons, it didn't really set the world on fire - the reviews I remember were rather middling. And while I admit that I never played Lands Of Lore (and it reviewed quite well in its day), if I'm not mistaken it basically marked the end of the line for the blobber RPG as well for quite some time - most reviews I read were along the lines of "if you liked Eye of the Beholder you must play Lands of Lore", which doesn't really show much of an evolution going on (though if you love blobber style, LoL might just be as good as it gets - personally, I don't enjoy blobbers much).

      Betrayal of Krondor - well okay, there's a light in all of this, it certainly did much in terms of story and plot. It's a good game - if you can forgive it's game disgn sins of early dead man walking scenarios, that is. ;)

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    12. Arena didn't have much in the way of procedurally generated dungeons - its main quest dungeons were all handmade, and very few of its sidequests actually send you to dungeons. It had procedurally generated wilderness, but that's another story. Procedural dungeons (but also only for sidequests) were more of a Daggerfall thing. Speaking of which, you say "TES didn't start to shine until Morrowind" - but for many TES actually peaked with Daggerfall and Morrowind was the start of the decline of the series. I remember how big a disappointment it was to those who expected it to build upon Daggerfalls ambition.

      Anyways, my point is that the stagnation of RPGs in mid-90s had nothing to do with the lack of innovation or creativity - those was there aplenty. Bugs too, true - but that's not what your original post was about.

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    13. stepped pyramidsMarch 3, 2021 at 5:00 PM

      I don't understand how Morrowind is less ambitious than Daggerfall other than in sheer physical size, and Morrowind is plenty huge.

      The mid-'90s CRPG slump was caused, I think, by something very similar to what caused Square and a lot of other Japanese RPG devs to have trouble in the early to mid-'00s. New technology enabled new engines, new techniques, new game design concepts, and "the old tech and design, but bigger and higher fidelity" reached a point of diminishing returns.

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    14. I find it very hard to believe that there is anyone who thinks Daggerfall is a better game than Morrowind. If such a person is out there, I'd love to hear your reasoning.

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    15. The only thing I prefer about Daggerfall is its more in-depth character creation, especially the advantages and disadvantages system, but other than that Morrowind is better in almost every way.

      I'm also much more into hand-crafted worlds than procedurally generated ones. I guess this is the big question: do you prefer hand-made quality or procedural quantity? Based on that, you'll prefer either Morrowind or Daggerfall.

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    16. I question if the average gamer had enough perspective on the genre as whole for this to be the cause.

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    17. Speaking of 'Lands of Lore' - Chet let me choose a game to play early from '93 for designing his new banner, and I opted for 'Throne of Chaos' because it looks so damn splendid. Looking forward to that one (hope he does remember)...

      Also, I'm glad you all like the banner, I'll probably chime in more often regarding graphics and presentation of some titles. Cheers, everyone!

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    18. Daggerfall is certainly more ambitious in total geographic size than Morrowind, by at least an order of magnitude, but of course it's all procedurally generated, and in terms of unique, interesting hand-crafted content it has less throughout the entire playthrough than even the first five hours of Morrowind.

      But more importantly, Daggerfall is *barely playable*. Even now, in 2021, with the benefit of its entire fan community, it's riddled with fail states, bugs, interface issues, and general nonsense. I played through all of Arena, and all of Morrowind twice, and still I simply couldn't make it anywhere near the end of Daggerfall.

      Daggerfall is hugely creative, and influential, because of its ambition - but it's a proof of concept demo, not a real game that people can enjoy. (Yes, I know some people enjoy it, you're allowed to, opinions are subjective, but you're *weird*.)

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    19. And in terms of why we had a drop-off in western PC RPGs from the early 90s, the answer is Doom (1993), and the symbiotic relationship between FPS games, hardware developers, and gaming media that it created.

      It's worth noting it's only western PC games that are affected. Console RPGs, and particularly JPRGs, go through a golden age in the mid 90s, with titles like Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana etc.

      The other factor in the west is probably also the relative market presence of the makers of D&D. They were big around the 2E era, in the sense of marketing outwardly, in semi-mainstream publications and attracting new players. From the mid 90s onwards they got bigger in many ways, but they were turned inward, effectively servicing their existing audience - and at the same time we see less premium western CRPGs being made.

      It's probably no coincidence that we're seeing an explosion of RPGs again around the same time that 5E went big and mainstream, although the timing suggests it's more both of them benefiting from the same underlying demographic changes, which is to say the increasing age and wealth of Generation X and Y, who are willing to splash around money to fund the things they loved as kids.

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    20. Some people seem to think that hand-crafted automatically means better than procedurally generated. But much of "handcrafted" content in Morrowind is simply very low effort. 95% of it manually written quests are formulaic fetch/kill/escort tasks that might just as well have been procedurally generated; and it NPCs are infamous walking wikipedias that don't have any more personality than Daggerfall's generic NPCs. The only good thing you get from handcraftedness of Morrowind is pretty scenery more or less, and a couple of more well-written quests.

      And then Daggerfall simply has better dungeons. Even the procedurally generated ones in side quests have more to do in them than Morrowind's featureless corridors. And the handcrafted main quest dungeons are just blow anything in Morrowind out of the water.

      As for bugs - I already wrote about them twice. Yes, this was the era of growing pains for RPGs. But in 2021 we have Daggerfall Unity conversion which irons out most of the bugs while also introducing a hefty dose of QoL options and modability.

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    21. Hand-crafted is not automatically better, but in practice it IS almost always better, and certainly in the 90s era.

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    22. @El Despertando:

      Was Wizardry 7 really the pinnacle of the series? The only Wizardry game I've played is 8, which I absolutely loved. One of my favorite RPGs. Would I like 7 even better, or was 8 a departure for the series?

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    23. Daggerfall dungeons may be procedurally generated, but out of rather large handmade modules. So the individual modules still have a handmade, if slightly modular feeling. It's just after a few dungeons that you might get a "I've seen this segment before" feeling.

      Whatever you might prefer, one thing the Daggerfall dungeons gave me that I never got from Morrowind is the feeling of being utterly lost, and having no idea how to get back to the entrance.

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    24. For me Morrowind was incomparably better than Daggerfall, and still somehow I missed Daggerfall's insanely monstrous procedural dungeons that you could barely figure out even with the whole 3D map in front of you. But Morrowind had its own atmosphere that permeated the whole world. Oblivion had some cool dungeons, but Cyrodyll itself lacked the unique charisma of Vvardenfell.

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    25. the only valid answer is the GregT one :D

      FPS almost killed every genre reaching the 00s, honestly. Adventure games had a series of blows in the 90s that made them mostly first person exclusively during some years, crpgs would have died if not for Fallout and Baldur's Fate, strategic board games had a several of fatal blows, even puzzle games almost dissappeared on computers if they did not totally. It was not until the "indie" games started to rule that we saw a variety of genres coming back.

      But oh the 3d engines. They were cancer. They even made Lemmings turn to 3D.

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    26. It wasn't just FPS, it was a general trend of improving hardware and the race for better graphics. There were plenty of non-FPS games that had their success after Doom.

      Myst was an adventure game that sold millions and was considered one of the best-selling games of all time throughout the 90s. It received sequels and clones for years to come. One major draw of it were the pre-rendered 3D graphics which looked impressive for the time.

      Adventure games basically committed suicide by embracing the FMV craze which led to awkward gameplay and excessively long cutscenes in most cases. Also, there were some successful adventures in the late 90s and early 00s: Monkey Island 3, Grim Fandango, Syberia, The Longest Journey, Broken Sword... the "death" of the genre was mostly due to Sierra and Lucas Arts stopping to make them. They had been the biggest developers of the genre so once they stopped, only the indies were left. And the last Sierra and Lucas Arts adventures were of far lower quality than their older games, so it's not a surprise that they failed commercially.

      In the mid 90s,the RTS genre picked up thanks to Command and Conquer, followed by heavy hitters like Age of Empires and Star Craft. They all had 2D graphics so the success of that genre wasn't due to fancy 3D, but because the gameplay found an audience.

      RPGs were resurrected by Fallout, Baldur's Gate, and Diablo - all of them isometric 2D, so again it wasn't about the graphics. They reinvigorated the genre by being of high quality and offering something different compared to the same old, same old.

      So really, it has always been about the quality and innovation.

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    27. I would also add that the mid '90's was the rise of truly multiplayer games following just behind FPS, RTS, and FMV. It became the thing with the advent of faster and faster internet speeds. All the big companies were taking FPS of Doom and Unreal engines or RTS genre to make multiplayer frag or king of the hill fests. A lot of single player options tended to get dropped from games or at least minimized in favor of multiplayer which hurt CRPG's to some degree (not counting Ultima Online).

      So it was a lot of factors coming together that caused the decline of CRPG's during that time period, and companies having trouble executing on them to make great gameplay.

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    28. It must have been somehow tied to the forced change: within 2-3 years everyone was supposed to think differently (from schematic to semi-realistic way of representing the content). Not all genres and companies adapted to the new demand in a sustainable way.. And most of all - traditional games authors were perhaps not completely convinced that the new age is the best one for them.. (great thread, by the way!)

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    29. With regard to Lasagna42's question: Wizardry 8 was indeed a bit of a departure from the classical Wizardry style (of which 7 was the last). There was much less emphasis on changing classes, and also there was the quasi-real time and real geometry of the 3D world, with the innovative circular layout of the party.

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    30. Jarlfrank, you talk about Myst when it was maybe the first truly cdrom adventure, from 1992. We are talking about end of the 90s. And the 90s moved fast. A game from 1997 is way more advanced than a game from 1995. As for the rest, you are mixing up eras, type of adventure games, and I think you really don't know the genre or the history of it well enough. The mantra of "later games from Lucas or Sierra weren't worse" does not make sense when they were not the only developers out there, they were not the ones leading the genre anymore (Broken Sword? Divide By Zero? Trencision? Cryo, Arxel Tribe and Microids?) and there were hundreds of animated cdrom adventures out there which where expensive to produce and most of the times they got their investment back (clear exceptions: Discworld 2 and Toonstruck). It was the Germans who saved the genre by giving it love through its media and later through their developers and distributors. If you made an adventure and Germany noticed it and translated it, you were safe.

      It was just that 3D was the way to go and everything else was primitive. Of course there was multiplayer... on 3d games. And also that there were less investment on talking about them in magazines - The Longest Journey was a clear exception on that matter, which btw at the time it felt very random to me.

      I mean, you can talk about adventures but again puzzle games, strategy games like Panzer General, education games like Castle of Doctor Brain, even classic shoot em ups, or micromachines kind of games, or space combat games like Freespace... as the millennia approached it was all RTS and FPS. I remember feeling SO BORED at the time.

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    31. RTS and FPS are two of my favorite genres so I do have much fonder memories of 90s gaming. I also really like most of the 3D action adventures, classic Tomb Raider is great. And the late 90s brought us Thief, one of the best games ever made.

      The problem of adventure games was that they tried to chase visual trends to the detriment of gameplay (and the primitive 3D they used looks like ass). Simon the Sorcerer 3D is one of the worst offenders.

      I think my perspective may also be different because I'm German, and we've always had peculiar tastes in genres as a nation. The mid to late 90s were full of adventure games and business management simulators. There are several early to mid 90s adventure games from Germany that never got translated to English, so it wasn't nearly as dead as it was in the US.

      But the fact is also that quality suffered when developers tried to jump on current tech trends. There are very few FMV adventures I find enjoyable, but everyone wanted to do FMV once that became a craze. Adventure games that went 3D usually looked way uglier than FPS games of the time, and the third dimension didn't even add anything to the gameplay.

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    32. From an American perspective, I can confirm that the market stopped producing commercial adventure games in the mid-1990s. They were only produced in Europe, and in small numbers. Text adventures disappeared first, then graphical adventures from anyone but Sierra and LucasArts, then LucasArts, then Sierra finally gave up, because they weren't selling as well as the twitchfests. The genres revived as hobbyist genres.

      cRPGs went next, disappearing at the end of the 1990s and not really coming back until the 2010s.

      Unfortunately, the same happened to my other favored genre, the *pausable* god sim.

      I stopped playing new computer games almost entirely for most of the 2000s, except for the interactive fiction art-pieces being created by hobbyists, because there was *nothing* of interest. I don't play real-time-without-pause games, ever.

      First person shooters killed everything, starting in the 1990s, and nearly every game genre was commercially (if not hobbyist) dead for most of the 2000s.

      I'm glad the genres I like started reviving in the 2010s. Though text adventures are still strictly hobbyist material.

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    33. Sorry Nathanael, you seem to be off by a decade. The talk here was about mid 90s. 2000s had tons of great / "premium" RPGs like BG2, NWN, Morrowind, KotoR, Oblivion, even Mass Effect and Dragon Age series started before 2010. And if you add end of 90s, you get the mentioned before BG and Fallout, plus many a gamer's alltime fav Planescape Torment.

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  6. You and Deano and right. The game is somewhat mechanical. But PetrusOctavianus is also right, as the game still works fine as an abstraction.

    Oh, and after the first two entries, I was tempted into playing the game myself. Since I played Darkside in the 90s and World of Xeen sometime around 2002, I decided it was the time to try it again. And I enjoying it quite a lot.

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  7. "It's almost as if you start the game on a world teeming with life, and you slowly kill all of it."

    Never played M&M, but this exactly I flet when I played Heroes of M&M. By the way, in Heroes bottled messages appear again.

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    1. Came to the comments to mention the messages in a bottle in Heroes of M&M. In my experience though, they usually weren't very useful so they just acted as a way of wasting your precious movement points...

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    2. I remember the messages in the bottles being somewhat more of a factor in one of the Price of Loyalty Campaigns for HoMM2

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    3. I can think of several games that have a message in a bottle in whatever body of water, and in most games these aren't useful, either.

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    4. I guess I have a warped idea of what Heroes must be like if messages in bottles are gameplay elements.

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    5. In Heroes of Might and Magic (much like the related King's Bounty franchise) you're wandering around a 2D overworld as a character, but instead of a party or personal combat strength, you have an army, and when you get into encounters it's your army versus theirs.

      That's an oversimplification - it's definitely more a strategy title than an RPG (although King's Bounty is more RPG-ish) - but it's enough to explain that much of the overworld play involves clicking on single-use or renewable resources that you find on the map, and one of those "resources" are messages in a bottle located in appropriately watery places. (Others include fountains, piles of gold, statues, etc, that all give you some particular benefit.)

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  8. "It's almost as if you start the game on a world teeming with life, and you slowly kill all of it."

    It really annoys me when a game takes this approach. It's one thing if it's more linear and I'll never come back to a place, but open world games with no respawning feel, well, fake. Yeah, a forest shouldn't repopulate as soon as I look away for five seconds, but if I come back a few game-weeks later something should have moved in. Likewise, people in those areas should come up with new things to talk about or problems that need solving.

    It's weird that you still get people railing against the Fallouts and Skyrim for having the world repopulate. What's the point of an open world where nothing happens? We need something a bit more robust than Bethesda's Radiant quests to move things forward, though.

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    1. I wonder if there's a game out there that treats respawning after the adventurers have come through and wiped out a portion of the ecosystem, by having even more dangerous invasive species move in. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing from a gameplay perspective? Might depend how much and where it occurs (i.e. wouldn't be fun to have to fight to reopen a key transportation corridor again and again).

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    2. Populous involves taking an interesting map, with different sorts of dwellings, and clearing and levelling the place until everyone lives in identical mansions.

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    3. Because it removes your sense of accomplishment to finish an area and then later it just fills up again. I mean, why bother in the first place?

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    4. It's funny, I find respawning to be an immersion breaker. So I cleared a bandits' cave... smart bandits should realize this location is now compromised and known to do-gooder adventurers, yet new bandits appear there weeks later. But for some reason, the sheriff in town doesn't have another bandit clearing quest for me. I kill them again, and... weeks later, new bandits move in. Again and again. Are they retarded? Why do they keep moving in there? And where do they come from, how come the realm's bandit population is twice the population of honest laborers? How is that sustainable?

      Same with monster populations. I've killed all the lizards and even smashed their eggs. Where do the new ones come from? I was pretty thorough in my campaign of monster genocide. I burned down their nests, smashed their eggs, and killed every lizard I could find. Why are there new lizards a few weeks later? It makes no sense.

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    5. JarlFrank, you've never tried to get rid of a pest infestation at your own home? Turns out pests are pretty good about finding places to hide eggs or babies or whatever where you can't get at them but they can easily come back and spread again a few days later.

      And a new gang bandits moving in to a new hideout doesn't seem that crazy to me. Heck, in real life we have places like the Hole-in-the-Wall (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hole-in-the-Wall) that were such good hideouts that it led to multiple gangs using it at different times.

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    6. I'm more forgiving of interior locations when it comes to not respawning than sprawling outdoor spaces because of the logic issues.

      That's why there needs to be more sensible, non-immediate respawning in open world games. If the mechanics/story allow you to wipe out a breeding population of lizards, then something else eventually needs to move into the ecosystem. Likewise, after a suitable period maybe the bandits are replaced by general wildlife, or vampires, or, like some of the forts in Skyrim, the locals.

      There are better options than the lawnmowering and salting the earth behind you approach.

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    7. I'm not a fan of respawns from a gameplay perspective, either. They mean that when backtracking, you will always get random encounters and can never fully clear an area. It can get really annoying really fast.

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    8. I am not a fan of either. Not a fan of respawn because of nightmares I am still having about the random encounters in jrpgs and because of another almost trauma with Far Cry 2. But I ended up hating the non respawn because of the emptiness that you end up finding on the Piranha Bytes games (the last part of Risen is basically barren because you killed everything)

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    9. A fun thing would be to have respawning monsters that, once you gain sufficient levels or reputation, run away from your party. I don't think there's many games that do that, but it does give you both (1) no empty areas, and (2) no low-level monsters hopelessly attacking your top-notch party.

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    10. So there is a mod for Xeen, that adds respawning back into the game. It's pretty good for a few reasons:
      1) Makes the areas more dangerous, and makes "lawn mowing" less of a thing. You feel less inclined to "clear out an area" because in reality now you can't.
      2) gets rid of the problem of limited gold to advance late in the game. You can always grind for more gold, and as importantly gems
      3) Also in the late game it makes those areas much harder, as you can't just slowly plink away at the Mobs, to clear the area. You have to be much more strategic about how you deal with those areas.

      Mod is here: http://www.jeffludwig.com/xeen/download.php

      It also does some balancing, and fixes a few of the things Chet has already mentioned as annoying such as druid class only spells, armor breaks less often, the door unlocking cheese (way to much EXP) is lessened, the year is longer and step length is moved from 10 minutes to 3.

      There are other rebalance stuff, but nothing extreme.
      All in all, if you've played Xeen before, the mod breathes some fresh life into it. Definitely worth a try.

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    11. stepped pyramidsMarch 3, 2021 at 5:09 PM

      EarthBound has retreating weak enemies.

      I think whether respawning is immersive or not depends a lot on the setting and story of the game. In Fallout it makes a lot of sense that if you kill people in a specific location they're gone for good, and it also makes sense that you can run into random encounters with raiders, Enclave troopers, mutants, or what have you -- I don't have any expectation of being able to wipe out every radscorpion in California. And if an area you pass through in a game is intended to be a small section of a larger area -- a path through woods, for instance -- it makes sense that when you kill enemies around the path that eventually other enemies might come from the woods. But infinitely spawning ninjas in a dungeon in the Wizardry style is definitely going to flip the "this is a game, not a world" switch.

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    12. Random encounters depend on how the game represents its world. If a game has every tile of the game world as a real place the player can step on (like Might and Magic) I expect to be able to find and kill every monster there is, and respawns would feel out of place.

      If the overworld travel is abstracted like in Fallout and Arcanum, getting random encounters as interruptions of travel, and never being able to fully clear all radscorpions, makes total sense.

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    13. Not sure if they are sticking with it, but that was one of the original talking points about the upcoming MMO Ashes of Creation. You could repopulate a zone of say, goblins, build a village and continue adventuring there, and higher level monsters wpuld move in. Haven't been keeping up on it because the monetization seems a little much, but that sounded cool

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    14. One thing done well in the witcher 3 were the areas where once you cleared the enemies, townsfolk would move in. This solves the problem of the barren wasteland feeling, but also prevents players having to fight through boring enemies every time they travel through an area.

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    15. I like that the areas in M&M 6 respawn after a long time. When you return to the starting area for some endgame dungeons you can just blast hordes of low level foes from above. Gives you a good sense of how far the party has grown in power since the beginning.

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  9. "Who visits and only applies the bonus to one character? This is a flaw in the otherwise excellent interface."

    To drink at fountains passes quite some in-game time, and for example, use the +100 spell points one is useless for non spellcasters

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    1. It costs 60 minutes of game time (I think), but in playtime you can pretty quickly press a sequence of Space-F1-Space-F2-Space-F3-...

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    2. PetrusOctavianusMarch 3, 2021 at 5:43 AM

      Since your score when winning is based partly on in-game time used shankao has a point.

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    3. Not only the points, but, if the fountains give you 24h improvements, and you use 6h for all your chars to drink, it makes a tactical difference for long dungeon treks

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    4. It costs ten minutes per drink; so one hour, not six hours.

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    5. 10 minutes just to take a sip? How much fountain water are these guys drinking, anyway?

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    6. The 'races' provided by the game are a lie: we're actually running a party of camels.

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  10. "It's almost as if you start the game on a world teeming with life, and you slowly kill all of it."

    Although that's largely correct, I think there are a few cases (and especially in Darkside) where you are given some signs of continued life from things you did or characters you helped. It also probably doesn't help that seemingly in *most* cases, monsters once killed don't respawn in this game. So good job, you just wiped out an endangered species, is sort of the feeling you're left with.

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    1. So basically, the Armaggeddon spell from the Ultima series.

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  11. Also, sounds a bit like you might be experiencing some burnout. Although I'm greedy for each update, I'd rather you take the time you need (particularly with other projects and life needing be taken care of) to get enthused about your CRPG addiction again, than to force it and perhaps get even more burnt out.

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    1. I was about to post the same.

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    2. Yeah, hope you are all-right, Addict!

      Side note: I started MM3 right after you played it three years ago (?) based on MM4 being one of my first game memories as a child. Had a blast with it, then with Clouds. Couldn't believe that you didn't just love MM4 as much as MM3 ... maybe Covid funk ;(

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    3. I finally reach a point this year in which I have no major projects and plenty of time for gaming, and my psyche goes and does this.

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    4. The past year has been a huge psychological load for all of us. Go read a book and enjoy your jazz collection for a week, maybe? We'll still be here. The addiction will kick back in soon enough.

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    5. Even Sisyphus gets a break when the boulder is rolling back down the hill.

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    6. Its funny but I find this with gaming lately, most of the time I hardly have any time to game and I'm grabbing a hour here or there just to scratch the itch, but then I have a couple days off and I can't bring myself to turn it on. Humans are wierd.

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  12. RPGs generally comprise of gameplay tasks to ‘perform’ in return for story/exploration elements to ‘experience’. For me, the promise of the latter often pulls me through moments in which the general gameplay loop is getting a bit stale.

    But in some games, the reward for completing tasks is nothing but more tasks, and it feels like a slog. A similar thing can happen even when the sidequests are good - too many of them and I start itching to get back to the plotline.

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    1. I find it a clear sign of bad design when the gameplay is something so unenjoyable in itself that you have to be rewarded for enduring it with story bits.

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    2. I like sudoku. I don’t want to play them all day.

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    3. Which is why having a game that has you play the same kind of sudoku for hours on end would be a bad game, irrespective of whether you're rewarded with some reading after solving each sudoku or not. Unless a game is meant to play in short spaced sessions, gameplay needs variety. Think of Dungeon Master - it has next to no story, but its gameplay is rewarding in itself because it keeps things varied and well-paces. You get from a combat to a puzzle to another combat to a trap to a puzzle that involves monsters to a bit of downtime etc. And then individual puzzles/battles/traps are also different enough from each other so it doesn't get stale.

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    4. Yep, gameplay variety is important. While I do appreciate a good story and worldbuilding, if you want to know whether your core gameplay experience is great or not - strip away everything that isn't gameplay and play through the game. If it is fun at that basic level, then the gameplay is great.

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    5. The thing is, one area where the MM series has always excelled is in its variety. MMIV still has that variety, I"m just not enjoying it as much as usual.

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  13. Sounds like you're frutrated with the worldbuilding in these games. The same went for me, these MM games always felt like board games or optimization tasks where you had to plan the order in which you mowed down different parts of the silly nonsensical fantasy/scifi/comedy/puzzle world.

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    1. What if you *like* getting more powerful, conquering challenges, and unlocking new regions? There is a whole galaxy of people who love board games.

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    2. I don't think op is saying there's anything wrong with this type of game, just that it's a turn off for them

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    3. stepped pyramidsMarch 3, 2021 at 5:13 PM

      I agree with Harland. People shouldn't put their own gaming preferences on a pedestal and assume that those preferences are the right way and, for instance, suggest that there's some kind of moral or intellectual defect in people who like other things. That would be a very unreasonable thing to do, and I'm sure glad nobody here does that.

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    4. I have to congratulate you on finding the perfect selection of words to make literally everyone on this blog feel at least momentarily self-conscious.

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    5. To be honest I really enjoy board games and adore optimization tasks in crpgs as long as there is a coherent world or even a hint of storytelling that distracts me from what I'm doing. The MM games were always pretty bad at distracting me, so I didn't enjoy their structure.

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    6. @Addict: Is it just me, or is there no way to know if you are referring to JonTzu_fin's post or to one of the replies before you?

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    7. There is no way to know, but I was talking about stepped pyramids' contribution immediately above me.

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  14. Personally, I had this problem with all earlier M&M games - and even M&M6-8 aren't free of it either, even if they improve things. They're just too simplistic - not deep enough mechanically to engage with their gameplay, and their gameworlds aren't coherent or detailed enough to immerse. The result is that playing them just feels to me like going through the motions without much in the way of reward.

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  15. Fair. I am completely hooked to Xeen but I understand what you say: there is some kind of over polish to the point of avoiding any gameplay mechanic that could deviate from specific rewards and specific explorations. And the map clearing mechanic does feel a bit like the Ubisoft games of the 00s. Or Skyrim.

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  16. Maybe you should reconsider going straight from Clouds to Darkside? If you are already feeling some burnout, that's a lot of Xeen to digest all at once. The coverage of Darkside might benefit from some time off in between.

    The main drawback is that while you can finish the main quest for Clouds and most of the content, some of it remains inaccessible or just too hard until you progress through Darkside. But perhaps that should just be viewed as Darkside content stashed in Clouds or something.

    I just played through Clouds, and started on Darkside and lost some momentum. It doesn't really work well as you are initially overpowered and underwhelmed by the rewards, so the mopping nature of the game is very apparent. You already have most of the skills and spells and at least for a while better equipment, so there's not much character development.

    I'm almost tempted to just take a break and then start Darkside with a new party. I don't want to redo the Clouds content though, so maybe I could just permanently stash the current party at the Inn? Perhaps the narrative could be that the original party needed to retire after their battle with Lord Xeen and the next generation took over?

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  17. "This is a flaw in the otherwise excellent interface."

    I would have liked a Fix All option for broken armor and weapons. Up to six characters times 5-6 broken pieces of armor each. At least you can type it out on the keyboard quickly. I don't think I'd miss the broken equipment system if it was taken out.

    Not really an interface issue, but the food system is also kind of silly and pointless. I think I bought food twice, and I'm not even sure I needed to do it the first time.

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    1. I thought only your armor (as in, the body slot item labeled "armor") would usually break? IIRC armor breaks whenever you fall unconscious; weapons and other equippables only break against the (very rare) monster with an attack that does that.

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  18. Hi there, greetings from Germany

    I'm following your adventures for quite some time now but didn't feel the need to participate in any discussions so far. I just recently finished a new playthrough of WoX after more than 25 years after playing the originals on my good old 386DX back in the early 90ies... And can I say - it created the same good old feeling as during my time in school and university when I first played them.

    Compared to more polished gameplay experiences nowadays, I think especially MM3 - 5 aged quite well and can be played very comfortable in 2020/2021.

    To be honest, I used the possibility to level up fast by switching to the Darkside immediately after cleaning out Vertigo on the Clouds world. The reason is, that you actually can level up very fast due to the high exp boni for completed quests in and around Castleview compared to everything you'd receive in comparison on Clouds. Also, the monetary rewards are much higher and you can get o level 10+ this way and save also on the explorer skills because you get them in Castleview much cheaper and faster than on Clouds. I wish I could have done this in 1992, when I had to grind step-by-step through the extensive dwarf mines in my first playthrough of MM4 before MM5 was even released.

    I don't think it's cheating. Selling the games separately was a pure commercial decision, maybe forced due to funding issues or pure monetarization reasons. Also, because you don't even experience the annoying things of separate installations today where you clearly got the impression of being held back from something always intended to be there ("The moons are not aligned"... you know what I mean...).

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Alex. If I hadn't been consciously trying to separate the experience, I might have jumped between the two worlds more flexibly. Some commenters warned that it trivializes much of MMIV, but I probably still would have been okay with it. But I do want to try in a partial way to experience the games like someone in 1992/1993 would have done.

      Anyway, I'm glad the series has held up well for you.

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  19. From my play-along of Xeen I can sympathise with Chester and agree with a lot of the comments above. I'm at about the same point as the previous post: have explored Vertigo and Rivercity, including the latter's sewers, and wandered around the outdoors a little, poking my head into the dwarven mines.

    I'm enjoying it, but there's absolutely no sense that this is a coherent world and no sense of a plot - it is just a massive list of TODOs that I'm finding and (occasionally) ticking off. It's incredibly "gamey", but I am enjoying it treating it as such.

    One thing it reminds me of is a much more modern gameplay loop, especially a prevalent one in mobile games. That fast task/reward cycle seems very in tune with casual-gaming's well known "dopamine hit" design. Odd to see that so strongly in a game 25+ years old.

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    1. I do agree the game's reward cycle is pretty addictive. I note that I really liked this kind of game ten years ago, but last year I tried replaying it and got bored quickly.

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    2. And its colorful as a mobile one too.

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  20. I do agree with the observation that the game does feel like a "to do" list at times. But the same could be said of many other CRPGs. I wonder what it is about this game that specifically creates that feeling, especially compared to the previous MM games, which all play basically the same as this.

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    1. As I tried to make clear, I don't think it IS thi s game that specifically creates that feeling. I just think it's my week.

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  21. I've been playing along (I'm actually ahead of this entry!) and I've been really enjoying the game so far.

    But I do echo some of the disappointments both Chester and some commenters here have expressed. It mostly boils down to the game being too easy. Which I really didn't expect. I grew up with early CRPGs, and the typical common denominator is that they are HARD.

    But Xeen isn't. Outside of the Dwarf dungeon everything has been cake. I'm around level 12 now, and while I'm still bumping into areas that are too difficult to handle, all I need to do is go in a different direction and find tons of content that I can breeze through.

    There was a missed opportunity with the terrain. I was looking forward to things like "mountaineering" and "pathfinding" and "water walking" and that desert one as opening up previously inaccessible areas of the map, which can be a lot of fun. I love that stuff in the early Zelda games. But you get all four pretty much instantly, so the only purpose forests and mountains have is to limit your vision.

    Even party composition ends up not mattering that much (or else I stumbled upon the uber party setup). I agonized over it when I started, which is what you DO with CRPGs and is part of the fun, but it turned out not to really matter much. Everything falls very quickly after casting the two "Day of" spells (which I also acquired way faster than I expected). I rarely need to cast any other spells.

    I find the wacky attitude refreshing, so no problem there. I really like exploring the dungeons; that's my favorite part so far. I'm pretty far along, though, and still have no idea what I'm supposed to do. I've found lots of locked buildings, but I don't know which ones are important. I'm sure I'll figure it out though.

    I'd already forgotten about the cloud walking aspect until Chester mentioned it; I found it at the top of Ellinger's Tower, but I don't remember where that is. I'll re-find it next though, and maybe that will advance the plot a bit.

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    1. If you want a hint on that, rirelguvat lbh arrq gb qb vf rvgure va pnfgyr oheybpx be va qnembt'f gbjre. Fbzr bgure qhatrbaf ner erdhverq gb trg npprff gb gurfr cynprf naq/be gb pbyyrpg zrtnperqvgf gb or oebhtug gb pnfgyr oheybpx. Cebonoyl nobhg unys bs gur nernf va gur tnzr ner bcgvbany.

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    2. Thanks, Radiant - that's good to know. I haven't actually found either place (or didn't recognize it when I did), but I'll keep an eye out.

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  22. I have been playing MM3 after picking up 1-6 in a GOG sale and find it interesting that fountains in 4 & 5 make you click each character since in 3 they target everyone automatically. I guess they wanted to make them a little more cumbersome to use as hit the good fountains in an area and proceed to destroy all in your path for an entire day has been making short work of most things for me in 3.

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    1. Is that right? I had forgotten that about III. I guess that's why it's so notably annoying here.

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  23. I wonder; if a flat surface is massive enough to have gravity and an atmosphere, would one be able to walk "around" to the other side of it?

    Also, considering the modern flat earth "theories" have either a wall of ice at the edge of the planet, or a wall of ice blocking further (yet still extant) terrain, it amuses me that you can literally see the edge of Xeen.

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    1. Smarter people than me have addressed this, but I the consensus is that if the world is massive enough to generate enough gravity to hold an atmosphere and have Earth-like gravity at the center of the world, it would get so extreme near the edges that it would be impossible to approach them.

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    2. The flat-eathers theory is that there is no gravity and Earth just moves up with a constant acceleration, generating a gravity-like effect. But that wouldn't work for Xeen because then the Dark Side could not exist.

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    3. Scientifically speaking, if a flat surface is massive enough to have (noticeable) gravity and atmosphere, then it would slowly collapse upon itself and become spherical. That's because parts of the planet also attract other parts of the planet.

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    4. I think we can forgive Xeen a bit on this one. It's a manufactured world, so it presumably employs artificial gravity the same way the Ancients' space ships do.

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    5. "The flat-eathers theory is that there is no gravity and Earth just moves up with a constant acceleration, generating a gravity-like effect. But that wouldn't work for Xeen because then the Dark Side could not exist."

      Since there is gravity on both sides, clearly Xeen is expanding. Better get to the Darkside fast before it passes the event horizon!

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  24. I wonder, is the 'Rosebud' password meant to be a Citizen Kane reference?

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    1. Yeah absolutely, and kind of a trope on itself: if an adventure game or RPG asks you for a password, Rosebud may work.

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    2. Or Swordfish.

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    3. I can't imagine that it's anything else.

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    4. No. It is a reference from Columbo.

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  25. "Man, I have got to snap out of it this week."

    Yeah, I'm wondering if you'd have more fun if you took the blog on hiatus, and spent a while only playing games because you want to, without having to document them. I know something that's supposed to be fun being a job can lead to burnout.

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    1. The thing is, I WAS on hiatus. You didn't notice because I scheduled a bunch of stuff in advance, but I didn't really play anything for most of February. It's more likely a certain rustiness than a need for a break.

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  26. Having an alicorn avatar and a friend named Suss makes parts of this entry a lot more amusing then they probably should be

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    1. Also, the official My Little Pony tabletop RPG, Tails of Equestria actively discourages players from creating alicorn characters, which sort of makes sense from both lore and game balance standpoints:
      https://youtu.be/yF_D3EEq3bg

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    2. I've never played that, but I've been wanting to look more into it

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  27. Hang in there '93 had a couple I am really interested in your thoughts on.

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  28. You just kind of mow your way through the world, accomplishing everything there is to accomplish, leaving a barren square behind you. It's almost as if you start the game on a world teeming with life, and you slowly kill all of it.

    Oddly, where I felt this most is with Might and Magic VI -- it was about a month of emptying dungeons of all life one by one for me -- but I haven't run across anyone who has expressed the same thing.

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    1. That game does have respawning though, it just takes months to years of game time for most areas

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    2. Yeah it took so long that I was shocked when I went back to New Sorpigal and it had respawned, still was pretty cool.

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  29. I find it funny in my personal preferences, that while I finished MM 4-6 back in the day, and enjoyed what I played of 7+8, they never struck me as seminal rpg's, always in the shadow of the Gold Box, Wizardries, Bards Tales, and Ultimas. But by God, the Heroes series occupies the pinnacle of non-4x turn based strategy games for me. Funny to think that they occupy the same universe or even world for some of them

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  30. I think it doesn't help this game that you can literally walk on every square of the map if you have the right skill/spell. For me, that makes exploration kind of dull and silly.

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  31. Your financial worries are only just beginning in Xeen. Keep as much gold in the bank as you can at all times and always choose gold as the reward when given the choice. You'll thank yourself for it later.

    The witches in the tower aren't meant to do damage, the point of their attack is to curse your items. Can get costly to repair, luckily they are the only enemies that do so in the game. You'll want to avoid their attack, the manual gives suggestions on how to strafe and all that so you don't get hit. The tower is more a training ground for new players to learn how not to engage mobs.

    If your opener is taking that kind of damage then your thievery is probably too low. For now, ninjas are only half as good as thieves. Items that give bonuses to thievery eventually help to iron that out but thieves are strictly better, and ninjas give no discernable benefit save for a few extra weapons (which basically becomes meaningless later on)

    I didn't like the barren square left behind thing either, which is why I prefer Ludwig's spawn mod for Xeen. Having to review the stock game means this may not be possible, but other players will likely have a better experience with the improvement.

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  32. BTW,

    My financial worries seem to be temporarily over.

    Hahahahahahaha. I'm not sure if someone already mentioned this, but be wary of your gold, no matter how many millions you seem to receive. Here's two notes about gold and leveling, that I tried to make as non-spoilery as possible, which may be worth knowing to avoid some major late-game frustration. If you do not wish to read them, let's just say that investing in the bank is a fantastic idea, and you'll figure out the rest yourself.

    1) Gurer vf abg rabhtu tbyq sbhaq va gur ragver tnzr gb yriry hc lbhe punenpgref, gb zngpu jung gurl jva nf KC. Fb haqre abezny tnzrcynl, ng fbzr cbvag, lbh'yy xrrc tnvavat rkcrevrapr ohg jba'g or noyr gb genva nalzber. Gur bayl "betnavp" fbyhgvba vf gur onax, juvpu vf gur bayl "haraqvat" fbhepr bs tbyq, fubeg bs purngf naq rkcybvgf.

    2) Eryngvir gb gung, "yriry hc" nygnef, cbbyf, dhrfg erjneqf, cbgvbaf naq fhpu, unir na rkcbaragvny vapernfr va inyhr nf gur yriryf tb hc. Ng yriry 10 vg "fnirf" lbh 1X tbyq. Ng yriry 100 vg'f jbegu 100X.

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    1. I was unaware of this the first time I played Xeen (or any M&M game), and it really didn't matter.

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    2. I mean, it's not like anyone *needs* to come remotely close to the level limit, is it?

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    3. Not at all. I don't have my saved games any more, but I recall taking down the Mega Dragon around level 120.

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    4. Don't know what level I reached but I couldn't take down the Mega Dragon. I ran out of money because V qvqa'g ernyvmr ubj zhpu gur qnzarq uveryvatf jrer fhpxvat hc!

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    5. I'm confused, Ken. I don't think Xeen has those, unlike say MM6? Did you mean to say some other game mechanic was costing you a lot of money?

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    6. See, things like "taking down the Mega Dragon" are what we used to call "spoilers" in the old days.

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    7. @ Bruce: V jnf ersreevat gb gur 2 ACP punenpgref lbh pna unir wbva lbhe cnegl nf erthyne punenpgref, abg gur ZZ6 fglyr uveryvatf.

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    8. @ Bruce: It seems I'm getting MMIII and Xeen mixed up. I think I ran out of money in both but in Xeen it was probably because I didn't Bank it.

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    9. That is a spoiler, and I kinda wish commenters would just stop mentioning specific monsters or secret locations.

      Discussing game mechanics (or lack thereof) is fine, but mentioning specific things intended to spoil one's personal discovery of it and sense of wonder is not. However I suppose its the nature of a gaming blog inviting public comment after all, the internet keeps no secrets.

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    10. While I agree, isn't there always an optional encounter with a Megadragon in every Might and Magic title?

      Delete
  33. As a note, I had the Drag Race UK "UK Hun" in my head stuck for several weeks and lately the loop has been replaced by the outdoor music of Clouds of Xeen.

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  34. What I find interesting is that Xeen has about eight to ten times the number of blog comments as do other recent entries. That seems significant and more than just an anomaly.

    From this can we infer that the community is far more interested in reading, debating and discussing the more popular titles?

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    1. I think the simplest explanation is that people talk about things they are familiar with.

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    2. Indeed. My Magic Candle entries are terribly unpopular, judging by the relative volume.

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    3. I am the most interested in discussing super obscure games, and games I'm somewhat familiar with. Magic Candle is somewhere in between that: I played some games in the series, but not the third, and it's not very obscure among CRPG enthusiasts. So it doesn't make my comment finger itch like World of Xeen (which is one of my favorite DOS RPGs) or some really obscure curiosity.

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    4. I tend not to comment unless I have something to actually add to the conversation, but I pretty much stopped playing computer games from about 1992 until 1997 (thanks Fallout), so I haven't had much to say as of late.

      I, for one, greatly enjoyed the Magic Candle series.

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  35. Xeen is one of the few Might and Magic games I've finished. I think the combined IV and V is superior to VI. And maybe even VII, and definitely VIII. IX I've never played. But the Ubisoft X was a very loving tribute to Xeen style Might and Magic. And that one even had a decent worldbuilding. So definitely, Xeen is the best Might and Magic until X. I'm not a huge fan of VI-VIII real time trash mobs, even if the sound effects and music are lovely. Even though VII or VIII has that fun card game. Don't remember which one.

    Might and Magic is definitely very simplistic. Compare Xeen to Ultima VII or the later ones to their contemporary Fallouts and Baldur's Gate's. But for some reason, I really enjoy Xeen with it's weird abstract nature and bizarre world. I'd rather play this than any of the Wizardry's. There's a type of genius to it's design. It's very casual and easy to get into.

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    1. Personally, this sort of game feels less "artificial" than something like Ultima VII, paradoxically because it embraces the artificiality.

      I find that the games that try to be more tend to be impressive on release but look worse in retrospect. Sort of the same reason that Playstation/N64 3D looks worse than SNES/Genesis graphics to a lot of people nowadays.

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    2. VII is the one with that fun card game - Arcomage. There's a browser-based multiplayer Arcomage out there btw, completely free to play without a single microtransaction, just search for "marcomage". I've been playing this on and off for years now.

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    3. I thought 6 through 8 all had Arcomage as well, though I could be mistaken. I do remember spending hours playing that card mini-game, often times I found it preferable and more relaxing than playing the actual game itself.

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  36. "start at the outer edges of the map and work my way inward."

    This actually may not the best way forward, and will likely get your party killed. The various MM games tend to expect you to venture out from the 'starting town' for that game, in the case of Clouds that would be Vertigo. Even though its on the eastern edge, you simply venture out from there. For the Darkside, venture out slowly from the starting town of Castleview. Probably ignore any lava areas for both worlds and save them for last as they tend to be more challenging.

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