Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

PC Games: Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1992…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 2, 2014

I made a joke yesterday about partying like its 1992, as a PC gamer. It occurred to me that there’s a lot of truth to that. It seems that we’re seeing a lot of recent / new / upcoming remakes, spiritual sequels, and direct sequels of PC games that were pretty hot back in 1991 – 1993, but have been relatively fallow over the last decade or so.  Then of course, we have a couple of series that are still going strong (like Civilization).

1991 – 1993 were very influential years for me. I was in college as a computer science major. I was married in the latter part of ’91, and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was a PC gamer on a very limited budget, and there were a handful of games that exerted a strong influence on me, and convinced me to give game development a shot once I graduated. I even contacted the H.R. department at Origin to find out what kind of qualifications / experience they were looking for (and from what the lady told me, it sounded like a college degree wasn’t highest on their list…).

I’m guessing there are a lot of others who were similarly impressed in that era, who have now “grown up” and are now either influential in a mainstream studio, or have the skills and rep to go at it as an indie and do a credible job of revisiting this golden age of PC gaming. As for me, I’m feeling a strong sense of deja vu. Mostly in a good way. It was a very good time to be a PC gamer.

Here are a few of the games of then… and now:

Eye of the Beholder / Legend of Grimrock (2)

Beholder2014I really only played Eye of the Beholder II, which was released in late 1991 (but it was mid-to-late 1992 before I played it). Of course, it was inspired by the Amiga title Dungeon Master, but it did it with a loose interpretation of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition rules. Eye of the Beholder offered sort of a “slow-mo action game,” marrying traditional first-person perspective, grid-based dungeons with real-time gameplay.

grimrock2The Legend of Grimrock decided the ground had been left fallow long enough. While a grid-based world hadn’t been in vogue for years, they decided the gameplay could still be a lot of fun. They were right, and the EoB / Dungeon Master – inspired title proved to be a big hit.

They are currently working on a sequel, which recently hit the alpha stage. It promises to mix indoor and outdoor locations, better AI, an improved and more flexible skill system, and more of the insane puzzle-related gameplay from the first game. It sounds likely that we’ll see the game released before the end of the year.

Wing Commander / Eterium / Star Citizen

WC_and_EteriumIf there was any one game that I could say changed the direction of my life in any significant way, it was Wing Commander. I played that game, and had a vision of what games could be. The original Wing Commander dropped in 1990, but I didn’t play it until the summer of 1991… just before the release of Wing Commander 2: Vengeance of the Kilrathi.

Heading up the nostalgic spiritual sequels is the recently-released Eterium. I wrote about Eterium a couple of weeks ago. I really do like it. A lot. It is aimed squarely at the Wing Commander experience, and while it does offer a bit of new ideas to the mix, if you squint really hard you could swear you are playing Wing Commander 2 all over again.

SC_300iOf course, there’s also Star Citizen. Chris Roberts, the creator of the Wing Commander series, managed to score a butt-load of funding to make a publisher-free space combat extravaganza that will probably dwarf the budget of everything but his ill-conceived movie. Intended as both a single-player and a scaleable multiplayer persistent universe, it has some pretty impressive looks and aspirations, but something like this is always in danger of collapsing under its own weight and then under-delivering something hastily salvaged from the wreckage. But hey… we can hope. I really want it to be awesome.

Ultima Underworld / Underworld Ascension

underworld_ascension_700x240

Woah.

uw1I played Ultima Underworld at about the same time as Ultima VII: The Black Gate, and for a while it was a toss-up as to which game was the most revolutionary, awesome, incredible, mind-blowing RPG experience for me. Eventually, I gave the nod to Ultima VII, but it is really tough to say which game was actually more fun.

Ultima Underworld and its sequel – I’ve said quite a bit about both games, and will doubtless spill more virtual ink talking about them. For their time, they were technologically amazing. Even today, although their graphics are dated and the interface very difficult to use, they are brilliant examples of old-school design principles mixed with a cool first-person perspective. The design was part-simulation, with factions, trading, cool 3D puzzles, traditional RPG puzzles, and even a requirement to learn something of the lizard-man language to communicate with some of the characters. It didn’t include the kitchen sink, but it dang near included everything it could.

Now, we hear that Paul Neurath has gotten some of the original band back together and has formed OtherSide Entertainment with the original aim of creating a modern sequel to Ultima Underworld. Whether or not it will be an actual part of the “Ultima” franchise remains to be seen. This one will probably not see the light of day this year nor next, but it’s exciting to imagine what they may be able to create.

Wolfenstein 3D / Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolf3dandTNO1992 brought out an unexpected return to an old computer game series, Muse Software’s Castle Wolfenstein, in the form of the first-person shooter Wolfenstein 3D. While it wasn’t really the first FPS (Carmack had previously released Catacomb 3D), nor was it the phenomenon that Doom would prove to be, it  shook things up in industry. My local computer store had the shareware version of Wolf 3D running on all of their systems to prove how game-capable they were. It didn’t quite touch mainstream consciousness, but it was a big hit among PC gamers, launched a mainstream publisher sequel (The Spear of Destiny), and console ports.

In a way, I guess you can say that the series has continued since 2001. It’s been five years since the last Wolfenstein game (which I hadn’t even heard of), but Wolfenstein: The New Order was just released. It takes place in an alternate history 1960, when the dieselpunk Nazi regime has taken over the entire world. I don’t see it having the kind of impact of the 1992 release, but hey… it’s fun still seeing a Wolfenstein among new and recent releases.

Ultima VII / Shroud of the Avatar / Divinity: Original Sin

U7_SotAIt seems that most critics view Ultima VII (which included two games, plus expansions) as the pinnacle of the series, and I’d be one to agree. I could go on and on about the … ahem… virtues of Ultima VII.  But now is not the time. Suffice to say – it was a vision of open-world design. I recently read a contemporary review of the game following its 1992 release, and the author complained about how bored he was of the Ultima series… but admitted that Ultima VII: The Black Gate was excellent and proved that maybe the series wasn’t quite dead yet.

DOS_0009I wonder if that same reviewer misses it now?

Unfortunately, very few developers attempted to tackle that level of complexity, although I think the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout series gave it a solid try. More recently, Divinity: Original Sin attempts to incorporate a lot of that old-school love. It’s not a direct love-child of the Ultima series, or Ultima VII in particular, and probably can’t be directly compared to the 1992 classic, but publicly acknowledged inspiration is clear.

DriftmoonA somewhat closer comparison comparison could be made to the recent indie release, Driftmoon. Again – it goes its own way and marches to the beat of a different trombone. But the spiritual ancestry is pretty clear, especially with the unusual choice of the top-down camera.

The closest comparison of all should probably be made with the upcoming Shroud of the Avatar. Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series, has jumped in with a new company to create this single player / multiplayer world as a full-blown “spiritual sequel” to his earlier titles – particularly invoking Ultima VII and Ultima Online.

No, it still won’t be quite like playing Ultima VII again, but it’ll be as close as we’re likely to get to playing a “real” Ultima again for a while.

Frontier: Elite 2 / Elite Dangerous

EliteDandElite2

Jumping to 1993, still a little while before I graduated, there was another space game that devoured my spare time and blew my mind – Frontier, AKA Elite 2. This amazing title fit an entire universe on a 3.5-inch floppy disk, procedural generating worlds, stations, enemies, and missions. It was amazingly ambitious, and while the space combat was nowhere near the quality of, say, the Wing Commander series, it delivered on its ambitious promises. Go out in a procedural universe and make a living by any means necessary… and there were tons of means available.

Thanks to crowdfunding success, a new Elite is currently in development. Elite: Dangerous is being made by the original Elite series co-creator, David Braben, and his team. It looks and sounds pretty awesome so far. It has recently entered beta testing, and it is due for release at the end of the year.

Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra / Might & Magic X: Legacy

MightMagic3_and_X

Honestly, I’m a latecomer to the Might & Magic series. I played a little of Might & Magic 2 on a friend’s computer back in 1992, and of course read all about it in the pages of Computer Gaming World, but I’ve really only started playing the series about three or four years ago. But I finally get what people were talking about, and while the 1992 release of Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra was such a big deal. (And the two immediate sequels – which could link up and create an even bigger world when combined, was an even bigger one!).

I’m still playing the recently-released Might & Magic X: Legacy, the long-overdue return to the franchise. Interestingly, while the later Might & Magic games ditched the grid-based world, Legacy went back to the early 90s and embraced it, like Legend of Grimrock. While only being able to walk in four directions isn’t very realistic, I haven’t met anybody who has played the game who denied that it was fun. It’s a solid, very fun game that embraces its old-school roots – with a little bit of streamlining for modern audiences.

X-Com / XCom: Enemy Unknown / Xenonauts

xcom_both

Yeah, okay. We’re now well into 1993, with another title that consumed a good deal of my time – another of the most awesome games of all time. X-Com was the U.S. name for UFO: Enemy Unknown, and it was an instant classic. It was followed up by what amounted to little more than a re-skinning with X-Com 2: Terror From the Deep. Unfortunately, everything thereafter grew progressively worse and diluted the game’s good name.

The series was finally revived a little over a year ago with a fantastic offering called XCom: Enemy Unknown. While it differed substantially from the original, it nevertheless felt true to its roots, particularly with turn-based combat. It’s a hit, and deservedly so… and it still gave us turn-based combat!

xenonautsBut … that’s not all. X-Com spawned numerous spiritual descendents, and the strongest and most faithful of them has been in development for many years. Entitled Xenonauts, this is a faithful spiritual remake / re-envisioning that was finally released a few weeks ago. I picked up a copy when it hit the release version based on glowing recommendations by friends. I still haven’t played it yet, though I certainly intend to.

While I think it is kind of amusing that the “spiritual sequel” is more faithful to the original style and gameplay of the original than the “true” sequel, I’m pretty happy to find that there’s room for both.

Wasteland / Wasteland 2

wasteland1and2

Wasteland was actually a considerably earlier release (1988), but in 1992 there was still a thin, shriveled hope that a sequel would appear “any month now.” It didn’t happen. A few years later, we got Fallout, which was a worthy spiritual successor by any measure. But 2014 is finally delivering the long-anticipated true sequel that fans have been expecting for 25 years.

So yeah, I’m reaching a little bit on this one. But come on… Wasteland 2 deserves a mention in an article like this!

Wizardry 7 / Grimoire?!?!?

Wizardry7_Grimoire

Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant was another major, awesome RPG released in 1992. It was huge, popular, full of new features and ideas, and could keep a player busy for a long, long time. Hey, it’s been over twenty years and I still haven’t finished it! :)  One day, I promise myself. One day. Considering its size and scope, however, that will be one day after many weeks of effort.

RPGWatch tweeted me yesterday with the idea that Grimoire was the new Wizardry 7, which certainly seems to be the intent of its creator. Okay. I’ll believe it when I see it. Grimoire has been living in the twilight zone of actual, playable product and vaporware for years, now. If and when it does release to the public, the hard-core, old-school PC RPG fandom will be stunned. But hopefully – hopefully – we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

Doom / Doom

doom5And we’ll finally revisit 1993. At the end of ’93, the big one dropped… Doom. It turned the industry on its head. PC gaming hit mainstream because of this game, though the game itself found its way to virtually every platform imaginable in time (particularly after the source code was released as open-source by id Software).

Doom 3 released ten years ago as something of a remake. It was technologically cool and very pretty, and had plenty of “jumps,’ but to many players it lacked the heart that really made Doom special.

There’s a remake that I believe has now or is very soon entering beta. Ditching the numbers and going back to the name, “Doom,” I don’t know much about it. But if it actually captures the feel of the original, I’ll be very happy.


contraptionmakerUPDATE: 
I knew there were gonna be more. :) Spotkin is readying the 1.0 release of their new game, Contraption Maker – a spiritual successor to / remake of 1992’s awesome The Incredible Machine – by many of the team members who worked on the original series. It’s currently available via Steam Early Access, but the release version should be out very, very soon. Congrats to the team in Eugene!


Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 14 Comments to Read



  • Anon said,

    > Wasteland was actually a considerably earlier release (1988), but in 1992 there was still a thin, shriveled hope that a sequel would appear “any month now.” It didn’t happen.

    Well… unofficially, there was some sort of sequel:
    http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/fountain-of-dreams

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Here’s another game to watch (and try the alpha) for Wing Commander/X-Wing fans…

    Wings of Saint Nazaire: http://wingsofstnazaire.com/

    There have been times in my life where I have worried about the state of modern gaming, and where things were headed. All my fears were completely unfounded and the various upcoming games you mention here (and many others) are a sign that gaming hasn’t ever been better.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Wow – I’d never even heard of Fountain of Dreams before.

    @Andy – yeah, as much as I can find plenty to gripe about (more than ever!), it’s really because I think the games biz has never better. Maybe not super-healthy for all of the studios out there … gluts are usually followed by a reduction… but now is a great time to be a gamer IMO.

  • Xian said,

    One of my favorites from 1992 was Star Control 2. I read last year that Stardock had obtained the rights to make a new version, though it would not be a direct sequel.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    “We come in peace.”

  • Anon said,

    > Wow – I’d never even heard of Fountain of Dreams before.

    Yeah, while Wasteland was all the rage back then this one fizzled away quicker than you could see. I never saw a boxed copy in the stores back then, contrary to Wasteland or every instance of Ultima or other popular RPGs.

    However, fans of Wasteland say that it’s pretty terrible and doesn’t even come close to it.
    I think it’s like comparing the classic “Escape from New York” with its sequel “Escape from L.A.”… ;)

  • Anonymous Coward said,

    Thanks for the article.

    I think “Myst” deserves a mention for 1993.
    It may not have had the social and industry impact DooM had, but it was both successful and influential. And an argument for having a CD-ROM drive. ;-)

    You mentioned Civilization so that’s good.

    Another title that deserves mentioning here is “Dune”, released in 1992. The future relationship of the franchise to Westwood, who would later produce “Command & Conquer” is also interesting.

  • Anon said,

    If you mention Myst for 1993 then I draw “Rebel Assault” from the same year – propelling the sales of CD-ROM drives in hitherto unknown heights. Ha!

    ;)

  • Anonymous Coward said,

    Good catch! :-) Did “Rebel Assault” leave any real legacy though? I’m definitely willing to bet more people know of “Myst” and “Riven” than that game. Same for the following:

    For 1993, I’ll also mention a LucasArts title:
    “Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle”. 1990-1993 was big for those graphic adventure games.

    “The Secret of Monkey Island” was first released in 1990 and its sequel, “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge”, in 1992.

    Cheers!

  • Anon said,

    LucasArts definitely hit all the right buttons in those years – and let’s not forget ‘Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’ (1992)…

    The influence of Rebel Assault was quite big in the following years as it was the first prominent PC rail-shooter that featured animated, movie-like backdrops and the player-avatar and enemies superimposed over them. Other games like Wetlands and Creature Shock followed but my impression is that none of them was as appealing as RA as that had the then still strong Star Wars licence.

    While this tech was initially stunning – real movies as backdrops to immerse the player so that he feels that he is part of the movie – it has two major problems:
    – It needs a massive amount of data.
    – The course of the action is pretty much set.
    – There is a noticeable difference in graphics quality between the players/enemies and the background.

    While the data isn’t the problem nowadays the resolution of even CD-ROM-based games wasn’t too thrilling in the long run and when later hardware generations (DVD, Blu-ray) became widely available the 3D rendering capabilities had already made gigantic progress, making this tech obsolete.

    In the early to mid 90ies, however, when the 3D rendering wasn’t as powerful this was a good alternative – especially if you have a game design that doesn’t restrict the player too much.
    It was mostly used in shooters (shmups usually have a predetermined course so the gamers don’t mind this restriction) and games like Wetlands or Creature Shock appeared (see http://www.mobygames.com/game-group/genre-rail-shooter/offset,75/so,1d/).

    This tech also was quickly adopted to game types where it increases reality and the player can’t move freely in every direction – like lightgun-shooters (a genre that pretty much died out simply because it’s incompatible with LCDs, even though some systems like Wii or PS Move can be configured similarly).

    Another influence was in graphics adventures: Some games use this tech for animated background-loops and the player is moving in the foreground. ‘Blade Runner’ is a shining example and the backdrops are downright gorgeous with smoke, changing lights etc.

    ‘Blade Runner’ didn’t have the problem of the mixed quality of the various elements on screen as everything was rendered with sufficient quality but in most games the difference was so strong that many players don’t feel as immersed as they do when the 3D scene is rendered on the fly and incorporates all elements (players, enemies and backdrops). This difference is also what mostly killed pre-rendered cutscenes as most players seem to like them better when rendered in the 3D engine.

    I also believe that pre-rendering movies is an expensive and inflexible approach for the producers themselves and using the 3D engine is ultimately the better solution and so the tech vanished completely.

  • Maklak said,

    Another worthy mention is Master of Orion 1 and 2. There are a number of similar games, most notably Galactic Civilisations by Stradock.

    And as for X-com, there is the unfinished UFO:AI.

  • Anonymous Coward said,

    The more I look at “Rebel Assault”, the more terrible it looks to me. Uninteresting gameplay and bad controls, talk about a great legacy. Even the original “Wing Commander” looks infinitely superior. No wonder no one ever talked to me about it. :-D
    I guess it’s worth mentioning just for the sake of being complete.

    About “The Incredible Machine”: I loved that game so damn much and never managed to find out its name later. Thank you for mentioning it!

  • Anon said,

    Yeah, they look super-dated by now.

    Just imagine, how games will look in 20 years from *now*…

  • Anonymous Coward said,

    When I said “looks”, I was actually thinking about gameplay in both cases. I guess that was too ambiguous. Had I said “Rebel Assault looks boring”, then things would’ve been be clearer. :-)

    About the future of graphics… to really differentiate your game visually, you need great art direction, artists and art pipeline. The more time passes, the less impact better tech will have. The ROI is getting lesser and lesser, but of course AAA developers and publishers will continue to invest heavily in tech (at the very least for better tools).

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