My perfect game will never be found. If it were created, it’d be the end of my productive life. I would work only to feed, clothe and house myself. It is, therefore, to my advantage that such a game does not exist. It’s a nebulous term, ‘perfect’, thrown around like so many World At War hand grenades. I mean it as a game that’s perfect for my needs and wants.
Huge games in my life have been well documented in previous posts, but the games that come close to ‘perfection’ are a very different group. These games tend to be ones that stay with me for a long time, or come back periodically. One such game is Colonization, more properly, Sid Meier’s (<3) Colonization, which I am currently playing.
As close to a perfect game that I am going to get Colonization, has near unlimited re-playability, great variety of practical strategies and an excellent interface. The click and drag method of organising your colonies is so intuitive, that the game is still completely playable, nearly twenty years later. It handles exploration, trading and warfare all very well despite the very basic interface. This game is a more focused offshoot of Civilization, but I have always thought Colonization succeeded in the end game, where Civilization was lacking.
Colonization has you running your colonies as trading outposts until you’re able to declare independence from your mother country. The King then sends waves of soldiers, dragoons and ships to blockade and take back your colonies. The game transforms from a trading/exploration game to a basic but competent war game. If you plan and anticipate where the blows will come you can win your freedom, but it is rarely easy.
The end game of Civilization is almost always a foregone conclusion. You are either in an overwhelming winning position or you’re probably not going to win. On all but the hardest difficulties, you’d roll over your opponents as your modern armour plows through their spearmen and archers. Colonization never suffers from a predictable end game, except that it will be a worry!
So while I continue an unending search for this ‘perfect’ game, I will probably find myself twenty years in the future still playing Colonization.
That isn’t such a bad thing is it?
Being deliberately inflammatory isn’t something I’d want to do (I’ll save that for my upcoming political/historical blog). With recent tragedies, constant news coverage and a nation beside itself with grief, something jogged my memory.
There was an old game I would see from time to time in my various Amiga magazines and it had an unfortunate name. It was a puzzle game featuring strange old men and moving tables. I think you had to get an explosive from one side of the table to an exit. Even for 1991, this wasn’t a new type of puzzle game and it is like Pipe Mania. More recently, this style of puzzler was copied by the Bioshock hacking mini game.
It is the name of this little game that got my attention.
I doubt the fine people at Silmarils could have predicted how unfortunate this name would be, twenty two years down the road. You live and learn I suppose. Silmarils would go on to make the excellent and beautiful Ishar series of RPGs. Cumbersome interface on those games though.
I have some amazing memories of my Amiga days. Unfortunately uniform stats didn’t exist, so I can’t go back and measure the hours spent on this or that game. If I could find out these stats, MicroProse games would have many hundreds of hours dedicated to them.
Primarily a strategy game developer, MicroProse was making just what I wanted to play. Their release history is literally a catalogue of the most influential games of all time. MicroProse games are among my favourites for many reasons, but primarily because they had a great sense of achievement and continuation in an age when the arcade game was still a viable medium.
Gunship, Silent Service II and Pirates! all had very different scoring systems. Gunship was one of my favourites because it awarded you medals, combat ribbons and promotions. Trying to keep your pilot alive while accumulating these was immensely satisfying. The original Civilization’s method of comparing you to a famous world leader has yet to be beaten. Doing poorly would result in comparisons to Neville Chamberlain or even… Dan Quayle.
I’ve always thought games during my peak Amiga years (1989-1996) to be more niche and with a steeper learning curve than the years after it, yet, I managed to figure out the controls to these games without a manual. As a ten-year old I piloted my AH-64 Apache through the jungles of Central America, destroying those dastardly FSLN forces, after some trial and error of course! I’ve always looked back and found surprising at how willing I was to figure out games from scratch. The pre internet days really gave me no choice in this matter!
Deciding to play these on Amiga emulators or through DOSbox is a tough choice. The Amiga versions are generally slower and less responsive, but have great sound and music. The PC versions run smoothly but sound very ‘tinny’.
I could go on about MicroProse, but I’d rather praise them on a game by game basis. I felt it was important to give the company as a whole some love.
After writing the article on Covert Action I sunk another ten hours into it. Some classics will never leave me!
It seems even Turkey has fans of Gunship 2000 and MicroProse!
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Espionage, or spying as it is more clumsily known, is an old profession. Knowing what your opponent/rival/best friend is going to do is always going to give you an advantage. Knowing without them knowing you know is even better. Successful intelligence gathering is most useful in preventing wars rather than winning them. The vast networks of agents, contacts and moles employed by the Soviet Union and United States in the latter half of the 20th century went very far to convince both sides that the other guy wasn’t going to fire first.
We come to the game Covert Action, or more properly Sid Meier’s Covert Action, which is set in the Cold War world of international espionage. Your place in this game is that of Max Remington (Maximilian or Maxine) a spy (agent) for the CIA. Your goal is to stop terrorist attacks before they happen. These attacks range from sabotaging a bus right up to destruction of whole cities. To stop these crimes you need to apprehend members of the criminal gang or confiscate their contraband, money or weapons. Breaking one chain in the crime’s plot will cause the plan to fall apart sending the conspirators into hiding. It pays to try and arrest people in such a way that stops the gang members going into hiding before you can arrest them.
The game is divided into five sections. Traveling and reviewing evidence (kind of an over world), infiltration/combat, electronics, cryptography and driving. Skills points are allocated to these depending on how you like to play. I’d always put my skills into infiltration/combat and cryptography. I generally avoided the driving, since it was the weakest mini-game of the four. Also I’m not a driver, so that makes sense I guess…
I used to love doing the combat in this game, which is generally slow paced compared to most other shooting games. Infiltration/combat is a top down, third person view, with Max navigating a randomly generated building, looking for clues. He/She can plant bugs, photo evidence and arrest suspects if they are present. It is possible to avoid all confrontation with enemy thugs/agents and take apart a crime via cryptography and wiretapping.
Like many Microprose games, Covert Action has an ongoing campaign where you can accrue rank (expressed as your double 0 ranking) and points. If you’re lucky, during a mission you can capture a mastermind of a criminal gang. These organisations are based on real terrorist groups from the mid to late Cold War period. Islāmic Jihad renamed Muslim Jihad, Black September is called Red September and so on. Capturing all the masterminds ends the game and is a process that will take many weeks of playing. Masterminds don’t appear in every mission and each mission generally takes half an hour or more so it is a long commitment.
As much as I loved playing this game, I never got close to finishing it. Secondly, Sid Meier himself realised the error in making a game in four distinct parts;
The mistake I think I made in Covert Action is actually having two games in there kind of competing with each other. There was kind of an action game where you break into a building and do all sorts of picking up clues and things like that, and then there was the story which involved a plot where you had to figure out who the mastermind was and the different roles and what cities they were in, and it was a kind of an involved mystery-type plot.
I think, individually, those each could have been good games. Together, they fought with each other. You would have this mystery that you were trying to solve, then you would be facing this action sequence, and you’d do this cool action thing, and you’d get on the building, and you’d say, “What was the mystery I was trying to solve?” Covert Action integrated a story and action poorly, because the action was actually too intense. In Pirates!, you would do a sword fight or a ship battle, and a minute or two later, you were kind of back on your way. In Covert Action, you’d spend ten minutes or so of real-time in a mission, and by the time you got out of [the mission], you had no idea of what was going on in the world.
So I call it the “Covert Action Rule”. Don’t try to do too many games in one package. And that’s actually done me a lot of good. You can look at the games I’ve done since Civilization, and there’s always opportunities to throw in more stuff. When two units get together in Civilization and have a battle, why don’t we drop out to a war game and spend ten minutes or so in duking out this battle? Well, the Covert Action Rule. Focus on what the game is.
Sid is correct. I don’t think Covert Action suffered as much as he thinks it did, but any game should be a focused experience. I had much fun with Covert Action and I intend to start a new game tonight. Wish me luck!
Controlling a spacecraft is the premise of a huge number of video games. It’s natural that something beyond almost all of our capabilities would be a popular genre. Just like walking to the shops and buying milk isn’t a popular genre, unless you’re a girl. Vast sexism aside, spaceshipping across the video game universe is generally regarded to have begun with Asteroids. Space War WAS around in the ’60s, but that wasn’t available to many people. Atari’s Asteroids had you control a spaceship in a wrap-around map. Blowing up the asteroids that fly through each level is the only way to survive and progress. Moving your ship is done by adding thrust and facing a direction (somewhat like tank controls). I almost never moved when I played it as a youngster as I’d panic and lose control of the ship.
From roughly ’89 to ’94 I hardly touched the Atari and Asteroids remained unplayed. Fair enough really, I had an Amiga to play! I had a good go at Blasteroids, which was something of a sequel to Asteroids. I enjoyed that quite a lot, but I never found myself completely drawn into it. Maybe it was too hard, who knows?
My interest in the Asteroids genre was rekindled with my first sighting of Stardust. The Amiga Power cover disk that gave me my first taste of the game was fantastic, if a little misleading. It’d be nearly TWO years before I’d play the full game, given the release schedule. The bulk of the game involves flying a spaceship around dozens of wrap-around screens, shooting asteroids. Occasionally you’d have to shoot down a flying saucer and collect power ups. Your craft can be powered by different weapons and have its engine power increased. The ‘world’ map was divided into galaxies, each one having six levels. You were able to choose the order that you visited these levels, but it was always best to follow the correct order since you start the game quite weak. Each galaxy had an ‘end boss‘ fight at its conclusion, which featured a variety of huge and intimidating spaceships.
The game’s standout feature was its warp tunnel sequences. The view changed to behind your ship and you had to avoid incoming asteroids, mines and giant blades. The Amiga Power cover disk featured the first of these tunnels, hence giving a slightly misleading view of the game. When I bought the full game, I was initially disappointed that it didn’t have more of these sequences (they probably make up 5-10% of the game at the most) but I’ve since realised they’d be boring if used any more than that. Mixed in with these tunnel sections were underwater ‘multi dimensional shooter’ levels, much like the game Thrust and Sub-Terrainia. These levels posed more of a challenge to navigate, with only the walls and your own carelessness to fight against.
Stardust features a blistering dance/trance soundtrack, which every second Amiga game seemed to have. No complaints here, since it is fantastic (I’m listening to it as I write this).
Stardust was a great version of Asteroids, with its detailed and colourful visuals, combined with some excellent variations in the bonus levels. Bloodhouse (now Housemarque), were the Finnish developer behind Stardust, which have successively remade the game four times. These remakes include the Amiga 1200 enhanced version in ’94 right through to Super Stardust Delta for the PlayStation Vita in 2012. Happily, these versions have been well received. It is comforting to know that a small developer from a small country can continue to do what it did 20 years ago, and still have a market.
My longest friendship started because of an Amiga. More properly, it was sealed because of an Amiga, it started because I wanted to play his Mario Game watch! It was trading games, playing co-op and being one of a few Amiga loyalists that really helped solidify our being ‘buddies’.
Chooie’s Amiga 500 was the same model as mine, and I think we bought it at roughly the same time, but it was shared between SIX people, not three. That it was able to last as long as it did impresses me. So many hands covered in mud and cookies pushing and pulling disks, touching the monitor and sticking forks in to remove jammed disks.
The hours we’d spend in front of it playing Wings, Dune II, Civilization, Boulderdash, Sim City and Lemmings probably add up to the thousands. The Gold Box AD&D games were also commonly visited on his Amiga, from the fantastic Pools of Radiance to the repetitive and cut back Treasures of the Savage Frontier, the Role playing game remains a favourite of ours.
I remember Chooie’s Amiga loaded more quietly than my mine, but was louder than my uncle’s Amiga. Such idiosyncrasies made each Amiga more than just a carbon copy of someone elses. I was prompted to recall these memories when I was helping move some furniture at his mother’s house when I noticed it, outside, in a pile of discarded objects. It didn’t look very well, and from what I gathered, no longer worked. I’m glad to have my Amiga, safely stored at my parents, but I know you can’t save everything. Although I have spoken about the Amiga in general a great deal, this Amiga had a special place in starting my most enduring friendship.
It will be missed.
Simplicity in a game is often key to it being enjoyable. The simple board games, or seemingly simple, are the ones that have the most appeal and can easily attract a large following. Simplicity, polish and hidden depth are all elements that contribute to Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf in being a flat-out amazing Amiga Game.
Developed perhaps to cash in on the popularity and coverage of Operation Desert Storm, Desert Strike places the player in charge of a single Apache attack helicopter. After picking your co-pilot you are given your first mission briefing. Co-Pilots vary slightly, with some being more accurate with weapons or faster with the winch. The winch is a vital piece of equipment as all power-ups need to be ‘picked up’ not just flown over to be collected. The briefing has the crew receiving intelligence from a General Schwarzkopf (RIP) look-alike. There are four briefings during the game, as there are only four separate missions, each divided into many smaller goals. Stormin’ Norman takes you through all the main objectives and the order to complete them.
The game’s four different missions are open for exploration in your helicopter, but it is encouraged to follow the mission order. Fuel is limited, and certain buildings must be destroyed to reveal those shiny barrels. Ammunition and Armour can be replaced through the same method. Flying around the desert you’ll find US soldiers (or Marines) cut off and fighting losing battles against Iraqi(?) forces. If you rescue them, you’ll have a passenger to take back to a forward landing pad. For each POW, soldier or agent you rescue, your helicopter will receive repairs. Once, I found a pilot next to his crashed F-15, whom I proceeded to take home. I fired a few shots at his flaming, but still intact, aircraft. It blew up, and my Dad commented disparagingly on my destruction of ‘friendly’ equipment. After the final objective is completed, a report from Schwarzkopf-alike runs through your score and penalties for the recent mission. It had +15,000 (or something similar) F-15 technology protected. I felt pretty smug.
Between missions there are a number of scenes with your adversary, the nefarious General Kilbaba. This man is based on Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin and Col Gaddafi all combined. I’m sure it is also no accident that his assistant is named Muammar either.
I found Desert Strike particularly difficult when I was younger and was unable to finish it. I am ashamed to admit it was one of the few games I resorted to using cheats to complete. It has aged very well and would be on par with a good quality independently released game.
It faced some controversy, being released so soon after the Gulf War. CU Amiga apparently heard of ‘veterans’ burning copies of the game. Apparently it had come out too soon, or some crap like that. The game has light-hearted moments, but it is quite serious and unlike Cannon Fodder, I can’t see anything that could insult a war veteran. If this did happen, I think it is unlikely those veterans played or even looked at the game. No doubt some Charlie Church told them it was insulting and they all went along.
Whatever dumb stuff people have done with the game, Desert Strike is perhaps the best example of the power of an Amiga compared to its contemporary consoles. Unlike Cannon Fodder it is a great conversion from Mega Drive, and not being an original Amiga game. They are very different games, but I think as far as action/war on the Amiga, these two games, one born of the Amiga, one adopted, represent that computer’s capabilities perfectly.
The early 90s were a time of much ‘tumult’ for video games. Most readers would be familiar with the various controversies facing video games at the end of the 2000′s, but the issues of supposed alien orgies and all the nonsense about an R rating were but pebbles compared to the avalanche of criticism video games faced in their earlier days. Nintendo even went as far to censor all real violence from their games in this period.
Cannon Fodder represents the zenith of the Amiga, in both popularity and quality. Many of the games I had enjoyed on the Amiga, have aged poorly. Cannon Fodder is simple, attractive and has lost little of its appeal. It still has a crispness to it that has not faded over time. You’re given between one and six soldiers sent on missions through various environments. The soldiers are all prenamed (some famous, some are Sensible Software staff). There are many different objectives, but most often you must destroy enemy barracks and all of their soldiers. Your men accrue kills, receive promotions and increase in power, but are inherently fragile. Veteran soldiers don’t react any better to bullets than raw recruits.
Although it is still regarded as one of the best Amiga games made, before its release it attracted a large amount of criticism. It surprises me, in 2012/13 with so many people playing and being aware of video games that the media can get it so wrong. In 1993, video game players were a bit more rare and the media was even worse with latching on to hysteria. Cannon Fodder’s troubles began with its original box art. It portrayed a single poppy.
A number of newspapers, many politicians and the Royal British Legion (which is the RSL for Britain) called to have the poppy removed from the game’s cover. Amiga Power, who were reviewing the game at the time, were planning to use a similar poppy for their front cover and were brought into this controversy. These groups were extremely critical of Sensible Software’s (as yet unreleased) game, mostly centering on the game’s catchphrase “War has never been so much fun”. The usual cries of not respecting the war dead were made and due to this pressure, both the game’s cover art and Amiga Power’s review issue front cover, were changed. Stuart Campbell, Amiga Power’s editor, was apoplectic at this treatment. Legal threats were made, not for any reasons to do with disrespecting the war dead, but over the poppy image, which the British Royal Legion claimed as a trademark. Copyright law gone mad I tells ya!
These controversies did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the gaming public of the day, Amiga Power readers had followed the game’s development from very early stages. It was at the time Amiga Power’s highest rated game and topped the sales charts.
Cannon Fodder, unlike the majority of violent video games, honours its dead. Every soldier you lose in the course of the game (likely numbering over one hundred) will receive a grave. If they are decorated veterans, they will receive a more elaborate grave, not unlike real life. The irony is that Cannon Fodder is a game that shows how ridiculous war is. It combines some of the best top down arcade style shooting set in an exaggerated Hollywood style war setting. The light-hearted introduction song is also sharply contrasted by the mournful synth guitar theme played during the recruitment phase before a mission. The new recruits are shown lined up, behind them are the graves of those who have fallen confirming the game’s ironic position.
Cannon Fodder’s sequels diluted the winning formula and I think Sensible software would have done well to avoid iterating on it. Cannon Fodder 2, released the following year, was very similar although it spoiled the semi serious tone by including missions set against aliens. Cannon Fodder 3 was released in 2012, developed by a Russian studio, apparently it wasn’t terrible. Like most other series, the first game is invariably the best. Cannon Fodder is no exception.
Loom is a game that has stuck with me, for all the right reasons. It has charm, an involving yet simple story and some wonderful visuals. It is also from 1990. That doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but the rapid approach of old age and senility tell a different story.
LucasArts had made several other adventure games before Loom, Maniac Mansion most notably. Historically Loom is a clear stepping stone between the earlier, more basic adventure games and the big hits that followed it like Monkey Island, right through to Grim Fandango. For a stepping stone, it has much love put into it!
Like Turrican II, this was bought late in the day of the Amiga. Games were being cleared from department stores and Loom was no different. I don’t remember why I bought it. I’m not sure if I had read anything about it before, but it soon found its way into my hands and then the car on the way home. The box was interesting, featuring a coloured visor needed to read the copy protection in the manual and a cassette tape. We played the cassette on the way home and it surprised us by playing the game’s prologue. The format was an audio play, outlining the background and a prologue to the game’s events. The play certainly added to the richness of the story.
Loom was different from LucasArts adventures before and after it. A minimalist UI only showed the protagonist’s (Bobbin Threadbare) magical distaff. Using this (and almost only this) you interact with the world. There is no use, take or look options as these actions are all situation dependent. I felt it made for a cleaner and quicker method of puzzle solving.
During the game, Bobbin meets two other young people, one from the blacksmith’s guild, the other a shepherd. I found out sometime after finishing the game that these two were to have games of their own. It was never really planned, as mentioned by the developer Brian Moriarty, but the idea was considered. Unfortunately Loom was not a hit for LucasArts so this would have further reduced the chances of a sequel. The games were tentatively titled ‘The Forge’ and ‘The Fold’.
It would have been great to follow-up with those games, but I don’t feel the same level of disappointment that I used to feel about similar things, even compared to my mid 20′s. I would get so frustrated that programmes like Firefly got cancelled or even that the Dreamcast’s life was cut short. It took a few years, but such trivialities don’t rile me nearly as much, but I would donate to a kickstarter if someone wanted to make those sequels.
Loom is a gentle, funny game that isn’t particularly long or hard. I was well written, funny when it needs to be, but turns very dark at parts. You can’t die in the game, or ever get stuck which is why I always preferred LucasArts adventures to what Sierra was offering at that time. If I wrote negative pieces, there’d be a lot of Kings Quest hate!
In 250 words or less, describe how to play the Amiga game, Jetstrike.
Mike jumped as the agent burst through the door, an air of utmost urgency followed him, like an FBI tail. “Listen up,” he hissed. ” I haven’t got much time.” A flicker of hope crossed Mike’s face as the agent relayed the instructions to him.
“At first the plane might seem a bit tricky to control, but it’s much easier if you get used to the fact that the up and down controls are reversed when you change direction. It’s logical if you think about it, really. Also, keep the auto-throttle on to start with (by pressing the left Amiga key) and you’ll crash a lot less. Press down when you’re on the runway to access the armoury and aircraft select screens, and use ‘U’ to raise and lower the undercarriage.” The sound of gunfire from outside drew closer, and seemed to trigger further recollection from the agent’s fevered mind. “To fire your extra weapons, use fire and left for the left weapon and fire and right for the right weapon. If it looks like you’re going to bite the tarmac, the spacebar ejects, but if enemy capture seems inevitable, hold down fire and ‘Esc’ to self-destruct.”
At that very moment, the door burst open again and the agent fell inelegantly to the floor, am machine-gun chattering its brutal monologue of death behind him in the hands of a foreign stormtrooper. But Mike was already far away, the secret trapdoor closed behind him and thoughts of revenge dancing across his nerve-endings.
I transcribed this from Amiga Power Issue 30 (October 1993) and remains my favourite mini instruction manual.