• 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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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

20 Years Ago – Great Video and PC Games Released in 1990

1990 was an interesting year.  George H.W. Bush was still President of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the U.S.S.R.  It was the year Nelson Mandela became a free man, Mike Tyson got knocked out, Marion Barry got busted for drug possession, the Edmonton Oilers won their last (for now) Stanley Cup, the Detroit Pistons took another NBA title, Germany was reunified signaling the end of the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Iraq invaded Kuwait. And that’s just some of the year’s highlights!

Just for fun, let’s look at what some of the awesome video & PC North American game releases were 20 years ago. All of these are great games to play, and some are retro gaming classics!  Of course, these are by no means all the game releases for 1990 – just some of the ones I thought were worth mentioning.

1990 also saw the release of Pretty Woman!

The Best Classic Board Games – Careers (1955-2009)

Fame. Fortune. Happiness.  Those were the three goals that the player had to achieve, with a total of 60 points to be divided between them, as each player chose their own combination as their ultimate career achievement (if only real life was that simple!).  The first player to reach their three-part goal won the game.  Of course, being a Parker Brothers game, things get a tad more complex with other game elements, including special game board spaces and unique situations presented by Experience and Opportunity cards, that altered game play.

The box front for the 1955 Careers game.

Careers was developed by noted sociologist Dr. James Cook Brown, who also happened to be a science fiction author (he wrote The Troika Incident) and inventor of the artificial language, Loglan.  Dr. Brown designed Careers to be an answer to the what he perceived as the 1950s focus on greed and monetary-based self worth.  Careers encourages players to think beyond just making money, and instead consider that being successful in life has many paths and aspects.  He later redesigned the game to include “enlightenment”, “virtue”, and “power”, but these were not also adopted by the game’s publishers as it transformed Careers from a family game into a game for adults.

There have been several versions of Careers through the years, starting in 1955, with new versions coming out in 1965, 1971, 1976, 1979, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2003, and 2008.  With each version came changes to the career choices, box art, contents, and even publisher, but the game mechanic stayed basically the same. (There have also been several non-North American releases, but this article will only discuss Careers games that were sold in Canada and the United States.)

The box front for the 1965 Careers game.

The game was first published by Parker Brothers in 1955.  The original version of Careers featured occupations in Farming, Big Business, at Sea, Uranium Prospecting (really!), Politics, Hollywood, or an Expedition to the Moon (space program).  Players could also get college degrees in Law, Medicine, Engineering, Science, or a general College Degree.  With luck, players could achieve a salary base as high as $19,000 a year!  The 1958 version added reuseable score pads, but those vanished with the 1965 version, which also used the same occupations, but different box art.  The 1955 box art was spectacularly gaudy, and the 1965 version was much more understated. The game board reflected the tenor of the times, with spaces like “Gorgeous Secretary 4 ♥” in the Big Business path or “Shopping Spree” in the main path, where you find out how much your wife spent!

The box front for the 1971 Careers game.

A few short years later, Parker Brothers released a new version of Careers, this time with slightly different occupations: Ecology, Big Business, Teaching, Politics, The Arts, Sports, and Space.  The college education degrees were the same, as was the potential salary level.  The box art changed once again, this time reflecting the spirit of the decade, as did the new look for the play money and Experience and Opportunity card decks. One look at a 1971 Careers game box and you know which decade it’s from!  The 1976 release contained identical pieces and game play to the 1971 version, with a new yellow colored box. Of the two, the 1976 version is much more difficult to find.  Incidentally, the “Gorgeous Secretary 4 ♥” square was replaced by “Lunch with Secretary 4 ♥”, while the “Shopping Spree” flavor text was removed altogether.

The box front for the 1976 Careers game.

In 1979 the game was altered once again, with some of the occupations dropped, the game simplified, and new box art.  This version of Careers had Sports, Show Biz, Big Business, Politics, and Space as occupations (what happened to Ecology?).  Players earned University degrees – not college degrees – in Physical Education, Business, Science, or Law.  The game board was much less detailed, almost as if Parker Brothers were attempting to “dumb down” the gaming experience.  As an aside, any mention of having a secretary was removed from the Big Business path, and replaced with “Given Larger Office 4 ♥”.  The times, they were a-changing.

The box front for the 1979 Careers game.

A relatively unknown version of Careers was the 1990 release of Careers for Girls.  This abysmal game failed both in its mission to prepare girls for their life career choices and to provide an interesting game to play, with choices of Super Mom, Rock Star, School Teacher, Rock Star, Fashion Designer, or Animal Doctor.  This version is best forgotten, unless you’re in the mood to experience mind-numbing awfulness.  But I digress.

The box front for the 1990 Careers for Girls game.

The game disappeared of the gaming radar screen in the 1980s, but returned under a new publisher – Irwin Toys – in 1992.  This version brought back Ecology as an occupation, as well as Big Business, Politics, Entertainment, Teaching, Sports, and Computer Science.    The “Given Larger Office 4 ♥” was replaced with “Transferred to Hawaii 4 ♥” which you would think was surely worth more than four hearts.  The whole presentation had a much cheaper feel than past incarnations, with poorer quality game cards and board art. I’d pass on this version, too.

The box front for the 1992 Careers game.

Pressman Toys brought out a version of Careers in 1997 that was a mashup of several previous releases, with career choices of Big Business, Ecology, Entertainment, Expedition to Mars, Politics, Computer Programming, and Sailing.  The board is a throwback to the 1971 version, and gameplay is the same.  This is a good non-Parker Brothers release, and if you cannot locate a 1971 or 1976 copy, the 1997 version is a good substitute.

The box front for the 1997 Careers game.

Hasbro picked up the Parker Brothers brand name in a corporate acquisition in 1991, and released a new version of Careers in 2003.  This time the box was shrunk to half the original size, and the game board was much more colourful and laid out in a different fashion than previous versions.  Career paths included: Entertainment, Politics, Conservation, Teaching, Sports, and Big Business.  Not a bad version, but still not as enjoyable as the 1970s versions.

The box front for the 2003 Careers game.

The latest reissue of Careers brings the game full circle back to its 1955 roots.  Winning Moves Games has taken the original and brought it back to life, with career paths including Entertainment, Politics, Exploring, Farming, Expedition to the Moon, and Adventure at Sea.  College degrees include Law, Medicine, Engineering, Science, or a general College Degree, which is exactly like the original.  The game board is more colourful than the 1955 version, but it is not as gaudy as some of the other releases.  This is a good version to pick up if you can’t find an original, but bear in mind that it calls for only 2 to 4 players, not 2 to 6 like its predecessors.

The box front for the 2008 Careers game.

No matter which year or which version you play, the game is fairly straightforward to play.  Although there’s a lot going on in Careers, there’s not so much that only adults would enjoy it.  The game gives a minimum age of eight years old, which is, in my opinion, fine.  Although anywhere from 2 to 6 players can play (excepting the 2008 release), this is the kind of Parker Brothers board game that begs for maximum occupancy around the game board.  In other words, Careers is another highly recommended, classic board game. Enjoy!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – Companions of Xanth

Although many people remember Sierra and LucasArts for their incredible adventure games, other companies produced a few gems, too.  Legend Entertainment managed to procure the publishing rights to a slew of literary properties, including Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s The Death Gate Cycle, and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, the focus of this game of the week blog entry, Companions of Xanth.

Companions of Xanth box art

Companions of Xanth was based on the best-selling, pun-filled Xanth series of fantasy fiction by Piers Anthony.  The game was based on – and further fleshed out – one of the books in the series, Demons Don’t Dream.  To emphasize the connection, the softcover novel was included in the box.  This 1993 game followed Dug, a Mundane from Mundania, as he competes in a world-shaking quest thrust upon his shoulders by the demons E(A/R)th and X(A/N)th.

Companions of Xanth in game image

Dug travels Xanth with a Companion who is there to try to keep him out of trouble as he has no experience with the magical dangers that Xanth is rife with.  When you begin the game you are offered a choice from four Companions: Nada Naga, Jenny Elf, Che Centaur, and the Demoness Metria.  Choosing any Companion other than Nada Naga results in a failed game, which irritated some gamers.

Companions of Xanth Companion choices

The game plays as a standard mouse controlled adventure game. You select what action you want to do from a list of verbs, then select the object with which you want to perform the action.  Unlike some Legend adventure games, there is no text input.  Inventory management is controlled by the mouse in a similar fashion, by selecting the object and then the action.  Graphics are crisp at 256 color VGA, with the player touring various scenic vistas of Xanthian beauty.

Companions of Xanth in-game screenshot

The “puzzles” in Companions of Xanth are not terribly difficult, and operate in typically twisted Xanth fashion. Those who cannot turn their hats backwards will find this terribly annoying, and simply won’t understand where they should be searching.  Some scenes are one puzzle wonders, which mirror the one-pun scenes in the novels. It pays to have read and enjoyed previous books in the Xanth series so you know what kind of logic applies.

Companions of Xanth - The Censor Ship (groan)

I quite enjoyed this game as it was fun to adventure in the magical world of Xanth.  It has a different vibe than some games, which can put some people off, but as far as I’m concerned, Companions of Xanth is a retro gaming classic!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – LOOM (1990)

Some classic games are more obscure than others, but are no less gaming gems than those games that inspired a multitude of sequels and imitators.  LOOM, a LucasFilm Games (the original name of LucasArts Entertainment) product, is one such game.

The front cover of the PC game, LOOM.

Released in 1990, LOOM contained a complex plot involving the fate of the universe resting upon the shoulders of one gifted man-child who is the last practitioner of an ancient guild of magicians called the Weavers.  The plot was so complex, in fact, that the preamble goes on for 30 minutes.  You read that right.  Originally a cassette tape was included so you could listen to the audio drama before starting the game. In the later CD-ROM version, the audio file was included on the CD.

The classic retro game LOOM begins!

Bobbin Threadbare, the aforementioned only surviving member of the Guild of Weavers, must learn the ways of his craft.  This is not a simple adventure game; players don’t simply point and click their way to the grand finale.  In LOOM, magic is music and music is magic.  Bobbin can cast spells, but only as musical sequences on the C Major scale, and only if he possesses his “distaff,” a combination walking stick and wizard’s staff. Much of the game revolves around Bobbin seeking new “drafts” – the magical musical sequences – for him to use in his quest to save the universe from a “grey strand” that has unbalanced creation.

The Practice Mode of LOOM.

This game is pure delight from beginning to finish.  I loved the musical element and complete departure from the standard LucasArts adventure fare that this game provided.  The puzzles weren’t all that challenging, but different enough to be memorable.  The graphics were good for the time, also.  But most importantly, you couldn’t die or be returned to the beginning of the game for a simple mistake, making LOOM the first game to follow the LucasArts game design philosophy.

Standard Mode for LOOM

The game featured three challenge levels: Standard, Practice, and Expert, all relating to how the player learns the new scripts (spells) as they play.  With Practice mode, players could see the letters for the notes that were played. Standard mode takes away the letters on the notes, but instead the distaff glows when the notes are played.  Toughest of all – the Expert mode – removes both the glowing distaff and the musical letters, forcing the player to “play by ear” repeating the spells without the aid of any graphical representation.

Expert Mode for LOOM

Although this is a definitely a one-of-a-kind game, its creator, Brian Moriarty, claims that it was originally intended to be the first of a trilogy.  The sequel, Forge, would have followed Rusty Nailbender of the Guild of Blacksmiths in his fight to free his home from the evil of Chaos.  Following that would have been The Fold, wherein Fleece Firmflanks (I’m not making this up!) must restore the all the guilds to their former glory.  Alas, the sequels were not meant to be, and LOOM remains the unique game that it is today.

This is a fabulous piece of retro gaming history, and one of the most sought-after PC games for most collectors.  If you have a chance to play it, do so.  You won’t regret your time spent saving the world!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – King’s Quest

Any blog about classic retro gaming simply MUST include a homage to Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest series, originally published by Ken and Roberta Williams’ Sierra On-Line company in the 1980s.

King's Quest IBM PC Jr Version Front Cover

The story was a simple one: the Kingdom of Daventry is in trouble as three of its greatest treasures – a mirror that tells the future, a shield that protects its user from danger, and a chest that is always filled with gold – have been stolen.  The King sends Sir Graham, an honest and unpretentious young knight, on a quest to recover the treasures.  Should he succeed, he will become King.  Should he fail, he’ll become worm food.  Of course, how Graham accomplishes the task before him is up to the player!

King's Quest Tandy 1000 Release

This was the original “big-game” release.  The industry was still very new, and it was not unusual for games to be coded by a single person over a couple of weeks for a low budget.  King’s Quest was coded by six people with Roberta Williams as the project leader, with a cost of $700,000, for an 18-month period.  This was completely unheard of, and was a very risky gamble that ultimately paid off, fueling an entire line of games from Sierra On-Line.

King's Quest Screenshot

King’s Quest was a huge leap forward for gaming.  In a time when games either were completely text-based or with the occasional static graphic, King’s Quest provided character interaction with the game environment.  By pressing the arrow keys, Sir Graham could walk across the screen and could cross in front of or behind objects, making the game the first 3-D adventure.  And even though the interface was still text-based (you typed in what action you wanted to do), seeing the result of what you typed made for classic gaming.

King's Quest classic "gold box" edition

Like any good adventure game, the puzzles in King’s Quest were varied and fun.  The Sierra team programmed puzzles to have more than one solution, and points were awarded to the player depending on what actions they took.  And unlike many of the action, destroy-everything-you-see games of the time, King’s Quest rewarded players with a higher score if they found non-violent solutions.

King's Quest EGA 1990 Release

There have been several releases of King’s Quest over the years, starting with the original version in 1983, which was packaged up in the IBM PC Jr series of computers.  Fortunately, poor sales of the computer did not result in the termination of the King’s Quest franchise, as it was released in Apple II, PC (boot disk) and Tandy format in 1984 to general fanfare, and around 500,000 copies sold.  The game sold well enough that it was re-released in 1987 in the Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and MS-DOS formats, which sent it back up the sales charts.  (It was at that time that the second part of the title, “Quest For The Crown,” was added.)  It even crossed over into the console video game charts with a version for the Sega Master System in 1989.

King's Quest EGA Screenshot

King’s Quest was remade in 1990 with much better graphics and music card support.  The quest points were changed slightly, which meant that the game itself played somewhat differently from the original.  A fan-made King’s Quest was released in 2001 by AGD Interactive, which has seen many updates right up to 2009.  You can find it here: http://www.agdinteractive.com/games/kq1/

King's Quest 2001 Fan Re-Release

King’s Quest was such a solid game that it spawned an entire genre, the 3-D animated adventure.  Sierra shot to the top of the gaming industry with hit after hit, including an entire King’s Quest series, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Police Quest, and so forth.  If you haven’t played any of the original games, give them a try.  Yes, they’re incredibly simple and crude versus the immersive gaming environments we play in today, but they’re an important part of gaming history.  Be a retro gamer and Quest for the Crown today!

King's Quest for the Sega Master System (SMS)

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro was a game-changer when it arrived back in 1992.  Long before Tiger Woods was winning championships and wooing pretty birdies, Access Software had been making golf games.  Their first, Leader Board Golf for the Commodore 64, came out in 1984, so they had quite a bit of experience already under their belt.  But this golf game was different; not only was Links 386 Pro a technological marvel, it was also an amazing game to play.

Links 386 Pro Front Cover

The graphics were absolutely stunning with amazing detail.  The trees and bushes along the fairway, scenic backgrounds, even the clouds in the sky – this was an unbelievable game to play.  It felt like you were actually golfing these courses.  Compared to the cartoonish and blocky graphics that gamers were subjected to over the years, Links 386 Pro was the pinnacle of the computer golfing experience.

But this game had more than just great graphics. The sound quality was outstanding: the whoosh of the club, the smack of the ball, the glorious sound of the ball entering the cup, all this and more enhanced the experience of and the illusion of actually “being there” on the links.  Players could mulligan their shots (but it would show up on their scorecard). You could preview the course and analyze the grade of the shot.  You could even split the screen to watch the ball coming and going from different angles!  So many features added to the enjoyment of the game.

Links 386 Pro Game Play Screenshot

All those features had a cost; at the time of its release, Links 386 Pro pushed the technological envelope.  This game can be run on a 80386SX-25 MHz with 2 MB of RAM, but the slow screen redraws made an upgrade to a minimum of a 80486DX-50 MHz with 4 MB of RAM required.  To access the graphics a Super VGA card capable of 640×400 resolution was needed, which helped spur on SVGA card sales.  Many computer salespeople loved Links 386 Pro for the easy sales it produced (all they needed to do was make a comparison demo and the newer, more expensive computer found its way into the buyer’s shopping cart!).

Links 386 Pro also satisfied gamers’ needs to trumpet how good they were.  A recording mode allowed the player to share that perfect game with all your closest gamer friends – and post it on the bulletin boards to brag to everyone else.  Whole competitions erupted between golf simulation aficionados seeking to become the world’s best golfer (simulated golfer, that is!).

There were many add-on courses for Links 386 Pro, which gave the game a longer shelf life.  You could golf in Hawaii, challenge the pros at Pebble Beach, enjoy the majestic view of Banff, take on the pride of the British Isles at the Belfry, even experience the terror of the Bermuda Triangle.  There was a course for everyone!

Devil's Island Links 386 Pro Expansion Screen Shot

All in all, this game is an important piece of retro gaming history.  Anyone who experienced its sheer epic gameplay back in the day will remember the joy of shooting a low score, and, ever so rarely, the Links 386 Pro version of Caddyshack’s, “It’s in the hole!”: YES!!! YES!!!