Doom’s Dawn: The Ten Best PC Games of 1993

It was the year that William Jefferson Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States; Czechoslovakia ceased to be a unified country in the Velvet Divorce; Jean Chrétien became the 20th Prime Minister of Canada with a massive majority; the Dallas Cowboys became the NFL champions in Super Bowl XXVII; Boris Yeltsin faced down an uprising in Russia; and the underdog Montreal Canadiens defeated the Wayne Gretzky led Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup.  It was also the year that id Software released one of the greatest PC games of all time: DOOM.  That year, of course, was 1993.

Computer games really started to hit their stride in the 90’s, and many of today’s game franchises have their roots in some classic games from this period.  The year 1993 had a bumper crop of excellent games, and it was hard to come up with a list that didn’t exclude some personal favorites.  Even their order placement was difficult!  If you disagree with the list – comment below!


1. DOOM, id Software.  Outstanding graphics, amazing sound effects and brilliant gameplay combined to make this game a runaway success, and made its creators icons in the gaming industry.  Add to that id Software’s ingenious shareware marketing strategy, and this game is easily the best game of 1993.


2. MASTER OF ORION, MicroProse Software. This strategy game set the gaming world on fire with deep gameplay.  It spawned several sequels and imitators, and cemented MicroProse’s reputation as a strategy game software giant.  If DOOM hadn’t been released that same year, M.O.O. would have been #1 on this list.


3. SIMCITY 2000, Maxis Software.  Will Wright scored a huge hit with the successor to his original hit, SimCity. The isolinear graphics and fun gameplay make this game a joy to play, even after all these years!


4. RETURN TO ZORK, Activision, Inc. & Infocom.  “Want some rye? ‘Course you do!” This eagerly awaited sequel to the Zork franchise did not disappoint.  Filled with Zorkesque humor and puzzle-based adventuring, this game is still a must-play for gamers.


5. MANIAC MANSION: DAY OF THE TENTACLE, LucasArts Entertainment. More crazy humor from the creators of Maniac Mansion, as the players raced throughout time to stop Dr. Fred’s creation, Purple Tentacle, from ruling the world.  With a premise like that, how could gamers go wrong?


6. THE 7th GUEST, Trilobyte & Virgin Interactive.  CD technology was just coming to the mass market, and gamers really had no reason to upgrade – until the release of this game, that is.  The puzzles were fun, but the story was gruesomely entertaining.  A real hallmark of the CD Age.


7. SAM & MAX HIT THE ROAD, LucasArts Entertainment.  True to its comic roots, this adventure game was bizarre, light-hearted and completely fun.  Gamers enjoyed seeing just what crazy actions they could make Sam & Max do – and what happened when they did it!


8. GABRIEL KNIGHT: SINS OF THE FATHERS, Sierra On-Line.  What happens when you hire a novelist to design an adventure game for you?  An award-winning gaming experience, that’s what!  Jane Jensen created a world of horror and suspense, as players searched through the dark underbelly of New Orleans and delved into zombie folklore in their quest to solve the mystery.


9. WING COMMANDER: PRIVATEER, Origin Systems, Inc.   Although this game is set in the heroic Wing Commander universe, players chose to be a merchant, a pirate, or a mercenary, plying the space lanes looking for a quick profit.  Of course, waking up an ancient evil can put a huge damper on your profit margin and leads to all sorts of distractions.  Better not – whoops, well you’re in for it now!


10. PIRATES GOLD, MicroProse Software.  Pirates, ship-to-ship action, booty, Sid Meier…what’s not to like?  This was the “sequel” to Sid Meier’s Pirates!, with a blend of action, strategy, and adventure that was as interesting to play then as it is today.  How can anyone resist the call to be a buccaneer from the 17th Century?  (If you can, turn in your gamer card – it’s all over.)


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!