Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, ep. 16 – Return of the Demon Goddess

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Continuing my adventures playing the final game of the classic series, Wizardry. Wizardry 8 was originally released in 2001, but I only acquired it years later via E-Bay. So far, I’ve found it has stood the test of time fairly well. I’ve been blogging my progress throughout the game (which took a pause during the holiday season), and discussing some notes I’ve made on the games’ design, which many consider to be the last “old-school” style mainstream Western RPG. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore… except for the indies.

Once again – I think I’m pretty close to the end of the game, but I’m not quite there yet. But on my way to Ascension Peak and my dark date with destiny, my party took some time to flirt with a topless demon-goddess. We’re such a naughty group of adventurers!

When the Rapax Get Bored with Battle, You KNOW It’s Gone On Too Long…
If you may remember from my last Wizardry 8 post, I’d just mowed through a hundred Rapax Templars to expose the secret plot of the Rapax King, who had allied with the Dark Savant. This was after killing hundreds more Rapax in the Rift and in their own castle. I’d used this information to get the Umpani and T’Rang to ally with each other, and used that combined intelligence and firepower to blow up the Dark Savant’s ship.

Making my way to a previously-discovered path to Ascension Peak for the final showdown, I found that the Rapax had blocked it off with a massive landslide. A bunch of low-level Rapax were patrolling the area, and mocked me with their announcement of how they rocked, I sucked, only they can go to Ascension Peak, nyah-nyah-nyah. I sent them to the Ascension Peak in the sky, and decided to head back to Castle Rapax to see if I could find out how they were planning on making it to the peak after causing the landslide.

Once I got there, it was once again nearly non-stop combat. At one point, I had so many Rapax lined up to fight me (six groups averaging six or seven Rapax each) as they chased me into a dead end that they actually got bored with the fight and left.

I’d maneuvered myself around a corner to reduce my exposure to ranged attacks and spells, but the line to beat on me went all the way around yet another corner. As the saying goes, “Out of fight, out of mind…” – or something like that. Anyway, many of the Rapax at the tail end of the mob got bored and wandered off. They didn’t go far – once the fight was over, I bumped back into them and the conflict resumed.

I decided I’d like a little more RPC (recruitable PC) help, so I teleported back to Arnika to see if Vi Dominae would like to join us. She said she’d love to, and she always enjoyed getting together with “us guys.” That lasted for about ten seconds, until we teleported directly back into the castle. At that point, we discovered that Vi Dominae could really, really gripe and complain in a nearly constant stream. She complained about being there, about always hooking up with losers, etc.

But she was able to materially contribute to the slaughter. She may not have been fighting at her peak, but she proved she was still able to kick some Rapax butt. Eventually, we killed enough Rapax that we could wander about unmolested near the throne room and feast hall area for about three minutes.

Let’s Not Bicker and Argue Over Who Killed Who…
As it turns out, while the Templars now hated me along with all the rest of the Rapax, the offer made to me by the demon goddess Al-Sedexus still stood. I wandered into a Rapax Guard above the throne room who did not attack me – instead, he demanded to know who sent me. He snorted at any answer I gave him. I found another door that he was not protecting, however, and wandered through. Eventually I came to a Rapax named Al-Adryian who asked me if I was ready to become initiates in the church of Al-Sedexus or something.

Wiz8Altar-725067Yeah, sure, why not? I had nothing better to do, except to save the world ‘n stuff, but that could wait.

The initiation was no worse than your average frat-hazing. We had to acquire three pieces of clothing, answer three riddles, and kill a bunch of elementals. Oh, and dress one of our party members – the gadgeteer – in said clothing.

And I’m not sure – but I think he had to have sex with the topless demon-goddess in an altar room when we summoned her. I don’t know for sure – she slipped us something in our drinks or something, and we all fell asleep to ecstatic sounds from Al-Sedexus the Demon Goddess. Afterwards, we found our poor gadgeteer quivering in the corner in the fetal position, refusing to talk about what had happened while the rest of the group was passed out on the floor for hours.

What’s more, he was now under a curse. He couldn’t leave the castle and rift area without suffering constant, slow damage. No magic would undo the curse. On the plus side, all the Rapax in the castle decided to let bygones be bygons and no longer attacked me. Nevermind the entire castle was stinking with the smell of hundreds of dead Rapax that had fallen under our blades – now that we’d let the demon-goddess have her way with our poor gadgeteer, all was forgiven.

A little bit of exploration revealed a portal to Ascension Peak! Huzzah! We went through the portal and arrived on the mountain road. All was well…. except for the gadgeteer, who was now taking constant damage.

Payback Time
This wouldn’t do. Our gadgeteer has finally gotten to the level (after a flirtation with multi-classing that I wish I’d never tried) where he could use some seriously powerful gadgets a couple of times before passing out from exhaustion. We didn’t want to lose him. Besides that, he sucks up some hits in combat that would otherwise hurt our spellcasters. And apparently he makes good bait for demon goddesses. So he’s a valued member of the team that we couldn’t leave gimped like that.

So I set a teleport location there in Ascension Peak and decided to go back to Rapax Rift to have a talk with Al-Sedexus. Unfortunately, this required us to go back through the castle, and Vi Dominae left the party immediately. Since I didn’t want to clear out my other two portal locations for my other two casters (one goes directly to the inn in Arnika, the other to the Umpani fort), I figured I was on my own for a while.

The Rapax were very gracious and nice to me as I walked through their castle into the rift. Once there, it was only a walk around the corner into Al-Sedexus’s temple. The demon goddess was there. I clicked to talk on her, and she told us she’d heard we were planning on leaving her. Since we could only do that feet-first, she immediately attacked us. On her first round, she summoned a bunch of templars to aid her in the fight.

We focused our attacks on her. As tough as the Rapax generally are at over 500 hitpoints each, Al-Sedexus had about twice as many hitpoints. The gal was no pushover, in spite of being armored with nothing more than an occasionally writhing snake. In the end, we triumphed and grabbed the bag of goodies she left in her wake. We hadn’t yet killed any of the templars, and I decided to experiment by running away rather than fighting them to the bitter end.

Mysteriously, the castle is still quite friendly to us. Apparently killing their demon-goddess isn’t all that important to them. So long as I let the templars live, I guess.

With that, I bought and sold some stuff with the blacksmith there at the castle, and teleported out to the Umpani stronghold and to Arnika to pick up supplies (ammunition, mainly) and two of my favorite RPCs – Vi Dominae, and Sparkle the Trynnie Ranger. Upon teleporting back to Ascension Peak, we found Vi Dominae has no problem being with us there. Sparkle, on the other hand, has begun whining. Incessantly. Asking when we could go home. It’s like baby-sitting a whiney-but-cute eight-year old.

An eight-year-old who can insta-kill with arrows at a hundred paces.

Design Notes
Faction systems are an interesting thing in RPGs. Wizardry 8 is no exception. From what I can tell, if I’d have killed the six Rapax Templar guards summoned to aid Al-Sedexus in a remote cave temple with nobody watching, I’d have hurt my faction with the Rapax. But by leaving them alive to tell their story of how I came in and killed their goddess and fought with them, my relationship with the Rapax is unharmed.

Does that make any kind of sense?

I’d really love to see an RPG where faction is handled in a realistic, organic fashion. I realize that this would be difficult to pull off, as most combats in RPGs are to the death, and bodies tend to magically vanish over time. And there seems to be an infinite supply of potential opponents in the world, so it’s not like anybody might notice that their factional population has dropped significantly since the player characters came to town.

I can see the simulated conversation between randomly generated NPCs now:

“Hey Bob, I’ve noticed a pretty high turnover in respawns since the group of adventurers started wandering our zone.”

“Those guys coming towards us right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Interesting observation. Maybe we ought to mention that to someb… ARGH! ICK! My torso! My precious torso!”

Well, okay. Maybe that’s not just something you could drop into an existing game – you’d have to build the game around it. It’d be cool, though, huh?

The initiation quest for the Templars was, unfortunately, not the best. Though answering riddles was kinda fun and different (not for this game – there are a lot of riddles – but it’s not something you see much of anymore). But otherwise it was pretty much just an ordinary run-the-gauntlet, kill-the-guardian-monsters thing.

The most amusing part of this experience is that I clearly did things out-of-order. Fortunately, it didn’t break the game, though it’s unclear to me if I could have found my way through the portal without going through the initiation process.


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



ToshoCON Postmortem

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 3, 2015

FKFlythroughFriday night, I took the Frayed Knights show on the road to ToshoCON, which is kind of a mini-convention for teens put on by the Viridian Library and Events Center. It was kind of a weird situation, because we weren’t really exhibitors / vendors (they were elsewhere and had to pay for the privilege)… we were actually more like the entertainment.

It apparently went well… we were thanked and invited back next year. So… I guess from the organizer’s perspective, it was a success. Cool. From our perspective… well, my wife asked me going into it, “What do you hope to get out of this?” That was a little more fuzzy. We couldn’t sell. It was really just a chance to watch people play Frayed Knights 2 for the first time and see what worked and what didn’t, so I could maybe make some adjustments. Especially with the planned showing at the “big event” a few days later, at Salt Lake Gaming Con.

Anyway – FRAYED KNIGHTS 2: THE KHAN OF WRATH.

Dang, this game was supposed to have shipped by now, wasn’t it? Oops. Let me tell you something: As I write this, I’m feeling exhaustion creeping in. It’s been a brutal several weeks getting this together. I’m thrilled that so much is done and working, but at the same time there’s still a lot left to be done (particularly on the content front, which I’ve needed help with).

I suspect that talking about the game when I’m exhausted over it is probably not the best PR move. Maybe it’s good practice, though. The latter half of this week is going to be fueled by caffeine and ZipFizz.

So a few thoughts on the demo and how things went:

First of all, we used the level from the Comic Con demo, mainly because it is at the highest level of completion and was designed to be a tiny mini-adventure that could be completed in about five to ten minutes. However, the game (and the level itself) has changed a lot since then. We used the new, full UI this time around, although I disabled lock-picking to avoid complicating the game too much. Actually, what I did was add a new ‘impossible’ lock flag which pops up a message in the case of full-on plot-protected doors. I hope to use them extremely sparingly if at all outside of the demo.

One of the new additions (taken from a lesson learned at Comic Con) was an “attract mode” added to the game. It was inspired somewhat by the menu screen in the original Unreal. It actually worked quite well. Maybe too well… I had a constant stream of players and no chance to take a break the entire night. I’ve included a video of a full ‘cycle’ of the fly-through. It looks better at 60 fps with no compression / streaming artifacts at full resolution, but it should give you the idea.

The players were (mostly) teenagers. About half of the players really didn’t “get it.” They had trouble with the controls, with a first-person perspective, with the style, or the amount of text. About half or one third of the remaining players REALLY seemed to get it. They were laughing at the text, asking great questions, digging into the spell-system, really trying to master the combat options, and so forth.

I don’t know if that was a good or even representative ratio. I told my wife, “I’d rather make a game that a few people really love than a lot of people think is just ‘okay.’ ”  He answered that she wanted me to make games everybody loves, which… well, okay. Yeah, that’d be awesome, but how do you do that?

We added a new spell icon system that worked extremely well. Since spells are all dynamically generated, we needed a way to easily identify what a spell does when you see it, before pulling up the details in the pop-up window. We worked up something of an iconic “language” for the spells, and Nick Lives generated the art. In theory, it seemed like it would work. In practice, they surprised me with how effective they are. Demo players didn’t really have a chance to grok the system too well, but as they were playing the demo, I was able to quickly guide them to promising spells in spite of them being new to me every single time.

We have sound and music in the game now. It’s not perfect or complete yet, and I’m gonna be REALLY sick of the music by next week, but it’s probably better to have that all in now. It’s easy to ignore sound requirements when the entire game is silent, but when most of the sounds are in and certain actions or monsters are silent, it’s hard to ignore.

The new UI is a lot more complete (and complicated) than the super-streamlined version I implemented for Comic Con. You know what? People didn’t seem to have a problem with it. This was a pleasant surprise, but I guess it’s intuitive enough (or rather, it matches other games well enough) that players didn’t have too big of a problem figuring things out. There are a few little problem areas where the UI needs more feedback, but for the most part it seemed to work.

One comment from a player (which was spot-on) was that while this was billed as a comedy, the creatures seemed pretty traditional and kind of scary. Of course, my response is that the comedy tended to be more along the lines of character-based comedy, sitcom style. But if a variant of this level is going to be the first level of the full game (that’s currently the plan), then I may need to work a little harder to set the comedic tone right at the beginning through visuals, not just dialog. Maybe the necromancer farts during his dramatic departure or something.

Combat still needs some adjusting, but it’s a LOT better now. It feels like its paced about right, but there’s a bit of nuance that’s still missing. Some of that is still planned or even implemented already, but just not present in the demo level. We’ll see.

Anyway, I have a short but meaty list of things to fix / change for later this week, on top of promotional activities.  After this weekend, I can’t really slack the pace much, because we’re preparing for a submission for another competition at the end of August. Hopefully what we have (with a few tweaks to help players who don’t have me standing at their elbow explaining things) will be enough.

After that… it’s back to the dungeons with all of us! We’ve still got a lot of dungeon levels to build!

UPDATE: The video is a little dark for two reasons: #1 – I have a very bright monitor, and the brightness levels still need to be balanced for everybody, and #2 – The party carries a light source around with them, so everything is a little bit dark until they get within about 20 feet. I don’t raise the illumination for the fly-through, although I guess I could.

 


Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Sigil of the Wyrm: Cover Reveal

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 1, 2015

There’s a new urban fantasy book coming out on August 25th by one of my fellow authors at Xchyler Publishing,  A.J. Campbell. It’s the first of the “Into the Weirding” series, entitled Sigil of the Wyrm:

SIGIL_of_the_WYRM_full_spread_750

It’s available now for pre-orde from Amazon. Here’s a little reveal video to go with it:

Have fun!


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[Archive] Game Design: Is Freedom Not Fun?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 31, 2015

This is a revised version of a post from the old blog, lost in a security clamp-down last year. Since it’s referenced by one of the Wizardry 8 articles and the topic is still quite worthy of discussion, I thought I’d post it now.

Randy Smith, a lead designer at EA, once wrote about how choice and consequences are out of vogue in today’s game designs. He cites Ultima V as an example – a game that freely let you shoot yourself in the foot, go off the beaten path, make bad choices, and get clobbered by them.

Smith stated, “Today, this sort of thing is considered bad and wrong, and we’ve developed some of our most sophisticated design around preventing it… Why do we do all this? Because games are supposed to be fun, and fun only happens when you are pointed directly towards it, when it’s neither too easy nor too hard to get, and when you’re told ‘good job’ upon acquiring it. We’ve brilliantly succeeded in eliminating the interstitials, stripping away everything but fun.”

Is this a good thing? Is this the right thing? Randy brings up the “games as art” argument, and suggests that being led around onto exactly the right path, rendering our choices irrelevant, might not be the evolutionary Utopia of gaming that we really want. Smith continued, “I worry that in the course of evolution we created a philosophical divide with exploration, choice, and consequence on one side and goals, scores, and balance on the other. I’m not sure the two sides are equally vital for producing unique, relevant works. Are we so hooked on the escapist fantasy of an uncomplicated life, of reverting to the safety of childhood, that no other games should be made? Have we explored alternatives?”

In her commentary article “Hold My Hand,” Scorpia contends that stripping away choice and marking the path for the player every step of the way doesn’t necessarily refine the “fun,” either. “is so much direction really a good thing? Does having to think about the game and what we’re doing somehow take away from the ‘fun’? I certainly enjoyed playing Ultima IV. But it wouldn’t have been as much of a pleasure had Hawkwind (or anyone else) been directing me through the game. ”

Later, in comments, she notes “Funny, when I first started gaming – and with some pretty tough adventure games – I never felt intimidated. And back then, I wasn’t doing it professionally, either.”

Is this just a matter of audience? The games of yesteryear certainly had technical limits as to how much they could “guide” the player – they even had to pack crucial data into manuals for lack of RAM on the system. But in the 1980’s (the era of Ultima IV and V and many text adventures), the gamer was a niche audience. Today, games are mainstream.

Perhaps only a small niche of players like figuring this stuff out for themselves?

I don’t know. I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road gamer. My gaming history is littered with titles that I never completed because I got stuck at some point — stuck, frustrated, and the game ceased to be fun. However, some of the most fun I’ve had in games has come from puzzling my way through challenges. I absolutely loved solving the Babel-Fish puzzle in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a threshold of pain and confusion where I really do want some hand-holding and some good guidance. But I’m much happier – and having more fun – when I am able to tackle those challenges on my own.

I had way more fun white water rafting as a kid than riding roller coasters, too. Am I just an exception? A niche?

Or should this be the next evolutionary change games take a “helping hand” rather than hand-holding. I think I’d really prefer that. Of course, this assumes that the game is actually made in such a way that it allows players to chart their own course… including going off-course. Many times, due to development costs for content, designers are loathe to create any aspect of the game world that the player isn’t required to see, which enforces a linear design.

Editorial Note from 2015: It feels like today, a few years after this article was originally posted, we’ve really gone two dramatically different ways, without a lot of room in-between: Either tightly scripted and linear, or wildly open-world. In the former case, in some games it feels like we need that hand-holding just to know what the designer had in mind for us to complete the level, although this is usually disguised by the level design. Still sucks that you are really robbed of any options than to do it the designer’s intended way, though.

 


Filed Under: Archive, Design - Comments: 7 Comments to Read



Reminder: Frayed Knights 2 at ToshoCON tomorrow, July 31

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 30, 2015

ToshoLogoTomorrow evening – from at least 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM (though I may be there earlier), I’ll be at ToshoCON at the Viridian Event Center at 8030 S 1825 W, West Jordan, UT.

You can check out the website here: ToshoCON 2015

It’s really geared for teens and anime / cosplay stuff. I expect there won’t be a whole lot of appreciation for the fact that there’s a bunch of locally-developed indie games that have hardly been played by ANYBODY on display. Just based on the experience I had with younger players at Comic Con last year. But regardless, I’m sure I’ll get some useful feedback, and it will help me get prepped for the big event next weekend.

Anyway, I don’t know if I have many readers in this particular audience, but if so, come pay a visit!

On the demo…

It’s funny – I’ve been focused a bit on content development for a while, so having to go back and fix a bunch of bugs I’ve been ignoring for months has been a painful experience. There’s also a bit of stand-in crap still there, especially in the UI, but at least the UI behavior is now a bit more final.

And monsters are falling over again when they are killed. That’s good.

Regeneration is busted again. Gotta fix that before tomorrow.

And… and… and…  Man, getting ready for a demo is a little like getting ready for a release. It is, in a way. Except you can wall off a lot more of the game content / behaviors if they really don’t work. Or, as is sometimes the case for something like this, they just aren’t appropriate for a really short show demo.


Filed Under: Frayed Knights, Game Announcements - Comments: Be the First to Comment



[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 15 – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 29, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Wizardry 8 was originally published in 2001. It took me several years to get around to it (and a great deal of effort to finally score a copy from EBay), but I’m now reporting on my adventures in the final game of the classic series. And with this fifteenth installment, I feel I’m getting close to the climax. Close measured in lots of combat.

If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em…

After some searching, I found an encampment in the wilderness where the Rapax Templars were staying. I was supposed to join these guys – well, the demon-goddess wanted me to do that. Why I’d want to follow the wishes of a bloodthirsty demon-goddess, I don’t know. As I got to the encampment, however, the templars there warned me to leave. I’m apparently not yet a member of the club.

What do I do to join the club?

Wiz8Templar-766113I don’t know. And at this point, after fighting through tons of combat in the castle, and figuring that sooner or later I’d need to take these guys on anyway, I decided to see if I could break the game by taking these guys out now.

Unfortunately, the front area was swimming in Templars. Tons. A small army. However, since I’d been fighting those kinds of odds in the castle for days, I could take ’em. Plus, I was close to an exit out of the “zone.” Using my l33t “dungeon break-in” skillz honed by years of playing Everquest, I whittled the Rapax down.

Summoned elementals came in very handy. Especially fire elementals, when they weren’t distracted into hurling fireballs of their own. The Rapax are all but immune to fire, so fireballs were nearly useless, especially when they’d throw on an Element Shield spell. But the elemental could punch pretty hard, and would ignore the zillions of fireballs these guys would fling.

And yes, they’d fling the fireballs. That many Rapax meant that, at least at first, I could go on a bathroom break when the combat started, and when I returned there’d still be particle systems hurtling across the landscape towards me while my characters patiently waited their turn.

I gamed the system at this point. I’d go in, and MAYBE take down one or two of the Rapax before being forced to flee. Since most of my damage-causing spells would do next to nothing, once the defensive spells and the summon had been fired, I’d concentrate on insanity and Asphyxiation. Once in a blue moon, out of about two dozen Rapax and about six casts of Asphyxiation (a mass instant-death spell), ONE rapax would get unlucky and die outright. It was a terrible waste of spell points for that 0.5% chance of killing an enemy, but since nothing else was having much effect either, I gave it a shot. After all, they weren’t exactly dying quickly on us as it was.

Once we’d score a kill or two, things would be looking hairy, and we’d be forced to flee. We’d rest up outside the zone, heal up, get spell points back, cast persistent buffs, and jump back in. The remaining Rapax would likewise be healed and have spell points back. Combat would begin almost instantly when we zoned in. By a strange twist of programming logic, if we’d been forced to abandon an elemental there in mid-combat, the elemental would still be there, saving us the casting of a summon spell at the beginning of the fight.

After spending pretty much an entire night doing this, we finally cleared the entryway enough to proceed further into the encampment. We found the King’s tent in short order. Compared to everything else we had fought recently, the king and his two bodyguards were pushovers.

Wiz8Alliance-734565Strange Bedfellows

Several large guard patrols and one remotely-opened gate later, we found a couple of prisoners stuck in cages at the top of a bluff. One was an Umpani named Rodan, and the other was a T’Rang named Drazic. Strangely enough, we got both of them to join our party, and they told us their story. They began as mortal enemies trying to kill each other, even in captivity. But upon learning that the Rapax King was in league with the Dark Savant – making the Savant’s allied forces stronger than anyone else on the planet – they realized that their own causes were doomed unless they could band together against a common enemy.

You see, the Umpani reportedly have a gun that is capable of taking out a starship – like the Dark Savant’s ship. But the Dark Savant’s black ship is cloaked and invisible to Umpani sensors, so they can’t find his ship. The T’Rang have a tracking device which – with the help from my visit to the starport in Arnika and a black box recovered from a wreckage in Bayjin – can track the Dark Savant’s ship. Rodan and Drazic asked us to take them to their respective leaders to make the case for an alliance between the Umpani and T’Rang. Curiously enough, since I’d been playing both sides, my party was in a prime position to give them aid.

Wiz8Missile-774869Even better, we had teleport locations set not too far from the Umpani fort and Marten’s Bluff, the base for the T’Rang. We portaled out of the Rapax Templar encampment, made our way through the swamp to Marten’s Bluff, and met with the T’Rang boss, Z’Ant. He was skeptical, but willing to listen. He gave us an alliance document for the Umpani to sign, and the tracking device.

The Umpani were just as skeptical, but after hearing Rodan and Drazic’s story, they also agreed. And gave us access to their “Big Gun.”

We made our way to the top of Mount Gigas, and found that the “Big Gun” was actually a missile launcher. With a single missile. While there might be spares in some storage room somewhere, it sure did look like we only had one shot at this. Too bad. It would be nice to aim that sucker at the Rapax Castle. I wonder how many experience points I’d net by blowing up the entire castle filled with infinite Rapax?

We placed the tracking device in the computer at the base of the missile. The missile launcher locked onto the black ship in orbit around the planet, moved into position, and fired.

That black ship, she shur blows up pretty! The distant explosion was clearly visible from the mountain top.

Wiz8Boom-760916

The party launched into a self-congratulatory round of discussion and back-patting, and began speculating whether or not the Dark Savant was actually on the ship when it exploded. The consensus seemed to be that no, life is rarely that kind, and we’d probably meet him when we got to the top of Ascension Peak. Which, everyone tells us, should be our next step.

The end is near! Maybe.

Design Notes:

While combat remains tedious, the plot was really kicking into high gear at this point. I HOPE that I have not ruined my game by taking the brute-force approach to dealing with the Rapax Templar encampment. ideally – as is apparently the case in many parts of the game – both approaches should be equally valid.

This is good RPG design. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is how things SHOULD be, in all RPGs. Yes, I mean you, you delightfully linear plot-heavy Japanese-style console RPGs!

If I recall correctly, Richard “Lord British” Garriott once said that he’d make sure there was always at least one good way to achieve any goal in the Ultima series, but that he wouldn’t go out of his way to prevent other approaches from working. If the players figured out a clever alternative, he was fine with that.

While a few more recent games have seemed to at least give nods to this idea (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, and the Fallout series falls into this category as well ) (Editorial Note from 2015 – These were somewhat recent when I originally wrote this… Fallout 3 was still new), it is too often missing in many modern RPGs. While I’ve not played it yet, Shamus Young  excoriated Fable 2‘s plot for gross negligence in this regard, forcing the player into some really bizarre, idiotic, needlessly complicated and punishing paths to accomplish what appears to be otherwise straightforward goals.

And even Oblivion seemed … well, oblivious… to the fact that I’d accomplished one Thieves’ Guild quest without actually killing anyone as I was assumed to have done. Those blind monks never even knew I was there, dang it!

Part of the problem, I suspect, is the script-based approach to handling “quests” or missions. I’ve struggled with the same issues in Frayed Knights. To make things interesting, the entire sub-story and path to accomplish the quest is scripted out in advance, and any alternative approaches have to be similarly designed, tested, debugged, re-written, polished, and perfected.

But is this really necessary? Couldn’t the Lord British approach still be applied to modern games? So you’ve got the glittery orb quest item stuck in some room. Is it really necessary to dictate how the player obtains the orb? Must all events and approaches be deliberately scripted into the game, or is it possible to set up a more generic event system and let things proceed more as a simulation? Would it be just as exciting? Just as interesting?

Yet even as I say this, I loved the hand-scripted resolution to the subplot where I acquired an alliance between the Umpani and T’Rang, and nuked the Black Ship. I’m a junkie for hand-crafted, well-designed plot and story development.

I’m sure I chose the most tedious, least interesting path to freeing the two prisoners, so would I be wrong in criticizing the game for allowing such tedious gameplay? Wouldn’t I have enjoyed the game more following the nicely-scripted path?

Is there a happy medium between these two extremes?


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 5 Comments to Read



The Little Cube Goes Into Retirement

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 28, 2015

OuyaBrownNot a big surprise, but…

As previously deduced, Razer has purchased Ouya. But it sounds like they only purchased the software assets and the service, not the (somewhat disappointing) hardware. Razer has promised to support legacy systems for at least a full year, and then offer Ouya owners a deal on their own hardware.

Ah, well. Ouya was due for a hardware upgrade anyway.

My fondness for the system was as an underdog. I’d hoped for a little more performance out of the cube. And controllers that didn’t seem to keep cutting out and going wonky on me, although it seemed like it was only one of them that kept having problems. For the most part, it was playable.

This announcement is mostly good news overall for the devs, because the Ouya store was beginning to feel more and more like a dead end. Now the service will (hopefully) hit a much larger audience in the near future. And new, more powerful hardware.

However, that silver lining comes with a pretty dark raincloud for a few developers. Developers on the “free the games” fund have had their contracts canceled, which sucks. While $5,000 or $10,000 may not sound like much, when you’re a tiny developer that has invested that much on the contractual obligation that you’d be receiving payments on the back-end that would help you recoup those expenses, that can leave you in a bad place.

TowerfallSo I’m gonna call this a good news / bad news situation. It’s too bad the exciting beginning of the “microconsole” era wasn’t followed up with a success story at this point. We’ll see how things go with Razer. It may simply be that the Ouya was ahead of its time, and gets a second chance in spirit and possibly in name (for a while). Or it could be that three or four years from now we’ve got an acquisition of Razer in the works, and the story repeats itself. For now, I’ll call it the closing of a chapter, but not the end of the book.

While the nirvana of awesome games never quite arrived, I’ve got a lot of Ouya games that I really enjoy, so it’ll be right up there with the rest of my “outdated” consoles I still play games on. Hopefully I shouldn’t have any problems keeping the games I already have on the system, although I may want to make sure they are all downloaded and archived within the next 12 months…

UPDATE: Razer has announced a deal to try and make good on Ouya’s financial commitments to developers under the “Free the Games” program. It’s a different deal, as they don’t want exclusivity at all, and instead involves giving away a number of free copies of the games. But it works as a marketing tool and fixes things with developers, and demonstrates Razer’s commitment to indies. Stand-up job by Razer’s CEO, Min-Liang Tan.

Polygon: Razer says it will pay what Ouya owes to Indie Devs


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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 14: Storming the Castle

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 27, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Here’s a bit of a summary of my continued explorations of the “old-school” RPG, Wizardry 8. It’s a fairly hard-to-find title these days, as the publisher has long since ceased to exist as anything more than a legal entity. But their memory lives on… as do game CDs on a PC. (Editorial Note from 2015: Within the last year or so, it’s become available on popular digital sites like GOG.COM and Steam, so difficulty-of-acquisition is no longer a problem like it was when I first wrote this!)

The Demon Goddess
I made a lot of progress since Part XIII – and somehow thought I’d blogged it all, but evidently I had failed to do so. My bad. And now I have to go from memory.

We used the beckoning stone to summon a gargoyle named El Dorado. He exploded nicely under our combined firepower. Following that, we made our way to the demon-goddess Al-Sedexus. She seemed to debate a bit about what to do with us, but then gave us a quest set our faction so that we would no longer be attacked by Rapax Templars. Go us.

A bit more hunting led us to the courtyard of Castle Rapax.

Storming the Castle
The courtyard started out okay. There were archers along the wall which rained arrows down on us and were hard to kill. That was annoying. Pushing forward a bit more resulted in us getting surrounded by Rapax and attacked by an ever-increasing throng of Rapax.

The main floor of the castle was largely the same story – infuriatingly long combats. Rapax are minotaur-looking beasts which have some of the most infuriatingly boring combat in the known universe. They are – tough. Very tough. Most magic barely touches them. They hit like a ton of bricks. They have hundreds of hit points. And I usually end up fighting them a couple dozen at a time. I blow through most of my magic in each combat. Usually the best spells are buffs, heals, and insanity spells – since if even one or two Rapax berserkers go nuts and begin wailing on their comrades for a couple of rounds, It can shave precious minutes off of an hour-long fight.

The only thing interesting the Rapax have going for them is that they have classes. Which means you have some spellcasters going at it. This usually means putting up an element shield in the first round, as I’ll be sitting through about six to eight fireballs every round, plus the occasional Crush.

After literally hours of practically non-stop combat, I made my way to the upper floors. I embarrassed the prince, who I caught in his harem. He fled, and sicced his concubines on me.

Yes, his concubines. What a total douchenozzle!

Eventually, sheer tedium and frustration made me flee to the upper floors which were much more interesting – though I had left some halls of the main floor unexplored. The upper halls and the cellar had a lot of interesting things going on, and most of the Rapax were not hostile to me. I guess they were aligned with the templars.

An adventure-game-esque sequence followed. I found myself going through a zoo, hitting the cellar and jail areas, participating in a barroom brawl, discovering that the Rapax King and Queen seemed to be running counter to each others’ purposes (in fact, it looks like the King was trying to arrange the death of his dear wife… I do not know whether or not he succeeded). After finding a lot of secret portals and bizarre items with strange uses, I managed to open up a teleporter near the King’s chamber that opened up a portal to the inside of the Dark Savant’s tower back in Arnika.

Dah Bomb
Among other things, the Dark Savant’s tower houses a bomb capable of destroying the entire world. For such a big deal, the tower was kind of a let-down. There wasn’t much there – just robots serving the Dark Savant, and a combination lock to deactivate the bomb.

At this point, I teleported back to the Rapax Castle, and fought a few gazillion more Rapax, before getting bored and leaving back the way I came.

Design Notes:

The castle sequence is a major set-piece to the game, but it is fatally flawed on the main floor by some really tedious combat – not unlike Rapax Rift and the Bayjin Shallows. The designers wisely set it up so that the upper levels (and cellar) were not nearly so bad – but it does make you wonder how you could slaughter something like 400 Rapax on the main floor (and how does the castle HOLD that many???) and almost nobody bats an eye about it one floor up.

But I really did enjoy myself a lot on the upper floor. The combats were few but a little more interesting (the zoo animals were largely creatures I’d fought before, but at least they broke up the monotony a bit). And the locations and notes gave a lot of clues as to what had been going on for the last few years. It helped make the world come alive.

The Savant Tower was something of a letdown. Here’s a hint to game designers: When you introduce something early in the game that’s clearly a major goal for later, you really ought to put some more effort into making it cool. Visually, it was cool, but from a gameplay perspective, there wasn’t much to do there. Unless I totally overlooked something.

I have already whined enough about how boring the Rapax are to fight. But this illustrates something about enemy design at which I have personally failed many times in the past. It is EASY to make a bigger, tougher, harder opponent. Beef up their armor and hitpoints, throw in a solid claw / claw/ bite attack (an old-school D&D reference), crank the magic resistance up to 11, and viola! A super-challenging monster!

And a super-boring one, too. Oh, sure, if used sparingly, they can be fun, and even interesting in their own way. But ultimately, what makes enemies interesting to a player are the same things that make them nightmarish for a programmer – unique behaviors and abilities (or combinations of the same).

If you look at some of the most popular (and feared) monsters in Dungeons & Dragons, they usually fall into this category. Dragons are not only ultra-tough, but also have the classic breath weapon and flying ability (and, often, spells, an aura of fear, and other special abilities). Mind Flayers with their uber-nasty psionic blast and the whole brain-eating thing. Beholders with their ray-shooting eye stalks (and the anti-magic cone from their primary eye). Vampires and specters with the level-draining ability. Medusas (yes, in D&D, Medusa is an entire race, not just an entity) with the gaze that turns adventurers into stone. Mummies with their mummy-rot and fear aura. Dopplegangers who can assume the form and behavior of friends. Harpies with their charm powers. And various kinds of demons with their spell resistance and other special abilities.

Those special abilities are what makes them interesting. Wizardry 8 is no exception. The psionic abilities of the Rynjin were infuriating, but it made them stand out… except for the fact that practically everything in the Bayjin area was also psionic. Nessie – I still haven’t taken HER down yet. But she was not boring. Creatures that swallow my party members whole are rare, scary, but definitely not boring.

Giving the Rapax some character classes and abilities in Wizardry 8 was definitely a step in the right direction. Frankly, after killing hundreds of these things in a row, they’d be getting pretty tiresome no matter how cool their design. Persona 3 did a great job of doling out strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities amongst opponents – and the expansion did an even better job of putting them together in interesting combinations that took some (minor) tactical planning to work through. And those still got pretty boring after a while.

So take my criticism with a grain of salt – or a small Siberian salt mine…


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Look But Don’t Touch

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2015

I remember seeing a cool fairy demo for the Matrox 3D cards around 1998 or 1999. I think the demo was either this one, or an earlier version of this one released for the Matrox G400 chipset. Either way, it was cool. The graphics may look embarrassingly primitive today, but they were very competitive with the top 3D games of the era (like Unreal) at the time. Of course, when it’s only a tech demo, you can make lots of optimizations.

Anyway – it was cool. And I remember thinking – as I often did in those early days where they showed off what appeared to be a virtual 3D world – that I wanted to go into those worlds and explore. Just wander around, sit down by the fire and relax for a bit. The worlds seemed amazing.

Naturally, as a game developer, I knew better. I looked forward to playing games that were as beautiful and fully realized as this, and knowing all the while that once they were, just poking around the landscape wasn’t gonna do it for anybody. And that all came to pass very quickly. And we took it for granted, looking forward to even more beautiful, more realistic worlds, ignoring the incredibly interesting details because there are bad guys in need of shooting!

RageScreenshotBut I think there’s more to it than that. It’s not just that we take these beautiful worlds for granted because we’re so used to them. I think we miss these painstakingly-textured details because they are meaningless to us. The pock-marks on the wall, the old posters, the burn-marks… in theory, they help tell the story of the landscape that we’re in. But in reality – it’s all just a soundstage. All that beautiful set dressing is simply to hide the fact that we’re on a linear obstacle course.

And so we’re used to these prettier worlds being of the “look, don’t touch” variety. In fact, we’re pretty accustomed to the idea that the prettier a 3D world is (relative to modern technology), the less interactive it is. All that incredible detail comes at a price, and that is that you can’t move things around and screw things up. There’s nothing behind those doors, and the forest in the background is just a picture.

SkyrimSS8There are some games that buck that trend, of course. Skyrim and the recent Fallout titles are excellent examples, where at the very least, if you see it, you can (generally) visit it. Likewise, many of the “sandbox” games, like the Saint’s Row and Grand Theft Auto series, follow this model in their own style. Still, the kinds of interactions possible in these games are only noteworthy because they make sense in comparison to the “real world,” and not many other (3D) games do anything like it.

But even in that case, it’s a set with a lot of props you can manipulate, or temporary, randomly generated creatures you can kill. But still, that’s awesome. And they are at least a worlds worthy of exploration. If that Matrox demo had a modern analog, something like Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas would be it. Step in, walk around, go anywhere, and take lots of pretty screenshots.

But the idea that captured my imagination even back in the days of vector graphics arcade games and text adventures was of fully realized virtual worlds. It wasn’t even the graphics so much (although high-quality 3D – ever a moving target – always excited me). But it was a world that I could virtually touch. In fact, the text adventure games provided a better illusion of that than many games, including very modern ones. Annoying as the text parsers might be, they always provided the suggestion that your interactions with the world were incredibly open-ended. Nevermind the reality that most of your perfectly reasonable and well-written commands ended up not being recognized.

Minecraft01Really, the best 3D game in recent years that has really managed to fulfill this idea that fired my imagination in the old days has been the indie supergame Minecraft.  Literally every square meter of the gigantic game-worlds, down to the bedrock at the bottom, is fully interactive. Mine it, build it, craft it, destroy it, change it, whatever. I think with all the things people attribute to the game’s success… the emphasis on building, cooperative play, the ease of modding or making YouTube videos, I think the simplest answer of all is simply that it is unbelievably interactive. The world is ready for you to visit it, play in it, and change it as you will.

The interesting thing about a fully interactive environment like this one is that there’s a giant “negative space” for interactions. Every tile you pass near is a choice – do you mine it or not? Do you create a new passage? Do you build something new in that empty space?  In a game like this, those aren’t really trivial decisions. As the song by Rush goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” It’s the potential for meaningful interaction that makes it come alive, even if I don’t choose to act on most of it.

That’s what I want in these virtual worlds. When I’m in Minecraft, I’m experiencing a world like I imagined back in the 1990s (and earlier). It’s as virtually “real” as I had hoped. The interaction is a big deal – knowing that it all has meaning and isn’t just pretty pictures. Now I don’t really need or want the interactivity to the full extent of Minecraft, nor do I think it’s appropriate for all (or even most) types of games. But it’s a nice counterpoint to these pretty, untouchable backdrops we often play in.

Sadly, Minecraft is getting a little long in the tooth, and while there have been a lot of games that have sought to emulate the look and feel and gameplay of that title since its runaway success, I feel like games have been sidestepping this core lesson. It’s not about the mining, or the crafting, or even a gigantic world. It’s about high levels of interactivity. Yeah, high interactivity imposes limitations on graphics – huge limitations – but clearly that’s not an inhibitor of popularity or commercial success.


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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Intermission: Wizardry 8 vs. Persona 3

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 23, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

persona3fes-762858Editorial Note from 2015: Somewhere in the middle of the time I was playing Wizardry 8, I discovered the not-quite-as-old console RPG Persona 3 FES, which remains an amazing game IMO. So amazing, I put Wiz 8 on hiatus to play through the Playstation 2 game. My only excuse was… dang, it was fun. So in the comments, someone asked me to compare the two games, since I seemed to enjoy them both in spite of them being extraordinarily different. So… I had fun with it! Note that at the time I wrote this, I still wasn’t finished with Wizardry 8… it was about the time I took on the Rapax Castle. So I was about 4/5ths of the way through.

So how would Wizardry 8 and Persona 3 FES compare with each other? One is a die-hard Western-style PC RPG, the other is… well, definitely rooted in the console JRPG tradition, but definitely marches to the beat of its own bagpiper.

The two games are only barely in the same genre. Apples and watermelons, here. But for the sake of argument (because I do so love a good argument), I thought I would offer a point-by-point comparison of the two, so you can draw your own conclusions. So here goes:

Style
Wizardry 8: Classic party-based Western RPG. They don’t come any more classic.
Persona 3: Party-based “Japanese” style RPG, mixed with elements of dating sims, Pokemon, Japanese anime shows that even die-hard fans are too embarassed to dub for a U.S. release, and whatever else the designers could come up with during their week-long session around a bong.
Winner: Neither. Come on, uber-stalwart-old-school or freaky-weird-innovation… do you really think I’d pick one over the other?

Combat Duration
Wizardry 8: Bring a sack lunch to each one, especially later in the game.
Persona 3: Ranges from trivial speed-bumps to appropriate length. Boss battles reasonably long and dramatic. Final boss battle requires you to call in sick for the next week, and you may want to and make sure your console is hooked up to a UPS in case of a power outage.
Winner: I’m gonna go with Persona 3, here. I’d actually call the battles “too short” for the most part, but it’s better to err on that side than on the side of “too long,” which Wiz 8 does even with the monster speed-up patch.

Wizardry_8_boxBest Robot Companion Combat Quote Pop-Culture Reference
Wizardry 8: “Exterminate!”
Persona 3: “Hasta La Vista!”
Winner: As a Doctor Who fan, I’m gonna have to go with Wizardry on this one.

Epicly Cool Settings
Wizardry 8: While it’s a more traditional sword & sorcery world, it mixes science fiction elements, some very well thought-out races, history, and an entire city set inside a giant tree.
Persona 3: The game is so heavily dominated by the Japanese setting and culture (from school schedules to New Years in Kimonos at the local shrine) that they didn’t bother to hide it when they localized it – which is a treat for Western audiences. The weird Twilight Zone-esque circumstances with the flow of time is just out there.
Winner: I might feel differently if I lived in Japan, but I’m gonna give the point to Persona 3 on this one. Just barely.

Sheer Quantity of Controversial Material
Wizardry 8: Ummm….. you have some pretty chunky deaths, as enemies tend to explode on expiration. Some mild profanity, I think… And bare-chested female creatures.
Persona 3: Profanity. A shower scene (suggestive, but reveals nothing). The summoning of demons and angels from Catholic / traditional Christian theology. Lots of occult references (especially the tarot). Children being crucified. Half-naked personas. Personas with extremely suggestive anatomical features. Multiple references to inappropriate teacher / student relationships. A rather phallic persona (in the expansion). Oh, yeah, and a whole game about kids shooting themelves in the head.
Winner: I’m going with Persona 3 here, although whether that makes it a winner or a loser is subject to personal taste and belief-systems.

Best Use of Sex As A Weapon During a Boss Battle
Wizardry 8: You douse a horrible-looking rapax mannequin with sexy rapax perfume, and use it as bait for a devious and deadly trap. When the assassin breaks cover in hopes for a romantic interlude in the middle of hostile territory, you squish him. Or I guess you could fight him directly.
Persona 3: The “Lovers” Arcana boss teleports you and Yukari into a hotel room, with Yukari in the shower, both of you afflicted with a foggy memory while it tries to convince you to give in to your desire. Unfortunately, being noble and resisting temptation just gets you slapped anyway, with a warning from Yukari to never mention anything about it to anyone.
Winner: As icky as the very thought of Rapax Love might be, Wizardy 8 wins handily due to its being a dynamic, truly interactive puzzle sequence rather than a cutscene with circular dialog choices.

mitsuru640-720096

Least Tedious Monster Grinding
Wizardry 8: The more powerful you get, the more powerful and numerous (and, generally, tedious) the monsters get. So there’s really no point in leveling up. Unfortunately, its hard to avoid, as there are fights whenever you are trying to get from point A to point B. Even in town in some places.
Persona 3: The bosses keep getting harder, and arrive on a schedule. It’s up to YOU to keep up with them. But you can choose not to go to Tartarus if you feel ready to deal with the upcoming boss, and the non-boss fights are not too difficult to flee and avoid entirely.
Winner: Persona 3, hands-down.

Goofiest Ally
Wizardry 8: Hmmm…. Madras, the Trynnie gadgeteer?
Persona 3: Koromaru, the wonder-dog who wields a dagger in his fangs and summons Cerberus. At least he’s less annoying than Ken.
Winner: Persona 3 loses here by winning.

Most Interesting Non-Combat Activities
Wizardry 8: A great amount of gathering, exploring, puzzle-solving, and conversing is possible. Building faction, questing for craft items, and
Persona 3: Plenty of fairly lame “quests” from Elizabeth, breeding and improving personas, building relationships, and making yourself more desirable to the opposite sex. Oh, and overstaying your welcome in a hot springs pool, and participating in “Operation Babe Hunt.”
Winner: A tie, actually. Persona 3 has a broad scope of repetitive activities you perform regularly, plus some unique activities in certain parts of the game. Wizardry 8 has fewer repeatable non-combat activities, but ultimately has a lot more unique activities, quests, and things to discover – plus a lot more interesting adventure-game style puzzles.

Most Fun Boss Encounter
Wizardry 8: You have to defeat a mutant frog that swallows party members whole in order to rescue a kidnapped comrade.
Persona 3: Though I never played this part, I’ve seen the videos on YouTube of fighting Elizabeth, the “secret” Persona 3 boss. She is a butt-kicker of godlike power that puts Death to shame. So why didn’t she save the world? Besides the fact that she’s definitely twisted?
Winner: Brekek the mutant frog of Wizardry 8. Simply because the storyline leading up to him is immensely amusing. And he’s a mutant frog.

Most Challenging Sub-Quest
Wizardry 8: So far, trying to rescue Glumph from Bayjin, by way of the Gigas Underwater Caves and the Bayjin Shallows. Rescuing him is easy, surviving the trip both ways is hard.
Persona 3: Trying to max out the social links for all three women (and a robot!) from the same dorm. I finished the game barely getting Fukka to talk to me again at school (at only social link level 5-ish), and then probably only because the world was supposed to end the that week.
Winner: Persona 3. Because there’s no apparent option to “just be friends.” Those sick designers. (Editorial Note from 2015: They fixed this in Persona 4)

Wiz800005-732028

Best Opportunity To Impersonate Deity
Wizardry 8: The party gets to become gods. (Editorial Note from 2015: How did I know this before I finished the game?)
Persona 3: The main character gets to become a Christ allegory.
Winner: I want to get to decide who lives and who dies. Wizardry 8 ftw!

Most Unrealistic Inventory Item
Wizardry 8: A Port-O-Potty. Made from a porthole and a hinged pot with a lid, it casts a Noxious Fumes spell in the hands of a gadgeteer.
Persona 3: Bikinis and French maid uniforms which grant better armor protection than bulletproof vests.
Winner: Tie. A delicious, insane, wonderful tie.

Overall Winner:
Since a big part of the reason Wizardry 8 is incomplete is Persona 3, if you held a gun to my head and forced me to pick which game I enjoyed more, I’d probably have to go with Persona 3 – probably because of the characters and story. But if that gun was instead an evoker, I’d summon Chi-You and go all Vorpal Blade on you!

However, compared to the ‘expansion’ for Persona 3 FES (“The Answer”), Wizardry 8 is far and away the better game. The Answer, at least for me (so far), is pretty much the most boring mechanics of the game (the monster grinding) with most of the cool parts from the original campaign (“The Journey”) ripped out. Its story isn’t much on its own, but it’s intriguing as a tie-in to the original.

I could also note here that I got Mass Effect at about the same time as Persona 3 FES, and it has hardly been touched. Technologically, it is vastly superior to either game, but so far it has not left me too thrilled. (Editorial Note from 2015 – Oh, yeah. I still haven’t finished the original Mass Effect. Dang.)


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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 13: Lucky Thirteen, Unlucky Rapax

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 22, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

This is a continuation of my experiences delving for the first time into the now-classic computer RPG, Wizardry 8. I expected this series to go about nine or ten posts, but we’re now on post thirteen. So here we go:

Fifty-five minutes, fourteen seconds.

W8Rapax1-797583

That’s how long this particular random patrol encounter took. I thought my complaining about the excessively long combats in Wizardry 8 might have been exaggerated. I wasn’t really sure how long these fights were taking – I was more focused on winning than keeping time. So I timed this one.

The battle was an encounter with a patrol – consisting of, as you can see, twenty-nine enemy … uh, Rapaxes. Rapaxi? I have no idea what the plural of Rapax is supposed to be. I started the stopwatch function on my watch when the battle began, paused it when I had to pick up my daughter from her play practice, and resumed it when I sat back down to finish the battle.

The battle took nearly an hour. That would be an unpardonably long boss battle. But for a run-of-the-mill fight against wandering monsters several levels below me? Ye gods! No wonder turn-based combat gets a bad rap.

I nearly lost the battle about forty minutes in. Having to replay that much of the game (since you can’t save in mid-combat) would have probably made me quit for the night. That’s happened before. Fortunately, the monsters decided to attack my water elemental at that point (or each other, succumbing to the effects of insanity I kept hitting them with) long enough for me to resurrect one dead party member and to “heal all.”

W8Rapax2-726257

Almost worse than the loss of health was the entire party running out of stamina very quickly during the battle – and both of my primary casters having to take a quick swig of Magic Nectar to restore magic points about two-thirds of the way through the battle (just to have enough mana to cast Rest All to keep everyone from taking a nap at the same time!)

The screenshot to the right is from about that point – right after the resurrection, when I managed to fear enough rapax (I think I’ll use that for both singular and plural) to thin the crowd so I could actually stage a comeback.

So that’s my excuse for not having enough progress to report this time, and I’m sticking to it. Too many combats like this one!

So I finally found the wilderness section and Rapax Rift. That was a feat unto itself, especially when facing fire-breathing flying snakes in groups of four that are several levels higher than me. 25th level flying serpents or some such nonsense. While they may have been the same level as Nessie, they weren’t nearly as tough, though they were hard and exhausting to bring down. I could usually manage two fights in a row before needing to rest, but resting in the wilderness was nearly impossible.

Since I have three characters who can now cast spells to set and return to portals, I would have one character set a portal at my current location, and then have my other caster teleport us directly back to the tavern in Arnika – right in front of Vi Dominae, after she left us again when we approached Rapax Rift. I keep coming back and waving to her, just to prove to her that we’re still alive and let her know what a chicken she is. Then we rest up, and teleport back to our previous location. It saves on long, nasty, brutal combats that end up with us dying because we don’t have any magic left when enemies stumble across us in our sleep.

Yeah, the game can be a little brutal.

Rapax Rift is a land of deadly lava floes. Besides patrols of high-level Rapax berserkers, warlocks, initiates, priestesses, and archers, there is a temple complex and some occasional groups of “fire ants.” Which aren’t like real world fire ants at all. These fire ants are literally on fire, walk through lava, and are the size of dogs.

The other scary monster here is the Lava Lord, who is (or should I say, was) sort of an unholy enforcer-sort summoned by the priestesses to take human – or, rather, Rapax – sacrifices on behalf of some priestess / demoness / goddess named Al-Sedexus. We found several prisoners who were pretty much past usefulness, dreading the moment when they would be made the sacrifices to this Lava Lord guy.

We found another prisoner, long on information and short on spirit, who was in the process of becoming the next sacrifice. He’d had a mark placed upon him by the Staff of Ash by Al-Sedexus, which would allow the Lava Lord to eventually just burn him from the inside out. The only way to remove that mark was to use that staff to erase it. We unlocked his door, but he refused to budge without having the mark removed, as it would only hasten the inevitable. On our way out, the Lava Lord materialized from a river of lava, walked over to the prison / sacrificial area – walking right past us – roared a bit, and then returned from whence he came.

Much blundering about and re-fighting patrols led us to a spot where the supports of a cave next to a lava-puddle were weak and sagging. Knocking out a brace let the roof tumble in, which covered the lava-puddle and providing us with a step up to the other side, taking us inside a nicely-carpeted temple area. We battled rapax patrols and priestesses to the top with some teleporters. And a key.

WizLavaLord-724669

One of the teleporters us to the central island with force-fielded area which was unlocked by a wand which looked mysteriously like a key on the end (as noted in the description!). However, unlocking the barrier field also summoned the Lava Lord, who in turn summoned a trio of fire sprites (which looked like fire elementals to me), and the whole group then began playing whack-a-mole with our heads. However, liberal use of Banish and Dehydration (I didn’t know you could dehydrate fire and lava…) saw us to a pretty easy victory. Honestly, while tough, this boss wasn’t as tough as some of the random patrols. Then we went back to the formerly-force-fielded spot, and retrieved the staff of ash and a rift key that this guy had been protecting.

Next, we took another route to a trapped lava trap. Fortunately, I saved first. While I avoided dying to the trap, I found myself well-and-truly trapped with no exit, walking around the edge of a depression which had filled with lava. I restored, found the secret mechanism to deactivate the trap (which was itself trapped!), and mad the area navigable. Proceeding forward, I ran into the high priestess, a delightful Rapax who kept us entertained by casting instant-death spells on us while her minions kept healing her (and each other) and hexing us. We killed her, and found something called a beckoning stone.

We returned to the guy who was going to be sacrificed, who took the staff to remove the mark, let us know to go north to Rapax castle, and let us know how to use the beckoning stone (I think) to summon a beast that would let us into Al-Sedexus’s lair.

That should be fun!

Design Notes:

The puzzles and fixed encounters in this area were actually pretty neat and well-designed. The non-interactive sequence when the Lava Lord first appeared was perhaps a little heavy-handed, but it served to make him seem impressive and scary. There’s a lot to like.

But really, there’s only one story here, and that is the length of combats. Now, I happen to be someone who likes a good, meaty, turn-based encounter. And I’m a fan of games with big tactical combat components, like the X-Com series, where a battle (which is the focus of the entire game) can take a couple of hours. But this is way, way too much in an RPG, and an Achilles heel to what was otherwise a pretty awesome game. It reminded me of the final fight with Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII, where he’d invoke a spell with minute-long non-interruptable cinematic every other round. Kinda cool once, kinda making you want to throw your controller through the TV screen the twentieth time.

If I find myself opening a door and finding four groups of 99 berserkers in this game, I’m going to be really, really disappointed.


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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 12: Desperately Seeking Marten

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 21, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

I originally thought that this Wizardry 8 play-through series would only take ten to twelve posts. This is number twelve, and I’m not there yet. Wizardry 8 is proving a bigger game than I’d anticipated. Not to mention time-consuming. Combats are often taking ten minutes or longer to resolve, as I often face twenty or more opponents at a time. Since I’ve been doing a lot of running back and forth to different areas, I regularly find myself taking a twenty minutes or more crossing a zone due to fights. The camouflage spell (Shadow Tincture) doesn’t seem to help very much – if you are in tighter confines (such as many areas of the road, or the Mount Gigas water caves), there’s just no dodging half the combat.

Flush with more experience points from some travelling around and my discovery of the location of the Dark Savant’s ship, I figured I’d take a crack at the Bayjin Shallows around Nessie and another rescue operation in Bayjin. I didn’t get too far. This time, the water caves below Mount Gigas were filled with “Death Rays” – Manta-Ray looking creatures that, true to their namesake, had insta-death attacks that would sometimes land even through my magical defenses. And, since they are virtually immune to water spells and mental attacks, and fire spells don’t work underwater, my biggest area-effect attacks were largely useless against them.

Those fights sucked.

Eventually, after being clobbered in the same fight four times in a row, I gave up and teleported back to Arnika. There was, I remembered, another possible entrance to Bayjin, guarded by Rayjin, in the swamp. I have a teleport location back at Arnika, so I keep returning to the city. Most of the times I leave, I get met by a large group of Rattkin who issue me advice or dire warnings. This time, after teleporting back from the water caves, the Rattkin leader tipped his hand, and said there was a price on my head, and he would be coming to collect the next time we met.

Who put a price on my head? The only leader Rattkin I’ve found was the Don, who was still holding the Astral Dominae hostage for 100k gold. At least that was my excuse. We went to the tree, and got in a fight with the Don. It wasn’t easy. But we won, killed the Don, and retrieved the Astral Dominae. It felt a little anti-climactic after spending all of Wizardry 7 seeking after the darn thing (which I still haven’t actually finished), but I was glad to have two out of the three artifacts needed for the inevitable end-game.

We continued off to the swamp, defeated the Rayjin, and found the land-based entrance to Bayjin. Much combat ensued. Much combat. We killed some aquatic faeries and found a bunch of loot in the hills in the center of the island, and battled what appeared to be endless streams of crabs. Usually four to ten at a time. We’d kill two groups, rest, and immediately fight one or two more. We made our way into the Rayjin village, and slept inside their huts while the patrols and crabs marched in swarms outside the door. Good thing they don’t actually go INTO these huts when they are occupied.

martentomb-795710

We found some prisoners, including Glumph, the Umpani prisoner we were supposed to rescue. We also found a Helazoid woman who died while telling us she came from Wizardry 7. Glumph complained most of the time we had him – which was far too long. Many more battles ensued as we tried to retreat from the island, taking the water way back. Yes, I was going to risk more Death Rays. And Nessie. I wanted to see what else was hidden behind Nessie.

We didn’t actually kill her. We moved quickly around her, sucking up her attacks and floating on bubble-streams up to caves we hadn’t visited yet. In one, we found a really kick-butt, but cursed, battle-axe. After my warrior had spent nineteen levels with her newbie axe, she was ready for an upgrade, curse or no curse.

One cave took us to a new zone – the Sea Caves. Exploring the island area, we came across a rope and a hook, and then a sledgehammer. We threw them into our inventory and forgot about ’em, continuing to explore. Well, explore and fight. On the plus side, we could use fireballs and fire storms again, and most of the creatures were subject to mental attacks.

In one cave, we found a loose man-made stone wall. Application of the sledgehammer opened it up into a room with a door that had been sealed from the other side. There was no way in that we could find. A little bit more exploration (and fighting – did I mention fighting? There was a lot of fighting) took us to an area with a pit. Getting bold, we jumped down into the pit – and found ourselves surrounded by hostile, man-eating insects the size of small ponies. Fortunately, they were big and the cave was small. They could only attack us two at a time, and they were nicely subject to being driven insane. For the most part, we let them kill each other.

But that fight was nothing compared to the next one. We found some light coming down through a hole in the ceiling. We used the rope and hook to pull ourselves up to a room – with the back-side of the sealed door we’d seen earlier. We were in!

BugTrap-705606

And we were facing an army of undead. Something like about twenty, plus some giant undead dude called the Keeper of the Crypt. Our first attempt didn’t go so well – we took out the keeper and most of the undead, but soon found half our party dead – especially when the undead siges summoned big ol’ elementals to aid the fight. We were more careful on the second attempt, pulling the undead to a corner where we were protected on two sides. We managed to silence the undead siges early on, preventing them from summoning any elementals or casting other nasty spells against us. What spells the other ghosts hit us with were often reflected back with our too cool Eye For an Eye reflection spells we now possessed. See, I’d learned something from those awful little Leaf Faeries!

The Keeper of the Crypt was almost easy to defeat at the end of that battle.

Following that, we found some slippery slopes that would drop us down pits, forcing us to retrace our steps (and fight lots of battles) to come back to the tomb area. We found some spiked boots back in the tomb, which our robot companion NPC was able to wear. They magically helped the entire party keep from slipping down into the pits, but then we found another obstacle – an uncrossable chasm that needed some other object to cross. The boots could get us safely to the edge, but not across.

This time, we voluntarily dropped down a pit, and searched around the island until we came across the remains of a wrecked ship. Spinning to make itself obvious, there was a large wooden plank there which was remarkably both sturdy enough to carry us, and could shrink down to fit in our inventory. Perfect!

Unfortunately, on our way back, we were unable to avoid a fight with some multi-armed nasties on the beach. By the time we defeated them, five other groups of nasties had converged on our position, and we found ourselves fighting 9 more of the multi-armed nasties, 8 sand crabs, 4 curare crabs, and four death beetles. That’s right, 25 monsters at once. This was a new record. The battle took over twenty minutes. And that’s WITH firing off Asphyxiation spells to insta-kill about three at a pop for the first three out of four rounds.

When it was over, we made our way back to the tomb, which had become newly repopulated with undead. Twelve re-dead monsters later, we crawled back to the chasm, dropped the plank over it, walked across, used a key we’d found to unlock a door, and entered a tomb where a ghost lay resting on a vault. The ghost stood up, and we chatted. This was the ghost of Marten, the dude who stole the Destinae Dominus years ago. He told us that the thing had driven him insane, and he was just oh so happy to pass it on to us so we could go crazy. Which he did. Plus a 400,000 XP bonus. My entire party went insane, cackling violently as they leveled up.

I gave the artifact to the bard, who was wearing the Helm of Serenity we’d gotten from Trynton. Immediately everyone regained their composure, got their clothes back on, and tried desperately to pretend nothing had happened.

All three artifacts are mine. I should go to Disneyland. But instead, I’m probably going to the Rapax Castle and then Ascension Peak. But first, I have to finally take Glumph back to General Ymir and get credit for this mission. He grumbled the whole time, but he gained about four levels in the process, so he shouldn’t complain too loudly.

Design Notes:

Finally meeting Marten, after chasing him all these weeks, felt like something of a climax. I was afraid that once I met him, I’d get a lame, “Thank you, Mario, but the Destinae Dominus is in another tomb” response, but everything came together well. I was also pleased that, once the mission was accomplished, he stuck around to talk and answer some questions. Since I’d heard “Marten this” and “Marten that” since level seven or so, and about the theft of the artifact since level one, it was great to hear the story from his perspective. There wasn’t much to add, in all honesty, but it felt better to me somehow.

The path to reach him once I got to the Sea Caves was nicely tricky, but not too difficult, involving much more than combat (though the fighting definitely took the greatest amount of time). The puzzles remain standard adventure-game fare, and I’m not complaining. They have taken the rule to heart that – most of the time – the object needed to accomplish a task in area X can be found in area X, unless it is part of a larger quest.

While they are very rare, I do like that the characters in my party occasionally make specific commentary on major events. They had to create a unique commentary for every voice “type” in the game, which is impressive.

The battles are, as I mentioned before (Editorial Note from 2015: Yes, several times before…), getting tedious. I don’t mind a decent battle taking three to five minutes, or a boss battle taking even a little longer, but these remain pretty annoying speed-bumps.


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The Great Big List of Steampunk Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 20, 2015

In spite of technical and logistic issues up the wazoo, Nick Lives of Deli Interactive and I managed to pull off the Steampunk Video Game panel at Salt City Steamfest over the weekend.

We talked about using video games for inspiration for non-digital costumes and adventures (because very few “steampunk” video games fit within the straight-up traditional Victorian London setting), a little about making your own video games (go indie!), and a lot about what kind of games were out there for people to play so they could enjoy steampunky activities beyond the weekend’s events.

Steve Yorkshire of Yorkshire Rifles provided a nice, brief interview about “Why Steampunk?” and how he used it in his game, Airship Dragoon.

And of course, we had the “trailer” video which I shared last week, which included snippets from several games.

Finally – with our presentation, we provided a two-sided sheet including a whole bunch of steampunk-like or steampunk-adjacent video games for people to check out. While all platforms are included, I’m afraid my focus on computer games acts as blinders a little bit for consoles and mobile. On top of that – with the rate of game releases these days, this list was out-of-date the day I finished it. So all of those caveats are to say that this list, as big as it is, doesn’t come close to being exhaustive or 100% correct.

But if you’ve got a hankering for some steampunk, weird west, dieselpunk, or even (!) colonialpunk (that’s a thing, I discovered this weekend), there are indie and mainstream developers out there who are making cool stuff that just might fill that hole in your life… :)

Note: Except for We Need to Go Deeper is (I think) already released.


Amnesia a Machine for PigsAerena: Clash of Champions
(Casual / Strategy, Multiple Platforms, store.steampowered.com/ )

Airship Dragoon (Strategy, Win, www.yorkshirerifles.com/webpages/store.html )

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs ( Horror, Win, www.aamfp.com )

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (RPG, Win, http://gog.com)

Bioshock Infinite (FPS, 2K Games, multiple platforms store.steampowered.com/)

Bret Airborne (Casual / RPG, Win, http://www.machine22.com/bretairborne/)

The Chaos Engine (Shooter, Windows, http://www.thechaosenginegame.com/ )

City of Steam: Arkadia (MMORPG, Win, http://www.cityofsteam.com/)

Clockwork (Platformer, Multiple Platformers, http://www.clockwork-game.com/ )

Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and InkClockwork Empires( City Building / Horror, Win, store.steampowered.com/ )

The Clockwork Man (Casual, Multiple Platforms, totaleclipsegames.com/ )

Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink (Casual, Win, store.steampowered.com/)

Cogs (Puzzle, Multiple Platforms, http://www.cogsgame.com/ )

Damnation (Action / Shooter, Multiple Platforms, store.steampowered.com/ )

Darkwatch (Shooter, PS2 & XBox – Ebay?)

Dishonored (Dieselpunk Stealth / FPS, Win,store.steampowered.com/ )

Divinity: Dragon Commander (Strategy / RPG, http://larian.com/games/dragon-commander/  )

Fabula Mortis (Mutliplayer FPS, Win, store.steampowered.com/ )

Fallen London (Adventure, Web, http://www.failbettergames.com/fallen-london/ )

Final Fantasy VI (RPG, Multiple platforms, Square – Ebay? )

Guns of Icarus Classic (AKA Flight of the Icarus) (FPS, Muse Games, http://musegames.com/)

Guns of Icarus OnlineGuns of Icarus Online (Multiplayer airship combat, Win, Muse Games, http://musegames.com/ )

Hunters of the Dead (Tower Defense, Win, http://www.traptics.com/site/huntersofthedead )

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing series (RPG, Win,  store.steampowered.com/ )

Iron Grip: Warlord (Tower Defense + FPS, Dieselpunk, Win,  store.steampowered.com/ )

Ironcast ( Casual / Strategy, Win,  www.dreadbit.com )

Ironclad Tactics (Card / Tactics, Win/Mac/Linux,  www.zachtronics.com/ironclad-tactics/ )

Jamestown (Pre-Steampunk shooter, Win, http://www.finalformgames.com/jamestown/ )

Lethis – Path of Progress (City-Building, http://lethispop.com/ )

Machinarium (Adventure, Multiple Platforms, http://machinarium.net/ )

Misadventures of PB WinterbottomThe Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (Platformer / Puzzle, Win/XBox 360, http://www.winterbottomgame.com/ )

Naval Warfare (Shooter, Windows, store.steampowered.com/ )

Nordenfelt (Shooter, Win, http://www.nordenfelt-thegame.com/ )

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series (RPG, Win, store.steampowered.com/ )

Pressure (Combat Racing, PC, XBox 360, PS3, store.steampowered.com/ )

Professor Layton series (Puzzle, Nintendo DS/3DS, http://professorlayton.nintendo.com/ )

Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (RTS, Win, EBay?)

Rock Boshers DX (Action / Puzzle, Multiple Platforms, http://tikipod.com/rockboshersdx/ )

Sir, You Are Being HuntedSine Mora (Dieselpunk shooter, Multiple Platforms, store.steampowered.com/)

Sir, You Are Being Hunted (Stealth, Win, store.steampowered.com/ )

Skyborn (RPG, Win, store.steampowered.com/)

Sunless Sea (Strategy / Horror, Win, http://www.failbettergames.com/sunless/ )

Steam and Metal (Shooter, Win / XBox 360, ( http://www.indiedb.com/games/steam-and-metal )

Steam Marines (Strategy / Roguelike, Win, http://www.steammarines.com/ )

Steampunk Videogames Slideshow4Steamworld Dig (Platformer, Multiple platforms, http://steamworldgames.com/dig/ )

Steel & Steam (RPG, Win, store.steampowered.com/ )

Styx: Master of Shadows (Stealth, Multiple Platforms,  store.steampowered.com/ )

Syberia series (Adventure, Multiple platforms, http://www.syberia.microids.com/ )

Telepath RPG: Servants of God (RPG, Multiple Platforms, http://sinisterdesign.net/products/ )

Telepath Tactics (Strategy, Win/Mac/Linux, http://sinisterdesign.net/products/ )

TeslagradTeslagrad (Platformer, Multiple platforms, http://teslagrad.com/ )

Thief series (Stealth, PC, store.steampowered.com/ )

Torchlight 1 and 2 (RPG, Win/Mac/Linux, http://www.torchlight2game.com/ )

Valkyria Chronicles (Dieselpunk RPG / Strategy, Multiple Plattforms,  store.steampowered.com/ )

Vessel (Platformer / Puzzle, Win, http://www.strangeloopgames.com/vessel/ )

Warmachine Tactics (Strategy, Win, http://warmachinetactics.com/)

We Need to Go Deeper (Multiplayer Action, Win/Mac/Linux, http://weneedtogodeeper.webs.com/)

Windforge (RPG / Platformer, Win, http://snowedin.ca/projects/windforge/ )

Woolfe the Red Hood DiariesWoolfe the Red Hood Diaries ( Platformer, Win, http://woolfegame.com/ )

 

For the purposes of educating attendees who might not be familiar with some of the game type / genre terminology, I included some explanations on the hand-out:

 

Adventure – generally focused on problem solving, don’t usually require fast reflexes

FPS – First Person Shooter: A game where you play from the viewpoint of the character and emphasize ranged combat

Tower Defense: A strategy game style emphasizing building defensive structures that automatically defend against invading attackers

RPG: Role-Playing Game. A game style emphasizing storytelling and character progression (usually, but not always, over fast action)

Stealth: A game style where the focus is on hiding, evading, and avoiding detection by enemies

Casual: Games geared specifically for more “casual” players, emphasizing puzzles, matching or combining objects, and finding hidden objects in a scene.

MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game. A role-playing game emphasizing a large number of players all playing simultaneously in the same world.

Platformer: A game characterized by moving around the environment with accurate running and jumping

 


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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 11: Swimming With the (Psi-) Sharks

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 17, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

I’m continuing the saga of my first-time play-through of Wizardry 8, the final game of the classic RPG series that spanned 20 years.

After all the excitement with the T’Rang, I reported back to Mount Gigas for my next orders from their mortal enemies, the Umpani. I was to report for scuba training, and then rescue (or find out what happened to) an expedition that swam through the Water Caves to Bayjin.

I lost both Sparkle and Vi. Vi was afraid of a sea monster. Man, I’m so disappointed in her. We’ve faced death in the guise of a thousand horrible monsters, and she’s scared of some critter in the water?

I went ahead and let them go. It’s too bad – we could have really used both of them. The sea caves were HELL. Mostly because of the Psi-Sharks – and the fact we were underwater.

The underwater part was annoying because our best area-effect damage-dealing spells (fireballs and firestorms) were useless. On top of that, nearly everything we encountered was immune to water-based spells, which nearly eliminated some of our OTHER top spells. When you are blowing most of your spell points for the category just doing an average of 5 points of damage to a group of monsters with 250 hit points, its just not worth it.

And then there were the psi-sharks themselves. They were also pretty much immune to mind spells. Basically, they are pretty friggin’ immune to everything down there. And we encountered tons of them. Even with Soul Shield and magic screens up, they were regularly getting powers through that would paralyze or turn our own party members against us. Since our magical effects were severely limited against them, they’d have a huge advantage against us at range, and rushing forward to attack would expose us to an extra round or two of uncontested mind-warping, party-killing effects.

I was not amused.

Once we got through the psi-sharks, the ghost pirates, and a few other monsters, we emerged in the Bayjin Shallows. This was really fun, because this was the realm of that little sea-monster. Named Nessie, after that quaint little legend from Scottland, I guess. Except the Nessie near Bayjin is a level 25 sea-dragon that is pretty much impervious to everything and can kill party members in a single round. She doesn’t move, however, so we were able to make our way around her by dodging from rock outcropping to rock outcropping. There was one section where we simply couldn’t make it behind cover in a single round, however, so we just had to suck it up and hope she didn’t hit us with anything too lethal.

WizNessie-746260

We found some caves around her, with some monsters and treasures of various kinds. One of the caves went to Bayjin. There were also some skeletons and IUF ID tags that I thought might be the remains of the missing Umpani I was supposed to find (they weren’t…)

We didn’t completely explore Bayjin, mainly because we were getting our collective butts kicked. Even some of the dumb crabs here were just nasty, and made the Rayjin seem like pushovers by comparison. However, I did find a wrecked space ship with a nonfunctioning blaster pistol and a working black-box recorder.

I left Bayjin with the mission incomplete – and found the trip back to Mt. Gigas to be, if anything, worse than the trip there in the first place. Long, long, nasty, horrible battles. Mostly with Psi-sharks. Through tunnels with very little chance to avoid the suckers.

Returning, and finding the IUF ID tags were insufficient, I decided to run a few more quests and gain a few more levels to see if they’d help. Though, typically, I’ve found that most levels continue to throw harder and harder challenges at you as you level, so it’s impossible to get ahead unless you get REALLY far ahead. I can teleport back to Arnika now, but I still end up getting into a lot of fights along the road. These fights aren’t challenging anymore, just time consuming. Every once in a while I’ll manage to dodge all enemies along the road, which makes my day. I’ve tried drinking Tincture of Shadows potions to be less visible, but they make very little difference. I wonder if they’d work better against psi-sharks?

I went back to Trynton, and managed to pay a visit to the shaman again – armed with more knowledge. He decided that, like Neo, I was the chosen one (well, “we” – it’s a group effort with my party and all), and gave me the key to obtain the Helm of Serenity. Most amusingly, the key didn’t unlock the big barred door to get to the helm. Instead, it got me to the hut above the one with the helm, where I was able to drop down through a hole in the floor into the locked room with the Helm of Serenity. I was able to unlock the barred door from the inside and walk out. I guess if you are trying to defeat Ratkin thieves, you need to make the obvious route impossible like that. I liked it.

After that, I returned to the T’Rang again. I was nervous about handing over the Chaos Moliri, but after saving my game, I let them borrow it. The dude was very impressed, and gave it back to me. He then told me that they wanted to attack the Dark Savant’s ship (though he’s a secondary target to the Umpani, I guess), and needed to get the coordinates of his ship in space.

Hmmm…. I just got a black box from a ship that had been shot down by the Dark Savant’s ship, right?

Teleporting back to Arnika, and facing some new, improved models of the Savant’s androids — VERY nasty pieces of work, let me tell you — I was able to fight through to the spaceport, and inserted the black box into the reader.

Unfortunately, I was missing a scanner, so it was almost useless.

Actually, I had the scanner on me all the time. I just didn’t know it. It was a mysterious little orb that was located at the bottom of a Hogarr pen in Trynton back when I was getting the living crap kicked out of me by those tiny naked winged women. I’d forgotten all about it! Once I installed it into the computer, I was able to get the actual coordinates of “the black ship.” I returned with that information to the T’Rang, who rewarded me with lots of money and 300,000 experience points. Once upon a time, that would have been a lot. But my party is around 18th level now, and those levels are coming very, very slowly.

Now I’m supposed to locate someone named Drazic for the T’Rang, but they aren’t giving me any clues where to find him. I’ve probably MET the dude before, and just don’t remember who he is.

Design Notes:

Okay. I’m still loving Wizardry 8, but I got some real serious bones to pick with it at this point.

Number one – long, thin zones with lots of patrolling monsters. Like the water caves. And the road. And some other areas. There are monsters here EVERY time. Kill a zillion bandits, and a zillion more return on your return trip. The combats feel like just a way to stretch out the game – by a significant margin. When I’m spending an hour just “getting through” to someplace interesting, there’s a problem.

Number two – scaling encounters. I’m actually not opposed to scaling encounters in principle, but it really robs the game of a feeling of progress. When every encounter is roughly the same difficulty level, it also robs the game of a lot of its texture. It robs the player of a chance to simply “come back later” to a previously too-difficult section, because said section of the game will simply be increased to an even greater difficulty level later. Wizardry 8 isn’t quite as bad as Oblivion in this respect, but I’m still not thrilled with the approach. Psi-sharks are wicked-hard, and would be fine as major encounters. But spending forty-five minutes out of every hour fighting them gets really, really tedious.

Number three – weapons. My fighter is still equipped with her newbie battle axe. There have been all kinds of swords, spears, and bows I’ve found in the game… but not axes. Maybe I’ve just gotten unlucky, but I wanted my dwarf to wield an axe, dang it. And now she’s doing less melee damage than the little faerie with a stick! If you have a weapon skill in the game, make sure it is supported by, like, you know… actual weapons that use that skill.

And as a word of praise – Nessie. A big ol’ honkin’ uber-monster in the center of a level, taunting you. Awesome. I loved it. There was simply no way to take her on at this point, but we didn’t have to. Key point. Hopefully she will not scale up in difficulty level when we meet her again. I totally want to turn her hide into a few pairs of boots.


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Biz: Five harsh truths about working in a creative industry

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 16, 2015

I’m not an expert businessperson. If I was, I’d be… well, a lot more successful than I am now, I guess. But I wanted to state a few things for the record here that might be related to my own business ethics and views, but mostly based on observation. I see some individuals and small companies (and sometimes big ones) making similar mistakes over and over again, often with some pretty epic but inevitable collapses at the very end.

These are generally “n00b mistakes” from people trying to turn their hobby and passion into something that will pay some bills… and they shoot themselves in the foot in the process. Sometimes the consequences are so harsh they leave the industry and are never to be seen or heard from again. This hurts all of us, because they brought a lot of potential.

So I thought I’d share some of these harsh truths – and the perfectly reasonable approaches to deal with them. For many, these will be common sense. But for some, especially younger folks first getting started, these may be a useful (if not entirely welcome) shot of reality.

#1 – After they’ve paid, customers owe you JACK!

Unless they’ve got an outstanding billable, the customer doesn’t owe you CRAP. Period. You are not entitled to their loyalty or their goodwill. Even if you just gave them the supreme discount of the decade, bent over backwards for them, and took a loss just to make them happy. Some people may feel obligated in return. Many won’t. And they aren’t really. So whatever you do – don’t treat them like they are!

Now, it’s possible to earn customer loyalty through all those things… by offering a good product, good service, and just general good things you do that generate goodwill. That’s awesome. And sometimes it will. And I think it’s good business sense to do exactly that. Hopefully you’ll generate enough goodwill to help you out if you stumble. I know as a customer, I’ve done that (sometimes to my detriment).

But in the end, this is something the customers and clients must give to you freely, not something you can expect or demand. And remember that it’s something that must be earned again and again.

#2 – It’s about the audience experience, not yours

If you are in a creative industry, you may bleed for your product. You may put a lot of passion, craftsmanship, blood, sweat, tears, and artistry into what you do. But in the end… it’s not about you. It’s about them. The audience. The customer doesn’t care how many late nights you had, how many stresses it put on your family, how much you spent on it. They simply want to know how much it will improve their lives, and how much that is worth to them in terms of their time and their cold, hard cash.

Yes, the pain and frustration and lost opportunities and all that part of your life may end up sitting in a bundle deal or in an Amazon sale for less than a dollar. Acknowledge. Move on. And focus on making your audience happy. Hopefully that mostly coincides with your own preferences.

#3 – Nothing succeeds like success

Wanna know the best way to guarantee success? Already be successful.  People pay attention to the ones that have already “made it.” Whereas the people who haven’t probably need the attention more. Yeah, it’s totally unfair. It’s a “rich get richer” scenario. It’s like experience… you get it after you needed it. Sorta like that Old Spice commercial:

The thing is – there are so many failures, so much flying-by-night, so many things that are here today and gone tomorrow, that people with a little bit of experience in the world are reluctant to invest too much of themselves (or their cash) in an unproven quantity. So you have to prove yourself, again and again, that you’ve got what it takes.

The end result? You accept smaller successes and build on them. Maybe you get lucky and knock one out of the park, but otherwise, you make base hits and just build slowly on whatever level you’ve managed to hit.

#4 Luck plays a bigger role than we’d like to admit

If we’re trying anything new, then luck plays a role. Maybe a big one. It’s a multiplier between the values of 0 and 1 on everything that you do. If you don’t make something of quality that the audience wants and market it halfway decently, then there’s not much luck can do to save you. But if you hit everything perfectly, there are still no guarantees.

The trick is not to use this as an excuse. Not everything is “bad luck.”

#5 – Persistence is key, but it’s no guarantee

Given #3 and #4, it’s pretty clear that the only way to win (short of being really, REALLY lucky) is to stick with it, keep trying, keep improving, and keep adapting. But even with all that, there is no guarantee. There’s no magic tally sheet in the sky that tracks your overall progress and grants you your well-deserved reward once you cross a threshold.

But on the flip side… until you’ve quit, you’ve not failed. You have only not yet achieved success. You just keep creating opportunities for success. And what I keep finding in creative fields across the board is that once the stars all line up just right, all that back-list material suddenly finds new life. If it’s something important to you, give it an appropriate priority for your lifestyle, and stick with it. Keep building on whatever measure of success you achieve.

 

So there you go. These are harsh realities to some, but the bottom line is – they are realities. Reality is neither good nor bad, it just is. You can fight it, or try to adapt and maybe even turn it to your advantage.


Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 12 Comments to Read



Salt City Steamfest and Steampunk Video Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 15, 2015

SC_Steamfest_2015I’m going to be at Salt City Steamfest this weekend, Friday and Saturday. I won’t be showing off Frayed Knights 2 or anything, but I will be with the Xchyler Publishing booth selling and signing books, talking to folks, and attending what panels I can. And generally having fun being all steampunk-y.

What is “Steampunk?” Well… think Victorian Science Fiction. Or what would have been contemporary horror / urban fantasy / science fiction if it had been written / told / performed in the Victorian era. Think H.G. Wells, Mary Shelly, Edgar Allen Poe, and especially Jules Verne. Those are kind of the prototypes. Steampunk is speculative fiction set in a world or era vaguely reminiscent of a revisionist or mid-to-late 1800s (or very early 1900s). Steampunk conventions are a chance for people to dress up and have fun with the concept with other people who share the interest.

I’ll be on a few panels. On Friday, it looks like I’ll be on a panel at 1:00 in the afternoon called “To Be or Not To Be Published.” I don’t know much about this one, but I assume I’ll be able to draw upon my somewhat more familiar game industry experience than my much more limited fiction and non-fiction experience.

At 4:00 on Friday, I’ll be with the Xchyler Publishing on a panel called “Write Steampunk for Fun and Profit.” I know far more about the “fun” part than the “profit” part, but there are some great folks on the panel and I know it’s going to be informative as well as fun. If you are a new or aspiring writer, this will be worth attending.

The big one for me is at 4:00 Saturday, “Steampunk Video Games,” which I’m doing with Deli Interactive’s Nick Lives. We’ll be talking about a bunch of steampunk-themed (or at least steampunk-adjacent) video games, drawing inspiration from them, and even a little bit about getting started making video games. Here’s the video for the introduction to the panel:

Our vintage dancing group (yes, I do that… long story), Clockwork and Gears Vintage Dancing, will be performing / teaching period dancing in several classes on both days. I’ll be participating when I can, along with my wife and my daughter. Seriously, if I could learn these dances, anybody can. They aren’t too hard. And it is fun (he grudgingly admitted…)

My wife will be on a couple of Victorian Horror panels, as well as performing Victorian Ghost Stories (“Tales by Gaslight”) at 10:00 PM Friday night.

Anyway, if you are in the Salt Lake area and are at all interested in steampunk, come pay us a visit! It’s at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake, and we’ve always had a lot of fun with it!

SC_Steamfest2


Filed Under: Books, Geek Life, steampunk - Comments: Be the First to Comment



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