Alone in the Dark

[youtube id=”7U8mk_onJps” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Alone in the Dark

Way back when the graphic adventure genre was relatively new and ruled by games such as the King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry series, the concept of a survival horror game was an untouched subject area.  There were games using a haunted house motif, such as Poltergeist, released in 1982 for the Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer orUninvited, Infocom’s graphical text adventure released in 1986, but the game that set the gold bar standard and helped to inspire the flourishing of the entire subgenre was Infogrames’ 1992 classic PC game, Alone in the Dark.

alone in the dark box art
Box front for Alone in the Dark (1992)

Alone in the Dark was set in the late 1920′s, with gamers assuming the role of either private detective Edward Carnby or young heiress Emily Hartwood, who enter the sprawling Louisiana mansion, “Delcarto” in search of a piano supposedly stored in the attic.  The house is reputed to be haunted, and it’s last owner, Ms. Hartwood’s uncle Jeremy, committed suicide in highly unusual circumstances.  If that’s not creepy enough, after the player enters the mansion, the front doors slam shut without any help from mortal hands.  Like any good actor in a teenage slasher flick, Edward (or Emily, depending on who the player chose), heads up the stairs to find the attic.  And once they reach the attic, the game begins.

alone in the dark 3do
Alone in the Dark for Panasonic 3D0

Alone in the Dark is a game that dabbles in the  Cthulhu mythos.  The horrific situations found within the game display their Cthulhulian influence, and even the mansion is discovered to be actually named after Shub-Niggurath, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.  However, the creatures that Edward and Emily encounter are more standard fare (and are a mixed bag when it comes to frightening appearance), and do not possess the mind and world-shattering power of Lovecraftian monsters.

alone in the dark
Cthulhu references in Alone in the Dark (1992)

The atmosphere is aided by both creepy sound effects and a well-thought out musical score.  For example floorboards creak as they’re walked on, and the character’s footsteps echo through the room as an eerie reminder that you’re the only human in the house.  The music switches to a more aggressive melody when creatures appear, and returns to a sombre melody when they’ve been dispatched.  I still have great gaming memories of hearing the strains of Strauss’ The Beautiful Blue Danube in the ballroom (you could put records in the phonograph there and see what happens).

alone in the dark gameplay
Exploring the attic in Alone in the Dark

Some people say that Alone in the Dark was the very first PC survival horror PC game using the Cthulhu Mythos as a theme, but most forget that there was another game published within the same time period that can also lay claim to that title.  MicroProse published Magnetic Scrolls’ The Legacy: Realm of Terror in 1992, a game that was set in a haunted mansion, with bizarre Cthulhulian creatures to overcome.  The two had similar concepts, but of the two, Alone in the Dark was the better game, so usually gets all the credit.

alone in the dark legacy box cover
Box front for The Legacy: Realm of Terror

The game used a different style of graphic engine than gamers were used to.  2-D polygons (colored, not textured) were used to render 3-D objects in real-time, with very quick responses to whatever action the player attempted.  These 3-D objects were then placed against standard pre-rendered backgrounds.  The result was an impressive illusion that the entire game world was being rendered in three-dimensions.  It also permitted unusual camera angles that could be quickly switched from one perspective to another on the fly, which is what Alone in the Dark is usually remembered for by those who played it.

alone in the dark gameplay
Under attack in Alone in the Dark

Alone in the Dark did very well for Infogrames, and was released on multiple platforms, including MS-DOS in 1992, the NEC -PC9801 system in 1993, and the Panasonic 3D0 and Apple Macintosh systems in 1994. (It was also scheduled to be ported over to the Atari Jaguar system, but, alas, that project was canceled.)  Its success resulted in a number of sequels, including Alone in the Dark 2 (released in 1993, and featuring another haunted mansion), and Alone in the Dark 3 (released in 1994 and sending the player to the Old West).  The franchise was rebooted in 2001 with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, where the player got to explore an entire island, and again in 2008, with Alone in the Dark, taking the series to the modern age.

alone in the dark inventory screenshot
Inventory management in Alone in the Dark

The success of the original Alone in the Dark franchise gave the entire survival horror graphic adventure genre its birth. In fact, every time you start up a game of Left4 Dead 2, give thanks to the developers of the granddaddy of them all, Alone in the Dark!

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

 

[youtube id=”Xe0avtFGl7g” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

I remember very well the buzz at the gaming table about a certain balding protagonist of a now-classic Sierra adventure game.  He wasn’t your typical adventure game hero: he was a bumbler, a loser, an everyman shooting for the DD stars.  All he wanted was a piece of the action.  Well, a piece, at any rate.  With the release of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards Sierra On-Line in 1987, the 3D animated adventure game series entered a new, more (im)mature era, and a gaming icon was born.  (A little tidbit: 3D in this case meant “Dancing, Drinking, and Dames.”)

 

blogleisurelarryfront
Box art for Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

Poor Larry was a luckless virgin with absolutely no game.  He dressed in badly dated clothing and wore a gold chain, and by the start of the game, had come to the city of Lost Wages for one last shot at sleeping with a woman.  The game began outside a bar with Larry vowing to become an ex-virgin.  For many gamers, Leisure Suit Larry symbolized their own struggle to negotiate the turbulent waters of dealing with the opposite gender, and the game struck a nerve.  If Larry could get lucky, any of us could, darn it!

Leisure Suit Larry creator, Al Lowe
Leisure Suit Larry creator, Al Lowe

The creative force tapped to make Leisure Suit Larry a reality was a programmer at Sierra who had previously guided some of the Disney licenses, such as The Black CauldronDonald Duck’s Playground, and Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Based on that body of work, who knew that Al Lowe would have such a twisted sense of humor?  Al Lowe was an accomplished musician (complete with a degree in music), and had spent 15 years in the public school system teaching music.  He enjoyed playing games, and decided to teach himself programming to make his own, and enter a new career.  He completed a few games (Troll’s Tale and Dragon’s Keepwere two of them) and sold them to the fledgling Sierra On-Line company, and stayed with them for 16 years.

softporn adventures
Box art for Softporn Adventure by On-Line Systems

By his own admission, Al Lowe based much of Leisure Suit Larry on an old text adventure game written by Chuck Benton called Softporn Adventure.  The game revolved around the player finding various inventory items to get into the pants of several women – sound familiar?  Softporn Adventure was released for the Apple II system in 1981, selling 50,000 units for its publisher, On-Line Systems, (which eventually became Sierra On-Line).  Considering Apple had sold around 350,000 Apple II systems by 1981, Softporn Adventure was a decent sized hit.  Given that the Software Piracy Association’s estimated piracy rate was 40%, it was more likely that there were 70,000 copies floating around, which would be closer to 20% total market penetration.  (Al Lowe claims the ratio to be 100,000 Apple II PCs and 25,000 Softporn games sold, but his statement may have been a little bit of poetic license.)   Here’s a little historical tidbit for you: check out the lady on the right in the pic above…that’s Roberta Williams, in the buff.

 

Outside Lefty's bar in Leisure Suit Larry
Outside Lefty’s bar in Leisure Suit Larry

With sales like this, it’s little wonder that Ken Williams (husband of Roberta and one of the founders of Sierra) approached Al Lowe to make a new game with a similar motif.   They discussed updating Softporn Adventure to fit in the new 3-D animated adventure line-up, but as Lowe recalls telling Williams, “There’s no way I can do this as a serious game. It’s so out of it that it should be wearing a leisure suit…But if you let me mock it, I might be able to do a spoof of it.”   And so, six months of programming later, Leisure Suit Larry entered the marketplace, with a very quiet launch to avoid incurring the wrath of Sierra’s major distributors (like the unamused charcoal-gray suits in the Tandy Corporation headquarters, who were responsible for up to 40% of Sierra’s software sales).

 

Hot tub babe in Leisure Suit Larry
Hot tub babe in Leisure Suit Larry

Sales were very soft that first week, with only 4,000 copies sold; no advertising and no fanfare had its expected result.  However, word-of-mouth was as powerful in 1987 as it is today, and sales jumped to an impressive 250,000 copies sold.  The game even managed to garner the Software Publishers Association’s Best Fantasy, Role Playing or Adventure Gamof 1987. It was eventually released on several platforms, including IBM PC (MS-DOS), Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Apple Macintosh, and the TRS-80.

 

Cover art for the VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry
Cover art for the VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry

With the advent of VGA technology, Sierra brought Leisure Suit Larry to a new audience in 1991.  It was relaunched with a completely redone game engine that used an icon-driven interface rather than a text-based parser, which was touted by the game packaging as an opportunity to “point-and-grope.”  The re-release used an updated SCI (Sierra Creative Interpreter) engine, which permitted 256-color VGA graphics.   This was quite the improvement upon the original 1987 game, whose highest graphics quality was 16 colors in a 300×200 screen.

 

Lefty's bar in the 1991 VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry
Lefty’s bar in the 1991 VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry

Another avenue that Al Lowe was able to exercise his creative spirit within Larry’s universe was putting his music roots to good use by composing the theme music for the Land of the Lounge Lizards.  The music was an integral component of Larry’s impending iconic status, using the primitive sound technology of the early PCs to create a jaunty tune that was easily identifiable as Larry’s theme.  The VGA remake also had access to better audio technology, and so the music is much richer.  There’s also much more of it, as Lowe could really only fit so much audio into a single 3.5″ or two 5.25″ floppy diskettes (what the original 1987 game came loaded on).

Musical score for Leisure Suit Larry
Musical score for Leisure Suit Larry

Al Lowe’s creation sold well enough that sequels were a highly anticipated inevitability.  Lounge Lizards was followed by 1988′s Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking For Love (in Several Wrong Places), which was followed by 1989′s Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals. Typical of Lowe’s humorous approach to the series, the fourth game released in 1991 was actually entitled Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work.  Lowe followed up that game in 1993 with Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up Or Slip Out!.  Lowe’s final Larry game was 1996′s Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail. The dawn of true 3-D adventures was upon the gaming industry, but Sierra did not have the cash reserves to retool their flagship titles to the new standard.  Subsequently, Al Lowe was let go, ending his run as the narrator of the Leisure Suit Larry series, and ending Leisure Suit Larry‘s relevance.  Yes, more games in the series would be released, but they would be empty shells, devoid of the charm that Al Lowe captured for so many years, victims of the rise of the bean-counters in the gaming industry.  (Al Lowe is still on the Internet, and you can find him at his website: allowe.com How this creative man isn’t absolutely deluged with consultation requests from up-and-coming indie software developers amazes me.)

 

Hot tub babe from the 1991 version of Leisure Suit Larry I
Hot tub babe from the 1991 version of Leisure Suit Larry I

If you have managed to avoid playing the original Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, it’s time for that to end.  Yes, the graphics are hopelessly dated in comparison to the real-world graphic opuses that populate the gamerverse these days…but the joy of Leisure Suit Larry isn’t in the eye candy, it’s in the situational comedy coupled with Al Lowe’s scripting.  Pick up a copy – this game is worth any retrogamer’s retrogaming time!

Thunderscape

[youtube id=”loi3fJSBznA” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Thunderscape

First, a little gaming history. The AD&D gold box PC game series was a huge hit for SSI back in the day, but eventually technology outpaced the game engine, regardless of how many tweaks they could add to it. This meant a new game engine needed to be developed, which is exactly what SSI did for its next release, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands.

Thunderscape PC Cover

Of course, this kind of effort is expensive, and a company needs to either have a large cash cushion to absorb it, or a high sales payoff in the first game release using the new engine. Unfortunately, SSI had neither, and the company was bought out by Mindscape, Inc., ending an era.

The World of Aden: Thunderscape was the newly sold company’s effort to mirror the success of the Ultima series in the RPG market: an in-house game engine and concept that did not require 3rd party licensing. No fees paid to TSR for the right to use the AD&D worlds meant higher profits for the company. It all sounded so elegantly simple. So why don’t we still adventure in Aden today?

Thunderscape PC

The answer lies in the gaming experience. Thunderscape was a world highly influenced by steampunk. Muskets were an option (albeit an expensive one) for adventurers. Steam golems, archaic-appearing robots, could appear to threaten the party, and other steam-related technology, such as steam engines, could be found in the game. Most other RPGs were classic medievalesque fare; because of its steampunk leanings, Thunderscape was something different.

In some ways, Thunderscape played like a standard SSI-produced RPG, which made the game world even more jarring. Character development followed a familiar pattern: the player forms a party of adventurers based on race (Human, Elf, Faerkin, Jurak, Rapacian, Goreaux, Dwarf, or Ferran), establishes their individual attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Willpower), decides on their skills (fencing, sword, axe/mace, bow, shield, martial arts, polearm, knife, firearms, stealth, acrobatics, lockpicking, fast talk, see secrets, merchant, xenology, and cast spells), decide which spells any spellcasting characters may use, equip the character with weapons and/or armor, choose the portrait and name your character. Once the party is ready, off they go, looking for monsters to kill, treasure to covet, and quests to complete.

Thunderscape PC

The game played out in a first-person perspective, attempting to give the “you are there” feel. There are 20 levels of fun, including caverns, cities, mines, castles, sewers, and the great outdoors. Movement is controlled using the mouse, with right-click accessing the directional arrows. Combat is also controlled by the mouse, with a special combat menu appearing when hostilities begin. And since many RPGs seem to be a scavenger hunt, accumulating inventory is also controlled by the mouse, with a hand icon appearing when you get close enough to something that your magpie-like characters want to add to their inventory slots.

Thunderscape PC

Thunderscape wasn’t all hack ‘n’ slash, though. Puzzles needed to be solved to progress through the storyline. Clues were distributed throughout the gameworld that needed to be collected and used. Even combat required more than the standard, send in the walking tank while launching fireballs from the rear, as some enemies would not fall without discovering their weaknesses during gameplay. All in all,Thunderscape was a thinking person’s RPG, not a clickfest.

For all its good features, Thunderscape had some play issues. It followed in the time-honored path of releasing before all the bugs could be squished, but that’s what version 1.1 patches are for. Even so, the game did well enough to warrant a somewhat mediocre sequel, World of Aden: Entomorph Plague of the Darkfall. However, the sequel was not a huge seller, and became the final game in the World of Aden series.

Thunderscape PC

Thunderscape remains a game that some recall with fond memories of many hours of deep gameplay, and others recall as a stopover between Menzoberranzan andRavenloft titles. It’s a game that got lost in the shuffle, but a good enough gaming experience to warrant inclusion as a Forgotten Classic. For a little steampunk action that predates Sierra’s Arcanum by several years, give The World of Aden: Thunderscape a try!

King’s Quest

[youtube id=”1sn7XJPzpDU” width=”633″ height=”356″]

King’s Quest

Any blog about classic retro gaming simply MUST include a homage to Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest series, originally published by Ken and Roberta Williams’ Sierra On-Line company in the 1980s.

King's Quest
King’s Quest IBM PC Jr Version Front Cover

The story was a simple one: the Kingdom of Daventry is in trouble as three of its greatest treasures – a mirror that tells the future, a shield that protects its user from danger, and a chest that is always filled with gold – have been stolen.  The King sends Sir Graham, an honest and unpretentious young knight, on a quest to recover the treasures.  Should he succeed, he will become King.  Should he fail, he’ll become worm food.  Of course, how Graham accomplishes the task before him is up to the player!

King's Quest
King’s Quest Tandy 1000 Release

This was the original “big-game” release.  The industry was still very new, and it was not unusual for games to be coded by a single person over a couple of weeks for a low budget.  King’s Quest was coded by six people with Roberta Williams as the project leader, with a cost of $700,000, for an 18-month period.  This was completely unheard of, and was a very risky gamble that ultimately paid off, fueling an entire line of games from Sierra On-Line.

King's Quest

King’s Quest was a huge leap forward for gaming.  In a time when games either were completely text-based or with the occasional static graphic, King’s Quest provided character interaction with the game environment.  By pressing the arrow keys, Sir Graham could walk across the screen and could cross in front of or behind objects, making the game the first 3-D adventure.  And even though the interface was still text-based (you typed in what action you wanted to do), seeing the result of what you typed made for classic gaming.

King's Quest
King’s Quest classic “gold box” edition

Like any good adventure game, the puzzles in King’s Quest were varied and fun.  The Sierra team programmed puzzles to have more than one solution, and points were awarded to the player depending on what actions they took.  And unlike many of the action, destroy-everything-you-see games of the time, King’s Quest rewarded players with a higher score if they found non-violent solutions.

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA 1990 Release

There have been several releases of King’s Quest over the years, starting with the original version in 1983, which was packaged up in the IBM PC Jr series of computers.  Fortunately, poor sales of the computer did not result in the termination of the King’s Quest franchise, as it was released in Apple II, PC (boot disk) and Tandy format in 1984 to general fanfare, and around 500,000 copies sold.  The game sold well enough that it was re-released in 1987 in the Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and MS-DOS formats, which sent it back up the sales charts.  (It was at that time that the second part of the title, “Quest For The Crown,” was added.)  It even crossed over into the console video game charts with a version for the Sega Master System in 1989.

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA Screenshot

King’s Quest was remade in 1990 with much better graphics and music card support.  The quest points were changed slightly, which meant that the game itself played somewhat differently from the original.  A fan-made King’s Quest was released in 2001 by AGD Interactive, which has seen many updates right up to 2009.  You can find it here: http://www.agdinteractive.com/games/kq1/

King's Quest
King’s Quest 2001 Fan Re-Release

King’s Quest was such a solid game that it spawned an entire genre, the 3-D animated adventure.  Sierra shot to the top of the gaming industry with hit after hit, including an entire King’s Quest series, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Police Quest, and so forth.  If you haven’t played any of the original games, give them a try.  Yes, they’re incredibly simple and crude versus the immersive gaming environments we play in today, but they’re an important part of gaming history.  Be a retro gamer and Quest for the Crown today!

King's Quest
King’s Quest for the Sega Master System (SMS)

 

 

Descent to Undermountain

[youtube id=”mv7OBko0iXc” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Descent to Undermountain

Back in the holiday season in 1997, Interplay Productions released Descent to Undermountain, a new Dungeons & Dragons PC game hotly anticipated not only because it was a new AD&D game, but because it promised to be a 3D roleplaying experience using the Descent 3D game engine.  Many gamers did not bother to wait for the magazine reviews, as the last true AD&D RPG had been Strategic Simulations, Inc.’s 1995 classic, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, and the intervening years had seen only fighting and strategy games released based on TSR’s many game worlds.  They were to be sorely disappointed.

Descent to Undermountain

Descent to Undermountain began well enough with a deep, multi-screen character generation program.  The player began the process by choosing one of six character races (human, elf, dwarf, half-elf, halfling, and drow) in either gender.  As this was AD&D 2nd Edition rules, each race had restrictions or benefits, with humans being the only race with unlimited advancement (but unable to gain racial bonuses or multi-classing).  Elves and Drow received +1 on their Dexterity score, but suffered -1 on their Constitution score, as well as near-immunity to sleep spells. Half-Elves received partial immunity to sleep spells, no special pluses or minuses to their ability scores, but the most possible class combinations.  Dwarfs gained +1 on their Constitution score, some resistance to magic, and -1 to their Charisma score.  Finally, halflings gain +1 to their Dexterity score, some resistance to magic, and -1 to their Strength score.

Descent to Undermountain

The player next chose which of the four character classes they wanted: Fighter, Priest, Mage, or Thief.  Multi-class characters were possible for all races (except humans), but there were also some class limitations: Elves and Drow could choose Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief, Mage/Thief or any of the stand-alone classes; Dwarfs could choose Fighter/Priest or Fighter/Thief (or simply a Fighter, Thief, or Priest), but not a Mage; Halflings could be a Fighter, Priest, Thief or a Fighter/Thief (but not a Fighter/Priest); and Half-Elves could be any class, as well as the Fighter/Priest, Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief, and Mage/Thief combinations.  Congratulations, you’ve got through the first two Character Generation screens!

Descent to Undermountain

After choosing the gender, race and class of their character, the player then worked up his or her ability scores (the standard Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) on the third screen in the character generation process.  The stats were randomly generated (you could discard them and refresh for a new set as many times as you wished), and each individual score could be swapped out with another.  For instance, if you chose to play a Mage and your Wisdom score came up 18 and your Intelligence score came up a 10, you could switch them.  In addition, each character was given an extra 5 ability points to distribute as desired.  Once completed, the player moved on to the fourth and final character generation screen, where they were able to chose the Name, Portrait, and Alignment of their character.

Descent to Undermountain

Besides a rich character generation process, Descent to Undermountain also had a decent storyline and pacing.  You began the game determining what in AO’s name are you supposed to be doing in Waterdeep.  As the game map only showed Khelben’s Tower as a clickable item, it was off to visit the Blackstaff to see if he could enlighten you.  It seemed that kobolds were bothering Waterdeep’s merchants, and had been spotted just outside the main entrance to Undermountain.  (Bear in mind that this entrance was guarded by one of the most powerful Lords of Waterdeep, but, hey, it’s an AD&D RPG, so you should suspend all disbelief at the splash screen.)  The Lord Mage of Waterdeep even passed you a quick couple of gold pieces to pay your way in and out of Undermountain, and sent you on your way to the Yawning Portal Inn.  (Tip for anyone daring to play this game: it”s a good idea to stop at the marketplace just prior to entering the inn.)

Descent to Undermountain

Up to this point players were seeing some decent high-res screens, and some good voice acting. Khelben’s voice in particular, performed by either Jim Cummings (the voice of the Terror Mask in Splatterhouse, among many other things) or Frank Welker(the original voice of Megatron) – the credits are a bit unclear on who did the actual work – was very crisp.  (Actually, Khelben sounds more like Jim Cummings.) And with all the prior work done on establishing your character, you’d expect playing the game would be worth the effort.  Ha ha ha.  No.

Descent to Undermountain

Sometimes it’s easier to show a few pictures rather than attempt to describe how bad something is with mere words. Yes, that’s a torch.  It flickered, but the closer you got, the more pixelicious it became.  And it got worse, much worse.  Although the box stated Pentium 90 MHz with 32 MB RAM were the minimum system requirements to run Descent to Undermountain, I remember using my Pentium 200 MHz system (that handled some sweet-looking games with aplomb) yet this game ran like a Descent-engine slug.   The problem was that Descent to Undermountain was a DOS game masquerading as a Windows game, with all the system resource management problems that entailed.  Worse, the 3D objects were being software rendered, not taking advantage of the then-existing technology of 3D graphics cards.  It seemed like an old game because it was: Windows 95 had already been on the market for years; the developers had no excuse for foisting a DOS game on their RPG audience.

Descent to Undermountain

Hidden within this morass of poor graphics was a fairly bland RPG.  The story was very similar to a standard AD&D adventure module from the Gary Gygax days: go gather the parts to re-create the Flamesword – an ultimate Drow weapon – to prevent Lolth, the evil Drow Goddess from enacting her master plan to enslave the world of Faerun.  Along the way, the player battled kobolds, skeletons, zombies, the Shadow Thieves, a mummy, orcs, ogres, a lich, drow fighters and priestesses, a beholder, and finally the avatar of Llolth herself.  Unfortunately, a terrible AI made the creatures ignore you or move in a bizarre fashion until you disposed of them, and then, due to programming glitch, they sometimes floated nearby.   As for the story, Descent to Undermountain used a fairly linear formula:  Khelben assigned you your task, and you went down into Undermountain to complete it.  Upon successful completion of said tasks, new parts of Undermountain would become accessible, although you could return to areas you already explored, too.

Descent to Undermountain

As you might infer from the overall tone of the previous paragraphs, critics crushedDescent to Undermountain like it was roadkill on the freeway.  Computer Games Magazine gave the game a whopping 1 out of 5 in its March 1998 review, whileAdrenaline Vault thought the game marginally better with a 2.5 out of 5 score in its December 1997 review.  Gamespot gave the game a hardy 3.7 (out of 10), with an article subtitled, “How could the company that produced Fallout also be responsible for one of the lousiest games to come down the pike in quite a while?”  And that seems to be a good place to end this look back at one of the many Retrogaming Ruins to have graced my gaming systems.  Full disclosure: I finished the game twice, just to make certain I wasn’t being too unkind the first time I played it.  The things we do to ourselves in the pursuit of retrogaming!

Outlaws

 

[youtube id=”ybEZl3w0b_w” width=”633″ height=”356″]

For single-player gameplay, there were three options: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (Come on, who doesn’t like Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns?) ~Dan Epp

 Outlaws

The background story in Outlaws revolved around retired U.S. Marshal James Anderson, who lives an idyllic life with his beautiful wife and only child.  Idyllic, that is, until his opposition to selling his land to a nasty railroad baron (weren’t they all nasty?) brings about the death of his beloved wife Anna and the abduction of his daughter, Sarah.  The adventure began with Anderson burying his wife, digging up his shotgun, and heading off to find his daughter and take his revenge.  “Dyin’s too good for ‘em,” the game’s tagline said, and after watching the introduction, you’re rooting for ex-Marshall Anderson to show them all what that means.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-2

Outlaws was a first-person shooter style game using a modified version of the Dark Forces game engine, and although the game’s storyline was focused on single-player gameplay, the game also featured a robust multiplayer mode.  Players could choose to play up to six of the main characters within the game: ex-Marshall Anderson, Matt “Dr. Death” Jackson (who killed the Marshall’s wife), “Bloody” Mary Nash, “Gentleman” Bob Graham (the railroad baron), “Spittin” Jack Sanchez, and Chief Two-Feathers, with advantages and disadvantages for each.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-3

For single-player gameplay, there were three options: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (Come on, who doesn’t like Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns?)  The differences between the options were in how much damage Anderson could take from gunshot wounds; in Good mode, the player could walk Anderson into a spray of bullets with only minor consequences, in Ugly mode the ex-Marshall might be able to withstand one or two shots, but certainly no more than that – so no wading into a gunfight firing at will.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-4

The graphics for Outlaws were the standard 800×600 mode, which by today’s standard would be bulky, but were more than adequate in 1997.  LucasArts also added Glide and Direct3D support on a later patch, which helped extend the game’s shelf life as better technology was released.  The animated cutscenes were quite unique, as they were run through a special filter to make them appear to be hand-drawn, which really helped add to the game’s atmosphere.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-5

In addition to the main game, LucasArts included a set of five single-player missions that led the player through the early career of the ex-Marshall.   Each mission’s goal was the capture (preferred) or execution of a wanted outlaw on the run.  With each successful completion, Anderson is promoted, eventually earning his Deputy, Sheriff, and Marshall badges.  LucasArts also released a set of four missions on their website which they called, a “Handful of Missions,” in keeping with the spaghetti western motif.  These missions are stand alone gameplay, unconnected to the original storyline.  (Game companies that give you free extras are always tops in my books).

Unfortunately, despite the great gameplay, Outlaws did not perform well commercially.  It is forever a niche product (similar to Grim Fandango), which holds a special place in the hearts of those who played it.   Outlaws is another forgotten classic that deserves to be dusted off and enjoyed by retrogamers everywhere!

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs

[youtube id=”W2EvvaDbqOs” width=”633″ height=”356″]

This was a fun little game in its day, but even then there was not much replay value, though, as once you mastered the fine art of fuzzballdom and cleared all its levels, there was nothing more to accomplish . ~Dan “Magisterrex” Epp

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs

With a title like Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs, you can expect a little gaming weirdness will be coming – and you’d be right. This is the setup: you have a fuzzball that needs to be guided through various maze levels looking for the keys to escape, while avoiding its nasty fuzzball brethren who want to dispose of it. There are tiles on the floor of each maze, some which contain food for your little fuzzball, and some which contain treasures (like magic rings, armor, wands, potions, scrolls and shields). You better plan your route, as your fuzzball moves through the maze it can only cross the same tile twice before it disappears. There are also traps waiting for your poor little fuzzball, so stay on your toes!

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs - Gameplay screenshot

Sir-Tech was known for producing the Wizardry RPG series, so Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs was a complete departure from their norm. (I picture the Wizardry team, burnt out from living an all-RPG, all-the-time existence, seeing this game and falling in love with its sheer absurdity.)  The game was credited as the work of Ian Currie (game design, graphics, and programming) and Robert Koller (game design and graphics).

Of the two designers, Currie would go on to work on several Sir-Tech games, such as Realms of Arkania: Star Trail, the Jagged Alliance series, and Wizardry: Nemesis, as well as more recent non-Sir-Tech offerings (since they went out of business in 2001, but not their Canadian chapter, which lasted until 2003), such as Star Trek: LegacyEmpire Earth III, and Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs - Gameplay screenshot
Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs item list

This was a fun little game in its day, but even then there was not much replay value, though, as once you mastered the fine art of fuzzballdom and cleared all its levels, there was nothing more to accomplish . Even so, Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs is a nifty little game that accomplishes what it sets out to do, and if you haven’t played it, worth picking up and playing through.  A true Forgotten Classic!

[Visit Magisterrex Homepage]

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

[youtube id=”XyKSEQglU8A” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue. ~Dan Epp

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

In 1995, the phrase “full motion video” (FMV) conjured up the image of such classic games as Night Trap and Burn: Cycle – eye candy at best, and generally poor gaming experiences.  CD-ROM technology had been out a for a couple of years, and The 7th Guest was really still the only “must-have” CD-only game on the market.  So, imagine the concerns of adventure gamers when they discovered that the sequel to Jane Jensen’s awesome Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was going to be released in FMV format.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

However, these concerns were unfounded.  Sierra had been working on the Script Code Interpreter (SCI) game engine, which used full motion technology, for a Roberta Williams game, Phantasmagoria.  The development team for the second Gabriel Knight game, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, was able to appropriate the engine for their own use, which had the benefit of cutting down the game’s development time.  However, even with the game engine built, FMV was an expensive process, involving a production crew and professional actors, all of whom were paid well for their time.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The answer is multifaceted, but the first step was retaining Jane Jensen as the author of the entire storyline.  The first Gabriel Knight game was lauded for not only being fun to play, but having a deeper story than most adventure games.  Ms. Jensen had majored in computer science, but also had a deep fascination with creative writing, evidenced by her work on the Gabriel Knight series.  Interestingly, she did not become a published novelist until well after The Beast Within, with her novelization of the first Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers book in 1997, and then Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within’s novelization in 1998.  Her first non-computer game related novel, Millennium Rising, was published in 1999, the same year her last Gabriel Knight game was released.  She has continued to write books, earning a Phillip K. Dick Award nomination for Best Novel in 2003 for her book, Dante`s Equation.  But I digress!

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The Beast Within was not only written well, it was acted well.  The game featured Dean Erickson as Gabriel, who would go on to leave acting altogether and become a real estate agent; Joanne Takahashi as Grace, who continues to take a variety of minor roles tailored for Asian women; Peter J. Lucas as Baron Friedrich von Glower, who continues to take roles for an ethnic European; Andrea Martin as Gerde, who was a Tony-award winning actress before working on The Beast Within and continues to work on both the stage and in voice-over work today.  None of these four ever worked on a computer game again! However, Nicolas Worth, who played Kriminal-Kommisar Leber, has not only had a successful career in film and television both before and after The Beast Within, but has also continue to work in the gaming industry, acting in Emperor: Battle For DuneCommand & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Red Alert 2, as well as lending his voice to Freedom Fighters!

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The puzzles of The Beast Within were not particularly difficult, but were, on the whole, imaginative.  The game used “hotspots” on the photographic quality images to show that there was something of interest on the screen, so it was a simple matter to gain all the inventory items required to solve most of the puzzles the game threw at its players.  Like many adventure games, forward progress could come to a complete halt until you discovered the correct hotspot, but this generally was not a complete inconvenience.

Reviews of The Beast Within were very favorable upon its release.  Two of the biggest gaming magazines of the day gave it high marks: PC Gamer gave it a score of 96% and it’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, while Computer Gaming World (CGW) gave it 5 out of 5 stars, a Critics Choice tag as well as naming it the 1996 CGW Game of the Year.  It also managed to make #17 on CGW’s 150 Best Games of All Time , which is the definitive “must-play” list for retrogaming enthusiasts!  If you haven’t played this classic of the adventure game genre, you’re missing a rare treat.  Highly recommended!

Daikatana

Daikatana

Every so often I get a little spoiled with too much classic retrogaming goodness, and begin to take for granted the great storylines, coding and sheer fun that most of my game collection contains.  It’s at that point that I find it helpful to look back on a game that is best played while under the influence of mood-altering substances.  Such a game is the pile of stinking defecation brought to us in 2000 called Daikatana.

Daikatana - PC
Front cover of the 2000 PC game, Daikatana.

What hopes everyone had for this game.  After all, the lead designer was John Romero, he who was quoted to say, “Design is Law”, was one of the co-founders of id Software, and was one of the co-creators of the industry-changing Doom.  This was a person who gamers could count on to bring his “A” game to the design process.  Or so we thought.

Daikatana - PC
Hello, I’m John Romero, and you’re not.

Much has been said about the incredible excesses of Romero’s studio while working on Daikatana.  Around $40 million was spent on this game, which was a result of both Romero’s desire to be surrounded by luxury (complete with a multi-million dollar office at the very top of a skyscraper in Dallas), and his inability to keep the game on schedule.  Critical errors were made from the start of the project, as Romero estimated a seven-month development cycle using the Quake engine.  But id Software beat him to the market with Quake II, which meant retooling Daikatana with the Quake II engine to avoid looking like a tired old retread.  If that wasn’t enough, Romero saw his entire development team quit, which meant further delays.  Add these factors together and it’s easy to see how Daikatana quickly became a money pit.

Daikatana - PC
Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

Perhaps if Romero didn’t project himself as such a larger-than-life personality, gamers would have been more willing to forgive him for such a catastrophe.  But even the advertising campaign was offensive to the buying public.  “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch. Suck it down.”  Seriously, how does an ad copy like that make its way all the way from a brainstorming session to publication?  Simultaneously insulting, crude, and a challenge to all gamers, everywhere, this ad campaign created an expectation that anything short of a coding love child between Sid Meier and John Carmack would be marked a failure.

Daikatana - PC
The offensive Daikatana ad campaign.

Once the game was released, the sheer mediocrity of the product became evident.  The game mechanic was wonky, with the player getting the “benefit” of two sidekicks that you needed to keep alive to help solve various puzzles during the game.  Of course, they had the AI equivalent of a gnat, so you tended to see them die. A lot.  And did I mention that if the sidekicks died you lost the level?  That’s just bad design, which is unforgivable from someone who believes, “Design is Law.”  The good news for the sidekicks is that the AI for the enemies is just as bad, perhaps worse.  If a solid object is between you and your enemy, fret not, as they’ll keep trying to walk straight toward you rather than go around it.  You could even go out for a smoke break and come back in to see them still trying to become an irresistible force.  But you can’t take that break, as your stupid sidekicks will take the opportunity to walk directly into the line of fire while you’re gone.

Daikatana - PC
Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

In the end, Daikatana sold 200,000 copies, probably to people who wanted to create a drinking game based on how bad it was.  The stark reality was after $40 million in development expenses and only 200K of boxes sold, Daikatana was an epic failure on a scale reserved for such amazing debacles such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (for the Atari 2600).

Atari 2600 E.T.
Daikatana is E.T.’s bestest friend!

So, game designers, study well the example that John Romero has left you and take note of what happens when ego and extravagance trumps hard work and diligence.  Let’s not have another Daikatana happen to us again, shall we?

Family Game Night 4

[youtube id=”hKowz0OOcPY” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Overall I would still recommend this game to anyone with either a passion for board or family gaming.  It has its shortcomings, but they are not fatal, and there’s enough that’s right about Family Game Night 4: The Game Show to override that which is deficient.  Give this game some playtime when you have a hankering for some simple, clean, and non-violent fun! ~Dan Epp

Family Game Night 4

Family Game Night 4: The Game Show is a collection of mini-games set within a broader game environment.  You are a contestant (and can play with others or against computer opponents) playing to win a virtual version of the Hub Network television game show of the same name.  Some of the games you play include: Scrabble Flash, in which you attempt to form as many words from a set amount of Scrabble tiles as possible; Connect 4 Basketball, in which you must aim your basketballs carefully to form a row of four balls or to prevent your opponent from doing the same; Yahtzee Bowling, wherein the pins are the dice that you must knock over with your bowling ball; Sorry! Sliders, a shuffleboard-style (or curling) game in which you must attempt to slide your pawns into the highest possible scoring areas; and Bop-It Boptagon, which is essentially a hand-eye coordination and reaction game.

Scrabble

I found the various games to be a mixed bag in terms of “fun,” which arguably is the best metric to judge a video game based on a television show based on board games.  I enjoyed the Scrabble Flash and Yahtzee Bowling, and found I could play these two games multiple times while still maintaining a sufficient level of “fun” gameplay. Connect 4 Basketball could be challenging once you started shooting simultaneously with your opponent, but the Sorry! Sliders became dull very quickly as the gameplay did not seem to alter much from game to game.  Finally, Bop-It Boptagon was an experience that I did not repeat twice, and the memories of my abject failure are too painful to translate into the written word.

Connect 4

Mr. Potato-Head is the host of the game, and though he is not annoying like the bizarre host of the Family Feud Xbox game (the memory of whom has scarred me for life), he also doesn’t add anything to the gameplay.  The animations of the avatars are a bit silly, and not dismissed immediately with a button-click, which makes them a little irritating.  The play-by-play voice was a constant, “go get ‘em, tiger” kind of happy, which lost its charm over time.  Note to developers: if you want to see how a host can be engaging, perhaps even annoying, and yet bring you back for more, check out the You Don’t Know Jack series of games.

Bob it

A quick note: although the game features Kinect compatibility, as I am one of the last Xbox 360 owners in North America without a Kinect accessory, I did not test it with anything besides a standard wireless controller.

Family Game Night 4

Overall I would still recommend this game to anyone with either a passion for board or family gaming.  It has its shortcomings, but they are not fatal, and there’s enough that’s right about Family Game Night 4: The Game Show to override that which is deficient.  Give this game some playtime when you have a hankering for some simple, clean, and non-violent fun!

Thanks to the Classic Game Room for the awesome video review.

Gambler

Gamble by parker bros

A little known classic board game that deserves more attention than it gets is the 1974 version of Gambler, by Parker Brothers.  This game plays very much like its title implies: forget about strategy; throw the dice and let Lady Luck be your copilot.  And since you don’t need to puzzle out your victory, any group of players can jump right into the game with a brief scan of the rules.

Since this is a Parker Brothers board game, the game play is similar to others of the period: you take turns throwing the dice, moving your token and experience the joy of whatever you’re required to do on the square you landed on (like “Making Enemies” –Roll one die and all other players pay the Jackpot 10 times the number rolled or “Win a Few…Lose a Few” – Place bet. Roll Dice. Even total wins amount bet from Jackpot. Odd total, Jackpot gets amount bet.  Sometimes you draw a card, like, “Good News/Bad News” – Platinum Discovered Beneath Alberta Tar Sands!! (But you traded your stocks last week. Nosedive. Pay the Jackpot $40 or “Good News/Bad News –Hot Tip From Your Stock Broker!! Roll doubles and cop $250 from the Jackpot.  With each play, sometimes you come out a winner, sometimes you’re penalized; and it’s always a gamble.

Gamble by parker bros

This is not a game for the anti-gambling crowd.  When playing this game you gamble at every opportunity, and often entice your opponents to gamble with you.  You bet on the horses. You visit casinos. You play bingo. You play the lottery. If there’s a way for you to gamble in this game, the designers’ thought of it and you’re part of it.  There is even a special “Sweepstakes” dice shaker that you use to try to win big.  Mind you, my sister and I played a lot of this game in our younger days, and the biggest gamble I make these days is taking a chance on a new brand of coffee at the grocery store, so it doesn’t seem to have corrupted our psyches with its wicked ways.

If you’re looking for a retro game that you can enjoy without having to take a course in the understanding the rules, Gambler is the game for you.  It’s suitable for 2-6 players, ages 8 and up.  The more the merrier in this game, though!  Have fun!

Rise of the Dragon

[youtube id=”vfBlqyaqF3s” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Rise of the Dragon

Rise of the Dragon is set in Los Angeles in the year 2053.  It’s a surprisingly mature-themed game, with drug overdoses, criminal behavior, and gruesome deaths all important plot elements.  The player assumes the role of William “Blade” Hunter, a private detective tasked with quietly solving who gave the Mayor’s daughter a fatal dose of a new designer drug, MTZ.  It seems MTZ creates monsters by altering its users’ DNA, and the Mayor is very torqued that his daughter turned into one, but not enough to call for a public investigation.  That’s where Blade comes in.  Along the way, a dire threat to L.A. is uncovered involving MZT and the head of the Chinese mafia, Deng Hwang, “The Dragon.”

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

This game was a visual masterpiece, with its game backgrounds and portraits all hand drawn by Robert Caracol, of Dark Horse Comics fame, and ran in 256-color VGA.  The critics agreed, and Rise of the Dragon received the “Special Award For Artistic Achievement” in 1991 by Computer Gaming World, arguably the most influential PC gaming magazine at the time of the game’s release.

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

Rise of the Dragon plays out in a real-time environment.  Blade has only three game days to solve the mystery, and the clock is ticking.  Every action costs time, especially travelling from one area of the game map to another.  Strategic play is a must, here, as time of day is an important game element, and must be accounted for.  For instance, some locations are accessible only at certain times, such as City Hall.  More importantly, Blade isn’t a super-human, and needs sleep.  He’ll doze off around 1am every evening, no matter where he is.  This leads to the amusing instance of Blade collapsing on the street and falling asleep, which quickly loses its charm when you realize that he was robbed during the night and you’ve randomly lost important inventory items.  In short, it’s best to get Blade home before he turns into a pumpkin.

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

The real-time environment also plays out in character interaction.  What Blade says and does to each character will influence his future interactions with them or their friends (or enemies).  This can have devastating effects on game play as a snide remark that seemed so appropriate at the time can limit Blade’s access to important game areas, and make the game’s ending untenable. Again, it’s best to save before any character interaction to avoid running into a dead end (or use the hint book…but I digress).

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

Rise of the Dragon was a moderate success for Dynamix, neither setting the PC game sales charts on fire, nor being a dismal failure, and was released on several platforms: IBM-PC in 1990, Apple Macintosh and Commodore Amiga in 1991, and a modified version for Sega CD in 1993.  It sold well enough to warrant a sequel, Heart of China, set in the 1930s, but the sequel parade ended there.  Regardless of how it fared, Rise of the Dragon remains a classic PC game that the pcgamerverse has forgotten, but well-worth the time to replay!

Mouse Trap

Has any game inspired so many budding engineers than Mouse Trap? If there ever was a game that taught cause and effect, Mouse Trap was it. Some have claimed it was “too difficult” to put the game board together. Heaven forbid we teach our children the value of perseverance and rewards from accomplishing something difficult, or take the time to pull ourselves from our daily grind to actually spend quality time with our children. Our microwave society seems hell-bent on celebrating “everyone gets a medal day” while removing any challenges from our children’s paths, while decreasing the level of difficulty for any task to the point of being ridiculously simplistic. But I digress…

mouse trap
Box front for the 1963 Mouse Trap game.

Mouse Trap was created by Harvey Kramer, while working for Marvin Glass & Associates, and in 1963, the game was licensed to the Ideal Toy Company. Mr. Kramer was an odd duck: a toymaker who disliked children. (Shades of old Stauf from The 7th Guest!) The original game design called for very little interaction, with players simply moving their pieces around the game board and trying to avoid being trapped. The lack of interactivity wasn’t surprising, as the game was originally envisioned as a toy, and it wasn’t until well within its development that a game board and die were added. The resulting game sold well enough to propel Ideal into the market as a board game publisher.

mouse trap
The incredible Sid Sackson.

The game was redesigned somewhat in the 1970s by the legendary game designer (and freelance game troubleshooter), Sid Sackson. He added extra game elements to improve Mouse Trap’s interactivity: players now collected pieces of “cheese” while roaming the game board, and could now contrive to get their opponents into the special trap space. This version was released in 1984 by Milton Bradley – who had assumed the game’s manufacturing rights from Ideal – and remains the one embedded in the gaming community’s popular consciousness.

mouse trap
A typical Rube Goldberg contraption.

Mouse Trap was indeed a GREAT game. It was inspired by the drawings of Rube Goldberg, whose complicated contraptions had entertained Americans through the middle of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, although Marvin Glass acknowledged Mr. Goldberg’s influence to the game’s design, declined to play the then quite elderly artist any royalties, which Mr. Goldberg had neither the resources nor strength to fight. It’s hard to believe, but board game history is full of dastardly deeds such as this –just ask who actually invented the game of Monopoly. (But I digress…again.)

mouse trap
How the Mouse Trap works…

In a typical Rube Goldberg drawing, many small actions build one upon the other to create a chain reaction. In Mouse Trap, the sequence is as follows: the player turns a crank, which engages a set of gears. As the gears turn, they push against a lever, which causes a shoe to kick a bucket containing a metal ball. The bucket tips over, and the ball is sent down a set of stairs and into an eaves trough (rain gutter), eventually reaching the bottom where a rod holding a “helping hand” sits. Once the ball strikes the rod, a large marble is dislodged, passing through a bathtub, and landing directly onto a diving board, which in turn sends a surprised diver sailing through the air and into a large wash tub. The impact causes a cage to drop down onto the “trap square,” trapping whatever poor mouse is under it. Whew! I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds like a Rube Goldberg device to me.

mouse trap
Mouse Trap game box.

Although Mouse Trap is a game for 2 to 4 players, and is recommended for ages 6 and up, it really isn’t meant for kids to play unsupervised. The game board is too complex and finicky for a child to set up on their own, without a parent to either guide the process or to offer encouragement when things go awry. However, the game remains one of the best teaching tools to show the relationship between cause and effect, and the consequences of small actions. It can lead to a great conversation between parent and child on this topic, or can be a segue to a long discussion on the unforeseen consequences of undesirable behavior. Any game that can accomplish those tasks is a classic board game, and highly recommended!

And just because it is the best live-action Rube Goldberg machine I’ve ever watched on YouTube, here’s This Too Shall Pass from OK Go:

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

Growing up in the 70s and watching TV was awesome, with shows like Battlestar GalacticaThe Incredible HulkSpace: 1999Buck Rogers in the 25th CenturyMork & MindyWonder Woman, The Shazam/Isis HourThe Star Wars Holiday Special,Happy DaysThe Bionic Woman, and The Six Million Dollar Man.  Parker Brothers was quick to capitalize on the popularity of many of these shows within their own target demographic by releasing games based on each series.  Some were terrible, the board game equivalent of shovelware, but one in particular was a classic – The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

Bionic Crisis was a game that contained both elements of chance and deductive reasoning.  To set up, each player took one of the four Console Boxes and inserted a Console Card into it.  The red and yellow board pegs are placed somewhere where everyone can reach them. Then the deck of Bionic Circuit Cards was shuffled, and one was dealt to each player, who kept it hidden from his or her opponents.  Finally, the deck of Number Cards was shuffled, with each player given three cards and the rest placed face down for everyone to draw from during gameplay.  Once set up, the play began.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

The object of the game was simple: be the first to use the Number Cards to duplicate the Bionic Circuit of the player on your left.  Each turn a player called out a number from one of the Number Cards.  If number was on his left-hand opponent’s Circuit Card as one of the ten red spaces, he got a red peg.  If the number was adjacent to a red space, a yellow peg was given instead, and if the number completely missed the mark, then the player ended his turn empty-handed. (Yes, I realize you now want to chant, “You sank my battleship!”…but control yourself.)  This process continued until the Bionic Circuit Card was revealed.

The Six Million Dollar Man - Bionic Crisis

A shortcut to winning the game was to simply map out the entire Bionic Circuit Card by making a guess.  If you were correct, you won the game.  However, if you were wrong – even by a single circuit – you were no longer able to win, though you still had to answer questions from your opponent.  This consequence were so severe that guesses were rarely worth the risk.  We had a House Rule that granted up to three guesses to each player, which added more deduction and less random chance to the gameplay.

The Six Million Dollar Man - Bionic Crisis

Parker Brothers labeled the box for ages 7 to 14, which is quite accurate, as Bionic Crisis was clearly not an adult’s strategy game.  However, the game still brings back fond childhood gaming memories, and must be judged for what it was: a child’s game based on a television property.  It was fun then, and if you can bring back your inner child, it can be fun to play even today.  Only the best classic games can do that!

Wonderland

Wonderland

Wonderland

“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this installment: Wonderland, an adventure game developed by the British game developer Magnetic Scrolls and published by Virgin Games in 1990.

Wonderland

Wonderland was a game set in the Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland mythos. You played Alice as she made her way through the bizarre Wonderland landscape, solving puzzles and enduring plenty of puns. However, the plot of the game did not follow that of the book, although familiar characters, such as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, and the Red Queen all appeared to delight the player (or confound them).  However, only the characters from Alice in Wonderland appeared; there were no characters or scenes from the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass (which meant no Tweedledum and Tweedledee!).  Even so, there were still around 110 locations to explore in all their surreal glory.

Wonderland

Magnetic Scrolls developed an interesting game engine called “Magnetic Windows” which they used for Wonderland. Rather than one game screen, Magnetic Windows permitted several game screens to be opened at once (much like Microsoft Windows), and each window could be moved or resized as needed. So a player could have their inventory screen, a screen with details about a particular object, the game map, a specific room item list, a compass, a help menu, the main screen with a graphic, and more all open at once. Particularly enjoyable for those who tired of the constant switch between game map – inventory – action screen that most games used.

Wonderland

Wonderland received generally good reviews: “…very simply, it’s fun stuff to play” (Computer Game Review, June 1991); “Wonderland has shown me that the adventure-game genre is alive and growing” (Compute!, August 1991);  ”an atmospheric and cerebellum-crushing adventure game…“  (Amiga Power, June 1991).  It was (and is!) an enjoyable romp through a classic landscape. It doesn’t have much repeat play value, but being of the adventure game genre, it’s not really fair to expect it to. For those who have never parsed a text, give Wonderland a chance to show you what gaming was like twenty years ago!

WHOSIT?

WHOSIT

A little known classic board game that’s fun for the whole family is WHOSIT? by Parker Brothers.  Released in 1976, WHOSIT? is a game where players begin by randomly taking one of 20 Character cards, keep it hidden from other players’ eyes, and then try to guess who has which card based upon the questions they draw from the Question Card deck.  Players answer YES or NO depending on the question, such as, “Are you holding something?”, “Do you have glasses?”, “Are you male?”, or “Do you smoke?“ Lucky players can draw a “Ask ANY Question” card, which contains all the questions in the deck on one card.

WHOSIT

The characteristics vary from card to card, such as the Genius (White / Male / Child / Glasses / Tie / Gold Room), the Vampire (White / Female / Adult / Blue Room), or theHero (Black / Male / Adult / Moustache / Smoking / Jewellery / Gold Room).  Players pick up Question cards that give them the opportunity to see who has what feature. But it’s not as easy as you might think, because there are a few curveballs thrown in.  Some characters may not answer truthfully, no matter what the question is, such as the Spy (Always LIES / Oriental / Female / Holding Cigarette / Adult / Hat / Smoking / Glasses / Red Room), the Censor (Always Says NO), or the Director (Says YES or NO / White / Male / Adult / Moustache / Gold Room / Scarf / Holding Riding Crop).

The game board helps in identifying players as it shows each of the characters as they are shown on their Character Cards.  This is darn right necessary when you start trying to remember all the different answers to match up who might be whom. There are no player tokens or dice; the game board is provided just for a place to store the Question cards and as a visual reference.

Once a player is ready to make a guess on the identities of all their opponents, a special box, divided in two (one side for YES and one side for NO), is handed around the room.  If their character card has been identified, then they put their chip into the YES side, if not, into the NO side.  If all the chips are on the YES side when the box is opened, the game is over.

This is a fun family game that can be played in less than an hour.  There is nothing risqué about the characters or the questions, so even the younger members of the household can play (though they will need to be able to read their Character card).  Although as little as two and as many as six players can play WHOSIT?, more players make for a more challenging game.  WHOSIT? is yet another wonderful Parker Brothers classic game.  Highly recommended!

Ratrace

There are so many good classic board games that it’s sometimes difficult to pick just one to reminisce about, but a few shine out a little brighter than the rest.  One of my all-time favorite board games is Ratrace, by Waddingtons House of Games.  The goal is simple: start from the bottom rung of the social ladder and claw your way up to the upper crust of society and be the first player to retire with $100,000 cash.  How you accomplish that goal is where the fun begins!

Ratrace

The 1970 Version of Ratrace

Players start the game with a business and $200 cash.   The businesses are color-coded: Rose’s Clothes & Furs; Olive’s Jewelry; Black’s Art Gallery; Brown’s Sporting Goods; Green’s Furniture; and Royal’s Car Sales (blue).  Each business gets nine Status Symbol cards to sell to the other players, three each of $100 cards for Working Class, $500 for Middle Class, and $3000 for High Society.   Players need money to make their own purchases, so everyone hopes to see their competing players land on their colored squares.

The game board has three tracks, one each for Working Class, Middle Class, and High Society.  Everyone starts on the Graduation Day square on the Working Class track.  From there opportunities present themselves: can you attend Night School and earn your diploma? Can you make it big (at long odds) at the Racetrack?  Will you be accepted into the Country Club and gain a Membership Card? Can you earn money at the Stock Exchange?  Players move around the track gaining Working Class status symbols, such as a New Car Radio or a 17-Jewel Watch.  Gain any three Status Symbol cards and you’re ready to move up to Middle Class – as long as you have a little cash and either your diploma or club membership.  Of course, you could get lucky and land on a Society Wedding space and move up without all the qualifications everyone needs.

Ratrace

The 1967 version of Ratrace

Middle class brings similar challenges and goals as the Working Class rung did, as players still need to buy Status Symbols (but more expensive!), get a Yacht Club membership or a University degree, and accumulate cash as they move through the game board.   But watch out! At this stage of the game the much-feared Divorce square could send you back to your Working Class roots.  Gaining entry into High Society is exactly the same as before: three Status Symbol cards, either a degree or club membership, and enough cash to afford the lifestyle.  And the pitfalls on this part of the game board or similar to Middle Class, but much more devastating when they happen.

What makes this game even more unique is the element of credit.  Yes, you can get a credit card in Ratrace.  If you don’t have the money to buy your Status Symbol cards – no problem: get it on credit.  The danger, though, comes from the Credit Due spaces on the game board.  If you land on one not only do you have to pay the full amount of your credit account, but you have to add an additional 10% as an interest payment.  So, as in real life, too much credit card spending can lead to your financial ruin!

Ratrace

The 1974 version of Ratrace

There have been several Ratrace games since it was released in 1967.  I know of editions put out in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1983, and 1994, each of which had some minor modification to the game pieces, but no change in the game mechanics.  Although the player tokens in the shape of actual rats in the 1983 black boxed version are fun, my favorite Ratrace game is the 1973 release in which the Status Symbol, Membership, Diploma, and Credit cards are on heavy card stock, and the game tokens are made of wood.  I enjoy playing a game that feels like its meant to last, and can handle a little family playing time, but I also like the natural material feel of the game pieces.  Other versions use laminated cards and plastic tokens, which, although they will last, just don’t have that same retro feel.  But, it’s a minor quibble, as any of the games still play the same.

Ratrace

The 1973 version of Ratrace

Ratrace is best played with at least three people, but it can be played with as little as two and as many as six.  The game suggests a starting age of 9, but anyone who understands the reasons why people want to “move up” in life will enjoy this game, regardless of age.  Another highly recommended classic board game!

Nightmare

A game that’s a little more recent than some of the others I’ve reviewed in this blog, but that still qualifies as a classic board game, is Nightmare: The VHS Game.  This game struck a real chord when an unknown Australian company called “A Couple of Cowboys” released it in 1991, and the franchise is still going strong today with multiple sequels.  It was released as “Atmosfear” in some markets to avoid confusion with a similarly named game called “Knightmare” (shades of the Sierra Online/Milton Bradley HeroQuest / Hero Quest dispute!), but most North Americans know it as “Nightmare.”

Nightmare

The 1991 Nightmare VHS Game

This is a horror-themed game, and a Halloween favorite.  The Gatekeeper, a pallid looking character, challenges the players to survive his game.  Each player takes the persona of one of his Harbinger thralls: Baron Samedi (zombie), Anne de Chantraine(witch), Helin (poltergeist), Gevaudan (werewolf), Khufu (mummy), and Baroness Elizabeth Bathory (vampire), and wander the game board in a search for six missing keys that will help them escape the Gatekeeper’s clutches.

Prior to starting the game, players have to write down their greatest fear on the back of one of the reusable Nightmare cards, and on a little slip of paper which is put into the well of fears.  (Usually when I receive one of these games to sell there are common fears listed, like spiders or heights, but every so often some goofball writes something like, “Lucy’s stinky feet” as their greatest fear.  You’d be surprised how often similar phrases pop up.  But I digress…).  Once a player has all their keys, they make their way to the center of the game board and draw from the Well.  If they draw the paper with their own fear written on it, they have conquered their greatest fear, defeated the Gatekeeper, and won the game.

Nightmare

1991 Nightmare VHS Game Contents

The VHS tape keeps a running count of the time remaining in the contest, and the Gatekeeper shows up from time to time to both taunt and further challenge the players.  It’s played up, of course, as benefits a tribute to the “B” horror movie genre that this game truly is.  The actor, Wenanty Nosul, knows his job and does it well, providing just the right amount of creepy overacting to make his appearances on the screen memorable.

There have been several sequels to Nightmare: The VHS Game.  We’ve been treated to Nightmare II (starring Baron Samedi), Nightmare III (starring Anne de Chantraine),Nightmare IV (starring Elizabeth Bathory), Atmosfear: The HarbingersAtmosfear: The Soul Rangers, and Atmosfear: The Gatekeeper, just to name a few.  Each one follows a similar game structure (although Atmosfear: The Soul Rangers features new characters, as The Gatekeeper has been imprisoned by a bizarre skeleton dentist named Dr. Mastiff, and all the Harbingers banished from his realm.  No really, I’m not making this up!).

Nightmare: The VHS Game is suggested for ages 12 and up. Although the box states that anywhere from 2 to 6 players can play the game, to make it a memorable gaming experience, at least four players should be sitting at the gaming table.  It’s a perfect game to pull out of the gaming closet for a Halloween party – just don’t write anything about stinky feet as your entry into the Well of Fears!

The MAD Magazine Game

The MAD Magazine Game

If I had to pick a game that was so bizarre and crazy that it was nutty fun, The MAD Magazine Game would be it.  Back in the 70′s MAD Magazine was a serious force on the magazine stand.  I remember reading them and laughing at their fresh and irreverent presentations of everything from spoofing the latest movies and TV shows, to social-political commentary dressed up as jokes, to the Road Runner/Coyote style violence of Spy vs. Spy.   And so when Parker Brothers came out in 1979 with a board game based on the MAD Magazine zeitgeist, it was a must-buy.

The MAD Magazine Game

You know you’re playing a different kind of game right from the start when you learn what your goal is: to lose all your money.  It’s much harder than it sounds, though, with the Card cards making your life difficult with cards like, “If you are a Boy Person, Win $500″ or “Change Chairs With Anyone.”  You can get lucky, and get a Card card that says, “If you are GOOD LOOKING, stand up and imitate your favorite animal, and lose $2,000″ or “Stand up and BOO the person on your left. Also lose $1000.”  As you can see, the game plays a little bit more wacky than your average board game fair.

The MAD Magazine Game

Moving about the table is an integral part of the game, so don’t get too comfortable in your chair.  Between spaces on the game board that move everyone to a new seat, to Card cards that do the same, expect to have to pick up your drink and move to your right or your left.  But you have to leave your money behind, which can be a good thing (if you had more than anyone else) or a bad thing (if you were almost broke!).   This means that there really is no effective strategy to winning the game that can be planned from the start; the random elements send any plan into disarray as quickly as it is formulated.  Perhaps this was Parker Brothers’ version of Chaos Theory in action!

The game board is filled with classic MAD Magazine art and zany humor.  You can see art from Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side of…, site gags from Don Martin and Sergio Aragones, and more.  And much like the magazine itself, there are little surprises throughout the game board that you stumble upon as you play.  Some scenes should bring back memories, and perhaps a smile or guffaw or two.  Just make sure your legal name isn’t Alfred E. Neuman, or you’ll have to collect the special $1,329,063 bill included in the game.  Did I mention the game is wacky?

The MAD Magazine Game is yet another timeless family classic, and is recommended for 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up.

Payday

Payday from Parker Brothers

One of my favorite board games growing up was Payday.  Not the later versions (dreck!), but the original Parker Brothers 1974 release, with the green box and little dollar signs for playing pieces, invented by Paul J. Gruen (who also invented other classic games like Bonkers!, as well as games based on TV properties, such as Battlestar Galactica, and The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis.

The game is pretty straightforward.  The game board is in the shape of a calendar month. You roll the die and move your token throughout the month.  And just like reality, you’ve got to roll with the punches.  You get Mail – sometimes bills, sometimes junk, and – rarely! – a little bit of cash.  Every so often you get access to a Deal, some which might make you a little extra spending money, some that might make you wealthy – but the deal might go sour, too.  And all the while, you’ve got to manage your money.

Payday from Parker Brothers

It’s a perfect game to play with teens and tweens to help them visualize a typical month of paying bills, collecting a paycheque, and trying to get ahead just a little bit more than the month before.  And it’s all done with a healthy dose of clean, family-friendly humor.  You can play it with as little as two people, and up to six, ages 8 and up.

Payday is a classic board game, and certainly one of the best.  Highly recommended!

Stop Thief

Stop Thief - Parker Brothers

Another one of my all-time favorite board games is Stop Thief!, produced by Parker Brothers in 1979.  This was one of the first electronic board games: players used a handheld device called the Electronic Crime Scanner to hear clues, like the sound of the thief walking across the floor, running down the street, breaking a window, or opening a door. Players move little private detective tokens around the game board, using the Electronic Crime Scanner to check out buildings and search for the thief.  But every turn the thief moves, too, so you have to keep up!

It’s a game of deductive reasoning, meaning random guesses won’t help you.  The Electronic Crime Scanner can replay the clues to aid you in your quest to locate the thief.  Once you think you know where he is, you call the police, and hope to hear the sounds of the thief being taken away to jail.  But if you’re mistaken, you’ll hear the sound of the thief escaping, and a big raspberry for your trouble. That sound still makes me cringe as it represents the same thing today as it did over 20 years ago: the utter failure of my detective skills.  And I still smile when I hear the thief being taken away by the boys in blue, all courtesy of the Electronic Crime Scanner.

Stop Thief - Parker Brothers

The game play is fairly straight-forward: there are 19 possible locations (marked in red on the game board) that the thief may have committed the crime.  Detectives chase down the thief as quickly as possible, trying to arrest the thief first.  There are 10 WANTED cards for a total of ten thieves to be hunted down, and the first player to earn $2,500 in Reward Money wins the game.  Along the way players draw STOP THIEF SLEUTH cards which can send them to different locations on the game board, earn free turns, lose turns, or even get extra clues.  Between the cards and the dice rolls, there is enough random elements to make games fresh each time they are played.

A quick note on the box colors in the images you see above and those you see in the original TV spot below: Stop Thief was sold in Canada and the United States with different box designs.  The Canadian version of the game had to be in both English and French, so the box had to be altered to show this (and there are extra French-only game cards in addition to the English once, also).  The American version was only in English.  Though they have different box covers, they are otherwise the same game with the same game play.

Stop Thief! is yet another classic board game.  It may be older, but it still has what it takes to be hilarious family fun, and is recommended for 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up.

 

The Game Genie

gamegenie

Long before there was an Internet to search for clues and codes to hack your way through a stubbornly difficult game, Codemasters brought a product into the game market which permitted access to your video game’s code, thereby letting you add unearned lives, power-ups, and so forth. The Game Genie was an accessory that you could insert into your game console, and then the game would attach to the Game Genie, allowing the Game Genie to act as an intermediary between the console and the game.

gamegenie

Many gamers found this helpful, and different Game Genies were produced for a variety of game consoles, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Nintendo GameBoy, the Super Nintendo, the Sega Genesis, and the Sega Game Gear. Two different companies distributed the Game Genie over the years it was being manufactured: Galoob and Camerica, one of which (Galoob) was actually sued by Nintendo in an effort to prevent the Game Genie from being sold. Fortunately for many gamers, Nintendo lost their legal battle and had to pay Galoob for damages.

Time marches steadily on, however, and the Game Genie is now in the dustbin of gaming history, while Nintendo continues to be a gaming powerhouse.  All we have left of the Game Genie are the few units that can be found here and there in the retrogaming marketplace, and our memories. Speaking of which, see if the following ad brings back memories of how you salivated over the thought of finally mastering that one irksome game, if only you got a Game Genie.

When Video Games Become Board Games: Part 1

The 1980s saw a sudden increase in board games that were based upon classic video game cartridges or the quarter-devouring arcade machines.  Leading the charge was the powerhouse board game company Milton Bradley with an astounding array of video-to-board game titles, but were soon joined by competing gaming companies such as Ideal, Entex, and Parker Brothers.  It was a glorious time for board game enthusiasts!

This is the first of (hopefully) a series of articles listing and describing the various video game to board game properties that provided hours of family fun for a generation of gamers.  Just a quick note of definition: to be included on this list a game must fulfill a number of requirements: have its origin in a video game property, be for at least two players, and be an actual board or card game (not a handheld or tabletop electronic game).

video game board game

 

Frogger (Milton Bradley, 1981) While the fun of hopping across the road, avoiding certain death from a wide variety of sources was a hit as a video game, the translation – authentic as it was – did not have the same charm as a two-player board game, which, really, should not have been a surprise.   More interesting is that this may have been the very first board game to be based on a video game property!

video game board game

Pac-Man Game. (Milton Bradley, 1981) One of the best conversions of the arcade experience to table top board game play by using a game board in the design of the Pac-Man screen, with marbles taking the place of all the dots (the marbles are held in place by holes in the game board).  Four competing Pac-Man player tokens with the ability to capture and store marbles travel the board, avoiding ghosts and eating their way to success.  A brilliant translation!

video game board game

Defender (Entex, 1982) Entex had introduced electronic handheld versions of several popular video games, including Defender in 1981.  Board games were still a hot market, and so they also experimented with a board game version. Up to four players could attempt to turn back the invasion of various aliens, their directions shifting using a spinner to simulate the mobility of the arcade version. An ambitious, difficult to find game.

video game board game

Donkey Kong Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Players moved their Mario tokens on a game board reproduction of the classic game screen, dodging barrels and fireballs when necessary, climbing up the girders to defeat Donkey Kong and rescue the “fair maiden.” The game was actually a pretty decent conversion from the video game, and a lot of fun to play.

video game board game

Invader (Entex, 1982) As previously mentioned, Entex produced many electronic handheld games, and some based on video game properties such as Defender and Space Invaders. However, the licencing was a bit of an adventure for this California-based company, and in this case, their agreement did not extend to making a board game based on the Space Invaders video game. Their solution? Rename it “Invader” and remove all mention of the game it was based upon!

video game board game

Ms. Pac-Man Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Although this game is based on the original arcade game and uses its elements, Milton Bradley ensured that the game play is completely different to prevent Ms. Pac-Man from becoming a duplicate of their original 1981 Pac-Man Game. The game board is divided into four quadrants, and players take turns moving the Ms. Pac-Man token attempting collect as many plastic dots as possible from their quadrant. Each player also controls one Ghost token, which he or she can use to intercept and regain control of Ms. Pac-Man. It may not be completely true to the original, but Ms. Pac-Man is still an enjoyable game to play!

video game board game

Pac-Man Card Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Pac-Man enters the world of educational card games, albeit with very little of the addictive charm that made the franchise so enduring. The mechanic is a bit labored with players attempting to fill lines of three spaces with Pac-Man cards to complete equations and score points.  To enjoy this game you either have to be a complete math or Pac-Man geek. Not much here for anyone else!

video game board game

Turtles (Entex, 1982) This game for 2 to 4 players was based on the Konami arcade game Turtles by Stern, and was another of Entex’s handheld games to board games series.  Just like the arcade game, players needed to rescue little turtles, and whoever rescued the most, won. Important to note that this game has NOTHING to do with any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Possibly the most obscure video-to-board game entry on this list.

video game board game

Zaxxon (Milton Bradley, 1982) Translating the faux three-dimensional Zaxxon video game with its altitude-shifting airships into a two-dimensional board game was a challenge that was met in full by Milton Bradley by using a few standard 3-D tokens in conjunction with ingeniously designed fighter tokens that could be raised or lowered on their stands as needed. Game play was very similar to the original Zaxxon game, but with two to four players attempting to reach and shoot Zaxxon with BOTH their fighters and win the game.

A Footnote
It is important to remember that board games are not video games and neither should be expected to match the other’s total gaming experience.  Video games of this era were all about constant motion, quick reflexes and split-second decision-making.  Board games, however, are about measured decisions, random die rolls or card draws, and ever-changing strategies based on the play of your opponents.  In addition, board games often have suggested ages for players. I have read several reviews over the years from adults who were unable to understand that a game meant for children would have limited appeal to adults (and who scored them based on their own experience of playing them as an adult), or from reviewers who also expected a board game to be a video game.  These kinds of reviews do a tremendous disservice to the board game genre and to those who are searching for more information on one of these classic games.  To those game reviewers – and you know who you are – STOP IT! Let the game be judged on its actual merits, not on standards that it was never intended to fulfill.

Martian Marine Lander

Martian Marine Lander

Here’s a little indie gaming treat for cheapass gamers like myself: Martian Marine Lander. The premise is simple: guide your Martian spacecraft full of Martian Marines down to Earth so that the invasion can begin. Of course, Earth has defense forces, and they’re keenly interested in turning your craft into space dust, so the lander needs to be protected by dexterously angling your force fields to absorb damage while floating down to the surface.

Martian Marine Lander

It’s harder than it sounds, as inertia tends to keep your craft rolling in the wrong direction just when you need the shields to be facing elsewhere! And don’t think you can just plummet down at a breakneck pace to avoid all the weaponry altogether: making a run for it causes the Lander to explode into so many little pieces from the stress.

Martian Marine Lander

 

This game reminds me of classic retro games you could find on your Atari 2600 in that the game difficulty adjusts to your level, giving you new challenges to overcome, yet with modern music and graphics. In fact, I found myself sucked into the game for a considerable length of time before realizing that food and water were also an important part of my regular routine.


If this sounds like your cup of tea, check out http://www.martianmarinelander.com/ and shell out the mere $4.95 it costs to download the full game, and enjoy!

Deathkeep

Deathkeep

As I prepared for the excruciating experience of preparing my entry into the Review a Bad Game Day worldwide self-flagellation exercise, I realized two key historical gaming themes: first, the rise of the 3D adventure was not without its failures along the way, and second, the history of putrid games released on the PC is an unfortunately long and varied one. My choice, the promisingly-titled first-person AD&D game, Deathkeep, is an evidential exhibit in both.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

To understand Deathkeep we need to journey back in time to 1987, when Strategic Simulations, Incorporated (SSI), was granted the AD&D license from TSR, Inc. The next seven years were wondrous for the PC Dungeons & Dragons player, as the company released many quality RPGs, beginning with the Gold Box series (of whichSecret of the Silver Blades remains my all-time favorite), the Eye of the Beholderseries, and the later SVGA games such as Menzoberranzan and the Ravenloftgames. I can recall many hours of gaming in the AD&D universe thanks to the talented development teams at SSI. Unfortunately, this review is not about one of those games.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

The AD&D license expired in 1994, which meant that no new development of games using the AD&D ruleset could be initiated, but games already under production could finish their development cycle. This is how Deathkeep could stay alive and be released on April 30, 1996, a full two years after the license had expired. So between the extra time given to the game and the need to make it the crowning achievement – the legacy, as it were – of the SSI experience with the AD&D universe, you would expect this game to well-nigh pulse with energy while still in the box. You would certainly not expect what appeared to be a very late April Fool’s Day prank from the lads and lasses at SSI.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

The game begins with a brief semi-animated (mostly a slideshow that occasionally animates, similar to the early days of graphic adventures) which sets up the quest: Stop a generic AD&D villain from reacquiring his long-lost power by recovering three special Orbs from his ancient lair – his “Deathkeep” – which he raised amidst a Dwarven fortress, and deliver them to an ancient three-armed skeleton creature’s temple hidden within that same fortress. Well, not every game can have an interesting and creative storyline, and the hope of those starting the game was that perhaps the game itself would rise above the “every DM in the world has run this story” plot. Unfortunately, the opening sequence may have been the highlight of the game.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

 

The first real worry that this game might be broken comes immediately after the opening sequence, when you choose your character. Typically in a RPG, a player selects their gender, race, class, abilities, equipment, and so forth, customizing their character and giving it their own unique stamp. In Deathkeep, the game presents a total of THREE characters to choose from: a male Dwarven Fighter, a female Elven Mage, and a male Half-Elf Fighter/Mage. Astonishingly, that’s it. Not even a choice in gender for each character, so if you’re not into cross-dressing but you do like playing Mages, you’re out of luck. At least you could name your character.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

As for the gameplay itself, the control mechanism was efficient enough: you could opt to use your keyboard or your mouse for a full range of motions. Combat was handled by facing the creature you wanted to disappear and clicking on your mouse until it was gone. No real problem, aside from the incredibly chunky graphics, that is. Maps and inventory screens displayed in 640×480, but the game ran in 320×200, resulting in walls with very poor textures, and creatures that looked like they would be right at home in today’s Minecraft but with lower resolution. The whole game was just hard on the eyes, and considering the some of the amazing games that were released that same year, SSI really had no excuse.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

So why was Deathkeep such an embarrassment? The answer lies in the timing of the loss of the AD&D license and what system the game was originally designed to play on: the Panasonic 3DO. Deathkeep was first released for the 3DO in 1995, a full year before the Windows release. The 3DO was a 32-bit video game system whose core processor ran at 12.5 MHz, and whose video output was either 640×480 or 320×240 (on 60 MHz North America systems…50 MHz PAL versions ran much better graphics at 768×576 or 384×288). The game was simply ported over to Windows, with less than stellar results.  Of course, the game wasn’t all that good on the 3DO, either.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

Here’s a little humorous tidbit of knowledge found in the game’s documentation for anyone wondering why I don’t have any screenshots of gameplay: Deathkeep does not permit Windows multi-tasking. Attempts at doing so exits the game. Not a single screenshot utility works, not the standard PrtScn/Paint combo, not Gadwin, not MWSnap, not Screen Rip32, nothing. Perhaps the developers wanted no visual evidence that might implicate them in this sorry mess of a PC-RPG, perhaps not. Truly this is a bad, bad game.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2ZKhaexa4E[/youtube]

Deathkeep was promoted as a 1st person 3D game set in the AD&D universe, with “…dungeon delving the way you like it – fast, furious and fun!”  I was one of the unfortunates who purchased the game upon its release (and still have it in my collection of AD&D PC games), and after revisiting it for this review, I am reminded of what I thought back in 1996: This game is neither fast, nor furious, nor fun. It’s games like this one that helped spawn the world-wide “Review a Bad Game Day” phenomena which hopefully will help gamers tell other gamers of some of the pitfalls that await them, while simultaneously presenting an opportunity for us to share our pain with sympathetic readers. So my fellow retrogaming enthusiasts, consider this a solemn warning: should you encounter the excrement that is Deathkeep in your travels, run, don’t walk, away from this game before you suffer as I have suffered!

Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games Part 2

TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games Part

Here are what I consider the next Top 10 HuCard (in no particular order) games for this forgotten system.  Remember (!): no CD Games, and only North American releases.

Air Zonk

Air Zonk
Once you get past the fact that Hudson Soft used a futuristic Bonk as the pivotal character in this game, you’ll find it a challenging shooter. Humorous sci-fi updates to Bonk’s various power-ups and their effects, such as the glass-encapsulated meat and the ability to call in one of Zonk’s friends to help shoot down the Bosses, keep Zonk’s airborne adventures from becoming just another Bonk’s Adventure game.

Bloody Wolf

Bloody Wolf
Have you ever noticed that the President of the United States gets kidnapped a lot in the video game world? He’s been kidnapped again in Bloody Wolf, along with a truckload of other hostages, all of which you have to rescue. A sound track that drives the action, plenty of enemies to dispatch with a good assortment of weapons, and a variety of level designs make this game a must-have T16 arcade experience!

Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon

Dungeons & Dragons Order of the Griffon
It’s a D&D RPG on the T16! Based on the Dungeons & Dragons rules – not the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules – this game was designed by Westwood Associates, before they became the gaming giant Westwood Studios. It is very similar to the Gold Box series by SSI: pick a party of four pre-generated characters, and off you go adventuring. Strategic thinking is required to survive the many encounters, as well as while constructing your party. Saving your game frequently is wise!

Final Lap Twin

Final Lap Twin
What’s more fun than racing behind the wheel of a Formula One race car? How about racing your buddy with the screen split in two, one half for each player? And if you don’t have any friends that want to race you, then you could also play in RPG mode, searching for challenges to face in your quest to become a World Champion racer!

Galaga ’90

Galaga ’90
Colorful animations, jaunty tunes and endless waves of alien ships are just a few of the things I liked about Galaga ’90. The ability to gain a triple ship almost immediately by temporarily sacrificing one of my precious single ships and relying on the alien capture teams and my sharpshooting skills is another. Now that is Galactic Dancing.

Klax

Klax
There’s something to be said for Tetris clones that don’t play anything like Tetris. This is a marvelous puzzle game that requires quick-thinking and even quicker reflexes as you attempt to sort the oncoming conveyor belt blocks by color into rows, stacks, and diagonals. The applause from the crowd and the onomatopoeia  from the obviously impressed female announcer make it all worthwhile.

Parasol Stars

Parasol Stars
There are two things you need to know right away about this game. First, a parasol is a sun umbrella, from the Latin verb “parere” (“to ward off”) and the noun “sol” (“sun” ). They’re often colorful and decorative, and not for heavy rain. Second, this game is part three of the Bubble Bobble trilogy, so you can expect the same kind of colorfully bright graphics and weird gameplay. So when I tell you that you use your parasol to capture and toss objects around to score points and capture power-ups, you won’t immediately re-read the sentence for clarity. Did I mention it’s bright and colorful? Because it is…relentlessly so!

R-Type

R-Type
There are some people who believe R-Type is the best arcade shooter ever devised, and though I am not one of those people, I can see their case.  The graphics are reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s work, and some of the power-ups are unique, such as the Power Pod, which can be detached to attack enemies or attached to your ship to fend off attackers. The game can be very challenging, even with the robot help, so be prepared to be faced with an equal mixture of joy and frustration when playing R-Type!

Raiden

Raiden
Another in a long series of arcade shooters that put you at the controls of an advanced fighter facing off against hordes of alien invaders, Raiden distinguished itself from its competition with superb graphics (including a wide variety of background screens), well-thought-out power-ups, and vertical scrolling gameplay that progressively became more difficult until it reached diabolical levels. The game was translated into seven different gaming platforms, but the TurboGrafx version is the best!

Super Star Soldier

Super Star Soldier
Do you want to play a vertical shooter that is relentlessly challenging? One that boasts outstanding graphics and a wide array of weapons, all programmed onto a standard huCard? Well do I have a game for you!  Besides having some of the best weapon choices ever to grace the TurboGrafx-16, this game also does not clip when the enemies fill the screen and the action is at its most intense, making Super Star Soldier one of the best arcade shooters to ever show the T16′s capabilities!

Honorable mentionLegendary Axe II

Legendary Axe II
Now this game should probably be on the first Top Ten list as part of the Legendary Axe series, but since I didn’t remember to put it there, I’m exercising executive authority to put it on this list. Legendary Axe was a fantastic game, but its sequel (imaginatively entitled Legendary Axe II) was even better. More creatures to fight, better levels to navigate, better atmosphere overall…this was and is an amazing game that showcased what the TurboGrafx-16 could offer gamers. It could stand up against many of today’s graphic extravaganzas and easily win on gameplay alone!

Have a different Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 list?  Leave a comment with your favorites – and don’t forget to say why!

The Turbo CD Review

The ultimate accessory for video console gaming in the early 1990′s was not the Sega CD – it was the Turbo CD with a Super System Card.  This combination permitted owners of NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 gaming system to access some of the very best games available at the time, whether they were North American or Japanese releases, such as Dungeon Explorer II, Ys Book I and II, Lords of Thunder, and Dracula X.

The Turbo CD with TurboGrafx-16

The Turbo CD attached itself to the TurboGrafx-16 system, and the new world of CD gaming was opened up.  The Super System Card turned the Turbo CD into a Turbo Duo machine, with 256K of RAM (split 64K DRAM and 192K SRAM).  It also provided the most advanced bios for the T16 (version 3.0), which permitted its owners to play the “Super System CD” games.  The extra memory gave programmers the ability to use the entire color palette for their games’ backgrounds, which provided a much richer gaming experience.

So if this accessory was the greatest thing to happen to gaming since the release of the Atari 2600, why didn’t everyone own one?  Well, to begin with, it was an accessory for the TurboGrafx-16 system, which was fighting for ground in the Nintendo vs. Sega console wars, and losing.  It was also BIG, which was odd, considering the Japanese model it was based on (for the PC Engine) was quite small.  Perhaps the North American fascination for big trucks and luxury cars blinded the design team at NEC, since they clearly thought BIGGER was better.  Unfortunately, retailers don’t want giant boxes that are mostly Styrofoam or packaging today, and they didn’t then, either.

With a box measuring 59.5cm x 44.5cm x 26cm (23.4″ x 17.5″ x 10.2″), who had the space to display it, never mind stock it in any significant quantity?  Another reason was that, unlike the Sega CD, which included Sewer Shark, the Turbo CD did not include a game, which meant you had to add a little more cost to the final bill.  That leads us to the final, and most important reason why the Turbo CD did not catch fire in the gaming universe: the price.  NEC priced the Turbo CD at $399, which was a prohibitive price point.  Although the standard System 2.0 Card was included in the package, it only gave access to the standard CD games.  Only by purchasing the Super System Card could gamers access the Super CD titles (like Prince of Persia, DragonSlayer, etc), and this was retailing in the $80-$100 range.

Turbo CD Super System Card 3.0

So let’s review NEC’s market strategy for the Turbo CD:

  1. High price
  2. Basic function unless you pay even more money for an accessory for the accessory
  3. GIANT size
  4. No game

I’m not a rocket scientist, but this combination would spell disaster today for any peripheral’s sales, never mind during the height of the Nintendo vs. Sega console wars!

The TurboGrafx CD original box

So in the end, the Turbo CD was the best gaming accessory no one bought.  Today retro gaming is a both a popular and enjoyable pastime.  If you are a retro gamer with a passion for all things 90s, you simply need to have a TurboGrafx-16 with a Turbo CD system!  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel a need for some Lords of Thunder Super CD action coming on – awesome guitar riffs and amazing game play await!

Top 5 Movies Based on Video Games

Top 5 Movies Based on Video Games

The film industry is always looking for the next big thing.  Film execs gain the rights to make movies based on novels, children’s stories, and comic books.  One source that on the surface seems to have incredible synergy with Hollywood is the video game industry.  Games have already benefited from using Hollywood-style production values, including professional actors and actresses for both voice and live parts.  You’d think that both being visual mediums would lead to incredible movies being made based upon video game properties.

But you’d be wrong.

Thus far the Hollywood video game movie selection has been mediocre at best, and laughingly dismal at worst.  Just for fun, let’s look at the best movies of the genre (all my personal opinion, of course).

Mortal Kombat movie poster

1.  Mortal Kombat. This incredibly popular fighting franchise made its way to the silver screen in 1995, bringing the Elder Gods’ martial arts tournament to life.   The film received “mixed reviews” which is a fancy way of saying some critics enjoyed the fight fest and others thought it gave a whole new definition to “suck.”  It managed to take in over $122 million worldwide, as well as spawning a sequel, so more than a few people thought it was a good movie.

Resident evil movie poster

2.  Resident Evil. A flawed but fun zombie movie based on Capcom’s horror games and starring the incredibly hot Milla Jovovich wiping out the infected workers from the top secret Hive installation controlled by the Red Queen.  Critics generally panned the film, but it grossed over $100 million worldwide and spawned two sequels (with one more to be released in September, 2010).

Silent Hill movie poster

3.  Silent Hill. This film was based on Konami’s horror game franchise, and incorporated elements from the first three games.  A few pretty decent scares and a couple of weird scenes gave this film a good vibe.  It did not receive great reviews from the critics, but scored where it counted with $97 million grossed worldwide.

Tomb Raider movie poster

4.  Tomb Raider. Angelina Jolie in tight spandex. How could this film possibly be bad?  That’s what I told myself before watching it, and afterward marveled at the film’s creators’ ability to do the impossible: make a live-action Lara Croft dud.  It still managed over $300 million worldwide, so a LOT of people must have gone into the theater with the same expectations I did.

TRON movie poster

5.  TRON.  The list is so meager that I decided to take a movie whose premise is about the video game industry and put it on this list.  And it’s a good excuse to includeTRON to the mix; it was a fun movie, and pulled in over $33 million worldwide, which wasn’t bad in 1982. End of line.

Every other video game movie was awful.  Putrid awful.  Perhaps it’s time that the industry stopped trying to translate the video game experience to the big screen, and keep going on as many comic book properties they can lay their greedy little hands on.  After all, given the choice, I’d rather watch Batman: Dark KnightSpider-Man or Iron Man than the very best the video game movie genre has to offer.

The TurboGrafx-16

Tweeting back and forth with TheSocialGamer about the TurboGrafx-16 led to some serious retro T16 game-groovin’ on my handheld TurboExpress, replaying some Blazing Lazers, Dragon Spirit, and Bonk’s Revenge before calling it a night.

NEC TurboGrafx-16

The NEC TurboGrafx-16 Video Game System.

For those that have NO idea what I’m talking about, the TurboGrafx-16 was a video game system sold in North America by NEC (it hit the shelves in 1989).  It was known as the PC Engine in Japan, where it debuted 2 years earlier (those damn Japanese got all the new game tech!).  This was a killer system in its day: 16-bit graphics capable of 482 colors at once.  It suffered a pretty big drawback, though, with initially only 8K of memory available for the games to work under.  (As a comparison, the Super Nintendo had 128K.)

It came packaged with one game (Keith Courage in Alpha Zones) and one controller (called a TurboPad).  Some awesome games were available for this system, like Blazing Lazers, Neutropia, Order of the Griffon, Bomberman, Bonk’s Adventure, Alien Crush (and its sequel, Devil’s Crush), Cadash, Klax, and Military Madness, just to name a few.  You could hook up an accessory called a TurboTap which would allow you and 4 of your gamer buddies to play certain games (like Bomberman) for serious multiplayer fun.  Oddly enough, there was only ONE controller port on the system.

The TurboExpress handheld video game system (with TV Tuner)

The TurboExpress handheld video game system (with TV Tuner)

What made the TurboGrafx unique was how they promoted their handheld game system.  Most competitors used separate games for the console systems versus the handheld systems (like the NES and the GameBoy).  If you wanted to play Tetris on the NES and GameBoy, you had to buy one NES version and one GameBoy version.  But the TurboExpress (the handheld version of the TurboGrafx-16) used the very same games that it’s parent console used!  The games – called HuCards – fit in either system and played the same.  The TurboExpress even played in FULL COLOR!  Wow, back in the day that was an AWESOME gaming experience.

This is the TurboGrafx-16 with the TurboCD attachment.

This is the TurboGrafx-16 with the TurboCD attachment.

Another nifty accessory you could get for the TurboGrafx was the TurboCD, which allowed you to play the really great CD games that were out there, as well as play music CDs.  It came with a HuCard called a System Card which you put into your TurboGrafx to boost the RAM so the CDs could play (64K).  Another memory card, the Super System Card, gave you an additional 192K, which gave access to the Super CD games.  You haven’t played a 16-bit system until you’ve played Lords of Thunder.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otz8kIUqN38[/youtube]

So why didn’t NEC rule the 90′s instead of Sega and Nintendo?  There are plenty of reasons that come to mind, such as the aforementioned 8K memory limit and an intially high price on the accessories that made it a gaming system juggernaut (the TurboCD and TurboExpress).  The real T16 killer was that the system was not embraced by 3rd Party developers.  Companies today should look at the history of the TurboGrafx-16 to see what happens when all your innovation and development comes inhouse.  Had NEC been able to bring more developers on board right away, the system would have had a massive library of games and accessories, which everyone knows is the gamer geek’s kryptonite.  Who knows how console game systems would look like today if NEC’s TurboGrafx had dominated the market? Perhaps Sony wouldn’t have been able to get a toehold because the TurboDuo drowned out their sales?  Maybe Nintendo would have skipped past cartridge-based systems right into a disc-based system like the GameCube right away?

Who knows?

The Top 5 Sega Genesis Accessories

The Sega MegaDrive - The First Genesis

The Sega MegaDrive – The First Genesis

The rise and rule of the Genesis system led to some nifty accessories.  Here’s five of the coolest accessories that gamers could add to their Sega Genesis:

EA Sports 4-Way Play

EA Sports 4-Way Play

4-Way Play
EA Sports have been making sports-related games for decades, and back in the day Sega Genesis titles were where you went to get your Madden or NHL fix.  But many sports are team games, so Electronic Arts developed the 4-Way Play accessory. This handy little device allowed up to 4 players to play their favourite EA Sports games, so you could have a gamer Super Bowl party, complete with a little pre-game Genesis warm-up!

The Genesis Game Genie by Galoob

The Genesis Game Genie by Galoob

Game Genie
Some Genesis games were hard to beat.  Really hard.  (And some ridiculously easy, but I digress.)  Game Genie by Camerica/Galoob to the rescue!  All you had to do is pop the Genie into the Genesis and insert your game cartridge into it, enter the right code for whatever cheat you wanted, and the game suddenly became a lot easier!  (And you could use the Genie as a country converter cartridge for most games, too – but not officially…)

 

The Sega Channel by General Instrument

The Sega Channel by General Instrument

Sega Channel
Long before Internet online games, Sega came up with the idea to offer games by download.  This little box attached to the Genesis and to the cablevision line.  Players paid a monthly service fee to get access to unlimited access to 50 or so games, plus limited previews of new releases, as well as special versions of fan favorites.  The service is long gone, but still remembered fondly!

 

The Sega Power Base Converter

The Sega Power Base Converter

Power Base Converter
Before the Sega Genesis was a hit, there was the Sega Master System.  Although it never reached the market share dominance that the Genesis did, there were quite a few games and consoles sold.  Rather than tossing out the old games (like Phantasy Star!) gamers could pick up the Power Base Converter, which attached to the Genesis and allowed those SMS games to be played on their new Genesis.  8-bit gaming goodness on their new 16-bit gamer powerhouse!  Gamergasm!

Sega CD Accessory - Top and Side Mounts

 

Sega CD Accessory – Top and Side Mounts

Sega CD
If you had the cash, the Sega CD was a must-have accessory.  It came in two designs, a CD-player style for the older Genesis systems, which stacked on top of each other, and a top-loading style for the new Genesis systems, which acted as a base and the Genesis inserted into its side.  (The Nomad would be released later.) Some of the best games for the Genesis were released on CD-format, including Lunar: The Silver Star, Sonic the Hedgehog CD, The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, and Earthworm Jim.  Now that’s quality retro gaming!

Top Ten TurboCD TurboDuo CD Games

Of all the video game consoles I’ve played, the one that holds a special place in my retrogaming heart continues to be that poor doomed also-ran in the Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo Wars: the NEC TurboGrafx-16.

 TurboGrafx-16 with the TurboCD attachment

What makes the TurboGrafx so special to me? Perhaps it is because of my love for a good underdog against the favorite of the great unwashed, perhaps it was the console’s design, or perhaps it was the because of the amazing peripherals NEC offered for their system.  Regardless, it will always be my first choice when heading back to the 90s for retrogaming (yes, I realize it was released in North America in 1989…most of the games came later!) Picking up a TurboCD and a Super System Card was one of my best gaming investments back in the day.  There were some fabulous CD games that I played over the years, some of which I was not able to pick up until a decade later!  Here’s a small list of my favorite TurboCD games, some requiring the Super System Card, some not, but all worth playing!

 

Loom for the TurboGrafx-16 TurboCD

I’ve written about the wonders of Loomelsewhere, so I’ll be brief: this game is well worth playing. This is a beautiful game on the TurboCD, with enhanced music and gameplay based upon the original IBM-PC diskette version, but with the better graphic capabilities of the TurboCD.  It does not feature any voice acting, but the story and gameplay is wonderful, regardless. After all, this is a LucasArts adventure game; how can you go wrong?

Prince of Persia for the TurboCD

 

One of the finest platformers ever to grace any gaming system, Prince of Persia for the TurboCD has the same flair as the original, with the added feature of animated cutscenes with voice acting to help propel the storyline.  A little note for those who think Prince of Persia is based on Disney’s Aladdin movie: the original Prince of Persia was released in 1989, and Aladdin hit the movie theatre circuit in 1992.  Hmm…tell me again who influenced whom?

 

Ys I & II for the TurboDuo

Way back in 1987, a game called Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished was released, and the game was successful enough to not only be ported over to several game systems (including an excellent Sega Master System version), but to also spawn a sequel one year later: Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter. The TurboDuo game Ys Book I & II is a remake of these two games, with better graphics, animated cutscenes, better sound, and, of course, voice acting. Ultimately, the game was considered one of the best games of its genre, with contemporary game reviewers giving it perfect or near-perfect scores. This is another Turbo CD must-have!

 

Bonk 3 for the TurboDuo

Back in 1993, the TurboGrafx CD system was nearing the end of its product life, and one of the last games released in North America for NEC’s gaming system was Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure. The game was released in both SuperCD and HuCard format, and the game was identical on both, except the CD version had much better audio. Bonk 3 was much like the previous two games in the series, with the added element of being able to play cooperatively with another player – two Bonks for the price of one!

Gate of Thunder for the TurboDuo

 

In 1992, NEC was selling the TurboDuo system in North America, and to help show off just what it could do, Gate of Thunder was added as one of four games on a “pack-in” game CD.  This was a kind of shooter that gamers dreamed about, with incredible action, switchable and power-up weaponry, the ability to tackle enemies from both the front and the rear, interesting level design and compelling gameplay. If all TurboCD games were like this one, NEC would have won the Console Wars!

 

Lords of Thunder for TurboDuo

Billed as a sequel to the impressive shooter Gate of Thunder (albeit in a fantasy setting, not sci-fi), Lords of Thunderis a bold testament to the what a gifted programming team could do with the TurboGrafx CD technology.  Seven levels that you can select from at will (with one more final level available when you complete the others!), awesome power-ups, colorful and imaginative backgrounds and unique enemies…plus killer heavy metal guitar licks on the soundtrack all add up to making this an incredible game!

 

Might and Magic III for the TurboDuo

Once upon a time RPGs were designed so that the player could move throughout the game world at will, either following the overarching storyline or not, and generally staying off the linear express that modern RPGs have become. One such game wasMight & Magic III: Isle of Terra, which was ported to the TurboCD, losing none of its charms on the way. The game was extremely challenging, requiring time spent on outfitting your party, mapping corridors, tracking inventory, and overcoming obstacles, whether those obstacles were monster encounters or difficult riddles to solve, all of which put off the casual gamer. However, those with the gaming fortitude love of RPGs found Might & Magic III: Isle of Terra a game that they couldn’t say “NO” to.

Monster Lair Turbo CD

And neither should you!Some of the marketing decisions that NEC and TurboCD game developers made were considerably suspect. As an example, let me present the North American gameMonster Lair, which would have been much better known (and received) had they used its real name, Wonder Boy III. The Wonder Boy series had its own following, so what possessed NEC to drop the “Wonder Boy” part of the title is a mystery.  Regardless, this game is an excellent platformer, colorful, fast-paced, and imaginative. Another must-have for anyone’s TurboCD collection!

 

DragonSlayer for the TurboDuo

Falcom, the developers who designed the Ys series, returned to the TurboCD console to create another RPG that has made my Top Ten List: Dragonslayer: The Legend of Heroes. This is a good “pick-up” RPG, in that you can get into the game quickly, but it is also highly addictive – very much in the Final Fantasy realm of console gaming. The game plays quickly and smoothly, and has an interesting option of switching between PSG (Programmable Sound Generator) or CD music files, which can affect the game speed. The only complaint I might have with this game is the voice acting quality, but considering the general state of voice acting in games during the early 90s, it’s well within industry standards of the time!

 

Dungeon Explorer II for the TurboDuo

The first Dungeon Explorer game was an action-RPG hybrid HuCard, good enough to make the Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games list. Its sequel, Dungeon Explorer II, was even better, with all the gameplay of the original – a simplified combat and magic using system, outstanding inventory acquisition and deployment, as well as the ever-present theme of dungeon delving – but with the added benefit of CD quality sound.  This game was a showcase on how to use music to enhance the mood by altering to fit the location, sometimes airy and light, and sometimes dark and forbidding. The trouble with finding this game today is its rarity; the PAL version is readily available, but the NTSC version fetches hundred of dollars online.

Dracula X Rondo of Blood

 

I can hear the outcry from TurboDuo gamers: “You forgot the best game of all, Dracula X!”  Well, not really. Dracula X: Rondo of Blood was only an import in North America, and not readily available on the shelves of any retail store.  It is true that it was an amazing game – perhaps the best game of the entire TurboDuo lineup – but as an import, it’s disqualified from the list of best TurboCD games available in North America. Remember, at the time there wasn’t an eBay or Amazon (or even magisterrex.com) to turn to for your games; you either went to the video game store to buy what you wanted or you mailed away for them. My, how times have changed!

Ultimately, any of the games presented on this list are worth buying and playing, and each well-represents the long-past, but never-forgot, NEC TurboGrafx-16 CD video game system!

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

If Empire Deluxe was the mother of “just one more turn,” Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty was the father of real-time strategy games. Published in 1994 by Westwood Studios, Dune II was based on the David Lynch Dune movie, which was in turn based on the classic novel by Frank Herbert, and was a sequel – in name only – to the previous 1992 Virgin Games PC adventure/strategy hybrid game, Dune.  The game’s designers further deviated from the film, novel, and game versions of Dune by adding House Ordos, which was not mentioned in either Herbert’s novels nor in Lynch’s film.  Of course, this was not an adventure game, so what cannon the game was based on didn’t make much of an overall impact on gameplay.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

A sandworm swallows a harvester in Dune II

The plot was straight-forward: the Emperor needs more Spice from the planet Arrakis, and offers up the prize title of Governor of Arrakis to whichever House delivers the most Spice to him. Three Houses vie for the governorship: House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Ordos. Each House has different strengths and weaknesses based on their particular House zeitgeist: House Atreides uses speed, House Harkonnen uses brute strength, and House Ordos uses sneakiness. (Their prime units represent those traits, with House Atreides using the speedy sonic tank, House Harkonnen using the slow but incredibly powerful Devastator, and House Ordos using the allegiance-altering Deviator.) The Emperor’s Sardaukar make an appearance toward the end, providing an elite challenge just when you think that your victory is at hand.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

A Harkonnen base in Dune II

As the game progresses, Spice blooms in the desert, and the Houses (either a player or the computer) sends harvester units to gather the bounty and return it to their base. The harvesters are exposed while gathering the Spice, and can be destroyed by enemy units or by the sudden appearance of a gargantuan Sand Worm. Protecting them from dangers is an integral strategic element of playing Dune II, as your score is determined by how much spice you harvest and return to your base. Of course, securing your base from enemy attacks and sending out an invasion force to wipe out your rival Houses are also important.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

An Atreides base in Dune II

The list of features that Dune II debuted in real-time strategy gaming is impressive. It was the first RTS to use the mouse to move individual units. It was the first to use building bases and then units. It was the first to use a development technology tree, permitting the construction of advanced units only after certain buildings were constructed. It was the first to use units that you could move and then deploy as a base. It was the first to use different factions with different goals (and strategies). It was even the first to use a world map that you chose your next mission from. This is an impressive list, and these features are now commonplace in RTS games, but were fresh and new back when Dune II was released. All these would be found in Westwood’s own Command & Conquer series that would dominate the gaming industry for over a decade!

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

An Ordos base in Dune II

I fondly remember playing Dune II into the night (and the next day), cursing the computer as it launched a devastating attack on my base and thrilling to the total destruction of that same enemy. And I wasn’t the only one. The reviews for both the MS-DOS and Commodore Amiga versions were very positive (as were unit sales!), making Dune II a hit for Westwood Studios, which paved the way for the entire Command & Conquer series.   Two official follow-up games were also released,Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle For Dune, in 1998 and 2001, respectively.  There’s even a non-official version: Super Dune II: The Destruction (in which you play either Mercenaries, Fremen, or Sardaukar).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tppjzT-su0Q[/youtube]

The game’s influence is still recognized by the gaming industry, evidenced by it’s placement in IGN’s Top 10 Most Influential Games, GameSpy’s Hall of Fame list, and Computer Gaming World’s Best Games of All Time list.  With both industry accolades and sales success, it is obvious that Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty has the pedigree to belong on any retro gamer’s ‘must play’ list, and is yet another in a long line of Westwood Studio masterpieces!

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro was a game-changer when it arrived back in 1992.  Long before Tiger Woods was winning championships and wooing pretty birdies, Access Software had been making golf games.  Their first, Leader Board Golf for the Commodore 64, came out in 1984, so they had quite a bit of experience already under their belt.  But this golf game was different; not only was Links 386 Pro a technological marvel, it was also an amazing game to play.

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro Front Cover

The graphics were absolutely stunning with amazing detail.  The trees and bushes along the fairway, scenic backgrounds, even the clouds in the sky – this was an unbelievable game to play.  It felt like you were actually golfing these courses.  Compared to the cartoonish and blocky graphics that gamers were subjected to over the years, Links 386 Pro was the pinnacle of the computer golfing experience.

But this game had more than just great graphics. The sound quality was outstanding: the whoosh of the club, the smack of the ball, the glorious sound of the ball entering the cup, all this and more enhanced the experience of and the illusion of actually “being there” on the links.  Players could mulligan their shots (but it would show up on their scorecard). You could preview the course and analyze the grade of the shot.  You could even split the screen to watch the ball coming and going from different angles!  So many features added to the enjoyment of the game.

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro Game Play Screenshot

All those features had a cost; at the time of its release, Links 386 Pro pushed the technological envelope.  This game can be run on a 80386SX-25 MHz with 2 MB of RAM, but the slow screen redraws made an upgrade to a minimum of a 80486DX-50 MHz with 4 MB of RAM required.  To access the graphics a Super VGA card capable of 640×400 resolution was needed, which helped spur on SVGA card sales.  Many computer salespeople loved Links 386 Pro for the easy sales it produced (all they needed to do was make a comparison demo and the newer, more expensive computer found its way into the buyer’s shopping cart!).

Links 386 Pro also satisfied gamers’ needs to trumpet how good they were.  A recording mode allowed the player to share that perfect game with all your closest gamer friends – and post it on the bulletin boards to brag to everyone else.  Whole competitions erupted between golf simulation aficionados seeking to become the world’s best golfer (simulated golfer, that is!).

There were many add-on courses for Links 386 Pro, which gave the game a longer shelf life.  You could golf in Hawaii, challenge the pros at Pebble Beach, enjoy the majestic view of Banff, take on the pride of the British Isles at the Belfry, even experience the terror of the Bermuda Triangle.  There was a course for everyone!

Links 386 Pro

Devil’s Island Links 386 Pro Expansion Screen Shot

All in all, this game is an important piece of retro gaming history.  Anyone who experienced its sheer epic gameplay back in the day will remember the joy of shooting a low score, and, ever so rarely, the Links 386 Pro version of Caddyshack’s,

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDtd2BF-zV0[/youtube]

“It’s in the hole!”: YES!!! YES!!!

Hero’s Quest

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

This week I’m  looking at the Sierra On-Line classic, Hero Quest, first released in 1989.  This game was a completely different gaming experience back in the day.  Most gamers were used to adventure games, like King’s Quest or Space Quest, or role-playing games, like Might & Magic.  But an amalgamation of role-playing and adventure games was unheard of! Lori Cole’s game design was unique and the game was a best-seller for Sierra, spawning several sequels over the years.

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

You could play Hero Quest either as a Fighter, Magic-User, or Thief.  The game’s puzzles were designed so that they could be solved in different ways by the different character classes, and you could improve your character’s skills and inventory as you played the game.   It played as an adventure game, where your character completed quests and solved puzzles, moving the storyline to its epic finish.  By today’s PC game standards, the graphics and sound are rudimentary at best, with your hero looking a bit like a stick figure jerkily moving about the screen.  But a good retro gamer never judges an old game by today’s standards!  The storyline is strong, and can still be fun to play today.

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

An interesting side note about Hero Quest is that the game’s name had to be changed almost immediately after it was distributed.  Milton Bradley had trademarked the Hero Quest name for their 3D board game, which apparently no one in the Sierra On-Line team knew – until they were told to remove it or else.  The solution was to simply change the title of Hero Questto Hero Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero.  Of course, this has led to these two games forever jumbled together in google searches as retro gamers look to find them to add to their collections!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1rJXX5yBcs&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Loom

Some classic games are more obscure than others, but are no less gaming gems than those games that inspired a multitude of sequels and imitators.  LOOM, a LucasFilm Games (the original name of LucasArts Entertainment) product, is one such game.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

The front cover of the PC game, LOOM.

Released in 1990, LOOM contained a complex plot involving the fate of the universe resting upon the shoulders of one gifted man-child who is the last practitioner of an ancient guild of magicians called the Weavers.  The plot was so complex, in fact, that the preamble goes on for 30 minutes.  You read that right.  Originally a cassette tape was included so you could listen to the audio drama before starting the game. In the later CD-ROM version, the audio file was included on the CD.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

The classic retro game LOOM begins!

Bobbin Threadbare, the aforementioned only surviving member of the Guild of Weavers, must learn the ways of his craft.  This is not a simple adventure game; players don’t simply point and click their way to the grand finale.  In LOOM, magic is music and music is magic.  Bobbin can cast spells, but only as musical sequences on the C Major scale, and only if he possesses his “distaff,” a combination walking stick and wizard’s staff. Much of the game revolves around Bobbin seeking new “drafts” – the magical musical sequences – for him to use in his quest to save the universe from a “grey strand” that has unbalanced creation.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

The Practice Mode of LOOM.

This game is pure delight from beginning to finish.  I loved the musical element and complete departure from the standard LucasArts adventure fare that this game provided.  The puzzles weren’t all that challenging, but different enough to be memorable.  The graphics were good for the time, also.  But most importantly, you couldn’t die or be returned to the beginning of the game for a simple mistake, making LOOM the first game to follow the LucasArts game design philosophy.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

Standard Mode for LOOM

The game featured three challenge levels: Standard, Practice, and Expert, all relating to how the player learns the new scripts (spells) as they play.  With Practice mode, players could see the letters for the notes that were played. Standard mode takes away the letters on the notes, but instead the distaff glows when the notes are played.  Toughest of all – the Expert mode – removes both the glowing distaff and the musical letters, forcing the player to “play by ear” repeating the spells without the aid of any graphical representation.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

Expert Mode for LOOM

Although this is a definitely a one-of-a-kind game, its creator, Brian Moriarty, claims that it was originally intended to be the first of a trilogy.  The sequel, Forge, would have followed Rusty Nailbender of the Guild of Blacksmiths in his fight to free his home from the evil of Chaos.  Following that would have been The Fold, wherein Fleece Firmflanks (I’m not making this up!) must restore the all the guilds to their former glory.  Alas, the sequels were not meant to be, and LOOM remains the unique game that it is today.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnEMcquu2lc[/youtube]

This is a fabulous piece of retro gaming history, and one of the most sought-after PC games for most collectors.  If you have a chance to play it, do so.  You won’t regret your time spent saving the world!

Companions of Xanth

Although many people remember Sierra and LucasArts for their incredible adventure games, other companies produced a few gems, too.  Legend Entertainment managed to procure the publishing rights to a slew of literary properties, including Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s The Death Gate Cycle, and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, the focus of this game of the week blog entry,Companions of Xanth.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth box art

Companions of Xanth was based on the best-selling, pun-filled Xanth series of fantasy fiction by Piers Anthony.  The game was based on – and further fleshed out – one of the books in the series, Demons Don’t Dream.  To emphasize the connection, the softcover novel was included in the box.  This 1993 game followed Dug, a Mundane from Mundania, as he competes in a world-shaking quest thrust upon his shoulders by the demons E(A/R)th and X(A/N)th.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth in game image

Dug travels Xanth with a Companion who is there to try to keep him out of trouble as he has no experience with the magical dangers that Xanth is rife with.  When you begin the game you are offered a choice from four Companions: Nada Naga, Jenny Elf, Che Centaur, and the Demoness Metria.  Choosing any Companion other than Nada Naga results in a failed game, which irritated some gamers.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth Companion choices

The game plays as a standard mouse controlled adventure game. You select what action you want to do from a list of verbs, then select the object with which you want to perform the action.  Unlike some Legend adventure games, there is no text input.  Inventory management is controlled by the mouse in a similar fashion, by selecting the object and then the action.  Graphics are crisp at 256 color VGA, with the player touring various scenic vistas of Xanthian beauty.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth in-game screenshot

The “puzzles” in Companions of Xanth are not terribly difficult, and operate in typically twisted Xanth fashion. Those who cannot turn their hats backwards will find this terribly annoying, and simply won’t understand where they should be searching.  Some scenes are one puzzle wonders, which mirror the one-pun scenes in the novels. It pays to have read and enjoyed previous books in the Xanth series so you know what kind of logic applies.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth – The Censor Ship (groan)

I quite enjoyed this game as it was fun to adventure in the magical world of Xanth.  It has a different vibe than some games, which can put some people off, but as far as I’m concerned, Companions of Xanth is a retro gaming classic!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MPXFadd2VI[/youtube]

Twilight 2000

When you ask a retro gamer about who their favorite game companies, names like Sierra On-Line, LucasArts Entertainment, or Origin Systems often come up.  Less likely, but deserving of a look is the little known Paragon Software, the company that brought The Amazing Spider-ManMegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani ConspiracyThe PunisherSpace: 1889, and X-MEN: Madness in Murderworld, among others.  Paragon Software was also responsible for bringing one of my personal cult RPG favorites to the PC in 1991’s Twilight 2000.

Box front for the 1991 PC Game Twilight 2000

Box front for the 1991 PC Game Twilight 2000.

First, some background story.  Twilight 2000 was set in a future wherein the border tensions between China and the U.S.S.R. escalate and events unfold in Europe which draws NATO and the Warsaw Pact into direct conflict.  Conventional warfare is followed by the use of chemical weapons, which leads to tactical nuclear strikes, and finally a “limited” nuclear war engulfing the globe.  The result is widespread catastrophe and the near-collapse of civilization.  Resources are scarce and enemies are around every corner.  Warlords rule individual city-states, and the countryside is ruled by whoever has the most armament.  Your team finds themselves in what used to be western Poland, under the thumb of Baron Czarny, a despot who finds no atrocity to atrocious to commit.  Having enough to deal with without a nutbar making life even more difficult for them, a consensus is reached that the mad Baron needs to be dethroned – and that’s where the game begins.

Boris Yeltsin to the rescue!

Boris Yeltsin to the rescue!

The Twilight 2000 PC game was based on the pen-and-paper RPG of the same name, first published in 1984 by the Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW).  It was a game of its time, with the Cold War raging and fears of nuclear Armageddon permeating the international consciousness.  Players assumed the role of soldiers trapped in Europe after the final offensive and counter-offensive between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The game had a cult following, but with the close of the Cold War, the appeal of the game began to wane.  A modified history was presented in the 1993 version of the game that attempted use the attempted coup against Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Federation, as the focal point of an alternate history, but never quite caught on.

Isometric exploration screen for Twilight 2000.

Isometric exploration screen for Twilight 2000.

 

Twilight 2000 combines tactical gameplay with RPG elements.  Your task is to complete missions with up to 20 soldiers.  Each of your team has different attributes, languages that they speak, and special abilities, all of which you set to make their unique personality.  Each personality will determine how your soldiers respond to your orders, so it’s important to choose wisely to avoid messy situations (not unlike the pen & paper version!).

Driving screen from Twilight 2000.

Driving screen from Twilight 2000.

The game unfolds in a variety of styles: there is a top-down map display; isometric tactical screens; front-on inventory screens; even a first-person 3-D driving mode (which was a bit ahead of its day, with polygon graphics and lighting effects based on time of day).  One of the more frustrating limits of the isometric display is that the game world, although continuous, requires new screen loads when changing locations.  This leads to frustration as you can miss an important item as it’s not on the current screen, but in gameworld terms, is only a few feet away.

Equipment screen from Twilight 2000.

Equipment screen from Twilight 2000.

The equipment screen shows off an impressive array of weaponry, armor, and general use items available to your soldiers.   Everything from Kevlar vests, various types of grenades, flashlights, thermal goggles, M-16s, Uzi’s, M9 pistols, even M203 grenade launchers!  This was the Diablo of the post-apocalyptic game genre, with something for everyone.  Yee-haw!

Map screen from Twilight 2000.

Map screen from Twilight 2000.

All in all, Twilight 2000 is a good PC game.  It’s certainly not perfect (and needed a few patches after its initial release), but it provides some decent gameplay in a well-crafted gameworld.  Pick up a copy and let the post-Apocalyptic good times roll!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_53e25MtVIA[/youtube]

You can download the game here

Panzer General

By the 1990′s, turn-based strategy war games had become highly specialized with a very thin customer base.  Most required a grognard’s ability to juggle multiple battle statistics at once, and had a limited visual appeal.  Then, in 1994, Strategic Simulations Incorporated (SSI) released Panzer General and the wargame genre transformed into a mass market product.

Panzer General game box

Panzer General game box.

Unlike real-time strategy (RTS) games, turn-based strategy games permit the user time to ponder their next move without having to press the pause button.  The drawback is that once you’ve committed your resources you must watch your turn – and your then your opponent’s – play out.  To state the obvious, chess is an example of turn-based strategy.

Typical combat screen in Panzer General

Typical combat screen in Panzer General.

Panzer General offered players both single scenario play, in which they could assume the role of an Allied or an Axis general, as well as a Campaign Mode, in which the player attempts to win World War II for Germany.  The campaign runs from 1939 to 1945, and as units gain battle experience, they become stronger, and the player (as general) gains access to upgrades and reinforcements – assuming they are victorious, that is.  If the player achieves their scenario objectives with five or more game turns to spare, it is considered a “Major Victory,” which unlocks further game elements.  Major Victories enable the player to alter history, such as invading Britain on the heels of victory in France, or even landing an invasion force in North America to capture Washington, D.C.

The invasion of Malta in Panzer General

The invasion of Malta in Panzer General

The game was published across several platform, including versions for the Panasonic 3D0 system, MS-DOS and Windows based computers, Sony PlayStation, and for the Macintosh.  It also spawned a plethora of sequels, including: the 5-Star Series (Allied General, Fantasy General, Pacific General, People’s General, and Star General), Panzer General II, Panzer General 3D Assault, Panzer General III: Scorched Earth, and Panzer General: Allied Assault.  Clearly gamers enjoyed wargames once again!

Furious combat in Panzer General.

Furious combat in Panzer General.

Panzer General was both well-reviewed and well-received by the gaming public.  Besides receiving high review scores from the critics, gamers just kept playing the game.  To this day, there are sites on the Internet devoted to this game, with hundreds of scenarios, new units, and even new features.  Mods are the fountain of youth for classic games, and Panzer General was no exception, as they managed to keep the game fresh and interesting years after its release.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2H6pnOZCUg[/youtube]

Ultimately, the game’s fabulous gameplay coupled with its genre-changing aspect make it a classic retro game that every retrogamer needs to play!

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

For those of us who remember well the 1980s, the phenomenally endowed Elvira – the campy TV persona of Cassandra Peterson – was and is much loved.  Dressed in gothic attire that tended to display her front-facing assets, Miss Peterson was a staple of the late night television viewing, and a highly recognizable advertising brand.  Many and diverse were her following, including myself…as I admit to being an Elvira acolyte.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Accolade tapped into this cult following with the 1990 release of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, a horror-themed PC adventure game with RPG elements.  The developer was the aptly named HorrorSoft, which focused primarily on making games in the horror genre.  HorrorSoft was actually Adventure Soft, and was sub-branded to give the company the ability to explore both a new genre and a new gaming engine.  Elvirawas HorrorSoft’s second game, their first being the somewhat enjoyable “Personal Nightmare”(featuring an appearance by Elvira), and they didn’t disappoint.  From the back of the box’s flavor text – “Can somebody help me find my chest?” – to the ending credits, Elvira was a fun game.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

You play a helpful adventurer in Elvira, brought in to rescue the lovely Mistress of the Dark from the dangers of her own castle.  It seems Elvira’s quite-dead grandmother wants to return to the Realm of the Living, and plans to unleash a horrific assault on her surroundings – and upon her errant granddaughter, too.  Poor Elvira wants nothing to do with her grandmother’s schemes, but she’s lacking her usual magical arsenal as all her potion ingredients and equipment is scattered throughout her castle, and she needs you to collect it all and return it to her, while dispatching the nasty creatures that her dear grandmother has prowling the corridors and rooms along the way.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Like many RPGs and adventure games, inventory management was a straightforward exercise.  As you explored your environment (all 800 locations of it), approximately 300 objects could be picked up and placed into your pack, which was represented by a grid at the bottom of the screen.  Some objects could interact with others to create more powerful items (such as potions ingredients combining into potions).  The combat mechanism was equally as simple, involving clicking on either the “thrust” or “parry” icons at the correct moments (not button-mashing them into a fine powder, a laDiablo).  Some of the magical potions and items improved your combat or defensive prowess, which was absolutely essential when facing some of the more terrifying castle denizens.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Elvira was released on several gaming platforms, including MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and Atari ST, and received favourable reviews.  Sales were sufficient to warrant a sequel, Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus.  HorrorSoft would go on to make one more horror-themed PC game, Waxworks, before the company was abandoned to focus on the rebirth of its parent, Adventure Soft Publishing, and the release of theirSimon the Sorcerer series.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

If you are a retrogaming horror junkie, or a classic adventure game aficionado, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a game well worth playing.  It has the right mix of humor and horror, action and exploration to warrant a place as my Retro Game of the Week, and is a worthy addition to any retro gaming collection!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwlaVJ35CdI[/youtube]

Empire Deluxe

Empire Deluxe (1993) title screen

If ever there was a game that could be pointed to and accredited for the “just one more turn” phenomenon in gaming, Empire Deluxe is it.  Released in 1993 by New World Computing, Empire Deluxe was an advanced and enhanced version of Empire: Wargame of the Century, which in turn was a version of Empire, first released in 1977 and coded in FORTRAN.  The early version of Empire was crude as the platforms it ran on, but was still addictive.  The 1987 Interstel Corporation release, Empire: Wargame of the Century, had the advantage of Mark Baldwin‘s graphic user interface, making it visual appealing, which helped the game garner “Game of the Year” honors from the influential Computer Gaming Magazine.  This success helped propel Empire Deluxe‘s sales forward, having the advantage of both a built-in user base as well as being a high quality game.  In fact, Empire Deluxe sold well, and remains a favorite game for many PC gamers, earning a spot on GameSpy.com’s “Top 50 Games of All Time” list.

Box art for Empire Deluxe

Box art for Empire Deluxe

Game play of Empire Deluxe is very familiar, as it should be considering it is the great-grandaddy of the entire RTS genre.  Each player starts with one city, and needs to develop his military strength to conquer the surrounding territory.  Military units are varied, and include infantry, armor, transports, destroyers, cruisers, submarines, battleships, aircraft carriers, fighters, and bombers.  Targets have differing defensive and offensive values, and not every city is easily conquered.  (In fact, conquering cities lowers their production capacity, and if a city changes hands often, it becomes almost useless as a source of production.)  Combat is straight-forward, with the winner moving into the loser’s square upon victory.  Exploration is key, and as players start on an island, building up a naval task force (with both exploratory and combat vessels) is necessary to achieve victory.

Empire Deluxe screen shot

Empire Deluxe screen shotEmpire Deluxe had three modes for aspiring world conquerors: Basic, Standard, and Advanced.  The Basic Mode was set up for beginners, with limits to the number and types of units available, simple production rules, and the elimination of the “fog-of-war” obscuration of the game map.  The Standard Mode used the “fog-of-war” feature, added a few more complications to the production rules, and permitted the use of a few more military units.  The Advanced Mode unlocked all the military units (from infantry to bomber!), added rules for terrain effects on movement and combat, presented the most complications for city production, and opened the game map to its largest size (200×200).

Rear box art for Empire Deluxe

Rear box art for Empire Deluxe

Some of the game industry’s brightest minds worked on custom maps for Empire Deluxe, including Will Wright (The Sims), Trevor Sorenson (Star Fleet), Don Gilman (Harpoon), and Noah Falstein (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis).  It seems obvious that the game’s influence throughout the industry is noticeably vast!  If you’ve never played a game of Empire Deluxe, you’re missing out on a piece of retro gaming history.  Between its history significance and the happy memories it invokes, Empire Deluxe is a true retrogaming classic!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxgI9LfahK0[/youtube]

Ascendancy

Some games are released and gain an instant cult following, yet do not find a larger audience with the larger PC gamer market.  Sometimes they are too quirky.  Sometimes the game’s instructions are confusing, and require a great deal of experimentation to learn and understand.  Sometimes the genre is experiencing market oversaturation, and no matter how good the game is, people are too tired of playing that kind of game.  Whatever the reason, great games have been released that did not find more than a toehold in the gamerverse, and disappeared into the mists of gaming history.  Ascendancy, released by The Logic Factory in 1995, was one such game.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Cover art for the 1995 PC game, Ascendancy.

Ascendancy was a turn-based strategy game set in a sci-fi universe, and gave the player several species options to choose from – 21 in all.  (Interestingly, Humans were not included as one of those races. )  Each species had its strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.   For instance, some races were better negotiators, some better scientists, some better weapon makers, some better at defending their turf, and some better at invasion.  How soon you met these other species depended on how dense of star cluster you chose at the beginning of the game.  The denser the cluster, the more planets existed, and more star lanes connecting them.  Those star lanes were the key to victory, as could be controlled by a particular alien race, and that control could vary as systems were conquered.  For even more variety, the computer randomized your opponents, which meant never knowing exactly what you faced; the game was different every time you played it.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Title screen for the 1995 PC game, Ascendancy.

An interesting feature of Ascendancy was the Tech Tree, which was a three-dimensional representation of the scientific advances that were available to the alien race.  As each discovery was made, new paths – branches – were opened for development.  The Logic Factory outdid itself with the names of the techno-advancements, with such titles as Tonklin Diary (which allows for Tonklin Frequency Analyzers) or Spacetime Surfing (which allows for Star Lane Drives) or Gravity Control (which allows for Quantum Singularity Launchers) or Momentum Deconservation (which allows for Concussion Shields), and so on.  Of course, you could jumpstart your research by locating and searching through alien ruins on the planets your fleet visited for lost technology, which was yet another random variable that made Ascendancy both ever-changing and immanently replayable.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Ascendancy was a wonderful game with a huge flaw: the AI.  Although casual gamers enjoyed the game’s challenge, more advanced gamers found the AI to be weak and easily mastered.  The Logic Factory responded by issuing a patch which greatly enhanced the game’s AI, but in 1995 few people were on the Internet, so the patch never found widespread release.   For those itching to play the original Ascendancy with the Antagonizer patch, here it is: ANTAGONIZER and README.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Planetary screen in Ascendancy

As could be expected in any multi-civilization strategy game, Ascendancy included a robust diplomacy element.  As new species discovered your existence, their attitudes and responses were influenced by how you reacted to them.  Peace treaties, hostilities, technology exchanges, invitations to join in current conflicts were examples of some of the outcomes resulting from an exchange of diplomatic pleasantries.  As in real life, species who considered you weak would make broader demands and reject overtures; species who considered you strong worked on making you their best friend.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Successful research screen in Ascendancy

Ascendancy was a quirky game, but it found a receptive audience due to its stellar gameplay.  It earned a 93% score and an Editor’s Choice award from PC Gamer, and received some high praise from the grognard’s grognard, William R. Trotter (which has an interesting story and legend surrounding the review and his subsequent strategy guide work on the same game).  Ascendancy also won a Codie Award for Best Strategy Software in 1996, in a field that included Allied General and Command & Conquer.  (Mind you, they gave the Best Adventure/Roleplaying Game award to Oregon Trail II that same year.)

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Searching the ruins in Ascendancy

Time has passed and the prospect of a sequel remain dim.  However, a new version built for the iPhone (and iPad) has been released, and has received some solid reviews from those who game on those platforms.  But for the retrogamer, the original Ascendancy remains supreme in turn-based space strategy exploration and conquest, and well worth investing a little time playing once again!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXm6DL3D4Ws[/youtube]

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

If there was one axiom in the PC gaming world back in the 1990′s, it was that LucasArts produced incredible adventure games.  So many went on to become cherised memories in the minds of gamers, such as The Secret of Monkey Island,Loom, and Day of the Tentacle, but also the subject of this edition of the Game of the Week: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis box front.

Fate of Atlantis was a superb Indiana Jones game because it featured all the aspects of an archetypal Indy adventure.  To begin with, Indy fought and competed against Nazi.  ”Nazis. I hate these guys.”  The best Indiana Jones stories cast Hitler’s ever-dangerous forces and sympathizers as the good professor’s main antagonists.  After all, who doesn’t hate the Nazis?  (I mean, besides extremist fringe political groups.)  They’re the quintessential villains for the time period: efficient, brutal, and seemingly omnipresent.  The second major aspect is the need for Indy to be on a quest for an artifact of extreme potency.  Finding an object to match the mystery and sheer majesty of the Ark of the Covenant or the Cup of Christ required shifting the religious overtones from traditional sources to the New Age movement.  Incorporating the alien, time-lost feel of the ultimate symbol of New Age mysticism, the lost city/continent of Atlantis, was a brilliant decision, and gave the game the same epic feel of the movies.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Splash page for Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

The man responsible for the Fate of Atlantis’ adherence to the Indy mythos was Hal Barwood.  Barwood had a broad background working in the film industry, including being credited for writing Stephen Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express, co-producing the box office flop/cult classic Dragonslayer, and writing the Gregory Peck World War II movie, MacArthur.  However, Barwood had a much more limited computer game background, having been involved in the production of a mere two titles (as “Special Guest Film Director” on The Secret of Monkey Island, and mysteriously credited as “Works like crazy!” on Monkey Island 2).  Still, LucasArts needed someone who thought in cinematic terms, so regardless of his relative inexperience in PC game design, Barwood was given the Big Chair for their next Indiana Jones project.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Exploring the ruins in Fate of Atlantis.

Barwood showed his good judgment immediately upon receiving the script for the yet to be titled Indiana Jones game.  The script was originally submitted as a potential movie script for a fourth Indiana Jones film, but had been rejected.  Barwood realized that the rejection was sound, as he stated, “It was rejected for a reason, though, and I thought it was hopeless.”  He and his co-designer, Noah Falstein, “marched down to George’s wonderful research library and started thumbing through Dark Mysteries of the Past -type coffee table books.”  There they came across an artist’s rendition of Atlantis, and immediately realized its potential as a game setting.  From there they decided that the game’s version of Atlantis needed to have some grounding in our reality, so they “decided to fasten on Plato’s reality to give the thing legitimacy.”  And with that as the foundation, Barwood proceeded to write out the plot of the game, birthing a true gaming classic in the process.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Atlantis as described by Plato in Timæus and Critias.

In some ways Fate of Atlantis was a typical LucasArts adventure, but in other ways, atypical.  The game used the SCUMM game engine (first used in Maniac Mansion, hence the abbreviation for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion).  It used 256-color VGA graphics, and had an outstanding audio score.  (Later versions would include digitized voices, and an inspired Indiana Jones sound-alike performance byDoug Lee.) Further, players traveled throughout a vast game world (200+ locations) searching for objects that helped solve a variety of puzzles.  Yet the differences Fate of Atlantis showed were remarkable.  For instance, unlike games such as Loom or The Secret of Monkey Island, the wrong decision in Fate of Atlantis could result in Indy’s death.  This was an interesting departure from the LucasArts Canon (detailed quite eloquently and yet most verbosely by Ron Gilbert in a 1989 missive, reprinted here).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Magazine ad for Fate of Atlantis.

Another key difference was that Fate of Atlantis included a multipath scenario for gameplay, which was originally envisioned by Noah Falstein, but left to Hal Barwoodto implement.  These paths had different playing styles, unique puzzles and situations, differing game world locations, and even alternate cutscenes.  The game paths had titles which indicated their favored strategies: the Fists Path, containing plenty of fist-fighting and an emphasis on action; the Team Path, which involved Indy adventuring with the game’s female love interest, Sophia Hapgood, and treated her as a kind of in-game hint book; and the Wits Path, which de-emphasized the action in favor of more and more complex puzzles to solve.  This was not a completely user-driven game world, however, as Fate of Atlantis always began and ended in the same way, with the option to select one of the three paths coming somewhat in the middle of the game.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Onboard a Nazi U-Boat in Fate of Atlantis.

Of course, even before Fate of Atlantis was released, Indiana Jones was already a cultural phenomenon.  There had been three movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and at the time of Fate of Atlantis’ release, a television series was in its first year of production (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles).  Games based on the movies had been released on several platforms, including Indiana Jones in the Lost Kingdom in 1984 (C64), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1987 (AmigaApple IIAtari ST, C64, DOS), Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients in 1987 (Apple II, DOS), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Action Game in 1989 (C64, DOS, Atari ST, Amiga), andIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure in 1989 (Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh).  In other words, this was a franchise with both a solid history and strong fan base.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

A Fist Fight in Fate of Atlantis!

Fate of Atlantis was released on several platforms, with versions for MS-DOS, Amiga, Macintosh, and FM Towns. As you can imagine, releasing the game on several gaming platforms ensured its best-seller status, selling over a 1 million copies (with the obvious caveat that the game was also good).  Fate of Atlantis was not only a hit among the buying public – it garnered many accolades among game critics, including “Best Adventure Game of the Year”  by Computer Game Review, a solid 90% game review from Amiga Power, and was even named #93 in the 150 Best Games of All Time list in 1996 by Computer Gaming World (CGW).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Indy swinging into action in Fate of Atlantis.

Ultimately, all the awards and positive reviews are meaningless if they don’t convince you to play the game – and enjoy it.  Yes, the graphics are dated compared to today’s 3-D visual masterpieces with photo-realistic images, but if you’re a retrogamer, the graphics aren’t your chief concern, the gameplay is.  And Fate of Atlantis delivers great gameplay with a professionally written story that immerses you into what could have easily been the fourth Indiana Jones movie script.  Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is highly recommended, and clearly deserving of its Game of the Week honor!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET_98IcvoTI[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

James Bond: The Stealth Affair

Long before GoldenEye established the gold standard for James Bond action games, 007 had a PC gaming presence, with games dating back as far as 1983 (the Commodore 64 game James Bond 007).  Most were based on the various Bond movies, and were either interactive fiction, such as James Bond: A View to a Kill(1984) and James Bond 007: Goldfinger (1986), or arcade action side/vertical scrollers, such as The Living Daylights (1987) or 007: License to Kill (1989).  Some were forgettable, some enjoyable, but the first graphic adventure James Bond adventure is today’s featured game: James Bond: The Stealth Affair.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for James Bond: The Stealth Affair

The story revolved around a missing F-19 stealth fighter, stolen from an American base and tracked (how did they do that?) to somewhere in Latin America.  Who did it? Could it be the Russians pulling a Red October or could it be some Latin American tinpot dictator or crime lord?  The danger of having a Latin American drug lord having stealth technology was sufficient to bring in the best troubleshooter in the business: James Bond.  The action began as fast as our man James stepped off his flight into the Santa Paragua airport, holding only a briefcase and his airline ticket, with the need to somehow get past a maddeningly efficient airport security guard.  “I don’t care who you are. In this country you are all outsiders.“  The game moved on from there, with a variety of puzzles to solve, as well as a few arcade action sequences to complete.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Splash title page for James Bond: The Stealth Affair

The Stealth Affair was a graphic adventure using a point&click interface, which means an inevitable pixel hunt.  The command menu was brought up by right-clicking the mouse, and consisted of EXAMINE, TAKE, INVENTORY, USE, OPERATE, and SPEAK.  Descriptions were provided when you used the EXAMINE command on objects, and you could either TAKE some items to later USE them in other situations, or OPERATE devices immediately.  You could not EXAMINE your INVENTORY, however.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

James Bond The Stealth Affair copy protection screen

Interestingly, The Stealth Affair was a James Bond adventure game title only in North America.  The game was originally released in Europe as Operation Stealth, and it wasn’t James Bond that was attempting to recover the missing stealth technology, it was agent John Glames.  The developer of The Stealth Affair was Delphine Software, based out of France.  Their previous hit was Future Wars, but would go on to produce some amazing games, including Out of This World (released as Another World in Europe), Flashback, and Fade to Black, among others.  Interplay Productions was the game publisher who distributed Delphine’s games, and whose logo was emblazoned upon the box covers of the North American versions.  It was Interplay who acquired the James Bond license and who initiated the change to the Operation: Stealth game from a generic spy adventure game to playing 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The powers-that-be decided that the James Bond franchise was a bankable commodity, so they altered all instances of John Glames into James Bond.  In addition, some of the action sequences were removed, presumably to make for easier gameplay, and some of the bad French to English game text was reworded. Oddly both Bond and Glames were working for the CIA, which to a Bond enthusiast, is a serious faux pas.  But I digress.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for Operation Stealth

The game simply begged for Sean Connery voiceovers, but, alas, the IBM PC version lacked digitized voices.  Darn technology and/or budget limitations!  However, the Amiga version had synthesized voices (with 1 MB or higher RAM), but a serious bug in the code can lead to a full system crash if using the player got tired of listening to the dialogue and attempted to click through with the mouse button.  As one of the attention-challenged brethren of gamers, that’s a serious flaw that exploits a common weakness!

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Why is James Bond working for the C.I.A.?

The Stealth Affair was released on three formats in North America: IBM PC (MS-DOS), Amiga, and Atari ST.  Reviews were generally favorable, with .info giving the game 4.5 out of 5 stars in their March 1991 issue, stating that, “No Bond fan should miss this one.”  However, some reviewers were more ambivalent towards the game, such as the review in the May 1991 issue of Compute!, wherein the game is described as, “Controlled by either keyboard or mouse, the Bond of The STEALTH Affair moves and acts in a manner like that of his namesake in latter-day 007 movies-that is, choppy and silly, trading the quiet sophistication of Ian Fleming’s hero for a goofy nonchalance.”  Still, accepting the technology limitations of its day, James Bond: The Stealth Affair was a fun game.  Perhaps not worthy of the top 100 games of all time, but still in the running for the next one hundred, and well-worth a look by any retrogamer yearning for a spy-based adventure game!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pU7sQE2GE5M[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Wolf

“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this instalment: Wolf, a unique 1994 simulation game by Sanctuary Woods that placed gamers in the role of canis lupus seeking to survive in a sometimes hostile environment.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Perhaps a game about learning how to be a wolf, the dangers they face, and what challenges they overcome does not sound like it would be fun, but it was. Wolf was a unique simulation, and a completely different subject matter than what gamers had ever seen before. The 40-some scenarios were fascinating, and included diverse goals: hunting down caribou to avoid starvation, challenging the alpha male pack leader for control of the pack, and even just surviving a single day in their stark environment. For the comprehensive wolf experience a player could choose to play the campaign mode, which ran them through the full gambit of the wolf life cycle.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Settings screen for the PC game, Wolf

The game mechanics really sold the “be-a-wolf” concept. Sound effects of birds and other noises of nature provided ambience, while the graphics were crisp and the scenic vistas marvellous to look at. As your wolf travelled it became either hungry or thirsty, and needed to be satiated. The game simulated a wolf’s incredible sense of smell by showing various scents that your wolf discovered, some close, some far, and all trackable. Humans were a severe danger and were to be avoided at all costs, and could be detected by both sound and scent. You could even howl!

shakira

Whoops, wrong howling; wrong wolf.

Fortunately, the game designers didn’t just read a Jack London book and whip up a game based on it. Wolf Haven, a wolf reserve near Olympia, Washington, was tapped to provide the expert knowledge on what challenges wolves face and what behaviors they exhibit. Wolf Haven is a nonprofit organization devoted to the study and conservation of wolves, and has around 80 acres of land used for the purpose. They have been in existence since 1982, and continue to provide sanctuary for wolves today…and they even offer group tours! (The game designers even based five of the wolves portrayed in the game on actual wolves that lived within Wolf Haven.) With this level of expertise behind them, it’s not surprising that Sanctuary Woods was able to offer a world-class simulation that both educated and entertained.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Winter hunting in the PC game, Wolf

Critics agreed on the quality gameplay of Wolf, winning the “Best Game of the Show” Award from Electronic Games at its debut at the Winter, 1994 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as well as earning praise from such heavy-hitters as PC Gamer Magazine, receiving a score of 88% and a PC Gamer Editor’s Choice award.  It performed well enough to merit a sequel, Lion, which followed the life of the King of Beasts on the Savannah. All in all, Wolf was a great game, and well worth locating a copy and playing, even today!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbXEvWfWoF0[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Pirates

Once upon a time it was a lot more avante-guard to be a pirate, long before the unwashed masses embraced the Disney Jack Sparrow movie juggernaut, and even before some wag convinced enough people to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.  In the heady days of the dawn of the PC graphic adventure, pirates were nothing more than literary devices or the stuff of all things dastardly; pirates portrayed in PC games were more Blackbeard or Captain Hook than Errol Flynn. And then along came Sid Meier.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier is a gaming legend today, a name that is as much a brand and promise of great gameplay, but in 1987, this was not the case.  To be sure, Sid Meier’s name already carried some weight in the simulation community, as a designer of games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service.  His games were always enjoyable and well-coded, but more importantly, sold well.  The marketing gurus at MicroProse suspected that people were buying Sid Meier games because they were designed by Sid Meier, so it seemed reasonable to help make their buying decisions for them by announcing his involvement directly in the product title.  From this reasoning the very first game to feature “Sid Meier’s…” in the game title was born: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Sid Meier – Gamer godThe game was for single players, made long before the mad, lemming-like multiplayer rush of today that all gaming companies seem to have embraced.  (Wait, was that an editorial?)  It was an open-ended game, letting the player make the choices on where to travel and what to do, with the only caveat being that eventually the player’s character would grow too old to continue on the pirate’s path, and would retire.  Depending on what actions the player took (that is, what rewards and successes they achieved during the game), the game would then give a litany of how their character lived the rest of their days, from a lowly beggar in the streets to the prestigious role as adviser to the King.  The game world itself was created using a series of questions-and-answers, beginning with what pirate era the player wanted to play within (1560: The Silver Empire; 1600: Merchants and Smugglers; 1620: The New Colonists; 1640: War for Profit; 1660: The Buccaneer Heroes; and 1680: Pirates’ Sunset).  This was followed by which nationality they wished to be (Dutch Adventurer, English Buccaneer, French Buccaneer, or Spanish Renegade), which Difficulty Level they wished to play in (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer, or Swashbuckler).  Finally, a Special Ability was chosen: Skill at Fencing, Skill at Gunnery, Skill at Medicine, Skill at Navigation, or Wit and Charm, each with its own advantages (for instance, Wit and Charm was used to keep on a Governor’s good side; whereas Skill at Medicine kept injuries to a minimum and prolonged the character’s life).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Swordplay in Sid Meier’s Pirates!The game world was then generated from these questions.  Of course, the final variable was the copy protection, which requested when either the Silver Train or the Spanish Treasure Fleet arrived in a particular city.  Failure to provide the correct answer stacked the odds so far against the player that even the game manual stated, “Heed the advice and start over, otherwise you’ll find your situation most bleak.”  Takethat, software pirates!  Actually, in some ways the manual was as interesting as the game, as there was a wealth of historical information on pirates and the historical context within which they plied their trade.  Well worth reading!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Decisions, decisions in Sid Meier’s Pirates!

As for actual gameplay, the live of a pirate was sometimes short, but always challenge-filled and exciting, which the player soon discovered for themselves.  Since a pirate fought with a sword, fencing was part of the game.  Since pirates sailed the seas to prey upon treasure-laden ships, navigation and naval combat was part of the game.  Since pirates often sold their loot to merchants (money laundering was alive and well in the pirate era), trade was part of the game.  Since pirates sometimes sacked small townships, that, too was part of the game.  Since pirate ships didn’t magically manifest crewmembers to sail the seven seas, recruitment was part of the game, and since a silver tongue helped a pirate live a longer life, diplomatic contact with town governors was also part of the game.  All in all, this was an impressive pirate simulation.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! Gold for the Sega Genesis

If the Career Mode was too large of a time investment, Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered six historically accurate scenarios to test your swashbuckling mettle.  Each scenario was in a different time period, and each offered unique challenges to overcome.  These scenarios were: John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua  – 1569 (wherein you have a slow, but powerful galleon to command, with many ports unwilling to trade and a fleet not powerful enough to force them to comply); Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush – 1573 (can you match the verve and skill Drake showed battling the Spanish Fleet at the height of their power with only two small ships?); Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet – 1628 (your fleet is powerful, but the season is late and finding the treasure ships is becoming a difficult task and will take expert planning to locate and dispatch); L’Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo – 1666 (an abundance of manpower but a shortage of powerful vessels make ship-to-ship battles difficult, but port sacking attractive, with the additional challenge of the fragile nature of your men’s morale);Henry Morgan the King’s Pirate – 1671 (the dangers of having a powerful pirate fleet in both naval power and manpower in that you must keep everyone fed, content and treasure laden to succeed); and Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition – 1697 (the munchkin scenario, in which you have a large strike force and a more than reasonable certainty to win any battle, making the only challenge how much treasure can you loot?).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was first released in 1987 on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM PC (PC Booter) platforms.  It was quickly ported over to the Macintosh (1988), Amstrad (1988), Commodore Amiga (1990), and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991).  It would be remade in 1993 with improved graphics and sound, then published under the title Pirates! Gold, for IBM PC (both DOS and Windows), Macintosh, and – because Nintendon’t – the Sega Genesis. The remakes didn’t end there, as it was again remade in 2004 for Windows XP, returning to its original title ofSid Meier’s Pirates!, and then again in 2008 for mobile devices, imaginatively calledSid Meier’s Pirates! Mobile.  Perhaps in the next decade it will be remade once again.  (I recommend they try Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold as the title for next time.)

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Pirates! Gold

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was not only popular amongst gamers, it also performed well in the eyes of the gaming press.  It was awarded “Action Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World, and also the Origin Award for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987”.  The game also ranked at #18 in the Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time.  Clearly, this game has remained in the gaming public’s eye for a reason, making Sid Meier’s Pirates! a worthy addition to anyone’s game collection.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2RigX8BVlc[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

American McGee’s Alice

American McGee’s Alice

In the aftermath of Doom and Doom II‘s critical and financial success, many software companies sought to duplicate id Software’s successes.  Some chose to attempt to out-Doom Doom, bringing forth various first-person shooters in an attempt to capture the same market.  Some chose the classic business maneuver of poaching talent, seeking to duplicate the successes of id Software by tempting their brightest minds away with a van full of candy.  American James McGee (yes, that’s his name; no, it’s not a nickname), whose resume included everything from being a tester onWolfenstein 3D, to a level designer for Doom II, to a co-producer for Hexen: Beyond Heretic, was one of those targets.  At the tender age of 28, McGee jumped ship to Electronic Arts in 1998, and was given free rein to direct, write, and design the game of his own choosing.  That game, of course, was American McGee’s Alice.

American McGee’s Alice

Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass had long since passed into the public domain, and several new visions of the setting had already come to pass in cinema, literature, and gaming (such as Wonderland).  However, McGee’s take on the Alice mythos pushed its darkness further into the open.  The game begins with a tragic house fire claiming the lives of young Alice’s family, sending her spiralling into despair and catatonia.  For years she remains within a sanitarium, until one day the White Rabbit returns – not the delightful White Rabbit of her youth, but a somewhat bedraggled White Rabbit, its absent-mindedness no longer charming, but eerie.  Once again Alice follows it into Wonderland, where all is not as it was: the Cheshire Cat is mangy and underfed (but still smiling); the Duchess and the Mad Hatter want to kill her; and the Red Queen rules with a bloody, iron fist.

The level design was absolutely stunning in its 3-D dark surrealism. Alice follows the White Rabbit into the Village of the Damned, where she is reintroduced to the Cheshire Cat, and can locate the Vorpal Blade so she can go all snicker-snack on her opponents.  Next comes the Vale of Tears, a foggy realm that is home to the ravenous Duchess and the poor Mock Turtle who needs his shell back.  Other areas include finding the wise Caterpillar in the Cave of the Oracle; experiencing the chessboard realm of the White Queen; the twisted version of Rutledge Asylum that houses Tweedledum and Tweedledee, as well as the Mad Hatter; the volcanic lair of the Jabberwocky; and the final castle level of the Queen of Hearts. Each level shows the strength of American McGee’s talent for level design as well as the versatility of theQuake III Arena game engine it uses to bring it all to life.

Another element important to the atmosphere of American McGee’s Alice is its aural component, including the voice acting, sound effects, and musical score.  On this front, the game excels.  The voice acting was performed by professional voice actors, with experience in film, television and gaming projects, such as Roger Jackson (who voiced the Cheshire Cat, the Jabberwocky, and the Dormouse…as well as the telephone voice for the Scream movies), Susie Brann (who was the voice of Alice), Andrew Chaikin (who voiced the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare), Anni Long (who voiced the Red Queen and The Duchess), and Jarion Monroe (who voiced the Caterpiller).  As for the game’s soundtrack,  Chris Vrenna (who drummed for Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails for 8 years), approached the challenge of composing the music for the game by looking for instrumentation that sounded like they could be from the Alice’s era, but also having a “creepy” or “bizarre” sound that “created a mood”.   To this end he used toy pianos, penny whistles, toy accordions, wind-up musical boxes, zippers, grandfather clocks, and more.  Ultimately, between the eerie music and the wonderful voice acting, the game fulfills all its audio expectations.

American McGee’s Alice - PC

Of course, American McGee’s Alice is not a perfect game. The level design is brilliant, but the gameplay has its pedestrian moments. For instance, if you are a fan of games that require platform-style jumping to avoid enemies, locate items and switches, and to find level exits, this is the game for you. For those that find all this leaping about a tad annoying…not so much. It’s best to familiarize yourself with the controls for jumping quickly in this game, as you will be doing a lot of it. However, if you can get past that, the rest of the gameplay has enough variation to keep the player wanting more.

American McGee’s Alice - PC

American McGee’s Alice proved popular enough to inspire a toy line from Milo’s Workshop.  These limited movement action figures featured Alice with the Cheshire Cat, the Card Guards, the Jabberwocky, the Caterpillar, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit.  The quality is similar to Todd McFarlane’s toy line, and were released from 2000 through 2004, and continue to have some value on the collector market.

It’s been over 10 years since Electronic Arts released the game that gave us all a disturbing insight into the mind of former id Software level designer American McGee.  That’s right, American McGee’s Alice was released in October, 2000, so those who remember buying it on its release date, should take a moment to realize time is marching on.  For those who never played this classic PC game, pay your respects to those of us who did.  After all, we’re probably Elders of the gaming community at this point.  With the sequel finally being released, do yourself a favor and play the original.  Your Elders demand it.

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

In 1996, Activision released Zork: Nemesis, a visually-stunning game, but with an overtly dark theme and a serious – even intense – game atmosphere, very unlike any other game in the Zork series.  (So dark, in fact, that the Infocom label was not included on the box!)  Nemesis was a great game, but something had to be done to bring back the humor and irreverence of all things Zork.  And so, a year later, in 1997, Activision released a new game in the Zork / Enchanter series, set 580 years before Return to Zork, and with an eye to bringing the series back to its roots – Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The story behind Zork: Grand Inquisitor was fairly basic: magic has been banned by the merciless Inquisition, and the Dungeon Master has been trapped within a trusty adventurer’s lantern.  The player is called upon by the Dungeon Master – “I shall call you ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous, adventurer person. AFGNCAAP for short. ” – to restore the magic outlawed by the Inquisition in Quendor.  To do so, AFGNCAAP must locate the lost Zorkian magical treasures of the Coconut of Quendor, the Skull of Yoruk, and one of the Cubes of Foundation, with which a torrent of magic will be released, defeating the plans of the Grand Inquisitor and his minions.  Sounds easy, right?

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The technology used by Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a modified version of the Z-Vision game engine first used in Zork: Nemesis.  A full lateral sweep of 360 degrees was available to the player, but not any vertical movement (with a couple of exceptions based on unique scenes at GUE Tech and at the Flathead Mesa).  Human characters were portrayed by actors in full motion video, while non-human characters, such as Marvin the Goatfish, were clay models which were then digitized and animated.  Zork: Grand Inquisitor used lighting effects to draw the eye of the player to explorable areas, permitting the player to spend more time engrossed in puzzle-solving rather than the standard mouse click-fest and hunt-and-click routines of many adventure games.

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The voice acting was superb, with Hollywood-class talent giving life to the various characters, which included Michael McKean (as the lantern-trapped Dungeon Master, Dalboz of Gurth) and David L. Lander (whom many will recall played Squiggy inLaverne & Shirley, as the font of ridiculous proclamations, the Voice of the Inquisition).  Some of the actors involved who had both visual and audio parts included Dirk Benedict as Antharia Jack, Rip Taylor as Chief Undersecretary Wartle, and Erick Avari, as Mir Yannick, the pompous, over-his-head but desperately attempting to fake it, Grand Inquisitor.  The effect was to improve the gameplay, especially during cutscenes, which can be excruciating when players are forced to watch the programmer’s second cousin who once acted in a school play gamely work their way through a script. *shudder*

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Zork: Grand Inquisitor received good reviews (PC Gamer Magazine gave it an Editor’s Choice award and scored it at 88% in its May, 1988 issue, while GameSpot scored it as a 8.0 “Great”).  The biggest fault that reviewers agreed upon was that it seemed too short, and a longer visit in this archetypical gamer universe was wished for.  Now that’s a complaint any developer would like to hear!  It was released for both Windowsand Macintosh platforms, and played the same on either one.  Also, a DVD version was released in 1998, which also included the full version of Zork: Nemesis as an added bonus.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82fq5ylrOgg[/youtube]

Never forget who is the boss of you. ME!  I am the boss of you!“  Combining the visual appeal of Zork: Nemesis with the humor of the original series, Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a laudable addition to the Zork milieu, and certainly a worthy entry into this Game of the Week series.  Bluntly put, this game is well-worth a playthrough, especially if you are a fan of the Zork series!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

The 7th Guest

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

It can be argued that The 7th Guest was responsible for the popularization of the CD-ROM format, as it predates the other pioneering CD-ROM superseller, MYST.  The atmospheric horror/puzzle hybrid was a smash hit at a time when CD-ROM drives were not ubiquitous across the PC gaming world.  With over 2 million copies of the game sold, CD-ROM manufacturers noted that their sales quadrupled in the aftermath of this game’s release.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The game begins with the background story of how Henry Stauf went from a tramp to a rich toymaker. From there, the player finds himself trapped in an ominous-looking mansion with six other “guests” trying to piece together what has happened to them.  Their host, the enigmatic and wicked Henry Stauf, challenges them to a game with the winner achieving his or her heart’s desire.  But you are not an invited guest, and the game you must win is for possession of your very soul.  Scenes of what has already transpired are shown to you as you solve each of the puzzles, culminating in a final confrontation with Stauf himself, all done in a first-person perspective.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

This was a game like no other before it.  First, it was BIG.  At a time when game companies were packing 1.44 MB of code on multiple 3.5” diskettes, The 7th Guestclocked in over an astounding 770 MB on two CDs.  The reason for that massive size was the full-motion video used to propel the player through the mystery, as well as the prologue and epilogue of each puzzle.  With superior production quality and professional actors, the game’s cut-scenes were enjoyable to watch.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

An interesting feature of The 7th Guest was how the music, composed by George “The Fatman” Sanger, interacted with the story.  Each character had its own rendition of “The Game” – the main theme music of the game, which played when that character was on the screen.  If two or more characters were on the screen at once, the musical variations were woven together. This led to a heightened mood and better storytelling, and was just one more example of the game’s professional production.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The 7th Guest is legendary for the hype that surrounded its development.  From the first demo shown to the gamer masses during the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in 1992, the anticipation building to its eventual release in 1993 seemed to indicate either that The 7th Guest would be an amazing game or a bitter disappointment.  Judging by the sales this title achieved, “disappointment” was not a word used to describe The 7th Guest.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The game’s creators, Rob Landeros (a graphic artist) and Graeme Devine (a programmer for Virgin MasterTronics) followed the success of The 7th Guest with a sequel, The 11th Hour.  Although their company, Trilobyte, was initially flush with cash from the success of The 7th Guest, increasing tensions from divergent visions of the company’s future and spiraling production costs exhausted their funds, and eventually their partnership sundered.  However, in 2004, another gaming company, Lunny Interactive, announced the reunion of both Devine and Landeros and the imminent development of the long-awaited third game in the series, The Collector. Six years later, the game is merely another vaporware legend, which is really unfortunate, as the gaming world could always use a little more Stauf to play with!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUvqkdtXMPY[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

SimCity: The City Simulator

Sim City - PC - Box

If there ever was a game that you weren’t really sure if you were playing a game or using an educational tool…but you didn’t care because it was so much fun, SimCity: The City Simulator was it.  Published by Maxis Software in 1989, SimCity was written by a young Will Wright (he of the incredibly addictive The Sims fame), and would go down as one of the most influential and popular games in gaming history.

In SimCity, players had to construct an entire metropolis starting from nothing but a bulldozer and random terrain.  Along the way to full city status sims begin to populate your city and make demands.  They may need more housing or shopping centers; perhaps crime is rampant and a police station is needed; maybe frequent brown outs are creating a demand for a new power station; perhaps your sims are bored and want a stadium…and so on.  Meanwhile, the city needed just the right level of taxes to encourage growth, yet still pay for all those fire and police stations.  Random emergencies could wreak havoc on your city, with tornadoes devastated entire zones, earthquakes leveling buildings, airplanes crashing and resulting fires requiring immediate response.  If you guided your city with a steady hand, your tax coffers filled up and your sims considered you Simsville’s best Mayor ever.  If you failed to keep on top of the ever-changing developments within your city you could find yourself in the ranks of the unemployed.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Although the core of the game was designed for open-ended gameplay, the game also included scenarios which revolved around achieving a specific goal within a certain time period.  These were based on both past situations as well as possible futures that urban planners had already had to solve or were in the process of planning for.  The past scenarios included dealing with crime-ridden and an economically-depressed Detroit in 1972; a post-earthquake San Francisco in 1906, and rebuilding Hamburg at the end of World War II (this one was only in the IBM PC, Amgia, and Atari ST version).  Future scenarios included Boston suffering a nuclear plant meltdown and Rio de Janeiro flooding from global warming.  There was even a fantastic scenario based upon the classic Godzilla movies, wherein the player had to rebuild Tokyo after an attack from the King of the Monsters.  Further scenarios were released in the SimCity Graphic Set 1: Ancient Cities and SimCity Graphic Set 2: Future Cities.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The path to SimCity’s initial release wasn’t an easy one.  Originally titled “Micropolis,” Will Wright, its creator, developed it for the Commodore 64, a platform he had previous success in with the now-classic, Raid on Bungling Bay.  By 1985 the game was ready to go, but he couldn’t find a dance partner willing to publish it, as the powers-that-be struggled with its open path gameplay and lack of winners versus losers.  He believed in the potential of what he had coded, so he partnered with Jeff Braun (a successful publisher of font packs for the Commodore Amiga) and founded Maxis Software in 1987, and sought the rights to publish his game with his own company.  After two more years of code changes and legal wrangling (which included cementing Broderbund Software as Maxis Software’s distribution agent), SimCity was brought before the gaming public.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Interestingly, although Will Wright had originally coded Micropolis for the C64, the first platforms SimCity was released on were the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga, followed by IBM PC (MS-DOS) and then the Commodore 64.  EventuallySimCity: The City Simulator would be ported to the Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, and even the Super Nintendo.   The game was, of course, a smash hit, and garnered several gaming awards, including: Best Computer Strategy Game (Video Games & Computer Entertainment), Game of the Year (Computer Gaming World), Best Consumer Program (Software Publisher’s Association), and many, many more.  Its legacy is also well-recognized, earning a top ten position on the still-respected Computer Gaming World’s 150 Game of All Timelist.

 

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The legacy of SimCity is more than just accolades, as its incredible success motivated Maxis Software to publish many variations on the theme: SimAntSimIsle,SimCopterSimLifeSimFarmSimEarthStreets of SimCitySimTown, and SimSafari.  Maxis even picked up the publishing rights for two similar Japanese games, A-Trainand Yoot Tower (which was renamed SimTower to take advantage of the sim-craze).  SimCity also spawned several sequels and remakes, including SimCity Classic(updated for Windows), SimCity Enhanced CD-ROM (which added FMV to the SimCity experience), SimCity 2000SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, and SimCity Societies.  And, of course, there is a direct link between Will Wright’s SimCity: The City Simulator and his epic seller, The Sims (and all its subsequent sequels and expansion packs).  Clearly,SimCity had a huge impact on the gaming universe.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Sadly, Maxis Software did not last as an independent company.  Although Maxis had been partnered with Broderbund since its inception, by 1995 they hired their own sales team and launched their IPO, taking Maxis public for the first time.  Unfortunately, the buzz from SimCity 2000‘s success had long worn off, and the pressure to fulfill the stock analysts’ projections took its toll on the company.  Wright and the other designers were pressured to abide by a strict deadline in 1996, with Maxis’ management team demanding all four games in development by released.  The designers complied, but the games they published that year did not catch the gamerverse on fire (I’m looking at YOU, SimCopter), and the share price of the new company which had such an incredible history slide precipitously.   In 1997, Electronic Arts made $120 million stock offer that they couldn’t refuse, making Will Wright and Jeff Braun very wealthy young men.  For his part, Braun became the biggest shareholder of Electronic Arts, and gave him the ability to invest in a variety of technology companies.  As for Will Wright, the money afforded him the time to do what he most loved – and did best – in developing new games.  Thanks, Electronic Arts!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzHVcvZw_7Q[/youtube]

If you’ve never played SimCity: The City Simulator, you’ve missed out on an integral piece of gaming history.  For a retro gamer, it’s still as fun as it always was, which is a sign of just how well it was crafted by Will Wright.  Between great gameplay and a long-lasting legacy, SimCity deserves to be on anyone’s best games of all time list.  Pick up a copy and see for yourself!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Top Ten: TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games

TurboGrafx-16

When gamers look back at the heyday of the Genesis/NES wars, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 is often overlooked.  That’s a darn shame – as big a shame today as it was back in the 1990s, as the TurboGrafx video game system had some quality games that are still fun to play today.  Just for kicks and giggles, here are what I consider the Top 10 huCard (in no particular order) games for this forgotten system.  One more caveat: the CD games aren’t on this list – they’re for another day!

Bonk’s Adventure / Bonk’s Revenge / Bonk 3

bonks adventure
What can you say about this classic game of caveman versus his world.  How can you not like a character that gains enormous health and power from eating giant, meaty bones or who dispatches his enemies by smacking them with his granite-like head?  I’ll always like the first game the best simply due to its original charm, but the others in the series were gold, too, so they’ve been bunched together as some of the best games ever for the T-16 system!

 

Blazing Lazers

blazing lazers
How about a game that filled the screen with non-stop arcade action – alien ships coming in wave after wave of attack runs, but dropping just the right kind of power-ups to keep your thumbs mashing the pad until defeating each level boss and getting a breather?  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Blazing Lazers was AWESOME.

 

Neutopia / Neutopia II

neutopia
Wait a minute – is this game a Zelda game or not?  Well, it sure played like Zelda, even if it just “borrowed” elements of the classic NES series.  Jazeta strapped on his sword and shield and searched for the eight Medallions that would spell defeat for Dirth, the wizard with a bad attitude.  Charge up the Fire Wand and help Link Jazeta burn his way to success!

 

Military Madness

military madness
Tell me again why we’re fighting the Axis-Xenon scum for the right to control the Moon?  Who cares – this was a turn-based strategy wargame for a console system…and it didn’t suck!  The game’s victory music still pops unbidden into my thoughts (atmostly appropriate times).

 

Alien Crush / Devil’s Crush

alien crush
I never thought I’d sit in front of my television and play a pinball game for hours, but that was before Alien Crush showed me what a good pinball game looked like.  And Devil’s Crush upped the ante even more.  Great graphics, speed, table feel…these were some great pinball games.

 

Bomberman

bomberman
Who wants to play a five-player TurboGrafx-16 game and blow up all your friends?  If you had a TurboTap and enough TurboPads, this game was the ultimate multi-player game for the T-16 system.  Of course, if you had NO friends, the game had a decent single-player mode, too, which, considering many gamers in the 90s didn’t see the sun until the Millennium Bug scared them into going outside to forage for supplies, was a good thing.  By the way, if you had two TurboExpress handheld systems you could link them and play head-to-head.

 

Splatterhouse

splatterhouse
Did you ever want to put on a hockey mask, pick up a weapon, and lay a beating down on the hapless evil denizens of a haunted house?  Don’t worry about your psyche, so did everyone else.  Lots of gore (not as much as the Japanese version, though) made this a controversial game and gave it a cult following even before its release.

 

Cadash

cadash
Another super RPG for the TurboGrafx-16, Cadash gave the player the opportunity to play a fighter (heavily armoured and packing a mean damage rating), a mage (with magical firepower), a priestess (a decent fighter who can heal herself), or a ninja (a FAST little guy with the ability to reign death by shuriken from afar or use a spread fire ability to burn enemies to ash).  The game had plenty of Zelda II elements (shades of Neutopia!), and remains a T16 collector favorite to this day.

 

Dungeon Explorer

dungeon explorer
Long before there were MORPGs letting gamers explore virtual fantasy worlds together, your choices for multiplayer RPG action were slim. Until Dungeon Explorer arrived, that is, with the ability to play with up to four more of your friends (using the TurboTap).  You could even save your progress with a password save game feature!

 

The Legendary Axe

legendary axe
This game was hard.  And I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this when it came out.  It was also a visual/audio masterpiece that garnered a Video Game of the Year honor from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.  A game that redefines an entire genre (the platform sidescroller) deserves to be on any TurboGrafx-16 Top Ten list!

 

Honorable mentionJ.J. & Jeff

jj-jeff
OK, I played Leisure Suit Larry when it came out, and loved the infantile humor, but up to J.J. & Jeff, I never saw a steaming pile of defecation in a video game before.  Although the North American version of this game was much tamer than the Japanese version (no public urination, for example), it still had some punch to shock and titillate the North American puritan audience.

 

Have a different Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 list?  Leave a comment with your favorites – and don’t forget to say why!