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I'm taking a break from Analog Computing this week to instead take a look at the first issue of Computer Gaming World, for November-December of 1981.
We start off with an ad from SSI, hyping their port of their Civil War Strategy game “Battle of Shiloh” and the World War II game “Battle of the Bulge: Tigers in the Snow.” It's kind of interesting. Nowadays we're used to strategy games which will take either larger battles or even campaigns and allow the player to control them from the strategic level all the way down to the tactical level, like with the Total War games. Whereas here, on the other hand, you're either on the strategic level, or the tactical level. If you're on the tactical level you're controlling a fairly generic fight or only one battle, and if you're on the strategic level you're either controlling a massive battle (like the Battle of the Bulge), or you're controlling an entire theater of operations.
Russell Sipe, our EIC talks about the dearth of dedicated computer gaming magazines – until now! We get an open call for letters and articles, with a particular focus on the TRS-80.
SSI has a new release of Computer Quarterback, their computer football game. As an interesting bit, existing customers can upgrade by mailing their old disk in and shelling out $15. That's almost like sending your old copy of Madden in to EA, and for, oh, $15-20 getting the latest game in the series. Not bad. Considering the current fight against used games, maybe EA should consider adopting this system.
Level-10 is also working on the game Arkenstone, and is attaching a $5,000 contest to the game. That's another thing that's gone away, though to be fair, in the advent of the internet that's something that's easier to cheat on.
Speaking of upcoming games, Synergistic Software has Escape from Arcturus, and SSI has licensed Roger Keating's tabletop wargame of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war “Southern Command” for a video game adaptation. There's another real cultural shift right there: this is almost like doing a tabletop wargame of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then doing a licensed video game out of it, but not getting clobbered due to the controversy. Similarly, when's the last time you heard of someone licensing a tabletop wargame for a computer game that wasn't related to Warhammer?
Avalon Hill has already gotten into the Computer gaming market, with their various board games getting computer ports, with 3 more on the way. Finally, SSI has settled with Task Force games over similarities between SSI's computer strategy game Warp Factor, and Task Force's tabletop strategy game Star Fleet Battles.
The Future of Computer Wargaming by Chris Crawford
By the way, this is the Chris Crawford who would later go on to start GDC.
Might as well get ambitious for your first issue. Basically, computer wargames are struggling to get out from under the shadow of conventional wargames. They definitely don't have that problem now. Memoir '44 lives in the shadow of Company of Heroes and RUSE, not the other way 'round.
Other portions of the article, are with some hindsight, obvious. You'll be able to play solitaire games. You'll be able to play in real time. Calculations of damage and to-hit tables won't bog the game down. All of these predictions came to pass, but they're also extremely safe bets if you know anything about computers. The only really one which I consider to be taking a gamble, but still being prescient is, essentially, predicting internet play. For 1981, where there are little to no real ISPs, that's going out on a limb.
From here, we go into the technical aspects, which is more of interest from a historical curiosity standpoint. Basically, we need better computers and programmers who can take advantage of these increased capabilities. He also brings up the limitations of BASIC as a programming language for game design. Fortunately, as the years have gone on, Basic has become able to handle more complex concepts, and new programming languages have come around. C had been invented 8 years prior to this article's publication for use in mainframe environments, and C would also be ported later to various home computers, though I don't have information on where and when it would show up. ANSI C, which I presume is the precursor of desktop C (because ANSI C was the first standardized version of the language) was created in 1983, so I'll assume that there aren't any versions of C for home computers at this time.
In the midst of this article, we get a fairly notable advertisement – one for the original Castle Wolfenstein: the first stealth action computer game and the inspiration for the first First Person Shooter.
Torpedo Fire: Review and Analysis by Bob Proctor
Continuing for this issue's unofficial theme of strategy games, we have a review of SSI's new submarine wargame. The game has one player running Anti-Submarine operations for a convoy during World War II, and the other player or the computer running the enemy submarine. The game comes with one scenario built in, and a scenario and ship editor.
The game is skirmish based, with no campaign mode, but as was mentioned earlier, this is fairly common for games of the time. It's fairly straightforward, from a high concept standpoint. The convoy player tries to get his ships across the map or sink the sub, the sub player or computer tries to sink the convoy. The sub and ships have unlimited fuel and torpedoes (or depth charges, respectively). However, it doesn't appear very accessible, as it's difficult to figure out the bearings for enemy ships. The Silent Hunter series is definitely much less complicated by comparison. Unfortunately, due to the technology of the time there aren't any screen shots to tell me what the game looks like.
As an aside, we get a sidebar article here explaining what a simulation is. What are we, five?
Anyway, the game's scenario editor is absolute crap. It doesn't check for conflicts and errors until you try to run the scenario, which can lead to the game crashing suddenly. Further, the scenario editor operates off of its own half-assed filing system, which doesn't work with copying over files or, for that matter, deleting files, and limits how much you can edit scenarios. So, in general, just going from the review, this is one of those retro titles that simply doesn't hold up at all, and if you're looking for sub games, you'd be better off breaking out Silent Hunter again.
Robotwar: A Wargame for All Programmers by William Edmunds
Here's a title that sounds a little more interesting. This is a little wargame where you play the game by coding an AI routine for a robot using a very basic programming language (but not BASIC). If you learned some really basic programming in grade school on LOGO, then think of this game as like LOGO, except instead of drawing lines with the turtle, you blow shit up.
The game is also somewhat notable in that the robots have vision cones through radar, and have some limited behavioral triggers based on stimulus (seeing an enemy robots or a wall, getting shot). However, the robots don't have a trigger for what direction the hits came from, so they can't predict where enemies are based on location.
This is a game concept I'd really like to see modernized and resurrected on PCs or on consoles. You decide the AI routines for your robot, where they look, their movement patterns, and how they react to being shot. You could possibly set it up where you can have more complex movement patterns. Ideally you could design a robot that could circle strafe and track a target, and robots that would try to track an enemy by his movements. Someone should get on that.
Anyway, CGW's editorial staff is starting off the reader participation by having a robot design contest. They're inviting their readers to write in with their robot code, and they'll have the reader's robots square off. The winner will be announced in issue three, and the winner will get a nice prize with a trophy. We don't have a picture of the trophy, unfortunately. It's won by a Richard A. Fowell, and I'm spoiling it because, Mr. Fowell, if you're reading this, I'd appreciate it if you'd send me a link to a picture of the trophy, with yourself if possible.
B-1 Nuclear Bomber: A Strategic Map by Chris Cummings
Avalon Hill has put out a simulator game which puts you in charge of flying a nuclear bomber to your target without getting shot down. However, while the game is based off a map of Russia, it doesn't actually come with a map. CGW would like to rectify this problem for you. Enjoy.
Air Force Mission Planning by Computer by Russell Sipe
Our EIC has gotten in touch with the Air Force and is showing off their new computer based mission planning system for you, in the hopes that it gets adapted for home computers.
Crush, Crumble & Chomp! By Stanley Greenlaw
If you thought being a fan of Tokusatsu is new, you thought wrong. There's enough of a fan-base for the films among geeks to support a board-game of kaiju urban destruction. The game comes with expies for various classic kaiju monsters (like Godzilla), as well as a system that lets you create your own. The player is then cored for his or her performance on various objectives from overall destruction to body count to whatever else you want.
The Political Apple by Russell Sipe
Here's another SSI strategy game review, this time for their game “President Elect”, which puts you in charge of electing the next president of the United States. The game comes with two scenarios (the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon election, and the 1980 Reagan/Mondale election), as well as options to create your own elections based on either existing candidates (including George H. W. Bush), or to create your own candidates (so you could see if George W. Bush could beat his father).
As another little aside, one of the complaints in the review is that the game's copy protection doesn't let you dig into the code to see how the game ticks. It's an interesting little contrast to modern games, where we're just happy of the DRM doesn't break the game or, even better, our computers.
The Greatest Baseball Team of All Time
You know that a title is controversial when they don't dare put a byline on it. Anyway, a book called “Computer Sports Matchups” did a tournament of what they felt the best 8 world series winners of all time were in a computer game, and in their simulation the 1925 (?) Yankees won. The CGW team has decided to run the same tournament again, using SSI's “Computer Baseball”, and Avalon Hill's “Major League Baseball”, and they're encouraging us to run the series as well. Half of the teams are getting their stats run this issue, the other half next issue, and then CGW will re-run their results in issue #3. Issue 3 is starting to look really interesting.
Synergistic Software has a fairly cluttered ad for what appears to be an adventure game, appropriately titled “Odyssey: The Compleat Adventure,” complete with the Olde English spelling.
In case you didn't notice, this is a collection of shorter reviews. First up is “Dragon's Eye”, an RPG. While they don't talk much about the game's storyline, they do talk about the maneuver based combat system, which would certainly distinguish it from the other “Kill The Wizard In The Hole/Tower” dungeon crawlers.
Next up is “Eastern Front,” a game designed by Chris Crawford, the guy who wrote the “Future of Computer Wargames”, which gives this review no conflict of interest at all. They love the game, and it's strategic look at German Operation Barbarossa.
This actually leads to a little complaint I have about World War II strategy games, both tabletop and for the computer. There's a certain fetishization of the Germans. Yes, I realized that the SS had the snappiest uniforms on the battlefield, it's one thing to call a tank a tank, and another thing to call it a Panzer, but there comes a point where it all goes too far. In some games they do it by making the Germans Gods of the Battlefield. Here, the problem is that you can only play as the Germans in the one campaign that lead to Germany's worst war crimes, against Eastern European civilians (Gentile and Jew alike), as well as Russian P.O.Ws. Would it have been that hard to let the player choose between the Germans and the Russians? Inquiring minds want to know!
That said, there is one gameplay innovation that catches my interest in this game. The game thinks out the computer's moves while the player is doing his moves. Thus, theoretically, this should speed up gameplay by not having the player wait on the computer, and by encouraging the player to think on his toes, so as to give the computer less time to think.
“Mind Thrust” is a sort of abstract board-game strategy game. While we get an idea about how the game is played, it doesn't go too much about about precisely how the game mechanics work, which is unfortunate.
“Mission Escape” is a semi-strategic action game, which tasks the player with escaping from an enemy space station without getting shot or captured. It's semi-turn based, in that turns happen every few moves or every 10 seconds, whichever comes first.
“Odyssey” gets a review next. It looks something like a combination RPG/adventure game with item use puzzles.
“Reversal” is Othello Clone #567.
“Time Traveler” is a text adventure game which takes you to various time periods in a quest to retrieve various magic rings. Each grants different abilities, but you can only carry one at a time (to keep the game from getting to easy). Unfortunately, the game has some problems with its documentation.
Finally, we wrap the issue up with an ad for Tachyon, a company that makes unlicensed D&D games, and then an ad for Avalon Hill's computer games. There's some unintentional hilarity with AH describing themselves as an adult game publisher. I know what they really mean, but the phrasing is bad.