Monday, July 26, 2021

Game 425: Tower of Doom (1987)

        
Tower of Doom
United States
Mattel Electronics (developer); INTV Corporation (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Intellivision
Date Started: 12 July 2021
Date Ended: 12 July 2021
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: User-defined
Final Rating: 21
Ranking at Time of Posting: 151/428 (35%)
     
As longtime readers know, I am color blind. Among the many disabilities one can have, I suppose I was blessed. But it can be annoying. First of all, no one understands it. When I tell people I'm color blind, they always want to test me by asking what color something is. "What color is my shirt?" Color blindness doesn't mean that everything looks monochrome or black and white (except for a very small percentage of people who have monochromacy), but sometimes I wish it did. That way, I could just say, "I don't know--the same color as everything else." It would be easier to explain.
    
Asking a color blind person the color of your shirt makes about as much sense as asking a blind person how many fingers you're holding up--not because he can't tell (not every "blind" person is 100% sightless), but because the answer doesn't prove anything. If I guess "blue" and get it right, it's just because that's a color I can see, or you just happened to wear an uncomplicated shirt. If a blind person gets it right with "three," that doesn't mean his vision isn't a major disability in everyday life. You've just identified one situation in which it doesn't apply. 
     
A typical shot from Tower of Doom. The upper-left shows the level map as I've revealed it so far. The lower-left has my inventory (spear, axe, food, two potions, bow, key). The lower-right has shields representing my max health. A serpent is coming for me in a room with a trap to my right and a magic ring slightly above me.
     
I'm a Strong Deutan, which means I primarily can't distinguish reds and greens, but it means more than that. It means that color in general has diminished importance for me. Even when I can distinguish two colors I don't necessarily internalize the distinction. Colors don't make an impression; they aren't part of how I visualize something in my imagination. Put something teal and something turquoise in front of me, and sure I'll be able to distinguish them. I might even be able to assign the right names. But make me close my eyes, take one away, and present the other one in isolation, and I probably won't be able to tell you which one it was. Color is not a part of my regular language or thought process. I cannot off the top of my head tell you what colors my state uses on its license plates, or the official colors of the university I teach for, or the hair or eye color of the people who work in the same hall as me. I don't perceive two "clashing" colors as not going together, or two complementary colors as synchronizing particularly well. I have to write symbols on the tags of my clothes to remember which of them "go."
    
I think in shades. Things are dark, medium, or light to me. I will sometimes use colors, but only in the bluntest way, like the way a southerner uses "Coke." If he says it, you can be sure he wants soda, but not necessarily what type. I will use "blue" for things that you call not only navy blue, azure, sapphire, and indigo, but also things you call purple, mauve, and violet. To me, pink, light gray, and cyan are all in the same color "family" because they're all light shades.
      
A poor choice of a potion has made me temporarily blind. Among my items in the lower-left (which don't include the question mark or the arrow), I can distinguish three colors. I just can't name them, and when they're not on the screen, I won't remember them.
       
My color blindness affects how I perceive and judge the world. Camouflage works extremely well on me. If you showed up at my house having just murdered someone, your shirt covered in blood, I might think you spilled a milk shake on yourself. The idea of separating laundry is absurd, because I can't distinguish or care about the difference. I throw away bread and cheese the moment it hits its expiration because I can't trust my senses to call attention to mold. If you color-code the rows in your Excel spreadsheets, even using colors that I can distinguish, instead of just putting a column with a data value in it, I think you're a child. How could you possibly prefer color to a hard-coded value? And when it comes to the visual arts, including film, paintings, and games, I'm immune to a lot of things that you would consider vast improvements. I could not functionally tell the difference between the original and special editions of Skyrim. Or maybe I could, but without really putting my mind to it, I wouldn't be able to articulate what those differences are. More important, I wouldn't care. Readers have told me numerous times about those Enchroma classes that are supposed to fix or ameliorate some kinds of color blindness. I'm sure I'll try them some day, and they'll probably improve my perception of the fall foliage, but they won't re-write nearly 50 years of language, perception, and habit. I appreciate that a lot of modern games have color correction for various forms of color-blindness, but even they don't get at the root issue. If some element of an interface requires an assessment of color, even if I can functionally tell the difference, my brain will refuse to register it as "important" unless I force myself to focus on it. A letter "P" is a much better indicator that I'm poisoned than a red dot.
       
Sorry--long screed. I was motivated to write all of this by Tower of Doom, the last RPG (only one of two, by my definitions) for the Intellivision. It's a good game, almost a roguelike for a second-generation console, but for me its fatal flaw is that everything is color-coded. You have to learn for each game which potions are safe to drink and which magic items are safe to use. You will perceive the colors (web sites tell me) as gray, cyan, orange, brown, pink, lavender, green, and magenta. If you give me those eight colors and ask me to assign those words to them, I'd probably get at least five right. But show me any one of those colors, and make me choose the right name, and I'll probably have at least five possibilities. This makes it extremely hard to keep notes on what does what.
      
In melee combat with a skeleton.
     
Tower of Doom began as Mattel's third Dungeons & Dragons game, but Video Game Crash of 1983 caused the company to sell its entire electronics division to a former vice president, who started INTV Corporation. The Dungeons & Dragons license agreement did not survive the dissolution. Development continued at INTV without the D&D stamp, but ironically the authors managed to produce a game much closer to Dungeons & Dragons (while, admittedly, still not being very close) than the two previous efforts. TSR would later allow Capcom to produce an arcade game called Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (1993).
    
The game might have started as a D&D licensed product, but someone had clearly played Rogue or Hack. Tower of Doom is a quasi-roguelike. Some players might even dispute the "quasi." I include it because Tower has far simpler inventory, combat, and command systems than full roguelikes. It's also not turn-based, and it has an action component to combat. But there's clearly a roguelike ancestry. It features (usually) randomly-generated dungeon levels that are slowly revealed as you explore, color-coded gear, hunger and food, and permadeath. There isn't even any saving, which is somewhat absurd for the size of some of the dungeons.
   
As you start a new game, you get to choose from 14 length and difficulty settings. The easiest scenario is "Novice," which has only six fixed levels and does not randomize the assignment of colors to items. The only objective is to exit the sixth floor with as much treasure and experience as you can amass. The hardest are "Wizard Hunt" and "Grail Quest," which are always 32 random levels with a fixed objective--to kill a wizard and find the Holy Grail respectively. In between are "Tower," "Catacombs," "Fortress," and "The Challenge," which are between 6 and 32 levels.
      
Selecting the difficulty level at the beginning of the game. I know it's a minor thing, but finding the Grail isn't what the "Grail Quest" was about!
      
In addition to the dungeon difficulty, you also have a difficulty based on your character "class," which like NetHack is really just a starting set of attributes (strength, stamina, diplomacy, max hit points) and equipment. Classes are novice, warrior, archer, knight, trader, barbarian, waif, friar, warlord, and warlock. The hardest class is the waif, who starts with the lowest attributes (6 each) and the lowest max hit point "shields" (1.5) and is the only class to start without a weapon. The warlord starts with the highest max HP (5.5 shields) but only 9s in his attributes. Warriors and traders start with the highest strength (13) but only moderate max HP.
     
Gameplay looks the same for everyone. You're dropped in Level 1 of the dungeon of your choice, and you begin running around fighting monsters and collecting treasure. The control scheme is unintuitive but relatively easy to master. The little panel in the lower right has three rows. The second and third rows are your inventory (8 items max); the top one is action icons that include checking your stats, switching your active weapon, opening a door, and going downstairs (the latter two only appear when at doors and stairs). Whether using an item or activating an action, you hit one button to get into the panel, another to activate an icon, and a third to drop an item.
     
There are a bunch of things to find in the dungeon:
   
  • Weapons. There are 11 types of weapons in the game including both melee (dagger, hammer, small sword, mace), missile (bow, wand, dart), and those that serve as both (spear, axe). Missile weapons have limited uses, as indicated by color. Colors are supposed to tell you the power level of melee weapons, too.
  • Treasures, including bracelets, piles of coins, gems, and necklaces. These simply add to your treasure score, though you can also use them to bribe monsters (more below).
  • Magic items, including books, cloaks, potions, rings, and scrolls. These have a variety of effects as determined by color. Most are positive, including boosting attributes, improving defense, increasing speed, making you immune to traps, healing, and temporarily increasing maximum health. But a lot are negative, including sapping levels, freezing, slowing you down, and making enemies invisible to you. This is naturally where I had the most trouble.
         
When you use an item, you get a little message indicating what it did.
     
  • Traps, which can cause confusion, paralysis, hit point loss, hunger, and teleportation. They're always visible, but they often block the corridor and there's no way to disarm them.
  • Keys, which are color-coded to traps and let you walk through them without penalty.
  • Food, of which you need about 1 meal per level (if you explore exhaustively) to avoid losing health.
   
There are 13 monsters. In order of difficulty, they are giant rats, serpents, stirges, skeletons, stag beetles, axebeaks, giant scorpions, owlbears, wraiths, hydras, beholders, dragons, and wizards. As you can see, these all come from the Dungeons & Dragons bestiary, although they don't really have special powers; the higher-level ones just hit harder. They do have different speeds and vastly different experience point rewards, from 10 (rat) to 10,240 (wizard). The monsters are introduced at a rate of one per two levels unless you play "The Challenge," in which case they come at one new monster per level. So a player in a six-level dungeon never faces anything harder than a skeleton. One of the things that I like about the game is that the dungeon level adjusts the maximum level of monsters, not the minimum or average. You can still meet giant rats on Level 32, and in fact if you do, it's often more useful to avoid them (they're slow) rather than fight them, since no other enemy will appear on the same screen as long as they're around.
        
I don't remember any other CRPG to feature an axebeak. This would be a perfect corridor to use a missile weapon if I had one.
        
There are two modes to combat. You can shoot missile weapons down corridors, hoping to kill enemies before they reach you. This is tough in twisty corridors or with fast enemies. If the enemy reaches you, you're taken to a special combat screen where you exchange melee blows.  
      
Firing a spear at a skeleton, who is blocking the stairway down. I have a bunch of spears.
      
One oddity of the game is that enemies don't always rush to attack on the melee screen. If they hesitate, it means they're open to a bribe. You bribe enemies by dropping items from your backpack. You can stack multiple items for bigger bribes. You lose anything you drop whether the enemy accepts or not. If he accepts, he goes away and your diplomacy attribute increases, which makes it more likely that you can bribe future enemies. It's a cute idea, but I didn't find it very useful in practice. Enemies that go away can be immediately replaced by other enemies, for one thing.
       
This character has no weapon, so the best I can do is bribe the serpent with a pair of boots. Or flee.
    
Hit points regenerate on their own, but quite slowly, and in general it's not a viable strategy to wait around for them to improve on their own. You get a little help that way, but enemies can attack and undo your progress. You really need a potion.
   
Although you earn experience, levels, and max HP from fighting, and a variety of benefits from finding items, hunger is always nipping your heels, and I generally found it was best to go down as soon as I found the stairs. Once down, you cannot go back up. Surviving is otherwise a matter of knowing when to fight, when to fight only with missile weapons, and when to flee. Dragons are best fought with missile weapons, as they're powerful but slow. Wizards, beholders, and hydra are best avoided entirely.
      
Right before I turned around and went back the way I came in.
    
There are lots of tricks you'd learn only from experience. I read most of them on the StrategyWiki article for the game. For instance, traps only work against you if no sound is currently playing, so you can avoid them by forcing the game to play a sound. One easy way is to "use" a treasure, which converts it to points and plays a chime for a couple of seconds, long enough to run through the trap. Stairs are never behind doors. You should try potions on full stomachs because food eliminates some of their effects. Mortars and pestles are more likely to be cursed than other magic items.
      
I started off on the "Catacombs" dungeon with 12 levels and a warlord character. I was just learning the ropes with this one. I made it to Level 4 before a skeleton killed me because I had accidentally used up my spear and didn't have a backup weapon. During this process, I took save states to facilitate screen shots but only reloaded if I died because I was fiddling with a screenshot. Later, I figured out how to pause the game (although it darkens the screen) when I wanted to take a shot.
      
My "novice" character heads for the nearest bar.
And his pathetic, but legitimate, score.
      
I moved on to a "novice" adventure with a "novice" character. It was no trouble at all. The enemies were easy. It took me less than five minutes per level, and I was out of the dungeon in less than half an hour. I took save states every level or so, but I didn't need to reload once.
   
I then decided to try the hardest possibility: the Grail Quest (32 levels) with the waif. I didn't get more than a couple of corridors into it. The waif starts with no weapon, so you can't fight any monsters. But the only way out of the starting area was through a paralysis trap, and monsters kept attacking me while I was stuck in the trap. I'm sure with a different random configuration, the waif is survivable, but a lot depends on how quickly you can find a weapon.
       
My waif is stuck in a paralysis trap while an enemy lurks nearby.
      
For my third try, I did Grail Quest again, this time with a knight. I made it to Level 15 legitimately before I died at the claws of an owlbear after I drank a potion that froze me in place. I thought it was the same color as one I'd previously drunk that healed me, but . . . [gestures to the first four paragraphs]. I wanted to experience the end of the adventure, so I reloaded a save state. I had to do this probably six more times before I found the Grail on Level 32. (Wizards were responsible for half of those deaths, including once where I tried to kill one with a wand but missed and the wand bounced back at me; wands are almost too dangerous to use.) Using the Grail automatically ends the game.
   
A grail win, but with some cheating.
     
Traps were a constant problem for me, and again my color blindness played a major role. If you have a key that's the same color as the trap, you're supposed to be able to hold it in your hand and walk right through. Being a strong deutan doesn't prevent me from looking at the color of a key and matching it to the color of a trap and getting it right most of the time. The issue is more that my mind refuses to attach any importance to color, so I kept forgetting to make the comparison. I never found a key to avoid the most annoying trap, the "confusion" one, which causes you to blunder in random directions for a few seconds. As often as not, you wander back into the trap and get caught in a perpetual loop.
   
If you meet the objective of the scenario, the game shows your character exiting the front door of the Tower of Doom and running away. You then get a final screen showing your scores. Maximum experience and wealth are 650,000, so I had a long way to go.
   
Tower of Doom is a pretty solid second-generation console game, one of only a couple that I would call an RPG unequivocally. It won't rate terribly high on my GIMLET, but my GIMLET is meant primarily for computer RPGs, and as I've often pointed out, I look for different experiences with console RPGs. This is the sort of game that you want to play when you come home from work, dog tired, and collapse on the couch.
     
On the GIMLET, it earns:
   
  • 0 points for the game world. I wouldn't have minded if the manual had at least tried with some kind of framing story. I suppose the lack of one is another way in which it's similar to roguelikes.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. Your choices make a big difference in the first few levels. In addition to traditional experience and leveling (and increases in max hit points), the game has several attributes with multiple ways to increase.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. There aren't any non-combat encounters, but I'll give a point for traps, which pose a unique challenge. Monsters are D&D standards without the D&D special abilities.
        
Dragons are tough, but they can't breathe fire.
       
  • 2 points for magic and combat. There's no magic except what you get from items, and combat is pretty basic, one of the reasons I hesitate to call it a full roguelike. The bribe system is almost worth another point, but I can't imagine that anyone seriously uses it.
  • 3 points for equipment. You have to figure out what to prize and what to avoid by color, which adds a fun challenge for players that don't have my particular problem. There's a lot of stuff to find and use.
        
A potion significantly increases my max health (temporarily) just in time to get attacked by a bat.
      
  • 1 point for an economy that mostly just contributes to your final score, though see my comment about the bribery system above.
  • 2 points for a main quest for each scenario.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are clear and functional if a bit ugly, and there's a nice set of sound effects. I have to criticize it a bit on the input system. It strikes me that it would have been a trivial matter to reconfigure the inventory/command pane a bit to make better use of the number keys on the Intellivision controller, which aren't used at all. That said, I didn't find the existing controls hard to master.
  • 5 points for gameplay. It's hard to complain about too many things here when the game has so many choices for length and difficulty. There's a lot of replayability with different scenarios and classes. I don't know how contemporary players handled 32 levels without the ability to save or pause, but that wasn't a problem I experienced.
     
That gives us a final score of 21, which puts it at the top of the list of the four RPGs and "RPGs" released for second-generation consoles. The problem, of course, is its release date. By 1987, the NES had already been available outside of Japan for two years. (So had the SEGA Master System, but it didn't have any RPGs yet.) Tower of Doom would have been a great 1984 game, its intended year of release before the crash. In 1987, I can't find evidence that anyone took any note of it. I'm not even sure that there was any magazine left to cover it. 
       
"For color TV viewing only." That was a nice warning to include.
     
I want to thank my Patreon contributor (P. S.) for suggesting the game, and commenter Kearuda for insisting on helping me get the game running in MAME despite my open and repeated contempt for his favorite emulator. I'll never play all the other console RPG offerings, but at least I can say I was comprehensive on the second generation.
 

95 comments:

  1. Hmm, I remember some of this game, but it was in first-person. Was there a first-person option or was the version I played really that different? I remember playing it or something in Intellivision Lives! with the same item system, the same intro graphics, but it had a first person perspective. I wonder if I'm misremembering something...

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    1. Are you sure you're not thinking of Treasures of Tarmin? It has some of the same features: you can decide the size of the dungeon, there are color-coded items, etc. And it's first-person.

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  2. Haha, oh man, it is on Intellivision Lives! That sure saves the rest of us from having to set it up in MAME.

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  3. Were you aware, in playing Perihelion, that it had an incredibly unique color scheme? I feel like for most players that would be the single most notable thing about that game - that it was entirely drawn in just orange and grey.

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    1. I perceived it as more "washed out" than the typical game, and has having a unique look, but no, I don't think I realized that its aesthetic was based on a small number of colors.

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  4. Serious question, Chet:

    How do you perceive Freddy Kruger's sweater?

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  5. I'm also colorblind - protanomaly most likely. I can tell platonic red from green just fine, but certain shades of them can look similar. Brown, oranges, and sometimes even yellows can be confusing when their hues skew in the direction of red and green. The red dress in Schindler's List does not stand out to me at all. Red text on a black background is difficult to read, but pink text is much easier. My greatest weakness is purple - it just looks like blue to me, and if you put it next to blue it will just look like a different shade. I have no idea what "violet" and "mauve" are.

    Yes, absolutely everyone wants to test me when I tell them this, and it's been this way since grade school. "What color are my pants?" Me, noticing they wear jeans - "blue." Them, "oh, you're not really colorblind."

    Color plays a bigger part of my thought process than it does for you, though. Despite what an ex-girlfriend once told me, I certainly do appreciate the beauty of a sunset on the beach. On the other hand, I don't see what the big deal is about floral bouquets. I'd rather look at blooming cherry blossoms. The surreal, alien color space of Morrowind is a big part of the aesthetic appeal, and I can't help but fear the inevitable remastered edition will ruin it by making it a more modern, HDR-friendly palette.

    If I look at a game of Go, I can more easily intuit which side is stronger in what parts of the board with a glance at the clusters of black and white than I could if they were tokens with X's and O's on them. Similarly I can more easily read an electoral map with red and blue shading than I could if each region had an R or a D on it. That advantage, though, is moot in any situation where my brain needs to focus to distinguish the colors. And I suspect this game would be one such situation.

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  6. Maybe I missed it, but what is the Novice class like? Is it a novice adventurer, or is it for novice players?

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    1. I guess it's mostly for novice players, not so much because he's the easiest character but because he's well-rounded (12s in all three attributes) and comes with a strong starting inventory, so you don't have to think much about class and you're not struggling much in the early game.

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  7. Have you tried the Windows 10 color filters? They're located under the Ease of Access settings.

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    1. I don't notice a huge difference. I don't want to fiddle with it much because i often use my computer for presentations, and I don't want it to look weird.

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  8. Thank you the excellent explanation of how color blindness affects you. I've heard other colorblind people make some of the same points but this is the most thorough and understandable breakdown I've seen. One of the editors of giantbomb.com is colorblind and has voiced the same frustration with "colorblind modes" in games: that they just apply a color filter that technically makes the colors different but doesn't help him at all in practice. I hope more developers come to understand that colorblind modes can't just be a filter, they need to have some sort of non-color-based replacement for elements in which color plays an important part.

    I guess I can't blame developers in 1987 for not considering it, but I'm surprised they'd be willing to alienate the portion of the player base who were still using black-and-white TVs, which I imagine wasn't a small number (especially for that late in the console's life, when most of the people still playing it would be those who couldn't afford to buy something newer.) I guess color was the only way they could differentiate such a wide variety of elements with such a limited pixel budget. Gotta give em credit for their ambition, but it sucks that you weren't able to enjoy it.

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    1. I was still able to enjoy it, the same way I can still enjoy modern games, but maybe just a little less than the average player.

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    2. To echo what Matt Bluelander said, thanks for the explanation. I've never heard it put like that and it makes sense on a visceral level now.

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  9. Next time I meet a colourblind I will spice it up a bit and ask what colour is my underwear.

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    1. Decades ago, I had a prof in undergrad who would poll the class on that very topic. I do not know/recall if he had any issues seeing certain colours.

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  10. Years ago, I had to stop playing an adventure game called 'Riven' because of a puzzle involving coloured marbles. The only walkthrough I could find at that point was graphical, so of no help :-)

    ... but honestly, after reading the title of this post I thought, like an idiot, that the topic would be the arcade game "DnD: Tower of Doom". I have no idea how much money I lost on that one. Well, not really lost -- the memories are there :-)

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    1. I always remember a color-based puzzle in Baldur's Gate II. It involves three different colors of globes that have to match with three different colors of braziers. I can tell that there are three different colors of each (without being able to name them), but I can't match the right globe to the right brazier.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. This blog actually prompted me to learn a bit about colorblindness because it occurred to me that I know very little about it. This video tries to simulate it for non-colorblind people, and while I can't judge its accuracy I found it very interesting (skip about 40 seconds in to skip the preamble.)

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    1. That video was interesting. I would have sorted the M&Ms in exactly the same order that he did for the same reasons. I also liked what he said about colorblind people thinking in terms of shades. On the other hand, I think I would have been able to separate the red and green M&Ms, and to me the filter he applied made things appear a LOT worse than they do in real life. But he must just be a stronger deutan than I am.

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    2. Well, it's a colourblindness filter applied on top of your real-life colourblindness, so that probably exacerbates things a bit for you.

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  13. Someone will probably yell at me for impugning the capabilities of the Intellivision, but I always find it impressive when someone manages to fit a full-featured RPG on a console that was intended for nothing more complex than a couple of stick figures playing tennis.

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    1. The Intellivision was a fairly powerful system for 1979. The processor was probably as good, if not better (due to being 16-bit) than the Z80 and 6502 chips that powered most computers and consoles at the time (and, for that matter, a good time afterward). The 1K of RAM wasn't as big a downside as it would be for a PC, because cartridges attach as ROM storage, leaving most of the RAM free for processing game logic.

      The graphics capabilities were also fairly advanced. A game like this shouldn't really be more surprising on an Intellivision than it is on a TRS-80 or Commodore PET.

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    2. Stick figures? That's pretty uncharitable. The Intellivision "running man" mascot was far more advanced than other systems, in which your "man" was a dot or square.

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  14. I'm curious if you've ever tried Enchroma glasses for colorblindness? I once binged on reaction videos on YouTube of people trying those on for the first time.

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    1. I mentioned it in the entry. I haven't tried them. I've heard that those videos are staged. I'll get them eventually just to see what the fuss is about.

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    2. This is a common misconception among people not affected, that people are interested in getting their disadvantages "fixed".

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    3. @Stmp While I deal with very different issues than color-blindness, for me it's more that people not affected misjudge HOW interested people are in getting things 'fixed'.

      I have some weird visual issues. I've had them all my life. I mostly compensate. Occasionally they cause me some annoyance, but most of the time I don't think about them, because that's just my normal.

      If offered a fairy godmother's wand tap to make my eyes 'normal' (or heck, why not better than normal, if we're being magical, give me great eyesight) then I'd go for it. Why not?

      If, on the other hand, it involves expense and discomfort? No thanks. I don't want any more eye surgeries, I went through enough as a kid. I'm not willing to pay a monthly fee for special gizmos to give me mildly improved vision along with new drawbacks I'd have to learn how to deal with. If someone invents a helmet that fixes my eyes but I have to wear a helmet all the time, I still probably don't want it. Not unless my eyes get a lot worse than they are. If it's "helmet or blind", bring on the helmet.

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  15. I have full color vision, and colors play a huge role in how I perceive the world. I think the type of personality you have also matters: I've always been interested in the arts, particularly visual arts. I drew a lot of crappy comics as a kid and throughout my teens. As a kid I also preferred comic books over normal books. I love 19th century paintings, particularly romantic and neoclassical ones. I can spend hours just looking at a beautiful painting and taking in its colors. Evelyn de Morgan is one of my favorites of the period, because of how she uses color. When I have a really vivid dream, it happens in full color and I can remember the colors after I wake up.

    I write fiction semi-professionally, and when I describe characters and scenery, color is an important element of the visual description for me. I also tend to have characters wear colors that fit them, either to their personality or their culture. A sorceress from an Arabian Nights inspired realm isn't just going to wear loose clothing of thin fabric, a veil, and sandals - her clothing is likely to be turquoise because that color has a strong oriental flavor to me. If I want to give her an air of royalty or arrogance, I'll make it purple. If she's a fiery and passionate character, red. There might be elements of green in her jewelry, because green is the color of Islam and therefore also conjures a near eastern vibe.

    Therefore, as a highly visual person to whom color is an important part of how he perceives the world, I find color coded interfaces a lot easier to understand than ones that only use letters or numbers. I can learn those, of course, but adding color makes it more intuitive. Health potions and health bars are red because red is the color of blood. Mana is blue because blue is the color of the sky and the ocean, a mysterious color, but also a royal color, a color of mystics and sages. It feels right to use blue for magic. Purple would also make sense for it. But green? No, green would feel arbitrary as a color for magic. Why green? What's magical about green? I guess for a nature mage or druid it would make sense, but not for the spiritual/celestial/mystical type of magic we usually see from wizards. But even for druids I would prefer the color brown, the color of earth, over green because green has associations with life, growth, fertility. Makes more sense for health than for mana, even if we talk nature mages.

    It's interesting to see how perception of color is vastly different based on the way you think. Your example, Chet, makes it easier for me to understand some cases of color description I encountered in historical texts. The ancient Greeks called the sea wine-dark, and the vikings called it mead-dark. Blue as a word was used rarely in ancient languages, and therefore the cultural perception of the color blue just wasn't there. If you don't have a word for the color, you tend to perceive it as less important and use other words to describe blue things. Such as the sea not being a deep blue, but dark like a differently-colored liquid in a drinking cup. It's not the color that's important here, but the shade of it.

    Experiments have shown that people who grew up with a language that lacks a word for a certain color have a harder time distinguishing different shades of that color simply because they never assigned much importance to it. IIRC they performed some experiments with African tribals whose language lacks a word for blue and had them distinguish colors on a board. They would often point out different shades of blue as being the same color, while European and American people would have described them as very different shades of blue.

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    1. So it's not just about the physical part of being able to see colors. Even if you aren't color blind, you might not consciously perceive some differences of colors. You can still see it when people point it out to you, but because you never before in your life paid attention to it or considered it important, your brain doesn't automatically pull your attention to it.

      But if colors play a big role in your perception of the world, even subtle color differences can have meaning for you. And using color coding at work makes your task so, so much easier than leaving it in plain black and white.

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    2. Well, you clearly "get" it, even if you're coming from the opposite perspective.

      Despite our having different views on the importance of color, I agree with everything you said about the associations of color with magic.

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    3. The "wine-dark sea" thing is far from definitive, and the whole thing very well might arise from a mistranslation in the first place.

      The experiments you describe with colors and tribes have not been successfully repeated. There is a very real chance that the results were experimental error.

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    4. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey definitely have some idiosyncratic color descriptions. Besides the "wine-colored sea" (which translators explain felicitously with "wine-dark"), there's also "the bronze sky" (maybe because it's shiny like polished bronze), "green honey" ("khloros", like plants, I guess because it's pale?) and Hector having "blue hair" (presumably black) or rams having "violet wool" (again perhaps being dark-hued in color). Incidentally, one of the first people to investigate Homer's unusual color descriptions in detail was 19th century British prime minister William Gladstone.

      As for other languages, Chinese and Japanese historically did not distinguish blue from green, while Russians divide what English-speakers call blue into two colors, "goluboy and "siniy" or light blue and dark blue, which are entirely separate as colors. (This might be why the East German state-produced SF film The Silent Star, aka First Spaceship on Venus, gave each astronaut a different colored spacesuit: red, green, yellow, black, white, light blue, dark blue.)

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    5. PetrusOctavianusJuly 28, 2021 at 4:26 AM

      The vikings called Afro-Africans "blåmenn" (blue men).

      I guess the sea can be wine coloured; it depends on the type of wine and the algae in the sea. And likewise I guess the sky at the right conditions can be "bronze".
      Or maybe Homer used artistic lisence and went for dramatic effect?
      In comics dark hair was (is?) often represented by black and dark blue.
      And there is also this idea that separating blue and green colours is a modern thing, or at least separating the _words_.

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    6. My entire life I've encountered color references that I thought were odd but assumed I just couldn't see them. I never imagined they might be confusing to color-sighted people, too. Two that come to mind:

      1. Nat King Cole: "I was walking along / minding my business / when out of an orange-colored sky . . . " Are skies really ever "orange-colored" excepting a nearby forest fire?

      2. Pablo Neruda: "La noche está estrellada, y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos." I've heard stars described as red, orange, and yellow, but never blue.

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    7. At dusk and dawn the sky could appear orange, I personally associate it to the fall.

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    8. Dusk and dawn skies are definitely orange. It's a deep orange pretty close to red.

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    9. Stars can be blue. They are hotter, brighter and burn their fuel much faster than yellow and read stars.
      If you're a SF writer or games designer, you shouldn't place Earth like planets with intelligent life around blue stars, since they are so short lived.

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    10. I'm curious, JarlFrank and Chet, if either of you has synesthesia. I do, and I'm also colorblind like Chet. Something about the post and comment brought that up.

      Chet, I also appreciate your description. I liken distinguishing among some colors as perhaps an illiterate person distinguishing between capital P and R or E and F. Side by side, you can see the difference, but individually, it's an E/F-ey letter or P/R-ey letter. Others' need for precision just doesn't matter.

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    11. I've always drawn an analogy between my relative tone-deafness and having colour blindness: if you play 4 notes in e.g. ascending order I can hear that, but if you mix the order I have no idea how the notes relate to each other.

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  16. I'm also red/green colour blind and it has affected me a fair bit in gaming, though not quite to the same extent as you. I greatly enjoyed the option in Witcher 3 to make the tracking markers blue, the red ones I just couldn't spot at all. Similarly I play Fortnite once a week with friends and they have several Colour Blind settings which I had a decent bit of experimentation with and found a setting that makes it much easier for me to spot enemies, which was something I really struggled at previously (my friends no longer say "HOW COULD YOU NOT SE HIM!!!!"). I hope the trend is for more games to include these options.

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  17. Red/green colour blindness brother, I salute you! I've never been aware of its impacting me in gaming, though surely it has and I simply failed to put two and two together. Mostly all I can point to as evidence of the disability is that I don't see the numbers in "the dots" (Ishihara plates), or the same numbers as everyone else. (My understanding of my personal experience is that my brain parses those colours as neutral, and "borrows" colouration data for them from whatever is adjacent to them.) Just here to celebrate you for your personal essay on how it impacts you, written in a clear and direct way to an audience you can't expect to be on the same page as you. You have a gift for writing (well, also I expect you work darned hard at it, also you have gotten a heck of a lot of practice at it) and I figure you could liven any subject you applied yourself to... we are just lucky you have chosen this niche where we were able to stumble across you!

    No questions or comments, just some gushing. As you were!

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  18. Honestly the way you describe your perception? It's like when my brother had a B/W monitor for his TRS-80 Coco. White and black were easy, red and blue were both a dark grey but they were slightly different in tone due to the NTSC signal alternating so I could tell one was not the other next to each other.

    If you ever get to Realms of Antiquity, I was pretty good about avoiding color perception needed except for one thing, spell affinity. I should do a "color blind version" that has letters to indicate spell affinity and also uses simple luminosity contrast over color.

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  19. First off, thanks for talking about your colorblindness. Hopefully it will make a few people think about using color-coding as a means of differentiating things. I've spent way too much time explaining to people that their pretty spreadsheet is going to lose half its data when it gets imported/converted into another system.

    Since you brought up the Capcom D&D games, have you ever thought about adding the few arcade RPGs to your list? I can only think of three of them offhand (the Capcom D&D games and Cadash), but those have levels, inventories, and an economy. They might be a good choice when you need something quick and actiony to break things up.

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  20. "I don't remember any other CRPG to feature an axebeak. This would be a perfect corridor to use a missile weapon if I had one."

    Well, wait for Gothic in 2001 and you will a lot of these :).

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  21. [i]I could not functionally tell the difference between the original and special editions of Skyrim.[/i]

    I doubt I could either. I started playing Skyrim before the Special Edition came out and, whoops, mods aren't compatible between the two. Now it's 2021, I'm still trying to finish Skyrim, and I've never seen a minute of the Special Edition as a result.

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    1. I can't tell much of a difference either. I guess the textures have a higher definition, but my screen has a native resolution of 1920x1080 so I don't even notice the higher quality of 4k textures, for example.

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  22. Loved this game! Not played it in almost 30 years and can still recall the sound effects. At one point, I started tracking the color and effects of things, and realized they were in a specific sequence. (There was only so much memory to go around.) Once you knew the color and effect, you could know all of them for that game. Sorry that would not have helped you, Chet. I had not thought about how color-centric the game is. Thanks for the reminder, and I would love to know how to play it again on a Mac. I'd spend some money on that. It was always a pleasure to find the newest monster and battle it out. Thanks for the chance to visit this game. Sorry it was not as much fun for you.

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  23. Your tries to explain colour blindness reminds me to my attempts to explain to people why I can't eat fruit. I feel with you :-)

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  24. "Camouflage works extremely well on me..."
    Funny you bring this up because I read an account of an Allied soldier in WW2 who had the opposite outcome with his colorblindness. Being colorblind made it easier for him to spot camouflaged equipment. The studies done with him helped develop new patterns and understanding of colorblindness in general.
    I actually enjoy painting camouflage patterns and reading about them through modern history. It's not all about the pattern or the color, it's a very deliberate choice of the two. I've painted objects with dazzle, dot, digital, stripes, blobs and such with different color palettes and had a wide range of success and failure.
    I'll have to add more colorblind pallets to my repertoire and experiment with them.

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    1. In WW2 allied spy planes often had color blind scouts on board, because they could better spot camouflaged nazi military bases.
      And in vietnam color blind american soldiers could easier spot movements in front of the jungle.

      And last but not least you can see better in bad light conditions when you are color blind.

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  25. I do some accessibility work as part of my job. If anyone out there is reading this and making a game of your own, one way to check your game for color-blindness issues is SimDaltonism. It's a program that creates an overlay on your screen that you can set to specific types of color-blindness, so you can see what things look like right side-by-side. Color Oracle is another good choice.

    This won't cover the psychological parts of color-blindness, like Chet not assigning importance to color, but it'll at least let you avoid some of the more blatant issues. It's a first tool rather than a total solution.

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  26. For what it's worth, Phantasy Star came out on the Master System in December 1987, a few months after Tower of Doom.

    Your description of your colour blindness is fascinating. Like many, I was labouring under common misconceptions of how it works; what you say about forgetting things or not processing them as relevant, because of the colour blindness, is all very interesting and not something I had ever considered. I've learned something new today!

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    1. I'm glad you had that reaction. That was what I was hoping when I wrote it.

      I agree that ToD isn't all that impressive for its year, though it is slightly impressive for the year of its system.

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    2. For some reason, when I was about five or six, I had been given a book of colour blindness tests, so for a short time as a child I was obsessed with colour blindness, but I haven't really thought about it since then. That interest has been rekindled by what I've learned from this post.

      (And no, I have no idea why anyone thought a book of colour blindness tests was a suitable gift for a child!)

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  27. I laughed so hard at the picture where you were considering bribing an enemy because you don't have a weapon.
    I imagine that snake looking at your boots and thinking "WTF am I going to do with those?"

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    1. Boots make great lairs for snakes?

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    2. Relevant:

      https://i.redd.it/f8xz2nhzxy121.jpg

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  28. "I think you're a child"

    Why do you always have to ruin a sympathetic narrative with a superiority complex? You realize no one really says stuff like this in RL. To other civilized adults I mean.

    This is not the classroom after all. Yes its your blog you can of course write whatever you want but know that I read this up to this point then lost interest. Readers are put off by the attitude, and after a decade might also explain why the blog never really took off beyond a few dozen comments each entry.

    Whatever. I was going to mention there were glasses that correct for this deficiency but I see someone already has. Thanks for reviewing the game, I hope you consider reviewing the more popular console CRPG's on the NES and SNES as well.

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    1. I found that off putting as well. Heat maps are a big thing in data science and they rely on color, not to mention spectrography, thermal imaging and such.
      If color is applied willy-nilly then yes it can be childish. But when ranges of data can be assigned color and arranged on an x,y,z graph it's really useful to spot patterns at a glance

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    2. Guys I don't know.. Do we have to take every word written in this blog literally and be easily offended? I know I want to speak frank and free not have to check every phrase thrice before posting here.

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    3. That's a fittingly childish reaction. Also yeah the guy on podcasts, who has inspired people to make multiple games, with multiple interviews ... yeah this blog'll never take off, no future in it.

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    4. If the thing you're most interested in is reviews of the most popular NES RPGs, then you're not really the target group of this blog anyway.

      The CRPG Addict prefers games that are less childish ;)

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    5. RG and Mr. Pavone, did you forget that Chester is colorblind ? He was trying to make a point: because of his colorblindness, he is unable to attach importance to colors. Re-read that sentence in this context.

      I really appreciated the insight from those paragraphs. Great write-up, Chester !

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    6. I suppose that part wasn't necessary to my narrative. My dislike for the use of color in something like Excel is less about color blindness and more about my job, which involves a lot of data analysis. I think any data analyst would be at least mildly contemptuous of using color to denote an important variable since you can't query it. In some recent version, Excel threw color-users a bone by allowing them to sort and filter by color, but that wouldn't be possible in any other application.

      Anyway, for these reasons I guess I could have left that out without diminishing the points I wanted to make. As fireball says, it's worth questioning whether you want me to fret that much about every word I write.

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    7. Oh, and if it wasn't clear: I wasn't talking about the use of color in charts and graphs. I was talking about its use in individual records.

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    8. @Abacos No, I didn't forget he's colorblind after having read the numerous posts where his colorblindness is mentioned, how it has factored into his opinions of games or the first 5 paragraphs where he talks in great detail how it affects his life.
      Did you miss my response where I showed interest in using colorblind palettes in painting camouflage patterns?

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  29. Out of curiosity - does color blindness become more of a problem as games get more advanced?

    How hard was it to distinguish colors in the garish color schemes of say, Apple II and CGA games?

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    1. Since I can't distinguish some colors, it's hard to say whether one game is harder than another. The question for me is never whether I'm seeing all the colors--obviously, I'm not--but whether I'm missing anything important by NOT seeing all the colors. For instance, a game in which your health bar is green normally and red when you're poisoned, with no other indicator, isn't very useful to me. I don't think there's any particular era in which this problem is more acute than another. It's more of a game-to-game thing.

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    2. Some health bars come to mind that are green when healthy and turn red bit by bit as you lose health. Those might become a problem, unless the shade of the green and the red is different enough that the red portion of the health bar will appear slightly darker than the green.

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  30. I really appreciated the opening paragraphs, and have had a very similar experience. I once told someone was color blind and they exclaimed "Can you see the floor?!?" as if anything colored was just invisible to me. I get a lot of people who think color-blindness must be black and white vision only, or who don't understand that sometimes I can tell red and yellow apart and sometimes I can't, depending on how they're shaded, etc. So, thanks--I really appreciated it.

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  31. You must have a monumental attention span to play and finish all these games, what's your secret to never get burned out ??

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    1. He's an addict. He couldn't stop if he wanted to.

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    2. Harland gave the correct answer but also had to throw the patented Harland twist-of-the-knife in there, too.

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  32. From me too, thanks for a great description of your color-blindness. I find it especially interesting that colors jut don't have that importance to you as they have to us non-color-blind. And I know how frustrating it is to constantly face the same reaction from people who don't have your condition. Guess you just get used to it. :)

    Even as a kid, I wondered at how a blind person must wonder as to what colors are. Today, I'd guess they just say "Well, it's just some seeing-people thing. To me, it's just words."

    One question, just out of personal interest: It must have been confusing as a kid, no? When and how did you realize your color perception was different?

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    1. I actually didn't know until I joining the Army Reserves my junior year of high school and they gave me the Ishihara test. In retrospect, there were lots of signs. My parents had told me I chose odd colors from my crayon box when I was six. I remember a chemistry assignment earlier in high school where we had to record the colors of different flames, and I thought the teacher was just making up distinctions that weren't there (e.g., "red" versus "crimson red"). I probably didn't pick up on it faster because I assumed that "color blind" meant that you couldn't see color at all. I probably didn't realize there were variants.

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  33. In the offchance no one's mentioned this yet, but "Stronghold" in your upcoming list fails criteria #3 and is pretty dodgy on #1.

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    1. Shhh...I love SSI's Stronghold. Let me get a BRIEF on it. :D

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    2. As an official D&D product, it deserves at least a BRIEF!

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    3. In that case, Fantasy Empires would deserve a BRIEF, too. But I thought it was the CRPG Addict, not the D&D Addict. :)

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    4. @Buck:
      You must be reading my mind! Stronghold and Fantasy Empires were two of my favorite games as a kid. Fantasy Empires is also one of the few video games to take place in the world of Mystara.

      So yes, I'd love a BRIEF on both, but as you point out, neither strictly qualify. :)

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    5. Well, if you're a Patreon backer, you can possibly make a request along those lines.

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    6. As much as I'd love a BRIEF it would hardly be the first SSI produced D&D title Chat's skipped due to not being an RPG

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    7. Stronghold is going to at least get a BRIEF because MobyGames tags it as an RPG. If I don't write something about it, I'll be fielding comments for the next 10 years about how I "missed" it. No one categorized Fantasy Empires as an RPG.

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  34. Hi Chet, I was struck by the very good description of colour blindness and also additonal elaborations in the comments. I have the exact same colour blindness as you seem to describe, some of your comments are eerily recognisable. A question I often get is: “ but how do you know the correct name for colours to start with? Isn’t it just that you learned it the wrong way?”. How do you respond to that? I myself think that in perfect condtions: with the right amount of natural light and the most “primary” version of the color in question, I have the highest chance of determining it correctly, still having problems with the main culprits for me: red/brown/green and blue, purple and violet. I also think that I have never seen beige or other pastel-like colours, being incapable of recognizing them, putting them in grey/white/yellow categories. Never will be pilot, electrician or bomb-removal expert. And still need help finding my teaching course in that damn Excel sheet we get at start of term…..

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  35. Oh, and those irritating Ishara plates in which I don’t see Jack…..in my case I was about 8 when my parents discovered my affliction, right after they had to disentangle me from the girl next door who foolishly disclaimed grass was green when everybody could have seen it is red…..and the week after that, my teacher commented on the strange colour choices in my drawings. Which prompted me to never ever make a colour drawing again in primary school, only using black/white/grey as my palette.

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    1. That's another aspect of color-blindness that I didn't talk about. People get really worked up when you choose the "wrong" color for things. I can't ever see myself becoming that invested in whether I've used the "right" color. I'm always giving presentations with maps in which someone has to point out that my oceans are purple, or whatever. I'm like, "It's just the basemap. What does it matter what color the basemap is? Focus on the data, please." But they can't get past it.

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    2. I'm sure you're probably tired of arguing about it over your lifetime, but color plays a huge part in identifying objects for color-sighted people. It's why almost every food has some kind of dye in it. Most artificial flavors are colorless, so dye is added to make it identifiable: colas are brown, purple is grape flavor, green or orange is probably some kind of citrus, so on. Subversions of these tropes are strange enough to be used as marketing gimmicks, like green "Nickelodeon Slime" ketchup or the black "Darth Vader" buns at Burger King.

      Back to the oceans, to color-sighted people oceans are blue. So if it's the "wrong" color, that makes it harder to tell at a glance what it is and impairs their ability to easily read the map and get the point. If you were to take the Canadian leaf symbol and dye it green, a color-sighted person might mistake it for marijuana; take the silhouette of a marijuana leaf and color it red, it might be mistaken for the emblem of Canada.

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  36. For me the fun part is when color-sighted people start disagreeing on what that one specific color should be named: “so I’m actually wearing a mauve shirt”, “well, I wold rather say it’s more like a light violet tint”, if there is wiggle room there, who is to say what’s right anyway?

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  37. Your color blindness description is really good. I might point people at it in the future. I'm only mildly deutan myself but your experiences track a lot with the way I experienced color in my youth.
    Some kind of switch got flipped in my brain in my thirties and I suddenly started taking a lot more notice of color, but I still dream in grayscale.

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    1. Just curious because I saw this reddit ad for colorblind glasses...does that sort of thing actually work? Have you or Chet actually tried them?

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    2. I haven't tried the glasses, but you can get apps which do something similar. You can't give a colorblind person the same experience as a normally-sighted person; those cells just aren't there. What they do instead is basically shove the relevant colors over to a different part of the spectrum to make them more visible. Things that are supposed to look different will start looking different, but they won't necessarily look *right*. You don't get a "wow, I am surrounded by short people and there's a dead witch under my house" effect, but you might get a "Wow, where did all that stuff which I previously didn't notice because it kinda faded into the background come from?"

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  38. While my mind was wandering, it occurred to me that your "master game list" spreadsheet is (given your efforts amending its sources) an extraordinarily reliable document in the otherwise spotty field of videogame history. This has nothing to do with the Tower of Doom; I just thought you might like to hear me say that, and this entry is how far I've caught up.

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