Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 10: Missing Men and Mutant Frogs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 14, 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 series on my adventures in 2001’s Wizardry 8. I missed the game the first time around, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying it plenty now. (Editorial Note from 2015: It shouldn’t stop you from playing it today, either.)

After having stolen the Chaos Moliri from the Mook, I didn’t go back to the Umpani right away. Instead, I wanted to explore a bit more of the swamp. Almost immediately we were accosted by orbs and troopers of the Dark Savant, claiming they knew we’d obtained one of the artifacts and that they were going to take them from us. Seems like everybody BUT the Mook knew we’d stolen their artifact. How? I don’t know.

Just Like the Temple of Doom!
I found an entrance to the “Mine Tunnels,” a place where, once again, Sparkle didn’t want to go. I let her go her own way, and went to explore this new area.

Most of the encounters in this area were relatively easy. I found a couple more RPGs willing to join my party, including a malfunctioning Savant Trooper that we were able to repair and, I guess, reprogram. There as also a T’Rang swordsman (samurai?) who was ready to sign up if it meant killing Umpani. Considering our … uh… duplicity, I figured that might not be the best idea. I kept the robot, ignored the T’Rang.

The most exciting part of this area was a mine-tunnel puzzle. You control the switches at the entrance to the mine shaft, and then get on a mine car and go through a roller-coaster ride to see where you end up. Usually you end up in the same place you went last time, until you tweak the switches just right and find another place to go.

On our last ride, we found ourselves all the way at Marten’s Bluff again – in a secret area I hadn’t found before. While there was plenty to find and plenty to fight, there were a couple of notable encounters:

First of all, there was a statuette sitting on a table. It was kind of a Tiki-head thing, not unlike what the Trynnies use. I picked it up — because it wasn’t nailed down. That’s what I do. Instantly, we were all knocked unconscious from some kind of poisonous gas or something. When we came to, our bard was missing.

WOOPS! There was some writing on the bottom of the statue that indicated Crock might be responsible.

Shortly thereafter, we spotted a sword sitting in an alcove at the end of a hallway, ready for taking. I fell sucker to one of the oldest tricks in the book. We approached the sword, almost close enough to take it, and the floor fell out from under us, dropping us into an underground canal. We fought through a bunch of alligator-esque monsters to emerge out in the exterior moat around Marten’s Bluff. Since we had to go out to meet with Crock anyway, we just continued on our way.

When we confronted Crock, he immediately accused us of being in league with the T’Rang (and we are, as far as anybody but the Umpani and He’li are concerned). He disavowed any responsibility for the kidnapping of our party members. But he did claim that he might be able to help us FIND our missing member, but first we had to take care of a problem for him.

He said that Brekek had returned to the swamp, and he’d seen that thing kill tens of men beneath his webbed feet before. If we could kill Brekek and return with proof of his death, he’d do what he could to get us our friend back.

Attack of the Giant Mutant Frog
We explored for some time, killing lots of Flesh-Eating Slimes and various mosquito-creatures. Eventually, we wandered back into that lake we’d explored previously – now occupied by a giant mutant frog. On the first round, the frog hopped over to us and gobbled up our main fighter.

Great. Now we had TWO missing party members.

The battle was difficult, but we managed to kill the frog, and cut our warrior free. She immediately bragged that though it had been disgusting (and painful), at least SHE could take it!

We took a giant frog-leg back to Crock, who suddenly “found” our missing bard, and invited us to a frog-leg barbecue. We declined on the dinner invitation, and the bard said something about how terrible that experience had been, and then asked, “Can we do that again?”

With the whole party back, it was time to move the main plot along a bit.

Design Notes:
The quest with the missing party member was another of those really memorable quests that make an RPG. Face it – in most RPGs (including this one), the endless combats get capital-B Boring. Yeah, they shouldn’t, but they do. Lots of wandering around, lots of killing – and it all blurs together over time.

But the quests like this one really stand out, because unique and different things happen. The shake-up of party composition with the missing PC was a surprise. It was a great twist. Finding Brekek who was just “somewhere” in the swamp was not nearly as much fun. A few old-school gamers complained about Oblivion where you were always directed exactly to where your next quest would take you. Does that take the fun out of exploration? Well, yes, sometimes. But so does stumbling around the world hoping to stumble over your next quest objective, because you were (or were not) only given general instructions that you’ve already forgotten.

There’s gotta be a happy medium in there somewhere.

The mine-car puzzle gets kudos from me on several levels. While there is a lot of trial-and-error involved, the map on the wall does provide a few clues to its operation, though it is unclear where it starts and where it ends and exactly which way the switches are supposed to be changing things.

Having monsters that swallow party members can be pretty dang annoying if it happened a lot. But as a one-time event (so far), it was actually pretty amusing – particularly since my fighter really did have enough hit points to survive a few rounds of being digested. It was a surprise in combat – and as combats become grind-tastic after a while, a few surprises like this sprinkled in helps keep things interesting.

Editorial Note from 2015: I’m really disappointed with myself for not having taken more screenshots while I was playing. Count it as me being really absorbed by the game, so I kept forgetting. Anyway, I’m sorry for the lack of screenshots the last couple of posts. I make up for it in the not-too-distant future.

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

  • Maklak said,

    You made me watch a let’s play. Ten years ago, I’d be impressed by this game, but not so much now.

    Anyway, I’ve been meaning to ask, why do you think is there such a big difference between starting and ending power levels in most RPGs? This is especially prominent in JRPGs where HP and damage grow by 2 orders of magnitude over the course of the game, but most games do it. You often start by being pwned by rats or cats or dogs and end up killing dragons in melee (rather than the much more sensible methods of poisonied food or using explosives to blow up it’s lair, but I digress).

    Now in some games, the numbers start low and kinda stay low, but equipment improoves quite a bit. JA2 and X-COM come to mind, although those aren’t really RPGs. So does Vampire Bloodlines from 2005, where the HP stayed pretty much the same, and while armour, weapons and skills didn’t improove colossally, it was enough to make a difference.

    So, why do you think games like to follow the pattern of “from weakling to demigod” over a more sensible “from slightly above average recruit to veteran with more dakka”?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Honestly, I think it’s because the player needs to be kept on a constant drip-feed of improvement. and subtle improvements get lost on the player. If you assume that you need to have a 25% or higher increase for it to feel relevant to the player (probably a fair judgment), and you assume the player needs to have have an average of 1 major increase every 2 hours of gameplay to not feel like he or she is bogged down, then over the course of a 40 hour game you need about a 90x increase in power.

    Caveat city: That’s purely mechanics at work, of course. And the truth is, a big monolithic level gain does feel more rewarding than a bunch of tiny little individual improvements.

    I don’t think that’s *necessary*, just the pressure on the mechanical level to keep things interesting throughout. For something like Diablo, where mechanics is really all there is, that’s what you got… plus the irregular gambling rush of loot drops.

    However, if a game has lots of story and exploration and other things to do, there are… well, other things to do. Could people go back and deal with an 80 hour game with only 8 levels nowadays? I dunno. I’d like to believe so, but I’m not sure.

  • Maklak said,

    Well, my problems with 100x increase in power are:
    a) It is ridiculous to the point of breaking immersion. Fallout had mostly sensible weapons progression http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Fallout_Tactics_weapons It even paid off to hold on to some weaker weapons to deal with minor threath without using up expensive ammo.
    b) It rather trivialises a lot of increases in power along the way. Why bother equipping people with the best stuff you can get, if it is going to be obsolete in 2 hours?
    c) Constant level-ups can get in the way. I need to pause playing and make decissions.
    d) I feel frustrated by finding a weapon with 20% more damage while being forced to fight things with 25% more HP. Repeatedly. It looks as if the game designer threw sensibility and common sense out the window to produce “a balanced game experience” based on a checklist made by some corporate drone.
    e) With everything scaling to my party size and level, there is no way to get too far ahead or behind the power curve. I don’t like it.
    f) Shops need to unlock new weapons over time to prevent getting the good stuff too early. It looks as if the entire civilisation was undergoing a rapid arms race and inflation. Solution? Have the powerful weapons exist from the start, but be expensive and require permits that you can get later on. The economy should not be player-centric, instead decide what is the average daily wage and work from there.

    To me the fun of Diablo was the random equipment. Much of it’s replayability was from random levels and semi-random quests.

    > Could people go back and deal with an 80 hour game with only 8 levels nowadays?
    I think so, especially if you forgo levels in favour of a point-buy system. It would feel more like adventure-exploration game than level grind.
    Bonus points for making the world more open and sandbox without level scaling. With mostly consistent difficulty, going too deeply into high level zone doesn’t have to be a death sentence and beginer zones can still be fun.
    Well, Frayed Knights had 13 levels and IIRC character progression was mostly through feats and it turned out OK.

    I’m frustrated that Witcher 3, an otherwise good game, took too much of a modern RPG approach. Everything (quests, mosnters, people, items) has a level, you replace equipment all the time, there is a massive power level difference, etc. Witcher 1 was better in this regard, but still, a Witcher would get his equipment from Kaer Morhen and hardly ever upgrade. Once trained and passed the trials, he would become more experienced and effective over the years, but not dramatically so.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    In real life… advancement slows rapidly after the initial learning curve. That’s often where people give up. In a game, there’s a temptation to adjust the system to maintain a similar advancement rate on something maybe not quite linear, but certainly not as sharp of a curve. That keeps people interested. But it has the natural result of knocking things into the stratosphere.

    I’m not saying I’m FOND of this approach. Just explaining it and the rationale.

    Frayed Knights progression was originally even more marginal than it is now. Mainly because random factors outweighed level-based bonuses pretty significantly. So while +10% damage was (IMO) pretty significant, when you can do anywhere from -100% to +100% damage, it tends to get lost in the noise.

    There’s still a lot of that still in there. That’s why I give an XP bonus in combat against groups of more than 2 enemies. The way combat is balanced, an extra enemy is significantly more dangerous than an extra level or two.

    A lot of it probably depends on audience and kind of game more than anything else. If you favor something more gritty and “realistic,” then slow progression is what you want. If you are playing a single-character game, then a lot of customized or even point-by-point increase is what you want. If you are playing a group of characters, you’ll want more simplified advancement, almost certainly level-based. And if you are going something that feels like a constant, steady advancement… then that calls for something else.

  • Maklak said,

    Heh, looks like I confused “I don’t get it” with “this frustrates me”.

    One way to dampen the progression curve would be to start at level 3-5. Oh wait, you did that in FK.

    Another way is “post max level progression”, like Epic-6 does to DnD: once you get to level 6, you’re maxed out, but you get an extra feat every 5k XP. Those feats may improve an attribute or add 4 skill points (but the maximum is still the same). Wesnoth also has it: Units with max level can gain extra levels, but only get 1HP for it.

    In many games action economy often beats power level. I think it should work this way, at least when everyone is at least moderately competent.

    Huh, you’re right. If I have multiple characters or just too many options, I want to just get done with it at some point. An “auto” or “suggest” button in character screen can help a lot. When I played Neverwinter Nights, I just told my monk to level himself and it turned out OK.