Archive for June 2018

Quarterstaff: Finished!   Leave a comment

I was indeed, as predicted, very close to the end.

I decided to go with no preparation at all and used my newly-found tomb key to go through some obstacles, and ignore a demon, hellhound, and some side rooms along the way.

Fighting Setmoth was simply a matter of using KILL SETMOTH over and over again with all my party members; as you can tell from the image below, he can do some formidable damage numbers, but for some reason he spent the first five turns of combat somewhat confused and only started hitting back when he was almost dead.

After defeating Setmoth the game says you can just “quit” or keep exploring. I think I can safely say I’m done.

. . .

So what went wrong?

Really, as a paper description, this is *exactly* the sort of game I’m looking for. I like adventures. I like CRPGs. I like Beyond Zork (which is another Adventure/RPG hybrid). The promotional materials clearly indicate an aspiration to feeling like an in-person RPG session where situations feel custom-made to be dynamic and monsters are intelligent; I’ve never had an experience that quite matches that.

This game instead hit an “uncanny valley.” The term usually refers to the fact that robot-like-robots are fine, and perfectly-human-looking-robots are fine, but in between the two there’s a sort of revulsion at somewhat-human-but-not-there-yet robots. The halfway-ness of the uncanny valley is what I mean here. The overlapping of CRPG and Adventure elements managed to cover up some of the redeeming features of each.

For instance, in the final battle, I used four characters and the default inventory I had started the game with. They had “stats” represented their abilities in combat but they were essentially no different than when they started. The appeal of a CRPG is often in character growth, and getting to the point of being able to overcome obstacles that seemed impossible early on; here, while this ostensibly every trope up to an including experience points, none of them applied in a way that was meaningful.

While there was a fair amount of interesting gear, none of it was important enough to gather, and there often wasn’t enough information to even tell if a particular item was an upgrade. (It’s clear by convention a “mithral sword” is better than a sword, but what about a halberd versus a broadsword? Or a nasty mace versus a club?)

On the adventure end, a lot of the appeal is feeling like the world is an interconnected puzzle, and each part that gets solved reveals a new piece. There were puzzles that essentially did nothing; I spent ages getting to a “treasure vault” on the first level, for instance, and then subsequently working out how to get into a chest inside (just breaking it works) only to find some golden objects that were entirely unhelpful for the quest. I also mentioned a puzzle leading to a cure disease potion last time; I never at any point had a character afflicted by disease.

The presence of food, thirst, sleep, *and* light source timers also clashed pretty badly with the adventure aesthetic. There’s good reason why these are mostly dead in adventure games; they add a sense of urgency that discourages experimentation.

There’s likely a way to develop this type of game further so there’s less problems; just going light on all the timers, for instance, or finding a saner way to command multiple party members. Alas, this was a stub of sorts in computer game history; while games like Kerkerkruip do bear the torch slightly, an adventure game that feels like a tabletop RPG is still elusive.

From the cover for the Japanese version of the game, via the Museum of Adventure Computer Game History.

Posted June 8, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Quarterstaff: The Threshold   Leave a comment

I haven’t had many games so actively hostile to the act of playing them as Quarterstaff. After multiple concerted attempts I finally made enough progress to write about. (Two large puzzle spoilers are included below.)

1. My biggest discovery since last time is that “break X” actually works on a variety of things as long as you repeat it enough times.

This issue came up with Adventure 500 where it took multiple tries to take down a dragon. With this game when I was testing out various ways of destroying a door, I made enough attempts with “this isn’t helpful” messages that I assumed you just couldn’t just club doors down (or at least assume they only needed clubbing in specific circumstances).

At the time I theorized this sort of thing was totally ok in an RPG, and here I am getting fouled up by the same behavior in an RPG. So I should add the condition that there should be some feedback that what you are doing might be useful, even if it will take more attempts. I might compare it to boss monsters in a bad 80s platformer that don’t give any feedback that you are doing any damage (flashing, health bar, or the like), and where you only find out 10 minutes later you were supposed to be shooting the monster in the feet and not the eyes.

2. Inventory capacity is a bear. Some sessions I’ve spent fully half my gameplay commands just trying to juggle objects so people could carry them.

Especially bad was my archer Eolene, after I used some arrows out of her quiver. Each arrow was a different object (with a different color name). I had to pick up and put each arrow back in her quiver individually. Except sometimes, she would mysteriously be able to carry less than when she started, so she wouldn’t actually be able to pick up all the arrows she just used, so I would have to drop some items, then pick up the arrows and store the arrows, then pick up the items again.

While all the inventory shuffling is going on the other part members keep insisting on commands. You can try to set them on GUARD or turn them off in various ways, but quite often there would be some complication to muck that up; plus a lot of the inventory juggling ended up being between characters.

3. Some things were entirely not worth the effort of figuring out.

Last time, I was stuck on a puzzle where one door had a “no man may pass” message and the one following had a “no woman may pass” message. This is where I finally broke down and used the hint system. and found out that I could bring a large container, stuff one of my smaller men in it, have a woman drag the container past the “no man” threshold, and then the man could hop out and go through the remaining door.

This is incidentally a case of magic not revealing enough mechanics to understand a puzzle. Apparently the “no X may pass” was done by “sight”, but there’s no indication of a “magical eye” or such; until I saw the hint I expected the “no X” simply just sensed gender. (The hints also mention getting a character who can change gender or one who is non-binary, but I don’t think either exists in this game.)

I’m not going to get into detail on the convoluted process of setting up the character-dragging (teleportation and two separate inventory juggles were needed) but suffice it to say it took me an hour to set things up, at which point I found … a cure disease potion, and a bag that let me teleport out.

4. There is an almost spectacularly evil puzzle that required parsing the instructions of a poem inside of an iron pentagram.

Star of frames.
Multi-headed breather of flames,
Make its blood like its breath.
You must seek your death.
Thrust quick to thy heart,
‘Tis dour doing but your part
Take the key from the trap,
‘Ware the plaque where it be.

Again, I needed a hint. This turned out to involve a.) finding some “hydra blood” from a room far back b.) setting the blood on fire (??) and then c.) killing yourself, not with ATTACK ME but with the special command SUICIDE (???)

If it was easy to experiment, this *might* have been a reasonable puzzle (in retrospect, all the pieces are there), but as I already pointed out the game has a brutal inventory limit, and heading back through a maze / traps / rooms that require two people to open / etc. to find more items can be an expedition in itself, so there’s no good way to do a lot of testing.

5. The apparent end goal (from some random backstory book I found, but also the subtitle of the game) is to get to the Tomb of Setmoth (who seems to be a demon) and destroy him. I now have a Tomb Key, and know where to go. Expect either “Finished!” or possibly “Deleted from my hard drive and then I took the hard drive out of my computer and buried it in the desert” next time.

Posted June 7, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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