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Default Revisiting the Gold Box games

November 14th, 2012, 18:58
(Well, despite my best efforts this became a semi-rant, I guess, so I'm giving you fair warning: Old geezer semi-rant follows.)

I got a crazy idea a couple of days back to go revisit the Gold Box games after long last. The idea is to go through them all, although I'm quite sure I will run out of steam well before I make it through all of them, but at least so far, after three evenings of playing, I'm really enjoying myself and going onwards with vigour.

I know I should have started with Pools of Radiance, I know, but I thought I'd perhaps last longer if I started with one of the later games with their refinements to the engine (albeit small, but hey, every little bit counts). I also wanted to try a game I had not played before, so POR was out because of that too. So, with these requirements, I chose to go with the Dragonlance Trilogy (I never had any of the games in the trilogy back in the day), starting with Champions of Krynn.

After the expected steep learning curve (it's been ages since I last touched any of the Gold Box games, so I'm practically starting anew) and the stiff early game experience with the clucky interface and all, plus the technical hurdles (took me some head-scratching to get saves working, for example), I've really surprised myself how much I'm liking the game. Granted, one must approach these games with patience and a willingness to do handwritten notes and mapping, and be ready for a lot of page-flipping through the journal and/or manual, which all require a whole different attitude than modern games, but regardless I'm really, truly and honestly, having a lot of fun. In order to not just chalk it down to old grognard's nostalgia for the yesterdays, I wrote down some observations of the game so far.

It is interesting how much the game conveys with so little narrative text (due to memory constraints back then). I'm convinced that this is partly because the terse text is in fact a spark for your imagination and you (sort of) fill in the rest. Had there been more text in larger chunks, it would have felt more of a literary thing than it is now and I would have expected more from it, writing-wise etc. Now, they act like small spoonfulls of the story that give you enough to envision what the whole soup is like. Now, if that's not a limping parable, I don't know what is. Heh. Anyway, it's a good reminder, that CRPGs don't have to be PST-like digital books to get their point across and story told.

Turn- and party-based combat goodness! Oh, how I've missed true turn-based combat with a large party (6 members) against a large amount of enemies (10+) in RPGs. This is bliss! I'd have thought I'd get bored by the quite limited range of enemies (and gear) or become frustrated by the, erm, quirky AD&D 1st (2nd?) edition rules, but no. Despite these limitations and the quite primitive interface and graphics, I'm having a blast. It just goes to show, IMO, that with all their modern bells and whistles, most CRPGs nowdays are quite hollow and soulless. They've been streamlined to offer little to no challenge and to practically play themselves with the player just watching the pretty show, that their essence, the very core of their being, has been lost. That's how I see it, anyways. I can't otherwise explain how a c. 20 years old game which requires a lot of effort to play is so much more fun for me, than any multimillion dollar AAA title of the last 5 years or so. (OK, I might exaggerate a bit here…)

Also I find it sooo great, that this game has no influence of MMOs in it (e.g. there's no mention of DPS with weapons, there's a god-honest dice roll instead). I find it so refreshing that this game doesn't feel like it was designed by a committee, that it wasn't designed to have RPG elements, that it wasn't designed to have cool achievements and whatnot to collect, that it wasn't designed to be played by exactly everyone (even those who don't actually like rpgs), and that it's not holding your hand every step of the way (your character can actually die in this game, you know).

Oh well, despite my rant, it still is quite a lot of effort these games require to play them. I hope I last long enough to at least finish one Gold Box game before running out of steam.

"It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue."
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