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The undeniably influential Wolfenstein 3-D

April 28, 2010 1 comment

It has been argued on countless occasions that Wolfenstein 3-D wasn’t the first FPS game that came out (that title usually goes to Catacomb 3-D), nor was it the most influential (that one usually goes to Doom), but it can’t be denied that this game proved to be the turning point for its creator, id software, and it paved the way for Doom to skyrocket the genre. Now, I could write several pages on the subject of Doom, but there are lots of websites out there who have already done that. I think that Wolfenstein 3-D deserves to be lauded this time.

Wolfenstein 3-D

Nazis had it coming.

In this game, you are William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an allied soldier captured by the german Nazi forces. You are imprisoned in the terrible Castle Wolfenstein, with a fate worse than death ahead of you. Fortunately, you manage to break out of your cell, and now you have to figure out how to get out of this place alive. That’s basically the story (FPS games, apparently since their beginnings, never had deep stories).

The gameplay was simple enough to pick up and play, but back in 1992 the experience was way above par. On a PC with a 386 processor and 4 MB of RAM the framerate was smooth and the loading times relatively short. The game supported a variety of sound cards, and the music and sound effects were superb, from the tunes to Horst-Wessel-Lied to the dying cries of SS troops. The levels were 2-D mazes brought into 3-D perspective by using a technique called ray-casting, which applied to a point in a grid the appropriate sprite.

In terms of mood, the game was tense as you traversed the corridors of the Nazi stronghold, and turned frantic when you were attacked by enemy soldiers, especially if the gunfight alerted other bad guys patrolling in nearby rooms.

Wolfenstein 3-D Stage

Battling against evil!

The difficulty settings made the game accessible to many players, independently of skill, but Apogee encouraged to play on the harder settings by naming the easier ones with ridiculous titles and matching character portraits (the easiest setting was “I’m too young to die” and featured the portrait of B.J. Blazkowicz with a baby bonnet and a pacifier).

The game was divided into 6 episodes (a common feature in PC games of that time), with the first one being freely available as shareware. Each episode consisted of 9 regular levels and one hidden floor, with a boss battle at the end.

There were aspects of Wolfenstein 3-D that were seldom seen in any FPS since, like 1-ups and a points system. But in my own experience, it was simply rewarding to finish and episode and discover that I had the highest score among my friends in school (we convinced the Computer Class Teacher to let us install it). In order to get a high score you had to collect treasure, which just added up to your points, and kill as many bad guys as possible (this could be enhanced by choosing harder difficulty settings).

It’s curious how, even when the game had a fixed lighting intensity, the mood could change from level to level. This was achieved by the use of different texture colors for the walls and the layout of the map. It was a different experience when the level was square, with well defined rooms and corridors, with brick walls, or wood paneling, as opposed to a map with tunnel-like corridors and walls made from moldy rocks. I applaud id software for being able to define the theme of each level just by clever use of texture and enemy placement.

Of course, a game based on killing Nazis couldn’t be complete without a showdown with Adolf Hitler himself. And at the end of episode 3, you get just that! There’s a very nice and warm feeling that fills you every time you see the Fürher collapse into a gory pile, uttering his last words, “Eva, auf wiedersehen!” Priceless.

Wolfenstein 3-D Hitler

Die, Fürher, Die!

Actually, this last image wasn’t from the PC game, it’s from one of the different ports (My guess is SNES, but I could be wrong). The game was good enough to be ported to several different platforms, including the SNES, 3DO, Atari Jaguar and Game Boy Advance. Some of them were good, some of them were not.

That’s pretty much what I have to say about this game for now. In closing, the concept of this game was great, as was the gameplay, sound, controls and design. Sadly, there were some detrimental points too. The game became repetitive after playing it for some time, the number of weapons was small, as was the number of different enemies. Nevertheless, and even with the advent of Doom, this game will always be remembered as the groundbreaking classic that it is. Feel free to comment and to add your own experiences with this game. Until next time, good bye!

By the way, you can still buy this game, and other vintage classics, directly from id software!

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Rogue – THE original dungeon crawl

April 26, 2010 2 comments

A game so deep it didn’t have any room left for graphics

Back in the early days of gaming history, developers worked hard to create games that were rich, complex and immersive. Unfortunately, the graphic capability of computers (let alone home consoles) was very poor, to say the least. One way to work around this problem was to use text descriptions to display the game world, and a parser to understand commands written by the player. This form of game is known as Interactive Fiction, an art perfected by the brilliant minds of Infocom, who gave birth to such classics as Zork, A Mind Forever Voyaging and Leather Goddesses of Phobos (games which I’ll address later). Another way, devised by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, was to use a very minimalist approach to graphics, using ASCII characters. This was the way of Rogue.

Rogue

The very essence of adventure games.

Not very impressive, even by 1980 standards, but very effective in terms of gameplay. It’s really simple to understand the layout: bars and dashes represent walls, “+” signs represent doors, “#” represents tunnels or corridors, “.” represents the inside of a room. The image above shows a fully explored dungeon floor. When you begin the game, you only see the room you start in.

Still not impressive, right? Let’s continue. Your rogue is represented by the “@” and the enemies you encounter are represented by the initial letter of their name (e.g. “b” for bat, “Z” for zombie, “S” for snake, “D” for dragon). Each time you move, every other entity in the dungeon moves too, making it turned based. Here’s where the beauty of the game starts!

With everything you find in the game, you have the option to interact. Almost every letter on your keyboard stands for a certain command. “A” is attack with a melee weapon, “T” is throw a projectile weapon, “Z” is zap with a wand, “S” is search the floor around you (The full manual and game can be downloaded legally through the site Abandonia. I’ll add the link in the bottom of the post.)

A great aspect of this game is its random nature (random in a good way, mind you). Every game you start will have a completely different layout. Potions you find are still named by color (e.g. Blue potion, Yellow potion) but what it does is a mystery. Same with magic scrolls you find lying around. The only way you can discover what these items do is to find and use an Identify scroll, thus revealing the item’s properties.

Wands are also a fun part of the game, some of them just attack your enemies, but some have special powers, like the Staff of Transformation, which will transform any monster into any other monster (useful when confronting a deadly “D” into a harmless “b”, but also you can foolishly transforming a simple “S” into a hellish “Z”).

The object of the game is to find the amulet of Yendor, deep in the dephts of the Dungeon of Doom. Each dungeon map is a floor, and you must find a stairway leading down in order to advance. Exploration is encouraged by rewarding the player with food, gold and items. It’s quite hard (sometimes thought impossible) to beat, but some claim that it can be done with practice and a good measure of luck. Personally, I’ve only reached level 16.

The game constantly surprises me, making each adventure different from the rest, and keeping me hooked through the high score system, based on how deep into the dungeon you get and how much gold you acquired. It has a very special feel to it, when you can actually “see” what these simple characters are trying to represent. If you feel a cold tingle running down your spine when your @ is in a pitch black room (where you can only see the six “.” around you) suddenly surrounded by 2 fearsome “Z”, then Rogue has gotten to you.

Later games followed the footsteps of Rogue, and the dungeon crawling genre was born. Those who maintained Rogue’s visual style are called roguelikes and abound even today, thanks to a solid fanbase. The pinnacle of this style is believed to be a game called netHack, which included different character classes, decorations for the dungeons, among other things. A more modern looking version of netHack was released under the name Falcon’s Eye, for those who prefer a less archaic presentation.

Falcons Eye

Falcon's Eye, the "prettier" netHack

And now, if you think about it, what other game has randomly generating dungeons, intensive dungeon crawling, an assortment of weapons, armor, items and bad guys? How about Blizzard’s own Diablo? Diablo is the perfect example of a roguelike game, just presented in a visually appealing way and with good measure of new features, like the town and its people’s quests.

To wrap up, Rogue is a great game, but not necessarily for everyone. It can be confusing and has a relatively steep learning curve (steep compared to a lot of braindead games out there). It defined a many aspects of adventure games, and is a pioneer of the gaming industry. I hope you liked the article, please feel free to comment.

You can get Rogue for free at: http://www.abandonia.com/games/982/download/RogueAdventureGame.htm

you can get netHack at: http://www.nethack.org/

You can get Falcon’s Eye at: http://users.tkk.fi/jtpelto2/nethack.html

The middle child of the Zelda family

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

As I have published this review of Zelda II on HubPages, I had to remove it from the blog for duplication reasons. You can still read it on http://hubpages.com/hub/unpopular-Zelda-game . Sorry for any inconvenience.