From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
The eighties were a heady decade of computer game discovery for me. I was right in the middle of the 8-bit revolution, which really was a revolution in terms of how and where computer games could be played.
From dank arcades that promised seconds of glittering gameplay followed by the insertion of yet another coin, to the dank bedrooms of the land where games could be played in sessions measured in hours, games came a long way.
From this move also came the idea of games as something more than the shallow entertainment of a few seconds. Thoughtful games emerged, concerned with more than simply showing the player something bright before killing them and demanding more money for the next bright thing.
As you can tell, arcades weren’t my thing. Never really saw the point, and my top 5 selection reflects this.
The Bard’s Tale III (1988)
My mind had already been blown by the depth of the first Bard’s Tale game, when the third arrived to take everything up a notch.
The Bard’s Tale games see the player form a party of adventurers, made up of various classes. Hint: always include a Bard in your party. In this third instalment, you always want a Rogue (aka Thief) in your party too.
The party starts off at a low level with basic equipment, with characters advancing in levels and finding better equipment as the game progresses. The game world is shown in a 3D box in one corner of the screen. No full screen in the 80s, kids! The rest of the screen was given over to options and party stats.
In the third instalment character advancement was greatly.. um.. advanced, and the party would ultimately find itself taking on a god. It was a fitting end to the series, though rumours of a fourth game have recently reached my ears.
Doomdark’s Revenge (1984)
Doomdark’s Revenge was the first game I played that gave me a sense of emergent narrative. Each game played would flow somewhat differently, alliances and battles were never quite the same.
In Doomdark’s Revenge you begin the game with three lords under your control, and you must recruit other lords to your cause as quickly as possible. More lords means more armies and increases your chances of victory.
The landscape was shown in a 3D view, quite unique for the time, and there were over 100 characters to recruit (124, as I recall).
Recruiting the right lords could give you a snowball effect where in a few turns you could recruit a large number of lords and begin exerting your control over the map. Fortresses and cities belonging to enemy lords could be besieged and captured, and would then begin producing additional recruits for your own lords.
The ultimate goal was to destroy your enemy Shareth the Heartstealer, and return to your starting point with your three original characters, plus Morkin, who is held hostage in a very hard to reach spot.
Monty on the Run (1985)
This game steps things up a pace from the other two. It is played at a pace closer to an arcade game, and comes with a thumpingly good soundtrack from Ron Hubbard.
In Monty on the Run you must guide the eponymous hero through a series of screens to the end point. A standard platform game, but one that is very exciting to play. One word of warning; it comes with the worst mechanic I have ever seen in a computer game. At the start of the game you must choose five items from a list of 25. If you choose the wrong combination of five, you cannot finish the game, and it won’t tell you why!
Monty on the Run was in high rotation at my school, played for a good two years or more. The game was finished maybe three times. I felt somewhat chastened on watching this 15 minute playthrough:
Skool Daze (1984)
I had a Commodore 64, and Skool Daze was always a Spectrum game. What a game, though!
Don’t ask me how, but the creators managed to put together a living, breathing school for your character. There were a number of names characters in the game, mainly teachers, and you were free to rename those before playing. You know how computer games can sometimes be too real?
In Skool Daze you were working against the clock to break into the school records and steal your report card. You were free to approach this goal however you liked. There was a set timetable, and student would trudge from class to class.
This was a game where you would play and fail, then consider different approaches, and try again. Fantastic for the time.
I picked up this game and Bard’s Tale III during a 1988 holiday in Florida. When I got back to the UK I then bought the disk drive I needed to play these games. Until then I was using cassette tapes like many other UK gamers.
I played Bard’s Tale first, but played Wasteland for the longest. In its time it was easily the deepest game on the market. For me only Ultima V came close, and that was years later.
Wasteland puts you in charge of a party of Rangers exploring a post-apocalyptic US. As you explored you would begin to untangle a conspiracy that threatened what little remained of humanity in the region.
The combat mechanics in the game were especially deep, allowing you to split your party members and move them around the map. If you were pinned down, you could have one party member break away, scale a wall with his or her climbing skill, then ambush the attackers. No need to charge in guns blazing, unless you wanted to.
These games were played in my formative years as a gamer, indeed they formed sensibilities and preferences I still have to this day. Playing them now can be a little painful, but mainly due to user interface improvements rather than any gameplay issues.