Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

M&M 6: Why Play Retro?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 28, 2010

One other wrinkle in my little motion sickness issue with the classic 1998 RPG, Might & Magic 6: The Mandate of Heaven — I had a bad cold all last week. I’m sure that didn’t help any.

I experimented with the game in small doses (all I *should* allow myself, anyway) this weekend, and found myself capable of handling the game just fine. I made my constitution roll, I guess.

Now of course, as I play a game like this, part of me says, “What can I possibly learn from this game? What can I possibly see that I’ve not seen done better in other games?” To be honest, I’m not sure. But it’s not really the point. While technically I’m playing it for “research” – and I really am – it’s not just looking at mechanics in isolation with any expectation of emulating them.

A lot of it is getting a good taste of the whole enchilada. In a good RPG, it’s all about how all these little systems work together. The balance of spell system against the trading mechanics. Hey, if you have to choose whether to put the points in leveling up Fire Magic or Merchant skills, this is important.

And one of the joys of retro-gaming for me – whether playing games I missed the first time around or revisiting old favorites for the nth time –  is just getting a feel for the game world. I like seeing how the narrative unfolds, how the NPCs react, why the dungeons are laid out the way they are, etc. I also like seeing how designers worked around the limitations of their platform – and with or around the expectations of the era.

It’s a lot like why I enjoy indie games. Maybe the modern mainstream games are more slick, enjoy 100x better production values, and are based on well-established design concepts and models that are so deeply ingrained that designers don’t even understand why they exist anymore.  But there’s something to the rawness of an older era or from the indies of today, where the makeup isn’t layered on quite so thick, that can be pretty refreshing to play.

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    For me, M&M6 was more of a gateway. I think M&M4-5 captured the real old-school feel of RPGs a lot better with very nice graphics. The way the previous games fit together was brilliant (a throwback to the old school games where you could transfer characters, but this was essentially seamless).

    M&M7 was a much improved game over 6. The addition of races, the balancing out of the classes (the hybrid classes couldn’t learn grandmaster magic, for example), and the addition of the game Arcomage was a real blast.

    So, M&M6 kind of sits in the middle. It’s the first of the 2.5D games. But it hasn’t quite reached its own stride.

    I’d say continue on if you’re having fun, but grab M&M7 when you can and spend some quality time with that. 🙂 Or go back to 4-5 and enjoy a bit of retro fun.

  • Bad Sector said,

    Well, M&M6 answered a question i had for a while: how could turn-based combat be made in a freely roaming game? 😛

    Actually being able to switch between realtime and turn-based depending at will is awesome.

  • Tom said,

    Looking at the screenshot you posted last week, there may also be something there to learn about GUI design. The interface reminds me exactly of cutting-edge web design of the mid-90’s with its metallic lozenge buttons and stone background. It looks really dated now, maybe moreso than the game graphics themselves. I don’t recall my impression of the GUI when the game came out (although I remember the manual fondly).

    It’s a topic I’ve never thought about or even read about before, but I wonder if there’s value in trying to design an interface that ages well.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Brian – Heh – I think you are reminding me why I gave it a miss the first time. The reviews back in the day probably said something to that effect. It’s interesting to see that transition: Might & Magic with the Duke Nukem 3D engine.

    The time period this game came out was kind of a fascinating one. Baldur’s Gate was on the horizon (nobody knew what a hit that would be), Ultima VIII had really thrown the series for a loop and left a lot of old-school gamers scratching their heads. And no new Wizardry was on the horizon. Diablo and Daggerfall (following Arena) were the young upstarts threatening to redefine the genre (and in a lot of ways, they did). And then we had Might & Magic 6 making the jump for the series to “real” 3D (or 2.5D).

    I am also (re-)playing M&M 4 & 5 now too – I’m kinda surfing a bunch of games right now in half-hour increments. I feel bad doing it because it’s really not enough time to really lose myself in a game. Might & Magic 3 was actually my introduction to the series many, many years ago, but I never paid it as much attention as other games.

    I’ll pick up #7 as soon as it’s available on GOG.COM

    @Bad Sector – Something I am noting – and it seems like a flaw in the game – is the extreme difference between real-time combat and turn-based combat. I’m digging it pretty well in turn-based mode, but having an army of low-level wizards hurling spells at me in a manner crying for circle-straffing gameplay leaves me saying, “WTF!?!?!?” Though I take full advantage of it against opponents without ranged attacks.

    I wouldn’t want to emulate that. But I’m still having fun with the game.

  • Bad Sector said,

    Well, this difference made me to enjoy the game instead of getting tired of it after getting killer 103012 times from a swarm of wizards :-P.

    Also i think using realtime combat is a nice solution for when your party is a high leveled one and encounters some very weak characters: they dispose them in an instant, while in a turn-based game it is nothing but time waste (i’m playing Final Fantasy on my iPod Touch and it is very annoying).

  • peacedog said,

    I’ll tell you something that M&M6 did that is a dying art: it had a whale of an earlish game exploit where knowledge of the lay of the land lead to a huge advantage for your party. There are famous examples of this; in Ultima V it was possible to get a pocketful of rings and a magic axe without trying, and would-be avatars were all set after that. I believe there was a loaded planet (mineral wise) in Starflight “backwards” from the direction you get sent in. That sort of thing.

    The town where the Werewolf dungeon is – I forget the name but it’s got a lot of the master level trainers in it, and a light and dark guild – has a chest outdoors nearby. At launch, and for some time thereafter, that chest often contained an item with a large stat boost, and it was possible to reroll when it didn’t (on load? I can’t recall). Obtaining that item (which boosted a stat by +50) then allowed one to get a leg up in the carinval games, get a bunch of gold pyramids, and then head to the desert and easily outfit a party with awesome gear.

    Basically, you wanted to travel around towns to get all the horseshoes to push your mages’ air skill up to get flight, and then water to get Lloyds/Town Portal to decently useable states. You flew to the chest, drawing the wolves away a distance so you could head over, switch to turn based, then land and open it (often mauling your party in the process). You then portaled out to get healed before catching up with the circus and then playing whichever stat boosting game you needed to play. It was pretty easy to get a stat of 100+ with a few modest buffs, iirc, and it was pretty easy to get a nice pile of gold. All you needed were 10-15 pyramids; you could sell the initial items you got (accessories were best for this) and then better fund further circus runs.

    Having never played the game before, there is no way you would know to do this. But it was one of those situations where even if you beat the game “normally”, it was fun to go back and beat it by taking advantage of this. A lowish level party (10-15) outfitted with the best gear available is a sight to behold! I was disappointed to discover that in the Good Old Games version of M&M 6, this apparently is no longer possible (I kept trying to re-roll the chest in question, but there was no good stat item available ever).

    I miss games having this kind of exploit available. I think it’s an artifact of the late 80s/early 90s game designs, though.

    I would suggest that there are a few other thing to learn from M&M6. The interface was far too much work in terms of moving items around. And forget Identifying/repairing; you needed to move items around to the person in question and that was really tedious. I think it would have been preferable to allow ID/Repair from *any* inventory based on the highest skill in the party. A small but reasonable mechanics change that would have really improved the game.