• 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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Prince of Persia: the iPhone assimilates another classic game

Jordan Mechner’s classic Prince of Persia game has arrived in Apple’s app store for the iPhone, iPod, iTouch, and iPad.  It features the classic 60-minute countdown that caused gamers everywhere to curl their toes in anxitety as they searched for the level exit.  New to the game is the ability to update your friends on your game’s progress through Facebook (which has to be the lamest “advance” that the industry is currently promoting – really, I don’t give a flying rat about what secret you just unlocked).  As a portable game machine, the iPhone is certainly making its case with releases like this one.  I’d still rather play the original on my PC, but then again, I’m a retro kind of guy.

Prince of Persia for the iPhone

I certainly hope Jordan Mechner is getting residuals on this release, though.  I’d hate to think about all those classic retro games heading into the Apple Borg Collective and only benefiting Steve Jobs and the gang!

Prince of Persia CD Collection

Update: The Worst PC Game of 2000 – Daikatana

This is an update to a feature on Daikatana, a game that I recently panned as the worst PC game of the year 2000.

John Romero recently spoke with Gamesauce magazine (Spring 2010 edition) and gave a candid assessment of his advertising campaign.  Quoted from the source:

“I never wanted to make you my bitch, not you, not them, not any of the other players and, most importantly, not any of my fans. Up until that ad, I felt I had a great relationship with the gamer and game development community, and that ad changed everything. That stupid ad. I regret it, and I apologize for it.”

It’s an interesting interview, and give some insight on what id Software was like in the early days, too.

The infamous John Romero ad for Daikatana.

Retro Game of the Week – Return to Zork (1993)

“Want some rye? ‘Course you do!” Any gamer who played this classic from 1993 should recognize this hilarious quote from Activision’s Return to Zork, one of the most anticipated games of the early 1990s.

Box front for the 1993 PC game Return to Zork

The Zork series was the pinnacle of the text-adventure genre, but as time and technology marched on, Infocom, creators of the Zork franchise, did not.  Graphic adventures controlled by mouse commands replaced text adventures – with Sierra’s King’s Quest leading the way – but the Zork universe was left behind.  However, with the 1993 revival of this venerable franchise came improvements in the graphics as well as the user interface.  Gone was the text input, replaced by a click-through mouse menu of actions, including the ability to show your emotions towards characters as they talked.  For example, during the visit to the blacksmith, a stern emotional response will help you avoid a restarting from a game save later. (No, I won’t tell you why.)

It's the white house from Return to Zork

The intro was a fabulous nod towards the original game, with the obligatory visit to the outside of the white house and its mailbox, using the actual text from the beginning of Zork I.  A hint of the mystery was provided, and then the player was faced with his or her first puzzle: the irritatingly stubborn vulture.  Puzzles in Return to Zork were varied in complexity, some incredibly simple, while others frustratingly challenging.  As the Zork universe is a magical one, simple logic does not always win the day and the player always has to be prepared for a non-sequiter solution.  As an example, one of the situations requires you to drink along with Boos (where the first line from this blog entry comes from).  The trouble is Boos has an amazing capacity for rye whiskey, and you don’t.  How to stay sober while Boos gets hammered enough to pass out takes a little thinking “outside of the box”.

One feature that the original Infocom text adventures were known for were the “feelies” that they included inside each game box.  Mock postcards, pocket fluff, a Zorkmid, and so on gave each game a unique feel (hence the name “feelies”).  Return to Zork returned to the practice, including an official Sweepstakes Winner letter (with envelope) as well as incorporating the game manual into a mock-up of the 966 GUE version of the extensive Encyclopedia Frobozzica.

Flood Control Dam #3 from Return to Zork

Return to Zork was released across several platforms, including MS-DOS, Macintosh, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn, and was a smash hit for Activision.  It spawned two more games in the Zork universe, the ultra-serious Zork: Nemesis and the very funny Zork: Grand Inquisitor.  There was also a new text-adventure released to coincide with Return to Zork, called Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, which you can still play, here.  A multi-player game was recently released, Legends of Zork, but it did not seem to have the same spirit of zaniness that Zork games were known for, but that’s merely an opinion – your mileage may vary.

The thief (vigilante) from Return to Zork

Don’t expect to run amok killing all the inhabitants of the Great Underground Empire or trying to burn it to the ground, for although you can try, you’ll soon find the modern version of the classic Zork thief comes along to punish you for your sins.  Once he’s come and gone with all your possessions, the only way to win the game is to restore a saved game.  After all, this isn’t a Doom clone!

Valley of the Vultures from Return to Zork

Ultimately I very much enjoyed playing Return to Zork when it was released, and give it a strong recommendation to any retrogamer who is looking for some classic adventure gaming today.  It was designed to run under MS-DOS 5.0, so you’ll need to run it under DOSBox or a dedicated classic retrogaming PC computer, but if you take the time to set up your system to run it, Return to Zork will reward you with some great gaming moments!

The Best Classic Board Games: The Game of Life

Spin the wheel of fate and see where you’ll land on the great track of life.  Sound advice or how you play Milton Bradley’s classic, The Game of Life?  How about both!

The Game of Life presented players with an opportunity to simulate their lives from high school graduation to retirement, including higher education, careers, getting married, having children, and all the rewards and challenges along the way.  Players choose a little convertible token, and a little peg (blue for boys, pink for girls), and spin the Wheel of Fate to determine how many spaces to move on the game board.  Although their progress is linear, opportunities exist for players to take offshoot tracks on the game board, which sometimes pay off with larger rewards, such as a higher annual salary or offer a larger risk/reward ratio.

The Checkered Game of Life, circa 1860.

There have been several versions of The Game of Life published over the years, but they all have their origins in The Checkered Game of Life, which was created by Milton Bradley himself, and put to market way back in 1860.  Mr. Bradley wasn’t a game seller; he sold lithographs of Abraham Lincoln for a living.  But catastrophe struck when Honest Abe shaved his then-famous beard, making Mr. Bradley’s lithographs obsolete.  Suddenly his steady flow of income was gone.  Casting about for something to sell, Milton Bradley took a gamble and made a few copies of a game he designed – The Checkered Game of Life.  His gamble paid off as those copies sold, and so did the next run, and the run after that.  In fact, Mr. Bradley moved 45,000 units of the game that year, which was the genesis of the Milton Bradley Game Company.

Art Linkletter (left) and Reuben Klamer (2nd from right)

One hundred years later, the company that The Checkered Game of Life built was searching for a way to celebrate its centennial anniversary.  Enter Reubae Klamer, a toy inventor who had some success working with Art Linkletter (a popular television personality of the day) inventing and selling toys such as the “Spin-a-Hoop,” a competitor for the Hula-Hoop.  (Mr Klamer was an amazing toy maker, responsible for an incredible array of toys, such as Moon Rocks, erector construction sets, and snap-together hobby kits, among many others.  But I digress.)  Mr. Klamer seized the opportunity presented to him by Milton Bradley’s board of directors, reached back in time to Milton Bradley’s first game, and developed a game using its concepts.  Art Linkletter was convinced to provide a celebrity endorsement, and his smiling face adorned the corner of the 1960 version of The Game of Life.  The game featured high quality game parts, and had a high replay value as it played differently each time it was played.  The Game of Life was a smash hit, and would go on to sell an amazing 50 million copies since its 1960 release!

The Game of Life 1960 version

There have been a few changes to The Game of Life over the years.  The 1970s version changed the box art, and increased the dollar values of the game board squares to compensate for inflationary pressures since the 1960 version was released.  The Stock, Fire, Auto, and Life insurance certificates were reduced from 4” x 4¾” (approx. 12cm x 10cm) to the same physical size as the play money, and their backgrounds were changed from the almost hypnotic grid pattern to basic brown for the 1970s version.

The Game of Life, 1977 version

The 1980s version changed the certificates once again, adding colors to help distinguish one from the other.  The gas-guzzling convertibles were replaced with minivan tokens, and the game board spaces were recolored from black to orange for standard spaces.  The game mechanic stayed pretty much the same, however.

With the 1990s came more changes to The Game of Life, including a reworking of the game board; the game paths were altered, “penalty” spaces were changed to “reward” spaces (to be more life-affirming and politically correct), and the colors were modified.  The game mechanic was seriously affected by the removal of the Share the Wealth cards and the addition of Life Tiles, which added secret milestones that, if achieved, could be cashed in at the end of the game for big money.  The certificates were trimmed to Automobile and Homeowner’s insurance (Life and Fire insurance were removed), and the money-making power of the Stock certificates was drastically reduced, and were now part of the Life decks of cards, which also included Careers, Salary, and House Deeds.  Reaching one of the red game board spaces accessed these cards: Job Search, Get Married, and Buy a House, while the Stock cards could be purchased at the beginning of the turn.  All in all, it was a serious reworking of the how the game played.

The 1991 version of The Game of Life

More recent editions have attempted to make The Game of Life a more accurate simulation.  The 2005 edition changed the game path so that players heading down the college path gain a $100,000 debt load, the values of the Life Tiles were reduced to make the game more playable, and a new space permitting players to sell their house was added.  Two years later, a version of released that attempted to bridge the gap between the original 1960 game and the later versions, returning the Share the Wealth cards, the insurance policies, and the Lucky Spin option (removed in the 1990s).  The amount of professions available were increased from 9 to 12, with exactly half requiring a degree to attain and half not.

The Game of Life, 2002 edition

Having played the various versions of The Game of Life, I find the best version is truly the original 1960 Art Linkletter edition, followed closely by the 1970s edition.  There’s something refreshing playing a game that hasn’t been inundated with the level of political correctness and “life-affirming” philosophies that the later versions exhibited.  They all have their value, of course, but when given the choice, Reuban Kramer’s creation is the best!

New Warrior Labs blog entry: Forgotten Classics – Grim Fandango (1998)

Another post at Warrior Labs in the Forgotten Classics series on the great PC games you might not remember. This entry’s subject is LucasArts Entertainment’s 1998 game, Grim Fandango.  You can read it here:  CLICK ME

Box front for Grim Fandango

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.

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