Monday, June 10, 2024

Centauri Alliance: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

 
The Medal of Honor looks a bit like a coaster.
         
Centauri Alliance
United States
Brøderbund Software, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1990 for Apple II and Commodore 64
Date Started: 2 May 2024 
Date Ended: 4 June 2024
Total Hours: 32
Difficulty: Hard (4/-/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)   
    
From the creator of The Bard's Tale comes the same sort of game in a science fiction setting (although not always). A party of up to 8 operatives of an interstellar alliance try to foil an invasion by exploring a series of about 50 indoor maps of 16 x 16 tiles each, spread across a dozen planets. You fight a huge variety of unmemorable foes on a hex map, but the map is largely an abstraction, and combat in general uses a Wizardry or Bard's Tale system of defining your actions and then watching them execute, threaded with the enemies' in a hidden order of initiative. "Psionics" replace spells, which are otherwise nearly identical to The Bard's Tale. Storytelling never rises to the level of competence that the game's plot twists are interesting.
   
******
     
When I wrapped up last time, I had recognized I had pushed too far too fast and had settled in for a period of grinding. I did that for about two hours. A few factors made me lose interest. First, I was trying to get my metamorph to the point that he could turn into a "Zon Dragon," which would have made him much more effective at ranged attacks. But when he achieved the level when he could have cast it, he didn't have enough psi points. This continued for two levels beyond that, too. 
   
The other thing I was trying to do was to get my spellcasters to the level that they could learn "Matter" and "Energy" school spells. I assumed this would happen when the characters hit Level 10 in "Mind" and "Body." Nope. I have no idea how you get offered those spell classes. Neither Shay Addams nor Andrew Schultz was any help with that one.
   
I did my grinding mostly on Kevner's World, the medieval planet, and I kept finding myself amazed at how Michael Cranford essentially programmed an entire medieval game--to include monsters and equipment--for a single planet. For hours, I fought red dragons, beholders, ogres, sorcerers, and balrogs and was rewarded with halberds, platemail, and rings of health. Unfortunately, these items help highlight a basically-broken equipment system. There's no way to identify what items actually do unless they have a direct effect on your protection or shield. A lot of them are throwing items, and I admittedly underemphasized those. 
      
What does an "Auramaker Ring" do? Your guess is as good as mine.
       
When I got bored and frustrated with grinding, I decided to see how close I could get to the end without being able to win any battles. I returned to Keppa Var via the alien transporter on Epsilon Indi and entered the Daynab base with the password CASTLE-FIST.
     
I had already been here, of course, and I knew there were some fixed combats, and I knew that I couldn't beat them. That doesn't mean I had to. If you successfully flee a combat, the enemies disappear as if they were never there. This strategy worked on the first enemy group I encountered. Beyond them, I found a cache of Daynab uniforms, and after that, the guards mostly left me alone. From this moment on, every time I encountered a random combat, unless it was with a single enemy in melee range, I tried to flee and reloaded if it failed. This is one of those things that would have taken so long on a real Apple II that it wouldn't have been a viable strategy. 
     
The fact that those Daynab commanders include a lizard and a chicken apparently doesn't bother them.
       
The Daynab base was four levels with a lot of up and down, but three of the levels were only partial ones, not using all of the 16 x 16 space. Our goal was to find the Alliance "traitor," a Donsai. We found him in a cell on the fourth level, but he protested that he wasn't a traitor. Instead, he said that he had been sent to investigate the Daynabs and got caught. The real traitor, he said, is Councilman Renfrew. Renfrew is mentioned in the game manual as the councilor who sent our party after the Donsai in the first place. 
   
The Donsai, Commander Varion, went on to say that Keppa Var is also the site of an ancient Fractyrian fortress with who-knows-what technology waiting to be plundered. He said the passcard to the fortress was in a vault on the second level of the current base, which he could open.

We had no choice but to bring him with us, dismissing our "VII Man" mech. He was a pretty good fighter, skilled in melee, sidearm, and throwing weapons, and I put him in the second position. With Varion in tow, we were able to get into the vault on the second level, which allowed us to grab a "technocard" necessary to access the Fractyr ruins on the same planet.
         
Michael Cranford ruins every boy's Leia fantasies in one graphic.
       
We escaped from Daynab, leveled up a couple of characters (I'd won a few easy fights), then returned to the planet to enter the Fractyr ruins. This was a challenging dungeon. It's four levels (though none of them use the full 16 x 16 space) with numerous staircases up and down and numerous teleporters on each level. From the moment you enter the dungeon, you can't use any psionic abilities. Spells cast outside the dungeon will remain in effect, but once you enter, it's not easy to get back out. So there was some cursing and reloading the first time I found out that psionics didn't work and I was stuck in the dark.
    
Fortunately, I had "Astral Sight" by now, a "light" spell that lasts damn near indefinitely. Before entering the second time, I cast that, "Spatial Sense," "Seventh Sense," and "Slow Regeneration." I saved just before entering the dungeon, and for the next few hours, I mapped as much as I could and reloaded if I got killed--which was almost every time I encountered any foe. 
      
A trap just about kills me.
      
There are three exceptions to that last statement: three fixed combats that occur in the dungeon, all of them against single enemies, all of them requiring that only one of your characters participate in the fight. Each one of them starts with a face appearing in the air demanding that I "choose one to step forward." In all cases, I chose Morella, because she does devastating melee damage with the Fractyr Fist. Later, looking at Quest for Clues, I got the impression that you're supposed to have the character with the Fractyr equipment fight the battles.
   
The enemies were named Big Jim, Gingerbread Man, and Blizzard. All of them lasted exactly one round, and all of them died in one hit. A couple of them went first and hit me first, but I had a shield pumped up to 100, and they didn't do that much damage.
       
If you send everyone forward, the enemy disappears and you have to leave the level and return.
       
I don't know precisely what the purpose of the battles was. I got a weapon from one called a Krelslayer which I never equipped or used. Another gave me a Mauve Sphere, which did turn out to be important, but it wouldn't have been necessary with higher-level characters. And yet one of the messages below suggests these combats were necessary, so I can only imagine my progress would have been blocked in some way if I hadn't fought them.
     
That was pretty easy.
        
Multiple squares in the dungeon gave me a message that I set off an alarm, and then drained all my health and psi points to 1. "Slow Regeneration" did its job after those drainages. They weren't as crippling as they could have been because I was avoiding almost all combat anyway.
 
There were five places in the dungeon where I came upon a weird inscription on a wall and "the Fractyr First begins to glow." It took me a few visits to realize that I could A)ctivate the Fist at these times to translate the messages:
   
  • "Of eons past and far below / A tale to tell of dread and woe / A secret said, a truth to know / A power great to yet bestow."
  • "The four small corner rooms above are not PSI-damped." I translated this very late in the session. There was a lot more cursing.
  • "To pass, break during the take-off."
  • "Fight the three, wear the fist, a focal power must exist to bring you to the point of change--activate it in that range."
  • "ENERGY NEXUS." This last one was accompanied by a little map.
           
Before translation.
      
A final message was found on the first floor at the end of a long corridor: "Come here with a Shapemaster."
     
I found the area indicated by the little map and activated the Fist. It asked me for a keyword. It took a while to figure out what it wanted, as I had gotten the SHAPEMASTER keyword some time earlier and didn't think anything special of it. When I fed that keyword, I learned that a "Shapemaster" is a type of metamorph that I guess anyone can learn, not just Praktors. In fact, Praktors can't learn it because they can't equip the Fractyr Fist. Anyway, the message didn't tell me anything about how you learn the ability, and none of my characters had it.
   
I spent damn near an hour wandering around trying to figure out what to do next before I went to Quest for Clues and found that the "Shapemaster" ability is given automatically to the character wearing the Fist when he asks about it, if he's standing in the Energy Nexus. Except the Energy Nexus is one step to the west of where I had been standing. The stupid in-game map had led me astray.
     
If you saw this, which square would you think was important. The odd one to the east, right? Well, apparently it's the one next to it.
       
I went back and activated it again, and Morella got the "Shape" ability, which allowed her to shapeshift to a Fractyr at Level 1. The Fist suggested the ability could be trained; I don't know what shapes might be available at higher levels since I never got there.
       
Is it talking to me? Am I reading this somewhere?
       
Thus shapeshifted, I returned to the square that said "Come here with a Shapemaster." I was teleported to the fourth level of the dungeon. I wandered down a hallway to a room where the game showed a cinematic recapping the story of the Fractyrs:
   
Our quest in search of a greater Being took us far from our home system, which lies near the center of the galaxy. It has now been abandoned for countless millennia. The first stage of our journey took us to the far reaches of the galaxy. While standard propulsion served adequately for local exploration, interstellar travel necessitated a new technology. As we began our search, we noted many primitive civilizations, and purposefully left such outposts as this one as a means to help them reach beyond their petty barbarities. The final part of our quest took us beyond the edge of the galaxy, out to a nearby quasar, and the system of Kindratus. It lies over 200,000 light years from the edge of the galaxy, yet we reached it instantly . . .
            
We might need some more detail here.
      
There was nowhere else to go from this room, and the sequence repeated indefinitely. An on-screen message said to "Press ESC to break concentration." I realized this went with the message to "break during take-off." Specifically, I had to hit the ESC key while the cinematic showed the Fractyr's rocket taking off for the "far reaches of the galaxy." That opened a secret door to the west. Clever.
    
Moving on, we found a "mattermission" platform at the end of a hallway. With nothing else to do, we stood upon it and were warped to what I guess was the Fractyrs' current home world.
       
How nice. They give burglars a free ride home.
        
It was a two-level map. As usual, we reloaded when we met enemies, but there weren't many. A holographic message intercepted us at one point and called us intruders, but using the Fractyr Fist disabled the security devices.
   
A message told us to "avoid the cyber room," but of course we didn't. We touched a panel, and Turhan was turned into a robot or something. I reloaded.
     
Lesson: don't touch strange alien panels.
    
On the second level, we found our way to the chamber of the High Citizens of Fractyr:
   
"Greetings, oh voyagers of the Alliance. You have come very far in search of the secret left behind in ancient fortresses. Fractyrians still exist and have seeded the galaxy with clues of our civilization. Your enemies have invaded Alliance space with the intention of grabbing the power of the Fractyr homeworld. They were unable to make the journey, however, as they lacked sufficient virtue. One of our people will accompany you to help you in your task. We would not have aided them, in any case, as we serve a higher and more noble cause than the mere possession of destructive power. Prepare to leave for Earth."
       

I love that those two dudes in the back are completely uninterested in these aliens that have broken into their meeting.
     
I had to replay this because I didn't have a space available for The Fracyrian who wanted to join the party. I had to kick out my faithful Fractyr Mech. The Fractyrian had no combat skills, so it's a good thing we didn't need him for that.
   
The game teleported us automatically to "Earth," which was just another 16 x 16 map. I guess we were in the headquarters of the Alliance. As we explored, we got attacked by huge parties of ridiculous enemies: experimechs, assassins, rock stars, attorneys, paper-pushers, bodyguards, friends of Renfrew, evil soldiers, janitors, and so forth. We didn't have the faintest hope against any of them. Again, we kept mapping, fleeing, and reloading when fleeing didn't work.
        
Right.
     
There were only three things of interest to find on the map. First was a shuttle back to Lunabase, but if we tried to take it, the Fractyrian left. Second was the Alliance prison, where if we accidentally wandered into a cell, we got stuck and had to reload.
   
Third was the entrance to the Alliance council chamber. Every time we tried to enter, the game told us, "A solid wall of force blocks further progress. The Council is always guarded when in session." I went around and tested all the walls for secret doors. Nothing.
      
The Council hasn't planned for alien artifacts!
        
Fortunately, I had fiddled around with the "Mauve Sphere" that I received in one of the battles in the Fractyr fortress. It cast the "Teleport" spell. It hadn't worked on the Fractyr world, but it worked fine here, and I was able to reach the Council chamber and the endgame. I should note that Quest for Clues tells you to cast "Passwall" or "Teleport," two high-level "Matter" spells, and doesn't even suggest the Mauve Sphere. If I hadn't figured it out, this would be a very different sort of entry.
   
The endgame:
    
You have burst into the meeting chambers of the High Council. The Council is in session. "What is the meaning of this!" the Donsai councilor cries.
 
None of them look like a Valkyryn, Praktor, or Arcturian.
        
"We have information concerning treachery--from inside this very council," Vir shouts.

Councilor Renfrew stands and points to your group, including the Fractyrian. "They are the traitors! They are wanted on charges of counter-espionage and high treason. I demand that they be placed under arrest! Guards, throw them in the Alliance prison!" 
       
What other prison could the guards have thrown us in?
     
"Stop," the Fractyrian commands. A stasis field envelops the room. "These courageous adventurers have come too far to plead their case."

"Renfrew is the traitor," Varion says.
   
"Where is your proof?" the Council demands.
  
"Allow me to explain," Varion says, stepping forward. "I was on a special mission to investigate rumors of a Daynab invasion through Keppa Var, an Alliance fringe world. My reports went to Councilor Renfrew, who urged me to secrecy. I found that Keppa Var was the site of a Fractyrian base, with a potential connection to the Fractyrian homeworld. The Daynab invasion was merely a cover for a plot to exploit this base. I knew that the invasion had to have resulted from treachery within the High Council; our enemies had access to all our information. All of the sudden, my cover was blown, and I was taken captive. Councilor Renfrew knew of my location, and the reason for the invasion, but told you nothing. It was HE who was supplying our enemies with information. HE is the traitor!"
      
Won't Varion be embarrassed if it turns out to be Renfrew's aide.
     
"I also bear witness to this," the Fractyrian says. "Our people can produce evidence to substantiate a charge of treason." The Fractyrian then points at Renfrew. "Speak truth."
  
Renfrew, under truth-compulsion, nods. "It's true." 
      
The Fractyrian then took off, and the party members all got the Medal of Honor, as per the screen up top. "This scenario is completed," the game says, "but greater adventure awaits you on your second mission . . ."
   
The game then took the party to Lunabase and alliance headquarters, where the officer told us "INVASION ALERT! You are ordered to report to the Headquarters on Epsilon Indi immediately." I didn't know whether this was just a repeat of the previous quest or whether it was something new. We jumped a shuttle to Epsilon Indi--and got attacked and boarded by the pirate dreadnought on the way. The pirate dreadnought seemed to be playing out as it had before, so I quit the game, but let me know if you know anything different and this really is a second mission.
        
This feels familiar.
      
FYI, if you go into the Council chambers without either the Fractyrian or Varion in the party, you get arrested and tossed into prison.
        
You think they'd want to hear at least a little more.
      
So, in the end, my horribly under-leveled party managed to win the game because there was no "final battle," and the only fixed battles were special encounters that just required one person to fight. I didn't like fleeing all of those combats, but I would have liked grinding less.
    
This is already pretty long, but let's do a quick GIMLET:
   
  • 4 points for the game world. The story is okay. The biggest problem is that there isn't enough of it. Renfrew is the only person who could possibly be the traitor, because he's the only named character in the backstory. None of the alien races that make up the Alliance make a significant appearance in the game; none of the worlds feel anything like alien worlds.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. You definitely feel the party getting stronger as they level, and I appreciate that the skill system allows for extensive customization of the characters. The problem is that not enough matters other than combat and psi abilities. I don't think my technical character used his abilities even once (unless something happened that was passive). All of the alien races were wasted; my characters might as well have all been human.
  • 1 point for NPCs. I give this for those who will join the party. Everything else is an encounter.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. The Bard's Tale series, including Centauri Alliance, epitomizes what some RPG Codexian once coined "trash mob." You just get piles of originally-named but otherwise unmemorable enemies that you have to mow down. You don't even get portraits here. So most of the points in this category goes to the many non-combat encounters, including navigational and linguistic puzzles in some of the dungeons, which were the highlight of the game. As usual, I found that if I mapped a session, I enjoyed it a lot more than when I used the automaps.
       
This trash mob even has a janitor.
      
  • 5 points for magic and combat. The Bard's Tale system was showing its age when The Bard's Tale was new, but it works okay. There are a fair number of tactical considerations dealing with distance and the best attack, and there are a lot of spell options even among the two classes that I played. The problem, of course, is that enemy difficulty outpaces the party quickly unless you grind a lot, but I'll save those deductions for later.
  • 4 points for equipment. I was a little generous here because there's so damned much of it that I can only assume I would have gotten more out of it if I had taken the time to explore what everything did. Since I didn't, I ended the game with most of the equipment that I had at the halfway mark.
  • 2 points for the economy. It was useful to the extent that I kept buying shield belts and they kept me alive.
  • 3 points for a main quest and a couple of side-dungeons if not exactly side quests. There are no choices or alternate endings.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are just functional and the sound is almost completely absent. The interface works well enough.
  • 2 points for gameplay. It's way too linear, not replayable, grindy, and unbalanced. You could defend the ridiculous endgame combat difficulty by arguing that combat isn't necessary in the first place, but that's like multiplying zeroes.
    
That gives us a final score of 33. That makes sense. I can't recommend it, but I would have been able to recommend it with a few changes. In comparison, I gave The Bard's Tale 37. Dragon Wars, another Bard's Tale descendant from 1990, got 51. The biggest problem with Alliance is that it doesn't fill any niche. Many other games were doing science fiction better, and many other games had taken the basic Bard's Tale template and evolved it into something better.
       
The Commodore 64 and Apple II were essentially dead as popular platforms by 1990, which meant that Alliance made almost no splash in American magazines. Computer Gaming World mentioned that it existed in the March 1990 issue (with Ultima VI on the cover) but never reviewed it. The C64 had a little life left in Europe, so there were reviews in a selection of English (Zzap!64) and German (Power Play, Aktueller Software Markt) magazines. Although rating between 72% and 80%, the reviews (at least, the parts I translated) were relatively positive, with some shade cast on the primitive graphics and more on the disk loading times.
     
A 2013 interview with Cranford on RPG Codex goes into some of the game's development problems. Cranford chalks them up to delays for graphics artists to do all the animations that the various cinematics required. Because of these delays, the release occurred well after the heyday of its native platforms ("the decline happened quickly"), and Cranford didn't have any experience with the PC. Reading between the lines, the larger issue is that Cranford was working on his own at a time when a single developer couldn't compete with the diverse teams of specialists at places like Origin and Interplay. If Brøderbund had really prioritized the game, they would have hooked up Cranford with programmers to handle graphics, sound, and a DOS port at the beginning.
      
I had thought that this was Cranford's last game: When Alliance finally hit the shelves, he was getting a master's degree in Theological Studies and beginning a teaching career at Biola University. But he appears in the credits of Cyberdreams' Dark Seed (1992) as one of the two designers. An adventure game, it looks completely unlike anything else he ever worked on, and yet I can't find any interview in which anyone asked him about it. In 2018, he provided some assistance with InExile's The Bard's Tale IV, which I imagined involved some hatchet-burying with Brian Fargo.

43 comments:

  1. "An adventure game, it looks completely unlike anything else he ever worked on"

    Dark Seed looks completely unlike anything else anyone else ever worked on. It's a very unusual game!

    "I can't find any interview in which anyone asked him about it."

    Issue 230 of Retro Gamer Magazine has some quotes from him in their "The Making of Dark Seed" article, but someone will have to go on an expedition to the far side of their paywall to report back.

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  2. I have that issue, what did you want to know?

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    1. What was Cranfords role in making Dark Seed and did he have any interesting comments about making such a different game than this and Bards Tale

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    2. Here's the article, and my carpet lol

      https://imgur.com/a/zI1Nwh0

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    3. Appreciated, Garrett

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    4. Two hours to deliver a copy of that article. The internet delivers. Impressive work!

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    5. My pleasure! I am in the process of selling all those magazines so it was lucky timing!

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    6. Thanks, KG. And thanks, pie, for giving the answer I would have given as to the key questions. Sounds like his involvement was pretty substantial, then.

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  3. "janitors, and so forth. We didn't have the faintest hope against any of them."

    Did they mop the floor with you?

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    1. Extremely well played. A very clean pun as well.

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    2. Maybe they mopped up the mess after he kicked the bucket.

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  4. Dark Seed is an awful game, awfully written and designed, with wonderful graphics. Sequel is much much better. Those were my 2p.

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    1. People always say Sierra games were badly designed and frustrating, and yeah ok, but I loved Sierra games back then, and believe me Dark Seed was totally inscrutable and wildly unfair. Truly awful.

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    2. My only issue with Dark Seed is the pixel hunting; the rest can be reasonably figured out.

      There are not really that many games with that atmosphere and structure, I'll get a flawed but unique game over a formulaic one.

      The sequel really didn't do anything for me.

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    3. People never said (most) Sierra games were badly designed in the glory days of Sierra. It's just that game design evolved since, and after this evolution (most) Sierra games don't hold up any more.

      Early text adventure / interactive fiction games were also full of dead ends and frustrating puzzles; that's just how you designed games back then. I'd say the first real complaints only started when Sierra started including lengthy unskippable cutscenes in between their dead ends (which is basically the VGA era).

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    4. Arguably, the problem with something like Dark Seed is not the concept itself, but that the world around it has changed for the far easier. There are thousands of things easier to grasp than a hard adventure game and there's not going to be many people praising you for beating one.
      That said, the problem is far more often a psychological one than a real one. Having not played Dark Seed, but the similarly designed Personal Nightmare, I noticed that what people said about the difficulty and what it actually was were too different things. Say a game has a ton of dead ends and a time limit, no matter how generous, and rational thought goes out the window.

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    5. As someone who loves point and click adventure games and who played Dark Seed when it came out, it really is a pretty poor game, albeit one with a great atmosphere.

      It’s a case of way too much ambition with not enough talent or funding. The game is very much designed to be followed in a strict order where if you do anything out of sequence you can screw yourself over. It’s buggy as hell, and just feels a bit incomplete. There’s stuff like the pillow in the jail cell is an interdimensional portal but that’s never stated - you just need to know that items put there are available in both worlds. If you don’t realise that, half the puzzles are unsolvable.

      You really can tell the people involved didn’t design adventure games before this. It’s a real waste of opportunity

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  5. Wow I never knew that the Mauve Sphere took care of the teleport for you. I had to make sure I had a character with the ability to do passwall (which I did thankfully due to some forewarning), but I thought that was always a pretty poor game design decision. Your method makes a lot more sense.

    I agree with your summary almost 100%. Being a huge Bards Tale fan I really wanted to like this game but being so linear and so unbalanced it felt more like a chore to play than something fun. Even back in the day I didn't make it very far as I didn't have any kind of clue book and the high difficulty made me move onto something else (not to mention I never really got a grasp on what I was supposed to actually be doing).

    I will say this for CA, it made having an Apple Mouse actually useful. While some games do support it, none of them actually were improved by it. With CA it's almost a requirement as you can click directly on each hex rather than scroll thing them all individually.

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  6. > to a nearby quasar ... it lies over 200,000
    > light years from the edge of the galaxy.

    The clearest sign yet that this game doesn't take place in our galaxy! Our Milky Way does have a few satellite galaxies 200,000 ly away, but all are far too puny to host a quasar. The nearest known quasar is in fact over 500 *million* ly away.

    Names like "Earth" in the game must just be translated from the equivalents in the local dialects...

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    1. To be fair, 5E8 is indeed more than 2E5.

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    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 11, 2024 at 7:28 AM

      Ha! Fair enough -- and I'm a person who is over 17 days old. The wording just conveys a certain impression...

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  7. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 10, 2024 at 12:35 PM

    > Turhan was turned into a robot or something

    This reminded me of the scene near the end of Superman III (1983), when someone is turned into a robot by the evil computer. But maybe that's just a coincidence.

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    1. That was my first thought! That scene was nightmare fuel as a kid.

      Also, playing this game is nightmare fuel considering it's difficulty curve and how I would have persisted for far too long, getting nowhere. Happy skipping the battles was a winning strategy!

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  8. Just curious if that oracle from the very early game helps with identifying all the unknown items from this post.

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  9. A few notes:

    1. Having a GIMLET that says "no alternate endings" doesn't make much sense in a post that describes alternate endings. I know it is not much of a difference, but it is at least there.

    2. I don't get a complaint about "all of my characters might have been human" in a game where morphing ability is exclusively non-human and where high level psi abilities are not allowed for humans since they don't get enough psi points. If anything, the races here are more different than in an average RPG, and the ability to beat the game with the party of one race is a good thing, not a bad one.

    3. Isn't the whole "reactor meltdown" thing that you skipped your full blown optional side quest (that you skipped)?

    I am not going to argue the GIMLET scores here, but I think these at least deserve recognition.

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    1. I think an ending, where you failed your Quest doesn't count as "alternate ending"

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Those are what the TVTropes call "Non-Standard Game Over". They are not considered to be endings.

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    4. Ultima V offers you a spectacular way to fail, and I would definitely consider it an alternate ending and not NSGO.

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    5. 1. I agree with Vladimir that ways to fail the main quest are not "alternate endings." I reward different endings based on player agency. But I also agree with metallik that sometimes a "failure ending" is done so well that it counts.

      2. Because the game doesn't require those psi or morphing abilities and no dialogue, plot points, or role-playing choices are class-specific.

      3. That's why the game got 3 points in this category instead of 2. And I didn't "skip" it; the game took it away from me when I chose to level up first instead of heading to it directly.

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    6. OK, you seriously lost me at 2.

      Firstly, the original paragraph was:

      > All of the alien races were wasted; my characters might as well have all been human.

      I don't see how it is possible to say that "all of the alien races were wasted" in a game where there are huge race-specific differences, PARTICULARLY if we take AD&D with their minimal race differences as a baseline.

      Secondly, again, I don't see how the fact that the game allows you to beat the game with any party is a minus. If anything, it is better than being soft-locked by not picking one race during generation, or forcing the player hand with "take Solarian on this mission" Mass Effect-style.

      Thirdly, if it comes to having even class-specific, let alone race-specific, dialogue and role-playing choices, that stuff is far, far away in the future. What's more, I can't think of a single game with meaningful role-playing tied to class where a player can pre-select an entire party, since even the best examples from 30 years later tie it to main character's class and race.

      Regarding 1: a typical practice of this blog was to acknowledge the "bad ending", even if it is not exactly worth any points, as seen below:

      The Summoning:
      > There's a main quest with several outcomes, even if some are obviously "bad," plus a few side-quests and side-areas.

      Ultima VII:
      > We've got a compelling main quest but no role-playing choices except the option to take what is clearly intended as the "bad" ending (you don't even get a "congratulations" screen if you take it). Still, it's worth a point.

      Dungeon Master 2:
      >There are no role-playing options, and you don't even get a (bad) alternate ending as you do in the original.

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    7. I apologize that I was unsuccessful in making you understand my points.

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    8. Although class and race specific dialogue and choices are far in the future from this games release, the gimlet isn't designed to be weighted towards any specific era, but rather what he looks for in RPGs throughout their entire history.

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    9. @Alex, this is literally the first game on this blog where this complaint even comes up.

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    10. @CRPG Addict - it's not your communication skill; it's not even the points; it is just that this game somehow is the only one where you make them.

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    11. @RandomGamer: Chet has never, to my knowledge, changed his GIMLET in response to arguments from commenters. Nobody's life or livelihood is at stake here. "This post wasn't quite as complimentary as it could have been about a game that the writer didn't like very much" is the smallest of small beer.

      Within very recent memory you've indulged in similar axe-grinding about Chet's keyboard control preferences and his GIMLETs for Dungeon Hack and Shadowcaster. Surely you have something better to do with your time.

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  10. Grats again on another win. I didn't have much hope for this one from the outset, but it's been an interesting read for sure.

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  11. Your coverage of this game led me to try Dragon Wars once more, a game I have repeatedly taken a shot at, abandoned, then re-tried over the years, but had left alone for a decade now. I enjoyed it immensely and actually finished it for the first time - more than 30 years after my first forays into it in long sleepless gaming holudays together with my then best friend. Those were the times! DW was no mere nostalgia trip, either. It was genuine fun, even coming straight from a modern CRPG (CP 2077).

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    1. I got Dragon Wars in an Interplay bundle in the late 90s and my SNES and Diablo addled brain bounced right off it. But I read the hell out of its manual, trying to piece together the story from all the journal entries, for years after. I really ought to give it another go.

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  12. Congrats for the win!

    I might go back and try to finish my playthrough in a similar way.

    About the two "missing" psi disciplines, I remember the Oracle identifying a few items as being able to cast some those powers. Also, enemies and NPC cast powers, although what they cast is not shown explicitly. So, discounting the Occam's razor option of simply those disciplines being cut for lack of time and budget, one possibility is that they are not meant to be learned but they are confined to being enemy/NPC/item abilities.

    Overall it's a pity, it's kind of damning that Starflight was able to tell a much more compelling scifi story in a more compelling setting 4 years earlier. Beyond the manual there is not even an attempt to characterize the different races ingame from a lore standpoint, which should be one of the points of making a space opera game. The "opera" part is definitely missing.

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