Hearts of Iron III

Cover

Hearts of Iron III is not just a strategy game, it is a strategy simulator. This game is the definitive World War 2 simulator. It takes all the aspects of World War 2 into a game where you plan the war by the hour as if you were the leader of a real nation. It is an interesting hybrid between being turn based strategy and real time strategy. On one hand it is a pausable RTS game, on the other hand, the game has the hour as the basic unit of time which means if you slow the game down, it plays like a turn based game. This is especially useful if you want to track the war step by step, in this case hour by hour. As the ruler of the nation, not the general, you only make the large scale strategic decisions, not the tactical decisions, which are all taken care of by your generals.

As the leader you also take care of diplomacy which is unlike other strategy games where you can “talk” however often you want, and about whatever you want. Again like in real life you spend intellectual manpower to send diplomats abroad on missions such as negotiating trade agreements including not just trade of goods, but debt related issues, and paying for a country to produce units for you. There is also the political aspect of diplomacy, where you can sign defensive pacts, non-aggression pacts, even alliances. Most importantly, if you are part of one of three “factions”, the Axis, Western Allies, or Communist Allies, you can use diplomacy to influence other countries to align with you over time. If you are playing as a neutral country, you can just align yourself with a nation, so if you want to be the axis leader of Sweden, this game is for you :D.

Let me pause for a moment and say that unlike other games, this game includes every country that existed during World War 2, and you have the choice of playing any one of them. You can even play as a commonwealth country independently of Britain.

You also get to control production and the distribution of the production to different industries, however I have no idea how this game works for capitalist countries as I’ve only played fascist and communist countries in this game. I have picked up hints that you have less of a degree of control over your country in weaker governments, which is not the most appealing gameplay to me, but to each his own.

There is the brainpower aspect of the war, mainly: politics, technology, and espionage. These elements of gameplay are separate but interdependent. One thing to notice is that under the technology tab in the game, you not only control which technology your country is researching but how brainpower is distributed among the other categories mentioned above. In politics, you really cannot change your government system, but you can change your different political policies from social to economic issues. This is the political playground for those of you who want to test out your political beliefs (just kidding, social and economic policies are already set for you by the government in power and its ideologies. However, you do have control over things like conscription laws, degree of freedom in your country, how much emphasis on education or industry or military mobilization etc.). Political support for parties can change slowly over time, meaning if you are a republican country, you must beware of not being re-elected.

Finally, regarding espionage, you can do classical spying, or get involved in sabotage and political mingling. The only weakness of this game is the espionage, where you don’t really have control over the numerical amount of spies you send per country, although you can set priorities for them on a scale of zero to three, and you can only have one spy mission per country even if you have multiple spies. Other than that this game makes absolute perfect historical sense, and you will feel as if you are making real decisions for your country if you are playing this game.

The only other detail that is inaccurate is the german flag. We all realize that the Nazis were responsible for the genocides of around 30-40 million civilians but that does not mean that one should sacrifice a historically accurate flag with a swastika on it to make the game “politically correct”. Simply displaying a flag in a game should not equal support for that regime, especially when it is displayed to identify people of that regime. That way of thinking is so erroneous, I can accuse paradox interactive of supporting communism because they displayed the historically correct soviet flag in the game for the soviet union. Instead, the game designers have identified Germany with the flag of the German monarchy, which is even more offensive to monarchists as that is saying that the Nazis who killed 30-40 million, and the king of Germany who only cared for the well being of his people above all, are the same people.

Hearts of Iron 3 Italy
Hearts of Iron 3 Italy

Ratings:

Historical Accuracy: 5 out of 5

I would go as far as calling this game a historical simulator. This doesn’t mean that the computer artificially make sure certain events happen, but it makes sure the game makes historical sense if the leader of the nation was you instead of *insert historical leader here*. Aside from the fact that the flag of Nazi Germany in this game is the flag of the German monarchy for some reason, this game follows historical detail to the finest details. It should be really appealing for people who are World War 2 buffs.

Realism: 5 out of 5

The game is truly epic in scale and you get to experience all aspects of being a leader. I cannot describe even the basic details in a few sentences.

Difficulty: 5 out of 5

If it isn’t obvious already, a game with fine detail like this game is harder to learn than most games out there. The task seems overwhelmingly impossible at first, however if you are willing to put the time and effort, if takes only a day or two to learn. I suggest starting by choosing “The Gathering Storm” historical start, then find Spain on the map and choose Nationalist Spain. This is happening at the end of the Spanish Civil War, when it is clear that the Nationalists who are just outside of Madrid, are winning. It is relatively small scale, and hard to mess up, so it is an ideal first game to learn the game mechanics.

Sellability: 2 out of 5

This is a somewhat important factor, but shouldn’t bother anyone picking up the game if they truly love deep strategy. What sellability means is how well this game is doing on the market. The big failure of capitalism is that smart people who should be playing games like this are prevented from finding this game because only the big companies can advertise the hell out of you, making most smart people waste their brains on dumbed-down games instead of brain stimulating games such as Hearts of Iron. If you are a person who has found this game, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Consider yourself one of the chosen.

Popularity: 5 out of 5

This is not based on how many people play this game, this is based on how well this game is liked by people who have tried it.  Pleased to say that if you have a circle of intellectual buddies, go ahead and present this game to them, and the chances are very high that they will like the game.

Affordability: 5 out of 5

For a game like this, I would expect it to cost $100-$150. However it costs a mere $10, or $45 if you are willing to buy all of the extensions to the game. In short, this is one of the best deals you can find in your lifetime, and the game costs a few dollars on sales on steam, or $10 with all the extensions if I remember correctly.

Final Verdict: 5 out of 5

Hearts of Iron 3 Research Screen
Hearts of Iron 3 Research Screen

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!

The Immortal

 

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

The first thing you noticed when playing The Immortal was that you tended to die a lot. ~Dan Epp

The Immortal

The plot of The Immortal revolved around a young magician intercepting a call for help meant for someone else from his master, Mordamir, located deep within a labyrinth.  Since you – as the young apprentice – were the only help available, you set out to rescue Mordamir.  Once there, the young wizard discovered that  things are not as straightforward as they are presented by Mordamir, and many plot twists unfolded.  The dungeon was home to warring clans of goblins and trolls, whom you interacted with throughout the game, mostly through combat, but you could ally somewhat with the Goblin King for quests, information, and treasure.  There were other allies to be found in the game, but not everyone had altruistic reasons for giving you aid.  And there were other creatures living underground that considered you a possible tasty treat, as well as a variety of traps, so it was necessary to stay alert!

 

The Immortal
Anyone have a can of Spider Kilz I can borrow?

Much of the back story was given in the form of dreams that came when the young apprentice slept (on little piles of hay conveniently located throughout the dungeon levels).  The information these dreams contained was absolutely integral to surviving the quest, especially in the final sequence when Mordamir’s young apprentice had to make a choice of which powerful being he must ally with, and thereby end their stalemate.  I don’t recall a game that used this kind of lucid dreaming game mechanic quite as well as The Immortal, though opinions may vary.

 

The Immortal
Having a nap in The Immortal

The first thing you noticed when playing The Immortal was that you tended to die a lot.  Some players forgot they weren’t playing a buff warrior, but a magician’s young apprentice, so they forgot that running headlong into combat isn’t the wisest move for even an experienced wizard.  The trick was to either avoid combat (if you could!) or keep dodging around until your opponent tired themselves out, and then move in for the kill.  Sometimes this was easier to say than to do, however.  To make things more difficult, if your character didn’t die during combat, there were always the myriad traps for him to trigger.  Learning to navigate a room could result in many, many reloads, which is why The Immortal was considered a very difficult game to finish.

 

The Immortal
Successful spore attack in The Immortal

The next thing you noticed while playing The Immortal was the sheer level of violence. The combat screen graphics were fairly detailed for its day, and the level of gore they contained was a little over-the-top, which culminated with Mortal Kombat-style “finishing moves” with similar graphic details, such as decapitations, exploding skulls, eviscerations, and more.  For an early 1990s game, The Immortal was pretty intense.  (Oddly enough, the MS-DOS version wasn’t nearly as bloody as the Apple IIGS or Commodore Amiga versions.  The Nintendo Entertainment System version had much of the gore removed, but the Sega Genesis version might be the goriest of the all.)

 

The Immortal
Under the wizard’s attack in The Immortal

The game played in an isometric perspective, and an argument could be made for claiming The Immortal as the forefather of Diablo in its style.  It certainly taxed the system specs of the day, with particular attention paid to the death scenes (as mentioned above).  Did Blizzard find inspiration for their epic click-fest from memories of playing The Immortal?  Play it and decide for yourself!

 

The Immortal - IBM PC - Gameplay Screenshot -5
Under a death attack in The Immortal

 

 

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]

Little Big Adventure 2: Twinsen’s Odyssey

[youtube id=”fzER1ycazy0″ width=”633″ height=”356″]

It features a truly great and imaginative story and it’s gameplay is one of the best that I have seen in an adventure game… ~Harris Aspros

Little Big Adventure 2

The amount of time I spent on this game is unbelievable, partly because the first time I played it I couldn’t understand what was happening since I didn’t know English. But I played it more times a few years ago and whenever I remember this game I get overwhelmed with nostalgia
Little Big Adventure 2 -Twinsen's Odyssey

What is Little Big Adventure 2: Twinsen’s Odyssey

It’s an adventure game (again) and I find it one of the examples which show that the sequel can be better than the first game.  Developed by [Adeline Software] in 1997 and re-published by Activision (they used to not suck so bad) the same year with the name Twinsen’s Odyssey. It follows Twinsen’s adventure to uncover an evil plot behind some alien kidnappings around the neighbourhood.
 Little Big Adventure 2 -Twinsen's Odyssey

Why it’s Great

It features a truly great and imaginative story and it’s gameplay is one of the best that I have seen in an adventure game (some should take note). It is a great experience and you would do well to give it a shot.
Little Big Adventure 2 -Twinsen's Odyssey

Where you can get it

This one is actually (and strangely) available, you can find it at [Good Ol Games] for 5.99 USD.

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!

Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion PC

Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion is one of those games that it’s repetitive “music” is still following me in everything that I am doing. A game developed by Lucas Arts and the creator of the Monkey Island games, Ron Gilbert in 1997, an adventure game that let you control many different characters and gave you a sense of actually sneaking around in a mansion you were not supposed to be at.
Maniac Mansion PC
The story of the game was very simple, Dave’s girlfriend Sandy has been kidnapped by a mad scientist who is pretty obviously leaving in a scary mansion.What is cool about this game is that you dont control only Dave but in addition you can select to play us any 2 other of his 6 friends that want to help him rescue his girlfriend. Any one of his friends has his own set of skills that influenced the flow of the game (similar with what Ron Gilbert tried to do with “The Cave” which in my opinion did not come out as good as many Maniac Mansion fans where hoping).
Maniac Mansion PC
 Fun Facts

  • The legendary SCUMM engine was created for Maniac Mansion and  was later used on many of the company’s signature “Adventure Games”
  • A version of Maniac Mansion was ported to NES but with some changes as Nintendo considered some of the content of the game to not be suitable for children
  • There was a Canadian Series inspired by the Maniac Mansion called… “Maniac Mansion”
  • You can play “Maniac Mansion” inside “The Day of the tentacle” on an in-game computer

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?

Softporn Adventures

Softporn Adventures

I always wondered if there was a text based game about the pursuit of sex would it be almost like sexting is today. So, how many of you know On-Line Systems, perhaps you know them under their more famous name Sierra On-Line. Before we were introduced to the iconic Leisure Suit Larry, there was Softporn Adventure.

Softporn_Adventures

Designed by Chuck Benton, the game was produced for the Apple II in 1981 and was a text based game where you played as a down on his luck party animal. The gameplay consisted of you trying to collect certain items that would win the affections of various women.

So let’s back up a little. This is a text game and for those not familiar with text based games, they kind of worked like a mix between a Dungeons and Dragons game with real life dungeon master and a, Choose Your Own Adventure book. You would start off with text telling you where you are and enough information to get you started. From there, you would enter commands to get an idea of your surroundings and what to do.

Softporn_Adventures

An example would be typing, “LOOK” to get a description of where you are and, “INVENTORY” to be told what you have on you. So the game starts off like this;

 

I’m in a sleazy bar. Behind the bar sits the bartender. A sign hanging over

him says ‘BEER-$100 WHISKEY-$100’. The Place isn’t furnished too well. A

curtain hangs on one wall. There’s a button on the wall next to it. A fan

whirls slowly overhead moving the stagnant air around.

Here you would type something like, “Order Whiskey” and go from there. It might sound boring to some, but text adventures were just as engrossing as a book and for a gamer even more so.

Softporn_Adventures

Now this game had a lot of controversy for being so racy and it is said it was copied and distrusted to a lot of high schoolers not interested in Math Munchers and more interested in reading forbidden text such as;

>SCREW GIRL

She says, ‘Lay down, Honey- Let me give you a special surprise!’ I lay down

and she says, ‘OK- now close your eyes.’ I close my eyes and she starts to

go to work on me. I’m really enjoying myself when suddenly she ties me to

the bed!! Then she says, ‘So long, turkey!’ and runs out of the room!!

Well- the score is now 1 out of a possible 3…but I’m also tied to the bed

and can’t move.

 

Sure, this is nothing compared to the scenes in games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain, but for its time, it was enough to get computer geeks like myself a little hot under the collar. Now for those who played the LLL games you will notice the first game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, is pretty much exactly like Softporn Adventure, but in graphical form.

Now the game was not just controversial because of the racy subject matter, but the cover as well. Here is the info on it straight from the Wiki;

The game’s cover features three nude women and a male waiter in a hot tub. The hot tub is actually that of Sierra’s owners, Ken and Roberta Williams. From left to right, the first woman is Diane Siegel, On-Line’s production manager. The second is Susan Davis, On-Line’s bookkeeper and the wife of Bob Davis, the creator of Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. The waiter was Rick Chipman, an actual waiter from a local restaurant, The Broken Bit. The woman on the far right is Roberta Williams. The ad was considered somewhat scandalous at the time because of the degree of nudity displayed.


To me that is the most awesome thing about this, putting real people from your own company on the cover in such a manner. I couldn’t imagine that happening today.

“Hi, you’re an intern for EA right, so yeah, we have this new game called EA Semi Nude Tennis and we need some sexy women for the cover. Sure, we could have hired some models, but you want to make it in the business right? So, go ahead and put this bikini on, don’t ask how I know your size and report to studio A.”

This was one of the first instances of sex in a video game even though you never got to “see” anything. As far as the game itself you can actually play it online, but before that, here is an interview from Chuck Benton himself on Softporn Adventure.

Here you can view a Walkthrough for the game, thanks to Game FAQ’s for this.

Last but not least you can play it here: Softporn Adventure.

Red Baron

Red Baron

What you’re about to read, is an excellent guest post by Bill, who is a blogger for think SMART, that came up with some rather intriguing educational DS games and even a little something for the Wii. Bill lives in Hell’s Kitchen, once game-tested for Dynamix, and was eaten by a Grue many, many times. You can read more of his material here.
Stomping on turtles? Watching gravity win out against science with the help of fire and lead? Barrel rolls? Spinning hedgehogs doing loop-de-loops?
Red Baron

All of them fun, but limited in a sense. In the early 90s, games played out in little capsules. I could win the battle, build the city, save the princess, but it all disappeared the moment I flipped off the computer. Even the occasional game that told a story through the progression of levels felt hollow – there wasn’t much of a world behind whatever obstacles I’d been tasked to overcome. It was like some perverted version of Descartes: I play; therefore, the world exists.

Red Baron

Then along came a little company named Dynamix, a game maker determined to challenge my little philosophy. Red Baron was the first game I can remember that convinced me I was playing inside a “real” video game world, and that my actions had both immediate and broad implications on its future. The world, of course, was the Western Front of WWI. And from the moment you first signed on to join the fight against the German menace, the game kept a clock running on that world. Time crept forward between battles; as you moved along history’s timeline, battles were fought, world leaders met to make big decisions, and the war machine turned out technological advancements like faster planes, or machine guns that wouldn’t overheat as quickly.

Red Baron

Whether or not you got to use those cool new toys depended on how you flew, and Red Baron did a great job of rewarding good play. It kept track of your kills, how many times you’d been shot down, and if you’d managed to down one of Germany’s many “real-world” Aces. Rack up the kills, move into a better aerodrome. Better aerodromes meant better planes, and the chance to fly alongside one of the Allies’ elite Aces. Nothin’ wrong with some smarter AI piloting your wingman.

Red Baron

Between battles, you’d keep up with the “real world” through the game’s newspaper. I can’t tell you how proud I was (or how embarrassed I ought to be, today) when the newspaper’s lead story was on my bravery in shooting down some minor German Ace, or the stoic countenance I’d sported upon receiving my first medal. There was my teenage pride when, mouse in hand and Mountain Dew nearby, I’d read that my squadron’s efforts had led to a break in the lines, or frustration in reading about the Red Baron’s exponential kill-count. The newspaper was a (virtual) tangible anchor for the game’s sense of reality. Brilliant, really.

Red Baron

Reality didn’t begin and end with the in-game world, however. The various flyable planes each had their quirks, strengths and limitations. Guns would jam, often at the worst possible moment. One of the planes’ wings could literally rip off if you banked too hard, too often. You might parachute out of a plane and pray you avoid getting hit with flack.

Then there was the nightmare of your pilot taking a bullet from an enemy machine gun – as you lost blood, you’d begin to black out. Lose too much without finding an aerodrome or crash-landing (and hoping for a sympathetic farmer), adios. Game over. You’d have one last chance to read about your remarkable achievements and regrettable death in the aforementioned newspaper, and that was it. Reality was pretty harsh in WWI.

Red Baron

All of this would be for nothing if the gameplay wasn’t fun; luckily, it was amazing. The dogfights were edge-of-seat serious business, dodging around flack while emptying a machine gun into a zeppelin was the pinnacle of fun gaming. The game stomped its left foot in the muddy history of The Great War and placed its right foot in the shifting ground of an adjustable-reality flight simulator.

Red Baron put its feet down and straddled a line called “Best Game of Its Time,” and I’d dare anyone to try and knock it off.

Which is why I’m confused. It’s a strange phenomenon: Red Baron was – at the very least – the best flying game of its time, if not one of the best flight sims ever. In my opinion, it was the best game to come out around that period of gaming, beating out the likes of Civilization. For whatever reason, however, it’s also a game that today often goes un-remembered when bloggers and game magazines come up with “best of” lists. Strange.

Well, this is my little scream into the ether, for all it’s worth. Red Baron was and is one of the best games ever made, and God help you if you disagree.

Prehistorik 2

Prehistorik 2

Prehistorik 2

This is one more of the first ever games i played on the PC. Prehistorik 2 is a dos platformer (an-oter sequel from which I did not play the original) developed by Titus interactive in 1993. I remember I had no idea how to install a game on the family 3.86 computer and I had to ask my cousin to come and install it for me.

Prehistorik 2

The premise of the game is very simple, you are playing as a caveman finding hamburgers and fridges full with modern-day food everywhere killing animals and dinosaurs along the way while trying to get to the end of the level. It’s a game full with secrets which added a-lot in the level of entertainment it was offering.

Why I love it

Prehistorik 2

Like I said before it’s one of the first games I played on my 3.86, it is clear that a-lot of time was devoted by the development team to make this game a fun and an enjoyable experience. The large amount of secrets that can be found and little details, like the caveman becoming out of breath if he runs for a big distance are just some of the things that show that the makers where passionate about what they were doing.

Motor City Dragstrip

Motor City Dragstrip

In today’s world, online multiplayer gaming is an everyday thing. People rutinely go online and can fight, wrestle, and shoot others in real time. But back in MY day (I say as I feel my hair greying), for online multiplayer games we had only a few options. One was a major online service like CompuServe, PlayNET, GEnie, or Q-Link (a direct descendent of the above PlayNET, which later begot America Online). Another were MUDs on the then nascent Internet, which
was only available to government workers or college students and staff. As for my family, however, we chose BBS, or Bulletin Board System, door games.

Motor City Dragstrip

For those who don’t know (and for those who already do, please bear with me here), a BBS was a computer system, usually owned and operated by a hobbyist, that other computer users during these primitive times could call up and do any number of things: send e-mail (though at this time, not exactly what WE would consider e-mail), download or upload files of various types, and play games. And many of these games allowed for multiplayer play, although most forced a turn-taking scenario. This meant that while YOU were playing a game against a human player, the computer was actually doing the playing using the stats that player had built up while he WAS online. And when you were done, your opponent’s stats would be updated, and this would likely affect how he plays the next time he logs into the system.

There were many different genres of such games: from gambling, to sports, to even multiplayer RPGs. But the one that yours truly, Chris “Sledge” Douglas used to play the most, was Motor City Dragstrip, commonly known as MC Race due to the zip file that the game was packed into.

Motor City Dragstrip

Motor City Dragstrip was written by John Parlin for Motor City Software in 1990. There may have been a number of versions, but the one I have played the most and still currently use is 2.0, which was released in 1991. The game consists of a one on one racing mode, but your racing is not controlled directly by you. In fact, the only skill required is the ability to press the Enter key when the ANSI light turns green. NOT before, or you will forfeit your victory, and certainly not after.

As BBS users of the day used modems which had extremely low bandwidth compared to what we have today, there are no “graphics” per se. Everything is drawn on screen using ASCII text and shapes and ANSI color codes and animation. Many other such door games are done this way as well and it’s… fine. It’s perfectly functional, but not particularly good, even compared to other ANSI work.

Motor City Dragstrip

The winner is simulated by the computer based on your stats, which include fuel level, engine type, and condition of your tires. You can also choose your favorite brand of car, but I honestly have no idea if that aspect factors in or not.

Motor City Dragstrip

In between races, you can do a number of things to better your chances of winning in the Pit Stop Menu. Here, you can fuel up, change your tires, change your engine, or even change your car entirely. Of course, this all costs money, but if you don’t you can have your engine die, fuel run out, or even blow your tires which (apparently, as you can’t actually see it happening) can send you careening out of control destroying your car and potentially kill your crew.

Oh, and speaking of your crew, be sure have enough crew. You start off with one, but if you don’t hire more, he will get fed up and quit.

Motor City Dragstrip

Of course, with a game like this, there are some major flaws. First, if you buy a Supercharged Hemi right away, really the only opponents who can beat you are those with the same engine. Sure, the next engine below it may have a tiny fraction of a chance to pass you out, but odds are that you will always come out victorious. Add that to the fact that you get $15,000 to start out with and everything is pretty affordable, and this game can become boring real fast.

Motor City Dragstrip
You’d probably have more fun being a little LESS conservative.

There are two aspects that do actually help this game out, despite what I just said. Of course, playing against another real BBS user rather than the computer is always fun. Again, this is done in the aforementioned turn-based style, and your opponent will have no idea what happened until he logs back in to that BBS. The other is the gambling system. This definitely helps balance the game out, as when you do keep piling on the wins, you get tempted to wager more and more money on the races. In fact, my most recent playthrough had me absolutely dominating until I made one HUGELY bad bet and lost. Of course, blowing out my tires and killing one of my crew wasn’t a huge help either.

Motor City Dragstrip
I’M SO SORRY! Please send my regards to the family of…
umm… squinty??

In conclusion, Motor City Dragstrip was a fun little trip back in time for me… but I really can’t recommend it to today’s modern gamers. Even though there really is no skill involved other than some light inventory management, the race wager functionality does certainly add a bit of excitement to the procedings. This game was definitely WAY more of a fun experience on an active BBS with multiple real life opponents.

If you really want to give it a shot, look for a zip file starting with MCRACE. With all the BBS CDs that are available through textfiles.com or even archive.org now, it shouldn’t be hard to find. The registered version, however? That’s a completely different story.

Here’s a video of the gameplay in action… and as you will see, it was not without tragedy…

Interstate ’76

Interstate_76

Interstate ’76

Oh yes, A lot of people that know me, tend to forget that I was once deeply involved in what I consider to be the dark ages of my gaming journey. The PC-gaming era.. It wasn’t all bad, it started great with the DOS/Windows 3.1 era where I didn’t have to worry about performance of games or anything, as I was still getting used to the simple factor of console gaming (I sold my SNES to put towards a 486 DX4 100Mhz with 8MB RAM, a 1MB video card and 540MB storage 1995), all I had to worry about was fuffing around with autoexec.bat and config.sys.

Interstate_76

As soon as Windows 95 came out and changed the way we played games on the PC, especially when developers started to make games to run in Windows, it was saying goodbye to command line interfaces, and hello to icon-doubleclicking. Interstate ‘76 was one of many titles which will always remind me of the better times of PC gaming. Even though I was trying to run a game which required a Pentium 90 with 16MB RAM.

Interstate_76

i76, released originally in 1997 was based on the same game engine used in Mechwarrior 2, which was yet another classic DOS series.

Interstate_76

The game is set in the mid 1970’s where there was an oil crisis in the United States. You play as Groove Champion, the main antagonist (who is set out to find out who killed your sister), alongside with your partner Taurus and the mechanic Skeeter. The story unravels more to find that the villains have a plot to destroy the main oil supplies across the US and Groove alongside with Taurus have to stop them.

Interstate_76

As I said, i76 is based on the Mechwarrior 2 engine, meaning you drive around in 70’s muscle cars armed to the teeth with guns/missiles/etc, with full customisation on what weapons are used as well as the working condition of them (as you get to salvage car parts from missions after destroying enemy vehicles).

Interstate_76

If there was one thing I was fearing before getting this game as of late, as well as back in 1997, was how on earth was I going to control a car with a keyboard? Well I was actually quite impressed with the controls considering that a keyboard is digital and well steering wheels generally are analogue. No, the controls are great in this game, I’m really impressed. Graphics were typical of what to expect from the late 90’s as shown below in the screenshots:

Interstate_76

The cutscenes are minimalistic yet adding a style which works for such a game.

Interstate_76

And the soundtrack is amazing, composed by Arion Salazar, who of course is the founding member of Third Eye Blind. Very funky and a strong 70’s feel to the music. Here’s an example of the Title song:

Interstate_76

The Nitro pack, which is the mission pack that comes with the i76 pack you get from GOG, puts you back further in time where you play as Taurus and Skeeter alongside Groove’s sister Jade before she was murdered, and in this mission pack it focuses more on the many auto-gangs in the desert.

Interstate_76

Considering the amount of levels you get, the customisability of your vehicle (for single player AND multiplayer), to get the Interstate ‘76 Arsenal pack for US$6.00 is, well.. there’s no excuses to not add this to the collection once again. This is a fantastic re-port of a classic Windows 95 title, which now works on XP, Vista and Windows 7 also. For this review, I ran i76 on VMware Fusion for OSX in a Windows XP Virtual Machine. End result was perfect and performance was not an issue on a 2GHz+ iMac.

Blade Runner

BladeRunner_PC

Blade Runner

Everybody has seen the movie (I hope) however there is a great game also with the Blade Runner logo on it , released in 1997, it follows the Blade Runner Ray McCoy. It is set in the same universe as the Blade Runner movie but it follows a story of it’s own, although many characters of the movie appear in the game as well.
What is Blade Runner
BladeRunner_PC
Blade Runner is a Point and Click adventure game by Westwood studios that was released back in 1997. Unlike the movie, the game follows Blade Runner Ray McCoy who is trying to hunt down a group of replicants. It is one of the first 3D adventure games ever and it does a great job of telling us a side-story inside the Blade Runner universe.
Why it’s Great
BladeRunner_PC
Because it is set in the Blade Runner universe and it has it’s own story, it references many parts of the movie and back in the day it was 4 cd disks. Oh did I mention that it has thirteen possible endings?

Where you can get it

BladeRunner_PC
I tried to do a research for a place that can be selling the Blade Runner game, unfortunately I was only able to find it only at the standard places that you find great games nobody wants to remake or republish:
Buy it at Amazon
Buy it at Ebay


“I was just finishing up my twelfth hour on patrol when I got the call. Welcome relief considering that the most action I had seen all night was a schizoid grandmother doing the shimmy in her underwear in the second sector.”

Ray McCoy

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto

The first Grand Theft Auto was created back in 1997 from DMA Design and I am proud to say the most hated sentence…. “I was playing GTA before it was cool”. The original game was a comedic action, driving free roamer with a top-down view. Unlike later installments of the game (except GTA 2) the game was actually a score-attack like game where you were stealing vehicles and murdering people, earning points in the process
Grand Theft Auto
Why it’s Great
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto gave birth to one of the biggest (if not the biggest) franchises today for Rockstar and like Carmageddon 2 it was the subject of major controversy when it was released. Unlike Carmaggedon the franchise is still alive today and has produced millions of.. MONEY for the publishers , it is a blast to play and despite it’s age it still remains amazingly enjoyable until today.


Where you can get it
You can download the game for free here.

The Dig

the dig

The Dig

The Dig was released -after many a delay- in 1995 by Lucasarts and, despite failing to be a spectacular critical and commercial hit, should be considered one of the company’s most impressive offerings. Actually, I’d easily classify it as one of my all time favorite adventures and one of the few truly successful attempts at proper video game science fiction. What’s more, it still looks stunning and even has a whole museum (which, among other things, details The Dig‘s incredible development history) dedicated to its glorious, digital self.

Civilization II

Civilization II

Civilization II

Just a quickie (oooo er) about Civilization II. After much twittering about this game the other day I decided to dust off my old PC copy and play it again. I found the disc in amongst a few other classics neatly stored away in a disc holder. Afraid it wouldn’t work (the disc looks pretty beaten up) I proceeded to install, it worked fine. First thing I noticed was that it was quite refreshing to install such a playable game that quickly, less than a minute from install to loading up (and not a sign of a game update required). I dove straight in to the action.

Civilization II

I made a custom world, medium map, played at prince level and stupidly selected the raging hordes for barbarians, I played against 4 other civilizations. I selected to be the Romans myself, so I could employ the unfunny name of ‘Naughtius Jamesius’, some things never change. The game started well until I realized I’d completely forgotten how to play, tactics and strategies were absent from the beginning and soon the 4 other civilizations were ploughing ahead with warfare, advancing technology and building wonders of the world. My only saving grace was the fact my people seemed to like me, therefore I could address my fellow leaders from a throne instead of a rock.

Civilization II

30 minutes into the game and the other civilizations knew I was weak (I didn’t need the pop up report to tell me that – puny Romans), it was time to make alliances and play dirty, let’s just say the Persians and Greeks had no idea what was coming and would pay for their earlier mockery. Triumphs however were short-lived, 2 hours later I was destroyed by the Vikings, Mongols and eh, barbarians. The score I reached really isn’t worth mentioning here. Still, the time playing this flew by and it is still an amazing amount of fun, I’ll be playing again over the weekend (now I’ve had a warm up game), so hopefully it’ll go a bit better next time.

Definitely one of my all time favorite turn based strategy games, I still prefer this version than some of the later Civilization games, just as addictive as it was back then too.

Battle Chess

battlechess

Battle Chess

I barely remember this one but it was in a way the first PC game I ever played and  that is why I am putting it here. Of course today there are countless chess games for the PC but this one was my first and I still remember how entertaining it was to watch the battles play out in front of your screen

What is Battle Chess

battlechess

Battle Chess is obviously a chess game developed and released way back in 1988. The cool thing about it was that all the pawns where animated and you could see them killing each other in interesting and funny ways. When I was playing it I was still a kid so I didn’t know what I was doing but I was trying desperately to discover all the killing animations that were available.

Why it’s Great
battlechessIts a nostalgia thing I guess but you can’t deny that it’s cool to watch the pieces come to life to kill each other (maybe I have low entertainment standards)

Where you Can Get it

You can find the special edition at Gog.com, the special edition includes the original Battle Chess, Battle Chess 2: Chinese Chess and Battle Chess 4000, if you are interested you can buy it HERE

Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now

Carmageddon II

Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now

I am ashamed to admit it but the truth is that I have never played the original Carmageddon, what I do remember however is the hours I spent murdering people with my red shiny car listening to Iron Maiden’s Aces High and the Trooper.
Carmageddon II
What is Carmadeddon II
Carmageddon  II is a racing game (kind-of), a racing game that you get points from running over people and destroying your competitors with the most violent and creative ways. In this spirit, there where three win conditions for any level in the game, win the race, destroy all opponents or kill all pedestrians.
Carmageddon II
Why it’s Great
It is great because this game was criticised like few when it first came out for the violence it contained that according to parents at the time would turn us all into killing machines by the age of 18… I haven’t still killed a person and I had a blast with the game. although from what I know in some countries the changed the pedestrians to animals or aliens for that same reason.
Carmageddon II
Where you Can Get It

Good question, I know Amazon has some but if you know more places that sell it please let me know.

 

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!

Theme Hospital

Theme Hospital

This game comes from the golden era of Bullfrog where single player simulation games where indeed single player. In Theme Hospital you control and develop your own hospital, find cures to deceases and strive to keep the Grim Reaper away from your corridors.
Theme_Hospital

 

What is Theme Hospital

 

Like it’s mentioned above Theme Hospital is a classic hospital management “simulator” for the pc which was released back in 1997. You manage your hospital, you hire doctors, nurses, janitors and receptionists, you build diagnosis and treatment rooms, you discover new deceases and cures and you are having fun the whole time.

 

Why it’s Great

Theme_Hospital

It is a very humorous and enjoyable game that will keep you occupied for hours upon hours with a huge amount of content and deceases to be treated. It has humour, strategy, micro-management andabove all it  is FUN (I sometimes find that newer games are struggling to achieve this last one)

 

Where you can get it

 

You are in luck! Unlike our previous “Classic PC Games you Should Play” This game is easy to find since it can be bought digitally from GOG.com (no DRM attached) at:


“Patients are asked not to die in the corridors” ~Receptionist

Grim Fandango

Grim-Fandango - PC

Grim Fandango

Tim Schafer is best known lately for the Doublefine Adventure Kickstarter project where he managed to get and spend a-ton of money for the development of his upcoming adventure game called Broken Age. But Tim Schafer’s greatest success in my honest opinion was and always will be Grim Fandango, an amazing game that didn’t manage to sell all that well when it was first released back in 1998.
What is Grim Fandango
Grim-Fandango - PC
Grim Fandango is a 3D Adventure Game with a Film Noir art-style inspired from the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead)  and it comes from the good old LucasArts era. It is Manny Calavera’s  4-year journey through the land of the dead to reach the 9th underworld where all the dead souls go to find eternal peace.
Why it is great
Grim-Fandango - PC
This game has an atmosphere unlike any other game I have ever played. The environments are great, the dialogues are amazing, the story is cool, the characters are interesting, the jokes are funny and Glottis is not too big the cars are just too small!
Where can you get it
Grim-Fandango - PC
It is a pretty difficult game to find, since during it’s release it didn’t sell all that much.
I have however found that there are some copies of Grim Fandango being sold on amazon for rediculous prices but can also be found used at ebay.
If you are interested in this game (and you should be) you can find it below:

Ebay – Grim Fandango

Amazon – Grim Fandango

“A ticket on the number 9 is like a leaf of gold Manuel”
Salvador Limones

The Syberia Collection

Syberia-Collection

The Syberia Collection

With the advent and admitted affordability of downloadable games one can easily forget just how lovely a properly packaged offering can actually feel. Yes, even by today’s meager standards, the physicality of a box, a modest manual, a sleeve and an actual DVD can be rather satisfying. Especially when sporting a most affordable price tag, which, oh so conveniently, happens to be the case of the Syberia Collection.
Syberia-Collection
Said collection of the almost classic and definitely well known SyberiaSyberia II and Amerzone adventures, you see, is much cheaper to grab in a DVD-case than its online/download only equivalents, which does indeed confuse my vaguely economological mind, but definitely sounds great. Being thus confused and all, I do also believe the thing should have been called The Benoit Sokal Collection, as Amerzone most emphatically is not a Syberia game.
Syberia-Collection
Now, as most adventurers know, all three games are fine point-and-click specimens that managed to make an impression during the darkest period of the genre and are still absolutely worth playing and owning. Especially if one is into this sort of thing (i.e. considers oneself an adventure gamer), as all three have been designed with the traditonal point-and-click gamer in mind. The re-mastered versions included in the collection seem pretty much identical to the original ones, though I must admit I haven’t played those since their respective releases and can’t be absolutely sure whether minor enhancements have been included or not. What does matter though is that everything runs lovely and glitch-free under both Windows 7 and Vista, meaning that these are indeed the versions to own.
Syberia-Collection
As for the misguided souls that haven’t tried any of the games on offer yet, let me just say they all feature excellent art -Mr. Sokal is after all a most talented comic artist- classic gameplay mechanics, great soundtracks, mostly easy but well-integrated puzzles, traditional interfaces, brilliant settings and pretty decent plots. The two Syberias in particular are played from a third person perspective and take place in a whimsical clockwork-operated world, whereas the first-person Amerzone is set in a fantastical version of a thinly disguised Amazon rainforest.
Syberia-Collection
What’s more and judging by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed replaying all three of the games on offer, I must admit they have all aged gracefully. Might even have to accept the fact they are, despite their flaws, great adventures I would probably had appreciated more weren’t I comparing them to Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight III.

Verdict: A collection of three classic and traditional adventures at an excellent price. Genre lovers shouldn’t miss it.

Worms

Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Worms (1995)
By: Team 17 / Ocean Genre: Strategy / Shooting Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: I’m a Worms master so I always win! 🙂
Also Available For: Amiga, CD32, Apple Mac, Game Boy, MegaDrive, SNES, PlayStation, Saturn, Jaguar

Even though I’m technically old now, I still consider myself fairlyyoung, but the video games industry has changed beyond recognition even in my living memory. Games these days cost many millions to develop and often take years to reach fruition, and that’s with teams of a dozen or more developing them, but many years ago the opposite was true. Some of the best-loved retro games were created by only one or two people, often from the comfort of their own homes, or even by solitary students coding away into the early hours before oversleeping for their morning classes. Those days are long gone now, with regards to full releases for current systems at least, and one of the last successful examples I remember was the first in the now extensive Worms series.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Although originally created on the Amiga by Andy Davidson and released by Team 17, it was actually on the PC that I first discovered this unusual game when someone at work brought in a playable demo they’d found on a magazine cover disc somewhere (remember those?). It was certainly an eye-catching game, especially for a PC title of that time, and soon revealed itself to be a tarted-up example of what had become known as an ‘artillery’ game. These involve two or more players (or one player and CPU opponents) taking turns to take out each other’s on-screen representative (often a tank) by way of a variable-trajectory projectile. The early examples of this type of game, one of the first of which was called ‘Artillery’, believe it or not, featured little more than one tank each on opposite sides of a rugged terrain. Worms shares this basic set-up but adds a good few coats of gloss as well.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Matches here are contested by two, three, or four teams, each consisting of four worms apiece who are randomly distributed over whichever landscape the game has conjured up. From here, each team takes turns to try and take out members of opposing teams. You can’t choose which of your worms you want to use – the game cycles through them – but you canchoose how you want to dish out the hurt. Choices include guns, Street Fighter-inspired close-combat moves, grenades, cluster bombs, bazookas, homing missiles, dynamite, mines, or even an air-strike! A varying level of power can be applied to all but the latter and wind can affect the trajectory of some projectiles as well. Each worm starts with a hundred health points which are depleted by these weapons, with the amount lost depending on how close the strike was and which weapon was used.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

It’s also possible to kill worms outright by knocking them off the side or bottom of the screen, or indeed into any liquid that may surround island-like landscapes such as water, weird green stuff, or even lava! Fortunately, you can move your worm around to a certain extent. They can walk or jump in either direction, but can’t move over land or obstacles that are too large or steep. If you can’t move far or hide well enough, it’s also possible to use some defensive items such as positioning girders as makeshift shields, digging into the landscape using a drill or blowtorch, or moving altogether by way of ninja ropes, bungee cords, or even a teleporter! None of this is necessary on some stages though, as you can choose which one you want to face your enemy on. The game generates landscapes one at a time and you can either accept or reject it. Which is nice.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

They consist of side-viewed landscapes which are randomly generated by the game engine which means they can take all sorts of shapes and sizes – some helpful, others less so. You can scroll them a short distance in either direction, zoom in and out, and move them around freely in order to plan your next attack as well as possible, and there are around ten different graphical themes for them including snow, beach, jungle, scrapyard, alien planets, desert, etc, each of which is home to its own features. Not that it really matters though, as everything can be (and usually is) damaged or destroyed by the many, many artillery strikes! The landscapes can therefore be rather varied and are a big part of what makes Worms such an addictive game, but it’s not just them.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

The graphics weren’t technically anything special, even in their day – whilst colourful and fairly detailed, their pixelly 2D-ness was a far cry from the fancy hardware-accelerated 3D games that were flooding the system by then. They are appealing though, regardless of the lack of technical wonder. The worms are only a few pixels larger than the green-haired Lemmings (on whom the working version of the game was originally based rather than worms) but they are full of character and have animations for practically everything. They’re also frequently blabbering during matches. Despite barely any in-game music (there is a Worms theme tune on the title/options screens), they and have a comment or expression for most situations and their voices are highly amusing! This and practically every other aspect of the game can, however, be customised via the extensive options screens which allow you to change things like rounds per match, time limits, weapon stockpiles (most are in limited supply by default), and add certain conditions to matches, etc.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

This PC version of the game also gained a few extras by way of an updated edition of the game called Worms Reinforcements. This allowed you to add custom landscapes and ‘soundpacks’ (i.e. vocal themes for the worms), and also included a number of humorous FMV intros and cut-scenes and a one-player ‘Challenge Mode’ which consisted of various missions that acted like a (rather harsh) tutorial. Some nice extras for sure, but let’s face it – people play Worms for one reason and one reason only – to try and outwit their friends, and to that end it’s peerless. Everyone knows that already though, of course. The only question I was asking before this review was: how much has this original aged? Initially, after having grown accustomed to later titles such as Worms Armageddon and Worms Reloaded, it seemed like a lot. Strategy games are often regarded as boring and long-winded, but Worms is about as arcadey as they get though, so once I had re-acclimatised to the older style I was soon adding to my many memorable and amusing experiences of playing this classic.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Later incarnations of the gameare much more polished, both visually as well as with regards to their gameplay, but Worms has never been about flashy visuals or scaring the pants off gamers – it’s about having fun, and it arguably does that better than any other series. What else comes close? Some Bomberman games, perhaps? They are also fantastic games for multi-player larks indeed, but it’s more short-lived, has a faster pace, and is less strategic as well. Nothing beats taking out a friend’s worm after a cunningly devised tactic pays off. Almost as entertaining is a cruelly-placed stick of dynamite (accompanied by an unsympathetic giggle from the agressor), or even a simple fire-punch off the edge of a precipice. You can even name your teams for added personality! As far as I’m concerned, all gamers owe Andy Davidson a hearty back-slap for creating one of the funniest and most riotously enjoyable multi-player games of all. Yes, the later installments are better, but this original is still hugely entertaining and addictive and probably always will be.

RKS Score: 8/10

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

From all the games I have ever played, there is only one I have firmly associated with Christmas and the whole wintery festive period (I sadly don’t seem to particularly care for this one much anymore, what with me being an apparently empty/logical shell of a gnome and all). Said game is none other than The Adventures of Willy Beamish; a game designed by Jeff Tunnell, developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra back in the too distant sounding 1991. A game I was reading about in every gaming mag of the era, an expensive VGA offering in a big box, and a most excellent Xmas present by my parents.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I distinctly remember being incredibly excited about it, yet somehow carefully opening its box to discover a ton of 5.25″ disks, one of the best manuals ever designed, a Sierra catalog, some feelies of sorts and those amazing, colourful Willy Beamish stickers that ended up on my room’s door. I also remember waiting impatiently for what felt like ages for the game to install itself on my 40MB hard-drive and playing it for hours to the sounds of an old Platters LP. Hmm, this must be why I also associate this kind of music with the holiday season and, apparently, why I was listening to 50s music while photographing my dearest of all game boxes:
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
Interestingly though, I have never played the game since finally beating it later in 1992, admittedly with the help of a learned, yet younger, friend who I am sure must have gotten his hands on some sort of rare at the times walkthrough. But, why haven’t I played it again after all those years, then? Why have I abstained from its many charms? Well, truth is, I somehow feel I might just spoil its memory and have decided to only periodically re-read the manual. Besides, I do actually remember Willy Beamish pretty vividly.
 The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I remember its fantastic Dragon’s Lair-esque graphics; they were the first of their sort in a point-and-click adventure. I remember the stunning animations and (low-res, I’m afraid) cartoon quality cut-scenes. I remember the way it showcased the capabilities of my very first PC soundcard. I remember how the story of a nine year old boy trying to competitively play video games while avoiding parental troubles and getting the girl, somehow turned into a ghost infested attempt at foiling an evil corporation. I remember getting sent off to military school and dying a dozen lushly animated deaths. I remember cajoling my in-game parents and entering my frog into competitions. I remember exploring the sanitised darkness of 90s American suburbia and being both shocked and delighted. I remember enjoying the subtle humour. I remember getting hopelessly stuck, but, above all, I warmly remember loving it.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I also remember things I didn’t quite notice back then. I remember that Willy Beamish sported an incredibly simple (or elegant if you prefer) interface, one of the first ones to feature a smart cursor, yet remaining incredibly difficult. I remember the dead ends and pointlessly punishing arcade sequences too. And the fact that the trouble-meter was a very smart way of letting players know whether they were on the right track.

Then again, that’s enough with my memories. Anyone else care to reminiscent on the festive joys of gaming? Well, that’s what comments are for I suppose.

South Park

SouthPark

I wanted to do a review that had something do to with Thanksgiving even if it was a stretch and behold I found South Park. Published in 1999 from Acclaim this first person shooter features your four favorite characters from the show all voiced by the original actors, but sadly there is little else than that to mark as a bright spot for the game.

south_park_fps

The story is that a comet is heading towards South Park and apparently that has caused all kinds of crazy things to happen. From evil turkeys to living toys it is up to the boys to stop them. Now first off, the game at the time looked great and that is most likely because it was not too difficult from a programing standpoint to turn the 2D paper characters into 3D. Along with the bright colors of South Park the game at the time was a visual treat.

south park game turkey

During the single player campaign you are treated to cut screens featuring original dialog from many South Park notables including Chef who gives you your “mission briefings”.  Sadly, the first person aspect of the game is lacking. One reason is because even back then the AI was pretty weak. It was almost impossible to get taken out unless you got swarmed by a ton of enemies. The weapons were also way underpowered which makes sense considering they are kids, but so many of the enemies and especially the bosses took so many hits to kill it got boring real fast.

n64southpark

Another thing that gets old is the repetitive voices when running around in mission mode or multiplayer. At first it is cool to hear the characters react to being hit or finding things, but after hearing it 100 times you almost want to mute the game. One bright spot in the game for me personally was the multiplayer. Not because it was much better than the single player, but because of the dancing gun which you can see an example of in the video below.

The game was made on the Turok 2 engine and was released for the N64, Sony Playstation and what I played it on, the PC. South Park is just good enough to give it a run through once if nothing else than to experience the graphics and original dialog, oh and the dancing gun. Beyond that it was a weak shooter where most of the enemies ran straight at you and the boss had patterns a video gaming noob could detect. The game did feature the boys killing turkeys and having Thanksgiving dinner and so it has found a place as a legit Thanksgiving themed game.

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!

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!!!

Blackwell Unbound

Blackwell Unbound artwork

Blackwell Unbound

Blackwell Unbound is the second game in the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games and thus a sequel of sorts to the excellent Blackwell Legacy indie point-and-click adventure game. Then again it also happens to be an enlightening prequel to the Blackwell Legacy, taking place in a brilliantly stylized version of New York during the early 70s. This time around you wont be helping the shy Rosangela and her ghostly guide Joey solve supernatural problems, but will instead be guiding her rather outspoken and definitely more confident aunt, Lauren Blackwell, and her ghostly guide Joey solve two, obviously ghost-related, cases.

blackwell unbound - gameplay screenshot

The game is thus slightly longer that Legacy and feels even more so, as the inclusion of a couple new mechanics, make for a far more taxing experience. Not that the game is difficult, mind but the ability to switch between Joey and Lauren, a few newly integrated simple inventory puzzles and looking up names and places in a directory do help mix things up. After all, making sure that a deceased jazz musician, a half-crazed ghost and an incredibly sad villain find their respective ways, shouldn’t be that easy.

blackwell unbound - gameplay screenshot

Great gameplay aside, Blackwell Unbound also sports the signature excellent writing quality of the series, amazing music, spot-on voice acting, interesting characters and some truly beautiful pixel-art graphics, for that authentic classic adventure feel. The only thing sadly missing are those character portraits the Blackwell games seem to do very well. A shame really, but the developer commentary and a few more extras will definitely make this up for you.

Oh, and New York and its multitude of people and cultures do get another love letter in the form of this brilliantly written and quite touching interactive story, that never fails to be funny when the situation allows.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9oQ7n5F5hI[/youtube]

Verdict: An excellent game and a truly rare chance to adventure in a ghost-infested version of New York in the 70s. Get the Blackwell Unbound here.

Thunder Force

Thunder Force (1984)
By: Tecno Soft   Genre: Shooting   Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: NEC PC-98 
Also Available For: NEC PC-88, NEC PC-6001 Mk II, Sharp X1, Sharp MZ-1500, Fujitsu FM-7

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot

Thunder Force

During the course of my long struggle to finally see and play the original Thunder Force game for the PC-88, I saw some screenshots of the PC-98 version, which appeared to have fancier graphics, so I decided it might be a good idea to include that version in this feature too. I soon regretted it, of course. This turned out to be even harder to get to play than the the PC-88 version! However, after a long and arduous struggle, fraught with many problems, and once again with the help of some splendid fellows from the Retro Gamer forum, I managed to get it running.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot

For some reason, the emulator I used to run this game won’t work on my desktop PC, but will work on my laptop. This in itself caused a problem. The emulator, you see, uses the numeric keypad for in-game control, and my laptop obviously lacks one of these. I therefore had to try and play by pressing the ‘Fn’ key as well as the other keys the emulator uses for in-game control. This proved diificult. With perseverance, however, I was able to play the game to a reasonable degree. Degree enough to determine that this version of the game is at least as insanely difficult as the PC-88 version, perhaps even more so! Everything seems to be the same, such as the level layout, and the sound is identical (i.e. near enough non-existent!), but the graphics, as initially suspected, are indeed quite a bit nicer. Definition is more or less the same, but many more colours are used here.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot

And that’s pretty much it really. Aside from the graphics, the two versions more or less the same. It’s still really, really difficult, but is still playable and addictive too. The PC-98 must use a pretty interesting graphics chip though. The screenshots I managed to get of this game do not like to be resized or saved in any format other than png or they go all funny, so, as this blog automatically resizes pictures, the shots posted here don’t look quite as nice as they should. Overall, I’ve been really happy to finally see what the original Thunder Force game is like, I just wish it was easier to emulate and play (the option of using a control pad would be nice, for example!). If at a later date, I’m able to have a more comprehensive look at this game, I’ll definitely do so, but for now…

RKS Score: 6/10


Urban Legend

Urban Legend - PC Review
The year is 2127 and Russia has been a colony of the US for over a century. The people are starving, Neuromancer influenced megacorporations are running amok, genetically modified food is introducing the masses to cancer, non genetically modified animals have been extinct for ages, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and this time around there is no Lenin. There’s only John Doe -strangely, one of the more interestingly named heroes in history- and it sure feels as if someone pressed the diarrhoea button for the great arsehole up there. Oh, and thankfully it’s still 2007 and this, apparently, is a review of Urban Legend.
Urban Legend - PC Review

 

So, uh, let me introduce the game properly, shall I? Well, according to the developer (Russia based ELENS) Urban Legend is an isometric turn-based squad-based strategy game, and, shockingly, it really is. And a good one at that too. The game offers over 30 levels of sheer strategic fun that will definitely appeal to the Fallout, Jagged Alliance and X-Com (a.k.a UFO) crowds, providing a very elegant action points based combat mechanic and an intuitive interface, that’s as simple as left-clicking to move and right-clicking to fire. Then again, moving and firing, admittedly with the added hassle of picking the right weapons and selecting/equipping a modestly sized squad, can be tactically challenging enough to test years of accumulated turn-based combat experience and even lead to frustration and/or insomnia. Thankfully genre beginners and tired middle-agers can always go for the easy setting.

Urban Legend - PC Review

Us young and lively gnomes, on the other hand, always go for the harder difficulty setting such as …er… hard and nightmare… It’s a masochist thing, really.

The enemy AI feels brilliant, and -what’s more- getting progressively smarter, the level design is varied and lethal enough to have your clumsily positioned sniper killed in no time, whereas the simple RPG-like progression of your squad gives the game a depth that can easily turn it into an addictive marathon. I for one have spent over 30 hours with the beast and have yet to beat it or at least get bored. You see, Urban Legend might not be the most innovative indy game ever developed, but it’s a brilliantly polished, immensely playable and very fair experience, that does make sure you’ll only loose when you make an obvious -even if tiny- mistake. It’s a fully satisfying example of an almost extinct, but still popular (ah, gotta love them contradictions) genre.

The only rough bits are some awkward translations from Russian to English, that are easily forgiven, as they almost enhance the (cyberpunk; did I mention that?) atmosphere. Besides, when you get tons of beautiful pixel-artist created graphics -some the best I’ve actually ever seen- and smart splashes of sarcastic humor, you can definitely ignore the odd misspelling.

Visit the Urban Legend website and grab a demo.

That’s an (eight) out of (ten).

Rise of the Triad

Rise of the Triad box
Rise of the Triad box

Rise of the Triad

When I built my 486 with the help of my cousin (he did 99% of it) there were three games he told me to install right away one of them was Rise of the Triad. I had already played Doom and Wolfenstein so when I got my hands on ROTT I was hooked.

ROTT came out in 1995 and was developed by 3D Realms, the story initially was going to be a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, you can pretty much tell this by the way the game plays and looks. It does have a Wolfenstein feel to be sure which is why so many people liked it.

Like Wolfenstein, ROTT was pretty much killing hordes of enemies and collecting keys to advance, but it was the little things that made the game fun for me. Some of the cools things about ROTT were the fact that you could pick a specific character from the start which had little differences like one would move slowly, but have a lot of health and another would be quick, but squishy.

ROTT had various weapons as well including pistols, machine guns, missile launchers and magic weapons. Of course one of the coolest things was blasting an enemy into chunks and watching eyeballs fly everywhere, now that’s gaming!

Rise of the Triad screenshot
Rise of the Triad screenshot

Another cool addition was the several power-ups in the game such as God Mode, which would make you invincible and Mercury Mode that allowed you to fly. There was also the Dog Mode  that yes, turned you into a dog and my favorite, Shrooms Mode which involved flashing lights and a spinning screen.

The environment was also different than games before it. You had push-able walls and a ton of stuff could be destroyed like plants and sometimes destroying them opened a secret passage and sometimes it was just for relieving stress.

Rise of the Triad screenshot
Rise of the Triad screenshot

There were also a ton of traps all over the place like spin-blades which would quickly lower your health and flame-jets to set your night on fire. What was cool was the enemies were susceptible to the traps as well so you could lead them into them.

One of the coolest things was the use of jump pads. They were devices on the ground that would propel you into the air when you stepped on them. You could just stand on them to fly up into the air or you ran and jumped on them to catapult you diagonally. This was necessary later on to get to many places in the game.

Rise of the Triad screenshot
Rise of the Triad screenshot

In Rise of the triad you played a member of the team known as the H.U.N.T. (High-risk United Nations Task-force). Your mission was on the island of San Nicolas to investigate cult activity at an ancient monastery. After your boat is destroyed you have to fight your way to the monastery and stop the cults plot to destroy Los Angeles.

The game was not easy, even though you had access to guns and missiles and flamethrowers so did the enemies and they loved to use them. The bosses were no joke either; you had to learn about each ones ability and sometimes the most powerful weapon in your arsenal was not the one to use against a boss.

Finally there was multiplayer which wasn’t anything special, but it was fun using the special weapons and power-ups in multiplayer mode. It wasn’t just Deathmatch, you could also play a capture the flag mode and a tag mode.

Rise of the Traid is one of those games you had to play if you were a true FPS gamer. It had the look, the gameplay and the violence that every growing gamer needs. If you haven’t played it before or just wish to reminisce you can pick up a copy from GOG.com. *The GOG.com version comes with a 30-page manual, game soundtrack and the bonus game levels.