From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
The 1990s were a crowded decade for me with computer games. The transition from school to university combined with still living at home combined to halcyon days in terms of spare time to play computer games. Treasure those years, my readers, for they are fleeting and shall not return.
After some though and even internal wrestling, here are my five:
Dark Queen of Krynn (1992)
The first computer game I played all night was the first Bard’s Tale on the Commodore 64. The second was this game. I didn’t mean to, but the story pulled me through step by step and I simply couldn’t let go.
This was the apex of the ‘gold box’ rpg games of the time. Now I suspect it would be a frustrating exercise to come back to, simply due to improvements in UI that have happened since these games came out. The playability is there, but the connection with the player is not.
This game revolutionised by household, mainly by turning my mother into a dedicated gamer. There were times when I had actual assignments to do, but couldn’t get to the computer because she had ‘just one more level’ to get through. True story.
Combine the accessible, challenging gameplay with early internet discovery of things like cheat codes and user-created levels, and this game is a keeper. I remember bringing home a CD(!) that I bought in a game store(!) to my delighted mother, and picking up from that how to create my own levels even as we played through other people’s. My favourite thing was to set up scenarios where the monsters would fight one another and I could sit and watch. Will next year’s Doom let me do that?
Total Annihilation (1998)
Here’s another confession: I have computer game music on my playlist. Some tracks from 80s games, such as Monty on the Run, but also a lot of tracks from this game. The orchestral score that came with this game stayed with me for many years, and having the MP3 files included in the price on GoG sealed the deal for me. Yes, this game is still on my hard drive.
The game itself was highly playable, telling the story of two factions locked in a centuries-long fight to the death. BY the stage of the game the factions are fighting because they simply know no other way. The music stays suitable mournful until the action hits.
The terrain was a big factor in this game, something other RTS games at the time didn’t have. You could hide behind hills, or set fire to a forest to flush out any units hiding within.
Baldur’s Gate (1998)
This game is like the distilled essence of every role-playing game that came before it. Not just the D&D games, but Ultima, Bard’s Tale and more. This game took the spirit of those games, wrapped an interesting story around it, and served up some fantastic characters and graphics. I had plenty of fun simply wandering the countryside admiring the trees. It’s possible I am a little strange.
My favourite moment in the game is one that brought home to me the effort the designers had gone to with their NPCs. The first two characters you meet in the game are of dubious morality. The second two are definite Good types. Listening to their banter was amusing right up to the point where they started a duel to the death! I and my little thief friend hid in the trees while my four allies reduced to one heartbroken fighter (his wife was killed by the Dwarf after she killed the evil wizard who started the fight).
This game was popular and reignited interest in RPGs which had fallen by the wayside since the early 90s. An extended edition was released recently, and yes I have a copy.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (1998)
This game took the successful Civilzation 2 formula and extended the game. In Civilzation 2 the game ends when you gain the ability to send people to another solar system. Alpha Centauri is the story of what happens when they arrive.
The factions are based around ideologies rather than nations from earth, but this makes sense for the game. The strong ideology of each factions means you can identify with them (or against them) even though they fly no national flag.
The game even had a story of the human gradually discovering the secrets of this new planet and its indigenous lifeforms. Ultimately I enjoyed this game over Civ 2. The ability to customise units later in the game was another great touch that meant each time you played would be different.
Alpha Centauri also added landscapes of varying heights. These could be modified once you got the hand of terraforming.
The 1990s brought many new games to my eyeballs, some I would still play today, others I prefer to remember fondly. My mother still plays games, Torchlight II is her current choice.