Wednesday, February 23, 2022

WarWizard: Thalassophobia

The only new areas I was able to map thanks to the boat.
I can't say I was looking forward to a lot with WarWizard, but one of the things I was definitely looking forward to was buying a ship in Tal Keliok (a city on the inland sea) and finishing my map of the game world. I was particularly interested in seeing how far north the map extends, and whether the two northern kingdoms are as big as the four southern ones. I was also keen to find out how much ocean space there is, whether the game world wraps, and if there are any interesting islands.
Acquiring this ship was not as exciting as I'd hoped.
Alas, my hopes were dashed. It turns out that the 4,000-gold piece ship has only one purpose: to get you to the hidden city of Akath. With the ship, you can sail downriver into the middle of a mountain range inaccessible to foot traffic. At the end of the river is a whirlpool that takes you to a small river network in the south. Here, a second whirlpool transports you to the inner part of a different mountain range, where you find the lost city.
Emerging from a whirlpool in a hidden valley.
The southern river network does dump out at the ocean, but you can't even sail a single square into the sea before the game announces that your crew refuses to sail any further.
Any farther.
I thought I could sail east from Tel Keliok and reach the northeast corner of the map that way, but alas you can't cross the point of the broken bridge north of Caer Tiran. It's not so broken that a ship fits through it, apparently. 
Next time you break a bridge, do a more thorough job.
Meanwhile, the entrance to the city of Akath is blocked by a party of eight "black guards." I found them impossible. The problem wasn't that they did a lot of damage to me, but rather that their armor class is so high that I hardly ever hit them. They also avoided most spells. So I couldn't even explore the city after discovering it.
Thus, the only way to explore the northern kingdoms seems to be to cross the bridge in Kraenn, and this bridge is guarded by a party of eight trolls that tear my party apart. Both the black guards and trolls have me depressed. Character development is so slow and incremental in this game that it's hard to see how I'll ever defeat them. In a normal RPG, I'd think, "I'll just level up a few times and then come back," but you can't rely on that plan when the game doesn't have any levels.
This party of trolls blocks further exploration to the north.
Short of finding better equipment, the best mechanism I have for character development is buying attribute-boosting potions. The problem is that I've been loathe to waste them on anyone but my main character, the WarWizard. I'm still not sure whether the other party members are essential and permanent or optional and temporary. Until I know for sure, I'm not spending 3,000 gold on a limited supply of potions to raise someone else's strength by one point.
Discouraged at my plans for the open seas, I returned to my more methodical exploration of the kingdoms. In previous explorations, I had covered Cara, Zebesk, and Terwan. Now I focused on Essea, which has two cities on the west coast (Mithere and Berry Glen), two cities on the inland sea (Silvermist and Tal Keliok) and a "dungeon" in the middle of the forest called Wineke.
Emerging from a secret door to find a hidden NPC.
In Mithere, my lockpicks got me inside the city walls. A secret door led to a hidden jester NPC who said: "There is a jester like myself who lives in the village of Berry Glen to the north. He claims to know how to reach the elven kingdom! I cannot tell you how to find him, but I will say that he loves trees." Elsewhere, the town had a clothing shop, inn, tavern, potion seller, and spell shop. A secret door behind the spell shop led to another NPC who told me about the jester. I bought "Increase Wisdom" at the potion-seller.
Mithere had a royal palace even though I think Tal Keliok is the capital. An unnamed lord and lady met me in the throne room. The man told me that the King of Essea is going mad; his wife elaborated that the king only trusts his closest advisors and his blackguards roam the streets killing people.
The Mithere jail had some interesting characters. An imprisoned warrior made me bribe him for 0 gold pieces to tell me about the NPC who told me about the jester. Outside the prison, I found another NPC who told me that his brother, locked up in prison, had some interesting intelligence. In short, there was an entire thread of NPCs and hints that I essentially discovered backwards.
And I demand no information!
The rest of the prison had dangerous creatures like trolls, mages, and dark elves, and I dutifully cleared each chamber. As I did so, it occurred to me how horrible my actions were from a role-playing perspective. This city clearly has some kind of functioning criminal justice system that puts various evil-doers in prison, and I just barge in and execute them. I think even the Punisher leaves people alone if they're already incarcerated, right?
I had to reload a couple of times with one of the dark elf parties, and in doing so I confirmed something I'd long suspected. Some games generate a list of random numbers to call upon as necessary. Other games roll random numbers in the moment that they're needed. This is one of those games that pre-generates a list. More important, that list seems to be virtually unshakable. For instance, on one occasion, I wandered into a dark elf's cell and combat began. I "lost initiative," so the dark elves went first. One of them immediately cast "Column of Fire" at my party. Ginger suffered 3 damage to the neck, my warrior suffered 18 damage to the left hand, and my cleric suffered 22 damage to the waist, killing her. I figured that was no way to start a battle, so I fled the scene and reloaded. This time, I dithered around town a bit before entering the cell. But when the battle began, the same things happened for exactly the same damage. Moreover, the same exact things happened a third time when I quit to the main menu and then reloaded. Only by fully quitting out of the game to the DOS prompt and re-starting it did I force the game to generate a new set of numbers. I think most games that use a pre-generated set at least re-generate it when you reload from within the game. Otherwise, what's the point of reloading?
In Berry Glen, I learn a bit more about this supposed elven kingdom. A stack of halfling guards each has some intelligence to offer. One says that he once chased some bandits into the woods east of Berry Glen, but elves snatched the bandits before the guards could catch them. Another says that the dark elves have a kingdom of their own to the east, but no one has ever seen it. Other NPCs offer simple warnings to steer clear of the eastern forest. The jester referenced in Mithere, hidden in a grove of trees, gave me explicit directions to the King of the Elves: go east until I hit a "woodland path," then follow it north. I'd already mapped this all out. The path ends at a "dungeon" in Kraenn called Elewin. A final NPC told me that the Halfling King on the west coast of Kraenn could probably help me, but that access has been cut off since the Evil One took over. This bit refers to the troll bridge that I haven't been able to cross.
I crossed over to the east coast of Essea, on the inland sea, and visited Silvermist. There, I heard more talk of the King of Essea having gone mad and locking up innocent people. One NPC gave me a key to the prison in Tel Keliok.
That left Tel Keliok itself, which I'd only explored long enough to buy the ship. For a relatively big city, it didn't have much to offer until I approached the royal palace and found it guarded by three parties of black guards. I had the same problem with them that I had with the black guards in Akath: all my attacks seem to miss them. Again, it's hard to know exactly how to improve my characters to overcome this. Spells can't be the answer, since you only get five at a time.
The king and queen in their throne room, the entrances surrounded by black guards.
I found a back way into the throne room through secret doors (for which I had the key from Silvermist). The king didn't seem insane. He told me that he used to have the WarWizard's cloak, but black guards stole it and took it away on a ship that sailed south into a whirlpool; hence, it must be in Akath. The queen said that the black guards have made them prisoners in their own castle, and that to seek knowledge of Gildain, I should see the duke at Calorman's Keep. Then I wasted a lot of time clearing out the town's jail only to find an NPC who told me about the secret door into the palace.
With all the cities in Essea explored, I headed for the one "dungeon," a castle called Wineke. It's actually a forest maze that I've explored before. It leads to an island with a well, where I can't figure out anything to do. Another path leads to a building guarded by dark elves. No matter how I try to approach combat, the dark elves just pathologically target my cleric until she's dead. It doesn't matter how far away from battle I move her nor how many of my party members are adjacent to them; the elves just ignore everyone else and fill my cleric full of holes. Again, I don't know how to character-develop my way past the problem. The only way I could make any progress was to encounter scum so that I kept reloading until I got a "party" of only one elf. I could kill him before he killed my cleric.
Wineke is full of parties of dark elves.
At some point in the dungeon, I just ran out of steam with the entire game. It's clear that to progress, I'm going to have to grind for hours to raise just a few statistics and give myself a dubious advantage. There's no evidence that anyone has ever won WarWizard, and it's relatively clear why. It takes way too long, offers too little reward in terms of character development, and has a lackluster plot. I'm going to let it cool for a few days and then probably wrap up with a final entry. Man, this winter is going to slaughter me in the statistics.
Time so far: 41 hours


  1. "Otherwise, what's the point of reloading?"

    Give you a chance to try out a new strategy in the exact same situation.

    1. Yeah. I’d rather win because I figured out how, than because I rolled better the second time.

    2. Same here. I never reload to get better stat increases or fatter loot, but I will reload if I realize I could have used better tactics in combat.

    3. I get that in general, but in this specific case where the enemy goes first and always does the same amount of damage to the same characters in the first round, there's not a lot of alternate strategy to try.

    4. Weren't pre-set random numbers meant specifically for the D&D level-up process, so you couldn't cheat your way to the maximum HP bonus? I'm not sure and couldn't point to the game that did it first, but I noticed this during the newish 'Knights of the Chalice'.

    5. I seem to recall seeing the designer of the newer XCOM games talk about how the game uses a mission-specific generated seed which makes save-scumming more difficult. If you save before you take a shot, then reload because you didn't like the outcome, there would be no change. You'd have to go back to an earlier save and make some sort of tactical change to alter the outcome instead.

    6. Regarding the new XCOM's, You can actually turn that on and off in the options when you create a new game, which is pretty cool.

    7. I know some of the Civilization games also give the option of saving the RNG seed instead of rerolling it on loading, although from what I remember it defaults to rerolling on load.

    8. With a fixed seed RNG you effectively have a list of dice rolls/checks in a row. E.g. in XCOM all checks are rolls between 0-100. 12, 99, 45, 67. Each check uses one number from the "list". So in my example the second check would be a guranteed success, and the first a very likely failure. By save scumming with a fixed seed RNG you could roughly figure out the list and abuse it by taking meaningless actions with the low rolls and difficult actions with the high rolls. While it would be terribly dull, for some reason this feels even more scummy to me compared to a variable RNG.

      Of course the AI logic can (and obviously does in WarWizard) use the RNG for decision making, further complicating the effort, so on effect I suppose the fixed seed does limit save scumming more. It just doesn't feel like it to me.

  2. I wonder if there's not some other way of getting past those impossible fights? I also wonder if you could hex edit your character to be much more powerful just to see the end...

    1. Yeah, but I still have like half the game to go. I might hex edit to see the ending if I was almost there and was having trouble with a single battle, but I'm not going to try to carry a cheated party through 20 hours of gameplay.

    2. I just checked the save files, and it doesn't look like a save produces any obvious numbers that can be increased to make the characters more powerful. So even if Chet was willing to do so I'm not sure he could.
      Seems to fit in with my knowledge of how these old games work sometimes, either they're incredibly easy to edit, or practically impossible.

  3. Repeating the same random numbers after reloading is a way to prevent the player from save scumming. At least in theory; it's really hard to pull off in practice because any change in player behavior should throw off the whole sequence.

  4. Don't be too hard on yourself, this chore of a game clearly doesn't deserve any more attention than you've already given. The same goes for Angband IMO.

  5. We're always our own harshest critics. There is not enough time in the world to waste you time doing something you don't enjoy, within something that you do enjoy. My two cents. There are definitely more games coming up that should break the funk.

  6. Hi Chet, don't want to "force" you to prolong the pain (and on the other hand apologies if you have already explored that path), but the review and forum entries by "Scatty" on Abandonia sound like he has also delved quite a bit into this game:
    Though the entries are old, Scatty is shown as having been actively posting as recently as mid Nov '21, so maybe worth a quick message/email before giving up after already having put so much time and effort into it.

  7. From what I understand, sometimes the emulator is that cause of RNG problems that to game originally didn't have in it's actual computer. Not certain though, or which emulators it is.

  8. At least in the general case, it's not a matter of games actually pregenerating a list of random numbers and then going through them (though I won't try to claim that *never* happens). What's much more common is it uses the same seed for the RNG—potentially even a few different seeds for different purposes, like one for "field random numbers" and a separate seed for "combat random numbers", which would ensure that you can't change the progression of a particular battle without getting in a *different* battle first. (Or full-restarting to reset the seed.)

  9. "And I demand no information!"

    I laughed hard at this caption, well played.

  10. Most games that use a deterministic RNG do behave the opposite of WarWizard, yeah - it's not that they reroll anything upon reload, but that they don't. By going into a battle and advancing the RNG, then reloading, you retain the advanced state of the RNG and so get different events in the battle. On the other hand, quitting out of the game and restarting it, then taking exactly the same actions, generally results in the same RNG values being used each time.

    1. Yes indeed, and in some games -- Final Fantasy XII on the PS2 springs to mind -- it's possible to exploit the static RNG to get better results in-game.

    2. Final Fantasy Legend II has NO initial randomization in either of it's two RNGs. The lists is always exactly the same when you start up the game.

      The "random" battle algorithm advances with each step, even when in an area with no battles. The first step you take outside of the first town always (barring saving and quitting) results in a fight because the first fight is always after 4 steps (I think it was).

      And I've exploited soft resets to get specific drops from monsters, since a fight right after booting up will always go the same way, within any specific area and when choosing the same commands. ALL "random" aspects, including attack order and damage.

    3. Yes, FFL2 was on my mind while writing that comment. You pretty much have to abuse the static RNG to get certain drops such as the Seven Sword, as you could grind forever and have almost no chance of stumbling onto it.

    4. Yup, that's the same sort of behaviour in FFXII too.

  11. To be completely precise, any RNG algorithm is, effectively, a long pre-generated list of numbers. The difference is just how often and how unpredictably the game's code consumes numbers from that list, and when and how it "seeds" that list with an initial value. In Ultimas 4 and 5, for example, the game randomly updates the animation frame for each visible object every half second or so, so you'll be in a different place in the list just by waiting and doing nothing for a short time.

    Typical practice, especially in PC games, was to initialize the RNG with something unpredictable like the current time on boot, so you wouldn't be able to know in advance what RNG pattern you'd be on when the game loads. It sounds like this game chose not to do so for some reason, though; it probably just stores the current RNG state in the save data and picks up from that value the next time you reload that save, no matter how you do so.

    In principle, you should be able to get a different RNG pattern in that battle if you go fight another battle somewhere first, and then come back to it. Or if you do anything else that needs to consume a random number, like making a skill check on something.

    (The game is at least trying to randomize those values, right? It's not like the damage you deal is always exactly "Strength + weapon - enemy defense" or something nonrandom like that, is it?)

    1. Yes, there's at least some randomization. And I agree that fighting an intervening battle would work; it just didn't work in a particular case because that was the only battle in the area. Nor does casting a healing spell change the pattern, since healing spells heal a fixed amount of damage and thus don't consume a random number. There might be other things I could do to break the pattern, though. It's not a huge issue. I just thought it was an unusual approach.

  12. I'm honestly curious if the "0 Gold" bribe was because you already had the information the guy would give you. It doesn't seem that difficult to set that up as a sanity check, and paying money to learn something you already know is quite annoying.

    1. I think it's more of an issue of the game using a formula that, say, starts with 40 gold but subtracts 10 gold for every charisma point over 18, and I just happen to have drunk a lot of charisma potions.


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