Might and Magic: Speed

One thing about playing old games: they often don’t work well with hardware that runs thousands of times faster than what they were written for. I mentioned how there were occasional text messages in Wizardry that didn’t wait for the player to dismiss them and went by too fast to read. The same thing happens in Might and Magic, but far more frequently. Most status update notifications flit by without a prompt, including the hit/miss messages in combat. Combat messages are a special case, because the game lets you change their speed, and even considers it important enough that this is one of the core elements of the combat menu (presumably to let you temporarily speed things up when you’re fighting a dozen weak monsters who all have to take a a turn at missing you). But even there, the delay is relative to the CPU speed, and unreadable at even the maximum delay if I run the game at full speed.

Fortunately, I don’t have to run the game at full speed. As with Wizardry, I’m running it under DOSBox. I can’t say enough good things about DOSBox; it’s easily the best emulator I’ve ever used, and the whole project represented by this blog would probably be impossible without it, or at least very inconvenient.

Anyway, any decent emulator provides some way to adjust the emulated CPU speed, so making all those messages readable is not a problem. But it introduces a new problem: playing at the game’s original speed is a great deal less pleasant. The game takes noticeable time between keypresses to figure things out and then render them. I’m talking about fractions of seconds here (unless you’re moving between map sectors, which is slower), but it’s enough to make the interaction seem muddy and unresponsive, as opposed to the crisp immediacy of reaction before I slowed it down. I suppose I’m spoiled, but this is one aspect of the original experience I can do without.

DOSBox provides a couple of hotkeys for turning the speed up and down, and I’ve spent some time fiddling with it to find a good compromise. Setting it somewhere around 160 KHz seems to work pretty well. Messages flash by pretty quickly, but not too quickly to read, for the most part. Some of the messages from triggering traps are longish, but as long as I understand that I triggered a trap, I can see the effects by looking at the party status screen.

The traps. That’s another thing M&M does differently from Wizardry. They’re less deadly, but more numerous and harder to avoid: in addition to traps on treasure chests, there are traps on doors, which means sometimes you need to get through one to move forward. I’ll probably have more to say about that later.

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