Site alert: Changes to the Retro Gaming page

In anticipation of returning to the fertile lands of retro gaming next week, I reorganized the Reto Gaming page here on Bio Break. There are two significant changes:

1. I clearly separated and outlined the Retro Gaming (playthroughs) vs. the Nostalgia Lane (memories) sections.

2. I added a Retro Gaming On Deck section with all of my to-play games (mostly for my reference, and which may or may not ever get played).

Nostalgia Lane: Wolfenstein 3-D

I was dubious. “So… it’s a game where you go from room to room and shoot people? Doesn’t sound that great to me.”

“Just you wait until you play it,” my friend James assured me.

It was after church in the fall of 1992, and I was hanging out with my twin friends at their house. While we didn’t always have a lot in common (they were sports nuts, me a sci-fi geek), video games were where we could always agree. They had just attained a shareware copy of some game called Wolfenstein 3-D, and although I didn’t know it then, I was about to enter the world of first-person shooters.

Using the shareware model — where the first episode of a game was released for free and you would pay for (or pirate) the remaining episodes — id’s Wolfenstein 3-D exploded among the gaming population. It used an older 2-D property that was mostly about stealthing around Nazi castles and turned it into a rip-roaring action fest.

Despite the name, Wolfenstein 3-D wasn’t 3-D at all, but a pseudo 3-D (2.5-D) that used a lot of visual trickery to convince you that you were moving around in a 3-D environment. There was no jumping, no aiming up or down, and not an awful lot of weapon variety — but it was a blast.

I think it had to do with the whole Nazi angle. You start out as a prisoner of war who kills his guard, takes his knife, and begins a rampage through several German fortresses. Each level had tons to explore, with locked doors, secret passages/rooms, treasure to pick up, and lots of unsympathetic mobs to mow down.

wolf3Weapon-wise, there was the default knife, the pistol, the submachine gun, and the minigun. Everything other than the knife used the same pool of ammo, so if one wasn’t careful, you’d run out of bullets with the minigun and be stuck stabbing guards at point-blank range.

There were so many small details about Wolfenstein that made it endearing:

  • Being attacked by German shepherds was actually scary, even though they were weak
  • The guards barking out simple German phrases (“achtung!” forever became a part of my vocabulary)
  • The thrill of running along a wall slamming on the space bar and eventually finding a secret room bursting with treasure
  • How id would taunt you with the different difficulty level descriptions
  • BJ’s face becoming bloodier the more hurt you became

But really, for me it was about getting into the zone of rushing through levels, taking out Nazis, and becoming good about staying alive. Like any classic video game, there was that moment of zen-like gaming where you’re just playing on a whole different level.

Wolfenstein 3-D probably became the most notorious for its depiction of Hitler wearing a mechanical battle suit and shooting rockets, which is why most kids from the early 90s have a horrible grasp on history. Still… I can’t deny that it felt really satisfying to take him down in a red puddly mess.

Doom’s arrival on the scene quickly made Wolf a game of the past, but for me it’ll always have a special spot as a new experience and an introduction into 3-D gaming.

Temple of Elemental Evil: Showdown with the Master

(This is part of my journey playing through The Temple of Elemental Evil. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

cr1The Fellowship of Elmo’s adventures pick up today deep in the catacombs underneath the basement at the bottom of the moathouse.  Naturally, we stumble upon a giant crawfish guarding a treasure chest because the monster manual isn’t depleted of giant things-that-are-normally-small yet.  My favorite part of this fight is that we surround it and then the crawfish tries to move, opening itself up to about seven attacks of opportunity in a row.

cr2Next up on our tour of this fantastically weird place, we come across a pack of gnolls that are more angry at a “Master” whose poor planning has cost them lives on raids than homicidal toward me.  For a bargained 150 gold, they not only leave but also tell me where the Master is.  O…kay.  Guess that’s good.

nastyJust around the corner from the gnolls is a secret bandit base with more bandits than I can shake a stick at.  We burst into this room and find ourselves in deep, deep trouble, as there are almost a dozen of them, many with long spears and bows.  Trying to move through this room and position attacks is difficult, and I lose two guys before reloading.

The next time, I keep my pocket army in the hallway and send my meatshield around to drag a few bad guys onto my turf.  Doesn’t work; the guards just stay in the room.  Guess we have to rush it and hope for the best.

I eventually prevail with a few casualties, praying that I’m almost done with this place.

masterIn the final (?) room is The Master, the gnolls’ hated enemy.  We have a brief fight, but one guy against eight is not much of a battle, and he begins talking before we skewer him.  Apparently, he knows the way to the game’s titular Temple of Elemental Evil, if we’ll spare him and let him join the party.  Fine with me… but first I have to ditch someone and I’m not quite sure how to do that.

spoonyI reload an earlier save file and talk to “Spoony” (Spug) and tell his worthless butt to leave.  So far he’s been an eight-hit-point floozy with a dagger and no magic spells to speak of, so I’ll gladly trade him for the much more proficient Master.

Hilariously, in the ensuing fight, Spoony actually attacks my party (as he hasn’t gone anywhere) — and over-exterts himself and falls unconscious and dies without me doing a thing.  That’s how worthless he was.

masterThe Master joins our team and brings with him a delightful attitude of supervillainy.  That’s what I need!  More evil geniuses!  I don’t even mind that he cavorts with Lolth, as long as he keeps the prayer chanting down during nap time.

Well that’s it for the moathouse — it was a good run that netted us some loot, some experience, and a (hopefully) better teammate.  We return to Hommet… and apparently everyone wants us dead.  Seriously, I try to go back to the farmhouse to sell loot, and the widow and her kids come at us like they’re possessed.  Of course, they’re of no real threat and we kill them with a single blow, but still, that’s disturbing.  Is it because we killed Spoony or that we have the Master with us now?  This might make selling our stuff a problem.

Temple of Elemental Evil: The giant tick

(This is part of my journey playing through The Temple of Elemental Evil. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.) frogsOne frog massacre later, and we’re ready to move on further into the moathouse.  Everyone have his or her own fingers and heads?  Good.  Let’s go. spiderRight inside the moathouse is a tower containing a very large, very perturbed spider.  At him, fellows! The spider venom not only hurts Whiteberry but takes away one of her abilities.  I don’t know which one, D&D 3.0 was always complicated to me.  Other than that bite, we get out of the fight without any casualties and then loot a nearby chest for some gold and goodies.  As a bonus, this tower is apparently a safe resting zone, so I select “rest until healed” and the game takes eight days to recover about six hit points (as well as my one cleric healing skill).  Being a lowbie stinks.  I don’t even know if I have any magic attacks other than my cleric! banditsThe second we step into the courtyard, we’re ambushed by about seven brigands.  I have to say, I got really worried about this fight just by seeing the numbers of foes.  But then I forgot the upside of newbie D&D, which is that it’s not your traditional MMO hit point exchange.  Sometimes — a lot of times — attacks from low-level mobs don’t land at all.  I get through the entire fight with only suffering a single HP of damage to Zert, and that was because he walked through an attack of opportunity zone (if you pass near a mob without stopping, they get a free attack on you).  We get a little bit of loot and some confidence and move on. I want to mention that while ToEE is still an isometric D&D game, it’s very obvious that there were a lot of graphical upgrades compared to the old Icewind Dale/Baldur’s Gate engine.  Characters are so much more detailed and have a lot more animation, especially while fighting.  It comes across as something between Diablo II and III. ratsInside the moathouse proper, a parade of dire rats come out to say hello, but oddly enough, they don’t attack.  Fine with me.  Let’s plunder this place! leaderOops, plundering is going to have to wait until later.  First there’s a giant viper, followed by a (why not) giant tick, followed by a pack of bandits with their leader.  This latter fight is the trickiest yet in this game, mostly because we have the chokepoint of the doorway and a few strong attackers.  Two of my characters get knocked unconscious, but I manage to stabilize their bleeding and heal them back to functionality. Can I say how much I love my monk?  Her spin kicks of death are so dang awesome.  Bandit ’bout near exploded. zombiesThe basement of the moathouse is in better shape, although the hodge-podge of picks from the monster manual continues.  Zombies?  Giant ogre?  Green slime?  Sure, why not.  Makes total sense why a pack of brigands moved in.  “Larry, if you’re going to go pee in the basement, make sure you avoid the door on the left, as that is where the cannibalistic undead live.  Also, don’t pee too loudly, as the ogre will take that as a mating call.” Also, thank goodness for Turn Undead against packs of zombies.  Stunned a bunch of them so that my party wasn’t completely overrun, and even then both of our healers got knocked unconscious.  Zert also gets a disease, the Red Ache.  I don’t even know what to do for this. cataA secret ladder in the zombie area leads us down into the catacombs, where a few waves of ghouls await.  They’re quickly dispatched, at which most of my party gains a level.  Wahhoo!  I am… level 2.  Man, D&D is hard to adjust to when you come from the MMO world.

Temple of Elemental Evil: The Fellowship of the Elmo

(This is part of my journey playing through The Temple of Elemental Evil. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

vil1For all of the complex and time-intensive process of creating a party from scratch is in ToEE, the game sure does shove you right into the world with the barest of backstory.  I’m given a single sentence about how some druid elder wants to meet with me and then… we’re plopped down onto the landscape.  I guess back in 1985, when this module was originally written, D&D gamers didn’t need a lot of reason and motivation to go do something.  It might’ve been a grateful desperation at having a purpose: “Yes!  That druid elder dude!  HE WANTS TO SPEAK TO MEEEE!”

As with many RPGs of the 90s and early 2000s, Temple of Elemental Evil plays out in an isometric format, although it’s a little more 3Dish and detailed than Baldur’s Gate.  I love how some of my party members have hit points that can be measured on two hands.  That’s newbie D&D for ya.

vil2The druid elder is concerned that another druid, Jaroo, hasn’t reported back as he’s supposed to do once a month or so and asks us to go investigate at the local village of Hommlet.  Why he can’t climb on top of one of his bear bodyguards there and go see himself is symptomatic of lazy NPCs and the sole justification for wandering heroes such as myself.  We are the Fellowship of the Druid!

vil3Hommet is a pretty place, although fairly large for your standard RPG village — the world map features a north, south, and central hommet, if that gives any indication.

Our fellowship immediately stumbles upon a couple of farms belonging to one family.  Apparently, the two brothers are bickering a lot after their dad and one of the brothers’ wives died, and that’s caused a lot of grief for the families.  I’m given the option to go play matchmaker by convincing a carpenter to build a new barn as a dowry, and boy does that sound like a lot of work.  Where’s the temple already?  When can I start bashing heads?

vil4And then some drunk villager named — I kid not — Elmo stumbles into me and says that he’ll be a hired hand if we pay him 200 gold to come fight.  Gee, why wouldn’t I want a drunk Elmo to be a part of this band?  I pay up and he becomes our sixth member, which is so awesome because he’s stumbling all over the place while holding an axe PLUS he is level 4 with 41 hit points, which is a beefcake compared to the rest of my troupe.

We are now the Fellowship of the Elmo.

vil5After our long and arduous journey, um, up the street, we arrive at the Inn of the Welcome Wench.  I’m guessing this is the medieval version of Hooters or something?

Inside of the cozy tavern, we find a wizard with the unfortunate name of Spugnoir, who’s in the market for wizard scrolls.  He agrees to join our party if he gets to keep all of the scrolls we find.  Fine with me, Spuggy!

The inn is actually crawling with potential NPC party mates, all of whom will gladly join up as long as you have room.  I actually have to turn down a monk and his friend due to space limitations, but I do snatch up a knight named Zert (a breath mint?).  My party’s gone from five to eight people within ten minutes.  That’s weirdly fast for an RPG.

Anyway, Zert is all eager to explore the nearby moathouse that Spug was talking about (it was some wizard home back in the day) and offers an instant teleport option to go right there.  Sounds like fun fighting time to me!  Let’s do it.

vil6We arrive at the moathouse in the dead of the night and a giant frog lunges out of the water to nearly kill Ardwulf.  The fight is on!   ToEE has turn-based combat, so there’s no pressure to react quickly.  I’m not doing much more than clicking at a mob to tell my guys to move and/or attack, but it works and the frog soon falls over dead.  Three more evil frogs follow.  I get into the groove of things and we emerge victorious.  Over frogs.  It’s not a glorious victory.

vil7ToEE has a rather strange interface for a D&D CRPG, as it uses an unfolding radial menu to select options.  While it does look slick, in practice it’s rather cumbersome.  I’m sure there are hotkeys to shortcut all of this, but I’d rather have a handy hotbar instead.

My Cleric casts his one heal spell and then… I guess he’s done for the day.  No more heals left.  My poor Rogue has to heal herself with a potion.  And we haven’t even gotten past the first screen yet!

Temple of Elemental Evil: Rolling my party

tem1(This is part of my journey playing through The Temple of Elemental Evil. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

The mob — that’s you — has spoken, and as I write this the recent poll asking which of three CRPGs should I blog about next is showing The Temple of Elemental Evil as the winner, edging out Betrayal at Krondor.  It’s funny to me, because even though I bought a huge bundle of Dungeons & Dragons games from a couple of years ago, I think this is the first of the bunch that I’ll be tackling for this series.


I do have (limited) experience with ToEE, as I bought it back in 2003 and played it for a week or so.  It was probably not fair to come at it with the same expectations as Baldur’s Gate II, since this was a game revolving solely around a single adventure module and was embracing a newer D&D ruleset.  I recall it was tough and, of course, very buggy.

Bugs and unfinished products were par for the course with Troika Games, which also did Arcanum and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.  Troika had a kind of mad genius to that studio, putting out great RPGs that were hampered by a lack of polish and development time.  It’s a testament to these games that fans have worked so hard on all of them to patch up the bugs and continue development after the studio went belly-up.

alignRolling my party

Without further ado, let’s get into this playthrough!  The really nice thing about older games is that you can max out all of the graphical settings without worry.  It still looks a little old, but certainly better than the BG2 era.

The first question I’m asked when creating my party is alignment.  I thought you’d pick per-person, but here it’s for the whole party.  I’ve never been a fan of the D&D alignment system — it’s just never intrigued me enough to care or roleplay through it.  I always pick true neutral, because then at least you’re not dinged for doing a bad thing while good or vice-versa.  I imagine it gives me the most flexibility in how I want to play.

greyHere’s my first character, a Half-Orc Barbarian named Girl Grey (as part of my retro gaming tradition, I’m picking names from whoever happened to be on my Twitter feed at the moment).

As you can see, the character creation process is involved.  Oh, sure, you can choose one of the pre-made, won’t-gimp-yourself characters, but who really does that?  Making your own characters is one of the best parts of RPGs!  Still, this is pretty deep D&D stuff, with stats and feats that I’m only partially knowledgable about.

Rolling for stats is interesting here — the game throws up six random numbers (2-18) and you can either reroll or assign those six numbers to any category you like.  So there’s some choice and some RNG madness to it.  The game also shows you how many times you’ve rerolled just to spite you.  My rule of thumb on an acceptable roll is at least three numbers 16 or higher and the other three not being too low.  Otherwise, I could be rolling all day long.

healerGrey Girl is our tank, so we next need a healer.  Meet Ardwulf, Human Cleric and general healbot.  Is it me or do so many D&D feats seem incredibly dull?  I pick whatever looks good — combat casting and general survival traits, because I don’t want him dying if he gets separated in a fight.  Took me 57 rolls to get his stats, by the way.

fayaEvery functional party needs a Rogue, so we have the Halfling Faya.  Pretty standard stuff here — lockpicker, stealthy, can find stuff.  I did put her feat in rapid reload, since I’m planning to use her from the back lines as secondary archery support.

whiteIgnore the portrait dagger, as this is Whiteberry, my unarmed Monk.  She’ll be another front-line fighter, with dodge and toughness to help out while being in the thick of the battle.

teshOur final party member is Tesh the Druid.  She’s occupying a catch-all role of being a magic-user, a diplomat, and a secondary fighter.

I’m sure that this party isn’t optimized or ideal, but I’m hoping it’s enough to get me through the encounters ahead!

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: The entire playthrough

indyI wanted to provide a handy summary of my recent adventures playing through the entirety of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis for those who would like to go through the experience chronologically: