Saturday, July 9, 2022

Game 461: Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor (1993)

 
"Assault" seems unfair. How about "Investigation into Activity at Myth Drannor"?
     
Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1994 for PC-98
Date Started: 5 July 2022
    
Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon feels recent to me, but I see now that I played it four and a half years ago. Strange to think that when I killed Dran Draggore, no one had ever heard of COVID, Joao Gilberto was still alive, January 6 was just my grandmother's birthday, and I was only vaguely aware of the university at which I now teach. It was the last year of my life that I flew more than 100,000 miles, and when I came home, I came home to two pets I no longer have. I thought I'd grown immune to any surprise at the pace at which life can change.
    
Much less time passed in the real world between the two games, only about 16 months, but it was also a period full of change. Virgin had acquired Westwood Studios and then declined to do any more development work for SSI. SSI, meanwhile, was entering what president Joel Billings would call "the most difficult year in SSI's 14-year history." It was a year that would see the company's workforce cut by more than a third, and their slipping hold on the D&D license portended more dark times ahead. In spite of, or perhaps because of, these circumstances, SSI managed to crank out some excellent titles in 1993, including two we've already experienced: Dark Sun: Shattered Lands and Stronghold
         
The cinematic starts with the party fresh from their Darkmoon victory.
         
Eye of the Beholder III was released first, though, probably in a deliberate effort to get ahead of Westwood's Lands of Lore, which promised to take Dungeon Master-style gameplay to the next level. SSI must have been aware that they couldn't truly compete with Westwood, but that doesn't mean that they half-assed it, either. The staff for the game was full of SSI veterans, and the lead programmer, making his SSI debut, was John Miles, a veteran Origin developer (he did most of the coding on Ultima V). I mention all of this because I know Eye of the Beholder III's reputation is a bit disappointing, but to me it starts relatively strong, and I suspect I'm going to end up concluding that it was the best sequel that could have been developed under the circumstances.
       
A short story written by Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood establishes the setting. It concerns a young knight named Delmair Rallyhorn who journeys to Shadowdale to find Elminster the Sage. Delmair is the heir to Cormyr, or a land within Cormyr, and the regents who rule his land until his maturity have decided he needs to prove himself on a quest. Years ago, Delmair's father was killed somewhere near Shadowdale, reportedly by a lich, and Delmair seeks to avenge him. Delmair's mother sickened and disappeared long ago.
         
I'm calling it now: this guy is actually working for the bad guy.
       
The knight arrives in Shadowdale at the beginning of a festival called the Day of the Drawn Sword, which requires someone to spend the night in Myth Drannor, usually fatally. Elminster, who apparently sees and knows everything, orchestrates a conflation of events. First, a local ragamuffin named Alyth finds Delmair's father's broken sword, which destroys undead. After guiding Delmair safely to the city, Elminster presents him with the sword, arranges him to serve as the festival's annual sacrifice, and accompanies him to Myth Drannor. There, Delmair "calls out" the lich who supposedly killed his father, only to discover that the lich, named Malithra, is a good-aligned "archlich." She explains that while Delmair's father came to Myth Drannor to see her, he was actually killed by bandits. Delmair sheathes his sword and spends the night talking with the lonely lich, discovering at the end of the tale that she is his mother.
   
I don't know how much of that is going to be relevant to the game, but it does help to establish some of the mythology surrounding Myth Drannor, a setting that we are visiting for our third and final time in an SSI game. I had to consult the Forgotten Realms Wiki to learn that the events of this game are contemporaneous with Pool of Radiance (1988), and thus before the Pool party's visit in Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989) and Pools of Darkness (1991). In fact, it might be the party's actions in this game that lead to a power-vacuum in the ruins, allowing Tyranthraxus to set up his headquarters there.
       
Those two words mean the same thing.
   
In Forgotten Realms lore, Myth Drannor is an ancient city, founded by elves, at its height the capital of a cosmopolitan, diverse civilization. It ultimately fell to invaders, which precipitated the Retreat of elves off the main Faerûn continent. The ruins became a frequent destination of plunderers seeking artifacts and treasure, as well as assorted evil-doers looking to hide in the midst of the relatively civilized human cities in the region.
   
As the game opens, the party is over a thousand miles away, across the Anauroch Desert, across the Graypeak Mountains and High Forest, in the city of Waterdeep. They are deep in their cups in a tavern, relating the tale of their triumph in Darkmoon. The door flies open to admit a weird-looking robed man who tells the party that his "master" has sent him to beseech their help in ridding Myth Drannor of "a most foul lich"--a male lich, and thus not the one from the Greenwood story. The party accepts, of course, at which point the stranger manages to magically teleport them directly to the outskirts of the ruined city.
     
That is the least lich-like lich I've ever seen.
      
The teleportation is a lazy bit of writing: why would someone capable of such magic need the help of Level-10 adventurers? And why are such teleportation spells only ever available when the plot requires them, rather than when the characters want to use them? I don't see why we couldn't have just ridden on horseback. In fact, a better approach would have probably been to start the game afresh with new Moonsea-based characters. By the end of Part II of any series that allows the importing of characters, those characters are already getting a bit too powerful. I'm not sure I've ever played a Part III that offered any meaningful character development.
 
What spell is this, exactly?
        
Character creation is so boilerplate we could all recite it in our sleep. It uses the exact same program as Darkmoon. Sex: male or female. Races: human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, gnome, halfling. Classes: fighter, ranger, paladin, mage, cleric, thief, plus the usual multi-class options. Full set of alignments despite the party being referred to as "heroes" repeatedly. Standard attributes: strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, charisma, with the standard modifiers by race. As usual, the game allows the player to modify the attributes, using the fiction that players might want to do it to "match a favorite AD&D game character."

     
For the first time, I found that importing characters didn't offer any huge advantages in terms of experience. My characters ended Darkmoon with about 580,000 earned experience--except for one character who has nearly double that amount. (Was there a Potion of Level Gain or something that I don't remember?) New characters in Assault start with between 375,000 (mage) and 675,000 (cleric) experience points--essentially whatever gets them to Level 10 (paladin, ranger, and dual-classes) or 11 (everyone else). The upshot is that none of my imported characters is even a single level higher than a new counterpart (some of them, granted, are about halfway there) and one of my characters, the paladin, is actually a level lower.
   
Where imported characters really have an advantage, of course, is with gear. New characters start with mostly +1 weapons, armor, and shields, while my imported characters have a selection of +3 and +4 items. But the import process strips the items of anything interesting. My paladin's +4 "Talon" sword becomes just a long sword +4. Her golden plate mail +3 becomes just regular plate mail +3. My mage's +3 cloak "Moonshade" becomes just a robe +3. The game has also become pickier as to what weapons can be dual-wielded; it seems to be limited to smaller weapons like short swords and daggers.
        
Gameplay begins in a graveyard.
        
My imported party consists of:
      
  • Starling, a Level 9 lawful good human paladin. She is dual-wielding a long sword +4 and a short sword +3 and wearing plate mail +3.
  • Bugsy, a Level 9/11 chaotic good dwarf fighter/thief. He wears banded mail +3. His primary weapon is a long sword +4, but he's overloaded with reserves, including an axe +3, a halberd +5 (!), and a green crystal hammer +2, that one not losing its attributes.
  • Marina, a Level 11 neutral good elf mage. I guess I never found her a decent weapon because she came with a simple dagger. But she has a robe +3 and Braces of Protection +5. For some reason, she has two spellbooks.
  • Gaston, a Level 9/10 chaotic good ranger/cleric with a regular bow, 24 arrows, and a plate mail +2.
      
My best recollection is that I named them all after characters in "Best Picture" nominees for 1991, the year of the original Eye.
 
One new element to this game is that rear characters can attack with melee weapons as long as they're pole-arms. Thus, the halberd +5 in Bugsy's inventory goes immediately to Gaston. It feels weird not having my ranger use a bow, but I'm done picking up individual arrows after combat.
     
Consistent with a backstory that saw the characters yanked from their revelry before they had a chance to sleep, no one has any spells memorized as the game begins. There are a bunch of new ones in Assault that I've never seen in a previous D&D-based CRPG, including (thank the gods) "Improved Identify" (Level 2 mage), "Water Breathing" (Level 3 mage), "Mordenkainen's Sword" (Level 7 mage), "Negative Plane Protection" (Level 3 cleric), "Blessed Warmth" (Level 4 cleric), and "Heroes' Feast" (Level 6 cleric). [Ed. I guess "Improved Identify" was in Darkmoon and I forgot.]
      
Marina memorizes some mage spells.
    
The lack of memorized spells is unfortunate, as the game drops us right into the middle of combat. The party appears in a graveyard, stones thrust into the ground every two or three squares. "Grave mists" (a monster appearing for the first time in a CRPG, I believe) start swarming us almost immediately. According to the manual, they require magical weapons to hit, they drain constitution (I trust not permanently), and they're healed by cold-based attacks. Fortunately, they don't take very long to kill with our existing magical melee weapons.
      
A large pack of grave mists attacked at one point. I hit them with a "Fireball."
      
The interface is largely identical to Darkmoon. Other than color, there are only three changes. The first is a minor cosmetic one: the position of the GTFO panel and the compass have been swapped. The second is more significant: the addition of an "All Attack" button just below the movement arrows. Clicking it (or hitting the SPACE bar) has all the characters execute all their available melee attacks simultaneously.
   
If you had asked me, while playing any previous Dungeon Master clone, what I most wanted added to the interface, this would be it. No more furious clicking around on small icons of hands and swords. For most of them, I would have gladly taken those attacks mapped to keys. For those that had that, I would have said, yes, absolutely, I'd love a button that executes them all at once.
   
All I can say now is: I was wrong. While it sounds like a good idea, it turns combat into an incredibly boring affair of hitting the spacebar, waiting for the cool down period to end, and hitting it again. There might as well be a drool tray in front of you. It encourages laziness. You're more likely to engage in true tactics--including switching up weapons and casting some spells--when you're already clicking around anyway. I'm sorry I didn't get it before.
                                                  
"All Attack" isn't as fun as you might think.
        
The third change also has the effect of making things a bit too easy: You can now access each character's inventory while in the "Camp" menu, which pauses the action. Nothing stops you from entering "Camp" at any time. You can't rest if enemies are near, but you can swap inventory to your heart's content without taking a hit from a foe.
   
A couple steps south of where we entered the graveyard, we encountered a contingent of the Knights of Myth Drannor, led by Florian Falconhand, a character in Forgotten Realms novels. He warned us that looting would not be tolerated. We explained that we were the Heroes of Waterdeep, here to fight a great evil. He claimed that Elminster had foretold our arrival and wished us well but didn't offer to help us fight the grave mists or anything.
      
"Maybe we could join f--- . . . okay, see you later."
       
The graveyard was 30 x 30, with between 15 and 20 percent of the squares blocked off by trees. As we sidled up to one set of trees, Gaston remarked that some of them didn't "look all that sturdy." This was a clue to hack away at them. When we tried with normal weapons, Gaston remarked, "A stout axe might well do the job." Fortunately, I had a couple of axes, and we were able to clear away a large portion of the trees (marked on the map in lighter green). Some of the cleared areas led to treasures, and one in the northeast led to a new map area. 
       
The opening graveyard.
        
Hacking at some trees to access the treasure beyond.
       
There were a few piles of treasure in the graveyard, plenty of grave mists, and some evenly-placed gravestones that we couldn't do anything with. I stopped clicking on them after Gaston told us to leave them alone the first three or four times. There seem to be two exits from the opening area: a mausoleum and "deeper into the forest." I'll probably try the mausoleum next.
      
An introductory screen for the mausoleum.
        
There's a little ambient sound in the graveyard, mostly birds chirping, but still welcome as it's unusual for the era. Regular sound effects are fine--I'll talk more about them later. There is no regular exploration music, which is also unusual for the era.
  
The outdoor area wasn't terribly exciting, but it's an introductory area, much like the same area in Darkmoon. I expect the real fun to start once we get inside. I wonder if there will be levers, buttons, and pressure plates.   

Time so far: 2 hours

89 comments:

  1. Improved identify was also in the second game. The tabletop D&D has regular Identify, which is a level lower but impractically takes eight hours to cast.

    In my memory, newly created characters lack the +2 weapons that can hurt the grave mists, making the starting area very annoying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the reminder. I had forgotten it existed in the previous game.

      Grave mists are immune to +1? Yeah, that makes a big difference. You'd have a very tough time fighting them until you found some of the equipment in the environment. It would completely change the opening hours of the game.

      Delete
  2. Hey! He said no looting. :P

    Dungeon Hack from the same year uses the same spells, but makes some changes to the interface since it is a single character game. I think you'll use Negative Plane Protection a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oddly, I think Dungeon Hack is based on the engine of Eob 2, not 3.

      Delete
    2. I’d be very surprised if that were the case - if SSI had the rights to use the EOB2 engine for Dungeon Hack I can’t see why they couldn’t have just used it for EOB3 as well. And a quick Google shows all sources saying it’s EOB3, though of course they could be making an assumption. The all attack button and polearms working from the back row are the most obvious differences but of course aren’t applicable to a single-character game like Dungeon Hack, though from the manual it looks like it’s got the same spell list as EOB3 which seems like a pretty definitive sign.

      Delete
    3. Looking at the game files, Dungeon Hack uses AESOP/16 and EOB3 uses AESOP/32, but that's in my patched GOG version. Original files for EOB3 show AESOP/16, too. I found no reference to AESOP in EOB2.

      I'm pretty sure a lot of code from EOB2 got reused for EOB3, but they seem to have refactored it and made it more reusable, using the same engine for Dungeon Hack and EOB3.

      Delete
    4. I recall aesop32 having serious performance issues on contemporary computers.

      If it's based on refactoring Westwood's code instead of being made from scratch, that explains why it's so inefficiently written and buggy.

      Delete
    5. I assumed they reused a lot of code because the games are so similar, temporarily forgetting that the previous games were made by Westwood. It was probably a rewrite then. Maybe it was rushed.

      The AESOP/16 version must have been the one with performance issues, I don't think the /32 version ever got an official release before GOG patched the game.

      Delete
    6. "I think you'll use Negative Plane Protection a lot."

      Dungeon Hack has the option to generate a dungeon with no undead - this might be the reason why ;)

      Delete
    7. Reverse engineering work by the ScummVM team conclusively shows that EOB3's engine is not a modification or refactor of the EOB2 engine, but rather rewritten from scratch; most likely because SSI didn't have access to the source code.

      Delete
  3. I don't quite get why part three of the series has such a bad reputation.

    I think it's a completely serviceable sequel which excels in graphics, sound effects and overall atmosphere.

    And it's the first time we get outdoor areas in EOB, albeit very few, maybe another concession to live up to LoL's (perceived) example.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel like the issue with the game is that it's generally considered the worst Eye of the Beholder game, so it ends up with a bad reputation as a downgrade despite still being a fine game overall. It's also hard for it to avoid comparisons to Lands of Lore, considering that was done by the original Eye of the Beholder devs.

      Delete
    2. There is actually a small forest area in EOB2, though you’re definitely right that this is the first time the outdoors plays a significant role in an EOB game.

      I also found this better when I expected when I replayed it a couple of years ago, since I remembered disliking it when I picked it up on release. I think part of the answer is that it had a lot of technical issues, including poor performance and bugs - I recall it running much slower than EOB2, and persistent crashes when entering certain areas, so don’t think I was able to make much progress. These days, of course, performance is a non-issue and I’m guessing the game’s been patched at some point to iron out the bugs.

      Delete
    3. The main issue with EOB3 is its atrocious dungeon design and game balance in general. It's just plain badly designed, and easily the worst of the three EOB games for that reason alone. Comparing 3's sprawling mazes full of nothing to 2's carefully crafted puzzle dungeons is painful.

      Delete
    4. I have played the trilogy back-to-back recently for the first time and I tend to agree with Moza, at least in part. I think the game is better than its reputation but still the weakest game of the trilogy by some distance.

      The team could have been compentent, but the result does indeed feel "half-assed", it's bland and kind of soulless, like they went through the motions without really trying.

      Delete
    5. I still prefer EoB3 over EoB2. To me, the death traps and skeleton room were terrible design decisions in EoB2 that are, fortunately, not replicated in EoB3

      But yes, both very bland compared to the excellent original

      Delete
    6. Death traps are, in fact, replicated in EOB3. Vs lbh fxvc n pregnva chmmyr va n zvq-tnzr nern, lbh raq hc ba n ynetr znc gung'f pbzcyrgryl oynax. Va snpg guvf znqr zr guvax gur tnzr jnf ohttrq, fb V nonaqbarq vg ragveryl. Ohg vg'f n qrngu genc gung pbzrf jvgubhg jneavat naq gung lbh pnaabg trg bhg bs.

      Delete
    7. EOB is a rough masterpiece. It has its edges like the spiderlevel, although in retrospect that also makes it memorable. Its design is good but not perfect. The teleport gate system makes it a bit more extensive to traverse than is good for it. Its a nice game but the grindlevel... you are chewing gravel at times. It makes up for it though. Worst drawback is certainly the lack of an end sequence on some systems (notably PC).

      EOB2 is a REFINED masterpiece, the kind of rare gems Westwood tended to produce at the height of its creative output. The dungeon layout is superb. In fact if i had to rank all the dungeons i have seen (starting around the SSi golbox era and something of a Might and Magic 2) this is the one to dominate them all. Find an old cluebook scan to look at it, its worth it. It has all the bells and whistles and is extensive whilst somehow managing to avoid the player feeling bored because its so alternating in elements, always a surprise around the corner. Biggest drawback: there are two dead ends where, if you save and only got one save you have to start over. This game has a beautiful, beautiful end sequence, even if you had to disconnect all diskdrives to play it on the A500 because those still ate to much into the extended 1MB memory to play it.

      EOB3 is technically a fine game. Its got all the bells and whistles, unfortunately in the engine and not the gameplay. Once you got through the packaging, the main playingfield it the temple area and you explore its symmetrical layout whilst endless hordes of its denizens descend on you. There arent any surprise and it feels very tedious and unfortunately there are no gimmics here to distract from it. You hack through the map and thats it. Worse yet, the bossfight, supposedly a dark god, is a total pushover. I mean Xanathar was once you learned to sidestep even without the spear trap set up to drive him into with the stalk wand but this... most encounters in the temple are far more difficult. I dont know if they messed up the variables here a bit. The end sequence is there... but...
      You can feel all the Westwood design is gone from it. It looks nice. Its a nice engine. It doesnt live up in gameplay.

      Westwood went on to produce the excellent Lands of Lore which gathered quite a following only to drown the rest of the series in pseudo 3D like Might and Magic and Wizardry did and died by. Lands of Lore is a masterpiece in its own right but never again would the fine balance be struck as in EOB2. In general the dungeons of LoL are at times by faar to vast and generic to search a single item in (mines, just like that temple are in EOB3) or outright unfair (that serpent thing in the temple, striking the entire party in intervalls during combat). Its a fantastic game for sure but it has his strubling blocks.

      Dungeon Master was the granddaddy of them all, of course and some awkward design choices aside it can still hold its own despite being neither as polished as any of those above it still had superb design and kept from being a boring monster mash. You could crush monsters in doors there.

      And Dungeon Hack... was of course the endless random dungeon creator, sadly lacking a party system. Its an interesting idea even if it lacks the polished gameplay design. It has a very high replay value due constantly being to produce the unkown. Not a simple feat...

      Dungeon Master 2... hmm... i remember it as fairly difficult... the orbs in the mines... maybe i have to revisit this one...

      Delete
  4. Do you know why SSI was losing the ADD licence ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jimmy Maher’s blog has lots of detail, but basically it boils down to poor commercial performance of SSI’s games:

      https://www.filfre.net/2019/09/opening-the-gold-box-part-6-a-troubled-marriage/

      Delete
    2. Ah thanks. I had forgotten about this article, even though I read it all for my own coverage of SSI.

      Delete
  5. The attack all button is one of those things that sounds perfectly reasonable and a great idea, but having to click individually to attack is arguably a core part of the gameplay. It makes combat far more active, and actually a risk instead of trivially easy. Attack all honestly feels like a debug type thing in practice, where the only actually good use is to get through combat as quickly as possible to speed up testing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does it really make that much of a difference? The weapon cooldowns are long enough that you should be able to click them in sequence before the first weapon becomes active again. So all that should change is that you're hitting more synchronized. Of course it takes less concentration to press one button instead of four, making it easier to move around at the same time. But that is something I think an experienced EOB player would have no trouble with.

      Delete
    2. >Does it really make that much of a difference?

      It absolutely does. You will see it instantly if you test it and compare. It's not just about cooldowns, it's about the amount of RL time you have to stay in front of the enemy to damage it. Rotating through four frontline weapons takes a second or two, during which the enemy has a chance to damage you. All-attack takes one click and resolves immediately, meaning the enemy pretty much can't possibly hit you back - if it even survives the all-attack in the first place (a major factor exacerbating the problem in EOB3 is that 99% of enemies are so weak that they die with a single All-attack, turning it into a "delete enemy" button).

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. I think you’ve hit on the problem with these genre - the illusion of choice. With combats, beyond changing equipment (which you’ll do once at most) and casting spells, the main things you do are click the stacks and do some movement. Clicking each individual player’s weapon to stack makes it feel like you’re doing more than you actually are; that there’s more skill involved. But really it’s just doing busy work to keep yourself occupied. This is the illusion that the attack all button strips from the player.

      You realise that actually there isn’t much to these games’ combat at all. Given that is a major part of the gameplay, it also makes you realise that the games are pretty simplistic

      Delete
    5. It's not just that. The game objectively becomes easier with the AA button.

      Delete
    6. Replaying EoB made me realize just how shoehorned in the AD&D mechanics were, and how inferior the game is to Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back.

      Delete
    7. Ok, that makes sense. I guess at these higher levels and with magic weapons, you hit most of the time, too, making the effect even stronger.

      One of the nice things about EOB1 really was how few enemies there were.

      Delete
    8. > (Was there a Potion of Level Gain or something that I don't remember?)

      I believe that would be when Gaston touched the cursed old man (https://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2018/02/eye-of-beholder-ii-poorly-coordinated.html).

      EOB 3 recycles a lot of graphics assets from 2, but the new assets are definitively a step back compared its predecessor. It might not be apparent from the start, but later in the game, some enemy designs are just plain lazy (you will know when you get to it).

      I seem to remember that it was a significantly different staff that worked on EOB 3, which would explain the very different level design and overall atmosphere.

      Delete
    9. >I seem to remember that it was a significantly different staff that worked on EOB 3

      Not just different staff, but a different company entirely. EOB1 and 2 were developed externally by Westwood (of Command and Conquer fame), while EOB3 was made internally by SSI's own people.

      Delete
    10. It really feels that they balanced the game for someone playing using individual attacks, rather than the AA button.

      They could have mitigated how strong it is by making the enemies stronger and smarter, but in this game it definitely makes combat too easy and just boring.

      Delete
    11. 1. I think MOZA is right about the "All Attack" making the game easier as well as combat less interesting. However, I think the "spoiled illusion" aspect that Deano talks about is the more important dynamic.

      2. krys, thanks for reminding me how Gaston got all those extra points.

      3. "I seem to remember that it was a significantly different staff that worked on EOB 3." Maybe you remember that from my having discussed it in this very entry?

      Delete
    12. Interesting, I always remember the All Attack button fondly as a coordinated start of combat, and then clicking individually on weapons as they are available.

      One of the reasons I didn't like the Grimrock games was forcefully having to go back to the late 80s interface of clicking specific weapons

      Delete
    13. I bailed on Grimrock partly because of the lack of shared xp.

      Delete
    14. In user interfaces for games, efficiency isn't everything. Enabling the player to do things with less clicks and less attention might make the game boring.

      For example, in Diablo 1, the player has to click on an enemy for each single swing of the sword. It's not a boring interaction, but also not exactly comfortable! In Diablo 2, the player clicks on an enemy and then keeps holding down the mouse button to keep attacking this enemy. Decently comfortable, and not boring either. In Dungeon Siege, the player clicks on an enemy only once and the player character will keep attacking this enemy until it is killed (like in an RTS). Very comfortable, but also utterly boring (IMO). Reading reviews of Dungeon Siege 2, it seems that they changed the default controls there to be like Diablo 2?

      Of course it depends on the game. What's right for Baldur's Gate (lots of tactics, lots of player characters) isn't right for a Diablo clone (few tactics, single player character).

      Real-time games usually aren't pure mind games, they also have a dexterity component which is significant even when it seems negligible. It keeps part of your brain busy, so you're under time pressure, you need to multitask and you can't invest 100% of your thoughts into tactics and strategy.

      Regarding "illusion of choice", note that where EOB 3 and most other Dungeon Master clones usually only have an attack button, the original Dungeon Master actually has a second step where the player selects from the available attack types of this weapon: chop, cleave, stab, throw, etc. These have varying strengths and cooldowns (heavy attacks with long cooldowns, light attacks with short cooldowns, etc.)

      If I remember correctly, these different attack types didn't average out to the same amout of damage over time. Some seemed clearly better than others. But it took quite a few combats to evaluate them, due to the randomized damage values.

      (That was my subjective experience years ago. Searching on the web nowadays, I've found some forum threads with complex reverse-engineering efforts, and while I don't understand most of it, they confirm that different attack types with the same weapon have wildly different DPS. I've not yet understood whether the enemy type makes a difference. One of these threads is here: https://www.dungeon-master.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=31345. Scroll down to see the Excel tables.)

      Also note that Dungeon Master doesn't give you any direct information about the weapons' strength. You have to try them out and observe the damage values on each hit. In EOB, you know the weapon's strength immediately after picking it up. (Whether this feature of Dungeon Master is good game design is a matter of taste; I like it, but I know from previous discussions that many others would rather receive concrete information from the game.)

      Combined, this means that during any combat in DM you're quite occupied - in a relaxed, non-urgent way - with observing each attack to find out if the weapon you found and equipped half an hour ago is actually better than the previous one, and whether any of the 2 to 4 attack types of this weapon are better than the others.

      (Well, of course you can also beat the game just by using the weapons and attack types that sound stronger. After all, even if attack A is twice as good as attack B, you can always just attack twice with attack B...)

      All in all, I think that the player's choices during combat in the original Dungeon Master are sufficiently meaningful and interesting, but most later games in this genre removed some of its subtle game mechanics, while they should have increased the complexity and depth.

      Delete
    15. Great comment, Bitmap. There is a lot to analyze here. You are correct to remind me that DM had those sub-options that contributed to combat feeling a bit more frenetic. I guess that's the heart of the problem. I can't see any purpose to real-time, action combat except a) to let the player demonstrate his dexterity (as opposed to the characters'), or b) to quicken the pulse and make the game more visceral. The "All Attack" button removes both those benefits.

      The combat method that you describe in Dungeon Siege is also used heavily in Bioware games, including all the Infinity and Aurora engine ones (e.g., Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights). The trick, I think, is to still give the player lots to do, whether shuffling among multiple characters to choose targets and tactics (Infinity Engine) or give the player a lot of items, abilities, and powers to use (Aurora Engine/AD&D3). I don't remember Dungeon Siege, but if it featured neither, I guess I can see how it would become boring.

      Delete
    16. Some other benefits of real-time combat are c) preventing analysis paralysis, where the player spends too much time pondering the next move and spoils his enjoyment of the game, and d) speeding up those frequent and easy combats with mooks that are common in CRPGs (which can become slow if the player characters need individual commands for each action).

      While we're talking about different combat systems and the fact that the "All Attack" button makes combat worse -- how would a well-designed combat system look like which fulfills the original intention? The original intention must have been to avoid the annoyance of having to click on the individual attack button of each character, while keeping a real-time DM-style combat system.

      One system that might work well could look like the following.

      - The player often faces enemy groups of three to four (on one tile), with different enemy types in the same group. Enemies often have buffs and special attacks.
      - Clicking on the 'All Attack' toggle button commands the two front fighters to keep attacking until the engagement is broken.
      - The player needs to command the rear characters individually in order to cast a lot of spells during combat. Almost every combat should require tactical spellcasting. Just hacking away should be futile. As you said, it's necessary to give the player more actions.
      - Many spells require the player to target a specific enemy. The player can just click on the target, including enemies in the rear.
      - For example: Noticing that one enemy only receives 1 HP damage on each hit, casting "Dispel Magic" on it to remove its 'Stoneskin' buff. Casting 'Fire Protection' on the party to protect against the enemy's fire breath. Casting 'Greater Dispel Magic' on the enemy party's fire shield, then casting a fireball. Casting 'Reflect' at the right time to turn back the enemy spellcaster's 'Magic missiles'. Etc.
      - Ideally, the player is attentively watching the combat unfold and needs to intervene often, but not all the time.
      - Some situations might call for detective work (under time pressure). "Why is that enemy spell caster in the rear immune to attacks? Does 'Dispel Magic' work? No. What about 'Vacuum'? No. Oh, is it an incorporeal enemy? Cast 'Weaken Nonmaterial Beings'! That worked."

      Hopefully, the result would be a game which DM fans like and which doesn't require repetitive clicking.

      Delete
    17. Nice analysis. There is an extent to which EotB3 does some of what you're suggesting by allowing you to toggle which characters participate in "all attack." That way you can fine-tune the attacks of the non-participating characters, as I now do with my mage. It's not the same thing as the "Continuous Attack" suggestion you've made, but it's close.

      I agree that almost every combat should include spellcasting, and that's where this game really falls down.

      Delete
  6. Regent: Oh, you want your ahh, duchy? Yes, yes, naturally, you're of age now. But look, running these things requires a lot of ahh, maturity, experience, valor and so on. To demonstrate that you're ready for that responsibility why not go on a quest to Myth Drannor, and slay, say, a lich? That'd reassure everyone that you were ready for your role as Duke!

    ReplyDelete
  7. > "Grave mists" (a monster appearing for the first time in a CRPG, I believe)

    This is a funny mistake to make, given than Grave mists appear in Wizardry IV and you actually mentioned them a few posts ago!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I meant more "a monster from the D&D bestiary showing up for the first time in a D&D CRPG." But yes, the coincidence is funny.

      Delete
  8. It is petty, I know, but I prefer EOB over Dungeon Master because in DM you have to choose from a list of characters instead of rolling your own. Even if the character I rolled was EXACTLY one of the characters I could choose, this is enough to make me not want to play.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think the combination of the 'all attack' button and the way that your middle-rank characters can use pole-arms in melee means that combat is not only a bit dull, but very easy - your damage output is massively higher than in EOB2, especially if your front rank characters have a sword in each hand, and you cast a haste spell. In EOB2, it felt like you really had to work to keep hitting and dodging with each character, whereas in this you hit the enemy with a landslide every time you press 'all attack'. It trivialises melee a bit.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I replayed EOB3 recently, and the opening section with the forest and the mausoleum was the best bit of the game by far. There are some really good elements to the game - it feels much more like an adventure than the previous games in the way that you progress from the woods through to Myth Drannor itself, and the mausoleum is the best-designed dungeon. The rest of the game feels like they ran out of time and just plonked rooms and corridors down at random - there are areas where there are no enemies or items, just empty space on the map - but the mausoleum feels like it's had a bit of thought put into it. And the chapter screen illustrations are really nicely done.

    It declines as it goes on though, and it really does get ludicrously easy towards the end. It's still quite nice to play - I find mapping games like this to be quite therapeutic, and it's inherently satisfying to diligently fill in the map as you progress - but it's the worst of the trilogy by some considerable distance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris, as you can see from this entry, I'm just getting started with the game. I'd appreciate if you erred on the side of ROT-13'ing this level of spoiler in the future.

      Delete
    2. Oh blimey, sorry - I honestly wouldn’t have considered that a spoiler, and wouldn’t have posted it if I’d realised. Ultimately, it’s only my opinion that the start is the best bit - I’ve been wrong before - but yeah, apologies, I’ll be more careful in future.

      Delete
    3. Equally the rooms and dungeons feeling empty might be so by design. With games we get what we're given..I mean it's always been true. Just another perspective on it.

      Delete
    4. Even if something's done by design, that doesn't suddenly make it immune to criticism. You get what you're given, and if you have issues with what you're given there's nothing wrong with talking about what you think is a problem with it.

      Delete
    5. The thing is that the exact criticism was used towards Pool of Radiance 2. Giant boring and empty maps. Both games take place in Myth Drannor, which I always imagined like the halls below Moria from Jacksons LotR movie. Maybe the dead city is just big and empty?

      Delete
    6. That's the thing though, big and empty usually doesn't make for interesting gameplay. That's the sort of setting that'd work great for horror, but to the best of my knowledge none of these games are really going for that. They just end up being uninteresting instead of doing anything cool with the concept of a dead city.

      Delete
  11. I really enjoyed EOB3. But it is the weakest part of the series and you can recognize the different developer team. For me it is hard to describe, but there is different "attack feedback" than in the other two games. It feels different, somehow not as satisfying... and the sound effects are awful. They tried to be state of the art with the digitized effects, but they sound just awful and are quite annoying for me (i usually never mute sound and music). And i don't think the wide open areas work for the engine. You walk und walk and it feels like as you are standing still... It is still a great game. It is only the weakest part of the series...

    ReplyDelete
  12. This game would have visually impressed me enough to purchase.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "That is the least lich-like lich I've ever seen."

    It falls to me to make the obligatory comparison of that screenshot to the notorious NSFW "goatse" image. If you don't know that of which I speak, do not look it up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, I can't unsee it.

      Delete
    2. I scrolled through the comments to see if I was the only person who immediately thought of that. We've obviously been on the internet too long.

      Delete
    3. Ha! Thank you for taking on that duty.

      Delete
  14. Sorry you had to suffer through EoB1-2 with mouse "aided" attacks, as those games were perfectly playable with keyboard. Just disable mouse support in the setup and WZAS becomes the directional keys for the inventory area. U for use, "," for selecting between spells, SPACE to cast, "I" to open inventory, and the best: "M" to operate levers and secret switches (yes it becomes incredibly easy to sweep a corridor for secrets). After you get good with it, it becomes the only way to play.

    Unfortunately EoB3 does not have this keyboard support _at all_, which is the precise reason I have never played it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those are some of the worst keyboard mappings I've ever seen...

      Delete
    2. You've never played Impossible Mission on C=64 without a joystick.

      Delete
    3. I didn't want to play EotB 1 and 2 with the mouse disabled. I almost never want to play a game with the mouse disabled. The mouse is good for what the mouse is good at. Why should disabling the mouse be necessary to enable keyboard commands like the ones you mention?

      Delete
    4. It's not necessary, EoB was just coded that way. Give the keyboard controls a try, I think you'll agree with me after you get the hang of it.

      Yeah, my first 286 didn't even have a serial port, so no mouse either. Might be an oldfag thing.

      Delete
  15. Does the GOG version come already patched with AESOP32? If not I really recommend to do it. If not the game halts for every sound it makes, which is annoying.

    I had fun with EOB3 the little I played (I recall getting tired halfway). The fact that you have so many spells available from the beginning was quite a relief.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I see they already distribute the patched version
      https://www.gog.com/forum/forgotten_realms_collection/eye_of_the_beholder_3_aesop32_guide_v11/post5

      So EOB3 is not running better now because of better machines or better SO, but because it has already been patched :D

      Delete
    2. There are still some problems. Enemies really slow things down. Sometimes there's a delay of 5 seconds or more when I first turn to face them.

      Delete
    3. Oh, duh. I'm not playing the GOG version. GOG isn't selling it right now for some reason.

      Delete
    4. It's packaged up with the other two as Forgotten Realms Archives Collection 1:

      https://www.gog.com/game/forgotten_realms_the_archives_collection_one

      (Not sure why the earlier-in-time Gold Box games are relegated to Collection 2, but I guess it's just popularity?)

      Delete
  16. There's a puzzle in the mausoleum that's driving me bonkers, and I'm hoping for a light hint. At least eight switches near a plaque that says "THE SCEPTRE, LEARNED, PHYSIC MUST ALL FOLLOW THIS AND COME TO DUST." This is a slightly-incorrect quote from Shakespeare's Cymbeline, but I can't see what it has to do with the puzzle. Meanwhile, the levers open and -close various walls, but some of them only in combination with others, and trying all the possibilities is getting boring. Wouldn't mind a ROT-13 hint.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sort of a meta-comment, although I don't know how helpful it'll be:

      gur znhfbyrhz vf bcgvbany fb lbh pna grpuavpnyyl fxvc vg, V arire qvq fbyir vg zlfrys

      Delete
    2. Did some searching for hints on your behalf. Official hintbook provided no clues.

      If you still need help, here's an EXPLICIT SOLUTION:

      THE SCEPTRE, LEARNED, PHYSIC, MUST ALL FOLLOW THIS AND COME TO DUST
      This puzzle is horrible

      = Chyy gur fjvgup ba gur fbhgu jnyy (naq xvyy gur zbafgref gung pbzr)
      = Gjb fgrcf abegu
      = Chyy gur jrfg fjvgpu, gjb fgrcf abegu
      = Chyy gur rnfg fjvgpu
      = Chyy gur abegu fjvgpu
      = Chyy gur rnfg fjvgpu
      = Tb jrfg (vatber gur fjvgpu)
      = Gjb fgrcf fbhgu naq chyy gur jrfg fjvgpu
      = Chyy gur rnfg fjvgpu
      = Gjb fgrcf abegu
      = Chyy gur jrfg fjvgpu
      = Chyy gur abegu fjvgpu
      = Chyy gur jrfg fjvgpu
      = Gur cnffntr abegu bcraf
      Tb abegu naq sbyybj gur pbeevqbe

      Delete
    3. I'm sure I brute forced this, I don't think there is any additional logic to what you have already figured out.

      All walkthroughs I found and even the official cluebook do not mention the plaque and give the solution outright, so if it's supposed to be a clue it's very cryptic indeed.

      Delete
    4. Ugh. I tried brute forcing it for about an hour, but my morale evaporated when I saw all of the steps in Futility's comment. Thanks, futility.

      Delete
    5. Hah, I remember I used the same guide as Futility found here - it contains not even the slightest attempt at an explanation, just "this puzzle is horrible" and a list of steps! I thought I was getting... somewhere...? by toggling the switches on and off and gradually removing more walls to the north, but I had to refer to the step by step guide in the end. If there was a relation to the plaque, I never found it.

      Delete
  17. Tip: You can use Keypad 7 or 9 for "All Attack"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my installation, Keypad 7 and 9 turn you left and right.

      Delete
    2. I apologize for mixing phone and keyboard number layout. Of course, it's 1 and 3 keys.

      Please, edit my comment if you deem it necessary.

      Delete
    3. Thanks. I should have figured that out. The SPACE bar was already working pretty well for me, but I'll see if using those keys feels any more dexterous.

      Delete
  18. Surprised with the Joao Gilberto reference. Are you a Bossa Nova fan, Chet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely. Jazz samba is my summertime soundtrack.

      Delete
    2. tbh thought that the Gilbertos were general culture, like something everybody knows - but of course Jobim et al were very present in the radios and the album collections of my environment in the 80s.

      Delete
  19. Hats off: in honour of your taking on EOB3, I momentarily revived my extinguished "video game ads" blog to summarily evaluate the magazine ad for this game. http://videogamecomicads.blogspot.com/2022/07/eye-of-beholder-3-1993.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I usually toss an ad image (if I can find one) in the "Summary and Rating" posting, but really you should revive your blog and we could have some synergy. You analyze the ads for the games I've played with my analysis and commentary fresh in your mind.

      I've noticed a lot of overlap between the back-of-box text and images and the ad texts and images.

      Delete
    2. It would also be interesting for those end of game after-action reports where you go into the reviews... because some reviewers didn't even finish the games and then had to rely on marketing copy to flesh out the review.

      (Not saying that's a good thing... these reviews often felt more like consumer reports then an aesthetic critique, but that's a whole other topic!)

      Delete
    3. You both make good points, and I don't know if my retirement resolve is formidable enough to stand up against the siren call prospect of engaging in synergy with Chet! I would dismiss it with claims that I am a busy man with kids, many projects and no free time, but the Addict's pace seems a pretty sustainable one, especially just to check in once at the end of every game. On paper this seems like an interesting and worthwhile idea! I'll just nip off to see if I can rustle up some ads for the games upcoming on his schedule...

      Delete
  20. For all that Forgotten Realms is a generic, fairly bloated, often nonsensical setting with far more of a kitchen sink approach than I generally like... it sure does feel soothing to sink into.

    Every time I see names like Elminster or places like Waterdeep in a game, or in discussion of a game, it feels like stepping into a familiar and comfortable old home, be it ever so run-down.

    ReplyDelete
  21. the problem with the game was long and frequent loading times, it loaded when casting spells, camping, opening inventory, all the time. maybe today or in dosbox it is not as noticeable.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "why are such teleportation spells only ever available when the plot requires them" - Teleport is a fifth-level wizard spell, with no range limit. In tabletop D&D, characters around level 10 have numerous potentially-plotbreaking spells available that are rarely implemented in computer games.

    ReplyDelete
  23. "My characters ended Darkmoon with about 580,000 earned experience--except for one character who has nearly double that amount. (Was there a Potion of Level Gain or something that I don't remember?)"

    That likely came from being touched by Alain in EOB2, Azure Tower, Level 2.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I love your commentary and I was looking forward to you getting to this one! (Then didn't notice you had for several months). I had the EOB games on our family computer in the 90s but never got into them, thinking them boring and impenetrable - I only played them all to completion fairly recently, and my opinion hasn't changed all that much but I can at least make sense of them now :)

    By this point in the series (and especially as I was playing them with a trackpad and no mouse) I had set up Autohotkey keyboard shortcuts to move the mouse over the combat buttons and click them, cycling through the weapons much more quickly than I could with a mouse. Looking back at my own playthrough in https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1306781831178657794.html , it seems the All Attack button isn't enabled by default and I had to discover and turn it on for myself? I wonder if this is another thing the GOG release adjusted. (Regarding the engine, the default AESOP/16 game is noticeably much slower than EOB2, with long pauses when casting spells and moving between locations - I found a guide online to repackaging it with AESOP/32 but found it so mindboggling I elected not to attempt it)

    EOB still seems like such a weird system to me. A load of comments went over the combat waltz on the last post of EOB2 - explicitly mentioned as a tactic in the guide book! It feels like cheating but I really can't see how you're meant to complete the game without it. This, and the busywork that you have to do in combat to disguise its monotony, strangely take away from the game being RPG-like and the statistics and abilities of your characters, and instead they put emphasis on your own dexterity as if it were an action game.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.