Retrospective 13 - Wing Commander (1 and 2)

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"Almost out of the asteroid field, OH-"

Oh hey guys, it's been a while since my last retrospective, over two years now. I'm still alive though, and finally decided to get off my lazy butt and take a look at another game and how it's aged, or I should say games. I chose to do both Wing Commander 1 and 2 since they aren't different enough to justify a separate retrospective for each one, and I want to look back on all of the major installments in the series at some point.

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Developer: ORIGIN Systems

Publisher: ORIGIN Systems

Release Date: (WC1) 1990

(WC2) 1991

Platforms: (WC1) DOS, Amiga, Super Nintendo, 3DO

(WC2) DOS

History:

It was the late 80s, and one particular game designer known as Chris Roberts was disappointed at the lack of space combat sims that made the player feel like a starfighter pilot participating in a greater conflict, and so Wing Commander was born.

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Gameplay/Design:

Wing Commander and its sequel had very simple mission design, they focused entirely on dogfighting with enemy fighters and destroying enemy capital ships with the occasional escort mission where you did the exact same thing, only you had to make sure the enemy fighters didn't destroy the ship you were supposed to be protecting. After a while it began to get repetitive as most missions consisted of three or so skirmishes where you just cleaned up the area and then pressed A to instantly autopilot to the next one.

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There is one way that Wing Commander and its sequel attempted to mix things up, asteroid and mine fields, and this is leads me to the primary issue that has caused this particular relic to age so poorly. Instead of using early 3D polygons like most other developers who were making fast paced simulation games such as Stellar 7 and Red Baron at the time, the folks at ORIGIN decided to use sprites akin to first person shooters like Wolfenstein 3-D. While sprites may have been prettier than 3D polygons, they led to all sorts of issues and irritating mission restarts. When I first played Wing Commander I crashed into asteroids a lot because they just popped out from below my field of vision and smashed into my ship resulting in an instant death, and because they were sprites it was difficult to tell how far away they really were. During the replay I did for this retrospective I had a much easier time since the fields are a bit easier to navigate after you've navigated a couple dozen, but I did have a couple asteroid deaths and one of them occurred the second I launched from the Tiger's Claw, which for some reason felt that it would be nice to park in the middle of an asteroid field. Screw you Commander Halcyon. There's also nothing quite like constantly crashing into the Tiger's Claw when trying to do something as mundane as landing because your angle and position isn't just right.

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The game's sprite based graphics also led to unnecessary and often frustrating deaths during dogfights as well, and they also made taking capital ships down harder than it should have been because more often than not the angle you were seeing wasn't the position the ship was actually in, resulting in your shots hitting a section of the ship you did not intend.

Probably one of the best design decisions in both of these games was the branching storyline. Unlike most space sims, Wing Commander and its sequel didn't make you replay a failed mission, instead you were either thrown into a "redemption" story track if the mission was important enough (and in WC1 this means a lot of asteroid fields and potential rage quits), and if you failed that track or failed a really critical mission you'd end up in a losing track that resulted in a game over no matter how good you did.

It also wouldn't be right to look back on Wing Commander and not mention the core storylines. While Wing Commander 1's storyline wasn't particularly complex or memorable as you basically just went from mission to mission fighting the Kilrathi, occasionally learning something interesting from your fellow pilots in the bar, its sequel was a very compelling space opera that helped make the series feel more like a sci-fi epic similar to Star Wars as opposed to just a space combat game.

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How it holds up:

While Wing Commander helped pave the way for future flight sims the first two games just did not age well, largely due to their usage of 2D sprites, but also because of their sheer simplicity in comparison to future, more in depth space sims like the X-Wing and Freespace series'. The only reason to play the first game, if you haven't already, is if you're into space combat games and want to try out one of the first. Wing Commander II is a different story, despite having the same core design and gameplay issues as its predecessor, as they're practically the same game, it might be worth checking out if you enjoy space operas. Wing Commander II is worth playing for the not half bad cinematic storyline if nothing else.

Legacy:

The early Wing Commander games may not have aged well, but there's no denying that they helped jumpstart the space combat simulation sub-genre leading to future masterpieces like TIE Fighter and Freespace. Wing Commander and Wing Commander II had their fair share of sequels and spinoffs as well, but aside from a small arcade game on Xbox Live released a few years back and recent rereleases on GOG the franchise has been collecting dust in Electronic Arts' vault for many years now.

Notes:

- Both Wing Commander games had two mission packs, Secret Missions 1 and 2 for WC1, and Secret Operations 1 and 2 for WC2.

Links:

Wing Commander on Moby Games

Wing Commander II on Moby Games

Buy Wing Commander I/II on GOG

Next Time: Super Mario Bros.

Dragon Age Awakening Review

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So it took me a long time to find the time and motivation to complete this review, but I did it. Anyway to give a brief run down I was not impressed; Awakening was definitely not BioWare's best work. A lackluster storyline with an antagonist remniscient of a Disney villain, oh joy. You can learn about these issues and more in my novel-length review. Suffice to say I feel ripped off, and if BioWare charges $40 USD for any future expansions I'll be sure to wait until the price drops.

I suppose I should mention that the second paragraph contains spoilers concerning the ending of Origins for those of you who haven't finished it yet.

OSG 12 - Baldur's Gate

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"Take heart fellow adventurers for you have curried the favor of Boo, the only miniature giant space hamster in the Realm. My friend and companion ever since my h-h-head wound, he will lead us to victory!" – Minsc, Baldur's Gate

I know, another RPG. It's been a while since I expressed my apparently controversial opinion of the original Final Fantasy and how it has aged though, and since Baldur's Gate's spiritual successor Dragon Age: Origins is receiving a lot of attention at the moment I decided it would be a good idea to revisit this one now.

Developer: BioWare Corp (Now just BioWare)

Publisher: Black Isle Studios/Interplay Productions

Release Date: November 30, 1998 (North America)

History: Fallout's moderate success resulted in Interplay rechristening their (at the time) small and nameless role playing game division into Black Isle Studios. Interplay had the license to develop Dungeons and Dragons computer role playing games, and after the success of Fallout we can only assume that they wanted to produce something similar in a fantasy setting with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule set. Black Isle was already hard at work on Fallout 2 however, and so Interplay ended up hiring a small development studio that had absolutely no experience in RPG development. It's hard to believe now that the development studio in question was BioWare, isn't it? Everyone had to start somewhere though, and with Black Isle Studios' guidance BioWare brought us Baldur's Gate – the game that would define them as a mainstream RPG developer in the years to come.

Gameplay: Baldur's Gate was a tactical turn based RPG that utilized the popular Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule set. Now I have heard that the version of D&D used in Baldur's Gate is "nerfed", but I am no expert on P&P rule sets so I'm going to look at Baldur's Gate as just Baldur's Gate and not as a Dungeons and Dragons game.

As with most western RPGs from this era (and the eras that came before) you started the game off by creating your character from a selection of races, and by "dice rolling" for your attributes. After that you were thrust into what can only be described as a semi-turn based game. By that I mean that the game did not automatically pause and wait for each side to input commands before executing them. Instead characters merely "took turns" attacking, casting and using items in an otherwise real time environment. The game allowed you to manually pause at any time should you need to do so, and often you did since Baldur's Gate required you to manage not two, not three, not four, not even five but six different characters at any given time. You could assign simplistic AI scripts to each character, but the AI scripts were only useful for the most basic of functions. This overwhelmed some players, but fortunately you didn't need to bring six party members with you if you didn't want to. However the game was a lot more difficult if you did not make use of six different characters.

Design: When people think of BioWare they generally think of cool in-depth party members and masterful story telling. Well that may be true today, but in 1998 you were lucky to get five sentences out of a BioWare NPC. Generally the companion NPCs of Baldur's Gate only spoke when you first met them, if you didn't do what they requested after a certain amount of days, and if you kicked them out of the party. Other than that they only occasionally gave voiced commentary on your location, your alignment, and sometimes disagreeing party members would flip out and try to kill each other. It should be noted that while Baldur's Gate does not feature an extensive amount of dialogue for your companions BioWare did manage to get a great deal of character across with just the character's biography, what little dialogue they do have, and their voice sets. For example, Minsc's somewhat infantile (but oh so awesome) character comes to life with beloved one liners such as "butt kicking for goodness!"

The story telling of Baldur's Gate wasn't all that developed either. Essentially you made your way through a specific set of dungeons in a linear order uncovering the secrets of the troubles that have been plaguing the region, and the mysteries of your origin (which aren't actually highlighted all that much until three quarters of the way through the game). There weren't any fancy cinematic story sequences aside from the pre-rendered introduction and closing movies; important scenes were generally handled with text exposition due to the technical limitations of the era. This gave Baldur's Gate a bit of a "book" feel to it as it forced the player to use their imagination for a good deal of the game; this also includes dialogue as Baldur's Gate had minimal voice work.

While the main quest of Baldur's Gate was on rails you were allowed to freely explore a large amount of wilderness areas at any time. Many of these areas contained unique encounters and side quests that made exploration worthwhile. Not all of the areas were worth exploring mind you, but the ability to travel to these places added a sense of adventure to the game that is lacking in many of BioWare's later titles.

The dialogue system was an exact copy of the dialogue tree system created by Interplay for Fallout, and it's a system that BioWare still uses today in the vast majority of their releases. Unfortunately Baldur's Gate didn't handle the system as well as Interplay did as attributes had little impact on what you could say. High intelligence characters didn't have any more options than low intelligence characters for example. There were a couple of charisma checks, but not many.

Nostalgia Factor: Not much since I actually play this game along with its sequel annually. However it is a game that I was always pretty fond of.

Critical Reception: Baldur's Gate received a lot of praise from critics and players alike. MetaCritic has Baldur's Gate's MetaScore averaged at 91 for critic ratings while the user score is averaged at 9.3 – you can see more specifics here.

How it holds up: Depends on what you compare it with. Baldur's Gate is for the most part outdone by its sequel Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, but compared to most modern RPGs Baldur's Gate is actually a fairly deep and enjoyable experience. That is if of course if deep is what you are looking for, and if you can get past the obviously outdated graphics. Unfortunately the simplistic presentation of the story, and the lack of strongly developed companions may leave many of BioWare's newer fans cold. From a gameplay perspective though I would argue that this RPG is better than most of what BioWare has done since Baldur's Gate II.

Legacy: Baldur's Gate had an undeniable impact on the RPG genre, and an even bigger impact on BioWare as this was their defining title…the game that would lead to them becoming what they are today; it should be noted that Baldur's Gate II also played a role in this though.

BioWare has of course become something of a household name, and one of their latest RPGs, Dragon Age, is heralded by them as the "spiritual successor" to Baldur's Gate. I guess that's true if you ignore how it has only a fraction of the elements that made Baldur's Gate great, but never the less Baldur's Gate does live on in one way or another.

Useless Trivia:

- Baldur's Gate had a small expansion pack called Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast. The expansion added a few new areas and side quests. The expansion did not expand upon the main story of the game or the series as a whole.

- This game is in no way related to the Dark Alliance console game series. Baldur's Gate was a PC exclusive RPG series.

- Boo is a miniature giant space hamster.

Links:

Baldur's Gate on Moby Games

Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast on Moby Games

BioWare's Official Baldur's Gate Web Page

BioWare's Official Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast Web Page

Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 Reviewed

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I know, it's about time right? Anyway I've reviewed BioWare's latest two RPG joyrides. It should be noted that I removed the Pro and Con things I was doing at the end in order to discourage ADHD, and because my newer reviews are longer than they used to be.

Also yes I'm well aware I haven't done a new retro gaming blog in a couple of months, but I assure you when I'm less busy there will be a new one. I already have an idea of what game it will be on; I just need to get the time to play the game, take screenshots and write about it.

Mass Effect 2 First Impressions

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I finished Dragon Age a week or so ago just in time for this BioWare offering. I'll be doing a review of that at some point in the near future, but for now I'd like to go over BioWare's latest release which is on the boot heels of Dragon Age. Maybe I set my standards too high, but the first thing I thought when seeing the skill system of Mass Effect 2 is "what the hell?" I didn't think BioWare could make the series anymore shallow than it already was, but they proved me wrong. Each class only has six skills, and for the most part they're related to "powers" and not performance inside or outside of combat. Your ability to "charm" and "intimidate" (AKA collar grab) is determined by your Paragon and Renegade meters, and only one of your six skill lines is dedicated to everyday things such as accuracy. Did I mention that there's no inventory system to speak of?

I will confess that I liked the new "interruption" system. Being able to stop rash actions with quick paragon acts, or shoot people in cold blood during dialogue with fast renegade acts is a nice addition.

Mass Effect 2 also places much more of an emphasis on combat than its predecessor. Waves after waves of enemies, and lots of them. Now I've said some nasty things about Mass Effect; I often called it things like "glorified third person shooter with a lot of dialogue", but Mass Effect 2 makes the original look like a deep RPG experience... and the original Mass Effect was not a deep RPG experience. Mass Effect 2 practically throws the "RPG" out the window in favor of Gears of War-like gameplay. I suppose this is okay if that's your thing, but I was hoping that BioWare would go into Mass Effect 2 to fix what was wrong with the first game; not make it worse.

The core storyline of the game also takes a backseat for what is feeling like the vast majority of the game. Most of it seems to be going to different planets and space stations and recruiting characters by doing unrelated quests that have no relation at all to the story. Essentially most of the game seems like filler. Now I'm not against filler content if it's good, but frankly most of Mass Effect 2's filler content seems to exist only to make the game longer, and most of it feels generic; as if BioWare's heart wasn't in it.

Now Mass Effect 2 does have its good points. The import feature is nice, but so far it doesn't seem like your choices from Mass Effect have much consequence in Mass Effect 2. I saved the council at the end of the original game, and so far they've only made one brief appearance. I let the Rachni live, and I've only heard mention of them on the "galactic news", and from an Asari NPC who has met them. I think BioWare could have made the consequences of your ME 1 choices more significant, but it's a step in the right direction as acknowledgment is much better than avoiding what happened in the previous game altogether, or "canonizing" a certain path.

Overall I'm not sure I'd say that Mass Effect 2 is any better than its predecessor thus far. It certainly has its good points, but for the most part it's really shallow and feels more like a "wordy third person shooter" than an RPG... more so than its predecessor.

Dragon Age First Impressions

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Now that I don't have to worry about final exams and the holidays I've had the opportunity to sit down with Dragon Age; BioWare's latest epic role playing game for those who haven't heard of it. Now I've played every BioWare RPG since Baldur's Gate (well except Sonic Chronicles), and honestly I've been pretty disappointed by most of their releases since Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. When Dragon Age was announced as being the "spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate" I was cautiously optimistic, and I'm glad that I wasn't excited about it because this game feels more like Neverwinter Nights than Baldur's Gate.

First I'd like to mention what really annoys me about this game. First and foremost is the camera... the camera... I think it's worse than the camera in Neverwinter Nights 2. Seriously. It zooms down to ground level when loading a game, buildings constantly obstruct your vision in cities, if the camera is in front of a large building then it will be pushed down to ground level, and you can't view the entire area as you can only move it a short distance away from your party. In Baldur's Gate I could use the map to quickly shift to a point of interest, and with one click I could direct my party to go there with no problem. In Dragon Age I have to constantly hold down the arrow keys to move the camera farther ahead and constantly click. This is the same type of camera used by the Neverwinter Nights games, and it's as broken as ever.

My next complaint is the length of dungeons. Now I know this seems like a silly thing to complain about. Maybe it's because I made the mistake of doing the Dwarven questline first and thus had to wade my way through the Deep Roads which is apparently hated far and wide, but the length of dungeons in this game is utterly ridiculous. I think I spent at least six hours in the Deep Roads (which is only a part of the Dwarven quest line I might add), and in all of that time I didn't encounter a single side quest worth noting. My time consisted entirely of killing spiders and Dark Spawn, and navigating maze-like roadways. Occasionally I engaged in a conversation, but generally it was only to give me a general idea of where I should go next. Maybe the other parts of the main quest are less tedious, but I don't look forward to revisiting the Deep Roads in a future replay.

Next I'd like to actually compliment BioWare on a few things. First of all their narrative has come along way since Baldur's Gate II, and that's partially because of the leap to 3D. Obviously it's hard to make a 2D game series like Baldur's Gate cinematic. Characters in Dragon Age move about in conversation and have a variety of poses much like the ones in Mass Effect. I don't feel that Dragon Age's rather generic overarching Dark Spawn storyline is a worthy successor to Baldur's Gate's "Children of an evil dead God" overarching storyline, but really something like that is hard to top anyway.

The setting is another area I'd like to praise. Honestly I wasn't expecting much when I installed this game; I still remembered the awful trailers EA released to the public with the Marilyn Manson music, and over the top gore. Fortunately this stuff isn't as prominent in DA as the trailers would lead you to believe. The setting itself isn't all that dark and gritty; it's actually a pretty typical fantasy setting, but with a bit more sophistication than some others. Dragon Age does not feature a happily ever after fairy tale book-like world with most of its emphasis on adventuring; politics plays a huge role in the setting, and the politics are just as important as the Dark Spawn threat. In the original Baldur's Gate Sarevok attempted to wrest control of the city of Baldur's Gate by the use of politics, but the politics of the setting weren't explored in great detail. You really get a feel for how the Dragon Age world works, and how the politics are just as deadly as the monsters you're fighting against.

Finally I'd like to praise the approval system. While the approval system is obviously just Obsidian's influence system with a different name it is well executed in Dragon Age. I think the "gift" idea is a little silly, but the way you gradually build your relationship with your comrades is a welcome feature and much more natural than the forced method in which Mass Effect handled Shepard's relationships with his or her companions. In that game you essentially became best friends with all of your crew after one mission. Now the lack of an influence system isn't inherently bad, but Mass Effect like Jade Empire was really short, so unlike Baldur's Gate II, Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic you didn't have a gradual progression of your relationship with particular characters. Dragon Age probably could have worked fine without an influence system since it's so long, but it's nice that you start out as strangers, and your actions and conversations contribute either a small bonus, or penalty to your approval rating with that character determining how they react to you and treat you. I'm looking forward to seeing the impact this system has.

All in all I do think Dragon Age is a great game, but I don't really consider it a worthy successor to the Baldur's Gate saga thus far. Really I don't think BioWare will ever top their crown jewel series as a whole no matter how much their story telling evolves. The Baldur's Gate series had better side quests, were larger in scope, and had a more epic and intriguing overarching storyline than anything BioWare has done since. Despite the monotonous Deep Roads I am enjoying the game a great deal; it's certainly better than Jade Empire and Mass Effect at the very least, but it feels more like the spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights than the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, and I can't help but feel that something is missing. And no I'm not talking about Minsc and Boo.

Old School Gamer 11 - Final Fantasy (1987)

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"I like Swords." – Fighter, 8-Bit Theater

I know what some of you are going to say already, but really Japanese Role Playing Games aren't that bad. I'm serious some of them are pretty good. I'm not sure I'd classify this particular title as one of those gems however.

I couldn't find a title card so wipe that smirk off your face. I have the artistic talent of an elderly blind hermit with carpal tunnel syndrome. I am however rather proud of my attempt at spiky hair.

Before the feminine looking male leads. Before the hour long cinematic sequences. Before the two hour long dialogue sequences.

Developer: Square (now Square Enix)

Publisher: Nintendo

History: Square was facing some difficult times back in the mid to late eighties. Most of the company's games were not very successful, and they decided that if they were going to go out they would go out with a bang. Following the success of Richard 'Lord British' Garriot's Ultima series another company called Enix released the first Japanese Role Playing game Dragon Warrior, or Dragon Quest if you prefer. With both Ultima and Dragon Warrior selling moderately well Square developed the appropriately named (at the time) Final Fantasy which would go on to be a success, and keep Square afloat for a long time.

Gameplay: The first Final Fantasy is probably one of the only jRPGs that even remotely resembles a western RPG. Like Dragon Warrior though; Final Fantasy was aimed at a more casual audience than the oft frustrating Ultima series which had hardcore features like a hunger system that gave sissies like me headaches. Anyway you started off a game of Final Fantasy by creating a party of up to four adventurers, but character generation was quite simple and came down to simply picking from a narrow selection of cl4sses (excuse the leet), and entering a name (which could only contain up to four characters). There wasn't any stat placement or dice rolling as stats were dependent on cl4ss This also came into effect when your characters leveled up as statistics would automatically increase by a set amount depending on the individual's job.

Final Fantasy featured a completely turn based combat system. By completely turn based I mean that there was no stamina bar that filled up as time progressed like in later titles. When it was one of your character's turns they could either do a standard attack, or cast a single spell if they had any and then either another of your characters, or an enemy would take their turn.

Design: Final Fantasy's design followed that of a typical dungeon crawling RPG. The storyline was very simplistic and just an excuse to go to a set of dungeons, kill enemies, find gold, use said gold on superior equipment and potions, and fight a big bad boss-like enemy before finishing your reason for being in the dungeon. Considering Square's inexperience with such things it is amazing that the game came out as well as it did, but to be perfectly honest the design really was not anything remarkable.

Final Fantasy actually resembled a more traditional high fantasy setting than its modern day sequels; there actually weren't many Asian themes as in modern Final Fantasy games besides the out of place Black Belt character cl4ss.

Nostalgia Factor: I'm going to be honest; I was never a big fan of this game because there wasn't any real substance to it. I will admit that the music brought back some okay memories, but besides that I have no real attachment to this title.

Critical Reception: Alas I was too young in 1987 to pay any attention to reviews, and I couldn't find any archives or scans containing any professional reviews for this game.

How it holds up: The original Final Fantasy hasn't aged well even though it's been remade at least two times. The simplistic approach at the story is forgivable since all games from this era had minimalist plotlines, and most RPGs definitely focused on dungeon crawling. Unfortunately you couldn't really customize your characters beyond their names, and thus there was little reason to replay it as I personally think that the later Final Fantasy titles are much better games.

If you're one of the newer Final Fantasy fans who has yet to play this game, or its remakes than do yourself a favor and give this one a pass. Unless you're really, and I mean really obsessed with owning and playing every Final Fantasy game in existence this one probably won't do much for you. I suppose because of its impact on the Japanese gaming market it does deserve a place in any collector's museum, though.

Legacy: I'm not even sure what to say here. The series is still trucking on with its thirteenth installment coming out in Japan this December, and a fourteenth already in the planning stages. This game is what made the eastern variant of the RPG popular, and this game is also the reason Square is still around today… for better or for worse.

Useless Trivia:

- The name 'Final Fantasy' comes from the fact that this was originally going to be Square's last game until by chance it is what managed to save them from going under.

- In case you're interested (and even if you're not) here are my party members' full names from the top to the bottom of the combat screenshot:

Fighter: Tinky (I couldn't think of a manlier name.)

Black Mage: Codex (Named after the infamous RPG Codex; because I have a sick and twisted sense of humor I thought including character named after these guys in a jRPG would be hilarious. They hate jRPGs with a burning passion... along with everything else really.)

White Mage: 911 (For some bizarre reason I get my jollies out of naming healers after emergency phone numbers.)

Black Belt: Jackie Chan (I couldn't think of a more suitable name for a crazy martial artist who gets injured a lot while trying to save the world.)

Links:

Final Fantasy on Moby Games

Old School Gamer Chronicles - Flashback Episode #1

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Oh no, it's one of those.

When I set out on this grand undertaking I set out to compare the games of yesteryears to the releases of today, and either confirm or debunk the claims of thousands of nostalgic gamers who believe that gaming has in fact gone downhill. Well ten old games later I'm not so sure I'm much closer to coming to a definite conclusion.

How the recaps will work is quite simple; I'm going to give a brief summary of all ten previous titles I looked over in detail and then give a more conclusive summary on whether it's really better than the games of today, or if that's just nostalgia talking. I'm going to try to be as objective as possible, but I don't believe in true objectivity so take that for what you will.

1. Wolfenstein 3-D

Summary: Nazis and Nazi zombies, what every growing boy needs. Wolfenstein 3-D was the first real first person shooter and as such laid the groundwork for the defining title Doom. As B.J. Blazkowicz the player had to traverse nine levels over the course of six episodes while fighting off Adolf Hitler's minions.

Final Verdict: As I pointed out in the full blog entry there isn't really any way that Wolfenstein 3-D can be considered superior to modern releases. It was the original FPS (not counting Catacombs 3-D), but this title can only carry it so far. If you're a modern gamer who hasn't played Wolfenstein 3-D it can be worth a look if you want to see how the genre more or less began, but it's probably not something you'll find yourself enjoying a great deal.

Full Blog Entry

2. Zone 66

Summary: A semi-freeform overhead shooter where the player fought their way through a few episodes taking out primary installations and fighting off endless waves of enemy jet fighters.

Final Verdict: Zone 66 is in a league of its own; the overhead shooter isn't really a genre that receives a lot of attention today so there's nothing to compare it to, and even back then most overhead shooters were on rails. Suffice to say that if you like arcade games then even if you're a gamer of today you might find some enjoyment in Zone 66 if dying a lot doesn't bother you.

Full Blog Entry

3. Alien Carnage

Summary: Attack of the killer space zombies! The player had to navigate Harry through a variety of large levels rescuing hostages, and slaying zombies with limited resources.

Final Verdict: Platformers went full 3-D a long time ago, but very few of them can compare to Alien Carnage from a tactical perspective. Alien Carnage required you to balance the use of your jetpack and weapons as your fuel was limited, and you had to pay for recharges. Most platformers I've played both old and new didn't require much thought beyond "do I want to attack, jump, or just run past this guy?" Alien Carnage definitely deserves kudos for that. On the other hand I personally never found it to be a very enjoyable game. 3D Realms has made this title freeware though, so it can be worth a look if the side scrollers of yesterday pique your interest.

Full Blog Entry

4. King's Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder

Summary: As King Graham the player had to travel through dark forests, cold mountains, Harpy infested isles and foreboding castles in order to rescue his kidnapped family from the evil wizard Mordack. Gameplay came down to solving puzzles, usually with items players attained over the course of the game.

Final Verdict: Sierra's brand of adventure games don't exist anymore in the mainstream gaming market, so there's nothing recent to compare King's Quest V to save for Telltale's episodic Sam & Max and Monkey Island games. Would I say King's Quest is better than those? Sure, there's something about being able to die in fifty different ways that makes finishing King's Quest far more satisfying than finishing a Telltale adventure game. On the other hand some of the Sierra deaths may drive some players nuts, but really that's one of the reasons Sierra's adventure games were so great.

Full Blog Entry

5. Star Wars: Dark Forces

Summary: As mercenary Kyle Katarn players assisted the Rebel Alliance in stealing the plans to the dreaded Death Star, and shutting down the Dark Trooper project in one of the first "Doom clones" that was able to step out of its older brother's shadow.

Final Verdict: While I loved this game back in the day, and while it brought a lot to the table and helped the first person shooter genre evolve Dark Forces pales in comparison to its sequel Jedi Knight which did everything this game did, and more. Dark Forces did have the first FPS engine to feature the capability of building levels on top of levels, though; it was also the first FPS to fully implement jumping and crouching. It's probably not as good as some modern shooters, but it was still a great game, and still is today if you can look past the dated graphics.

Full Blog Entry

6. Sonic The Hedgehog

Summary: Blue streak speeds by; this game was a straight forward side scroller where the player guided the blue hedgehog Sonic through a bunch of loop de loop filled levels.

Final Verdict: Sonic was a great game, but it was surpassed by its immediate successors. I actually haven't played any of the new stuff, but from what I hear it's not that good so this is probably one game that could be considered superior to more recent titles.

Full Blog Entry

7. Fallout

Summary: Greetings from the wasteland! As the legendary Vault Dweller of Fallout lore players had to (initially) navigate treacherous post-apocalyptic California in search of a replacement water chip for their home of Vault 13 while helping, or hindering others along the way with an innovative dialogue tree system, and tactical turn based combat.

Final Verdict: Fallout still is a great game because it was very different from other RPGs out on the market then, and it is definitely unique now in an age where folks don't have any patience for turn based gameplay. This is also the game that introduced the dialogue tree system that BioWare would go on to utilize in Baldur's Gate and many other future titles. It's definitely worth playing today if you have the patience for turn based gameplay.

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8. Red Baron

Summary: As a fighter pilot in World War I players had to take on a variety of missions for either the Royal Flying Air Corps, or the German Air Service while rising through the ranks and trying to stay alive.

Final Verdict: Red Baron has been surpassed time and time again; unlike other genres flight sims haven't changed all that much in the time since their introduction. There hasn't been an awful lot of WWI aerial sims in recent years, but there have been enough to label Red Baron as an outdated title that isn't really worth playing unless you just want to play an oldie, and since this game was made freeware by Sierra then it's not a bad choice for just that.

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9. Doom

Summary: Players took on the role of one lone space marine in an epic battle against the forces of Hell as they made their way through three episodes set in the UAC Phobos base, the lost UAC Deimos base, and in Hell itself. You could also slaughter your friends in online deathmatch, or fight alongside them in coop.

Final Verdict: You won't find Doom's straight forward run and gun gameplay in many modern shooters save for the possibility of Painkiller, and even that's stretching it since Doom didn't seal you in rooms forcing you to fight off waves of enemies until magically opening again (not usually anyway). Doom was the first person shooter that defined the genre, and even today its fast and fluid gameplay is enjoyable. Is it better than modern shooters? I'd have to say no.

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10. Command & Conquer

Summary: As a Commander for either the heroic Global Defense Initiative or the sinister Brotherhood of Nod players had to battle their nemesis in lengthy campaigns. Players could also take the battle to their friends with multiplayer support.

Final Verdict: Okay so the villain was a bit too much like Lex Luthor right down to his lack of hair, but the game was still a blast back when the RTS genre was fairly new. Unfortunately Command & Conquer hasn't aged well due to its primitive AI, and lack of a skirmish function. It doesn't help that the Command & Conquer series has in fact improved with sequels (I may or may not be including Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 3 in this tally), and the genre has come a long ways since its debut in Dune II: The Building Of A Dynasty. Still the game has been made freeware by EA, so it may be worth a play through if you want to experience the beginning of the epic conflict between GDI and Nod.

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Conclusion: Well I can conclude that these blog entries aren't going to end the old school versus new school debates that's for sure. Honestly as I'm sure you can tell from my final verdicts; I'm finding it extremely difficult to compare the games of yesterday to the games of today. I believe that this is because the games of today don't really resemble the games of yesterday all that much. Is it evolution? De-evolution? Neither? At the moment I honestly couldn't tell you. I'm leaning towards neither at the moment, but that's subject to change.

I will say one thing though; we had greater diversity back in the 1980's and 1990's. Back when games were cheaper and easier to produce taking risks was easier, and less costly. The price of those pretty graphics of today's titles and a more mainstream industry is publishers who are only interested in funding what will sell, and this leads to more of the same. The more unique games out of the ten I've looked over thus far were the hardest to compare to recent titles. How do you compare Zone 66 to anything recent? You can't because there are no overhead shooters let alone freeform overhead shooters.

So far my only conclusion is really this: the cheaper production costs of yesteryears lead to a more diverse selection of titles. The older generations of gaming had bad games just as the newer generations do, but the older generations seemed to offer more. This isn't really a breakthrough as I'm sure many folks have come to this conclusion, but we'll see what this morphs into (if anything at all) after the next ten walks down memory lane which I'm going to start off with the original Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or Famicon depending on where you're from), so get psyched.

Old School Gamer Chronicles 10 - Command & Conquer (1995)

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Note: Screenshots taken from the Windows re-release

We've got a fun one this time.

Developer: Westwood Studios Inc.

Publisher: Virgin Interactive Entertainment Ltd.

History: Westwood Studios single handedly created the real time strategy genre in 1992 with Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty when they came up with the idea to take the strategy genre (which was up until that point turn based) in a new direction. Dune II was met with critical acclaim, and following that game's success Westwood set out to create a new series in the same vein. Thus Command & Conquer was born.

Gameplay: Command & Conquer set out to bring the military, economic, and construction aspects of the strategy genre into a real time environment on a larger scale than Dune II and it for the most part succeeded. The game centered around two warring factions: the U.N. funded military organization the Global Defense Initiative (GDI), and a large faction of religious terrorists known as the Brotherhood of Nod who fanatically followed their self-proclaimed Messiah Kane. The gameplay of C&C consisted of building up a base, and a military force by collecting a glowing green extra-terrestrial mineral known as Kryptonite - sorry I mean Tiberium which was transformed into credits when a harvester returned to a Tiberium Refinery. Using these credits you could build new structures and train new units.

Your primary objective was usually to destroy every last enemy structure and unit on the map, so in a way the game was fairly straight forward. Some missions actually tried to mix this up though; for example there were commando missions where you had to guide one lone commando across a map and destroy certain targets. Most of the missions in the game did ultimately come down to completely wiping out the enemy, though.

Design: Due to the rather simplistic nature of the artificial intelligence a lot of C&C's many missions were setup in a way that forced the player to use certain units for certain tasks, or started the player out with a small team that had to take out certain targets before being able to deploy a construction yard. For example in one mission you may have had a small team with no base, and you had to take a certain path with certain units to ambush certain types of enemies so that your primary group could pass through a canyon in one piece and setup a base on the other side. This made the game somewhat interesting because it forced the player to think on their feet and learn the strengths and weaknesses of every unit type under their command. It also forced some folks to tear the hair right out of their head.

One aspect of C&C that everyone liked (and if they say otherwise they're lying) was the full motion videos that played between missions. There were basically three types of FMVs; the briefing which usually featured an actor (usually a developer) playing the role of a commanding officer, then the pre-mission and post-mission FMVs which were usually just flashy videos that contained some action and generally contributed nothing to the overall storyline.

Nostalgia Factor: My first C&C game was actually the original Red Alert (blasphemy!), but it's been long enough for my perspective on this game to be painted partially by nostalgia since I played it shortly after Red Alert.

Critical Reception: Command & Conquer received positive reviews when it came out. Reviewers seemed to enjoy its fast gameplay. Here is the Gamespot review, and here is the MetaCritic page.

How it holds up: Unfortunately unless you just want to see the storyline first hand, not well. Command & Conquer games (usually) improved with every sequel, and the original C&C didn't even feature a skirmish function. Basically the game is just a combination of primitive AI, and scripted single player missions. Command & Conquer is still a game that belongs in any collector's museum despite its antiquated design, though; along with Dune II the original Command & Conquer was a game that defined an entire genre.

Legacy: Command & Conquer is generally considered a masterpiece for its time, and has lead to a prequel, and a legion of sequels and spinoffs. On top of that C&C played a major role in defining the RTS genre. The main storyline of the series will actually be seeing a conclusion next year with EA's Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight. Let's hope it's actually good.

Useless Trivia:

- Command & Conquer had a small expansion called Command & Conquer: Covert Operations.

- The game actually has a story subtitle like the rest of the games in the series, but it can only be found in the old DOS readme files. The full name of the original C&C is Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn.

- Kane is bald.

External Links:

Command & Conquer on Moby Games

Freeware release of Command & Conquer

Old School Gamer Chronicles 9 - Doom (1993)

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"What's Doom?" – Anonymous

At first I wasn't sure if I was going to bother returning to this game for these articles, but in an era where first person shooter is synonymous with Halo of all possible titles I decided to take this title and run with it. I'm also introducing two new categories for this entry and future entries known as History and Legacy which will look at a game's impact then, and its impact now (if it had\has one).

Developer: id Software

Publisher: id Software

History: For the uninitiated Doom was the game that launched the first person shooter genre into mainstream gaming; prior to that the genre was fairly niche with most gamers preferring side scrolling platformers and overhead shooters. There was of course Wolfenstein 3D which was released a year earlier which basically jumpstarted the genre, and a legion of Wolf 3D imitators after that such as Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, but it was Doom that ultimately thrust the genre into the mainstream largely due to the implementation of multiplayer support.

Gameplay: Doom isn't overly complicated in its design; like Wolfenstein 3D, and most of id Software's pre-Doom 3 games really it's the very definition of an arcade shooter. The story? You're one man against the world, or in this case one man against the forces of Hell. You can take more damage than Mr. T, and carry more guns than Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, and it didn't get any more complicated than that.

The gameplay essentially consisted of going from level to level killing zombies and demons, finding colored keys, flipping switches and making it to the exit. Despite this rather monotonous sounding cycle the game managed to be very fun because of its fast, fluid, no non-sense gameplay. Cover was for sissies and a low difficulty level a sign of weakness. To this day there are dedicated fans who are still trying to finish Hangar (the first map of Episode One: Knee Deep in the Dead) on Nightmare (the highest difficulty level where monsters are abundant, and they respawn after twenty or so seconds) in the fastest time possible.

Design: As I pointed out in the gameplay section Doom was pretty straightforward. The map design however was a huge step up from Wolfenstein 3D's monotonous maze levels. Doom featured some large, open areas as well as a bit more creative level design in general. It wasn't logical level design by any stretch of the word, but it definitely made the game a lot more fun than Wolf 3D was due to the variety of map layouts id Software implemented. Unfortunately map layout is where the creativity ended; each episode of the game basically used one consistent tileset throughout its entirety. Once you finished the first map in each episode you essentially knew what the rest of the episode would look like. Episode 1 was all Tech Base, Episode 2 was a fusion of Tech Base and Hell, and Episode 3 was all Hell.

One area of design I'd like to praise is the enemy lineup. Doom featured far more enemies than Wolfenstein; granted you encountered some far more than others, but compared to Wolf 3D's grand total of five different enemy types the larger amount in Doom was nice. There were also more weapons for the player to utilize, and Doom was the first FPS to feature splash damage from explosive barrels and rockets.

Nostalgia Factor: I had a good time with Doom; it was one of the first PC games I played back in 1993. It was fast, and for the time it was creepy. I'm sure I have a higher opinion of this game than a gamer from one of the latest generations would if he or she sat down with it, but Doom stands as a milestone in the gaming industry, so a certain degree of respect is due.

Critical Reception: Doom received mostly positive reviews from critics worldwide who enjoyed its abundance of levels, and fast gameplay. See a detailed list of reviews here.

How it holds up: This is a question I find difficult to answer; like I said under nostalgia this is a game that definitely deserves a token of respect because of what it accomplished in the industry, but as a game it's very antiquated. On the other hand Doom offers something that most modern shooters do not; fast and fluid arcade action without any of the limited weapon or cover-focused mechanics of newer titles. If you prefer those games than Doom probably would seem like a fossil from a primitive era of the genre to you; on the other hand if you prefer games like Doom than the game definitely has something to offer if you have yet to play it, or even if you have played it already it never hurts to revisit. It belongs in any collector's library regardless; as Doom jumpstarted network multiplayer, and of course brought the first person shooter genre to the forefront.

Legacy: Doom has left quite a legacy in its wake. Although Wolfenstein 3D pre-dated Doom; Doom was the game that really defined the genre. As such Doom would be the standard that other first person shooters would be judged by for years to come with many fans regarding newer shooters as little more than "Doom clones" regardless as to whether or not that was actually true.

Doom definitely left a legacy as far as multiplayer is concerned since Doom was the progenitor of Deathmatch, and was the first FPS to feature an actual multiplayer component.

Doom itself still exists today in the forms of Doom 3 and the in development Doom 4, but in my opinion (and the opinion of many other old school Doom fans) the series is a shadow of its former self as Doom 3 tried to play the horror card instead of staying true to what made Doom great way back when it first hit store shelves in 1993.

Useless Trivia:

- id Software released a free expansion for Doom called The Ultimate Doom which added a fourth episode called Thy Flesh Consumed that bridged the gap between Doom and its sequel Doom II.

- Each episode of Doom featured a secret map that was accessed via a hidden exit in one of the primary Doom maps. Episode 1 had Military Base, episode 2 had Fortress of Mystery, episode 3 had Warrens, and episode 4 had Fear.

External Links:

Doom on Moby Games

Ultimate Doom on Moby Games

You can play all of Episode One: Knee Deep in the Dead with the Shareware version which be downloaded here

You can still buy Doom at id Software's online store