The ISA-Bus

One blog to bind them all.

Monthly Archives: June 2012

The End of Minitel

I didn’t even know about it. A precursor of the Internet, sort of, launched in 1982 using standard telephone lines, it once had 25 million users in France but remained unknown outside. Now, it’s getting shut down.


The Estoc de Olivia

In Wizardry 8, there is a weapon named Estoc de Olivia. It uses the rapier graphic, but does about twice the damage of a rapier, and can only be wielded by the Ranger, a character class otherwise associated with axes as melee weapons. It’s a strange weapon with a strange name, and I did some research.

The estoc, while sometimes seen as a forerunner of the rapier, was actually a far heavier weapon and quite different weapon. It was developed in the 14th century against the heavier armor that was becoming common. In German it is known as panzerbrecher, armor breaker. It was nearly always two-handed.

The Ranger in Wizardry was inspired by Robin Hood. The manual of Bane of the Cosmic Forge, where the Ranger class was first introduced, explicitly mentions the popular outlaw. Robin Hood’s maybe best known companion is Friar Tuck. Tuck is an English word for estoc, and the character is named after the weapon (think “Mack the Knife”).

There is some irony here, since Robin Hood is supposed to have lived at the times of Richard the Lionheart, when there were not yet any estocs. But then, there were no friars in England either at that time. It seems that Friar Tuck is a historical figure from the early 15th century, a Sussex chaplain named Robert Stafford who went by the name Frere Tuk. Two royal writs in 1417 refer to him, and he was still at large in 1429. Popular tales often wildly mix the centuries.

But why Estoc de Olivia? The Ranger isn’t just modelled after Robin Hood in general, but more specifically after Robin Hood in the 1938 Hollywood movie with Errol Flynn and, yes, Olivia de Havilland. The portrait in the Bane of the Cosmic Forge manual bears an astonishing resemblance to one of the posters for this movie, and another Ranger-related item is called “Flynn’s Cap.”

I don’t think that Olivia de Havilland actually fenced in that movie, though there is at least one ballad with a fighting Maid Marian. All I found is this photo:

It’s from the set of Captain Blood, the first Hollywood movie of the then nineteen year old Tokyo-born British actress. I don’t think she fenced in that film either. They were probably just goofing off before the camera.

Two Screenshots

The first screenshot is from Wizardry 8, released in November 2001 after being in development for nearly five years. It shows the Wilderness Clearing, admittedly not the most impressive outdoor scenery in this game, rendered at 1600×1200 pixels, with the HUD cropped off:

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On the Term “Mook”

Mooks were one of the new races introduced to the Wizardry series in Bane of the Cosmic Forge. In their outward appearance, they are shaped on the wookiees in Star Wars, otherwise they are a highly intelligent, technically advanced, curious and gentle race.

The term “mook” was not invented by the Wizardry team. It seems to have entered American vernacular with the Martin Scorsese movie Mean Streets in 1973, roughly with the meaning loser, someone who doesn’t count.

According to the Wikipedia disambiguation page, the term is used in game development for a group of enemy characters that are insignificant to the plot and simply there to be killed by the player. The difference to “mob” would be that mooks are specifically after the player, while mobs are often just roaming monsters. I’m not sure if this is true. In Daggerfall, for example, such groups of monsters are a side effect of many quests, but they are always referred to as “mobs” in the game data.

In Earthbound, the American SNES localization of Mother 2, there are monsters named mooks. They are stereotype 50s aliens with tentacles and eyestalks. This is a direct transcription of the original ムーク and may be unrelated to the American slang term.

In the year the Wizardry series came to a close, 2001, the term was somewhat revived by Douglas Rushkoff in an episode of the TV series Frontline entitled The Merchants of Cool for self centered simpletons in their teens or early 20s who live a drunken frat-boy lifestyle. The female equivalent is midriff. It seems that the term has been used more often since then.

Google is Great

Elsewhere, I wanted to make a post about Michael Moore but couldn’t remember his name. So I googled “fat liberal filmmaker.” The very first result was his Wikipedia entry.

Lord Hienmitey

I never played any other Wizardry game but 8, and only by reading CRPG Addict’s Wizardry V review I learned that there is a character named “Lord Hienmitey” in this game. For someone living in Vienna, this name is rather baffling. It looks a lot like one of the more bizarre dishes of Viennese cuisine, Hirn mit Ei (brain with eggs). Read aloud as German with an Austrian accent, it would sound exactly the same.

Of course, this might just be a strange coincidence. But while the term Hirn mit Ei might be known to anyone who ever spent a holiday in Vienna, transforming “Hirn” to “Hien” would indicate some familiarity with Austrian vernacular. The image, BTW, is from the FM Towns version of Wizardry V, which had 256 color graphics at double resolution.

Alchemists in Ragnarok Online

Ragnarok Online probably helped to make the alchemist character class popular. Final Fantasy introduced one in X-2, one year later. Image from the official RO fansite kit, click for full size (1024 × 768).

Did Wizardry Invent the Alchemist Class?

I’ve started playing Wizardry 8 again, and read up a bit on the history of the series. It occurred to me that Bane of the Cosmic Forge, back in 1990, may have been the first RPG to introduce Alchemist as a playable class. Dungeons & Dragons, didn’t get one until ruleset 3.5 in 2003.

Otherwise, the oldest examples that I found are Final Fantasy Tactics, which had a Chemist job class similar to the Wizardry Alchemist, and Atelier Marie. Both are from 1997. Anyone know otherwise?

Update: Dungeons & Dragons

It turns out that there is not, and never was, an official D&D character class alchemist. None of the player handbooks I checked even contains the words “alchemist” or “alchemy”. There have been homebrew alchemist character classes at least since 1976, when Jon Pickens wrote an article on this topic for the second number of The Dragon. The concept seems to have been popular, but was never made official.

Saki on Pre-line

Here’s an example for the method I’ve described in my previous post: One of my favorite short stories by Saki, The Schartz-Metterklume Method, formatted only with CSS using white-space: pre-line. If you look at the source, you will find that, apart from title and link to the style sheet, the only markup is around the header and a single <p> at the beginning of the text proper.

The <p> isn’t necessary. I used it mainly for the fancy initial, which is achieved with p:first-letter. I could just as well have applied white-space: pre-line to the whole body.

The Fascinating White-Space Property

Hidden in the train wreck that is CSS2 there is one property that is oddly useful, even ingenious: white-space. A while ago I showed how this property, applied to the body, can format a poem without a single tag in the text proper. What I did there wasn’t really different from enclosing the poem in pre tags. But there are some other, more advanced, options as well.

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