Archive for March, 2008

QfG5: Stuck

So, I need to build a hot air balloon. That much is abundantly clear. It’s not a stated requirement of the next Rite, which just asks me to reach Delos Island somehow, but I’ve received so many conversational nudges from NPCs that it’s pretty obvious how I have to get there.

This is the point where I got stuck when I was playing as a Fighter, and the reason I started over as a Wizard. Over the course of that second play-through (actually third, because I started over as a Fighter first), I found some more objects that are probably balloon components, but I’m still stymied as to putting it all together. So I may start playing a Thief soon, hoping that the new NPCs — such as the local Thieves’ Guild representative — will give me better hints.

There’s actually one other option I’m considering. I’ve established that some of the tests, at least, are skippable. If I just go to the inn and sleep for a few days, maybe Elsa will make her way to Delos and win this portion of the Rite, and I won’t have to. Then I can finish the game, and then go back and look at what resources I didn’t use. Those will be the ones I need for the puzzle I didn’t solve.

This approach has served me well in other adventure games with similar structures. Spellcasting 301, for example, which also consists of a series of time-limited competitive tests. Or, more notably, one of the harder parts of Beyond Zork — not a competitive-test-based game, but similar to QfG5 in that it’s an Adventure/RPG hybrid — was a series of puzzles to find the Pheehelm, an artifact that boosts its wearer’s intelligence. I was unable to figure that part out, but I knew that the only reason you really needed the Pheehelm was that you needed that intelligence boost to use a certain other item. So I started over with a new character, putting as many points into Intelligence as I could from the start, hoping that I wouldn’t need the Pheehelm as a result. It worked, and after I had won the game that way, I knew exactly what items I needed to solve the bits I skipped, which made it all much easier.

I think there’s a general principle to be gleaned here: being able to skip puzzles and come back to them later is a good thing. If I can solve something that I formerly found unsolvable, I feel very clever. By contrast, if I can’t skip a puzzle and have to resort to a walkthrough to see the rest of the game, I feel stupid, and, being unwilling to admit that I am stupid, I blame the author. This is really just the old argument in favor of nonlinearity, but what we have in this game is a peculiar sort of semilinearity that works just as well, and perhaps better.

QfG5: Whither the Wizard?

OK, I’ve noticed something interesting. I mentioned how there’s this tension between the player’s two goals in Quest for Glory V, those goals being on the one hand winning the contests that comprise the Rite of Rulership and becoming king, and on the other hand finding out who had the king assassinated and hired the mercenaries and apparently is trying to release this ancient ur-dragon from its prison under the vesuvian mountain in the middle of the main island. These goals aren’t in direct conflict with each other: the Rite’s tests are generally tests of how effectively you can solve the kingdom’s problems, which is a pretty sensible way of choosing a king. And of course there’s not much point in becoming a king if the kingdom gets destroyed. But there’s the question of priority, and the game seemed to be rewarding ambition by awarding points for winning the contests — not just completing them, but returning to the palace with proof of completion before anyone else does.

I also mentioned that some actions only give points to certain character classes. Well, it turns out that winning the tests is such an action. The Fighter is rewarded for ambition, but the Wizard is not. It’s possible that the Wizard can get a full score without becoming king.

I’ve seen mention of multiple endings in this game. But this makes it seem like becoming king is in some sense the correct ending for the Fighter and not for the Wizard. So is there a Wizard-specific ideal ending? We’ll see.

QfG5: Switching to Magic

I think it was Gardner Fox, famous golden-and-silver-age comics writer, who illustrated the varying narrative challenges of the different titles he worked on by hypothetically putting Johnny Quest and The Flash in the same situation: they’re told that there’s a time bomb somewhere in the city and there’s only so much time to find it and do something about it. For Johnny Quest, the challenge for the writer is coming up with a plausible way for the hero to overcome the natural obstacles presented by the situation. After all, Johnny can’t search the entire city by himself; he needs some kind of clue about where to start, and probably the help of the police, and why would they believe some kid with a crazy story? The author has to invent details that help the hero along.

The Flash, on the other hand, can search the entire city by himself, and once he finds the bomb, can carry it off to the middle of the desert so it doesn’t hurt anyone. The time limit is irrelevant to him. Things in general are easy for The Flash. The writer’s challenge is coming up with reasons why the task isn’t trivial.

This is more or less the difference between the Fighter and Wizard classes in Quest for Glory V. Back in QfG1, things were more or less balanced. But as you play through the series, the player character has to become more powerful. And, while the Figher becomes more powerful by becoming more effective at the one thing he does, the Wizard becomes more powerful by learning more spells, which is to say, gaining more options. After four games of expanding repertoire, I find it difficult to even keep track of all the spells I start with, let alone the new ones. So how do you make situations that are challenging to someone who can levitate, turn invisible, and manipulate objects at a distance?

One way that QfG5 does it is through the profound cheapness we call anti-magic fields. But that seems to only be in effect in certain places within city limits. Another way is by impeding travel: one spell you don’t have is Teleport. This is a major part of the game’s overall structure: Silmaria is a group of islands, much too far apart to levitate between. You can hire a boat, but the boats won’t go where it’s unsafe. As you beat back the baddies, the safe area expands, but sometimes you have to find your own way to places the boats won’t go yet.

There’s one other way one might call the Wizard class overpowered: the stats. I said earlier that the player character becomes more powerful over the course of the series. Unlike most CRPGs, the Quest for Glory games don’t reset you to a low level at the beginning of every game. Instead, they scale everything else up. In QfG1, the maximum value for every stat and skill was 100; in QfG2 it was 200, and so on. So if you max out your skills every game, the events of QfG2 make you twice as able as you were, but those of QfG5 only increase your skills by a quarter — or is the scale logarithmic? At any rate, if you start QfG5 as a Wizard, your minimum Strength is already 200, in theory making you twice as strong as the ablest fighters in QfG1 and probably capable of punching out the minotaur there, the game’s toughest monster, without breaking a sweat. This, however, is demonstably false, because that very same minotaur is a major NPC in QfG5, having accompanied Elsa von Spielburg to Silmaria. (After all, how could she leave him behind? Pseudo-Greece is his homeland. He’s guildmaster at the Silmaria Adventurer’s Guild now.) You can duel him in the arena, and while he isn’t the toughest monster in the game this time, he’s no slouch. Persumably he’s been working out as much as the hero since their last encounter. Or, to rationalize less, the numbers are as arbitrary as power levels in Dragonball Z, and only meaningful within a very local context.

Anyway, it’s fun playing an overpowered character now and then. Heck, there are entire genres of game based on it. And the QfG system gives the player a good deal of latitude about how to apply that power: you can practice Flame Dart and Lightning Ball to become a combat mage, or you can practice Calm and Dazzle and Hide to become an avoiding-combat mage. Some players like to create their Thief characters with skill in magic for the advantages it gives to stealth, but I’ve been a purist about that.

However you play it, since this is the last game of the series, the hero is by now a master of the craft. There’s one small point that I really liked as a way of illustrating this. In every game, you get to learn new spells from other, more powerful mages; in the first two games, there were magic shops selling spells to anyone with cash, but in the third and fourth episodes you had to seek out special teachers, including the legendary Baba Yaga (last seen as the prime antagonist in QfG1). Well, in QfG5 there’s a magic shop again, and for the first time, there are spells that you know that the shop proprietor doesn’t. And he’s willing to pay you for them.

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