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.

QfG5: Score

One of my oldest and dearest memories of concerted completism is getting a complete score with all three character classes in Quest for Glory I (or Hero’s Quest, as it was called at the time). The maximum score was 500 points, and through careful note-taking, I noticed that 450 of those points could be earned by any class. 50 being a nice round number, I reasoned that the last few points had to be earned through class-specific actions. Anyone could beat up a goblin, but only the fighter earned points by doing so. In addition, I noticed that for two of the classes, I had earned a large portion of the 50 class-specific points by besting a master of that class at some challenge, and realized that the third should be looking out for a similar challenge.

Quest for Glory 5 aids such analysis by tracking your “deeds”, a list of everything you’ve done that earned points. In other words, it’s like the “fullscore” command in Inform games, except that it doesn’t say how many points things earned. (And in some cases I can’t tell even from observing how much my score went up; sometimes two deeds happen together.) Anyway, it’s always nice to see graphic adventures catching up to features that are commonplace in text games. The deeds list is a little sloppily put-together, with some things recorded incorrectly — monsters have different names and the like. Well, scoring is usually an afterthought in adventures. This list is pretty definitely more important to me than it was to the game’s designers.

The games in the series have certain common practices in scoring. Wherever in the world you are, there’s always a few points to be earned by signing the logbook in the Adventurer’s Guild. Getting an item that’s necessary for solving a non-optional puzzle always gives you points, which is handy for winnowing out the really important stuff in shops. If you play as a fighter — which I still am, despite starting over and thus having a clear opportunity to pick a new class — you get a few points for each distinct type of monster you slay — gotta kill ’em all! And that last part is affecting how I’m playing this game in a way that the authors didn’t intend.

This relates to what I was saying before about timing. I’ve done some experiments by staying in my room and sleeping for weeks at a time 1In the game, I mean., and it looks like I was right: there are no negative consequences for starting the Rites of Rulership later. Since I know there are negative consequences for not being able to complete the tests quickly enough, I want to get as much of the game done as I can before I start the clock ticking. Obviously this includes getting the Fighter’s class-specific points for big game hunting. Some of the monsters are tough, but no match for my ability to pop healing pills during battle. (The world will be doomed once the monsters figure out that trick). Some are rare and hard to find. All would be easier to kill if I had access to the magical weapons that you can only buy after you enter the Rites. But I think I’ve klled everything that’s available to be killed before the Rites open up new areas. And I really wasn’t supposed to.

I think of my experiences with QfG1. There was no compulsion on the player to complete events within a certain timeframe, so I basically just tried to kill things as I encountered them over the course of traipsing around and trying to solve puzzles. It was an unstructured melange of puzzles and combat. Whereas QfG5 gave me just enough motivation to segregate the two realms. Part of the strength of QfG1 was the way that the two aspects of the game complemented each other — that you could go grinding when you were stuck on puzzles, and puzzling when you were tired of grinding. In some cases, if you couldn’t solve a puzzle the clever way, you could exercise your stats to the point where you could overwhelm it. But I’m going to miss all that in this playthrough. I’ll just have to save the clever stuff for when I play as a Thief.

1 In the game, I mean.

QfG5: Starting Over

In an adventure game, the player’s focus is on figuring things out. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, it’s effectively solved, not just for that session, but for any session thereafter, even if you have to start over from scratch: you may have to go through the motions in the game again, but the figuring-out only has to be done once. (And sometimes you don’t even have to go through the motions, if the only reward for solving a puzzle is information useful elsewhere in the game. Myst took this to an extreme, letting players with the right knowledge skip most of the game’s content.)

In a CRPG, the player’s focus is on going through the motions. There may be puzzles to solve and tactics to figure out, but these are usually stuck into a context of grinding. Progress in one of these games doesn’t necessarily present any challenge at all to the player beyond investment of time. You lose that investment if you start over, or even just go back to an earlier save.

So it says something about which aspect of Quest for Glory V is dominant that I started over without really needing to. I had managed to reach the point in the plot where Magnum Opus gets murdered a couple of days before I was scheduled to duel him in the arena, thus cheating myself out of the five points (out of a maximum 1000) that I would have gotten for trouncing him. I’ve been saving the game at the start of every in-game day, and thus could have figured out what the last point was that I could have salvaged this, but nah, that’s too much effort. Better to start over.

And, having started over, I’m doing things much more efficiently. A lot of the puzzle content can be taken care of on day 1 if you know what you’re doing, freeing up the rest of your time for maxing your stats — and, in fact, maxing your stats doesn’t take all that long either, so at this point I’m basically just marking time until I fight Magnum Opus. Eventually I’ll have to start the Rite of Rulership, and with it, the rest of the plot. But until I pull that trigger, the game seems to be in a plot-development-free zone. Whether this lasts forever or not, I don’t yet know. I was told at the beginning that my associates had paid my rent at the inn for a month, so that may be the point at which things come crashing down. On the other hand, the looming threat — the gradual destruction of the anti-dragon wards — seems to be dependent on plot events that only occur during the Rite, so I don’t know how the doom of the city would occur before then. Maybe it’s those invading mercenaries; maybe if I go and sleep at the inn for another couple of weeks without driving them off as part of the Rite, they’ll finally storm the city. But I doubt it.

If I were any kind of real hero, I wouldn’t enter the Rite at all. Let the city stay in its starting state indefinitely, with the defenses intact and no additional murders. So what if they don’t have a king? These guys are pseudo-ancient-Greeks; they should be capable of inventing democracy.

QfG5: Goofiness

If I had to describe the overall style of the Quest for Glory series in one word, that word would be “goofy”. It’s got a mixture of heavy-handed drama and a twelve-year-old’s idea of what’s cool, topped off with a love of puns. Ye gods, the puns. There are a few characters who seem to exist mainly as agents of pun delivery, and even if you avoid those characters, the narrator sometimes indulges in them (chiefly in descriptions of scenery objects).

But the puns are just surface goofiness — Xanth it ain’t. The chief goofiness is the world itself, populated by caricatures and anachronisms. I said that each game is based on folklore from a different part of the world, but that’s only true on a very rough scale. QfG1 put a centaur and a minotaur in a fantasy-pseudo-medieval setting, as well as small dinosaurs and flying manta rays. And consider the four NPCs vying for the throne of QfG5‘s pseudo-Greece:

  • Kokeeno Pookameeso, member of the city guard, always seen wearing one of those Grecian helmets with the brush-like crest. The only local in the running.
  • Elsa von Spielburg, a baron’s daughter from QfG1. When last we saw her, she was a damsel under a curse. Now, she’s a duelist in thigh-high boots and revealing armor. 1Actually, it’s not any more revealing than the getup worn by Kokeeno Pookameeso or Magnum Opus. But, y’know, double standard.
  • Magnum Opus, a Roman gladiator with a very high opinion of himself. Roman? Well, he mentions “Nova Roma” at one point, so maybe it’s fantasy-pseudo-Rome. But we’ve had intrusion of real history into the fantasy world before, as when Haroun al Rashid showed up in QfG2. Anyway, Magnum Opus is an exaggeratedly one dimensional character, prone to saying things like “I, Magnum Opus, the valiant, peerless spearman of the Roman Empire, shall prove the superiority of my skills” regardless of the topic of discussion.
  • Gort, a Frankenstein-like construct created by mad-scientists (in 19th-century attire) on an artificial island. Although Gort is probably the strongest fighter, it’s questionable how effective a king he’d be, seeing how he can’t talk.

So, not something you can take too seriously, despite aforementioned ham-fisted drama. But while I call the style goofy, I will not call it cheesy. The difference? It’s really all down to the authorial voice. When the author gives the impression of being stupid or incompetent, we naturally make a mockery of both the author and the work. But however goofy QfG gets, I get the impression that the author is just having fun with it. Things like Gort are so extremely out-of-place that they pull you out of the fiction for a moment, like Tezuka’s gourd. And it isn’t ironic detachment, either: once the author and player have acknowledged the absurdity, the characters in the world have to take Gort seriously. It’s their world, after all. And since the player is controlling one of the characters, it is to some degree your world too.

1 Actually, it’s not any more revealing than the getup worn by Kokeeno Pookameeso or Magnum Opus. But, y’know, double standard.

QfG5: Time and Competition

My goodness it’s been a while since I posted anything. I blame the spring weather. (In February? Yes. Apparently that’s when Spring comes in San Francisco.) But also I blame the poll experiment. One of the central things that keeps games enjoyable for me is that they’re one of the few things that no one wants me to do. There are no external obligations, just the obligation to the game itself. The Oath works against this a little, but I was careful to set that up so that I was never actually obliged to play anything — just to blog about it if I do. Letting other people choose what I play is another thing altogether, and so I don’t think I’ll repeat it.

Now, as to where we left off: By now, I’m pretty well into the swing of QfG5, having achieved about 40% of the maximum score. This is the sort of game that has an accelerated realtime day/night cycle (sped up by a factor of something like 30, or faster on the overland map), with some things refreshing themselves with new content each day. It’s important in this sort of game to get into a daily routine, something that lets you patrol all the major areas for daily developments, but still allows you some free time every day for questing.

qfg5-logosThe Quest for Glory series has varied a lot on the matter of timed plot events. QfG1 basically didn’t have any at all — you could spend as long as you wanted grinding for better stats and take care of the story when you felt you were ready. QfG2 went to the opposite extreme: most of the game, from the very beginning, consisted of a series of looming emergencies that would end the game if not handled in time. The rest of the games, as near as I can remember, try to strike some kind of balance. In QfG5, once you enter the Rite of Rulership, it imposes a certain amount of urgency on your actions. The Rite is basically a series of competitive quests, and if you don’t complete them quickly enough, one of the other candidates will beat you out. But if that happens, it’s not the end of the world — and more importantly, it’s not the end of the game. I’ve been taking care to win every event (it isn’t all that hard), but I have to wonder what happens if you just throw them all. Does the final save-Silmaria-from-ultimate-destruction event count for more than the rest of the events put together, like last-minute house points for Gryffindor? Or can you be a hero and still not become king?

It’s interesting to compare this to the last competitive quest in the series. At one point in QfG3 (the one in the pseudo-African setting), the hero has to prove his worth as a warrior by engaging in a sequence of challenges against another warrior candidate. One of the challenges is a footrace. The opponent stumbles and falls during the race, and if the player has a choice: stop to help him, or take advantage of his misfortune to win the race? The right solution is, of course, the former, which nets you more points and more Honor (key if you want to become a Paladin). If you just keep running, the opponent straightens up and overtakes you anyway. The message there is pretty clear: competition is all very well, but doing the right thing is more important.

So how does that notion fit into the present game? Here, I’m awarded extra points for putting the competition above more important concerns like finding out who poisoned the king. Arguably, the rite is more important than those mere sporting events in QfG3 — the organizers are pragmatic enough to turn the first two tests into repel-the-invading-mercenaries competitions. But that line of argument merely suggests that the hero should be participating, not necessarily that he should be playing to win. Will there be a showdown where the hero has to make the same decision as back in Pseudo-Africa, a choice between going for the win and doing the right thing? Or has that moral just been tossed to the wind? I can’t yet say.

QfG5: Classes and Combat

qfg5-charselectEvery episode in the Quest for Glory series starts by giving the player a choice of three character classes: Fighter, Mage, and Thief. (From episode 3 onward, there’s a fourth character class, Paladin, but you can’t choose it at the beginning of the game. Paladinhood must be earned.) You choice of class affects not only how you deal with monsters, but how you can solve certain puzzles. There’s also class-specific content: guilds with their own tests, houses for the Thief to burglarize. All in all, it’s one of the most effective replay-value mechanisms I’ve seen. And yes, I have played through episodes 1 through 4 with every class. 1I have to admit, though, that part of the reason I played the first couple of games with every class is that I was just a kid then, without a Stack of 300+ games, and thus was more motivated to milk every drop of gameplay I could from those games I owned. Really, this whole blog is a holdover from that now-obsolete mindset.

Generally speaking, the Fighter is the simplest class to play: whenever a puzzle has class-specific solutions, the Fighter’s solution is to break it. For that reason, I’ve been playing QfG5 as a Fighter so far. If I get completely stuck, I’ll give one of the other classes a whirl, and probably learn something to help the Fighter in the process. But that hasn’t happened yet.

qfg5-goonsPlaying the Fighter means I have to use the new combat system a great deal, and it has some problems. See, combat is realtime — in a sense, the game isn’t just an adventure/RPG hybrid, it’s an adventure/RPG/fighting game hybrid. You can do simple maneuvers with the mouse, Diablo-style, but if you want to use more than one kind of blow, or dodge sideways when your opponent strikes and counterattack, or even just block with your shield, you need to use the keyboard. The problem is that the game frequently drops keyboard events. I wouldn’t even mind this so much if it just dropped key presses, but it often fails to recognize key releases, leaving me endlessly dodging in a circle or whatever until I mash the key that triggered it a few times. So I’m pretty much stuck with the mouse. The fighter can pretty much just bash through things without fancy footwork, given enough healing items (and healing items are really cheap in this game), but there are some monsters that are patently designed to be handled with more finesse. The Goons, for example: big green guys with huge mallets. 2There was a Goon in QfG1. There, it was an invincible guard, something that ended the game abruptly without a combat sequence if it caught you. The fact that the hero is taking on whole packs of them now is a pretty clear sign to the fans of the series of how far he’s come. They hit hard, but their blows are kind of slow, and I could use that against them if I had access to the moves I’m supposed to have.

I wonder if the other classes will have it better or worse in that regard? On the one hand, in close combat, they’d be more reliant on dodging. On the other hand, they’re also more geared toward avoiding close combat.

1 I have to admit, though, that part of the reason I played the first couple of games with every class is that I was just a kid then, without a Stack of 300+ games, and thus was more motivated to milk every drop of gameplay I could from those games I owned. Really, this whole blog is a holdover from that now-obsolete mindset.
2 There was a Goon in QfG1. There, it was an invincible guard, something that ended the game abruptly without a combat sequence if it caught you. The fact that the hero is taking on whole packs of them now is a pretty clear sign to the fans of the series of how far he’s come.

QfG5: Initial Impressions

I haven’t put in a lot of time on this game yet, so just a few comments on how it begins. Quest for Glory IV ended with the hero yanked away from the scene of victory by mysterious forces. Said forces turn out to be a wizard you met in the first game, who wants you to do some heroing over in Silmaria. It’s pretty well established by this time that every major region in this fantasy world is based on some piece of real geography and/or folklore. Silmaria is loosely based on ancient Greece and its mythology.

I’ve been spending most of my time so far just talking to NPCs in the main city, picking up plot threads and quests for later reference. It seems like the majority of the inhabitants of Silmaria are characters from the previous games, who seem to have just somehow coincidentally converged on this one spot from all around the globe while the hero was wandering. It’s the Mediterranean weather, no doubt. Even the owner of the bank turns out to have been a beggar from QfG1. Also, a substantial fraction of the NPCs are furries of one kind or another.

Playing this game years after the first four probably diminishes the impact of re-meeting these half-forgotten characters. And really, that was the case on its initial release, too, given how much it was delayed. But I suppose it’s all supposed to bring things full circle and summarize the entire five-game arc. It also lets you see how much the hero improved everyone’s lives. Some of them even help you in return. One of the first assignments you get in the game is to provide 1000 drachmas as an entry fee into the Rites of Rulership, the contest that will determine the next king of Silmaria. Well, a couple of NPCs from previous games front you half of that just for showing up. This sort of thing is usually unheard of in RPGs, but then, this isn’t exactly an RPG.

Anyway, talking to everyone about every possible conversation topic sometimes yields Experience Points. The thing is, I don’t know what Experience Points are for. They can’t be for gaining levels, as there are are no experience levels; as with the rest of the series, each individual skill and attribute is improved independently through practice. The manual seems to indicate that experience points in this game are just a measure of how much improvement you’ve made, but if so, how did I manage to get 160 XP while only raising one stat by one point? The game also has an adventure-game score, called “puzzle points”. The manual states that there’s a maximum of 1000 puzzle points in the game, but it doesn’t mention a limit for XP. I think I’ll be paying more attention to the score that’s completable.

Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire

The poll results are as follows:

  • Genre: Adventure, with RPG a close second.
  • Release date: 1986-2002, due to a tie.
  • Middling obscurity. Adventures skew obscure, so this essentially means the least obscure titles I have left.
  • No strong expectations as to quality.

qfg5-marketDragon Fire seems like it fits the bill pretty well. It’s the final episode of a prominent series of adventure/RPG hybrids from Sierra. It’s also one of the final generation of Sierra games, when they tried to stave off the reaper with experiments in 3D. Unlike their 2D games (ironically designated “3D animated adventures”), Sierra’s 3D adventures all seem to have had different engines and user interfaces: King’s Quest 8 was kind of Tomb Raider-like. Gabriel Knight 3 seems to be a first-person clue-hunting game reminiscent of the Tex Murphy games. Quest for Glory V is actually pretty close to the traditional 2D games; it uses 3D models for the characters, but it’s otherwise basically a point-and-click adventure game.

The Quest for Glory series was originally planned as a four-part story, with a system of correspondences to the elements and the cardinal directions and so forth, although the authors broke this by inserting an unplanned episode after the second. After episode 4, the series was cancelled, leaving the story without its planned ending. I was disappointed at this development at the time, but I got over it. So over it, in fact, that when they decided, years later, to do the fifth game after all, I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the series. I bought it in due course, and tried it out just enough to be put off by the voice acting and the need to learn a new and non-obvious UI, and now here it is almost ten years later. This kind of thing is the reason I have the Stack in the first place.

There were some installation problems: the Quicktime 3 cutscenes didn’t work until I installed a fan-made patch. Thank goodness for fans who care enough to make patches! Even then, I had some problems with the sound popping, as if the software was breaking the audio data into pieces and then starting each piece a fraction of a second too soon. A forum suggested adjusting my sound card’s acceleration, and that worked. I’ll have to remember that solution; I have other old games that have the same problem. The graphics have the rough look of early 3D, the days of 640×480 software mode with no antialiasing. Distant objects are noticably distorted by the size of their pixels, but I’ll get used to it.

More on plot and gameplay tomorrow.

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