Sunday, October 12, 2014

Neopets Part 2: Neoquest Boogaloo

Aha! Bet you thought you wouldn’t see this series again? Probably thought it would go the way of that Christmas “series” I was going to do, or that series of rambles I’ve put on indefinite hold, or Professor Horus’ Puzzling Adventues. Well it’s NOT, so there! As for those other series...uh...

So in the last installment of this technically-a-series-now, I introduced you to Neopets. Apart from embarrassing breakdowns in the face of inert sacks, there wasn’t really much interesting about it. That would be because the one feature I left out before was the games! There are many little flash games on that particular website, and previously I planned to give this whole shpiel on some of the good ones and the bad ones and a much more detailed description. I...don’t really feel like doing that now, and in fact I don’t even feel like logging back into the website. The last time I visited that website, it broke my spirit completely and utterly.

I also MAY have forgotten my login info.

So given that I don’t plan on returning to this website, the remaining images in this article will be one of the following: 1. Pictures of the site I took back when I was writing the first entry, still planning on splitting it up later. 2. Hilarious non-sequitur images of dogs wearing hats. We clear? Alright then, let’s get the leftovers from last issue out of the way first. Remember Punchbag Bob? I just thought I’d show the rewards page for the first fight I completed after him, against an opponent with 10 health instead of 5000.

That codestone is worth several thousand neopoints. That is all.

Speaking of codestones, those are the things you need to level up. You go to the level up place and pick a stat to raise by one single point (including HP, none of them raise more than one at a time). Then, they ask for a random codestone and you have to give it to them. Most of them can only be found through random events or buying them off other players for several thousand neopoints or more. After paying, you have to wait several hours before the training is done. To reach max level and appropriate stats, you have to do this well over a THOUSAND times.

I had this whole rant planned for systematically describing how horrible this is. But months later, the rage has faded and there’s just so much else horrible to talk about, so we’re just gonna’ move on.


Some areas of the site have clearly been updated much more recently than others. Squint reaaaaaal closely between these two images. If you examine the first, flatly colored image made of basic shapes, and the second intricately shaded image that’s twice the size and has moving interactive elements like highlights and flags blowing in the breeze, you may be able to tell which was more recent. Wait, what’s that off to the side of the screen?

Oh that’s...good...?

Even though I took this screenshot months ago, it was so long since I had been online that my pet was actually starving to death. On the other hand, pets can’t actually die of hunger and his mood was apparently still “delighted!” So y’know, I’d call that good enough.

And with that we’ve gone through all the images I took back when I had access to my account. You’ll note I still don’t have anything on the games of Neopets. Originally I was going to spend a ton of time on all of them, going through the bad ones, the really bad ones, and the actually-kind-of-alright-for-a-little-bit ones. But to be honest, do any of you care? Even if I still had my account, would you want me to summarize hundreds of mediocre to average flash games, highlighting how some were mildly amusing and how I was like, super good at Ice Cream Machine?

I don’t think so. I think we’re mostly just here to watch me look at 10-year old content on a site for children and yell at it in between constant snide remarks. For some reason. The point is, months later, there was only one game on this site that left a lasting impression on me. Only one game that I actually put a lot of time into, that I gave the benefit of the doubt. Only one game that made me really, truly, genuinely angry. Ladies and gentlemen, the name of that Neoquest.

What, you thought I was kidding earlier? Nope, were doing this. Were making this happen.

A lot of the games on Neopets didn’t seem to have much effort put into them. They were quick, they were shallow, and they spoke to a team of content creators that was mostly artists; spending much more time on making cute images to distract the kids as opposed to gameplay that was actually fun. Neoquest wasn’t quite the same. Neoquest tried to create a functioning, full length old-school RPG in your browser. It tried to be deep and tactical, it tried to be interesting and varied, and it tried to tell a long-form, well told narrative with lots of characters and locations. failed fantastically to do all of these things, but that’s not necessarily the POINT.

The point is that on a website filled with a bunch of shallow and low effort flash games, Neoquest tried. It tried, it was free, and what it was trying to make was one of my favorite types of games. I really, really wanted to like Neoquest. Because of this, I played a lot of it. I put a substantial amount of time towards this game, made bearable by multi-tasking playing it with doing other things. And it is ultimately because of this effort to enjoy it, because I wanted so badly for the game to not be terrible, that it made me so completely, ungodly enraged when my time with this site finally ended.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get to the sources of my frustration, I should establish in clear terms what Neoquest actually is. So first...let’s talk about RPGs.

“I have no particular input on the current topic of conversation, but you will ignore this fact because you find me adorable. Woof.”

As you’re probably all aware, RPG stands for Role Playing Game. There are many different types of RPG, to the point where it barely counts as a single genre. Neoquest models itself after old-school RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon’s Quest. These games featured travel across an overworld to specific towns and dungeons as you went through a mostly linear story, with random monster encounters having a chance to occur every step you walked. Those would lead to turn-based combat on a separate screen. Colloquially you might call these JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) because Japan started the trend and produces far more of that style of game than English speaking nations, whose RPGs (sometimes called Western Role Playing Games) usually feature some combination of real time elements and player choice. Of course, these terms have become muddled over time, and the only concrete thing we can take from it is that RPG classifications are bullshit. But the point is it tells you what type of game Neoquest is.

...screw it; I’m going to have to get pictures, aren’t I?

Yes, this is stolen. Yes, you can see the watermark. No, I don’t care.

This is the very first screen you’ll see playing Neoquest, and it gives you an idea of how it plays. It also gives you an idea of how much it held the players hand, which is not at all. In some ways, this was one of the things that I actually liked about the game. Much like other old-school RPGs, it just drops you into the game world. It gives you complete freedom to go anywhere you want at any time, and trusts you to figure out the mechanics, who to talk to and what to do on your own initiative. Of course, later this backfires when what to do next, particularly side quests, can only be found out by tediously searching every nook and cranny in a huge world filled with empty space and an excruciatingly slow run time. Speaking of, it’s time I got to telling you what is probably the single greatest flaw in Neoquest.

Any time you perform any action in Neoquest, any action at all, from moving to talking to advancing dialogue to choosing a combat action and so on...the page refreshes. When you click any of those arrows for movement, to move a single square, you will have to wait for the page to load. Now, the wait isn’t particularly long, as far as loading goes. But it happens. Every. Single. ACTION!

Do you have any idea how insanely, horribly game breaking this becomes?! You can’t even move to the edge of your pathetically small vision without moving several paces! If you were to compare the time it takes to move to the edge of your screen in any game like this with regular controls, even though they can see about twice as far, it would probably take you, I dunno, five times as long? Maybe more? Now combine this with your poor vision, and imagine that you have a huge world filled with random encounters. Oh, and those random encounters? Also load a new page every time you perform an action.

For reference, here’s the battle screen. Trust me, this was probably cutting edge design...for browser games made several years prior to Neopets early-2000s launch.

I seriously cannot hammer on this flaw enough, because it is sincerely one of the worst things about Neoquest. And believe me, it has a lot to compete with! Despite its high aspirations, Neoquest has plenty wrong with it. Though they give you complete choice in the skill system, most of the skills are either worthless or require extreme effort to be useful. Equipment is basically just for the purpose of the world’s dullest side quests, requiring you to grind materials from enemies as if this were some type of shitty MMO as opposed to a single player game where it’s perfectly okay to not stretch the playtime. Dungeons are labyrinthine and confusing in the extreme, especially due to the low field of view. I didn’t last more than an hour or so before I looked up maps on the internet, and I’m glad I did. There are dozens upon dozens of unique enemies (to the games credit), and yet the vast majority of them are only different in their health, damage and visuals. And the first two are usually similar to any other enemies of the same level. The difficulty is often punishingly cruel, requiring tons of repetitious grinding for experience before you’re strong enough to proceed. And if you ever die in the game? The astoundingly appalling penalty is that you are sent all the way back to the starting point of the game. On all but the highest difficulty setting, you still keep your levels, equipment and items. And yet, you have to traipse across half a continent and an entire dungeon over again just to try again if you die to a boss.

And yet still, in spite of all of that...the loading is the worst part of the game. How is that possible, you say? It’s possible because the loading makes every single other problem in the game worse. The slow leveling, the long distances, the tedious side quests, and the constant random battles make this game a huge grind. Even if this game ran at normal speed this game would be a somewhat irritating example of old-school repetition taken too far. With the delay of loading every new page, it takes that extreme and makes it several times longer, so that a decent portion of your playtime is spent purely watching things load, scattered so constantly that you don’t have time to do other things in between. It’s like if every other flaw killed this game through the death of 1000 stabs, the loading dipped every single knife in poison which makes those stabs excruciatingly and unnecessarily painful. If you added sound effects, filing your tax return would be more entertaining than playing this game! At least when you’re watching paint dry you don’t have to keep pressing a button every other second to ensure that the paint keeps drying! All of this comes together to create what is possibly the absolute dullest game I have ever played, apart from games that are intentionally meant to be dull. I am rarely lacking words, but I really don’t know how to describe how absolutely boring this game can be. It’s just...horrible.



...I played this game for well over a dozen hours.

Bet you thought I forgot about this, didn’t you? Ha, how could I?! Look at how adorable these guys are! Ahaha, how would dogs even BUY top hats?!

So today, my dear readers, you have learned something about me. I love RPGs. And I love certain types of RPGs even more. If you provide me with a free copy of one of these types of RPGs, and I have free time on hand and/or can multi-task, I will bore through the densest layers of pure tedium that interactive entertainment will allow. If I think I can get an interesting or worthwhile blog post out of the affair, and the game in question has nostalgic appeal for me, I will keep at said game for a frankly worrying amount of time, long after it has proven itself to be a horrific train wreck of poor design decisions.

It pains me how bad Neoquest is, it really does. Because I am very passionate about game design, and even more so in the genres I really enjoy. And I can see many ways in which this game was so close; so close to being an actually enjoyable and well-made experience. I’m aware that the development team probably wasn’t given much time or funding and couldn’t be bothered to care beyond a certain point. I mean, they were making free browser games for a kid’s website, we can only expect so much. But this game has so many problems that, with just a little extra effort, would be so easy to fix. If they had added just a little more...everything, not in terms of art or play time but in mechanics. More enemy variety, more abilities to choose from, more side quests to do and equipment to find. More respawn points, more fast travel options, more types of items to use in combat. Some of these things are more work than others, but some of them are fairly simple and I strongly feel every one of them would’ve had a noticeable improvement on how enjoyable the game is. As it stands, everything in the game, even the music, is just a little bit lacking.

...oh yeah, did I mention this game had music?

...holy shit, someone actually posted some of it on YouTube? Well I guess we know what we have to do now.

The music of Neoquest is in a kind of hilarious situation. You see, the game was a browser game a long time ago, and I’m assuming it didn’t want the music to refresh every time you performed an action and the page reloaded. So to counteract this, turning music on would give you a little, postage stamp sized pop-up window. This pop-up window would give you a small playlist of auto-cycling music that you could move through yourself if you wanted. They didn’t give you all the games music at once though, it actually changed based on whether you were on the overworld (the biggest selection of like 6 songs), a dungeon (just a couple different songs, although some late game dungeons no one got to had unique music), or a battle (which had one singular tune). The songs themselves were really short loops, between 20 to 30 seconds long. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

NOTE: Blogger no longer lets me find YouTube videos by their links, and these are way too obscure for it to find from a normal search. For now, I think you'll just have to deal with clicking on the links and opening them in a new page manually. It's okay son, you can do it, I believe in you.

Conquest is the one of the overworld themes, and my favorite song in the game. Like all of its songs, it’s extremely short and will get annoyingly repetitive if you listen to it for too long. But that being said, I honestly, sincerely enjoy it. For what it is, it’s a catchy tune, and I’ll always remember it in the miniscule portion of my heart that recalls playing this game as a kid, never continuing long enough to realize how unfortunately bad it really was.

Walk On is another overworld theme, and one that’s decent enough that I didn’t mind it. There’s really not much to say about it, I just wanted to give another sample of what the game sounds like.

Fire Rage is the song for every fight in the game besides boss fights. As with most of the songs the 20ish second run time really hurts it. It’s a catchy enough little segment, but that’s all it really is; a segment. The repetition here is sort of representative of the game as a whole, which to me, is kind of sad.

So this article is getting a bit long at this point, and I’m sure you all get the idea: Neoquest is terrible and it saddens me. Before we go though, I’d just like to spend a moment to detail the last time I ever played the game. This is, ultimately, the point where even I could not imagine continuing any longer.

Let’s talk about the Archmagus of Roo.

The Archmagus of Roo is the fourth boss in the game. He is found at the end of the Temple of Roo. When I got to him, despite fighting enemies constantly and unrelentingly beforehand, and doing all equipment side quests, I was a couple levels under him. I was getting worn down and tired of all the games bullshit at this point, so I didn’t feel like grinding for hours to gain some levels. I figured with my something like over 50 potions (the max I could carry) that heal half of my maximum health or more, I could handle him. Was I correct? Why the hell would you even ask that question, what is wrong with you?

At this point, I had, I dunno, something like 125 health. The Archmagus of Roo had about 200 health. The Archmagus of Roo had five attacks, and all of them had a roughly equal chance of activating. One is a standard attack, doing decent damage to me (let’s say about 40). The second and third are fire and lightning spells, which do 50 damage and have no chance of missing. This is all bad enough, as I could only do about 20-25 damage a hit and seemed to miss every other attack. But hey, I had all those potions, so I could power through that.

His next attack is a stunning spell, which stuns the player...for three turns. Three turns in which you cannot act, including healing yourself with potions. This is some seriously unbalanced gameplay that throws a huge wrench in my plans. If he gets the right combination of damage and stunning, I’m toast. And yet, things could still work out. If I could just slowly whittle away at his health and constantly heal myself, I might’ve been able to make it past this titanic pile of bullshit.

His final move is a healing spell. It heals him for 80 HP. He can use this and all other spells an unlimited amount of times.

Between the stun spell and the healing spell, there was simply no way for me to win this fight. I fought against this stupid, terrible boss for what felt like half an hour straight, but was probably even longer than that. I used every single one of my over 50 potions on myself, several times surviving by only a hair, and otherwise threw everything I had at the boss. And yet, I’m almost positive I never took the boss below 150 health out of 200.

And so I died. I died and went all the way back to the starting area of the game. To reach the Temple of Roo again, I would need to cross some plains, a mountain range, a forest, a swamp, and a desert on the world map. When I reached the temple, this is what would await me:

Those sure are some high quality map sprites.

Remember, every single one of those squares requires me to refresh the page as I move. And even sneaking by, every dozen or two squares would lead to a couple minute long random battle. And after I finally passed through the overworld and this floor, there would be another floor waiting after this one before the boss. And even after I did that, I would still have to grind a couple hours to get back the dozens of potions I’d lost. And EVEN AFTER THAT, I would have to grind through several more hours to get enough levels that I might stand enough of a chance to try fighting the boss again. I might need to gain levels EVEN LONGER, because at this point I was suspecting that the build of skills I had chosen wasn’t all that useful or viable compared to the others available; and there was no way to reset those choices.

In short: Fuck. That.

And so this is how Neoquest, and by extension the whole of Neopets, died for me. This last case made me literally, non-figuratively insulted that someone could consciously create this set-up, when it was so obviously terrible in so many ways. It really is disappointing, how something that so engaged me as a kid and seemed to hold such potential for me even today, turned out so wrong. But it did turn out wrong, and with this I finally reached the point where I had no choice but to accept that. Neoquest and Neopets could’ve been good. But they are not. They are terrible.



...oh well, back to playing the thousands of good games out there.

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