The Secret of Monkey Island
DavidNParticipantPodcasterOctober 5, 2017 at 1:20 am #716
First impressions of Nitemare 3D! I had seen this bizarrely-spelled game before but had never had a serious try at it. Like many people who grew up with shareware CDs, I first experienced these characters through David P Gray’s famouse Sierra-like adventure games, and found it weird that he had remade the same scenario as a first-person shooter. So this is a nice chance to really look at it.
Well, let’s start with the obvious – it looks hideous, doesn’t it? The homemade raycasting engine does the job, but the scaling of the amateurish sprites is oddly blocky and sometimes if an object is mostly around a corner from you it doesn’t quite realize it has to draw the object. This was made around 1994-95 in a post-Doom environment, and people were definitely making better-looking Wolfenstein 3D-style games at the time. But this is a small, almost homebrew game, so some concessions have to be made – it’s at least nice that the levels give some semblance of being in a large mansion environment, with definite kitchens, dining rooms and other features, rather than being fairly anonymous like Wolf3D’s castles. And there are some stairs and delivery chutes that are teleporters but act like you’re going up/down a floor.
You really need to look through the instructions for this one, because there are a couple of non-obvious controls – F9 toggles your automap (which uses up power that you pick up through floating eyeballs) and F10 toggles display of monsters on the automap (powered by the crystal balls). Having the automap on really makes all the difference when you’re navigating the impressively large levels. In addition to this, in an unusual move, the two opposite Shift keys do different things – left Shift makes you take slow steps, right Shift makes you run. Some keymapping in DOSBox is definitely advantageous here to prevent your right hand doing too much.
It seems pretty difficult, with monsters doing a ton of damage and health pickups being rare when you need them… after a false start on normal mode I’ve dropped down to easy, which is going better but there are still stretches where I’m running around desperately searching with very low health. I think a large part of this is because of so many enemies having hitscan attacks that don’t make it obvious when you’ve been hit.
I’ve found two weapons so far and the help file made it sound interesting that there might not be a linear progression of bad -> good weapons, but different weapons would be more effective against different enemies… I haven’t really seen that so far, though. Perhaps it’ll become more obvious as I play on.
PixParticipantPodcasterOctober 5, 2017 at 9:03 pm #717
I’m also playing this for the first time not having run across it before now. I don’t think we should be that unkind about the graphics/engine. This only came out in April 94, a few months after Doom. There were still Wolfenstein-like commercial games coming out around then like Corridor 7 and this doesn’t look all that much worse to me. I can’t say I bought any of them at the time mind you when I had Doom to play instead.
I definitely agree on this being hard. I’ve gone for the middle difficulty level and those women in white who float around the place can take half my health in a single hit. The enemies appear to be able to shoot through walls at times which isn’t helping. The only way to get through plenty of sections is knowing where the enemies are in advance requiring constant saving. I notice that the damage done/received drops massively depending how far you are away so a tactic that sort of works without using too much ammo is kamikaze runs straight at enemies since they can’t shoot back while you are hitting them. I can’t say I’m too struck with the combat. There is none of the satisfaction that comes with a decent shooter.
A big part of that is the controls are somewhat infuriating. I’m playing this on real hardware so keyboard mapping is out. Just playing with keyboard is ok but the turns are too inaccurate for me to hit often enough. This means using the mouse which conveniently has the right mouse button for strafe/open door. This should be fine except it only switches on strafe when you move the mouse side to side, not pressing left/right on the keyboard. Maybe if I play this for long enough I’ll get used to it but right now I’m getting by without any strafing. Even if I could strafe all the enemy attacks appear to be instantaneous so I couldn’t dodge them either way.
The instructions talk about this game having puzzles. The only puzzles I’m finding are the usual find the keys and the ridiculous number of secret doors/walls. I wandered around forever before I found a section of wall I was supposed to shoot on level 3. The levels are huge to have to find these sorts of secrets to progress.
I can’t say this game is entirely awful but it’s really not winning me over so far. I’ve only done the 3 levels though and will stick with it.
toastyParticipantPodcasterOctober 7, 2017 at 11:40 am #718
Thanks for… enduring the game with us! I actually played it as a child, so my impression is a bit more favourable.
At the time it was released, I loved N3D. It’s perhaps the most memorable game of my childhood, in fact. Being quite young, I found it genuinely terrifying in parts, especially the later garden-based levels.
@davidn I suspect you’re playing one of the earlier versions, with just sprites. Some later versions (still shareware) have 3D models for *some* of the enemies (most noticeably the frankenstein and mummy), which makes things… more bearable. I recommend digging this out if you can!
As for being difficult, I think I always used to play on Be Gentle (easiest). So naturally now I’m playing it on Let’s Party (hardest), and boy is it hard! That said, it has forced me to learn a bit more about how the game works. As @pix said, the distance from an enemy has a huge impact on how much damage they can deal you (perhaps this is only true on harder difficulties, as I never noticed it before?). The difference between the weapons also becomes very apparent—for example on Let’s Party a white witch will kill you in one stroke, and the plasma pistol is close to useless against them. Hence you really start to appreciate the wand. I know from past experience that similar things happen with other weapons/enemies.
I never realised that right shift enabled you to run! What a terrible place to put that key… And how useful that would have been on level 2…
I think @pix is right about the puzzles mostly being finding panels. (Did you notice that the centre of the eyeball lights up when you’re next to a panel, by the way?) There are a couple of other puzzles, like finding the key for safes, but I have to agree that describing it as having puzzles is a bit of a stretch.
Overall I think the game was still pretty good in its time, but it has not aged well. Some tweaking of the controls and basic gameplay elements would have helped, along with better puzzles for unlocking all the secret bits. I’ll always be fond of it though, and it hasn’t lost its charm for me.
EDIT: having played a bit more I’ve been reminded that there are one or two extra, sokoban-style puzzles later in the game. Still, probably not enough to make this a puzzle game ^^.
PixParticipantPodcasterOctober 7, 2017 at 2:35 pm #725
I’ve spent a lazy Saturday morning playing a whole lot more and it’s definitely grown on me. It’s either getting easier or I’m getting the hang of the controls and stange combat style you have to adopt (probably the latter). The better weapons definitely help and some of the levels have had much reduced enemy counts with more focus on exploring.
I had noticed the little pixel on the eyeball for spotting secrets although I’m just going around hugging walls and clicking all the time as it’s quicker. That pixel doesn’t light up for the walls you have to shoot either but I eventually noticed that these always have a slightly different texture. Once you know to look for these it’s obvious but it took me long enough to spot it.
The later levels have started introducing boxes and gravestones which can be pushed around. There have been some sneaky puzzles involving walls you have to shoot at distance from one side to clear a path so you can then push a gravestone from the other. There is certainly more brainpower required than Wolfenstein 3D anyway. You can quite easily make some of the levels unwinnable so I recommend keeping a spare save file for the start of each level just in case.
Now I’ve got into it, I reckon I may actually be enjoying this more than if I were to go back to Wolfenstein. It seems to me like you need to adopt a slightly different mindset to play one of these oldschool FPS titles. I’m probably getting too used to being guided around on rails.
I’m halfway through episode 2 now. This has ramped up the difficulty with far more enemies in one area at a time. There are lots of human enemies in this second part who are barely damaged at all by the wand at the middle difficulty so I’m having to make sure I have the right weapon all the time. If I hadn’t played episode 1 first I probably wouldn’t be able to get anywhere in this but I’m making steady progress.
The only place I could find to buy the full game was direct from the author at http://www.dgray.com/n3dpage.htm. It’s slightly steep considering the age of the game at $12 which gets you Windows and Dos versions. The Windows version won’t actually run on Windows 10 but the installer does work and dumps the DOS versions in the installation folder.
rnlfKeymasterPodcasterOctober 11, 2017 at 8:07 am #728
So… I played level 1 (which took about 2 minutes) and then a huge part of level 2 (which took another hour or so). Here are my thoughts so far:
The game has a rather strange balancing. Some enemies are ridiculously easy to kill, usually with a single hit from the gun. Others are really hard to kill and are very strong themselves (like the Witches). The weapon needed to easily kill them is not available until much later (it seems). And Witches hiding behind a corner and then attacking immediatly when you’re close (which is inevitable because you just ran around the corner) take about half your health points on medium difficulty. They take about 20 hits or so in return to kill. Very weird balancing.
The skeletons are almost impossible to hit. Their hitboxes are really tiny, and a single tap of the cursor keys can move the (non-existant) crosshair from too far on one side to too far on the other side. Slow turning with left shit helps, but it also means being slower to strafe back away into cover. Wolfenstein didn’t suffer from that problem because enemies were much wider sprites usually and had way bigger hitboxes.
Also, I don’t know about later weapons, but the standard pistol shoots terribly slow bullets while the enemies all use hitscan and hit without delay. That’s a bit frustrating.
On the plus side, the game looks pretty good, imho. Better than Wolfenstein with much more detailed and beautiful wall textures. I like the stairs and elevators, even though elevators could have been done in a more interesting way (making them a sperate room and teleport the player to the new floor while the doors are closed – that gives a much better impression of using an elevator, while using exactly the same engine technology).
The garden area is actually kinda cute, but I guess they could have changed the sky and floor color while leaving the house. I know that the engine can only display a single color for floor and sky at any given time, but it would have been possible to fade from one color to the other while walking out of the house into the garden and back.
So those are clearly two low hanging fruits they missed to use (but you can’t blame them, id Software did exactly the same in Wolfenstein 3D, just that they didn’t even have elevators).
On the other hand, N3D was released one year after DOOM, so they could have taken some inspiration from that, game design wise.
It’s cool that there are so many usable objects in the world, though besides stairs, elevators and doors I haven’t found a use for any of them.
Btw, kinda interesting that every single bookshelf in the game is actually a hidden door :-p
TijnKeymasterPodcasterOctober 11, 2017 at 9:19 am #729
Is it just me or are the levels quite disorientating? I feel lost most of the time, haha. Having the minimap helps, but sadly you can’t have it on all the time. Which is in itself an interesting mechanic I suppose. Quite novel, I don’t think I’ve seen “temporary map” as a feature in other games.
I’ve managed to reach level 3 so far and found the magic wand. I’m not particularly into shooters, so I’m playing on easy, which I suppose removes a lot of what the game is actually about. But I’m having quite a good time nonetheless and I can’t wait to beat the episode!
It’s only because you guys talked about the “garden” area that I recognised it as such by the way, hahaha.
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