Sunday, January 2, 2022

Game 441: WarWizard (1993)

It's rare that I go against the title screen, but the game is called WarWizard (with no space) everywhere else, including multiple times in the manual.
       
WarWizard
United States
MicroGenesis (developer); published as shareware
Released in 1993 for Amiga, 1994 for DOS
Date Started: 30 December 2021
             
WarWizard was designed by Brad McQuaid and Steve Clover of Carlsbad, California, intended originally as a commercial release but shunted to shareware (via McQuaid's short-lived company, MicroGenesis) when they couldn't find a publisher. McQuaid and Clover, who had both dropped out of college, were reportedly working IT at a plant nursery during the day and programming at night. After porting their Amiga game to DOS in 1994, they began working on the sequel, WarWizard 2, and posting updates to Usenet. The unfinished game somehow caught the attention of a Sony executive who was starting a team to produce the company's first MMORPG. He hired McQuaid and Clover, and the result was EverQuest. In that game, McQuaid's character, "Aradune," apparently had the special class of "WarWizard." That's the only similarity between the games that I can find.
    
The duo's original dream wasn't crazy. WarWizard is a commercial-quality game, albeit with some amateur-quality graphics and clunky interface elements. Although inspired by Ultima, it's different enough that I wouldn't have been completely sure about the connection if McQuaid hadn't made it himself. It has a great tactical combat system, a tight economy, and a few innovations worth mentioning if not copying.
    
Exploring the as-yet unnamed continent.
    
The game takes place on a continent of six kingdoms--Aladain, Kraenn, Cara, Essea, Zebesk, and Terwan--each populated by some combination of humans, halflings, dwarves, and elves. Centuries ago, the king of Terwan tried to conquer the continent by making an alliance with demons from another dimension. The good armies rallied in Castle Gildain in Aladain, where they produced the first WarWizard, so-called for his ability to master both magic and weapons. The various races created nine artifacts for him to wear and wield: helmet, armor, sword, bow, arrows, collar, boots, belt, and shield. He went off to challenge the king of Terwan to one-on-one combat, and both men were killed in the ensuing battle. The WarWizards artifacts were looted and scattered.
 
In the aftermath of victory, the good kingdoms felt the WarWizard was no longer needed. But the monks who created him, showing greater foresight than the kings of the land, retreated to the mountains of Cara and kept producing a new WarWizard every generation. Without the support of the kingdoms, however, the organization eventually dwindled into a single master and apprentice. Now, suddenly, Aladain seems to have been conquered by dark forces. The king is missing. Messengers sent to the kingdom no longer return. A new castle has been constructed deep in the mountains, and there are rumors of dragons and other creatures of power. The young WarWizard apprentice must collect the nine artifacts and defeat this new threat.
     
Most of the backstory is told in the manual, but some of it appears on-screen.
     
The backstory obviates the usual angst that accompanies character creation. Your only choices are name and sex. You have already been trained to the maximum human limit in the six attributes (the standard D&D set, with "stamina" replacing "constitution"), and you don't have to pick a class, as the "WarWizard" can use any weapon or cast any spell (once you acquire and learn them). You eventually acquire companions, for whom attributes and class will be important, but the WarWizard is like the Avatar--a combination of everything.
      
Character creation doesn't give you many choices.
     
The game starts in the hut that you share with your dying master. The screen is divided effectively into unequal quadrants: the exploration window in the upper-left, character and location notes in the upper-right, commands in the lower-left, and a GTFO cluster in the lower-right. The commands mostly have keyboard backups, but it would have been nice if the developers had gone with Ultima's convention of making the keyboard shortcut start with the same letter as the command. Instead, while you do get C)ast and L)ook, you also get such oddities as Comb(A)t, S(E)arch, and cam(P), all of which could have been fixed by making the same commands "Attack," "Examine," and, I don't know, "Put Up a Tent" or something.
    
Gameplay begins in a small room.
    
The game is turn-based and movement is by square tiles. Two icons in the lower-right panel tell you whether your current tile has a creature (upper) or treasure (lower). If it has a creature, you can attack or T)alk. Dialogue options are unfortunately extremely limited. Although the process opens a separate screen that allows NPCs to deliver paragraphs of exposition rather than simple sentences, it's basically the same as the first two Ultima games. You have no option to feed a keyword or dialogue option back to them. You can only greet, bribe, threaten, or ask them to join your party.
   
The search mechanic is interesting but also needlessly complex. If you see a treasure chest icon in a square you can hit "Search" to bring up a zoomed-in map of the room with 7 x 10 tiles. You then move the cursor over the tiles looking for things in the room. If you find anything, it shows up in yet another icon at the bottom of the screen. Then you have to click "Proceed" to open up yet another screen where you can transfer gold, food, and items to your characters. There are other buttons on this third screen for bashing and picking locks or using keys. You use this same process to scan the battlefield and loot individual corpses after combat.
      
This screen allows you to scan each object in the room. This was a lot of effort for a single chest (off-screen, next to the bed).
And this screen has you interact with each lootable object.
      
The chest in my room has 25 gold pieces and 15 food but no equipment. The dialogue with my master indicates that the enemy is also called a "dark WarWizard," as was, apparently, the old king of Terwan. My master suggests that I head southeast to Caer Tiran to start. There's not much else to do in our little hut, so I head to the outside world.
      
I've played the game for a few hours, but I have absolutely no sense of how big the continent is. The game doesn't come with a map, and I always have trouble figuring out how to map top-down games. I'm either going to have to do it with screenshots or by making a tile map in Excel; both methods are long and tedious. 
 
Making it to the big city.
    
I managed to find my way to Caer Tiran before dusk fell. There, I found a small, Ultima-style city with a few NPCs and services like a weapon shop, an armor shop, a temple, a pub, and an inn. The pub is one of the places you find NPCs to join your party. NPCs can be warriors, thieves, clerics, magicians, sorcerers, enchanters, or wizards (the magic classes suggest a Bard's Tale influence) as well as common classes like woodsmen, merchants, nobles, and guards. You can name them when they join you, but my assessment is that it's best not to become attached to them.

Evaluating an NPC.
         
At first, I thought I'd equip myself and fight a few battles on my own before recruiting help. I soon found that this is an impossible strategy. First, your starting 25 gold pieces isn't enough to purchase even the cheapest dagger. Second, when it comes to the composition of enemy parties, the game shows no mercy for single unarmed characters. I was getting attacked by 8 orcs or 6 wolves in every combat. I eventually surrounded myself with a party of the first three people who would sign up, but I resisted the temptation to loot them of their arms and armor before kicking them out. Instead, I fought unarmed and unarmored until I had the money to buy my own equipment.
   
Combat is roughly Ultima V quality. It takes place on a tactical grid on which you and your enemies act by order of initiative. You have a certain number of movement points each round, and you can spend them on moving, melee attacks, targeting distant enemies with ranged weapons, casting spells, or using items. There are terrain considerations for movement and shielding. You can dual-wield. Wounded enemies try to flee. I like it, but at the same time I know I'll be wishing for an auto-combat before the end.
    
This message takes a lot of effort to achieve.
   
The one major innovation here is that each body part--head, neck, torso, right arm, left arm, and legs have their own hit points. You die if your head, neck, or torso get to 0 points; you are disabled if your arms or legs get to 0. You can choose which body parts to target on each enemy. If you're dual-wielding, you can even specify a different body part per hand. This all sounds interesting in practice, but the problem is a) the manual doesn't suggest that different body parts are easier or harder to hit, and b) all body parts have the same number of hit points. Thus, there seems little reason not to always aim for the torso (the default) or, if the enemy is armored, the head.
      
The woodsman's axe and fist are both aiming for the torso of the giant rat.
  
Combats can be brutal. A lucky hit can disable or kill a character in a single round. In the early game, it's been rare that I haven't had to return to the temple in Caer Tiran to heal after every battle, at a cost of 5 gold pieces per 10 hit points. Later, after I lost some of my initial party members, I picked up a couple of clerics in a different city. They have a healing spell that doesn't target specific body parts, but otherwise regenerates enough overall to get by.
   
Character development is something of a mystery. "We don't particularly like levels per se," the developers say in the manual. Instead, the character has "proficiencies" with each type of weapon, each type of armor, evasion in general, and spell schools. These go up at fixed experience levels, but the manual is a bit unclear as to what exactly earns you experience and how that experience translates to different levels (an appendix promised several times in the text never actually appears). I just have to take it on faith that all of this beating away against enemies is doing some good. My gold seems on an upward trajectory, anyway, which is good because some of the better NPCs have to be paid.
      
The inventory screen has eight slots. Clicking on my sword shows my proficiency (0) with the weapon.
     
In Caer Tiran, Duke Bendor told me to "Seek an artifact of great power to the south and east." I spent most of this session trying to find that artifact, but I can't even find anything that I'm 100% sure is a swamp. Heading generally southeast, I've found another city called Kaleth and an ancient temple to the god of Alor, "lord of minotaurs." The most likely location is a dungeon called the Caves of Anbari, which says it "opens betwixt the vast swamps."
   
The dungeon is full of parties of lizardmen, but I can basically win only one battle (if that) before I have to retreat to town for healing. Having so retreated, I can't seem to find my way back to the dungeon. I really need to make that map.
       
Exploring the swamp dungeon.
   
A few other notes from the early game:
     
  • The sound effects are decent, sometimes more "amusing" than "good." There's a fun "roar of conversation" that accompanies entry to the tavern, and some chanting in the background at the temple. You get a hearty "hail!" when you greet someone in dialogue. When you choose an action that isn't available at the time, you get a "hurr-durr" babbling sound.
  • With a couple of keystrokes, you can set the frequency of random encounters to normal, rare, or none. The latter is particularly helpful if you're just trying to get somewhere.
  • Maximum hit points for each body part are tied to the character's stamina, which can apparently be increased with some magic potions.
  • I'll have to explore the spell system later. Right now, I can't even afford the cheapest scrolls.
     
I'll be back.
     
  • Movement points are tied to a character's dexterity. You want a character with 16 dexterity or above because that gives him enough movement points to attack twice per round in melee combat.
  • Some NPCs and enemies are shown in the environment but others aren't. You have to watch the panel in the lower-right as you move, as that will tell you when you're standing on top of someone.
  • The game has some survival elements, including regular food depletion, a day/night cycle, and a "sleep" meter that grows between rests. You automatically fall asleep if it reaches 10. Camping at night or paying for an inn reduces your sleep meter, but it doesn't heal anything. When you camp outside, you have to have at least one character "guard." You can also have characters "hunt" for food while camping.
  • Nice title cards come up as you transition areas.
      
Entering the Caves of Anbari.
     
  • There are about 12-15 spells per class, some with multiple levels, like "Healing One" through "Healing Five" and "Protection One" through "Protection Three." 
  • I'm hoping to track down Steve Clover (Brad McQuaid died two years ago at age 50) to talk about influences. In addition to Ultima, the game might have drawn from Phantasie for the spell system and body part system. There's also a hard leather/soft leather distinction to boots that makes me think of roguelikes, including Moria. There is a vague roguelike feel to the game. 
  • The game saves frequently without your input. If something bad happens and you want to reload, that's a decision you want to make quickly.
      
Despite its pedigree, WarWizard languished in obscurity for a lot of years. The only version available online was a demo version that limited your exploration of the world, and even McQuaid was unable to produce a full version. In 2009, a RPGWatch member named "crpgnut" turned up with a full version and got McQuaid's permission to post it online. Both versions are commonly available, but you'll know you have the full version if the background text after the main screen is white rather than blue.
   
There's a bit of a mystery when it comes to playing the full version via DOSBox. I can get it to work, but it's irking me. To avoid a crash immediately after character creation, you have to set the DOS version to 7.10 (VER SET 7 10), but as far as I can tell, DOS version 7.10 wasn't released until 1995, and even then it was packaged with Windows 95 and not technically a separate OS. What resources could a 1994 game possibly require from a 1995 version of the operating system?
   
No one online seems to have won this one, or even played more than a couple of hours, so I hope to be the first to cover the full thing. Happy New Year, everyone!

 
 

62 comments:

  1. This certainly looks like an interesting game.
    I have it listed on my play list, but with no comments. Usually I write either something like "Pass, looks boring" or "Not available" if I don't play a listed game.
    So it looks like I may have inadvertently skipped it.

    I also found a note saying
    "Careful when playing WarWizard... Some of items have blank (all black) sprite, you have to click into seemingly empty item slot. This includes IIRC WarWizard shield held by Ogre Lord, which you can't return to pick at later time!"

    I think try this game soon.

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    1. Wow. Thanks. I don't think I would have looked for a "blank sprite." I suspect I'll still miss some.

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  2. I remember playing this in the late 90s on a PC, but didn't get far with it. It was too clunky and I doubt I played it for long. I'm looking forward to seeing if it got better had I stuck with it.

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  3. Happy new year Chet! Still lurking and reading over here. Hope to one day see you cover Disco Elysium, man what a treat that game is. Never played anything like that, although it evokes a lot of memories of other great games. Definitely has some Planescape Torment to it, but it actually defies categorization in my opinion. Well, back to 1993 it is!

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    1. Now Disco Elysium is a game I wouldn't mind if the Addict would cover, just for funsies. Would be against all chronology and the principles of the blog but still.

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  4. I don't know if I like this game's RPG mechanics and plot, but I sure do like its 640x400 graphics. It's a shame that there are none or next to none higher-budget commercial games outside of Japan that used 640x480(400) or 640x350 VGA modes.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Happy new year everyone. Well, I too can remember only a few games using 640x480 with only 16 colors. However, a growing number of games at that point started using 640x480 but with 256 which is SVGA.

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    3. To be precise, it's a 640x200 resolution, stretched to 640x400. The pixels are rectangular, with twice the height. This game was initially made for the Amiga, which was capable of 640x200 but not 640x400.

      640x200 was used for the Amiga's operating system user interface, but not that often for games.

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    4. 640x350 was not VGA, it was EGA. VGA was 640x480

      EGA was also capable of 640x200, so this seems to be like an EGA game overall

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    5. This is an EGA game; you can tell by the color palette.

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    6. IIRC the Amiga's 640x200 was sometimes used for strategy games, or anything with a lot of text. But indeed, most games settled for 320x240 with 32 colours.

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    7. Yeah it's an EGA one. The most mainstream game I can recall using hi res EGA was Sim City. And other Maxis games of course.

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  5. Kinda surprising that the precursor to EQ is so undocumented (and was missing so long).

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    1. This part of an Everquest origins story gives a few details on how WarWizard came to be - including why the company was called "Microgenesis":
      https://www.shacknews.com/article/110494/better-together-stories-of-everquest?page=4

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  6. Didn't this game have a very basic speech system? Like when you talk to a NPC, they say something like "Hey there!"

    I played the War Wizard 2 demo and it was very promising, very Ultima-6-looking. Didn't know it had "become" Everquest

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    1. Maybe speech output was only in the version for the Amiga, which included a speech synthesizer in the operating system.

      Do you have a link to some screenshots of the War Wizard 2 demo?

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    2. This was on PC, hence my surprise.

      I thought I actually still had the demo but alas, I can't find it. There's a video of it tho: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bkz1kGvpVA0

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    3. It's not really a basic speech system. I mean, there is digitized voice, but it's used as a sound effect, not as actual voiced dialogue.

      Thanks for linking the video, Pedro. I'll talk about WW2 in my final entry.

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  7. Its not just the full version that has weird crashes. I remember trying to get the shareware version working and it always crashed. I suspect this may have something to do with the relative lack of popularity to the game, very few could actually play it.

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    1. I remember trying to play this game too, but never managed to make it run without issue.

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  8. the organization eventually dwindled into a single master and apprentice.

    Always two there are: a master and an apprentice.

    LOL starts you out with all 18s. Nice. Just get that out of the way right at the beginning.

    This looks like a cool one. If you're going to rip off Ultima, be a good Ultima ripoff.

    even McQuaid was unable to produce a full version.

    So many cool games whose full versions are simply lost. It sucks to find a great shareware game and then find out you only get level 1, and there is no way in the world to get the full version, even from the author himself. A lucky bit there with the uploader, that usually doesn't happen. I've been looking for the full version of Solar Winds for ages and it's just not there. It's like back during the Great Videogame Crash of 1978 when so much was lost.

    I hope to be the first to cover the full thing.

    Awesome. That's why this blog exists.

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    1. Unless there's something I've missed, both episodes of Solar Winds are around the internet and have been for some time.

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    2. Yeah, the shareware versions.

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    3. Well, what's wrong with them? ;p Its not unusual for shareware titles to have their different episodes be different exes and there's nothing to suggest that Solar Winds 2 is anything but the full version.

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    4. Damn. I recently thought about playing them again and through for the first time but I also don't have the full versions, probably never did.

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    5. Pretty wild that the full versions of Solar Winds aren't available. That wasn't some obscure shareware title (it was published by Epic MegaGames).

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    6. Personally I've never even heard about Solar Winds. And I thought I'd heard about most CRPGs from that era.

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    7. @PetrusOctavianus Personally, I wouldn't classify it as a crpg. It's more like an exploration style action-adventure.

      @MorpheusKirami I remember that you can't play the first episode to the end, it says buy the full version at some point. But I could remember wrong...

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    8. When I used to hang on Abandonia.com a lot, we had a forum section for people asking for old games they wanted to identify/find, and so often it was Solar Winds it became a bit of a meme.

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    9. What's wrong with them? They're the shareware version. You've got about ten minutes of gameplay until you run out of things to do and the game says "pay the registration fee for the rest of the content".

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    10. Yeah, the first episode is shareware, to get you to buy episode 2. I see nothing to suggest there's anything more to episode 1 or that episode 2 is missing anything. The plots line up, there's a cutscene at the end of Episode 1, and it just looks like a timeskip between the two games.
      There are places around the internet dedicated to finding the complete versions of titles more obscure than this, and they don't mention any such issue with it. If there is such an issue, some of those people should be told about it.

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  9. Isn't the game inspired by "Warlords 2"?

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    1. Nah. It just uses that same VGA mode and whatever default font was used, so it looks similar. I don't know how that works, honestly.

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  10. If a 'tight' economy means starting with a loincloth and your bare fists while spending every penny at the temple for healing, I don't want to know what a 'scarce' economy looks like ;)

    Seriously, almost every game grants you some starting equipment, and your progress has been hindered by simply not being able to afford stuff. I don't want to be showered in gold from the beginning either, but aren't they oversteering a bit in the opposite direction?

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    1. I have a sneaking regard for games that start you with nothing and make you fight for every inch in the early game. Might and Magic is another one. As long as there IS a path forward.

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  11. Also, this '93 game looks, feels, and sounds like a shareware title throughout - no wonder they weren't able to find a larger publisher.

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  12. The DOS version thing is especially strange considering that to the best of my knowledge, the only thing the ver set command does is change the version number reported and doesn't do anything to change how DOS actually works.

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    1. Does it only work when set to 7.1? Have you attempted 6.1, 6.2, 6.22, 6.3? I am wondering if it is only attempting to look at the minor number of the version being something bigger than "0".

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    2. One other thought... If 6.22 or 6.3 work, then it is probably doing some version math. (major# + minor# (1st digit)) It would be looking for a total greater than 7. My best guess as to "why" is that the program uses disk compression routines that were available for certain DOS versions and it wanted to ensure it was using an improved compression version.

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    3. And down the rabbit hole I went...... My two thoughts above are both incorrect. What has happened is that the original program was modified to run on more modern systems through the use of DOS4GW.EXE. That is what is requiring the DOS version to be set to 7.10.

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    4. Thanks for the explanation. The file dates suggest that the modifications happened as late as 2010, but there isn't any kind of version file or change log.

      I HAD previously tried to set it to lower version numbers.

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    5. I suppose what happened here was that the game originally needed to access more than the 640kb of memory that were normally accessible by DOS until the DOS6 era. DOS4GW helped to some degree, but some games resorted to some trickery, like abusing bugs inherent in DOS (as Ultima VII did) to achieve that goal, which often had the undesired side-effect that it broke compatibility with later, post Win95 era DOS (and DOS emulation) where these bugs were fixed and memory could be addressed beyond 640kB natively. The modification dates would suggest that this sort of adaptation for accessing memory was made.

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  13. I mean given that character model it's not really a surprise that he's not going to (P)itch a Tent.

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  14. If this is the game where your character says something like "Join me!" when you press the 'join' button I recall playing it for a couple hours back in the mid-90s. Kept getting destroyed so I never went back. However, it definitely seems like it's a cut above some of the other shareware from that era. Looking forward to reading about your experience with it.

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  15. "Clicking on my sword shows my proficiency (0) with the weapon."

    The image in the shopping screen shows that, too. :)

    (Funny that the character, if that is the character in that image, almost looks like the abstract paper doll)

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    1. The WarWizard can use any weapon! Just... Not very well...

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  16. These are some weird graphics - why are the pixels doubly tall?

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    1. The game has a native resolution of 640x200. I think Tunnels and Trolls was similar in this regard, from (distant) memory.

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  17. Thanks for bringing this one to light. I decided to give it a shot, but so far I can't figure out how to reset the game world. None of the versions I've downloaded (from rpgwatch [e.g. rpgnut], abandonia, and freegameempire) all seem to have been played already, with the game maps modified accordingly. You've probably already noticed things like cursed items for sale, etc. That was a marginal issue that kind of suggested the problem, but was no big deal. The clincher was when an NPC suggested that I go to his desk and get his key to the wizard's guild. Sure enough, found the desk no problem. No key.

    Went back to two more versions, same issue.

    Reviewed his directions for possible misunderstandings.

    Explored the entire city in case it was inexplicably somewhere else than where it had been described.

    I hope that's the only big missing item, as it's probably not a show stopper, as long as I focus more on war than wiz.

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    1. Small error: Change "None of the versions I've downloaded..." to say "All of the versions I've downloaded..." seem pre-played, as if some items have already been collected.

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    2. Summarizing, the original demo version (unplayed) could be updated with ww1_reg.exe to provide a fresh, complete, new and unplayed experience. I haven't actually found an original demo version yet. On many of the download sites, it seems to have been superseded by already registered and played versions.

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    3. Hmmm. I haven't gotten far enough to experience any such issues, but I'll watch for them. If it makes the game unfinishable, I won't lament it.

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    4. Rangerous, inn case you're still trying to figure this out, I found the problem. It's an infurating quirk to the interface. When you search something, you never by default see any keys that are in it. "Keys" is a separate view. You have to get to it by clicking the key icon above the item's inventory slots (the same icon you click on to USE a key to open it in the first place).

      Searching bodies has THREE separate views: backpack, keys, and body.

      I was ready to give up because I couldn't find any keys to open the doors in the Caves of Anbari. It turns out that practically every chest has a key. You just have to switch from "item" view to "key" view.

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    5. Clarification: it doesn't become a "key icon" until you click on it, which makes it even more confusing. It's a "chest" icon before you click on it.

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  18. I probably have my registered copy of this in a box of Amiga disks somewhere. When you registered Brad mailed out your package with the disk and photocopied map.

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  19. That's incredible. Persistence plus brilliance gets there in the end! Thanks!

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