• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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magisterrex Retro Game of the Week: Star Wars Dark Forces (1995)

With the release of DOOM in 1993, the gaming industry went into overdrive in coming up with similar games using the first-person perspective.  Some games, such as Heretic and Hexen, simply licensed id Software’s game engine.  Others choose to build their own 3-D first-person shooters from the ground up.  LucasArts Entertainment was one of the latter companies, and Star Wars: Dark Forces was their first stab at the genre.

Box cover for the 1995 game Star Wars: Dark Forces

Released in 1995, Dark Forces was the first Jedi Knight game, though the original release did not use the “Jedi Knight: Dark Forces” tagline.  Later re-releases would, however. The story revolves around a mercenary called Kyle Katarn, an ex-soldier of the Empire who now works freelance for the Rebel Alliance.  After a minor interlude wherein Kyle steals the plans for some obscure new Imperial weapon called the “Death Star”, our hero is tasked with investigating General Rom Mohc and his plans for creating a new weapon for the Empire: the Dark Troopers.

That's no moon! Wait who's shooting at me?

The game plays out over 14 levels in which Kyle takes on a variety of low-level enemies, such as stormtroopers, Imperial Officers, Gamorrean guards.  Kyle visits famous locales from the Star Wars universe, such as the Imperial capital, Corsucant, the “Smuggler’s Moon”, Nar Shaddaa, and the Imperial Super Star Destroyer Executor, and interacts with classic characters such as Jabba the Hutt and Mon Mothma.  There are the obligatory cameos by Darth Vader and Boba Fett, but there’s no interaction between Kyle and them.  (Which is probably a good idea, as any of the heavy-hitters of the Star Wars universe would be able to use him as a mop at this point in his fictional career).

Lots of stormtroopers to eliminate in Dark Forces!

The action is in the first-person perspective, and unlike DOOM, you can look up and down for your enemies, all the better to locate and eliminate them.  Although later in the game series Kyle hears the call of the Jedi, there’s no lightsaber action in this game.  However, there are plenty of other weapons to keep you interested, including the Bryar pistol, the standard stormtrooper E-11 blaster rifle, thermal detonators, the absolutely awesome Stouker concussion rifle, and the Dark Trooper assault cannon (the best way to take those bad boys out).

A Dark Forces Dark Trooper. Quick - get the Stouker ready!

Dark Forces was released on three platforms, all CD-based.  Its initial release came in MS-DOS format (PC), followed quickly by a Macintosh version, and finally a Sony PlayStation (PS1) version a year later.  Both the MS-DOS and Macintosh versions are similar to each other, and play well, but the PS1 version suffers from the translation, and is an inferior game.

Star Wars Dark Forces for the PS1

The game was a tremendous hit for LucasArts, generating close to a million units sold, and ranking one of the top-selling games of the 1990s.  The critical reviews were also very favourable, with many comparing Dark Forces to id Software’s masterpiece, DOOM.  Of course, with both critical and financial success came the sequel parade, and LucasArts knew a good property when they saw one.  Dark Forces spawned Jedi Knight, which was an even better game than its predecessor (and which begat its own sequel and an expansion pack!).

Box front for the Macintosh version of Dark Forces

All in all, Dark Forces is a very good game and should be on any retro gamer’s resume. If you haven’t played it before, consider giving it a little time in your retrogaming play list and help Kyle Katarn stop the threat of the Dark Trooper program once and for all!

The Best Classic Board Games – Masterpiece (1970)

There have been many classic board games produced by Parker Brothers throughout the 1970s, but it could be argued that Masterpiece: Parker Brothers’ Art Auction Game was not only the first of the decade, but also the best.

Box front for the 1970 US release of Masterpiece.

Masterpiece is a fun game to play.  Players take the role of art dealers and collectors, seeking to acquire famous paintings and sell them for insane cash values.  The Value cards have random dollar amounts, so although that Van Gogh you picked up is very beautiful, it may be worth as much as $1 million, as low as $150,000 – or (horrors!) may even be a FORGERY!  Part of the fun of playing Masterpiece is trying to foist off a worthless painting on your hapless opponents while simultaneously securing a millionaire-making “pièce de résistance”.  Not so much fun when it’s done to you, though…

Incidentally, there are no random event cards like “Opportunity Knocks!” that are found in many Parker Brothers games.  The only random occurrences come from the role of the dice, the squares on the game board, and the value cards you pick up.  Everything else is based on the Art of the Deal.

Contents of the 1970 US release of Masterpiece.

There have been several version of Masterpiece, beginning in 1970, with editions produced in 1976 and 1996, along with both a Canadian and variant edition of the original 1970 game, too.  (Which makes three versions of the 1970 Masterpiece game that I’ve seen.)

Box front of the 1970 Canadian version of Masterpiece

The standard American version of Masterpiece is characterized by:

  1. The game box is in English only.
  2. A green-backed game board
  3. Play money with denominations colored in gray ($50,000), yellow ($100,000), brown ($500,000), and olive green ($1,000,000).
  4. The play money says “Masterpiece” on the top and the value on the bottom.
  5. There are 24 Value cards, measuring 14cm x 9cm (5.5” x 3.5”)
  6. There are 6 Value Chart cards with both a list of the available values in the Value card deck, as well as the bios of the characters seen on the box front. (These cards are the same size as the Value cards.)
  7. There are 24 Painting cards (sized the same as the value cards) that contain paintings on display at the National Gallery in London, England, such as Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Paul Cézanne’s Aix: Paysage Rocheux, Leonardo da Vinci’s Cartoon: The Virgin and Child with SS. Anne and John the Baptist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Les Parapluies, and Claude-Oscar Monet’s The Beach at Trouville.

Box contents for the 1970 Canadian version of Masterpiece

The 1970 Canadian version of Masterpiece has a few differences from its American cousin:

  1. The game box has slightly darker tones and richer colors, with both English and French on the cover.
  2. The game board has a dark brown backing (the front is the same as the standard version)
  3. The play money has denominations colored in yellow ($50,000), brown ($100,000), olive ($500,000, and blue ($1,000,000).
  4. The play money has English on the bottom and French on the top (for example: One Million and Un Million).  The word “Masterpiece” is not written on the play money.
  5. The Value Chart cards have no character bios on them.

The variant 1970 Masterpiece US edition is a game that I’ve only seen once before, which leads me to believe that it is quite rare.  It is similar to the standard 1970 US edition, but has a completely different Painting card set, featuring paintings on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, such as Hans Hoffman’s The Golden Wall, Peter Blume’s The Rock, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, and Pablo Picasso’s Sylvette (Portrait of Mlle. D.)

Box contents for the 1976 Masterpiece game.

The game remained remarkably unchanged in its 1976 release.  The only changes from the 1970 Masterpiece US standard version were the box color (now a green-tinged motif) and the box art (with talking paintings replacing the art auction characters).  All other components looked to be leftovers from the original 1970 game.

The 1996 version brought back the concept of art auction characters on the cover (featuring a rather surprised bimbo surrounded by a variety of other characters), with a red-tinged background.  As with the 1976 version, there are no character bios on the Value Chart Cards, but a box insert discusses each of the art collector characters in detail.  The Value cards are tiny – 7.5cm x 4.5 cm (3” x 1.8”) – and at 42, there are many more of them!  The play money has much higher denominations, with denominations of $500,000, $1,000,000, $5,000,000, and $10,000,000.  Also, a plastic art display easel was included to aid in the the auctioning process.  Finally, the Painting cards remain the same size as previous editions, but feature different paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago, such as Paul Cézanne’s The Basket of Apples,  Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Violet and Silver – The Deep Sea, Paul Gauguin’s Old Women of Arles, and Vincent van Gogh’s The Bedroom.

Contents of the 1996 Masterpiece game.

One aspect of playing Masterpiece that is easily overlooked yet is possibly one of the most compelling reasons to play the game is how it encourages art appreciation.  The paintings are reproductions of the originals, and each art card shows the artist’s name, the painting’s name, what period the artist lived in, and where the painting hangs today (well, where it was when the game was made).  This can lead to discussions on art history, examples of movements that swept through the art world, anecdotes on the artists, and more.  This could be a home schooling family’s best art appreciation class ever!

Masterpiece is a game for 3 to 6 players, with a recommended starting age of 12 – which is reasonable considering the skills needed to succeed at the game.  It’s a game I fondly remember, and recommend wholeheartedly to anyone with a love of fine art and great games!

Forgotten Classics on Warrior Labs PC Gaming Website: Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs

Started up a new series about forgotten classic PC games at Warrior Labs, a website devoted to good PC gaming. This entry’s subject is the Sir-Tech gem, Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs.  You can read it here: CLICK ME

Splash screen for Freakin' Funky Fuzzballs.

Warrior Labs is a game devoted to PC Gaming. Their goals are:

- Create a strong community of PC Gamers.
– Get inspiration from each other.
– Tell tales about our favorite games.
– Encourage creativity and gather people around original projects.

UPDATE (October 27, 2011): WarriorLabs.net seems to have gone AWOL from the Internet.  Now this link takes you to a blog entry here at Recycled Thoughts From a Retro Gamer.

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week: Twilight 2000 (1991)

When you ask a retro gamer about who their favorite game companies, names like Sierra On-Line, LucasArts Entertainment, or Origin Systems often come up.  Less likely, but deserving of a look is the little known Paragon Software, the company that brought The Amazing Spider-Man, MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy, The Punisher, Space: 1889, and X-MEN: Madness in Murderworld, among others.  Paragon Software was also responsible for bringing one of my personal cult RPG favorites to the PC in 1991’s Twilight 2000.

Box front for the 1991 PC Game Twilight 2000.

First, some background story.  Twilight 2000 was set in a future wherein the border tensions between China and the U.S.S.R. escalate and events unfold in Europe which draws NATO and the Warsaw Pact into direct conflict.  Conventional warfare is followed by the use of chemical weapons, which leads to tactical nuclear strikes, and finally a “limited” nuclear war engulfing the globe.  The result is widespread catastrophe and the near-collapse of civilization.  Resources are scarce and enemies are around every corner.  Warlords rule individual city-states, and the countryside is ruled by whoever has the most armament.  Your team finds themselves in what used to be western Poland, under the thumb of Baron Czarny, a despot who finds no atrocity to atrocious to commit.  Having enough to deal with without a nutbar making life even more difficult for them, a consensus is reached that the mad Baron needs to be dethroned – and that’s where the game begins.

Boris Yeltsin to the rescue!

The Twilight 2000 PC game was based on the pen-and-paper RPG of the same name, first published in 1984 by the Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW).  It was a game of its time, with the Cold War raging and fears of nuclear Armageddon permeating the international consciousness.  Players assumed the role of soldiers trapped in Europe after the final offensive and counter-offensive between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The game had a cult following, but with the close of the Cold War, the appeal of the game began to wane.  A modified history was presented in the 1993 version of the game that attempted use the attempted coup against Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Federation, as the focal point of an alternate history, but never quite caught on.

Isometric exploration screen for Twilight 2000.

Twilight 2000 combines tactical gameplay with RPG elements.  Your task is to complete missions with up to 20 soldiers.  Each of your team has different attributes, languages that they speak, and special abilities, all of which you set to make their unique personality.  Each personality will determine how your soldiers respond to your orders, so it’s important to choose wisely to avoid messy situations (not unlike the pen & paper version!).

Driving screen from Twilight 2000.

The game unfolds in a variety of styles: there is a top-down map display; isometric tactical screens; front-on inventory screens; even a first-person 3-D driving mode (which was a bit ahead of its day, with polygon graphics and lighting effects based on time of day).  One of the more frustrating limits of the isometric display is that the game world, although continuous, requires new screen loads when changing locations.  This leads to frustration as you can miss an important item as it’s not on the current screen, but in gameworld terms, is only a few feet away.

Equipment screen from Twilight 2000.

The equipment screen shows off an impressive array of weaponry, armor, and general use items available to your soldiers.   Everything from Kevlar vests, various types of grenades, flashlights, thermal goggles, M-16s, Uzi’s, M9 pistols, even M203 grenade launchers!  This was the Diablo of the post-apocalyptic game genre, with something for everyone.  Yee-haw!

Map screen from Twilight 2000.

All in all, Twilight 2000 is a good PC game.  It’s certainly not perfect (and needed a few patches after its initial release), but it provides some decent gameplay in a well-crafted gameworld.  Pick up a copy and let the post-Apocalyptic good times roll!

New Post up on Warrior Labs PC Gaming Website

Warrior Labs is a website devoted to good PC gaming. Their goals are:

- Create a strong community of PC Gamers.
– Get inspiration from each other.
– Tell tales about our favorite games.
– Encourage creativity and gather people around original projects.

I’ve signed on to add a blog post to the site from time to time. My initial one is a quick rundown of all the post-apocalyptic games that I can remember (2000 or earlier).

Here’s a link! magisterrex Retrogaming Blog at Warrior Labs


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