Posted by: mjss26 | June 18, 2010

Great moments in gaming – Part 1

Unlike Roger Ebert, I do believe that video games will become and in fact are becoming a legitimate art form. Certainly a legitimate form of entertainment – and will, if the money in it by comparison is any indication, will eventually overtake cinema as the preferred medium of entertainment, allowing players to empathise with a character much more intensely, when of course a powerful story is involved. Heavy Rain, in which four characters’ stories are interweaved, one of which is stricken with the urgency and painfulness of a lost child and the ‘Origami’ serial murderer involved in similar cases, is an example of where we can expect games to head.

Having said that, it’s also going to matter very gravely how people integrate the games they play into their choice of legitimate social life activities. The closest positive comparison would be karaoke — without parents insisting that games are played with family or friends, there will continue to be decreasing levels of social aptitude, increasing levels of stress, depression and feelings of isolation.

I used to be a relatively solid gamer, but am now quite happily a casual gamer, thrilled to share the triumphs within even a single player game with a friend or sibling using the ‘lives or levels’ rule. It actually helps you identify with the experiences of others, arguably more than a movie (because people close to you are undergoing an artificial setback or pain, rather than an , but less so of course than real life.

So with that in mind, here it is, in all it’s geeky glory: the games that shaped the man – played either alone for hour upon foolish hour, or correctly, with friends and family. Part 1.

Dune 2 & Commander Keen

* Dune 2 (1992)

Harkonnen, Atreides, Ordos Houses in Dune II

With it’s catchy, other-worldly music and effective use of voice files, and being the grand-daddy of all the classic real time strategy (RTS) games – what I call ‘god games’ because of the top-down camera angle and micromanagement of people and resources – it’s small wonder how enamoured I became with this game above all else. It had a simple, yet neat storyline, and you could play as one of three teams, each with special weapons typifying their house character.

 

I would still play this game today.


On the one hand, even when you play as house Harkonnen, and realise that the Emperor of Dune too, has nukes, the unseasoned player is filled with trepidation. Could his densely built base have its guts torn out by an inter-concrete-slab-or-island-of-dodgy-rock ballistic missile? Oh S:&T! … Wait a minute… If I was smart enough to save every 5 minutes, I can just reload!
And that’s exactly what we all did. Until we won.

Did I mention you could change language just for kicks?
Apologies for the spelling-

“Trois, Deux, Uhhh… [save. Quit. Reload using English sound files]
…Death hand missile launched.”
Other favourite things you might hear on the battlefield:

“Ordos unit approaching. Ordos unit destroyed.”

‘Frigate has arrived’. Frigate docks at spaceport bringing siege tanks or rocket launchers at $60 each. Score. “Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Atreides unit deployed. Ordos unit destroyed. Atreides unit deployed.”

As you send your very expensive, one and only brilliant ordos Deviator tank, which shot nerve gas at enemies that made their units attack their own in a frenzied and hilarious bit of mayhem, slowly, slowly towards the enemy base, with you snickering with anticipation- it’s that one moment you take your eyes off it ‘ooh, I should probably check of my silos are full’ that you hear:
“Spice bloom located. Ordos unit destroyed”. Aaaaaaagh!

“Warning! Saboteur approaching! [rocket launcher turrets take him down in 2 seconds] Saboteur destroyed”

“Warning! Sardaukar unit approaching!” Scary sounding name but they soon prove rather ineffective. I love rocket turrets.

“Warning- sandworm approaching.” Ach FFS! I haven’t moved my tanks off the sand yet. And you could never actually kill the suckers – you shot them to half health and they just disappeared. But the sound they made, as they devoured half of your piffly army which was the only thing standing between you and complete annihilation, even in 1992 – was quite horrifying. I used to imagine. Then in early missions, before you could buy 10 carryalls from the spaceport for 299 a pop, your little spice harvester, that did so well venturing out so far to get you the orange good stuff , if it didn’t get inhaled out in the spice field by the worm at 99% capacity-you’d watch helplessly as it trudged along in the sand trying to outrun the worm…

…Which incidentally merely seemed to be playing with it, following innocuously one unit’s-length distance behind … Then, as soon as the harvester artificial intelligence nears land, it says ‘hrm, well let’s see, I am literally filled to bursting with valuable spice, my HQ is struggling to survive, I’ve been outrunning this giant scary worm for the past half hour… The coast is completely clear to cross from sand to rocky safety.. I know what I’ll do! To celebrate my safe passage, at the last minute I’ll show everyone how much of a badass I am by angling away a bit and then hooking back in. Brilliant. Can’t fail. Here we go, here we go… Yeee….h-‘
<GULP!>
“Atreides harvester destroyed.”

The game framed the genre, and spawned the command and conquer series, red alert, star craft, black & White (a true god game in every sense), Age of Empires, of course the Warcraft series with its hugely popular World of Warcraft (which, incidentally, I never really got into), Dune 2000, Emperor: Battle for Dune (where your Fremen units could now summon, and ride, a sandworm, and hapless units got sucked up into a freak sandstorm whirlwind never to be heard from again) and more.

Dune series evolving...

Emperor: Battle for Dune

...to the visually stunning Emperor: Battle for Dune

 

Dune Emperor game night mission

Some missions were set at night, or at twilight, or even on other planets...

 

Emperor Battle For Dune - Battle on Caladan

such as Atreides' home planet Caladan, which was novel

 

Sandworm

Peer into the gullet of the terror-inducing Sandworm

True, it wasn’t the first in it’s camera angle- you have sim city and the like, but for war and many of the gameplay notions – ain’t nothing comparable to the legendary Dune II: Battle for Arrakis.

* Commander Keen

Highlights:

Taking home one of those cute one-eyed green alien things at the end of the game

garg

No not that one - the cute one-eyed one

Walking, hopping kangaroo aliens… that shot at you

That pogo stick

That helmet

That fish

The dopefish has become an ongoing gaming industry gag, featuring in many other games

Commander Keen had an alien language that if I were THAT geeky, I’d have learnt to read and enjoy the funny messages. At one point in one of the games the player comes across a ‘Rosetta Stone’ of sorts, that shows the whole alphabet. Commander Keen: Aliens Ate My Babysitter was a rather enjoyable title, and 4, 5, and 6 were much better than the earlier trilogy.

The games were part of a number of classic Apogee games that often came in trilogies. These included Secret Agent, Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventures, BioMenace, Duke Nukem and more. Duke Nukem later returned as a first person shooter. Either way, the games were a significant part of my young gaming experience.

Next instalment – Part 2 – will feature Star Wars games.

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