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.

Retro Game of the Week – Panzer General (1994)

By the 1990’s, turn-based strategy war games had become highly specialized with a very thin customer base.  Most required a grognard’s ability to juggle multiple battle statistics at once, and had a limited visual appeal.  Then, in 1994, Strategic Simulations Incorporated (SSI) released Panzer General and the wargame genre transformed into a mass market product.

Panzer General game box.

Unlike real-time strategy (RTS) games, turn-based strategy games permit the user time to ponder their next move without having to press the pause button.  The drawback is that once you’ve committed your resources you must watch your turn – and your then your opponent’s – play out.  To state the obvious, chess is an example of turn-based strategy.

Typical combat screen in Panzer General.

Panzer General offered players both single scenario play, in which they could assume the role of an Allied or an Axis general, as well as a Campaign Mode, in which the player attempts to win World War II for Germany.  The campaign runs from 1939 to 1945, and as units gain battle experience, they become stronger, and the player (as general) gains access to upgrades and reinforcements – assuming they are victorious, that is.  If the player achieves their scenario objectives with five or more game turns to spare, it is considered a “Major Victory,” which unlocks further game elements.  Major Victories enable the player to alter history, such as invading Britain on the heels of victory in France, or even landing an invasion force in North America to capture Washington, D.C.

The invasion of Malta in Panzer General

The game was published across several platform, including versions for the Panasonic 3D0 system, MS-DOS and Windows based computers, Sony PlayStation, and for the Macintosh.  It also spawned a plethora of sequels, including: the 5-Star Series (Allied General, Fantasy General, Pacific General, People’s General, and Star General), Panzer General II, Panzer General 3D Assault, Panzer General III: Scorched Earth, and Panzer General: Allied Assault.  Clearly gamers enjoyed wargames once again!

Furious combat in Panzer General.

Panzer General was both well-reviewed and well-received by the gaming public.  Besides receiving high review scores from the critics, gamers just kept playing the game.  To this day, there are sites on the Internet devoted to this game, with hundreds of scenarios, new units, and even new features.  Mods are the fountain of youth for classic games, and Panzer General was no exception, as they managed to keep the game fresh and interesting years after its release.  Ultimately, the game’s fabulous gameplay coupled with its genre-changing aspect make it a classic retro game that every retrogamer needs to play!

10 Years Ago: The Worst PC Game of 2000 – Daikatana

Every so often I get a little spoiled with too much classic retrogaming goodness, and begin to take for granted the great storylines, coding and sheer fun that most of my game collection contains.  It’s at that point that I find it helpful to look back on a game that is best played while under the influence of mood-altering substances.  Such a game is the pile of stinking defecation brought to us in 2000 called Daikatana.

Front cover of the 2000 PC game, Daikatana.

What hopes everyone had for this game.  After all, the lead designer was John Romero, he who was quoted to say, “Design is Law”, was one of the co-founders of id Software, and was one of the co-creators of the industry-changing Doom.  This was a person who gamers could count on to bring his “A” game to the design process.  Or so we thought.

Hello, I'm John Romero, and you're not.

Much has been said about the incredible excesses of Romero’s studio while working on Daikatana.  Around $40 million was spent on this game, which was a result of both Romero’s desire to be surrounded by luxury (complete with a multi-million dollar office at the very top of a skyscraper in Dallas), and his inability to keep the game on schedule.  Critical errors were made from the start of the project, as Romero estimated a seven-month development cycle using the Quake engine.  But id Software beat him to the market with Quake II, which meant retooling Daikatana with the Quake II engine to avoid looking like a tired old retread.  If that wasn’t enough, Romero saw his entire development team quit, which meant further delays.  Add these factors together and it’s easy to see how Daikatana quickly became a money pit.

Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

Perhaps if Romero didn’t project himself as such a larger-than-life personality, gamers would have been more willing to forgive him for such a catastrophe.  But even the advertising campaign was offensive to the buying public.  “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch. Suck it down.”  Seriously, how does an ad copy like that make its way all the way from a brainstorming session to publication?  Simultaneously insulting, crude, and a challenge to all gamers, everywhere, this ad campaign created an expectation that anything short of a coding love child between Sid Meier and John Carmack would be marked a failure.

The offensive Daikatana ad campaign.

Once the game was released, the sheer mediocrity of the product became evident.  The game mechanic was wonky, with the player getting the “benefit” of two sidekicks that you needed to keep alive to help solve various puzzles during the game.  Of course, they had the AI equivalent of a gnat, so you tended to see them die. A lot.  And did I mention that if the sidekicks died you lost the level?  That’s just bad design, which is unforgivable from someone who believes, “Design is Law.”  The good news for the sidekicks is that the AI for the enemies is just as bad, perhaps worse.  If a solid object is between you and your enemy, fret not, as they’ll keep trying to walk straight toward you rather than go around it.  You could even go out for a smoke break and come back in to see them still trying to become an irresistible force.  But you can’t take that break, as your stupid sidekicks will take the opportunity to walk directly into the line of fire while you’re gone.

Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

In the end, Daikatana sold 200,000 copies, probably to people who wanted to create a drinking game based on how bad it was.  The stark reality was after $40 million in development expenses and only 200K of boxes sold, Daikatana was an epic failure on a scale reserved for such amazing debacles such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (for the Atari 2600).

Daikatana is E.T.'s bestest friend!

So, game designers, study well the example that John Romero has left you and take note of what happens when ego and extravagance trumps hard work and diligence.  Let’s not have another Daikatana happen to us again, shall we?