Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Darkside of Xeen: Die Young and Broke

My capacity for hate increased 200% this session.
    
This session opened all right. Eager to clean up a few things before I visited the Dragon Pharaoh, I started by buffing my intelligence and returning to the Dragon Caves, where I had the dumber members of my party try again with the various books of dragon lore. I had to swap around some intelligence-boosting items, but I otherwise got most of them. One book, however, required more than 250 intelligence and only one of my characters could get that high. Reasoning that I didn't really need the experience, I crossed the Dragon Caves off my list.
            
Lesson learned from this game: all the experience in the world is no good if you don't have MONEY.
               
Despite that reasoning, I also returned to Necropolis and finished reading the Books of the Dead for more experience points, then reversed the aging effects in the Fountain of Youth.
   
My third stop was to the Dungeon of Death on the Clouds side. I had previously solved the Level 1 crossword, but I didn't take my reward because my ninja was incapable of opening the door on Level 2. I tried again and she was still incapable, 25 levels later, but I was able to bash it down.
      
I do not blame them for screaming.
       
I thought I was going to my "reward," but instead I endured 3 levels of a dungeon that I think was designed solely to troll the player. Level 2 had awful creatures called screamers, with blood pouring from amputated arms. I had to bash all the doors. There were levers that seemed to do nothing and coffins that required a minimum strength to open, then didn't have anything in them even after we got them open, and sometimes killed the character besides.
   
By Level 3, I realized I would have to warp out and do a buffing round before I could continue. The level was full of skeletal liches capable of casting an "eradicate" spell, and they targeted my sorcerer exclusively. I had to reload about 15 times as I killed what seems like a hundred of them. (Throughout this session, I used "Jump" to get me closer to enemies and avoid their ranged attacks; "Teleport" hardly ever worked in these levels.) There were more dials here that did nothing. One room had a succession of altars. Destroying the Shrine of Minor Evil got us 1 million experience; the Shrine of Lesser Evil was worth 2 million; and the Shrine of Greater Evil 5 million. We then encountered the Shrine of Ultimate Evil, destroyed it, and the dungeon collapsed, killing all of us.
       
The game isn't even pretending to not just be messing with us.
           
Even by the end of the Shrine of Greater Evil, I was screaming at the game. "We need MONEY, you stupid game! MONEY!!!" So I was happy that the end of the level offered up some combats with vampire kings in their coffins, and their coffins at least had a bunch of high-end items we could sell.
   
I'm still not sure there wasn't something else I was supposed to solve with all the dials, but I couldn't figure it out. We went on to Level 4. Here, a message proclaimed, "Ring the four gongs and then pull the lever. Touch any treasure and you'll have to start over!" The level had piles of treasure in key intersections, and the warning didn't just mean we couldn't take it; it meant we couldn't walk on it. We had to figure out a path through the level using "Jump" spells to get over the treasure, find the four gongs, ring them, return to the lever at the beginning, and pull it. At that point, I was hoping we could take the treasure, but no luck.
        
I felt like these guys ought to have been harder.
      
The level was full of robotic enemies, including annihilators with mini-guns on each arm, but our buffed party carved through them.
   
On Level 4, we were immediately attacked by Lord Xeen! Fortunately, I still had the Xeen Slayer Sword and was able to kill him. We got another Scepter of Temporal Distortion in return. We kept moving and were attacked by another Lord Xeen, then another. The level was full of them, plus a bunch of devils and demons besides. The Xeens were capable of "eradicate," so although they died in one hit from the sword, we still had to reload a lot. We found four "Lord Xeen machines" that seemed to be spawning the creatures; we destroyed them for 5 million experience each ("We want MONEY, not experience! MONEY!!!")
          
Well, this is just absurd.
        
The textures were futuristic. There were four computers each surrounded by a different element, each of which said things like "fire core operational" and "water core operational." All of this suggested that the area was some kind of control room for the world. A bed and a desk in one room would seem to belong to some kind of maintenance person. Perhaps that's what the Lord Xeens were supposed to be, and they got corrupted by Alamar. One final room had a computer that asked us to enter a code. I had no idea what that would be, so I entered nothing. The computer called us "goobers" and gave us that award anyway.
    
Done with the Dungeon of Death and no richer, I went to the only place left on my list that didn't require a key I didn't have: the Great Pyramid. 
       
At this moment, I figured I was no more than an hour from winning the game. How foolish I was.
     
The Great Pyramid had four levels, and as befits a pyramid, they got smaller as we ascended. The first level was full of cloud dragons. In the northeast corner, there was a number puzzle. The only clues we got were that the numbers were in sequence and added up to 52. There were eight questions about them, so I assumed there were 8 numbers. Since 52/8 is 6.5, that indicates that the numbers were 3 through 10. Eight skulls asked questions about the numbers (e.g., "the smallest prime" or "the largest number"). Getting them all right let us pull a lever that brought us to a chamber where at last we found a monetary reward: 2.5 million gold. We warped right out and stuck it in the bank.
   
Level 2 had another number puzzle that was a huge waste of time. Three statues offered clues:
    
  • Total the dates is all you do; then minus the number thirty-two.
  • Now you take the answer, divide by three. Your mission is the pharaoh to free.
  • Then subtract another forty-two. This final number can get you through.
    
At first, I thought "the dates" meant all the numbered days in Xeen's calendar year. A long time ago, I learned that the numbers 1-100 add up to 5050. But that's not what the clue was talking about. Instead, three years are hidden in the wall patterns of the area: 1993, 1776, and 1492. (For non-Americans, those last two years are important ones in North American history; 1993 is the date the game was published.)
  
I could have avoided all the math, though, given the prompt for the answer:
      
Making the answer "1701" would have been an homage. Preceding it with "Starfleet Registry Number NCC" in this setting is just confusing.
       
I don't even think you need to be a Star Trek fan to know that the Enterprise's serial number is NCC-1701. If I'd just gone to the stairs first, I could have gotten it immediately.
   
Level 3 just had a spiral with a bunch of teleporters that took us to the previous ring. We had to watch for those and cast "Jump" to avoid them. Finally, on Level 4, we met the Dragon Pharaoh. He congratulated us for making it this far and reiterated that Alamar's goal is to drive Xeen back to Terra, which will cause all of Xeen's life to perish in the cold of space. (I guess the sun we see really is the sun.) He said our only hope might lie in the second spaceship that landed at the same time that Alamar's did. We already found it amidst the lava. The Dragon Pharaoh used his Orb to cool the lava so we could enter the ship.
        
Leave off the "shooting star" talk. We're not children.
  
The ship was a counterpart to the one we'd already explored, from which Sheltem had escaped. Corak was in a stasis field in the captain's chair. His log was on a nearby computer, and it basically recounted the events of the first three Might and Magics from Corak's perspective. The new bits of intelligence I got from it were:
      
  • CORAK is also an acronym, but I have no idea what for.
  • XEEN stands for "Xylonite Experimental Expansion Nacelle."
  • The CRON from the first two games had any number of VARNs attached. For some reason, I had this idea there were only four, but the one that Sheltem launched into the sun was VARN 6 ("a hundred thousand lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes"), and the mission of the CRON in general was to go around to different star systems, seeding them with VARNs.
  • Four VARNs were offloaded onto Terra, apparently making the four main continents of that game.
  • Corak instructed the party from Might and Magic III to beam down to Xeen. There is still no indication from his notes what happened to them after that.
     
To get Corak out of his stasis field, I had to enter a code into another computer. It was more Star Trek nonsense:
     
Not only nonsense, but not very gender-inclusive.
        
If you didn't already know the answer (WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE), you could figure it out with the cypher. I feel about these Star Trek allusions the way I feel about Tolkien references in other games. Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are the four cornerstones of nerd-dom. There's absolutely no reference that you can make to them that isn't going to be trite, obvious, and done by 50 prior authors. And when you keep making them, not only does it get tiresome, it starts to raise questions about the canon of your setting. Are we supposed to get the idea that Might and Magic is set in the future of the Star Trek universe? Because that's what it's starting to seem like.
    
Corak said he couldn't stop Sheltem without leaving the ship, and if he left the ship, Sheltem would immediately sense him. The Dragon Pharaoh was delighted to hear of an agent capable of stopping Sheltem. He said that Corak could hide with a "soul box," which we could find in Olympus. He gave us a pass to the city and said his minions would treat us as the "Chosen Ones."
    
We cleared the area above the pyramid of cloud dragons and green dragons and then took a skyship to Olympus. The small city was full of NPCs, statues, and scrolls that explicitly gave the solutions to the game's various puzzles and riddles. The NPCs all had names of Greek gods, which combined with the Star Trek stuff makes me wonder why I've tried so hard to make any kind of sense out of the lore of this series.
     
I give up.
     
The soul box was in a secret area to the north of the city, but to get there I had to descend into the sewers and solve a four-syllable riddle. Each syllable was found on a parchment in a sewer grate, but if you're too dumb to figure it out, an NPC named Cyrano literally sells the answer in a room in the sewers: TRIBBLES. If you're not aware, this is yet another Star Trek reference.
     
I now officially hate this game.
       
Back to Corak we went. He somehow secreted himself in the soul box and told us to take him to Sheltem in Castle Alamar. Zeus--in the only useful piece of information in Olympus--had indicated that since the top is guarded by an undefeatable mega dragon, we should go in through the front gates.
        
Why is everything futuristic except the captain's chair?
      
There was no point in delaying any longer. I put every cent I had in the bank, worked odd jobs for a couple of years, and withdrew 10 million gold when I was done, leaving about 1 million in there just in case. That was enough to train everyone to Level 100 before I ran out of money. The fountain in Shangri-la, which I remembered at the last second, got us to 101.
    
While I was in Shangri-la, I figured I'd approach Castle Alamar from that direction. Unfortunately, the part of the Alamar dungeon you can reach from the city turns out to be a sectioned-off area. Aside from autobots and annihilators, there are a couple of statues. One of them proclaims Alamar's fairness based on the fact that he leaves clues for how to defeat him. "Alamar takes pleasure in the failure of his opponents, especially when they come close to success." Another statue had a long string of letters F, E, W, and A, indicating the four elements.
   
I decided then to attempt the mega dragon. (I appreciate the tips offered in the last entry; unfortunately, I had already beaten the thing by the time that entry posted.) With a full round of buffing, I was able to defeat him in 5 tries with three characters eradicated. I had to get them resurrected before I could continue into Castle Alamar. Maddeningly, the mega dragon offered no riches, just more experience.
     
Just two rounds from victory.
          
The top level was full of elemental squares that I couldn't figure out--the clue on the statue didn't seem to have anything to do with it--so I dropped down to the ground and entered the front door.  Carving through autobots and annihilators, we moved through the first level. There were four areas with stone heads saying that the elemental power fields were "operational." There were a number of statues honoring Alamar and his struggle against the Ancients. A number of bottles of "Xeen Power Juice" gave individual characters +5 levels.
      
We'd never beat Alamar if he had a better sense of time management.
       
Stairs went down into the basement, where at the end of a long circle of corridors, we pulled some levers. These didn't seem to have any effect in our immediate area, but they did seem to affect the area accessible from Shangri-la. We warped back to the city to investigate and found a new room. There, a skull denied us access for not having the proper ID, but on a pedestal, we found the key to "Dragon Tower."
   
I assumed this was one of the two towers I had never been able to access on the Clouds side, so we broke off exploration of Alamar (we would have had to return to the front entrance anyway) to check it out. It turned out to be the tower in the middle of a lake of lava in D1. It was aptly named--the several levels were full of fire, frost, and acid dragons and dragon kings, but at this point the only dangerous thing about dragons is sitting through their attack animations.
   
Some potions in the tower offered +50 endurance, permanent, but the better part was that between the treasure chests and piles of gold, we made about 4 million gold pieces. There were also books that gave us a ton of experience that we didn't need.
     
It's like it's mocking us.
     
Above the dragon tower was a huge "dragon clouds" area. The enemies were a bit tougher, mostly because of the introduction of a new type of dragon--the energy dragon. It sent us retreating for hit point restoration several times during our exploration. There were numerous crystals in the closes that gave individual characters anywhere from +2 to +5 character levels. In each corner, there were globes called things like "past of the dragon" and "future of the dragon," but looking at them just overwhelmed our minds and eradicated us.
        
Why not give us MONEY to pay for training for the levels we've already earned?
    
A statue asked us "the secret of the dragon." There were clues scattered throughout the area, each of which had a single syllable, but I didn't need all of them because of a clue that I had found earlier in the tower below: "I think the secret of the dragon has something to do with forever, or really, really big . . ." This had put INFINITY on my mind, and that indeed turned out to be the answer. The statue gave us a silver key card.
      
It would have killed you to throw in a little gold?
    
The card opened the way to a new area in the Castle Alamar basement (again, just the part accessible from Shangri-la), where we found the key to Darkstone Tower, the final tower I had not explored on the Clouds side.
   
Aside from a bunch of easy onyx golems, Darkstone Tower had a bunch of statues with what looks like gibberish unless you have history with Might and Magic's shtick of interleaved messages. Working out the interleaves produced the following four messages:
      
  • NEW WORLD THANKS YOU FOR PLAYING MIGHT AND MAGIC
  • SO ENDS THE SAGA OF CORAK AND SHELTEM! 
  • 1994 BEGINS THE NEXT MIGHT AND MAGIC SAGA!
  • TYPE "COMPUTER" ON LEVEL 4 OF THE DUNGEON OF DEATH. SEE YA SOON!
        
Go home, statue. You're drunk.
      
An easy math puzzle got us the gold keycard. There was a stairway up to a presumed "cloud" level, but it was blocked by an "invisible seal." There are a couple of ways to interpret that, one of which is a lot more fun than the other.
      
Couldn't we just aim for where the honking is coming from?
        
I went all the way back down to the fourth level of the Dungeon of Death to discover that, once again, I am a "SUPER goober!"
  
The gold keycard led the way to yet another area in the basement of Alamar's Castle. This area had a couple more +5 level juices, but more important a coffin from which we rescued Prince Roland, brother of King Burlock. He indicated that he is destined to marry Queen Kalindra on the "cloud world above Darkstone Tower," and that the key to the cloud world could be found in the Southern Sphinx, for which he gave us the amulet. And 5 million experience that I can't do anything with.
      
Having spent the rest of my money on training, my characters are all between Levels 132 and 135. I'm sure this is more than enough to win the game, and yet it annoys me that the game keeps throwing all this experience at us with no way to use it unless I want to simply pass time earning interest until my characters are 70 years old. Why spend half the game denying us proper leveling and then just throw all kinds of level bonuses at us via potions and crystals and whatnot? The game keeps it interesting with content, but wow is it an unholy mess when it comes to lore and RPG mechanics.
    
I guess we'll have to save the winning entry for next time. I never did finish exploring Castle Alamar, and I'm not entirely sure whether I could have defeated Sheltem before doing all this extra stuff on the Clouds side, or whether these diversions (and the Southern Sphinx) are necessary to that part of the game. I'm aware that there's a separate World of Xeen plot after the end of Darkside, and I suspect I may have completed some of it prematurely. We'll see soon. I'm ready for this one to be over.
    
Time so far: 39 hours

130 comments:

  1. Yep, it's Sheltem's Lord Xeen Generator Machine. One of the stupider things in the game, if you ask me.

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    1. The Big Bright Green Lord Xeen Generator Machine.

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  2. What is it with this game and too-easy puzzles though? I mean, I get that players don't like puzzles that are too hard or too obscure, but a cypher that is literally "1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C" AND spells out the first three words AND is such an obvious stock phrase? Frankly as a player I'd find that insulting.

    It's the same with listing the answers to the crossword puzzle on a statue at the entrance. This is endgame material and optional bonus dungeons, give players a little credit here.

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    1. That one's a necessary puzzle, so I can understand why they made it easy (although I agree it could have been a little harder). The optional ones like the crossword dungeon could have been a lot harder. Not every player has to succeed at every challenge.

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  3. "It makes me wonder why I've tried so hard to make any kind of sense out of the lore of this series."

    13-year-old me never really tried, and I presume I must be glad for that. A few decades later and I'm just as well wondering "what the...?" - when you started extrapolating with some background knowledge of I and II that I didn't have, I had a slight glimmer of hope that there might be more to the by themselves fascinating bits of lore about the Ancients and their world seed projects, but nope. It was probably all made up on the fly during coding.

    As to the Dungeon of Death, I quote the hintbook: "Nothing in here has anything to do with winning the game. This dungeon is strictly for people who want to give themselves a challenge."

    And the letters do make sense with the elemental fields in the top level. Don't throw your notes away. (Not a real spoiler, honestly.)

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  4. The year 1492 is important outside America, too. The discovery of America is one of the two conventional events that separate the Middle Ages from the Modern Age.

    For any atheist reader ;P the other event that separates Middle Ages from Modern Age occurred 25 years later, in 1517: it is the beginning of the Protestant Reform (many of the earliest settlers in North America were protestants who came to escape religious persecution).

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    1. My comment above refers to this statement in the blog entry: "For non-Americans, those last two years [1492 and 1776] are important ones in North American history"

      The event in 1776 is taught in European schools, too. It is the year of independence of the country that won both World War 2 and the Cold War.

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    2. Considering the company is called "New World Computing", the dates would be especially significant.

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    3. What about the fall of Constantinople in 1453? It was the final end of the last fragment of the Roman Empire.

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    4. I listened to "The World of Byzantium" Great Courses lecture series a couple of years ago. Never knew so much about Constantinople. I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone interested in European/near east/Christian/Islamic history.

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  5. "but wow is it an unholy mess when it comes to lore"

    I can fully subscribe to that opinion, and this is because fantasy and science-fiction never really meshed well, they are two separate genres after all. The only exception I can think of is 'Stargate'(1994), but in reverse, the heroes step from a futuristic modern world into a much more ancient time, which works in its favor.

    I'm open for examples trying to convince me otherwise, though...

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    1. There are actually a lot of well-respected science fiction works set in the decayed remnants of high-tech civilisations, where magic and ancient technology are indistinguishable, at least to the inhabitants (or most of them).

      Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, published in four volumes during the '80s, was a very influential example. I suspect a lot of the developers of series such as Might and Magic or Wizardry were influenced by this strain of SF, as well as by the related but typically more magic-happy works of Jack Vance.

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    2. The Sword of Shannara Series...if you read all of the associated works, includes time from our modern day to a high Fantasy realm.

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    3. Methinks BESTIEunlmt has never read anything before the 1980's, because they were not two separate genres back then.

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    5. The entirety of WH40K is high fantasy sci-fi. Star Wars leans into magic alongside technology from a brighter time. Masters Of The Universe is ridiculously high fantasy with sci-fi as is Blackstar and Thundarr The Barbarian. Sci-Fantasy is often very pulpy or campy

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    6. What separates MM from the better examples of mixed sci-fi/fantasy (of which there are plenty as Gerry says), is mainly just how disjointed and silly the presentation of these ideas are in these games. This isn't a series that's interested in even hinting at how its magic and things like undeath could be possible by the rules of sufficiently advanced technology in this particular setting. This is a series that's mostly just interested in throwing together a motley assortment of 'cool things' and fandoms the developers liked. Moments of 'I got that reference' without any self-control. The whole bit about nacelles and Corak/Sheltem underlying these games hints at how much better the whole finagle could have been with more thought and care, rather than the 'child throwing ALL his toys into one big fight' feel it ends up as.

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    7. Monte Cook's Numenera TT system deserves mention here, as does the Planescapey Tides of Numenera CRPG. Not sure how I feel about either, honestly, but thenblending of high and low tech is pretty well done in my opinion.

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    8. Yeah, 100% what we're going for with Numenera's 'science fantasy', leaning into the weirdness of it while still taking itself seriously as a setting. As a contributor, I admit I'm biased, but I'd love to see more CRPGs set there! Xeen's silly 'It's a Small World' variant really shouldn't be held against the subgenre as a whole.

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    9. Jack Vance's the Dying Earth books do this damn near as well as Gene Wolfe.

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    10. Always happy to start a discussion, guys!

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    11. I agree that M&M don't care about consistency of their technological underlay (though having seen the screamers, I'm not sure I'd care to delve too deep if they did!)

      The later Wizardry games didn't try to overthink the issue, but their worlds hung together a good bit better than those of M&M. (More recently, M&M has pretty much dropped the modern / super-modern technology.)

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    12. @Bruce I'm not sure if by "contributor" you mean you worked on the TT setting or that you were a backer, but either way, I'd say the Numenera team absolutely nailed the world-building.

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    13. @Daniel, I can proudly say I'm one of the key artists for the TT setting! Forty-two illustrations so far; nearly every book from Numenera 2 onwards has art of mine in it. I absolutely love being part of the world-building, and they've shown an incredibly rare degree of trust in giving me virtually free rein to come up with visual concepts they can then weave into the setting.

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    14. I love pulpy sci-fantasy mashups. Really love how Wizardry 6-7-8 did it, or the Gamma World pen and paper setting. I love oldschool 1930s sword and planet stories, too.

      But M&M has always been very silly about it. It goes beyond pulp into farce, especially due to the constant references. I love World of Xeen as a game, it's got a fun gameplay loop and the visuals are great. But the writing is... eh. Let's just say it's not its strongest part.

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  6. It's kinda funny to see so many original Trek references, when this was when The Next Generation was in its prime (esp. since we've already seen TNG references in Ultima VII the previous year).

    I've been rewatching the original Trek recently, and it does retain a certain amount of charm even now.

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    1. The thing about Star Trek that makes it different is that it's science fiction. The Next Generation was a drama, and the writers didn't know or care to know anything about science. They might as well have handed Geordi a sonic screwdriver.

      They used to write [technobabble] in parts where an explanation was needed, and people who actually knew something about science would fill in the words about the interpolating converter getting interference from the being of the week's energy field. How insulting to the audience, and how embarrassing for the writers.

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    2. ...I'm not sure what show from the late '60s you were watching, but I assure you, Star Trek "here's the planet of actual Nazis" "here's a very clear message about racism" TOS has no more close a relationship with actual science, nor less close a relationship with drama, than Star Trek TNG does.

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    3. stepped pyramidsJune 3, 2021 at 11:58 AM

      The writers of Star Trek -- TOS and TNG -- correctly understood that the technical details of the futuristic technology were largely irrelevant to the stories they were telling. Science fiction isn't scientific fiction.

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    4. I'm not much of a science fiction fan by any stretch. It wouldn't occur to me to complain about "technobabble" because I don't know what else I would expect the writers to do when discussing something that doesn't exist. However, my understanding is that one of the hallmarks of good science fiction is that it explores the IMPLICATIONS of technology and/or futuristic developments, and that's something I never really got from Star Trek. Are there factions on Earth that don't like the idea of world government? How do the laws of relativity come into play with "warp speed"? Why doesn't anyone discuss how using a transporter basically kills you and recreates a copy of you somewhere else? Why can't transporters be used to resurrect dead people? Why is everyone on about Data when it's clear that they have functioning, feeling AI right on the holodeck? Why hasn't the holodeck brought about the collapse of society? How are people motivated in a universe without money? Are there large groups of people who, since everything is provided for, just live their lives in the holodeck and refuse to contribute to society? At best, the series lightly touch on these things for one episode (often contradicting previous episodes) and move on.

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    5. stepped pyramidsJune 3, 2021 at 10:22 PM

      The thing is, I'm much more interested in having those questions be raised but not answered in the course of an otherwise interesting drama. For one thing, I don't think TV is a good venue for that kind of analysis; for another, I don't think TV writers are generally capable of doing it any better than I am.

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    6. Agree, I think it's a bit ridiculous to expect TV primetime to answer philosophical questions on the workings of the universe. Especially at the time I think Desilu was more interested in helping to normalize race relations in the US proper from all the strife during the civil rights movement in the sixties. Roddenberry carried on the tradition but one can only go so far. Baby steps required back then, it was considered a major feat Nichelle Nichols was cast.

      Star Trek is a serial drama set in space, but one must first have the capacity to take the mental leap beyond the setting itself and enjoy the drama for what it is: a television soap opera. I think that is why a lot of older folks never quite understood scifi, they were unable to take this leap either from lack of imagination, lack of understanding or both.

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    7. Like most sci-fi, Star Trek uses its futuristic, fantastical, galaxy-spanning setting as a vehicle to explore various ethical questions.

      What it does less often is investigate the ramifications of its answers. It’s more an omnibus of short stories than it is a series of novels.

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    8. "it's clear that they have functioning, feeling AI right on the holodeck"

      Did they? Wasn't the holodeck creations just simulations as in e.g. CRPGs? I remember watching some episodes where some holodeck entity became self-aware and it was a huge thing.

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    9. I think the thing is here, "science fiction" as it is commonly used is a very broad genre.

      It absolutely includes works that examine the implications of all the introduced technologies, as the Addict mentions. I think I would label that one as "hard sci-fi". It also includes works that could also aptly be termed "science fantasy", such as Star Wars (especially in its original trilogy), and works like Star Trek whose primary purpose is *not* to examine every bit of technology and where it would take our society, but rather to act as a mirror through which to *view* our society, and make commentary upon it in a way that is less direct and more narrative (and thus more fun to consume) than a straight political or philosophical treatise. I'm not sure if there's a specific name for this subgenre. (This is not, of course, meant to be anything like a comprehensive survey of subgenres of sci-fi, either!)

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    10. Some of the questions off Chet's big list are addressed in episodes, as long as you include DS9 and Voyager. Unfortunately, these episodes generally prove why the writers didn't bother. For example "Why is everyone on about Data when it's clear that they have functioning, feeling AI right on the holodeck?" -- there's moderate poking at this in TNG (with the Moriarty episodes) and *extensive* poking at this in later seasons of Voyager (to the point of absurdity).

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  7. I want to know what the trainers are doing with all of this gold? Someone is setup to be an economic titan on Xeen in the years to come. It would be a great twist if Queen Kalindra instead ends up marrying this obscenely wealthy merchant who suddenly hit it rich with his training shop franchises.

    Or maybe the heroes are inadvertently creating a hyper inflation event by releasing all this wealth that was locked away in dungeons and funneling it into an unprepared economy.

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    1. I once imagined something like this but it's the monsters bringing the gold to the surface. They were tired of all these invasions for gold that killed their people. They just started dumping it all in the towns every night. The economy was in a shambles.

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    2. In my game, it is pretty clear all the money is going to the shop owner for buying gem plate armor from me ;) (I've been grinding the gem stone range excessively.)
      However, just the other day I was thinking every man, woman, child, dog and cat in Castleview must be wearing gem plate armor by now. The shop still pays the same price though, there still seems to be demand.

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    3. The party keeps "mining" money that was previously out of circulation and shoveling it into the economy, which should cause some absolutely Venezuelan levels of inflation. The bank would be the worst possible place to invest. I guess the smart move would be commodities that will remain in demand? Grain, steel, porkbellies... I hope this grossly inaccurate simulation is reflected in the final Economy score.

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  8. "The NPCs all had names of Greek gods, which combined with the Star Trek stuff makes me wonder why I've tried so hard to make any kind of sense out of the lore of this series."

    But it DOES seem like there's a neat plot here. It's just buried under all the silliness.

    The "screamers" made me realize that we haven't seen a really gory or bloody game on this blog yet. I wonder when (or if) the ultra-violence craze ever affected CRPGs?

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    1. "...we haven't seen a really gory or bloody game on this blog yet."

      Ahem. Elvira 1/2? Waxworks?

      Delete
    2. stepped pyramidsJune 2, 2021 at 11:26 PM

      Daggerfall (1996) had a "kid safe" mode and got some attention in the waning years of the first wave of Concern about video game violence (the second wave was after Columbine in 1999). But although that mode removed some blood, the game wasn't really gory (just some cartoony blood splatters when an enemy is hit). The child safety mode also censored some nudity, which was probably the main motivation.

      Fallout (1997) is the earliest high-profile RPG I can think of that went out of its way to depict gore, including both a config setting to reduce gore and a character trait that ensures you get more of it. The brutal death animations strike me as a kind of homage to the gory death descriptions ("explodes like a blood sausage") in Wasteland.

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    3. - stepped pyramids said, ignoring the previous message of the way waaaay gorier Elviras and Waxworks games :D

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    4. Blood & Gore in CRPGs went big in 1997 with Fallout and Diablo. The Elvira games and such were around before, but they didn't have the impact that those two releases did.

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    5. stepped pyramidsJune 3, 2021 at 11:53 AM

      If I had ignored the previous message, I would have mentioned Elvira and Waxworks rather than recognizing that they'd already been mentioned and passing them over.

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  9. "I'm ready for this one to be over."

    Consider for a moment that your expectations may have been set too high.

    Xeen was fun *because* of its inherent silliness -- a slight breath of fresh air among a sea of stuffy, overly serious quest RPG's long suffocating the genre at the time of its development. Really, how many more princesses needed rescued or dragons slain? The overlying and uncreative crutch most studios relied on at the time to peddle their wares.

    Xeen threw all that out the window introducing a light, whimsical adventure that neither takes itself too seriously nor bores the gamer with stale RPG canon that littered store shelves. Give it a bit more credit where credit is due.

    "once again, I am a "SUPER goober!"

    Congratulations! --said in classic Kurtwood Smith tone with a grin.

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    1. If you regard something as inherently negative, you're not going to value it just because it's a break from the norm. Saying to me that I should value the game BECAUSE of its silliness is like saying I should value a root canal BECAUSE of the pain.

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    2. As for my "expectations," you can find an image of the back side of the Darkside box here:

      https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/pc/564553-might-and-magic-v-darkside-of-xeen/images/145677

      Everything about the text and images suggests a traditionally-serious high-fantasy story. The terms "lighthearted," slapstick," "romp," and "goofy" do not appear anywhere.

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    3. stepped pyramidsJune 2, 2021 at 11:16 PM

      Even the parts of Xeen that seem to be played straight (the main plot, mostly) are deeply silly, like something out of an excitable, industrious, but not particularly thoughtful schoolchild's notebook. There's definitely a charm to it (I think M&M II managed to strike the right note), but I agree that there's something about Xeen (maybe the garish graphics or the capacity for more in-game text) that makes it go from charming to exhausting. Like the first five minutes of your nephew telling you about his Pokemon/Naruto mashup compared to the second or third hour.

      Also, skimming 1991-1992 in RPGs, I really don't see that many big, grim, serious games with doorstopper lore coming out at that time. The contemporary Ultima game had a Muppet as the big bad and an entire town populated with Star Trek TNG characters. The trend was shifting towards more serious stories and more extensive lore, but that wouldn't really become the norm until the end of the '90s CRPG slump.

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    4. I don't mind an oblique reference here and there. Mostly I agree that an rpg's tone should be consistent and immersive. Straight up asking for the Enterprise's serial number is just wtf stupid. It's not silly or gonzo, it's dumb.

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    5. The biggest issue is explicitly stated in the article. If the references had been subtle, they'd have been OK. But the blatantness of them just gets corny as can be.

      I'd say that even Might And Magic II does this better for the most part. Most of the really blatant references are only going to trip if you know the source material.

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    6. Seems to me that Xeen uses precisely all those stale plot elements that Tizzy is talking about. It has dragon slaying, rescuing princesses (or queens), a stereotypical evil overlord with no apparent motivation (lord xeen)... it all sounds rather verlying and uncreative to me!

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    7. I used to feel left out because I had never played Might & Magic and it was such a seminal RPG. Now, I'm glad I missed it. I would have gotten to level 15 or so before tiring of the endless meaningless leveling and goofy jokes. I take my fantasy like I take my whiskey: straight, thankyouverymuch. Excalibur the movie was how to do it right.

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    8. I remember discovering MM2 and finding it an incredible breath of fresh air after the relatively po-faced Bards Tale etc.

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    9. All the series are goofy and retell the same sci-fi/fantasy plot with minor variations, but MM4/5 are really a low in the silliness and non-sense. I mind it less than Chet in the context of this game, but this session really outdid itself in stupidity... :( I have always been more fond of 3 for the really old school ones, and 6 is a great solid a bit more modern RPG.

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    10. I enjoyed the games, and didn't mind the occasional silliness, up to about the Dragon Pharaoh, but at this point the game really jumps the shark and I don't regret stopping before most of the content in this post and the next. The game balance is long gone and everything is just random and goofy.

      There's still a lot of good game before this, but just rescue the Dragon Pharaoh, declare victory, and quit.

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    11. Well, I'm pleased to find more people agreeing with me than not. I expected these comments to be filled with sentiments more like Tizzy's. I think joehbright says it perfectly.

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    12. Well I'm not much on groupthink or the bandwagon, however if you feel it validates your opinion then whatever.

      Its fine if you don't like the game. But with such a dwindling and aging audience of the genre, why take a dump on an otherwise popular and light hearted RPG, a slice of gaming history presumably to get eyeballs and mouseclicks?

      Too Anton Ego for my tastes. Ciao.

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    13. I'm admittedly biased, but I think "dump on" is a bit extreme for my reviews. I've covered both positive and negative aspects of the series, and it just happens that my frustration hit a head during this particular session. I've rated the series quite highly in general and it got "Game of the Year" last year.

      I certainly don't mind alternate opinions, but accusing me of inventing a negative opinion for more pageviews takes it too far. Sayonara.

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    14. Wow, did this thread take a downturn!

      I feel a lot more positive about this game than most commenters above, but I realise now this is partly because I know little of Star Trek and so the references don't bother me, and partly because my expectations of the story and world building were so low that the game could only surpass those.

      I do appreciate the game for its brisk pace, its variation of scenery and the sheer number of quests. The interface and graphics also hold up until this day.

      To anyone who hasn't played any MM game yet and is turned off by the silliness: MM6 is a completely different game. I can definitely recommend that game, as well as MM7. Even though MM6 features one of Chet's most annoying ennemies...

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    15. I played Clouds along with Chet but I bailed on Darkside. I need to feel a sense of immersion in RPGs and Xeen was ultimately too flippant and juvenile for me to care much about. I like both MM3 and 6 much more.

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    16. What a strange contradiction: to claim immunity to groupthink, but then imply that the Addict is somehow obligated to be a sympathetic advocate for "an otherwise popular RPG". Who cares if it was popular? Plenty of popular games are utter crap, per Sturgeon's Law.

      If playing this game is often a drag -- or feels like being confined in a room with That Guy (and we've all known That Guy) who thinks conversation is a constant stream of references to nerd-friendly media properties -- then reporting one's own visceral reaction to those things is part of what a reviewer does. Chet certainly has the expertise and credentials to offer an informed opinion here.

      What would you have had him do, exactly? Cheerlead a game he perceives as often indulging in lazy, cringeworthy crap -- certainly, no less valid than calling it an admirably lighthearted romp -- because we're all dying, or something, and need to preserve and revere the ways of our people?

      It's one thing to get cranky when you think a writer doesn't live up to their own values or isn't playing fair, but I don't "get" taking umbrage at a good-faith critique because of some prior attachment to the game.

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    17. As someone who is a huge fan of the M&M series, played all of them when they were reasonably current (for all that I was still a *young* child when I played most of them) and has generally liked all of them, even I will admit that Xeen was a pretty clear step down from Isles of Terra in every respect other than raw production values (i.e. graphics and audio) and is probably the weakest entry of the DOS era of the series.

      Increasingly as I look back on the games in my older age, I find myself thinking that the first game has the best overall gameplay, despite the limitations of its production values and primitive UI. That said, even in M&M1 the games were expecting you to know obscure Star Trek trivia for some puzzles (e.g. Og's chess puzzle).

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    18. I always got the impression that MM4-5 was one game meant as a "last hurrah" - the ending of the combination, the closure on the Corak story, especially, the revisiting of old themes (Alamar!) etc.

      I remember being disappointed as a child (I got MMI as a 10 year old) that although I finished the game I never did discover what became of Corak - even though by then I also had started II. The latter just confused me even further: so he made it through the gates to another world, despite being lost in E1? Huh?

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    19. The much more grimdark setting was the thing that I kept enjoying in Ultima 8. Even though the gameplay is worse than Ultima 7. In my opinion.

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  10. Cyrano Jones is also a Star Trek reference.
    https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Cyrano_Jones

    He sold Tribbles.

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  11. Wow, this game just keeps going doesn't it? The more I see of it, the more I'm convinced the "lore" was written by twelve-year olds who stumbled onto Dad's collection of 70's memorabilia. I know I played this when it first came out, but it's telling that I don't remember a thing about it. All the goofiness just blends together, hitting the player with the same old schtick seen in so many other outlets without distinguishing itself at all. Some games just seem determined to be forgettable.

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  12. Looking in the orbs on the Dragon Clouds requires yet another 250 intelligence check. And possibly, the character is also need to read all of the books of dragon lore first.
    There is nothing really interesting in the orbs, just the dragons feeling all smart, powerful, infinite, etc. Which is funny, because the party of six puny humanoids slaughters them by dozens.

    The dungeon areas of Castle Alamar accessible from the Clouds and from the first level of the castle itself are connected, you probably missed a switch somewhere. I think, the path is opened from the castle side, to prevent the player from going to the Darkside without defeating Lord Xeen.

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    1. Darkside is accessible e.g. from the pyramid right outside Vertigo. There is really no need to defeat Lord Xeen before going to Darkside, and many commenters here have suggested to alternate between the sides in playing the game through.

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    2. I know. But appearing on a set square of Castleview is one thing, and somehow getting out of Castle Alamar is another. Can break a script of getting the Dragon Pharaoh's Orb.

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  13. Aaand with this my motivation to beat MM Xeen went out of the window, up to the skies, and flew far, far away. It does really feel like a gameplay loop in search for a game.

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    1. It gets a little better in time for the end. Stay tuned.

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  14. I'm just surprised that no one seems to have noticed that the whole concept of M&M is taken right from 'The Starlost'.

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069638/

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    1. I had never heard of that show. I agree there are some parallels, but I don't see anything in the description of that show that isn't also in the Star Trek episode "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," and we already know the author watched that show, as those exact words appear in the first game.

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    2. Ignoring the fact that The Starlost was a major failure and vanished into obscurity, it was created by someone who also wrote for the original Star Trek and would have been familiar with that episode.

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    3. Heinlein's novella "Universe" from 1941 is probably the Ur example of the concept, from back when he was largely keeping the grossness to himself.

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. I've watched some TNG, a quarter century ago, but I couldn't have told you that number. I do remember saying "F*** you" out loud when I came to this riddle. I also found the huge but meaningless experience rewards annoying, especially as they always came with with one or more exclamation marks. Am I supposed to be exited?

    Despite the references and the outlandish rewards, and the fatigue creeping in after playing this directly after part IV, it was still a fun game. It's still essentially the same game as M&M III.

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  16. If I were you I’d just play Magic Candle 2 again without gonshis.

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  17. "a four-syllable riddle. Each syllable was found on a parchment in a sewer grate, but if you're too dumb to figure it out, an NPC named Cyrano literally sells the answer in a room in the sewers: TRIBBLES."

    How does anyone pronounce "tribbles" with more than two syllables?

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  18. PetrusOctavianusJune 4, 2021 at 4:35 AM

    It's a sad reading about Mr. Addict's experience with this game. You say you hate it (in jest, I'm sure, but still...), yet you go to great lengths to accumulate gold to train your already OP characters.
    I don't quite get the mindset. I get the "I must complete", but wouldn't it be better to finish it as soon as possible, in-game time, to get a good score instead of spending years to accumulate gold in the bank? Why prolong the pain?

    Also, I feel like I'm the only one who disliked World of Xeen (or at least ranks it the second weakest M&M game), due to it being too simplistic and easy.
    I can tolerate just about any kind of silliness in games as long as the game mechanics are solid.
    But with books it's different; I can't help sniggering at the ridiculous world building in Malazan, for example, which breaks the suspension of disbelief. I'm glad I'm not that critical of games, otherwise MM2 would not be one of my favourite CRPGs.

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    1. I'm not sure I realized the score was tied to completion time.

      The two parts of RPGs that I love the most are 1) engaging lore; and 2) character development. Thus, it doesn't surprise me that I would spend most of my time talking about how disappointed I am with #1 while still trying to maximize #2.

      But I can also agree with you on the game being too easy. My raking of the first 8 MM games goes something like:

      MM7
      MM6
      MM1
      MM8
      MM2
      MM3
      MM4
      MM5

      I really don't know what there is to snigger at with Malazan's world building. It's widely praised for having excellent world-building. But let's not get off on another tangent.

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    2. Maybe I'd reverse MM2 and MM8. It's been a while since I've played either.

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    3. By ‘lore’, do you mean the totality of the narrative, or is some particular subset most important?

      I guess what I’m asking is: Does lore include Wrex being funny, or is it constrained to him talking about Krogan history?

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    4. I guess I would call "lore" all the little details that give life and blood to the plot. Sure, NPC characterizations are part of that, as long as they don't break the fourth wall.

      I wouldn't have gotten that reference a couple of weeks ago. Irene and I are having a great time with it. We have a running joke that the "renegade" option is always going to involve Shepard grabbing the other person by the shirt.

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    5. Oh man, I hope you're enjoying Mass Effect. One of my favorite series of the last 20 years. Are you playing Legendary Edition or the original releases?

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    6. The remaster. I'm curious how it's different.

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    7. Aside from being prettier and rearranging the HUD, they didn't change much of the actual content. ME1 received the most tweaks and IMO they're all for the better. This article goes over the changes in detail without spoiling any story elements.

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    8. I hope they fixed driving the car...

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    9. They tweaked the physics and control scheme making it a lot easier to handle, and added a speed boost separate from the original jump thrusters. Now driving across huge, empty maps for side quests is just tedious instead of frustrating.

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    11. I think there are bits of lore that I care more about than others. I like character interactions and plot and the basics of the world building, especially scenery.

      But I don't tend to read book items. I think F:NV probably had some of the best I've encountered, and even those I skipped on plenty of occasions.

      I also won't necessarily clear an NPCs conversation tree if I notice its all setting stuff unrelated to the plot. eg

      "I fought in the Peloponnesian War"
      [click Peloponnesian War]
      "Blah blah blah Delian League"
      [click Delian League]
      "Blah blah blah Pericles"
      Do I care enough to click Pericles? Meh, back to the game.

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    12. Good writing makes you want to click through pages of text.

      Most RPGs do not have good writing. (I'm looking at you, Elder Scrolls.)

      Good writing arranges the text so that it immediately gives you a reason to care - an interesting question that you want the answer to, the suggestion of a reward, an insight into how a character is going to act or how they have acted in the past - and then makes the process of getting to that answer interesting as well.

      Bad writing says, "Let me ramble at you about an aspect of the backstory that you don't have a reason to care about yet and don't really need to remember."

      Good writing is memorable in and of itself, not just because of what you learn from it. Good writing is entertaining in and of itself, not just because of what you learn from it.

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    13. (Good videogame writing also makes sure that "clicking through pages of text" is something that happens when the player wants it and actively chooses it, rather than something that delays the player in getting to their objective, or something that they feel obligated to do in the nature of a chore.)

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    14. This is exactly why I hate that "lore" has become such a big buzzword in gaming. Sure, the game may have a fleshed-out world with a huge amount of detail and background information, but all the in-game books, codex entries and audio logs in the world can't fix a dull story or boring characters.

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    15. I could not disagree more about the quality of the writing in The Elder Scrolls.

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  19. Oh my golly. I LOVED MM2 as a kid, but even when I read about MM3 back then in game magazines, I thought it looked too silly and I didn't felt inclined to check it out.

    Much much later, I played MM1 and loved it even more. In fact, it probably is my favourite CRPG ever. It IS silly here and there, but it's tough and it's still quite down-to-earth and low-level and gritty enough that it feels REAL. I really enjoyed the large, open world.

    Reading your blog, I think I could still like MM3 and maybe MM4, but the whole Xeen thing looks just completely ridiculous to me. Things like getting gazillions XP for getting some stupid item, plethoras of fountaing raising attribute +50 permanently and whatnot just doesn't make ANY kind of sense to me. And then, all those silly media references make it impossible to take the game serious at all.

    Well, I hope you'll get over this soon. To me it looks like some kind of subtle masochism :) But I know the name's the game, Mr. Addict :)

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    1. Xeen reminds me of something I read about Baldur's Gate: The first one is the game the Dungeon Master wanted to play and the second one is the game the players wanted to play. Xeen seems to lean heavily into the "Monty Haul" player campaign.

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    2. Monty Haul in experience points, yes. But MM5 has the exact same list of spells/skills/items as MM4 does; in MM4 you can get more-or-less everything by level 20, whereas MM5 has over a hundred levels to obtain the same.

      I mean, leveling is nice and all, but I believe that Chet's party hasn't learned a new skill or spell in awhile, nor had any noteworthy equipment upgrades; simply because the game RAN OUT of those about 60 levels ago.

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    3. (or even 90 levels ago, considering they are around 130 now)

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    4. "I mean, leveling is nice and all, but I believe that Chet's party hasn't learned a new skill or spell in awhile, nor had any noteworthy equipment upgrades; simply because the game RAN OUT of those about [90] levels ago."

      This is why I was one of those who wanted Chet to start Darkside with a fresh party. The hope was that earning skills/spells/equipment would've increased the game's depth. I think he's right that Darkside wasn't meant to be played as its own game, and given how the experience formula works, he'd probably be at level 128 rather than 130 (and still broke), but maybe there was something more to it than the silliness he's writing about.

      Has anyone tried this? How did it go?

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    5. Remember, I did originally start with a fresh party, and I was Level 15 by the time I cleared the first town. I would have been Level 30 by the second, and after that, the difference wouldn't have been noticeable. I think continuing with a new party would have delayed the over-inflation of experience by a few hours at most.

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    6. It's a fair point that when you're going to end around level 150, it doesn't make a big difference if you start at level 5 (as a fresh party) or level 20 (as an imported party).

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    7. Starting fresh doesn't do anything about the end game problems, but I think it would make a difference through maybe the first half or two thirds of the game.

      Look at it this way, continuing with your Clouds party is like having a constant buff of +10 levels and +20-50 to your key attributes as well as a full spellbook. At this point that doesn't matter, but it would have made a lot of those towers and dungeons and towns a bit more challenging.

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    8. I would love to see what happens if you start with Darkside and then play Clouds at level 150. It must have happened to SOMEONE as first time player.

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    9. You'd one-shot every monster and are immune to pretty much all their attacks. It's cathartic.

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  20. Personally, my opinions on Xeen are that it's the best of the 2D games and potentially the best in the series overall, specifically because it doesn't take itself particularly seriously. I tend to have a soft spot for games that have absolutely no problem with just being a game and not particularly caring about making complete sense at the end of the day, and Xeen definately does that. The only gameplay issue I remember having a problem with was the sheer lack of funds, and even then it was because of repairs instead of levels.

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  21. I'd take Xeen any day over MM6-8. That being said, those are fun too. Might and Magic is a silly series, with easy ways to become overpowered. Like getting a dragon party member in MM8.

    I'm a story person, so I don't even know why I like Might and MAgic series. The series just has that je ne sais quoi about it.

    You can't really take the story or the worldbuilding in MM6-8 seriously either. And I'd argue they are worse games because of their real-time monster grinding, Still fun, despite it though. As I said it. Je ne sais quoi.

    The Might and Magic game that does the best job in it's worldbuilding is actually the only one not made by Jon Van Caneghem and the folk.

    It's Might and Magic X. In that game the world makes sense. It feels right. You do not break the world or go to epic world-breaking places. It's a small story, set in a small province and it does a very decent job delivering it.

    Also the combat is the most tactical it ever has been in the series. In MMX I actually had to think what I was doing during combat.

    True unappreciated gem MMX is.

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    1. Very much agree with you on MMX!

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    2. I had played 3-8 back when they were fresh (3 being one of my earliest RPG memory). I usually finish any game I start. I just don't start if I don't intend to finish. But I just could not finish 9, I think it was so utterly demotivating, and then buggy.

      "Recently" started the entire series again, this time properly at 1. More out of historical interest. I'd love to play up to X, but I just cannot go there before finishing 9, and I dread getting there ;)

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  22. So, let's recap on the lore:

    The ancient Greek gods exist, who are part of the real world. Earth. Our planet.

    Possibly LotR references exist in the M&M games too, because they're in most reference-heavy fantasy games. LotR is set in the distant past of our own world, according to Tolkien, so it fits right into the timeline.

    Star Trek references are strewn in so liberally and naturally, they can be assumed to be part of the setting. Star Trek is set in the future of our world, so it fits into the timeline.

    So we can conclude that LotR, the real world, Star Trek, and Might & Magic are all set in the same shared universe!

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    1. Or rather, Star Trek the TV series exists in the Might & Magic universe. The ancients seem to like it and placed references to it in their creations. After all, aren't "The Ancients" just New World Computing?

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  23. One of the weirdest Star Trek references in Might and Magic I remember is in MMII : "I am Jean-Luc, energize you to Sansobar?"

    Got the game the year it came out as an elementary school graduation present, and I remember thinking - only younger kids think all fiction takes place in the same "place".

    But I still loved the game - though not as much as I, which I still find to be the best of them for some reason - I think it is because it is the least "railroaded" of them (well, I-V: I haven't played the others).

    I sometimes have the fantasy of setting up a massive attempt to reverse engineer the engine (I do read, somewhat, 6502 assembly, and know the inners of the Apple IIs reasonably well, so that's not totally utopian) and build a new game based on it. For the longest time as a child and teenager I swore I read in A+ or something that there was a _Might and Magic Construction Set_. I realize now I was misremembering the one for _The Bard's Tale_, even though the date looks wrong.

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    1. I guess I forgot how any references there were in MM1.

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  24. I feel like "Holy sh!t, Sheltem can manufacture the final boss? He only needed one?" was a concept wasted on this stupid dungeon.

    "a hundred thousand lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes"

    You know, this is one of those times when Might and Magic has a decent idea with the whole artificial world thing. What better way to explain tiny worlds with only a hundred thousand people, right? It's like how Darklands achieved the same effect in the real world by narrowing its scope to Germany. I find too many fantasy authors are attracted to the medieval idea of a small world with a small population, but these two solutions at least have a worldbuilding reason why.

    Is "INFINITY" an Ultima reference? In any other game's context, I'd sound like one of those stupid fans who has to assume all and sundry have consumed their favourite book/show/movie/game, but I can't offer much benefit of the doubt to New World Computing.

    You know, Chester, if you'd listen to instructions in a developer's message after getting all this useless experience, all these death traps, and all these platitudinous references, yet still held out hope that a single rewarding molecule of dopamine existed inside that computer at the bottom of the Dungeon of Death...

    You are a SUPER Goober!

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  25. Long time reader, first time poster:

    The lore subject is interesting... this isn't about defending or criticizing it specifically, since other commenters have already covered that territory fairly well.

    I'm thinking more about the creative process involved in building this game, or games like it.

    Having no direct evidence, but extrapolating from the content in the game and the experience of playing it... (My limited experience and Chester's deep dive.) As well as the general background of the industry that I picked up reading CGW back in the day...

    This was built from an overall, general 'plot' following it's semi-sci-fi setting, that frames the main quests. Fulfilling the explorative desire of an RPG gamer ("what's around that corner, over that hill") means building a map to set that plot on and then filling that map with, frankly, other stuff. Filling the map with content because the players expect it.

    Someone made a comment about Baldur's Gate I being a DM's story, and Baldur's Gate II being a player's story. (I haven't got to the second one yet, but it's on the list!)

    Both of the Xeen games feel like both at once. There is a semi-serious story inside this world, but as all this extra content needs to be filled, well, things get a little punchy and silly. This is where the player-mind kicks in and it starts to make fun of itself or the players. And where it draws on the collective nerd-dom's pantheon of stories for it's reference-comedy.

    The same way that players will immediately make a silly nickname for the important NPC the DM just introduced.

    It's also working in a milieu that has a foot in lore and a foot in mechanics at all times. Even the most serious TTRPG'r has to contend with a comic moment due to a die roll or a fellow player who isn't in the same immersive mode.

    So you've got a mindset among the makers (and probably an expectation of their players) of being able to switch mindsets between 'serious lore and plot' and 'silly joke/mechanics-driven content' that's borne out of the other games being made and their own TTRPG experiences.

    Because we're not yet in the era of 'Triple A' gaming, I'm also thinking that a lot of the design and implementation doesn't go through a consistent story review process... get content in and make sure it doesn't crash. The references, the weird juxtaposition of things like magic and undead alongside mecha, all of this comes from a desire to fill the map but not a requirement for it to all align. These companies might be making money but they're not yet being held to a 'professional writing' standard, if that makes sense.

    All of this to say: I think the lore problem is a fascinating one. It's connected to the 'cabbage problem' that Chester outlined a while ago. Earlier games (generally) had to rely more on story and narrative to immerse you because they couldn't do it graphically. Or they eschewed story entirely and went full-mechanics. (Rogue, Nethack, etc)

    But as the games get bigger, longer, (and probably built with more people) and this need for more content continues to grow, what we're seeing here is the intersection between gameplay loops, (explore, fight, XP, gold) narrative expectations, and tone setting that exacerbates certain issues that weren't as present before.

    None of these are hard truths, either. Lots of games right around this time found a way to be more lore-consistent. Maybe they had bigger budgets, more time, or a clearer narrative vision than Xeen did.

    None of the above is meant to excuse the content in Xeen... but it's been a fascinating speculative mental exercise to think about the kind of creative environment and gaming milieu that might generate the creative decisions we've seen up to this point.

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    1. Every once in a while--probably more often than I like to admit--a commenter comes along and makes a contribution far more valuable than the blog entry that inspired it. This is such a case. Where I just complained and raved, Jason offers an insightful, well-written, and (to my perception) historically accurate analysis. I wish I could say I was saving this sort of thing for the summary and rating, but I've already drafted that and didn't write anything near this good.

      "These companies might be making money but they're not yet being held to a 'professional writing' standard, if that makes sense." It makes perfect sense, and I think you're absolutely right. Only in a few cases, such as with Raymond Benson and Ultima VII, have we seen developers go out of their way to hire professional writing talent for their games. (The same thing is true about professional voice acting, and I think will continue to be true longer than the writing issue.) Even when they have, it is almost always limited to the framing story and production materials rather than the in-game text, dialogue, and plot developments.

      Jason, I always appreciate "long time readers" whether they comment or not--but seriously, you need to comment more.

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    2. I really like this comment as well because it helped me understand a point of view that I don't agree with.

      I'm of the school that a story or work should be taken as a whole; just as early plot setup can augment the dramatic effect of later revelations, early (or even mixed-in) goofing around can dampen the emotional effect of serious later parts of the story. I'm pretty sure "SUPER Goober!" was still burned red-hot into Chester's corneas when he watched the endings (the first of Darkside, and then Xeen as a whole) try to be awesome and heartwarming.

      I had this same type of issue with Undertale/Deltarune (modern games that Chester will never get to); they have a lot of gags and silly character designs, but also try to have emotional impact all through the spectrum between sad and heartwarming. I hate it! It sort of felt like the writer of those games was trying to have his cake and eat it too. Naturally, I wasn't pleased to see that the Internet at large fell in love with games like those. However, your explanation has really helped me understand the mentality of those people who are not only able to compartmentalize story moments and not let one soil the other, but actually enjoy both types of moments on their own merits and feel like having both in a story makes it a more well-rounded or fully-realized work.

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    3. The M&M games to this point have always reminded me of the Robert Asprin books. Not sure why, but I have always felt that the developers were of a like mind with him and his writing style.

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    4. Voice acting is always interesting when you compare it with Japanese games. Because of the large anime industry, voice acting has always been a lot more professional and popular than in the US. As early as the late 1980s you start to get video games that hire popular voice actors, and early CD games for systems like the PC Engine capitalized on the name recognition of the voice actors to make up for the shoddy graphics and boring gameplay.

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    5. I'm honoured to hear your response, Chester! (Addict? I'm never sure the best way to address you...)

      The thoughtfulness was in the spirit of honouring the attention you're paying to a medium that so many of us have a passion for.

      And I look forward to commenting more.

      P-Tux7, thanks for also noting that compartmentalized nature of story elements and types. That's actually a better way to say than I think I did as I worked through the idea.

      I can totally see the designers of the time not just adding this stuff because it's funny, but actually not seeing it as obstructing the story or breaking the world, maybe because when things get serious, things just switch to that mode and all the jokes and 'Super GOOBERs' and Star Trek references blur a little. The same way a bunch of TTRPG players can go from making fun of a new city or NPC name to really feeling sad when something happens to a different, favourite NPC.

      It's almost like it's internal lore-canon can only be perceived on a kind of spectrum. The more serious it is, the more it's meant to be retained and considered. (Which is weird in it's own way, because that serious-ness isn't equal across the board even in the main plot.)

      In some sense, that compartmentalization between story/tone and gameplay is always going to be present in CRPGs, because the interaction of mechanics into an immersive world are going to create strange moments. (Again, Chester's note about the cabbage problem.) I love the Final Fantasy games for all their grindy goodness, but why don't the high level monsters overrun the planet? How can that guard I just hit with an arrow in the face somehow not see me, just because my 'hide' skill is high enough?) And so that is always going to create moments of hilarity. And deep inside some book on a shelf in the game, will still be a Star Trek reference, because the writer or contributor filling that detail was up at 3am and got a little punchy.

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    6. I prefer "Chet" or "Chester," but I asked for people to call me "Addict" or "The Addict" with the very name of my blog, so I try not to let it bother me.

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    7. What is a Super Goober anyway? I searched and got a Cake and some weird hook shaped thing.

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    8. Goober means "sucker", "idiot" "gullible person", or "loser", so the computer at the bottom of the Dungeon of Death ironically bestowed that title upon Chester's party since that's what they would have to be to even be tempted to go to such a place, let alone all the way to the bottom. He was expecting a real reward but got called stupid for expecting one.

      The game, as Chester experienced, later tells you what to type at the computer's prompt. What do you have to be to go all the way back down through the exact same deadly dungeon just because you expect the computer that already called you a goober to give you a more worthy prize if you enter a certain password? A "Super Goober", of course.

      Jason: Thanks for the compliment, and that TTRPG example of players cracking jokes or the DM even setting up easy joke-bait for them, but still being able to have serious emotions in serious moments is a great one.

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    9. "Goober" CAN mean those things, but it's often used affectionately, too, with roughly the same meaning as "dork" or "geek." In MM3, you get the designation after killing a ton of difficult exterminator bots deep in the bowels of a ship. I don't think JVC is using it to make fun of the player, or insult him; I think it's his shorthand for "you're an oddly dedicated player to have come this far."

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    10. Thanks for the explanation.

      I guess sometimes not understanding things helps. E.g. the "Blade Cuisinart" in Wizardry never looked out of place for me, as I wasn't aware of a product of that name. A "Blade KitchenAid" might have raised an eyebrow. Likewise, I assume a lot of the Star Trek references in M&M and other games just go straight over my head, but a Starfleet registration number in a required puzzle is hard not to notice.

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