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): 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

The Best Classic Board Games – Monopoly

You’d have to have been born and raised under a rock to not know the existence and the general gameplay of the game of Monopoly.  For those few that may have recently emerged from the Underdark, Monopoly is a game of real estate, of buying and selling properties, collecting rents and looking to grab the brass ring to become a millionaire tycoon.  At its heart, Monopoly is a game of avarice…for the family, of course.

A 1936 edition of Monopoly by Parker Brothers.

Monopoly is an old board game.  Not as old as Go, a game that the ancient Chinese once played, but old enough.  Hasbro (the gaming giant who owns the Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley game brands, among others) maintains the myth that Charles Darrow invented Monopoly in the early 1930s, and copyrighted the game in 1933.  Darrow submitted it to Parker Brothers in 1934, which promptly rejected it as being too complicated. Darrow was selling the game privately, and sales reached an impressive enough level that Parker Brothers contacted him in 1935, bought out his inventory and the rest is history.

Charles Darrow's patent for Monopoly.

Of course, that was only a small part of the real story behind the game of Monopoly.  Long before Charles Darrow “invented” Monopoly, Elizabeth Magie created The Landlord’s Game, which was used to educate others on the nature of renting and real estate.  (She applied for the patent on the game in 1903.)  The game was successful enough to merit variations over the years, including Auction Monopoly, and Ms. Magie was issued another patent for her game in 1924.  It is important to remember that Ms. Magie attempted to sell the game to Parker Brothers in 1910 and 1924, but was rebuffed both times.  Yet she continued to sell her game, regardless.

Elizabeth Magie's patent for The Landlord's Game.

Elizabeth Magie's patent for The Landlord's Game.

It was during the late 1920s that Ruth Hoskins was shown Elizabeth Magie’s game, and liked it so much that she returned to Atlantic City and made herself a clone, changing the property names to places found in her home city.  It was this game that Charles Darrow was exposed to, and being the enterprising soul that he was, he didn’t bother cloning or copying the game: he simply claimed it for himself.  It was this game that Darrow took to Parker Brothers as its “inventor.”  All this goes to show that anyone can invent something, but it takes a really gifted individual to steal the idea and call it his own.  Which, by the way, Charles Darrow had to own up to later in1935, when Parker Brothers realized that he pulled a fast one on them.  Ms. Magie (now Mrs. Phillips) was contacted with an offer to purchase her game for $500 – and a promise to publish it.  She accepted, and the primary legal bullet was dodged.

Box cover for The Landlord's Game.

It’s fascinating that Parker Brothers stuck to the “Charles Darrow was the inventor of Monopoly” line for decades.  It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that this historical myth was challenged, and enough research was accomplished to debunk it, with the true history behind the game.  Yet even now, Hasbro still avoids any mention of Elizabeth Magie or the pre-Darrow years in their game literature or on their website. But I digress.

Box front for the 1961 game Monopoly.

There have been several editions of Monopoly over the years.  Most of us have seen the standard Monopoly game with metal player tokens, as well as plastic houses and hotels.  A more obscure Monopoly fact is that from 1958 to 1961 Parker Brothers produced two variations of the game.  An example would be the 1961 edition of Monopoly. Although the Chance, Opportunity and Title Deed cards were the same, one version of the game was distributed with the standard metal tokens, plastic houses and hotels, and a game board bordered in green, while the other version’s player tokens, houses and hotels were made of wood and a game board bordered in black.  I don’t know why this was done, but if I was to hazard a guess, I would suggest that Parker Brothers had an inventory of game parts for a similar game that was no longer in production, and someone had the brilliant idea of using them up rather than letting them sit and collecting dust.  Of course, this is just pure speculation on my part.

Monopoly wood and metal player tokens.

Monopoly wood and metal player tokens.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for a web resource on all things Monopoly, including more details on its history and changes over the years, try the Monopoly History website.

Cat-Opoly: the Monopoly game about cats.

Today’s Monopoly games continue the practice of multiple versions, and with the “opoly” licensing agreements, come in many variants and themes. There are Monopoly games based on cats, on scuba diving, on hotel chains (Fairmont Hotels, no less), on corporations (like Nintendo!), even on cities and towns.  There are Deluxe versions, country-specific versions (Canadian Monopoly, anyone?), era-specific versions – even Monopoly games based on TV shows and movies (like Star Wars!).  If you can’t find a Monopoly game that matches your interests, you’re simply not looking hard enough!

The video game & board game worlds collide with Monopoly: Nintendo Collector's Edition!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week: X-COM UFO Defense

MicroProse Software had a long run of producing world-class simulation and strategy games during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, including such classics as Civilization, Master of Orion, Pirates! Gold, Master of Magic, F-15 Strike Eagle II, and many, many more.  One of the most-loved of these MicroProse gems was X-COM: UFO Defense, released in 1994 in North America (and known as UFO: Enemy Unknown overseas).

Box cover of the 1994 PC game X-COM: UFO Defense

X-COM was a turn-based squad strategy game with the premise that not only were UFOs real, they were filled with vicious aliens that loved to abduct, experiment on, and terrorize humanity – and they were arriving in greater numbers and with more regularity.  With such a dire threat facing the planet, world leaders gathered to create an emergency covert strike force response team to investigate and eliminate the alien threat: X-COM.

The Geoscape screen in X-COM: UFO Defense

You begin the game staring at the Geoscape screen, your map of the Earth that shows all UFO activity (known bases, sightings, UFO locations, etc.) and X-COM locations (your fighters and bases).  Your first challenge is to build your X-COM base, and then to send out your fighter craft on patrol and to investigate possible UFO activity.  Clicking through to the Base screen brings you to your micro-management options, such as recruiting, equipment and weaponry purchases, base expansions, and production and research settings.

The Base screen in X-COM: UFO Defense

All of this is paid for by the founding member nations of the global X-COM initiative.  Each country pays a share of the overall operating expense, which can increase or decrease depending on how that nation views the overall alien threat and X-COM’s usefulness.  Interestingly, some countries can opt to pull a Quisling, aligning themselves with the aliens, which results in the termination of their funding for X-COM.  Holy “V”, Batman.

Funding message from X-COM: UFO Defense

Once a UFO is found (either landing or crashing) or an alien terror incident is reported, players can opt to send out the X-COM team to check things out.  At this point the game switches to the isometric Battlescape, and turn-based combat begins.  Either the aliens are routed and valuable alien technology is captured for the techies to give it a Will Smith-like Independence Day makeover; or the aliens wipe out your poor soldiers; or, sensing imminent defeat, you tell your people to tuck their tails between their legs and get out of Dodge.  Get defeated enough and your funding will dry up, the X-COM program will fold, and you lose the game.  Keep winning those little battles and your raison d’être will be validated, funding will hold steady or increase, your tech people will be able to improve your defences and weaponry, and eventually you’ll reach the alien scum’s main base for the final battle.  Win that one and you ensure the future of Humanity is golden, and the game is yours.

A Battlescape screen from X-COM: UFO Defense

This was a fabulous game at the time, with VGA graphics, superb sound effects, and varied and fun game play.  It was a hot seller at the time and commanded a loyal, intense player following, and still continues to be a favourite classic game among many.  X-COM has appeared on several “Best of” lists, including placing in the top ten of  PC Gamer’s Top 50 of all-time lists, on Computer Gaming World’s Best Game of All-Time lists, and consistently holding the number one position on IGN’s Top 25 of All-Time lists.

UFO Enemy Unknown = X-COM: UFO Defense Overseas

With so many awards and fond memories, it’s an easy game to put forward as one of the classic retro games that every retrogamer needs to have played.  If you haven’t gone UFO-hunting with your global anti-alien X-COM strike force yet, don’t just sit there – pick up a copy of this game and get playing!