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I hate you, Conquilados

May 13th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

A few weeks back I wrote about one of the most frustrating battles from the venerable cRPG, Wizardry 7. Here are a few more that, for various reasons, have stuck in my memory all these years.

The Fiend of Nine Worlds

fiend01

Towards the end of the game, working through the vast, sprawling final dungeons, you enter a place called the chamber of Gorrors. It has six cells, each with an ominous sounding name on the door. A chest of rare treasures can be gllmpsed within each cell. You can if you wish carry on further into the depths and ignore the chamber. Instead, you decide to investigate one of the cells. “the fiend of 9 worlds”, it says.

Inside you encounter: a rat-man. You think, okay, This is endgame so let’s be careful. It could be challenging. But you have a high level party, led by champions armed with huge axes, the mighty Sword of Four Winds and what appears to be a counterfeit lightsabre. There’s a ninja who hands out critical hits like candy and a couple of magic users who can summon forth lightning, enormous boulders and even nuclear blasts. This should be doable. You queue up orders for the first round of combat, and hit go.

*fiend strikes LordJeff*
*hit! 99 damage*
*hit! 99 damage*
*hit! 99 damage*
*jeff dies*

*fiend strikes lolegolas *
*hit! 99 damage*
*hit! 99 damage POISONED*
*hit 99 damage*
*lolegolas dies*

*Zippy thrusts Muramasa Blade at fiend*
miss
miss

*fiend strikes Zippy*
*hit! 99 damage*
*hit! 99 damage*
….

a minute later half the party is dead and you’ve accomplished little more than singing the Fiends’ whiskers. You sit back from the keyboard, vaguely stunned at the utter thrashing you just witnessed. The game patiently awaits instructions for round two. Good luck!

I had a read around some forums, and wizardry players have shared tricks for dealing with this guy, a lot based on having everyone hiding. Which is great except only certain classes can learn hiding. So there will be a lot of tedious class-changing back and forth for anyone that you don’t want to be a thief, ninja or bard.

Conquilados

conquiladoThe Greater Wilds is a forest area accessible only from the sea, once you’ve found a boat. There are no quest objectives here, no characters to talk to, and no loot to find. Basically, the only reason to come to the Wilds is to get swarmed to death by giant millipedes.

A few Conquilados wouldn’t be a major challenge for a level 25+ party, but they tend to come in multiple ranks of eight each. The front row is steadily clawing away at you whilst the ones at the back spit poison, leaving you in a desperate, futile struggle to hack them down before you’re overwhelmed. Your best chances are if you can manage to fire off several Nuclear Blast spells before your spellcasters are dragged down by the screeching horde.

No wait, your best chance was to never come to this godforsaken forest in the first place. There are less stressful places to level-grind where individual fights are more manageable and in some of them you’ll get some loot for your trouble.

Survive a fight and, well, I suppose you do get do a get a shitload of experience points. Then a few steps later you hit another 36 of them. Or maybe you rest your party to recover health and spell points and then… there’s a surprise attack from another 36 of them. The Greater Wilds is basically a location that exists purely for old-school crpg sadism.

?Phoonzang?

statueWizardry is known for its challenging combat, but this foe is both impossible to lose against, and rather baffling.

So there are these witches in mountain caves that take on the appearance of other major characters from the game. So for example you fight a faux version of the Dark Savant (the main antagonist) and it’s a pretty decent challenge for a mid level party. Another witch becomes Phoonzang, creator of the planet you’re standing on.

Or rather, she disguises herself as a statue of Phoonzang, similar to the ones you see scattered around major cities. I suppose either Sir-Tech wanted to keep him a mysterious, mythical figure, or they just couldn’t be bothered to draw a new sprite.

It isn’t a terrible idea – we can easily imagine a statue coming to life, swinging mighty marble fists or maybe shooting lasers from its eyes. All this one does, however is cast the spell Dispel Undead. That is, as far as I can tell, literally its only attack. Quick check – any undead characters on your team? Nope.

So the statue stands there, casting its one spell that may as well be “conjure turnips” for all the good it’s doing. You scratch your head for a moment then order your guys to attack. They swiftly hack the statue to bits. The usual “VICTORY” fanfare plays but it really should have been replaced with a sad trombone effect.

Rik vs. Stoo: Part II

May 1st, 2015

Written by: Rik

It may surprise some of you to learn that Rik and Stoo of the famous games site A Force for Good don’t actually live together at a place called FFG Towers, playing old games at an incredibly slow rate with the intention of posting a maximum of two reviews per month. In fact, we’re rarely in the same place at once, at the insistence of the FFG board of shareholders, in order to protect the brand at all costs – and should some terrible fate befall one of us, the other would be required to maintain business continuity, to the extent that any news of death or serious injury would be concealed from the public altogether, with the remaining founder member keeping up the pretence by publishing articles under both names.

However, an exception was made last weekend, as we gathered to play games and eat pizza. We so rarely cover multiplayer, so here’s a veritable smorgasbord of brief and largely unenlightening thoughts about what we played:

Borderlands (Xbox 360) - Co-op seemed like fun but was undermined by the fact we had to play split-screen with joypads, and hence the fundamentals of walking and shooting proved comically tricky for us both. I’m sure it’s possible to get the hang of it, but in the words of my good colleague and friend, it was like driving a tank, and after peppering the dirt around some angry-looking dog things without causing much damage, we resolved to revisit it on PC at some undetermined point in the future.

Blur (Xbox 360) – I’ve played this a lot before, but the intervening years seemed to have robbed me of any useful knowledge and skills. We generally finished last and second last.

Eternal Champions (Megadrive – on PC, via the Steam Collection) – An old beat ‘em up. I chose a character who attacked using yoyos. Stoo won.

Golden Axe (Megadrive – as above) – We didn’t get to the end. I kept triggering magic by accident, often when no enemies were on screen.

Streets of Rage (Megadrive – as above) – We did ok on this, except for occasionally hitting each other and finding the bosses very tricky. At one point we seemed to be on the world’s longest boat, long enough even to allow us to call upon backup from a police car with no apparent logistical difficulties.

EA Fight Night Round 4 (Xbox 360) – after a gruelling 10 rounds of extremely untechnical brawling, Stoo’s boxer Jeff Banks was declared the winner on points. My fighter, Mmmbop Hanson, retired immediately. (I do love how the EA commentary team always echo their real life counterparts by insisting that whatever takes place on screen, however bad, is interesting or entertaining in some way).

Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox 360) – A non time-travelling Delorean may be a bit of a crap car, but it definitely goes faster than a Mini. Minimal Kudos points were awarded.

Lego Batman (Xbox 360) – A game clearly designed for children still proved too taxing in places for Team FFG. Although it was quite late and some beer had been consumed by that point.

Puma World Football 98 (PC) – it had to be done, and while in the past I’d had some difficulty getting it running, to my surprise and delight it installed and ran with minimal fuss. It was truly like old times, with keepers stopping shot after shot, but also contriving to let in some extremely unlikely attempts, such as a diving header from outside the area, while Stoo rolled back the years with a number of fouls deemed worthy of dismissal by the referee. The matches were light on goals and entertainment (for the crowd) but good fun for us old timers. (Indeed, once left to my own devices, I had to stop myself from launching into a single player league. Puma!)

Yep, this actually went in.

Yep, this actually went in.

A good time was had by all, although increasingly I felt that the phrase from Stoo’s Twitter bio (“terrible at all videogames”) should be our new site name.

Come on, we’re going for a ride

April 26th, 2015

Written by: Rik

Hello!

We were doing ok recently, weren’t we? Taking a look at a respected classic platformer here, recommending a new(ish) adventure game there, and trying to bring you the kind of quality content that loyal readers like you demand and deserve.

So what do we have for you this time around? Er, a game called Ford Racing 2. (Sorry.)

fordracing2title

Not Flashback

April 8th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone. It’s time once again for our semi-regular feature, the discussion review! The process we use for choosing games is not formally defined. Sometimes it’s about playing a genre one or both of us is unfamiliar with, or just wouldn’t have normally considered – like the time I made Rik sit through a JPRG, or our brave attempt at baseball.

This time though we’re looking at a game that, to earn our Retro Gamer cards we both probably should have played already. So here’s the scifi cinematic platform game Flashb- no, sorry. I still get these two games mixed up. Here’s Another World!

going legit is more trouble than it’s worth – the return of Garrett

March 25th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Recently I’ve finally found the time to play through last year’s new instalment in the Thief series. This has been something of a priority; the first two were, for me, amongst the greatest PC games ever created. The experience of lurking in the shadows in that half medieval, half industrial city, sneaking past guards and exploring in search of treasure, has never really been matched. They were immersive on a level beyond almost anything else. Also, while it divided the fans, I thought the third entry was a rather solid 8/10. So I was keen to see how successful Eidos Montreal have been in revisiting the series, a full decade after Thief 3.

going legit is more trouble than it’s worth – the return of Garrett continued »

Lucasarts on gog: wave four

March 19th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

A while back I was saying, all this Star Wars stuff is great but can we have more classic Lucasarts graphic adventures please? Now gog have delievered! Along with a couple of other interesting non-SW titles

Loom: A personal favourite of mine. A haunting, atmospheric fantasy tale in a world of dark magic. It was known for an unusual interface – instead of picking up and using items, you cast musical spells to interact with the world around you. It’s a brief game and rather easy but still highly worthwhile. I hope at some point they can add the EGA original (if I recall right the dialogue was text-only but more extensive).
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: I’m not sure I genuinely like the graphical facelift that was given to the first two Monkeys. I think maybe because while the art was redone, the animation is still rather basic? They feel a bit like something created in Flash. Still, the game underneath is one of the greatest of the graphic adventures, and you can revert back to Ye Olde VGA if you like.
Zak Mcracken and the alien mindbenders: One of their earliest adventures. Not played it but I believe it’s rather unforgiving by the standards of later Lucas adventures. Such as letting you make a mistake that makes the game unwinnable, in a way that you don’t realise until an hour later. I wouldn’t make this one a priority. Still, I kind of like to see oldies made available even when they aren’t all that playable or entertaining any more, especially when they come from a stable that went on to do much greater things. Just for the sake of preserving a bit of gaming history.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb: an early-2000s Tomb-raider-ish action adventure. Seeing how heavily Lara Croft drew from Indy’s concept and story themes, I always thought it was fair enough for him to then copy her gameplay. Interesting that they’ve gone straight to this one and skipped its predecessor Infernal Machine?
The Dig: From the later days of point-and-clickers, this one feels a bit like an Arthur C Clarke story, with 3 astronauts finding themselves stranded on an abandoned alien world. Unusually for Lucasarts, its played totally straight, with no comedy elements. I think enjoyed it more than Rik did, possibly just down to being more of a scifi fan, although I share his opinion that the ending was overtly sentimental.
Outlaws:  This was Lucas’ only non-star-wars first person shooter, going instead for a Wild West theme. It was powered by the same engine used for Dark Forces, which was a bit long in the tooth by 1997, so that might partially explain why the game was forgotten so quickly. Still, I’m tempted to give it a try.

the long twilight of the optical disc

March 15th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

After the graphics chip cooked itself for a second time, I’ve finally retired my 6 year old Acer and bought myself a new laptop. While deciding on the hardware configuration, one of the choices I had to make was what to put in the drive bays. A few years ago, it would have been very obvious that I wanted a DVD drive and a hard disk. Now however, Solid State drives are popular and increasingly affordable, and thus another option to consider. I couldn’t go for all three types of drive, as this particular laptop only has two bays.

So let’s weigh up what each drive offers:

SSD – fast! With windows installed on one of these a laptop boots in seconds.
HDD – still cheaper per gigabyte than an SSD and therefore more economical if you want large amounts of storage space.
DVD – required to load anything off a DVD or CD, obviously.

Ultimately it’s the DVD I decided to go without. This then is the first PC I’ve ever owned, without any sort of optical drive. It’s an odd feeling, like something fundamental is missing. CD-ROM drives were standard features in PCs over twenty years ago. DVD drives became commonplace in the 2000s. Now I have nowhere to insert one of those familiar shiny disks. I had to ask myself, though, how often do I actually need to do that? So much of our software and media comes over the internet these days. I can count on one hand the number of games I bought on physical disks in the past 5 years, and movies are so easy to get via google play (or your service of choice). I have another PC (desktop) for when I need to read off a disk, and I can make ISOs to put on the laptop if required. Even if I didn’t I could get an external DVD drive. Which would spend a lot of time sat in a drawer.

Optical discs aren’t dead yet. We do however seem to be in the age of their long, slow decline, heading towards a future where everything comes from that one big network we call the internet, rather than the producer copying it to a little physical package then the user copying it off again onto their own device. I mean, that’s been standard on tablets and phones (which are just little computers themselves) for years now anyway. It’s just plain more efficient. Times change, and being a PC user isn’t what it was in the 90s, or even the 2000s. We’ll just have to accept that, even if we at FFG towers use that latest technology to run 20 year old games.

It’s a bit of a self-indulgent joke for nerds in their 30s and upwards to point at a floppy disk and comment about modern teenagers not having a clue what that is. I wonder if in 10 years time we’ll be saying the same about CDs. Or maybe they’ll dimly remember Blu-rays as the last gasp of the optical disc, something their parents used before finally moving over to streaming everything off online services.

What is the work of God, and what is the work of man?

March 13th, 2015

Written by: Rik

Hello!

Adventure games! You remember them – the point and click ones? With the blocky graphics? Well, they’re back, apparently, although evidently I wasn’t paying attention.

Cheating our site rules slightly – although not really, since the original release falls within acceptable limits (don’t worry, it was agreed by the board, and shareholders) – here’s a quick look at The Shivah.

shivahtitle

The end of Maxis (mostly?)

March 5th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

If you follow gaming news at all you’ve probably already heard this: the headquarters of Maxis has been shut down by their corporate overlords at EA. Some satellite studios remain but it’s unsure what that means for the future of Maxis.

It’s a sad moment particularly for those of us who have been gaming on the PC for decades. Maxis have been around since 1987, and first brought us the famous game of civic planning, Simcity. It spawned a number of sequels, and I remain a fan Simcity 2000, which somehow has the right mix of retro isometric-view charm, accessibility and attention to detail. The next two were, I believe, quite well received. The last outing was more controversial, due to small city sizes and the requirement to be online even for single player.

Meanwhile their other most well known line was the Sims, which proved that the ordinary everyday life of a family can turn out to be source material for a game. I never got into it myself but it shas clearly been very popular. Although the wife tells me the last installment had some problems. Meanwhile, Maxis did also, between these big names, bring out a bunch of other titles. Some of these are little known historical curiosities such as Simfarm. They also brought us Spore, with its rather ambitious goal of letting players guide an alien race all the way through its development from primitive life to cities to interstellar colonies.

EA have a bit of a history of buying up respected developers then later closing them down. In 2004 they killed off Origin, who created landmark PC series Wing Commander and Ultima. In 2003 they did it to Westwood, the guys who were enormously influential in shaping the realtime strategy genre.  Now I think about it, this was the fate of Bullfrog also. Maybe EA had their financial reasons for this latest culling, maybe the fan ire towards the latest sim and simcity games played a part, but still I imagine a lot of fans are rather pissed off today.

This is making me think that, to properly pay tribute to Maxis, I should return to simcity 2000. I never did quite figure out how to best integrate a rail network into the growing metropolis of Stootopia…

The Serpent’s Curse: Part 2

February 24th, 2015

Written by: Rik

It’s taken me a while to get around to it, but I recently played through the second part of the latest Broken Sword game, The Serpent’s Curse. I thought I’d share some brief thoughts [gee, thanks! – a reader].

I think I was expecting to not enjoy the second part as much as the first – which I really did like – and that has largely proved to be the case. I suppose I was fond of part one because it mainly involved capering about in cities, trying to get to the bottom of something as down to earth as an art theft, which is where I feel Broken Sword has always been at its strongest.

At the midway point, however, it became apparent that DARK AND UNKNOWN FORCES may be involved, and my spidey-sense detected (correctly, as it turned out) that the second part would involve flying off to remote destinations, finding secret trap doors in old buildings, some puzzles involving symbols, and an unfathomable conclusion.

I really can't get too excited about this kind of thing.

I really can’t get too excited about this kind of thing.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never really been able to follow the story in these games. I’d have to pause before I could give you the subtitle of any of the previous efforts, and I certainly couldn’t tell you how they related to what actually goes on. Even with this one still fairly fresh in the memory, I still couldn’t even tell you why it’s actually called “The Serpent’s Curse”. There aren’t even any snakes in it! AHAHAHAHAHAH! *falls off chair* [You’re fired – FFG shareholders]

What this means is that, just when the story is supposed to be building momentum, I start to lose interest. The good bits are always the incidentals, the stuff that has little to do with any mystic ancient artefacts and everything to do with trying to work out how George can talk his way past an obstructive minor character. I’d almost rather George and Nicole ran a detective agency and just quit with the rest of it.

Aside from the story, I enjoyed some of the puzzles in this second part, but for others I had to make use of the hint system (which is a welcome feature, incidentally). There was, of course, a symbol decoding effort, which I just didn’t have the patience for. Oh, and a ridiculous one involving a cockroach and some jam. And at least two involving goats (fans of the first game rejoice!)

George vs the Goat. And a gun.

George vs the Goat. And a gun.

Taken as a whole, I still rather enjoyed The Serpent’s Curse. I particularly liked the fact that George and Nicole work through most things together, and when they’re split up you do at least know what the other is doing (which hasn’t always been the case). As I mentioned before, it all looks great, and there aren’t as any major tonal missteps this time – at least until the very, very end, where there are a couple of clunkers. Despite some flaws, though, it represents a step forward for the series for the first time in years, and I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s the strongest Broken Sword game yet.

[EDIT: Just a quick note to point out that it was the Android version, not PC, that I played. I have no idea if they're different. Also, I forgot to mention that you should definitely play this game if you'd like to hear people say the word "ouroboros" a lot.]