From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
Wasteland remains one of my favourite games. I played this on the Commodore 64 back in the day and had a blast. It could even be played as a multiplayer endeavour (and was) with each person taking ‘control’ of one of the four player characters, and then us arguing about which direction to walk in, whether to help those in need, and so on.
The game is set in an America struggling through the aftermath of a nuclear war. Mutant animals and dangerously radioactive areas persist. The players take on the role of US Rangers attempting to restore law and order after being dispatched from Ranger Central to solve a mystery in the desert.
The combat system was quite unique for the time. Other, typically fantasy themed RPG adventures simply wanted to know who was standing at the front of the party (the fighters) who was at the back (the magic users) and who was off to one side (the rogue). Wasteland allowed you to order the party, but once combat began you could split off into teams or as individuals, try and work your way around the side, or eve run up the stairs, walk along the upper floor, then appear behind your barricaded foes.
Another memorable feature of Wasteland was death and dying. Death was permanent within the game, a feature that remains controversial in games to this day. When wounded characters would fall unconscious, reviving after a few round. However if seriously wounded, instead of recovering characters would deteriorate and eventually die! The game then became full of epic (or tragic) episodes where it was a race against time to bring one of the party members to safety and healing before he or she died.
Wasteland had one other feature in common with adventure RPGs of its day – the game book. This book would be filled with numbered paragraphs, and at some point in the game rather than dialogue, you would see “Read paragraph 61” or similar. The game’s designers evidently had a lot of fun with the book. Firstly, critical codes were selected by the game when you loaded it up. This meant you could simply look up paragraph 61 and use the code the next time, as the next game might be using paragraph 96 as the code! We discovered this the usual way and had a missile blow up in the team’s faces. This led to an epic episode where the one unconscious member woke up after two members had died of their wounds, then tried to get the remaining two to safety (one survived). You had to appreciate that kind of story play, all enabled by the game book.
The other memorable game book feature was the alternative story that played out through the paragraphs. There were several competing stories there, including two different versions that turned the game into a retro-fifties movie with invaders from Mars, evil dictators and beautiful space princesses! All we ever found in the game were rad-dogs and robots though! I still have the original game in its cardboard fold out box, complete with adventure book.
Wasteland’s sequel had a successful Kickstarter a while back. In fact how I learned of the Kickstarter website was through picking up articles about Wasteland 2 and realising I had missed out. I will wait patiently for release though. To tide us all over the team is re-releasing the original game through GoG on November 12.
I have no doubt I will pick this game up for some retro fun. The fact that I have been sharing stories of 25 years ago with you in this article shows I have a certain positive inclination towards this game. I’m honestly not sure whether to recommend it or not. 25 years is several lifetimes in computer years, so this is a real look at gaming’s dark ages. Still, good black and white movies are still good movies, and so good pixel and text games are still good games. Give Wasteland a go, I say!