Tag Archives: Wizardry

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Wizardry in Online Form

I must admit to a bit of a mental disconnect when I think of Wizardry Online, a new game that SOE will be publishing this year.

For me, Wizardry brings this image to mind.

Wizardry on an Apple ][+ in 1983

And, well… not this.

Asian influence anybody?

The first Wizardry, Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, was one of the first games I acquired for my Apple back in 1983.  This, along with Ultima III, was one of the first games I really played to death.  I still have hand drawn and annotated graph paper maps of the whole dungeon sitting in a drawer in my office.  They look something like this, though not as neat.

The first level

And the game itself, on the Apple II… here it is full resolution.

A game image stolen from the internet

Not a lot of pixels on an Apple ][ screen.  That was back when we measured screens by the numbers rows and columns they could display, 24 rows and 80 columns being the standard, though the Apple ][+ only did 40 by default.  I did not get 80 columns until I upgraded to an Apple //e a year or so later.

The game, which appears on Gamasutra’s 20 Essential RPGs to Study list, is a dungeon crawl in almost the purest form. It taught you to map, advance cautiously, and to be patient.  After many a death in the dungeon, with whole parties being lost and unrecoverable, you learned to build up your strength and return to town frequently.

It also taught party structure, as only the first few characters in your party could come to grips directly with the enemy, while those behind were left to defense or support roles.  Hints of the holy trinity were visible more than 20 years before WoW.

And, of course, it taught me the phrase, “Cheap Apostates! Out!”  You got that message when you were short of money for healing or reviving at the monastery.  I got that message a lot early on.

As I said, I played the hell out the game, finished it, and pretty much moved on.  I think I may have purchased the next game in the series, Knight of Diamonds, but I don’t think I ever got into it.  I certainly never went beyond that, and the series went out to Wizardry 8, which came out just a decade back.

Instead I went on with Ultima IV, Bard’s Tale, and Wasteland for RPGs.  And then online gaming showed up and became a focus of mine.

So my memories of Wizardry are of the first game alone, causing me make a nearly 30 year mental jump to get caught up to what is being proposed now for Wizardry Online and what it has to offer.  And the web site helpfully offers up three great reasons to play.

Well, three allegedly great reason, though I would argue that the first two are not well stated.  I would have written the list as:

  1. An MMORPG designed for hardcore players!
  2. Permadeath puts an edge on your decisions!
  3. Amazing graphics!

Oddly, the first two are totally in line with my memories of the original game.  Wizardry was hardcore, with no maps, no easy travel, and corpse retrievals if your whole party was wiped out.  And you could fail to revive, thus lose characters permanently.

The third, well… I am not sure ~I~ would emphasize the anime influence of the graphical style.  I am not opposed to it myself, but it does tend to be one of those polarizing issues.

But there it is, Wizardry Online.  You can sign up for beta if you are impatient.  Otherwise SOE is pegging it for a 2012 release, and it will surely be “Free To Play – Your Way” as is the SOE norm, which generally means “Cheap Apostates must be hounded ceaselessly until they subscribe!”

Having missed the entire middle of the Wizardry saga, I will be interested to see exactly where this title lands.  Massively looked at the title over a year ago at E3, but who knows what has changed since then.

If it is really true to the original, a hardcore (whatever that really means these days), party based, dungeon crawler, it could be something interesting to try out.

Christmas 1983

I don’t know exactly when the Apple IIe computer showed up at Gary’s house.  One day it was just there, set up on the dining room table.

Gary’s house was like that.  Cool, new, or interesting things would suddenly show up without ceremony.  His father was an engineer as well as a car and gadget aficionado, so his house was always an interesting place to be.  And his house was one of the centers of my late teens.  It was the place where we would hang out.  Gary was the guy with the really cool parents.

And one day during the winter in early 1983, that Apple IIe appeared.

It certainly wasn’t the first Apple II that I had ever seen.  Marianni Avenue ran behind my junior high school, and any school that close to Apple got computers handed to them.  My high school and several acquaintances were also so equipped.  So I had been poking at Apple computers for nearly five years when this particular unit showed up at Gary’s.

What was different was the amount of time I had access to it.  That was a rainy winter and Gary and his family saw me a lot. (For which, in hindsight, I apologize profusely.  They were very kind to put up with me.)  And while I knew in a vague way that computers and I needed to come together at some point (I was sold on that years before when I got to play Star Trek on a computer over at HP, a game a friend and I were so enraptured with we went an created a board game version of it), hours of playing Castle Wolfenstein, Epoch, Ultima II, Aztec, and other classics cemented the deal and set my course.

I had to get an Apple II.

The question was how.

Back in 1983 a typical Apple IIe setup could run to $2,500.

Going back to the Measuring Worth site shows that $2,500 in 1983 is the equivalent of $5,000-$7,500 in 2008.

Frankly, $2,500 still seems like a lot of money to me today.  And back in 1983 when I was bagging groceries for $4.50 an hour and paying for college… it was an impossible amount.  I was feeling flush when I had $400 in the bank back then.

And then Christmas came around.  Of course, I was 18 at this point and had no illusions about there being a repeat of the 1977 Christmas miracle that brought me an Atari 2600.  I couldn’t even imagine asking for something as expensive as a computer.  I needed a decent scientific calculator and a new ribbon for my Olivetti portable typewriter.

So when Christmas day came, I expected no happiness to come boxed up and placed under the tree.

And since, 25 years later, I cannot remember a single gift I received that year, I am sure my expectations were met.

But then, after all the presents were open, my grandmother handed out some envelopes.  She said she had received a large dividend payment from an investment and wanted to share it with us.  There was a check made out to me for $1,300.

I am sure my grandmother had any number of good uses in mind for that money when she gave it to me.  In fact, I am quite sure a replacement for my slant-6 powered 1974 Plymouth Duster, my first car, was high on her list.  While generally reliable, putting up with the abuse of a youthful male driver was asking a bit much of the Duster.  It ate starter motors, and somehow the tires wore out quickly.  Then there was the suspension work it needed, caused, I imagine, by driving down Barbara Avenue in Mountain View at high speed so as to get the car airborne over the high crowned cross streets.  I was told by those watching that the sparks off the pavement on landing were quite impressive.  The subsequent suspension issues might also have explained the rapid and rather odd front tire wear.

So when the first thing out of my mouth after “thank you” was “now I can buy a computer,” I could see on my grandmother’s face that this was not at all part of her plan.  Car, college, savings, or any number of other possible items were on her mental list of expected answers.  But a computer?  I might well have been proposing to buy drugs with the money.

Still, despite my reading of her face, she did not immediately grab the check back.  She suggested some of the possibilities I listed, but my mind was elsewhere.

Things were in motion.

Magic was happening at Christmas again.

The stars were in alignment.

First there was the money.

Then there was the connection.

My aunt was present and she had invited along one of her friends who just happened to work for Apple Computer.  And she just happened to have a co-worker who was looking to sell an Apple II+, information she offered up almost immediately.

That was Christmas Eve and before the New Year I was over at this co-worker’s home looking at the computer he had for sale.

He seemed to feel some duty to make sure I was buying the computer for the right reasons.  He wanted to know why I wanted to spend so much money to buy a personal computer.  I spoke about programming, which did not impress him.  I went somewhere with the idea of the future and computers.  I mumbled “it plays games.”  And to each of these statements he had an answer, a more reasonable use for my money that did not involve buying a computer.

And then I just said I was hooked on the whole thing, that I could not explain it, but there was something inside of me that just screamed that I must have a computer, an Apple computer, and that I wasn’t going to be able to silence that voice.

This made him smile.  Perhaps passion spoke to passion.  Whatever it was, it seemed to be the right answer because only a few minutes later I was headed home with $1,300 worth of computer in tow.

For my money I got an Apple II+ with 64K of RAM (it had the 16K language card plugged into slot 0, boosting it up from 48K) with dual floppy drives, an Apple III monitor, some 5.25″ floppy disks, and the ubiquitous (and almost useless, except for Little Brick Out) paddle controllers.

Once home, I set it up immediately, then took a picture.

Apple II+ on Day One

Apple II+ on Day One

After some fiddling, I ended up with a more standard desktop configuration that had the floppy drives stacked, the monitor set back a bit, a fan on the side of the computer to cool the power supply, and a CH Products joystick.

Apple II+ In It's Natural State

Apple II+ In It's Natural State

Eventually I upgraded the main unit to an Apple IIe. (I was promoted to food clerk at the grocery store and was making an astounding $13.48 an hour, fifty cents more between 7pm and 7am, and time and a half on Sunday!)  I remember being disgruntled at having to pay extra because the computer store only had the 80 column card with the extended 64K of RAM. What was I going to do with 128K or RAM?  I also remember I was able to trade in the Apple II+.  Used computers had some value.

An Apple Dot Matrix printer was added so I could print out papers for college, retiring my Olivetti forever.  A 3.5″ disk drive was attached, which stored 400K of data, a huge boost over the 143K of the standard 5.25″ floppy disks.  I even bought a Mockingboard sound card at one point, though I can only ever recall Ultima III supporting it.

And then I got that modem from Potshot.  He was not immune to the siren’s call and ended up with an Apple IIc not too long after I took the plunge.

The modem which, of course, hooked me up to GEnie and Stellar Warrior, Stellar Emperor, and Gemstone.  The modem that got me interested in modems and guided my career path, first to running a BBS (back when that meant a computer with a modem attached), then installing and configuring modems, then working for a company that made modems, then ISDN technology, which lead to telephony, speech recognition, call center applications, VoIP and the middle management cog I am today.  An amazing amount of influence for a beige box with a single green light on the front.

In my mind, the Apple II era was a huge part of my computing past, despite the fact I sold my Apple II setup just over four years later for the same $1,300 I paid for it.  Sure, I spent a lot more on it during the interim, but long gone are the days where a four year old computer will sell for anything.  I put an ad in the local paper and a guy who ran his accounting on Apple II’s came by and bought it without any hesitation.

The era is larger in my mind no doubt because it was my introduction to the technologies that would shape my career and my life.

I look back on the programs… the games of course, but also some of the more mundane applications… AppleWorks for the Apple II was a thing of beauty, though it managed to suck on the Mac… and I am still in awe of the depth and sophistication of so many of the applications created to run on that little 1MHz 6502 processor.

For years I have maintained some form of Apple II emulation so I can go back an revisit the classics of that era.  For all the technology and sophistication modern games have, they have lost some of the charm and, more importantly, the clarity of many of those early games.  Yes, there were stinkers in that era, as there are in any era, but I used to spend hours and hours with games like Autoduel, Seven Cities of Gold, or Wizardry, games that were rather simple, rather raw, but completely engaging.

Today as close as you can come to that early purity, when game play trumped all, is in browser based games.

So it is almost ironic that my friend Scott (of TorilMUD fame) sent me a link recently for a site that emulates the Apple II, where you can go and play some of those classic games.

At Virtual Apple you can see some of the classics that still influence gaming today.

And while I don’t wish for those days to return… I like a lot of modern games and I have grown used to multitasking operating systems and not having to type arcane commands like “PR#6” in order get things running… I do think there is something still to be learned from the simplicity of the time.  Not to mention nostalgia to be mined.  Who owns the rights to Seven Cities of Gold?

For me, all of that started 25 years ago and set me on a path that, in hindsight, seems almost obvious.  But at the time, the future of computing was wild and unknown.  The only fact of which I was sure was that I was going to be a part of it somehow.