Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 6: Old-School Goes Old-School!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 3, 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 play-through of 2001’s Wizardry 8, a classic “old-school” RPG, I broke down and checked out a walkthrough for Wizardry 8 to find out what to do with the graveyard. As it turns out, the runes on the tombstones had absolutely nothing to do with the hanged-spirit looking thing in the mausoleum. The latter could be gotten rid of by a simple weapon traditionally employed against vampires and the undead.

My missing ingredient was a dagger. A simple dagger, not one of the fancy ones I currently possessed. What’s even more astounding is – it is now impossible for me to buy a simple dagger. I even went back to the monastery, to the merchant who is on the cliff above the crash site where I began my adventure, and even he didn’t have a simple dagger to sell. Poniards or a main gauche or throwing knives? No problem. But a simple dagger possessed by a 1st-level rogue? No dice.

Fortunately, some Higardi highwaymen came to my rescue. Well, not literally. They actually tried to kill me and take my stuff. I did unto others instead, and one of the bandits in the five packs that attacked me dropped a simple dagger on the ground as he died. Ka-ching!

I made my way back to the cemetery (this is no small feat – travel along the roads is always time consuming due to the frequent encounters), and went to the pillar in the corner. I jammed the dagger into the seam between blocks. It sorta-kinda pointed the way to a spot southeast of the cemetery. I went outside the cemetery walls, in the corner of the vale, and there was a little mushroom ring. Taking a deep breath and saving my game, I stepped inside.


And found myself transported into a very old-school dungeon. Mind you, this is old-school as perceived by an old-school game, which is very old-school. (Editorial Note from 2015: And now this is a retro-playthrough reprint, so we’ve got another layer of old-school!) We’re talking about a 21 x 21 grid of walls forming a dungeon level here. The walls are textured, but also bear a white outline (reminiscent of the first 4 Wizardries) so you can see the grid.

One thing that came immediately to my attention was that there was no exit. I deliberately skipped reading anything in the walk-through about the dungeon beyond what I was supposed to do to get there. I stumbled along blindly, ran into some nasty spike traps, found a whole bunch of doors that were locked with some SERIOUS lock levels, and found out that the auto-map was virtually useless.

At this point I began to wonder if I shouldn’t reload that saved game from before I entered the dungeon.

I decided to stick with it. And thus committed myself to about a four-hour ordeal that involved a LOT of reloading saved games from combats gone bad, and about six points of increase in my rogue-turned-bard’s lockpicking ability.

The first couple of hours involved me wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to make sense of what was appearing on the automap, unlocking doors, and getting into fights. I’d find mushroom rings which would teleport me to other locations on the map. I kept finding myself revisiting old territory in the maze, and not finding anything resembling a way out. However, old-school training eventually kicked in. I knew what had to be done.

I pulled out the graph paper.

With the graph paper and pencil in hand, I started re-exploring the map, using those friendly grid-lines on the wall texture for their natural purpose. I found a couple of unexplored doors, some interesting magical items, and the final encounter with the Big Bad Boss (Baron Englund, an undead dude) and his hench-specters. He guarded the mushroom ring that was the exit back to the graveyard.

While I can’t say the Easter Egg Dungeon was any kind of wonderful game-making experience, or even a high-caliber joke. But it was really cool that somebody took the time to throw this little nod to even older-school gameplay into the world (and, I hear, there are more). And it was actually worthwhile – besides running up my lock picking ability, there were a couple of unique items to be found there (although one, I later discovered, was a cursed item you REALLY don’t want to use…), and I did level up most of my characters in my wanderings. I had fun.

After my exploration into the dungeon, I went back to Trynton, and began following Marten’s trail some more. This involved slogging through some swampland, and eventually coming to a castle called Marten’s Bluff. It looked deserted, but after going through the entry hall, I found myself blocked off by glass walls and a big machine that looked like it was supposed to make the walls come together, squishing anything left standing in the entry chamber.

“This isn’t going to end well, ” I thought. But nothing happened. There was a glowing panel on the floor. I stepped on it, expecting the walls to squish me like a bug. Instead, the panel turned out to be the floor of an elevator, which took me down to the underground section of the castle.

Apparently, this underground warren had become home to the T’Rang. I was never very fond of them back in the Wizardry 7 days. However, they were treating me as some kind of hero, telling me that they are looking over me. And, by the way, they want me to join up with them as an ally. I haven’t committed yet, because I really don’t like them. I just want to find the stolen artifact, which as far as I know is hidden down here. Past a locked door that needs a T’Rang handprint to pass through.

This could get pretty interesting.

Design Notes:

Rewarding player exploration is important in any kind of game, but even more so with roleplaying games, which are generally games ABOUT exploration. As a player, you know on a conscious level that the game world is limited to about what you can see. But it’s delightful to step off the beaten path a little ways and discover that – instead of the world ending – there’s a surprise waiting there for you. Or poking around and finding out that the designers actually thought about you doing something really weird. It’s just great fun to discover that there is more to the game – and the game’s world – than meets the eye.

Easter eggs are the extreme version of this. Even the hint that there is more to see that you aren’t seeing helps make the game world come alive.

Fighting some pretty major threats in the dungeon was challenging. I ended up repeating several fights multiple times. Black slime, some fire-breathing monsters (I forget their names), and the Baron were all pretty nasty fights. The trick I used to win these fights were to pull a “Rainbow Six.” Named for the tactic in the game series of that name, I’d stand to the side of the door – out of line-of-sight – and toss in a grenade.

In this case, a fireball or similar area-effect spell. Standard pen & paper tactics. One monster might pop out to engage us, but then they’d block the door so their compatriots couldn’t come out to engage us. So we’d fight one monster at a time, except for periodic showering of area-effect spells behind them. Occasionally, the enemies wouldn’t come out the door at all – confused as to why they were taking so much damage. The combat would sometimes end, because the enemies didn’t think of themselves as “in combat” I guess. So I’d have to press the combat button to get things started again for a couple of rounds. Sometimes, after defeating half the enemies, I’d just close the door, sit, and rest.

Yeah. I’m cheap that way, aren’t I?

As a gamer who has played tactical computer wargames, pen & paper games, miniatures games, and even been known to dress up in chain mail armor with padded sticks and duke it out with a hundred other members of a local medievalist group, I appreciate the tactical possibilities presented by doorways. They are choke points that can make battles get really interesting. A tiny force can hold off an army that way. Been there, done that. It’s hard enough for human players to to resolve that tactical dilemma sometimes.

As a designer, this makes for some rich opportunities for interesting combats. As a computer programmer, I know what a pain in the butt it can be for the AI to recognize and respond correctly to these kinds of situations. Obviously, the Wizardry 8 AI wasn’t quite able to pull it off. For which I am grateful. Otherwise, I’d probably still be down in that dungeon tonight.

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