Pre-Ordering Games, Consoles, & Books Episode.056

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I’ve never really been a fan of pre-ordering things.  I feel that if you’re going to produce a product make sure you have enough for the demand, but I realize that companies don’t want to waste money by making more product than the consumer’s demand.  Pre-ordering can give them an idea of what kind of demand it is, but those are just for initial sales by people who are aware of the product’s soon-to-be existence.  Theoretically there should always be more people who will buy a product after the initial pre-order phase is complete.

Video games are by far the worst practice of pre-ordering.  I have never in my life seen a video game that sells completely out of stock the first week it is released.  There are always copies available at some store whether it’s at your local brick-&-mortar store or online at Amazon.  One way or another, you can always buy a copy of the video game you want.  Perhaps companies give you incentives to pre-order such as in-game items or extra content.  Generally these pale in comparison and quite often are released as “new content” at a later date such as a Game of the Year Edition.

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Pre-ordering things that could have bugs such as video games or other electronics is really a large gamble.  This is especially true for video game consoles.  Electronics have such a huge volume of executions that it is quite easy to have errors or bugs that pop up.  Companies may run their product through Quality Check, but the product only has so much of a window before the higher-up execs demand the product to be put on the market to start making a profit.  This can lead to rushed products that aren’t quite ready for the consumer.  This is when you find bugs.  Yet when you pre-order, you are giving those execs even more evidence to rush the product out the door: if they have $1,000,000 worth of pre-orders, they won’t see a dime of that until the product ships.  This will cause them to become greedy and encourage their company to continue to rush their product before it’s ready.  When you pre-order, you are essentially acknowledging that you are okay with an incomplete game.  So when you put that game in the console for the first time and it doesn’t boot up right or crashes during the middle, you simply have no room to complain.  It’s actually closer to being more your fault than the company’s.  Granted the company who made a poor quality product should not have released it, but if enough consumers are willing to pay full price for an incomplete product, naturally companies are going to release it.  Some companies value quality over quantity, but the bottom line is that every company exists to make money.  If their reputation is not tarnished from shipping broken games, they will continue to do so.  Generally they will not have a damaged reputation because they can always go back to the financial reports and publicly announce their sales.

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A minor graphic bug

Now the one thing within this blog’s genre categories that pre-ordering might be beneficial are role playing games.  Although it still goes hand-in-hand with the concept of video games in which you should print more than the masses because you are hoping that eventually they will all be bought (or the majority).  Printing books does cost more than producing a physical copy of a game.  That’s a fact.  There isn’t much involved in burning the contents to a disc and printing a label on the top then putting it in a case and shipping it.  This is even truer with PC games that are almost entirely digitally produced now (few hard copies are put on shelves anymore).  So for that thought, pre-ordering (especially for PC games) makes even less sense because there is essentially zero overhead cost on releasing the game.

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Most expensive pre-order ever – This car along with a PS3 and GRID 2 – £125,000

With hard copy books it is another story, however.  Companies prefer not to produce too many copies to where they have a shelf full of books that were never purchased.  If they have to decide, they will most likely want to error on the side of caution and produce fewer than the demand.  Books are done in “print runs” where they will have a certain number of books produced.  Small publishing companies may only have 500 copies whereas larger companies may have 1000s or 10’s of thousands.  When these are all bought, the company then has to either order more copies to be printed or do it themselves if they have the means.  This, however, takes usually more than a month to do, sometimes 8-10 weeks depending on the lead time the printers are looking at.  Some roleplaying game companies have an agreement with a printing company to dish out their books, but that printing company doesn’t just sit around and wait for their order.  They have other companies requesting their service such as schools for textbooks and yearbooks.

Pre-ordering books does tend to make for a better decision if the number of copies is in question.  Basically the rule is the smaller the company, the more reason to pre-order.  Now again, it’s essentially to just make sure you don’t have to wait 6-8 more weeks more for the 2nd printing.  If a company runs out of copies, they are going to print more until they consider the product expired and deem it out of print.  This only occurs when sales have dropped below a percentage per month, which means you have already bought your copy.  Larger companies, Wizards of the Coast for example, produce so many copies that you end up finding the books in odd locations like Wal-Mart.  Pre-ordering really is pointless at that point because the availability will be considerable.

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Now having said all that, companies have a bad habit of not producing enough copies on the first print run and blaming it on the consumers.  This is a give-and-take issue because the pre-orders would help them make a better assessment on the number of issues to produce, but generally when a company runs out of copies quickly, as in the first week or two, that’s really a horrible mistake on their part.  This happens way too often too, and the consumer usually gets the same famous line from all of them: “We were completely overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm from fans that we ran out of stock!”  This is one of the worst business moves you can make because it does 2 things.  First, your company stops making money for 6-8+ weeks while you wait for the next batch not only to be printed BUT to be shipped to stores.  Second, you hack off the consumers who were unlucky and didn’t receive a copy and are forced to wait while those who did get a copy are enjoying it.  When a game is released, that is going to be the “hottest” point in sales.  Usually.  Granted there are exceptions where a product doesn’t get noticed by the general consumer for several months (or years…I’m looking at you Game of Thrones).  When you run out of product while there is still a huge demand for it, you run the risk of sales going cold while you wait for the next printing.  Consumers are fickle and have short attention spans.  Our interest burns bright but burns out quickly.  New things come along that clouds are memories of the past.

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So when you are about to jump on a band wagon or you become excited for something that is soon to be released, take a moment to reflect the situation and ask yourself if it’s worth it or necessary.  Are you frustrated with video games having bugs in them when you buy it?  Are you annoyed when you go to your local gaming store and find your game out of stock?  Are you looking at your sales from the last product and realize the demand is great for this new release?  Try to refrain from being too hasty and make smarter purchasing decisions and stop encouraging poor business choices.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Discussion: Pillars of Eternity Episode.047

I was among the fortunate to have lived during the nice stretch of years when companies were pumping out classic RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and to a lesser extent Diablo.  These games all had a similar look and feel to them that complimented the flavor of the game.  The camera was fixed in an isometric view looking down upon the ground from above.  It was built more as 2.5 dimensional where things could walk behind other things but you couldn’t rotate the camera to see the other side of anything.  All items were built in 3D but rendered as a 2D object that faced the camera.  The result gave a nice illusion of depth while limiting the need of high computer resources.

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We are seeing a nice resurgence of genres of yesteryear with reboots, remakes, and sequels of games that are 15-25 years old, much to the thanks of crowdfunding websites.  Most recently, Pillars of Eternity was released that commemorates that style of gameplay much like that of Baldur’s Gate.

Pillars of Eternity is a spot on nostalgic trip back 20 years ago as the graphic style and gameplay are nearly identical.  Character creation has a similar feeling to the Dungeons & Dragons systems of before as Baldur’s Gate was.  However, to avoid licensing/copyright issues, PoE altered a bit of the stats, abilities and skill names.  The veterans of D&D will recognize Cat’s Grace, Bull’s Strength, and Owl’s Wisdom among others now renamed.

Unlike 20 years ago, technology has allowed more voice recordings for the dialogue beyond just the few choice words that games like Baldur’s once had.  Unfortunately there are simply too many lines of dialogue for the entire game to be recorded (BioWare did just that for The Old Republic MMO, but the amount of dialogue is a bit less).  But reading line after line is expected for this type of game.  Even back in the 80s when there was nothing but text-based RPGs, the entire game was without visuals.  The only element that could be considered a visual was maybe a map, which would be created using keyboard characters.   These RPGs are going to immerse you partially from the dialogue by making the game feel like enjoying a good book.

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Although if you were to put the Baldur’s Gate II side by side with PoE, there still is a clear distinction of quality that tricks the mind into believing the older of the two games has similar graphic levels.

Skills tend to be more important in this game than they were in BG and Icewind Dale.  In the past, with the exception of rogue abilities, skills came up just in dialogue.  If your Lore was high enough, for example, you could choose an additional response to the conversation that reflected that skill.  Although perhaps 10 or so hours into the game has yielded very little skill-based choices, the actual skills have come in handy.  Instead of having a plethora to choose from like you would from 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, you have just a few that are much broader: might, athletics, lore, mechanical and survival.  Just five skills are used that cover a great area though they do miss a few that just don’t come up in the game (or the closest skill just takes over in an even broader spectrum).

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The story does get you started off fairly quickly with action.  It puts you into the start of the over arcing campaign story right off the bat with a side quest to boot.  There doesn’t seem to be quite as many side quests as have been in some more modern RPGs like Skyrim (mercy the number of quests….you never got around to finishing).  There are quests that have multiple outcomes:  any choice you pick will result in completing the quest.  The result itself will be different than another choice, good or bad.  You may help a criminal escape which a woman who lost a cow to the thief goes without justice, but later the criminal gets you out of a bind when certain death is imminent (for example, this is not from the game).

They did a fantastic job with storing items.  You are given an enormous traveling case that you are able to put anything you pick up into it.  The downside is that you must either be in a city or resting for a while before you can access it.  However, the chest’s huge size carries over for each of the 6 some odd categories of items.  This means that the weapon tab can hold 50+ weapons, the armor tab can hold 50+ pieces of armor, etc.  Potions are in one along with their ingredients.  Miscellaneous tab for the millions of books you can read for weeks (just about every RPG has this).  It’s easy to get to what you want quickly, and you can take a quick nap to access something you really need right now.

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Camping is a bit better than it used to be in Baldur’s Gate.  Now you are required to carry with you firewood.  You use up one for every time you rest.  Resting restores all health to max and relearns any spent spells.  In the past, you could click rest at any time in areas where monsters were not present as much as you wanted.  Time would pass, but otherwise there was no consequence to doing so.  Potions and healing spells were only needed during combat to keep you alive to the end so you could click rest and recover.  Those games had chances of you being interrupted in the middle of the night with monsters, which was a nice feature, but they didn’t happen too often depending on where you were.  I have camped a few times, but I have not been interrupted.  There is an option to stay in the cities for free, which was nice, and there is now incentive to choose the rooms that cost money in that your party receives skill bonuses that last quite a while.  I have found enough campfire wood to keep things comfortably moving, but it is not to the point where I have to put them in the stash just because I don’t have enough room for them.

The game offers numerous levels of difficulty that range from easy to hard.  Monster frequency and number in each encounter are affected by difficulty, and there is also a hardcore version where you cannot make multiple saves of the same game along with perma death.

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Your characters have both Endurance and Health.  From what I can tell, Endurance is simply like stamina that can go down as you are wounded, but it automatically restores back to full at the end of combat.  Your health, however, does not.  Depending on the attack and amount of damage determines if you lose just a few Endurance points or dip into your health.

There is obviously nostalgia for me as I play the game and reminisce about my younger years.  However, as with many nostalgic things of our past, that feeling subsides rather quickly after we have experienced it.  Picking up a He-Man toy in the flea market may excite memories of your childhood, making you think about buying it, but after a few minutes the excitement is gone as we realize it’s just a part of our past.  Pillars of Eternity helps pick up when the nostalgia wears thin by delivering a solid game.  It offers itself as a strategy game, a role playing game, and a story-driven game.  All the while pushing you to explore more to see what the developers thought up next.  If you’re still hesitant because you aren’t familiar with this type of game, put it on a wish list somewhere and hold off on an upcoming sale before picking it up.  You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you find yourself wandering around the game’s world.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Discussion: The Black Cauldron Game Episode.043

Time has separated the 1980s enough where many of the old video games of yesteryear are slowly being forgotten.  Collectors scramble to pay for an increasing market value for 25 year old games, but they are few and far between compared to the majority of those who at least remember playing video games as children or adolescents.  There are a few I simply am not able to share the great memories I have with others because none of my friends are remotely aware these games existed.  And yet, one remains on my mind after all these years that had me captivated: The Black Cauldron.

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 Some of you may recognize the name from Disney or even the book series by Lloyd Alexander known as The Chronicles of Prydain.  Despite the movie being a complete flop (so much so that people lost their jobs at Disney after production), it still was adapted into a video game.  The adaptation was a fairly close resemblance to the film but not the original books.  Furthermore the game promoted several alternate endings much like LucasArts’ Maniac Mansion (though Sierra On-Line beat LucasArts by a year).

Having seen the movie, the game is fairly straight forward though a bit of wandering is necessary to discover each key location.  I was a kid when my parents got me the game for our Apple IIgs computer and had missed the opportunity to see the movie in the theaters since it was PG and was deemed too spooky for a 5 year old.  So I struggled with the game as a kid.  I was capable of getting to every scene in the game including some of the secret areas, but since I was in the dark from the movie or the books, I struggled to find a way to wrap the game up.

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The concept was fairly unique.  You were on a farm set in a magical world called Prydain where you were in charge of helping an elderly man named Dallben.  Among the usual farm animals, Dallben owned a pig that had the ability to foresee the future as well as locate things from time to time.  It turns out that the rather evil king of the area known as the Horned King from having a skull face with antlers extruding through his hooded cloak is after this pig in hopes of finding the Black Cauldron.  This cauldron has the ability to raise the dead to which the Horned King is wishing to build his army to destroy the kingdom.

Your job is to protect this pig and deliver her to a group of fairies who are better suited for hiding her from the king’s scrying spells.  From this point, the game begins splitting in different avenues depending on the outcome, which makes for a nice replayable game.

If something were to happen to the pig, named Hen Wen, along the way, then the game changes to you needing to rescue her back.  If you successfully deliver the pig (which if nothing happens will take all of about 2 minutes of walking), then you are able to have a bit more flexibility on what to do.

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Even going to the Horned King’s castle has options.  You can swim the moat and try to avoid the crocodiles swimming in the green, putrid water or you can try to sneak in through the front gates behind one of the king’s henchmen.  Because this is a Sierra game, there are points to be acquired by achieving various tasks.  Depending on your choices, your final points may vary to where they don’t reach the maximum number (230 points).

Because of the graphics being heavily pixelated for being made in 1986, there are more challenges than what the programmers initially planned on.  (Speaking of programmers, Al Lowe designed the game who many of you may remember from creating Leisure Suit Larry).  For example, if you are walking along a path that is set on the Z-axis, that is going toward or away from the camera, there is no real sense of depth as they drew the scenes on a 2D area using darker colors to signify shading.  This makes it challenging to know whether you have walked passed the big crack in the ground or if you’re even with it.  The moveable character does not scale to the depth of the screen.  He’s just as tall in the foreground as he is in the background.  Turning to the side to walk laterally may wind up walking into the crack.  This was typical for a lot of adventure point-and-click games of the 80s, especially for Sierra On-Line games like King’s Quest.  While it could pose for frustrating moments when you are already faced with a solid challenge, it was common enough to be accepted by gamers of the time.  Pixel art was an enjoyable look back then because it was all we had to look at.  These days, pixel art has become more of an appreciated art form knowing how tedious it can be.

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Like I said earlier, the game offered multiple avenues throughout the game and most notably multiple endings.  This was definitely a unique feature for video games as most were linear at the time.  You were presented choices not just at the end of the game but throughout that altered the ending significantly.  Most of these choices were presented in the books although, of course, only one was ultimately picked.  The game offers these “what if” alternatives to see how things could have played out.

Because The Black Cauldron was a Disney movie, originally aimed for children, the controls were made extremely simply.  For versions on IBM compatible computers, just hitting F6 was sufficient to “do something” in the game from opening a door to swinging a sword.  Every action was F6.  For the Inventory, I believe it was F4.  F5 was to save and F7 was to load games.  And that was basically all you had for controls besides movement, which was still being used on the number pad (WASD wasn’t around until Wolfenstein and Doom).

Much of the songs that were featured in the film were converted to MIDI files and play throughout the game, which was a nice addition though mostly expected since the license to make the game was bought.  The Apple IIgs version offered lesser quality songs than the IBM compatibles that were hooked up to a Roland MT-32 Sound Module.

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It is interesting to briefly note about the film for those unaware of the feature film by Disney.  First, it was by far the worst grossing animated film Disney ever made (inflation considered).  By far.  It was the only animated film at that time to have a PG rating (a cartoon for kids having a PG rating….in the 1980s no less).  Besides the other Disney animated film The Rescuers, it is the only animated movie to not have a single song sung.  This is especially peculiar because one of the characters in the film is a bard (though he doesn’t sing in the books and doesn’t play the lyre he carries with him).  The extremely dark overtones of the movie, most notably the Horned King and the Cauldron Born (undead skeletons garbed in medieval armor), kept parents from bringing their children to the theaters.  Disney quickly rebounded as they would be expected to do by creating The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, and then explode with their colossal hits of the 90s starting with the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid.

The game offered some fun surprises and hidden tricks throughout.  There is even an Easter egg somewhere in the Horned King’s castle.  It is a shame it was received almost as poorly as the film.  Much like so many games of that era that were not mainstream or hugely popular, the game is nearly impossible to find hard copies (and those that are available are usually valued at a high price).  Fortunately the game is offered online through a browser to sample it for yourself since it’s nearly impossible to buy the game reasonably priced.

Click right here to go to Sarien.net, which is built for older games played through the browser.  Enjoy.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Reflection: The Last of Us Episode.042

I don’t believe I have ever had such a change of heart for a game as I did for The Last of Us.  I know, I’m late to the show, for those of you have experienced the game.  For those who haven’t, I suspect the game doesn’t interest you enough or else you would have picked up a copy by then.  However, I just played it for the first time, some 2 years after release, and I am surprised in how different the gameplay was compared to the initial demo video I watched prior to its release.

Although I was impressed in the video of the detail and graphics, the atmosphere and aesthetics, it felt like the game played a bit too much into its cinematic role.  I don’t mind setting the controller down and enjoying a good cut scene, especially after a very stressful part in the game, but it felt like I would move the character 10 feet and another cut scene would be triggered.  I was completely mistaken and learned an old lesson again: don’t judge a book by its cover.

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It’s tough these days to really get an understanding of whether you are going to truly enjoy a game for the entire length of it or if it will be a fun 5-hour game that goes back into your stockpile, never to be launched again.  I have numerous games that fall into that category.  And then there are some games that captivate me from the immediate start of the game and drive me to completion.  One such game was The Last of Us.

I’m not going to bother going into details of the story because that’s really the point of playing the game.  There are quite a lot of cut scenes (so many that the Main Menu has a list of them to view).  It plays out cinematically for sure as a 15-17 hour long movie, broken down into 4 bitable segments.

But inevitably I have definitely eaten my own words from a few years ago when this game was first released and receiving so much publicity and praise.  I tended to look at it as more of a movie that had moments of interaction than a game that had elements of a movie threaded within.  Generally I would rather have no cut scenes and complete interaction.  Instead of breaking off for a short clip that bridges two scenes together, I’d prefer the game to break into the transitional movie in-game as I’m standing there moving around.  Of course, we aren’t quite ready to make video games with cinematic-quality during the entire game.

I don’t recall ever having initial negative feelings about a game and then changing them 180 degrees after I played it.  The character acting was pretty good for a video game.  There weren’t any Academy Award moments, of course, but for what we have come to expect in AAA games these days, it stands up to the rest.  I think some outshined more than others.  Joel, who is one of the main characters in the game and the one you control 99% of the time, has a rough personality with a monotone and deep baritone voice.  Consequently this does not give much room for any dramatic acting though Troy Baker’s role.  His role is quite excellent as the cold-shoulder attitude to the world.  His rough sounding voice definitely makes you feel that he has experienced all kinds of horrific sights in his life.

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The game creates fairly good suspense, although I tend to become highly paranoid in horror games which lead to me doddling about unnecessarily too much.  One thing about that I noticed was when there were non-player controlled characters accompanying you.  You really didn’t know if something was going to be in this room or the next room, but if your companion following you is casually walking around looking at everything and entering the next room, you knew nothing was in the area.  This kind of killed that sense of tension when it could have remained throughout.  You don’t have to crouch and creep around inspecting each room at that point.  You could sprint through the section if you wanted to.  This was another feature when the game featured horses.  When you are on horseback, you were 100% safe.  The game doesn’t offer mounted combat, so they cleverly make it so you have to get off your horse and become separated from it before combat begins.  It also kills the surprise as you begin to realize combat is coming up when the game forces you off your horse.  On the flip side to that thought, you know it’s coming so the tension begins to rise since you are unaware of what is about to be thrown at you.

There were a couple of moments where I enjoyed the initial concept of a specific scene but by the time that chapter was complete, I was tired of stumbling around almost aimlessly to find where I am supposed to go.  These include special environmental scenes where disorientation is meant to be a key feature.  However, for some people it may become more of a hindrance than for others in that disorientation, much like in real life, may lead to unnecessary moments of wasting time.  The immersion of the situation was almost too realistic they did it so well.  There was a moment I definitely caught myself catching my breath having traversed through a particular nasty and difficult portion that had nothing to do with the threat of being attacked.

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Like many horror games that are respectable, audio is a key element, and this game holds its own.  Ambient noises, proper echoing of sounds to make it sound far off but not too far off, and general sound effects of motion all tied in to the atmosphere.  Even subtle sounds of whether an object landed on a solid surface or soft ground was considered.  However, the character you’re controlling also has footstep sounds, and this sometimes causes confusion as to whether you hear someone approaching or not.  Often I would have to stop dead in my tracks, swirl around 180 degrees, and discover it was my own feet making the sound.  With an echo, it can make a fool out of you on thinking it’s caused by something else, which is excellent for deception.

About 60-70% of the way through the game, having logged in about 12 hours, I began to think of movies that are longer than the typical 2-hour timeframe.  The movies that have extended footage that pushes 3 hours or even more generally are thought to have more story involvement.  Whether it is extra footage of scenes that dive into the meaning behind the shot more or just additional content to the storyline, these longer movies tend to be more popular among movie aficionados but not so much with the typical movie goer.  With a “movie game” such as The Last of Us, it begged the question for me to wonder about a movie that went 15 hours long.  We wouldn’t sit through a movie that long in the theaters, but we play games that long (or more).  Specifically games that are focused on the storytelling rather than the actual interaction lead us through to the end where we look back and are blown away by the character development, conflict, and hopefully a resolution.  We don’t beat these generally in one sitting, saving and pausing for another day.  Production in video games are much cheaper than movies, so 15 hour long “movies” can be done, and typically a gamer will sit through that long of a film as long as there is some moderate interaction throughout.  The Last of Us had me sit through a very enjoyable 15 hour long movie that left me wanting to play again to enjoy the story once more.  It was that good.  I would be curious to know, however, how little of interaction would be tolerated before a player would not sit through that lengthy of a game assuming the story line was as good.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Notable Figures as RPG Characters: Zelda’s Link Episode.036

Now that you have fully healed yourself, you’ve regained your key abilities.  It is a good thing to as you are surrounded by a small band of gnolls.  Swirling around in a complete circle, your whirlwind ability slashes deeply into them, felling each one before they have a chance to swing at you with their halberds.  They were foolish to get so close with such a large weapon.  Spotting one last straggler attempting to run and warn the rest of the tribe, you flash your sword in his direction, sending a phantom of your blade into the enemy’s back.  Catching your breath from the skirmish, you reach down and hold the large crystal heart over your head in triumph as you feel your energy expand a bit more.

On occasion, it is fun to take an existing character in media, literature, or gaming and challenge myself to create an accurate, playable character for an RPG.  Typically I use a modern-style rule system such as Pathfinder or D&D 3.0+ as they give me more variety on options.  Although I can create a general likeness of a famous character in a 1st edition AD&D game, the choices to make that character are much more limited and simplified.

My favorite character to create is Link from the Zelda video game series.  Although most would classify him as a fighter type character, ever since the N64 “Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” he has clearly been a bard.  A bard is the truest form of jack of all trades.  They are the cleverest bunch, able to sort out just about anything from their wealth of knowledge during their travels.  They are capable of understanding things merely but inspecting them and remembering either studying from their college or adventures.  Magical items are familiar to them.  They can cast spells.  They can pick locks and disarm traps.  They can brandish weapons and pit against warriors.  They can heal.  They can speak dozens of languages.

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Focusing on Link and his history throughout his long-lasting series of games, he has always had a sword and a shield.  He never wears heavy armor.  He has a backpack full of both magical and mundane tools and lots of them.  He can play musical instruments.  He’s handy with the bow.  All of these point him in the direction of the bard.

Using a system like Pathfinder, we begin with the basic elements of the character.  Link is a Hylian in the video game series, which according to lore, matches very closely to Half-Elves in Pathfinder.  We’ve already established him as a bard although he could multiclass into ranger, paladin or alchemist for the use of bombs if the GM allows.  Statistically he is great with a one-armed sword and shield, so he will need some strength while his bow shots demand his dexterity to be respectable.  His intelligence and charisma can be dumped because even in the cartoon he wasn’t the brightest person.  In fact, I don’t believe he ever talks in most of the video games (not saying a mute is ignorant, but someone with low intelligence might be remain quiet from confusion on what to say).

Since the N64 version, he has had the ability to roll to dodge attacks, so his Athletics skill should be as high as possible.  He never has had a need to pick locks as obtaining keys for locked chests has been a staple in his series, so save the points on that for now.  Knowledge Arcana, Dungeoneering, and Nature should be purchased as he has respectable backgrounds for each.  During the games since 3D was featured, when something important was within proximity, the game would immediately focus on that point, so his perception should be high.  He can ride Epona, so Riding should be another feature along with the feat that allows him to shoot a bow while riding, Mounted Combat.  Swimming was a feature after acquiring flippers as far back as Links Awakening and a Link to the Past, so Swimming would be fitting although perhaps not as important as a usual choice.  Finally Use Magic Device would be a definite choice as he has used an assortment of magical items.

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He doesn’t wear any armor, but if we were to truly keep him accurate, gauntlets would be required, preferably Gauntlets of Ogre Power since they were exactly that in the game, giving him the ability to lift heavy boulders.  His tunics were nothing but leather or cloth, but some featured resistances to various elements such as fire in A Link to the Past.  For now, the gauntlets will suffice although perhaps a ring of protection +1 might be nice to help his starting AC depending on what level to make him.  Beginning a character from scratch, the only way to present the gauntlets would be an inheritance though it would still give the low level character quite a starting boost.

His choice of weapon has always been a long sword to accompany his shield, which changes throughout the games.  Almost all of his shields have been all metal, so no need for wooden shields, and they must not be larger than a medium size.  He had only a few shields that were capable of blocking just about everything, but it should be assumed they were small enough to handle easily and still be dexterous rather than carrying a tower shield.  Call the sword a Master Sword (longsword).  He could acquire a Mirror Shield later on as he advances.  A composite longbow will round out initial weapons for now as the hookshot, boomerang, and other iconic weapons can be acquired as he progresses.

His choice of bardic instrument would be the ocarina, naturally, as he is most famous for playing such.  Similarly to the N64 game, the instrument could be a progressive magical item, granting him a new song every few levels.  This would be a house rule as typically the bard’s ability to either counter alluring songs or hypnotize others is through his magical ability as a bard and not the instrument itself.

For feats, Toughness would need to not only be a choice, but a regular choice throughout.  Granted hit points increase naturally as you gain levels like the rest, but his increase in life comes from acquiring quarter and full hearts.

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The whirlwind attack is another feat to add as he picked up that ability in the SNES version.  When he is fully healed, his sword was capable of blasting phantom versions of his blade at enemies.  Although no feat does this, there are a few spells that have similar effects such as Death Ray that can be placed upon the longsword.  Alternatively, the sword can have a simple House Rule where it deals electrical damage as a ranged touch attack when wielder is at full health.  That is a bit powerful for a beginning character, so perhaps it can merely attack as a ranged attack, using Dexterity instead of Strength, when at full health.  The former suggestion could be something acquired much later in advancement.

So Toughness, Mounted Combat, Whirlwind Attack, Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Weapon Focus/Specialization (longsword), Shield Focus because why not, and Combat Expertise.

Feel free to post a PDF of your version of Link as a character suitable for your favorite RPG.  I’ll post mine later this evening on here for easy download.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Star Saga: One – Beyond the Boundary Episode.033

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I was fortunate enough as a child to have a computer before any video game consoles.  We owned an Apple IIgs, which had some significant improvements that really were advanced for its time.  There was one video game we had for it that, looking back, really had a great concept that never really took off.  Back in 1988, Star Saga: One – Beyond the Boundary was released.  It was for MS-DOS as well.

The game combined those classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books we used to reads as kids with a tabletop roleplaying game using a user interface.  The game was a pure sandbox game, which for a video game in the 1980s was almost unheard of.  Games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy were about the only ones out there that allowed you to travel anywhere without a specific direction (though both of those games gave you quests and storylines that would navigate you somewhat).

The game begins by selecting one of six characters that had their own background and motivations.  You could actually play the game solo because your character could die at any turn if you made poor decisions, but it was naturally more fun with other players involved.  The motivations would be kept secret so it would make it difficult for players to thwart the others’ plan.

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In the massive box (that weighed 3 pounds), there was a giant double sided fold-out map depicting a small sector of a galaxy on one side and the entire galaxy on the other.  It was divided into a series of triangles that represented a planet or some special feature like a large asteroid.  It came with tokens for each player, and there also was the series of booklets.  These booklets were what fueled the game and where the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure came in.  When you began your turn, you would place your token on an adjacent triangle, and then type in the number that was printed on that triangle into the game.  The game would then give you a book number and page number to which you would need to refer to, to learn what resulted in your move.  Usually the paragraph resolved the situation by the end, either losing cargo, having a part of your ship damaged, rescuing someone for a reward if you take them home, or something random.  The system would typically update automatically after the result was concluded such as an updated inventory list.  Although reading could slow things down a bit, the game allowed for multiple players to make their move and be reading at the same time.

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Each section was unlabeled on the map, and it was encouraged to either use post-it notes on the board as the players discovered each world, but personally we always kept that information a secret.  We would always watch where the other players are located, and sometimes we would strike a trading deal with another to know what that planet’s main resource was to save travel time.  It could go beyond the scope of the initial game by keeping a running total of who owes what until the two players could reach a common spot on the map.

Although a bit slower process, the game is capable of being played online via a Cloud server such as Dropbox.  There is one small file the game operates on, much less than 1 MB if I am not mistaken, that can be uploaded and overwritten after each turn.  The game file increases in size as it has to remember each turn, discovered planets, and the like, but the size never even comes close to being an issue.  Phones with the right OS that can access the (I believe) .bat file can even play it.

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So what’s the point of the game?  Well as said before the players have their own ultimate agenda, which may be as complicated as discovering a specific planet on the map and building something on the surface, or it may be as simple as trading every kind of cargo available.  Once that occurs, the game is essentially over.  However, with the vast amount of space to discover (and the map is extremely huge), the number of turns could go into the 100s if the whole map is to be unveiled.  The booklets totaled 13 with 888 entries to read, so you can see the game could take a long time if so desired.  It would sometimes randomly have your turn intercepted by random things like pirates that would have their own entry.

The ship you begin your game is simple but fully upgradeable.  From increased cargo holds to shields and weapons, you were in complete control over how you wanted to develop your ship.  The shields seemed to always be the first to be upgraded because we noticed a lot of ship-to-ship combat in the game.  The amount of cargo holds was the next because you end up being a packrat as there are a lot of kinds of cargo to pick up from radioactive material to food stuff to munitions.  Many times the game will hint that another planet is currently buying a specific cargo for X amount to which you can stop your current trek and divert to that planet (assuming it’s even discovered).

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One other feature they include is suspended animation for players who aren’t available to play that day.  Their characters merely are skipped while they do not face any dangers as the other players continue their game.  With well taken notes, if your character happens to die, catching up is not too difficult as you already will know any secrets along the way.

And with the advance in technology, the game is available for free as abandonware.  An interactive map has been created so that notes and tokens can be placed and moved on the board for everyone to see.  This can be uploaded and viewed from multiple computers so that multiplayer is capable around the world.

There was a sequel that was made with a third installment intended to make the trilogy, but the company who developed the software, Masterplay, went out of business.  It is interesting to note that the creator of the game was Andrew Greenberg who some of you may recognize the name from the classic Wizardry series.

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It will feel like a pseudo-pen and paper sci fi RPG when you play it.  It might take you back to nostalgic years of reading those books that told you to turn to page 88 or 92.  Or it may just bore you to death.  Either way, the game was another one of those inventions of the 80s where it was simply too far ahead of its time in innovation to be as popular as it deserved to be.

For those of you interested, head to this link {Star Saga: One} where you can find the download game file along with the PDF booklets and interactive map.

If you want to play it straight online, Virtual Apple IIGS has both the first and second games available to play in-browser here {Star Saga: One Online}.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Sierra Adventure Games Episode.016

Back in the 1980s, my dad acquired an Apple IIgs computer.  During that time, in what was a golden decade for the company, Apple games were abundant.  The company Babbage’s, which has now evolved into the huge chain, Gamestop, offered computer games much like you see in retail stores across the country today.  Beyond computer game stores, I vividly remember a monthly club that got together at a church auditorium that focused exclusively on Apple software.  It would allow others who were involved in using the computer to get in touch with other Apple users in the area.  The features of the club were really incredible for a young kid like me, though.  They had a video game library.  You were allowed to take one game for the month.  Friends in the club would temporarily donate some of their games for others to try.  Then once the mingling portion was done, one individual would do a presentation or tutorial on a particular software program that might be new or a difficult program to understand.

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It was through this club that I was very fortunate to discover what would be my favorite series of video games of all time, even to this day.  There was a company in California called Sierra, Inc., that was founded by Ken and Roberta Williams.  The company is now actually owned by Activision Blizzard though they were originally bought out by Vivendi games back in the late 90s around 2000.  However, back in the 80s, Sierra was one of the biggest companies in computer video games.  Programmers were legendary among gamers like Al Lowe, the creator of Leisure Suit Larry.  It was with this company that emerged a series of adventure point-and-click games.  One of these was King’s Quest.

Initially released in 1983, King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown, placed the user in control of Sir Graham, the world of Daventry’s greatest knight, to reclaim three stolen magical items to the monarch.  There was basically no violence in the game.  In fact, you would be penalized if aggressive actions were taken.  It was built on a points system similar to the achievement awards you find in numerous consoles of today.  It gave not only a goal to reach for to get a sense of accomplishment, but it also provided a hint if you missed anything along the way as you could beat the game with a less than perfect score.  Reaching the highest possible total would provide complete exposure to the game.  There were puzzles throughout that were almost in the form of riddles (in fact there is an actual riddle in the middle of the game), and it provided players with a different approach to solving a game by exploration and discovery.  Rich in mythology, legend, and fairytales, the entire King’s Quest series provided children and adults with reflections of age old stories and introductions to new ones in order to complete each obstacle.

With the great success of the first installment, seven additions were created over the next few decades although the bulk of the series was done in the first ten years.  Each one provided better graphics, more in depth story and puzzles, voiced characters, music, and sound effects alike.

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King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne, a play-on words for the Michael Douglas movie, Romancing the Stone, that came out in 1984 when the game was in development, took up after KQ 1 ended.  In this installment, Graham has become King and is looking for a wife.  He finds an imprisoned woman in a far off tower while looking through a magic mirror and is whisked away to the land in hopes of rescuing her.  Similarly to KQ1, three items have to be acquired in order to complete the game, in this case three keys to unlock a triple door that leads to the tower holding the lady captive.

King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human, offered the unique feature of time keeping as the game ran on its own built-in clock that the player had to keep track of in order to not get caught by the evil wizard while the player snuck out of the house to explore the countryside.  Although still enjoyable of a game, it was a bit weaker in plot as the objective simply is to thwart the wizard that has the player kidnapped in his house to do his chores.  It offers spellcasting in the form of various ingredient gathering.

The fourth installment was King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, and this was the game that I was handed to first.  It was years later before I even played the first two games let along the rest of the series.  I fell in love with this game and played it forever.  I even had Mom and Dad play the game on their own every now and again.  When we discovered something new, we would bring the others into the room and show them what we did.  It was an incredible game, but it had a few spots where you struggled to get to a certain point only to realize that you lacked an item from earlier thin the game.  These kinds of dead ends happened frequently in adventure games back then, so it was common to have 5 or 6 saved files from various moments in the game.  It wasn’t perhaps until the mid to late 90s before I actually beat the game.

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The “ease” of making a simple game and the greater exposure online to sell the product to customers has led to the reemergence of adventure point-and-click games for the nostalgia and hopefully newcomers.  With Kickstarter, Steam, and GoG, these games are finding light once again.  There was a span of about 10-15 years when computers were exploding with power in a short amount of time.  You remember those days when you bought a computer, and it was obsolete within 6 months because Intel came out with a new processor.  During this period, games of the 80s and early 90s were having trouble running at all on more powerful computers.  Even today, unless given the proper software, these games don’t run properly.  Fortunately through assistance programs like DosBox, these games can live again in our homes.  Even more fortunately, since the file sizes of the games are next to nothing compared to today’s games, we are able to install and run these games on our tablets and even some phones.  And really the King’s Quest series, along with Quest for Glory, Leisure Suit Larry, and Space Quest series, will provide well over 100 hours of playing time as a complete collection.  Since they are simplified, there is no concern of quitting a game for a few weeks and forgetting where you left off.

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And after Disney purchased LucasArts, the ridiculous decisions of the past to not re-release their games from the 90s is now coming to an end.  So the equally challenging collection of adventure games like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle (from Tim Shafer) are getting the green light finally.  After years of publishers thinking adventure games were dead (because no one was making them), their popularity is slowly returning (although they will never be as popular as, say, first person shooters).

Call it nostalgia, or call it rediscovery.  Exposure to these classic games that came about during one of the most exciting decades in computer software history is a warm welcome home to an old friend.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.