Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[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.


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

  • Maklak said,

    I dislike the heavily scripted approach, but I think it is meant to make things less confusing for impatient people who just want to get things over with and not hunt for clues or be confused about what to do next.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Oh, yeah. It’s always challenging to find the balance. I think my opinions have mellowed a bit with experience. Things that I used to think were horrendous have proven, in retrospect, to be more of a compromise, and while I may still not be 100% happy with it, I can grudgingly admit that it’s still fun.

    And I hate getting confused and lost in games, too.

    Ideally – and this is not an easy solution, just a possible one – the game can handle these situations in a “smart,” reactive way. That would require it recognizing what the player is trying to do and providing in-context assistance (as opposed to an annoying “Clippy” sidebar-ish thing) and generation of content. Again, probably way harder than it’s worth, but possible.

  • T2.0 said,

    Very interesting. I don’t regret having voted for the exhumation of this article 🙂

    I think the best approach is to write and script a determined number of paths to accomplish each goal. And since a video game is a audiovisual medium, let’s make those predetermined paths cinematic and rewarding.

    The simulation approach is very tempting, but without a human Game Master to narrate a structured, flowing and therefore enthralling story based on the player’s choices, I’m not sure how long it would be fun…

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    The problem is that with a large enough game, THAT approach is the most difficult, time-consuming, and potentially buggy part of the whole consideration. With a bigger, more complex quest design, the factors multiply (He said, bearing the scars of learning the hard way….).

    So for a small number of quests / experiences, sure. That makes great sense. If you have a very small, 6-hour-ish RPG, that would be the perfect approach. You have 4 approaches to accomplish goal A, 4 approaches for goal B, 4 approaches for C, and then they all add up to D. You can take them in any order (except D).

    So — if you didn’t just want to go generic (sometimes I did… “Congrats for doing the thing, however you did that!”), that’s 4 x 3 x 2 different potential paths & endings to tackle…. 24! That’s manageable, but it’s still a lot.

    If you do want to make life easier on yourself and keep it generic, then what’s the difference between doing that and a more simulation-style approach?

    I think there’s a happy medium in there, of course. But it really depends on the game.

  • T2.0 said,

    I’m seeing things from the player’s perspective, but I understand that what I consider to be the “best approach” either implies a very small world / short game, or an expensive army of writers and programmers.

    The concern I have about a script-free fully simulated world is that the player becomes the story teller – therefore everything relies on his creativity. I don’t think that’s the case in Tabletop RPGs – no matter how unimaginative and boring are the solutions the players may find to solve the problems they face, if the Game Master is good, the story will remain suspenseful and entertaining.