Friday Flashback Five: Week of October 29, 1995

It’s the end of the week, and of course that means it’s time for another Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we go through five random games that debuted this week in history, and this week is no different. This time around, we’re cranking the Wayback Machine for the Twenty-Ninth of October, Nineteen Ninety-Five.

Puh-lenty of video games debuted this week.  Some should have been remembered long after they were, some should have been forgotten immediately, and of course there were games that fell everywhere in the middle.  It was, though, mostly a week for odd games, strange games, or games that took something established—a concept, say, or a genre—and turned it on its head.  That’s not to say such a thing was always good, of course, but, as we’ll see today, if nothing else, the games were usually interesting.

Now for the usual disclaimers: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind before you click with wild abandon, you wild clicker, you.  Also, this isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list.  It’s just a look back at five random games from our hobby’s history and a peek at what effect they may or may not have had.

With that out of the way, let’s get it on!

The Dark Eye
Edgar Allen Poe isn’t the first name that usually comes to mind for authors whose works should be used for a video game, especially considering that The Raven is arguably his most well-known work.  Yet, developer Inscape did just that, with the result being The Dark Eye.

Based on The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, and Berenice, The Dark Eye, which is—a strange, strange game.  It’s strange in a good way, mostly, though.

If you like things like this, you'll like "The Dark Eye".

The player plays the game through two protagonists, a murderer, and a victim, and the game takes place in one large house, belonging to a stop-motion clay puppet “uncle”.  Through him and other figures, the two stories are told—they just aren’t told very well.  That is to say, the cutting back and forth is rather jarring, which can work for the sorts of dark tales Poe is deservedly famous for.  Different items in the house set off different bits of the stories, though they could be played in any order, and there was no real information about what did what.

It was a wonderful adaptation of Poe’s works, and it really helped immerse the player in a world of confusion and terror—but some of the confusion was accidental and hindered enjoyment.  Still, for the player who could enjoy a more impressionist-style work, there was plenty of Poe’s mad world to see.

A humorous-ish Let’s Play can be found here.

When SimCity entered the gaming scene six years previous, it became incredibly popular.  So much so, that people used the basic template for all sorts of games, for years to come.  Flash forward to our current week in history, and you have Capitalism, a top-down, isometric game where you take the role of corporation C.E.O.

The game featured an interesting mixture of real-world aims and goals with obvious video game sensibilities.  For example, the goal of Capitalism, much like the goal of a real corporation, is to not only succeed, but but become the most profitable business in the world in a variety of markets.  Between farming, research and development divisions, mining, department stores, and a good few other things, the player can become a global powerhouse that would make Walmart green with envy.

Similar to its spiritual predecessor, you could play through different scenarios with their own specific goals, or go “free-form”, starting at the bottom and working to global domination.  Further, you, the player, were tasked with basically everything.  You had control over nearly every possible aspect to your business, and to help you out, you had numerous graphs, charts, and so on, to give you as much information as you could possibly ever want.

The game was also crazy complex.  For example, to sell milk, you had to raise cows, process the cows, make the glass for the bottles, make the bottles, process the milk—it goes on and on.  And that’s just one tiny, tiny bit of the game.

Also like its spiritual predecessor, it appealed to a more specific section of gamers.  In a way, though, SimCity had a certain broader appeal, as you could design your city however the heck you pleased.  Capitalism, however, had by necessity a narrower focus, and thus, again, a more specific target audience.  For those into such things, though, it was a fantastic game—it would even be enjoyable today, in this gaming world that’s preparing for another generational step forward.

These days, developer Interplay is something of a hit-or-miss company.  On the one side are games like Fallout, and on the other games like M.A.X..  Earlier in the company’s history, though, you had games like the Bard’s Tale trilogy, Dragon Wars, and Wasteland—mostly good, solid titles.  Then came the mid-‘Nineties, and somewhere along the way they ran into trouble.

It’s almost a miracle Stonekeep even exists.  Its production history is almost as mangled and drama-filled as Duke Nukem Forever, really.  Cancellations and reviving, plans made and tweaked and altered and dropped—it took years to get the game to store shelves, and it showed.

Were it to come out just a few years earlier, it would have received numerous accolades, and been at the top of many game lists.  As it stands, its age showed.  It was a first-person game, but it lacked real freedom of movement; it was more a throwback to games years before with its node-based movement system (basically, imagine each section of a hall, for example, as a series of points, and you moved from set point to set point).  It looked decent for the time, but a limited array of colors meant everything looked drab.

It could have been a great game—if it was released earlier.  As it stands, it wasn’t a terrible game, not by far.  It just couldn’t keep up with its brethren.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

Mission Critical
On one end of the spectrum is Stonekeep, a game chugging along past its prime, even when it was first released.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have Mission Critical, a game that was fantastic and fun in nearly every possible way.

Starring Michael Dorn, Patricia Charbonneau, and Henry Strozier, this futuristic sci-fi point-and-click adventure saw the player as the only survivor on the U.S.S. Lexington, a spaceship caught in a battle against a fascist United Nations.  It’s the player’s job to fix the ship and finish the mission—before the ship itself is “finished”.

Great care was taken to make the Lexington feel alive, feel “real”.  The three-dimensional graphics were painstakingly created, aided by incredibly solid game play.  The puzzles all made sense, which is something as rare now as it was then.  Then you had the ship-to-ship combat.  Control was given to the player; they could take it over, themself, or they could delegate control to the ship’s computer, which wasn’t as much of a let-down as such things tend to be in other games.

On the whole, it was about as great of a video game as could really be expected.  That’s actually not too unexpected, since developer Legend Entertainment was a splinter company that survived Infocom’s (of Zork fame) disastrous attempt at creating business software.

The playable demo can be seen here.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
Sort of in-line with the idea of creating a game based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Harlan Ellison is another author whose name isn’t usually the first that comes to mind for such a project.  his works are thought-provocative, antagonistic, creative, compelling, abrasive—he’s not one for writing fluff or writing things just to please people or to get a paycheck, no matter what one may think of the works themselves.

Enter I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, based on a short story by the same name.  A short synopsis does not do it justice, but suffice it to say that a computer system known as AM destroyed all of humanity save for a select few, and those few have been either enslaved or tortured—the latter for centuries, in some cases.  The protagonists are allowed a bit of freedom, for the perverse joy AM takes in watching them wander around trying to figure things out.

Two of the cages that deliver various torments--the nicer ways AM deals with its captives.

Unfortunately, while the story is as intriguing as most of the rest of Ellison’s works, the game itself was—actually rather bland.  It was your basic, stock adventure game.  Considering the hype—including that by Ellison himself, all but saying this game would be the best thing since sliced bread while criticizing computer gaming—it’s admittedly unlikely any game could really stand as tall as it needed to.

Part of the problem was that it succumbed to the same problems that plagued a lot of adventure games of the era—for one thing, puzzles that made no in-game sense, choices that didn’t actually matter existing alongside unknown choices that affected the game, that sort of thing.

It was another game that could have been better, if for different reasons than Stonekeep up there.  On the other hand, Ellison himself was the voice of AM, and there’s a decidedly sincere mad aspect to the computer that helps make the game more interesting.

An informative Let’s Play can be found here.

*                        *                        *

That’s all for this week.  See you on Monday, and have a good weekend!


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