February 28, 2015

Might and Magic - Do You Believe In Might & Magic?

I just won 20 bucks from myself.

I can't believe this game was ever playtested by anybody.  There are so many errors, big and small, riddled throughout the game (and I've barely started, despite already putting 25+ hours into it).  Even the manual isn't safe from M&M's own suckitude.  These aren't minor details in the story or vagueness in the text either; the hard, immutable (and might I add, easily verifiable) numbers are often wrong, even within the game itself.  For example, the manual states the level 3 cleric spell, Light 2, "Bestows 20 factors of light on the party" when it's actually 40.  But hey, at least I got a light spell that functions like an actual light spell and the error is in my favour.  The manual can't even keep it's own descriptions free of error.  The level 2 sorcerer spell, Power, says that it affects one character but under the description says "Boosts all characters Might by 1-4 points" (also missing some punctuation there — big shock).  I can't tell you how difficult it is to play a game when you can't trust anything the game is presenting.  But play it I must, and it's not all doom and gloom, for there is some solid RPG gameplay to be had buried under the myriad glitches found in the fantastical world of Barn.  Yep, immediately upon leaving the city of Sorpigal, the game informs me that I am currently in section C2 of the world of Barn.  Well, right away I just knew that had to be wrong, so I looked it up and, yeah, it's suppose to be Varn.

Now look down at your keyboard
and slowly shake your head.

This had to be the most damning piece of evidence for my no playtesters hypothesis.  Whenever the party is outside, Barn is staring at you right in the face, just begging to be added to a cosmetic bug list.  And the surface world is huge, as I discovered after Cortex, my sorcerer (as the manual calls him) / wizard (as the game calls him), gained access to the Fly spell, which acts as a warp to any of Barn's sectors.  Each sector is a 16x16 grid and can contain access points to locations such a cities or caves which have their own 16x16 maps.

Oh god, I hope the blue area is an unexplorable ocean.

The surface world was just as harsh as the dungeon of Sorpigal, where I had done a tremendous amount of grinding.  There's one area in the dungeon where a string of four static encounters in a hallway must be passed before reaching a small set of four rooms with harder static encounters but guarantees a chest with nice, random loot inside.  I had got it in my head to make this the training corridor and the party was not allowed to go elsewhere until they had completed an entire pass of all eight encounters without resting.  I had figured that the levels gained while training here would naturally make each successive run on the corridor easier but I was quite wrong.  Encounter difficulty scales with level, meaning that chance of completing one full run stayed pretty much the same.  By the time the party actually managed to complete my self-imposed quest and were ready to venture to the surface, we were all either level 3 or 4 and had a tonne of sweet items.  I also received my first in-game quest here but it's not as interesting as the one I made up; some old dude unsurprisingly wanted me to deliver a letter to some town I've never heard of.

Please allow 6-8 years for delivery.

Mapping outside is necessary to do by hand since the automap is not as detailed as when in a town or dungeon.  At first, mapping seemed to be a standard affair and had two distinct wall textures; mountains and trees.  So I was happily mapping around when I accidentally discovered that I could move through the trees.  Okay, I thought, a little strange as all it serves to do is make mapping more difficult by hindering sight.  I actually ended up quite liking this aspect as it made it seem like I was surrounded by this huge forest instead of taking a path through it.  Of course, when I start liking something about M&M, it finds a way to screw me.  In this case, it turns out that some forests can't be passed through and act like mountains.  Mapping is already slow enough in this game and now it's even slower since every wall of trees has to bumped against in order to determine its solidity.  This means that instead of walking along a pathway and visually mapping the walls to my right and left, I have to turn one way, bump my face against the wall, turn all the way around, and bump again.  Since the game checks for random encounters even while turning, this slows things down considerably.  There's even trees that act like one-way doors; I guess all the supposedly axe-proof branches are pointing in the same direction (though then shouldn't I be able to see that beforehand?).

Naw, I'm pretty sure I hate nature.

I started showing a severe bias towards exploring mountainous regions, whose passable walls are much less frequent and remind me more of secret doors.  Precise map making will make the location of "secret doors" more apparent as it seems every square in the surface world is accessible.  Another reason to hang out in the mountains and not the stinking forest is the chance appearance of a nasty little critter who is a bug in both senses of the word.  The dreaded locust plague is a creature that can strike up to three times in combat for an unchanging 255 damage each hit.  My manchine ears pricked up after repeatedly seeing this number and I knew something was wrong.

Well... I guess you could say —
( •_•)>⌐■-■
— it has quite the byte.

Now, the locusts can appear in the mountain areas, but since mapping the forest parts takes so much longer, it seemed like they mostly dwelt there.  Also — and I can't stress this enough — these encounters all take place within the first surface area.  Thankfully, there is only ever one of these right bastards in the group of enemies and can often be destroyed before it gets its attack, at least with a little planning.  For all my complaining about Might & Magic thus far, the combat system is pretty decent.  The basic setup with a random encounter is the first three monsters versus my party's first two slots plus one other, usually slot 3 or 4.  Knowing how much damage each party member can potentially dish out is key to quickly decimating the foes.  Not only that, knowing when each combatant will be able to strike is critical in avoiding douches like the aforementioned locust plagues.  Throw in status ailment and group damaging spells and you've got a recipe for some decent tactical engagements.  For example, a common technique I've been using is using Cortex's first level Sleep spell to hopefully get two of the first three monsters to take a nap whilst we pound on the remaining one.  As long as the original two stay comatose, the remaining creatures are filtered through the one open slot they have (at least for monsters with only melee attacks), which drastically cuts down on the amount of hits we take.  Cortex can cast Sleep as often as he likes; it only costs a single MP and the party will run out of healing magic from Baby-D far before he gets depleted.  During the random encounters, Cortex is stuck in the back without a missile weapon anyway, so he maintains a high level of usefulness being able to constantly cast.  Notice how I'm specifying the random encounters; static encounters, which are the most frequent, have the monsters always surprising the party and therefore everyone being embroiled in melee.  Thankfully, spellcasters can still bust off any spell they desire but now have the option for a physical attack as well.  Since they are also viable targets for taking hits, it has the effect of spreading out damage taken over more targets.  Thank goodness I spent all that time ensuring high endurance scores for everyone; even Cortex can take a few solid face punches.  He's also got a sweet magic staff that does respectable damage and is great for getting one-hit kills when swarmed by a horde of lesser creatures.

Oh, and for when the game just
decides to cockblock his spells.

Exploration outside the initial surface area is completely open; there is nothing to guide the party.  I had received the letter delivery quest going to a city called Erliquin, but I had no idea where it was.  Especially with access to the Fly spell, which drops the party at the same coordinates in each sector, mapping sessions are easy to get in and out of.  Warping to C2 drops the party off right at the entrance to Sorpigal which is surprising for M&M to be so nice.  I played it safe and mapped out sectors adjacent to the C2 hub.  Soon (relative term here) I found Erliquin and delivered the letter, received 500 XP (a paltry amount at this stage), and a brand spanking new quest.

Which is exactly the same as the old quest.

Within the walls of Erliquin also came the party's first moral decision after we discovered the town's hidden treasure.  Rather than steal it right away, I made the executive decision as leader to hold off on it until we had fully explored and exploited everything else in the town.  But, rest assured, we will be getting our greasy little paws on whatever that delicious treasure is.  First we shall win the hearts of the townsfolk, then we shall pilfer all their worldly wealth and melt into the night, ne'er to darken their doorstep again — except to access their dungeon which is currently barricaded by a mammoth computer requiring an access code.

If that doesn't work, try password.

I am quite tantalized by this discovery of a sci-fi element and I hope to be fighting robots and finding atomic-powered exosuits soon after ascertaining the correct code (wherever that may be).  I'm already mentally preparing myself for the huge letdown that M&M is sure to give me.  For now, it's back to the surface to continue exploring, not knowing at all what we'll end up coming across but quite excited by the prospect.  To close, here's a short list of other errors/oddities/assholeishness encountered thus far:

  • a Pool of Wisdom says that it "grants those who are worthy +2 Personality" but it's actually +4.
  • the interface allows for the cursor to return to the top of the menu when scrolling down past the last option but not the reverse.
  • the party had just returned to Sorpigal from a short outing due to someone getting turned to stone.  Random encounters in town at this point are very easy for the relatively high level party.  After defeating one such encounter, the entire party was decimated by a blade trap held within a bag that had to have done at least 40 HP to each member.  How does one even trap a bag with blades?  Moreso, why would one trap a bag with around 30 gold with such strong blades when we've come across chests containing magic items whose blades merely did a point or two of damage and made a few of us sleepy?  Oh, that's right, because M&M is a fucking assface.  I didn't lose much progress with this encounter; it just really pissed me off at the time.

February 07, 2015

[Game 049] Might and Magic: Book 1 (NES - 1990)

Might and Magic is somewhat of a distant franchise for me.  I was certainly aware of its existence growing up as a young meatsack but, for whatever reason, it never managed to make it into my console or PC.  I played the heck out of the first three Heroes of Might and Magic games but never got around to the pure RPG experience.  Obviously, that changes now or you wouldn't even be reading this.  I knew enough about M&M to know that it was a standard dungeon crawler.  I perused the character creation portion of the manual and saw my opportunity to make myself a gnomish paladin, an irresistibly ridiculous prospect.  I got my pot o' joe ready, wrapped myself up in owlbear furs, and got super comfy as I prepared to spend the night rolling up characters.  I was dismayed to discover that I had to start as a human knight but figured that I'd just create my paladin as one of the other characters.  That notion was also dashed as I had to choose from a list of pregenerated characters.  "Oh well", I thought, "at least there is a large list of characters to choose from."  Might and Might had other ideas, however, as most of the other characters were unavailable as they were located in different towns.  I had five slots to fill in the party and guess how many characters were available to select.  As one can see from the trend of M&M denying me any choice in anything, the answer is five, and not one gnomish paladin in the lot.  As if all of this isn't bad enough, some of the characters are either redundant or outright worthless.  I have two wizards when I'd really prefer doubling up on clerics and another knight who has three hit points.  THREE HIT POINTS!  Monsters almost always do at least two points of damage so the knight rarely survived a fight.  I had to put that useless tit in the back row and bring the cleric up front.  Geez, Shen, do you have anything positive to say about the beginning of Might and Magic?

Well, I really dig the demonic banner across the top.

I always expect crawlers like this to have a high difficulty at the onset, which is one of the reasons I normally spend a lot of time making my own characters.  M&M is no different; a single trap can wipe out the entire party.  With just the cleric and I on the front line for most battles, a battle quite often will end with both of us dead, which means a reset (don't forget my rule regarding Shen death).

If I have to go down on anything, I'm glad it's a sprite.

Further exploration of the monster-infested town yielded a gallery of plaques just ripe for the pondering.  They all were quite pretty to look at and included some history as well as poetry.

Tear dat mic up, plaque, word!  Word 'em up!

The plaques are a nice change of pace from the normal NPC delivery system of information; I'd rather look at some nice art than some uggo's face.  Just beyond the gallery, I discovered something that raised my spirits considerably — the guild.  Here... HERE is where I could generate my own characters by overwriting an existing one.  It just happened to be located on the other side of the town.  My initial exuberance waned as I thought more about this situation.  Why have the guild way over here?  Why not have it either part of the inn or nearby?  Anybody who likes character generation is going to be using this option, so why waste the first few hours of gameplay forcing them to hang out with a bunch of losers?  And it is a total waste for the character retains nothing after rebirth, including equipment which I found out later, much to my chagrin.  I sucked this all up, however, as now I could transform myself into the gnome paladin that I had lusted after since starting the game.  Yes, the guild also changes your race somehow (just another reason to have the character generation at the beginning of the game).  The way stats are generated, though, is pretty cool.  There is no viewing of the stats while rolling and re-rolling; rather, all the game shows the player is the potential classes the character could be.  A complete list to choose from ensures the character has decent stats in all categories.

You don't want to know how long it took
to roll a full set for each character.

Since everyone was starting out fresh with no experience or gold (I did manage to save some equipment after I noticed it disappearing), I decided that all the characters would also start off neutrally aligned.  The manual alluded to events that could change a character's alignment and I wanted to give everyone free rein to determine their own moral path.  Four characters in and I, by chance, noticed that character I was working on was actually evil.  A quick check on the previous characters confirmed that we were all evil bastards.  An error of this magnitude at this stage does not bode well for the remainder of the game.

Yes, can you tell me why this game is being ass?

Fine, M&M, have it your way.  There was no way I was going to regen all the previous characters so I'm rolling with the evil party.  If I find any type of exploit, no matter how small, I'm going to hump the everloving shit out of it.  No NPC will be safe from my merry band of chaotic evils if I get even the slightest chance to attack them.  Continue to piss me off and I'll meta the evil alignment and break out my trusty hex editor.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, M&M.  Fucking ports, man, I tell ya.  At any rate, while finishing off exploring the rest of the town, the entire party fell down a hole and now we're lost in the first dungeon.  Luckily, we had the foresight to bring some torches to light up this dank, urine-soaked hell hole.  I should have known by now that Might and Magic would be a dick even with something this basic, but I was still shocked to discover that a lit torch only lasts until a single movement is made.  How useful!  So I guess we'll muddle around in the dark here until we either find the stairs or die off.  My money's on the latter.