Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, ep. 18 – Parting Shots

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 7, 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.

So my adventures in Wizardry 8, the “last of the (mainstream) old-school RPGs,” has come to an end. It’s a good thing that a game doesn’t have to be new for me to enjoy it. Plus, I no longer need to kick myself for missing out on it.

WizPeeWee-745581One of the many reasons I love RPGs is because, at the end, I don’t feel so much like I’ve won the game so much as I got to live it. At least if its good. Wizardry 8 was definitely one of those experiences. At some points – particularly late-game when the combats seemed interminable – I felt more like I was enduring it than living it. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think I can appreciate a lot more of what the game accomplished.

Now that I have a full play-through of the game behind me, I’ve been pondering some of the design successes and issues. This is mainly an exercise for myself as I’m attempting to improve my own indie game-designer chops. But for the three people who might be interested (and, more importantly, share their own thoughts on it), I thought I’d open up my ruminations to the public (scary!) and see where it takes me.

The game starts with your party surviving a crash-landing out in the middle of the boonies next to an old monastery now overrun by monsters. RPGs tend to start one of two ways – you either have the big tutorial in your home village, or you are thrown immediately into the action as a full-fledged adventurer. I really prefer the latter, truth be told. While you do end up killing requisite vermin and some slimes right off the bat, which aren’t exactly foes of heroic proportions, starting in a “bunny slope” dungeon is preferable to starting in school. It feels like you are accomplishing something instead of just churning away at the tutorial.

Combat is pretty central to most RPGs, and Wizardry 8 is no exception. Wizardry 8 uses turn-based combat, which I generally prefer over the more popular (nowadays) arcade-style combat.

On paper, Wizardy 8‘s combat sounds perfect for me. It is very tactical. Positioning, party formation, facing, and movement is critical. Ranged attacks, terrain, spell resistances along spell ‘school’ lines, buffs, enemy spellcasting, summoning spells, and mixed group of monsters with different strengths and weaknesses promise – and often deliver – a great “thinking man’s” RPG combat experience.

There are, unfortunately, a couple of glaring issues that continued to bug be me with combat:

First of all, the differences between monsters were often not particularly noticeable. Instead of having strengths and weaknesses, at higher level monsters typically had strengths and bigger strengths. This was especially noticeable with upgraded versions of monsters, or different classes of monsters. The defense were relatively predictable, and there wasn’t much of a feeling of “gotchas” or of the enemy working together to form a particularly interesting tactical puzzle most of the time. Boss encounters were an exception, and I felt the earlier stages of the game were better about monsters hitting the party with “signature attacks” than in later levels. It feels like they maybe ran out of ideas later in the game.

Maybe it was simply my own lack of creativity, but that seemed to be a problem for me.

Wiz800013-766826Another issue was that the turn-based combat system did not scale very well for larger combats. Against a half-dozen opponents, the combat system worked great. I didn’t even mind waiting for them to move into position prior to attacking. But when facing a dozen or more opponents (which seemed to be MOST OF THE TIME after leaving the first dungeon), there was simply too much time spent waiting on the enemies to begin their action (there was always a pause, probably to allow for the camera to pan over to them), move, launch their attack animation, and oftentimes wait for the projectile or spell particle effect to arrive. Maybe I spent too much time fighting at range, but 30+ minute long combats soon became the rule, not the exception. Using a cheat program to make the enemies move almost instantaneously into position helped somewhat, but it was still pretty slow. It was particularly bad when the combats lasted long enough that additional wandering monsters joined the fight.

Some possible solutions for this issue would have been:

#1 – Make combat more intense, so that they lasted fewer rounds. Cutting everyone’s hit points in half would have helped.

#2 – Don’t penalize movement so heavily – it encouraged players and AI to stand in position to launch spells and missiles rather than closing to more interesting range.

#3 – Rely less upon large swarms of monsters, instead emphasizing fewer, stronger monsters. This is a valuable thing to consider whenever doing a turn-based game.

#4 – Have enemies attack in “waves” of more manageable numbers rather rather than as a monolithic massed army.

The world of Wizardy 8 may not be the most elaborate or deeply thought-out world in the history of CRPGs, but it definitely has personality. Many of the locations were extremely distinctive, from the giant tree-city of Trynton to the underwater halls leading to the island of Bayjin, to the Umpani’s mountain fortress and the maze-like castle of the Rapax. (Get it? Minotaurs? Mazes? It does make sense…)

The game starts with a hunt for a long-dead hero named Marten. This was a very clever way to get the player interested in the back-story of the planet. I compare this to the Elder Scrolls games, which bombarded me with backstory which I really tried to be interested in, but it didn’t work. But because the history is tied in with the current quest in Wizardry 8, all that fluff became USEFUL to me – and therefore interesting. Whether accidental or deliberate, I think it was a stroke of game designer genius. And it helped make the world come alive for me.

The quests in Wizardy 8, like most RPGs, ran the full range from the pedestrian and downright boring, to the outstanding and memorable.

Wiz8TempleDoor-765337One thing I appreciated was how so many of the quests allowed alternative approaches. Even the alliance between the Umpani and T’Rang was completely optional – though extremely satisfying. And I managed to muscle through it without first completing the apparently pre-requisite Al-Sedexus quest. I came back and did it later, just ‘cuz I could… but I liked that the game was flexible enough to allow this.

I also think it’s sad that this is noteworthy. Not that this sort of thing is in notoriously short supply. I think it pretty much made Oblivion for me. But I think we’ve all played those games where objectives must be completed exactly as the designer intended – though sometime with one or two variants, sometimes… usually with lame “total jerk” and “neutral apathetic” options.

I liked the inclusion of a variety of different styles of puzzles and quests – from logic puzzles, to riddles, to adventure-game style inventory puzzles. Sometimes they were infuriating, and I was glad to be living in the age of the Internet to look up the solutions to the ones that stumped me. Like how to get into the retro dungeon.

And admittedly, having your own demonic daughter attack you near the end of the game was something of a first for any game I’ve ever played. Kudos to whomever came up with that optional plotline. And I hope said designer has since received psychiatric help.

Some of the characters in Wizardry 8 were better fleshed out than others. Vi Dominae, Z’Ant, Yamir, He’Li, Marten (now a ghost), Sparkle, and even the Dark Savant were pretty well done. The Dark Savant’s voice acting sounded more like it was played for comedic effect than being an actual ultimate bad guy. Still, I thought it made him sound a bit more human, so I guess it worked for me.

Another thing I liked was how the party members often had something to say during particular events. One thing I always disliked about older RPGs of this style was that your party members were pretty static collections of stats. It wasn’t much, but giving them some amusing or at least interesting things to say really helped bring them to life.

What worked for me, for the characters mentioned above, is that they all had some kind of “hook” that made them stand out and come alive for me. Probably because that stand-out feature encouraged my brain to attribute all kinds of stereotypical or archetypal features to them that weren’t necessarily part of their script. This is more of an example of “engaging the player” and enlist their aid as a storyteller.

A Belated Farewell to Wizardry!
Wizardry 8 was, in effect, a swan song for an entire style or sub-genre of RPG – a style which Wizardry 1 was in many ways responsible for creating and popularizing. At least as far as mainstream games have gone. However, you don’t have to look very far to see the influence the series (and it’s descendants) have had on computer RPGs since then. And – yes, even console RPGs.

The features of this sub-genre that stand out for me include the turn-based combat, the requirement to use teamwork and complimentary skills between multiple party members, the first-person perspective, and the “old-school” emphasis on puzzles and problem-solving rather than just hitting the required marks to complete a quest. I don’t know if it was all good – there were definitely some moments in the game when I got stumped and frustrated. In the days before the World Wide Web, that might have been enough to make me quit.

It was a more cerebral RPG than we usually get these days. And it definitely put the “hard” in “hardcore.” The extendo-combats were definitely to its detriment from my perspective. Due to my schedule, I rarely had more than 20-30 minutes at a sitting to play games, which made me rule out a Wizardry 8 session on many occasions – especially over the holiday season.

But overall – it was a great game. It is disappointing that the evolution of that style ended with Wizardy 8. I think there was a lot of room to grow and evolve from there. I guess my attitude is unsurprising, since I’m working on a game that’s kinda-sorta in that sub-genre myself as an indie project.

But I’m really I hunted this one down and played it. I think I paid more for it through E-Bay than I would have for a brand-new copy (with documentation!) when it was new. But you know what? It was totally worth it. Good and bad, it was a worthy and significant computer RPG.

Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Maklak said,

    Both ways are viable and I’m not sure which I prefer. Tutorials can be too restrictive, too scripted and too long. Being thrown in the actions after a short intro can be confusing. I’d rather start in a town, walk around and do some small quests, then learn about a dungeon or have the village attacked or something. Then there is the Dwarf Fortress way “You are some random f**ck in this random town. Here is your stuff, no go f**ck off!”

    Come to think of it, what do you think about this fluff for a PnP campaign or video game: a new land was discovered (or some monster-infested s**thole is being reclaimed). You are a DnD character working for a mage/merchantile/archeologist guild. You and people like you are being sent to clear dungeons, so that workers and researchers can take care of the important stuff, such as looting or reclamation. But this is not your concern, you’re just here because you’ve got the right combination of being expendable and skilled enough to actually do your job and survive. (Optionally: and don’t even try to run, you scumm, that colar on your neck isn’t for nothing.) There are about 15-20 of “dungeon rats” like you and you get sent in in small groups, so it is OK if your main character dies. Just pick another one. Anyway, the camp is (mostly) secure and has some services, like healing, food, tents, whores, etc. Before each mission divination spells will be cast, so you’ll have some general idea what you’re up against and what’s the layout. You will be assigned your standard gear (which will sort of level up as you may eventually earn the right to that +1 sword with eternal flame cast upon it). In addition, you may requisition additional equipment on a per-mission basis. You may earn bonus requisition sometimes, but it is mostly per-mission (and you get to keep 40% unspent requisition form previous missions). You are responsible for any equipment you’re assigned. (Requisition system kinda works in DnD: if you’re going to fight Trolls, you’ll get flaming weapons for that mission only, without the need to buy them.) You’ll earn some money, but everything you find, belongs to the guild (you may try to steal or keep something though). You may sometimes get away (or be ordered to) “pull” something tough towards the camp rather then kill it yourself, so that the guards kill it, but we don’t take kindly to it in general; after all, you are expendable and our supplies and specialists are valuable. You start in the camp, can talk to your fellow “dungeon rats”, mage who cast divination spells on your first target and made you a map, expedition leader, requisition officer, guards, etc. Most of them look down on you, at least for now and don’t hesitate to tell you just how much of a looser an a**hole you are. Some of them may have quests, like alchemist wanting plants and monster parts. Then off you go.

    It is about 30 degrees where I am, so I have trouble thinking.

  • Aaron said,

    Wiz 8 is one of my favs. I had to play it using the combat speed up utility, and even then, I wish it played out faster.

    I also wish it had occasional safe zones, instead of every map being full of random encounters. Let me walk some city streets in peace!

    But it really nailed most everything. The combat was great. I loved the characters’ personality and voice acting, (which I heard was borrowed from the Jagged Alliance talent pool). I think this blog post pretty much covers anything else I could say about it.

    I’ve also been playing Wizards & Warriors, which reminds me very much of Wiz 8. Like it’s even got a similar Samurai class that can cast spells. DW Bradley of earlier Wizardry games created it. It’s awesome, but it’s got plenty of issues. I don’t recall it selling well.

  • Richard Enna said,

    Thank you for this series, and for the blog in general

    At the beginning of this year I discovered your blog through your posts on the CRPGAddict’s blog, which I have been following for over two years. I know so little about modern games, and I was never a hardcore gamer when I was young, however, my fondest memories of childhood stem from exploring the Magic Candle universe, attempting to the get rid of cursed Azure bonds, mining Endurium on a planet once populated by an ancient alien race, will upgrading a priest to a bishop, deciding if my Hobbean Squire should continue to train in a broadsword, or pursue skill in a two-handed weapon, and fighting communism with my Apache gunship.

    From time to time, I’ll reload some of these games, and play them for awhile. But the demands of a house and job, wife and children, and other interests, drag me away from the nostalgia. The CRPGAddict’s adventures have reignited a desire in me to play more of these games.

    I love turn-based, tactical combat, but I also love exploring worlds, and learning local lore. For me, graphics don’t matter, nor does music. Filling in the gaps with my imagination is part of the fun. Heck, I find the combat in Phantasie III, Wizardry, the Magic Candle, and the Gold Box series all interesting and rewarding. Even the tedious combat sequences in Knights of Legend excites me.

    What I would like to see is a game with a party system in which role-playing poorly rolled characters is rewarding, or having a party of all of one class is interesting and not just challenging, or opportunities for each party member to stand out in the story. Having party members speak to each other, and comment on the game world is a bonus. And, I agree with you, being able to solve quests without combat, would go along way to expanding gameplay.

    Actually, I must confess, years ago I began studying programming, but life took me in a lot of different directions. Recently, I have been getting this itch to return to programming, along with an itch to play old school CRPGs. For the past year, my internet searches and blog readings have led me to video game developers. There is no way that I can pursue a career in video game development, however, I must say, a desire to create a video game is growing inside me. Even if it turns out to be a labor of love played by my daughters, I think it would be rewarding to go through the process.

    At least I will learn some new skills.

    Thanks again. And I promise, I will purchase a copy of Frayed Knights soon.

  • T2.0 said,

    Well, that was a very pleasant series to read 🙂
    Thanks again for having shared all those excellent Design Notes !