I backed Nox Archaist's second Kickstarter

May 6th, 2019 7:27 PM
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Last week, 6502 Workshop launched the second Kickstarter for Nox Archaist, an original 8-bit RPG for the Apple II.

As a teacher of crowdfunding workshops at every level from local libraries to graduate programs at Emerson College and Harvard University, I'd been invited to consult on this campaign several months ago. I gave them some advice, though mostly minor, as they'd already learned their lessons from their first Kickstarter.

That previous crowdfunding attempt launched in September 2017 and was cancelled a month later after raising $19,656, well short of its $43,078 goal. Using production and marketing strategies they outlined in the March 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, the team behind Nox Archaist brought their costs down to $8,500. The second Kickstarter hit that goal in under two hours and raised more funding in 8.5 hours than their first campaign did in an entire month.

The campaign's success is now a certainty; the only uncertainty was whether I should've backed it.

That's not a question of the game's quality, which looks amazing; the team's dependability, in which I am confident; or my own eagerness, which is evident! But I always think twice before backing a product that I'll ultimately be responsible for reviewing, or for editing a review of. Nox Archaist is a prime candidate for a Juiced.GS review or feature, and one could say that, by dropping $89 on the collector's edition boxed set, I have an investment in the game's success. I would counter that I'm simply preordering the game, which is less ethically complicated than a member of the press accepting a free review copy — but then, why preorder the game instead of just waiting to buy it when the finished product is made commercially available to the general public?

The answer has to do with the size of the Apple II community. There is almost no one making sizable (or any) profits off Apple II hardware or software these days; everyone does what they do for the love of it. The very first Kickstarter I ever backed was for Jason Scott's sabbatical. Shortly thereafter, when interviewing him for a Computerworld article, I asked him a question that had been lingering in the back of my mind: why should I have backed his Kickstarter, primarily to fund the completion of the GET LAMP documentary, when he'll be eventually make money off the finished documentary's sale? Jason acknowledged that this was a valid question, and if I wanted to judge a product by its commercial viability, then I shouldn't back such projects. But not every product that's valuable or important is also commercially viable, and a single person's pledge can make the difference between such a product existing and it not existing.

I want Nox Archaist to exist. Even if I never play it, I want to live in a world where Nox Archaist exists. Having spoken with 6502 Workshop's Mark Lemmert online and at KansasFest, I know Nox Archaist is something he's passionate about. He's made his investment; now he's asking us to match it with dollars.

If that means putting a disclaimer in an issue of Juiced.GS, then that's worth it.

Wizardry: The first CRPG?

March 12th, 2018 7:11 AM
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Many of us know that the venerable Ultima series of role-playing games had its spiritual origin when Richard Garriott developed Akalabeth for the Apple II in 1979. But according to SyFy, it was the 1981 game Wizardry that qualifies as "the first computer-based RPG".

Although declaring anything the "first" is debatable, the video is a good overview of the era in which Wizardry released and the factors that made it popular. I would've appreciated if the video dissected the game's reception in other regions: Wizardry achieved significant fame in Japan and saw many sequels exclusive to that country. The game was also translated to French, as I discovered with this manual that Brutal Deluxe brought to KansasFest 2017.

The Wizardry manual… in French!

The write-up that accompanies the SyFy video is less accurate: observing that "[The developers] had to face the technical limitations of the era (such as writing the game in basic and very limited memory space)" overlooks that the final game was developed in Pascal. And saying that "There were eight games in all in the Wizardry series, starting with the notoriously hard Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and ending with Wizardry 8, released in 2001" is accurate insofar as the main series goes, but it omits the franchise's spin-offs, of which there have been many.

Sadly, there aren't many modern versions of Wizardry available for gamers to choose from these days. In 2011, I blogged about the PlayStation 3 and iOS release of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. But the PlayStation 4 supplanted the PS3 in 2013, and the game is no longer available on iOS, either. The only modern incarnation of the franchise that's currently available is Wizrogue – Labyrinth of Wizardry, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux on Steam as of February 24, 2017.

Given the lack of gameplay, it's not the most compelling trailer. But it's nonetheless good to see the series live on, if in name only.

Wizardry comes to iOS

November 7th, 2011 12:14 PM
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Back in March, I wrote that Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, a new entry in the classic RPG series, was coming exclusively to the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network (or the PS3 PSN). But in this age of multiple gaming platforms, it is rarely economically feasible to dedicate one's product to a single audience. It therefore is only mildly surprising that Wizardry is now available for iOS (though, oddly enough, not optimized for iPad). Behold the opening sequence and 15 minutes of gameplay:

The game, released on November 3, is a free download, but the press release states a caveat: "While players will initially be able to level their characters up to level five and explore the entire first floor of the 'Dungeon of Trials,' brave adventurers who want to dig deeper into the depths of Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be able to unlock the full Wizardry experience for $9.99 via In-App Purchase."

A bit too expensive for you? Then kick it old school for just $1.99 with Akalabeth, an iOS version of the precursor to Ultima. Though not the same series as Wizardry, they share a common history as predominantly first-person RPGs. Or go the free route on classic hardware with similar to Silvern Castle for the Apple II. Sounds like the best of all fantasy worlds to me.

(Hat tip to Eli Milchman)

The history and future of Wizardry

March 24th, 2011 5:08 PM
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The Magic Candle is one of my all-time favorite role-playing games — though on the computer platform, it doesn't have much competition for that title: I honestly can't recall any other RPG I've played for the Apple II or Mac. All other games in that genre were either console exclusives, such as Final Fantasy, or ports from the computer, like Ultima.

One such port was Wizardry, which you wouldn't think would work on a two-button controller, but with no basis for comparison, I enjoyed the Nintendo version just fine. There was little the interface could do to strengthen or soften what was already a punishing experience. As Wizardry's adventurers explored the labyrinthine dungeon of despair from a first-person perspective, developer Sir-Tech made sure they encountered wave after wave of more powerful foes. It was only by playing it safe, not venturing far past the dungeon entrance, and fighting only minor foes before escaping to the safety of camp — a process eventually known as "grinding" that players could slowly prepare themselves to pursue more tempting treasures.

At the dawn of electronic entertainment, "challenge" and "gameplay" were practically interchangeable, so for the reasons above, I found myself drawn to Wizardry. Unlike with the more narrative Final Fantasy, I was not locked to a specific party but could design my own, encouraging endless experimentation. In fact, by some fluke, the very first character I ever rolled up was given enough discretionary building points that I could've created a ninja, right off the bat. But I'd never played the game before and didn't know what a high number I'd rolled; I must've hit "reset" to see if I could do better, as I never did get that ninja.

Bitmob recently published a history of Wizardry, detailing its origins, successes, and anime adaptations (the game was even bigger in Japan than in the USA). The article ends with the series' ultimate demise in North America — or ultimate, up until recently. Announced yesterday was the return of this franchise for a new generation of gamers, marking the first Wizardry title in a decade. But unlike with the series debut, where players could choose between the console or computer versions, this time, there is no choice: Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be exclusive to the PlayStation Network, an online "app store" for the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console. If that weren't change enough, the game will have a distinct Eastern flair, as seen in this screenshot of the character creation process.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls

Photo courtesy RPGFan

It's too soon to tell how this spring 2011 release will be received, and whether it'll be too modern for retrogamers or too hard for PS3 players. In the meantime, if you'd rather return to the age of classic Wizardry, I highly recommend Jeff Fink's Silvern Castle. This ridiculously comprehensive RPG offers everything Wizardry did on the Apple II and more, all while running from Applesoft BASIC on any 8- or 16-bit Apple II.

The Magic Candle

February 24th, 2011 10:16 AM
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I grew up with both an Apple II and a Nintendo, and both captivated me with their games. Although over time, I grew to become primarily a console gamer, there are some genres that computers are inherently superior for, such as role-playing games.

Perhaps that's why, two decades later, after having played a dozen Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games on Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and PlayStation, one of my favorite RPGs of all time is The Magic Candle, for the Apple II.

When I first played The Magic Candle sometime after its 1989 release, I was overwhelmed by its scope and complexity. Dragon Warrior on the NES, which I once rented for three weeks straight, had only two buttons and simplistic menus by which to guide a lone hero through a series of one-on-one battles in his linear exploration of the land of Alefgard. By contrast, The Magic Candle used the full keyboard and a large party of adventurers, and the manual suggested five directions from which to strike out from the first town. I was utterly dismayed, but I stuck with it — I'd spent my birthday money on this game, and I was not going to let that investment go to waste!

I'm glad I persisted, as the adventure that followed was one of the most diverse and rewarding experiences I've ever had. The balance between freedom and necessity was unparalleled: Parties could be divided, with some members taking jobs to earn money or apprenticing themselves to earn valuable skills. Citizens would not talk to you unless you had sufficient charisma or were of a particular race. Time passed realistically, with towns having day and night sequences, during which certain taverns or people would present themselves. Weapons wore down, and warriors got hungry.

I could continue to wax whimsical about this grand journey, but my musings would be based on decades-old memories. A fresher and more accurate perspective is provided by JJ Sonick, who has thus far blogged a twopart tour as he rediscovers this game for himself.

Alas, the story of The Magic Candle on the Apple II ends with its first chapter. The end of the game let players save their characters to be imported into the sequel, The Magic Candle II: The Four and Forty, which came out three years later, though seemingly not for the Apple II.

More disappointing is the current lack of availability of the original game: a search on eBay for a used copy produces no hits. Around 15 years ago, I called Interplay, the then-employer of the game's creator, Ali N. Atabek, to ask about reclassifying his work as a Lost Classic, but I never got through. I'm hopeful that someday, someone will be able to legally publish this classic game for all to enjoy.