Sunday, December 2, 2012

5 CRPGs That You Might Not Know About If You Aren't Old

We’ve all been there.  Well, if you’re a gamer geek, you’ve probably been there.  At least once.  You’re hanging out at a cool party, talking geek shit, the conversation slowly lapses (or may have started) to video games, and someone says something like…
“And then this one time in Final Fantasy I killed the end boss in one round by using…”

And your brain fucking shuts down.  Why?  Because you’ve heard it before.  Hell, if you’re ANY gamer geek other than me, you’ve probably even done that.  Knights of the Round or whatever the fuck it was.  I don’t know, because, as you may have surmised, I never fucking played Final Fantasy.
Okay, maybe I fondled Final Fantasy’s joystick once.  We played around, we kissed, but that was it.  I never levelled up past like 5th level, and I certainly never got anywhere in the plotline.  But that doesn’t really matter right now (other than to probably completely discredit any ‘geek’ cred I may have had with you Nintendojocks), what matters is the fact that there’s a shit ton of ancient, incredibly awesome CRPGs out there that you may not have heard of.
Here’s five of them.  I’ve included links behind the Titles to each game that I could find available for download online.  Enjoy!!

Wasteland was a godsend in the late 80s.  A shining, radioactive jewel among the trash that many companies were kicking out for video games back then.  Based  highly upon the Bard’s Tale style of RPG, it allowed you to control a party of characters as they traipsed through post-apoc California.  The game starts with the characters living in the remains of a prison, and they’re sent out to find out what the hell is going on.
This game varied highly from many others of the time because it earned a PG-13 rating.  Why?  Because of shit like this:
“Your full auto burst from an uzi reduces an angry townie to a thin red paste.”
“Your blast from your LAW-rocket makes an angry townie explode like a blood sausage.”
Those were actual motherfucking combat prompts for a game produced in 1988!  This game was produced with a version on the most wholesome computer ever, the Apple IIe, and it contained lines like that.  Did it change my childhood?  Why yes, it certainly did.
It included everything.  There were angry townies (as mentioned above), mutant everythings, and even an out of control AI and a horde of robots that you had to defeat.
What made this game truly great was the fact that in most situations you could overcome the obstacle in a variety of ways.  For instance, you are faced with a badass steel gate that you have to get through.  With most video games of the era, this meant you were completely fucked unless you had brought along a thief type.  Not so in Wasteland!
If you had a thief, you could pick that lock.
If you had a strong dude, you could force the lock open.
If you had an explosive expert, you could blow the door down with some C-4.
If you had a character who could climb, he could get over it and unlock it from the other side.
If all else failed, if you had a LAW-rocket, you could just blow the son of a bitch wide open.
Wasteland also was one of the first games to include a game world that changed as you changed it.  If you went to the town of Needles and killed every last person there, then later on found out you had to go to Needles to talk to this dude, you were completely SOL.  That dude was dead, and he’d stay that way.  The only way to fix it was to load a previous save game, or to restart the entire campaign.
If you played any video game during the era, you’ll remember the absurd lengths they went for copy protection.  Wasteland’s solution?  A big fucking book full of shit you have to read on occasion, including disinformation that would completely screw you if you read crap you weren’t supposed to read.
In short, this game was completely ball-breakingly awesome.  It had guns, death, fast women, big explosions, robots, mutants, and radiation.
Also, it brought us this…

Fallout. Claims Wasteland is it's spiritual predecessor.

Respect your elders, young’ns!  Especially when they have a flamethrower and grenades.
Next on the docket is something they’ve tried to reproduce in recent times, and have failed mightily.  They screwed the pooch so horribly on the new version of Bard’s Tale that I’m not even going to credit it as being in the same storyline.

Binary Badassery.

Depicted above is another of the OG thugs of computer roleplaying games.  In Bard’s Tale you played (surprise) a bard, and his merry band of awesome fellows, traipsing around the land of Skara Brae.  It was up to you to stop a certain dickheaded dark wizard from controlling the land and taking all the hot chicks for his harem.  And who is this sorcerous Dick Cheney?  A guy named Mangar the Dark, which is a direct translation from 80s speak to “Dick Cheney.”
Bard’s Tale is a straight up dungeon crawl, and it never claimed to be anything but that.  You would tool around the countryside and cities in a first person perspective view of each room (which was a static image) as you progressed through the storyline.  You could have up to six characters, with a variety of classes (warrior, rogue, paladin, monk, hunter, magician, conjurer and of course bard), each with specific strengths and weaknesses.  The only truly necessary character class type was the bard, as many puzzles within the game could not be passed without the use of a bard or the playing of a bard’s song.
The bard was also the pimp mac daddy of buffs in the game.  If there was a stat for it in Bard’s Tale, the bard could modify the fuck out of that stat… and the music of the game would actually change depending on the particular song you were playing at the time.  Doesn’t sound too cool now-a-days, does it?  This was nineteen fucking eighty fucking five, dude.  If you were playing Bard’s Tale, you were probably playing it on an Apple II  (maybe not even a IIe), MS-DOS (you remember, before Windoze?), or a Commodore fucking 64.

I just used this C64 to invent the wheel!

One feature which set Bard’s Tale far beyond the norm was the ability, on some platforms, to cross-populate your characters.  If you had played Wizardry or Ultima III, you could import your PC from that game directly into Bard’s Tale.  For those of you that don’t understand what I just said, this is like taking Sonic the Hedgehog into MarioLand and whooping some serious ass in order to find that princess and fuck her brains blue.  It’s something that computer companies don’t fucking do anymore… because they’re dicks.  Back in the 80s, computer game programmers were too coked up to be dicks, so they let shit like this fly.
They also had another cool thing you could do with your magick users in this game.  If you had a conjurer or a magician, you could advance to a wizard or a sorceror.  Once you managed to master all 4 magick classes with that character, they had the option of becoming an Archmage.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Well, it wasn’t.  An Archmage was just a term for someone who knows all four schools of magick, and got access to the ONE spell that only archmages could get.  It was a pretty cool spell, but the lead up to it was the equivalent of a four day erotic massage without the happy ending.
Bard’s Tale 1 was followed by two sequels, and something even more awesome.  A construction kit.  You could make your own motherfucking Bard’s Tale if you wanted.  I know this is common now, but it’s common because THEY did it back in the 80s.  See how dickheaded they weren’t back then?  See?
Wasteland and Bard’s Tale were awesome, but now I’m going to focus on a game that helped change the world.
Ever heard of the internet?  I introduce to you...
William Gibson invented Al Gore.

WOAH!  Really futuristic, right?
William Gibson is a dude who you may have heard of.  If you haven’t, you should crawl out of your hole and go investigate him.  He’s one of the most amazing sci-fi writers of the late 20th century, and he’s still kicking out the mad science right now.  William Gibson (@GreatDismal on Twitter) and Bruce Sterling helped give the nerds who invented the internet an actual, textual vision of what a serious virtual reality could look like.  Where Al Gore says he invented the series of tubes, William Gibson actually did have a big hand in it.  There, if you didn’t know about him before, you do now, you fucking noob.  The More You Know!
In Neuromancer, the game follows the path of the book by the same name.  You play Case, who was once one of the world’s best hackers before he crossed the wrong people and they burned out his brain in a way that would make River Tam envious.  The game involves getting the perfect mix of programs, gear, and organs, all while trying to figure out what the fuck it is that’s going on.  Organs?  Yep.  You can sell your natural organs for low grade Chinese knock-offs, but some of the cybernetic organs can actually help keep you alive where your natural meatstuff would fail.  It’s a very interesting process to find the best balance of meat/ware.
After you get Case back on his financial feet by knocking over small time jobs and getting some base scratch, the plotline begins to unfold before you, and leaves your head spinning with a mix of Voodoun Loa, crazed orbital personages, Jamaican shuttle pilots, and lonely AIs that just want a hug.
The copy protection for Neuromancer was one of those ungodly wheel things, about the size of a small hubcap.  It was truly atrocious, and Gods help you if you’re dumb enough (as I was) to spill Cherry Coke all over it.

I'm not making this shit up.

Neuromancer was originally released in 1988, and in early 1989, I spent 5 hours on the phone trying to figure out if the rumor I had heard (from the front of the Neuromancer novel) that New Line Cinema was coming out with a movie on it soon was true.  It was!  ZOMFG!  I almost died.  The closest they ever came to making the movie was the 1995 production of Johnny Mnemonic.  Saying that “movie” was close to Neuromancer is like saying a dog turd is a close relative to the ISS.  It’s just not truth.  I anguished in freakish misery, and have frantically checked every month or so to determine if there were any advancements to the movie process.
When I found out the guy who did Torque was in charge of the project, I almost committed seppuku.  That guy (who I won’t even name) was thrown off the project, and now Vincent Natali, of “Cube” fame, is in charge… but I digress.
Back to fucking video games.

If you don’t know what Zork is, you should go kill yourself right now. (DISCLAIMER: DO NOT IN ANY WAY KILL YOURSELF.)  Especially if you think you’re a gamer.  Either that, or you should just keep reading, and then go find a safe place to play it.  
Zork was so damn important to early gaming, that it defies description.  Therefor, I won’t describe it.
But what I will do for you is this. You see that link up there that says "The Zork Series"? It actually contains a website that gives you the ability to play a huge selection of old Infocom text based games. Go check it out. Lose hours of your life. You'll thank me.

On to our next game.
#5: Wonderboy in Monster Land.  

Wonder.  Boy.  In.  MotherFucking.  Monster.  Land.

As titles go, it doesn’t win any awards.  However, did you know that WBiML (as I will call it from now on whenever I don’t want to type the whole title because that son of a bitch is really goddamn long and I might have to type it several times during this post) was the first prophetic video game?
That's right, it told the motherfucking future.  Wonderboy, in this game, is none other than Jack Motherfucking Black.  It tells of his struggle as a youth in Santa Monica, before he overcame great obstacles and starred in a commercial in 1982 for motherfucking Pitfall.

In WonderBoy, you follow the Hero (Jack Black) through his trials to save the goddamn world, which just couldn’t ever seem to stay out of peril in the 1980s.  On his quests, you’d kill monsters or jump for coins and save up dough.  You’d find shops in various towns were you could buy boots that’d increase your jump length and speed, you could buy armor that’d protect little Jack from the perils that was trying to eat the goddamn world, shields to deflect things that were thrown at you by the perils trying to eat the goddamn world, and even spells (witchery!) and potions (drugs!).  You could even stop your pre-pubescent, armored and shield clad self in one of the towns and hit the bars looking for chicks or info to help you on your quest.  Yeah, even as a child, Jack Black was swimming in babes and booze… is there any wonder that he’s actually saving the fucking world right now?
Unfortunately, the game stops before Jack Black ever meets Kyle (who is known as Young Nasty Man, but was edited out of the game for America.  In the Japanese version, he’s depicted as a tentacle festooned, balding robot who is always accompanied by 3 girls in school uniforms) Glass and goes on to form the band Tenacious D.  I can only assume that the company lost funding due to the massive amounts of blow they were obviously doing to come up with this shit.  The sequel was, unfortunately, never made… however Jack Black never forgot his experiences as a child, and has gone on to write several successful songs, including one that he tells of his trials.

So there you have it, whippersnappers.  Us Elders knew how to party down with video games before everything was clickable and scrollable and all that other newfangled horsepuckey!  Heck, even before a mouse was anything other than something a cat chased, we were exploderating mutants and saving the worlds from chaos.

So respect your elders, give us some mad credit, and learn about your roots.

1 comment:

  1. Those god forsaken code wheels. I used to have a handful of AD&D games on 5.25" floppies and each of them required one of those confounded things. I didn't spill Cherry Coke on mine, but they did have a knack for coming undone at the rivet, and if you've ever seen one of those code wheels it didn't have words on it.

    It had symbols. Weird little rune-looking symbols.

    "You think I'm fucking with you? I am not fucking with you."
    --Alec Baldwin, "Glengarry Glen Ross"