Retro Rewind: PC Classics

I’ve discussed retro PC games a number of times on this site. In fact, some of my earliest posts were focused on games from the classic Wizardry series. But when I started discussing PC games, I quickly jumped ahead from the 80’s to the 90’s to take a look at titles like Wolfenstein 3D, and Doom. The truth is, PC games from the 80’s deserve quite a bit more attention than I’ve given them previously.

The very first PC game I ever played was called Castle Adventure. I encountered it when I was maybe seven or eight years old.  Now, at this point in my life I was no stranger to video games. I owned an Atari 2600, but I guess I just didn’t realize that you could actually play games on a personal computer. I remember walking down the hall at my friend’s house and seeing his older brother sitting at his desk. At this point, I always imagined computers were exclusively for data crunching and other obscure uses. When I noticed his brother was playing a game, I was a bit puzzled. I stood next to him and watched, completely enthralled.

Now, Castle Adventure was very basic sort of game. It had ASCII graphics so it wasn’t anything particularly exciting to look at. But it captivated me nonetheless. The point of the game is to explore a castle, find treasure, and escape. That simple. But despite it’s simplicity, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring every nook and cranny of the game. I was a fan.

Today, a faithful ground-up remake of Castle Adventure is available here for Windows:  CASTLE ADVENTURE .  It isn’t pretty, but if you’re curious, it’s the purest experience one can get.

Castle Adventure

When my family finally purchased a PC of our own, I naturally asked my father for some games. A few days later, he came home from work with a stack of floppy disks that a co-worker had copied for him. Now, back in those days, piracy was not that big of a deal. Making a copy of a game for a friend was as simple as having two floppy disks and knowing how to type “diskcopy” into the DOS prompt. The stack contained titles like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Battle Chess, etc. All fun, I’m sure, but nothing I saw really caught my eye. That is, until I got to the very last game in the stack. A disk that was obscurely titled “ZORK”.

Of all the games my father brought home that day, ZORK ended up being my favorite. ZORK is an interactive text-based adventure game. It is actually quite a bit older than Castle Adventure. In fact, ZORK is just about as old as I am.  When I say it’s a text-based game, that means exactly what it sounds like. There’s no graphics, just words. For example, the game will present a scenario much like this:

“You are standing in a field in front of a large wooden house, facing south. There is a road leading to the east and west. A forest lies to the north.”

The player then has to type commands to drive the game forward. For example “Walk North” or simply “North”. The game then describes the next set of events. Players can enter command like “Open door” or  “take sword”. The entire game is played in this fashion.

ZORK

I couldn’t began to guess the amount of hours I spent with this game. And I wasn’t alone either, ZORK was extremely successful. Over the years it spawned a slew of sequels. I’m proud to say, I’ve played every entry in the series and despite being extremely “old school”, they are still quite enjoyable. These days, all of the ZORK games are available on Steam and GOG. I plan on reviewing them collectively at some point in the future.

Naturally, as technology continued to improve, this type of game would eventually be combined with visuals. One of the earliest examples I remember playing was a game called Transylvania. Oh, how I loved that game…  It took the basic gameplay elements from games like ZORK and gave you some crude graphics to enhance your immersion. There were three games in the Transylvania series, but sadly none of them are officially available on any platform today. For me, these games were just amazing. What I wouldn’t give to see some sort of remake or re-release. But, considering how I’ve never met another person who’s even heard of them… I won’t hold my breath.

Transylvania

It was games like these that prepared me for a game that might very well be my favorite game of all time, Wizardry. I’ve talked about the Wizardry games in detail on this site. So I won’t be rehashing them again with this post. But, any discussion of old-school PC games would be amiss without a mention of the series. In fact, when it comes to classic CRPGs, old grognards like myself usually fall into one of two factions. The Wizardry fans and the Ultima fans.

Like Wizardry, Ultima is a series of games that has also reached legendary status. Together, these two franchises set the bar for nearly all future RPGs. Games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest would not exist if it wasn’t for these titles.

I could spend hours writing about the impact these games had on me, and I will eventually. In fact, I plan to start a complete playthrough of the Ultima series in very near future. But for now, let’s move on. There’s so much more ground to cover.

The PC played host to countless classic RPGs; Bard’s Tale, Might & Magic, and King’s Quest for example. But RPGs were not the only thing that made PC’s great. Educational games were exceptionally popular on the platform. You’d be hard pressed to find someone my age who doesn’t have fond memories of titles like Where In the World is Carmen Sandeigo? or Oregon Trail. But the PC also played host to a vast library of action games like Commander Keen and Prince of Persia.

Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?

As part of my Retro Rewind project, I plan to occasionally revisit some of these gems from the depth of the vault and hopefully introduce them to a new audience.  As I mentioned above, I’m going to start with Ultima. This is a game series that I’ve wanted to review for quite some time, but never took the time to do so. When I was young, I played through the first eight chapters in the Ultima saga, but I never finished the entire series.  The time to complete Ultima is upon us! Once I publish this article I’m taking a brief respite from both my Retro Rewind articles and my regular backlog list to focus exclusively on the series. I hope you enjoy it.

Retro Rewind: Sega Master System

When it comes to the 1980’s, I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo emerged as the clear winner in the home console market. Once the NES overtook the Atari, nothing was able to stand in their way. But every story has an underdog. In this case, it was the Sega Master System.

I remember seeing the television commercials and I even had a few friends that owned one of these systems. But personally, I never had much hands-on experience with the console. In truth, the Master System just couldn’t compete against the vast library and developer support that Nintendo was able to garner. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of your attention. The Master System did actually have a handful of games that would go down as classics. Games like Alex Kidd, Wonder Boy, and of course, Phantasy Star. These titles still rank up there as some of the best home console titles ever.

Phantasy Star

For me, Phantasy Star is of particular interest. It is an odd mix of first-person CRPGs like Wizardry and Ultima, and overhead RPGs like Dragon Quest. But despite having roots spawned from other classic games, it was groundbreaking in so many other ways. The game launched a whole franchise and it is still hailed as one of the most legendary RPG titles to date. As far as I’m concerned, Phantasy Star was THE only reason I wanted to get my hands on the Sega Master System. But to date, I still have yet to experience this legendary game. Thankfully, the game has been ported a number of times and is pending a digital release on the Nintendo Switch in the very near future. So getting a copy to review isn’t going to be very difficult.

If you’re curious about other games from the Master System, getting a hold on them may prove to be a bit challenging. While Sega has made it fairly easy to enjoy their older games historically, (almost every “essential” Master System title was made on the Wii Virtual Console), there’s really no good way to enjoy the majority of them on today’s hardware. Hopefully, this is going to change very soon. As I mentioned above, Phantasy Star is about to become available on the Switch as part of the Sega Ages collection and a few other Master System games have been announced as well. So, time will tell. I certainly hope to see some of these older games made more widely available, otherwise emulation will continue to rule the roost and Sega will lose countless dollars to piracy.

Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 2)

First, I want to start this post with an apology for my absence. When I make multi-part posts like this one, I like to try to have them uploaded no more than a few days apart. In this case it’s been a little over a week since my last entry. This delay was largely due to a recent career change. That’s right, I’m no longer working from home in the banking industry. Instead, I’ve switched gears for something a little more blue-collar. I decided a few months ago that the mental stress caused by my previous job was best abandoned for something a bit simpler. It’s taken me a few weeks to adjust to the new schedule and find my groove. So again, I apologize for the delay. With that out of the way, let’s continue our journey into some of the classic arcade titles of the 1980’s!

Millipede

Millipede – In the same way that Galaga was a re-imagining of Galaxian, Millipede is an update to the classic Centipede. The gameplay is largely the same, with the exception of some new enemies and environmental objects. Millipede was intended to replace its predecessor. But for many players, myself included, it just didn’t have the same magic as the original game. I’m not sure what it is exactly – as both games are very similar. But I just prefer Centipede over this update. Sadly, if you’re curious about Millipede, you’re a bit out of luck. While Millipede has been released on a number of systems over the years, it is currently unavailable on modern consoles.

Donkey Kong Jr. – In my last entry I spoke a bit about the Nintendo arcade classic Donkey Kong. Well, as you might expect, Donkey Kong Jr. is a sequel to that legendary game. The original game ends when Mario captures Donkey Kong and rescues his girlfriend. In this title, you play as the son of Donkey Kong on a quest to rescue his father. Much like the previous game, this is a fast-paced platform title. It’s a fun twist on the original title and one that I actually find it to be a bit more enjoyable than the first. Donkey Kong Jr. is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and coming soon to the Nintendo Switch online service. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys Nintendo-style platformers.

Joust – Did you ever want to knock out a friend with a giant lance from the back of a speeding bird? If so, Joust is the game for you. While not the first 2-player co-operative/competitive video game, it was arguably the most popular.  In Joust, you can either work together with a friend to eliminate bad guys from the back of a flying ostrich, or you can simply duke it out head-to-head. Personally, I can tell you that when I was young, the whole point of playing Joust was to compete with someone else. It was very therapeutic. In fact, many disputes of my youth were settled via Joust matches. Today, curious gamers can  experience this title via the Xbox Live Arcade.

Moon Patrol

Moon Patrol – I loved this game when I was a kid. Nothing was better than Moon Patrol. I remember how excited I was to see that the game was finally available on the Atari 2600, only to quickly have that excitement deflated upon seeing just how horrendous the Atari port actually was. It was bad… So, so bad. The arcade was the only way to really experience this classic title when I was a kid. What made Moon Patrol so great? Well, first of all, there was the “moon buggy”. Who didn’t want to drive a funky-looking moon buggy across the lunar surface while blasting aliens and hopping craters? I know I sure did. The game was made even better by the catchy theme song that played throughout the game itself. All of this made Moon Patrol a classic that still withstands the test of time. Moon Patrol is available today on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Pole PositionNeed for Speed, Forza, Gran Turismo – all of these game franchises owe their success to Pole PositionPole Position is the original arcade racing game. There was no joystick on a Pole Position machine. Instead, the game machine was equipped with a steering wheel and gas pedal. There was nothing else like it at the time. I remember sitting down in the arcade driver’s seat for the first time, I was blown away. This game was unlike anything else I had ever seen. For kids like me, Pole Position set a very unrealistic expectation about what driving a car was actually like – but that’s what makes it fun! Today, you can play the original game as part of the NAMCO Museum collection on Xbox Arcade.  However, the only way to relive the original experience is by sitting inside one of the classic Pole Position machines, assuming you can manage to find one.

Q*Bert – Here we have one of the true classic golden-age titles: Q*bert. When I was a kid, Q*Bert blew me away because it was a video game that could actually talk – well, sort of. The game has a very basic synthesizer built into the audio board. This allowed the game to output obscure vocal tones. However, these phonmes don’t actually end up being combined into English words, instead it was gibberish. The result was very unique and quirky. Regardless, it was pretty groundbreaking at the time. Q*Bert is a game in which each level is comprised of a number of 3D-like cubes. The player controls a funky little orange character that jumps from cube to cube in attempt to change each cube to a uniform color. Once every cube on the stage matches, the levels ends and the game progresses. Of course, there are a handful of bad guys hopping around also. So you must always be aware of your surroundings. This game was a favorite of mine when I was very young. Today, Q*Bert is available on the PS4 and Xbox One as part of Q*Bert Rebooted. This title includes the original classic, as well as a modern re-imagining of the game.

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros. – Most people you will encounter have played Super Mario Bros. But how many are familiar with its predecessor? That’s right, before they were “super”, they were just the “Mario Bros.” This game is a simple platformer, that consists of a number of stages. Mario (or Mario and Luigi – if playing in two-player mode) must defeat a set number of enemies in order to advance to the next stage. Unlike Super Mario Bros., the characters are unable to jump on top of monsters to defeat them. Instead, they must bang on the underside of the platform that the monsters inhabit. This will flip the monster onto its back, thus allowing Mario to kick them into oblivion. Even though Mario Bros. was designed to be a co-operative two-player title, many people enjoyed trying to sabotage the other player in one way or another. When I was a kid, this was only real reason to play the game. Mario Bros. has seen some form of release on almost every system Nintendo has put out over the years. However, each of these ports have paled in comparison to the actual arcade version. Today, the only way way to play the “true” version of Mario Bros. is via the Nintendo Switch. The game is included there as part of the “Arcade Archives” series.

Gauntlet – If you’re a fan of dungeon crawl games, you owe a debt of gratitude to Gauntlet. This is the game that started it all. Gauntlet is a multi-player action game with a fantasy theme. It supports up to four players, each taking the role of a different hero; Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie – each with unique strengths and weaknesses. The object of the game is navigate through the dungeon maze, face hordes of monsters, collect troves of treasure, and ultimately find the exit. In its day, this game was infamous for draining young arcade-goers of countless quarter. Admittedly, I spent a small fortune of my weekly allowance on “continues” for this title. I was completely enthralled with Gauntlet. In fact, this game might very be responsible for my lifelong fascination with the fantasy genre. For a time, the original Gauntlet was once available on Xbox Live Arcade. But today, this classic is currently unavailable on modern platforms. Instead, there is a modern reboot with the same name. But make no mistake, there is only one classic Gauntlet.

Rampage – If you’ve ever wanted to assume the role of a giant monster and destroy entire city blocks, Rampage is the game for you. In this game, you can control one of three kaiju monsters; a giant ape, a giant lizard, or a giant wolf. The goal is to complete demolish various US cities, stage by stage. Of course, military and other hazards await the player.  Rampage was another game that really shined in two-player mode. Sure, it was fun enough on its own, but experiencing it with a friend makes it even that much better. Today, the original game is available in the Midway Arcade Origins collection, which is compatible with the Xbox One. (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, not included.)

 

The games detailed in both this, and my last post are simply some of my personal arcade favorites from the golden-age of gaming. This is by no means meant to be a definitive list of golden-age classics. Nor should it be considered a complete “best of” list. In fact, there are many more wonderful arcade titles from the 80’s that captured my attention. Classics like Popeye, Bubble Bobble, Dragon Spirit, 1943, and Afterburner just to a name a few – all left major impressions on me.  However, if you are a younger gamer with an interest in retro-gaming, any of the titles mentioned in there two posts are excellent starting points.

Modern games are amazing. But it is always important to remember your roots.

R.I.P. Art Bell

It was a late fall night in 1997. I was driving home from my drummer’s house after an all-night rehearsal. The tape deck in my car was on the fritz and none of the FM stations were playing anything of value. I was groggy and the rhythmic passing of the dotted lines on the highway were lulling me closer and closer to the danger zone. Out of desperation for something to keep me awake I switched the radio dial to AM and began to spin through the stations. That was when I discovered him.

A baritone voice boomed through the speakers, “Wildcard line, you are on the air!”

What followed was some of the most interesting  radio I had ever experienced. A caller claiming to be a government employee working at Area 51 had called the talk show. His voice was panicked and only grew more distressed as he continued to speak. He was issuing a warning to the listeners. The host, Art Bell, remained calm and patient and attempted to ease the caller. That’s when the feed was cut. The show went silent. After several long minutes a commercial aired, it was followed by the voice of Art Bell. He explained that a loss of signal caused his broadcast to go off the air temporarily. (As it was later revealed, the entire radio network that hosts the show lost their satellite signal). It was riveting. Was it a hoax? Was the caller a simple joker who just happened to be followed by a consequential network outage? Or was it something more nefarious… a government conspiracy? Over the years, this odd string of events has today become a bit of an urban legend. But needless to say, it kept me awake and alert for the rest of drive home.

From that moment forward, I was an Art Bell fan. His shows Coast to Coast AM and Dreamland were almost required listening at my home. If was up after midnight, Art Bell and his paranormal talk show was on my radio. Art was my companion for many late night gaming sessions, believe me.

As the years went by I stood by Art and his many retirements, jumps to other networks, and eventually the founding of his own online streaming service. Sure, I’ve rolled my eyes at some of the personal dramas surrounding his later years. But, there has never been anyone like him on the air.

From the subject matter, to his iconic voice. Everything about Art Bell made him perfect for overnight radio.

This morning I woke up to news about his passing.  The ride is over, but his fans will never forget it.

Remembering the Playstation

From the 80’s to the early 90’s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo decided to partner with Sony on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90’s that I virtually ignored home console games. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming months I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Nerd Passion: Dungeons & Dragons

So far, this site has focused mainly on video games. That’s not too bad. Almost everyone plays video games to some extent. We’ve also touched on subjects just a little bit less mainstream; comics, Star Wars, etc. But again, who doesn’t like Superman or Darth Vader? These are household names. So today, I’m going to talk about one of my passions that is 100%, unfiltered NERD MATERIAL. That is: Dungeons & Dragons.

I love D&D. But sadly, I have not played it in many years. For those of you who are not familiar with the game. Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role playing game. It’s played with books, paper, dice, and these days, miniatures. Perhaps, you’ve seen the movie E.T., remember the scene where Elliot and his brother are sitting around the table talking about elves and magic missiles? That was D&D.

I was first introduced to D&D when I was about eleven years old. I remember seeing some of the rulebooks in the bookstore and I was very intrigued. This was around the time that the original version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was transitioning to its second edition. At this time in my life I lived on the island of Okinawa in Japan, so when I expressed an interest in playing, my parents had some of their young AirForce friends come over for dinner and they stuck around to teach me how to play.

Over the years, I experienced a number of fantastic adventures. I played First Edition and Second Edition D&D. I bought and collected all the material I could get my hands on, and even read several of the novels. (Dragonlance was a favorite of mine). However, like many other things in my life, my interest in the hobby started to fade as I got older. By the time the Third Edition of D&D was released, I was no longer playing.

But, my interest in the game never completely faded. In reality, between school, work, and other hobbies I could never find the time to pick it back up. I also became a bit disgruntled by the rapid release cycle. In just a few short years the third edition of D&D became 3.5, and than before you know it, Fourth Edition was being shoved down everyone’s throats. I couldn’t afford to keep up if I wanted to.

These days, I have a bit more time on my hands and I find my interest in the hobby rekindled. The hardest thing about playing these days is not finding the time, but finding people to play with. Tabletop RPGs have recently taken a backseat to computer games. Today, the “D&D Nerds” play MMO games like World of Warcraft. No one seems enjoy that nostalgic sound of dice rolling across a dining room table. I miss that! After doing a bit of research, it seems the best way to find other players is by hanging out in local hobby shops or stopping by for official “hosted games”. Not my first choice, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I feel like this problem may have more to do with my location than with the overall interest in the game itself. I live in the middle of nowhere. The nearest hobby shop is thirty miles away. So, yeah.

Despite these hurdles, I’m starting to feel that D&D itch again. After doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is on the horizon. The new version of the game is expected to launch this summer. It is my intention to get in on the ground floor with this “D&D Next“, as they are calling it.

Naturally, I plan to detail my experiences here. So if that’s your cup of tea, keep an eye out in the coming months.

Nerd Passion: Comic Books

spiderman-pile-comic-books1

So far the posts on this site have been almost entirely focused on gaming. That’s ok, but there are some other topics that I want to comment on as well. Now that I’m all caught up on the games of my youth, I feel like I’m somewhat free to discuss other things. So now, I’m going to spend a few moments to discuss something equally as nerdy as video games… comics.

I can easily say that I’m a comic fan. I love super heroes, and I enjoy reading comics, but I’m not quite as passionate about them as I am about games. Like most things I’ve discussed on this site, my love for comics these days is mostly fueled by nostalgia.  My early childhood took place during the 80’s, my teenage years during the 90’s. These were great times to be a kid. We had the best TV, the best games and the best comics.

As a young child, I wasn’t into to comics very much. I remember having a few random comics laying around my room, but nothing that I read religiously. My interest in comic books didn’t actually blossom until I was maybe twelve or thirteen. It was 1991 and I was living on an Air Force base in Japan and one day I was riding my bike home from school when I stopped into a corner market to grab a drink. There was a big comic display that I usually never gave a second glance to, but that day there was something that caught my eye; a Double Dragon comic book!

Double Dragon was the name of a popular Nintendo game, one that I’ve talked about on this site actually. The game itself had a somewhat shallow storyline, but it was one of my favorites at the time, so this comic book caught my eye. I had enough money on me so I bought it and took it home. That afternoon I read through it and found that I really enjoyed it. I think the one I bought was number three in a series of four or six books. Over the next few days, I scoured the various stores on base I and I was eventually able to acquire the issues I was missing.  By the time I was done reading the whole series, I realized… hey, these comic books are pretty good!

I decided to check out some more, so a few days later I went back to the shop and picked up this epic looking thing:

 

The Infinity Gauntlet! This book (and the mini series it was a part of) was an epic crossover event that introduced me to the Marvel universe. This is where my love for comics really started to build. I purchased everything I could get my hands on. Spider Man, X-Men, The Silver Surfer.. you name it. I wanted to see what I had been missing.

Just a few months after getting really into comics, my family moved back to the United States. Once I was back here, I discovered the glory of comic book stores. There’s no telling how much money I blew at these places. I was not really a big fan of DC Comics at this point, so I focused mainly on Marvel offerings. I enjoyed Spider Man, and I read almost every Spidey title that was out. I was also a fan of his villains, so  I made sure to snap every Venom, Carnage and Morbius book that happened to show up on the shelf. But aside from Spider Man, the other stuff I read wasn’t very mainstream. I enjoyed more obscure titles like Sleepwalker and Deathlok. During the early 90’s there was also a Marvel imprint known as “2099”. This featured a futuristic take on traditional Marvel characters. I loved and collected these with a passion.

 

My comic phase lasted maybe two or three years before fizzling out almost completely. I kept my books for many years, but the purchase and reading of comics was eventually replaced with my newfound passion for music. As I got involved in the music scene and began performing in a band, my comic books were all but forgotten.

This lull lasted for over a decade. Then one day, I happened to see a mention online that DC comics was doing something pretty radical. They were going to reboot their entire line of books, starting over with brand new #1 issues. Immediately, the nostalgia pangs for comic reading started. So, I decided to see what was going on with this and I purchased a handful of these books.

I was immediately impressed by the quality of these comics. Both in art and storytelling, but also in the physical quality of the product. Comics have really improved over time! The pages are now a thicker, sturdy material. The art is crisp and clear, no more newspaper style inky messes. I was really impressed.

Since DC’s launch of the “New 52”, Marvel has also followed with a semi-reboot as well. So if you are someone who is interested in comics, this is a great time to jump in.

My purchase of physical comic books lasted about six months before I finally made the switch over to digital. Now, I collect comics on my computer and read them on a tablet. Technology has really made this an easy hobby to enjoy. You can carry hundreds of comics with you anywhere thanks to reading devices like the iPad and the Kindle Fire.

The internet has made digital distribution a very profitable way for publishers to release quality comics. Aside from the big two (DC and Marvel), there are tons of independent or smaller publishers out there. Titles like The Walking Dead are a good example of this.

So yes, aside from being a game geek, I’m also a comic nerd. Just another notch on my nerd resume. With this post, I begin occasionally adding some comic related entries to the blog. This is something I won’t do very often, but expect a few posts from time to time.

Rise of the MMOs – Part 1

Ultima_Online_cover

The nineties were a truly epic time for gaming. This decade saw many changes in the home console market. Handheld gaming became mainstream. And of course, PC gaming took off at a rapid pace. With the ever growing popularity of the internet, a new concept in gaming began to rise to the surface: online connectivity.

The first online multiplayer game that I ever played was a text-based adventure game hosted by a local BBS. It was called Legend Of the Red Dragon (LORD for short). The game was quite simple actually, but it totally floored me at time. The BBS in which it was hosted could only handle one or two connections simultaneously. When trying to connect during peak hours I’d have to command my modem to dial over and over until I was finally able to get on. LORD is a hard game to explain these days, but essentially, the first time you played it you made a character and you could perform a certain number of tasks daily. This is includes things like fighting monsters, exploring, flirting with the taverns girls, etc. I don’t believe you could participate with other players in real time, but you could leave notes for other players that they would see when they logged in. Also, a log of player actions and accomplishments were posted so that everyone could see what had gone on during the day. At the time, the whole concept was fascinating to me and I have many fond memories of the title.

Example of the LORD interface courtesy of Moby Games

LORD was a watered down version of what is known as a MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon. These text-based games allowed multiple players to interact together to one degree or another. MUDs were the first “MMOs” in many ways.

The first full blown Massive Multiplayer Online game that I truly experienced was Ultima Online.  I had been a fan of the Wizardry series for many years, and I had recently came off a binge of playing every RPG game I could find on the PC. as a result, I had just finished a marathon of Ultima games and the franchise was on my mind. I remember seeing the game on the shelf of my local computer store and I recall the fierce debate that raged inside my head; do I really want to pay to buy this game and then pay to play it?

I had a somewhat moral objection to revenue model for this game. I had recently read about it in a magazine and I was appalled to learn that the game was going to have a monthly subscription. In my mind, paying for the purchase of the game was enough. I had all but decided to boycott the product, but yet, actually seeing on the shelf – I couldn’t resist.

I played Ultima Online for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t able to really get a sense of understanding for the title. It looked and played like some of the later titles in the series. But the online element felt rather chaotic. Also, to me, there didn’t seem to be any clear-cut goals to accomplish. Maybe I just missed something, but by the time my free month had expired, I decided that the game wasn’t for me and filed in the back of desk drawer – swearing to ignore these types of “pay to play” games from now on.

Of course, a year or two later I was persuaded into trying the latest and greatest multiplayer title, Everquest. You see, by this time I had moved on from hanging out on BBS forums and I was a full blown Internet user. I used to hang out in an IRC chat room with other local people and all of them were big Everquest fans. They raved about it non-stop. So, I bought the game and indeed, I was impressed by the way the title looked and operated. I was quite ignorant about the inner workings of the game, and I didn’t really understand the community aspect that already formed around the game, but I was enjoying exploring and checking things out.

Everquest

It was only a few days after getting my feet wet with the game that I again decided, this was not the title for me. You see, every time my character would leave town, I would be attacked by a group of players. Being new and inexperienced, I was no match for them. I would literally take one step out of town and BOOM. These guys would kill me. It was my first experience of being griefed by another player. It was all I needed to say “That’s it. I’m done.” Despite this bad experience, the game still intrigued me. I could see the draw behind the game. Everquest reminded me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (The tabletop role playing game that I played a lot as a young teen).  I found the setting and most aspects of the game very appealing. But at that time in my life, I had very little patience and being held back by other players was just unacceptable. Today, the game is still active and in fact recently reached its fifteenth birthday. Since the time of its original release, the game has changed dramatically, nineteen expansions and countless updates, the Everquest of today barely resembles the Everquest that I played in 1998. In fact, I believe it is even Free-To-Play now. I’m also sure that the type of player-killing I encountered now has some safeguard in effect, so for the curious, the game might be worth a look. It’s also important to note that Everquest spawned a sequel, Everquest II. A third sequel is also rumored to be on the way.

Due to these experiences, I stayed away from MMO RPG style games for a long time. My multiplayer experience was restricted to first person shooters almost exclusively. Then, one day I saw an article stating that Square Enix was looking for players to help test a new online game, this game would be Final Fantasy XI. This struck a chord with me. I had enjoyed the Final Fantasy series immensely and for the first time in a while, I found an MMO that interested me.  I’m not going to go into too much detail here now, because one day I will post a whole article about XI. But, this game is the MMO that finally managed to hook me. I played the crap out of this game. I have wasted years of my life… seriously. It’s actually kind of sad.

Final Fantasy XI

In Final Fantasy XI, I found the perfect balance I has always been looking for in a multiplayer game. FFXI has a wonderful storyline. So, you’re not just walking around killing monsters and getting stronger for no apparent reason… you’re doing it so that you can continue experiencing the game itself. In fact, everyone is doing this – as a result, teamwork is encouraged. It finally all made sense. FFXI really opened my eyes to the magic of MMO games. Since that time, I have tried several titles over the years with varying degrees of success.

No discussion about MMO games would be complete without a mention of what is arguably, the most popular of all time, World of Warcraft. WoW is the title that really brought MMO games into the public consciousness. I should go on record as saying that I am not really a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have played it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But by the time WoW popped up on my radar, I fully invested in Final Fantasy and WoW did not offer enough compelling gameplay to tear me away from my home. That being said, Warcraft certainly offers a lot for new players and it’s very easy to get into.  One feature that really set WoW apart from the other games at the time was the concept of player alliances. You see, when creating a character in World of Warcraft, you have to choose between creating an Alliance character or Horde character. This represents your character’s allegiance or affiliation. Originally, this had a big impact on gameplay. You could only befriend and talk to other players on your faction, members of the opposition were considered enemies. This has become very watered down over the years, and the concept really doesn’t mean as much as it once did. In many ways, the World of Warcraft has reached the sunset of its lifetime. Over the last couple years, the game population has dwindled as more MMO games have captured the attention of players. Now, players can often even create characters that are instantly granted maximum level in the game. This is a practice I disagree with.

Regardless, WoW really did wonders for the genre. It introduced concepts and practices that were very much needed and still permeate to this day. For example, in Warcraft, when you encounter an NPC that offers a quest, there is an icon floating over the head of that character. This let’s you know that they have something interesting to say. In prior games like Everquest and Final Fantasy, there was no identifier. To uncover quests and assignments you pretty much had to wander around and talk to every NPC that you encountered. WoW also popularized the Quest Tracker. This provided an in-game log of assignments and your character’s progress on them. Until now, these sorts of things had to be kept track of manually on paper by the player.

Character Creation for WoW

After the success of Warcraft, it seemed that there was a new MMO popping up every time you turned around. Conan, Vanguard, Guild Wars, the list goes on and on. For the most part, I managed to ignore most of these games and stuck with Final Fantasy. But occasionally, I ventured off my tried and true path.

I admit being suckered into buying the original Guild Wars and all of it’s expansions. This game intrigued me with its beautiful art-direction and pricing. You see, unlike most other games, Guild Wars does not require a monthly subscription. It functions off a model known as Buy-to-Play. After paying for the initial boxed software, you can play the game for free. As a result, the content in the game is somewhat limited compared with other MMOs, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

One of other side effects of this sort of pricing I discovered, is the general immaturity of other players. Up until now, I had found MOST other game participants to fairly friendly and mature. This was especially true for Final Fantasy XI. WoW certainly had its number of jerks, but nothing like what I experienced in Guild Wars. I’m not sure how it is today, but back in 2007/2008 you could almost guarantee that the first thing you would see when logging into the game was a line of half-naked women dancing or people arguing in open chat. One time I asked another player if they wanted to team up for a quest and I was told repeatedly to “eat his farts”. So… free to play and buy to play gamers, be prepared to grow some thick skin against this type of nonsense.

The beautiful world of Guild Wars

I’ll be continuing my thoughts on MMO gaming in another post within the next couple of days. If this is a subject that interests you, stay tuned.

Lost in the Shuffle – Forgotten PC Games

 

With my review of WarCraft III out of the way, I have finally played through the bulk of my entire physical PC catalog. Well, not exactly… there’s a couple of titles I purchased back in the day that I didn’t review now, because I either didn’t complete them when they were new or I have plans to replay them at a later date (the Ultima games, for example).

But just like my look back on the classic NES games of my youth, there’s also a handful of titles that I just didn’t get around to reviewing for a variety of reasons. As the picture above indicates, the infamous Daikatana is one of those games…

Daikatana is famous for being an exceptionally terrible game. I was one of the suckers that purchased the game at full price when it was first released only to be caught dead in my tracks due to bugs and unable to progress through it. Like many others, I waited patiently for a patch. When the fixes finally came, I seem to remember that my savefile no longer worked, meaning I would have had to start the game over again. Disgusted with this turn of events, I shelved the game.

I briefly toyed with the idea of revisiting Daikatana, but I found the game did not really perform well on my modern PC. I’ve heard rumors of an unofficial patch in development. Perhaps, I’ll give this game another look if it ever sees the light of day.

Another game that I intended to review was SiN – this was a Quake-Engine game that came out just a few weeks before Half-Life. It is a first person-shooter that features some pretty innovative gameplay. Sadly, Half-Life became such a runaway hit, that some of the thunder was stolen-away from SiN. This game also has the honor of being the first mature game with nudity that I ever played… that was a shocker at the time.

This was actually a title that I fully intended to play, but again, I had some serious issues getting this game to run properly. Shortly after I decided to skip over the title, GOG.com released a version of the game. I have purchased and tested the GOG release, and I’m happy to say it runs perfectly. This is a title I expect to revisit and review sometime in the future.

descent-3-screen-2-5B1-5D

Finally, if the screenshot above doesn’t bring back pangs of nostalgia, then you simply were not a PC gamer in the 90’s… The Descent trilogy were some extremely innovative titles that featured “360-degrees of motion”. These games were infamous for giving people motion sickness and I was no exception. Once my eyes and brain got adjusted to the games, they started to feel natural and I remember being quite good at them actually. I spent many hours as a teenager playing multiplayer Descent, but these days I found the look and feel of the game to be a bit too much for me. Maybe I’m getting old or perhaps the game plays too fast on modern hardware, but I encountered a very difficult time controlling the games this time around. Perhaps my days as the “Material Defender” are over.

– Sidenote, I remember owning a Descent clone by the name of Forsaken. Instead of piloting a space fighter, you rode flying motorbikes through a series of 360-degree mazes. It would be nice to get my hands on a copy of that gem again.

As far as games that I purchased, but never really got to dig into, the honor goes to Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2003/2004. I also owned, but never completed, Baldur’s Gate – the classic Dungeons & Dragons title.  All of these are games I plan on covering here in due time.

There are also several PC games that I did enjoy in my younger days that I have decided not to cover at this time. The Star Wars titles, as well as a handful of role playing games fall into this category. I have future plans for these so stay tuned.

Of course, no one person can experience every PC game. If you have any good suggestions, please feel free to let me know. I occasionally get messages and comments and I’m always willing to try something new.

The End of the 16-bit Era

    Street Fighter II

As the 90’s rolled on, the original NES was eventually put out to pasture and completely eclipsed by its successor. Years went by and new games were released, but by the mid-90’s my interest was starting to wane.

The last game I remember playing to completion on the SNES was probably Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. This title was a simplified RPG, intended as an introduction to the genre. I remember playing it and being slightly let down. I felt that it was “Final Fantasy” in name only. And, while not a bad game, it didn’t live up to the reputation.

Mystic Quest

I also noticed around that time, that the games featured in Nintendo Power Magazine started to change. Classic concepts such as platform games started to give way to newer styles such as fighting games and realistic racing games. Sports games started to be pushed a lot harder than they had been previously. The Nintendo kids were starting to grow up, and Nintendo as a company was not sure what to do about it. Censorship and other issues forced Nintendo to lose a little bit of ground to competitors. And let’s not forget, the dawn of the personal computer had also arrived.

At this point in my teenage years, my interests began to shift from cartoonish style gaming to things much more tangible… like girls. I began spending less time playing video games and more time practicing on my guitar. Eventually, the NES and SNES got put in the closet and were only taken out when friends were over. Even then, our play shifted from things like Mario to multiplayer fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat II

 

Even my trusty Game Boy was eventually replaced by a Walkman as a form of “entertainment on the go”. The last game I really remember spending time with on my Game Boy was the Final Fantasy Adventure. (Another name-dropper. This game, while good, was not a Final Fantasy title. But instead, was first in what would come to be known as the Mana series. – I decided not to include FF Adventure in my playthrough reviews because a remake of the game has since been released for the GBA).

When I did feel the urge to play, I found myself sitting in front of my mother’s PC playing some of the later games in the Wizardry series. For me, it seemed that I had matured past my video game days. And for a couple of years, I didn’t spend much time gaming at all.

That changed in the latter-half of my highschool career when I built my first PC. That was when I discovered that PC gaming was more than text-based adventures and frame-by-frame fantasy games. It was the dawn of the First-Person Shooter.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing mainly on my early days of PC gaming. I’ll still have a few modern reviews thrown in here and there, so fear not console-lovers.

Also, this leaves a bit of a gap. As discussed in the a couple of my recent Retro Reviews, there were a number of games that I missed out on. Only recently did I  take my first stab at Super Punch Out! for example. There’s a number of great games from the 16-bit era that I simply have not experienced, that are now considered classics. Star Fox, Earthbound, and the Mega Man X series to name a few. I plan to catch up to some of these in due time, and I’ll feature them all right here. But for the meantime, I plan to have this blog follow my own personal journey through gaming.