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Editorial The Digital Antiquarian on Quest for Glory 3 and 4

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Oct 26, 2018.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Corey Cole; Lori Cole; Quest for Glory III: Wages of War; Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness; Sierra Entertainment; The Digital Antiquarian

    More than two years ago, the Digital Antiquarian wrote about the development of the first two Quest for Glory games. Recently his chronicle entered the glorious 1992-1993 era of gaming and now it's time to cover the next two games in the series, Quest for Glory III: Wages of War and Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. In the Antiquarian's opinion, these games were of lesser quality than their predecessors. He agrees with the commonly held opinion that Quest for Glory 3 is the weakest entry in the series due to a lack of interesting content for different classes, as well as other flaws.

    Quest for Glory III also disappoints in other ways. The first two games had been loaded with alternative solutions and approaches of all stripes, full of countless secrets and Easter eggs. Quest for Glory III is far less generous on all of these fronts. There just isn’t as much to do and discover outside the bounds of those things that are absolutely necessary to advance the plot. And one of the three possible character classes you can play, the Thief, has markedly fewer interesting things to do than the others even in the course of doing that much. The whole game feels less accommodating and rewarding — less amendable to your personal choices, one might say — than what came before. It plays, in other words, more like just another Sierra adventure game and less like the uniquely rich and flexible experience the first two games are.

    This lack of design ambition can to some degree be laid at the feet of the absence of Corey Cole for most of the design process. Corey was generally the “puzzle guy” in the partnership, dealing with all the questions of smaller-scale interactivity, while Lori was the “story gal,” responsible for the wide-angle plotting. And indeed, when I asked Corey about his own impressions of the game in relation to its predecessors, he acknowledged that “certainly Quest for Glory III is lighter on puzzles, while having just as much story as Quest for Glory II.”

    Yet Corey’s absence isn’t the only reason that the personality of the series began to morph with this third installment. The most obvious change between the second and third game — blindingly obvious to anyone who plays them back to back — is the move from a parser-based to a pure point-and-click interface. I trust that I don’t need to belabor how this could remove some of the scope for player creativity, and especially what it might mean for the many little secrets for which the first two games are so known. I’m no absolute parser purist — my opinion has always been that the best interface for any given game is entirely contextual, based upon the type of experience the designer is trying to create — but I can’t help but feel that Quest for Glory lost something when it dumped the parser.

    One issue with Quest for Glory III that may actually be a subtle, inadvertent byproduct of the switch to point-and-click is a certain aimlessness that seems baked into the design. Too much of the story is predicated on unmotivated wandering over a map that’s not at all suited to more methodical exploration.

    When I played Quest for Glory III, I eventually wound up in that dreaded place known to every adventure player: where you’ve exhausted all your leads and are left with no idea what the game expects from you next. This was, however, a feeling new to me in the course of playing this particular series. When I turned with great reluctance to a walkthrough — I’d solved the first two games entirely on my own — I learned that I was expected to train my skills up to a certain level in order shake the plot back into gear.

    But how, you ask, can such problems be traced back to the loss of the parser? Well, Corey has mentioned how Lori — later, he and Lori — attempted to restore some of the sense of spontaneity and surprise that had perhaps been lost alongside the parser through the use of “events”: “Instead of each game scene having one specific thing that happens in it, our scenes change throughout the game. Sometimes the passage of time triggers a new event, and sometimes it’s the result of the ripple effect of player actions. It was supposed to feel organic.” When this approach works well, it works wonderfully well in providing a dynamic environment that seems to unfold spontaneously from the player’s perspective, just the way a good interactive story should. That’s the best-case scenario. The worst case is when you haven’t done whatever arbitrary action is needed to get a vital event to fire, and you’re left to wander around wondering what’s next. Finally, when you peek at a walkthrough, the mechanisms behind it all are revealed in the ugliest, most mimesis-annihilating way imaginable. I understand what Quest for Glory III wants to do, and I wholeheartedly approve. But there needed to be more work done to avoid dead spots — whether in the form of more possible triggers or just of more nudges to tell the player what the game expects from her — or, ideally, both.​

    However, the Antiquarian departs from the fan consensus by also finding Quest for Glory 4 to be of substandard quality, citing a lack of thematic focus and in particular an overabundance of bugs. This led to the game receiving poor reviews, something that he reflects upon in the context of the wider Sierra legacy.

    Some months after the bug-ridden floppy-based release, Sierra published Quest for Glory IV on CD-ROM, in a version that tried to clean up the bugs and that added voice acting. It accomplished the former task imperfectly; as already noted, plenty of glitches still remain even in the version available for digital download today, not least among them the mystery of the never-appearing letter. The latter task, however, it accomplished superlatively. In a welcome departure from the atrocious voice acting found in their earliest CD-ROM products, Sierra put together a team of top-flight acting professionals, headed by the dulcet Shakespearian tones of John Rhys-Davies — a veteran character actor of many decades’ standing who’s best known today as Gimli the dwarf in Peter Jackson’s Lords of the Rings films — as the narrator and master of ceremonies. Rhys-Davies, who had apparently signed the contract in anticipation of a quick-and-easy payday, was shocked at the sheer volume of text he was expected to voice, and took to calling the game “the CD-ROM from hell” after spending days on end in the studio. But he persevered. Indeed, he and the other actors quite clearly had more than a little fun with it. The bickering inhabitants of the Mordavia Inn are a particular delight. These voice actors obviously take their roles with no seriousness whatsoever, preferring to wander off-script into broad semi-improvised impersonations of Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, and Rodney Dangerfield. Would you think less of me if I admitted that they’re my favorite part of the game?

    Of course, one could argue that Sierra’s decision to devote so many resources to this multimedia window dressing, while still leaving so many fundamental problems to fester in the core game, is a sad illustration of their misplaced priorities in this new age of CD-ROM-based gaming. The full story of just what the hell was going on inside Sierra at this point, leading to this imperfect and premature Quest for Glory IV as well as even worse disasters like their infamously half-finished 1994 release Outpost, is an important one that needs to be told, but one best reserved for a later article of its own.

    For now, suffice to say that Quest for Glory IV was made to suffer for its failings, with a number of outright bad reviews in a gaming press that generally tended to publish very little of that sort of thing, and with far worse word of mouth among ordinary gamers. For a long time, its poor reception seemed to have stopped the series in its tracks, one game short of Lori Ann Cole’s long-planned climax. When a transformed Sierra, under new owners with new priorities, finally allowed that fifth and final game to be made years later, it would strike the series’s remaining fans as a minor miracle, even as the technology it employed was miles away from the trusty old SCI engine that had powered the series’s first four entries.

    The critical consensuses on Quest for Glory III and IV have neatly changed places in the years since that last entry in the series was published. The third game was widely lauded back in the day, the fourth about as widely panned as the timid gaming press ever dared. But today, it’s the third game that is widely considered to be the series’s weakest link, while the fourth is frequently called the very best of them all. As someone who finds them both to be more or less flawed creations in comparison to what came before, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. Nevertheless, I do find this case of switched places intriguing. I think it says something about the way that so many play games — especially adventure games — today: with FAQ and walkthrough at the ready for the first sign of trouble. There’s of course nothing wrong with choosing to play this way; I’ve gone on record many times saying there is no universally right or wrong way to play any game, only those ways which are more or less fun for you. And certainly the fact that you can now buy the entire Quest for Glory series for less than $10 — much less when it goes on sale! — impacts the way players approach the games. No one worries too much about rushing through a game they’ve bought for pocket change, but might be much more inclined to play a game they’ve spent $50 on “honestly.” All of which is as it may be. I will only say that, as someone who does still hate turning to a walkthrough, the more typical modern way of playing sometimes dismays me because of the way it can — especially when combined with the ever-distorting fog of nostalgia — lead us to excuse or entirely overlook serious issues of design in vintage games.
    Personally, I don't remember having that much of a problem getting the plot to progress in these games back in the day, but I know the Antiquarian isn't alone in these criticisms. It could be that the way we approach these games has changed over the years. The mainstream media, on the other hand, sounds like it hasn't changed a bit.
     
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  2. Dorateen Arcane

    Dorateen
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    Rhys-Davies was Sallah from the Indiana Jones movies. And in 1993, when Quest for Glory IV was published, he would have been best known for that role. The Last Crusade having theatrical release just a few years earlier.
     
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  3. taxalot I request a spice shipment immediately. Patron

    taxalot
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    This will not come as a surprise, considering Infinitron linked to my posts in his news item, but I pretty much agree with Digital Antiquarian ; he also does raise some interesting points about varied perception of games throughout time.

    I am going through the entire series, in chronological order ; I think I am around halfway QfG4 and the first entry in the series remain my favorite ; #2 is also pretty great, and would have been even better without the maze that only exists to lengthen artificially the game and sometimes days with nothing happening of note.

    And yes, the parser does add a lot to these games ; all of a sudden, with the icon interface, it feels like you are deprived of an entire universe of possibilities. Most of said possibilities amounting to nothing of course, but I am still deprived of TRYING and even hoping for a humoristic answer.

    QfG3, however, has only for itself its great setting, atmosphere, and art. The gameplay is as Maher points it, terrible. There is very few things to do and not much in terms of actual freedom, but yes, the worse offense is the incredibly obscure triggers that make the story moves forward. Sometimes, even the use of a walkthrough or research of obscure Usenet archived forum posts does not prove itself to be enough because it looks like people only have a vague understanding of how this game works. The actions required to make the story move forward are so disconnected to the events that need to happen (they happen to you, you don't make it happen, they're passive, you need to WAIT) that one spends a lot of time wandering around wondering if he's in zombie-state, has hit a show stopping bug or something else. Exiting and entering a random screen in the world map so that a character appears imprisoned in another part of the map ? What ? Random ability scores to hit to make the story progress when one has never needed the skill so far ? Quest for Glory 3 has great everything else, but the gameplay is incredibly poor design.

    And QfG 4 so far does not change much ; again, you wait for triggers to happen randomly but this time you add some real, actual, showstopping bugs that put you in an unwinnable state. By the point you reach this episode (this is already an issue in QFG3), the RPG aspect of the gameplay is completely moot. If you import your character, you completely destroy anything in the wilderness, and since there is no time limit, skill checks section are just a matter of grinding one stat by doing the same action over and over, over and over again. For the rest, there is nothing much differentiating the game from another point and click series despite the mysterious and arcane story triggers.

    All in all, I have very mixed opinions on this series. QfG 1 was actually a great, great game with a classic setting but well balanced gameplay and okay puzzle sections. QfG2 was already weak on the gameplay side, but things were still working and the setting was superb. QfG3 & 4 only have their settings to defend themselves. They are clumsy games, that fail to learn from their mistakes or show an overall poor planning. Still, congrats to the Coles for bringing such charm, humor, and good writing to this series, and for taking the risk to do something and different. But to me, the QfG formula isn't working too great, or maybe it's just the implementation or character importing that is screwing things up.
     
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  4. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    There's a lot more to do in QFG4 besides waiting for triggers. Exploring the countryside and collecting all the Dark One rituals is cool.
     
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  5. V_K Arcane

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    It's just funny how people talking about aimless wandering in QfG3 and QfG4 seem to forget all the aimless wandering you had to do in QfG2 to arrive at the next timed event.
     
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  6. taxalot I request a spice shipment immediately. Patron

    taxalot
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    I didn't ; but at least you knew what to expect and that time would trigger the event.

    QfG 3 had nothing of the sort.
     
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  7. V_K Arcane

    V_K
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    Well, my jab was more aimed at DA. Not a fan of the guy.
    Maybe, but it's also a lot harder to arrive a situation where you don't know what to do. In QfG2, those waiting times are unavoidable.
     
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  8. visions Arcane

    visions
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    I'm also going through QfG series in chronological order at the moment (currently at QfG 5). QfG 3 was too easy on default difficulty so I switched the difficulty to max in QfG 4. On max difficulty things like wyverns, chernovy and the undead that guarded the barrows could kick my imported wizard's ass at times. The only things that I destroyed effortlessly were the bunnies.

    I didn't grind much in QfG 3 though, cause I restarted it twice because of a bug and by that point cba to grind my stats much on my third attempt.
     
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  9. Tweed Educated

    Tweed
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    Thieves really got the short end of a short stick in the third game. You don't even get to steal the fake black bird, you have to buy it off of NotSanford and Son.
     
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