• 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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Yesterday’s Copy Protection Schemes – SimCity

For all those Sim Mayor’s out there who can’t start up a good retrogaming session because they can’t locate the SimCity All Time High Scores copy protection sheet, this post if for you!  Click on any of the images below to get an enlarged version, and enjoy Maxis Software (and Will Wright’s) masterpiece!

SimCity All Time High Scores Sheet, page 1

SimCity All Time High Scores Sheet, page 2

SimCity All Time High Scores Sheet, page 3

SimCity All Time High Scores Sheet, page 4


Warrior Labs Forgotten Classics – World of Aden: Thunderscape

Here’s another post in the Forgotten Classics series on the great PC games you might not remember at the Warrior Labs website. This entry’s subject is the SSI classic steampunk RPG, The World of Aden: Thunderscape. You can read it here:  CLICK ME

Front cover of World of Aden: Thunderscape

Warrior Labs is a gaming website 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.

A new King’s Quest PC Game?

King's Quest The Silver Lining

A new King’s Quest chapter is now available free online from Phoenix Online Game Development.  No, it’s not Sierra Online, but it does have an interesting endorsement from Roberta Williams, the creator of King’s Quest.  This goes beyond creating a mod, and is more the coding version of fan fiction, with varied production values, but certainly worth a look, if only for the novelty.  You can download it HERE

Retro Game of the Week – Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1990)

For those of us who remember well the 1980s, the phenomenally endowed Elvira – the campy TV persona of Cassandra Peterson – was and is much loved.  Dressed in gothic attire that tended to display her front-facing assets, Miss Peterson was a staple of the late night television viewing, and a highly recognizable advertising brand.  Many and diverse were her following, including myself…as I admit to being an Elvira acolyte.

Box art for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Accolade tapped into this cult following with the 1990 release of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, a horror-themed PC adventure game with RPG elements.  The developer was the aptly named HorrorSoft, which focused primarily on making games in the horror genre.  HorrorSoft was actually Adventure Soft, and was sub-branded to give the company the ability to explore both a new genre and a new gaming engine.  Elvira was HorrorSoft’s second game, their first being the somewhat enjoyable “Personal Nightmare”(featuring an appearance by Elvira), and they didn’t disappoint.  From the back of the box’s flavor text – “Can somebody help me find my chest?” – to the ending credits, Elvira was a fun game.

The amply-endowed Cassandra Peterson (Elvira)

You play a helpful adventurer in Elvira, brought in to rescue the lovely Mistress of the Dark from the dangers of her own castle.  It seems Elvira’s quite-dead grandmother wants to return to the Realm of the Living, and plans to unleash a horrific assault on her surroundings – and upon her errant granddaughter, too.  Poor Elvira wants nothing to do with her grandmother’s schemes, but she’s lacking her usual magical arsenal as all her potion ingredients and equipment is scattered throughout her castle, and she needs you to collect it all and return it to her, while dispatching the nasty creatures that her dear grandmother has prowling the corridors and rooms along the way.

The Castle in 1990's Elvira PC Game

Like many RPGs and adventure games, inventory management was a straightforward exercise.  As you explored your environment (all 800 locations of it), approximately 300 objects could be picked up and placed into your pack, which was represented by a grid at the bottom of the screen.  Some objects could interact with others to create more powerful items (such as potions ingredients combining into potions).  The combat mechanism was equally as simple, involving clicking on either the “thrust” or “parry” icons at the correct moments (not button-mashing them into a fine powder, a la Diablo).  Some of the magical potions and items improved your combat or defensive prowess, which was absolutely essential when facing some of the more terrifying castle denizens.

Typical combat screen in 1990's Elvira

Elvira was released on several gaming platforms, including MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and Atari ST, and received favourable reviews.  Sales were sufficient to warrant a sequel, Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus.  HorrorSoft would go on to make one more horror-themed PC game, Waxworks, before the company was abandoned to focus on the rebirth of its parent, Adventure Soft Publishing, and the release of their Simon the Sorcerer series.

Elvira gives you your marching orders...

If you are a retrogaming horror junkie, or a classic adventure game aficionado, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a game well worth playing.  It has the right mix of humor and horror, action and exploration to warrant a place as my Retro Game of the Week, and is a worthy addition to any retro gaming 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.

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!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – MechWarrior (1989)

One of the classic PC games of the late 1980s was the action/strategy hybrid, MechWarrior.  Released in 1989 by Activision, MechWarrior was based on the BattleTech game by FASA, and was programmed by Dynamix.  At its heart BattleTech is a game that allows futuristic giant mechanized soldiers bristling with advanced weaponry to do battle with one another, and the MechWarrior PC game delivered accordingly.

Box front for the 1989 PC game, MechWarrior.

Players assume the role of Gideon Braver Vandenburg, a prince whose family was murdered and his throne usurped, and who must assemble a team of MechWarriors to avenge his family and take back his throne. Of course, this is not an easy task, as poor Gideon begins the game with a less-than-mint Jenner and little else.  Gideon heads out on a variety of missions to add to his reputation, ‘Mech inventory and cash reserves.  The goal is to outfit a lance of four ‘Mechs before heading out on your (well, Gideon’s) final mission, all within a five year time frame.

Combat screen for the 1989 PC game MechWarrior

Although you start with a Jenner, players ended up being able to play with eight different ‘Mechs, and a wide variety of missions showcased each of their advantages (and disadvantages if you chose the wrong ‘Mech for the job!).  For the quick in and bug out missions, the Jenner and Locust were best.  For missions that required greater ‘Mech mobility, the Shadow Hawk and Phoenix Hawk’s ability to jump into the air and pass over their enemies was invaluable.  For the straight smack ‘em down and keep ‘em down missions, the Marauder, Battlemaster, Rifleman, and Warhammer each had their strengths.

'Mech needing repairs in MechWarrior.

One of the more merry moments I had while playing MechWarrior was targeting specific parts of the enemy ‘Mechs I faced.  Combat was shown in the first-person perspective from your cockpit, which had an array of sensors. An effective strategy was to target an enemy’s leg until it exploded, then salvage and nearly complete ‘Mech.  More salvage meant more credits and more credits meant bigger and better armed ‘Mechs.  Ah, the sheer joy of methodically piloting a Battlemaster and destroying all I surveyed.

MechWarrior's Battlemaster under repair

Of course, not every mission goes like clockwork, and sometimes you take a bit of damage which needed to be repaired before shipping out for your next mission.  Sometimes that meant bringing a partially repaired ‘Mech into your next combat round and hoping for the best.  And anyone who played MechWarrior will tell you that overheating your ‘Mech’s heatsinks in a frantic attempt to avoid more damage was just icing on the FAIL cake.

Destroying target facility in 1989's MechWarrior

There had been other PC games set in the BattleTech universe before MechWarrior – the Crescent Hawk saga – but MechWarrior really got it right.  Yes, the graphics are dated and gameplay is limited by today’s standards, but in 1989, this was a tour-de-force. Between a great storyline and amazing gameplay, MechWarrior deserves a spot on the retrogaming “Best of” list.  After all, this is the granddaddy of MechWarrior 4!

Victory is yours in 1989's MechWarrior