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Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 2nd, 2020, 7:47 pm
by manderson99
Just got done with the game. I played the DC edition purchased on GoG. I've been sitting on it for a few months and finally got around to finishing it after being a bit underwhelmed by the early game.

For reference, I did play the original games back in the 1980s. Bard's Tale 2 was the first game I ever "bought" for myself (my parents gave it to me, sort of). I'll get back to that in a moment.

There are two ways to take this game: as a sequel to Thief of Fate, and as a standalone title in the same game world. I'll deal with the latter first.

Setting:


Overall the setting is quite good. There are a few sticking points - why does everyone have the same accent? - but the detail and pseudo-realism is well-thought-out. I say "pseudo" since there are no horses or mules anywhere. You see some livestock in distance shots (bison?) but that's about it. Also there's no day/night transition, and the NPCs don't really go anywhere or do anything. They just stay in the same place and the same businesses are open all the time. Not great for immersion. There are a few other details missing but it's kinda nit-picky by that point. For the most part, the world does feel "alive" until you notice that it isn't.

Music is equal parts excellent and awful. The music itself is great, but the way it is used is iffy. Sometimes you have legit background music (notably the scarier dungeons), while in other places you have music emitting from certain map positions as if it were ambient audio. The latter doesn't always work. I understand why the women working in Skara Brae are a positional audio source for one particular song (the one they're singing), but the music in Fettercairn is really hit-or-miss. Walk into one part of town and you hear music, but some other part of town and you don't? The Wyre docks have this problem, Wyre has this problem twice (some parts of Wyre get music near the prayer circle which sort-of makes sense, maybe) with the bar being a standout problem. You hear music coming from the tavern door, but if you go in the tavern . . . no music! What? Torr Fion sort-of has this problem as well (the only spot where music makes any real sense is the quarry). Also the ambient positional music cuts out if you start a conversaion. There's music near Nain, but if you talk to anyone near her, it abruptly cuts out. Overall, there's great music, but more care should be given to how you use it. You did a great job with persistence of music in the puzzle area beyond Fiona's house, and arguably that is one of the best pieces of in-game music you've got. Rabbi playing in the Old AG is also pretty good (though the fully-instrumented versions of those songs in the endgame is much better, and he hardly ever plays the song about BT3). You actually hear the music in the entire guild, and it fades out if you go downstairs which is a great touch.

Gameplay (non-combat):

Travel is highly linearized. Even in larger maps with lots of places to go (under Skara Brae), you're basically running on predetermined paths. A few areas mask this fact, but for the most part, it feels pretty claustrophobic. You don't have the option of going around combat encounters very often, even with Hide in Shadows, unless there's an alternate path (and there usually isn't). I don't expect Bard's Tale 4 to be open-world, but having a little more freedom to explore maps would have been nice. Autorun would have been nice (couldn't find a setting for that in-game; might be that I'm blind). I have no real problem with the save points, though every time you use a save point it reactivates every other save point, meaning you can plan out infinite saves and infinite healing by just ping-ponging between two saves. At that point you may as well just let people quicksave, which admittedly you do kinda let people do now (didn't originally). There's very little out-of-combat that you can do with your character abilities which is disappointing even without taking the original series into account (see below). Sometimes you get leftover spellpoints from the last battle that you can use to cast Flesh Restore if you have a holy class, which you won't until later in the game. At least crafting is easy, and components are plentiful if you look for them. The "travel songs" are okay, but they feel gimmicky. It seems like you expected people to keep Melodie, so it would make sense if she could learn and use songs like that. Parties with no bard can still use them. Seems a bit off thematically-speaking (see below).

Itemization:

Itemization is partly tied to combat, but I will say that there are some serious flaws before even taking that into account. Notably, berserker armor is widely-unavailable by the end of the game. All you ever get are pieces from the officer's set. It's like the designers made a big deal about making sure berserker-set gear was available around Torr Fion (and slightly beforehand), but after that? Nothing. There isn't a single suit of the stuff in Haernhold where you get most of the game's best gear. If your party depends on anything other than officer's, ancestral, sorcerer's, archmage's, or elven, you're out of luck. You will miss out on the game's best gear. I do sort-of like how weapons enhance certain abilities, but I hate how you stripped those enhancements out of the Elven puzzle weapons. The puzzle weapons are rendered mostly useless for a lot of classes - particularly warriors and rogues.

Classes & Customization:

Too few classes at the start, and too much customization? There aren't enough class-defining characteristics, and I sort-of hated how stats are tied to skills rather than to leveling-up. I also hated how stats are tied to gear instead of leveling-up. Why am I gaining hp when I get a better sword? Because it worked for World of Warcraft so it's gonna work here too? Ehhhh. Really could have done without that. I get that cursed gear might LOWER your stats (one Foozle-slaying plot weapon comes to mind), but otherwise? It's nice that between levels 1 and ~20 classes can play vastly differently depending on how you spec them out, but the redundancy of skills between different classes sort-of makes them play the same. I can make Bards, Rogues, and Warriors wear medium armor and wield 1h swords with the same basic 1h sword abilities. I might not want to, but I can. Same gear, same abilities, same everything except for level 1 base stats. Later in the game you get so many skill points that different characters of the same class start resembling one another more while the different classes start to differentiate from one another due to the capstones. I'd still rather see the skills/perks tweaked on a per-class basis to better-fit the class, I'd like to see most stat gain tied to level instead of gear and/or skills, and I would like to see more skills that are entirely unique to classes. If I'm going to give swords to my rogue, I want him to be different markedly than a bard doing the same thing. As a minor nitpick, I was not fond of how the Rogue abilities related to mind damage (sap) were under the Subterfuge tab instead of Attack. I guess I understand why they were over there but whatever.

Combat:

Takes some getting used-to. I didn't like how enemies had full animated models, but player characters were stuck with portraits (even though you had full models in the inventory screen. What?). The battlefield is small, cramped, and a bit goofy. Feels a bit like CCG combat (cough cough). That works if that's really what you want, but if it isn't? Tanking is kinda nice if you bothered to use a dwarf or two, but otherwise it's annoying how many enemies can push you into different spaces in combat. I'm not sure that's a great mechanic. Everything always hits and does the same damage, and everything always works (status effects) unless the target is immune. Spell points have to be generated in combat, but can't be generated (and generally can't be used) out of combat. No drinking except in combat. No bard music . . .except in combat. Bard's Tale 4 also seems to be on the "buffs are temporary" train which is not to my liking. I like semi-permanent and/or long-lasting buffs that can work from one fight to the next. There's very little complexity in the buff/debuff gameplay, nor is there much consistency. Status effects seemed slapped-together (hence the need for inXile to patch in certain immunities for bosses in Haernhold that could be cheesed to death with an infinite CC loop).

The opportunity system feels flawed. It's too easy to give someone a ridiculous number of actions per turn while the rest of the party sits around doing nothing. A warrior alone can swing multiple times per round using greatsword abilities, and it gets worse if you get The Peeler from Haernhold (which you can get without beating any of the bosses, I think). Just dual wield that with a greatsword of your choice and then spam Sunder Armor or All or Nothing. You will probably get 4-5 attacks per round, and you will use about 50% of the expected opportunity points doing so. Throw in a bard with Rhyme of Duotime and it gets more ridiculous. And that's not even the cheesiest opportunity exploit. Not sure if I want to publish that one, but I probably will at some point, assuming nobody else has figured it out (needs more testing on my end).

And like everyone else, I hate how you only get 4 different combat options + move + trinket. It's really bad for spellcasters. It kind of ties back in to character customization since I will wind up not using a lot of my combat abilities that are too situational. I also don't like using combat abilities from the wrong weapon. Mostly I avoided this, though I was constantly using Shiv with Wringneck while he was using a longbow.

Magic:

Too few spells, and too much of magic depends on strength for my tastes. I guess it makes Bladecasting more interesting but whatever. I wish you had an SP pool that lasted between fights and that you might have to do real resource management. As it stands, you have to focus heavily on regen no matter what your build, unless maybe Bladecasting? And then Haernhold punishes you for it? I didn't play practitioners much until late game (and only for Haernhold because they're mostly mandatory) but that's how it seems. Also MORE SPELLS. Games like Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity (1) were sooooo much better in the magic department (okay Tyranny was all cooldown-based, but at least you got more spell variety). Too bad inXile wasn't taking notes.

Plot:

It's pretty good, though I'm a little sick of "good guys corrupted by bad leadership" tropes. For someone not fully-immersed in Bard's Tale lore, some parts of the game may seem unapproachable. Lagoth Zanta? Whodat? Elder Scrolls gets away with it due to being a fairly-current game setting.

Bugs/stability:

The steel key bug almost got me. I lucked out by completing the area and gaining access to the next stone circle before running into it. Getting trapped in Haernhold by the Enraged Redcap is beyond awful. Shame on you for that one, inXile. I had to cheat my way out of that situation with Cheat Engine, though there is an unpatched exploit that will probably let you finish that fight without external cheats/trainers.

edit: exploit confirmed. All you need is a bard with a shofar, a warrior with To Me! stance (and a banner), and a practitioner with the sorcerer's slippers that give you +1 SP when you move. Get 7 drunk stacks, activate To Me! and then have the practitioner "bump" the warrior back and forth with movement after the bard sings Rhyme of Duotime. Movement costs 0 opportunity this way and has no cooldown. Unlimited SP. All your spells have no cooldowns as well. Boom. You can do this on round one with Devil's Brew or on the second round with any other alcohol (or you can do it on round one without Devil's Brew if you have two bards using Rhyme of Duotime). Kinda wish I had used that on the enraged redcap, but since i couldn't respec my practitioner into sorcerer's robes at the time, there was no way for me to do that.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 2nd, 2020, 9:35 pm
by manderson99
Now to deal with the game as a sequel to Thief of Fate:

Setting:

It works but it doesn't? The original Bard's Tale series was a tad ridiculous and inconsistent. Skara Brae mostly fits, but if you look at BT2 and 3, it's hard to take the setting all that seriously in those games. BT2 has almost nothing to do with Skara Brae or Mangar/Tarjan so it's hard to retcon that adventure as having had anything to do with the land of Caith. All the cities have names scraped directly from the New Testament. Where were those cities in Bard's Tale 4? Nowhere. BT3 has you fighting Nazis and Mongol warriors and talking to robots and crazy stuff like that, too. That's all been swept under the rug. Undead bosses from the previous games were pretty underwhelming (and all looked the same). Yeah it's hard to deal with old IP when it's "zany", but I feel like Might & Magic did a lot better staying true to its roots than did Bard's Tale 4. Might & Magic 6 was brilliant, and it totally had the flying robots.

The races seem off? I totally get that lots of dev shops have been trying for years to strip out Tolkien/Dungeons & Dragons references from their non-licensed games (Ultima was probably the first franchise to do this; they got rid of separate races in Ultima IV and got rid/retconned a lot of D&D/Tolkien-style monsters in Utlima VI), but just wiping out halflings; gnomes; and half-orcs while introducing trow/separate human types and modifying dwarves/elves just rubbed me the wrong way. At the same time, it certainly looks like you had those races present in the storytime animations whenever you load a game, which is . . . interesting? I don't know what are the implications of that. Yeah I love that you copied the old box art with those animations, and it may be of no greater import than that.

Gameplay (non-combat):

Feels too much like Bard's Tale 1. BT2 and 3 opened up the world a lot. BT4 closes it back up. No real travel music bums me out! The old way that bard songs were "dual function" (one function in combat, one outside of combat) was really good, and I liked having unlimited bard songs after a certain point (usually tied to equipment if i recall correctly; lots of gear did it like the Bard Sword). The "bards are alcoholics" joke is kinda funny, and I see potential in the game system from drunk stacks in combat (don't get me wrong), but making bard songs linked to mana stinks. Also I miss the utility spells. I miss persistent buffs (bard songs or from spells). I miss Apport Arcane. Don't really miss the Chronomancer travel spells (the stone circles are a fine substitute). I miss being able to heal out of combat without food/potions. I miss having real spellpoint pools with which to heal out of combat. There was a lot of out-of-combat gameplay that got thrown out in BT4 by changing the way classes worked, and it affects non-combat gameplay significantly. I miss light sources actually being good for something! Torches are useless in BT4.

No underwater areas? Okay, fine fine. Only BT3 had that.

On the plus side, the puzzles in BT4 are more-approachable (overall). I do miss some of the intricate puzzles that play out over multiple levels of one dungeon in earlier titles. BT4's puzzles are more compartmentalized to one area, with the exception of some blood puzzles, though those don't span multiple levels. BT2's puzzles were just evil though. Spinners, blackout/hp drain/sp drain squares, teleporters designed to get you killed, and of course the snares that would instakill you if you didn't solve them quickly enough. BT3 was better in that department. Fewer fatal puzzles!

People say BT4 has too many puzzles. Maybe they're right. But the ones it does have are nowhere near as putrid as the crap from dungeons like Destiny Stone.

Itemization

Bard's Tale used to have a lot of unique items, including some bizarre one-use items like dynamite and holy hand grenades. It was short on potions so you fixed that. Thanks! But now we have the same equipment over and over with different grades of quality, which is boring. Usable stuff in combat really isn't a thing anymore (some items give you abilities in combat, which compete for space with your other abilities). Passive bonuses like sp or hp regen are now extremely rare. I think there's one hp regen item in the entire game, wheras older games had a song that could do it. You only get one trinket slot now instead of being able to {U}se anything in your inventory (okay, it was limited to that character's individual inventory, but still). And shops run out of money now, which stinks. Garth's was the ultimate in equipment storage back in the day. Now? Nope.

And the bars run out of alcohol? What?

Items have no base equipment stats except AC for armor. Everything else just adds to your stats and/or modifies some skill. Kinda lame.

Also, it seems like a lot of time and effort was spent on the Elven puzzle weapons that add very little to the game, along with the gem items that are needed to activate them.

Classes & Customization

It's good that you took notes from other systems and gave non-magic using classes more to do. It's bad that spellcasters are so bland and narrowly-focused. Also, the stat system is just so confused. Okay, I get that you don't want the D&D stats anymore. But no dex or agi? Unified hp and Con? No gaining stats at level up? Boooooo! At least you uncapped the stats 'cuz you kinda had to, since all item stats are basically gone (except AC). And as I mentioned above . . . bards? wtf? You used to be able to get 1 song/level (until it went unlimited) and you could knock back whatever drink you wanted to reset that number. Take some along in a skin or visit the bar, your choice. Now you have to guzzle gallons of rotgut to do anything.

It also takes too long to get a class that can cast straight-up healing spells that can cure HP and/or undo negative status effects. Bards can technically heal with Sanctuary Score even though the song's description makes it out to be more of a shield than a healing device, but it actually heals wounds even if enemies don't "break the shield" or if you don't have enough drunk stacks when casting it. For anyone who doesn't experiment with that, they'll struggle with healing for a long time.

Combat

Most of the previous sections cover a lot of my objections to things that ultimately affect combat in some way that makes it (sort of) worse than old-school Bard's Tale combat. Music, magic, itemization, stats . . . so much has changed, and for what? We have a system that is similar to Ultima III, IV, and V that compresses a huge tile-based battlefield into sixteen tiles. Games like Might & Magic 6 did a better job of producing a game that would be a next logical step for the Bard's Tale series (some say Wizardry 8, but the way enemies can surround you in that game is just shameful; MM6 gives you better options and better gameplay). It's kind of hard to really take this combat system seriously. Even Dragon Quest XI did combat better (in my opinion), and the base combat system there hasn't changed much since Dragon Quest II! Enix (actually Armor Project now) has remade the same game over and over again, adding new features to keep it fresh. And they sell a ton of copies. DQXI probably out-earned every Bard's Tale ever made. Sometimes derivative works turn out better than allegedly-innovative ones. If you stack DQXI next to Bard's Tale 4, you'll see what I mean.

The variety of enemies compared to old Bard's Tale games (or even other fantasy franchises) is frankly horrible. So few enemies.

Magic

Too few spells. No resource management. No out-of-combat spells that mean anything. No more Chronomancers or Geomancers. So much was lost. So much. I'm glad you allowed spell damage to scale instead of having replacement spells, but cmon man. You got rid of possession altogether. Baylor's Spell Bind doesn't let you capture monsters anymore. No more CAMR to tame rebellious summons. No more summons that last between combat. No more illusions. And you can only "equip" up to four spells which have to compete with meditation and item abilities. Blah! But I'm repeating myself now.

Plot

Retcon city. The plot of the original games made no real sense from BT2 forward, so yeah I can understand why you had to change so much about the history of the game. BT2 still doesn't fit at all but you tried, and you paved over the goofier stuff from BT3 in your game lore. You're mostly true to BT1 which is the least-irrational of all the games. And due to the way you handled the ending, if you do any sequels, you're mostly working with a blank slate. You can just go on pretending that Tarmitia doesn't have Soviet soldiers in it or . . . whatever. Good luck explaining how the rest of the "realms" fit together. I still can't figure out that one.

Kinda sad you didn't bring back Slayers. They were so much cooler than . . . whatever those blob things were that Tarjan had, or redcaps.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 2nd, 2020, 9:43 pm
by manderson99
Overall I would give it a 6 out of 10. It was worth playing, but the enraged redcap . . . ugh! Whyyyyyy

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 3rd, 2020, 3:26 pm
by Drool
manderson99 wrote:
May 2nd, 2020, 7:47 pm
why does everyone have the same accent?
Because they all live in the same place? There could have been some drift, but in general, I would expect everyone to have the same accent.
Too few classes at the start, and too much customization? There aren't enough class-defining characteristics, and I sort-of hated how stats are tied to skills rather than to leveling-up.
It's not just that, it's that it makes little difference what skills you take. Late game, respec is extremely easy with no real opportunity cost (I completely rebuilt an NPC from the ground up twice without blinking at the cost). Further, master classes aren't mutually exclusive, so you eventually build up characters that can pretty much do anything and everything. I didn't need two thieves because one did everything I wanted out of that class. I only had two bards because I wanted to double up on Duotime. And because one was my Priest because, again, I had a pile of points to use.
The battlefield is small, cramped, and a bit goofy. Feels a bit like CCG combat (cough cough).
Very much so.
That works if that's really what you want, but if it isn't? Tanking is kinda nice if you bothered to use a dwarf or two, but otherwise it's annoying how many enemies can push you into different spaces in combat.
Or just ignore the tank. Taunt is a single-target debuff, so their biggest value is in sharing armor. Except that's mutually exclusive with Meditate. For... reasons.
And like everyone else, I hate how you only get 4 different combat options + move + trinket. It's really bad for spellcasters.
That's putting it mildly. It completely ruins and neuters mages. They went from spellbooks that had hundreds of options and pared it down to... three.
though I'm a little sick of "good guys corrupted by bad leadership" tropes
Nah, it's more basic than that. It's just a tiresome "take that!" directed towards Christianity and/or the Catholic church. Because that's so original and novel.
Lagoth Zanta? Whodat?
I believe he was the Big Bad from Bard's Tale 2. Reduced to flunky miniboss like Mangar and Tarjan.
BT3 has you fighting Nazis and Mongol warriors and talking to robots and crazy stuff like that, too.
So many people (including, sadly, Brian freaking Fargo) look at robots and Nazis and forget that the central, core mechanic of the game was traveling through space and time to different dimensions. Yes, you face Nazis. In the personal dimension of the god of war.

The scorn heaped on the robots is even worse. Kinestia was all about hubris and danger of violating natural law. About rising against your masters; what it means to be a living, thinking being; and what sins are unacceptable when fighting for freedom and self-determination. Ferofist violated natural law by creating Urmech. Urmech violated natural law by creating the automatons, which violated natural law by, effectively, committing mass patricide. However, the civil war was from the automatons' and Urmech's desire for freedom and continued life. There's more philosophy and thought in that one area than the entirety of Bard's Tale 4, and everyone just kicks it aside as "robots in a fantasy game".

Sorry, this is a real bugbear of mine. Bard's Tale 3 went in some really weird directions, but it all made sense, it all served the plot, it was all internally consistent, and was extremely well thought out, but so many people just see the odd things without even bothering to look at why they're there. Again, apologies for hijacking your review.
Yeah I love that you copied the old box art with those animations, and it may be of no greater import than that.
It seems much of the game was designed around what looked/sounded cool without trying to actually synthesize it with anything. The box art thing was cool, so add it despite not matching anything actually in the game. Mages had multiple classes they went through, so add it, even though it doesn't work with the core engine at all. The Scottish theme from the BT2004 was fun so add it, even though nothing in any of the original games matched that. The real town of Skara Brae was coastal so make it so, even though the previous Skara Braes were in the middle of a plain. It barely gels with itself, let alone previous installments.

And why the hell did they add Sulfur Springs but not have it connected in any way with Tarjan?
People say BT4 has too many puzzles. Maybe they're right. But the ones it does have are nowhere near as putrid as the crap from dungeons like Destiny Stone.
Debatable. Were it not for Struggler's Lament, I wouldn't have finished BT4. Spinners, dark zones, silent zones, and the like were annoying, but you could muscle your way through them, and I wouldn't really consider them "puzzles" so much as obstacles. Massive spinning knot puzzles on the other hand are something I have no patience for. In general, the puzzles in 4 were just relentless. There's more puzzles in the first 30 minutes of BT4 than in the entirety of BT3.

And who the hell would build a 50 foot spinning gear puzzle under a church?
It was short on potions so you fixed that.
The originals didn't need potions.

Because you could cast spells out of combat.
Items have no base equipment stats except AC for armor.
A lot of armor doesn't actually add AC.
For anyone who doesn't experiment with that, they'll struggle with healing for a long time.
Except that food is everywhere. I think I used an actual healing potion twice the entire game. The vast, vast majority of my healing was by eating food out of combat.
The plot of the original games made no real sense from BT2 forward, so yeah I can understand why you had to change so much about the history of the game.
Strongly disagree.
You're mostly true to BT1 which is the least-irrational of all the games.
Aside from eliminating half the races, moving the city, rotating it 90 degrees, creating a super-villain that had no presence, creating a completely new religion...
You can just go on pretending that Tarmitia doesn't have Soviet soldiers in it or . . . whatever.
It's another dimension. Just don't go there. Or say that it ceased to exist when Werra died. There's plenty of options that respect the lore.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 3rd, 2020, 9:35 pm
by manderson99
Drool wrote:
May 3rd, 2020, 3:26 pm
Because they all live in the same place? There could have been some drift, but in general, I would expect everyone to have the same accent.
I dunno, I was expecting the Fichti to be different at least. The only time they really seemed to try different accents were a). bad guys and b). elves. There were some obviously-different character accents (the one french guy, uh, the rogue you can get who counts as Einarr despite obviously not being Einarr) but they were mostly one-offs.
I didn't need two thieves because one did everything I wanted out of that class.
I went with two rogues because I made Wringneck into a ranged rogue with a longbow while the other plot rogue whose name I can't remember right now went emo "I cut myself" rogue for higher single-target damage. In the end they both lost out dps-wise to a warrior (Lioslaith) using 2h sword abilities and The Peeler for hotstreaks.
Or just ignore the tank. Taunt is a single-target debuff, so their biggest value is in sharing armor. Except that's mutually exclusive with Meditate. For... reasons.
Armor sharing was actually pretty great. Having your party bookended by two Ancestral Plate tanks worked nicely. It didn't produce quite the same effect as the old Bard's Tale "front 4" though. Very few games are actually as dogmatic about having to kill those guys in the front before meleeing the people in the back.
Nah, it's more basic than that. It's just a tiresome "take that!" directed towards Christianity and/or the Catholic church. Because that's so original and novel.
Easy target. I personally noticed some political overtones as well. It's supposed to be commentary about xenophobia and nationalism. That's the big theme. There's also some point being made when they say that the Famhair created humanity, and that is that people are intrinsically evil. I guess? Talk about a horrible creation myth. Humanity was designed to create war and enslave others.
I believe he was the Big Bad from Bard's Tale 2. Reduced to flunky miniboss like Mangar and Tarjan.
Oh I know who he is. He was the endboss of the first Bard's Tale game I ever played! Which i finished maybe five years after I got it, because I was a kid and a lot of those puzzles were too much for me. Good thing my brother found some pieces of the wand so I could finish it. I loved how I was able to steal pieces from his characters since we both played on the same save disc.

I never really did understand what Zanta's ultimate scheme was though. It's like he breaks up the wand and then disguises himself as a hermit and gives you hints on how to find them? And people say Bard's Tale 3 makes no sense. I get that he was a deceiver but eh whatever.
So many people (including, sadly, Brian freaking Fargo) look at robots and Nazis and forget that the central, core mechanic of the game was traveling through space and time to different dimensions. Yes, you face Nazis. In the personal dimension of the god of war.

The scorn heaped on the robots is even worse. Kinestia was all about hubris and danger of violating natural law. About rising against your masters; what it means to be a living, thinking being; and what sins are unacceptable when fighting for freedom and self-determination. Ferofist violated natural law by creating Urmech. Urmech violated natural law by creating the automatons, which violated natural law by, effectively, committing mass patricide. However, the civil war was from the automatons' and Urmech's desire for freedom and continued life. There's more philosophy and thought in that one area than the entirety of Bard's Tale 4, and everyone just kicks it aside as "robots in a fantasy game".

Sorry, this is a real bugbear of mine. Bard's Tale 3 went in some really weird directions, but it all made sense, it all served the plot, it was all internally consistent, and was extremely well thought out, but so many people just see the odd things without even bothering to look at why they're there. Again, apologies for hijacking your review.
The direction it went in wasn't THAT weird when taken in context of other 80s RPG franchises that sort of did the same thing. Hybrid sci-fi/fantasy was all over early Ultima, Might & Magic, and Wizardry. Among others. It just didn't have a lot to do with Bard's Tale 1 which was a much more-conventional hunt- the-foozle fantasy RPG.

BT3 was my personal favorite of the three. It cleaned up the system from the first two games, added minimaps, and had the most-approachable puzzles of the trilogy. BT3 was ambitious. It was the first true sequel to BT1, and it asked the question: what do you have to do to find and kill a god? And their answer was: cross time and space. Which lead to some really crazy stuff. I think the old devs could have done a much better job with Tarmitia: instead of being lazy and using a bunch of wars from Earth, they could have imagined what kind of wars raged in the world where Skara Brae resides and then populated Tarmitia with soldiers from those wars fighting on for eternity. Pitting Nazis against Romans against Mongols was , to me, lazy. Nevertheless, it takes some cojones to take on themes like Kinestia and Tarmitia from BT3 and build those into your game lore of a late sequel. MM6 stayed true to its old-school roots (that game has cuisenarts and blenders in it from the older games, lulz), and so did Wizardry 8. Bard's Tale 4 did not. Or rather it half-arsed the whole thing.

Just because I liked BT3, doesn't mean I expect the modern devs to want to take that on . . . but I'm a bit confused as to why they went out of their way to talk about Kinestia and Arboria when they don't want to tackle the space/time element of BT3 at all. In BT1, there were elves and dwarves, but they didn't necessarily come from other "realms". They could have just not said anything about BT3 and left it to lie in the corner. Might have made it hard for Tarjan to return like he did, but hey, it's not like his return was all that interesting. They could have left the old foozles dead as far as I'm concerned. Having them as minibosses didn't help the game much, and the reliquary items were all forgettable so I didn't need those either.

To me it looks like the devs liked BT1 and tolerated the other two entries. Then they set about de-Tolkienizing/de-D&Ding the whole thing. And I do not blame them at all for skipping over BT2 so lightly. BT2 was the most out-of-place of the entire series since it took place in what was apparently a different fantasy setting with different cities that just happened to have the same races and classes (and spells that make reference to some of the major players from Skara Brae).

They easily could have ignored BT2 entirely (or put it on another continent, which means that Lagoth Zanta would never have been one of the three that "tried to conquer Skara Brae" because, really, he didn't. He tried to conquer Tangramayne, Phillippi, Colosse, Thessolonica, and Corinth) and left BT3 lying in the background. If people rebuilt Skara Brae, they would have had little idea of what happened in BT3 and would have forgotten about it entirely. Maybe some of the folks left in the old AG would have heard about it, but who would have believed them? The Mad God Tarjan returned to destroy Skara Brae and appointed Brilhasti Ap Tarj its new ruler, only for some adventurers to kill Brilhasti and then vanish into thin air, never to be heard from again. People rebuild, life goes on, and Tarjan mysteriously never harasses Skara Brae again.

Instead they wrote entire songs about BT2 and BT3, had cameos of people that appeared out of nowhere from Gelidia, retconned Kinestia to be the home of the dwarves and Arboria to be the home of the elves, and then tried to pretend that it all makes sense that way. Which it really doesn't.
And why the hell did they add Sulfur Springs but not have it connected in any way with Tarjan?
It seems like they didn't want Tarjan to be the real big bad anymore, and instead they wanted it to be the Famhair and their proto-human cultists. So anything ancient and bad became a ruin of that type, never mind that those cultists weren't in the original series at all. Nor were the Famhair.
There's more puzzles in the first 30 minutes of BT4 than in the entirety of BT3.
BT3 was really good on that. BT2, not so much. I was unable to finish that game on my own, and there was no Struggler's Lament. BT4 DOES have a ton of puzzles that make no sense, though. Like:
And who the hell would build a 50 foot spinning gear puzzle under a church?
That puzzle actually seemed nowhere near as out-of-place as some of the smaller, more-random ones. Like the puzzles in Skara Brae that are used to block off certain parts of the city. Or the block puzzles you find in ruins lying around in Insriach.
The originals didn't need potions.

Because you could cast spells out of combat.
They kind of did? BT3 added harmonic gems, so there was obviously the potential there for consumables to add to the resources management systems already in place.
Except that food is everywhere. I think I used an actual healing potion twice the entire game. The vast, vast majority of my healing was by eating food out of combat.
There's really lousy in-combat healing though if you don't use Sanctuary Song. Potions are okay, but they take up trinket slots and have long cooldowns. Sanctuary Song is an amazing healing tool. One Trow Squeezings and you get two heals. If you have Town Drunk, you essentially get a double heal: if someone "breaks" the shield, you get healed a second time.
Strongly disagree.
See above, you either roll with the ambitious time/space stuff or you don't, but even before considering BT3, BT2 was completely out-of-place.
Aside from eliminating half the races, moving the city, rotating it 90 degrees, creating a super-villain that had no presence, creating a completely new religion...
It was far from perfect. I had forgotten that Skara Brae was originally landlocked so good on you for mentioning that. I think they were just being sloppy.

As far as creating a new religion? They barely touched on that in one of Fiona's conversations (about forgetting the old ways and old gods). Maybe the Swordfather was one of the "gods" created from your party at the end of BT3? They never touch on that. It's a very short time for a new religion to pop up. As far as the Famhair go, I coulda done without that. To me the new religion was less out-of-place than the proto-human ruins popping up everywhere that should have stuck out like a sore thumb in previous entries of the game (particularly BT3) but didn't.
It's another dimension. Just don't go there. Or say that it ceased to exist when Werra died. There's plenty of options that respect the lore.
They could have ignored almost all the dimensions really, since before BT3, nobody traveled to any of them.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 4th, 2020, 4:42 pm
by Drool
manderson99 wrote:
May 3rd, 2020, 9:35 pm
I dunno, I was expecting the Fichti to be different at least.
Fair enough, I suppose. It's lazy, which seems to be the central theme for this game.
I went with two rogues because I made Wringneck into a ranged rogue with a longbow while the other plot rogue whose name I can't remember right now went emo "I cut myself" rogue for higher single-target damage.
I ended up with two tanks, one rogue, two bards (one of which was the priest, too), and one mage. It was basically just a game of the tanks juggling bleeding foes while the mage charged up to use... er... Spectral Touch, I think? I don't remember.
Armor sharing was actually pretty great.
Except that I couldn't use it with my mage because then he couldn't meditate. It was extremely annoying.
Easy target. I personally noticed some political overtones as well. It's supposed to be commentary about xenophobia and nationalism.
That's the theme, but it was written like a first year philosophy student who just discovered Nietzsche and was totally gonna blow his parents' mind. Seeing this from a grown adult who's a professional writer was more than a little depressing.
I never really did understand what Zanta's ultimate scheme was though.
Ahhh, yeah, dunno what his goal was. For all the flak BT3 gets, 2 is really the odd man out.
It just didn't have a lot to do with Bard's Tale 1 which was a much more-conventional hunt- the-foozle fantasy RPG.
Well... 3 was as well. When you really break it down, it's a "kill this thing" quest followed by a series of fetch quests until the final "kill the boss" quest. Also, if you take out Tarmitia and Kinestia, everything is bog-standard fantasy realms. I personally like the genre-bending they did, and I think it makes for a nice continuation of BT1's story. It requires a little retconning of Tarjan, but it still makes sense. Tarjan's a god (possibly freed by your actions in 1) who comes back on the anniversary of Mangar's defeat to scratch his revenge itch.

Whereas 4 is super secret Even Bigger Bads suddenly making noise. And the previous bosses are just undead, whiny flunkies. Even without taking in the truly insulting into account, this feels like someone writing a plot as a giant middle finger to the previous lore, while 3 felt respectful towards what came before.
I think the old devs could have done a much better job with Tarmitia: instead of being lazy and using a bunch of wars from Earth, they could have imagined what kind of wars raged in the world where Skara Brae resides and then populated Tarmitia with soldiers from those wars fighting on for eternity. Pitting Nazis against Romans against Mongols was , to me, lazy.
While I agree that, had they not been limited in time and storage space (it was, what? 1.1 megabytes?), they could have made it much grander, but I think it worked well. It wasn't Nazis fighting Mongols, it was you fighting them. Each... "era"... in Tarmitia was self contained. So, Nazis were fighting Communists, Romans were fighting... Britons, I think? Regardless, they were self contained (or were supposed to be; the DOS version screwed that up horribly). The only place they mingled was in the final section where everything was fighting everything. This meant Tarmitia was like a miniature version of the game itself. The game involved traveling through space and time to find a god, and Tarmitia itself was traveling through space and time to find a god. Perhaps the "Tarmitia" zone of Tarmitia could/should have been unique enemies, but I always viewed it as Werra taking his favorite warriors from across all the eras and letting them duke it out. Kinda like what we do now with the whole "Who would win: viking or ninja?"
Nevertheless, it takes some cojones to take on themes like Kinestia and Tarmitia from BT3 and build those into your game lore of a late sequel.
I kinda liked Haerenhold. Kinda. The art design, at least, was very nice, and I liked the story of it, with the ghost and all; it was actually kind of sweet. The puzzles were tedious, but it felt like a respectful homage to Kinestia. Unfortunately, it was just on a random island on the map, completely ignored Ferofist and Urmech.

And that redcap fight was absolute garbage.

And that's not what Redcap looked or acted like.
Just because I liked BT3, doesn't mean I expect the modern devs to want to take that on . . . but I'm a bit confused as to why they went out of their way to talk about Kinestia and Arboria when they don't want to tackle the space/time element of BT3 at all.
Cynicism, mostly. They wanted to cash in on nostalgia, so they name-dropped a bunch of stuff before going on with their original plan. It's like that horrible I, Robot movie that Will Smith was in. And in both cases, it's a damn shame. BT4 is an okay game. If it had just been called Barrows Deep, it would have been perfectly acceptable. I, Robot was pretty bad, but it would have been a passable B movie if it had stayed Hardwired.
In BT1, there were elves and dwarves, but they didn't necessarily come from other "realms".
I looked at those realms as their ancestral homes, but not necessarily any given individual's birthplace. Like, I'm Dutch, but I've spent my whole life in America. So, the Netherlands may be my ancestral home, my Arboria, but I'm from America, from Skara Brae.
Having them as minibosses didn't help the game much, and the reliquary items were all forgettable so I didn't need those either.
Hurt the game as far as I'm concerned. I mean, I dropped Tarjan into Hell and ascended. Seeing him back as a whiny ghost is more than a little disappointing.
To me it looks like the devs liked BT1 and tolerated the other two entries. Then they set about de-Tolkienizing/de-D&Ding the whole thing.
I don't think they much cared for 1. But yes, Nathan seems to hate 3 with a burning passion.
If people rebuilt Skara Brae, they would have had little idea of what happened in BT3 and would have forgotten about it entirely.
I'd think people would notice seven new constellations suddenly appearing in the sky.
only for some adventurers to kill Brilhasti and then vanish into thin air, never to be heard from again.
I dunno. I'd have to rewatch the ending, but I think you're returned to Skara Brae in-lore too.
It seems like they didn't want Tarjan to be the real big bad anymore, and instead they wanted it to be the Famhair and their proto-human cultists.
Yeah, but they included it, and then linked it to Zantha. That's what I don't get. If you want to minimize 3, just leave Sulfur Springs out of it; you've already ruined the geography anyway. But to including only to link it to the wrong villain is just mind boggling. If they'd wanted to link the Shadow Stone or, hell, the Crystal Spring to Zantha, fine. Even the Vale of Warriors. But Sulfur Springs? That's either being completely ignorant of the previous game and just pulling neat sounding names out of a hat, or an intention thumb in the eye to fans of the games.
They kind of did? BT3 added harmonic gems, so there was obviously the potential there for consumables to add to the resources management systems already in place.
I think the gems were added for two reasons. 1) Balance. While 3 was certainly easier than 1, it wasn't an easy game. Adding Harmonic Gems and Flare Crystals kinda rounds the edges a little. 2) Underground dimensions. Can't regain SpPts passively without sunlight, and there were realms where sunlight didn't exist. Which means you could get stuck if you ran out of SpPts, because the Chronomancer teleportation had a cost. While leaving a dungeon to recharge certainly sucked in 1 and 2, leaving from the middle of Malefia is a whole new level of suck.

Oh, and another reason probably being the elimination of Roscoe's. Without Harmonic Gems, you'd be suck slowly charging your mages via solar panel.
I think they were just being sloppy.
It became clear very early in the development cycle that they were far more interested in historic Skara Brae than Bard's Tale's Skara Brae.

And Hearthstone. BT4 is basically the end result of Brian's obsession with neolithic Skara Brae and Hearthstone.
Maybe the Swordfather was one of the "gods" created from your party at the end of BT3? They never touch on that.
In the design notes, the Swordfather was said to be a new religion that had come about in the 150 years between BT3 and 4. Which somehow led to all paladins turning into racist assholes and "Adventurers" being outlawed.

And then they stuck him and his religion in the novelizations of the original games, so who the hell knows.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 4th, 2020, 6:26 pm
by manderson99
Drool wrote:
May 4th, 2020, 4:42 pm
Fair enough, I suppose. It's lazy, which seems to be the central theme for this game.
I can agree with that! Actually, to me it's the wrong kind of lazy. I respect a dev that recycles artwork and engine code to launch a new title where they focus on content & tweaking older gameplay elements to make them better. BT2 and 3 were totally that - and BT1 was arguably a Wizardry ripoff anyway.x
I ended up with two tanks, one rogue, two bards (one of which was the priest, too), and one mage. It was basically just a game of the tanks juggling bleeding foes while the mage charged up to use... er... Spectral Touch, I think? I don't remember.
Yeah, Spectral Touch is nasty if used correctly. It sucks that armor sharing doesn't work with meditate though!
I never really did understand what Zanta's ultimate scheme was though.
Ahhh, yeah, dunno what his goal was. For all the flak BT3 gets, 2 is really the odd man out.
Whereas 4 is super secret Even Bigger Bads suddenly making noise. And the previous bosses are just undead, whiny flunkies. Even without taking in the truly insulting into account, this feels like someone writing a plot as a giant middle finger to the previous lore, while 3 felt respectful towards what came before.
I don't get why people would spend so much time/money/effort picking up the rights to old IP for anything other than retro fanservice. Yeah some of the crusty old fans really are argumentative nits who can never be pleased with anything. Rational minds can conclude how well a sequel sticks to the lore and feel of the old games, though. There are numerous successful retro titles making a lot of money right now - stuff like Shovel Knight and Dragon Quest, for example. Even if there are some jerks that still think Dragon Quest V is still the best in the series. And they do get argumentative. Devs can't waste their lives trying to please those people.

At least when someone like Garriott oversaw the mangling of Ultima (see: Ultima VIII and IX), I get that it's been a long time since the old days and that he was obsessed with trying something new. And Ultima was still an ongoing franchise. Garriott allegedly wanted to copy other successful franchises of the day when making Ultima VIII and Ultima IX, which lead to the series being totally derailed. Ultima VIII was supposedly due to Garriott being obsessed with . . . Prince of Persia I think? Ultima IX actually had two versions: one a Myst rip-off, and then the Tomb Raider-inspired version that finally got the greenlight. Which was a disaster.

Bard's Tale is not Ultima. BT never really broke new ground (Wizardry), and it relentlessly copied itself. Which was fine! Why would you try to innovate with an IP like Bard's Tale?
While I agree that, had they not been limited in time and storage space (it was, what? 1.1 megabytes?), they could have made it much grander
Tarmitia might deserve its own game. Assuming people can stomach the premise of Tarmitia in the first place.
Cynicism, mostly. They wanted to cash in on nostalgia, so they name-dropped a bunch of stuff before going on with their original plan.
The original plan kinda sucked, though? I mean it's playable, it isn't awful, but . . . they could have gone to less effort and produced a better game.
I looked at those realms as their ancestral homes, but not necessarily any given individual's birthplace. Like, I'm Dutch, but I've spent my whole life in America. So, the Netherlands may be my ancestral home, my Arboria, but I'm from America, from Skara Brae.
Maybe, but I got the impression from the original series that multiple races were essentially ubiquitous in several dimensions, and it wasn't altogether clear what was their point-of-origin. I figured they all came from the Skara Brae dimension and spread out via Chronomancy.
I dunno. I'd have to rewatch the ending, but I think you're returned to Skara Brae in-lore too.
I don't remember. I do know I went back to Skara Brae several times to visit the guild. Skara Brae itself was pretty empty so eh I dunno.
And Hearthstone. BT4 is basically the end result of Brian's obsession with neolithic Skara Brae and Hearthstone.
He wasn't the only one obsessed with neolithic Skara Brae. It's been burning in the back of RPG dev minds for decades. So much so that Skara Brae found its way into Bard's Tale and Ultima, at about the same time (BT1: 1985. Ultima IV: 1985)

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 5th, 2020, 2:30 pm
by Drool
manderson99 wrote:
May 4th, 2020, 6:26 pm
BT1 was arguably a Wizardry ripoff anyway.
A little uncharitable and ignores intent. BT1 wasn't intended to ripoff Wizardry, it was intended to be a Wizardry-killer: to be a game in the same genre that does what Wizardry did, but better. I think it succeeds in that regard, especially considering graphics.
I don't get why people would spend so much time/money/effort picking up the rights to old IP for anything other than retro fanservice.
At the risk of being even more cynical, I'd say it's because they figured they couldn't get funding for their Scottish Hearthstone game and so bolted on some Bard's Tale stuff to trick people into paying for it. I don't actually think that's the case, but it sure feels like it sometimes.
Yeah some of the crusty old fans really are argumentative nits who can never be pleased with anything.
Grognards gonna grognard. And, I mean, I bitched a lot about lore in WL2 and about how it felt more like Fallout than Wasteland, but I still think it's a good enough. Not what I would have done, but I mostly enjoyed playing it. It felt like a Wasteland sequel made by someone had only played Fallout and just read some wiki entries about Wasteland.

BT4 feels like a game made by someone who didn't even bother looking at a Wiki because they actively hated the originals, or at least deeply resented the fact that they were making a sequel to them.
Even if there are some jerks that still think Dragon Quest V is still the best in the series. And they do get argumentative.
At least we can all agree that the best sure as hell ain't 1.
Bard's Tale is not Ultima. BT never really broke new ground (Wizardry), and it relentlessly copied itself. Which was fine! Why would you try to innovate with an IP like Bard's Tale?
I'd still maintain that BT1 most certainly did innovate (after all, Wizardry was wireframe). 2 and 3 were just, well, sequels. And they did sequel-level innovation. 2 added open world (or, at least 1980s open world), various tweaks like save anywhere and gambling, and so on, including a quest that required a hireling. 3 built on that by added automap, Archmages, more songs, new dimensions, etc. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they just added incremental improvements. Like the changes between Dragon Quest titles as opposed to between Final Fantasy titles.
Tarmitia might deserve its own game. Assuming people can stomach the premise of Tarmitia in the first place.
I would wholeheartedly support a sidequel set in Tarmitia. Or, if we wanna go really bonkers, a survival type game set in Gelidia after the Eternal Winter spell. A first person survival adventure game where you fight against the cold and the monsters while hunting for treasure and relics. I'd be all over that.

Hey inXile, have Krome make that Gelidia game. You don't even need to pay me for the idea.
The original plan kinda sucked, though? I mean it's playable, it isn't awful, but . . . they could have gone to less effort and produced a better game.
I think in my review I said it was a pretty middle-of-the-road puzzle/RPG title, probably worth about 15-20 bucks. As a AAA price Bard's Tale title, it's a pretty big disappointment.
Maybe, but I got the impression from the original series that multiple races were essentially ubiquitous in several dimensions, and it wasn't altogether clear what was their point-of-origin. I figured they all came from the Skara Brae dimension and spread out via Chronomancy.
Yeah, it's a bit of a plothole (or at least a bit of weirdness), unless travel was much easier before Tarjan wrecked everything. I mean, Hawkslayer's bouncing all over the place, and he's just a straight up Warrior. And in 4, you can apparently hop on over Kinestia with little trouble.
I don't remember. I do know I went back to Skara Brae several times to visit the guild. Skara Brae itself was pretty empty so eh I dunno.
We're getting into our-world-reality-in-game vs game-reality-in-game. Of course, either way, one wouldn't expect it to be rebuilt immediately.
He wasn't the only one obsessed with neolithic Skara Brae. It's been burning in the back of RPG dev minds for decades. So much so that Skara Brae found its way into Bard's Tale and Ultima, at about the same time (BT1: 1985. Ultima IV: 1985)
Yeah, but in BT1, it wasn't even remotely modeled on the neolithic site. It was just picked as a cool name. It was kept in BT2004 because EA couldn't own the copyright to a real world location, and that's when things went Scottish the first time.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 5th, 2020, 5:02 pm
by manderson99
I will say one last thing here:

For good or for ill, to me, Bard's Tale has been about iterating upon existing concepts and improving them. Yes it improved significantly over Wizardry. But in many ways it was a spiritual successor. The look and feel of the game was the same. Better graphics, more dungeons, and UI improvements were just some of what BT did better. And then, as I said, it kept layering on those concepts.

Unlike Ultima, which went through major conceptual and even structural changes repeatedly.

If InXile wanted to make a hybrid RPG/CCG, it would have been easier for them to do a paint-by-the-numbers BT4 and then pocket the proceeds and use it to finance the side project. Wanting to actually force people to buy in to their new concept by strapping an old franchise to it is pure hubris. It's one thing to want to try and innovate, but it's another to try to coerce people into liking it.

There's a time and a place for trying new things. Devs need to risk failure when they innovate, though, or there's no pressure to make things GOOD. It's important to have a few golden geese around you can milk for steady income before you venture out into the unknown.

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: May 6th, 2020, 10:58 pm
by manderson99
Oops final few notes:

It looks like it wasn't Lagoth Zanta who hid his reliquary in the Sulphur Springs. It was actually Mangar (Iwon Rheg). Still doesn't make much sense but whatever.

Also according to some posters on the Steam forum, it looks like the infinite dance combo might actually still work. Not as good as infinte spellpoints though right?

Re: Bard's Tale 4: Director's Cut post-mortem (GoG)

Posted: July 21st, 2020, 12:28 pm
by Ether
Given the victory screen in BT2, where the King appears and tells you will visit the Castle of Candor (or something like that) in some other kingdom, I think it's very clear that Michael Cranford's vision for BT3 was quite different from what actually happened.
BT2's biggest issue wasn't the story; it was that it was just too big. Thankfully BT3 scrapped Marduk's law (every dungeon being 16x16)
That and the C64 fighter bug.
Maybe, but I got the impression from the original series that multiple races were essentially ubiquitous in several dimensions, and it wasn't altogether clear what was their point-of-origin. I figured they all came from the Skara Brae dimension and spread out via Chronomancy.

Yeah, it's a bit of a plothole (or at least a bit of weirdness), unless travel was much easier before Tarjan wrecked everything. I mean, Hawkslayer's bouncing all over the place, and he's just a straight up Warrior. And in 4, you can apparently hop on over Kinestia with little trouble.
I'd say it's more of a retcon.
While, I agree with Drool's comment about the concept of the party transversing time and space to defeat Tarjan, I think the whole dimensional travel bit was done as a way for players to have new spells via a class you need (Chronomancer) to reach such places.
It certainly worked for me though in 1988. Still largely does even now