Saturday, March 27, 2021

Game 407: Mission: Thunderbolt (1992)

At least the enemies look as silly on the title screen as they do in-game.
         
Mission: Thunderbolt
United States
MegaCorp (developer); Casady & Greene (publisher)
Based on a module originally released as Doomsday 2000 on mainframes in 1987
Released in 1992 for Macintosh, 1993 for Windows 3 
Re-released as JauntTrooper - Mission: Thunderbolt in 1995 for Macintosh
Date Started: 16 March 2021
    
Exposure to the roguelike subgenre is one of the best things to have come out of this project, and I'm always happy when I see a roguelike coming up on the list. It is, however, difficult not to think of them as variants of the same game. (I suppose that to some degree they are; hence, Roguelike.) If they don't offer enough new or fresh or original, I often find myself wishing I could just play Rogue or NetHack again. I imagine this will change as evolution leads roguelikes in very different directions and starts to introduce more complex plots and NPC interaction.
   
This leads to the fundamental problem with Mission: Thunderbolt. It's a good roguelike, no question. It just isn't as good as NetHack, and it doesn't do enough that's new and interesting, like Ragnarok, so at some point I wonder why I'm playing it except to catalogue its existence for my insane project. (These things are true so far, in any event.) But it's quite competent and fun if I force myself to stop comparing it to other roguelikes. Players who take more readily to science fiction games will rate it more highly. 
    
Like most roguelikes, Mission: Thunderbolt has complex characters, maze-like maps, detailed inventories, and a variety of statuses. Unlike most roguelikes, it has graphics.
      
Mission: Thunderbolt began on the VAX mainframe of Digital Equipment Corporation in Massachusetts. Employee Dave Scheifler conceived of it as a multi-mission game with the overall title of Doomsday 2000. Operation: Thunderbolt was the first module, released in 1987, and it was followed by Operation: Firestorm and Operation: Quicksilver. Operation: Tsunami was planned but never finished. The game was such a hit with Scheifler's co-workers that he founded MegaCorp (of Natick, Massachusetts, famous as the eponym of becoming naticked in crosswords) to sell the game commercially. He ported the first module, Mission: Thunderbolt, for Macintosh in 1992 and published it through the California-based Casady and Greene. (The prefix was changed from Operation to Mission because of an action game from Taito called Operation Thunderbolt.) The game sold poorly, but Scheifler tried again in 1995, self-publishing an upgraded Macintosh release of Mission: Thunderbolt as well as Mission: Firestorm. For the 1995 releases, both games had the master title of JauntTrooper. A Windows 3 version of Thunderbolt happened somewhere in there, but sources differ as to whether it came out in 1992 or 1995. The 1995 version has long been the only one available online, so I was fortunate that a reader and fan of the game was able to provide a copy of the 1992 version.
        
The backstory is related in-game.
       
The setup is that in the year 2000, aliens spur mankind into a global biological, chemical, and nuclear war, then invade the wreckage. A small group of survivors forms a resistance group called "Operation Thunderbolt." Its first mission is to recover an anti-matter bomb from the underground research labs of MegaCorp International. Unfortunately, the team is wiped out by aliens early in the mission, leaving a sole survivor to brave the ruins and return with the bomb.
     
The default character is named "Captain Hazard," but you can change this. You also set a difficulty level on a scale of 4 options from "beginner" to "expert." (I'm playing on "Normal.") Character creation involves rolling values from 3 to 18 for strength, dexterity, speed, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. The difficulty setting determines how generous the rolls are. You begin with only a laser pistol (which only has a few shots) and a butcher knife.
         
Character creation.
   
The rest will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a roguelike, although the game is notable for how it deviates as much as for how it adopts the standards. Some examples: 
     
  • As you can see, Thunderbolt offers iconographs and a GUI rather than the ASCII characters and keyboard-only interface of pure roguelikes. The graphics are quite tiny in the main window, but see below.
  • There are several dozen commands using the full range of the keyboard, such as a)ttack, e)at, g)et, and o)pen. As with most roguelikes, many keys have to do double duty with the SHIFT key, as in the case of w)ield and W)ear. Unique to this game is the use of the TAB key to push letters into triple or quadruple duty, as in f)ire, TAB-f)ill, F)ix (something adjacent to you), and TAB-F)ix (inventory item). There are also menu commands for everything, and many commands can be executed by clicking in the map window; for instance, clicking on a door opens it and clicking on an enemy attacks it. I mostly get by with keyboard commands, but there is a particularly useful option to click a part of the map and have the character automatically proceed there.
  • Levels alternate between those with a fixed layout and those that are randomly generated. Even the randomly generated ones completely fill the available space, which makes it easy to find areas that ought to have secret doors.
  • As you kill enemies, you gain experience, which leads to occasional leveling.
         
Always a welcome message.
       
  • Unlike most roguelikes, you can save this one, but you're assessed a penalty to your score based on your level and how frequently you save. Various other blunders can cause penalties. The manual advises newer players not to worry about penalties and just save whenever they want. I've been limiting myself to once per level.
  • There is an economy. It runs on found coins. (I'm not sure what to do with equally-common "oddly-shaped" coins.) Instead of NPCs and stores, Thunderbolt offers ATMs, auto-docs, and vending machines. 
   
An ATM lets you deposit and withdraw funds.
      
  • Health doesn't auto-regenerate as you move, but you can retreat to a safe area and "rest" to fully restore it.
  • Weapons include both melee and missile options, the latter of which require ammunition. Armor options are jackets and helmets and such. The game has a "weapon class" statistic that helps you track the relative power of weapons.
  • Pills take the place of potions in fantasy roguelikes. Their colors are randomized for each new game. However, the penalty for eating a bad pill can be disastrous. Pills of Ineptitude permanently damage your dexterity, for instance. There are supposedly machines (I haven't encountered any yet) that tell you what pills do; I wouldn't think of taking one, except in a dire emergency, without consulting these machines.
  • There is blessedly no hunger mechanic in the game. You do have the option of eating corpses, but I'm not sure if this ever provides any benefit. The manual doesn't mention any.
  • Although the progression of levels is generally linear, there are occasional holes that connect across multiple levels, plus "transmat booths" that will move you from one place to another in the dungeon if you have a code.
   
So far, I've only survived up to Level 5 ("Region" 5 as the game has it). The early levels featured a lot of junk on the floor that appears to have no use, like rocks, broken bottles, and dirty rags. There were lots of pills and coins--so many of the latter that I was often in danger of over-encumbrance; fortunately, ATMs let you deposit coins for safekeeping. Enemies have included mutated animals like giant bats, spiders, ants, and rats, as well as aliens like eyeless things and hairy things. So far, the most frustrating (hostile) creature has been "slimy things," whose slime attacks destroy your entire inventory of pills, plus leave you "slimy," which prevents you from clicking to walk. There have also been "Kiddie Kommando Units" with paintball guns that blind you with paint.
   
The "fog of war" effect in this game is such that until you've explored an area, you can only see one square away. This makes missile weapons of questionable utility since you can rarely shoot at an enemy from a distance. Perhaps I'll find some device that lets me see across more squares and that will change. Melee weapons have included rusty pipes and crowbars; armor has included jackets and a cap.
       
Fighting a couple of enemies early in the game.
       
There have been lots of unusual events that I suppose I'll have to learn the significance of through experience--things like power drains, crackling of energy, getting drowsy after noticing the scent of violets, "unseen forces" that prevent me from accessing certain squares, and various noises in the distance of the dungeon.
    
By far, the most annoying creatures have been non-hostile automatons called utility bots. You start to meet them on Level 2 or 3. Once they acquire you, they follow you around mercilessly asking for information about where they should clean. They do perform some helpful services, such as automatically cleaning you of paint or slime. The problem I keep having is that they trap me in dead-end corridors and won't get out of the way. They're too dangerous to attack (and thus turn hostile). You can try to jump over them, but if you fail, you end up crashing into them--and they turn hostile. I lost a couple of characters to them.
        
A utility bot won't leave me alone.
     
Like NetHack, however, Thunderbolt offers a relatively complex set of interactions between inventory items and between inventory items and the environment. The solution to my utility bot problem was just taking the crowbar to the nearest wall and carving my own way out. These are the sorts of things that you have to learn through trial and error--or by looking at spoiler sheets. I've tried to avoid the latter so far, but some spoilers have been impossible to avoid; a lot of sites have them in the basic description of the game. Thus, I know that when you encounter a hazardous waste spill, you can dump rubble into it until a pathway becomes clear. Instead of throwing individual grenades at very hard enemies, you can store multiple grenades in a box and then throw the box at them. You can fill the same containers with radioactive waste and use them as missile weapons. Somehow, there's a way to tame animals. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that I'm going to be with the game long enough to develop true mastery of all of these options the way I did with NetHack. I realize that if I did, I would start to better differentiate Thunderbolt from other roguelikes and thus temper my first two paragraphs. 
      
One area in which the author is to be particularly commended is in the interface. The four default windows--character, status, messages, inventory, and the main view--are all movable and sizable. The status and inventory windows can even be dismissed. There are additional windows not activated by default that players might find helpful, including a command window that lets you play by double-clicking commands, a button window that lets you do the same with buttons, a zoom window that zooms out and lets you see the entire level, and a detail window that zooms in and shows you larger iconography for a smaller area. I confess I've mocked some Mac games in the past for being so obsessed with their individual windows, but there's something to be said about offering such customization to the user. Plus, at least Thunderbolt arranges its default windows tightly so you don't see the Mac desktop underneath everything. 
      
An alternate configuration of windows.
     
Things just got a little hairy for Captain Chet. Shortly after discovering that I could lure enemies to holes in the floor and let them fall, I fell down a hole myself. There was a horde of enemies waiting for me, so I retreated to a nearby hallway to try to take them on one at a time. Fortunately, I found a power pack for my laser pistol and was able to use it to good advantage. On the unfortunate side, my klutziness caused me to drop my pile of coins and my crowbar, and I was never able to get them back.
        
An enemy is swallowed by a hole--or something in the hole.
      
By the time I was done with the combat, Chet's status effects were "klutzy," "spotted," "slimy," "injured," and "paint-spattered." I saved the game and tried to experiment with some pills to see if I could get rid of some of those effects. Most of the pills turned out to be bad--forgetfulness, monster agitation, clumsiness--but one group turned out to be "pills of perception," which allow you to see the entire level map. That was helpful. I'd also been carrying two "strange devices"; activating one showed them to be light beacons. Between the two of them, missile combat (and simply avoiding enemies) became easier for the rest of the level.
   
I eventually found my way back to Level 4 and a utility bot who cleaned off the slime and paint. But shortly after I returned to Level 5, I got a sudden message that said "you briefly feel a bit lighter," and then found myself on an unknown level. I'll end there.
        
My first character didn't make it very far.
     
For those who have played this game before, feel free to be liberal with spoilers. I simply don't have time to learn all of the game's secrets for myself, so at least help me document it in the comments, and hopefully I can pull off a win.
 
Time so far: 4 hours
  

75 comments:

  1. Chet,
    Really glad to see you playing this game and I'm glad to have tracked down and provided my old copy of the original 1992 mac version.

    Just a few tips since you asked for spoilers:
    - Strength is super important (for carrying and melee combat). You might consider starting over and going for 17 or 18.
    - there's a huge variety of strange devices and figuring out how to use them is one of the charms of the game. You should come up with some kind of testing process including inspecting, opening, wearing, using to fix, using to disarm, activating, charging, loading, firing,etc. eventually you can use a library to identify what they are but there's a lot you can figure out through trial and error.
    - weapon class is a good general rule of thumb, but it only governs a weapons chance to hit. in general a sword hits harder than a knife even if the sword has a lower weapon class. Some items that can be used as weapons also have other uses for disarming, fixing, or tearing down walls...
    - you can protect your pills from getting slimed if you put them in a container and close it.
    - traps are absolutely deadly in this game. Anytime you're exploring a new area I highly recommend Auto search and going slow. Some really useful and key items may only spawn once or twice in the game and if they get destroyed by traps it can really set you back.
    - I totally agree you should not eat any pills until you find the library and can get them identified. the pills that increase stats may add one or two points but the pills that decrease stats can take off 7 to 10 points. Randomly eating unidentified pills is almost never a good idea.
    - once you get to region 7 or so you may start encountering enemies that can poison you. The poison is extremely deadly and you have to be very careful not to get swarmed as it stacks up extremely fast. there are pills of neutralize poison but not tons of them. You can rest it off but only if it's not stacked up too much.

    Looking forward to seeing what you think about the rest of the game.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome. Thanks for the version and for the tips!

      Delete
    2. "once you get to region 7 or so you may start encountering enemies that can poison you." Just encountered my first "Fangwing." At 50 HP, I wasn't able to "rest it off." It just depleted me until I died, at which point I needed to die anyway because I was irredeemably weak, stupid, and clumsy from all of the pills I tried, hoping one would cure poison. Seriously, how are you supposed to deal with these things? I've rarely met such a blatantly unfair mechanic in my life.

      Delete
  2. Also there's a lot of variety in enemy interactions. For example the kiddie commando units hit hard and have lots of hit points. There's a much easier way to take them out than just traditional methods, however. Try beating them at their own game...

    ReplyDelete
  3. In a game with so many commands that one key can do four things, I wouldn't be able to remember all the possible actions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's why I vastly prefer mouse driven interfaces over having two dozen hotkeys!

      Delete
    2. The funny thing is, a lot of keys don't do anything at all. So the doubling, tripling, and quadrupling of key functions is often unnecessary.

      Delete
  4. I like the idea of deep interactions in my roguelikes, but really I think Brogue's elegant and context-sensitive system always ends up being my favorite. Only need to remember a few commands--Use, Equip, Drop, etc., and everything else is displayed on screen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brogue is fabulous. Comfortably the easiest Roguelike to get into, and with Brogue Tiles one of the easiest for new players to learn.

      Delete
    2. Brogue has almost completely ruined other traditional roguelikes for me. I tried Nethack again recently and got overwhelmed by the amount of busywork--my current character should probably visit a different dungeon branch and trying to retrace my steps and schlep my three pets to the stairs for each level seems so dull. I never realized how much I needed fast travel with the mouse. And Brogue has deep interactions too!

      Chester might not be as into Brogue, though; no economy, rudimentary leveling.

      Do you think someone who gets fatigued by nethack might like Caves of Qud?

      Delete
    3. I prefer Qud to nethack, but I think that's because Qud is fun to play even unspoiled. I won't read spoilers for roguelikes (also, I can't beat them!), and nethack is just too much hidden info.

      Qud comes across as a truly awesome RPG that just happens to be procedurally generated. My main quibble with it is that I wish the map generator created maps with more variety for the underground stuff (although I haven't played it in a year, so who knows what's happened since then).

      Delete
    4. Thanks! That's another great thing about Brogue, it has very little spoilery stuff.

      For hidden info I like Cinco Paus (if you don't speak Portuguese), which does a good job of letting you discover what's going on by experimenting, and also is fun even after you're completely spoiled.

      Delete
  5. It's funny. I played a lot of roguelikes but never finished even one of them. Same with modern action-"roguelites". I play a couple of sessions, die a couple of times, then move on to something else. Eventually I return to the roguelike and play another session or two. But I never really put in the effort to power through it. I play them very casually.

    I guess how much you enjoy roguelikes depends on how much you value systems versus content. Procedurally generated levels just don't do it for me the same way good hand-designed ones do. For my favorite games, Thief and Quake, I regularly play new fan-made levels created by the active modding communities, but if someone were to make a procedural generation mod that could spit out infinite levels for these games, it would leave me cold.

    For me, hand-made content is king, and the procedural nature of roguelikes makes them less compelling to me. I'm big into level and encounter design, and roguelikes miss that completely - they are purely systems-driven.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This game has a mix of procedurally generated content and hand designed areas. Keeps things fresh but still allows more complex areas/content.

      Delete
    2. I've really enjoyed many of the modern action-roguelites, and it's typically because the moveset is so interesting and deep that it works despite the levels not having hand-crafted levels of quality. The procedural approach instead makes sure you always have fresh content and never fall into a scripted approach of level you've memorized.

      But yeah, I think you have to get sufficient satisfaction just from using and mastering whatever moveset the game offers you. And I think what I'm describing sort of fits your system vs. content description.

      Also, as an achievement oriented gamer, I also appreciate being able to unlock or upgrade abilities between runs so that I keep feeling that forward progress that can otherwise be lost in continually replaying procedural levels.

      (I've finished Dead Cells, Void Bastards, Children of Morta, and Undermine. And I've played a good amount of Spelunky, West of Dead, and ScourgeBringer.)

      Delete
    3. If there were procedurally generated levels with similar quality as hand-designed levels, would you play them? Or is there potentially some other reason, maybe a psychological one, for not playing them?

      There are no procedural level generation tools that can create Quake or Thief levels, but there's Oblige for Doom (http://oblige.sourceforge.net) which creates serviceable yet uninspired levels. There are some scientific papers using Machine Learning to create Doom levels, but for now with poor results as far as I can see.

      One example where the procedurally generated levels are very good is the realtime action roguelike Unexplored. Their algorithm is tersely explained here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wvkTT-6P3Q, and in more detail here: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/TommyThompson/20210128/376783/Unexploreds_Secret_Cyclic_Dungeon_Generation.php. Personally I think they're better than most procedural levels and pretty good compared to most RPGs' handmade dungeon levels. (But I think level design in RPGs is generally not that great.)

      Procedurally generated levels have several big advantages for me. First, you can always start a new game and play with new levels without having to hunt for user-made level packs (which are not suppported by most games anyway). Secondly, you can end up in situations where it's not clear if it's even possible to beat this situation and come out alive. This never happens in designer-created levels that always adjust the height of hurdles just right so that the player can clear them. When you do encounter such a potentially impossible situation, it's so much more thrilling to beat them against all odds than to clear a "normal" human-designed challenge where you know that you are always supposed to be able to clear it.

      But even with excellent procedural levels, some people might prefer levels handmade by designers, I think due to a psychological preference to accept a challenge posed by a human that was designed to be conquerable. For example, suppose a crossword generator created puzzles that are indistinguishable to those from human designers, and which have been affirmed by previous players as fair and interesting - would everyone play these just as willingly?

      Delete
    4. Well, I'm one of those people who don't like roguelikes or anything procedurally generated, but I did thoroughly enjoy Unexplored. Personally, I think its levels are actually better than most hand-designed RPG levels - there's more variety and complexity to them, better sense of exploration and much less filler content.
      Unfortunately, that's the opposite of what 90% games with proc.gen. aim for as they are all filler content. Their devs choose proc.gen. not for any ideological reasons but because simple proc.gen. takes less effort than hand-designing. On the other hand, good algorithms like in Unexplored arguably takes more effort than hand-designing, which is why we don't see it catch on.

      Delete
    5. Roguelike situations can often be a bit of a puzzle: what sequence of actions will allow the character to escape with minimal damage or loss and maximum enemy defeat? Handcrafted puzzles will nearly always be more interesting than procedurally generated ones. Consider the endless books of bland generated sudoku puzzles vs the many interesting handcrafted puzzles created by setters like Thomas Snyder, Prasanna Seshadri, Phistomefel, and many others. Procedural generation can help with learning the systems in a variety of situations that don't exactly repeat, but an entirely generated game will never be as fun as one that has at least some handcrafted content. This one with a mix of both sounds like a good balance.

      Delete
    6. In reply to Bitmap:

      For me it's both due to handcrafted content just having higher quality in general (especially in games with complex architecture - as you said, there are no proc gen tools for Thief and Quake, and the ones for Doom spit out merely acceptable levels while real human designers regularly create masterpieces), and due to me enjoying games like a piece of art. I enjoy experiencing a designer's vision and trying to understand what he or she did there. When it comes to Thief fan missions, I even enjoy the mediocre ones as long as they have a unique stylistic touch to them. There are some mission authors whose work is merely average but it still has a personal touch that you can recognize: certain stylistic elements that clearly make them recognizable as a mission created by this particular author. A great example is Christine, a middle-aged German woman who made over 30 Thief fan missions over the years, and who developed a very unique style of comfy small villages, which is quite different to the usual big city missions. Her early work was pretty bad but she improved with each release and her latest work is of high quality. Watching her style evolve as you play her releases chronologically is quite fascinating.

      I also love exploration and sharing my discoveries with other players, as well as reading guides about finding secret areas. It's kind of a collaborative world exploration effort: you find interesting locations and share your discoveries with others, and they share theirs with you. I fondly remember playing Arcanum and Morrowind as a young teen and talking to my pal who also played them. We'd share our discoveries and then go and check them out together.

      You can't do this with a procedurally generated game because the levels are always different. What you discover doesn't exist in anyone else's game. The worlds of procedurally generated games feel less "real" to me because of that.

      Also, procedural levels lack "soul", that personal touch of an author that I especially appreciate in Thief fan missions and other amateur modding efforts. A level created by some algorithm isn't going to have any personal touches.

      I also find proc gen to feel very repetitive once you've played a couple of levels. There are no real unique elements to these levels, they all end up feeling predictable at some point. I haven't played a single proc gen game that managed to give me encounters as good as the best ones from Baldur's Gate 2, Temple of Elemental Evil, Knights of the Chalice, etc. By their very nature, proc gen levels and encounters are fairly generic. Meanwhile in a hand-designed game you can have things like THE dragon fight, or simply an encounter that makes good use of different enemy types and different environmental factors.

      A good designer can give you an epic battle with very deliberately placed enemies and environmental hazards. Like maybe a fight where you have to take a guard tower occupied by enemy archers, while enemy reinforcements approach you from behind, so you gotta be fast in taking the tower and then defending it from the reinforcements. There is exactly ONE quest like that in the entire game, and it is unique and memorable.

      In a proc gen game, this would be turned into an encounter type - the "tower battle" - that can randomly occur at any point during the playthrough. It loses its uniqueness and just becomes one more variation of encounter you can get.

      Delete
    7. I wouldn't mind if more games split the difference with hand-crafted geographies and some procedurally-generated encounters and distributions of money and items.

      Delete
  6. I see a "shove" command on on of screenshots. Does those annoying bots turn hostile if you try to shove them out of a dead end?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, they actually misinterpret the gesture and cuddle you (I'm serious). It doesn't move them out of the way, in any event.

      Delete
    2. If you were a little stronger you might have more success.... There's a repeat command (I think it's shift-z) that you can use to just shove repeatedly until they finally move. I seem to recall you could just hold shift z down and they would do it over and over and over until you let go.

      Delete
  7. Transmat booths are a Dr. Who reference.

    ReplyDelete
  8. As someone who's never really played a roguelike for any significant length of time, this one looks really interesting. Maybe it's just the sci-fi theming that appeals to me. For whatever reason I find the idea of crawling around a dilapidated, abandoned high-tech facility dodging haywire robots and nuclear waste, finding lost technology of unknown function to be a lot more compelling than crawling around some damp stone dungeon fighting the same old monster manual rejects and picking up endless pairs of +1 boots.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If that's a genre you're really interested in, you might check out the modern roguelike Cogmind: https://store.steampowered.com/app/722730/Cogmind/

      Delete
    2. Looks interesting. I'm a sucker for robot-building games as well. I'll check it out. Thanks!

      Delete
    3. You make the difference sound so stark, and yet I'd still rather crawl around some damp stone dungeon for those +1 boots.

      Delete
    4. I think it has to do with what you grow up with. I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek, playing sci-fi games like Doom, and checking out sci-fi books at the library; while I don't dislike fantasy, I'll always reach for the science fiction first.

      Delete
    5. To each his own. Fantasy stuff is obviously popular for a reason, it just doesn't jibe with me. I think part of it is how samey fantasy worlds tend to be. Every science fiction story has its own worlds and peoples and technology, but every fantasy story has elves and dwarves and longswords in medieval England. Even sci-fi properties that are very similar, like Star Trek DS9 and Babylon 5, have worlds of differences between them. Meanwhile it feels like everything from Game of Thrones to The Witcher are just riffing on Tolkien.

      Now I don't hate fantasy games or novels, lots of them are classics. It just won't ever be a compelling setting to me. The writing has to be really excellent to elevate the material IMO.

      Delete
    6. While I don't have the antipathy that you have toward fantasy settings, I do agree with your main point. "Fantasy" should have unlimited possibilities; it's unrestrained by real-world science and history. If anything, there should be more variety in fantasy settings than in science fiction! People should be able to put whatever they want in fantasy settings... but almost every fantasy setting (more so in games than in fiction, but fiction certainly isn't immune to it) keeps drawing from the same D&D/Tolkien-inspired wells. "Fantasy" doesn't have to mean pseudo-medieval fairytale feudal settings with castles, kings, and knights, populated by elves and dwarves and orcs... but in practice it almost always does. And when people do try to do something different with fantasy, usually all that means is drawing from the mythology of other cultures. But you don't have to do that! Fantasy doesn't have to have anything to do with real-world mythology or folklore! You can make up completely original worlds!

      There have been some more original fantasy worlds—T├ękumel, Jorune (though that's often classified as "science-fantasy"), to a lesser degree Talislanta—but yeah, they're few and far between. As I said, I don't dislike fantasy as much as you seem to, but I do certainly wish that the creators of fantasy worlds would shake things up more and that there were as much variety in fantasy settings as there is in science fiction.

      Delete
    7. Interesting thoughts... I started reading fantasy after reading LOTR in fifth grade and read tons of it until late college. Then I stopped. But I've read science fiction straight through until now, although I read more non-fiction these days. High fantasy (if that is a good term for it) does seem to limit itself in many ways, although I've heard that fantasy has become more diverse over the years.

      Maybe I should go back to fantasy one day. But for now... give me Peter Hamilton or give me something that isn't death!


      Delete
    8. "High fantasy" is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot but is, alas, rendered pretty much useless by the fact that nobody can agree on what it means. Some people do, indeed use it to refer to the dominant D&D/Tolkien-inspired quasimedieval subgenre, but to others "high fantasy" means any fantasy where powerful magic plays a prominent role; or that deals overtly with philosophical themes of Good vs. Evil; or that concerns itself with epic, save-the-world plots. Basically, "high fantasy" has at least half a dozen different meanings, depending on who's using it, and so in practice it ends up not meaning much of anything.

      I'm not aware of any unambiguous term that does refer specifically to D&D/Tolkien-type fantasy, and it would be nice if there were one; I've given a bit of thought to trying to come up with such a term, but haven't hit on one I'm really happy with.

      Delete
    9. I love fantasy but have grown tired of the generic forms of it. The already mentioned Tekumel and Jorune are amazing, and I'm still sad that there never was an Empire of the Petal Throne CRPG. The fantasy I like to read tends to be of the more exotic type - I love oldschool pulp fantasy, as it was way more imaginative in those early days before the tropes got codified. And there has been a great influx of new pulp-style fantasy in recent years, with magazines such as Cirsova.

      One of my favorite authors is Martha Wells, who writes entertaining adventure romps in usually pretty imaginative settings. City of Bones is set in a post-apocalyptic desert realm, and her flagship Ile-Rien series starts out with a classical fantasy world with a 17th century tech level (and the protagonist being a swashbuckling musketeer), while the second novel Death of the Necromancer propels the setting into the 19th century, and in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy they've reached an early 20th century (1910s-1920s) tech level... and have to deal with an invasion of airships from another dimension. They develop a dimension-hopping machine to follow the invaders back to their origin and send a whole cruise ship through, which becomes their base of operations in the other dimension.

      This kind of stuff is cool. It uses the idea of fantasy and does something creative with it. Weird cultures, dimension hopping, mixing magic with various stages of technological development, strange creatures etc.

      Meanwhile most of what we get in CRPGs is yet another pseudo-medieval world with forest-dwelling elves and mountain-dwelling dwarves and instead of providing us with a new spin on the old genre, all we get is the same old familiar stuff.

      I don't like to experience the same old familiar stuff over and over again. I'm already familiar with it. Mix it up a little! Give me something interesting!

      Delete
  9. What a relief, I have just learned that ATMs will be working even after the nuclear/chemical/biological war caused by aliens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And they'll start accepting coins!

      Delete
    2. @AdventureMaterials, what do you mean "start"? ATMs accepting coins are a thing, around here they've existed for decades now. Most of them prefer your coins sorted into rolls of the same kind of coin, though.

      Delete
    3. I think we may be seeing a U.S. vs. the rest of the world thing here. The U.S. doesn't have common coins in circulation worth more than $0.25, so ATMs don't accept them. Other countries have coins of actual value and probably need ATMs to take them.

      Delete
    4. True that. I think our 2 Euro coins are worth something like 2,5 $, depending on exchange rate. That'd be 10x the worth of the highest US-coin.

      And sometimes our government gets weird and mints special 5 or 10 € coins. (Thought it's probably a huge waste to throw those into an ATM just for the +5/+10 to your bank account.)

      Delete
    5. The special coins are always collector's pieces and worth much more than their numerical value.

      Delete
    6. @JarlFrank, I agree. That's why I said it's a huge waste just throwing them in the next ATM. I mean, they're legal tender and you can do what you want with them, even go buy groceries.

      It's just generally a bad idea, heh.

      Delete
    7. The US/Canada have had all sort of high value coins, but people generally don't use them as legal tender. I have heard stories of people using silver dollars as 1 modern dollar out of desperation or because they were stolen.

      Delete
    8. I don't know if it's still the case, but ticket vending machines for public transit around the NYC/NJ area used to give out dollar coins as change (if you paid in cash, obviously).

      Delete
    9. We have dollar coins in the US... but they aren't commonly used. Many people probably don't even know they exist!

      We've had people trying to get rid of the smaller coins (the worthless penny!) for a while and trying convert the lower bills to coins. No luck yet.

      Delete
    10. It's funny, in the US there are 1 dollar bills and they're commonly used, while here in Europe bills start at 5 euros and coins go up to 2.

      Back before we got the euro, German marks even had 5 mark coins, which were very common, while the 5 mark bill was so uncommon I considered it a collector's item as a kid.

      Delete
  10. I just love the idea of someone being so annoyed by a robot, they're rather break apart a wall and go sideways instead of interacting with them further.

    Though this makes me think, can you talk to them? Would be funny if you could just answer their question and send them to some random, far-away coordinates for a clean-up. Would get them out of your hair faster than just showing them repeatedly (if that even works).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There isn't any "Talk" function, alas. I spent a long time searching for one.

      Delete
    2. Welp, sounds like shoving it is then. Or breaking down walls again.

      Delete
  11. Seeing that this has a Windows port makes me wonder how long it'll be before the blog hits a game that'll make Chet have to figure out how to get old Windows working

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is it bad that I can't name a single Windows 3.1 game? The only one I know is an obscure FMV game called Noir.

      Delete
    2. Oops. Well, I can't name one BESIDES Noir.

      Delete
    3. Mordor: The Depths of Dejenol is a Windows 3.x game that I enjoyed in the past but have been unable to get running on Windows 10. I think I would have to actually install an old version of Windows via Dosbox or something and that sounds rather hard.

      Delete
    4. Windows 3.1 was just a shell on top of DOS, so it's rare to find a game that absolutely requires it. There will be a few in the coming years, though. I already got it emulated for something dumb--GayBlade, maybe?--so I know it's possible.

      Delete
    5. Luckily, getting Windows 3.1 working in Dosbox is about as hard as getting anything you need to install working. As long you know how to mount and install a program, you can get Windows working.

      Delete
    6. Castle of the winds is Win3.1 I think. At least that's how I remember it.

      Delete
    7. I got some Win 3.1 games working on my old XP laptop. But I can't get any of them working on my Windows 7 PC, same with some Windows 95 games - that's because 64 bit systems can't run 16 bit applications.

      Running Win 95,98 or XP on an emulator shouldn't be a problem though.

      Delete
    8. The first Exile games from Spiderweb are specifically win3.1 and, sadly, a pain to emulate on a 64 bit systems.

      Delete
    9. For playing Windows 3.1 games on modern Windows, someone did port the NTVDM to 64 bit Windows. Results are hit or miss, though. Mordor booted, though the text was misaligned in spots, probably has to do with not being DPI aware. I was able to make and outfit a character, but the game froze once I got into the dungeon. Castle of the Winds worked perfectly, however.

      Delete
    10. Huh. I've actually just started replaying the first Exile game recently, and didn't have much trouble emulating it.

      What I did is first emulate Windows 3.1 in DOSBox-X (I don't remember now why I used DOSBox-X instead of regular DOSBox, but I guess there must have been a reason for it?), and then run Exile from the emulated Windows 3.1 environment.

      It was a month or two ago that I did this, and I don't remember all the step-by-step details now, but I don't remember it being that hard to figure out.

      Delete
    11. (Well, I say replaying, but honestly when I played Exile back when it first came out I never got around to finishing it, so it's only the beginning that I replayed... by now I'm already well past the part I played years ago, so I'm in territory that's new to me.)

      Delete
    12. The first Exile games work perfectly well on a Windows XP system, so any pre-64 bit system should run them fine.

      Source: I recently played them on my old XP laptop without emulation.

      Delete
    13. Was castle of the Winds a Win 3.1 game? Or am I misremembering playing it on Win 95...

      Delete
    14. Some Windows 3.1 games work perfectly well on later OS, some do not. I remember playing Castle of the Winds on XP, a system that most certainly didn't exist back when the game was originally thought up.
      Also, I think DOSBox-X works better with emulated Windows 3.1. Completely irrelevant here, but DOSBox-X is probably the best choice for PC-98 emulation too.

      Delete
    15. 3.1. I played it on my Dad’s monochrome work lap top.

      Delete
  12. Is this the last 1992 game?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Roguelikes...either you love them or you hate them.
    For some reason I hate playing a character that's going to die anyway. Feels wrong somehow. Ridiculous, I know, guess it's a psyche thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoy some roguelikes, but I can never get truly invested for this very reason. Even if "losing is fun" as Dwarf Fortress puts it, endless deaths get tedious eventually.

      Delete
  14. This is just an extreme nitpick, but VAX is not considered a mainframe computer, but rather a minicomputer. These would be computers that were considerably smaller and cheaper than mainframe computers, but still much larger than the later microprocessor based microcomputers, the type we are still using. As always, love to learn about these obscure titles that I never ran across at the time.

    ReplyDelete
  15. "...I'm always happy when I see a roguelike coming up on the list."

    I have good news for you: the start of the dark age for mainstream CRPGs coincides with the start of the golden age for classical roguelikes. Starting around 1994, there followed a decade in which one or two dozen new roguelikes released per year, found most often on the Usenet group rec.games.roguelike.announce. (Wow, just typing those letters brought a rush of nostalgia.) Not only that, the big four (Nethack, Angband, ADoM and Crawl) received large, regular updates. Even Dwarf Fortress released a teaser on the newsgroup, years before its first public release.

    If you're inclined, I could dig up a bunch of names of obscure roguelikes to add to your list. Most of these will be MIA, since Usenet is in shambles and the games were mostly freeware hosted on private servers, but a few might still be found. It's always nice when an old enthusiasm (roguelikes) can contribute to a new one (your blog).

    ReplyDelete
  16. Continuing the previous comment: using data from Jeff Lait (the organizer of an annual development contest) on the Roguelike Temple (a mainstay of the community, for a time), it looks like the genre's golden age has yet to end. In 2004 25 different roguelikes were released or updated; in subsequent years, 60, 47, 66, 70, 96, and 120. Roughly half of these were contest entries, and thus quite short. So if you make it to that era, you'll have no shortage of BRIEFs.

    Then roguelikes took over the gaming industry, and it was no longer possible to track their numbers. ^_^

    In retrospect, it only seemed like a dark age at the time because three of the big four fell into neglect, and the remaining one (Crawl) schismed. Three have now emerged healthy and sound; Angband in particular has improved by leaps and bounds. Sadly, Nethack remains dead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nethack received its most recent bugfix release (3.6.6) in March 2020; thirteen months is hardly a remarkable interval for Nethack.

      There is an active 3.7 development branch in Github; the most recent commit was yesterday.

      Delete
  17. Oh! That's wonderful! I stopped following roguelikes half a decade ago, so I really should have double-checked that claim before finishing the post. Sorry for the misinformation.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Another followup to the above. I discovered others have already done much better work than I would have. At the Temple of the Roguelike you can find the International Roguelike Database, which has a total of 1031 entries, the latest having been added... yesterday, 4/23/2021. If just seeing that total makes you feel tired, at least the explosion of new roguelikes started two or three years later than I claimed above.

    If you go to the Roguelike Development website, under the heading "The List," there is a separate database of about 600 roguelikes. This database has more information per entry than the other one, but it only goes up to 2012.

    These two databases should be very useful to you once you make to the next millenium. ^_^

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi, I was going through some old boxes and I have a copy of the original packaging with all of the contents if someone wants it. You pay shipping, that's all I want. email me at graphicdav at yahoo dot com (graphicdav no e)

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.