Master of Magic: not that great

...oh no you didn't

By on November 7, 2012 4:25:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

pomalley

Join Date 08/2009
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We all know these forums need some more spice, so here it is: Master of Magic is good, but not great. There, I said it.

Ground rules:

  1. This is (obviously) just my opinion.
  2. I'm not trying to start a flame fest, so let's not get out the gasoline, ok?
  3. There are facts about the game, such as mechanics and units.
  4. There are opinions about the game, which are not to be stated (or interpreted) as facts.
  5. Opinions should be supported as much as possible, but--since they are not facts--do not have to be supported.
  6. Don't talk about FE unless it's to contrast facts between the two (i.e. in FE (or AoW) they did X, MoM is Y, Y is better/worse because...).
  7. MoM of course gets major credit for being the first to do its thing. Please differentiate "XYZ was great when MoM did it" from "XYZ in MoM is still better than anything else we've seen."

Why start the discussion? [1] Fun. [2] It has a major effect on how people perceive FE, and other games in this genre.

So, without further ado, here is my opinion on MoM, in very general terms:

The system that MoM set up was great: cities, troops, heroes, spells, items, etc. Building the next level X to get the better unit was fun. Finding the great hero was fun. Creating that sword you really need was particularly awesome IMHO. In addition, I found that the subsystems all worked together very well.

Furthermore, the variety was also great. You certainly could play differently with different spellbooks and races and whatnot.

The lore and feel of the game, such as it was, was also pretty good, but I hold that it benefited from the grainy little graphics (that were, of course, the only option at the time). Hear me out: the races were pretty standard fantasy/D&D fare, and the icons were just enough that you could tell what things were and they were suggestive of what they represented. The paladins, for example, were essentially a colored stick figure on a horse, and since every nerd worth her salt knows what a paladin is, we all had a picture in our heads of grand knights in shining armor. The graphics as a whole were very colorful and did well to enhance this. This also allowed the setting to be standard fantasy, as it invited the player to fill it in with imagination. (I would argue the same is true for Dwarf Fortress, but that's a tangent.)

The above all make MoM a good game, but the reason it is not a great game, (again, IMHO) is simple: the AI. I don't remember what difficulty I played it on, but the difficulty of the game (to me) was overcoming tough monsters, not the AI. Sometimes those monsters would be wandering/lair protecting, sometimes they would be controlled by a rival, but the AI never used the excellent system the game had to make a fun game. The AI could build stag beetles and throw them at me, but once I figured out how to defeat a stag beetle that was it.

Now I'm not saying I could have done better; I think that the wonderful complexity of the whole system (cities + heroes + spells + items + troops + summons) doomed the AI from the get-go. But for me, once I had explored the system to its fullest, there was nothing left to do. So I put the game down, disappointed that I couldn't test out the best hero + summon or troop + spell or strategic spell + tactical mischief that I could come up with on a deserving opponent.

To fix it, you could either: [1] simplify, streamline, or dumb down the system; [2] add, and then play, multiplayer; or [3] invest heavily in making the AI better. Personally, of course, I am not in a position to do any of them. (Fun question: is the source code out there? If so, is it even worth looking at?)

For a modern game to be successful in the same vein, it's going to have to be very careful with the lore/graphics issue (assuming, of course, it can get the underlying system right). Perhaps using sprites is palatable to a modern audience, perhaps not. Are people tired of the same old fantasy setting? I'd wager not, but I could be wrong. Multiplayer is, of course, possible, but not my preferred solution. The trick of making a system complex enough to be fascinating and replayable (over and over again) yet still manageable by an AI is certainly a difficult one.

So, to summarize: Master of Magic is a good game because it has an excellent underlying system and just the right setting and graphics to capture the imagination. For me, it is not a great game because once I explored it, I had no reason to go back.

OK: now everyone jump in and disagree! It's just, like, my opinion, man.

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November 8, 2012 10:01:03 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I smell a heretic.

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November 8, 2012 10:05:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Nostalgia's a bitch.

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November 8, 2012 10:21:02 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Lord Xia,
Nostalgia's a bitch.

 

True that. Everyone compares the game to MoM but they forget how much it wasn't a good game. It was buggy, unbalanced, and fairly bland because the lore was mediocre at best. It was fun though, back then it was original and that is why it is remembered. It isn't remembered as being a good game, though some people like to say it is - it was remembered for being original and fun. 

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November 8, 2012 10:33:09 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I always think back to a game, probably not many ever played on the Sega CD, called Dark Wizard.  Dark wizard was a strategy game with a lot of style, you had a Sovereign  could choose from a Knight Maiden, a Boy Prince, A Vampire Lord, and an Evil Sorceress.  And based on your Sov, you could summon monsters or hire heroes to help you.  Elves, Hobbits, Dwarfs, and Humans and you could level them along a warrior, cleric, or mage path way and they leveled up based on their race and alignment.  Special classes like Ninja, Dragon Rider, Griffon rider, and Pegasus rider( my fav-flying pony)  were out there too.  And there were also special story heroes that would join you.  You lead your armies across battle fields and attacked the enemy, taking over castles and cities and fighting off the evils and reclaiming the land.  It was awesome...at the time...but, the game provided no challenge.  I am not even a challenge gamer, that is something I really don't care much for, but this game was essentially moving your troops from one end of the map to the other, with little resistance.  I loved that game.  I still love that game in my mind and heart, but at the same time, I know if that game came out today with just prettier graphics, I would be hugely disappointed.     But, I don't think that game got good reviews at the time either...

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November 8, 2012 10:43:30 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

They could bring it to Facebook and call it Dark Wizardville.

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November 8, 2012 11:12:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Jythier,
They could bring it to Facebook and call it Dark Wizardville.

 

Terrified to look, it might already be there...

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November 8, 2012 11:14:55 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

I'm still waiting for them to provide a game that has the tutorial walkthrough take one all the way through the entirety of the game.

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November 8, 2012 4:18:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Kamamura_CZ,
I smell a heretic.

That was the plan!

Quoting Lord Xia,
Nostalgia's a bitch.

Yes!

Quoting Emperor_Nero,
True that. Everyone compares the game to MoM but they forget how much it wasn't a good game. It was buggy, unbalanced, and fairly bland because the lore was mediocre at best. It was fun though, back then it was original and that is why it is remembered. It isn't remembered as being a good game, though some people like to say it is - it was remembered for being original and fun. 

Yes yes!

 

OK, so, this wasn't exactly the response I was expecting. I guess everyone agrees with me, then, and we should stop holding MoM up as the game to beat. Case closed!

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November 8, 2012 9:02:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I don't.

I agree that MoM suffered from poor AI and show-stopping bugs, but I still enjoy it more than any other game in the genre. It's a great game.

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November 8, 2012 10:09:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I don't think you can sweep the opinions of the majority under the rug and argue that it's all just "nostalgia". Yes it had horrible AI and many bugs. But it certainly got a lot of other things right that FE can learn from so it's certainly reasonable to compare.

Some truths to consider:

1. The game despite the issues had fans who bothered to set up tribute pages that can be seen to this day and who bothered to make fan made patches to correct the flaws and improve the AI (with no source code or documentation or support) long after the developers had given up.

2. There's even someone who actually made a multiplayer version of MoM from scratch!

3. It's still held up as THE inspiration for similar fantasy 4X titles to this day, including FE and Age of Wonders.

4. It's included in several mainstream game review sites' "Top 100 best games" and "Hall of Fame" categories for good reason.

5. Still has people who are playing it two decades on.

How many other games can claim such a legacy?

Anyway why do I even bother... I suppose I just want to encourage Stardock to take some justified lessons from MoM, especially for the heroes and spells.

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November 8, 2012 10:18:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Ben Yeoh,
I don't think you can sweep the opinions of the majority under the rug and argue that it's all just "nostalgia". Yes it had horrible AI and many issues. But it got a lot of other things right that FE can learn from so it's certainly reasonable to compare.

Some truths to consider:

1. The game despite the issues had fans who bothered to set up tribute pages that can be seen to this day and who bothered to make fan made patches to correct these bugs (with no source code or documentation or support) long after the developers had given up.

2. There's even someone who actually made a multiplayer version of MoM from scratch!

3. It's still held up as THE inspiration for similar fantasy 4X titles to this day, including FE and Age of Wonders.

4. It's included in several mainstream game review sites' "Top 100 best games" and "Hall of Fame" categories for good reason.

5. Still has people who are playing it two decades on.

Anyway why do I even bother... I suppose I just want to encourage Stardock to take some lessons from MoM, especially for the heroes and spells.

 

All of your points are things that happened a decade after the game had been out, FE has been out about a month. There hasn't even been enough time to get too many mods out. 

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November 8, 2012 10:31:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Plus, a Great game 20 years ago, wouldn't necessarily be a great game today. 

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November 8, 2012 10:35:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I still have the gog version of MoM installed on my laptop and I pull it out occasionally. I will admit the ai sucked badly. And it's buggy. I still have a lot of fun exploring it's worlds and conquering it's lairs. I tried out warlock master of the arcane because they said it was a modernized MoM however I found it just to be a magic skinned Civ 5 and was disappointed (admittedly MoM was a magic skinned civ, but W:MotA doesn't have tactical battles or heroes, it did have very dapper werewolves though)

I'm playing FE now and I'm not disappointed. It scratches an itch that hasn't been properly scratched since I first discovered MoM and I hope it becomes even more re-playable and flexible so I can enjoy it more

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November 8, 2012 10:46:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

There are two ways that a game becomes a classic

  1. It's a near perfect version of an existing game formula.  It takes an existing formula and refines it obsessively to the point of near perfection.  Near perfection is a requirement for these games to become classics.
  2. It comes completely out of left field and does things in ways that no one has ever done before, or offers an experience that no one has offered before.  These games do not need to be perfect, and can often be very flawed.  But the sheer novelty and ambition of them make them classics.

Examples of Type 1:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Starcraft
  3. Civilization IV

Examples of Type 2:

  1. X-com
  2. Everquest
  3. Master of Magic

Master of Magic was hardly a perfect game.  It had lousy AI, poor balance, and many other problems.  It did, however, offer an experience that no game had ever offered before.  It was also exceedingly ambitious (which is why the AI and balance suffered so much).

The problem is, Type 2 games don't age well.  Successors come along to copy their novel and ambitious ideas, and implement them in a much more polished presentation.  To understand why MoM is a classic, you have to imagine what it was like to have it appear in a world that didn't yet have Age of Wonders, FfH2, etc.  MoM is a classic because it created that whole sub-genre of games.  Here we are, 18 years later, and the genre is still struggling to produce a game that matches up with MoM's complete list of features.

If you didn't experience a Type 2 game when it came out, it can often be difficult to understand why it's considered a classic.

Of course, the holy grail is games that qualify as both Type 1 and Type 2...

  1. Civilization 1?
  2. Star Control 2?
  3. Others?

 

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November 9, 2012 8:21:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@Cauldyth: Original Xcom is still better then anything that came after and original MoM is as well. I didn't play Everquest so cannot say anything about it.

I would also put Fallout to your list. First RPG to combine nice graphics and good UI with ultimate free roaming rpg experience. I have yet to experience a game that comes close. Wasteland 2 has a chance to do that, we will have to wait and see.

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November 9, 2012 8:41:31 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think it's possible to admit that it was a great game, classic even, and still wasn't perfect.  People sometimes hold MoM up as if it is a shining beacon of game design nirvana whenever they want to bludgeon a modern game. It's something that people do with all classic games.  

The classics are never perfection personified no matter what nostalgia tells us.  

MoM was quite fun though.  

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November 9, 2012 11:14:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Opinions are like a$$holes.

 

Everyone has one, but no one wants to hear it.

 

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November 9, 2012 3:45:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting uberlicker,
Opinions are like a$$holes.

Everyone has one, but no one wants to hear it.

Do you mind if I ass you a few questions?

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November 9, 2012 4:18:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting uberlicker,
Everyone has one, but no one wants to hear it.

I heard it as "Everyone has one, and they all stink." but that works too.

And yeah, my example games are just off the top of my head, I didn't put much thought into them.

 

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November 9, 2012 5:32:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting uberlicker,
Opinions are like a$$holes.
Everyone has one, but no one wants to hear it.

If you don't want to hear opinions, why are you in this thread?

Quoting Ben Yeoh,
I don't think you can sweep the opinions of the majority under the rug and argue that it's all just "nostalgia".

[...]

Anyway why do I even bother... I suppose I just want to encourage Stardock to take some justified lessons from MoM, especially for the heroes and spells.

I agree with that; every new work must look to the past in order to improve. But my point is mainly that by today's standards, I don't think it's a great game. The fact that people love it is, it seems to me, a testament that it was a great game when it came out. And it does justly deserve to be on Top 100 lists and such for that reason. However, many times I get the feeling that when someone doesn't like FE, they say "MoM was better", and I don't think it's an apples to apples comparison.

Quoting TorinReborn,
@Cauldyth: Original Xcom is still better then anything that came after and original MoM is as well. I didn't play Everquest so cannot say anything about it.

Obviously it's an opinion, but honestly, were I to sit down right now and say, "Would I rather fire up MoM or FE" I would choose FE. Because, to me, it's a better game by today's standards. And it is today.

Quoting Cauldyth,
Of course, the holy grail is games that qualify as both Type 1 and Type 2...

Civilization 1?
Star Control 2?
Others?

I never played Civ 1, just 2 through 5, and I would, again, honestly rather play 4 or 5 than 2, and I suspect rather than 1 as well. I would certainly believe that Civ 1 is in the same class as MoM, but I'm doubtful that it is also the perfection of its genre. But I'll cut you a break, it was off the top of your head.

Though I am skeptical that it's even possible for a game to be first of its type and also the best; I have a hard time believing that nothing better can ever come later. But it may take many years.

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November 9, 2012 5:40:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, I meant more like first of its kind and no serious flaws.  And yeah, I don't think anyone should be playing Civ 1 these days, it's been outdone repeatedly by its own sequels.

 

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November 10, 2012 3:56:54 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, I understand people complaining about nostalgia and rose tinted glasses, but here's the thing, you obviously enjoyed the game enough to remember it and even more than that for it to become a high water mark in turn based strategy in your mind.

MoM may not be a technical masterpiece, it may have a ton of issues and it may be crap by today's standards, but man was it fun at the time, and that's what games are for. So, I don't sit here and compare the technical or AI aspects of FE to MoM because that's not the point. Time will tell if I have as much fun playing FE as I had playing MoM, I probably won't be able to give you that answer for another 20 years.

Oh, edit, and Civ 4 is a masterpiece of that type of game and holy some terrific mods. Much like Gal Civ 2 pretty much crushed the need for any further development in that genre, I think Civ 5 was done in by Civ 4's perfection.

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November 10, 2012 3:25:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thing is that some games just have an undefinable quality that really makes you fall in love with it, and really care about your avatar/realm. MoM is one of those games for pretty much anyone who played it when it came out, despite the bugs and AI. Often this coincides with that 'just one more turn' feeling.

 

I don't think its something that you can really put your finger on, but comes from getting the game play, lore and mechanics just right.

 

As said above, MoM was one of those games for me. Another game that just did it for me was Daggerfall, and even though the Elder Scrolls has progressed since then and imrpoved in a lot of ways, it hasn't quite, even with Skyrim being a brilliant game in many ways, quite captured me the same.

 

Then again, maybe it has something to do with the stage our the players develoment when they 1st play the games, maybe the ones I truly love are those I played in my teens that caught me at just the right age.

 

Anyway, FE is turning out really nicely and certainly, in my mind, has rectified the disappointment of WoM (I was looking forward to that for over a year due to its 'Spiritual Successor to MoM tag), but it hasn't quite got that undefinable 'soul' quality that sucks me in, and I can easily turn it off or go a few days without playing it without getting withdrawal symptoms like I get with the games I really love.

 

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November 12, 2012 2:40:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

i486 ~30 mips

core2 quad ~60,000 mips

 

Seems a bit unfair critiquing MoM re the AI given it's hard to find examples of respectable AI despite 20 years of exponential growth in computing power.

Civ, HoMM, TW, AoW... are all terrible.

Games like those from Paradox, and Dwarf Fortress, don't really have AI as part of their design. They are the Sims for nerds.

 

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November 12, 2012 6:10:05 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

AI of complex games is poor, because it just can't be done on current computers. I have translated a few contributions of my friend who does AI research on academic level, so I have read quite a bit on the subject.

However, there are things that MoM still does better than FE, namely:

UI - the UI is much more consistent and ergonomic, especially with the latest unofficial patches that allow you to right-click almost anything. FE has a terrible mess of UI, every screen follows different conventions, the information is scattered illogically over multiple screens.

Unit stats - non-corporeal, weapon immunity, weapon materials, node affinities, magic type/poison and other immunities, all that is more diverse and interesting in Mom

Magic system - still much more diverse in MoM, expecially the globals. Magic in FE, despite being "war of magic", is uninspiring.

Tactical combat - while it looks horrible, it's better in MoM. At least, when the city has walls, they present a tactical challenge in combat. FE tactical combat is the same, bland map type all the time.

City building - the overcomplicated, strangely designed resource system of FE does not really bring anything more interesting than the civ-style building in MoM.

Artifacts - yep, you can create your own in MoM.

 

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