No, I do not really smoke two joints when I play a videogame. It is a quote from a song, Smoke Two Joints, by The Toyes. If I did smoke two joints at every ten thousand points while playing some 1990s-era videogames, I could well be the first person to die of marijuana overdose. And really, what better way could there be to introduce a rambling about the subject of videogames from prior eras, namely before the whole mass-marketing bubble, that I would gladly throw everything from this era into the sewage in order to play again?
This list is in no particular order. Setting an order to these games, all of which shit on today’s offerings from an awesome height, is simply not possible. All of them excel above the present-day crowd in their own ways. Some of them have flaws that the present-day crowd either replicate or even manage to make worse. Some have sequels from the present-day crowd. All of them have standout features that made them difficult to stop playing, even after losing counts of total playthroughs.
Oh, and one of them is fairly modern and I have never played before. But the description in one article sounds awesome.
Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 has an abundance of flaws common to pretty much all of the good Resident Evil games. The most grave of which by some road is that regardless of which character one decides to start a game with, moving that character about is somewhat like trying to drive a tank. And I do not mean those light, piddly tanks like the 38M Toldi or the Alvis FV101 Scorpion. I mean big mothers like the T-90. Fortunately, the auto-aim feature, when enabled, at least mitigated the fact that a zombie would have time to chew your most sensitive parts off before you could turn your character toward them and fire your weapon.
What Resident Evil 2 does have going for it is, like any game that tries to base itself on a film (in this case Night Of The Living Dead and its series), an immersive story. And in spite of the terrible movement controls that I just described above, it does also have some pretty solid gameplay. Unlike some games I will not mention here, where you can do everything more than right and still lose, everything in Resident Evil 2 is basically a tactical decision. I also credit Resident Evil 2 with teaching me the art of inventory management. When people that I play World Of Warcraft with complain about how they are constantly running out of space to store items, I often say (sometimes where they can see) that I have just spotted someone who has never played any Resident Evil games.
Were I making Resident Evil 2 myself with modern technology, sure, there are things that I would change. The control of the player’s movements would be a good deal more fluid, for one. I would still probably retain the BioForge-style fixed-camera perspective, although I would definitely change where the camera angles change and how (a few more linking shots never hurt any point of view). Which brings me to…
BioForge is a game from the mid-1990s that, on later playthroughs, made me think repeatedly that this game would make an awesome Paul Verhoeven film.
In a nutshell, your character wakes up in a prison cell after having been surgically mutilated to the point of looking like a cross between RoboCop and Darth Vader. At first, your only company is a surgical robot who insists that you have to get back in bed, in spite of the fact that you feel perfectly healthy, and those tremors felt from an unseen source are getting pretty worrying. Fortunately, a display of your martial arts skill soon sends this floating robot flying into the laser beams that constitute bars on your cell, and you soon stride out of the place, free to explore.
Except the first thing you find in the hall outside, other than more cells (one of which has similar problems with its light-beam bars), is a severed arm. Since most adventure games encourage the player to pick up, investigate, and interact with objects, one will pick up this severed arm. And the protagonist even tells you as you pick it up: “a severed arm”. You are also required to go into the cell, timing a jump through the bars appropriately, and kill the owner of that severed arm, a rather insane person who was once a security guard in the facility (or something… it has been a while since I last played).
Oh yeah, and the severed arm must later be used in order to solve one of the game’s many head-smack-on-wall puzzles. Cannot forget that one.
Probably the biggest reason I wish I could play BioForge again, other than to dream about how Paul Verhoeven would make an awesome film of it, is its sheer sadism. Given how everything has to be suitable for babies, and only for babies, in the America of these days, I doubt we will ever see BioForge‘s like again. Imagine a version of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk ripped off the arm of the monster of the week and then spent five minutes debating which end (shoulder socket or hand) to batter them with. I would actually pay cinema prices to see each episode. Take that as a hint at your leisure, HBO or Hollywood. Or William Shatner, for that matter.
Whilst we are on an unrelenting violence theme, we may as well talk about Moonstone: A Hard Day’s Knight, or Moonstone as I will refer to it from this point going forward. In Moonstone, you play one of four knights that are tasked with “proving themselves to the spirit of the moon” (a review’s words). Proving yourself to the spirit of the moon, a curiously-named spirit called Danu, involves travelling from point to point on the map and killing every living thing you find at each point. If one happens to run into another knight along the way, killing them too is perfectly advisable. You are going to have to do it to complete the game, anyway.
Sure, the game does not entirely involve killing things in messy, bloody ways. Sometimes, you go into town, buy the limited variety of goods that might help you on your mission, gamble, or receive blessings. But that gets old very quickly, so generally one soon finds themselves going out and chopping up more collections of pixels in order to acquire better weapons, better armour, more potions, and other little knick-knacks that are necessary to complete the game.
With a maximum of four players, the game offered four different environments, and colour-coded knights from each, to traverse. And of course, different environments would have different monsters to kill associated with them. Please do not ask me which environments were associated with which monsters, as I last played Moonstone sometime around 1995, and I am having transient memory problems of a nature that entails not being able to remember things from games I played yesterday at times. What I do remember, however, is that by the time one had accumulated enough wealth and weaponry to be the game’s idea of a serious badass, individual places one went to find more treasure would often end up with floors comprised entirely of blood and carcasses.
This was one of the first games that offered the option to turn off the blood in order to make it “safer” for the children to play. I cannot remember whether the game offered any options to allow potential players to turn the blood back on without consent, but I can promise you that when parents did not go near the computer with a barge pole and the players were in their mid-teens, the blood option was always firmly in the on position.
And honestly, what friendly competitive endeavour between a bunch of weird-dynamic friends is complete without being able to behead one another?
Golden Axe was like a lot of the games of the era. Start on the left of the screen, walk to the right, beat the shit out of everything that got in the way. Rinse, repeat, repeat some more with the challenge factor escalating with how far in the game one progressed.
What made Golden Axe a little different from the competition was that rather than follow a life on the street, science fiction, or comic book character theme, Golden Axe had an original story that was planted firmly in the fantasy genre. Choose a character (Warrior, Amazon, or Dwarf), get a preliminary story about a tyrant who was basically the game’s final boss, and start hacking your way through whatever got in the way of your left to right walk. Pretty straightforward.
There were also some impressively rendered backgrounds, and imaginative settings. The journey from the little village in which our heroes set off to rid the world of Death-Adder once and for all to Death-Adder’s home is a long and arduous one. Graveyards, backs of turtles, backs of eagles, you name it. Okay, so the main play area does get a little repetitive after a while, but the whole aspect of being able to assume a fantastic character and chop up fantastic monstrosities outweighs that. At times, it sort of becomes like Jason And The Argonauts in an interactive mode.
Probably my favourite aspect of Golden Axe, the ability to occasionally commander and ride creatures as mounts notwithstanding, is the use of “magic”. Every so often, especially between levels, the characters can pick up little blue potions that increase their magical powers. Each character varies in terms of how much they can carry. If I remember right, the Amazon has the most magic, the Dwarf has the least (naturally), and the Warrior is somewhere between the two. If one maximises their power before unleashing it, however, the results are amazing to behold. Nuclear explosion style eruptions, dragons made of fire (breathing fire on everything), lightning on a grand scale…
Pangaea has the distinction of being the one entry in this list that is a game I have not played before, but would definitely be interested in playing for a first time. GameSpy featured it in their list of the five most disturbing MMOs that have been released as of April 2009. The first, that is least, disturbing entry in the list is a virtual tour of the “city” of Decatur, Georgia. Pangaea comes in at number one, in order to give you some context.
Every word of GameSpy’s description of Pangaea made me hungry to see the game for itself. It is Not Safe For Anything. It is geared towards “adult psychopaths”, it features heavy RPG, anime, and delusional serial killer influence. But these are just the general hyperbole terms that GameSpy use. Let us talk about the more substantial aspects of the game. Take for example the screenshot just above. That is apparently an actual screenshot from Pangaea.
Bear in mind that I am only repeating this part second-hand from the GameSpy article, but you can play as a naked Hurculean man the size of a monster. Who apparently has some form of werecow ability (please do not ask). In some parts of the game, you are pitted against armoured women who, as you inflict varying degrees of damage upon them, lose their attire. That is, you are encouraged to beat the shit out of women in varying ways, in order to make them take their clothing off. But they only become fully naked when they are dead, so persons without necrophiliac tendencies are advised to look at other games.
Apparently, there is also an area of effect spell that will turn all of the enemies who happen to get caught into it into gigantic piles of shit. I cannot begin to imagine what the hell is wrong with Korean programmers (the game is Korean), but the idea of a character being able to make enemies feel as if worms of faecal matter are crawling in their skin is meant to make readers feel somewhat bewildered that this is one of the good guys. Apparently, to programmers in Korea, being able to turn your enemy into a pile of shit that looks to be at least three feet tall is a heroic quality. Seriously, what the fukk is wrong with videogame programmers in Korea?
Oh yeah, that reference they make to a valley of giant disembodied butts in the GameSpy article? Turns out they are not quite getting carried away. Although the derierres I found in one screenshot are not disembodied, per se, there is a valley decorated by women in poses of varying levels of provocative that I knew people reading my words were not going to believe, so I went to the trouble of pasting an image alongside this text. You can thank me later.
The author of the GameSpy article, one Robert Brockway, states that as one reads through the list of frightening things about Pangaea, it becomes more compelling. I respectfully disagree. During games of World Of Warcraft in which I engaged one boss in the Icecrown Citadel, every time this boss yelled out “bonestorm” and did his thing that often automatically killed half the people in the room regardless of what they did, I kept imagining yelling “shitstorm”. A literal shitstorm power in an MMORPG would make my day, and whilst the impression I get from this description of Pangaea does not quite fit the bill, it is a lot closer to that than any other videogame I have thus far encountered.
Another point where the Korean videogame market seems to have it all over the Western world’s market is that if the existence of Pangaea proves anything, it is that they really mean it when they say that they are making a game with adults in mind. Brockway‘s statement that the game is geared toward adult psychopaths is a little wide of the mark. Yes, spells that convert your enemies to piles of shit (I will never get tired of typing that), corpse nudity, butch man-woman thing characters, and avatar nudity are all worrying. Especially when they are all in the same game. But the thing is, when psychopaths want to appreciate naked corpses, they do not go and play videogames (at least, not most of the time). They tend to go out and chase it down in the real world. At least the videogame version gives an outlet for what we might think of as sick ideas.
And on that note, that is a partial list of videogames I either wish I could play again right now, or play right now for the first time. I hope this list helps future programmers avoid making a shitty game. If not, go to hell.