29 December 2012

My Life As A Gamer: Computer Games, part 2

Today I'll write a few words about some of the games I played.

At first those were mostly simple damn hard platform games, some shooters, some adventure games, some logical ones and various maze-based games. There were also great fighting games. Some of the games were forgotten but some of them were remembered...

After getting an Amiga 500 the primary change was quality of games. Oh, and three new major categories of games were added: cRPGs, strategies and simulations. Ok, the last ones weren't especially important to me but two first became my favorites from now on. I won't list all the games I played in nineties – it'd be easier to just look on YouTube and check one of many videos of various Amiga games. I'll only focus on particular games that have a very-very special place in my heart.

First Samurai: A platform game telling the story of a valiant samurai that follows a vile demon across the time to avenge his master. The game had excellent music, intro in times when they were novelty and a bonus instead of being expected integral part of the game. It was also quite hard requiring lots of effort to master. Being able to play the game from the start to the end without losing any life filled me with great sense of accomplishment. Oh, did I mentioned that I was fascinated with Japan since I watched Shogun as a child?

Yo Joe! Nicky Boum, Lionheart, Turrican 2, Assassin... All shared the qualities of First Samurai – they were hard (but not Nintendo Hard) platform games with great music and I loved them as much as First Samurai. I could list a few more platform games but these were the best.

Civilization: The game that started a whole lineage of games (ok, honestly the grandparent was Empire, which I played too but Civilization made the difference). For those who don't know that game (both of you), Sid Meier's Civilization is a strategy game where the player leads a civilization from a stone age to modern times, deciding about exploration, colonization, diplomacy, wars and scientific research (as a side note, in all Civilizations and kindred games I tend to focus on scientific research and ignore other aspects until I have desired military technology and can use it to overcome enemies. This strategy tends to backfire with aggressive neighbors near the starting area, however). Some of the Civilization's major descendants were Master Of Orion, Master Of Magic and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, all of which I greatly enjoyed many years later.

Populous I & Populous II: Strategy games in which player takes a role of a god leading a tribe of worshipers and battling other gods. Second part used Greek Pantheon, allowed for determining your deity's abilities and greatly expanded the number of available spells divine interventions. Those who read previous blog entries might recall that I read Greek Mythology as a kid a lot. Yes, the second game had great appeal to me.

UFO: Enemy Unknown (known as X-Com: UFO Defense in America): No, not the recent remake. The original UFO/X-Com. One of the best games mixing tactics and strategy into wonderful combination that ate hundreds of hours of my time. The player leads an international team dedicated to fighting growing alien threat, intercepting alien vessels, hunting alien infiltrators, battling alien invaders, saving civilians, gathering alien equipment and reverse engineering it to have a chance of protecting the Earth. From time to time I want to GM a session or two based on the game. Maybe someday I'll come to that.

Syndicate: Another game where the player leads the combat team fighting tactical missions with strategic overview of the world between the missions. Except the tactical missions are done in real time, instead of saving the Earth from aliens, we were conquering the world for our corporate overlords and killing civilians when they run into line of fire did not penalize our mission in any way (except missions where particular civilian is to be escorted... by the way, civilian AI in escort missions was comparable to NPC AI in modern MMORPG escort quests but at least it had excuse of being powered by 8 MHz processor). Strategic part of the game also included investing money into scientific research providing agents with more powerful weapons and more efficient cybernetic implants. Can anyone notice a certain pattern in games I like?

Hired Guns: And here we break with the pattern. Hired Guns involved no scientific research. Instead, player was leading a group of four mercenaries through a series of locations on a planet named Graveyard. The final goal was to acquire four fusion cores and rigging them to detonate in the final mission. Hired Guns was a combination of a first person shooter and a tactical game. The closest game that I can think of was Space Hulk (which I never played). Intro music was brilliant, despite being quite simple it was capable of creating a sense of tension that matched the game wonderfully.

From the Hired Guns we can smoothly move to Dungeon Master. This is one of the classic cRPGs, and in some ways the classic cRPG. Four heroes traveling in the dungeon's depths, solving puzzles, looking for secret passages and hidden triggers, defeating monsters and
gathering equipment, until they reach the McGuffin required to defeat the Big Bad Evil Guy. But wait, how does it differ from Hired Guns? Well, for starters it's fantasy instead of SF. There are some other factors involved. Hired Guns used food as healing resource. Dungeon Master and its spiritual descendants instead require the characters to eat and drink from time to time to merely maintain their strength. Combat is less based on the player's agility and more on the characters attributes, which increase with experience (note that the player's agility and timing still plays important role in most Dungeon Master-like games). Dungeon Master itself tells a story of group of champions traveling into the depths of the dungeon to defeat Black Lord Of Evil Lord Chaos. It also happens to be story behind other classic cRPGs of that time inspired by Dungeon Master: Black Crypt and Eye Of The Beholder with Black Lord Of Evil Lord Chaos replaced by evil cleric Estoroth Paingiver and beholder Xanathar respectively. I'd like GM a classic dungeon crawl based on one of those games someday but I am afraid I am lacking enough players with necessary amount of interest in dungeon crawls that could be gathered at the same time with enough free time to play through it.

Eye Of The Beholder II: Eye Of The Beholder sequel changes little in the way of gameplay, except it began outdoor... And by outdoor I mean in a dungeon with trees painted on its walls. It added a few features and was more interesting when it came to puzzles and the story.

Both Eye Of The Beholder games were made by SSI in early nineties and had the honor of being official AD&D/Forgotten Realm games. Before them SSI released a series of AD&D games using older game engine today best know as SSI Gold Box. It included series of games taking place in Forgotten Realms and a shorter series of Dragonlance games. Gameplay was significantly different from Dungeon Master and its spiritual descendants. Turn-based combat required no agility but much more tactical skills and luck with computer-generated dice rolls, the exploration part was much easier and starvation wasn't an issue. Plots of the game, while mostly provided in the form of text and often referencing entries in game journal, originally provided as printed book together with the game, was well developed and quite absorbing. In fact I currently GM a Pathfinder campaign based on Pool Of Radiance game.

The last two games I'd like to mention today will be Amberstar and its sequel Ambermoon. Those two games were created by German group Thalion, who happen to be creators of Lionheart mentioned above (and in fact Valdyn, the Lionheart's protagonist is special guest star and optional party member in Ambermoon). The first game tells the story of a young adventurer who learn that to save his world from a demon prince he must travel all around the continent gathering thirteen pieces of the titular Amberstar and then defeat the demon. While the protagonist defeats the demon, not all goes well leading to the second game taking place some eighty years later. The first game character's grandson ends with saving the world from unexpected threat again, in better graphics. The second game is also full of various references to the first part, rewarding player for remembering minor details from the first game (regretfully it punishes as "cheating" coming to one conclusion that was rather obvious to anyone who played the first part). Again those two are games I would gladly use as a basis for a short campaign.

Next time I'll write about some of the memorable games I played after moving from Amiga to PC.

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