Retro Gaming: Master of Magic part 9


(This is part of my journey going checking out Master of Magic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Perhaps I’ve been playing too conservatively, for now I am on the receiving end of a multi-pronged invasion of enemy troops. The only question is if my standing army and my defensive militia can hold them off — or if I’ll collapse entirely.


Granted, the enemy AI is as dumb as a post and sends one lady on a horse and four teeny tiny floating spirits against my main army. Freya throws a couple of lightning bolts and flees for her life. Basalisk power!


Constantly being notified about what city is building what and having to choose a new project gets tiring, which is when one turns to the option to give the go-ahead to the Grand Vizier to automatically handle that. Let’s just hope that he/she/it doesn’t run my empire into the ground by building Starbucks franchises instead of defensive fortifications.


I preemptively fling a basalisk at Kali’s invading army. Kali throws a lot of spells on him while I counter with an iron skin enchantment. The basalisk gets overrun in the end but still manages to take out a few units. Time for more war bears!


OK, I get quite enough of this from my kids at home as it is, I shouldn’t have to take it from you too. And how unfair is it that Master of Magic doesn’t let you select responses or fling taunts back at your foes?


Round 2 of the Kali vs. Syp title bout. Kali casts counter magic right away, which takes away my ability to cast any spells, and then bombards my lines with magic. Most of my troops are wiped out in the initial moments, but my hero and war bears live on. Once my bears reach the enemy line, they maul the invading army to shreds.


So I found out that there’s one thing the Grand Vizier really likes to make, and that is a crapton of ships. I have ships pouring out of every city that can make them, and meanwhile I’m going, no! No more! I don’t use them at all!

Hm. Maybe I can make a parade.


One of my cities is allowed to create a fantastic stables, where I’m able to train flying griffins. I still haven’t figured out why some cities in this game are allowed to build certain structures while others reach the end of their building tree and can’t. Maybe it’s a population barrier. Anyway, yay, I have griffins.

And that’s where I’ll be stopping my journey through this game. The enemy is merely tooling around my lands without doing anything serious — and fleeing constantly at the first sign of combat. I’ve satisfied my curiosity and lost my interest for the time being, so that’s usually a good sign that it’s time to move on. Decent if somewhat befuddling little game that still has some retro pixel art charm to it.

Three things I’m thankful for today

turkeyHappy Thanksgiving to all of my readers, fellow bloggers, and friends! It’s a pretty mellow day here, as we’re dealing with a two-week-old and I’m recovering from the norovirus. We already went out to a restaurant for our big meal and are preparing to put up Christmas decorations and switch over into the holiday countdown mode.

So what am I thankful for today? I could list a lot of personal stuff — the baby, of course, and my health and all of the daily blessings I receive. But this here is a gaming blog, so let’s focus on that right now, shall we?

1. That Massively (OP) is still running and I’m still writing for it

It’s hard for me to process that it was less than a year ago that we got the email from AOL telling us that the company was simultaneously shuttering most all of its weblogs. The plan to start up our own site was born amid a frantic week full of high emotions, despair, and crazy hope.

And yet, here we are with MOP running strong after the community rallied around us and provided the funds we needed to get off the ground. It’s been a massive amount of work for all parties to get the site up and keep it running, but we’ve done it and I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished. And reporting on the daily MMO news while getting to podcast and do other columns still hasn’t gotten old for me, even six years after I started all of this.

2. For my WildStar/SWTOR guild

Taking the extra effort to apply and be interviewed for Remnants of Hope proved worth the hassle, because this has been a truly welcoming and active guild in both of the scifi MMOs that I play. I enjoy chatting and running content with them and am always pleasantly surprised how supportive they all are.

3. For so many gaming choices

While I’ll always wish that I had as much time to game every day as I wanted, I’m not complaining for a lack of terrific MMOs and other games to enjoy. It seems like there are so many titles that are worthy of my attention — and I am very rarely bored.

Happy Thanksgiving all! Enjoy your time with family, friends, and frantic video gaming!

My theory on jumping puzzles in MMOs


My current operating theory on why jumping puzzles have proliferated modern MMOs is thus:

In every studio there’s one developer who is both the sole bully and the sole proponent of jumping puzzles. Call him the Biff. And everyone is terrified of standing up to the Biff, even though everyone else thinks that jumping puzzles have no place in these types of games and are often annoying and alienating to non-twitchy players.

So the Biff gets away with shoehorning them into the game while the studio is forced to pretend as if jumping puzzles are good ideas, because not even the execs want to stand up to the Biff. The Biff gave the CFO a wedgie in the bathroom that one time and called the lead producer a “butthead.”

Therefore, taking a stand against jumping puzzles is really standing against the tyranny of a bully who thinks it’s funny to make you fall down and go splat in a video game. Arise my fellow gamers and tell the Biffs of the world “no more!”

Vote on my next retro gaming journey!

My time in Master of Magic is winding down — there will be one more installment this weekend — and I’m looking ahead to my next excursion in retro games. So once again I leave it up to you to vote on one of four picks from my GOG library. I’m picking a hodge-podge this time around: one horror, one stealth, one RPG, and one adventure game.

Here are the choices:

  • Alone in the Dark: Classic survival horror/adventure title that was one of the first of its kind. Scared the crud out of me when I was a kid.
  • Thief: Old-school stealth title using a Doom-like FPS engine.
  • Ultima I: Going back to where it all started!
  • King’s Quest III: Picking back up from my trip through all of the King’s Quests.

So what will it be? Vote and make your voice heard!

Marvel Heroes: I believe in Magik!

magikGeez, Marvel Heroes keeps rolling out new characters, don’t they? You’d think at some point whichever developer is in charge of gameplay balance would have a complete and total nervous breakdown trying to handle 53 characters and all of their various builds. I know I would.

So anyway, yesterday fan-favorite Magik came onto the scene. I’m not as huge into comics as most, so the beginning and end of my knowledge of who this person is comes from this game alone. I really enjoyed having her as a team-up, especially with her summons, so why not give her playable character a shot?

On the surface, Magik has a lot going for her that appeals to me. She’s got the ridiculous, only-in-X-Men costume, a giant sword, and — oh yeah — the ability to summon demons. A summoner! With both melee and magic powers! I am down with that.

She handles pretty good. If you want a basic sword-swinging fighter, it’s all here — attacks that port you to your enemy, attacks that restore health, attacks that restore spirit. Swish swish! But I might be more into her magic side, although I haven’t gotten many of those abilities yet. Spirit fangs is kinda cool, sending out a spray of unstoppable magic bolts.

But of course, I’m most attracted to her summoning abilities. Magik comes with an arsenal of demons, leaving it up to the player which types to have out at any one time. A lot of little demons or one big one that backhands everything to death? And demons can be sacrificed for different abilities, such as sending out shockwaves or restoring health. So far it’s pretty neat.

I’ve been playing her with my level 60 Magik team-up, which is as bizarre as it is unstoppable. Demons demons everywhere. Like demon carnival.

I think I might actually be investing some effort into Magik instead of merely leveling her to 60. Right now I’m going through the story mode for the different bonuses and also to get a handle on her playstyle (thank you, Gazillion, for infinite free respecs). After that, we’ll see.

So Fallout 4 managed to scare the crap out of me finally

I wouldn’t say that Fallout 4 is a scary game, as a whole, although I have no doubt that the devs tried to go for horror pieces here and there. But the biggest true scare of the game for me so far had nothing to do with vampires or carefully placed skeletons.

I’ve been meticulously revealing the map and the other night went to a small park on a hill. There were a couple of cabins and a faded sign that warned me about feeding the bears. I got a little chuckle out of this…

…and turned to see a mammoth bear charging right at me at 30 miles per hour. It plowed into me as I yelped and shot back from my desk, after which I scooted up and tried to recover while this thing was batting me around like a play toy.

It was, for a second, truly terrifying. It blurred the lines between games and reality and had my instincts thinking that there was an actual angry bear running right for me.

Taking the bear and his pesky partner down was quite tricky — these things can withstand a lot of punishment and most of my guns aren’t too strong. I ended up using my laser musket and a healthy dose of VATS in the head to do the deed.

Bears. Because they actually are this scary in real life and should be treated as such in all video games.

Are there topics too taboo for MMO quests?

tabooA while ago I was in the middle of turning in a batch of quests in RIFT when one NPC’s quest completion text caught my eye and stopped my mindless task-turnins to really think about what was happening:

He had previously wanted me to kill this creature for some reason or another, although I am hard-pressed to remember why.  It’s one of many disposable, forgettable quests that flow around far more substantial ones.  But since MMOs these days are combat-centric and pretty much all quests require killing, we just have assumed that whatever justification the NPC gives for this mission is morally right.

Yet this quest giver wasn’t out for justice, but petty vengeance.  He wanted to play with the head afterward.  He’s obviously off his rocker and yet my character can’t really call him out on it.  I’ve caught a few other quests where NPCs have extremely flimsy pretexts for sending me on a killing spree, usually more for convenience sake than survival or retribution.

Anytime you get into a serious discussion of morality and ethics in MMO questing, you’ll immediately hit the wall of mass murder-by-gameplay. But if we chisel through that wall, we might see that there are issues beyond just this that developers have to consider when designing stories and quests for online games.

Modern MMOs require absolute scads of scenarios to fill up their questing logs. Most of these are fairly tame and play out against a black-and-white (or good-and-bad) moral setting. “My daughter was kidnapped by gnolls, please go rescue her.” “I need sixteen bulberries to create an antidote to giant spider poison.” “Go press the thingie to stop nuclear armageddon.” And so on.

However, once in a while a quest designer strays outside of the safe (and arguably boring) bounds of generally accepted reasons to go on these quests to dabble in the taboo. What about a quest in which the player is given instructions to torture an enemy soldier or exact vengeance on a tribe until they leave their homes and go off into the wilderness to die? I’ve seen these. In mature-rated games, such as Fallen Earth and The Secret World, dabbling in the taboo is more common, but it still happens even in the most benign titles.

You ever notice how most MMOs don’t feature children — or if they do, kid NPCs are invincible? There’s a rating reason behind that, because the ESRB and its associates crack down pretty hard on games that put kids in compromising situations (such as, say, an open-world FFA setting where all NPCs can be killed). Kids aren’t necessarily taboo, but MMO studios aren’t jumping to include them in most stories because they can complicate quests in ways not intended.

And there are other topics that are — if not forbidden, then generally avoided because they can be divisive, upsetting, or unable to be presented without pushing a certain viewpoint or agenda. Most players aren’t really eager to draw in real-world pain and arguments into their gaming space. That’s maybe why our fictional mass killings are so accepted — it’s pure fantasy and has no direct analogue to our real-world lives. But work in sexual or domestic violence, and then you have the very real possibility that you’re going to deeply upset or disturb some of your gamers.

So should MMOs keep some topics taboo? And if so, what? There’s probably no easy answer to that that applies across all games and all situations. I never like to come down on the side of censorship — a storyteller should have the freedom to tell whatever story he or she likes without restraints, after all. But there’s a measure of common sense, empathy, and wise thinking that needs to go into these quests too, since they’re involving a myriad of other people.

And going back to my original example, I think that quests with touchier topics should not be presented as an on-the-rails narrative. Give the player some agency in the story — whether it be a choice of action, a selection of dialogue, or a reaction how the quest is completed.

If an MMO story can make me think, can jar me out of complacency, or teach me, I generally applaud that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be shocking or controversial to do that, but it needn’t shy away from doing what it must if the situation (and world tone) calls for it.

What do you think? Are there topics too taboo for MMO quests? Have you ever experienced a quest that went too far in some way?