June 2, 2007

Bitten by the CRPG Bug, memories of hex-editing savegames

A long time ago, back in the days when the big fight was whether an Apple //e or a Commodore 64 was a better machine (the answer is Apple //e, but I might accept Atari ST as well) I used to play a lot of Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs.)

Click the link to read more about computer RPGs and stuff. There is some actual useful information for people who want to cheat at the old game "Dragon Wars": I include hex offsets and directions for how to give your players some extra experience points for leveling them up. A lot.

My favorite CRPG of all time is Wasteland, an early game by Interplay back when they were good. (A side-note: Brian Fargo and Feargus Urquhart have really been connected with some great RPGs.) Coming in a close second and third are the Bard's Tale and Wizardry Series. The last RPG I played before heading off to college, and there pretty much abandoning computer games as I went study mad trying to complete a double major double minor in five years, was the old SSI Pools of Radiance on the Mac Plus.

But still, every once in a while I want to go back and play some RPGs on the computer to relax.

I don't really play many games on the computer nowadays because I do not like 3d first person shooters: I get lost enough in real life, and things are only worse when you try to reproduce that on the computer for me. My horrible sense of direction doesn't help at all in these games. I'm also not particularly good in the first person perspective, I prefer a wider view of the world.

I don't like RTS games because I don't like that kind of pressure. I really like tactical turn-based combat. I want to spend time and think about what I want to do. Or I want to watch tv and maybe not make any moves for a while, so I can cook dinner, or whatever. I like a game to progress at my speed, and not make me worry and try to play the game at it's speed. I also can't say that I'm a big fan of clicking and micro-managing. Mostly though, the stress of high speed reactions and trying to keep the whole map in mind when I prefer to focus on individual tasks and concentrate on them to completion is what ruins this genre for me.

I do like action games, but I am not good at them, with the exception of Street Fighter II. So I pretty much avoid those too. That means I don't really play many games on the computer, which works out ok because there are lots of things that I should be doing instead (studying Japanese, or just trying to read Japanese literature, read up on NLP research, check out the Tokyo art and music scene, hang out with friends, cook, clean, and so on.)

But, as I said before, every once in a while, I get bitten by the RPG bug, and want to play a nice game. I remember that a few years ago a friend of mine (Kurt Thorn) said he really enjoyed the game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. So over the past two months (wow, has it been that long?) I've been playing that game every once in a while on my windows box. I have to admit, it really is a good game. I really like the way it immerses you in a Star Wars universe, and the characterizations are quite nice. I've since picked up the sequel, and have played a bit of it, but it seems quite a bit more buggy, and hasn't been as captivating as the first one. I'll still probably put in an hour or two a week (which isn't really all that much time, but I really like that you can do that with this kind of game. I swear I will never ever play a MMORPG, it is too easy to get yourself addicted to a skinner-box cycle, and requires an actual commitment and investment in time and money that just doesn't seem reasonable for something that should be entertainment.) but it hasn't been as enjoyable as the first one for me.

After reading about some popular current CRPGs, for example The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, it seems like there are really only two styles of RPGs around any more: ones where you take control of a pre-existing character, and can recruit characters to help you out on the way, or Japanese style RPGs which are heavily story-based, and as each successive Square/ENIX release shows, focusing more and more on non-interactive movie exhibition type gameplay (if you can even call it that.) Now, I did play Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation, and I did enjoy it, but that isn't really what I'm looking for. Even the Star Wars: KOTOR game had me controlling a character that I didn't have a real connection to with pre-defined party members. Worse, it only let you have at most three party members at a time. I really missed the old days when I would spend hours doing the fake dice-rolling sequence to get some stats and create a party of five or six characters that I could name and specialize how I wanted. It just doesn't look like that exists any more.

The other day while playing with my crazy Japanese phone, I realized that there is a Japanese company that has the license for Wizardry and has ported Wizardry I, II, and III for mobile phones. Unfortunately, my cell phone isn't one of the supported models, but that just got me to thinking about older RPGs, which are basically exactly what I'm looking for. It would be great to roll up a few characters and dive back into the Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord! Took bad my phone isn't compatible. Maybe that is a good thing though: while I could play an hour each way on my commute, time that is currently spent staring into space while I listen to some news-type topical podcasts (Open Source and On Point with Tom Ashbrook are two favorites), staring at that cell phone screen couldn't be good for my eyes.

That spurred me on to check out the RPG ratings at the home of the under-dogs abandonware site which reminded of some really great old games. In particular, I came across Dragon Wars, a game that I started on the Apple //e, but then for whatever reason, never got very far in. (This particular reason was that the game was pretty hard, and I don't think I could ever get past a big guy named Humbaba, but honestly it was so long ago that I'm just not very sure about how far I got in that game. I have vague memories now of having gone farther, but it is all pretty unclear.) A little more searching revealed the Complete Dragon Wars, which has the full PC game available for download, along with a nice PDF manual and FAQ. So, I downloaded it, and spent a few hours this weekend playing.

Lots of fun. But the game is hard. So I also thought I might as well pull out another one of my old tricks: hex editing save game files. I played around with looking at the DATA1 file saved in the game folder with the executable, and found hex offsets that save the number of "points" you have to assign to stats, skills, and abilities. If you want to cheat to make the game easier, then read on. First, you need some way to do hex editing. I recommend using the swiss-army knife of programmers, GNU Emacs. Download that program, and install it. I hope you are comfortable with esoteric programs. Anyway, open the DATA1 file (be sure to make a backup of it first, because you can totally hose your savegame state if you do this incorrectly!) Put Emacs in to hexl mode by typing alt-x hexl-mode and return. That should change the display to hex offsets on the left, hex code in the middle, and ASCII over on the right. When you start Dragon Wars you can create four characters. Below, I list the hex offset you need to edit to give each character more "points" that you can then distribute in game by pressing "X" and choosing your character. If you save the game again, you can repeat this cheat to effectively build crazy powerful characters, but I recommend not going overboard and just doing enough to give the personality that you want to each character (a fighter, your mage, a thief, and healer I would guess.) At each of the offsets, put your cursor over the second two numbers and type '9' to set those two positions to 39, as is shown in this screenshot. Save the file, load up your saved game in Dragon Wars, and check to make sure that you now have fifty some points to distribute.

The offsets for your four characters (who cares about NPCs?) are:

Character 1: second byte of 00002e60 - set to 9 (39) for 57 points
Character 2: second byte of 00003060 -
Character 3: second byte of 00003260 -
Character 4: second byte of 00003460 -

Since upgrading my healer to a skill 20 some in Bandage, the game has become much easier - although it is still tough. Tougher than most modern day RPGs on default settings!


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