Sundry Sunday: Ending Animation for The Mystery of the Druids

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

I forget exactly where I saw it, but I observed, in pieces, a playthrough of the 2001 adventure game The Mystery of the Druids. It may have been during Awful Block at an earlier GDQ, or on some other stream. it was something. Actually, a thing. One thing. Just one.

(Amazingly, you can buy the game on Steam, and as I write this it’s like a dollar. One dollar. Just one. But the reviews indicate it has really serious bugs, so even that is probably too much.)

Besides constantly pronouncing the word druid as drood, the game’s notable for starring a police detective, Halligan, who frequently does things one might think unworthy of law enforcement. Not a great pillar of virtue, that Halligan.

The game itself doesn’t have a great ending, so someone on Youtube made their own version. It’s two minutes long, and it follows below. It is much more enjoyable than the actual game.

Bringle’s Obscure Changes in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

I wish that these videos weren’t always videos. A lot of this information would be delivered just as effectively in text, but these days a lot of game researchers have abandoned good old text for flashy video, or otherwise locked-off Discord servers that don’t add to our common body of knowledge. I’ve complained about this before, and I am liable to keep complaining about it. Because I’m right about this, and yet it doesn’t change. Get to fixing this, world!

The video (21 minutes) has a lot of interesting changes though. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has sustained a huge amount of fan interest over the years, due to its story being actually really good for a Mario game, it’s terrific sense of humor, and its deep gameplay. It’s generally agreed to be the highlight of the whole Paper Mario series, building on the ideas of the first game.

This is a good opportunity to muse upon what the gameplay merits of TYD are. I identify these:

  • The combat system, which keeps most of your moves useful in different ways by giving them special properties that make intuitive sense. Jumps can’t hit spiked enemies or enemies on the ceiling, while hammer attacks only hit the first enemy in line and can’t hit enemies in the air. There are exceptions to these rules, but they’re more costly. Follower attacks also have their own limitations along these lines.
  • The action commands, and Guard and Superguard functions. Paper Mario wasn’t the first JRPG to add a timed minigame to combat (that may have been Super Mario RPG), but the design here is very good. Most moves have an action command minigame where good performance increases the move’s power. Guard reduces the damage taken from attacks by pressing a button in a brief time window, while Superguard negates damage if a different button is pressed in a briefer time window. The button you press changes both the difficulty and the reward. Both aren’t easy to perform consistently, as many enemy attacks have tricky timing, but the Superguard bonus is great enough that it’s really tempting to use it. All three of these functions largely replace the general randomness and variance in JRPG combat, making it a lot more skill-based. (Finding ways for players to demonstrate skill in RPG-style games is a long-standing design challenge. I should write something about that here in the future!)
  • And then there’s the joy of exploration, and the many secrets in the game world that reward it. Paper Mario had a bunch of them, but TYD really goes overboard. I can’t name a game with as much cool stuff thrown into its game world for players to just happen upon. The old line used in many Nintendo game manuals is to “try everything,” but how much of everything should the player really try? TYD is one of the few games that feels like it lives up to the true breadth of that word. There is a character in the game whose purpose is to give the player hints at finding obscure secrets. The Trouble Center offers further rewards and fleshes out the game world by giving Mario and friends the opportunity to perform helpful tasks for people. There’s so many things to do!

Super Paper Mario also had a lot of tricks, but it had a worse story (IMO), and it completely abandoned the classic Paper Mario battle system. Later Paper Mario games went in a completely different direction with unique battle systems for each. It was Thousand Year Door that got the most right in a single game.

So, um. The video! Yes, watch it, it’s interesting.

Obscure Changes in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Youtube, 21 minutes)

On the History of Wizardry

Once upon a time, there was Wizardry, and nothing else. Welllll-l-l… almost nothing else. Here’s a makeshift timeline of CRPGs and CRPG-like released leading up to the original Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.

Don’t be fooled by this chart, where Wizardry happens to appear at the end. Most of these games were not widely available. Anything for a PDP or PLATO would only have been playable by a select few. Apshai and Ultima I were more widely available than their predecessors, but Wizardry was substantially deeper than either of them, and wasn’t surpassed for a while. For a time, it was the benchmark in the field, and inspired its own substantial subgenre, which we’ve heard called blobbers in the past. (Set Side B on blobbers previously, including an extensive list of them.)

Blobbers get their name because a whole RPG adventuring party is considered to exist filling one space in a first-person view of a dungeon grid, but it’s not really a great name because the defining characteristic of this sort of game isn’t the unity of the party but the view of the maze. Creating a first person maze of this type was a popular early graphical trick, because it was easy to program, and could be drawn on a tile-based display or possibly even a terminal. Blobbers continued to rule the roost for first-person games until the foundation of the first person shooters with id Software’s Catacomb-3D and Wolfenstein 3D, and more atmospheric 3D CRPGs like Origin’s Ultima Underworld.

Video and computer games are a field terribly unkind to their legacy. You might point to Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man and such as examples of games where decades-old originals are still known and played, but numerically speaking they are greatly outnumbered by the lost and nearly-forgotten. Games that used to be well known among all game-playing computer users are now mere footnotes, due to their companies going under, or their IPs being owned by uncaring megacorps interested only in milking their very most profitable properties YES I’M TALKING ABOUT ELECTRONIC ARTS. Ahem.

Wizardry is one of the foremost examples of this. For a while it was the best-selling computer RPG around, and its sequels did well for a long while. Wizardry VII was released in 1992, but then its successor Wizardry 8, a landmark title that finally brought the series into true 3D, took nine years to finish, and was sadly released right around the time of the demise of publisher Sir-Tech, although their Canadian branch lasted until 2oo3.

After Sir-Tech Software shut its doors, the series’ torch was held aloft for a long while by a succession of Japanese developers, beginning with ASCII Entertainment. Many of these games are still extremely obscure to the Western world, which seems odd considering how connected we’ve all become. We don’t even know if Robert Woodhead had anything to do with the first of the Japanese games, Wizardry Gaiden. The Japanese Wizardly line is all over the place aesthetically, but in play sticks by the formula of the very earliest games: spell ranks, permadeath, and tricky mazes. Despite being made for systems as varied as the Super Famicom and the PlayStation II, in gameplay they’re all of the Apple II orchard with limited additions. Despite being much that we don’t know, we still know a fair bit, due to an amazing 2020 article on the blog of the CRPG Addict written by “Alex,” with a great comments thread, that all deserves to be etched in stone and set forever on a monument in the middle of the town square of Llylgamyn.

It is more than a mere shame that all of these games remain effectively locked off from the country of Wizardry’s origin. An aging legion of players from the days of the Apple II has no idea that, in a land half a world away, 35 more Wizardry games, with gameplay with a clear recognizable link to the originals, were made and enjoyed. Maybe some day those games will be made more accessible to English-speaking audiences, the ones that aren’t now lost forever, at least.

I’ve said all of this, and I haven’t even gotten to what I had originally intended to be the subject of the piece, the terrific remake of Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord made by Digital Eclipse. Perhaps it’s best to hold off on that for a couple of days. Soon!

P.S. If anyone knows of easy-to-learn open source timeline making software, I’d greatly like to know of it, or even if there’s a good Excel or (preferably) LibreOffice add-on for that purpose.

GDQ Animations on GitHub

It turns out that the various animations that Games Done Quick uses are all in a repository on GitHub, where you can download them and run them yourself, and even make contributions if that is something you feel up for. The require Node.js, and a little command line use and tinkering to get started (it turns out you’re supposed to run npm install from within the repository folder, not from outside of it as implied by the instructions).

The repository can be obtained here. I got it working, and here are some of the displays running from my own machine. And don’t forget that SGDQ 2024 is still going!

GDQ Animation Repository (

Wolf Link’s Tears of the Kingdom Minimalist Playthrough

I’ve been waiting a while to post this one. Right now SGDQ 2024 is acclimating everyone to games being played very quickly, but this post is about a game being played over a long, long period, so by comparison, it should feel even looooonger. Longer than you’d expect maybe from the run being called minimalist.

Wolf Link has, for ten months, been trying to play The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom in a minimalist fashion. By their definition, minimalist means getting a 100% map completion. That doesn’t seem too obvious, does it? But 100% map, which is the closest the game has to declaring you’ve finished 100% of the game. There is no 100% game completion counter. Filling out all of the map is as close as it gets.

That’s still a whole lot of things. It means unlocking all the towers, getting all the Korok seeds, and doing absolute everything need to get everything to appear on the map. What Wolf Link means by minimalist is going as little as possible beyond that, regarding to changes in world and game state.

For example. There’s a sword on the ground. You pick up the sword, and it makes the little item-discovered jingle for finding a type of item the first time, and putting its name up in a little description box. That’s not okay, because now Link knows about that kind of item, so go back to your last save.

Discovering a few types of items like this is unavoidable. Anything that has to be discovered in order to fill out all of the map, well, that can’t be helped, right? But what actually has to be done to get to that point? Are there sneaky ways around collecting essential items? And there are a lot of items that, the first time they’re collected, mark themselves on the run in an indelible way. Most items, in fact. Getting items out of chests that don’t respawn is also outlawed if there’s any way to get to 100% without it. Completing shines is also forbidden after the first four, so the whole game is played with four hearts and one stamina wheel, or later, possibly, three hearts and a little over one stamina wheel.

In Tears of the Kingdom, however, there’s still lots of things you can do. All of the powers you pick up in the first shrines, as it turns out, are essential to getting 100%, so all of those abilities are open. Meaning, especially, you get Ultrahand and the ability to glue things together. Getting Zonai items in capsules isn’t allowed, but using those that are found around Hyrule in the field is. The precise rules are laid out on the Rules tab of the document here.

Another interesting thing, it turns out, that you can do, that turns out to be essential in this challenge, is [spoilers]: unlocking Mineru, the Sage of the Spirit Temple that players aren’t even told about until finishing the other four temples, can be done first. She can be the first sage you get! And the useful thing about that is that Zonai devices can be attached to her, then she can be ridden to use those devices at will. Unlocking her early though by the rules of the Minimalist Run requires doing the Thunderhead Isles in the Sky without clearing the thunderstorm, which is no mean trick.

Over ten months the series has gotten up to 34 videos, and there’s quite a ways to go. The journey already is a long one, but here it is as it stands:

Earthbound Battle Backgrounds Website

This interesting, and even slightly useful, website combines the various layers that the cult classic SNES JRPG Earthbound uses to construct its funky battle backgrounds. There are more combinations here than actually appear in the game. There is a GIF-making function, but it seems to be broken for the moment. You can still make them full-screen and save screenshots, that’s what I did, though unfortunately doing it that way means they aren’t animated.

Here are a few still examples.

Earthbound Battle Backgrounds (a bona-fide website!)

Baseball Bits on Barry Bonds

Here’s a really different post on something that only borrows the aesthetics from video games, but does so in an entertaining way. It’s the Youtube series Baseball Bits on the channel Foolish Baseball, which makes explainers about a lot of different topics related to baseball. Not video baseball; real, Major League Baseball. As such I normally wouldn’t be too interested, but they do a good job of their explanations, and it’s not difficult to follow along.

As an example, here is their recent 19-minute piece on controversial baseball superstar and incredible hulk Barry Bonds, that distills the essence of his long career into four plate appearances.

If this is of absolutely no interest to you, believe me, I understand. I don’t intend to turn this into a real-life sports blog any time soon. But I thought the use of 16-bit video game aesthetics to talk about something that has nothing direct to do with video games is interesting. It’s possible that this pixel-art kind of vibe has staying power, and people will still be referring to it, making it, enjoying it decades to come. Hey I can dream, right?

If you want to find out more about this “Barry Bonds” person, it’s even further afield, but Jon Bois at Secret Base did a great demonstration of the fear he projected upon the sport of baseball in his own video asking: what if Barry Bonds played baseball without a bat? (13 minutes)

Now that that’s done, I’m going to play video games for a while, and try to forget that there ever was such a thing as professional sports. Ta!