Game Informer's Top 100 RPGs

June 19th, 2017 7:51 AM
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In the 1980s, role-playing games, or RPGs, were my favorite genres of computer and video games. The hours of character development and narrative created a much richer fictional world than the era's action games. Perhaps due to their inability to translate to arcades, RPGs were a niche genre, and so I hungrily played any I could get my hands on.

The decades since have seen an explosion in the popularity of RPGs, or at least the willingness to serve that niche — so much, that the cover story of issue #290 of Game Informer is the staff's picks for the top hundred RPGs of all time. To have had that many to choose from in the 1980s would've been staggering, though Game Informer admits that the definition of RPG has become nebulous, now encompassing such modern titles as Mass Effect 3, Destiny, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Fortunately, Game Informer acknowledges the genre's roots by including several Apple II games on their list:

The criteria for the staff's selection were not disclosed, so it's hard to say whether these games were acknowledged because they were fun to play then, are still fun to play, or are important to the evolution of gaming. Wasteland, for example, is noted as being the pre-cursor to Fallout; Wizardry is "often cited as the first party-based RPG"; and for The Bard's Tale, "Some players may still have their hand-drawn graph paper maps tucked away in an old box."

Regardless, with so many franchises, platforms, publishers, and developers at play, it's impressive that the Apple II got so many mentions. But any listicle is bound to be contentious, and no one will fully agree with the choices or order of games. For example, Game Informer has probably never played one of my favorite Apple II games: The Magic Candle. With a jobs system in which player characters could learn crafts and trades, earn money from town jobs, and even split the party, it was an innovative and ahead of its time, being released three years before Final Fantasy V, which is often hailed for its job system.

What Apple II RPGs would you have included on this list, and why?

Wasteland 3 hits Fig

October 10th, 2016 9:18 AM
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Some Apple II games never die, no matter what post-apocalyptic future they endure. Not even a nuclear holocaust can stop Brian Fargo, the inimitable founder of game studio Interplay, where he developed both The Bard's Tale and Wasteland. Now the head of inXile Entertainment, Fargo has brought both of those former franchises to Kickstarter, resulting thus far in the release of Wasteland 2 in 2014 for Steam and in 2015 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

It's been four years since the successful Kickstarter for Wasteland 2, so Fargo is going back for more: last week, he announced Wasteland 3, extending the adventures of the 22nd-century Desert Rangers. But this time, instead of Kickstarter, Fargo has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Fig.

Fig (whose advisory board includes Fargo) was founded in August 2015 as a crowdfunding platform specifically for computer and video games. Besides that dedicated focus, the biggest difference from Kickstarter is that Fig allows not just donations and preorders, but actual investments, establishing equity in the final product and its success. Investments occur in $1,000 increments up to $2.25 million. If Wasteland 3 sells 500,000 units, investors receive a 1.36x return on their investment; if 1,000,000 units are sold, the return is 1.8x. It's by no means a get-rich-quick scheme, especially for small investors such as I would be. I've instead donated a mere $5 to show my support, knowing that my contribution won't make or break the campaign; at the time of my pledge, Wasteland 3 was already 99% of the way to its goal, needing only another $50,000. (The campaign will succeed if it raises $2,750,000 by Thursday, November 3, 2016.)

Upon completion of the Fig campaign, Wasteland 3 will go into inXile's development queue. Two of inXile's previously crowdfunded projects are still unreleased: Torment: Tides of Numenera; and The Bard's Tale 4. But that shouldn't count against inXile's track record. As the Wasteland 3 pitch video explains, game development occurs in stages, and those artists who contribute to a game's early stages, such as the writers, have completed their work on those other two projects and are eager to begin something new.

But what about the game itself? I never played the original Wasteland (which inspired the Fallout franchise) or its sequel, even though I mentioned both in my KansasFest 2016 presentation of Steam games. But it looks like the series' third entry introduces many new features, including drivable vehicles, multiplayer mode, a Colorado setting, and simultaneous releases for Steam and consoles (PS4 & Xbox One) in late 2019. Take a gander at the turn-based combat in this (NSFW) gameplay video:

It's exciting to see a series that originated on the Apple II continue to resonate with modern gamers who are willing to pledge their dollars to ensure the franchise's future. Long live Wasteland!

Steamed Apples at KansasFest 2016

August 1st, 2016 7:06 PM
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I love presenting at KansasFest. Speaking at such an esteemed gathering of Apple II aficionados reaffirms that I nonetheless have something to contribute to this community, despite not having extensive knowledge of Apple II hardware or software.

In brainstorming this year's presentation, I emailed KFest schedulemeister Andy Molloy for ideas. He suggested:

How about something like "10 influential Apple II games" and then you talk about them, demo them and show how they are cool. There's certainly a segment of the audience (i.e., me) who loves to watch old Apple II games, which is why I liked Bruce's stuff. Or something like "here are 10 Apple games that were later remade on modern systems".

It was a great idea — so great, that it'd already been done: I presented "Classic Gaming Inspirations" at KansasFest 2009 and "Classic Gaming Inspirations, Part Deux" in 2010. In each, I demoed modern games for Mac, PC, and iOS that were reminiscent of classic Apple II games. Despite being a familiar theme, I enjoyed giving those talks and felt that enough time had passed, so I decided to dust off the theme for 2016.

This year's constraint: all the games had to be available for Steam, the digital distribution platform for games. And they had to be available for Mac, PC, and Linux. Fortunately, even given these limitations, I was not wanting for ideas, as I'd discovered many such games through IndieSider, my biweekly podcast where I interview indie game developers. Most KFesters know my podcasting efforts in the vintage computing realm, specifically on Open Apple and the Retro Computing Roundtable, but were not aware that I host gaming podcasts as well. It was fun to share this other side of myself with the audience.

Here are the Apple II genres and games I started with and the Steam games in which a modern gamer might find an echo of the past.

GenreClassic gameSteam gameIndieSider?
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateShadowgateYes
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateRead Only MemoriesYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKing's QuestNo
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKathy RainYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestThe Blackwell LegacyNo
SurvivalOregon TrailOrgan TrailNo
PlatformDangerous DaveVVVVVVNo
PlatformDangerous DavePlangmanYes
PlatformImpossible MissionMaster SpyYes
ActionPac-ManPac-Man 256Yes
RPGWastelandWastelandNo
RPGWastelandWasteland IINo

Thanks to Jason Scott's speedy turnaround, a video of the presentation is already available online:

I had so many games in mind for this year's talk that I had to keep many in reserve. Expect to see more Steam games at KansasFest 2017!

Fallout '84

November 9th, 2015 10:16 AM
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Patient fans of the 1988 game Wasteland have had much to celebrate these past few years. After a successful Kickstarter, the original creator released the long-awaited sequel Wasteland 2 in September 2014, returning gamers to the post-apocalyptic landscape as a Desert Ranger, set 15 years after the original game. Wasteland 2: Director's Cut released October 13, 2015, marking the game's first appearance on the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4.

Those 15 years were not a wasteland of their own, though. Fallout, the spiritual successor to Wasteland, debuted in 1997 and has seen multiple sequels since then. The latest entry in the franchise, Fallout 4, releases tomorrow, November 10, promising to abscond with gamers eager to explore a bombed-out Boston.

But neither Fallout 4 nor Wasteland 2 have brought their series back to their roots: despite the variety of editions and ports, neither game has appeared on the Apple II. Chiptune artist 8 Bit Weapon has set out to correct that oversight, with the following proof of concept of Fallout '84:

This demo was made using the Outlaw Editor, a tool that was was profiled in the September 14 issue of Juiced.GS and devised to assist with the creation of upcoming Old West RPG Lawless Legends. The song with which the above video opens is "Apple Core II", which was released on the album Bits with Byte.

Although the editor and song are available, the Fallout '84 demo is not, limited in distribution to its creators. But gamers can still enjoy the unique experiences of Wasteland 2, Fallout 4, and Lawless Legends — two of which are out now, with the third exploding onto the scene in 2016!

(Hat tips to Seth Sternberger and Mike Fahey)

Wasteland 2's successful Kickstarter

March 22nd, 2012 6:09 PM
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Earlier this month, Tim Shafer and Ron Gilbert, the team behind the sequel to the Apple II classic Maniac Mansion, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to create an original adventure game. That they raised $3.3 million on a requested $400,000 is mind-boggling. That's like selling 87,142 tickets to "a Steven Spielberg movie" before the plot, genre, actors, length, or rating have been published or even decided.

Inspired by this success, Brian Fargo, formerly of Interplay and now of inXile Entertainment, promised to launch his own Kickstarter campaign to create a PC sequel to the Apple II game Wasteland, which already has its own spiritual successor with the Fallout series. True to his word, the same day Schafer closed his project, Fargo launched his. And like Schafer, Fargo's video offers a humorous demonstration of the challenges faced by retro game designers in the modern publishing environment.

Success was swift: within two days, Fargo met his $800,000 goal. At the time of this writing and with 25 days to go, the project has earned $1,493,522; just $6,478 more, and the development team will add Mac and Linux editions.

But why stop there when you could get even more money? As Schafer discovered, Kickstarter processes pledges via Amazon Payments, which may not be very friendly to international customers or those without credit cards. inXile has created an elegant solution: now that the project has met its goal and pledges are guaranteed to be converted to charges, customers can skip the grace period and hand over their money directly via PayPal.

Just $15 will get you your copy, with additional exclusive rewards all the way up to $10,000. I haven't forked over my money yet, and it's a bit frustrating to do so when there are plenty of indie developers on Kickstarter trying to make a career like the one Fargo already has behind him. Still, how can we not support furthering the Apple II's legacy? Kickstarter offers a reminder feature that will send you an email 48 hours before the project's closure, so if you're unsure, you have time to think it over. Chances are I'll find a spare $15 necessary to guarantee my copy of Wasteland 2 when it ships in October 2013.

UPDATE (Mar 22): Fargo has created the "Kicking It Forward" campaign, in which developers promise to put 5% of profits from their successful Kickstarter projects toward other people's Kickstarter projects. How cool is that?

Wasteland sequel to hit Kickstarter

February 20th, 2012 1:28 PM
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Back in September, I called Martin Haye on Juiced.GS business. In this day of Twitter, Facebook, IM, and IRC, it's unusual for me to make a phone call to an Apple II user, and I'm always cognizant of the likelihood for intrusion when I do. In this case, I knew Martin was soon leaving on a camping trip, and I didn't want to interrupt his packing. Nope! He was playing Wasteland, Interplay's post-apocalyptic spiritual precursor to Fallout. "Oh," I said, "so this is a bad time to be calling." "Well, it's not like it's the kind of game that demands uninterrupted attention," he laughed.

Here's something that does deserve your attention, Martin: having recently developed Choplifter HD, original Wasteland co-designer Brian Fargo of inXile Entertainment is looking to reboot the franchise with a new, Kickstarter-funded game. The possible Wasteland 2 would be faithful to its origins by "focusing on top-down, probably isometric, party based, skill based — where if you'd just finished playing Wasteland and moved onto this you'd feel comfortable." But it'll stray from its roots by being for PC only, though an iOS edition would be considered.

Wasteland box art

All this for the cool price of one million dollars — that's how much Fargo estimates it'll take to fund the project. That's ambitious but, as of last week, not unprecedented. Still, it's a ton of dough to pony up for a game that's known to modern gamers more by name than by experience. Is Fargo daydreaming? He revealed his intentions after only 48 hours of consideration, after all. Or will we put our money where his mouth is when the Kickstarter campaign supposedly launches next month?

Will you support such a campaign? What's a new Wasteland worth to you?

(Hat tip to Andy Chalk)