Game Informer's top 300 games

May 21st, 2018 8:32 AM
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Every one-hundred monthly issues, Game Informer magazine compiles a list of the best games of all time. These lists fluctuate with the magazine's staff and as new games are released and old games are forgotten. Recently, issue #300 revisited this tradition with the staff's top 300 games. You could call the result arbitrary in the sense that they are highly subjective, but it doesn't change the fact that, with roughly 300 new games being released on Steam every month, to be counted among the top 300 games of all time is an honor, regardless of who it's coming from or how the decision came to be.

While some institutions frequently overlook the Apple II's contributions to gaming, Game Informer has not committed that error, with four games — more than a full percent of the list! — being for the Apple II. Every game on the list got at least a one-sentence summary; most games also had a screenshot; some games further received a full paragraph. All four Apple II games warranted screenshots, and two of them received those lengthier write-ups:


Oregon Trail (#104)

Oregon Trail

Fording a river, contracting snakebites, starving — you and your friends probably died in all these ways and more while playing The Oregon Trail. This wasn't just an entertaining simulation; MECC's revolutionary piece of educational software leveraged new technology to engage students' imaginations beyond textbooks. While the Apple II version of The Oregon Trail wasn't technically the first, it's the one most ids played as they crowded into school computer labs.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (#131)

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Sir Tech's text-heavy dungeon crawl provided the backbone for many of the long-running RPG series that followed.

Zork (#186)

Zork

Though this text game is hard to go back to now, Zork is undisputedly the progenitor of any video game that sought to emulate having an adventure.

Lode Runner (#197)

Lode Runner

Lode Runner combined twitch Pac-Man skills with the ability to dig into the level, trap enemies, and collect gold, creating an ever-changing puzzle game with seemingly infinite configurations, including levels of your own design. It also required both quick thinking and the strategic foresight to decipher increasingly complex levels, becoming a must-have for the home computer, and setting itself apart in the arcade-dominated market.

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Wizardry: The first CRPG?

March 12th, 2018 7:11 AM
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Many of us know that the venerable Ultima series of role-playing games had its spiritual origin when Richard Garriott developed Akalabeth for the Apple II in 1979. But according to SyFy, it was the 1981 game Wizardry that qualifies as "the first computer-based RPG".

Although declaring anything the "first" is debatable, the video is a good overview of the era in which Wizardry released and the factors that made it popular. I would've appreciated if the video dissected the game's reception in other regions: Wizardry achieved significant fame in Japan and saw many sequels exclusive to that country. The game was also translated to French, as I discovered with this manual that Brutal Deluxe brought to KansasFest 2017.

The Wizardry manual… in French!

The write-up that accompanies the SyFy video is less accurate: observing that "[The developers] had to face the technical limitations of the era (such as writing the game in basic and very limited memory space)" overlooks that the final game was developed in Pascal. And saying that "There were eight games in all in the Wizardry series, starting with the notoriously hard Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and ending with Wizardry 8, released in 2001" is accurate insofar as the main series goes, but it omits the franchise's spin-offs, of which there have been many.

Sadly, there aren't many modern versions of Wizardry available for gamers to choose from these days. In 2011, I blogged about the PlayStation 3 and iOS release of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. But the PlayStation 4 supplanted the PS3 in 2013, and the game is no longer available on iOS, either. The only modern incarnation of the franchise that's currently available is Wizrogue – Labyrinth of Wizardry, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux on Steam as of February 24, 2017.

Given the lack of gameplay, it's not the most compelling trailer. But it's nonetheless good to see the series live on, if in name only.

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?

Temporal anomaly in MazeFire

February 1st, 2016 11:54 AM
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Back in the summer of 2014, I attended a Boston Games Forum event. This group, now known as Playcrafting, gives local game developers opportunities to network, hone their craft, and showcase their work. Not being a developer, I enjoy Playcrafting letting me get my hands on new and upcoming games as I scout potential candidates for my YouTube channel and IndieSider podcast.

That night, one of the games being demoed was billed as a maze, though it seemed more a multiple-choice trivia/quiz-type game: each correct answer would automatically advance you through from one side of a grid to another. There was nothing a-maze-ing about it, but I was drawn to the theme of the questions: each one was about the history of computer and video games, from Pong to EverQuest and more. The random selection of 19 questions weren't hard, since they were often accompanied by a screenshot of the game featured in the correct answer, but it was still neat to see our history being celebrated.

One of the questions was just slightly wrong in its details, though:

MazeFire (2014)

The game may've come out in 1981 — but it certainly wasn't being played on an Apple IIe, which wasn't released until 1983.

The game in question is the first Wizardry:

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was an incredibly addictive game developed by Greenberg and Woodhead and launched in 1980 at the Boston Computer Convention. Character classes, alignments, specializations (Samurais and ninjas) along with maze tricks and keys all foreshadowed the MMORPGs of the modern era. Probably was not used for military training, although it was a favorite of at least one Fort Riley US Army Officer.

The text has been updated in the latest version of the game:

mazefire-2016.jpg

You can play Mazefire online for free and test your own knowledge of gaming history.

Wizardry comes to iOS

November 7th, 2011 12:14 PM
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Back in March, I wrote that Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, a new entry in the classic RPG series, was coming exclusively to the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network (or the PS3 PSN). But in this age of multiple gaming platforms, it is rarely economically feasible to dedicate one's product to a single audience. It therefore is only mildly surprising that Wizardry is now available for iOS (though, oddly enough, not optimized for iPad). Behold the opening sequence and 15 minutes of gameplay:

The game, released on November 3, is a free download, but the press release states a caveat: "While players will initially be able to level their characters up to level five and explore the entire first floor of the 'Dungeon of Trials,' brave adventurers who want to dig deeper into the depths of Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be able to unlock the full Wizardry experience for $9.99 via In-App Purchase."

A bit too expensive for you? Then kick it old school for just $1.99 with Akalabeth, an iOS version of the precursor to Ultima. Though not the same series as Wizardry, they share a common history as predominantly first-person RPGs. Or go the free route on classic hardware with similar to Silvern Castle for the Apple II. Sounds like the best of all fantasy worlds to me.

(Hat tip to Eli Milchman)

Competing for a gamer's heart

July 11th, 2011 3:54 PM
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Popular culture abounds with tales of lovers lost to gaming addictions. Guys and gals who can't tear themselves away from World of Warcraft often emerge from their fantasy to find themselves without the partner they'd attracted offline.

Peter Molyneux. Photo by Daniel Alexander Smith.I never understood the competition some romancers feel toward electronic entertainment. Computer and video games can be great bonding experiences, whether you're playing cooperatively or competitively, or simply offering a passive experience for your partner to observe and enjoy.

Nonetheless, resentment has been a popular emotion engendered by gaming for longer than there have been MMORPGs — though role-playing games do tend to be a trend, as evidenced by Peter Molyneux's own tale. The creator of popular PC and Xbox games Populous, Black & White, and Fable was recently prompted to recall his first encounter with computer games:

The first proper game was probably Wizardry on the old Apple II. I totally became obsessed with that game, to the point where I lost my girlfriend by playing it – I left her down the pub three times! Because it was on floppy disk… Once, my floppy disk was written off and that night I immediately got in the car and I drove 150 miles to find another Wizardry player so I could get a copy of the disc. It was the first game really that I ever played with levelling-up. It was set in a dungeon, and there was a mad god, and it had spells. It was wireframe, but in my imagination I was down there in that dungeon.

Given the career and status this famed developer has attained since being inspired by that Apple II game in 1981, it's certainly the girlfriend's loss to have not seen the potential in that marriage.

Have you ever had to curb your gaming enthusiasm to placate your partner? What have you done to try to turn a paramour into a player?

(Hat tip to Neon Kelly)