Well, all this is interesting to me, anyway, and that's what matters here. The Internet is a terrible thing for someone like me, who finds almost everything interesting.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Great Games #5: Pool of Radiance
Pool of Radiance (1988) was the first of SSI's classic "Gold Box" games, and the first computer adaptation, apparently, of TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.
I loved it. I never completed the game - I rarely complete any game - but I played the early part of the game several times over the years. And the CRPG Addict's recent play-through brought it all back. (Note that the posts are shown in reverse order there, with the last post on top. To read them through, start at the bottom.)
The above video is his, too, and shows a very tough battle early in the game. I remember it well, since I had to fight it several times before finally winning. But before I get to that, let me first explain the setup:
This is a party-based, turn-based RPG. When the game begins, you create up to six characters of your choice of race, gender, and class. I always liked that, creating just the party I wanted from scratch, since there's a lot of strategy involved in it. Unfortunately, that kind of game is getting harder and harder to find, these days.
[Ironically, better computers have been a big part of the problem. When game developers spend a fortune on detailed graphics, they need to know what the characters will look like. When they spend a fortune hiring actors to speak lines, they need to know which characters will appear in a game, and what their personalities are like. So big-budget games become more like movies, where gamers passively accept the developer's vision, rather than actively choosing these details themselves.]
Your characters in Pool of Radiance are rank beginners, answering the call for assistance from Phlan, along with other adventurers who also hope to make their fortunes in the city. There are a couple of things I like about this. First, I like the fairly mundane assignments, since it seems more plausible that a city would hire random mercenaries for such things (and that my characters would accept odd jobs while working for them).
But second, I really like starting at the very bottom in an RPG. Low-level characters generally need everything they can find, so even the most minor loot is valuable and very welcome. Everything matters to low-level characters, which makes it all great fun. And when they do level-up (that's how you increase skills in this game), or just find better equipment, it makes a huge difference, since they're starting from such a low baseline.
High-level characters usually only improve incrementally. A better weapon is usually only slightly, not significantly, better than what they had before. And better skills don't make such a big difference, either - not as they do for low-level characters.
Anyway, your first assignment in Pool of Radiance is to clear the monsters out of the slums, part of Phlan's project to restore the town. The above video shows part of that. There are fixed battles in most of the rooms there, and the monsters don't re-spawn afterward. There are also random battles, as your characters proceed through the area, but only to a certain extent. Once you've fought enough of them, they don't occur again in that area.
You really are clearing the slums here. That's exactly what it feels like. And when you've finished, the whole area is safe. You can walk through it, or even camp there, without risk. (Unfortunately, that's the only result you see. I'd always hoped that the townspeople would start moving in, once I'd cleared the slums for them. But that never happened. In fact, it almost never happens even in modern games. That's always a disappointment.)
As you can tell from the video, the corridors and rooms look completely bare. When you first enter a room, you generally get a good description of it, but you never see any of that (and you only get the description once). Well, that was one of the limitations of computer games back then (basically the result of limited processing power). Graphics and sound are very basic.
The battles, though, felt like a huge advance from earlier games, because tactical positioning was so important.. Unlike games that just abstracted all that, Pool of Radiance set the battle in your current location, and tactical positioning was critical. And that kind of combat is still my favorite.
The above battle, for example, was fought in a long corridor. That meant that heavily-armored fighters could keep the enemy from getting to your more vulnerable characters in the rear. And those trolls in the back, without ranged weapons, couldn't attack at all until they could move up, after some of their number had died. In a more open area, the heroes might have been surrounded.
As I say, this was a really tough battle for low-level characters. Notice how both sides kept missing? Well, low-level characters do miss a lot, and you really need the monsters to do the same. When trolls or ogres did hit, they hit hard. And their opponents went down, because none of the adventurers had many hit points yet.
The CRPG Addict was lucky enough to put an ogre to sleep right away, when his mage cast a spell. Sleeping creatures are sitting ducks, easily killed with a single strike from any weapon. And he was lucky enough - or skilled enough - to finish the fight before the trolls started regenerating. (After awhile, if you take too long, they'll stand up again, with full hit points!)
Notice how the last two trolls tried to run away? Running creatures are easy to hit, and if they turn and run from a character, that character gets a free melee strike. Again, the terrain matters here. If the trolls could have run to the edge of the screen, they would have escaped. But they were in a dead-end corridor, so they were quickly killed.
Obviously, the graphics and the sounds seem very primitive these days, but that doesn't affect the gameplay. The worst thing about the game, certainly by today's standards, is the awkward interface - not just during battles, but afterward (especially when needing to heal your characters), too. Well, games have improved in that respect.
But games have diminished in other respects. "Real-time" games can be fun, certainly, but I still prefer these old party-based, turn-based games. There's a lot of strategy involved, in selecting and preparing your team, and the combat is very tactical. And as the CRPG Addict points out, turn-based combat lets you see everything that's going on. That's lots of fun.
It's slower, true. And in these really old games, it's slower than it should be. Really, the interface is not great. And I get tired of nothing but combat, anyway. It's not just this game, but all of them ("real-time" games, too). They're fun at first, but I tend to get bored after awhile. I'd really prefer less combat and more exploration, I think.
So I never did finish Pool of Radiance, though I still have fond memories of it. But, heck, it's a game! It's supposed to be fun - and it is fun - but I have no interest in turning such things into a chore. When I get a little bored, I move on.
If you're curious about the rest of the game, check out the CRPG Addict's play-through. He does a great job with it. It certainly brought back a lot of great memories for me.
I'm a skeptic. I think it makes sense to have reasons for what I believe, so I apportion my belief to the evidence. You're welcome to disagree. Please, tell me I'm wrong. I probably don't agree with anyone about everything. Why should disagreement be a problem? Check the Pages section below for series posts and links to book reviews and game posts, as well as contact info. Unfortunately, I rarely blog at all, anymore. So don't expect new posts. - Bill
We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true. - Robert Wilensky
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong - Richard Feynman
The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other. - Sir Francis Bacon
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science. - Hal Clement
No matter how many times a theory meets its tests successfully, there can be no certainty that it will not be overthrown by the next observation. This, then, is a cornerstone of modern natural philosophy. It makes no claim of attaining ultimate truth. In fact, the phrase "ultimate truth" becomes meaningless, because there is no way in which enough observations can be made to make truth certain and, therefore, "ultimate". - Isaac Asimov
The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. - Treaty of Tripoli, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams (1797)
I don't doubt the sincerity of dowsers, but even after we've demonstrated that they can't produce results that are any better than chance they'll still go away believing in their abilities... It is like the mother whose son is caught shoplifting on tape. She wonders why someone would want to frame her child by producing a fake video. - James Randi
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church ... imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. - Mark Twain
Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. - Bertrand Russell
A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche
I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. - Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.
This is not about proof. Science does not use proof. We favor evidence, and the work consists largely of the slow accumulation of evidence in support of ideas, not magically potent proofs that establish an idea as unassailable. - PZ Myers
No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. - President Barack Obama
The formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat. - Shekhar Gupta
We are prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs. - Carl Sagan
We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. - Richard Dawkins
120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. - Sam Harris
To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man. - Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in 1553
Democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can't take root. - Thomas L. Friedman
We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason. - Thomas Macauley, 1830
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men. - Edward R. Murrow
The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best - that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. - Thomas Huxley
There is no absurdity so obvious that it cannot be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to impose it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity. - Arthur Schopenhauer
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. ... Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. - President Thomas Jefferson
To be elected in America, no matter from what party, the candidates have no choice but to year after year pledge to lower taxes further and further. We have become the nation of Ken and Barbie, looking good but very poor at the math. - Rack Jite
Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them. - Steve Eley
We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. - President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle. - Molly Ivins
In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. - H. L. Mencken
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. - Winston Churchill