Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Mission: Thunderbolt: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

 
If this alert is for the aliens, why is it in English? If it's not for the aliens, who is it for?
          
Among all the games I played for 1992, it's hard to imagine a worse contender for "last game of the year" than Mission: Thunderbolt. Like most roguelikes, it demands a certain amount of patience as you learn its particular conventions and tricks. Unlike most (or at least many) roguelikes, it isn't well-documented online (there are a couple of woefully inadequate FAQs), meaning that I truly do have to learn those tricks on my own. Recall how long it took me to even get comfortable with NetHack, let alone win it, and you'll understand why you don't want to schedule such a game right when you're trying to wrap up a year. To try to finish Thunderbolt under such circumstances would be horribly unfair to the game, so I think what I'm going to do is wrap up 1992 in a forthcoming entry whether I've finished or not. While there are things I like about Thunderbolt, there really isn't any chance that it's going to vie for "Game of the Year."
      
Two bots trap me in the corridor and misunderstand my attempts to shove them away.
         
I played a while longer with my first character, but I eventually ditched him. By the time I made it to Region 6, he was riddled with conditions I didn't understand and couldn't cure, had two robots following him around and blocking his progress constantly, and had lost a bunch of his items to traps. The only Auto-Doc I'd found was back on Level 1, and it was broken, meaning it injured me more often than it healed.
      
Worse, I kept running into creatures called "Fangwings" that poisoned me. I had no curing options--it's not even available in Auto-Docs--and if I tried to rest it off, I just died. Someone had opined that my strength was too low anyway, so I ultimately reloaded a new character, Lt. Brook. I held out for 18 strength, but I wanted relatively high scores in dexterity, speed, and constitution, too. It took me about 20 minutes of rolling to get a character with acceptable values in each, and even he had a fairly low constitution.
    
The rest of this brief entry is going to have to be miscellaneous observations about the game, at least until I started taking notes more seriously on Level 5.
     
  • Giant ants sap your strength and leave you "weakened." Giant centipedes sap your dexterity and leave you "klutzy." Both conditions can be cured at Auto-Docs, one point at a time, for quite a bit of money. I kept having to run up to the Level 1 Auto-Doc throughout the first four levels.

  • The ability to point, click, and run to a previously-visited position is a really nice feature. It makes the backtracking a lot less tedious. The pathfinding is smart enough to avoid traps. It automatically stops you if you meet an enemy or slip on paint.
  • Bashing a hole in a wall takes 10-20 individual "attack" actions even with 18 strength. It's boring, but often less so than going the long way around or spending turn after turn trying to shove a robot out of the way.
  • Traps are way too overpowered in this game. You can activate an "auto-search" function to try to find them, but it doesn't always work and it frequently shuts itself off. Teleport traps are the least of the bunch. There are gravitational traps that hold you in place and slowly deplete your health until you die, and blasts of cold or hot air that damage you and destroy your equipment. 
       
Failure to hit "search" means that I was blinded and lost 7 items. That seems a little unfair.
       
  • Enemies like to group on the other sides of doors, so you often find yourself facing half a dozen in a row after you open one. 
  • For melee weapons, I haven't found anything better than a crowbar yet. Ammo for missile weapons is so rare that you can't use them very often.
  • For armor, I progressed from a jacket to a leather jacket to an armored vest to a Kevlar vest.
  • Thunderbolt diverges from games like Rogue and NetHack in gating the power of found objects by level. I don't like that. I like that in NetHack, there's a chance that the first sword you find will be the best weapon in the game.
  • Even though I just care about winning, not the points, seeing my "penalty" increase every time I save still proves to be a deterrent to save-scumming.
  • That penalty increases for other reasons, too, although I don't usually notice when it happens, so I can't say for sure what the reasons are.
  • Thunderbolt has two different types of unknown items: pills of various colors and "strange devices" which aren't differentiated by any descriptors. As we discussed last time, pills are far too dangerous to experiment with just by eating them. If you do determine the properties of a pill, the game uses that descriptor (e.g., "Pill of Improved Hearing") instead of the color from then on. In a departure from most roguelikes, it appears that the same type of pill can have multiple descriptors (e.g., healing pills might be both gold and green).
  • Strange devices I've identified so far have included infrared goggles, light globes, grenades, landmines, and flares. The grenades and landmines are theoretically helpful, but so far light sources haven't been consistent and plentiful enough that I can reliably see enemies coming from far enough away to use them.
      
Lt. Brook's outing was mostly unstressful until I reached Level 6. When I arrived in the new region, an alarm immediately blared that there was an "intruder," and that someone should "detain and interrogate." Not long after, an invisible "CyberCop" beat me unconscious, and I woke up in a small detention room tied to a chair. I was ultimately able to get out of the chair by breaking it, but I had no inventory and couldn't figure a way out of the cell in multiple rounds.
   
This is the kind of situation that it's usually fun to just role-play and see what happens. The problem was that the game had subtracted 10,000 points in "penalty," suggesting I'd done something wrong in getting tossed into prison in the first place. After trying some more to get out of the cell, I gave up and reloaded.
          
This might have been interesting, but the -10,000 points deterred me from continuing.
        
Reloading didn't help much. The CyberCops were still invisible and able to knock me out in two hits. I was eventually able to kill three of them by leading them one by one to a narrow corridor and shooting them. Throughout my time on the level, the alarms and CyberCops kept reappearing periodically, usually resulting in a few reloads before I killed them.
   
Region 6 is otherwise uniquely constructed. I've only explored part of it, but it seems to have a large central area with four corner rooms. I started in one of the corner rooms and had to bash my way out of it. Others have doors. The level is full of traps. It also marks the first appearance of a library, a special room where you can have pills and devices identified for a lot of money. Fortunately, there are caches of coins in each of the corner rooms, but the library only takes money directly from your bank account, so I had to keep hustling piles of coins back to the nearest bank on Level 4, deposit them, then return to the library two levels down to use my funds.
          
Identifying items in the library.
      
The center of Level 7 seemed to have some kind of prison in which something was repeatedly pounding at a door. When I finally got the door open, I found myself facing a "Zytt," the alien enemy of the setting. He died in a few shots. I expected him to be harder.
        
Killing a Zytt.
     
Unfortunately, the fangwings made another appearance, and I still haven't found any pills that cure poison. Even if you're willing to reload a lot, it's tough to find a strategy that works against them. They lurk on the other sides of doors or walls that you bash, and they're quick enough to move and attack the moment they're free, so you can't see them coming and just shoot them. I accidentally saved right next to one of them and put myself in a walking dead situation that is going to require rolling a new character. 
    
I'll try again with a new character in a week or so, but for now let's wrap up 1992. There might be an intermediate posting on a random game while I get the transition entry together.
    
Time so far: 8 hours

41 comments:

  1. Excited to see how 1992 fares overall!

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  2. The prison break is pretty fun, and the penalty points are negligible by the time you get to the end of the game. I wouldn't sweat the points. You need to do lots of searching and smashing to get out. It is possible to get your equipment back as well... Also during your escape you might find some other stuff not readily available elsewhere.

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    1. Thanks, that's all good to know. If I get caught again with the next character, I'll try to play it out.

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  3. I would like roguelikes better if the settings were consistent, and a deal more serious. I suppose it's the same problem you had with Xeen. Kids with paintball guns? Really?

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    1. Yes there's lots of silliness and kitchen sink craziness in many roguelikes including this one. In general, the appeal is the more puzzly nature of gameplay as you try to make the best of the gear you have in the situations you're presented along with your characters abilities.

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    2. I think the 'canonical' roguelikes are largely serious.

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    3. I think a lot of Roguelike designers took a wrong lesson from Nethack (zany kitchen-sink weirdness is cool) rather than a right one (thoughtful systems of interactions create interesting gameplay).

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    4. There do seem to be a few families of roguelikes. The nethack branch is indeed too silly for me. The 'bands, Brogue, Qud, and many of the other newer RLs avoid most of the silly stuff, though.

      Maybe it was mirroring the funhouse style of early D&D adventures, too.

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    5. The greater graphical abstraction of roguelikes means that I don't mind the silliness quite as much.

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    6. I will be honest, i actually love silly humor and i do notice this...and i enjoy it, so do the creators and fans, if anything, roguelikes spawned another genre with roguelites that further tend to embrace siliness.

      Though there are roguelikes that are more serious in nature, modern examples would be Neo Scavenger, Jupiter Hell and Stoneshard, but overall, i guess something about randomly generated places following a set number of rules, items and enemies seems to attract creators and fans who enjoy a bit more siliness than something completely serious.

      Just saying, even when you get hits like the roguelite Darkest Dungeon where diseases and mental health are quite important...you find roguelikes and lites still going for a more silly approach, i guess being sillier allows for more options on equipment and foes you can face which also separates the style of game from more serious ones, just saying, CRPG's that are more serious in nature, or strategy games, FPS or anything are quite common.

      Being silly across a genre can lead to it having it's own charm and identity.

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    7. I think in most cases they are trying to have a strategic challenge rather than create an atmosphere, so they don't care if the monsters are a bit silly.

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    8. What's some of the nethack zaniness? I only remember the tourist class.

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    9. Gridbugs (which are from Tron), magic markers despite it being medieval fantasy, towels which you wear over your eyes which is a big hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy reference, and there’s a lot more. Though it is not as bad as Ultima with its tie fighter section

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    10. Oh but magic markers is a genius bit of word play :-)
      They do indeed work like magic markers the pens, but you literally use them to write magic.

      I like the nethack humour in general. E.g. gravestone inscriptions: https://nethackwiki.com/wiki/Headstone#Inscriptions

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    11. Goofy tombstones are a crpg trope.

      I think I first encountered them in Baldur's Gate, which also had quite a lot of other silliness. Far more than the subsequent infinity engine titles.

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    12. They also are around in JRPG's i think, quite a few games have goofy tombstones, granted, some of them are typically goofy from start to finish, when i went to a graveyard in West Of Loathing, i knew there would be crazy tombstones from the start.

      I guess it's an attempt to make death seem more fun or that the people who read tombstones in games are ones that either want more lore or just some jokes, and it benefits the latter while trolling the former...it depends, on more serious games, just having a big part of the world being randomly silly all the time can detract from it, but at least it's usually a very small part of the games.

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    13. More nethack silliness:
      Sinks
      Being unable to levitate over a sink because it makes you "sink"
      Kicking sinks to summon the dishwasher, with R-rated consequences
      The message you get if you try to use a saddle on said dishwasher
      Engraving with wands to do weird things to the bugs on the floor (this helps you identify the wand)
      Sitting on thrones which vanish "with a puff of logic"
      Stealing from shops to summon Keystone Kops armed with cream pies
      Using a stethoscope to listen at the edge of the map and hearing typing
      Probably the very existence of stethoscopes in the setting
      Basically everything that happens while you're hallucinating (including many more Hitchhiker's references)

      ...it's not a very strait-laced game, but as Gerry said the point is to create a strategic challenge rather than to suspend your disbelief about the game world.

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    14. The game literally makes you play Sokoban.

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  4. The fangwings are definitely the first big spike in difficulty. There's no shame in digging a hole in the ground and just skipping a region if it's infested with fangwings in hopes of getting some better gear before going back. An active light globe can give you a small head start before they poison you. Some kind of range weapon like a gyrojet rifle or shotgun is almost necessary as well if you can't find any pills of nneutralize poison.

    It is unfortunate the traps are so deadly, one bad truck can ruin again. If you do get stuck in a gravity well, it's possible to escape if you drop pretty much everything you're carrying. crowbars are super handy tools for lots more than just whacking monsters...

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  5. It's just a guess, but I think what the infrared goggles might be useful for detecting invisible enemies.

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    1. You'd think, but I still couldn't see the CyberCops when I had them on. Maybe it works for others.

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  6. 1993!

    I know it's going to be a while still but i am eagerly waiting for Shattered Lands.

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    1. Same here! Dark Sun: Shattered Lands is one of the best RPGs of the 90s to me. Yes, the entire 90s, not only the early 90s. I legit like it more than the overrated Baldur's Gate. Too bad the bugs led to bad sales, and the sequel was even buggier...

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  7. Would you consider it cheating to just sample all of the pills and then reload a save (since it gives you the option), or does it not determine what a pill type does until you actually try it?

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    1. This does work but feels a little "scummy" for a roguelike.

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    2. Yeah, it doesn't feel right, although if I happened to try eating all the pills I had when I was already dying of poison, and I found out what some of the effects were, I couldn't force myself to forget that knowledge after I reloaded. In general, it feels like there are 5 horrible pills to every 1 beneficial one. Some just say "munch, munch," though, with no obvious effects, so maybe I'm missing something there.

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    3. If it's some kind of healing pill but you're not suffering from that specific ailment you get a simple munch, munch, munch. Although I think some pills are just straight unknown and have no function other than to be a red herring.

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    4. This is one of the things that surprised me when I learned the game allows a save slot. It's easy to avoid cheating behavior in a traditional roguelike. One that allows you to save and reload without backing up a file... I've never backed up a character or even stair-scummed in a 'band, and I play Wizardry with just the first six characters I roll, but MAN would it be hard to resist this.

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    5. I always savescum roguelikes by force-terminating the exe before I die so my last autosave isn't deleted. Otherwise I would never progress even halfway through these things, and replaying the same old starting area over and over isn't much fun.

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    6. NetHack, the only roguelike I've played for very long, goes like this: I open it, play until I die (usually in the first 10 floors,) think "huh that's neat" and never play it again for several weeks.

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    7. You can play Nethack in Explore mode which allows you to choose not to die!

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  8. A few observations/comments:
    - The "RUN" command is different than just moving with the keypad normally--You really need to "RUN" to put space between you and the enemies. Meleeing ants/centipedes is very risky as having your stats degraded is really lame/expensive. Obviously running from fangwings/bats isn't really possible, but you can put some distance between you and most creatures.

    - Don't "waste" your powercells. I noticed a screenshot where you have multiple lightglobes active at the same time. You should turn them off when you are not exploring "fog".

    - The random powerdrains always take 1 charge from all of your charged gear. However, gear charges at different rates.
    A lightglobe adds 30 charges per point of powercell charge while a panic button only adds 1 charge for 10 powercell charges. It pays to keep your lightglobe charged up instead of carrying around a bunch of powercells with an uncharged lightglobe. Eventually you can find a strange device that can help solve your problem with random power drains.

    - You really need to get as many incremental advantages as possible. When exploring dark space don't be afraid to throw flares ahead of you to light the area, use a charged lightglobe, and turn on any forcefield packs. It is a pain to turn everything back off when you're doin exploring fog and deciding to rest, but you do need to do some of this "busy work" to compound your advantages.

    - Keep an eye out for a soft pillow, it might cut your rest time down...

    - I'm sure you know the utility bot cleans things up and takes out the trash, are you tracking what the Mech does? He can help solve some of your damaged item problems but it's kind of dicey. You'll learn to cringe when he says "Oops."

    - Using a weapon to tear down walls dulls the edge over time. If you have a pickaxe, use that, otherwise use some secondary weapon you don't mind trashing. As far as I know there's no way to "sharpen" a weapon once it dulls.

    Hope you don't mind all my postings--this game is kind of my superbowl. :)

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    1. I think a light-globe is a device from Dune. Personally, I think it's a great idea; instead of having static lighting that's always at one place, one brightness, you can move it and change it as you need.

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    2. I really enjoy that when Chet hits a rough game, there's often a fan who really knows it, and who helps out Chet and any readers playing along. Thanks Gainer.

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  9. I know this might be the weirdest request you have ever got, but the graph on 92 posting was really hard to read. It was hard to connect the wobbly lines with the years below. I would much appreciate more curved lines or semi-transparent grid in the background.

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  10. I couldn't play this, but it's interesting to read. Not many roguelikes that I like, my favorite is ToME but I haven't got that far in it either.

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  11. You know, if I'd encountered an enemy imprisoned like that, my first assumption would have been something like "Oh, must be a traitor to their kind, maybe they'll help me?"

    And then get killed, as this game has no talk function and presumably, this Zytt got themselves trapped on accident somehow, and wasn't actually imprisoned by their fellow aliens.

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    1. Zytts generally try to knock you out and drag you off to be interrogated so you might not have been killed. 😁

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  12. It's always interesting seeing games where the devs clearly don't want you doing something, but the only real punishment is a ding to the player's pride. It's even more interesting to see who decides to take the ding and who plays as intended

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    1. Apparently the game didn't originally have a save system and was more like traditional roguelikes where as soon as you died that was it. But when they went for a commercial release all the play testers who were unfamiliar with roguelike's thought that was way too punishing and encouraged the developer to put in a more traditional save system. I think the dev compromised and that's where the penalty points came from.

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  13. So, would you say that you 'popped' that Zytt?
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    .
    .
    I apologize, I'll show myself out.

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