Thursday, January 20, 2022

BRIEF: Fire King (1989)

I did not get far enough into the game to find out who either of these people are.
     
Fire King
Australia
Micro Forté (developer); Strategic Studies Group (publisher)
Released 1989 for Commodore 64, 1990 for DOS
        
In my youth, I had a lot of fantasies about what I would do when I made enough money to afford it. I would have all the Star Wars figures and Lego sets that I wanted. I would buy the all-access wristband to the local zoo and amusement park every weekend. And I would take a literal bucketful of quarters to the arcade and stand in front of the Gauntlet cabinet until I won it. (Life would be so much simpler if those were the things I still wanted. But nooooo: once you get to the point that you can afford those things, suddenly what you want instead is a boat.) If I close my eyes, I can still hear the narrator. "Elf needs food, badly"; "Warrior is about to die."
     
It surprises me how rarely I've had to refer to Gauntlet during my 12 years of blogging about RPGs. It's not an RPG, lacking the character development so core to the genre, but it's certainly adjacent enough that I would have thought we'd feel its influences on action RPGs. (Gauntlet, it must be said, is not the first game to do what it did, but it is arguably the most popular.) Yet any RPG that seems remotely similar, like Origin's Times of Lore (1988) can trace its lineage to earlier action games (some RPGs, some not) without passing through Gauntlet. I'm curious whether Diablo (1996) has any acknowledged Gauntlet debt. I'll research that when I get to it, but I imagine commenters will fill me in now.
        
A shot from Fire King. Ghosts swam me as two wizards at cauldrons continue to make more. There are several treasure chests in this room, but a lot of them will turn out to be monsters in disguise.
     
But let's differentiate a game that we might call "gauntlesque" from simple action games in which the player attacks swarms of enemies, like Hydlide (1984). I would suggest that there are four key elements to this sub-genre:
      
  • Action gameplay in which players swing and fire with a single button against essentially unending streams of foes.
  • Multiple character archetypes to choose from. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but they do not develop during the game.
  • Cooperative multiplayer, with each player choosing a different character type.
       
Right outside my house, I start encountering enemies.
   
  • A large initial pool of hit points that is meant to sustain the player through the game. You may find potions or other mechanisms of bumping your hit point total during the game, but the overall trend is consistently downward. In the arcade Gauntlet, your hit points dropped over time even if you didn't get hit. I wouldn't consider this an essential feature, but it is an extreme version of this theme.
       
Fire King is this kind of gauntlesque game, developed by the Australian studio Micro Forté, now known as Wargaming Australia. If it were an RPG, it would be the first commercial title from the country. I still get questions about it because MobyGames lists it as an RPG, but oddly not its predecessor, Demon Stalkers (1987), which features almost exactly the same game mechanics.
   
The difference is probably in some of the external trappings that Fire King develops. Demon Stalkers had no story, just 99 levels to fight through. Fire King tries to be less linear--its world consists of multiple interconnected areas with a variety of transitional portals and stairways. It also has a detailed framing story, shops and gold, and NPCs. But all the slaughtering you do never gets you any stronger except as you improve inventory. This isn't just a pedantic distinction for me; it makes a huge difference in my enjoyment of a game, and it's why I'm a CRPG addict and not an action game addict.
       
The game begins with a detailed backstory.
    
The titular Fire King is the head of a cabal of wizards who rule the peaceful valley in which the game is set. Monsters attacked a recent conclave of these wizards. The Fire King was killed; the wind mage was wounded; the water mage is MIA; and the earth mage went insane and fled. The wind mage brought the Fire King's body back to the city. A beast attacked the funeral, drove everyone away, and now prowls the catacombs. Monsters are suddenly flooding the streets. The city's greatest hero has been lost in an attempt to kill the beast. It's up to one or two players to save the day.
     
Shops and gold differentiate this game from a lot of "gauntlesque" titles.
     
Players choose from six heroes--Brodric Broadaxe, Hubert the Just, Sally the Slaughtermaid, Mungo the Magician, the Enchantress Emily, and The Shadow--each with different levels in the game's three "attributes": strength, armor, and magic. The manual gives a little bio of each of the characters, making it clear that they fit into common archetypes: warrior, paladin, barbarian, mage (I see little distinction between Mungo and Emily except sex), and thief. 
       
The manual's description of "The Shadow."
      
Gameplay begins in the characters' house in the center of town and continues out in the town square, from which characters may enter various shops and city buildings, and ultimately the catacombs. Gameplay requires only the numberpad for movement and two keys to fire the primary weapon and to use collected objects; it really feels like it was meant to be played on a console with a directional pad and two buttons.
         
The six character choices.
       
Enemies are already swarming the city streets as the game begins. Each batch of enemies is replenished endlessly by a wizard at a cauldron; killing this conjurer (which takes multiple hits) is the only way to permanently clear the infestation. Gameplay otherwise consists of running around and collecting gold and useful items like keys, food, armor upgrades, bombs, and various spells. These items accumulate in your little inventory belt. Books occasionally give you hints and clues or fill in parts of the story.
      
Books occasionally offer hints and lore.
      
Getting back to combat, there's a level of abstraction in gauntlesque games that I've never liked. The player takes on literal armies of interchangeable enemies who have no individual agency. They just "swarm." Killing them feels like stamping out insects. Games based on Hydlide or Zelda are similar in this regard, probably accounting for my inability to take to them. I see a big difference between such games and those (whether RPGs or action games) in which a realistic number of enemies are situated in realistic locations and act like realistic foes. (I realize I'm still allowing for a fairly flexible definition of "realistic" in saying this.) The enemies in Fire King feel like they would have no trouble conquering the world if they would just organize rather than blobbing around in random directions. Success strikes me as depending far more on controller acumen than anything we'd call "tactics." I understand that lots of people like that, but it's just not my cup of tea. It would be tough to blog about, too. I'd have several entries that just went: "Four hours spent today. Mowed down another 150 enemies. Dropped from 12,086 health to 10,245. Found 3 bombs." 
    
I realize I will eventually arrive at such gameplay with Diablo, although I'm holding out hope that it will have elements that make it a little more interesting. Between here and there, are there any "gauntlesque" games that also qualify as RPGs?

107 comments:

  1. It's not an RPG, lacking the character development so core to the genre

    Gauntlet had a kind of character development. It didn't have XPs, but there were special power potions you could get that would enhance your character (stronger shots, faster shots, stronger magical power, etc.) If you ran out of quarters and dropped out of the game, someone else could continue with "your" customized character.

    it really feels like it was meant to be played on a console with a directional pad and two buttons.

    Or a Gravis Gamepad. You got one, right? If not, get one right away - they make games so much easier. Or a modern USB gamepad. Even an el cheapo one works wonders. Some emulators support mapping keyboard controls onto buttons, which can change certain games from "unplayable mess" to "fun" - especially the more awkward control clusters.

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    1. If you can find a wired XBox (360 or One) controller, Windows will natively recognize it as a gamepad. Price is usually comparable to other PC gamepads, but quality is more consistent.

      Then you just need a program like Joy2Key for Windows, which lets you configure each button (plus joystick and trigger) to do certain keypresses (or to be more advanced, emulate mouse movement and clicking).

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    2. While we are at it: can someone recommend a wired controller that has only the cross and no analogue controls plus 6 to 12 buttons? I am looking for something that is not an XBox Controller clone but it seems like those are hard to find these days.

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    3. You'd probably be good with a generic USB SNES controller. While I doubt any would be particularly great, they also tend to be fairly cheap.

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    4. Thanks. I don't need a high end controller as I am not a hardcore gamer. My last one cost low double digits ;).

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    5. Since it's a DOS game, and I presume it's being played through one iteration of DOSBox, I'm pretty sure one can use any kind of contemporary controller - keybindings can be assigned to practically anything with DOSBox's keymapper.

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    6. I found a USB controller patterned after the Sega Saturn pad. It's almost exactly what you're looking for. 8Bitdo makes them.

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    7. I use a USB Sega Saturn clone pad to play Saturn or PC-FX games, and a DS4 wireless for everything else. Both work well.

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  2. > Diablo (1997)

    It was released in 1996 iirc

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    1. From wikipedia:

      During 1997 and 2000, Blizzard cited Diablo's official release date as January 1997.[1][2][3] It first announced Diablo's official availability on January 3, 1997,[2] although the game had originally been set to appear in stores on January 6,[4][5] and its wide release was reported on that date by CNET Gamecenter.[6] However, certain retailers had broken the game's official street date by January 2.[7] Designer David Brevik claimed in 2016 that certain West Coast retailers had begun selling the game by December 31, 1996.[8]

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    2. Okay, Anonymous, but could you please be just a little bit more precise in your documentation?

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    3. On Mobygames, some releases are in line with December 31, 1996, also on Chets own list.

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  3. Diablo was originally intended to be turn-based, so it probably had more roguelike influences.

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    1. Diablo is absolutely a real time roguelike.

      Randomly generated dungeon levels: check.
      Descending down a dungeon level by level with the ultimate goal at the very bottom: check.
      Lightweight NPC interaction thst consists mostly of using them as shops and item identifiers: check.
      Randomized loot that has to be identified: check.

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    2. I still remember a contemporary German reviewer who described Diablo as "the most original RPG [he's] played in years", when it's literally one of the oldest RPG concepts on Earth, just in real time.

      It was probably the dumbest review I've ever read, until Chet's blog introduced my to English Amiga reviews from the early 90s.

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    3. Maybe RPGs were just in a really unoriginal place back then? Roguelikes were/are also an esoteric hobbyist genre only turbonerds on BBSes knew about.

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    4. Or maybe game journalists were just as clueless about their own job as they are today.

      If we look at late 1996, we already saw the release of Daggerfall which was certainly more ambitious and original than Diablo. There was also Ultima 8 (disappointing game but certainly original), Birthright if you consider that an RPG...

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    5. I don't see the controversy with that particular quote. Who is to say Diablo wasn't, in fact, the most original RPG that reviewer had played in years?

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    6. Daggerfall was a sequel, it doesn't get much less original than that.

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    7. I think people here are underselling how influential the switch to real-time in Diablo was. There's a reason the 90s were full of Diablo-clones and not Daggerfall-clones. Imagine if Dune 2 stuck to turn-based. I mean it's basically a faster war game, how original can that be?

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    8. It exposes the reviewer as being naive and unqualified. It was immediately obvious that Diablo was a roguelike, only mashed together with real-time strategy. Warcraft 2 + Rogue = success. Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

      For a reviewer not to recognize this immediately (and celebrate it) means he shouldn't have been reviewing games. It's no secret that games journalism has long been a toilet for people who couldn't get the jobs they wanted and settled for what was available.

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    9. It's probably fair to say that back in 1989, the vast majority of players AND reviewers had never heard of the term "roguelike". This is well before the time where the internet provided a neatly categorized index of every topic.

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    10. Yes the lead Diablo programmer described this in a very cool indepth video in YouTube called "How One Gameplay Decision Changed Diablo Forever | War Stories | Ars Technica". The roots were Angband but they simplified the gui and made it real-time and it was a change made during the development under the pressure of the Warcraft rts success.

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    11. "It's just a roguelike, but in real time" is kind of like saying "it's just a sailboat, but powered by steam". Changing from turn-based to real-time is an enormous difference, and there are many more ways to do it wrong than right.

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    12. Thank you stepped pyramids. Harland is sounding very Gamer Gate-y at the moment, although I'm sure he's not wrong that many game critics probably entered the industry with the intention to create rather than critique, it's folly to expect every reviewer to be familiar with every genre/game series. Especially in the mid-90s. Also, back in the day the official Diablo strategy guide had an article in it talking about the decision to switch from turn based to real time and how they had to rework most of the game as a result. But enough about that, back to a brief discussion of Gauntlet clones.

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    13. I think I'd be willing to bet that the majority of PC gamers in 1996 had virtually no awareness of roguelikes being a full-blown game genre and that if they even knew Rogue at all, it was likely only in the context of "that quaint ASCII-based dungeon crawler Epyx released back in 1980".

      I've always had the impression that, at least in that era, you pretty much had to be a FOSS and/or Linux enthusiast to know that the Rogue lineage of games was still being actively developed and maintained.

      It's certainly not something I'd expect of a random games reviewer for a magazine.

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    14. Aside from the ancillary issue raised here, it sounds like I got my answer: Diablo doesn't really owe anything to Gauntlet.

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    15. Daggerfall was real-time just like Diablo. What made Diablo was it being simple and fast paced. You didn't need to be an RPG veteran to play it.

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  4. Thinking about arcade RPGs, I remember playing Cadash (1989) a lot. Unlike Gauntlet it has earned experience leading to level ups leading to a few attributes increasing, in addition to equipment upgrades.

    At its heart the game is an action platformer with RPG elements added on, and I don't think much would be gained by playing it here. But it seemed relevant, and shows how easily Gauntlet could have added experience, levels, and attributes and still been roughly the same game.

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    1. "Cadash" , 1989? Could it be related to "Sword of Kadash", 1984 ? The latter was reviewed on this blog, here.

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    2. Nah, he meant this one: https://www.mobygames.com/game/cadash I remember it, too, certainly not a RPG.

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    3. Really? It had XP gains leading to leveling, combats based on PC characteristics, and inventory. Fits all three criteria of the blog. An arcade RPG is certainly unusual, but I think Cadash is one. An action RPG to be sure, but those get covered too.

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    4. If you define RPGs by experience/levels/attribute mechanics then its an RPG, but I agree that that becomes a problem once game designers take those mechanics that originated in RPGs and started adding them to all sorts of other genres.

      At some point you need to look at what the game is primarily about, rather than what mechanics it does or does not include. It's not quite as neat, but game evolution loves hybridization.

      Cadash is clearly primarily about platforming, defeating swarms of enemies and bosses, and controller acumen, while cleverly borrowing some RPG mechanics. And future Guantlet-like games will inevitably add these mechanics as well.

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    5. Cadash appears to be one of the earliest action adventures that meets Chet's three criteria for being an RPG. Although it is a console game, I'd be interested in seeing his take on its historical impact.

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    6. Arcade game. The console ports are inferior.

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    7. Cadash is definitely borderline...the arcade version (as a spellcaster - the fighter doesn't have much development) would probably be a good Brief but I'm not sure Chet could wrangle much more than that out of it.

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    8. To anyone interested, Cadash (arcade version) is available on Antstream for free. (As of Jan 2022, anyway.) It's kind of a fun service; they have a lot of random old Speccy games and such, plus some arcade classics and other things.

      https://www.antstream.com/

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    9. Why anyone would want to bother with streaming for a game that takes up less space than a single JPEG is beyond me.

      Getting the game up and running in MAME isn't too hard, and I would be more than willing to help anyone here with it if it means less business for scummy services like these.

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    10. When a service provides random obscure Speccy games free of charge and buries whatever upsell/microtrans options it may have so deep that I can't find them, I don't call them 'scummy.' 'Quixotic' comes closer to it.

      I'm sure it's easy to run the game in MAME, but not everyone is up for the rigamarole of setting it up, tracking ROMs down and whatnot. No need for the hostility.

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    11. No need for Zoolander quotes, either.

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  5. This was one of my favorite games as a kid. I followed the story a little, but never focused on it. I would just find new places to explore and get what I could to make my character better. I could have sworn there were upgrades for your stats, but I haven't played it in so long I don't remember the details. I'd play it now but I have looked and can't find it anywhere.

    Also, I remember it being called Hall of the Fire King. Perhaps this was changed for the US release on the C64.

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    1. Actually, looks like Gamebase 64 doesn't have it. The Old Computer has it but you have to be registered to download it. It seems like many other sites may have it but they're ones I've never used. T.O.C. I've used and trust, but it's been easily 10 years. Back then you didn't have to register. Hope this helps Ima420r. I had Demon Stalkers on disk for my trusty C64 back in the day and really enjoyed it (and won!). I had no idea there was a more structured sequel until the 2000s when I got into emulation.

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    2. I found it at playclassic dot games! It's just like I remember it.

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  6. "Demon Stalkers had no story, just 99 levels to fight through."

    That's not true. Even without reading the manual, the game leads off with scrolling text detailing the backstory, and you get more scrolling text as you descend.

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  7. Gauntlet reminds me of Swords & Serpents on the Intellivision.

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  8. "Getting back to combat, there's a level of abstraction in gauntlesque games that I've never liked. The player takes on literal armies of interchangeable enemies who have no individual agency. They just "swarm." Killing them feels like stamping out insects. Games based on Hydlide or Zelda are similar in this regard, probably accounting for my inability to take to them. I see a big difference between such games and those (whether RPGs or action games) in which a realistic number of enemies are situated in realistic locations and act like realistic foes"


    => I feel like games like Wizardry, Bard's Tale or early M&M also have armies of thrash mobs that have no individual agency. On the other hand, the positioning of enemies in Zelda is usually realistic : guards in the castle, scorpions in the desert, etc... Of course, in neither case the creatures have any sort of individual agency.

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    1. There are definitely parts of the original Zelda where rooms can feel like they're full of a chaotic swarm of enemies, and I believe that's the only game in the series that Chet has played. The later games obviously have a lot of thought put into enemy placement. (I'd argue the same is true of the first game, but it's less apparent to someone who hasn't played the game a lot.)

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  9. The Diablo project started as a modernised version of David Brevik's favourite games, Moria and Angband.

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  10. Inspired opening there, Chet, I'm beginning to feel the same way...

    ...although I do gift myself certain comic series, I promised my 11-years-old self to totally purchase when I'm older, but they're in the affordable range.

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    1. Meanwhile I'm completely happy with buying all the games and comics I want!

      Nice hardcover omnibus editions, of course.

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    2. Like 'Thorgal' an 'XIII' from the unrivaled duo of Rosinsky and Van Hamme, just curious?

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    3. I'm excited to buy a hybrid minivan, God help me.

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    4. I recently got myself nice hardcover editions of The Incal, Before the Incal, Final Incal, The Metabarons, The Fourth Power, The Technopriests, and several volumes that collect the work of Moebius (those are in German because I didn't find any English translations that collect Moebius in this format).

      So mostly classic European sci-fi comics by writers and artists like Moebius, Jodorowsky, Gimenez.

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    5. It's a shame that Americans hardly know about French-Belgian comics; they have a lot of quality! Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke, Michel Vaillant, Spirou, Ric Hochet, Chick Bill, XIII, Incal, Metabarons, Yoko Tsuno, Natacha, Blueberry, Aldebaran, Largo Winch, Golden City, Thorgal are just some of its best known series. And I must be forgetting a lot.

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    6. Asterix is great, I used to devour them as a kid, but I only had a couple. I am aware of Tintin. But the rest, not so much.

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    7. I pretty much grew up on Tintin and Asterix. Also had some Smurfs books. Mostly ignorant of the rest but I've red a bit of Incal, snippets of Ranxerox, and heard lots about Valerian of course.

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    8. Over here in Germany the Franco-Belgian (as well as some Spanish and Italian) comics were always more readily available than American ones. As a kid I used to borrow Asterix, Tintin, Spirou and Fantasio, Lucky Luke, etc from the local library. Some classic Donald Duck comics too, by Carl Barks and Don Rosa, but DC and Marvel comics were rare here.

      The different format of the comics might be one reason. European comics usually had hardcover editions that fit really well into libraries (where I got them from), and each issue was an internally complete short story (Asterix, Tintin). Most American superhero comics were released in thin magazine style issues and were only a chapter in an ongoing narrative, so it's harder to collect a complete work. I always wait for a hardcover Omnibus before I buy. I read the Batman: Death of the Family cycle in digital form a couple of years ago and oh boy was that a mess. My download came with a .txt that included the correct reading order. First read Batman issues x-xx, then Detective Comics x, followed by Batgirl x-xx, then back to Batman, then another Detective Comics issue, then a Nightwing issue...

      That's the main reason I never really got into American mainstream comics by Marvel and DC (and superheroes aren't my favorite setting anyway). I do like some American comic series with a closed storyline, though: Transmetropolitan, The Boys, some of Moore's stuff.

      My favorite style of comics is weird sci-fi and fantasy in the style of Metal Hurlant, which is more prevalent among European authors but some Americans are also influenced by it.

      Never got into manga though, other than reading some Junji Ito works. The right to left reading order takes a lot of getting used to!

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    9. The Asterix comics are dirty cheap in used condition, I bought my kids the whole set of the old ones for like 30€. Nothing which a collector would put in his shelf but right for kids reading them.

      Too bad the Duck Tales Pocket-Books from the Italian Disney comic artists are still expensice in used condition, those were my favourites as child. However the kids love the DonRosa stories too, which they still sell new

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    10. One of you made reference to Valerian, a comic book hero who became quite well known worldwide due to the movie "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" and which is mainly based on his 6th graphic novel "Ambassador of the Shadows" and not on his 2nd graphic novel "Empire of a Thousand Planets", as the name of the movie might lead one to assume.
      I just want to give the information that the illustrator of this series, Jean-Claude Mezieres died in Paris, at the age of 83, last Saturday, January 22.

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    11. That's sad to hear, Joaquim, I loved the 'Valerian and Veronique' series back in school, it was one of the staples in most public libraries. Mézières was known for his very inviting and inventive art style, rest in peace, sir.

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  11. Re: Other 'gauntlesque' games with rpg elements?

    Were 'Shadow over Mystara' and 'Tower of Doom' too obvious, or did I miss something...

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    1. Those games do not fit the criteria Chet just laid out.

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    2. The Mystara games are based on Golden Axe, not on Gauntlet. That has the same fantasy themes but wildly different gameplay.

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    3. Yeah, they're beat-em-ups. But they have all three characteristics of RPGs according to this blog's criteria. Arcade and not PC, but MAME counts, eh?

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    4. 'wildly different gameplay'

      I mean, you run in one direction, bashing an endless stream of enemies while using the occasional special attack, preferably in co-op multiplayer. Where is this wildly different or not fitting the criteria?

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    5. no, mystara level ups are fake, they happen in pre determined stages of the game, the xp points serves just for score, so your character will allways be at the same level when at the same stage.

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    6. Come now Bestie, a top-down shooter is obviously not a side-scrolling beat-em-up.

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    7. Yeah this is like saying Daggerfall and Diablo are part of the same subgenre because they have character classes and real time combat. The DND beat em ups do have co op multiplayer with different character classes, but beyond the top down vs side-scrolling difference, none of Chet’s other criteria pertain - there are multiple attacks and a limited number of enemies, your hp are regularly topped up, and you can even pick the same character class in multiplayer. Have you ever played Gauntlet, or a beat em up like Final Fight or the TMNT games? If you have, it’s immediately clear that they’re quite distinct.

      (I agree the DND beat em ups aren’t RPGs, under Chet’s or any other set of criteria, but they are surprisingly robust games and I hope Chet covers them with at least a BRIEF).

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    8. I would prefer to read about rpgs unstead of more briefs about non-rpgs, so I hope for few beat em ups.

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  12. I feel like Gauntlet's influence was more felt on console action RPGs than computer ones. While personally I don't have too much experience with the more well known ones like Devil May Cry or Koei's various Warriors games, I did have Gauntlet Dark Legacy growing up, which does have actual RPG elements like stats and levels, while still being a fairly basic action game gameplaywise.

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    1. Ah, Gauntlet Dark Legacy! Now that was a fun game. Most of the other Gauntlet entries didn't quite do it for me, mostly because the hunger mechanic felt too aggressive, and the gameplay a little too bland and repetitive. Dark Legacy had a really varied set of game worlds, engaging and visually captivating (for the graphical standards of the time). I particularly liked the pyramid levels, which I played more than any others just for the looks of them. Regular classes plus prestige classes, leveling up, some power-ups to collect, some light switch puzzles to solve, and you weren't constantly starving to death. It was tied with Dynasty Warriors for the most fun I had on my PS2.

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  13. TIL that I’m 10-year old Chet; I recently started collecting Star Wars Lego. Alas, it might not be any less expensive than Chet’s boat-related aspirations.

    The local arcade hall offered party hosting whereby you’d book the entire place for a hour or so and all the machines would have infinite continues mode engaged. Pretty much heaven.

    Back in the old days, the definition of RPG was sometimes thematic: Orcs? RPG

    Good brief. and I hope we’ll one day visit Microforte’s flawed gem of a fallout spinoff.

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    1. >The local arcade hall offered party hosting whereby you’d book the entire place for a hour or so and all the machines would have infinite continues mode engaged. Pretty much heaven.
      Oh man, I so envy countries that had an arcade culture. Unlike Germany were those places were deemed 18+ only from the beginning and consequently are places with mostly slot machines instead of cool arcade machines, along with the suitable clientele you don't really want to hang out with to have a fun time. Vacations in France or Italy were a revelation for younger me.

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    2. Italy also always had cool arcades

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  14. For me, use of the name Mungo (of course it is also a man, just of the wrong complexion based on that screenshot) makes it stand out as clearly Australian.

    The tale of Mungo Man is an interesting one, that came to a lovely conclusion 5 years ago when his remains were finally returned to the earth, out of respect to our indigenous people over science (Mungo Man was an almost complete, 42,000 year old fossil, unearthed in the 1970's)

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  15. Is it just me, or do those character portraits look familiar? Like someone redrew their Pool of Radiance characters.

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    1. That's likely due at least in part to the similar, very limited, color palette.

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  16. I can't believe no one has brought up Dungeon Explorer (1989) the Turbo Grafx classic! Very obviously Gauntlet inspired, and just a shade more RPG-ish, as I recall there was a bit more freedom of movement and...levels, kinda. You only got one when you killed a boss, and it would drop a gem that would raise your life, magic, or attack, I think? It has been a long time. I mostly remember it because when you return the foozle to the king <**SPOILER ALERT**> he turns out to be the big bad, Natas (original name). But, my friend and I discovered that if you don't run after him, and instead, ram into his throne a bit, you get a silly ending with mild profanity, which to my 12-year old self was pretty awesome. Anyway, it's always stuck in my brain as the clear Gauntlet successor. I think you can even get it on Steam now....

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    1. There's a game called Dungeon Explorer on Steam, but it appears to be an indie game unrelated to the Turbo Grafx classic.

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    2. It also appears to be an asset flip with possibly-scam reviews, alas.

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    3. Yikes! Sorry I name checked that. I was apparently thinking of seeing it on the Wii virtual console, which is itself obsolete....

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    4. Anything with a name as generic as that is likely to have low quality games on Steam with the same name. I love Steam for being an open platform with no curation, but yeah... there's a lot of trash to wade through before you find the treasure.

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    5. Yeah! TG-16 Dungeon Explorer had 5 player co-op!

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  17. Gauntlet Legends has some RPG mechanics to it; the gold pickups are no longer about score but are used to purchase items and stat boosts in the post-level store, and your character also levels up over time, gaining stat boosts and eventually special powers (like a permanent familiar that increases your number of shots). It's certainly not DEEP by any means, but taking a character you've been nursing to level 50 back to one of the early levels (because you missed getting a runestone needed to unlock the final boss) and you definitely notice the power differential from when you first spun up a new character.

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    1. Yeah, Gauntlet Legends is absolutely 100% without a doubt an RPG. Unfortunately neither it or Dark Legacy were ever ported to PC, so neither are likely to show up here.

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  18. Gauntlet was very influential on the Dungeon Explorer games from Japan, some of which I would describe as Action RPGs and the others Action Adventure similar to the first Zelda.
    Gauntlet IV for MD/GEN also has a quest mode which plays kinda like Zelda 1-2; there's a hub area with shops, leveling with manual stat allocation, and tool gating. Some floors in the dungeons are also interconnected in more than one way.

    "This isn't just a pedantic distinction for me; it makes a huge difference in my enjoyment of a game, and it's why I'm a CRPG addict and not an action game addict."

    I know this is a simple game and you say it had upgrades only via equipment, but isn't buying persistent or permanent upgrades for money gotten from enemies basically the same as getting exp from enemies? In some games you even use exp like money by trading it in for levels or stats.
    External boosters (gear) is also very similar compared to internal (stats), if it's persistent anyway. Except you might switch something out at some points that lowers some stat(s), which generally doesn't happen from leveling.

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    1. You have to recognize that if I allow equipment (whether purchased or found) to sub for character development, almost every action game becomes an RPG.

      Delete
  19. Diablo was meant to be a rogue-like, but it was also inspired by UFO: Enemy Unknown.
    There was a GDC talk about it.

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  20. And I would take a literal bucketful of quarters to the arcade and stand in front of the Gauntlet cabinet until I won it.

    I probably had the same fantasy! Heck, I busted my butt on a bike ride I wasn't fit to make, just to get to a Gauntlet cab in a distant town (and get soaked on the return trip, thanks to a sudden downpour, before my friend's mom picked us up).

    Sadly, Gauntlet has no ending. (At least not in the arcade: the NES version does have an ending, though reaching it requires dealing with some measure of obscure nonsense. NES Gauntlet II doesn't have an ending, however.)

    Its fellow "son of Dandy", Dark Chambers, also has no ending, which is supremely irritating. It just loops: get through all 26 letters of its alphabet, and it's back to Level A for you. Such a waste of time.

    Also: doesn't "Gauntlike" suggest itself? A certain "time honored Lancaster" would approve, I think.

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    1. I loved Gauntlet and Gauntlet II, I remember visiting a local fair for two years straight that had a Gauntlet machine in the arcade tent. Gauntlet II came so fast that both machines could be found. (G2 was pushed out because it fixes several things that made G1 playable on a single quarter indefinitely.)

      While I recognize it's not a CRPG, the game is just fun. I dislike how it has no ending, though, and after awhile you just get bored with it.

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  21. Anyone else notice the company name Micro Forte´ is obviously poking Microsoft in the ribs? Strong instead of soft?

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    1. I've always found this kind of hubristic jousting to be rather pathetic. Taking shots at a massive company that will never even know you exist, because you're a bottom-level indie cockroach making games in a basement. Just kind of sad in a Don Quixote, delusions of grandeur way.

      Although I looked them up and these guys eventually went on to make Fallout Tactics and are still in business, so they're notable enough to have a Wikipedia page at least. I still don't think Microsoft is exactly quaking in their shoes though.

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    2. Eh, poking fun at Microsoft is a time-honored tradition. Everyone did it and it's not necessarily spiteful.

      I remember an old joke from the 90s that goes like this:

      Bill Gates is having a date with a hot woman. They are having a candlelight dinner with wine and everything. When they elope to the bedroom and undress, the woman looks disappointed and says: "Now I know why you named your company Microsoft!"

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    3. In 89 Microsoft wasn't really anybody special. Familiar to any DOS user, of course, and enough home computers used a version of Microsoft BASIC that required a copyright attribution for their users to know the name as well, but they were no juggernaut.

      Microsoft as we know them today didn't really begin to rise until the early-to-mid 90s when the PC Clone had slain nearly all home computer competitors (even mighty Apple appeared to be on their deathbed, and they were the last) and their dominance wasn't complete until Win95.

      Poking fun at them before that wouldn't be much different (possibly even less severe) than a jab at Sierra or SSI.

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    4. Wasn't anybody special? You mean the company that:

      - Was one of the players during the very start or the microcomputer revolution (specially with Microsoft Basic)
      - Landed one of the craziest contracts with IBM. Considered the incoming big player
      - In 1989, the IBM+clones were selling around 4 million units (according to CGW report from the same year), 10 times more than all the microcomputers combined. Most of these were running MS-DOS or some other Microsoft product

      For sure, they got even bigger in the 90's in the mainstream perception, but they were already a big force in the 80's too

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    5. This is why Windows bootup screens started to read like "Microsoft presents: Microsoft Windows, by Microsoft. A Microsoft product". They were important in the early 90s but really craved more name recognition.

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    6. MIcrosoft was a big back-end player, but they really were not the titan-class company they would become. This is particularly clear because a lot of their impact was invisible - most of their non-IBM BASIC products were branded with the name of the microcomputer company that was using it, with Microsoft relegated to the copyright notices.

      They were just a moderately software house, and probably less prominent than companies like Lotus or the big game studios.

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    7. This seems like a stretch. If it were something like "Micro Hard" then that would be pretty obvious, but "forte" doesn't fit well as antonym for "soft," and "micro" is a pretty generic branding for a computer-related company. There were also companies like "Microdeal," "MicroIllusions," and of course "MicroProse" at the time.

      This article claims that by 1983, Lotus Software was the second biggest software house, behind Microsoft.
      http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/lotus-development-corporation-history/

      Also consider their 1986 IPO was one of the most hugely successful yet, selling 3.5 million shares and generating market cap of $777 million. Obviously that's nothing compared to the the 90%+ market share of a skyrocketing industry, but I'd still be surprised if this wasn't a better IPO performance than Lotus and Sierra's put together.

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    8. It could be soft as in piano, and then it makes sense. But I admit this is also a stretch.

      Delete
  22. I'd consider Hades to be something of a descendant, perhaps co-parented by Rogue. Not an RPG, but a great game to be sure.

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    1. I think the line of influence here looks something like Rogue -> classic roguelikes -> Spelunky -> Binding of Isaac -> Hades. And Zelda was also an influence on BoI.

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    2. Wouldn't Bastion (Supergiant's first game) have to be the principle antecedent? Hades is basically just Bastion but made into a roguelite. You'd also need whichever roguelike came up with persistent buffs, is that Rogue Legacy?

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    3. Binding of Isaac was a major influence on Rogue Legacy, although it didn't have character upgrades (it has unlockable characters, items, and dungeon features, though). The structure of Hades overall feels like a slimmed-down version of Binding of Isaac (no backtracking within levels, fewer upgrades, fewer room and enemy types, no random bosses). Obviously all of these games had many influences, though.

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  23. Going to sn arcade with a bucket of coins would still be a dream come true for me. If I could just find an oldschool arcade, that is.

    Keys to the Maramon, from Magic Candle devs, had a Gauntlet-ish gameplay with more RPG elements.

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  24. Yeah arcades were always a kinda weird space, too sleazy for kids but too childish for grownups - actually perfect for teenagers - my favourite arcade in Reykjavik (Spilatorg) was a smoke filled hellhole jam-packed with juvenile delinquents ;) - apparently when they moved the cabs they sometimes found hash or other drugs underneath them, since the kids that were dealing used to throw their stash behind the machines when the cops raided the place.

    Good times.

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