Friday, July 5, 2024

Die Quelle von Naroth: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

The well flows again!
       
Die Quelle von Naroth
"The Well of Naroth"
Germany
Independently developed and published
Released 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 5 June 2024
Date Ended: 28 June 2024
Total Hours: 16
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 38
Ranking at time of posting: 424/521 (81%)
    
Summary:
  
Naroth is a short, satisfying shareware game in which a party of four characters learns what happened to the magical Well of Naroth. Mechanics and gameplay evoke the SSI Gold Box games, though simplified. First-person exploration is contrasted with top-down tactical combat. The game offers six towns and almost 30 dungeon levels, although the efficient automap makes even large levels go quickly. The party gets palpably more powerful as they level up and acquire new spells and skills. Naroth does nothing truly bad, but I wouldn't have minded a less closed system (there are no random encounters at all), higher level caps, and more to do with late game money. Overall, though, it's a well-structured game that offers just the right length and difficulty for its content.
       
*****
        
I only had a couple of hours left after the last session, which was good because three of my four characters hit their level caps (Level 10). I don't like level caps in the first place; I like them even less when you can achieve them before the end of a normal game (i.e., without grinding). Since Naroth is a closed game with nothing but fixed encounters, and therefore does not support grinding, there should be no excuse for level caps that don't at least roughly align with the total number of enemies in the game. But it would have been annoying to leave the final dungeon to level up, so I don't mind that I hit the cap just as it was time to take on the final dungeon. 
     
In the previous session, we had learned that the party behind the destruction of the Well of Naroth was named Bersakus, and that he'd hired a local mercenary leader named Gonzales to help him with his plans. We had assembled the Stone of Death, necessary to stop Bersakus and undo his sabotage of the well. Finally, we had learned that Bersakus lives in an alternate dimension, but that we could reach it by using the Magic Wand at a particular place in the dungeons of the old castle.
       
At the old castle, preparing to enter the dungeons.
      
This session began with the party standing in the ruins of the old castle, which is in the mountains and covered in snow. Again, the author (Helge Förster) did a great job with background sound and sound effects here, including the howling of winds and the crunching of the party moving through snow. The castle map had four turrets in the corners, each leading to a different part of the dungeon's first level. A big "S" shaped pattern in the central walls (for Schloß?) led to nothing interesting.
    
The first level of the dungeon was I think the largest in the game, at 26 x 26. The four stairways went to different areas, each with its own selection of doors, pressure plates, teleporters, and unavoidable combats. We had to hit a pressure plate in one section to open a door in another, leading to another pressure plate that opened yet another door, and so forth, until we finally revealed the stairs.
 
Early on the level, in a treasure chest, we found a letter from Bersakus to presumably Gonzales, asking him to personally guard access to Bersakus's dimension, "because if someone does manage to create the stone and he also has the magic wand, he could still become dangerous." 
       
One of the more difficult late-game battles.
      
Combat in the endgame was extremely variable, as if Förster wanted to make sure that every enemy type had a shot, even though some were clearly outclassed by now. Thus, we faced at least one battle with all of the game's foes: rats, spiders, kobolds, orcs, ogres, soldiers, gargoyles, druids, and trolls. I think the most difficult were battles with 12 soldiers (who can cast spells), 8 druids, 8 trolls. But by now my cleric had "Restoration I," which restores a single character's hit points to maximum, and "Restoration II," which restores all hit points to maximum, so I could carefully time a couple of complete refreshes into each battle--more than one if I didn't mind using a magic potion. Since Ilende never reached his last level, I never got the final cleric spell. I assume it would have been "Resurrection." That would have saved a few reloads.
      
And one of the easier ones.
     
Levels 2 and 3 were smaller--again, lots of doors and pressure plates--and Level 4 was tiny--basically just a single hallway. The only enemy on Level 4 was Gonzales himself, the first unique enemy in the game. He had 200 hit points, but he didn't hit very hard, so the battle was relatively simple. I just had to use the old "surround and pound" strategy. 
       
It would have been funny if Gonzales had run all over the map, always keeping just out of the party's reach.
          
When he died, he dropped a Magic Cloak and a Ring of Strength. In a chest on one of the levels, I had found another Ring of Strength and a Battle Cloak, so I felt pretty well equipped by now. My fighters were hitting almost every blow and doing a couple dozen points of damage.
   
The level came to an end at a blank wall. I figured that was the place to use the Magic Wand, and I was right. "The walls around you begin to hum and disappear," the game said, and soon we were in a new dungeon of white stone.
       
Entering the multiverse.
      
The alternate dimension was three levels. The first had a large, circular shape, and was divided into four equal sections, each with a room in the center. We arrived in the north room, went down in the south room, and had to hit pressure plates in the east and west rooms. The design was a bit diabolical because it left only a single square to rest, in the western room, and there were a minimum of three combats before we could reach that square. Of course, not knowing the dungeon layout, I took the long way around and ended up fighting five battles before finding the square. They weren't easy, either: the first had eight druids. Combat-wise, this was the only part of the game in which an accumulation of battles, rather than single battles, created a challenge.
     
This oddly-shaped level offers only one place to rest.
     
Levels 2 and 3 were again much smaller. Level 2 had a pyramid shape and more doors to be opened with pressure plates. I think there were five battles. Level 3 had basically a single corridor with a few side chambers, only one of them necessary. It led straight to the final battle with Bersakus.
   
The final battle was a tad underwhelming. Bersakus had 10,000 hit points and was capable of mass-damage spells, so there was no question of trying to whittle him down 30 at a time. Not to mention that physical attacks seemed to do nothing, and magical attacks damaged him for 1 point at best. Thus, there was nothing to do but to use the Stone of Death. It killed Bersakus immediately.
       
That doesn't do much for us at this point.
    
A text screen appeared:

You actually managed to stop Bersakus. The tyrant is dead and the threat has been removed from Naroth. Now all you have to do is get back to the dimension where Naroth is and announce the good news, but before you can think about it, you fall into a deep unconsciousness from which you only wake up hours later. When you wake up, you see the blue hill above you, and in front of you there is a small spring, which is just about to resume its activity.
    
The game ended on a shot of the bubbling Well of Naroth as some brief credits scrolled by.
       
The author thanks some people who lent their names to villains.
      
In my opening entry, I called Naroth "tidy," a word that I repeat in the summary. It's far more competent than the typical independent game of the era. It has some limitations, but it doesn't do anything truly bad, and it doesn't overreach. A 16-hour runtime is perfect for a game of this content. I'm guessing we'll see modest scores below and a final rating in the 30s.
    
  • 5 points for the game world. It tells an interesting backstory and situates the characters firmly in the plot. I like that you learn a few things about the world as the game progresses. It doesn't have a lot of unique character, and it doesn't react much to the players' actions. I'm still waiting for the game that celebrates our most recent victory with us every time we enter the tavern.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. It has a basic D&D-derived character creation system, and leveling up is reasonably rewarding, but it doesn't offer different role-playing experiences for the different races and classes. Races may as well have not existed.
  • 2 points for a small number of NPCs you find in houses and bars who impart information about the game world.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The D&D-derived bestiary isn't original, but the game changes it up by varying their equipment, creating new challenges. (Trolls with longbows were an unwelcome addition to the final dungeon.) The various pressure plate puzzles involve more trial and error than clever thinking, but there are a couple of places in which Förster got creative with them.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. The tactical grid is all right. It would have been better with obstacles and perhaps a few other tactical considerations like facing direction or backstabbing. The list of spells is small--one per level--but you certainly get a lot of use out of them. 
      
The mage spell list at the end of the game.
      
  • 4 points for equipment. It has a small selection of weapons, armor, missile weapons, and shields, bolstered by a variety of magic items to find during exploration. Potions, though ubiquitous, weren't terribly useful because they restored so little. Some other potion options, wands, or scrolls might have enhanced the experience a bit.
        
A rare magic item found late in the game.
        
  • 3 points for the economy. I was dirt poor during the first third of the game but ended with well over 10,000 gold pieces. (That would have changed if I had made more use of the temple's resurrection services instead of reloading when I died.) A couple of expensive items in the shops would be a nice addition.
     
I hadn't saved in a while, so I resurrected Chester this one time.
   
  • 3 points for a main quest and a couple of brief side quests to solve on the way. One of them even has a role-playing choice (whether to give the key to Aurelius or take the treasure for yourself). 
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics aren't going to win any awards, but they're mostly functional enough. As I reported, I really appreciated the attention to sound effects and background sounds in particular, which remain rare in this era. I never love all-mouse interfaces, but it worked okay, and the automap is worth a point.
  • 6 points for gameplay. It offers some nonlinearity in the sense that you can head off to any dungeon at any time, although the difficulty of enemies enforces a certain order. It's slightly "replayable" in the sense that I'm curious about different class combinations, including whether it's even possible to win the game without a sorcerer and her mass-damage spells to rely on. Its difficulty and length are just about perfect.
        
The trolls managed to get me once before the end.
     
That gives us a total of 38, in my "recommended" zone, and a relatively high score for an independent title. The only bug I found involved the sage reading the wrong document, although I did notice that saved games failed to load a decent percentage of the time. That may be an emulator problem, though. Nonetheless, I recommend that players use save states as a backup to in-game saving.
    
As a shareware game, Naroth didn't get a lot of attention from the press, but there was a very favorable write-up in the June-July 1993 Amiga Joker, which praised its sound effects, "elegant mouse control," automapping, and thorough manual. "This well really bubbles up to a commercial level," it concludes.
     
Förster reported to me by email that he only sold a few dozen copies. It was listed with the major German shareware distributors, and a demo version was available for download. When players paid their shareware fee, Förster sent them the full version; if they paid a little extra, he also sent them maps. He reported he made about DM 1000, which if I did my calculations correctly, is about $3,500 today--although a lot of buyers paid him in postage stamps. "It was fine to me," he said. "I was a student at university back then, after all."
    
After a 23-year wait, fans of the game finally got its sequel, Naroth, for Android mobile devices in 2016. I tried to play it by installing Google Play Games for Windows, but Naroth isn't available for that service for some reason. According to Google Play, it has received more than half a million downloads, and more than 11,000 reviews show a mode of 5 (out of 5) and an average of 4. It has a unique character creation process in which you build your bio from several potential paths. Gameplay is first-person, not unlike Ultima Underworld or Morrowind (closer to the latter in graphics). It offers an open world to explore, NPCs to talk with, and dungeons to delve. You swing your sword or shoot your arrows at enemies in real-time. I gather, however, that it's more of an action game than an RPG, with health serving as the only statistic.
        
A player swings at a spider in a Naroth dungeon.
     
Helge has been commenting on my entries, so I'm sure he'll read this one. Tell us what's next for the world of Naroth or any other worlds you plan to create.

41 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the win. With hundreds of DM in postage stamps, Helge Förster must have sent a lot of letters over the next years or they lasted him a long time!

    "It would have been funny if Gonzales had run all over the map, always keeping just out of the party's reach".
    If this was Whale's Voyage, I think there could have been a good chance for such a pop culture reference / joke. And you'd surely immensely enjoyed it given that game's excellent interface for real-time battles.

    With resurrection costing 2500 GP each time (as per the screenshot), I assume your 10 000 would have gone quickly if you hadn't reloaded, as you note yourself. So, given the closed system, I'm not sure there really would have been a need for more money sinks if you play (more) strictly "by the book". Couldn't you rather on the opposite even get into a "dead man walking" scenario for lack of funds to resurrect characters if battles go badly?

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    1. Yes, that could absolutely happen, but the game is so generous about saving (and offers plenty of save slots), so I'm not sure there's much of a valid complaint there. Helge can correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect the player was meant to reload after most character deaths and just use resurrection services in the case of victories that he really wanted to preserve, despite character deaths.

      The economy is a little bit looser than the impression I gave, probably. I ended the game with lots of jewelry that I never sold because I thought they might be quest items or magic items.

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  2. This GIMLET begs the question whether you're somewhat biased because Helge dropped by to comment.

    I mean, would you still scold the devs of 'Whale's Voyage' if one of them offered his perspective on the limitations of the time, here on this blog?

    Happy to discuss...

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    1. I think developers who drop by should get a bonus on the GIMLET! Always nice to have the extra commentary.

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    2. It would definitely lose a point for the save issue. Otherwise, probably, talking to the developer might give one perspective on nice things they might not have noticed.

      That said, the two games aren't comparable, because Whale's Voyage has three issues, controls, bizarre gameplay progression, and a broken economy despite allegedly being an economic simulator of some kind. (which is different than going after a game that doesn't care about economy for not having an economy and treating it as a black mark) This one doesn't seem to have any major issues like that.

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    3. I'm pretty sure that there is no general save issue. Must be an emulator quirk of some kind. I played the game several times using emulation as well as real hardware on various Amigas and never had an issue with saves not loading. There is a disk swap detection routine being used. Maybe some emulators don't like this.

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    4. Morpheus, I'm not comparing the two games, I'm evaluating the difference in rating a(ny) game when you're sure the developer is looking over your shoulder...

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    5. I don't know man, maybe. I try not to let it. There's a certain selection bias because if I really can't stand a game, I generally don't try to contact the developers in the first place (as I have not with Whale's Voyage). There have been a few times that I did contact the developer but he didn't appreciate my coverage and so his comments never appeared. So if a developer is contributing to the comments, it's probably because the game was destined for a decent GIMLET score anyway.

      In this case, I honestly don't have a lot to complain about. When an issue is possibly caused by emulation and not the original programming, I err on the side of not blaming the author.

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    6. Fair enough, but you do kind of need to make a comparison to know if there is a difference, and that would probably be better suited to something around the same rating as this one.

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    7. Why do I have to do anything? If there's any bias caused by the author's presence, it's unconscious and small. If the Whale's Voyage authors gave me a timeshare in the French Quarter, I still wouldn't think it was a good game. So what difference does it make if some game gets 2 points more than it would have gotten if the author hadn't written to me personally? No one's livelihood is on the line here.

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    8. I took MorpheusKitami's 11:58AM post to mean "in order to know if there's a difference [assuming you wanted to know in the first place], you would probably be well-advised to make a comparison [to a more comparable game]". That is, "need" as in "would be well-advised", not "need" as in "I'm giving you marching orders".

      That said, the whole discussion is silly, since we have literally centuries of reviews of various media written by people with varying degrees of connectedness to the original content creators. It's inherent in the act of writing about any creative work that, sooner or later, you'll have to write about something made by someone with whom you've interacted. That fact will influence you, but so does the possibility of making a lifelong enemy after any negative review, so it all comes out in the wash.

      Beyond that, unless facts are being fudged or hard data is being manipulated, it's a non-issue: you're already in the realm of subjective assessments, so outside of outright dishonesty (or nepotism or bribery I suppose), "bias" is irrelevant to begin with because it's so inherent in the territory anyway. If anything, the most successful reviewers often have extreme and unreasonable biases, because that makes them more of a distinctive personality. And, conversely, every reviewer is aware of the potential consequences of a negative review of anything.

      (While I'm feeling combative: if you're going to "Well, actually" the blog author, you ought to use "beg the question" correctly. Yes, the incorrect use is commonplace; it's also foolish, just as the figurative "literally" is foolish, as it takes away the valuable and nearly unique function of the existing word/phrase, in favor of assigning it a function already covered by another word.)

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    9. That's not really what I said, though it is nice to know that you're easily bribed. ;p

      I was responding to Bestie, telling him that if he does want to evaluate the difference, he should find something comparable in rating to this one. I.E., find another game around 36-40, see what effect the developer being there or not has. Why this caused you to get bent out of shape I'll never know.

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    10. Yep, sorry for the confusion. I should have read up the thread again. I wasn't bent out of shape, though, just arguing that it was a line of inquiry that didn't really need to be pursued.

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    11. Fair enough, some things don't come out how we want in text. No harm done.

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    12. Wait, we've got confusion building on confusion here. Unless I'm off my nut, it looks like both I and the Addict misinterpreted your comment as replying to him, not to Bestie. (He took it as high-handed, I took it otherwise.) My bad on my part of that, and I'm not "bent out of shape" at anything you posted at all.

      I am however vaguely annoyed at the time-wasting nature of questions like Bestie's OP. Sincere or otherwise, it inevitably amounts to needling and concern-trolling. It's not some revelation to raise the issue "Gee whiz, is it possible that people who write about media are influenced by interacting with the people who made it?" Schumann knew Chopin, Amiri Baraka practically worshipped Miles Davis, and half the men writing about contemporary American classical music from 1930-1960 were sleeping with half of the men writing it. Raising that issue in this context -- zero stakes, plus an uncommonly self-aware blog author -- is misguided.

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    13. Oops, the last few comments probably make most of mine moot. Disregard (mostly).

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    14. I just thought the GIMLET for 'QvN' was a tad too high for what I've seen from the game, so I started to wonder why. Chet's first reply answered that for me.

      Always happy to start a discussion, guys.

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    15. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 7, 2024 at 7:18 AM

      > the whole discussion is silly

      Agreed. What's also silly, not to mention demeaning, is random commenters on a blog putting down others by telling them they (and/or their actions) are "foolish." Whether or not you think that's a constructive comment (I don't), one could at least try to phrase it in a less insulting manner.

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    16. I would not mind trading a few points for developer interaction, sure. It’s worth it for the general enjoyment factor of this whole endeavor.

      Then again I don’t care too much about the numbers. What’s fascinating to me about this blog is seeing the evolution of design mechanics and their implementation. It won’t be too long before huge % of games feel homogenous and full of established open world content. So much of older games seems obviously bad but nobody knew what we know now.

      It’s like watching the 2 handed set shot from 50s and 60s basketball. Like why don’t they just shoot normal like we do now!?!?

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    17. You know, it's interesting that you brought up that some authors aren't thrilled by your coverage of their work. While it's kind of sad that they didn't take the position of "any coverage is good coverage," I must admit to it being a very positive mentality in that they didn't feel obligated to act ashamed or apologetic about a game that they made just because it was old. A lot of less-confident developers would kill to still feel proud of something that they made over 30 years later. "You know, I do feel like I did the best I could at the time and I'm not sorry" isn't gonna win you any friends, but who needs friends if you first have to debase yourself to get them, right?

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    18. @PK Thunder: while I don't care too much about ratings and slight unsonscious biases that reviewers may or may not have towards authors they are reviewing, I feel the obligation to point out that "beg the question" question is more complicated than it seems. The language is constantly evolving, first, and, second, and the literal meaning of "begs the question" is much closer to the thought that people who use it wish to express (namely, "raises the question" or "demands a question"). And since "begs the question" is a WRONG translation from the beginning, it may be so that two negatives make a positive. Everyone gets what people who say "begs the question" MEANS anyway, and couple decades this may yet bercome the new norm, the new meaning for the phrase. Especially since those who are well aware of meaning of the phrase, but also of the consufion it causes, prefer to use "assuming the conclusion" phrase, which literally (lol) means what it describes, and... heh... begs no questions ) while doing so. I mean, sure, "begging the question" is a tradition in some sophisticated literature, but holding onto it so much for no reason seems strange. P.S. Although I. myself. am proud and snobbish enough to be offended emotionally when I see such misuse of this phrase, too =)

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    19. This is a personal blog ran by a person. If the addict want/has any kind of bias, it's his game-given right. People need to stop thinking that any kind of media is ever truly entirely objective. It's a myth. Even a dictionary is subjective in its choice if words to include.

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    20. Since this seems to be the thread in which we all get upset with each other over trivial things, let me take issue with: "Language is constantly evolving." While undeniably true, this phrase should be used as an acknowledgement of a tragedy (just like "The average temperature is continuing to rise") rather than an excuse for the type of behavior that makes that acknowledgement necessary.

      The only way that communication remains possible is because people RESIST the inevitable evolution of language. We fight, fight, fight to retain traditional definitions of words and phrases, and in so fighting, we make it more likely that the next generation is going to understand what we write today. We make it possible to enjoy Shakespeare for a little while longer.

      In that tradition, a podium is something you stand ON, not behind, and "begs the question" absolutely means "assumes the truth of a proposition without arguing it" and not "raise the question." It should be called out and edited when it is misused.

      No cap.

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    21. P-Tux7, I would never expect a developer to feel ashamed because a game was old; I might expect a little shame for a game that was bad even when it was new. However, "I do feel like I did the best I could at the time and I'm not sorry" is a perfectly fine stand to take, and I would respect any author who adopted that attitude. Not to mention that even in bad games, there's almost always some element to be proud of. Not, you know, here. But in most games.

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    22. The other problem I see with "language is constantly evolving" is that it doesn't specify whose language.

      Should we (for example) also shake our fingers at speakers of endangered languages? Many of them advocate resisting the influence of neighboring majority languages, because it dilutes the independence of their language -- and, inevitably, lays the groundwork for undermining the right of their language (and nation) to exist and right to be recognized. There are some pretty obvious real-world examples where belligerent countries have said "That language isn't real, it's just a corrupted version of our own" shortly before embarking on a program of ethnic cleansing. I'm also reminded of Weinreich's quip that "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy".

      Should we handwave away their concerns with some "Oh, well, evolve or die" edgelord stuff (though I'm not saying that Lorigulf is saying this)?

      Or should we, instead, recognize that all change deserves to be evaluated on a pragmatic, case-by-case basis, assessing whether it's a net positive or a net negative, and acting accordingly -- rather than on whether it serves our ideological interests, or our perception of who the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are, or our desire to seem as though we're not old and out of touch (just yet) by endorsing the errors of the young specifically because they're young?

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  3. Actually, I wasn't really aware of the level cap anymore. I think it's in there because of the spell casters. I couldn't come up with more than 10 spells for each magic class without repeating myself too much (and without making things more complicated coding wise), so I seemed to have capped levels at 10 and then designed the game in a way that it fits more or less.

    I'm not sure if I'll ever return to Naroth. The last game (the Android one) took me over 5 years of spare time work to develop (that excludes the 3D engine, which I had built before). It was fun but it's a huge commitment for one person nonetheless. I'm not sure that I want to do such a thing again anytime soon. I once had some plans to extend Naroth in some way (for example adding another map that can be reached via some secret mine), but I didn't do much in that direction and I don't think, that I ever will.
    That said, I have written a text adventure engine for the Commodore 64 a while back. So maybe I'll do a text adventure located in Naroth using that.

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    1. Sorry about all the trouble commenting, Helge. Your comments were getting flagged as spam. I got them out of the spam box and deleted what seemed like the redundant ones.

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    2. Of all the people for that to happen to!

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    3. What a pity I didn’t come across this little gem back in my Amiga days, I’m sure I would have loved it. Best of luck with your future endeavors, Helge!

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  4. Oh, and btw: The Android game has skill trees and character attributes, so are some more RPG elements to it than just health. It has no magic though, because I had to limit the scope somewhat to be able to finish it in a lifetime. The story explains why there is no magic in the game, so there's at least that.

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    1. Good to hear! How hard would it be to release an iOS version?

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    2. Too hard, I'm afraid. The programming environment is completely different. Nowadays, you could use an existing engine (Unity or similar) that can compile/deploy for both platforms. But I wouldn't do that anyway, because writing the engine is half the fun and using an existing one is just ... lame ;-)
      Plus, you can't seriously develop for iOS without using Apple products. For Android, I can compile on MacOS, Windows or Linux. For iOS, you need an Apple device ... and I don't have one and I don't want one (well, I have an Apple IIe and two older Mac Minis, but those won't help).

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    3. Yeah, I feel the same about Apple devices. Very much dislike their cult-like focus and exclusion of other platforms. It's bad enough I have to deal with passive-aggressiveness at my work as a software engineer because I use a Windows machine over a Mac. Software SHOULD be agnostic to platform.

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    4. As a desktop Mac user, it's really gone downhill in the last few years, at least as far as indie games go. There was a time when you could get very few indie games on Macs because popular development environments like RPG Maker didn't push to Mac. Then there was a golden age when, thanks to platform-agnostic development environments like Unity,* pretty much everything seemed to port to a Mac. Then Apple broke compatibility with 32-bit apps, with a truly insulting message about how you should contact the software developer to update it; and started the verified developer thing which as far as I can tell is mostly about forcing developers to pay a toll for a checkmark rather than actually preventing malicious software; and instituted all kinds of misleading error messages, even for software that could run, when developers hadn't jumped through the proper hoops; and did something with their Metal chip that destroyed even more backward compatibility and probably made it harder for devs to design for Mac at all. So it's back to 90% of indie games being unavailable for Mac, and half the rest being a crapshoot as to whether they'll run. I can't blame devs for giving up on Macs completely, and I expect iOS is even worse.

      *I think. I'm very far from a software developer.

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  5. "Impossible final battle or trivial final battle" is something I've never liked - if you're going to use the "must have the specific item required by plot" trope, I much prefer that it is impossible to actually encounter the boss without it (be it a cutscene kill or a hard barrier), the fight be a puzzle instead of a straight fight, or else have the Maguffin make the boss vulnerable to normal attacks instead of being an instakill.

    On the other hand, varying enemy equipment for extra complexity with the same base monsters is a great idea and one that very few games I can think of actually use. More common is palette swaps and other "that guy but tougher" stat boosts.

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    1. Nethack (naturally) is a game that does the enemy equipment thing, with not only monster weapons and armor but the notorious Gnome With The Wand Of Death. Though the armor and weapons don't give as much added flavor as they might IMO, not only because there's already a ridiculous number of monsters but also because the game doesn't tell you what weapons and armor they had until you're looting their corpse. So instead of Chester's experience here, "Gah! These trolls have plate armor!" it's "Huh, this goblin seems harder to hit than the rest."

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    2. Oblivion basically does this (badly) with its leveled item lists.

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    3. NetHack should have occurred to me given how recently I played it, but of course combat is very different in that game.

      "Or else have the Maguffin make the boss vulnerable to normal attacks instead of being an instakill." This is my preference, or the reverse--you whittle the enemy down with regular combat and then use the Sword of Truth to deal the final blow.

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    4. @buck you got really good at talking and lockpicking.... So all your enemies are in daedric armor!

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    5. Agreed that the Maguffin should make the boss vulnerable. I guess there are plot-related reasons in certain games, where the Big Bad is so overwhelmingly powerful that the Death Star/Smaug/Mt. Doom approach is the only way to go, but it means a lot more when time for the one-hit-kill has to be bought, with skill -- and with the lives of supporting characters. (Two of the works referenced above do exactly that, while The Hobbit has a more complex sequence of events.) You could have a hell of a final battle that's conceived in purely defensive terms, for instance, or a split party that sacrifices some characters to bait the final boss.

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    6. There's also the category of MacGuffin that makes normalcy possible for the player, I suppose -- by allowing them to survive a hostile environment, or by allowing them to move normally (lots of games do the reverse-controls thing for the final boss). Another one is the "using their own power against them" MacGuffin, the most obvious literary example of which is Perseus and Medusa. I guess it's a subset of the instakill category in a way, but has the added satisfaction of just deserts: live by the petrifying gaze, die by the petrifying gaze...

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