Five Games From the Decade of Excess

That is to say, five games from the 80’s. I was reading Flosch’s influential games post and got to thinking I would like to put a little spin on it. And its been awhile since I’ve gotten a Five for Friday post in, so here it goes!

We got our first household computer in 1987. My Dad was learning the electronic frontier for his job and so we got one to put in the house as well. I learned DOS and all that jazz, and I don’t think any of us regret the early learning curve. I’ve tried to do the same with my kids. But of course, it wasn’t all work. A new era of games was hitting, and it was something we all enjoyed. I didn’t hit Middle School until the 90’s, so these were games that I was playing when I was 8-10 years old. And they were tremendously influential on my joys and hobbies as the years progressed. These five will always have a sort of legendary status in my memory.

1) Might and Magic 2: Gates to Another World

Might and Magic II Coverart.png

The first game I bought with my own money, this was one of my first RPG’s. And it was brutally hard. The randomly generated monsters rarely had any sort of tie with your parties power level, so there was a lot of running away to do. I spend a lot of time in the first town picking the lock on the “Monster Closet” and in an encounter space down one of the alley’s. Mostly I ran, but after awhile I was able to climb on top of the curve. And before long I had decent levels and +10 long swords and the occasional +3 ray gun (Might and Magic was ever crossing fantasy and sci-fi). I never beat the game, but that didn’t bother me any. The world was large enough that adventuring occupied all my time and joy. I think this game set my predilection for Exploration and love of RPG’s and MMO’s in general.

2) Mechwarrior

Mechwarrior BOXCOVER.jpg

While I had played the original BattleTech: Crescent Hawk’s Inception (CHI), it never really gelled with me the way this game did. CHI felt incomplete somehow, and unless you knew the trick to getting lots of credits early, it was an incredibly difficult game. Mechwarrior on the other hand, had a great story and some fantastic gameplay, putting you in the cockpit for the first time. For someone that bought their first Technical Readout at the tender age of 7, this was like the pearly gates of heaven opening up!

While the Battlemaster was the king of the mechs in this game, I often found myself putting the rest of my squad in them while I played around with other options. The sad thing is this: I don’t think, in the multiple sequals (and definitely in this latest, really sad attempt to recreate it with Mechwarrior Online) has any of the games been able to duplicate the game balance or the storyline of the original.

3) Their Finest Hour

Their Finest Hour Coverart.png

Not my first flight sim (F-15 Strike Eagle) but definitely the one that laid the pattern for me, landing today in World of Warplanes. F-15 had me dealing with electronics and chaff and missiles and bleh. This one let me fly and shoot stuff down. I completed both campaigns and hundreds of missions, capped out all the achievements and rank on both the German and British sides of things. I can’t begin to count how many hours I spent on this game.

Which is probably why if you stick me in a Spitfire in World of Warplanes, sometimes this happens:

4) Maniac Mansion

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My very first Adventure Game. I think I found every possible way to die and lose in this game. And I only remember beating it once. But the quirky humor and slightly tense nature of the game held my attention. Despite this, and my later love for Monkey Island (1990, in case you were wondering), the genre never stuck with me. Outside of those two games, I never really came back to it. I’d rather have my own characters and control.

5) Kampfgruppe

This was *the* WWII strategy game back in the day. Even if you don’t know this one, you know this one. This was Gary Grigsby (Steel Panthers) first baby. And it was magnificent. My Dad and I would play hotseat back in the day. He beat me most of the time, but I didn’t care. Marshalling my forces and playing was fun. Most fun of all was “buying” my battle group with the points at the beginning of the game. Invariably I would pick a core group of tanks with some combat engineers and recon units (I loved the German recon cars). No surprise that my Flames of War miniature army follows the same paradigm!

This kicked off a lifelong love of strategy gaming. These days I mostly play Dominions 4, not having found a WWII one to take Kamfpruppe’s place in a long time (though Blitzkrieg II was the most recent one I enjoyed).

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There ya go. Hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane to the era of classic PC gaming.

Five For Friday: Favorite Character Mechanics

I thought I might share this series with one of the things that drives interest in a game for me – interesting classes and class mechanics. This is one reason WildStar is not of interest to me while Elder Scrolls Online is – same old classes with same old three part skill trees vs. archetype + weapon + morph builds that change the way the game looks and unfolds in front of your eyes. This may be a reason TERA appeals to me too – the warrior is DPS and one of the healers is a pet class?! Love it! I like for fun little perks, utilities, and options to come into play. I like for norms to be twisted up a bit. I like to have a character that has something interesting or unusual to do in the game, even if that means they are not the best tank or healer or DPS player out there. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite character mechanics in the MMO field thus far:

1) “Avast matey, lower your flags, this ship be mine!” (‘Take Command of Ship’ Skill; Pirates of the Burning Sea)

My favorite character in PotBS has always been my Pirate – later, after the class break, known as the Cutthroat. And one of his fun abilities is to use this skill on a ship he has just successfully disabled:

takecommand

Ships are hard to come by in PotBS, and they don’t necessarily need to be easy to come buy. Its like having a car in real life – you only need a new one every so often. But if you could get a new one, say, every year…for free…wouldn’t you want one? And that is the life of the Cutthroat. Eh, I’ve had this ship for a whole level – I want a new one! Of course the captured one only has 1 durability point (if you are defeated in combat, the ship is lost permanently), but if you were like me, you kept a stockpile of more than one on hand. Because some days you feel like a gun shooting frigate, and some days you feel like a boarding galleon.

2) “Whatya need? Supplies? Gear? Fireball tossing gems? Lemme summon one for you…” (Magician Class, Everquest/EQOA)

Take a gander at the base spell list, levels 1-65, for the Everquest magician. Notice anything? At level one, three spells, not to hurt things, but to get you food, water, and weapons. Level two: armor and bandages. Level six? A backpack. It gets better: arrows, spears, staves, armor for your mates, armor for you, jewelry, resistance items, mana to hp conversion rods, breathe underwater items, click-to-nuke charged items, weapons/armor/gear for pets. Hell, you can even summon your friends – poof! – to right in front of you. A walking, talking, one man fixer for the masses. The ultimate utility kit.

Everything you see here came from my magic.
Everything you see here came from my magic.

Of course, what killed the class, and the idea it brings to the table, was the move to bring characters home at the end of each night. When your group is logging off in the wilderness at their favorite mob spawn and grinding location, characters like the Magician are a godsend. They help you make camp and bring those basic supplies to keep you rolling longer. But none of those can compare to the rest xp that you get when you port back to town each night. After all, the real reason to camp in the wilderness is to be close to the action and cut down on down time. But double xp more than covers the transit time to your favorite spawn camp – particularly in MMO’s dominated with fast transit.

3) “If you build it, they will come.” (Necromancer Class, Vanguard)

Vanguard was the first MMO to move away from the idea of a simple summoned pet for a pet class. While you could certainly raise the dead in the traditional manner, Vanguard went beyond. You built your own Frankenstein. Dead bodies could be scavenged for parts, constructed and given to your persistent pet, turning it into a powerhouse that grew right along side of you. It dealt with a part of the lore of necromancers that other games had not touched on – that of true grave robber, visionary of giving life to the dead. It was an interesting take and a fun little side quest within the group. After all, what could be more character enriching than the experience of a group pulling down their new loot – sword, staff, or what have you, wild the mad necromancer just smiles and pillages the claws off the dead body, excited not for the gold and silver but the knicknack nobody else even noticed, that will make him that much more powerful.

4) “Dual wielding, healing, teleporting, pet class? Yeah, we got those.” (Disciplines, Shadowbane)

While some fun has been had with Wildstar’s system allowing you to chose a sort of subclass that unlocks new area quests, they don’t change the way your class is played, as Shadowbane’s original discipline system did. You had a base class, and advanced class, and then up to three disciplines you could stack on top of that. The end result was that you could build characters that might both be wizards, but with wildly varying skill rotations, abilities, and out of combat utilities. Both could hit you with a lightning bolt, but one might summon dark lords and dual wield swords, the other might run around healing and buffing his group. And the disciplines ranged from the ho-hum (Enchanter, Archmage) to the interesting (Bladeweaver, Traveler) to the WTF (Ratcatcher, Sundancer, Gorgoi). It was a lesson lost on PvP developers everywhere, who now seem to think that PvP can only be good and balanced if every character can be summed up in a class word and its abilities and strengths and weaknesses determined at a glance. In Shadowbane, those kinds of assumptions got you killed. Fast.

5) Attention! Party on deck! (Crews and Duty Officers, Star Trek Online)

Growing up, my favorite RPG series was Might and Magic. I loved rolling a party (sometimes naming characters after my buds) and having a grand adventure through fantasy, not to mention time and space (because Might and Magic wasn’t complete without laser guns appearing at some point). Later on RPG’s evolved, and you had only one character. And so when MMO’s hit, the same followed. But I miss the party system and the fun that could be had with some…well, what I will call “internal roleplaying” – fan fiction, having the universe personalized and come alive in your own head a little more.

And you know, there is only one MMO right now where you can play a fully fleshed out party of five, and where their skills and yours are usable, and where you can pick their race, class, and personality. And that is Star Trek Online. I mean, if you want to play a classic RPG, STO is sitting right there waiting for you, with fleshed out, well written, hour long quests (er, “episodes”) covering multiple story arcs. And if you want to play with a buddy, like I wanted badly to do with Might and Magic back in the day – team up, and you can each bring half your party (on the ground) or all of it (in space).

Truly, this is one of the under-appreciated aspects of STO. One that is not noticed, much less lauded, often enough.

We come in peace (Shoot  to kill)
We come in peace (Shoot to kill)