Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994): Initial Impressions

This is one of the few series where I actually started with the first game!  A friend of mine had recommended it.

Him: "It's like Doom but like dragons and wizards and stuff, and you can go anywhere in the world."

Me: "That sounds like a pretty big arena."

Him: "There's actually no arena."

Even though the game lies to your face, what can I say? It was like in those movies where the worker tells his rich fat cat boss what's up and the boss goes, "YOU SURE GOT BALLS TO SAY THAT TO ME" and all the suckups and yesmen fall silent but then the boss goes, "GIVE THIS MAN A RAISE" and then looks at that one slimy yesman and fires him, then they all dance to some Rolling Stones song or something—fade to credits.

I eventually tracked down a copy at a retail store, brought it home and installed it, played it for a few minutes and got killed over and over in the surprisingly long and winding intro dungeon, and lost all patience with the game.

FAST FORWARD many years and I decided to revisit this one since I have played (but not finished) every other game in the series.  You could download the game for free for a while, but my copy came from as a free gift when I bought some other games.

Initial impressions: this game is amazing and I was a fool for giving up in frustration back then.

The game opens with some frankly amazing music (if played through a Roland Sound Canvas or CM-500 in mode C).  Like all great video game soundtracks, the music in Arena is both atmospheric and catchy.  Many of the tracks are minor or major variations on the same theme; for example, all the town themes are generally the same, but with different instrumentation depending on the location or time (one nice touch is the sleigh-bells added when it snows in the game).

You get a short summary of the story in text on some scrolls (the elder scrolls?!?!!??!) and then are given a choice on how to create your character.  I'm lazy and just decided to choose my race and class and be done with it.  There are a lot of options here, and you get to tweak your attributes before setting out on your quest.  Ah, the sweet sound of clicking buttons when tweaking your stats—just one of the many little pleasures when playing RPGs.

The entire game is played from a first-person perspective in real-time.  Although combat is all based on stats, it plays like an action game (just because your sword looks like it hit something, doesn't mean that you actually hit).

The first dungeon is actually a lot of fun.  Imagine your first day on the job you walk in wearing underwear and tripping over every bump in the rug.  You spill the coffee all over yourself and pass out.  Someone from HR brings you back with smelling salts.  Fast forward 8 hours later and you are wearing a magical Armani suit that protects you from skeletons, kicking down office doors and giving stirring business speeches.  Instead of driving home you just charge your power up, leap into the air, and fly home.  That is what it feels like when you get through this dungeon.


After using the manual to answer a question to prove you legitimately own the game, you are in some town.  The game gives you a lead on what to do next but otherwise you are on your own.  The world is MASSIVE.  Unfortunately it's also BORING AND MOSTLY EMPTY.  Other than the towns and main dungeons, the entire game is basically randomly constructed.  What this means is, while you may be tempted to walk around and explore the world, this is not that type of game.  Instead, you are supposed to talk to people, gather information, and then use your map to select locations to instantly travel to.  Although it sounds dull, I actually really enjoyed gathering information in this game.  When you talk to a person in a town you can ask them for directions to various places.  If you are too far away they will usually give you a direction to head in, and then you basically just keep doing this as you get closer and closer to your destination; at some point, a person will just write down the location on your map and you are good to go.

In this photo our hero asks a friendly bikini babe for directions to the nearest wizard.

All in all, a very enjoyable game so far, as long as you are in the right mindset.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress (1982): Initial Impressions

I have been a fan of the Ultima series since I played Ultima Exodus on the NES.  Once I learned that it was actually a port of a computer game (and there were two games before it even!) I was desperate for more Ultima. Luckily, Ultima Quest of the Avatar came out shortly on the NES, and then I found a copy of Ultima VI: The False Prophet for my C64.  It probably goes without saying that that horrible port soured me on Ultima for a while.

Once I got a PC I eventually got back into the series with Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Ultima Underworld, and Ultima VII: The Black Gate.

I also eventually got the awesome Ultima Collection on PC, and finally decided to give the older games a try.

I started with Ultima I, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, playing it to the end.  I even did it the old fashioned way, jotting notes on the world maps and mapping out dungeons on graph paper.  With evil wizard Mondain defeated, I was excited, then, to move on to Ultima II.

Ultima II begins with a painstakingly detailed—nay, photorealistic—depiction of a happy dragon.  You start by creating a character, selecting from several races and classes and boom there are you just standing there in some field.

It is immediately obvious that Ultima II is a classic top-down RPG, and you know you are gonna spend the next few hours at least smiting foes and devouring their delicious experience points, exploring the land, and chatting with townspeople for clues.

However, there are some unique things about Ultima II. It is played in pseudo realtime.  The game is turn based, but if you do nothing after a period of time you will automatically end your turn and the game will update one step.

Also unique: the game takes place on planet Earth and you start in the midwest USA in 1990.  There are time gates that appear from time to time to take you into the past and future (helpfully noted on the map that came with the game).  One of your earliest tasks therefore is to get an idea of how the time gates function.

Once you get a good understanding of that, it's time to gather information—but before you can think of doing that, you need to establish a safe "system" for survival.  You have two stats to monitor: your HPs, and your food.  HPs work like every other RPG, while food constantly depletes and if it reaches 0 you are gone.  Your character must have some kind of condition, because he is constantly eating.  Just walking from the town gate to the local McDonalds (for real) and back will consume several units of food.  I like to imagine the hero as this Conan looking warrior, his pockets full of trail mix and jerky, his cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk.

What this means is that you need to find a reliable location where you can purchase food and healing easily.  Once you get to this point, you get excited to go figure out what to do... but this game is nuts.  Instead of useful hints, townspeople are all 100% insane and just babble nonsense at you.  I'm not talking about "Welcome to South Town! It is south town." stuff.  I am talking about "UGH ME STRONG" and stuff like that.

So this is gonna be one of those games where you blindly stumble around until by luck you find something I guess.  There are dungeons and towers all over to explore, but somewhat infamously, you never have to even set foot in one to complete the game.

The early game is therefore pretty much awful.  Until you get a good survival route in place, you have zero leeway to actually explore.  I had the benefit of having played this a bit on the C64 previously, so I knew pretty much where to go immediately to at least be able to survive.  Then, you need to get a somewhat rare item that is randomly dropped by a certain monster, so that you can get a ship and have a bit more freedom in exploring.  How anyone could have had the patience to figure this out back then, I will never know.  Incidentally, most walkthroughs (even the "official" one) recommend that you just steal everything to skip the tedious first few hours of the game.

From what I remember, once you get the ship the game is pretty much won.  You are basically invincible on your ship so you are free to massacre monsters and gain gold and items with impunity.  From there it's just a matter of getting a bunch of other items that are randomly dropped, then uncovering all these items hidden in ridiculous areas no one would ever be able to figure out without a hint guide or just dumb luck.

I'm going to try to enjoy it though as I would have as a kid... which means I will be exploring the dungeons and yes the other planets—all of which are 100% meaningless and pretty much empty.  Sometimes being overwhelmed by a giant computer game can be fun, and I think that is the best attitude to have when playing this one.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Legend of Kyrandia (1992): Final Thoughts

I was perhaps a little hasty in singing the praises of The Legend of Kyrandia.

Although the first half of game (with the exception of the senseless gem puzzle) was just as fun as I remembered it, the second half takes a very noticeable dive in quality.  The difference in quality is so great that I wouldn't be surprised if two completely different teams were in charge of them.

While none of the puzzles in the first half are particularly clever (the maze puzzle comes close in how you have to figure its rules out through experimentation, then apply those rules to safely get through the maze [instead of just save-reloading your way through it]), the game is good looking (and sounding) enough that simply exploring the world and seeing what comes next is enjoyable.

Sometimes in a game you get stuck and no matter what you try you can't figure it out and have to look the solution up online (or, 20+ years ago, you asked your friends if they had any ideas [or maybe dialed into Prodigy]).  You can tell a great puzzle from a poor one by how you feel after reading the solution.  With a great puzzle you will think, "why didn't I think of that?!" and you respect the designers and promise to yourself that you will think harder next time.  With a poor puzzle you think, "huh" or "..." or "what?"  It makes the rest of the game seem worse and you lose motivation to solve anything on your own.

Sadly, the second half of Kyrandia is like that.  I would say that there are four major puzzles in the game.  The first is the awful gem puzzle (in hindsight not so bad... more later), followed by the decent maze.  That is the first half.  The final two are a totally ridiculous alchemy puzzle and the final area (which is one large multistep puzzle).

The alchemy puzzle is just bullshit.  The only hint you get is "get me a blueberry" then the hint giver disappears. 

I remembered the solution vaguely from playing through as a kid, so I checked online figuring, there has got to be something in the game somewhere that at least gives you an idea.  Maybe some book or note I missed.  Nope.  The lady is gone for good, and you are supposed to figure out that you need to mix several potions, then combine those potions to make new ones, in order to solve a couple of puzzles.  You can place literally anything in the cauldron, and of the things you actually have to mix, half of them randomly generate way back at the beginning of the game.  After mixing them you then have to travel to yet another location to the place to mix the potions into new potions. 

Come on.  Left to your own devices, how long would you have to spend going back and forth and back and forth—literally across the entire game at this point—and figuring this out purely through trial and error?  The worst thing about the puzzle is the total lack of feedback.  You do get a different effect if you mix the wrong thing vs. the right thing, but nothing more.  There is no thread connecting the puzzles you need to solve with the potions you need to make.

This could have been a GREAT puzzle.  Make the player go have to find pages from an alchemy book listing potions, ingredients, and effects.  Hell, even put it in the manual as a form of copy protection.  You could read the effects, and it would make your imagination run wild as you consider all the stuff you haven't figured out and how the potions would fit in to it all.

To be honest, this potion puzzle completely demotivated me.  I got sick of fooling around and wasting my time trying to mix potions completely randomly to create some unknown effect that I could somehow use on something, so I just looked it up and got on with the game.

But it doesn't end there.  The final area looks great, and could have been great.  It's a giant puzzle basically, and while some parts of it are really cool, others are just pixel hunting for junk you don't even know you need.

I really hate to say it, but Kyrandia is just not a good game.  The atmosphere is great and the graphics are wonderful, and I even liked most of the characters and generic fairytale feel.  But the actual game—exploring and puzzles—is a total letdown for at least half of the game.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Legend of Kyrandia (1992): Initial Impressions

The Legend of Kyrandia (or, as the cover would suggest Fables & Fiends The Legend of Kyrandia Book One) has a very special place in my heart.

Growing up, I was a Commodore 64 kid.  I have tons of great memories playing a lot of great games on that machine.  Pool of Radiance, Questron II, and Demon's Winter are just a few examples, though there were plenty of others.  I never saw the C64 as a computer... more like just another video game console that played much more complex games; the RPGs on the C64 were obviously much more complex than anything on the NES for instance.  Even though the C64 was an excellent platform for action games, I eventually settled into a groove of playing action games on the NES and RPGs on the C64.

At some point my mom ended up getting me an IBM PS/2 computer, likely to replace the old unreliable word processor I had been using throughout middle school.  I just saw it as another game machine though, and just kept on using that word processor.

Once I got my hands on a PC the poor C64 went in the closet, and I went shopping for games.  I remember my first few PC games very clearly: The Legend of Kyrandia, Quest for Glory III, and Ultima VII.  Used to simply booting games from the floppy with my C64, I had a LOT to learn...

Kyrandia starts with a beautiful title screen which seamlessly transitions to the introduction story.  The animation in this introduction simply blew my mind.  I was used to stuff like the admittedly impressive cinemas in Ninja Gaiden, and while the C64 version of Ultima VI was a great attempt, nothing until then could even come close to what 13 year old me was seeing here.

This part is particularly impressive.  As he writes the "camera" focuses on his (animated) hand while the rest of the scene is slightly out of focus.  Noticing something is awry, he stops writing, and the "camera" focuses on his face, putting his hand slightly out of focus.  The "camera" then focuses on the window in the back.  Even now this attention to detail is impressive.

After the amazing introduction the game starts proper.  So what is Kyrandia?  It's a pretty typical point-and-click adventure game, where you explore a "3D" screen space, collect items, and solve puzzles that generally come down to using the right item in the right place.  It is very similar to the games Sierra was doing at the time.

In fact Kyrandia is very similar to Sierra's King's Quest in that both games/series feature a somewhat fairy tale-like spin on the fantasy genre.  There are dragons and wizards and jesters, and both series are overall innocent enough to be enjoyed by pretty much anyone.

The first thing you notice is how beautiful this game looks.  The game was developed by Westwood, which was well-known for its extremely detailed and colorful house style of graphics.  There is not a single boring scene in this game.  I went mad with power as I took screenshots and I could post pretty much any shot I took and it would look great.  In fact, the screenshots are definitely what convinced me to buy the game in the first place.

The second thing you notice is how great the music is.  Coming from the C64, which is legendary for the quality of the music it can put out, I have to admit that my SoundBlaster clone at the time was a bit of a let down when it came to music.  Kyrandia though, whether due to its excellent compositions or clever music programming, sounded amazing.  I am playing it now with a Roland CM-500 synthesizer (the game was composed on a Roland synthesizer) and the quality of the music is simply unbelievable for 1992.

So is this game perfect or what?  Although I really like it, there are some things that aren't great.  The main character, Brandon, is pretty boring (though I have to admit that the voice acting in the CD-ROM version for the character helps to make him a lot more likable), for instance.

More importantly, there are some illogical puzzles that end up just being trial and error.  Shortly into the game you need to combine some gems in the correct order, and you are given a clue saying you should start with "summer" then go in order by birthstone.  Since the character made a point of saying "summer" and there are four slots, I figured there would one for each season in order... so, summer, fall, winter, spring.  I looked up birthstones, went through the gems I had collected, and everything I did was wrong.  Turns out you need to find a "sunstone" in a very unfair location and start with that, then just save the game and restore as you work through all your gems.  This made me feel ridiculous for overthinking the problem, but also annoyed that the clue—though very useful—hinged upon finding an item in a pretty unlikely location.

On the other hand I loved the mapping puzzle that came shortly after that.  The Internet hates this part, complaining that it requires trial and error and slows the game down to a halt.  I disagree.  Mapping puzzles have been a tradition in these kinds of games from way back, and as long as you are mapping the game (though the game doesn't really require it except for this part, it's a good habit to keep with these kinds of games anyway) there is no problem at all getting through this part.  Note though that this hardly qualifies as trial and error if you map it—there is one part early on where you need to decide between two choices and the wrong one kills you, but after that the rest is a purely logical mapping puzzle.  This is no different from any other game where death is a possibility... just save before you make your choice.

This is what happens if you make that wrong choice, by the way:

I am cheating a bit with this one, as I finished Kyrandia back around when it was released.  However, it's been 24 years or so and I have forgotten much of it, so here we are.  Kyrandia is a beautiful looking and sounding game, and is a lot of fun to play.  It's not afraid to kill you when you make a mistake, and the limited inventory means you can't just pick everything up without thinking of it.  And the bad guy is a cool villain (moreso in the CD-ROM version thanks to some great voice acting).  I'm really enjoying my second play of this, and will definitely see it to the end.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Anvil of Dawn (1995): Initial Impressions

Here's an interesting one I've heard some great things about in certain circles (i.e. reading posts on  I have very little history with Anvil of Dawn.  I remember back in high school reading a review of it in an issue of Computer Gaming World, and while it reviewed well and I remember being impressed with the screenshots, at the time I was just getting into what was "cutting edge" in PC games at the time (Mechwarrior 2, probably Quake) and I guess even if I did run into this game on the shelf somewhere I would have probably passed it up.

Which is a shame because Anvil of Dawn has a lot to offer and I would probably have enjoyed it a lot back then... though I would have been missing an important component necessary for enjoying the game to its fullest (more on that later).

Anvil of Dawn is a first-person, single-character dungeon exploration role-playing game.  Movement is step-based, though combat is real-time (of course, like most games of this type, combat basically works in "turns" as enemies tend to have wait times in between attack animations).  And—again, like most games of this type—much of the game involves exploring dungeons, combat, and light puzzles (in that order).

The game begins with a CG rendered cinema to set the story up and before you know it you are in the game.  I like that it hardly wastes your time.  Right off the bat, I liked the atmosphere—the world the game takes place in is definitely a dark one compared with many other RPGs at the time.

Prior to starting the game though you need to pick a character.  The game system is extremely simple, and you are basically choosing between a magic guy, a fast girl, a strong guy, a healthy girl, or a guy that is just okay at everything.  You can then reallocate the stat points if you want.  I went with the magic guy, and rearranged his points to max out his magic to ensure the very best in magical hijinx.

The game starts immediately after and you are exploring some castle.  Compared with Lands of Lore, you immediately notice that the view takes up the whole screen.  It also scrolls smoothly as you walk, just like that other game.  Unfortunately, while the monsters and NPCs are gloriously hand-drawn, the dungeons were CG rendered.  Sometimes it looks fine—the starting area for instance is some castle so it makes sense that you would have these perfectly flat and clean walls/ceilings.  Unfortunately, it ends up looking way too clean when you get to dungeons and caves and such.  I would also have liked the scrolling to have been a bit more smooth (it seems to have been rendered at only a few frames per second), but I understand they needed to save space back then.

You run into your first enemy in this same area.  Screenshots don't do them any justice, but the enemies in this game are simply amazing.  Although they are extremely detailed, they are all fully animated—from their attack animations to their deaths.  They really blow the Lands of Lore monsters (which often have a single frame of animation for their attacks) away.

One standout feature of this game is the soundtrack.  Moody and touching, it makes backtracking through dungeons a pleasure.  This is definitely one thing modern games don't get.  You can forgive a lot of tedium if you have some great tunes to listen to.  The Anvil of Dawn soundtrack is not only extremely fitting and atmospheric... it's very catchy and I often put it on in the background when I am working.

Not that I would have realized this back then.  You see, like most games of this vintage Anvil of Dawn was composed on a Roland SC-55, then down-converted to play on Soundblaster/Adlib OPL soundcards.  Granted, great music will still sound great even on inferior hardware... but on a Roland device Anvil of Dawn really shines!  Nearly CD quality (the only MIDI soundtrack that compares in my opinion is Warcraft II [the redbook audio soundtrack is just a recording of the Roland music playing], Doom 2, and Duke Nukem 3D).  A good SC-55 soundfont loaded into BASSMIDI does a respectable job—certainly better than the default Windows MIDI synth—but does not come close to the actual hardware.

Here's another monster:

How does the game play?  Although it is quite typical, it's got some good and bad parts. First the good: the dungeons are lengthy enough to be interesting, and the automap is quite excellent.  Each enemy has its own patterns and you have to develop (shallow) strategies to deal with them.  I like the way you level up by developing skills through use.  Finding stuff in the first few hours feels awesome because actual upgrades are rare.

Bad? By its very nature as a single-character game it's shallow.  You only fight one enemy at a time (unless you are surrounded of course).  The strategies you eventually develop for each enemy basically come down to "how long do I have to wait/how many attacks can I get off before I step back to avoid the attack animation."  The game is extremely linear—although you can have a couple choices after the first dungeon, you really should go to the next dungeon in the plot for a challenge level that is much more fair.

The inventory is annoying, though nothing near as annoying as the one in Lands of Lore.  You've got a single inventory "box" on your character sheet where everything you pick up gets dropped.  You can sort with bags and stuff, but it's a pain.

A LOT of the "puzzles" involve dropping rocks on switches, and some switches can take 2-3 10 lb. rocks to switch.  When your carrying capacity is 40 lbs. this can really put a damper on your game (you can exceed your carrying capacity but doing so negatively affects your stats).

I feel that they could have done a little more with the area outside the dungeons.  When you leave a dungeon the game takes on a sort of MYST-like view, where you move around from hotspot to hotspot until you find your next dungeon.  I was hoping more for a step-based overworld like in Might and Magic.

As much as I like the "improve skills as you use them" system, I feel like there should be more.  Basically, your overall skill level (weapons or magic) only improves depending on how much damage you do with an applicable skill.  Once you reach the next level you can choose which skill to improve.  I gained a single spell level over the course of the entire first dungeon, and while it really seemed to affect my spell damage, it would have been nice to develop more hit points, speed, or something in addition to that.

Finally, as amazing as the enemy sprites are, I wish there were more of them.  You typically will run into anywhere from one to three different enemies in each dungeon.  It gets boring fighting the same monsters over an over—especially in the first dungeon which only has one monster (plus one unique guy you can fight).

Overall, Anvil of Dawn is a great game.  It's definitely shallow—this is definitely not a worthy successor to the seminal Dungeon Master—but it's got great atmosphere (especially that music!), imaginative monsters, relatively lengthy dungeons that are fun to explore, and is just a blast to play.  Definitely looking forward to more!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Veil of Darkness (1993): Initial Impressions

Veil of Darkness is one of those games that slipped under my radar, as I don't think it was a particularly popular title and by the time I was in the market again for PC games the selection in my area was really spotty.

(I did however own and play The Summoning, which is from the same developer and seemingly even uses the same engine.)

Veil of Darkness opens with an impressive animated introduction, though I admit that it animates so slowly that it honestly gets a little boring halfway through.  After the intro you wake up in a house in some Transylvania-like town and soon find that you are the one prophesied to take out the evil vampire ruling the region.

This is basically a point-and-click adventure game with some very very light RPG elements on top.  Much of the game so far involves exploring, talking to people, and solving light puzzles, broken up occasionally by realtime combat that is frankly not interesting at all.

The game generally looks good with some attention to detail in the backgrounds.  I was especially impressed with the houses.  However, while it definitely looks better than The Summoning (released from the same developers just a year prior), the characters and items are still tiny and lack detail... and in the meantime the jaw-dropping Ultima VII was released.  In fact, the items are so tiny that they can be difficult to see, though the developers realized this and added an option to magnify all items.

The audio is not great.  Although it supports the Roland MT-32, I suspect that the game was composed for Adlib and just converted to Roland quickly, as some instruments sound awful.  I've tried the game on both an MT-32 and CM-500 (in Mode B), and the game just sounds unnatural on Roland devices.  Of particular note is the otherwise excellent tune that plays in the bar (note how it grows quieter and quieter the further away from the bar room you are in the building), that is ruined by a shrill screeching that is supposed to be a violinist performing for the customers.  I really do not understand it, as the Roland MT-32 is particularly well-suited for strings and other orchestral music.

The game offers you a checklist of sorts in the form of a scroll you obtain early in the game listing all of the things you are prophesied to accomplish.  This is really cool.  It gives you a general idea of what you will need to do next, and since the prophecy is told in the form of a metaphorical poem figuring it out is like a meta puzzle running throughout the game.

As you work through the game more and more locations open up on the map.  This fortune teller reminding me immediately of a similar character in the introduction to Ultima VI.  It's always a lot of fun to explore a new location, and the writing is quite decent.  Strangely, the dialog is quite brief compared with The Summoning, which is more of a traditional RPG while Veil of Darkness is definitely more of a character-based adventure game.

Although I have enjoyed the game so far, the solutions to some of the puzzles are kind of out there.  There is one point where you need to lift a curse from some guy, and the solution is basically to kill him and have him brought back to life.  I dunno how anyone would just stumble upon that (I had to look that one up).  The atmosphere and interesting characters more than make up for that though, and I am definitely planning on seeing this one to its end.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum (1986): Initial Impressions

The Might and Magic series has always interested me, though until now I have never sat down and played any of the games (other than the Heroes of Might and Magic spinoff games).  I always assumed the earliest games would be unbearably clunky crawls through endless dungeons, and in most cases I hate to start these kinds of long series of games somewhere in the middle, as going through in order often gives you a lot of insight.

My first memory of M&M was standing in Walden Software and deciding which game I would get for my Commodore 64.  Any kid into computer RPGs would immediately be attracted to the artwork on the cover on M&M1: even now you look at that and think, I want to explore every inch of that map.  I had finally narrowed my choice down to M&M and Ultima VI.  Based on past experience I was pretty terrified of making a poor choice and getting stuck with an awful game for the next six months or so, so I chickened out and got the tried and true Ultima sequel.  Sadly, although Ultima VI is an amazing game, the C64 port is pretty horrible outside of the excellent music that plays during the introduction, requiring you to swap disks constantly and even missing stuff from the PC version.

My next exposure to M&M came in the form of the Genesis port of Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World, which a friend owned.  It was actually an extremely faithful port and one of the best RPGs on that console.

At one point later down the line I bought one of the later games in the series, but barely even played it.

A year or so ago I bought the Might and Magic bundle off of GOG, and after reading some impressions decided to start off with the first game.

Might and Magic begins with a seizure-inducing title screen and a catchy tune.  To be honest, I was tempted to play this on my Apple II (which offers slightly more colorful graphics) or C64 (which has much nicer music)... but went with the PC version just because for the convenience of it (and there isn't much music anyway).

Instead of creating a party I just decided to go with the premade characters, as they start equipped with some items for a slightly easier time getting started.

The game starts you out in town, and one thing you learn very quickly is that not even towns are safe.  In addition to fixed encounters in some rooms, monsters also wander the halls (streets?)... and in the beginning winning even a single combat can be difficult.

After gaining a level or two and improving your equipment the game becomes a lot easier, and once you get used to the keyboard only interface the game plays very quickly.  In fact, the game is really a joy to play after the initial 15 minute period of learning how to navigate.

The game is played entirely from a first person view, and provides no map.  The game is huge, so you will need to draw maps as you go along.  I do not recommend downloading maps; the game was balanced assuming that you would be exploring every square, so if you just rush from objective to objective you will find yourself too weak to accomplish anything.  Besides, the whole point of the game is to explore this massive world and figure it out, and mapping is a central part of this.

Combat is simple but offers more to think about than just attacking or casting spells.  There is a rudimentary positioning system in place, and characters and monsters may only engage in melee if they are adjacent to each other.  Spells and missile weapons can be fired even from long range.

Although you get a crudely drawn image of the enemy when you first encounter it, once you enter battle it's all text.  It's not a bad interface, but I would have at least liked the game to have shown my HPs on this screen (rather than having to access another screen to check).

After a few hours I had mapped (most) of the starting town, a good portion of a dungeon underneath the town, and some of the wilderness area outside the town.

At this point I had some decent equipment and had reached level 4 for all six characters.  Battles in the town were all ridiculously easy, while battles in other areas ranged from easy to impossible.  Luckily, if you die you can just reset and reload from the last time you saved an an inn.

Overall, it's a great game and I would have absolutely loved this if I had been wise enough to choose it over Ultima VI!  Due to the open nature of the game you are free to set your own goals, and if you get stuck you seemingly always have a few directions you can started exploring in.  The plot wants me to go visit a wizard in another town, but I could just as well decide to ignore that for now and finishing exploring the town dungeon, or set off to explore the wilderness a bit more.  Anyone who is into computer RPGs and dismisses M&M1 as a clunky-looking dungeon crawl should really give the game a chance, as it plays much better than you might expect for a game released in 1986.