Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pool of Radiance: Kuto's Well and Sokal Keep cleared!

I cleared Kuto's Well area and killed the Bandit band and their leader, Norris the Gray. That must have been awesome because the game informed that I can now rest in the sewers. Lucky me. I am more excited, because this is the first area/block I manage to clear.

Norris' corpse had a curious letter addressed to him by one that like to call himself 'The Boss'. He instructed him to assemble a band and meet another band of hobgoblins in the city's docks and follow the orders of the hobgoblin leader. Norris' didn't like this and had prepared a reply saying so. Alas, he met my band first and now he is in no state to mail his reply.

I thought that slums are the ones to clear first, but that troll infested room is proving to be a challenge. I am terrified of the trolls and don't want to go near them until I level up some more.

So, while exploring, I entered Sokal Keep and cleared that too. I didn't get much exp from the battles, but once reported in the City Hall, I get a very large amount of experience. And a mission in the textile house, something about retrieving someone's family treasure. I didn't pay enough attention because I was planning on going there anyway.

Afterwards, I did a little fooling around and then tried to clear the slums again, without success. The trolls are still very high level. I managed to escape with a few death, luckily my wealth is large enough, so a few Raise Dead spells did not set me back considerably. I skipped the trolls for the time being (perhaps I am doing something wrong in the Slums?) and headed for the textile house.

At this time, I noticed the encumbrance was becoming a problem. Some members of the team could not move far enough. The main cause of this was the large amount of coins I was carrying. Since I had an obscene amount of jewelry on me, I decided to drop most of my platinum coins. I had heard that the game economy was broken, but this was a joke!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pool of Radiance: More like, Pool of Bugs

When playing Pool of Radiance I always laugh when NPCs greet me and say 'Can I show you something?'. Heck No! Please don't! Well, I got a dirty mind...

'Is that a short-sword in your pocket, or are you glad to see me?'

Anyway, multiclassing was a double edge sword. Initially it helped me a lot in the first fights in the slums. My mortality ration was greatly reduced thanks to my mages being also fighters. They could survive longer and dish out more damage.

However, now I am stuck. I can't seem to be able to level them. Multiclass characters need more experience points. As a result I can't finish the troll battle in the slums, which means I can't finish this quest. I was reluctant to go to the other areas before finishing the first quest, but it seems I don't have a choice. I need to wander a bit, do some random battles and get experience, so I can level up and kill those trolls.

*Update* After doing just what I wrote before, I went to town to sell the excess armor I had looted. When I pooled my coins, the game bugged and I ended up having 2112 jewelry, each one valued at 1000 platinum. Bummer.

I am going to keep playing with the 'bugged' save game. I am bored to reload, besides, I read that economy is broken in Pool of Radiance anyway. After a while you end up with more money than you can use.

Also know as: Pool of Jewelry?
Ouch. I just pressed 'take' from the option. It seems coins are breeding more coins!!! When I click view, each character has only jewelry. So I guess every time I press 'pool' the bug replicates itself. The bug is even worse than what I expected. I can't pick up the coins, because I am overloaded. I am stuck with only Jewelry, which are not useful in shops. I panicked for a moment then I remembered the 'drop' command. I dropped all those cursed jewelry.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Interlude: Pool of Radiance review from Pixel magazine (Greek)

I did a little research on the web and found a review written for Pool of Radiance in the greek gaming magazine Pixel no. 54 (circa April 1989). The review is actually a compilation of 8 short reviews of the most popular CRPGs of that time (at least according to the magazine), Dungeon Master, Phantasie III, Pool of Radiance, Alternate Reality, Bard's Tale, Moebius, Fairy Tale and Heroes of the Lance. Unfortunately it's all in Greek.

Pixel was my main source of learning about new games. Actually it was the only source for greek gamers. There was no internet back then. At least not in Greece. Later, another equally successful gaming magazine, called User, surfaced. Games reviewed on those magazines were idolized by me. Especially those that I could never get my hands on (such as Phatasie III). Years later, these games reached a cult status for me. I am afraid to play them, because I am afraid the mental image I have of them will shatter once I gaze at their outdated graphics. Nostalgia glasses tends to have that effect on me. 
Pixel tended to exaggerate on a lot of things, and these games seemed so epic when you read about them and saw the pictures. The reviewer was astonished by the fact that the game consisted of  '..3 game disks! 3 double sided game disks! That means that the game has 3mb of data!' (his words, not mine). I am pasting below the scanned pages of the review just for old time's sake.The pictures might be unreadable, but clicking on them will redirect you to a larger and readable version.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Pool of Radiance: Maza is dead, long live Maza

All of my characters died last time, so instead of reloading, I decided to roll new characters. Of course they would all have to be members of my imaginary band of mercenaries called Maza. Having read the manual more thoroughly, and understanding the level caps imposed by the game, I decided that multiclassing is useful after all.

My reasoning is that mages (will never get used to calling them magic-users) start pretty weak and their spells empty too fast. Then they are useless for the rest of the battle. So it would be meaningful for me to multiclass them as fighters. This way, when they run out of spells, they will still be able to whack some enemies. And why not multiclass clerics as well? Also, thieves will benefit too. This might make leveling slower, but it can't get slower than getting the whole party killed and restarting every time. Everybody will pick-up the fighter class, and only the fighter will not multiclass. It was decided. It felt like cheating, and it certainly this isn't doable in later version of pen and paper DnD,

Another thing that helped me early on, was that I bought plate mail armor as soon as I could. Thanks to all my party members being multiclassed-fighters, they all could wear it. Their armor class (AC) was so low that they rarely got hit by low-level enemies. Besides, if it's allowed in the game, who is to tell that the programmers haven't assumed that players will use that 'feature' and built the game and enemies accordingly? If I didn't take advantage of this, wouldn't I be handicapping myself?

There are some thing that annoy me with pool of radiance. How hitpoints are displayed for example. You can never see you maximum hitpoints, unless you are fully healed. Otherwise, you can only see your current hitpoints and a color indication signaling that they are not full. But other than that, you can never tell how many you need until fully rested, so you have to guesstimate when using a cure spell if it is efficient to cast it, or if you are just curing a single lost hitpoints. Either that, or write your party's full hitpoints down somewhere.

An annoying thing is that you have to memorize again every spell you cast. It is not done automatically. I hope that they change this in later games of the series.

Battles tend to drag a long time, mainly because the computer is taking his time to move units that cannot affect the battle in any way. Usually this consists of choosing 'guarding' a action on units that are far away. I am practically blogging when it's the enemy's turn. I could turn the speed up (there is an option for this), but that would make reading the battle text impossible.

If you try to see a normal looking item that is in fact a magic one, the merchant will ask for a very large price, in effect betraying the magic nature of the item to you. I would expect the merchant to ask for the normal price, and only ask for a high price if you had ID'ed the item beforehand. Also, I am not sure if the magic bonus apply if you wear an unidentified magic armor.

It was irritating when trying to buy something that cost 100 gold pieces but you only had platinum pieces. For some reason the merchants would not take bigger denominations. I don't know if I am doing something wrong. One a similar note, my electrum pieces seem to be useless for the time being.
*update* It seems I am wrong on that one. I thought one electrum equals 100 gold pieces. Unfortunately one gold piece equals two electrum pieces.

Another small thing that bugs me. When I surprise, say, a band of kobolds and I chose to flee, I get the following message... 'The monsters flee.' Hmm. It's funny finding all these bugs, because modern gamers always whine about day one patches and then say 'old games never had bugs'. What they mean is 'old games never had day one patches (because there was no way to patch them in the first place)'. Also, why is there an option to attack a teammember? I don't have anything to gain from it. I am reserving my usefulness of this option, because there might, just might, be a possibility that my members get possessed or something. Then it might be useful, but I doubt that the programmers have thought of that.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pool of Radiance: 'My companions kept dying left and right...'

Shortly after entering the slums, I met a fortune teller. She told me that blood and violence await me. I was sceptical at first. Blood and violence? In an RPG? It has to be a mistake.

Second battle in the slum, and mage Adepali died before I had a chance to move. His status indicated that he wasn't dead, just dying. I tried to heal him using a cleric, but I cast the spell to early, without moving next to him, so I had to abort. The game kept tormenting me with the 'Adepali is dying' message every turn. I felt useless. I just couldn't save him. Afterwards. while Gavlas was trying to engage an enemy, he must have somehow activated an 'attack of opportunity' because the enemy was guarding, and died too.

Then, it was Maaluska's turn to cast, and she chose  the 'Sleep' spell. All enemies fell asleep, and the rest butchered them. To my relief I realised that I could heal the 'dying' member. One benefit of having low hit points is that you can get 'fully healed' with a 'cure light wounds' spell. Hah.

During the next fight, everybody died. Instead of reloading, I opted to create new characters. This time I would be better prepared to face the evil that lurks in the slums of New Phlan.

One thing I discovered during my playtime was that mapping was not necessary. At least not in the town. There is the 'area' command that displays a (rather crude) map of the area. Same thing goes for the slums, however, the exits of the rooms are not shown.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Pool of Radiance - Welcome to New Phlan

I spent most of the time in the officer reading through the manual thanks to this page. I also succeeded in persuading my childhood friend, Luke to start playing 'Pool of Radiance' as well. However we had a disagreement on the rules of our 'friendly game completion race'.

You see, Luke is a WoW addict. I guess he wants it easy. He agreed on the 'no walkthroughs', 'no cheats' rules. But he wants unlimited saves. Boring I say to him. Now, even if he agrees to 'no saves' rule, I will not trust him. So that's the way it's going to be. He will play with unlimited saves, I will play using one save game per battle map.

Another thing. Looking at the manual, I found the following text that explains the contents of the configuration file (pool.cfg). I couldn't find this on the net, so it might be useful to other people googling for it.

The configuration file for the game is POOL.CFG. The first line of this file handles the display mode where C stands for CGA, E stands for EGA, and T stands for Tandy. The second line handles sound. P is for PC sound, T is for Tandy sound, and S is for silent (no sound). The third line is the path to game data. The fourth line is the path to save files. The fifth line is the introduction type - F is full intro and N is no intro. In order to reconfigure the game, delete the POOL.CFG file and restart the game.  

Regarding the game itself, I wasted some time thinking about how to proceed with the mapping. The best solution that I was offered from CRPGaddict was to just use an excel spreadsheet. I had openoffice installed, but anyway, just drawing lines and borders seemed boring to me.  However, google is your friend. After looking in some CRPG forums, I discovered Tiled, and Mappy, both are map-making software. They turned out to be very complicated and started using openoffice spreadsheets instead.

A pleasant surprise when I started the game was that the first quests I encountered where not those quests often found in MMOs. No 'go kill ten rats and bring back their tails' quests. Instead, I had to investigate a haunted graveyard, and look for some city-agents, and rescue a mercenary band.

A feature that suprised me (I didn't remember this when I played Dark Queen of Krynn when I was younger), was that the game prompted you to the manual in order to read the text of some quests or flavor of the game. It reminded me of those gamebooks, 'choose your own adventure' ( I used to be a fan of Lone Wolf, and Steve Jackson gamebook's). So, I was in a tavern and the game told me that '..I overheard 'Tavern Tale 1'. I had to go to the manual and read the passage with the same title. Nice old-skool touch.

On most current CRPGs I played, such as Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Fallout 3, even MMOs, such as WoW, I only cared about leveling fast and finishing the game. This time I am going to enjoy the setting of the game and the storytelling. I have been hearing that Pool of Radiance series features one of the best CRPG story, so I am going to savor it.

I was two hours into the game, and I haven't had a fight yet. I was mainly exploring the area, checking the shops and reading the Journal and Tavern entries as requested. I was spending a big chunk of my time mapping the town, hoping that this might save me much time later. Then, Openoffice (where I was mapping the town) crashed. I despaired. I was on the verge on changing my 'no-walkthroughs' rule and go get an online map of New Phlan. Thankfully, when I reloaded Openoffice, it auto-recovered my work. By the way, if you don't want to buy Office, or hesitate using pirated version, I highly recommend OpenOffice.

I managed to find the shops, I equipped all my characters using basic DnD sense. I still had a lot of Gold and Platinum left, but I decided to keep them for the time being. Did some more mapping and after a while, I entered one of the Taverns. Found the 'memorize' option and started memorizing spells for my casters. It's funny how familiar all this routine was. I guess CRPGs are like riding a bicycle. No matter if you haven't played one for years, you never forget the commands.

I decided to log off. I may have not progressed much, didn't even have a chance to fight, but at least I made a solid start. Next blog entry might take some time until it is posted. Next, I will enter the slums and check the graveyard where I got to do some quests. I will try to make some significant progress before I post again.

After 3 hours of walking around the time and mapping, the Maza warband decided to rest at an inn. Next day they will enter the slums.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Game 1: Pool of Radiance (1988) - Installation and Party creation

I decided to begin with Pool of Radiance. I tried to locate the Gold Box Compilation but there are no copies for sale. At least not in or I could buy a box from Ebay, but I am hesitatant about second-hand games. Through various other channels, I obtain a copy of the game. I would have preferred to play the Amiga version since it has better graphics, but I didn't want to have to fiddle with emulators.  However, installing the PC version ended up being perhaps as tricky as getting an emulator and running the Amiga version.

There were three problems that I faced right from the start. There is an annoying 'copy protection' scheme. Thankfully I found a copy that bypass it. Then, I was getting an 'insert disk #3' error. I fixed this by fiddling around in the games config file. The arrow keys (used to choose commands) did not work. I googled and found out that I should change a string in Dosbox configuration file (usescancodes=false).This didn't work either. It seems Pool of Radiance did not use arrow keys, but the numpad keys, specifically '7' for up, and '1' for down. Oh well. Then I started getting annoyed, because I couldn't hear any music during the intro. After wasting 1 hour, I found out that there is no music in the game, except some 'PC speaker' sounds while moving. Unless I am doing something horribly wrong in the Dosbox configuration.

Intro screen. I suppose this was considered state of the art back then.

Anyway, I stopped messing around with DOSBOX's settings, and satisfied with the results, I started making characters. I ended up with one Fighter, two Magic Users, one Cleric and a Thief. The names are nicknames of real-life friends used in other old-skool online games. Mainly ArcticMud (a dragonlance inspired MUD, which is somewhat fitting since Dragonlance and Forgotten Realm are a little related.

Next step is reading the manual, skimming it actually and then starting the exploration of the city.

The members of the fearless band known as Maza.

What is all this about?

Basically this a blog chronicling my journey playing again (or more often playing for the first time) some of the very first and classic CRPGs (Computer Role Playing Games). The aim is to beat the game without using 'save games', 'cheats', or 'walkthroughs'. I am going to tackle games of the 80s and 90s, such as Might and Magic series, SSI's Gold Box games, perhaps Eye of the Beholder series, Bard's Tale and so on. 

I have often caught myself googling old CRPG games, checking the wikipedia entries and regreting never having finished them or even played them. Then I found CRPGaddict's blog. I thought, hey! I should imitate this guy. Only in a less hardcore scale. I could just pick up those classic series that I missed and tackle them now. No need to try to finish ALL CRPGs like CRPGaddict is doing. I have played plenty of CRPGs on my old Amstrad CPC and Amiga 500 (which I discovered through Pixel, the most famous greek Gaming Magazine of the 80s and 90s). But I was very younger back then, and I lacked the decipline to progress much. Besides, there are more games that I couldn't get my hands on. Living in Greece imposed some limitation on which games I could find. Wizardry, Phantasie and Might and Magic (the very first ones) were a rarity even back then. 

I am also going to try to get some 'guest' posts from my childhood friends. We played those games together when we were younger. I might be able to trick them to help me in my quest to finally beat those now, after all these years. Right now, I am in discussions with Loukas, on which game should I start first. Might and Magic series, or Pool of Radiance series. He is interested in playing one of those as well.

And lastly, a warning. I am Greek. That means that most of the times my phrases are going to sound funny. I apologize in advance. And another warning, I have a rather short attention span. I am not sure I will even be able to finish the first game I tackle. I have tried different tasks in the past such as playing all Sierra Adventures, or reading all of William Gibson's books, but I failed miserably. I hope this won't be a self-fulfilling prophecy.