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Default The Bard's Tale - When RPGs Had Teeth

January 31st, 2011, 21:24
When RPGs had teeth: The Bard's Tale is a restrospective blog post that looks back at Interplay's seminal game:
The meat of why this particular game remains immortal in my memory is that it genuinely challenged the player in ways that modern RPG’s dare not do today. First, there was no auto-mapping feature, which meant that you would have to map the dungeons by hand in order to survive. This was no small feat considering that the dungeons you had to trudge through were incredibly complex with frequent traps which would spin or teleport you around without any indication that it was doing so. And there was no question that you needed these maps. You could not simply walk into the catacombs or Harkyn’s Castle and blindly make your way through. The sewers alone were a complete nightmare.
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January 31st, 2011, 21:24
I played this back when I was around 12 years old on a Commodore 64. I was obsessed with it for a while. I recall there was some place you could go to (in a crypt?) and enter a room with like 12 undead. I finally figured out you could use the Bard's horn which would basically destroy them all, and I'm pretty sure this was repeatable too.

I never finished it, probably never came close. I don't remember having the clue book, though. And of course there was no way of looking up info or hints at all. Great memories.
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January 31st, 2011, 21:51
My main memory of this game is how many legions of dead characters I had piled up before I finally had a party strong enough to actually survive the walking around in the street. The first dungeon seemed easy by comparison. But no, I never finished it either, but it was a very fun game once passed the initial frustration.

Of course, if you took the default bard with his magic horn with you (or passed it on to your freshly-rolled-up bard), the first three levels were not nearly so difficult.
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January 31st, 2011, 22:48
The bard with his or her typical "weapon" aka "The Instrument" is a kind of character which is more or less extinct.

Bards of now are still bards, but they never carry any instrument with them, at least I don't remember any in recent games.

Wizardry 8 was in this respect "new" to me : I never believed until then that instruments could cause damage

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January 31st, 2011, 22:51
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
Bards of now are still bards, but they never carry any instrument with them, at least I don't remember any in recent games.
EverQuest did/does, but perhaps you weren't counting MMOs. Still, the concept of "threading" 4 songs at once is still a very unique game mechanic.
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February 1st, 2011, 00:42
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
I never believed until then that instruments could cause damage
You have never heard my son's trumpet practice…

I played the Bard's Tale on an Atari 800. It was the first RPG that I had ever bought that I did not complete. The difficulty was brutal at times, open the wrong door and you were wiped out. My first party didn't survive their initial combat. I kept at it enough to get a party that could survive exploring, but never did make it all the way through.
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February 1st, 2011, 00:43
I was around when the CRPGs of 'old' were 'new.' It was fun mapping out games like Wizardry, Bard's Tale, and even Ultima games.

But while that was fun as a kid, I wouldn't want to do it now as an 'adult.' You might think it's out of laziness I feel that way, but really it's about lack of time.

If I had to put in the same amount of time today to get through a game like Wizardry 1 I wouldn't finish any games… I barely have enough time to play games with these types of hand-holding features as it is.

But what I can say, is that after having experienced the challenges of mapping out games I played when I was a kid, I can truely appreciate a good mapping implementation in modern games, which are still few and far between.

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February 1st, 2011, 00:51
Even back in the day it got dull mapping out the area of bard's tale where you couldn't see and there were spinners and teleporters. But that was "state of the art" then and other games did that kind of thing too. I used to have notebooks full of such maps but you know what? The mapping really wasn't fun. If I new game did something like that I would never pick it up.
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February 1st, 2011, 01:10
you wusses. I played and finished both Bard's Tale 1 and 2! (and 3 but that doesn't count).
Now, Wizardry 4 don't ask me about that one lol, I think it's the only RPG that has had me crying and begging for forgiveness
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February 1st, 2011, 01:42
I agree with this below. I mapped every square in Wizardry I and many other games after it but I have no enjoyment in that now and would not play a game in which I had to manually map or manually write down all of the quest goals.


Originally Posted by TheMadGamer View Post
I was around when the CRPGs of 'old' were 'new.' It was fun mapping out games like Wizardry, Bard's Tale, and even Ultima games.

But while that was fun as a kid, I wouldn't want to do it now as an 'adult.' You might think it's out of laziness I feel that way, but really it's about lack of time.

If I had to put in the same amount of time today to get through a game like Wizardry 1 I wouldn't finish any games… I barely have enough time to play games with these types of hand-holding features as it is.

But what I can say, is that after having experienced the challenges of mapping out games I played when I was a kid, I can truely appreciate a good mapping implementation in modern games, which are still few and far between.
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February 1st, 2011, 07:56
Please take down the blasphemy picture. The Bard's tale remake was horrendous and has no place in the discussion of "When RPGs had teeth."
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February 1st, 2011, 08:45
Bards tale 1 was my first CRPG. I had fun with it, but I admit I failed at the harder levels - those spinning and dark passages where youd have to erase half of your painstaikingly hand-drawn map when you relaised you had plotted a turn wrong because you didn't notice a teleport or a spinner were too much for me, even then. And I remember giving up on a certain throne room with 100 or so skeletons simply because I couldn't stand at looking at
"skeleton swings and misses"
"skeleton swings and misses"
"skeleton swings and misses"
"skeleton swings and misses"…
rolling over the screen for minutes on end.
My older brother persevered and beat it - with a cheated party though (with a hex editor, yay!). He made great maps, too. I think even he gave up on 2 before the end, though.

(Edit: that cluebook looks really cool though! I never had that.)
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February 1st, 2011, 09:41
Definitely one of my most beloved series in cRPG history.

Whilst I enjoyed reading the blog entry, I do question the idea whether the lack of an automapping feature was simply down to technology limitations. From reading about Michael Cranford's enjoyment of making the second game so intensely difficult, is it not feasible to imagine that lack as a design choice?
Seems more logical when you consider that the third game had it and was just that little bit more accessible. (Also my favourite…but that's another topic..)

@ GhanBuriGhan: There was a key implemented on the C64/PC version to increase the speed of the scrolling messages. 100 Skeletons wouldn't take as long as the infamous encounter featuring 99 Beserkers, 99 Beserkers and 99 Beserkers! (especially if half of them managed to get in an attack before your bard blew his horn!) I'm sure other people like me used to return to this encounter for levelling up purposes, since it used to reset each time you entered/exitted.

Have to empathise with Rampant Coyote's experience of creating many a cairn for dead early level characters. That definitely happened to me as well and I have great memories of cheering at the keyboard whenever a character made it to level 3-4 and emerged alive from a dungeon after tip-toeing back to the surface. Starting out was tough, which made levelling up all the more rewarding. Survival felt like an achievement - especially in those early levels.

As to the question of whether I'd enjoy having to make maps in a game made today? Absolutely. I'm all for it. I like being challenged and made to invest in something. Dungeon crawlers for me have lacked that special something that makes dungeon exploration memorable in recent times. Whether that be mysterious notes on the walls, fun plot related riddles or the use of the wonderful magic mouth device, new games can learn alot from the Bard's Tale's sense of atmosphere created by its dungeons.

One game which attempted to summon back the spirit of Bard's Tale was Devil Whiskey. Whilst I beat the demo, I never did finish the main game. Did anyone else out there finish it? It's something I'll have to return to one day.

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Diddledy low,
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February 1st, 2011, 10:24
The game was fantastic back in the day, but wouldn't last 5 minutes with me today.
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February 1st, 2011, 10:24
@Pessimeister: I played it on the Amiga. That speedup key may have been there, but back in that day I pirated all my games (well, I had a freind who just brought me a package of disks every other week…), so I did not have a manual. Served me right, I guess. Uh yeah, the 99 and 99 barbarians… Still, yes, I well remember the feeling of achievement of building a party that could stay its ground in Skara Brae and survive the first couple dungeons.
It didn't feel bad to not complete the game either. Games in that day still mostly had an arcade philosphy behind them, and I think it can be seen in Bards Tale. Seeing how far you could get before giving up was par for the course, was the stick and the carrot to keep you chugging those quarters into insatiable machines presenting you harder and harder and HARDER levels… Here there were no quarters, but still the same design philosphy. And beating a game to the last level was for the crazy elite, half-mythological gamer-heros you only knew from hearsay… And I don't begrudge you guys the well earned honour.
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February 1st, 2011, 10:51
Bard's Tale was one of the few games I didn't pirate back then, as I got both of them for my birthday - and I actually bought the third one. All C64 versions.

That said, I preferred to play them on my brother's Amiga - and he had pirate versions

The difference in visual quality was enormous.
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February 1st, 2011, 11:02
For years this game eluded me - all I had was a newspaper ad that I nearly worshipped. Then finally got it on Amiga - but it was too late, for there was GoldBox too…

Last year decided to finally go back to the roots - and did. Ok, 1675 reloads later and I was still trying to get to the first weapon shop and back to the guild to save.
Then I got distracted by a new PC with all it`s Bio/Beth/Goth trappings. It`s fun…but also so much hassle & drama, what with the state of PC Rpgs today.

So I think I`ll be firing up D-Fend soon again. Believe it or not, I really enjoy playing these olden games. I love the graphics, they`re not "worse", only…different. Require imagination instead of latest drivers. Gameplay…heh…give me one white-knuckle tactical GoldBox battle and you can have all your DA smoke `n mirrors.

Mapping is a part of it. I`m quite surprised so many of you dismisses it now. Ok, being generally lazy I`ll admit - it`s hard work sometimes, but on a right day it`s great fun still.

These are truly Forgotten Realms…venerable underdogs. Which makes exploring these worlds even more exciting, and all the troubles of today seem so distant and silly. Dee-Ah-Em? Please :)
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February 1st, 2011, 11:15
Originally Posted by zadokAllen View Post
For years this game eluded me - all I had was a newspaper ad that I nearly worshipped. Then finally got it on Amiga - but it was too late, for there was GoldBox too…
I used to worship pool of radiance (gold box version) review for years so much that the magazine started to lose colors. There was no way to play it on C64 tape allthough I did manage to convince one of my friends with diskdrive to buy it. Then I got PC with ultima underworld and betrayal at krondor. Pool was forgotten and I didnt play it until fifteen years later.

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February 1st, 2011, 11:17
So I think I`ll be firing up D-Fend soon again. Believe it or not, I really enjoy playing these olden games. I love the graphics, they`re not "worse", only…different. Require imagination instead of latest drivers. Gameplay…heh…give me one white-knuckle tactical GoldBox battle and you can have all your DA smoke `n mirrors.
Of course I believe you enjoy playing them.

The question is whether you can believe that some people have moved beyond them, without actually being wrong about anything

It's almost like you're trying to justify your enjoyment, and that's puzzling.

That said, I can definitely enjoy playing games with outdated visuals. I recently had a great time playing Star Trek 25th Anniversary in DosBox. That's because the gameplay was interesting - and the visuals didn't take me out of the experience.

Pool of Radiance is also one of my favorite games, and it has enough interesting elements to make me enjoy it again - but I'd have a hard time immersing myself in the primitive looking visuals.

Bard's Tale is an extremely primitive game by modern standards, and I'm not talking about graphics. The character system is utterly simplistic, and the dungeons have very little variety. It's basically an endless fight with only an occasional break by a bit of story or puzzle. Treading through hours and hours of identical hack/slash gameplay is something I can't do anymore.

Automapping in a game like that is something I can't do without, because I can't invest so much time in something so predictable and primitive. Mapping isn't fun unless you're properly rewarded for your investment.

I wouldn't mind the lack of automapping in a modern game, if I felt the exploration was worth it - but most modern games are very condensed and go out of their way to present everything so it can't be missed.

I'd rather they add challenge in other ways, like a complex character system, combat system, or interesting puzzles or quests. Not menial or trivial tasks like mapping outside of the game.

But, to each his own
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February 1st, 2011, 12:04
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
The question is whether you can believe that some people have moved beyond them, without actually being wrong about anything :)

It's almost like you're trying to justify your enjoyment, and that's puzzling.
Eh, dude, seems you`re hearing whatcha want to hear here… Answer to your question is "of course". I thought thats obvious, one- because I also "moved on", two - I did not imply such thing at all in my post. At least, I didn`t intend to.

I also do not need to justify anything, thank you :) I was just puzzled myself, because I thought I might find few more fans of going back in time, and if anywhere I think The Watch is the place to find such individuals, no?

I`m capable of being blown away by the wonders of new Fallouts, Gothics, Divinities etc, but also switching my mindset to old school and having fun there.

But, I admit it can be difficult - probably more so if you don`t have the "nostalgia" factor helping. In fact for many years I collected these old games but didn`t really play them…was scared it`ll be a chore.

Bard's Tale is an extremely primitive game by modern standards, and I'm not talking about graphics. The character system is utterly simplistic, and the dungeons have very little variety. It's basically an endless fight with only an occasional break by a bit of story or puzzle. Treading through hours and hours of identical hack/slash gameplay is something I can't do anymore.
That`s true - but also irrelevant/obvious. We`re talking one of the foundations, ok? Also, as you know, the crimes you listed are easily applicable to many modern titles.
Though I`m not saying I can take too much of Bard`s Tale in one sitting myself…too hardcore, this :)


Automapping in a game like that is something I can't do without, because I can't invest so much time in something so predictable and primitive. Mapping isn't fun unless you're properly rewarded for your investment.
But mapping was an integral part of the game itself - they intended on you doing this. So, once you agreed to this terms, it could be fun and rewarding - it was a part of a puzzle. Yeah, sometimes I hated it too - but thats normal, i just played some lightweight game for a change then.


But, to each his own :)
As always :)
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