She sits at the top of the high places above the city. She is restless and determined. She girds her loins with strength. Her feet stay not in her house. She moves in every direction and into every corner. Her evolutions are wonderful, her spirit untiring. How comely are her footsteps as she moves diagonally, one step after another, from square to square!
-12th century Spanish Hebrew text,
This game has been with me my whole game playing life, likely one of the first games we got from my uncle upon purchasing an Amiga. I mean, Chess is one of the oldest games, so why not make it one of the first you own on your new computer box?
The BC AI was always difficult to beat (more on that later) and it could be relied upon for a challenge. Since I am an only child, this was very important! What set BC apart from other Chess games was its animation.
When moving a piece, they walk around like people. No bases, no sliding along the board, just straight walking. Pawns are little Squires, Knights are literally armoured knights and so forth. The most interesting piece in an aesthetic sense is the Rook. Rather than simply use a moving tower, the developers decided it should become a hulking rock monster, resembling a golem. Many Pawns have met their doom at the hands of this monster.
This brings me to BC’s crowning achievement, the combat. When a piece is taken a brief (sometimes not) animation takes place, representing the combat. Rooks smash, Knights slice and Bishops can often show their crafty side with a ninja like display with their crosier. The King, in the rare occasions when they take a piece, show a variety of tricks, from a box of magic powder to a 16th century style pistol.
Fittingly, it is the queen who is the most entertaining. A powerful sorceress, she shoots fireballs and can shrink her opponents to a more manageable size. It is also hinted that the queen is a dragon. What a twist!
However, I feel this game provided a great disservice. By making some of funniest and cleverest animations for when pieces are taken, Battle Chess made the game more about setting up moves, eg Pawn takes Queen. and not playing and learning the real game of chess. Maybe I am just bad at looking more than one move ahead.
To make sense of the title, Battle Chess was one of the earliest games that Silicone and Synapse went to work on, making a version for windows and the Commodore 64. They would later call themselves Blizzard.
“You’ve got to listen to me. Elementary chaos theory tells us that all robots will eventually turn against their masters and run amok in an orgy of blood and kicking and the biting with the metal teeth and the hurting and shoving.”
-Dr. John Frink
It seems the old (?) doc was right about this one. In the future, the robots have rebelled. Fortunately for humanity, they aren’t in a popular tourist destination, but in remote mines and military bases throughout our solar system. Earth is safe, but these bases need to be cleansed and we are the only man… man enough to do it.
After a mission briefing, which hilariously includes your own sarcastic thoughts to what the corporate overlords are asking, it is straight to the action. Piloting your craft, you navigate the mines, destroying the infected and/or rebellious robots and rescuing the mine workers who have been imprisoned. I don’t know why these insane robots would bother imprisoning people. Maybe they are ransoming them for precious lug nuts? It isn’t really explained. Needless to say, the robots need destroying.
Each mine or base follows a sequence of finding the blue key, then the yellow key (which was behind the locked blue door), then the red key (which was behind the locked yellow door). The red door will lead to a section of the mine with a power generator which needs to be destroyed. It will take a while to destroy, even with powerful weapons, but it can’t move. It has to rely on its own modest (but constant) firepower and any remaining robots. When it is destroyed, the most intense part of Descent begins.
By destroying the reactor/power generator, the level will start shaking and begin to
explode around you, giving you forty seconds to escape. For some unknown reason the entrance door is sealed behind you so that cannot be used as a way out. Sealed emergency exits are encountered (hopefully) during your search for the reactor. They can’t be used for an early escape, but they do open when the base is about to blow. These are your only way out.
When it was new, what set Descent apart from most games of the day was its presentation. Unlike Doom, which was only a year old, Descent has the player flying around the world in an actual 3D environment. I’m not going to look up the terminology, but Doom used tricks to make the environments look like they had ups and downs. You could never walk under a platform, or over the top of anything, such were the limitations at the time.
Descent was only 14 months after Doom and already a major technical improvement had been made. Traveling over and under different areas not only made the level design far more complex than in Doom, it also gave the robots so many extra ways to come at you. Believe me, angry robots are just as scary as a Baron of Hell.
Descent was one of the early PC games that I really wanted but I was still making do with my aged (yet beloved) Amiga. I had a few friends who owned the Shareware version (those were the days) which runs for about 3-4 hours (a good game length in 2014). I was very happy that I could pay a few dollars just last week and grab a copy of this fantastic game and its sequel.
I’m up to the 11th level and there are 30… it’s already so very hard
Wish me luck!
It is a scary place.
I’m saying ‘is’ because I am currently walking a group of fine fellows through it. These ‘fellows’ (men or women) have decided to strike out as heroes and make their names known. On their way to riches and renown, they’ll be assaulted by bandits, solve mysteries and recover holy relics. Why else would they do this though? I mentioned heroics and bankroll, but there is a third, even more important reason.
In 1992, Microprose, the masters of depth and realism, intended Darklands to be a simulation of high adventure in fifteenth century Germany. However, the Germany you’re in is not real, but what people at the time believed. You’ll not only fight bandits, but gargoyles. The mysteries you solve are why the mine goblins aren’t letting the miners do their job anymore and the holy relics you recover are magical.
Darklands is controlled in many ways, the most common being a map screen. Similarities to 1998’s Baldur’s Gate are many, but with the travel mechanics reversed. Baldur’s Gate, which came six years after Darklands, has your heroes being directed manually through towns, where as the map view is almost a menu with no freedom to go anywhere, apart from the preset locations. Darklands has the town interaction menu driven, greatly speeding up the process of getting around. In the outside mode it allows full control over where the player can take his adventurers. It is this quick, menu driven interaction in towns that allows Darklands to still be playable and slick so later.
Comparisons to Baldur’s Gate come again with the combat, which is in real time. Pausing the game lets you assess the situation and assign different tasks to your characters. Strategy and planning generally flies out the window about ten seconds after any fighting begins, particularly since you are outnumbered in almost every encounter. Generally, combat is a few seconds of throwing potions and spears, shooting arrows, or firing early handguns and then your opponents will close with mêlée weapons.
I mentioned God earlier for good reason. Religion is key of almost every part of Darklands. All characters that are in your team are practicing Catholics. There is no doubt in their hearts and minds who the one true god is. However, because this is set in a semi-fantasy world, praying to St. Clotilde will really improve your abilities in healing wounds for a few days and St. Christopher means your horses travel faster than ever before. In a time when even those who thought the Catholic Church was corrupt and failing, there were few who didn’t believe in a god, miracles and the power of prayer.
Perhaps more important than god is that other religion, money. Medieval Germany has three coins, pfennigs, groschen and florins,
which are roughly equal to our old pennies, shillings and pounds. Money is hard to come by and you’ll initially be shocked at how expensive anything good is (which I was). Do a few missions for the right people though, and you’ll be showered with riches. I daresay thirty florins is more money than most people would have ever seen in their life, and if you kill a robber baron for the Medici, you will receive that big money.
There is so much to cover in this game. The character generation is in-depth and fun, allowing a large variety of specialists. Whoever you decide to create, make sure everyone is strong and tough. Everyone will need to be able to stand toe to toe with soldiers, wolves or other horrors. Someone needs to be able to make potions and
another needs to be able to heal. Speaking Latin, reading and writing as well as using swords are important skills. Your characters can take a few weeks off from adventuring and earn money as smiths, clerks or even physicians!
This is a very ambitious game, where dealing with heresy is as serious and real as Sauron’s influence in Lord of the Rings. Do you help the merchants getting attacked by bandits or do you hide and let them be robbed and killed? Will you visit the university in Leipzig for training in Alchemy or will you plunder an ancient tomb to recover a lost family heirloom?
I have played Darklands for two long periods never stuck with it long enough to finish it. I did get close once. I am certain that even if I were to finish it a dozen times, I’d never have seen everything in it.
Darklands is vast, slick and twenty-two years old. It’s still a hell of a game.
The Master System was the only serious challenge to Nintendo’s dominance from the mid ‘80s onwards. Due to Nintendo neglecting Europe/UK and Australasia (PAL regions, my friends) the Master System was able to defeat or at least achieve parity with the all-conquering NES. However, in North America and Japan, children would be beaten up and left for dead if they were found to have a Master System.
I owned neither an NES or Master System (now unfortunately abbreviated to SMS), but I did borrow a Master System in the early nineties. I think the friend who lent it to me even offered it, since he had the superior Mega Drive. Even though this console was obsolete by five or six years, I was very excited to try it out.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World was of course included, since this game comes built in to the console. It was an enjoyable game, as was Shinobi, although both I found to be very difficult. I’m sure there were other games that I borrowed, but the most important game that I played was Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.
Wonder Boy III is a side scrolling, open world, role playing adventure game. You control Wonder Boy through his adventure by killing monsters, collecting money and upgrading your gear, the usual RPG tropes. The twist in this game begins with the prologue. Wonder Boy easily defeats the game’s first boss, Mecha Dragon, but Wonder Boy is cursed and transforms into a lizard! The journey to become human (or Hu-Man heh) again is on a grand scale, especially considering the limits of the Master System.
Each dragon that is defeated (at the end of a castle or other grand structure) allows you to change into a new form. Lizard, Mouse, Piranha, Lion and Bird. All with different abilities, they allow (or block) progress to certain parts of the world. After changing form, you can go back and change your form at will, allowing a return to otherwise restricted areas.
In scope, the game seems small and quaint but is actually a large world that will take completionist first time players around ten to fifteen hours to complete.
The colours, controls and sounds of this game all combine to create a wonderful experience. In my opinion this is the apex of the 8-bit era. Although it was greatly appreciated at the time, I feel that Wonder Boy III is underappreciated by most retro gamer enthusiasts.
If I ever try to do an all time top ten, this one gets in there. Somewhere below Total Annihilation, but above Dead Space.
Play this classic
The achievement system is an interesting, and successful idea. I believe it helped the Xbox 360 get an early edge on the PS3 as it offered a then unique feature. But what do they mean for the experience? Achievements are simple rewards that are given for doing something, or a series of somethings, in-game. They are usually not related to a game’s story, but are rewards for doing things that are often difficult, time-consuming or both.
For Xbox Live, the rewards for these achievements are nothing more than a sense of completion and satisfaction. Microsoft never made efforts to regulate the system well enough to exploit the achievement system for competitions and real world rewards. As it is, the gamer score is just an arbitrary number, that gives people a rough sign of how serious you are at games, and how many games you’ve played.
Criticisms aside, the achievement system pushed many a gamer to greater heights, simply by acknowledging their efforts. I braved Dead Space THREE TIMES to secure the full collection of achievements. Far from making me sick of the game, I appreciated it even more and noticed something new every time I played.
Prior to achievements, I would often set my own special goals in games that I played, often because I am a hopelessly sentimental and can’t bear the idea of leaving anyone behind, or any stone unturned. One game that I remember this dedication to was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
One of the premier shooters of its day, Allied Assault combined realistic World War 2 weapons, with the fast pace of Quake and other older shooters. Several missions give you a few AI controlled soldiers who would work with you. The game made sharp distinctions between allies who were meant to survive and those who weren’t. Two airborne soldiers join you and your Captain in a mission behind enemy lines. These two ‘extras’ can only take a few hits (rather realistic) and there is no revival system to bring them back.
Not being able to bear one of these boys dying, I spent a tiring few afternoons making sure they got through to the next mission. It was very time-consuming and frustrating, but eventually I got my two airborne boys through the forest of Flak 88s, MG42 emplacements and many grenades.
I don’t think there was much fanfare for getting them through the mission, maybe one of them saying ‘We made it!’. In modern times, this would have been rewarded with a middle to high value achievement. Back in 2000 though, I just had my sense of self satisfaction. I still have it.
There are moments in our lives that will always stick in our heads. For the nostalgic gamer, there is certainly one, but more likely many, of these defining moments. It’s almost impossible to look back at these within the context of the time they were set (crushing amounts of homework, primary school blues) but sometimes it’s fine to put on the rose coloured glasses.
I’ve mentioned many times, that before leaving high school and working, I didn’t have much money to spend on precious video games. Birthdays and Christmases may have resulted in a few new games here and there, but it was a rare occasion that I’d come into anything like a ‘haul’. That was where my near legendary uncle became involved.
It was 1993 and my uncle had upgraded his Amiga set up. I believe he’d got an Amiga 2000 (a sophisticated business machine compared to my A500) and a new monitor. The Monitor would have been 15” (small now but huge for the time) and I remember it had a lot of blurring and a bad refresh rate. Still, it was very impressive!
With me in this visit to my uncle’s was my longest-serving friend, Chooie aka Ryan. The drive through the city was filled with anticipation as I showed Chooie the games my uncle had in the new Amiga Power. Generally games took months to come out in Australia compared to the US/UK, as well as being much more expensive. It was a rare feeling for once to be on the cutting edge.
The bounty I brought home that night was akin to De Gama’s return from India. My uncle didn’t often have time for games, but always made sure I didn’t deplete his vast collection. For the life of me, I can’t remember what I borrowed that night, but I want to think Eye of the Beholder 2 was one of them. A game that would terrify me for many, many months.
Visits to my uncle’s would continue for many years (and still do on occasion), but as far as classic Amiga Memories go, the anticipation of that night is unrivaled.
A couple of years ago, I posted a most amusing find on this blog; a piece of my childhood being auctioned off at a ridiculous premium. What I failed to do then was speak about this terrific game and my experiences with it.
Recent events have also led me to acquire a copy of Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday for the Mega Drive, a version I have been very curious about for close to twenty years, but I digress!
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday was a complete triumph in SSI, TSR and all those concerned. It adapted a futuristic role playing setting (based loosely on the TV show and novels of the same name) into a traditional Gold Box Dungeons and Dragons rule set.
Besides the setting, there were two important changes between the Buck Rogers series and the older Forgotten Realms games. The player’s character ‘pieces’ were no longer customisable, but instead were picked from a selection of 40-50 preset designs. This might seem restricting, but the results were far more impressive. There was enough variation to make a great looking crew. Some of them even had headbands! Treasures of the Savage Frontier came out two years later and had far poorer looking icons.
The most important change in this game is the inclusion of class specific skills. Ten years later Third Edition D&D rules would introduce skills, but Buck Rogers would use this very well in 1990. Skills ranged from Rocket Piloting and Zero G training, to First Aid and Leadership.
The game features some idiosyncratic character classes, really capturing the comic book future. Rocket Jocks are your party leaders, rocket pilots and second tier fighters. Generally good with a firearm, it is best to not have them in the front lines.
Engineers keep your ship running, as well as being important in laying explosives as well as programming things. Rogues are the same as they are in regular D&D, except they bypass security doors/cameras as well as cut people when they aren’t looking. Medics, weakest of all, are vital as healing in Buck Rogers isn’t as simple as drinking a potion or sleeping for weeks inside a dungeon.
Apart from Terrans, playable races in the game are based on genetically modified humans. Venusians, Mercurians and Martians are all slightly modified or have simply changed over the hundreds of years living in and around their respective planets. More interesting are the Desert Runners (half beast men/women who inhabit the deserts of Mars) and Tinkers (half chimp mini people who are great engineers and medics, because of their dexterity and diminutive size).
The game gives you (after a few introductory missions) a whole solar system to explore, a multitude of secondary missions (all of which should be taken) and a great cast of characters. Buck Rogers himself makes an appearance. I have many good memories of this game back at the end of primary school, particularly how long it took Chooie and I to beat the second part of the game. No GameFAQS in 1992!
I saw this game, a year or so after playing the Amiga version, on a Mega Drive in a shopping center. It looked so different! Rather than static pieces moving across the game board, the characters animated when they walked, and the map view was isometric! This fascination stuck with me until last month, when a happy series of accidents happened and I managed to acquire a copy! When I get my Mega Drive up and running, I’ll report back!
Tributes, homages, nods or call backs are a risk. When a homage is done well, it reminds you of past greatness and good times, without bludgeoning you over the head with it. Cinema naturally does this both expertly and poorly all the time, but so do video games. Good homages can be very subtle and are often missed. This is generally a good sign, because obvious is almost always bad. Remember the Star War Prequels and their constant references of the original trilogy? Ugh.
A cute homage came to my mind when I was leaving the train as I was heading in to work. This particular train had a few carriages covered in graffiti in the way I like. They made the outside colourful, with some nice big letters. I hate vandalism and the like, but I loved this. Graffiti in games has sometimes been controversial (especially when games get banned for allowing the player to create it, but not for cutting off people’s heads), but it isn’t super common.
Final Fight is a great game that featured a run down, graffiti covered city as its backdrop for THE classic side scrolling beat ‘em up. The most memorable level in Final Fight is the vandalised, train. The train has many breakable barrels which seems strange… perhaps the subway transported bourbon? The barrels don’t spill any liquid when broken, so I guess we’ll never know. Regardless, the game and that level in particular are a wonderful vision of a punk, drugged up, vandalised dystopia.
Six years after Final Fight’s original Arcade release, Yo! Joe! was released. This is another fantastic game and one of my Amiga favourites. Two graffiti artists wind up exploring a mansion, and then uncover some grand, magical conspiracy. It’s a one or two player action platform game, with some great controls. You can grab ledges (Prince of Persia style) and use an array of weapons. The larger weapons don’t allow you to grab ledges, so some strategy is needed. It also features a chainsaw that you spin wildly while wielding, but it needs its own fuel to run (it’s amazing).
The homage? Yo! Joe! has a mini level toward the end of the game that is a graffiti covered train. It is a particularly difficult, since there are no platforms and the enemies use a lot of throwing weapons. However, it’s a cute nod to video game history, as is their inclusion of an iron bar as a weapon, much like Final Fight did.
What’s scary is that there was seemingly a long time between Final Fight and Yo! Joe!, but… Yo! Joe! is now twenty years old. While in the last few years, retro game fans and non gamers alike have been very keen to commemorate the 8/16 bit era, gamers and developers alike were already making their own tributes, two decades ago.
That’s the theme running through these articles, I’m getting older.
This won’t be some retrospective on how this computer fits (fitted) into my life. I’ll leave the philosophising to the professionals. Today I’m thinking back to when my Amiga was bought and how much of an ordeal it was to get together.
I should be honest that it really wasn’t much of an ordeal for me, but more for my parents who had to do all the running around and stressing. Oh, and paying for it. You can’t forget the money.
Costing $900, the Amiga pack came with, among other things, a TV adapter. This large and frumpy plug served as a gateway between the serious computer user and the man on the street. This connector allowed the Amiga to connect to a television (much like the Commodore 64 before it). This removed a barrier that prevented many from affording a computer.
The odyssey began when we brought our first monitor home. Despite my dad asking and checking at the shop (K-Mart), it was not stereo. After we realised this, we had to RUSH it back before K-Mart closed. The monitor was returned and we got our money back. I am not sure why we had to rush. I think it was because we assumed they had a stereo monitor in stock. They didn’t.
So we had to put up with the TV for a few more weeks/months.
On the way back from my uncle’s property in Outrrim (Gippsland, Victoria), we made a stop at the K-Mart in Cranbourne. All I remember is sitting in the car for 10-15 minutes and then seeing my dad come out with a big box.
An Amiga monitor.
It might have taken a few months for to get our hands on one, but it was completely worth it.
I asked my parents about their thoughts on their first console.
They worked out that they bought the 2600 before I was born, so at least as early as 1980. Apparently it cost about $500 AUD when Dad bought it. This was at a time when average wages were $250 per week. Doing an estimate, the PS4 costing $550 AUD is MUCH more affordable than the Atari, or indeed many other consoles from times past.
Having the Atari 2600 gave my parents the freedom to choose what the TV screen showed them which was rare for that time. It was also something they could interact with. There was very little else at the time that could replicate this level of interactivity, especially something that could make use of the television.
It’s a strange world to think of, where the ‘modern’ entertainment was so limited. Remember this was an age when my parents (and many other people) had to stay up past midnight to watch Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who. VCRs were still fairly rare in 1980. Conventional wisdom would always put gaming consoles after video tapes, but it was not the case. It is interesting to think that my parents were indeed avid gamers, and my Dad remains one today.