ReBlog: Today in Gaming History

Hard to imagine, but reminds us that it’s true: the gamers’ friend Blizzard Entertainment released the Internet addiction World of WarCraft on November 23, 2004, marking today its six year anniversary.  Six years later they boast over 12 million subscribers, and are the gold standard for MMORPGs.  Happy Birthday, WoW!

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Retrogaming Game Maps: Darklands (PC)

Back in 1992, MicroProse released a RPG that sent gamers back to the 15th Century to stave off the Apocalypse.  Darklands was set in and around what we now call Germany, with real old-world city names and locations, and remains the only game set in the Holy Roman Empire (that I am aware of).  It was (and is!) a great game to play, but only after fully patched; it was riddled with bugs upon its original release, some of which crashed the game straight to the DOS prompt!

Darklands remains a sought-after retro game, but, on occasion, a copy of the game is missing its game map.  Well, break out the color printer and get ready to adventure in the chaos of 15th Century Germania, because here is the game map for all to use! (Click on the map to see it in its full-sized glory!)


Darklands (1992) game map.

Yesterday’s Copy Protection Schemes: The Humans

In 1992, GameTek published The Humans, a fun Lemmings-like game that had players guiding prehistoric man through the discovery of fire, rope, spears, wheels, and torches, along with all the hilarious hijinks and missteps along the way.  The game featured a copy protection scheme very similar to that of SimCity, using a deep red colored sheet of paper with information typed in black ink which players referenced when asked a question by the program.  (The coloring was done this way to prevent photocopying the copy protection sheet!) Of course, with the arrival of the computer scanner, this kind of copy protection is no longer viable – which is most fortunate for anyone who has misplaced their sheet!  So, without further ado, here is the special Disk Protection Legend for GameTek’s The Humans.  Enjoy!

Disk Protection Legend for The Humans PC game.

What’s In That Game Box? – Survive! (1983)

Game box for Parker Brothers’ Survive!

Ever scoured the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no succor in your time of need?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at Parker BrothersSurvive!, the still-popular 1983 game that promised a sea full of danger and oceans of fun.  (Not to be confused with the later – and better – Escape From Atlantis, detailed here: The Best Classic Board Games – Escape From Atlantis (1986).

The contents of Survive! are as follows:

The game box (with images of cartoony characters fleeing an erupting volcano with a sea serpent eagerly awaiting their arrival)

The game board (featuring a large playing surface of hexagons on an ocean background, with a small island land mass on each corner)

Five green plastic Sea Serpent tokens

Five navy blue plastic Whale tokens

Six gray plastic Shark tokens

Forty plastic “People” (villager) playing pieces (10 each of orange, purple, red, and yellow)

Twelve die-cut Boat playing pieces

Forty die-cut terrain playing pieces (16 “Beach”, 16 “Forest”, and 8 “Mountain”)

A special 6-sided die with symbols of the Whale, Shark, and Sea Serpent on the sides

The Game Rules

Aside from the inner cardboard fillers, one which holds the shape of the box and has more game art on it, and one to help hold all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  I hope you enjoy attempting to rescue as many villagers as you can from certain death!

A selection of game pieces from Survive!

The game board for Parker Brothers’ Survive!

Retro Game of the Week – The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

In 1995, the phrase “full motion video” (FMV) conjured up the image of such classic games as Night Trap and Burn: Cycle – eye candy at best, and generally poor gaming experiences.  CD-ROM technology had been out a for a couple of years, and The 7th Guest was really still the only “must-have” CD-only game on the market.  So, imagine the concerns of adventure gamers when they discovered that the sequel to Jane Jensen’s awesome Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was going to be released in FMV format.

However, these concerns were unfounded.  Sierra had been working on the Script Code Interpreter (SCI) game engine, which used full motion technology, for a Roberta Williams game, Phantasmagoria.  The development team for the second Gabriel Knight game, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, was able to appropriate the engine for their own use, which had the benefit of cutting down the game’s development time.  However, even with the game engine built, FMV was an expensive process, involving a production crew and professional actors, all of whom were paid well for their time.

The Beast Within features beautiful backdrops.

Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue.

Yet The Beast Within was still an epic game, and a true adventure game classic.  Why?

Some of Jane Jensen's novels.

The answer is multifaceted, but the first step was retaining Jane Jensen as the author of the entire storyline.  The first Gabriel Knight game was lauded for not only being fun to play, but having a deeper story than most adventure games.  Ms. Jensen had majored in computer science, but also had a deep fascination with creative writing, evidenced by her work on the Gabriel Knight series.  Interestingly, she did not become a published novelist until well after The Beast Within, with her novelization of the first Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers book in 1997, and then Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within’s novelization in 1998.  Her first non-computer game related novel, Millennium Rising, was published in 1999, the same year her last Gabriel Knight game was released.  She has continued to write books, earning a Phillip K. Dick Award nomination for Best Novel in 2003 for her book, Dante`s Equation.  But I digress!

The Baron looks a little...intense...

The Beast Within was not only written well, it was acted well.  The game featured Dean Erickson as Gabriel, who would go on to leave acting altogether and become a real estate agent; Joanne Takahashi as Grace, who continues to take a variety of minor roles tailored for Asian women; Peter J. Lucas as Baron Friedrich von Glower, who continues to take roles for an ethnic European; Andrea Martin as Gerde, who was a Tony-award winning actress before working on The Beast Within and continues to work on both the stage and in voice-over work today.  None of these four ever worked on a computer game again! However, Nicolas Worth, who played Kriminal-Kommisar Leber, has not only had a successful career in film and television both before and after The Beast Within, but has also continue to work in the gaming industry, acting in Emperor: Battle For Dune, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Red Alert 2, as well as lending his voice to Freedom Fighters!

Dean Erickson as Gabriel Knight

The puzzles of The Beast Within were not particularly difficult, but were, on the whole, imaginative.  The game used “hotspots” on the photographic quality images to show that there was something of interest on the screen, so it was a simple matter to gain all the inventory items required to solve most of the puzzles the game threw at its players.  Like many adventure games, forward progress could come to a complete halt until you discovered the correct hotspot, but this generally was not a complete inconvenience.

Joanne Takahashi as Grace Nakimura

Reviews of The Beast Within were very favourable upon its release.  Two of the biggest gaming magazines of the day gave it high marks: PC Gamer gave it a score of 96% and it’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, while Computer Gaming World (CGW) gave it 5 out of 5 stars, a Critics Choice tag as well as naming it the 1996 CGW Game of the Year.  It also managed to make #17 on CGW’s 150 Best Games of All Time , which is the definitive “must-play” list for retrogaming enthusiasts!  If you haven’t played this classic of the adventure game genre, you’re missing a rare treat.  Highly recommended!

November 11th – Lest We Forget

Today’s games have achieved an astounding level of graphic realism, incorporating real-time actions and true physics models to give us all the appearance of being in battle.  We can play World War II simulations that have us crossing the Reine, landing on the shores of Normandy, bracing for the Blitzkrieg, or fighting the Battle of Britain over the English Channel.  But all the games have one common trait: they’re just games.

The reality is that many games are based on actual conflicts fought by real people who sacrificed their lives, limbs and health, holding back the tide of barbarism that threatened to overwhelm us all.  Blood was shed and its stain should leave us all with the need to give thanks to all who gave their all so that we do not have to do so today.  The numbers are staggering.  In World War I, 16 million people were killed, and another 21 million were wounded.  Of those casualties, 6.8 million were civilians.  The horror and tragedy of World War I caused its survivors to declare that it was the War to End All Wars…and yet only a little over two decades later, World War II erupted.

The Second World War was so widespread and bloody that we don’t even have an accurate picture of just how many people died.  The estimate is between around 50 to 70 million people, including civilians, military personnel and deaths caused by the aftereffects of the conflict (such as famine and disease).  Think about that estimated casualty figure for a moment: it has a spread of 20 MILLION.  Those were people, just like you and I, your neighbours, and family.  Entire towns were eradicated from the globe.   Here are some casualty figures by country, including both civilian and military deaths, but not including every country that fought the war:

China…between 10 and 20 MILLION dead.
Dutch East Indies…between 3 and 4 MILLION dead.
Germany…between 6 to 9 MILLION dead.
India…between 1.5 to 2.5 MILLION dead.
Japan…around 2.7 MILLION dead.
Poland…around 5.7 MILLION dead.
Soviet Union (now the Russian Federation)…around 24 MILLION dead.

The numbers are staggering, especially compared to the death toll in some of the Allied countries:

Australia…around 40,000 dead
Canada…around 45,000 dead
United Kingdom…around 450,000 dead
United States…around 419,000 dead

So the next time we fire up whatever battle simulation that permits us to play as a soldier in the Second World War or other conflict, let us keep the horror of the sheer scope of the two World Wars in mind.   “Lest We Forget” is more than a catch phrase to help us remember to wear a red poppy on our lapel; it is a call to pause and reflect on the courage and sacrifice of those who gave their all so we could enjoy the lives we lead today.

Retrogaming Game Maps – The Secret of Mana (SNES)

The bane of every RPG retrogamer who games on cartridge-based systems is the missing game map.  Sure, you can simply push on through, or consult your handy Internet strategy / hint guide, but part of the fun is holding the map and deciding where to go next.  Today, for your amusement, we offer the original game map for the classic Super Nintendo game, The Secret of Mana.  Enjoy!

The Secret of Mana (SNES) Game Map