Every once in a while, say a couple times a year, I get to feeling nostalgic. That’s when I head for the bookshelf and pull out one of three hefty looseleaf binders. They hold manuals, command cards, and instruction sheets for the really old games, the ones I played on my beloved Apple, way back when. Yes, I was actually a trifle more organized in those days. Heh. Anyway, let’s take a look.

Here are Wilderness Campaign and Odyssey: The Complete Apventure by Robert Clardy, via Synergistic Software. Wilderness was no small matter: “To defeat the Necromancer, you will need at least 50-75 well-equipped fighters and a powerful magic weapon”. Much more sensible, really, than a party of six taking on Foozle by themselves.

Odyssey featured a lot of sailing between small islands, with ships that had to be rigged for the wind. You might also want some machetes and ropes for those overland treks through swamps, forests, and whatnot. And, of course, a large party of fighters for the finale. Hey, not bad for programs that ran in 48K.

Dunjonquest: Temple Of Apshai, from Automated Simulations, was one of the first RPGs, though it had no particular goal aside from dungeon delving. This was a solo outing, and graphics were minimal. It wasn’t too speedy, being written in, ahem, BASIC. It also had a deficit or two in design: “…the DUNJONMASTER remembers how many experience points you earned on the adventure and adds it to the experience you get on the next adventure. The DUNJONMASTER will continue to do this until you turn off the computer or until you generate a new character. At that point, it forgets all of your experience”. Keep that pad and pencil handy, folks. And this game won an award, too.

Ah, Swordthrust, by Donald Brown, through CE Software. This was an expanded version of Eamon, which Brown eventually released into the public domain when ST came out. While all-text, it was an interesting blend of standard adventure with role-playing aspects. Several modules were available, and you could take your character through them, developing in strength and power as you completed each one. They were stand-alone scenarios, though you needed the master disk to play the expansions. I miss this series.

Fantasyland 2041, by John Bell, from Crystalware (or Crystal Computer). Almost every product from this company could take its place next to almost any game of today – because they were all buggy as hell. Beta-testing and quality control were obviously not a part of their production cycle. Which is a shame, because Crystal had some good stuff otherwise. Fantasyland in particular is a case in point, a massive RPG-like game that spanned several diskettes, well before Sierra’s Time Zone did the same. It took you from Africa to Dante’s Inferno, or was supposed to. I don’t know of anyone who ever managed to finish it; bugs got in the way, alas. Sigh.

Tactical combat goes back a long way; there are Galactic Gladiators and Galactic Adventures from SSI to prove it. Gladiators was really all-combat, with teams of humans and aliens that fought it out in a high-tech setting. You could also create your own “quests”, adventure-like scenarios that featured, of course, a great deal of fighting. This was expanded in Adventures, where you hired mercs and took on jobs to make money. Of course, combat was still the main deal.

Taking the bad guy’s side is nothing new, either. Crush, Crumble, and Chomp from Epyx put you in the critter seat: run any one of a number of monsters to molest the famous world city of your choice. The good guys usually got you in the end, but until then, you could raze buildings, munch pedestrians, squash cars and have a good old time with sheer destruction. Stomp that tank! Smash that bridge! Roast those soldiers! Yeah!

You think Tombraider was something special? Hah! Long before, there was Aztec, from Datamost, probably the first real action-adventure game. “Real life movement – walking, jumping, crawling, lunging, fighting”. All inside a lost Aztec pyramid, while you went hunting for an ancient artifact. Lara Croft, eat your heart out. Hehe.

Anyone remember Robotwar from Muse Software? You programmed robots to fight against each other. Most of the manual was taken up with instructions on how to do this, with a special language (something akin to BASIC) you had to learn for the programming. The big thing, of course, was trading programs between players to see who had the better robot. Have to admit, this wasn’t quite my cup of tea; never could get the hang of writing a good program. Ah, well.

And in those golden years, there were any number of adventure games, not all of them necessarily too memorable: Masquerade, Sherwood Forest, Sands of Egypt, Mask Of The Sun, Coveted Mirror, Blade Of Blackpoole, Deathmaze 5000, all the games from Infocom and Scott Adams…well, the list could go on for a while. A long while.

I dabbled in fast-moving stuff, too. Shooters back then were called “arcade games”, though the object was always to blow away whatever showed up on the screen. Typically the field was restricted – one screen – and movement usually side to side. They were mostly variations on a theme, some of them cute, but eventually, boring. There was one exception.

Crossfire, from Online Systems (later known as Sierra), was the only arcade that ever really grabbed me. You flew a small ship around city blocks (top down view) while firing at aliens that popped up around the perimeter. There’s a lot of hype around about games being “immersive”, but that’s just hype. In this one, you needed both hands on the keyboard: I,J,K,L to move, and E,S,D,F to fire. You could go in one direction and shoot in another, simultaneously. It required total concentration and fast reflexes to manipulate both hands at once (properly!). That was immersion. No other game before or since has ever required such complete focus. We don’t need no steenking joysticks! Or even paddles!

Well, I think that’s about enough for the tour. Otherwise, this article would expand to interminable length, and we can’t have that. Besides, my fingers would give out long before I finished… miniscorp

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