Tag Archives: Retro Gaming

POOL OF RADIANCE: Noob’s Way Back Machine

Introduction

I don’t know if I ever played Pool of Radiance. One of my most fond memories of high school is playing Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve already talked some about my memories with paper and pencil D&D. However, I also have extensive experience with the computer games as well.

The thing about the PC games is that I don’t have specific memories of which games I played. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I remember playing the Spelljammer game and I remember playing at least one of the Dark Sun games. I don’t know if I played any of the Dragonlance games, though I’m almost positive that I did at one point or another. It remains my favorite setting even today.

In case there was any question, we’re putting the “way back” in Way Back Machine today.

One game I’m almost positive that I never played was Pool of Radiance. Why, then, am I picking that game to feature? Well, according to my extensive research (a single Google search), it is the first of the PC games to feature the mechanics of D&D. So, it’s only fair that I pick that one as my first entry into the Way Back Machine. If it goes well, I might take a look at one of the Dark Sun games in a couple of weeks. If it goes poorly, I definitely will.

The Great

Decent Graphics – I know many of you will scoff at this. And, you might have a right to do so. However, compared to my expectations, this game blew them away. Granted, I’m not sure what my expectations were, but I clearly forgot about the capabilities of those early games. There were different sprites for the different monsters and you were able to customize your characters to some degree.

I mean, doesn’t he have the classic dwarven features?

Surprisingly in depth – Again, I’m not sure what I was expecting. I mean, we’re not exactly in the prehistory of games, but 1988 is pretty early in the history. The Super Nintendo (when I really started to become involved in video games and consider to be the start of good graphics and consistently good gameplay) is still 3 or 4 years away. I guess the old PC gamer mentality of being a step ahead was true at the time. In addition to the character creation feeling almost (you don’t individually roll stats, but you do pick alignment) like pencil and paper, the features of the game are greater than the sum of their parts. Let’s talk about some of those features.

The Good

Intuitive – Granted, this isn’t pick up and play if you haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons before. It will take some getting used to. As I told Chris when he texted about flipping through a source book, “It’s a whole other language. However, like Magic, once you get used to it, it’s second nature.” This game is very much along those lines. Within a half an hour of (probably too in depth for a simple review article) character creation, I was into the game and wiping my party. (More on that in a bit)

Minimap – Again, those of you who have grown up in modern video game times might get a chuckle out of an oldbie like me thinking that the minimap is worth of mention in the article. But, hear me out. Being an oldbie pencil and paper D&D guy, I took about 5 minutes to look for some graph paper to start drawing my own map of the town before I realized there was a minimap built into the interface.

Even so, my map would have been more detailed.

The Decent

The Story – The story of Pool of Radiance isn’t bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty engaging and gets you into the action quickly. I’m not surprised because this is a TSR (the owners of the D&D license before WotC bought them) product. Even so, the story is pretty generic RPG stuff and isn’t engaging enough to keep me coming back for more. That’s to be expected since The Forgotten Realms is the most generic of D&D settings

Pool of Radiance is hard! – So, I went to the City Hall to find out what commissions I could collect. “Go to the ruins and help clear it of monsters.” Okay, sounds good. Let’s kill some monsters. First encounter in the ruins? A party of kobolds. No problem, right? Wrong. 2 party members dead. Crikey! Let’s rest. Nope. Interrupted by a party of monsters. Let’s rest in the city. Nope. It costs 1 platinum to rest in the inn. Let’s rest in an alley. Nope. Caught by the guards. WTF. Okay, how about a temple? 100 gold pieces for cure light wounds. Jesus. Fine. Now, back into the ruins. Second encounter is a party of orcs. And, we’re all dead. Well, that was fun.

Lucky I saved my game. Now, if only I could figure out how to load it.

The Verdict

Pool of Radiance is a game that definitely stands the test of time. Over 30 years later and I will probably keep going back to try to at least defeat that first dungeon. Who knows? Once I do that, I’m sure that I’ll be back to try to finish the rest of the game. Then, I’ll move on to other games in the series. I have been playing the game on this web based emulator. However, I recently discovered a place that has the game plus a bunch of others for only 10 bucks. I just have to vet the source to make sure that it is legit and not bloatware or virus ridden like the old Limewire files. In spite of the frustration of the game being hard, I suggest you give it a try.

Old is the New New

(Editor’s Note: A�Remember when…)

A few months ago, I saw an advertisement for an official Nintendo authorized mini NES. A�It comes programmed with 30 classic Nintendo games like Super Mario Bros 1-3, Metroid, and the Legend of Zelda. A�Regular readers of the page (welcome back to both of you!) will know why I mentioned those specific three games. A�They will also be shocked to hear that I have no intention of buying the console. A�I know! A�Believe me, I am just as shocked as you. A�This goes against everything that I hold dear about Nintendo. A�I am a traitor and a fraud! A�*loud noises*

For those who are new to the page, welcome! A�As always, I hope you enjoy yourselves and come back for more. A�To explain the end of that paragaph, I have often said that Nintendo need only release a Mario, Zelda, and Metroid game on a system and I will buy it. A�Heck, often times, they can just rerelease an old game via their Virtual Console and I’ll still buy it. A�But, I’m not doing it this time. A�My reasons are numerous enough that I won’t go into them, but the main reason is that I already own those games and can play them through questionably legal emulators.

The reason that I bring it up is that I did my version of research for this article and discovered a similar retro style Genesis system. A�now, I’m probably not going to buy that one either–because, emulators–but it got me thinking. A�I know, I know. A�What doesn’t get me thinking, right? A�What can I say? A�I have an active mind and I tend to follow it down every dark path it takes me. A�Sometimes it pays off. A�Other times, I get eaten by a grue. A�The best part is that we all get to find out what happens this time together.

As long as we stay out of the basement, we should be safe.

Neither of these should come as a big surprise. A�I’ve always known that nostalgia is big business. A�Well, perhaps, “always” is stretching it. A�Ever since I watched MTV (was it even MTV or am I remembering it incorrectly?) try to force nostalgia on our generation by attempting to revive Woodstock in the 90s and early 2000s, I knew that companies were in the business of exploiting memories for monetary gain.

It’s weird that I’m experiencing it first hand. A�When faced with the prospect of a strictly financially motivated Woodstock, even as a rebellious teen I was insulted. A�You’d think that I’d be even more insulted that it is my own memories that are now for sale. A�But, I’m not.

I’m mostly ambivalent about the phenomenon, as my attitude about the retro systems clearly shows. A�In other cases, I’m actually excited about, enjoying, and contributing to the commercialization. A�New Star Wars and Rocky movies that are little more than retelling the original story? A�Sign me up! A�An endless stream of Marvel entertainment in the form of movies and TV shows? A�Pleas, Sir, can I have some more? A�2D Mario games? A�Pokemon on my phone? A�A new version of Blood Bowl and Mutant League Football? A�Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

Y’all got any more of that nostalgia?

This all begs the question, “Why was I more offended by the appropriation of a music festival that happened before I was even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes than by exploitation of my own childhood?” A�I think that I already know the answer, but I will give each theory the proper diligent analysis. A�It’s the least that I can do as a man of logic and reason. A�Plus, I have a reputation to uphold as far as word counts are concerned. A�Truthfully, and with some shame, I have to admit that I’m more worried about maintaining the second reputation under the guise of the first.

Wait, what?

Nothing. A�Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

These are the kinds of references you get when you are a theater dad.

So, allow me to present my logical and well reasoned arguments. A�Maybe I was too overcome with emotion to even notice. A�Take back to a simpler time when I didn’t have to worry about anything other than cereal and morning cartoons, I worried only about those things. A�This theory loses steam rather quickly. A�It is true that I was initially overcome with a deep sense of nostalgia as soon as the opening scrawl rolled on Star Wars. A�Creed took a little longer to trigger, but eventually I came around. A�I excitedly analyzed Creed’s fighting style, noting his weak side and that hte fight scenes exposed that consistently through the movie. A�However, through it all, I still recognized that they were feeding us the same storyline in both movies.

At least Star Trek had the decency to admit that the characters were the same and made no pretense of originality. A�It felt that much fresher when the storyline took a bit of a different turn and incorporated Leonard Nimoy into the movie. A�Maybe the Star Trek experience jaded me to the others because I already knew the trick going into them. A�In any case, I knew that they were manipulating me and I didn’t care.

Another possibility that exists is that I noticed the manipulation, but that I overlooked it because I am a proud father who wants to share these things with my children. A�This theory already holds more water than the first because I just spent a paragraph explaining that I noticed the manipulation. A�Now, I just have to spend another paragraph explaining why my love for my children did not overshadow that knowledge and set up the big reveal of the actual reason that I have concluded to explain this seeming contradiction.

The game is afoot. No reason for this picture other than I have an unhealthy man crush on Benedict Cumberbatch.

First, and this shouldn’t need to be said, but I will because this is the internet and everyone misinterprets on the internet. A�I do love my children. A�I know that it’s a controversial stance, but dammit, I’m not backing down. A�I also want to share these things from my own childhood with them. A�So, I suppose that is another point in favor of this theory. A�However, that love and desire to share did not obscure my ability (as seen in the previous paragraphs), nor recognize, nor care about the corruption of my youth by the darker forces of capitalism.

And, finally, we come to a conclusion. A�I leave it to you to judge if it is a satisfying one or not. A�My parents are hippies. A�”Long hair, freaky people need not apply” hippies. A�They owned the Woodstock on vinyl and I heard the album many times through their lens. A�I always felt that the original Woodstock was a pure expression of a love of music and humanity. A�When MTV brought the festival back, it felt like a perversion of that love in the name of money.

My childhood made no pretense of love for humanity or art. A�Comics, movies, cartoons, and even the cereal that I loved so much was only in existence to sell more comics, movies, action figures, and cereal. A�The whole lot of it was just one big commercial aimed at kids and their parents to spend, spend, spend. A�So, it was pretty much par for the course when the new money grab started up and targeted my paycheck and made the attempt to grab my kids for the long haul. A�Of course, all of this could be complete nonsense, but it’s how I’ve interpreted the situation.

What do you think?