300: Adventuring in the World of Mundane Magic

Adventuring in the World of Mundane Magic

The classic RPG Darklands portrayed its magic in a "realistic" manner, using the alchemy, saints, Templars and raubritter that were accepted beliefs of the 15th century.

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Andy Chalk actually believes that magic will betray you at the worst possible moment, which is why he always plays a fighter.

It's called running out of mana.

Sounds kind of like what F.A.T.A.L.'s creators imagine their own game to be. Of course, F.A.T.A.L. completely fails as it (in the same way that a game involving hitting your own nutsack with a tack hammer fails to be entertaining), but Darklanders sounds good, I'm going to check it out.

I'm so sad that this failed, it sounds like what I'd like to see more of in RPGs, whereas they wound up taking the same old Tolkein route again and again. Maybe yet...

One thing, the doctrine of the Antichrist, the rapture and Israel-centered armageddon was only invented in the 1830's by a John Nelson Darby. Also, the doctrine is complete extra-biblical heresy. But I understand that they were adapting for gameplay, so I'll also let that prayer=spellcasting element slide.

..Mm, this Article was pretty classy but I noticed some focus mainly on the creatures in Darklands then anything else. Though I enjoyed reading the part about all the creatures being summed up as well as the elements of the RPG with us wondering the land and feeling "foolish" to invade a dragon's layer, I must bring up this quote:

The most exotic and exciting encounters in Darklands were few and far between, which was perhaps true to the nature of the world - roadside bandits were bound to be more common than ogres or holzfrau, after all - but not necessarily the best way to keep things interesting.

About the bandits, they may not seem the most interesting but they play a major role in RPGs believe it or not. Look at Fable III for example.. yes, it's always critical to place mythical creatures to face against our hero but then what would be the realism of the game without humans being our common enemy as well? When making a game, you still want to have realism within it, regardless if the game is based on fantasy overall the other categories. Without bandits, or people to face off.. it'd feel like it was a one-sided war against mythical creatures and honestly a man vs nature type of game.

You want those bandits thrown in there, so we can still feel aware that people are against their own kind for personal reasons like wealth, power, ect. So I encourage to have that in there as well as keeping touch with reality at times to make us appreciate the fantasy of the game more rather then take it as just a game with no stable value on right and wrong, only that of exploring and taking out creatures like an executioner.
Not to mention that the cults within the game made you feel uneasy because your own race is against you, working with a greater evil then any creature can offer. Antagonist is an important concept of any game and should be thought out carefully no matter how much you feel like going into Borderlines or Elder Scrolls: Oblivion just to take on the monsters given.. you need people as antagonists too.

I played this game at a rather young age. I freakin loved it! I remember making the characters, and you had to include a selection of back stories for each, including caste, creed etc. Making a usable alchemist was a tough ordeal, but if your history was right for them and made them old, you started with the philosophers Stone, so you could make good potions. Its true that stuff was hell to grind, and the game carries alot of bias, but said bias enriched the world with a flavour of heavy christian like piety. It actually saddened me that witches were treated so poorly. Just like it saddens me that witches were treated so poorly in the real world of the time. They would have been good party members in the game. If you wandered through the forest you might come upon a witches hut. And like a bunch of saber rattlers you could just run in and murder them. You would have the option to leave them be, but the game seems to urge you to slay them most of the time.

Loved that game! So much detail, and at the time I also used it as a tool to learn some insite into the saints and other historical views. It was truly ahead of its time. Not sure if a redo would survive in todays market, but I would buy it in a heartbeat!

Drakey:
It actually saddened me that witches were treated so poorly. Just like it saddens me that witches were treated so poorly in the real world of the time. They would have been good party members in the game. If you wandered through the forest you might come upon a witches hut. And like a bunch of saber rattlers you could just run in and murder them. You would have the option to leave them be, but the game seems to urge you to slay them most of the time.

Well said. I too find it odd that in certain games, that you must kill something regardless if they never messed with you. Take Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare for example: You have to literally go around, and kill innocent sasquatches because some crazed hunter told you to.
It's very sad, because the last one is crying and tells you that some mad man (aka you) had been going around and killing his family. He's the only one left and wishes to die which really makes me feel much regret. I even reset the game and stopped playing because of how devistating that is. Turns out we really don't know our creatures well enough to assume if they are good or bad, but rather urged to kill them because they are 'different' and because they're different.. we must eleminate them regardless of reason.

However, witches are known to be a cult-type of women that cast curses and do horrible things to people. How do we know this? We don't.. but assuming witchcraft is a bad, sinful thing then we have to assume that witches in general are bad. What gives us a right to just invade their home and slaughter them? Truth is, in games they never have the main character get to know or understand the person or creature. Instead, they seem evil or made to hate us for the very purpose that we'll just do the same and kill them at the end. So you made a very valuable point there.

Darkhill:
I'm so sad that this failed, it sounds like what I'd like to see more of in RPGs, whereas they wound up taking the same old Tolkein route again and again. Maybe yet...

One thing, the doctrine of the Antichrist, the rapture and Israel-centered armageddon was only invented in the 1830's by a John Nelson Darby. Also, the doctrine is complete extra-biblical heresy. But I understand that they were adapting for gameplay, so I'll also let that prayer=spellcasting element slide.

The thing is that it's what the creators believed was common belief in the 15th century. I don't know how much research they did into the beliefs of 15th century Germans, but I could see that as being something that's not too much of a stretch.

I actually enjoyed the game when I was younger. I've put it on the wish list for gog.com, but there's no telling if it will ever end up on the site.

I remember playing this game when it came out, a part from the horrible bugs it wasn't bad. The biggest problem was that it had nothing beyond kill the woozle and fed ex quests, in many ways its descendants are mmos rather the rpgs. I also found the background a little too German, I was half expecting the sound track to be 8 bit version Parsifal,

Darkhill:

One thing, the doctrine of the Antichrist, the rapture and Israel-centered armageddon was only invented in the 1830's by a John Nelson Darby. Also, the doctrine is complete extra-biblical heresy..

Nonsense the doctrine of the Antichrist and Israel-centred Armageddon has always been there. John Nelson Darby writings was an attack the Catholic counter reformation doctrine that at least some, if not all the prophecies in the book of revelations has been fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. His main argument was that none of the prophecies had happened and God had yet to fulfil his promises to the Jews and thus became the foundation stone Christian Zionism. I give you he created the concept of rapture but to say he invented the Antichrist and Israel-centred Armageddon is simply false.

Yeah, medieval/renaissance Europeans definitely believed in the Antichrist. The Rapture is a modern dogma, though.

The big witch craze didn't really start until the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (at least if the intro to my copy of same can be believed). Before then, belief in witchcraft was considered semi-heretical as it ascribed powers to man and devil that only God was supposed to weild. There's a sort of squirm out of that in the MM, basically to the point that witches make men believe in most of the magics. In other words, much of witchcraft is really mind control.

That's all theologian stuff, though. Guy on the street, and even the priest on the street, believed in all that hexing and stuff.

OT: This concept is really just begging for a treatment in a dark fantasy game. PnP games like Ars Magica have done it over the years, but as others have said, even dark fantasy in cRPGs is mostly vanilla Tolkein with occasional twists.

There were definitely concessions to gameplay in Darklands but it's arguable that one of the reasons it failed to catch on is that they simply didn't go far enough. It was an incredibly complex game and as dedicated to being "realistic" as any fantasy-RPG has ever been, and may ever be. And that made it tough. Alchemy was difficult, the saints were capricious and combat was plentiful, long and dangerous. It was hardcore even for the early 90s, and that's really saying something.

If you want to get a feel for how committed the development team was to accuracy, check out the Darklands manual. (It's floating around online in PDF format.) It's a great example of how manuals used to be: thick, detailed and packed with information about the game and the "real" world in which it's set. It talks a lot about what went into the design of the game and how the team translated the popular beliefs of the era into RPG gameplay elements. It's a hell of a good read for anyone interested in CRPGs, particularly from a design perspective.

XxRyanxX:
You want those bandits thrown in there, so we can still feel aware that people are against their own kind for personal reasons like wealth, power, ect.

True, but trouble arises when they're overused, which I think is something Darklands suffered from. It makes sense from the "realistic" point of view, but as a gamer I want to graduate at some point to the serious bad guys. There must be a sense of progression and advancement and I don't think Darklands did a very good job of achieving that.

My friend and I played this for hours back in the day. I don't think we ever finished a game but it was fun. It had faults. Many of them as Andy noted. It still had something special and instead of remaking Darklands if you could distill it's essence and use it in another game it might yet influence things.

Andy Chalk:
was billed as the first "true fantasy role-playing game."

Ars Magica was actually the first game of this nature (1987). It is often described as having the best magic system in the genre (fantasy rpg). Our group still plays it, and it is now on 5th edition, and available from Atlas Games http://www.atlas-games.com/arm5

Trust me, Darklands has a lot of work to do if they want to create a new revised game that competes with Ars Magica.

dalang:

Andy Chalk:
was billed as the first "true fantasy role-playing game."

Ars Magica was actually the first game of this nature (1987). It is often described as having the best magic system in the genre (fantasy rpg). Our group still plays it, and it is now on 5th edition, and available from Atlas Games http://www.atlas-games.com/arm5

Trust me, Darklands has a lot of work to do if they want to create a new revised game that competes with Ars Magica.

Try reading the article, Darklands is PC game.

To clarify, I'm talking more about modern dispensationalism, such as the Scofield bible. Mainly the way Darby ran the books of Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelations through a woodchipper to produce a bizarre prophecy timeline. I'm sure the catholics always had an understanding of the beast of revelations (I think the classical doctrine was more centered around the 'beast' as being a counrty or empire like Rome or Babylon), but I thought the modern capital A Antichrist as being a single man was a Darby invention.

Ooops my bad :embarrassed:

Darkhill:
To clarify, I'm talking more about modern dispensationalism

Oh, well, there's the confusion, then. We're talking about videogames.

;)

Darklands had one of the most interesting Character Generators (my favorite is still the one of Twillight 2000)I didn't like the Combat System though, a full turn-based System would have been better. Btw. if you enjoyed this game you should check out the Schwarze Auge / Realms of Arkania games (especially Star Trail).

Hah, funny they mentioned Tatzelwurm, I actually made a Tatzelwurm statblock for my DnD game, nasty bugger, really messed up the party good.

Instead, it wound up a one-off curiosity that, for all the accolades it's earned over the years, has exerted almost no influence on the direction of the genre.

I have to take issue with this. It exerted a bigger influence than you might think. Maybe not in the realm of world building, but mechanically and design wise it was an influence on two major series. The combat was real time tactical that could be paused with the space bar to issue new commands without worrying about the party being killed. That system was later included in Baldur's Gate. Also Todd Howard of The Elder Scrolls fame, cited it as an influence on the first game: Arena. And from the open world direction and choose your own path nature of the game you can see how it influenced the direction of that game.

Both of these games would go on to dictate the direction for the majority of the western RPGs.

I don't think the game was played enough by this or other reviewers, as only at the start is it really mostly fed-ex quests. The game had procedural systems within it that provided randomized quests, but also provided scripted quests inbetween, to keep you guessing. Because of it's mix of procedural and scripted code, it allowed for "joined-up" quests you don't see in even today's cRPG's. I.e. If told a dragon was going to attack a village on a certain date, you would get there on that date and the dragon would be there to fight, but get there a week before the dragon and find a normal village, then go away for two weeks and come back to the village and it has been destroyed by that dragon you weren't there to fight! Now granted, this was done with just text/still graphic windows, but still. It showed how the quests were far from all fed-ex one's!

I have owned this game from it's original release as I bought nearly every Microprose game they ever released! The game is somewhat intimidating, but nevertheless take about an hour to get a handle on. I know in this world of instant satisfaction an hour is an eternity, but for a deep cRPG with 100+ hours of gameplay, it's pretty par for the course. Darklands was a game that gave back as much as you put into it, so once the 'rules' are learnt the game has almost infinite replay value!

You'll be pleased to hear a team is being put together to make a Darklands style game called "The Darklands" by using the Oblivion construction set and doing a complete conversion. Most of the team are steeped in Darklands Lore, so I have strong hopes for it. Just go to TheDarklands.com to see the latest and leave a note of encouragement!

That sounds pretty amazing!, I hope this game gets uploaded to GOG to give it a try someday.

Actually... I think this would be quite an amazing idea for a modern game, even if it's not going to appeal to everyone, it would be amazing.

TheGameCritique:
I have to take issue with this. It exerted a bigger influence than you might think. Maybe not in the realm of world building, but mechanically and design wise it was an influence on two major series. The combat was real time tactical that could be paused with the space bar to issue new commands without worrying about the party being killed. That system was later included in Baldur's Gate. Also Todd Howard of The Elder Scrolls fame, cited it as an influence on the first game: Arena. And from the open world direction and choose your own path nature of the game you can see how it influenced the direction of that game. Both of these games would go on to dictate the direction for the majority of the western RPGs.

Where did Howard say this? All I've been able to dig up (in an admittedly half-assed couple minutes of searching) are two identical, unattributed lines on Wiki and Answers.com. I'm honestly curious because I'd like to see just much credit he gives it. The only obvious design link between Darklands and Arena I can see is the sandbox environment, which I would say is more of a similarity than an influence.

Same thing with Baldur's Gate, really. If Darklands had been a truly influential title, it wouldn't have taken six years for another well-known RPG with a similar combat mechanic to crop up. I think more likely what you're seeing are similarities here and there that are naturally going to happen in games of the same genre, and even if I'm wrong and somebody at Bethsoft/BioWare said, "Hey, you guys remember that awesome Darklands game? Let's use that!" the "influence" I was talking about was more thematic than mechanical. History is packed with so many eras that could be "fantasized" and made into great RPGs, so why hasn't it happened? Why are we stuck in the rut of familiar (and generic) fantasy realms for our games? Darklands could have, and if there was any justice in the universe would have, had an impact on that attitude, but it didn't, except maybe to convince designers that "realistic" RPGs aren't the way to go.

uk_john:
I don't think the game was played enough by this or other reviewers, as only at the start is it really mostly fed-ex quests.

Oh, I played my fair share, believe me. And it's been awhile, but repetition in both quests and combat encounters were, as far as I'm concerned, one of the game's biggest failings. It's an inherent risk in any game that relies on procedurally-generated content; Daggerfall suffered from the same issue.

I was a big Microprose fan back in the day too, although primarily for sims. Put a lot of hours into Gunship and F19. It was a sad day when it finally folded.

You'll be pleased to hear a team is being put together to make a Darklands style game called "The Darklands" by using the Oblivion construction set and doing a complete conversion. Most of the team are steeped in Darklands Lore, so I have strong hopes for it. Just go to TheDarklands.com to see the latest and leave a note of encouragement!

This does please me, very much. The fact that there have been two status updates since February 2010, on the other hand, is not-so-encouraging.

For Elder Scrolls: Arena influence
http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2011/01/13/road-to-skyrim-the-todd-howard-interview.aspx

second video clip around the 50 second mark he starts listing the games that influenced it once it shed the gladiator combat genre and became an RPG.

As for Baldur's Gate, I will admit that it is conjecture, but from what little I've been able to gather in some research I was conducting for an article. The six year span between the two games was a dead era for the CRPG. A glut of bad games and old franchises taking so long to come out with their next installment(Wizardry/Ultima)caused a lot of people to call the genre dead. It wasn't until Diablo and then a year later with Fallout did people start to think differently. Baldur's Gate was the final nail in coffin for that kind of talk.

There is very little literature about BG or PC RPGs at that time, but what I found was the hint that Black Isle consulted a wide variety of RPGs that had come before it to help shape their direction. Darklands is the only example of pause/tactical gameplay prior to Baldur's Gate I could find. You call it similarities, but it's too much of coincidence they didn't come across it at some point during their research.

And yes I understand you were referring to the world building aspects of the game as being more influential and not mechanical. I think that has to do with Microprose shying away from the RPG genre after that. Their company had an ethos of historical research that most other companies don't have. They'd rather make up something that meticulously research a time period for inspiration. I think it's the time and willingness to do the research that is the biggest barrier. Also, people make what they know and more people know fantasy rather than history.

 

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