Tuesday, August 3, 2021

BRIEF: Liberation: Captive II (1993)

        
Liberation: Captive II
United Kingdom
Byte Engineers (developer); Mindscape (publisher)
Released in 1993 for Amiga CD32, 1994 for Amiga
        
There was a period of my childhood, probably around ages 8 or 10, when I was obsessed with "treasure hunts"--the kind where you find a clue that leads to another clue, and so on, ultimately to some kind of treasure. I think I was inspired by Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Yellow House Mystery, one of the Boxcar Children books. I liked both creating and playing treasure hunts. My mother made really good ones, full of anagrams and acrostics and other types of wordplay. In contrast, I once tried to get a babysitter to make one, but either she didn't get the concept or didn't care. Her clues would say, "Go look in the kitchen." In the kitchen, I'd find a clue that said, "Go look in the upstairs bathroom."
    
These two approaches illustrate the problem with procedural generation in Captive. I had an interesting experience with the original game. I admired it more than I liked it. Antony Crowther built his reputation on rapid and efficient code, and he used those skills in Captive to produce a game with Dungeon Master-style mechanics, but with levels that could be infinitely generated. (That's not quite true because of some bugs, but most versions will generate more levels than any player would possibly have time to play.) The levels aren't randomly generated--they're the same for every player--but they are procedurally generated, spinning out large levels from a fixed sequence of seeds. The size of the levels isn't quite as impressive as the number of items and interactions he included within them; the code had to include considerations of stores, enemies, weapons, power sockets, up and down ladders, moving walls (but not anywhere that would trap the player), traps, and a variety of approaches to doors--always ensuring that the passcode or key could be found before the doors they opened.
      
Liberation's city is huge, bizarre-looking, and procedurally-generated.
     
In the sequel, he takes it even further, using the seeds to create not only an enormous city but also the NPCs and enemies that populate it, the names of its streets and businesses, the name of the sub-titular captive you're trying to rescue, and the trail of clues that leads you to his location. It's an impressive effort in terms of coding, but for me it results in unsatisfying gameplay. With procedural generation, there's no room for unique NPC personalities, particularly complex or creative puzzles or clues, or areas that feel like real places. It's rather like playing Skyrim or Fallout 4 and doing only the "radiant" quests, only worse because in those games at least the locations are hand-designed. Some of the advertisements for Captive II suggest that it would take a lifetime to complete the thousands of missions that the game offers, but I don't know why you'd want to. I'd much rather have a hand-designed game with only a single mission.
       
Before I get to the game, I would note that I'm playing a new machine. The Amiga CD32 wasn't just another Amiga model, as I originally assumed, but a short-lived console that never had an American release. Its "life" was less than a year, from September 1993 to Commodore's bankruptcy the following April, but it supported nearly 150 games, including seven RPGs: Liberation, Whale's Voyage (1993), DragonStone (1994), HeroQuest II (1994), Heimdall 2 (1994), Magic Island: The Secret of Stones (1995), and The Speris Legacy (1995). I believe all of these games also had regular Amiga releases, but the CD32 version often has features that the computer version doesn't, like cinematics and voiced dialogue. Thus, although it gave me all kinds of grief, I took the time to figure out how to emulate the console in WinUAE, only later realizing that I was essentially breaking my blog's rules (or at least normal SOP) by favoring the console version in the first place.
     
Trill seems to belong to some military service.
    
Captive's framing story was often confusing. The opening told of an innocent man named Trill being convicted in 2542 of "all counts" of an unspecified crime. Hoping for "community service," he instead received 250 years in suspended animation. Only a couple years before the date of his release, an attack on the prison space station woke him up. A laptop computer in his cell somehow allowed him to connect to a group of four droids on a distant ship, and over the course of 10 levels, the droids slowly pieced together Trill's location. The scenario ended when the droids invaded Trill's station and found him, but at the press of a button, the player could have some security bots whisk Trill away to another station and start the cycle over again.
   
You may recall that the game ended with a bit of a mystery. If the player chooses to end the game after freeing Trill, the game says that they have just liberated "the Creator of Evil." I don't know what that was supposed to mean, but Liberation opens as if the words had never been spoken. Instead, the droids are seen carrying the exhausted Trill to freedom. "At long last, Trill is a free man," a narrator intones, as the cinematic shows fireworks exploding in celebration and Trill receiving some kind of medal. I guess he got a sinecure, as the next screen shows him making paper airplanes while watching monitors in some facility. On the news, an anchor reports on unrest at the Alpha Detention Centre, where protestors are rallying against the imprisonment of a Mark Antony Jadva. Jadva has been convicted for the murder of a Councillor Dran. Trill searches his company's database and finds that Dran was actually killed by a malfunctioning Securi-Droid manufactured by BioCorp, and the company covered it up and pinned it on Jadva. Trill also finds 264 similar cases of innocent people rotting in jail to cover for BioCorp's mistakes. I'm not sure why Trill's company computer has confidential files on another company's misconduct. It's possible that Trill works for BioCorp--I'm a little unclear on that--but either way, such damning information seems awfully easy for him to retrieve.
      
You'd think it would be easier to say that Councillor Dran had attacked the police droid.
      
(The video is amusing in the way it depicts computers a millennium into the future. They look like 1980s PCs except that the keyboard and other interface devices sort-of materialize on the desk in front of the user, as if they were holograms. Trill summons them and switches between them by banging on the desk with his fist.)
   
Trill does a video call with a friend named Doltana and asks him to check out the case. Securi-Droids for BioCorp are monitoring the call. Doltana confirms that the droids are malfunctioning because of "magnetic storms." Trill wakes up his own four droid companions and apparently sends them on a quest to rescue the imprisoned innocents, with the ultimate goal of convincing the Empire to shut down BioCorp.
      
Various parts of the game conflict significantly on the subject of the current year.
      
The manual offers a couple of memos that support the story, including a report by an Office Gene Runciter who says that Councillor Dran was being investigated for "possible funding violations related to the Fraud Act of 2893." The security droid murdered him while he was in an interrogation room. Also killed was a police officer named Luba Luft. Securi-Corp removed the bodies and placed them in new locations, framing Mark Leonard Jadva and some local gang members for the two murders. Officer Runciter seems bent on pursuing the cover-up, but the memos indicate that he was "taken care of."
        
There are two settings before you begin. The first is "easy" or "hard," indicating the complexity of the route leading to the captive on each level. The other is "strategy" or "action," and it determines whether you want a puzzle/action combination or all action. I set the game to "hard" and "strategy."
   
The first mission begins.
     
The game begins in "Mission 1" with the four droids dropped in front of the City Records Office. There's no character creation, unlike Captive. The droids are named Brian, Charlie, Dave, and Axel. The interface, which is supposed to represent Trill looking at the screen of his "briefcase computer," is easily the most complicated we've seen in an RPG. I was still discovering buttons hours into the game. Small panels might have 10 or 12 options. It takes a long time to get used to it.
   
I think the interface would have been a nightmare for a contemporary CD32 player. To play solely with the controller means pressing a button to indicate that you want to use an interface option, then moving around the screen until the right button is highlighted (among a couple dozen possibilities), and then hitting another button. It's far easier with a mouse, which was apparently an option with the CD32, although I'm not sure how that doesn't ruin the purpose of a console in the first place. There's obviously no native keyboard support, but the WinUAE defaults for the CD32 map so nicely that I suspect controlling the game is far easier for me on a keyboard, emulating the controller, than for someone with an actual controller. For instance, the colored button group on the controller is automatically emulated with the corner buttons (7913) on the numberpad. Moving is done with the other numberpad buttons (8462). So with a single hand, I can both move and fight. I wish this were possible in all games of the Dungeon Master line.
       
An alternate interface arrangement.
     
There are a few cool interface elements. You can look up, down, right, and left at 45-degree angles. Droids can be split from the group into multiple smaller parties. The upper-left panel lets you change the configuration of the main screen into several different templates, which is necessary once the droids get various enhancements that have their own panels. There's not only an automap but also a method for loading destinations into your map and automatically traveling there by taxi.
   
I find the graphics a bit odd, almost disconcerting. They're designed abstractly, with a lot of sharp angles. They look like vector graphics, although that just might be the aesthetic. The buildings have a variety of wall textures along with bits of furniture that at first confused me because they weren't interactive. It's interesting to me how two recent games--Liberation and Perihelion--have both managed to evoke a cyberpunk aesthetic with two starkly different graphical approaches, Liberation more abstract and Perihelion more impressionistic.  
   
An NPC demands a bribe for a hint.
    
NPC dialogue is all-voiced on the CD32 version, which is easier than it sounds because there are only a few voices (at least, so far) and their assignment is randomized. The NPCs themselves look abstract and androgynistic. I can't even tell if they're supposed to represent people or robots. When you speak to them, you either get a female voice with a New York accent, male voice with a southern U.S. accent, and a male voice with a working-class English accent. In the cinematic, Trill speaks with a neutral American accent, the newscaster with BBC English, and Doltana with a heavy Scots. It's nice to know the future is so multi-cultural.
   
The Records Office had three small levels with a number of locked doors, keycards always found outside the doors that they opened. But there wasn't necessarily anything interesting on the other side. Sometimes there were objects and credits (the game's money comes on individual credit cards) but usually just uninteractive pieces of furniture. A couple of rooms had computers on which I could look up any city street and a variety of business locations.
   
There were also a couple of inexplicably hostile droids (or perhaps people) that I had to shoot. Combat is much like the first game except the droids come armed with pistols and one magazine, so there's no melee phase. The cool-down period after each action is all relatively short--short enough that one character can shoot repeatedly almost as fast as four characters can shoot together. Enemies sink into the floor and disappear when they die, sometimes leaving stuff behind. 
    
Shooting an inexplicably-hostile droid or person or something.
      
The droids take damage to individual body parts, which may be removed for healing or swapped with upgrades. Every action the droids take causes a small power drain. You have to recharge by finding an electrical outlet, which I did by kicking in random doors. This is the sort of game where you can burst into random houses, kill their occupants, and loot their stuff with no penalty, which is an odd feature given the supposedly altruistic nature of the quest.
   
As for finding the subtitular captive, I got a couple of generic hints. I was confused for a bit because I thought I was going to have to find my way to the Alpha Detention Center to rescue Jadva, but I soon realized that the cinematic can only be trusted for its general theme, not its specific facts. The captive in Mission 1 turns out to be named Toyogon, and his location is just a random building. Eventually, one droid told me that a woman in a bar might know something. Later, in a bar, I got a few more potential clues, but the place was so packed with people I had to kill some of them just to get back outside.
      
The first hint I got that the captive's name wasn't the same as in the backstory.
        
The city outside is enormous, nine sectors that are each (I think) 64 x 64. They sectors are organized into named streets with a few buildings, including shops, bars, city offices, police stations, and a lot of private houses. There are oddly two "layers" to the streets--an upper level and a lower level--and the entrances to buildings can be on either. There are occasional ladders connecting them, but I haven't figured out how to go down a ladder without taking damage. The streets that you walk on are the same ones that cars drive on, and if you're not careful, the party can get hit by a car and knocked off the upper layer.
   
Somewhere in the middle of exploration, I realized something that I had not seen in the manual or any of the interfaces: any indication of character development or leveling. Captive had a system in which you could spend experience on upgrades to your skills and attributes, but the sequel doesn't have anything like that. There are four attributes--strength, agility, dexterity, and intelligence--but they attach to the droid's individual parts rather than his overall "character." They increase by finding or buying better parts.
     
The droid's parts have attributes, but the droid does not.
       
This revelation vastly changed how I saw the game. As I've often said, without character development, I'm no longer an hourly employee; I'm a volunteer. This feeling is strengthened by the procedural generation, which, though impressive in concept, makes everything feel detached and soulless. I decided to look up how long the first mission takes. From online discussions and videos, it sounds like it's a minimum of around 6-8 hours, but I also discovered that there are apparently several versions of the game, some with a variety of bugs, and the one I had been playing for a few hours has a bug that makes the first mission unwinnable. Already feeling blah about the game and its lack of RPG status, and facing the prospect of starting over if I was going to cover it, I decided to convert this to a BRIEF and reject it.
   
I did watch some video to see how the first mission ends. After following a trail of clues of somewhat arbitrary length, the player eventually encounters an NPC in a police station with a data crystal that tells of the captive's specific location. Once you find him, he gives you evidence to give to the emperor.
        
Finding the captive. I hope the droids untied him after taking his evidence.
     
The final cinematic shows the droids and Trill docking with the imperial space station and demanding an audience with the emperor. After a few tense moments in which it looks like the station's droids are going to turn on Trill, the emperor appears and thanks Trill for bringing the evidence to his attention. The cinematic ends and the droids find themselves in "Mission 2." The city is reconfigured, so I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a different one entirely, maybe on a different planet. The droids have the equipment they found in the first mission. As a commenter recently pointed out, that includes the data crystal, so unless you drop it and play things straight, you can use it to go immediately to the second mission's captive.
     
That thing around his neck looks like it weighs 20 pounds.
       
I hope no one is too disappointed, but if I'm going to move through the 1990s, I need to be relentless about my definitions. I see Liberation: Captive II as a procedurally-generated action-adventure game rather than an RPG. We're certainly seeing some evolution in game cinematics, though.

55 comments:

  1. Seems like a more than fair amount of coverage for a brief on a game that's not a CRPG.

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    1. That's how I was hoping most people would react.

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  2. I think favoring the CD32 over the standard Amiga versions didn't really violate your rules. While it's true that the CD32 was marketed as a console, it was in fact based directly on the A1200 hardware - it was little more than an A1200 with a built-in CD-Rom-Drive, really. Aside from a standard Amiga mouse, you could also easily attach a keyboard and an external floppy disk drive to it and thus, effectively, turn it into a fully functioning A1200 Amiga computer that team both CD32 and Amiga Software. So I'm not surprised that the key making in WinUAE works out so nicely, I wouldn't be surprised if it felt similar if you played it like that in original hardware with a keyboard attached. ;)

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    1. "a fully functioning A1200 Amiga computer that *ran* both CD32 and Amiga Software."

      "I'm not surprised that the key *mapping* in WinUAE works out so nicely"

      I really need to read what I write more carefully before hitting the "publish" button, especially when I write something on a smartphone that tends to make some weird autocorrections :(

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    2. I'm able to play CD32 games on my Amiga 1200 with a CD drive. So the used machine I bought on ebay apparently has everything you need for that set up already, but from what I gather from the net tge PCMCIA adapter which connects the CD drive with the 1200 has to be a certain type called "squirrel" and a CD32 emulator software must be installed.

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    4. If I recall correctly the CD32 has a different kickstart ROM and a different CD-Drive firmware than a stock A1200. As far as I know these are the only notable differences

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    5. The CD32 added the "Akiko" chip, which is a chunky-to-planar converter. That's VGA-style graphics, basically, where each byte of memory corresponds to one pixel on the screen. On the Amiga, each pixel on the screen could be represented by bits in up to five separate bytes scattered all over, which meant that some games didn't port well at all. DOOM was the canonical example, super-tight code that was horribly slow on a planar machine.

      Akiko wasn't very good, I think it only worked on 8 bytes at a time. I think you pointed it at the start of your bitplanes, wrote 8 bytes, incremented the target, wrote 8 more bytes, and so on. It was slower than just slamming the bytes over the bus, but was fast enough to, at least in theory, make DOOM-like games possible on the Amiga architecture. If it worked the way I think it did, it would probably be about 80% the speed of directly sending bytes. (as opposed to, like, 20% in planar mode.)

      Other than that, the CD32 was pretty much an A1200 without peripherals or slots. It had a full expansion bus on the back, however, so you could turn it into a machine that was almost the same as its older brother. I think that ended up costing substantially more than just buying the computer in the first place, but that did let you gradually upgrade into the real deal.

      Of course, by then, people weren't that interested in Amigas anymore, so I doubt many people ever upgraded.

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    6. I'm able to play CD32 games on my Amiga 1200 with a CD drive. So the used machine I bought on ebay apparently has everything you need for that set up already, but from what I gather from the net tge PCMCIA adapter which connects the CD drive with the 1200 has to be a certain type called "squirrel" and a CD32 emulator software must be installed.

      I'm a bit late here not having been following this blog for a while but as A1200 only had a one mini IDE-bus for 2,5" HD you had to be creative with the way you expande and added peripherials to it.

      so a solution was the "surf-squirrel" a PCMCIA card that had a fast serial port (Amiga's own couldn't go beyond 14,400kb/s before buffer over run) and an SCSI-interface for hooking up various peripherials such as CD-rom drive.
      Other option would had been to blow about 800€ on a tower case that had a zorro III buscard and room to add A4000 peripherials such as graphics cards or ide-controllers.

      as far as CD32 comes it was a bog standard A1200 with new clothes and KS 3.1 IIRC which was sold as separate ROM-chips for regular A1200 and A4000 as well.

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  3. "It's rather like playing Skyrim or Fallout 4 and doing only the "radiant" quests, only worse because in those games at least the locations are hand-designed" - looks like you're not going to love Daggerfall.

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    1. Doesn't Daggerfall have hand-designed main quest locations, at least in how the pieces are fit together? The dungeons are overly sprawling, though. I got lost in that game so often.

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    2. The entirety of Daggerfall's terrain was procedurally generated during development, and then developers hand-tweaked some areas, such as the dungeons.

      Sometimes I love procedural generation - it's hard to picture Minecraft without it, for example - but in Daggerfall it rubs me the wrong way, as if the developers simply expected me to be more invested in exploring the world than they were in making it. (It may eventually have won me over if I'd been able to keep playing it, but its notorious plethora of bugs, even after all these years and fan patches, ended up stopping me cold.)

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    3. Even when I told myself I liked Daggerfall, I had to cheat a lot of the time just to finish quests. Last time I played, I spent hours exploring a dungeon before I cheated and teleported to the quest location. It took me to a room I had already been in. It turns out the monster I was supposed to hunt down had somehow climbed an incredibly steep slope and was up near the ceiling, refusing to come down.

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    4. Yeah that game's a mess. The most enjoyable part is breaking it (unlike Arena, which hangs together very well).

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    5. I played a good bit of Daggerfall and enjoyed it. They had patched most of the worst bugs by the time I got to it. The dungeons are ridiculous but it is what it is. The part I liked least was the brutal scaling of enemies. Those nightblades seemed to level faster than me.

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    6. @Bruce, Daggerfall's main quest dungeons, main quests themselves and capital cities are indeed hand-designed. But since main quests are level-gated, you'll have to do a lot of procedurally-generated ones in-between them. Personally, I don't have a problem with DF's procedural dungeons, especially in Daggerfall Unity with the option to make them much smaller turned on. They have a good set of mechanics, with all the secret doors, shafts, lifts etc, and great atmosphere despite being procedural.

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    7. In theory you could skip them, as Daggerfall has the same skill-use based levelling system as the later Elder Scrolls games. But playing a few of them is fun. They are generated out of large, hand-crafted modules, so they don't feel procedural until you explored a few of them.

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    8. Even 'Daggerfall Unity' dungeons are flat out unplayable without the teleport2exit cheat.

      There, I said it ;)

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    9. In theory yes, but in practice that would also mean giving up on guild advancement (thus - no spellmaker, no enchanting) and good gear, which - given the level scaling - is not recommended. Besides grinding skills for hours isn't a terribly exciting activity in itself.

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    10. Those horrible, endless, multi-level, confusing, adhering to no architectural sense, fever-dream kind of dungeons were called 'mating octopi' for a reason...

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    11. Horrible, endless, multi-level, confusing, fever-dream - what's not to love? Seriously, you list them as flaws, but it's precisely what make DF dungeons feel oppressive and suspenseful. Their atmosphere of danger and dread remains largely unrivalled - of RPGs, I can think of maybe System Shock 2 and Grimrock 2 that manage to pull off something similar.

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    12. I only have bad memories playing them for the first time at the age of 16, like headache-inducing. And it's telling that you left out the architecturally unsound part, because stuff like that messes with perception on a deeper level. I simply don't like to set foot into them, knowing what awaits: Good game design? Hmmm.

      Love having a friendly argument, VK ;)

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  4. Luba Luft is a reference to "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," where she was an android (basically a Replicant.) I'd consider that a pretty deep cut nowadays, but it might not have been at the time. It's better than naming your company "Silmarils."

    I think random generation really shines in a game like Nethack, which has tons and tons of different interactions between monsters, items and static facilities. Any combination of circumstances could lead to moments the designers might not have even imagined.

    By contrast, Skyrim and Fallout 4 have extremely limited interactions. Items fall into a few set categories, and NPCs can only be killed or talked to. So "randomly generated" radiant quests can only ever involve killing someone, talking to someone, getting something, or some combination of those--that's all the game accounts for out of the box.

    Now I'm wondering if some enterprising modder has made more interesting radiant quests...

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    1. Runciter is also a Philip K Dick reference; a Glen Runciter turns up in Ubik. There's also a Runciter in the 1997 Blade Runner game.

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    2. I agree, Alex. In roguelikes, the mechanics are so good at the micro-level that randomization still creates extremely tactical gameplay. You could argue that it did in the original Captive, too. This one removes too much.

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  5. To quote our Addict, some miscellaneous notes:

    * There does seem to be some hard-coded elements in the missions. I played the game recently and had to restart twice, and in the first mission the name of the captive remained the same, as did the names of the informants leading to his location. The locations of the informants had small differences; on my second attempt, I went straight to the same address as the first time, only to find it empty, because the informant had moved two doors down on the same street.

    * As far as I recall from when I played the original back in 1993, you get the same ending with each mission. My original copy had a bug that corrupted saves, so I wasn't able to see if this was true of higher levels, but it was the case up to level 10 or so.

    * There is an alternate way to complete missions. If you find the captive and then kill them you get a message saying something like "There are better ways to finish" then the game skips to the next mission with no cut scene.

    * Ladders. When using the mouse there are up/down controls, which may allow the ladders to be used, but I haven't tested them in my current run.

    * Magazines of the day state that you can re-use the data crystal in subsequent missions to skip straight to the captive, but this didn't work with my 1993 copy. This may have been a bug as I have never seen this "cheat" challenged anywhere. I haven't got far enough in my current run to test it.

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    1. I think that what your first bullet point illustrates is that some aspects of the game are fully randomized rather than procedurally-generated, not that any of the elements are "hard-coded."

      I appreciate all the additional detail, and thanks for talking with me about the game by e-mail.

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    2. I'm not sure I made that first point clear. What I mean is that Toyogon seems to always be the first captive, and you will always find a clue at an address on Scann-Smythe Gardens, even if the exact street number varies.

      And you're welcome! Although the game failed the essential "is it an rpg?" test, it was nice to be able to contribute based on actual experience; I missed out on most of these rpgs the first time around.

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  6. If this were a post on RPG Codex, I'd be brofisting it to high heavens. I've always been a huge proponent of hand-designed levels over procedural generation. Even the best proc gen algorithms can't produce anything remotely comparable to good hand-made content. That is true for level design, but even more true for writing and quest design.

    Proc gen algorithms always follow patterns. They have certain rules they have to follow, and all levels end up looking and feeling fairly similar as a consequence. Most roguelikes have very similar feeling level layouts, because they all use similar proc gen algorithms. And proc gen can't surprise you the same way a human designer can. Sure, you can meet unexpected enemies, but you'll end up meeting them several times at similar places because "occasionally put something above the player's level range here" is part of the algorithm. It's predictable unpredictability - you know it's gonna happen at some point because the rules say so.

    Human designers on the other hand can think outside the box. An algorithm can only follow its programming to the letter. A human designer can come up with a plot twist in the middle of a quest, can write an NPC with a complex personality whose actions make sense from a human perspective, can design a dungeon with impressive architecture and encounters that perfectly use the layout's strengths and weaknesses, etc.

    Levels and quests made by hand have a soul. Procedurally generated stuff doesn't, it feels like assembly line produce.

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    1. That's why procedurally generated games need to provide something else on top of the standard dungeon crawling experience to keep the player engaged and interested.

      Games like Diablo are a good example for that. The dungeons are procedurally generated, with certain "sets" of quest that my or may not appear on certain levels, so you usually can't be 100% certain that a certain quest will appear on any given playthrough. But the exploration factor is mostly secondary anyway - the primary motivation is gathering and identifying loot and improving your character in potentially different directions with different sets of equipment, constantly triggering the reward center of the brain and always encouraging you to head out and scouring the levels for more equipment. Just tossing in a simple random dungeon generator without any interesting new things to discover, by comparison, usually just ends up feeling empty and boring by comparison.

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    2. Algorithms don't have to follow pre-set patterns, and are perfectly capable to "think outside the box". It just takes a lot of work and computing power to get them there - probably not feasable, even for an AAA game.

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    3. I think both approaches have their appeal. Sure, a human can write a quest with twists and turns, but how many humans are good enough at writing to actually write an interesting quest, or come up with compelling dialogue and characters? I've played lots of procedural games that were fun for their mechanics, and I've played lots of hand-crafted games that stank out loud. In the end it comes down to the skill and dedication of the creator, not the method they used.

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    4. @JarlFrank

      Brofisted, machines are never going to get conscious or creative.

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    5. play dungeon crawl stone soup and be surprised.

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    6. Did play DCS, wasn't surprised.

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    7. Same. Did play DCS, it's a good roguelike but it plays similarly to most other games in the genre.

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    8. Play Unexplored then. Especially the Dark Ritual mod.

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  7. I'm intimately familiar with The Speris Legacy and I don't think it meets any of your RPG criteria. It's a very goofy Hydlike where you play as a child, you have an EXP bar that fills up as you kill enemies, the result being maximum HP increases (and refills). You have no other attributes or attribute-based combat. There's a standard sword and later an upgraded sword, and a thrown dagger and magic wand you find much later. Every other item you find is used for solving puzzles and trading.

    As much as I'd like to read the reactions of a sober adult exposed to Speris, it's not a CRPG.

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    1. Oh hey, it's mecha-neko! I loved your extended writeup on Speris. That song still gets stuck in my head from time to time....

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  8. Another one of those games which looked great on paper but just felt incredibly unfinished. Not just the bugs - the whole quest feels bare bones and the whole city locations just feel even more cookie cutter than three original captive. No interesting or fun enemies; the dialogue engine is superficial; it’s really a tech demo they released. If only they had another six months or so this could have been something interesting. Probably still not great but less of a missed opportunity

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  9. If the cyberpunk aesthetic/setting appeals to you, you might find the NES and Genesis games in the Shadowrun universe interesting. That's probably the only reason to play them, though. I don't think they had much influence on other games, and while they are both considered good games, they are still console games - that is, hard to get used to when you're coming from the PC.

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    1. Ooh, somehow I misread your post and thought you did finish 1st mission (which would be a winning situation). Btw, nice post as always.

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  11. "It's nice to know the future is so multi-cultural."

    By multi-cultural you mean white people sharing the same language?

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    Replies
    1. Oh hell no, not again one of these political discussions everyone is so eager to get into nowadays. Cause all a blog about CRPG needs is more political debate. Sorry, just had to say this once.

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    2. It's mostly a fair point (that I assume Chet was referring to via irony), although it's odd to assume PoC can't have US/Brit accents given the millions who do. I'm just surprised this game didn't even try to throw a fake-y French or German accent in the mix. And maybe for the best (given the era) they didn't go with terrible versions of accents even further afield.

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    3. Nah, I'm seriously not sure whether Chet was being ironic or not. Clarifications, please ;)

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    4. I wasn't being ironic. If we're still around in 900 years, I fully expect the world to speak a common language with a common accent, and for most racial distinctions to have been smoothed out by centuries of inter-racial relationships. Hence, the way it's presented in this game seems unrealistically multi-cultural while still not being very multi-cultural by our standards.

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    5. Considering that the original has no spoken dialogue at all, I think they just gathered who ever was available at the time.
      Also those funky wall graphics weren't in the original disk release you had to manually unpack them to hard disk after install, a process that took 3 hours from my A1200 despite having a 68060, math processor and 16+2 megabytes of ram for the job.

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  12. Watched a video of this, it's like running back and forth looking for that one missing clue, but in a huge procedural city, wow.

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  13. Your feelings about this disaster of a game match my own back then, except I beaten it - the 'first' mission, obviously, which is actually the whole game.

    In comparison, it does not even hold up to the previous game since the procedural bases there felt somewhat more elaborated, there was challenging combat (maybe too much but still), and maps even got larger from the first one to the final base / Trill's prison.

    Liberation ... throws all this (plus experience) away. There is generic and easy combat, lifeless NPCs, a simplistic get-clue-find-location-go-there-repeat loop quest, and a huge city were literally nothing happens. Add to that lots of bugs and glitches, a half working skill system, clearly rushed playtesting, and ... the good things remaining are the intro/outro. Even the 'bad' ending animation when all droids die is great. As Deano posted, a Tech Demo at best.

    btw, the "one billion trillion missions" thing was a horrible idea in the first game already. It was good for advertising and most magazines fell for it back then. Just like the first game, after beating it the first time there´s literally nothing else to see. Not that there was much to begin with.

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  14. So with a single hand, I can both move and fight. I wish this were possible in all games of the Dungeon Master line.

    This comment reminded me of the port / rebuild of Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back called "CSBWin" (available for Windows and Linux and probably other platforms). Its main contribution, besides running a faithful clone of the game on modern hardware, is extensive keyboard support that means you can move, attack, and cast spells without using the mouse.

    In my opinion, adding those features made Dungeon Master much more fun to play, but I am also the kind of person who really appreciates the additional features added by emulation platforms (save states, CPU speed adjustment, etc). I've gotten so much more enjoyment out of games like Deathlord or Bard's Tale as an adult playing on an emulator because I don't get frustrated as easily when I come up against mechanics like permadeath. Of course I'm also the kind of person that enjoys the experience of playing these games with a full walkthrough in an adjacent window! So I recognize that people come at this hobby from different places on the "true to the original experience" spectrum.

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