Tales from the Backlog: Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn

If you’ve been paying attention to my site, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, but I tend to play two types of games: MMOs and Old-School. I will occasionally boot up a non-MMO game that has been made in the past 5 years, but that’s a rare event for me. I’m generally immune to the rush that I must play the absolute newest stuff. My rationale is that if it’s claiming to be really good now, it’ll also be really good in a few years, too. The benefits of this thinking are obvious: when I do go to purchase the game, it’ll be at a steep discount, bug fixes will have made the game more stable, technology improvements mean I’ll be able to play at the highest graphic settings, and I’ll still be getting the same quality story and gameplay as if I bought it on day 1. Also, the lens of time better shows which games are actually considered great games than the day one impressions do. Good games are like good wine, they last and seem to improve with age.

However, when it comes to *really* old games, sometimes the lens of time is tinted with too much rose-coloring. One question I find I ask myself all the time is were the games I played when I was a kid, the games that have shaped and molded my gaming interests today, were they any good? If I go back and play them now, will I still find them enjoyable? One such game series I remember having a very hard time with when I was younger, but I was still very enamored with them. Namely, the SSI Advanced Dungeons and Dragons “Gold Box” series of games based on the Dragonlance universe. And since I’m a fan of playing games in order I set on to find and play the first game in the series, Champions of Krynn.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us on this one, it’s opulent and not just cracked stone walls. Opulent.

Abandoned, But Not Forgotten

When looking for the game, my first attempt is to always find a legit copy first, unless doing so is price or sanity prohibitive. For example, the game seems pretty easy to find on Ebay, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I owned a PC that actually had a 3.5″ or 5.25″ floppy drive drive on it. SSI, the maker of the game was acquired by Mindscape in 1994, and eventually was acquired by Ubisoft in 2001, who retired the brand. In fact, you can’t even find Champions of Krynn on the Internet Archive, although you will find the game’s sequels. A 25 year old game, you’ll forgive me, but I gave up on paying for it and instead went to my favorite site for the games that have lost their respective owners, Abandonia. To make up for it, I’ll make a donation later to one of my favorite charities, and maybe one to Abandonia as well as soon as my browser informs me that Paypal isn’t being attacked anymore (there… didn’t take long). Karma and I have a funny relationship and I don’t want to upset that balance.

At this point, I’m pretty proficient with using DOSBox, so getting the game to run was pretty easy. If you want to check out the Options file I use, which I have tweaked over time, feel free. And after loading up, then spent the rest of the night trying to build a party based on a version of Dungeons and Dragons that was out of style by the time I entered high school. I decided to stick with your standard party makeup of pure classes, and then balanced out races as appropriate. For naming, I crowdsourced by sending out a tweet, and taking the first people to reply or favorite the post, just to make it a little more social.

Champions of Krynn

THAC0?! That should really say “Rocket Science”.

The Party of Champions

First we have our Lawful Good Half-Elf Knight, Windcaller. The Knight is an interesting class, mostly for a mechanic you just don’t see in games anymore, a class that will straight up give away all the money they find. Knights have taken a vow of poverty, and as such will donate any money you hand them as soon as you get back to town. Giving away loot? What nonsense is this! The trick is, of course, to not hand them any monies. However, gold doesn’t seem to be that important so far, so keeping it from him is kind of mean. Donate away, my friend. The tradeoff is being able to cast Cleric spells at higher levels.

Next, we have our Neutral Good Mountain Dwarf Fighter, JerseyJim. Jim’s a close friend of mine so no offense on the Dwarf part, I needed a dwarf, and having all humans is rather boring. Fighters seem to be… well… Fighters. Strong on the front lines, and hard to take down… sort of. Jim seems to be one of the first ones knocked down being right on the front lines and so far the game seems to employ a lot of cheap one-hit methods. Anyone in magical Sleep or Hold are taken down in one shot, for example. One.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Crit by a Rat?!

Then we have our Chaotic Good Qualinesti Elf Ranger, Royalite. Rangers are strong melee as well, but also decent at range. They seem to be very versatile, and Royalite is happy with being a ranger, so it’s all good. I have no idea what the difference between elves are, there is also a Silvanesti elf, so maybe it’s just character flavor. Having elves keeps you from being one-shot, as elves are resistant to sleep and charm… but elves, though. You never want too many of them.

Then there’s our Neutral Good Kender Cleric, Syl. Clerics are an absolute necessity. When resting, the only way to heal is to use the Cleric’s spells, and the game calculates the time when resting for the Cleric to memorize a heal spell and cast it, and rememorize it. Thankfully, it does this automatically with the Fix command, but you’re vulnerable to wandering monsters while resting, so it’s tricky. On top of that, Clerics can charm and hold, cheap tactics, but effective for one-hit takedowns. Syl didn’t reply to the tweet, but I was listening to a podcast of Battle Bards and Syl was praising her Lalafell in Final Fantasy XIV, so I decided to make her our diminutive Kender in homage. Kenders are a race that have an infectious charm and are good at finding trouble, and Syl was happy with that.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us. They’re evil.

Then we have our True Neutral Human Thief, Grilledcheese. Thieves are very squishy, being held to Leather Armor only. They make up for it by being able to backstab, finding traps and doors, and leveling super quick. Oh, leveling is interesting. Leveling can only take place if we return to an outpost, which isn’t that bad, but each class has a completely different leveling table! With the same amount of experience, a level 5 Thief is only a level 3 Knight. So you have to keep track of each characters experience individually as it won’t tell you if they’re ready to level, either. Excel spreadsheets FTW.

Finally, we have our Lawful Neutral Human Red Mage, BC Jayson. Jayson’s a big Ultima fan, so I hope he doesn’t mind having a D&D character. Cross-geekery, you know how it is. Mages are as you would expect: super squishy, but bring out the big guns. Mostly Sleep spells are used at lower levels, sadly, but they knock out up to 4 enemies at a time and then a follow up long range dart provides the instant-kill. So cheap, but still effective.

Champions of Krynn

Thankfully the “Journal” isn’t a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, as this could’ve got really awkward real quick.

First Impressions, Very Rosy

Champions of Krynn is sooooo old school, though. Maybe *too* old school. First, the game doesn’t hold any punches and every fight that is scripted as part of the story is a party strength check. If you can’t beat it, well then you might have to try again with different strategy (or luck), rest up and choose different spells, or level, and the baddies will use every cheap trick they have. So saving all the time and loading again are common practice. On top of that, the game allows you to lower the difficulty, but doing so nets you less experience, so playing on Easy eventually under-levels your party. As any other game, the middle difficulty is the way to go.

On top of that, to save game size (3.5″ disks, don’t forget) and to have a form of DRM, every time there is an important plot point instead of just telling you the story, the game points you to it’s physical Journal and tells you which entry to read. You could read all the entries and spoil the story, but there are false-entries posted throughout the Journal, just to trip you up. It’s fascinating the methods like this developers used when their resources were limited.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Just kidding. It was *everyone’s* fault this time. Falling asleep in the middle of combat and all.

So as of this writing, I have cleared the first level of the first dungeon. You’d think this would be a quick endeavor but, oh no, this has taken quite a few sessions already. Leveling in D&D is a rare event, but each character has leveled a few times, leading me to wonder how long this game actually is? Is it only just a couple of dungeons or will this take me forever to play?

I’m not sure I’ll stick to it to see the end, but I do enjoy a good D&D session, so you never know. Those graphics, though. The best part of the game is easily the strategic combat. The story seems very basic and pandering, though, and the graphics were considered dated even for 1990, so I’m not sure if the combat alone will hold my interest. We’ll see, though, it *is* classic D&D, afterall.

//Ocho   

P.S. – Also, I want to give a big shoutout to Xander of Holosuite Media fame for hosting Casual Aggro as part of their blogger linkfest. Holosuite Media has a ton of great people and great podcasts to check out, which I highly suggest you do. I especially am fond of Beyond the Veil, their podcast on The Secret World, but they have podcasts for all kinds of games.

P.P.S. – After the massive traffic spike I had yesterday, thanks to a popular developer RT’ing my post on Ultima 7 and EA, I was kicking myself that my blogroll hasn’t been updated since, well, since this blog was created. I have went through and updated it to a list of 25 glorious and amazing sites, which you should definitely check out.

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Onwards, Into the Stygian Abyss!

Ultima Underworld

My last few posts have been a little… heavy handed. I go through waves, I’ve found. A few posts of pointing out gaming’s psychological tactics and obscure cultural norms here and there, trying to get those who may be imbibing the kool-aid a little too deep to at least notice what flavor it is. But this here corner of the internet is about gaming and the celebration of the artform! To that end, I can’t make *every* post thought provoking, there has to be a wave of fluff, too. So, let me tell you about my latest gaming habits!

I’ve found myself lately pulled back into the comforting arms of nostalgia, a gaming haven I head to periodically which I love. Using a new system I’ve devised to make headway into my backlog, which has been working nicely, the RNG gods have decided the game I am to play is Ultima Underworld. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Ultima Underworld

Goldthirst, huh? I wonder what motivates this dude…

 

This comes at an great time. We are currently going through a wave of resurgence of all things Ultima. Broadsword picked up the license of Ultima Online and has been running with the 17 year old game, Shroud of the Avatar is coming along nicely picking up a dedicated community as it keeps moving in development, and still in the funding stage of it’s Kickstarter, Underworld Ascendant, a rework of Underworld, is ~ 80% funded with 2 weeks yet to go.

Ultima Underworld itself, though, is one of the cornerstones of gaming as we know it. Almost 23 years old, Releasing in 1992, it is noted to be the first role-playing game to feature first-person action in a 3D environment. One of the real OGs of gaming here. Paul Neurath, Underworld’s designer, when asked in an interview said I brought an early Underworld demo to the West Coast to show some folks, including developer friends. I recall how their jaws dropped wide as they watched the demo. You could see in their eyes that the gaming world had shifted. It even released before Wolfenstein 3D, and many shooters and RPGs to follow credited Underworld as an influence: Bioshock, Gears of War, The Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, Half-Life, Tomb Raider, System Shock, and pretty much any game that lets your character move around in a 3D environment.

Ultima Underworld, Level 1 Map

For 1992 the addition of a player-annotated in-game map is mind blowing.

 

So how does it hold up? After a few hours, pretty dang well. Lighting, food and hunger mechanics, platform jumping, swimming, melee and ranged combat, magic, hiding, faction-based NPCs, thieving, trading and reputation, armor and weapon degradation, sandbox style gameplay, and an in-game map with the ability to add player-created notes. The only parts that don’t really hold up are the music, with a midi track that Dosbox has a hard time translating, and the main plot, so far relying on the outdated trope of “rescue the princess”. These can be forgiven, though. The game is old enough to buy itself a drink and times have certainly changed. Remember Troll dolls? They were at their height of popularity in 1992! That voice acting, though.

Ultima Underworld, Hagbard

Apparently everyone saw this girl but nobody decided to do anything. Well, it’s not like they throw the *nice* people into the Abyss.

 

We’ll see how far I get. These jawns weren’t known to be the quick jaunts of today. Taking weeks to complete was a serious badge of honor back then. However, I’ve already made it past any previous attempt, and I’ve already learned a whole bunch of new things (there’s a resurrection mechanic! I never knew that!).

Onwards, my friends, into the Stygian Abyss!

//Ocho

So what are *you* playing? Anything interesting?

Daggerfall: Installation and Character Creation

install_000

Strong words there, Bethesda. Alright. First things first:

Installation

Well, as luck may have it, and through the benevolence of Bethesda, you can download Daggerfall right from their website! I still have a copy of the game around here… somewhere… but this link worked much faster.

Note: I’m not going to lie, the installation and altering of config files may be outside the comfort zone of some, but as long as you follow directions, you’ll also learn more about your PC and there is nothing wrong with that.

The next piece of software we’re going to need is DOSBox, an uber handy Dos emulator that singlehandedly allows sites like GoG.com to stay in business.

After installing DOSBox, the next step comes down to tweaking it’s settings, and installing the game itself. Thankfully, there’s a handy pdf doc inside the Daggerfall zip that details step by step instructions. I found that following the instructions worked flawlessly. After booting up DOSBox, the next steps involve mounting the hard drive, mounting a faux-CD drive, and installing the game itself.

 

DOSBox, DOS

I mean, who *doesn’t* love DOS?

After the game is installed (I suggest creating a basic folder direct on your C: drive, like above), then comes the tweaking of DOSBox’s config file. In a nutshell, keep following the pdf’s instructions, but then throw in a few alterations of your own. I suggest changing the screen size to something that is more comfortable on today’s monitors. For example, here is a Daggerfall screenshot at full-size resolution:

Daggerfall

320×200. I imagine kids today wondering how we played games on such *tiny* screens.

The monitor I’m using now has a native resolution of 1600×900. Not exactly 1080 (1920×1080), but not too shabby, still in the high definition range. However, playing Daggerfall at a full screen resolution stops you from doing basic things like alt-tabbing out. I suggest playing in a window at setting 1125×900, which seems to work best for my screen size.

In fact, here’s a link to a copy of the entire DOSBox config file that I have found optimal to use. By all means, if you are installing the game, too, feel free to use it.

Character Creation

Now with installation complete, the next major step involves creating a character that isn’t completely messed up. Like many other Elder Scrolls games, character creation is so deep in it’s customization that you can seriously create a borked character right off the bat. I won’t lie, I’m on my fourth attempt trying to create one that I think I would really enjoy, and that will relatively get me through the game.

The first character I created, I based off of characters I have enjoyed in every Elder Scrolls game in recent memory: A leather wearing, shield and mace wielding powerhouse, slinging illusion magic and backing it all up with restoration magic when the odds turn.

Since there really isn’t a class like this of the group, I created a custom class, picked a whole bunch of stuff that sounded nice, Blunt Weapon, Restoration, Dodging, Illusion, Streetwise, Etiquette, Backstabbing, etc, picked an Argonian, and started it up. The game handed me a longsword as a starting weapon… I couldn’t make it past the first giant bat.

Alright, so… instead of creating something by hand, maybe the game’s question system would work? Similar to those Buzzfeed quizzes we see everywhere. Why not?

Daggerfall

I’m all about the sweetrolls.

It said I would be a good Monk. A Monk is a pretty badass character… in theory. A monk uses their mental discipline, so your primary weapons are your fists and your only armor is your skin. Oh, and no magic, either. Sounds like a great challenge, getting through the game punching bears in the face and using only your fists as bad guys wearing plate and slinging magic come charging at you… but it’s not really my style. Thank you, but I like to actually USE the loot and magic I might pick up. Still awesome that it’s there, though.

Looking at the list of 18 classes, the closest thing that looks like it could work would be a modified Healer. I’d make Blunt Weapons a Primary, drop Medical to a Major, add Backstabbing and Stealth to the list of Minors, Boost Illusion as well, and then through the use of secondary character traits, force the game to start me off with a blunt weapon.

Onward and upward.

// Ocho

Daggerfall: Part 1

 

Game #1: Gabriel Knight, Sins of the Fathers

Gabriel Knight, Sins of the Fathers

What better time to work on resolutions than right now?

Over the past few days I’ve made a spreadsheet of all the games I own (~360). First, organizing them by media type (Steam, GOG, CD, or downloaded as Abandonware) , then removing all the ones I’ve already beaten and all the ones I didn’t have the slightest interest in playing. Finally, I removed games that were sequels of games that I do have some intention of playing. This final list was around 125 different games.

I told my wife to pick a number between 1 and 125, and then also told a random number generator the same task. I figured out, in the list, which of those two games I preferred to play more, and then I would play it until I either beat it or got too tired of it. I will hopefully keep this up until I’ve finally played through them all, which I figure will take me the rest of my known life.

Gabriel Knight, Voodoo

Game #1

So, lucky me, the first pick was Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers! I remember playing Gabriel Knight back in the hayday of Sierra, and it being the first game that ever made me literally jump out of my seat. Released in 1993, I was 12 years old, and so have may been a little young for the more adult themes portrayed in the game, but as an adult, I am more than willing to jump back in and catch all the Voodoo goodness. All I remember are maybe a few scenes and the game being, well, good.

So I quickly downloaded the files off of GOG, set up DOSBOX’s configuration file so that it would be optimized, read up on the meager manual, and fired it up.

Gabriel Knight

The first thing I notice: Holy crap! Voice acting! Out of everything I remember, I don’t remember anybody in the game speaking a word! When did this happen?! Apparently, it happened on the CD-ROM release, also back in 1993. I must not have had that version. So then I probably had the *gasp* 11 3.5″ Floppy Disks! 11. Holy heck. I haven’t had a floppy disk drive in years! This probably took hours to install.

The game apparently came with a comic book, as referenced by the manual, to give some back story, but GOG doesn’t have that. I’ll have to eventually dig that up out of the internet somewhere. I’m sure it’s not that long, but knowing these old Sierra games, it may be important.

Gabriel Knight

My wife quickly points out that A) Gabriel sounds like a douchebag (and I agree… he’s not exactly a moral upstanding pillar of society) and B) that the character of Grace REALLY sounds like that actress from King of Queens. Now, remember, this is 1993, about 10 years before King of Queens. So, on a whim, I look it up and WHAT?!! Not only is she right and the character of Grace is Leah Remini, but Gabriel Knight is voiced by none other than Tim Freaking Curry! But wait, there’s more! Act now and you also get the voice of Gabriel’s best friend Detective Mosely played by Mark Hamill! Seriously.

So, I haven’t decided whether to do an essential text-based Let’s Play or not, and just give my reactions along the way. But, for all those playing along at home, here are some of the shenanigans I’ve made Gabriel get into so far: hitting on his assistant, stealing a priest’s shirt from a priest’s closet, having a mime be chased by a cop, try to talk with a woman who is obviously already talking with her boyfriend, trick the misogynist Detective into having a photograph taken while Gabriel photocopies evidence, asking his Grandmother a lot of really personal questions, be really attracted to a woman in a limousine, and showing a picture of a dead body to literally every person I come across. That’s just Day 1.

Gabriel Knight, mime

This is going to be fun.

// Ocho

P.S. – Oh, and Michael Dorn, too!

Next: Gabriel Knight: Day 2