Arcanum: Of Screenshots & Resolutions Obscura

By Alec Meer on April 16th, 2009 at 3:59 pm.

I’m yet to play Troika’s fondly-remembered, industrial-fantasy 2D RPG Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura, despite a) it having basically the best name in the world and b) my owning a copy that’s stared challenging at me from my game draw for years. The release of one Drog Black Tooth’s resolution-embiggening mod for it, a la the gorgeous Planescape high-definitioniser, may be enough to finally lure me over. I can’t personally attest to its reliability just yet, but unlike the Planescape one it doesn’t seem to mess up the UI, plus it purportedly supports any resolution. While Arcanum’s nowhere near as pretty as Planescape’s hand-painted backdrops, it still looks pretty sharp and fresh. Which seems like a good excuse for an Arcanum Retro piece soon….

Ta to sfury for the tip.

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59 Comments »

  1. moyogo says:

    It’s a top RPG for me, its charm will work its way into your heart shortly. I should check out that res pack…

  2. garren says:

    You should mention Drog’s other works like the unofficial patch and extra pack too so people won’t miss those. (yeah I know they’re all on the site but still..)

  3. Dexton says:

    I will definitely have to try and find myself a copy of this, especially if I can play it at native res (I am replaying Fallout: Tactics at the moment with a res mod). It’s really impressive how good these old games can look when you put the resolution up to 1920×1200 or the like.

  4. Seth says:

    There are some GORGEOUS custom UIs to use with the Planescape resolution mod.

    Also, Arcanum was great, but the UI was atrocious. If you hard a party of any significant size, repairing all their crap was somewhere beyond tedious.

  5. Rinox says:

    Arcanum will always have a special place in my CRPG heart, even with the countless bugs that plagued it. Should be an even better game with all the third-party patches released over the years.

    I wonder how it’ll look on 1600×1200. :-) *installs it*

  6. Seth says:

    Planescape UI link: http://www.shsforums.net/index.php?s=678f3d14951b119f36cb51fa760bfcf2&showtopic=37221

    Now to find my arcanum disks… maybe I can actually wrap my brain around playing a tech character this time.

  7. hoof says:

    Funnily enough I installed this yesterday. There were a few graphic glitches, but it does certainly do the job.

  8. Heliocentric says:

    I’ve been emulating a few old 3d console games (i own the systems and software i just can’t get them to work/hand cramp inducing controllers) and holy shit! Super mario 64 and the zelda ocarina +majora titles look damn good in hd. And the 360 controller is a pleasure to use compared to the 64.

    I’m sure many games could benefit from being hd’d on the pc in 3d games we take those sliders for granted. Playing sacrifice i can jam everything to max on my pc and it looks better than most things in the shops today.

  9. Garu says:

    I liked Arcanum, but I remember every place in the game feeling so deserted. There just weren’t enough NPCs running around. Plus, looting the magic shop every night was really easy.

    Fantasy-steampunk is the greatest setting ever, though.

  10. Ogawa says:

    Drog Black Tooth is truly the master of Arcanum. His unofficial patch, extras pack, and now this resolution mod have made a great game even greater.

  11. Rinox says:

    Garu, I agree that some (mostly quest) areas were a bit bleak, but Tarrant had a bustling vibe to it even with few NPC’s. I guess the train and the harbor and all that helped. Oh and the (changing) newspapers! Good stuff.

    Some of my favorite parts were the mystery on Thanatos and the freakshow in Tarrant (forgot the name).

  12. Nels Anderson says:

    From what I remember about Arcanum, it was really difficult to use both technology and magick. It’s deliberate of course, but Troika might have swung a little to far. The first time I played, I tried to do the jack-of-all-trades thing, but just ended up really terrible at both.

    For anyone giving it another playthrough, I’d suggest picking either magick or tech and running with it.

  13. Serondal says:

    Obviously you can’t use magik and technological stuff they cancel each other out man! If a powerful wizard elf is on a blimp it will fail and crash, duh ;P

    This game was so hard I never got into it. I baught it, but never got into it. My character was literally killed by a chicken in the first town so I gave up. I went back and played it a few years ago and again, was to hard :P Same reason I never got into Fall Out 1 or 2, to complicated , no reference point from D&D for me to start from, me die over and over me quit. Ah well, at least someone out there enjoyed these games.

  14. Nick says:

    If I remember correctly it was much easier to succeed as a magicker. Awesome game.

  15. mcw says:

    I’m looking forward to your retro piece. It’d be nice if this game were available on a digital distribution platform.

  16. Dreamhacker says:

    Arcanum retro piece, yes please!

  17. Psychopomp says:

    @Nick.
    Not so. Every action takes up fatigue, and there is no Mana system. After 4-5 spells, you’re unconcious, or have so little fatigue left you can’t even take the odd potshot at an enemy without falling inconcious.
    The easiest way to play the game is Half-Ogre, with lots of dex and strength.

  18. Pete S says:

    I have a copy of this buried in the closet somewhere. How would I go about getting it to run under Vista? Anyone written a faq or something about this process?

  19. Adam Bloom says:

    Drog is the master Arcanum modder. I wish this had been out when I played through a few months ago.

    @Psychopomp,

    Mages in Arcanum are a lot like D&D. They suck through the first half, then you become completely invincible. By the end every fight was click disintegrate > click target.

  20. MeestaNob! says:

    I would like to just say that I love Seth and want to have his babies for giving us that link. Whilst I was happy with the widescreen/res patch a few months ago, it really wasn’t a completely enjoyable experience until THIS came along.

    An inappropriate hug for you sir.

  21. phil says:

    If anyone finds this game too hard, bare in mind once you find the dog, you can kite around pretty much anything in real time play and let the little overpowered land shark take down the opposition in three of four bites.

    Also, magic make the game so easy its borderline broken; I had the most fun as a brawler/thief pure human using magic weapons for the frustrating bits, the dwarf mines in particular.

  22. garren says:

    If you find the game too hard then make a pure fighter with enough charisma that you can have a couple of teammates with you too. Then just purely focus on combat stuff, dont take anything magical or tech stuff, that just hinders your fighting skills in the beginning.

  23. Cian says:

    I adore this game, the steampunk equivalent of Fallout. But it is it’s gloriously melancholic soundtrack that is the star of the game, not the admittedly lovely isometric backgrounds.

  24. Seth says:

    I played a fighter with a magic inclination. Which means you beat the crap while your teammates heal you instantly. Basically you don’t have to do anything.

  25. Ozzie says:

    Yeah, the beginning is pretty hard and takes a while to really get into the game, but when it does you’re hooked and you won’t stop playing it until you can’t keep your eyes anymore open!
    At least, that happened to me…
    …just finished the german 2 weeks ago, with the unofficial patch of course.
    The game has flaws, yes, but somehow they don’t matter much. Heck, the longer you play the more likely it gets that it glitches or crashes your whole system. Yeah, the sound starts rattling like a machine gun and then the BSOD appears for a split second and takes your system to a reboot. Also, savegames can be corrupted, so save on multiple game slots.

    Otherwise, I tended more to magic because the spells were just more interesting. Teleportation makes jumping between places really convenient and will control (Willensbeherrschung in german) is great, too, you can even use it on the final boss and let him kill his conjured creatures. It doesn’t work on ghosts, though.
    By the way, the game gets easier and easier as it goes on. The only thing that was annoying were the elemental creatures, the stone and lava giants because the weapons got damaged on them! So…..either I took the weapons away from my party members or I teleported back to a city after every few fights to repair them since no one (Virgil and Magnus) could use fire weapons, a bow or magic to kill the damn things! And I was pretty bad with fire weapons, too, since I realized too late that I may need such a skill. So I would recommend to spend your points on such skills, too.

    The game was pretty much a joy from start to finish, except for Tulla…..I’m not sure how the designers could think that this puzzle might be fun. As soon as I realized what had to be done I lost every motivation to continue playing. A walkthrough helped. That puzzle is even tedious if you know what to do! Bah….otherwise, yeah it’s great! Everyone should play it!! :-D

  26. Serondal says:

    I dunno, I enjoyed Baldur’s Gate more, I mean who doesn’t want a ranger with a space hamster ? :P

  27. Ozzie says:

    Edited the previous post to fix some grammatical errors…

    Yeah, the beginning is pretty hard. It takes a while to get into the game, but when it happens you’re hooked and you won’t stop playing it until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore.
    At least this happened to me…
    …just finished the german version 2 weeks ago, with the unofficial patch of course.
    The game has flaws, yes, but somehow they don’t matter much. The longer you play the more likely the game glitches or crashes your whole system. The sound starts rattling like a machine gun and then the BSOD appears for a split second and takes your system to a reboot. Also, save games can be corrupted, so spread your saves on multiple save slots.

    Personally, I tended more to magic because the spells were just more interesting. Teleportation makes jumping between places really convenient. Will control (Willensbeherrschung in german) is great, too, you can even use it on the final boss and let him kill his conjured creatures. It doesn’t work on ghosts, though.
    By the way, the game gets easier and easier as it goes on. The only thing that was annoying were the elemental creatures and the stone and lava giants because the weapons got damaged on them! So…..either I took the weapons away from my party members or I teleported back to a city after every few fights to repair them since no one (Virgil and Magnus) could use fire weapons, a bow or magic to kill the damn things! And I was pretty bad with fire weapons, too, since I realized too late that I may need such a skill. So I would recommend to spend your points on such skills, too.

    The game was pretty much a joy from start to finish, except for Tulla…..I’m not sure how the designers could think that this puzzle might be fun. As soon as I realized what had to be done I lost every motivation to continue playing. A walkthrough helped. That puzzle is even tedious if you know what to do! Bah….otherwise, yeah, great game! Everyone should play it!! :-D

  28. BooleanBob says:

    Alec Meer: mining gaming’s soft retro underbelly, one classic he couldn’t be bothered to play at a time, where the mag-beshackled journos of yesteryear are the only competition!

    Buuut seriously, this game is a deservedly maligned classic. As everyone has already said, the game suffers from bugs, and slightly rubbish combat, but worst are the hellish balancing issues extant across the board. I arrived in the fateful Mines of Something-or-Other having made stubborn but steady progress with my beauteous, charismatic gunsmith, only to find the beasts within at least five levels above my party. It was as if the game had no idea what level I was going to be at that stage, but if the expectancy was as high as those enemies I have literally no idea where all those experience points I supposedly missed could have been hiding.

    Tech-speccing (especially in guns) in the game’s early levels seems only to give you slightly cheaper access to weaponry otherwise available in shops, forces you to spend your combat spoils on bullets, components and healing supplies, and rapidly makes the seemingly plot-crucial fighter-healer NPC you meet early on a significantly less effective party member. There being no readily apparent intermediary area to beef up in – I did scour the world map, at considerable expense of money and time – I pretty much gave up.

    Which is regrettable, because I actually thought the world was enormously compelling, the music jaw-dropping, and the story intelligent and seemingly going… somewhere. I especially liked the newspapers, even though it struck me at the time that writing all those fully-fledged daily articles had either to be a colossal drain on developer time, or that they jarringly stopped a set number of days in the future.

    Looking forward to the look-backathon. Which is more than a little painful on the old sightorbs.

  29. Ozzie says:

    Oh, I forgot to describe my favorite glitch in the game! I think I was grinding on the cemetery in Ashbury. I realized that the game started glitching so I tried to reload a previous save game. But what the game loaded wasn’t what I saved.
    I found myself on an endless meadow with two naked men standing on it. Well, naked as much as possible in this game, so they had shorts on. One of them was me, but I couldn’t move around. Everytime I tried the sprite would simply disappear. If I tried again it would reappear. Odd. When I tried to talk to the other guy he would say things like “Oh, please! Take on some clothes!!”. Next to us stood a chest. Inside were a lot of clothes for men and women. So I guess that this was some kind of test level and that the other men would say different things depending on what I took on. I didn’t find out since I tried to load my quicksave again. This time though the grass tile just smeared over my whole screen and the game managed to crash again and take my whole system with it. Sweet!

  30. Carra says:

    But… where does one buy this game? :)

  31. Mwalk10 says:

    The most powerful character I’ve ever played through was a thief with a slight tech inclination so he can use the pyro axe.
    Because he could backstab anything solo, he did not need companions and got enough xp to max out at level 50 well before the game’s end.
    Turn based combat was almost too easy, as he had enough action points to walk around and then backstab somebody again. With expert in backstab you can use any weapon to get the backstab bonus, so killing the end boss with the special massive sword you find was a cakewalk too.

  32. Seth says:

    ebay.

  33. Doctor_Hellsturm says:

    Loved Arcanum so much that it still resides on my top 3 list of games. The music is stored on my iTunes. The setting is so good that it makes all the flaws forgettable.

  34. Sartoris says:

    Same here, Doctor_Hellstrum, it’s one of my favourites as well, and whenever I do a complete reinstall on my computer, Arcanum gets installed just after Windows :D I’ve completed it a dozen times, so it stays on my hard simply as some sort of a virtual comfort blanket: I can pop into that wonderful world from time to time, when I need to cheer up, and take a stroll in Tarant while listening to the game’s great soundtrack.

  35. gryffinp says:

    Oh, man. I have some MEMORIES of Arcanum. I should dig it up and download this mod.

  36. GilbertBates says:

    Below are just a few examples of the types of characters you may want to try out while playing Arcanum.

    - magickal or technological thief
    - pure thief with no magick or technological abilities
    - assassin
    - debutante or gentleman assassin/thief
    - debutante or gentleman with no violent tendencies
    - socially savvy, charismatic gambler
    - super good or super evil (mage or technologist)
    - warrior with no magick or technological skills
    - balanced character using equal amounts of magick and tech
    - gunfighter
    - inventor
    - a very dumb character
    - a very ugly character
    - a very persuasive character
    - a very charismatic or uncharismatic character

    You will find that the world reacts differently to these various character types and that alternate paths as well as quests are available to them throughout the game.

    From the readme and very true and why this game is a masterpiece.

  37. sfury says:

    This is the ONLY game I’ve started again right after watching the credits (and spending signifficant time in it before), just to try a completely different character and all the options that will open up. And it was totally worth it!

    First time I too tried the jack-of-all-trades approach but after having more than miserable time in the beginning quickly started leveling up a fighter instead.

    The second playthrough was with a female character with maxed out beauty and charisma and, damn, I almost didn’t have to fight – I quickly gathered enough followers who did the dirty work for me – found especially easy the beginning this time because you can recruit that ogre in the 1st town and all your brifge-crossing troubles go away… Also that unlocked a ton of options in the dialogues …aaand I found out a certain dark elf priestess has the hots only for ladies :]

    Seriously, the game is full of gems, beautiful atmosphere and heart-crushing music and I even regret I didn’t continue it back then for the third time – with a techie – well this time I will do.

  38. army of none says:

    Oh god I loved this game soo much. It’s such a classic, even for it’s flaws. This mod makes me want to go back and replay it for the seventh or eighth time.

  39. Vinraith says:

    I missed this one the first time around. I’ve had issues with past Troika games, but have heard good things about this one. Maybe I’ll try to find a copy somewhere for cheap and slap this mod on it…

  40. espy says:

    Great game, loved it to bits. There mods make me want to play it again :)

  41. Hoernchen says:

    I have to admit while Arcanum sounds awesome every time I actually tried to play it I stopped about half an hour later to install and play Fallout 1/2 instead…

  42. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Everybody has one gaming memory that chills them to the bone. Mine is a quest from Arcanum.

    *Spoilers*

    The Gnome Conspiracy still haunts me. And the only way to bring real justice Tarant and get rid of the corruption and ineptitude (including that of the members of the conspiracy in the gnomish Industrial Council) far as I can remember, is to support Donn Throgg. Especially since killing the conspirators counts as an Evil act by the game.

    But this was also the only time I felt truly morally justified in committing an Evil act in an RPG with a karma system. (F3′s Tenpenny Tower quest can be skipped altogether, while the deeds in Arcanum’s darkest sidequest had already been done.)

    I suspect I’m not the only player who felt that way.

    */Spoilers*

  43. OJ287 says:

    The prices for these old games on ebay are ridiculous. I looked for Planescape Torment and found prices at £30-£40. I’ll buy it off GoG if and when they get it.

    I got all the unofficial patches for P:T but theres a graphical bug with the modern nVidia drivers/cards where any magic(particle effects?) makes the games slow to a crawl for 30 seconds.

  44. MetalCircus says:

    Arcanum is bloody good.

  45. BigRocks McHugenuts says:

    I thought Planescape had prerendered 3D rather than hand painted backgrounds?

  46. Helm says:

    Yes Arcanum doesn’t look as good as Planescape but I do not think Planescape is hand-painted. It’s pre-rendered. http://drog.terra-arcanum.com/highres/1280x960_01.jpg this is pre-rendered too, just not as expertly made.

    Anyway, this is my ticket to trying Arcanum. Thanks :D

  47. perilisk says:

    Meh, my memories aren’t very good, and I didn’t even hit the show-stopping bugs. It was brutally punishing to tech characters, it tried to have turn based and real time combat and failed at both, and far too many areas consisted of giant combat slogs. As I recall (it’s been a while) a lot of XP came from doing damage in combat, which basically screwed charismatic characters who relied on their companions to do the brutalizing.

    When you were actually doing dialog stuff or applying multiple solutions to solve a problem, it was good — but for too much of the game, the only solution was “walk through a maze of tunnels and shoot/stab/magic 800 identical enemies”. It was the first time I actually got so bored of RPG combat that I quit a game, as I recall, and I was a terrible JRPG grinder back in the day.

    The general concept was quite appealing, the actual execution was too inconsistent (except in those aspects where it was consistently bad). The music was good, though.

  48. Derek K. says:

    When I bought my new, top of the line gaming laptop last month, the second thing I installed on it was Arcanum.

    <3.

  49. Tim says:

    Couple questions for the patchmod experts:

    I have the unofficial patch version previous to the latest one. Is there any serious reason why I should restart my game? I’m only in Tarant but would prefer not to bother.

    Why does the game occasionally go crazy sometimes and quickly hide the information window after mousing over a character or object? It will work fine for a bit and then suddenly I have trouble looking at things.