Sunday, June 20, 2021

BRIEF: Wizzardz & War Lordz (1985)

You know it's hard core because of all of the Zs.
          
Wizzardz & War Lordz
United States
Ram-Tek (developer and publisher), although there's some question about whether it was ever published
Released 1985 for DOS
      
Wizzardz & War Lordz is a competently-programmed Wizardry clone from a James R. Martin of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Up to six characters go on a quest in a 15-level dungeon to defeat someone or something called Vylgar.
    
Characters have six attributes--strength, agility, knowledge, charisma, stamina, and regeneration--rolled on a scale of 4 to 24. Races are dwarf, human, gnome, hobbit, elf, and barbarian, and classes are wizard, warlord, priest, samurai, ninja, "theif," bard, and cavalier. The game follows Wizardry's tradition of assigning characters a password that has to be entered before you can edit them or add them to an active party.
    
Character creation.
      
Play begins in a menu town on the top of the dungeon, to include "Sam's Trading Post." Characters can only equip one weapon and one armor item--no shields, rings, boots, helms, and so on. But those weapons and armor are drawn from a huge list containing things I've never seen before in an RPG, such as the Russian mace, the goupillion, the Khyber knife, Roman and Greek javelins (don't want to mix those up!), the Hoolurge pick, and the Jedbelry axe. Armor options include woven cord, jazeraint, bar and double-bar mail, and lamellar in addition to the usual options. Every item can be purchased with a "plus" from 0 to 9, though any plus is too expensive for a starting character.
      
Kidney dagger, Angon spear, Battak axe, pelta . . . I'm not even sure about the capitalization of most of these.
Entering the dungeon.
      
The dungeon features combats with the typical Dungeons and Dragons bestiary, including goblins, kobolds, orcs, gremlins, werewolves, dark elves, and naga. Unlike Wizardry, the game rolls for encounters at regular intervals regardless of whether you move, which means that modern players want to pay careful attention to their clock speeds. You meet parties of anywhere between 1 and 10. There's no option to flee. Combat is otherwise mostly like Wizardry except that all ranks can attack and get hit. You specify whether you want to fight, parry, cast a spell, or do a couple of special actions. You line up your options and then they all execute at once, interlaced with the enemies' attacks. One new option here is the bard class's ability to "charm," although I couldn't get it to work.
       
A lot of Wizardry clones don't bother with monster portraits; kudos to this one for taking the time.
Combat options with a werewolf.
        
I mapped a bit of the first level, which looks like it was heading for at least 20 x 25 (or perhaps vice versa; I'm not sure what way I was facing when I entered the dungeon). Other than enemies--both fixed and random--the only things I found were fixed treasures in a couple of rooms. Gold was plentiful, and I was able to upgrade my characters to +2 or +3 weapons and armor by the time they hit Level 2. (Leveling occurs when you rest in an inn.) Combat is tough but fair. Health is represented in percentages rather than absolute hit points. You also have an "energy" statistic that goes down as you move. Both are replenished by standing still in the dungeon. Health can also be replenished by returning to town and paying Benidct the Priest.
   
The problem here is a lack of documentation, particularly for spells. I created three spellcasters but I haven't been able to use any of them because I don't know what the game wants me to type when I cast a spell. I've tried some common, obvious options like "Heal" to no avail. I'm not sure if it's looking for full text, a code, or a number. I also don't understand the mechanism, which must exist, for searching for secret doors. Before I could finish mapping the first level, a one-way door dumped me into a small area with no exit. I've kicked and searched every wall to no avail. Even if I could solve that problem, I can only imagine a lack of spells will create a long, boring, perhaps impossible game.
       
My map so far.

      
Author James R. Martin sold the game through his company, Ram-Tek, run out of what I assume was his home address. He advertised the game in Computer Gaming World and other gaming magazines. I can't find him credited on any other games. A commenter on the Internet Archive site for the game claims that the game was never published, and that the developer just made a few boxed copies for friends, one of which made its way to the archive.org contributor.
       
A magazine ad for the game.
       
If the documentation ever turns up, I'll be glad to give it a longer try; for now, I have to mark it "NP."
       

28 comments:

  1. I'm curious. Is the game real-time or turn-based? The combat sounds turn-based, but what about out-of-combat? If it's real-time, that's pretty unusual for a Wizardry clone.

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  2. Some of these words found in the game's executable are probably names of the spells:
    GRIP LOCAT EXPOSM MASS SILEN RESTO PARAL MILD FUMBL FIRE PROTE STUN REJUV FEAR BLESS REVIV CARNA PANAC MAGIC FIREB MINOR CHARM TELEP WALL DISIN TIME LIGHT DEATH

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    1. aGRa is on the right track. Priests can cast FUMBL and Wizards can cast MINOR both at level 1. I discovered you can use a HEX editor on the CHAR.TXT file to test some of the others ones out. If you switch your wizard to level 33 for example, you can cast KILL and FIREB. I didn't have any luck hacking the file to up my gold or health and so you still always die within a few steps in the dungeon.

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  3. The author must have been a real weapons and armor whiz. Unfortunately adding dozens of weapons to a RPG, especially without giving any details, is just wasting memory - players will always choose the best (or what they think is the best with no stats).

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    1. Having way, way too many redundant weapon types is an old RPG standby going all the way back to at least Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

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    2. It's historical verisimilitude. Hard to believe as it is today, gamers back then had a sense of history and would object if their wargame included Norsemen with Ulfberht swords against Landsknechts with pike and Zweihander.

      Weapons without stats is something I always disagreed with, but it was more verisimilitude. After all, how are you, the player, supposed to know how much damage a weapon does? You just swing it and whack the enemy. But much of the fun of RPGs comes from optimization, and removing weapon and armor stats from the game adds realism of dubious value in place of the gamer's satisfaction of having the best possible party.

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    3. Yes, you want a variety of different weapons for each tier of damage output, then gate them by the ascension of attributes (let's say, to swing the broadsword with 2D6+4 damage you need at least 16 strength), and a mace should be useless against slime, as a dagger would be against skeletons...

      That's the way to give a wide array of weapons their specific use at each stage of the game. Not that hard to figure out, honestly ;)

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    4. The funniest part is that the dev included a "pelta" among the weapons but that's a shield used by Greek pelasts (and what gave them their name). From a cursory glance at the weapon list, that's the only shield in there!

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    5. I'm not sure where it started, but I've been seeing some discussion of the offensive value of shields lately, up to and including the possible wisdom of someone dual-wielding them as the ultimate take on the best offense is a good defense.

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    6. Different weapons for different situations is only fun if switching between them is quick and easy. Part of the reason why most games have done away with this (including, for the most part, the 5th Edition of D&D) is because it simply doesn't add anything to the fun to say "oh, it's skeletons, I put away my sword and get out my mace".

      Yes, it's fun to learn the weaknesses of enemies, and learn to exploit them, but in terms of actual gameplay it's much more engaging to represent this in terms of how you tactically engage with them, rather than just bringing and equipping the right loadout of gear.

      (I say this as a generality. Some games have nevertheless done it well.)

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    7. I think that sort of system is at its weakest when it can be boiled down to "X weapon does more damage to Y enemy."

      In a lot of modern action-RPGs like Monster Hunter and the Souls series, different classes of weapons play entirely differently; some allow you to pull off acrobatic moves, some have more or less reach, some are faster or slower to swing or shoot. IMO just tweaking the damage numbers and nothing else is a sign of uncreative design, though it was more forgiveable in the early days.

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    8. I wonder if the author just made up weapons in his head. A search for "Jedbelry axe" only turns up this blog post across the entire Internet. I suppose it's possible he simply spelled something wrong, but I can't tell what he was trying for if that's the case.

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    9. I'm not sure it's historical verisimilitude...

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    10. stepped pyramidsJune 21, 2021 at 5:05 PM

      Any thought of "historical verisimilitude" goes out the door when you have a single shop from which you can buy a bō, a pilum, and a voulge-guisarme.

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    11. Generally, anyone with a genuine sense of history will run screaming from this sort of weapons list.

      For one thing, most of the names of various weapons are retroactive, applied by latter-day scholars with an academic need to categorize everything so they can trace developments.

      For another, most of the stats are derived from Victorian-era "blunt metal clubs" garbage data, and bear very little resemblance to reality.

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    12. It was the seventies when they came up with this stuff dude. Of course it's not going to pass muster in the age of 4000 medieval weapons youtube channels. But someone wanted to know why there were a bajillion weapons in games back then, and that's why there are a bajillion weapons in the game.

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    13. I have given a lot of thought to whether or not to give players stats on weapons in CRPGs.
      The value of displaying them is that your player can make an informed choice about how to equip their party.
      The downside is that you remove the element of discovery, and I think it is that feeling of "discovery of the unknown" that games like Wizardry are aiming to invoke.

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    14. If there's random or obfuscated damage, there is no sense of discovery, because you have no way to reliably know which is better, even before you get into things like resistance and damage types that can drastically skew the result.

      Meanwhile, if the damage is flat and always displayed, there's no sense of discovery because you just try them all out and pick the one with more plusses.

      In neither case does the play experience benefit in any real way from hiding the stats. Indeed, the sense of discovery from finding the item to begin with is going to be drastically diminished if you have no idea how good it might be.

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    15. I agree with Gnoman wholeheartedly . . . which I guess makes us even for the day.

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    16. In Dungeon Master, which doesn't show any weapon statistics, I enjoyed the process of evaluating newly found weapons. I preferred that to Dungeon Master 2, which does show the weapons' strength.

      Damage values of attacks in DM varied greatly, so it was necessary to try a weapon out for some time before any judgement was possible.

      This was exacerbated by the fact that weapons had different attack types, and I think they had pretty different outcomes when averaged out over time, so you needed to find the best attack type (potentially depending on character statistics and enemy type), too.

      Since evaluating a weapon takes some time, and since you regularly find new weapons, a pretty high percentage of combats in DM are being fought with a new weapon (or item) to evaluate. And this prevents the combats from being boring, as many of DM's combats are otherwise not very interesting (some are great, though).

      Ok, the fact that combats are otherwise a bit uninteresting is maybe not the best argument for hidden statistics. In that case I'll add that a) FPS games also usually don't need to show any damage values, even in cases where the damage is random within a high range, and b) I generally prefer it when games keep some things hidden from almost all players. Things such as amulets with unknown effects, rooms that can be glimpsed but can only be accessed through a secret path that is very difficult to find, things like that. In case of DM's weapons, there always remained the possibility that some weapon was uniquely effective in certain situations, and I don't want to be told that in a tooltip. More recently, roguelike/roguelite games also often have items with effects that need to be deduced by the player.

      In contrast, in DM 2 I just compared the values of the newly found weapon with the weapons I had, either equipped or dropped it, and that's it. Mundane.

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    17. I found the same dynamic absolutely infuriating in DM. I don't mind if the identification system is a little complex, like you have to wait for a Scroll of Identification, or you have to bring it back to town, but I ultimately want some method that will just give me the hard data on equipment. I don't know how you possibly do the type of "evaluation" you purport when the game doesn't even give you any feedback as to the amount of damage you're doing.

      "There always remained the possibility that some weapon was uniquely effective in certain situations, and I don't want to be told that in a tooltip." Would you prefer never to be told at all? That's what's going to happen 99% of the time in these situations.

      Again, we must take a deep breath and remember that the world would be a boring place if we all preferred the same things.

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    18. "I don't know how you possibly do the type of "evaluation" you purport when the game doesn't even give you any feedback as to the amount of damage you're doing."

      Which game, Wizzardz & War Lordz or Dungeon Master? I can't speak for Wizzardz, but Dungeon Master did show damage values, as shown in this screenshot:

      https://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/dungeon-master/screenshots/gameShotId,5327/

      If no damage values are shown, it should still be possible to get a sense of the weapon's strength. How do you it in FPS games? By observing how many attacks are required to defeat an enemy, on average.

      This is easier when there is only one player character, and more difficult when controlling a whole party where everyone is attacking the same enemies. In this case, it might be helpful to allow only the character with the new weapon to attack one specific enemy while the other characters attack the other enemies. So evaluating a weapon can even involve interesting tactics.

      But first, this requires an acceptance of "fuzzy" information and the use of intuition instead of hard data, which is a matter of taste, and secondly, it's easy to see that this can get tiresome, especially when the player is not really invested in the game.

      (We previously discussed this topic here: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/01/black-crypt-core-of-corruption.html?showComment=1547919252828#c4774355111566382814)


      "Would you prefer never to be told at all? That's what's going to happen 99% of the time in these situations."

      I like it when there are still some mysteries left after finishing a game. If the game gets replayed, the player will probably discover some of the remaining secrets, which is a great incentive. I don't mind if I don't even know what I have missed.

      Ideally, secrets are not just monster closets and "+X" weapons, but interesting and interconnected items, locations and encounters. Such as an amulet whose purpose can be gleaned (yet not ascertained) from several scattered pieces of lore, a beautiful underground lake accessible from a hidden stairway beneath a grave, a hideaway of an NPC with snippets of a diary, an interactive flashback segment that fleshes out the background story of a party character...

      There's an RPG in the nineties (I'm being vague on purpose) that even has at least one large sub-adventure, one or two significant story flashbacks and additional party characters hidden away, without any hint whatsoever to the player if he misses them. When I played the game for the second or third time and discovered an important hidden story flashback for the first time, I was absolutely floored. This is a big part of why this game is legendary. Given good health and all, hopefully you'll get around to it in the next 10 years or so.

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  4. Well done for pulling off a pair of BRIEFs today.

    It looks like this would've fallen under your fourth rule if you hadn't been stymied regardless. I do appreciate the history nerd equipment additions though. Sure Wizardry has seven sequels but does it have a goupillion?

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    1. "Pulling off a pair of BRIEFs ..."

      Mento, I see what you did there! Between that and Xeen but not third, you're on quite the roll.

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  5. Okay that ad is freaking hilarious. I'm inordinately fond of the animated commercials that Nintendo put out in the USA for some of the games with Wario in them (Super Mario Land 2, Wario Land 1, Wario Blast Featuring Bomberman) which are basically just Wario bragging about the havoc he's gonna wreak (and YOU get to stop/help him!), and it appears Martin had mastered that style of arrogant-yet-intriguing humour a decade before. I won't pretend that this type of thing engages any of the kinder or smarter parts of my brain, but I still love the sheer audacious energy that riles you up to start playing. (No thanks to John Romero for saying that his game would you-know-what the player and killing these types of heart-pounding ads off.)

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    1. This is a game it would be interesting to hear about from its author.

      I cannot imagine advertising on game magazines could have been that expensive in 1985, but still it appears quite a lot of effort went into developing and marketing a game that was never sold.

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  6. LGR had the manual in his old unboxing video. He probably never got around to digitizing it...

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  7. for all it matters the werewolf picture is traced from the wolfwere in AD&D Monster Manual II

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