Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Magic Candle III: Won!

"Return to Kabelo"? Why would I go back to that hellhole? I want to return to Oshcrun.
    
A common feature of The Magic Candle III is that what ought to be challenging is instead just annoying. That applied to almost all of this final session. It took me about 11 hours, or 25% of my time with the game, but I blew through it just to get it done. Even then, I had to look up a few things in the hint book.
 
I had ended the last session with the (spiritual) defeat of the wizard Alvirex, the revelation that he was responsible for the Blight, and the knowledge that the spell to stop the Blight was contained in the Solnicon, a spellbook that no longer exists. Rather than pursue these related leads immediately, I finished my exploration of the islands. There wasn't much else to find. There was a temple to the goddess Entas on one of the islands, and I learned her password. A final island held the Tower of Qaldiur, a six-level dungeon that I was probably supposed to start with (it was very easy). A sleeping god lay in the basement, though, and I never found the password to wake him up.
      
The party decides to let sleeping gods lie. Did I already make that joke? It feels like I did.
      
The rest of it was just the usual rooms, teleporters, and ambushes. For the only time in the game, I had to cast the "Walkwater" spell to get over water obstacles, so that was something. It made me realize that the spiders and snakes that you had to "Repel" in the first two games don't appear here. Neither do the energy barriers that you have to "Pierce." I certainly don't miss those.
   
You have to cast about 50 of these to get across a small pond.
    
I tried to experiment more with magic as I explored the rooms--I really did--but I was so overpowered for the enemies that I could make most of them run away just by talking to them. Besides that, the game has a fundamental problem in that none of its offensive spells are as damaging or decisive as a good physical attack, even when the attacker is relatively weak. This was true in both previous games, too, but this one exacerbates the problem by giving its new spellbook ("Alasol") a couple of spells that strengthen physical attacks. There isn't a single spell that's more efficient than swallowing a Gonshi mushroom, casting "Jump," and sending the character to melee range of some smug bastard on the other side of the room.
      
In the end, the only reason to explore Qaldiur was to find a magic axe called Bonecleaver. I already had two characters using magic axes and really would have preferred a magic sword or another magic weapon. I ended up giving it to Garz when I got him back in the party (see below). He turned out to be too weak to wield it, and yet he refused to give it back, so the whole dungeon was really a waste of time.
       
I did leave the dungeon using a teleportal, for the first and only time in the game.
      
The next waste of time was my own fault. I spent an hour revisiting all of the libraries in the land to research SOLNICON. While I was at each one, I also inquired about other geographic and proper names that the game had fed me, feeling a bit ashamed that I hadn't done that previously. There really is quite a bit of lore in this game, much like its predecessors, and the only major problem is that it poorly supplements what we learned about the world in the previous games. Why didn't the demons ever take over these islands? Why is there no mention of Eldens and Aletsens? That kind of thing. Anyway, thankfully, one of the places that I researched was RINORA, which turned out to be fortuitous.
     
I learn some stuff that would have been interesting hours ago about the Herring Isles.
    
Still, there was nothing on the Solnicon. Only after I'd tried the libraries in Eisheim, Urkabel, and Telermain did I remember that I'd discovered the lost library of Archos in the ruined city of Nekros. Someone had asked for a name when I knocked on the door, and I only found the one to use (GORION) after I had visited. I had never returned.
   
Making my way back now, I spoke to the ghostly librarian and got the rundown on what I would have to do to end the Blight:

Protection of the Realm: To guard the Realm, its races must unite to build and light a cleansing candle in the Chamber of the Gods atop the Tower of Rinora. The candle must have a mold in which it will be built; wax from which it will be made; a wick to allow it to burn; a flint to provide its flame.

From the north comes the keeper of the mold. The royal orc places the candle's mold on the chamber's floor and whispers "Kabelo" to keep the mold upright. The keeper of the wax is a dwarf from the west. The waxkeeper places the wax in the mold and whispers "Rastanna" to allow the wax to melt. The wickkeeper is an elf of ancient lineage. While dropping the wick into the wax, the elf's whispered "Illorio" hardens the wax and causes the mold to drop away from the finished candle.

The fourth task falls to the keeper of the flint. The halfling lifts the flint to the candle's wick and whispers "Solia." The candle glimmers into flame. Finally, the human leader whispers the syllable "Ur." The candle blazes bright, and the Realm is protected against all harm.
 
You can imagine the fits of swearing that accompanied the revelation that I would have to dump two of my longstanding characters just to artificially shoehorn an orc and an elf into the party. To be fair, it turns out there's a teleportal chamber right next to the final chamber of the game, and I could have cleared out the final dungeon with my existing party, teleported out to grab the elf and orc, and teleported back in. I didn't know this at the time, however. [Ed. And I'm wrong anyway. There's no way to teleport BACK to Rinora after you leave, and you can't re-enter via the caverns because a bridge collapses behind you.]
          
I only knew of one orc NPC, Prince Garzbondgur. There are probably several elves, including some back at Castle Oshcrun, but my mind immediately went to Toriala, who we had left in Alvirex's tower. She seemed to fit the Solnicon's requirement for an elf of "ancient lineage." I was frankly worried that Sakar wouldn't suffice as the dwarf; that we'd have to get one specifically from the Solian lands. That turned out not to be the case, thankfully. 
     
This is how much of a jerk Garz is: He won't let you in his room unless you ask for GARZBONDGUR. Just GARZ isn't good enough. Typical @#$%&* orc.
    
In terms of replacing them, I could only get rid of Rimfiztrik, Evixa, and Eneri. The ritual requires no wizards at all, and only one human. But Eneri was just too powerful to dump, so I lost the two wizards and put spellcasting duties for the rest of the game on Gia, Eneri, and Toriala. There was one major problem with this: Toriala, like Garz, is a hireling, not an NPC. She refuses to hand back anything valuable that you hand her, including spellbooks. I really needed her to memorize "Jump" and "Restsoul," but these come from different books that I also needed for Eneri and Gia. I ultimately spent a lot of time in camp, having Eneri and Gia memorize 99 of every spell they could possibly need from the two books before passing them (irrevocably) to Toriala. 
     
I get rid of an actually-useful party member in exchange for someone who insists on a "fair share of the treasure" despite the fact that you just rescued her from an evil wizard.
       
With the party in place, that left finding the necessary elements. I had the candle mold and wick, having found them unintentionally while exploring other places. I didn't even have a notepad entry for WAX or FLINT. I sighed and started circling the cities, asking about those two keywords. I got bored and frustrated quite quickly and ultimately looked up the answers in the game's official cluebook. But if I was going to do that, I wanted to at least find out where I was supposed to have gotten the clues. Both turned out to be a bit unfair. To wit:
   
  • A refugee from Voliplan tells you about the wax--specifically, that he buried some in the southeast corner of the ruined city. He hangs out in one of the two taverns in Telermain from around 17:00 to midnight. But he doesn't spontaneously say anything about wax; you have to feed him the keyword with the OTHER command. I looked up transcripts of NPC dialogue in the game, and I don't think anyone tells you to ask him about it; you just have to be using that keyword on everyone.
  • A ghost in Nekros tells you that the flint is buried in her chimney. There are couple problems with this. First, she only appears between midnight and 01:00--one hour a day--and again, no one tells you this. How did anyone figure this out back in the day? No one is going to pass 24 hours a day just standing around every part of every map just in case someone appears. [Ed. I was wrong about "no one tells you this." I don't know why I made such a statement with such confidence, as NPCs in this game are easy to miss. In this case, I missed someone in Eisheim.] Second, when I talked to her, she just told me to return when I was "fully prepared." What the hell does that mean? I just dug up her chimney anyway and took it, but only because the cluebook told me where it was.

It's not like it's doing anyone any good where it is.
      
With everything in place, I returned to Telermain to stock up on as many mushrooms as I could afford, prioritizing Sermins and Gonshis, then Mirgets, and then buying a handful of the others. I did my spell memorization, fixed my equipment, buffed everyone's shields, and headed for the Tower of Rimora, the source of the Blight.
      
An NPC in Eisheim had already told me not to bother with the front door. Instead, I would have to enter through the Caverns of Crowndeep to the northeast. I had somehow missed this dungeon while exploring the island, which is probably a good thing, as once you enter, you can't leave. Since I explored fairly exhaustively, it may be that the door doesn't appear if you don't have the necessary items. The goddess Entas was sleeping in a chamber near the entrance, so I got a final boost in statistics, plus some advice for the battles ahead.
     
The specific nature and origin of these "lords of the blight" is left vague.
     
The caverns turned out to be 6 large, mundane, tiresome levels. They were followed immediately by a 10-level tower. The caverns were the worst, though: huge levels full of navigational obstacles like stalagmites and fumaroles and very narrow corridors. There were frequent ambushes and a fair number of side rooms and dead ends that just wasted time. My normal strategy of just keeping to the right wall ultimately got me through the place, but it was just tedious.
   
An ambush in a narrow area. Each of these necromants is going to require a "Restsoul" after I kill him. Ugh.
       
The only saving grace is that I had enough mushrooms that I wasn't really worried about running out. I was able to keep Gonshis (extra attacks) in my system ahead of every battle, which took the edge off all the ambushes. As we'll discuss in the final entry, Gonshis and "Jump" are really the only tools you need. But I confess I also did a lot of cheesing the system with reloads. If I poked my head in a room and saw there were no exits, I usually just reloaded. I didn't need any treasure by now, and there was no point in spending even five minutes fighting a battle just to find 8 Luffins or 6 skulls or a fountain full of "Heal" spells. 
    
The caverns took like three hours, so they deserve a second screenshot.
       
The 10-level Tower of Rinora was no harder (for nine of the levels) than any other dungeon. I again just kept to the rightmost wall and went up when I found a way up. If it led to a dead end, I went back down and tried again with another staircase. Except for some narrow corridors, there wasn't much else to it. By now, I was not only keeping Gonshis going constantly, but also swallowing Mirgets (more powerful first attack) and Nifts (fully protect against next three hits) before every room, keeping "Shields" at 99, and even keeping "Sharpen" running on the characters most of the time.
  
When the halfling makes that point, you know things are tight.
        
Level 6 offered a puzzle. To open a door further down the line, I had to throw the right gem into each of five pools. Fortunately, the encyclopedia entry on RINORA had warned me about the puzzle and given me the list of gems: A topaz to the Pool of Regret, a ruby to the Pool of Betrayal, and so forth. Equally fortunately, I'd been keeping two of every gem I found just in case they were necessary for something more than selling for coins. If that latter bit hadn't been true, I might have been in a "walking dead" situation. I'm not sure if gems are found anywhere but treasure chests (which don't respawn), and I only found emeralds in Rinora itself.
     
They're all Pools of Greed as far as I'm concerned.
     
There were only two difficult battles in the entire dungeon. The first was an ambush in a very narrow corridor on Level 9. The creatures that attacked were all blight-somethings (blightcats, blightapes, etc.), each of which has a special ability. Blightcats can cast spells, for instance, and blightmen are technically undead and require "Restsoul" to finish them off. Multiple blight creatures can cause illness. The bigger problem was that they filled every available space, so there was no way for me to get my stronger fighters to the vanguard with "Jump." (Even if you kill a creature, there has to be a free square to shove its body out of the way for you to jump to its former square.) Even with all these disadvantages, I got through it without losing anyone, so it wasn't really hard.
    
Credit to the enemies: this was a good place for an ambush.
    
The second battle was in the penultimate room on Level 10, and it was hard because the game violated its usual rules about the distribution of enemies. Not only were there more than usual, there were a bunch of them on my side of the room!
   
Worse, they were almost all necromants. They're spellcasters who like to target a single character, blast away his shield, and kill him with offensive spells. They have shields at 100 themselves and generally can't be affected by offensive magic. They're undead, so they require "Restsoul" to fully kill or they just get up the next round. And they had a kothspawn with them, who in addition to making copies of himself can cast "Forget" on spellcasters, wiping out all of their copies of whatever spell they have in memory. This was a particular problem if I was going to have any of them recall "Restsoul" or use "Jump" to get across the battlefield, particularly since Tori's selfishness would prevent Gia and Eneri from re-memorizing those spells.
 
I experimented here with "Zapall," but even nine consecutive castings from three different characters only succeeded in wiping out the necromants' shields, not in actually damaging them. This is one reason why physical attacks in this game are always superior to spells.
      
The offensive magics of the necromants was the biggest threat, and I concentrated on killing and "Restsouling" them as quickly as possible, primarily by swallowing Gonshis every round. But I made sure I un-memorized any active spell before the last action of the round so the kothspawn couldn't zap me. I lost Garz and had to resurrect him but otherwise made it through the battle. Think about that: The hardest battle in the game resulted in the loss of exactly one character.
    
Late in the battle.
     
The game's final battle was pathetic by contrast. It involved four blightlords, one kothspawn, and one necromant. Blightlords basically have the same strengths as necromants, but they're not undead, so they're easier to kill. They can cast "Heal," but that only helps them if you don't kill them quickly. I entered the room buffed with Gonshis, Mirgets, and "Sharpen." I immediately had Tori "Jump" Gia, Eneri, and Sakar into melee range, and those three characters killed every enemy before any of them even had a chance to act.
     
Just for fun, I tried to have Gia "Rally" the party for the final battle and it worked.
     
When the battle was over, it was a bit unclear what to do. There was no exit from the room. I took another circuit through the level and found no other places to visit. I finally realized that this nondescript room was the place that I had to perform the candle ritual. You'd think there would at least be a dais or something.
     
The final ritual was much like in the original Magic Candle except there was no risk of unleashing a demon if I screwed something up. I simply followed the instructions given by the Solnicon: My orc, elf, halfling, and dwarf each stood in their appropriate positions around a central square. (I used the center square of the room, but I suspect anywhere would have done.) Garz dropped the mold and said a magic word; Sakar applied the wax and said a magic word; Tori stuck in the wick and said a magic word; Tuff used the flint to light it and said a magic word; and Gia said a final magic word. 
     
Yay!
     
I haven't done this for a while, but I recorded the ritual and final screens. I wish I'd thought to get the final battle in there, too. Oh, well. Next time.
     
      
After the ritual, a series of well-drawn special screens brought the game to an end. The Blight recedes; the party returns to Kabelo to learn that King Rebnard has finally completed his conquest of Gurtex (which started in the last game). Rebnard is now "sailing to the aid of the Solian lands!" the game says excitedly, as if we hadn't just solved all their problems. Orcs, humans, elves, halflings, dwarves, and goblins sign a treaty of eternal friendship. Gia wonders if we've really conquered the blightlords or just driven them off temporarily. I think if there had been a Magic Candle IV, it should have been about the fleeing blightlords landing on Deruvia and freeing Dreax from his candle.
     
"To protect the Solian lands with the Magic Candle, you need a representative from each of the Solian races. Except the goblins. #$&@ them." -- Author of the Solnicon.
        
As usual, there are good elements here that were somewhat bollixed in implementation. Take the two puzzles--the pools and the creation of the candle. Both of them should have been real puzzles, where we had to figure out the process through hints and clues and logic, rather than having them just handed to us by the game's version of Wikipedia. And the lack of challenging combat, including extremely limited utility for most of the spells, is going to be a sore point in the final entry. The bright side is that it did something different. There's always something to be said about innovation for its own sake, and The Magic Candle series has been more innovative than most.
   
Final time: 36 hours
 

54 comments:

  1. I’m sure there are clues to the sticking points you encountered (eg a hint that ghosts only appear at midnight) but I definitely don’t blame you for getting hints for this game.

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  2. Grats on another one down. I can honestly say the amount of micromanagement you describe having to perform with mushrooms pretty much assures I will never play these. So thanks for doing it for us

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  3. "He turned out to be too weak to wield it, and yet he refused to give it back, so the whole dungeon was really a waste of time."

    This interaction is hilarious to imagine. "But you can't even use it, look, it's dragging on the ground!" "NO! MINE!"

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    1. Imagine if you let him hold, say.... one of the candle parts other than the mold...

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    2. Instant game over but you won’t know until past halfway in the journey!

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  4. Reminds me of the original version of the Temple of Elemental Evil that was released. NPCs would automatically take a portion of loot, including mundane equipment, and then refuse to even sell it. Meaning that at some point they'd be overloaded and unable to move.

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    1. Because of the loot taking mechanic, I never took any hirelings in that game!

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  5. Congratulations on this one!
    It does all sound a little joyless - and it's not really incompetence on the side of the developers. The game seems less than the sum of its parts.

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    1. I never played any game of the series, but this has been my general takeaway from Chet's coverage of it.

      The lore and exploration sound cool, some ideas are original and unique, but basically every mechanic seems to have some associated tediousness to it, something that "douse" any desire on my part to play these games.

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    2. I got the same impression about the game mechanics: feeding mushroom before any combat, dropping people off in some place to work out study, then having to go back later to pick them up... It all sounds a bit like work, not play. Maybe Chet can shed some light on how the game's interface deals with this? It makes a difference if the interface is responsive and well designed, rather than feeling a bit sluggish and requiring 3 mouse clicks for every action instead of 1 key press.

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    3. The interface is keyboard focused and IMO pretty good. The mushrooms aren't any less inconvenient than pre-buffing in any other CRPG and you certainly don't need them for every single combat.

      But basically the series is a bit of a management sim of epic fantasy adventurers. The logistical details and complications aren't "annoying stuff getting in the way of the game", they're a core of the game, and the reason WHY you'd be playing it instead, of, say, Ultima. (Unless you're Chet and have to play it because it was a CRPG released in 1992.)

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    4. Thanks James Neal, that's a good answer.

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    5. Yep, you can even see a little trend in the early 90s with RPGs venturing into survival and simulations - Darklands, Realms of Arkania, Magic Candle, early TES. It may be hard to find them enjoyable from a contemporary perspective, shaped by modern games that distilled the RPG formula into story and combat and discarded everything else as annoying chores distracting from the core loop. But back then that was what you played them for - all the stuff to do besides fighting baddies and completing quests. Maybe even forget about the main quest at all and just enjoy the fantasy of living in a fantasy kingdom. In a sense, Chet's need to finish the game for the purposes of the blog might have been itself detrimental to the experience.

      Though I'll be honest - I don't have the mindset and time to play this kind of game myself anymore. But I do miss those days when I could lose myself in something like that.

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  6. "To be fair, it turns out there's a teleportal chamber right next to the final chamber of the game, and I could have cleared out the final dungeon with my existing party, teleported out to grab the elf and orc, and teleported back in."

    I haven't played this so can't speak from personal experience, but the walkthrough I'm looking at says that using this teleportal chamber will ruin your chance of winning the game, because apparently you can't come *back* into the top of Rinora after using it. Also, apparently the goddess Entas in Crowndeep will warn you you aren't ready to proceed if you don't have the needed 5 races (or the 4 candle parts). So, it seems you *did* indeed have to change your party composition before the final Crowndeep-Rinora delve.

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    1. Yes, I think you're right. I appended a correction above. My limited experience using teleportals made me forget that not all origins have destinations. And you can't re-enter from the caverns because a bridge collapses behind you.

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  7. Are you going to do cleanup games as your second game until Might and Magic is done since 1992 is done? Since its two games, its likely going to be like 80-100 hours of gameplay or more right?

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    1. I'll probably take a break after the "Clouds" part and give a preliminary rating, and then I could do a 1992-1993 transition.

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    2. I think it's nowhere near 100h, more like 50/60h.

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  8. Ghost only appears for one hour a day, eh? Jeez. And has some kind of requirement that she refuses to tell you about. I swear, I want to get into a time machine and shake these people by the lapels and demand to know what they were thinking.

    Of course, having read enough interviews, the answer was "nobody was thinking". Oh, it's a requirement to end the game, we'll make a ghost that appears only once an hour, that should be good enough. And ship it. I used to get so frustrated at dead ends at games back then, and I thought it was me that wasn't good enough. Turns out, the people who made these games didn't put the same amount of care that I put into playing them.

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    1. I grew up playing NES games from this era, many of which were either stupidly difficult or suffered from obtuse design choices, yet these things didn't bother me. I just assumed that actually finishing a game was a rare achievement. Another kid in my first grade class told me he'd beaten Legend of Zelda and my jaw dropped like he'd just finished Gravity's Rainbow.

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    2. See, Zelda I can imagine beating as a kid, because having a modern save system means you can keep trying any given part indefinitely. A lot of arcade ports and other games on the NES had no such thing, meaning you have to beat the entire thing in one sitting, beginning to end, with a limited amount of lives and continues. Getting stuck on level 8 is one thing, getting stuck on level 8 *and having to beat all the rest of the game just to try again* is another.

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    3. There’s an empty town full of fights with nothing but ghosts and NPCs tell you that ghosts come out at midnight.

      I found it and I was only about 11 years old. Can’t be that hard.

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    4. If someone told me ghosts until came out at midnight and the first 20 ghosts I met tried to kill people I would STOP exploring places at midnight, not start...

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    5. "Turns out, the people who made these games didn't put the same amount of care that I put into playing them." Entitled much? Good lord.

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    6. I don't get the accusation of entitlement towards disappointed players. Yes, when I pay money for a computer game I feel entitled to getting a good product. Otherwise I wouldn't have paid for it. And if what I'm served is low effort crap (not saying Magic Candle 3 is, it seems solid enough) I am entirely in my right to call it out as such.

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    7. In my experience it's about the attitude. On the internet a bad game is never "just" a bad game; no, you were LITERALLY BETRAYED by a cabal of evil money-grubbing fiends with goatees and pitchforks and little devil horns who set out to attack you specifically.

      These posts and this type of people are heavily favored by social media algorithms, so whenever you see a complaint about a game, it's the most ridiculous hyperbolic complaint possible. Anybody who's anything less than 100% nerd-raging will never show up in your feed, so people start to think that they don't exist.

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    8. That's an "absurd absolute" argument. The situation I described is literally the opposite of this characterization. Instead of people being out to get us, they just didn't care. You know, when you're a nerdy kid who doesn't understand why the world hates you and people go out of their way to make you miserable, single player games were one of the only ways to escape for a while. You'd think the people who made them would be kindred spirits who understood and would put care into what they make. But all too often, years later, you see them chuckling in interviews, "Ah yeah we just shoved whatever in there and called it a game. People were probably right to be pissed at us." IIRC there was one man who, if you told him you had bought his game, would take money out of his pocket and give it back to you right then and there.

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    9. Let me address a couple of things here. First of all, it's generally a bad idea to base any strong opinion on my first-person account of a game. If I say something like, "I had a really hard time with this level" and you respond, "WHY DO DEVELOPERS MAKE THINGS SO HARD?! THEY HATE US AND WANT TO DESTROY EVERYTHING WE LOVE!," you've attached a bit too much weight to my own experience. Yours might be different.

      In this case, I was wrong. There is an NPC that tells you the ghosts only come out at midnight. His name is Rantorik, and he's somewhere in Eisheim, but I never encountered him. Now, I can fault the game a LITTLE for putting so much crucial information in the hands of sole NPCs, but I can't say that they didn't give any clue. Even with that mild criticism, I wouldn't wan to suggest that the developers at Mindcraft were careless or negligent. As far as I can tell, they tried their best to make a good game. If they made a couple of mistakes, I don't think we need to suggest anything more sinister than normal human fallibility.

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    10. After reading the Digital Antiquitarian, I got the impression that most of these games weren't play tested much, if at all. That makes an enormous difference in the final product.

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    11. Yeah the problem isn't criticizing a game, it's the attitude of literally thinking developers are lazier and less passionate than gamers, as if games weren't ridiculously hard to get right.

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    12. Honestly, reading this I thought "didn't we already have this conversation" and what do you know I found out some more complains about developers "not caring" under The Black Gate // La Forge entry, unlike the pristine and inoocent gamers, and which pretty much the same people making the same point. Oh well. Ragers gonna rage.

      In general, as developers, we really like to polish our producers as much as possible, but mistakes are done and missed in QA, plus there are (or were) deadline to met and thus priorisation on debugging/content/whatnot. I had a game where we removed a whole biome at the last moment because quite simply it just did not fit in the alloted space we had (it was back then when game size was an issue), and we had to patch the story as much as we could with existing content and in maybe a couple weeks because well, we had by then ran totally out of budget. It was not pretty. Was it lack of respect for our players ? No.

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    13. *polish our products. Amusing typo with double-entendre, sorry

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    14. Yeah, the internet is quite good at taking a well-made and enjoyable game, then focusing on a SINGLE bug and shouting how badly playtested everything must have been, and how DARE the developers release that.

      Yes, some games are rushed before release, but "the devs just didn't care" is usually bullshit. You're not entitled to have the game hold your hand while playing; some games are just harder than other games. As they say, git gud.

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    15. What Digital Antiquarian had to say about the role of QA in Ultima 8 was mindblowing.

      By 1992 I'm pretty sure games were produced under a similar level of crunch as they are today. I think avoidable issues with early games might stem from a lack of experience. In 1992 your producer for an entire game might be a 26 year old guy with 5 years of relevant experience, if you were lucky.... overseeing a team of college kids.

      Even if there were older people around with experience working on group software projects (a lot rarer then than now), AND they were willing to work for the wages you were paying the college kids... their experience wouldn't be in games specifically, because the games industry was only a few years old.

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  9. I warned you about the Garz thing!

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  10. "The party decides to let sleeping gods lie. Did I already make that joke? It feels like I did."

    There actually is a game by that name. https://www.mobygames.com/game/sleeping-gods-lie

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  11. I've always found these games fascinating. There's a massive overworld with a deep lore and implied history. There are hidden secrets that require actual research to discover. It's approach to the world where npcs have there own schedules and "live" their own lives. It's use of skills and the party where if someone is a good carpenter they can make your campsite more effective or work a job and make you some money is not really seen elsewhere, especially late 80s early 90s.

    But, there is a reason I never finished them. All the dungeons are take way way too long every and while the tactics are numerous and well implemented the gonshi and jump strategy is way too uber. It also becomes a slog that every dungeon and every god require a password that is found hours of gameplay away. I don't find the lack of character development a huge deterrent, but it doesn't help. There's also a million different ways you can dead end yourself. From not taking notes in the earlier games and forgetting a necessary clue to doing what I did and running out of walkwater spells in the middle of an underground lake, not to mention the various bugs.

    Despite all this, and the tediousness of the interface, I would love to see this world and it's gameplay brought into the modern world with modern conveniences. This was a very ambitious series and I appreciate what the developers tried to do, even though ultimately they weren't able to fully realize the vision

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    1. I’ve always thought once at-home AI can just remake something from the past to modern standards I’d get my AI to remake magic candle 2.

      I’m the only person on earth who would want that.

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    2. I would love that, it needs a better ending though..

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    3. I agree. Sadly they failed to meaningfully iterate on the formula over the series. I think if they had had resources for proper playtesting and time to rethink their approaches to some fundamentals like dungeons and combat encounters this could have been legimately great.

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  12. The combat is best in the first game where there was no Jump spell, all your characters start fairly weak, and the difficulty curve is paced well. It's pretty fun there, especially at the beginning (although does wear out it's welcome by the end).

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    1. I think everything is better in the first game (maybe that overstates it). The character development is better, the economy is better, the dungeon pacing is better. I think the first half of the first game is the best part of the series and then its all downhill. I still enjoyed all the games, and I think it wouldn't have taken that much tweaking to maintain the tight balance of the first game throughout the series.

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    2. MC1 is just too fricking long, though. MC3 is more of a reasonable length. Also I like what they did with the spread of the blight. In MC1, the clock is pretty much theoretical unless you go out of your way to run it out. In MC3, the steady advance of the blight, which directly impacts your gameplay, gives you a real sense of pressure.

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    3. Blight doesn’t impact gameplay?
      It just makes the terrain look different.

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    4. It's been a hot minute but my recollection was that it used a lot more stamina to traverse and you couldn't hunt in it.

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    5. Do you know if there's ever a point that you can lose? I slept for a few months and Blight covered everything, but I couldn't make the game end.

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    6. Definitely can’t lose due to blight takeover, and the reference to being unable to hunt in blight is incorrect. Draining stamina - not something I ever noticed but the way I played MC3 the entire map was covered in blight way before the time I was near the end.

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  13. I'm curious how this one will rank on the GIMLET. I just looked back at the ratings for MC1 and MC2 and was a little surprised at how much worse MC2 scored. Lower score for MC2 was mostly due to a 3 (vs 6 for MC1) on character development and due to bonus points (+3 for MC1 and -2 MC2). I think that all makes sense. MC1 was somehow greater than the sum of its parts, while MC2 was less.

    I expect MC3 to be lower than MC2 but not way lower than MC2.

    Chet: For games in a series like this with similar engines, do you look at your rating for the previous game before rating the current game? (or is that cheating?)

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    1. I wouldn't say it's "cheating," but I don't do it. I feel like it would bias the rating.

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  14. Long-time reader and fan. I sorta think some of your issues with this game are self-generated :) 1) Yes, the battles are too easy--and that's because you found the perfect battle tactic and decided to use it over and over again. That's a bit like playing a slumber hex-spamming witch in an urban Pathfinder (1E) campaign and being annoyed that the encounters are too easy. Unlike a real tabletop RPG, a computer game can't adjust encounters if a player finds the "I win" button. If you were to consciously avoid the mushroom/jumping optimization tactic, I imagine the encounters would be more challenging. 2) The game probably seems very easy because you have completed nearly 400 RPGs--for most players at the time period it was released, they wouldn't have nearly the experience you have in the genre. 3) I know you hate long, involved games, but part of that is because you have hundreds more to slog through. When I was a kid and got one or two new games every *year*, a game that took a long time to complete was a real boon. That's why I bought the first Ultima (on the NES): because the box advertised "over 100 hours of gameplay!" In sum, I guess what I'm saying is that we think about the context in which some of these old games were released, we can be a bit more forgiving about their flaws to modern gamers.

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    1. It's not Chet's fault that he found the "I win" button for combat; it's the designer's job to anticipate and account for dominant strategies in their game, rather than just hoping players will be nice enough not to abuse them. There's plenty of ways they could have nerfed the jump strategy at the design stage, and it's a valid criticism that they just plain didn't.

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    2. Indeed, the Jump strategy should have been nerfed more often. In this post, Chet describes 2 encounters that are difficult, one because of lack of space to jump and one because of the number and placement of the ennemies that makes jumping less useful. That could have been done more often, to add variety to combat. That would have required a larger time investment from the developers I guess, to balance such encounters. In hindsight, it would probably have been worth it to do this and maybe drop something else to make time to do it, but that's easy to say now.

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    3. Jeremy, I would agree with you if I'd found an EXPLOIT (like the one in Spelljammer where enemies never attack you in a doorway), used it constantly, and then complained that it was too easy, but the Gonshii/"Jump" strategy is hardly something that one would have to stumble upon. A simple reading of the manual would attest to the power of the combination. To not use it would be like deliberately allowing myself to get punched in the face. I think that puts a little too much on the player.

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    4. If Jump was limited to 1 jump per combat round that would solve almost everything.

      And gonshi mushrooms to be unavailable for purchase so you can’t stockpile and use them for every single combat.

      Delete

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